Michel Camilo
What’s Up?
OKeh ****
It’s a decade since Live at the Blue Note the superlative trio album Michel Camilo recorded at the New York club, and where the pianist returns to perform for three nights from Thursday. That release justly went on to win a Grammy for best latin jazz album, but since then even though he’s released a number of albums Camilo, from the Dominican Republic who’s made a highly successful career in the United States since first moving to New York to study in the late-1970s, has dipped from view. That is until now. Returning to Sony but his first for their recently revived OKeh label, solo piano album What’s Up? is pretty special. By the time I got to the beautifully yearning ‘Sandra’s Serenade’ via the New Orleans flavours of the title track, the Jarrett-esque ‘A Place in Time’, and an unstuffy take on the overly familiar ‘Take Five’, I was well and truly hooked. I hear quite a lot of Oscar Peterson in the back story of Camilo’s sound early on here but really these are echoes to muse on, nothing more. Camilo has a lovely bespoke touch and a top-class technique that compares to Monty Alexander’s but it’s more rhapsodic in essence.

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When the son flavours really open up on ‘Island Beat’, even though the tune is crying out for congas, Camilo’s left hand compensates completely. It’s not really about volume but register, and the personality he brings to the song sections make them become like characters in a novel and together people What’s Up? It’s pretty joyous at times with rococo flourishes here and there but isn’t at all wearing. Camilo’s approach on ‘Alone Together’, the 1930s Arthur Schwartz / Howard Dietz standard, is a harmonic whodunit, elliptically modern by the end with voicings that would do Jason Moran proud. ‘Paprika’ is really powerful at the beginning of the tune and you can imagine this with a strong drummer really moving the trio along after the opening theme. Other tracks are an understated take on Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’; a banging, wonderfully-timed version of the late Compay Segundo’s classic ‘Chan Chan’, one for the Buena Vista Social Club generation definitely; and two more Camilo originals: ‘On Fire’ a contrafact of Cole Parker’s ‘Too Darn Hot’; and the airy ‘At Dawn’. So, all in all a very welcome return to form by a piano master. Stephen Graham

Michel Camilo top and the album cover above

Released on 13 May. Michel Camilo appears with his trio at Ronnie Scott’s in London prior to release on 10-11 May  www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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Jazz composers and performers Anthony Braxton, Billy Childs, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Myra Melford, and William Parker have been selected by the Doris Duke charitable foundation in the States among a selection of 20 artists drawn from contemporary dance, jazz and theatre as the foundation’s 2013 recipients of largesse. Designed “to empower, invest in and celebrate artists by offering flexible, multi-year funding in response to financial and funding challenges that are both unique to the performing arts and to each artist”, each recipient receives approximately £145,000, plus up to £16,000 for audience development and up to £16,000 towards their future retirement fund.
Anthony Braxton above

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The stellar Miles Smiles band appearing at Ronnie Scott’s this week for two nights will now feature original Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon in place of Omar Hakim, previously announced. 

The band’s appearance marks the return of Wallace Roney to Frith Street, the trumpeter above who famously was mentored and performed extensively with Miles Davis late in the great East St Louis man’s career. Miles Smiles now a quartet is completed by organist Joey DeFrancesco (Live Around the World), and ex-Herbie man Ralphe Armstrong on bass. The band’s core material is based around the Second Great Quintet album Miles Smiles released in 1967.

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Already this year fans of Wayne Shorter who wrote several tunes on the album have warmed to his new take on ‘Orbits’, the lead-off track Wayne wrote for Miles Smiles, and which appears on the brand new Wayne Shorter Quartet album Without a Net that signalled a significant return for the saxophonist to Blue Note records, brought back to the fold by Don Was. Mouzon goes way back with Wayne, and besides appearing on Weather Report released in 1971 is also on Wayne’s record that year, Odyssey of Iska.

Miles Smiles originally recorded at the 30th Street Studio in New York city and produced by Teo Macero, besides ‘Orbits’ features ‘Circle’, plus Wayne’s most famous piece ‘Footprints’, and on side two of the original vinyl: ‘Dolores’, Eddie Harris’ ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, and Jimmy Heath’s ‘Gingerbread Boy’. MB
Friday and Saturday www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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Adam Waldmann of Kairos 4tet

Jazz Day is tomorrow, an international celebration of jazz around the globe organised by UNESCO. If you’re going to be out and about then here are some events to catch the music live. MOBO-winning Kairos 4tet whose latest album Everything We Hold is released in June are appearing at the Emmanuel URC church in Cambridge (8pm) www.cambridgejazz.org; and kicking off at the same time in Glasgow at the Old Fruitmarket tabla master Trilok Gurtu is in trio with fine Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and hypnotic Cuban pianist Omar Sosa (www.glasgowconcerthalls.com).

In Wales saxophonist Alan Barnes plays with BBQ at the Royal British Legion in Wrexham at 8.30; while clarinettist Ken Peplowski is on stage at the same time in the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London (www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk). Also in the capital there’s an Ode to the Human Spirit concert (great title) with Marc Cary, Liane Carroll and many more fine musicians south of the river in Brixton (www.sgi-uk.org).

If you’re online tomorrow evening then don’t forget the international jazz day global concert at 7pm UK time by visiting http://live.jazzday.com

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The Bib get on the case for their tenth anniversary

One of the highlights of last summer’s Match & Fuse festival in London was the appearance of Led Bib, that’s the out-there free jazz band that initially shot to prominence in London led by American drummer Mark Holub (above, second left) who’s now based in Vienna.

At the festival, which combined club sets and an outdoors stage in Dalston’s Gillett Square centred around the Vortex, before Holub took to the kit to unleash slabs of new material to a standing-room-only club, as I reported for downbeat.com, speaking in his dressing room Holub said the freer end of the scene was tough out there. “Support is dying and opportunities are drying up,” he explained. But undaunted and with the place packed out, Led Bib’s set laid waste to any pervasive doom and gloom with the sprawling, anthemic swell and two-alto-sax attack of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan, whose energising, jabbing lines were contoured by Liran Donin’s painstaking bass guitar.  

Next year Led Bib are 10 years ago and they’re still way ahead of the game as that appearance clearly showed.

It’s remarkable that such an edgy band was ever nominated for the Mercury as the really edgy jazz produced in these shores generally doesn’t get a look in, and in 2009 their debut for Cuneiform Sensible Shoes got in there and helped open doors for the band. But it’s never easy and after the “token” jazz appearance excitement melted away and the media circus moved on it’s been very much business as usual despite the boost.

As Match & Fuse showed Led Bib are really where it’s still at in terms of the post-Ornette sound, and at Meltdown three years earlier when the great man himself curated the prestigious festival they appeared in one of the best free-jazz shows I’ve ever seen from a Generation X or Y band anywhere albeit in the hostile environment of the Clore Ballroom on the Southbank, a venue with all the acoustic charm of a leaky gymnasium.

Led Bib in their Kickstarter fundraising drive plan to do things properly with the money by releasing a new album plus limited edition live vinyl. You have until 25 May to help the band achieve their target and it’s definitely worth your while, with special goodies available for those who contribute.

