Legendary guitarist to release interpretation of
John Zorn’s Tap: The Book of Angels, Vol 20

In the spirit of Pat Metheny’s groundbreaking forays into free improvised music that dates back to Song X with Ornette Coleman released in 1986 and a collaboration with Derek Bailey called The Sign Of Four a decade later, the great jazz guitarist’s label Nonesuch has united with John Zorn’s Tzadik label to release a new album called Tap: The Book of Angels, Vol 20 in late-May. John Zorn, about to embark on a major Zorn At 60 festival tour with key appearances including one at the historic Moers festival in Germany next month, has never collaborated with Metheny on a record before. The music Metheny is to release is taken from the second volume of the Masada Book known as the ‘Book of Angels’, inspired like the first volume by traditional Jewish music. Metheny and Zorn started to think about working together via email, Metheny says, after Zorn contacted him to write notes for one of his Arcana publications. “I mentioned", Metheny says via his record company, “that I had followed his Book of Angels series from the start and felt like I might be able to contribute something unique to the collection. With his enthusiastic encouragement, he gave me some suggestions as to which tunes were still unrecorded, and I picked the ones that jumped out and spoke to me. Over the next year, in between breaks from the road, I recorded them one by one in my home studio whenever I got a chance." Tracks are ‘Mastema’, ‘Albim’, ‘Tharsis’, ‘Sariel’, ‘Phanuel’, and ‘Hurmiz’. Look out for a review in Marlbank nearer release.

The cover of Tap, above



Iva Bittová
Iva Bittová
ECM ****
There’s minimalism and there’s minimalism. Cast a glance in the direction of the blotchy almost opaque seascape of the artwork to Iva Bittová above, an album incidentally succinct enough to be self titled. The composition titles complete the effect: there’s just one word ‘Fragments’, and then a dozen roman numerals tacked on although they’re not so much variations as chapters in a continuing  and engrossing tale. The Czech vocalist and violinist isn’t a minimalist in the Terry Riley sense at all but hovers at the pared-down end of improv with occasional bird-like forays and the incantatory power of a prophetess at other times. Surprisingly tuneful at times, although mysteriously so the approach is defiantly unorthodox and more structured than it seems at first. The best clues you might have thought beforehand would be to look in the songs with lyrics provided by Gertrude Stein and Chris Cutler, There’s even an additional ‘fragment’ of composer Joaquin Rodrigo in here as well. But the words are as elemental and inscrutable as the seascape on the cover. Bittová manages to sound as if she’s from a desperately remote place, the instrument of a song emerging from the earth itself, yet the improvisations are never alienating. These ‘fragments’ would have been inconsequential in a lesser artist’s hands, but with Bittová enlarge before your very eyes. It’s a quality that makes this album, where less is more is paramount, so appealing.



Symphony of the senses

Stockholm is to host the world première of EST Symphony. Tickets for the concert went on sale at the weekend in Stockholm for the concert to be held at the city’s Konserthuset on 12 June. An announcement about further concert dates in July will be made later, EST management confirms.

Distinguished Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala, formerly of the hit Finnish band Trio Töykeät, whose latest solo album My History of Jazz was released in the autumn is to perform with EST’s Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Ek, with acclaimed Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick (Skala, The Door), Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder, and pedal steel guitarist Johan Lindström (from Berglund’s band Tonbruket) joining. 


Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

Esbjörn Svensson, the charismatic and influential pianist and composer tragically died on 14 June 2008 aged just 44 as a result of a scuba diving accident in his native Sweden. In his short career he changed the face of European jazz taking it global, and has influenced a countless number of bands around the world since including Trichotomy, GoGo Penguin, Tingvall Trio, Neil Cowley Trio, and Brad Mehldau, to name just five. Svensson gained the appreciation and respect of jazz giant Pat Metheny who performed with EST at the Jazz Baltica festival in Germany and songs performed at JazzBaltica, arranged by Svensson for chamber orchestra, form the basis of the symphony with totally new arrangements for symphony by Hans Ek. Material is thought to include the beautiful ‘Serenade for the Renegade’ from the 2002-released album Strange Place for Snow; ‘Definition of a Dog’ (from Gagarin’s Point of View, a version of which also later appeared on the epic Live in Hamburg); ‘When God Created the Coffee Break’ (again from Strange Place for Snow); and ‘Pavane’ (featured on Good Morning Susie Soho).

