Mingus Ah Um is inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2013, and last night at a memorial gig for the jazz photographer Peter Symes, ‘Fables of Faubus’, from the album, got the second set off to a flying start performed by the Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet at the Spice of Life backstage bar venue in Soho. Profiles is shortly to release a new CD called Live at Campus West, recorded in Hertfordshire’s Welwyn Garden City. Biscoe has had a busy autumn appearing with various bands he leads also performing with composer Mike Westbrook whose trio the Somerset-born reeds player has been a member of for 30 years. Three into Wonderfull released to coincide marked this anniversary admirably.

A man of many interests, Biscoe has explored the music of Eric Dolphy extensively, as well as that of Mingus with Profiles for some years now, and last night at Paul Pace’s Spicejazz session in the basement club a short distance from the Palace Theatre appeared with fellow quartet members saxophonist Tony Kofi and bassist Larry Bartley (who also play together in Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya), and drummer Stu Butterfield known for his work as a member of the Henry Lowther/Jim Mullen quartet. Last night’s excellent gig was a fitting tribute to Peter Symes, who died just over a year ago and who was well known and respected for his fine photographic coverage of the UK jazz scene over many years. SG

Profiles pictured above photographed in 2008 by Peter Symes


2012 has been the year of the piano trio with the Vijay Iyer trio, Ahmad Jamal, EST, the Brad Mehldau trio, Neil Cowley trio adding strings, Tingvall trio revealing themselves in the UK for the first time, and Mancunian bright young things GoGo Penguin just some of the notable trios both familiar and less so to release remarkable albums in both critical and popular terms. It’s an enduring format, and one that despite familiarity continues to exceed expectations whether in a classic incarnation based around the songs of the Great American Songbook or increasingly on newly composed or freshly interpreted original material encompassing a whole new world of inspiration, especially when creative solutions to old musical problems are tackled head on. It’s not just about good tunes, because some of the best jazz is completely abstract and unsingable. But it’s certainly partly about band empathy, that thing about “eye contact”, finishing improvisational lines or, more to the point, anticipating the direction of the music in a live situation to create something anew, that ‘moment’ everyone knows when it comes along.

Capturing that in the studio is an art. Coming up in early-2013 Norwegian piano trio In the Country have given this their best shot by releasing what will be their fifth album. In the Country, that’s pianist Morten Qvenild, bassist Roger Arntzen, and drummer Pål Hausken, marked their upcoming 10-year milestone as an improvising unit since forming at music college in Oslo by travelling to Los Angeles, to the Sunset Sound studio to record what will be titled, fittingly, Sunset Sunrise, after the famed Sunset Boulevard studio where Pet Sounds and other classic albums were recorded. Switching labels from Rune Grammofon to the German ACT label, home to the Vijay Iyer Trio and EST, their debut for Siggi Loch’s company has been mixed by Aimee Mann producer Ryan Freeland, who also mixed and engineered Mose Allison’s The Way of the World. With Australian trio Trichotomy releasing Fact Finding Mission and the Neil Cowley Trio adding finishing touches to the mix of their live album they recorded in Montreux, the early part of 2013 already shows signs that jazz’s enduring fascination with this most creative of formats shows no signs of abating.

Stephen Graham

In the Country pictured top: Roger Arntzen (above left), Pål Hausken, and Morten Qvenild. Photo: Jørn Stenersen/ACT. Sunset Sunrise will be released in March


Kraftwerk knew a thing or two about robots. ‘We’re functioning automatic/And we are dancing mechanic/We are the robots/We are the robots/We are the robots/We are the robots’, as their song, no prizes for guessing, ‘The Robots’, has it. And come to think of it, so too does Pat Metheny, especially robots that with a little help from him like to improvise.

July’s Unity Band gig at the Barbican heralded the birth of a band for Metheny, the first featuring a saxophone in many years, but it also recalled, with a brief guest appearance, the Orchestrion, the “robot band" Metheny has recorded with before, and debuted in the UK on the same London stage in 2010.