They’ve never put out vinyl before and having roadtested the material think that recording in a specially equipped studio that allows them to dispense with headphones will produce optimum results. Here’s more on the project http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/432642331/led-bib-new-studio-album-and-live-vinyl-release

Stephen Graham

Led Bib above

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Sam Crowe Group
Towards the Centre of Everything
Whirlwind ****
NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
The best Whirlwind release so far? Well that depends on your criteria, but for me this is, based on the life in the performance and the quality of the compositions and improvising group interplay. While the pianist composer’s Synaesthesia three years ago showed a lot of promise it wasn’t an album that stayed with me for long but this new one, though, shaped by the twin pillars of on different tracks saxophonists Adam Waldmann and Will Vinson with new bassist Alan Hampton (who appears in singer/songwriter guise on the Kendrick Scott album Conviction), and new drummer Mark Guiliana recently in the UK with Brad Mehldau as half of Mehliana, is different. Will Davies, a long time Crowe associate is retained, and Kairos 4tet singer Emilia Mårtensson crops up on the fourth track ‘Back into the Earth’. Recorded in Brooklyn last year by famed engineer Mike Marciano this is a step up in terms of ambition all round for Crowe. But put all the ‘facts’ aside and what is there?

Well, the title track with Vinson taking the melody on is a kind of anthem that has a certain gravitational pull to it, and you’d guess that physics plays a part in ideas behind the album. Some of the other titles have that sort of direction (‘Gaia’, ‘The Arrow of Time’ or the EST-like intro to ‘Bad Science’), but the album sounds very untechnical as there is plenty of humanity and spontaneity to it, and while the recording does not feature Jasper Høiby who appeared on Synaesthesia there is a sense of a Phronesis influence here and there. Maybe that comes from Guiliana who of course was on Alive.

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Crowe’s first truly ‘naked’ solo happens on the ballad ‘Gaia’ and it’s skilfully weighted, while Hampton on woody upright bass keeps the pace down as Crowe gains momentum. Davies adds some great touches to warm the ensemble sound on ‘64 Interlude’, while the tasteful Waldmann’s saxophone contribution has a saltiness that then lends itself to lead on to Davies’ Lionel Loueke-like solo. The much vaunted English sense of melancholia (whatever that is exactly) you can guess is here a bit in Crowe’s writing although Towards the Centre of Everything is more urban than a pastoral album, and on a track such as ‘Back into the Earth’ takes on a New Age-y sophisticated jazz-rock dimension, a tune that Chick Corea would perhaps be pleased to have written. Crowe in the solo after Mårtensson’s Flora-like vocal shows he can develop an idea in the course of a real-time solo, and that’s what Towards the Centre of Everything is all about: a sense of ideas at work and an improvising sophistication that gives it staying power. Mehliana fans might want to start with the drum ’n’ bass-driven ‘The Global Brain’ where Crowe also shows what he can do on Rhodes, and clearly it’s not all about Brad any more, is it, when players like Crowe appear on a quality album such as this?

Crowe says a little grandly but unapologetically in the notes that “Music for me has always been a gateway to the infinite”, and there is a sense of scale on Towards the Centre of Everything, in the miasmic conjuring of ‘The Arrow of Time’ and yet there’s a contrasting intimacy on the ballads, particularly ‘Lydia’. At the end reprising ‘64’ Hampton’s bass leads off the tune rather than the piano earlier, and it’s an interesting contrast that works to draw attention to one of the best songs on a robustly creative album.

Released today. Sam Crowe top and the album cover above. Review originally published on 7 April 2013 

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Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck
The White House Sessions Live 1962
RPM/Columbia/Legacy ****
It was a fairly humdrum Tuesday in Camelot that August day, less than three months before the Cuban missile crisis. Not that there wasn’t a tricky decision or two to make, as one of the nine justices of the Supreme Court had resigned and President John F. Kennedy needed to move to replace him. But entertainment was never far away in the Kennedy White House, and on that late-summer’s day in 1962 two American jazz legends, Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett, came together to perform at a concert thrown by the President for college students working as interns for the administration.

Recorded in the Sylvan Theater in the grounds of the White House the Teo Macero-produced master tapes lay peacefully in the Sony vaults until December last year, not long after Brubeck’s death. None of this music is known at all to the CD-buying public or digital generation, apart from ‘That Old Black Magic’ issued in isolation as long ago as the 1970s.

The thumping, almost metallic nature of the sound recording, takes a minute or two to get used to; but when the ear adjusts (there is definite tantalising period appeal), and after the ubiquitous ‘Take Five’, the best bits in the first half are the Chopin-esque ‘Thank You, Dziekuje’ and the 5/4 ‘Castilian Blues’, performed by the classic Brubeck quartet, the pianist plus Paul Desmond, alto sax; Eugene Wright, bass; and Joe Morello, drums.

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Joe Morello above left, Eugene Wright, Tony Bennett, and Dave Brubeck

But The White House Sessions Live 1962 is very possibly more for Tony Bennett fans, and the five tracks with the Ralph Sharon Trio in particular. Bennett and the trio really swing, and there’s both poignancy contained in these tracks on a song such as ‘Make Someone Happy’ and soppy exuberance in ‘(I Left My Heart In) San Francisco’.

‘Small World’ is the pick of the whole album, with Sharon’s accompaniment eclipsing Brubeck’s later on, although that’s not surprising given the two men’s long standing rapport stretching back to the 1950s. This kind of music is all about rapport, like all the best jazz. Bennett really sells these songs, and these performances stand up more than well with his best jazz-flavoured work: in my mind that’s the singer’s 1975 studio collaboration with Bill Evans.

Bennett joins the Brubeck Trio towards the end of this album and there are some good moments here, maybe not quite as magic-laden as the earlier portion of the concert provided by Bennett and Sharon’s trio but very impressive nonetheless particularly on ‘Lullaby of Broadway’. Bennett’s ad lib announcement after hearing a siren: "I’d know that was Eliot Ness," a joking reference to the Prohibition era enforcer, is still one more fascinating aspect of the album.  A significant reissue then, and a fine excuse to reassess Tony Bennett’s jazz work again, as well as remember once more the Dave Brubeck quartet.

Released on Monday 27 May

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A series of albums such as Jazz for Babies doesn’t come along every day. You might ponder that there are more than a few babies out there, and not just tiny people, but this bunch of five albums, the brainchild of bassist Michael Janisch, is aimed at educating your tiny tots. “Calm and soothing lullabies” as they’re explained in the album’s strapline, the CDs are divided into instrument settings so there’s The Piano Album, The Saxophone Album, The Vibraphone Album, The Guitar Album, and The Trumpet Album. Aimed at the purchasing power of loving parents who know the core values of music and jazz for an age group starting “in utero to 3 years-plus.”