At JazzBaltica Pat Metheny joined EST and the chamber orchestra to play ‘Behind the Yashmak’, and that concert at the core of EST Symphonic also featured ‘Believe, Beleft, Below’, and ‘Dodge the Dodo’.

Ek, born in Uppsala is best known for his work as music director of the Polar Music Prize ceremony, where he has arranged and performed with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra music by Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Björk, and Paul Simon among the winners of the prestigious prize.  

Esbjörn Svensson became the most significant figure in Swedish jazz since Jan Johansson in the 1960s far surpassing Johansson’s reach despite the huge success of Johansson’s 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. Västeras-born, Svensson harnessed the power of rock, free jazz, and electronics for the first time allying them to his own virtuoso grasp of the music of the masters of jazz piano including chiefly Thelonious Monk in the early stages of his career. Svensson’s compositional strength was firmly rooted within the co-operative spirit of the trio as the band shared writing duties and credits and thought as one. Svensson founded EST in 1993 with his childhood friend drummer Magnus Öström and bassist Dan Berglund. They together went on to become global jazz stars, releasing 11 albums during Esbjörn’s lifetime with another, Leucocyte, appearing shortly after Svensson’s death, and four years later the extraordinary 301 released in March last year. EST Symphony is a brand new day. Stephen Graham

EST top
Venue link:




Jamming at the new jazz club in Dubai

Pizza Express has opened a new jazz club called Jazz@PizzaExpress in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers residential district, local reports suggest. Next to the Mövenpick Hotel in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers district, there are no details of the club’s programme so far, but Time Out Dubai claims that: “In Dubai managers say they hope to replicate the London venue’s success by showcasing local talent." The picture above was run on the Undefined Declarations blog. Read more about the launch there:

Photo: Undefined Declarations


Manchester commission for 2013: ‘The Felonious Monks’

The Manchester jazz festival traditionally leaves it late to declare its programme but one thing the festival was early in declaring again this year was the latest MJF Originals commission. That’s the leading north west of England summertime jazz festival’s pioneering scheme to unlock new creative talent and pinpoint new jazz. The 2013 commission, is unusual, titled ‘The Felonious Monks’, and it’s a collaboration between Mike Hall and Deborah Rogers in an ensemble work that meshes early renaissance music and contemporary jazz, with modern and replica 16th century instruments. Tonsured bebop, no less. Crumhorns (no me, neither, except you blow it), shawms, cornamuses, cornets, sackbuts, lute, gemshorns and recorders are part of the instrumentational palette. Hall is a saxophonist, a former member of NYJO, and is a member of Echoes of Ellington; while Deborah Rogers has been closely associated with early music group Kincorth Waits and leads No Strings Attached and big band In The Pink. This year’s Manchester Jazz Festival begins on 26 July.