On that first occasion, a hugely risky venture as a tour that was both audacious and a summation of Metheny’s naked, consummate artistry channelled through a sophisticated new instrument, something Metheny couldn’t have possibly dreamt of playing all around the world when as a child he was captivated by old player pianos he had become fascinated with. “People either ask ‘why’ or ‘how’,” Metheny told the audience in 2010 at the concert when he unveiled the Orchestrion from behind a curtain, a bit like a travelling magician would with no small ceremony present a bedazzled rabbit from a hat. “Let’s say the ‘why’ is between me and my shrink,” he joked.

Next month the banks of instruments including ‘bots’, drums, percussion, tuned bottles, marimba, vibes, player pianos and more that make up the Orchestrion are back on a double album called The Orchestrion Project (Nonesuch) with this beautiful beast of an instrument controlled once more by Metheny using foot pedals and a system of hydraulics and solenoids.

The highlight of the original album for me at the time was the lovely ballad ‘Soul Search’, and it appears winningly again this time as the lead track of the second disc of the new double album set to be released on 29 January, following recording sessions back in Brooklyn, where the project all began, some time after the world tour in 2010.

The double album includes all of Orchestrion plus eight more Metheny tunes. It’s clearly more than a passing episode in Metheny’s music (the very different Unity Band recording also features the impressionistic ‘Signals [Orchestrion Sketch]’). With the Pat Metheny Group in the long grass, and Metheny’s work with Lyle Mays an increasingly, if slightly frustratingly, distant memory, this expanded set in some ways is a more satisfying experience than the initial album. Partly it’s because the extra length does justice to the sheer scale of the music, and of course because the music is that bit more familiar.

The guitar bots, many percussion instruments, and cabinets of tuned bottles that you’d swear winked, spookily, on the Barbican stage have more personality through the tweaks and roadtested trials Metheny and his technical team have put these through. You’d want a friendly robot like the Orchestrion on your side if push were to come to shove should a sci-fi dystopia come real. It clearly hasn’t let Metheny down.

Stephen Graham

Pat Metheny and the Orchestrion above


Courtney Pine plays Hideaway for the first time this weekend, and the two shows on Saturday and Sunday are sure to be very special. They follow appearances in Tokyo this week. The Streatham shows follow swiftly on from the talismanic saxophonist winning Jazzwise album of the year for the first time, and for the club it’s the visit of a saxophonist who changed the course of British jazz in the 1980s, who turned on a new generation to jazz, a generation many felt had turned their backs on the music forever.

Pine topped the Jazzwise critics poll for House of Legends, an album released in the year that Jamaica marked 50 years of independence from Britain.

The album is a pan-Caribbean exploration, but it also, crucially, means something to the British experience, and that’s important as there is a unity, and always has been, in Courtney Pine’s approach as a player and an ambassador for the music.

Playing soprano saxophone rather than bass clarinet on his recent albums Pine (also on electronic wind instrument [the EWI]), tackles merengue, ska, mento and calypso on House of Legends.

Appearing at Hideaway, where Jazz Jamaica return on the eve of Courtney’s first shows in the upscale Streatham jazz club, the Pine band has Vidal Montgomery (the former Darren Taylor) on bass; the stalwart Cameron Pierre, guitar; steel pan virtuoso Samuel Dubois (who first surfaced with Jazz Warriors Afropeans and was introduced to Courtney by Dennis Rollins); and Robert Fordjour on drums and dube. The dube is a cajon-like percussion instrument developed by footballer Dion Dublin.