Part of Janisch’s point is that the music presented is not the product of synthesisers, and there are some great musicians here playing ever so gently. Joining the bassist on the Piano Album for instance is pianist Steve Hamilton, with this duo supplemented on the Saxophone Album by Steve Winwood sideman Paul Booth. The Vibraphone Album reverts to trio, Hamilton again and Janisch, but with Cloudmakers vibes man Jim Hart joining (perfect on ‘Emily’); and on the lovely Guitar Album’s lullabies the core duo is joined by Partisans guitarist Phil Robson (excelling throughout) and then Louis Lester Band trumpeter Jay Phelps is the guest on the Trumpet Album (listen especially to a fine version of ‘It Never Entered My Mind’).

When Janisch and his wife Sarah were expecting their first child, daughter Eliza, they set about introducing her to what they saw “as the right kind of music at the earliest age.” And this is the fundamental inspiration for the albums, an educational impulse. The UK-based Wisconsin-born jazz musician who runs Whirlwind Recordings and is a professor of jazz bass at the Royal Academy of Music wanted the music to be “calm, quiet and lullaby-like” and certainly that’s what’s here. Even the edgy ‘River Man’ on the Vibes Album is rendered coo-able.

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There are lots of very familiar tunes, for instance ‘Moon River’ and ‘Body and Soul’ on the Piano Album; and ‘My Funny Valentine and ‘Unforgettable’ on the Trumpet one. Anyone familiar with The Real Book will be completely up-to-speed with the material throughout all five albums although there are a few concessions to recent popular music here and there and inevitably Adele’s song ‘Someone Like You’ is included. The albums look good with matching squiggly-bright graphics, colours, and snazzy fonts and musically, compared to the highly bland non-jazz product that is available with cheesy tunes and cutesy sentimental tinkling based around nursery rhymes, the performances are of a very high quality. OK, the dynamics have been dampened down and the chords are resolutely major rather than minor but that doesn’t really matter: no one’s expecting harmolodics! Strident young maths jazzers and punk jazzers, whether they have babies or not, might hate the whole notion of lullabies (tough love, I suppose), so maybe this series is not for them. But for everyone else it’s a world away from muzak and processed sounds and is the gentlest, and most non-patronising, way possible for a tiny tot to enter the land of nod.
Stephen Graham  

Released on 10 June

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Nils Landgren Funk Unit
Teamwork
ACT **
An institution in Sweden since the 1990s and best selling in Germany but still failing to catch on properly in the UK the Funk Unit is an acquired taste. The charismatic trombonist and singer Landgren digs deep and gives it his all but somehow the results are pretty wearing although the band has come on immeasurably since their pretty awful Abba concept album. With Magnum Coltrane Price, Jonas Wall, Magnus Lindgren, Andy Pfeiler, Sebastian Studnitzky and Robert Ikiz plus guests who include Joe Sample, on ‘Green Beans’, and Wilton Felder from the Crusaders plus glamour trumpeter Till Brönner popping up, it’s highly glossy coffee table funk that somehow misses the point that the music needs to be a bit rougher around the edges, and not as highly finessed as Teamwork.
Released on 3 June

 

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The Ropesh
The Ropesh
Neuklang ***
They’ve only been going a couple of years but The Ropesh whose members came together after playing around in Frankfurt and Mannheim already sound like accomplished veterans. The album the cover of which sports a painting with a big splodge of red and what appears bizarrely to look like a smiling kangaroo in shadow begins with some scrapey improv before giving way to a woozy solo by trombone player Marcus Franzke. Basically a post-modern mainstream record with a grab bag of influences from Bob Brookmeyer through James Newton to drum ’n’ bass and beyond all the tunes are the flute player Lorenzo Colocci’s (presumably also responsible for the bizarre title ‘My Flute Is Longer Than Yours’). There are also some tasteful guest vocals from youth orchestra Bujazzo’s Miriam Ast on ‘NeuB’. Points of comparison? Well, the band sounds a bit like Steve Rubie’s band Skydive although lots of other styles are bolted on, and there are distinguishing factors such as the unusual “softly”-spoken word on ‘Amico Disagio’. Pianist Rainer Böhm, who has recorded with John Patitucci and Marcus Gilmore, guests impressively on a couple of spots and the tunes are well conceived and executed with fine developmental sections and the feeling that each member of the band is really listening and responsive. The Ableton-like electronics add to the improvising more in the manner of an extra instrument than a gimmicky add-on, and the recording sound is excellent. Worth seeking out. Released in June
The Ropesh, above

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Shingai Shoniwa above. Photo: Emile Holba

The chosen composers for the first New Music Biennial, to begin in January next year, have been unveiled. The PRS for Music-backed initiative will see new music performed at weekend showcases to be held at the Southbank Centre in London, and the UNESCO city of music in Glasgow next July and August, and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and available as downloads. Covering contemporary classical, folk, jazz, world music, urban and electronic music of the jazz composers involved Gwilym Simcock commissioned by City of London Sinfonia will combine with clarinettist Michael Collins in a work for clarinet, strings, jazz trio and speaker. Glyndebourne young composer in residence Luke Styles commissioned by Juice Vocal Ensemble will feature experimental vocal trio Juice and BBC New Generation artist Trish Clowes’ jazz/classical ensemble Tangent, performing alongside three dancers retelling a Native Canadian folk tale. Avant-garde composer Piers Hellawell will create a new work involving improvising trio Bourne Davis Kane, which has been commissioned by Belfast promoter Moving On Music; and The Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa and The Invisible’s David Okumu, commissioned by London promoter Serious, are to create a new vocal work inspired by the values of the 2014 Commonwealth Games to involve community choirs.

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The New Gary Burton Quartet
Guided Tour
Mack Avenue ***
Turning 70 earlier this year and showing no signs of slowing down, Gary Burton’s latest quartet album Guided Tour nonetheless does take a while to get going, and the first four tracks are as you’d expect tasteful, but not particularly gripping. But on the sumptuous version of Johnny Mercer and Michel Legrand’s ‘Once Upon A Summertime’ everything comes together, and from this point on vibes great Burton, with guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley and Pat Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez who return from 2011’s Common Ground and who all contribute songs, move to a new level. The album then acquires an energy it hitherto had lacked in the earlier tracks. Burton has deliberately written in a Bill Evans idiom on the waltz ‘Jane Fonda Called Again’ and, on another of his tunes, ‘Remembering Tano’, pays homage to Astor Piazzolla. It’s clearly the better of the tunes in terms of an internal song narrative matched to improvisational direction. A highly accomplished album as you’d expect but one that takes patience for all its pleasures to unfold.
Gary Burton above left, Julian Lage, Antonio Sanchez and Scott Colley. Released on Monday. The quartet play Ronnie Scott’s on 13-14 May www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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This afternoon at a reception in Bremen, Amsterdam club Bimhuis will be presented with the Europe Jazz Network Award For Adventurous Programming at European jazz expo Jazzahead! The EJN is an 87 organisation-strong association of producers, presenters and supporting bodies who specialise in creative music, contemporary jazz and improvised music in place to support the “identity and diversity of jazz in Europe and broaden awareness of this vital area of music as a cultural and educational force." This year at Jazzahead! an icon of jazz and improv in the Netherlands, drummer Han Bennink, received the expo’s chief accolade, the €15,000 Skoda award.
Bimhuis above

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Cécile McLorin Salvant
WomanChild
Mack Avenue ***** ALBUM OF THE WEEK

Opening in a traditional fashion with Bessie Smith song ‘St Louis Gal’ Miami-born McLorin Salvant is simply accompanied by the guitar of James Chirillo. But WomanChild makes a swift gear shift soon after with the modern mainstream accompaniment of pianist Aaron Diehl, the 2010 Thelonious Monk competition-winning singer’s labelmate, on the Rodgers and Hart song ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’. Diehl’s first solo opens up the shutters of the album before McLorin Salvant’s sighing return. Her tone is a thing of beauty and the delivery so very unhurried. The singer, with Haitian and French roots, spoke French as a child and even moved to France as a teenager where her jazz journey began, as Ted Gioia in the notes explains. That heritage is also developed on the album.