Mario Biondi
Sony Music Italy ***1/2
This is quite a production, with a big brassy opening, lush strings, and Biondi’s deep very soulful voice. It’s very superior crooning in a soul-jazz situation with great diction and control and the voice speaks to you. Sun may well flatter to distract though as there are so many famous guests on the album, with the Incognito band in tow, quite a few songs by Bluey, and guests including Chaka Khan on Boz Scaggs’ ‘Lowdown’, Al Jarreau, and Leon Ware. The big songs with guests for me are ‘Never Stop’ featuring Omar in duo with Biondi, the higher voice contrasting with Biondi’s grizzly tones; and ‘Light to the World’ with Al Jarreau joining to duet, a still sadness in Jarreau’s voice although it’s an upbeat song. Tracks without famous people that impressed me include Biondi’s excellent vocal on ‘Come to Me’, with cadences oddly familiar (like Bacharach/David’s ‘Magic Moments’ in the bit here where the lyric goes the joy comes after). And the multi-tracked vocals on ‘What Have You Done To Me’, Bluey’s song co-written with Biondi and one Davide Florio, soar. Downsides? The Barry White moments which pop up along the way like a vocal alter ego Biondi releases some times can be a bit cheesy and intrude, but the Italian could teach some of the wannabe jazz crooners a thing or two. He’s a class act.  Stephen Graham
Mario Biondi above plays the Albert Hall with Incognito on 10 May. Sun is released on 13 May



Top ten rated albums in March on Marlbank

1 & ALBUM OF THE MONTH Kendrick Scott and Oracle

2 Aaron Diehl
The Bespoke Man’s Narrative
Mack Avenue

Being Human


4 Erin Boheme
What a Life
Heads Up

George Shearing
At Home
Jazz Knight

6 Robert Hurst
Bob: a Palindrome

Bebob Records

7 Dave Douglas
Time Travel
Green Leaf Music

8 Barry Altschul
The 3dom Factor

9 Patricia Barber

10 Quest
Circular Dreaming




Trish Clowes

At the city of Derry jazz and big band festival in a year that the city marks its UK city of culture status with many special festivals and events, the jazz festival in May will host a radio broadcast to be recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up show presented by pianist Julian Joseph, with a concert to take place at the Tower Hotel in Derry on Monday 6 May. Artists to take part in the broadcast are to include BBC New Generation artist saxophonist Trish Clowes who last year released And In The Night-Time She Is There, with a Derry-bound band featuring Troyka guitarist Chris Montague, bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer James Maddren, and The Impossible Gentlemen’s Gwilym Simcock on piano.


Three albums in the can for Gwilym Simcock

Welsh-born Simcock, 32, has been busy finishing the last studio work on the latest Impossible Gentlemen album set for release later this year. “Very exciting few days,” he says on Facebook, mentioning he’s also been preparing a new orchestral CD featuring the City of London Sinfonia and Martin France of Spin Marvel. Simcock has just returned from the Bavarian artist retreat of Schloss Elmau where his previous album Good Days At Schloss Elmau for Siggi Loch’s ACT label garnered the pianist a Mercury nomination in 2011. This time he was there for a duo recording with bassist Yuri Goloubev. Gwilym Simcock pictured



Blanchard: no borders just horizons

When Terence Blanchard appeared at Ronnie Scott’s during the London Jazz Festival he let drop in his bandstand chat that his band would be entering the studio imminently. And that Friday night on Frith Street the quintet played for the early house Brice Winston’sTime To Spare’ a sprawling multi-section epic that sure enough is included on new album Magnetic.

Now confirmed for a May release by Blue Note in the States (no UK date yet) the album has ten songs with Tuczon road warrior Winston joining the great jazz composer and trumpeter, as well as pianist Fabian Almazan, new bassist Joshua Crumbly, and drummer Kendrick Scott whose own album, the happening Oracle session Conviction, has just been released by Concord. Magnetic has the Second Great Miles Quintet bassist Ron Carter as a guest plus Ravi Coltrane, who’s also signed to Blue Note, and Blanchard’s old friend guitarist Lionel Loueke who used to be in the Quintet and whose lovely ballad ‘Benny’s Tune’ named for Lionel’s former wife is still in the band book. Tunes are ‘Magnetic’, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’,‘Don’t Run’, ‘Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song’, ‘Hallucinations’, ‘No Borders Just Horizons’, ‘Comet’, ‘Central Focus’, ‘Another Step’, and that tune previously mentioned, ‘Time To Spare’ as closer. Blanchard is also to premiere Champion, an opera in jazz at a theatre in St Louis, more of which later in Marlbank.