House of Legends features tracks such as ‘The Tale of Stephen Lawrence’,  Courtney’s conscious meditation on the racist murder of the London teenager Stephen Lawrence. Later tracks move to the music and culture of the Caribbean, first to Jamaica on ‘Kingstonian Swing’, then on ‘Liamuiga (Cook Up)’ to Saint Kitts and Nevis and the world of the Carib Indians. Courtney organised a competition with the help of a local radio DJ in St Kitts and Nevis to rename this track and this is what local person Wallis Wilin came up with. ‘House of Hutch’, the fourth track is about Grenada singer pianist Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, not the better known Jiver Hutchinson, but the man who became a popular entertainer and moved in high society during the war, and who sang a bit like Ivor Novello.

‘Ca C’est Bon Ca’ is the Dominican part of the album, a lovely romantic dance tune in a style the French call “zouk love”, which Courtney dedicates to his wife. Then, Notting Hill carnival founder Claudia Jones is celebrated on the sixth track, bearing her name, and ‘Song of The Maroons’ takes on a further historic Caribbean dimension with its referencing of Cimarron runaway slaves, while companion piece ‘Samuel Sharpe’ is about a slave who became a preacher later to organise the Christmas Rebellion in 1831 in Jamaica. Courtney also on the album explores the oral tradition of passing on acquired knowledge on ‘From the Father to the Son’. The final official track is ‘Ma-Di-Ba’ dedicated to Nelson Mandela, and the bonus track is the infectious choro ‘Tico Tico’ written by Zequinha de Abreu, which is a superb way to end this fine record, the only non-original, with all the other tunes written by Courtney Pine. ‘Tico Tico’ wasn’t played in Islington so if it’s on the Streatham set list Hideaway audiences will receive a London exclusive.

On Friday, the night before Courtney Pine first plays Hideaway, the club hosts the return of Jazz Jamaica following their packed appearance during the Olympics on the same night Usain Bolt won gold in the 100m final, and their acclaimed Lively Up festival tour.

Stephen Graham

Courtney Pine pictured top

For tickets go to


A case of Folk Art, let’s dance, or Folk Art let’s just stand around. Well, whatever takes your fancy, but for Jeremy Udden if dancing is on the agenda, it’s terpsichore in a bijou barn if such a thing exists going by the Americana flavours here, hinted at by a bit of banjo near the start.

The work of a core quartet led by alto sax leader Udden with a number of guests there are ten tracks on the album (released by Fresh Sound New Talent ***1/2), led off at an undauntingly funereal pace, with Udden eventually emerging in a poised slow section that draws out the rhythm section somewhere lurking in the hay loft. Udden has been around a while and should really be better known, but like a lot of US players who don’t play gigs much if at all in the UK, it takes time, sometimes years, for the word to really get out.

The good news is that Udden is taking part in a French-American jazz exchange in the offing working with Paris-based bassist Nicolas Moreaux soon, so word might filter over across the Channel next year.

Best known for his band Plainville, and there are a few of that band’s tunes here, the main focus is the suitably ambitious if occasionally too episodic ‘Folk Art Suite’. Udden likes sinuous laidback lines redefining Ornette Coleman in an appealingly unstudied organic way at times, with plenty of savoury chromaticism all of his own, and tunes that have definite structures, but don’t feel like they’re hiding behind a crippling concept. Brandon Seabrook’s banjo is an obvious feature of the album and on ‘Portland’ comes to the fore in keeping with the overriding ideas behind the album that eschew fake pastoralism but conjure up an image of the great wide open spaces that city dwellers often know little about. Well worth making the acquaintance of.
Stephen Graham

On release


The Golden Age of Steam
Welcome to Bat Country
James Allsopp is one of the most talented bass clarinettists and reeds players on the planet and here he builds on his excellent trio album Raspberry Tongue released three-and-a-half years ago. It’s still a trio (Allsopp, with Troyka organist Kit Downes, and former Hungry Ant Tim Giles), plus guests including the album’s producer Alex Bonney on trumpet, and a feline called Freddie “purring" on ‘Waffle Throne’. It’s all the fun of the fair with a Lynchian sense of unease at its anarchic, if eerily merry, heart. SG