Womanchild is an instant classic, a real tonic, by a classic jazz singer of real quality. “She has poise, elegance, soul, humour, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace,” Wynton Marsalis has said and it’s easy to agree on the evidence here. It’s worth pointing out her style is very rare now especially among young singers, maybe only China Moses compares in this regard among the new generation of younger female singers however rooted in jazz they are. There’s a sense of the vaudeville era on ‘Nobody’ a real old time number with plunking bass from Rodney Whitaker and Diehl playing like a Harlem piano professor. McLorin Salvant can “talk” the song as well. Despite the worry in the lyrics McLorin Salvant “walks in stride” on her own song, the title track ‘WomanChild’; she sings in French on another of her songs ‘Le Front Caché Sur Tes Genoux’ and Diehl and the great drummer Herlin Riley make a strong rhythmic impression on Diehl’s ‘Prelude’ leading into the standard ‘Lull in My Life’, which has an elegance all of its own. Riley is brilliant at the beginning of the corny number ‘You Bring Out the Savage in Me’, and McLorin Salvant has fun with this via Betty Carter-like vocal acrobatics (also Carter-esque on ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’), a chance for her to experiment with daring intervals and grandstanding effects.

Other highlights include the sheer exuberance and pure vocal sound on ‘John Henry’ when the band builds up some whip-fast motion, Diehl’s prepared piano rolling back the years; and then there’s the sheer sensuality of ‘Jitterbug Waltz’. A wonderful album by a singer we’re going to be hearing a great deal more about in the years to come.

Cécile McLorin Salvant above
Photo: John Abbott

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A guitarist’s guitarist Bob Brozman has died at the age of 59 the Santa Cruz Sentinel has reported indicating that he was found dead at home on Tuesday. Brozman was a very eclectic guitarist and genres were no barrier to his approach, as happy in jazz, the blues and world music styles. Best known as a slide guitarist he used a National resonator instrument and hollow neck acoustic steel guitars and played often in Britain and Ireland, recording in recent years Six Days In Down in the north of Ireland with traditional Irish musician uilleann piper John McSherry and fiddler Dónal O’Connor, joined by singer Stephanie Makem. Brozman travelled the globe and collaborated as he put it in the notes to the album after a lifetime “collaborating with musicians from tropical islands, I thought a cold-climate island project would be interesting and challenging.”  The music on this album is in some ways a snapshot of his overall approach making the connection here between disparate musics, in this case Irish folk music, Malian sounds and Arabic modes, with Brozman playing a tricone guitar, and Hawaiian guitar, just some of the instruments he liked to use. Jazz guitarist Martin Taylor, among a host of musicians and fans marking the passing of Brozman on social networking sites commented: “Very sad to hear the news about Bob Brozman. We worked together many times in the US and Europe.”
Bob Brozman above pictured in 2010
photo: Moving on Music

World music magazine Songlines has just announced its annual Music Awards voted by Songlines readers and the general public. Best artist is Angélique Kidjo for Spirit Rising;  best group Lo’Jo for the album Cinéma el Mundo on World Village; the cross-cultural collaboration awards goes to Dub Colossus for their album Dub Me Tender Vol 1+2; and newcomer is Mokoomba for Rising Tide.

Lo’Jo’s Cinéma El Mundo issued by World Village in the autumn hits the spot for jazz fans as well and not just because Robert Wyatt crops up along the way. Lo’Jo, from Angers, have been round the block a bit with many albums under their belt already and so you’re in safe hands here. Funky, a mix of sounds, with a bit of chanson and dub Denis Péan’s voice is endearing as are the backing vocals of Nadia Nid El Mourid and Yamina Nid El Mourid. Open ended, socially conscious, and unpretentious, it’s no wonder they’re festival favourites in world-music land, and very jazz-friendly as well. ‘Tout est Fragile’ is the pick of the tunes but there are lots of good ones to dip into.

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A white light moment led journalist Rob Adams to not just write about Venezuelan jazz musician Leo Blanco but inspired him to put together a major tour by the pianist and even dream up the name of Blanco’s latest album

The Bank of Scotland Herald Angels awards ceremony isn’t a gig as such. Presented every Saturday morning during Edinburgh’s month-long festival season in August, these awards reward outstanding performances and contributions in music, theatre, visual art, literature and indeed right across the arts spectrum as judged by the reviewing team of Scotland’s leading quality daily newspaper, The Herald. It’s become the norm for one of the musical recipients to “do a number” as a gesture of thanks and to entertain the assembled artists and their representatives.

So it was that, on the final Angels Saturday in 2006, Leo Blanco sat down to play a piano that, shall we say, wouldn’t have been the best instrument that he’d ever encountered. The sound he created nevertheless caused jaws to drop and people to ask who this master musician was, where he had come from and why he wasn’t a major star. And this wasn’t an easily impressed audience: Leo’s fellow Angel winners that day were almost all drawn from the Edinburgh International Festival’s world class programme.

I’ve wondered about Leo’s lack of major star status many times myself since then. Like many musicians, he could have done with having just a little of Jaco Pastorius’s infamous “I’m the best and I ain’t braggin’” self-promotion chutzpah in his make-up, although he’s not exactly shy. There’s also the fact that as a professor of piano at Berklee School of Music, Leo spends more time sending budding musicians on their way in their careers than he devotes to his own at times.

Speak to some of those who have benefited from his guidance – the inaugural Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, pianist Alan Benzie, is one – and they’ll tell you that Leo’s a monster musician and hugely inspirational. The children in Caracas whom Leo has taught through the El Sistema music education regime would no doubt agree about his inspirational qualities and the classical musicians who have taken the improvisation module that he devised for El Sistema and that has now been taken up across the US will add to the psalms of praise. As will the players who have brought his compositions off the page, including the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, who commissioned Leo’s End of Amazonia, and horn quartet Brass Jaw.

The piece Leo played that morning of the Angels presentation, ‘El Negro y el Blanco’, was a fantasia based on ‘El Negro Jose’, a popular composition by Leo’s fellow Venezuelan, Aldemaro Romero, that appeared on Leo’s first album, Roots & Effect. It contained a lot of the characteristics you’ll hear when Leo undertakes his first extensive UK tour this summer in a series of solo concerts: brilliant imagination, gorgeous melodic touches and mighty bass-end grooves. Its performance that day could even be said to have triggered the tour.