Terence Blanchard above



The New York Quartet to play the Barbican on 15 May

They’re into their second night at Birdland in New York tonight and now the Barbican in London has confirmed the UK debut of the Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet. To appear in a double bill with the Jazz FM-winning John Surman  who appeared with Stańko as far back as late-1990s album From The Green Hill the concert will mark a new phase for Stańko in terms of his UK and broader European public. Stańko’s  latest album, a double set called Wisława, is the first with an American band and the first double album of his career, also the first to be recorded in America. At 70 Stańko still connects with jazz at a deep level, almost on a level of suffering but also in the joy of his influences and the empathy of a great artist. Living in New York for large stretches of the year he is now able for the first extended period of his long career to commune with the history of the music there, but also the way it lives in city streets, the galleries, studios, and in the life of the musicians he plays with, and who he writes for. His New York quartet begins and ends with the abstractions of Generation X-er Gerald Cleaver who on Wisława plays brushes a great deal, every soft stroke like a footfall; and it’s Thomas Morgan in the slipstream to heighten the effect of this presence while David Virelles almost in an absurdist tradition waits to swoop because that’s his task, arpeggiating and making every chord inflection count. Wisława is mostly modal and the songs are sad but life affirming: think the best arthouse film you know and the music from Wisława would work beyond context.

Having performed with the late Wisława Szymborska he appreciated the poet’s simplicity and he is able to channel the laments at the heart of her poetry, again a benevolent but perceptive sort of despair at discovered ignorance rather than the unmasking of ghosts or the depiction of menace at the heart of, say, Zbigniew Herbert’s very different muse, or the horror ready to damn the world in Miłosz’s. Wisława has a simplicity in its 12 tunes, and ‘Metafizyka’ is the best piece of all. But every tune have a point even a little “bosanetta” such as ‘Oni’, an inverted dance. The first bars of Wisława amount not to a symphony but a song touched with love and sadness, or the melancholy Stańko speaks of, and that humanity that Birdland audiences this weekend and the London audience in May might well discover for themselves. Stephen Graham

Metaphysical approach: Thomas Morgan, Tomasz Stańko, David Virelles and Gerald Cleaver above


Apocalyptic saxophone carries the day

Nicolas Masson/Roberto Pianca/Emanuele Maniscalco
Third Reel
ECM ***
Beginning with a little tune that recalls the melody of ‘Nature Boy’ this Swiss Italian trio though has written all the fairly short tunes themselves with single, double or band credits and the album is a curiosity. The name of the band suggests folk you might think or ‘reel’ as tape whether audio or celluloid, but by the second track it’s more a cosmic Pharoah-esque sound that sticks with a kind of an apocalyptic feel to Masson’s keening tenor saxophone lead. Recorded in Lugano the band apparently came together from the duo of Masson and guitarist Pianca and via MySpace and jamming in Geneva honed their sound. The band reminds me a little of Partikel (although it’s guitar instead of bass) but the approach is similar if a little more abstract. It’s all a slow burn requiring some patience and to be frank a little too dour at times, especially from ‘Fasten’ onwards. That said Masson has a certain personality that makes him and this promising band worth discovering.

Emanuele Maniscalco (above left), Nicolas Masson, and Roberto Pianca

Released on Monday 1 April



Tour notes: June Tabor, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren

It’s becoming a default band name already so let’s just say Quercus, and leave it at that, are touring next month and, following a review of Quercus yesterday of June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, and Huw Warren’s deeply satisfying folk-jazz album in these virtual pages, here are details of the tour dates coming up. Alas and alack Basingstoke, where the album was so beautifully recorded, is not on the schedule on this tour at least but these are: Stables, Milton Keynes (14 April,; Phoenix, Exeter (23 April; St George’s, Bristol (25 April; Sage, Gateshead (27 April; Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (29 April; LSO St Luke’s, London (30 April; and the Playhouse, Salisbury as part of the Salisbury International Arts Festival (31 May MB

Quercus, above