Leo and I had been introduced a week or two previously, just before a Chick Corea concert at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, by the Scottish saxophonist Laura Macdonald, a friend of Leo’s from her time at Berklee. “You’ve got to come and hear him – he’s playing some gigs with me on the Fringe,” Laura told me. I complied and within about 5 minutes of their first number on their opening night, I was texting the arts editor of The Herald, advising him to get himself down to the Lot, a compact venue in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket that’s no longer with us. I may not have said “get yourself down here” exactly in that text message but that was the gist of it.

The result was the aforementioned Angel award and a cyberspace friendship between Leo and me that would, the following spring, lead to him producing one of these evenings where everyone’s pinching themselves to make sure they’re not dreaming as the sound of world class music making from an ad hoc quartet filled the Blue Lamp, a natural jazz club masquerading as a city centre pub, during Aberdeen Jazz Festival 2007. The Lampie, as it’s affectionately known, wasn’t just jumpin’, as in full of people, it was dancing.

Several attempts to recreate that night in Scotland and in other parts of Europe have been made but, alas, never come to fruition. Cut to February of this year, however, when a chance remark I made to Jill Rodger of Glasgow Jazz Festival led to another of flurry of emails between Leo and me. Would Leo fancy playing a solo piano concert in Glasgow? Some combination of solo piano and various collaborations had come up in our cyberspace exchanges previously and while I had every confidence in Leo putting a solo programme together, I had no idea that he’d already recorded a solo piano concert and was planning to release it on CD.

The upshot is that I’ve become a booking agent for Leo in between writing assignments for my day job as a journalist. Four Scottish dates were added to the Glasgow Jazz Festival concert and then we advanced on England – with more friendly intentions, promise, than the Scots of Braveheart and Bruce. One of the English dates, in the Quantocks, even sold out old three months in advance and we’re now looking at BBC Radio broadcasts and the UK release of Leo’s live solo piano CD, Pianoforte, to coincide with the tour.

The name “Pianoforte" was my suggestion: it’s simple and it describes the dynamic range of Leo’s music – very quiet to very strong – as well as being the name of the instrument he plays. If you think “Pianoforte"s a bit prosaic, even sober, ask Leo when he plays in the UK what the idea for the title was that he had to be dissuaded from using. (It was sort of in Latin and was briefly topical around the time of the new Pope’s election.) I’m not sure, though, that he’ll be brave enough to tell you.

Leo Blanco plays the Forge, London on 24 June; Recital Room, City Halls, Glasgow as part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, 26 June; Blue Lamp, Aberdeen, 27 June; Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, 28 June; Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 29 June; Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 30 June; Dean Clough, Halifax, 4 July; Sage, Gateshead, 5 July; Broomfield Village Hall, Broomfield, Somerset, 6 July; and the Apex, Bury St Edmunds, 10 July

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The Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson album New Focus has been longlisted for Scottish Album of the Year (the SAY award), the equivalent of the Mercury.

It’s a prize worth £20,000 to the winner. The pair take their place on a list that includes albums by Emeli Sande, Calvin Harris, Auntie Flo, Duncan Chisholm, PAWS and Django Django.

The shortlist, the next stage in the awards process, is announced at the end of May and then the winner itself on 20 June.

New Focus released by London label Whirlwind Recordings sees saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski (above) and pianist Euan Stevenson (below) as part of a quartet (Whirlwind label boss Michael Janisch on double bass and Scottish National Jazz Orchestra rhythm maker par excellence Alyn Cosker completing the core band on drums).

And there’s also the Glasgow String Quartet and a harpist attached, a major element of New Focus. The album has its genesis in an Edinburgh Jazz Festival Stan Getz Focus-themed concert for which Wiszniewski and Stevenson wrote new material and performed, recording this album in the studio as a result to reflect their own compositional direction with each contributing pieces included on the album.

New Focus is very accessible and melodic, and the tunes are so much stronger than you’ll hear around. It is dreamier than Getz’s master work, and is romantic in the style of a player such as say the late Tomasz Szukalski or Janusz Muniak (in terms of Wiszniewski’s playing that has classic Polish jazz roots), although Bobby Wellins’ singular style circa Under Milk Wood rings a bell as well in terms of placing Wiszniewski’s highly proficient and characterful style if you are unfamiliar with his work so far.

With Stevenson pinpointing influences is not so easy although he has been compared a little loosely to Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner and on this album does not embrace needless grandstanding, a big plus, as he is a nuanced performer. Wiszniewski is the clear instrumental voice to cling on to, or at least his role is more obvious. The softly unfolding ‘El Paraiso’ with some quizzical saxophone and dynamic pizzicato from the strings commands close attention as the album progresses, and I very much liked Stevenson’s introduction to the following track, ‘For Ray’. Brass Jaw fans will be fascinated to hear Wiszniewski in another musical situation while Stevenson’s star will undoubtedly rise both for his writing here (for instance ‘Music for a Northern Mining Town’), and the tastefulness of his overriding approach. SG

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Vincent Peirani
Thrill Box
ACT ***1/2
Foreground or background? Well as Thrill Box is a chamber jazz record, and accordionist Peirani has a deliciously light touch, not so bravura in essence as a Richard Galliano for instance, it is music for the background to a conversation you imagine isn’t as interesting as the music performed. It’s not as self deprecating as either the title or the wallflower-like opening ‘Baïlèro’, written in the 1920s by French composer Joseph Canteloube tapping Auvergne folk music, would suggest. Crane to hear pianist Michael Wollny, fast becoming a firm favourite of the Munich label’s, and the little bass tickle of Trio Libero’s Michel Benita, a stimulating presence throughout particularly at the beginning of ‘Shenandoah’.

Tunes vary in style and range from the French player’s self-written numbers to ‘Goodnight Irene’, and Abbey Lincoln’s ‘Throw it Away’, as well as a Brad Mehldau tune ‘Waltz for JB’ among others. Peirani has been working with South Korean singer Youn Sun Nah and the guitarist Ulf Wakenius and it’s clear he has an abundance of musical vision although it’s a bit scattergun at the moment. He’s adept at installing a sense of tension on his own tune ‘Hypnotic’ and the trio tracks have a remarkable cohesion. The great French bass clarinettist Michel Portal guests tantalisingly on a few tracks even picking up a bandoneon on a homage Peirani has written to him; and watch out for the highly rated saxophonist Emile Parisien on ‘Air Song’ and violinist Alexandar Sisic’s ‘Balkanski Cocek’. Highlights? The lovely Ravel-like opening to ‘Air Song’ and the softly unfolding modal progression before Parisien makes a beautifully judged entrance. Its very eclecticism make the album hard to place: from the Auvergne to the music of Thelonious Monk is a long journey. When Peirani makes some more stopping-off points along the way as his career develops the overall picture will be a lot clearer and even more fulfilling. Stephen Graham

Vincent Peirani, above
photo: Dean Bennici / ACT

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Big apple date for Claire Martin

With the Jazzahead trade show coming up this weekend featuring a British jazz stand promoting the local scene to wider European promoters and labels, and after that the Made in the UK shows at Rochester in New York state in June with Cleveland Watkiss, YolanDa Brown, Christine Tobin, Michael Mwenso, Julian Arguelles, Soweto Kinch, Zoe Rahman, Phronesis and Gwilym Simcock all taking part this year, it’s a good time to actually look at how jazz exports itself from the UK.

Clearly these initiatives help, and regularly boost the perception and profile of UK jazz abroad. The world scene needs constantly reminding. But outside these initiatives what happens? Well, bands tour a bit if they’re picked up by local promoters confident that they can stand on their own two feet commercially and get a crowd. But it’s patchy. Sometimes a band who have strong word of mouth, say like Sons of Kemet who are playing an obscure festival in Katowice later in the month, operate independently of broader initiatives and benefit from adventurous bookers going the extra mile and taking a risk. Or if they’re long established like Courtney Pine with strong management they get booked globally for sound commercial reasons: that is they can guarantee a big crowd.

It all takes time but with a recent boost in jazz vocals in the UK artists like Claire Martin are able to get a booking in Jazz at Lincoln Center building on her New York appearance in the past while her close friend and duo partner Ian Shaw can play clubs in Canada, and the likes of instrumentalist bands the Neil Cowley Trio and Get The Blessing (partly on the back of the Made in the UK initiative) can develop their touring in America as the NCT did last year.

If there comes a time when UK jazz bands are as ubiquitous in America as say British actors in Hollywood movies are then you’ll know jazz from these shores has crossed a barrier.

That may be some time off, but with the work of Jazz Services, financial backing by UK Trade and Investment, and promoters such as ESIP and others the sheer body of evidence about the quality of the music here is a springboard to build audiences in other countries not just the States.

For some later in their careers that incubating support won’t be needed quite in the same way because an appetite for the music and its commercial standing has been established, but then it’s the new generation that can be concentrated on. But the cycle needs to be established in the first place or suddenly the old cry will go out again internationally: where’s all the British jazz, to furrowed brows and general puzzlement. Stephen Graham

Claire Martin plays Dizzy’s in New York on 13 May www.jalc.org

 

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Jeff Williams
The Listener
Whirlwind ****
Mimimal amplification isn’t something that’s much talked about. Who really cares if it’s really loud or soft? But this, in case you were wondering, is not a loud record at all although it’s not whispery-soft either and might make you a convert to ‘human scale’ recordings. It’s also highly relevant, along with some beautifully fractured dissonance and an implied “so what?” attitude, if a band like drummer Jeff Williams’ quartet finds itself within the realm of the Cool School, a sound partly identified with the lodestar of Lee Konitz. Williams, who’s on another deeply Konitzian record Always A First Time recently released goes to that softly echoing well again and again here, inevitably maybe, after performing so much with Konitz in the 1980s and 1990s.

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Williams can sound like the late Paul Motian at times but really it’s not an issue hunting down the lineage because this album more than stands on its own eight feet. Trumpeter Duane Eubanks (younger brother of silky guitar star Kevin and fine Dave Holland trombonist Robin) has a pleasantly deadpan way with falling phrases and plenty of power, and the unduly underrated but appealingly dislocated sound on alto saxophone of John O’Gallagher, who appeared with Williams in Hans Koller’s Ensemble at Kings Place earlier in the year, and rated bassist John Hébert, complete the band. Remember that remarkable record Byzantine Monkey of Hébert’s?

Anyway, The Listener knows where it lives in terms of style, which is always an advantage; and the composing is excellent working piece by piece to build the record into something special. It’s formal in terms of band discipline and yet somehow informal as the style is if you like a satire on society, an outsider’s music. Mostly the tunes are by Williams with Eubanks tune ‘Beer and Water’ opening, Hébert chipping in on ‘Fez’ which the May 2012 Vortex club audience really got, judging by the big applause, and finishing with the sentimental Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn standard ‘Dedicated to You.’  

Released on 4 June

Jeff Williams pictured top, and the album cover above   

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Kit Downes Quintet
Light From Old Stars

Basho ****
Really seeing stars? Possibly not as the title of pianist Downes’ latest refers to the long-held theory that the stars in the night sky have already died. Combining a variety of elements from chamber jazz signifiers in the arranging style through to free improv, on a track such as ‘Owls’, leavened by the more cinematic “road movie” conception of ‘Outlaws’, or the remoulded ‘jam’ blow-out feel of ‘What’s the Rumpus’, this is Kit Downes’ best album to date. Highlights are ‘Bley Days’, which the quintet played live on selected dates last year, Downes’ homage to the often neglected Paul Bley, and the final track is clearly named as a tribute for the lost leader of Swedish jazz, pianist Jan Johansson who died at the young age of 37 in 1968. Johansson is best known for his classic album Jazz på svenska (‘Jazz in Swedish’), which used European folk music as an ingredient for jazz improvisation, one of the first to do so. ‘Jan Johansson’ is a quietly yearning dream-like track that begins with a scamperingly laidback James Maddren rhythm, a low piano rumble, and a lovely melody line that Downes and cellist Lucy Railton state in unison before the softly unfolding melody line ascends. 
Out now. The quintet play Jazz in the Round on Monday http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/jazz_in_the_round

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Arne Jansen
The Sleep of Reason – Ode to Goya
ACT ***
It’s not often an Ondes Martenot appears on a jazz record. It’s more likely to be on a Muse or Radiohead album, but come to think of it there aren’t many albums that pay homage to an eighteenth-century Spanish painter.

Guitarists as accomplished as Arne Jansen, best known for his work with the Jazzanova live shows, aren’t exactly two-a-penny either: his greatly varied approach on Steve Vai-like electric, all blustery and with plenty of power, as well as acoustic guitar where he plays in a style that falls somewhere between Kurt Rosenwinkel and Egberto Gismonti, immediately appeals.

Eleven tracks mostly composed by Jansen with a sentimental reading of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Brothers in Arms’ at the end allow the Berlin-based player to show just what he can do, not so much technically as it’s quickly clear that this is to be taken as read, but in terms of nuanced interpretation.

A real storyteller Jansen studied at workshops led by Pat Metheny, most obviously an influence on ‘Divina’, and John Abercrombie, and he’s learnt a great deal from these masters over the course of a well established career by now. Drummer Eric Schaefer, of hit piano trio [em], is a driving presence meshing well with lively bassist Andreas Edelmann in tow, and shows great maturity on ‘Love is Blindness’, what could have been an overblown U2 embarrassment but which is instead an early highlight.

The Ondes Martenot, by the way, is wielded sparingly by Friedrich Paravicini on the Achtung Baby track but even though The Sleep of Reason sounds as if it’s all proggy (the amusing if ludicrously titled ‘The Great He-Goat’, otherwise known as ‘Witches Sabbath’, veers in that direction), it’s not.

More of a power rock album slightly sagging in the middle the album nonetheless is remarkable for a pristine and much better jazz inlay, beautifully set amid all this gilt. Jansen has tremendous talent. Hopefully some of the overpowering rock (and flamenco on ‘Tauromaquia’) will be lopped off next time he comes to record. There’s too much talent here to be wasted on poodle rock posturing.
Released at the end of May

Stephen Graham

Eric Schaefer (above left), Arne Jansen, and Andreas Edelmann photo: ACT

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Basquiat Strings
Part two
F-IRE **** Recommended
Opening with the aching squall of ‘Calum Campbell’ Part Two was recorded two years on from the Basquiats’ picking up what was a welcome but surprise Mercury nomination in 2007 but has waited until this year to be released. As previously reported in marlbank the new-look Basquiats, with Fly Agaric polymath Fred Thomas on board playing bass, are touring soon, but this is the familiar line-up. What set them apart from other strings groups who play jazz in the first place was the contribution of Seb Rochford, the remarkable Polar Bear drummer who’s also featured on the acclaimed new Rokia Traoré record Beautiful Africa.

But the Basquiats are first and foremost the vision of cellist Ben Davis and all the tunes and arrangements apart from ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ are his, and they are as simpático to a jazz way of being within the loose framework of serialism as you could wish. His wonderfully expressive solo on ‘Hop Scotch’ also shows his great facility as a performer, the solo emerging organically to make a strong impact.

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 Achingly “as one”, violinists Emma Smith and Vicky Fifield, with viola player Jennymay Logan, bassist Richard Pryce, Davis and Rochford are a true unit and it’s a shame in a way this is a time machine recording although when Davis tours with the new-look band the spirit I’m sure will remain.

The Basquiats stand tall with radio.string.quartet.vienna and the Atom String Quartet but they’re perhaps closer to the experimental jazz approach in essence than both these impressive outfits. On Basquiat Strings With Seb Rochford  the musicians were able to reimagine material such as Ornette Coleman’s ‘Lonely Woman’, and Ornette’s spirit hovers benignly on the new record as well, But on Emma Smith’s solo on ‘History of Her’, the third track, there’s a sense of even more jazz delving and the improvising takes on a still more natural dimension than on the first record. Smith (and Rochford for that matter) are on the new Ellington in Anticipation record, one of the best new jazz records from Britain in years, and her work here, soloing on three tracks, can be listened to happily along Mark Lockheart’s fine record even if it predates it. A uniformly excellent album, well worth seeking out. SG

The album cover top and Ben Davis right

Released on 13 May

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Jazzahead in Bremen later this week promises a feast of music and much new jazz in store, and there’s a major opportunity to sample a great deal of new sounds resolutely below the radar, brand new or just under known. It’s not just about live music, though, as the jazz music business gathers en masse in the German city in increasing numbers each year, the event having taken on the mantle of a latterday MIDEM for jazz. Here’s a brief look at what’s on offer this year. The partner country in 2013 is Israel, and there are many new and established Israeli jazz acts appearing in Bremen. Also look out for a broad cross-section of the host country Germany’s burgeoning scene often little known internationally, as well as jazz from all over Europe and beyond. On Thursday 25 April check out Yotam, and the Omer Klein Trio as a taster while on Friday 26 April the Olivia Trummer trio, Avishai Cohen trio, and the jazz@Israel jam session are distinct highlights. Saturday 27 April has a British presence with Zoe Rahman, Beats & Pieces, and Django Bates all appearing. Also worth making a point to catch are the Helge Lien trio from Norway, Belgian pace setters De Beren Gieren, and the unique sound of Elina Duni and her quartet.
More at http://www2.jazzahead.de/en 

Zoe Rahman above

Cæcilie Norby
Silent Ways
ACT ***1/2

With the husky Danish singer’s take on the opening track here of Duffy’s ‘Stepping Stone’ one of the surprise highlights of the various artists Magic Moments 6: In the Spirit of Jazz compilation recently I was looking forward to Silent Ways. And this is quite a band joining Norby typically expressive and in control. With her are her husband, brilliant bassist Lars Danielsson; the dynamic pianist Leszek Możdżer; Vietnamese guitarist Nguyên Lê and the less familiar Turkish/Swedish drummer Robert Mehmet Ikiz; along with saxophonist Marius Neset, on the ACT radar I think for the first time as a tasteful guest, especially on ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty.

Leonard Cohen’s ‘In My Secret Life’, from 2001 album Ten New Songs, brings out the best of Norby here, and in some ways it’s even better than ‘Stepping Stone’. Mostly rock covers Możdżer lays out a solo on the Cohen song stocked here with a vocabulary of melodic imagination all of his own that takes the breath away while Norby luxuriates in the song. Not everything works: I wish Norby didn’t sing Dylan quite the way she does in such a cabaret style, but her infinitely pleasant easygoing blues vocal manner taps into a kind of a tradition you don’t often hear nowadays. Her middle of the road version of Paul Simon’s ‘Hearts and Bones’ could be played again and again on Radio 2, but probably won’t be.

Highlights? Well, Lê’s poignant solo on the title track is beautifully interpreted; and his interplay with the singer is a real education. But if you’re looking to Norby to ‘do edgy’ then forget about it. If, though, you’d prefer a singer who delivers quality interpretations of a range of mostly well chosen songs, then step this way. SG

Released at the end of May
Cæcilie Norby, top. Photo: Stephen Freiheit

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There’s a new jazz and cinema two-part series beginning next Monday at 10pm on Radio 2 presented by singer/pianist Jamie Cullum whose latest album Momentum is released in May. The hour-long first part of Jazz at the Movies focuses on early cinema history, the struggle for racial equality and the discrimination African American musicians faced, and there’s an emphasis on Duke Ellington’s ‘Symphony in Black’. Cullum looks at how cartoon character Betty Boop broke down the racial and sexual conventions of the day although she was later censored, and concentrates on Ellington’s music for Anatomy of a Murder, and Martial Solal’s for Godard’s Breathless (A Bout De Souffle).

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Nigel Mooney
The Bohemian Mooney
Lyte Records****
Named after a Dublin pub The Bohemian Mooney is the Irish singer and guitarist’s bluesy second album following All My Love’s In Vain back in 2005. Nearly four years in the can the new record features a core band of pianist Johnny Taylor, bassist Dan Bodwell and drummer Dominic Mullan, and guests include the great Georgie Fame on a couple of tracks and the Irish jazz icon Louis Stewart who plays rhythm guitar on three tracks.

Mooney has a warm authentic blues and soul voice, think James Hunter a bit, a dash of Van Morrison here and there, and Brother Ray of course, and plays the guitar like Kenny Burrell at times. It’s old fashioned jazz blues with some Mooney originals, some Ray Charles (a swinging ‘Ain’t That Love’ a highlight), standards in ‘April in Paris’ for instance, and a traditional blues thrown in for good measure with Robert Johnson’s ‘Hellhound on my Trail’ superbly done.

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‘Hard Times’ is the first great interpretation here, five songs in, after some enjoyable scene-setting with Georgie and Louis on ‘Down for Double’, Basie guitarist Freddie Green’s song that Mel Tormé put words to. ‘April in Paris’ is a bit cheesier with glossy horns but there’s a good swing shuffle from Mullan and Mooney croons a bit which he doesn’t really do anywhere else on the album.

Arranged and produced by Mooney the title track has a really catchy guitar opening line (recalling the tune of ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’) that moves more into Grant Green territory after a while and bassist Bodwell rises to the occasion sounding a bit like that fine player David Hayes. ‘Bohemian Moondance’ joins the dots between the opening fast take on ‘Milestones’ and Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ with plenty of improvising along the way. Infectious stuff with a lot of spirit, and that’s not just the gin and dry vermouth. SG 
The cover of The Bohemian Mooney
top and Nigel Mooney above

Released on 27 May

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Melt Yourself Down
Melt Yourself Down
Leaf **

This is disappointing. It just has nowhere to go. Fizzing with energy but within the confines of a small musical structure trying to be a commercial dance record (maybe the remix will be better!), it beats at the walls but the walls simply won’t give. Ruth Goller’s bass guitar is gutsy enough on the opener ‘Fix My Life’ but the vocals of Kushal Gaya sound so processed and it’s not dangerous enough or as inventive as say Sons of Kemet, another band drummer Tom Skinner’s currently a member of. Pete Wareham has been searching for a way to reinvent himself since the curious decision to close down the much better Acoustic Ladyland and he’s moved completely away from conventional jazz and more into the arms of one of his big influences James Chance, mixing punk-funk with Afro flavours. The band seem to stall no matter how hard Tom Skinner pushes, and even Shabaka Hutchings sounds as if he’s being held back. Transglobal Underground’s Satin Singh adds some interest on percussion, but these eight pent-up tracks refuse to catch: the material just isn’t strong enough. Stephen Graham
 

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Laszlo Gardony
Clarity
Sunnyside ***

When Tommy Smith was starting out, and a student at Berklee in Boston, the young saxophonist was part of a band called Forward Motion. The pianist in the band, Laszlo Gardony, a Hungarian-American has made many records since but retains the link to Smith’s alma mater, as since the 1980s the professor has taught at Berklee. Clarity is an unusual, and quite brave, album. He says in the notes: “I was at my Berklee studio all by myself. I felt a burst of inspiration so I set up some mics, turned on a recorder and started playing. I kept playing for 49 minutes.” Each short piece, he explains, took on from the previous one but he put the recording away; and not until a few months later would he listen to what he had performed last year. The resulting album, so much for months spent in the studio and an eternity in post-production, is probably best compared with earlier solo piano album Changing Standards (1990), the originals here the yin to the yang of the evergreen tunes back then. Despite the passage of time and difference in method the two compare very well: Gardony’s approach is muscular but quite passionate, and it’s from the fourth track, ‘Working Through (Clarity)’, that the music really begins to speak. It’s a kind of Gnostic meditation in the manner of Keith Jarrett (and track six, ‘Better Place’, is very Jarrettian) but with a few bravura twists, quite a lot of folk music, even gospel, but oddly very little bebop. Occasionally this very spontaneous set sags, but not for long, and is as honest an album as you’ll come across. That transparency is its strength and appeal, as well as a natural improviser’s flair at play.
Released in May.
The cover of Clarity, above

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Matt Ridley, Vortex, London: Monday

Whirlwind Recordings, bassist Michael Janisch’s label, has shown consistent growth in terms of output and quality in the last two years and ahead of releasing a new live album by Lee Konitz soon, a landmark release for Whirlwind, the label has now signed the Matt Ridley Trio for an autumn release with the bassist’s debut album Thymos (Greek for ‘spiritedness’) set to appear in the autumn. With alto saxophone star Jason Yarde guesting, bassist Ridley, a Trinity college of music graduate in 2005, will preview tunes from the album at this Vortex club show. The bassist’s trio features John Turville, whose Parliamentary award-winning album Midas, first put the pianist on the map, along with relative unknown George Hart on drums. Pretty much a complete unknown himself still, Ridley has, though, worked extensively as a member of the popular Darius Brubeck Quartet touring widely, and has appeared with the MJQ Celebration band featuring Jim Hart, Barry Green, and Steve Brown, as well as the Lyric Ensemble. A SE London Collective scenester Ridley has also collaborated with celebrated oudist Attab Haddad, who is an additional guest on Thymos. His trip to east London is just the start for a player whose name we might well have to more acquainted with before too long.
Matt Ridley above
Tickets, and more details, at www.vortexjazz.co.uk

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‘Put it in the pocket’
Freddie Hubbard
From Liquid Love
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNWqyaLlolg
Compilations are anathema to most serious jazz fans or at best a guilty pleasure. But despite this there’s always a function in a compilation even if it’s a throwaway item and maybe a single track, if you’re lucky, just cries out to be heard such as this Freddie Hubbard gem linked to above.

Compilations are ideal though for dipping your toes in the waters of a style you don’t know or catching up on a movement that’s passed you by. But sometimes the sheer brutal force of a style lumped together can also show that despite artists’ best intentions to be individual their sound is more generic than they might well think, or listeners even realise catching their output in isolation.

The Demon music group’s Harmless Records for a decade has been putting out compilations in quantity covering, soul, and funk and next month Backbeats: In The Pocket – 70s Jazz Funk is coming, released on 13 May.

In the wake of whosampled.com all the detective work involved in sourcing these tiny slabs of dancefloor pleasure is easier. But there’s still an art in making a compilation even when the process is democratised: you can’t vote for knowledge, more’s the pity. Compilers Dean Rudland and Ralph Tee are some of the best in the business and Backbeats features music compiled from Columbia, Arista, Epic, RCA and CTI releases in a decade where this style of jazz gave way to disco.

Tracks here are Earth Wind and Fire’s ‘Africano’ from That’s the Way of the World; Herbie Hancock’s ‘Just Around The Corner’ from Manchild; Webster Lewis’ ‘Barbara Ann’ from Touch My Love; Ramsey Lewis’ ‘Brazilica’ from Salongo; Lonnie Liston Smith’s ‘In the Park’ from Love is the Answer; Harvey Mason’s ‘Hop Scotch’ from Marching in the Streets; Eddie Russ’ ‘Zauis’ from See the Light Monument; Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Put it in the Pocket’ from Liquid Love; Charles Earland’s ‘Coming to You Live’ from Coming to You Live; Weldon Irvine’s ‘Sinbad’ from RCA album Sinbad; Willie Bobo’s ‘Palos’ from Bobo; and Hubert Laws’ ‘Chicago Theme (Love Loop)’ from The Chicago Theme.

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Some festivals hang around for ages to name their line-ups. Others don’t. So while the Edinburgh jazz festival in July is still a blank sheet as far as the line-up is concerned (wonder why?), Kings Place in London in September has announced its. The festival crams in well over 100 events over three days at the York Way complex near St Pancras station and St Martin’s art college. This year the festival runs from 13-15 September and besides jazz there’s lots of classical music, art and talks. Oddarrang, Slowly Rolling Camera, Vive and Jay Rayner’s Hungry Jazz: The Great American (Foodie) Songbook are first day highlights; while Saturday picks include singer Aimua Eghobamien, the Martin Speake trio, Nicolas Meier, and ECM band, Food. The Jason Rebello trio and Dave Stapleton’s Cellophony play on the Sunday. More at www.kingsplace.co.uk/festival

Dionne Bennett, of Slowly Rolling Camera, above.
Photo: Tim Dickeson