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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

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Seven Hills: imbued with the spirit of Bill Evans

Alexi Tuomarila
Seven Hills
Edition ***1/2
Listen to 02, and Dark Eyes, and you’ll start to gain a glimpse of a hugely talented pianist whose much interrupted story starts again with Seven Hills. The Finn, also well known in Belgium having studied and lived there and where his wider reputation gained ground, has had his ups and downs as a fickle major label built him up and knocked him down before Tomasz Stańko, a great appreciator of piano talent, brought him into the fold to record Dark Eyes in 2009. Seven Hills, relating in its title to Lisbon, not the more obvious Rome,is increasingly, as the album develops, imbued with the spirit of Bill Evans and it’s a feeling that grows and grows like a rhapsody. With Tuomarila are highly cultured bassist Mats Eilertsen who’s also a member of Tord Gustavsen’s ensemble, and ex-Stańko drummer Olavi Louhivuori, plus Lisbon-born guitarist André Fernandes, who plays a little like Jakob Bro, on a couple of tracks. Nine tracks in all, beginning with the guitar-flavoured title track highlights are the fast flow of ‘Cyan’ decanting into unaffected melodicism; later ‘Visitor Q’ is gloriously quiet and unvarnished; and then Eilertsen’s bass opening to the folkloric ‘Miss’ has an involving poignancy that the album as a whole shares without being twee at all. The earlier ‘Skuld’ draws together a range of influences, again Bill Evans and perhaps Jan Johansson, with Eilertsen’s buzzy drone and jump-off riff bringing out the subtlety of Louhivuori, as Tuomarila measures his solo like a surveyor with a theodolite. SG
Alexi Tuomarila, above. Photo: Edition

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Ideal for Record Store Day, Cardiff jazz indie Edition, partnering with London vinyl specialists Gearbox, has released a limited heavyweight vinyl edition of Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, and London Vocal Project’s Mirrors, a big highlight of the springtime jazz releases so far this year.

With all music by Kenny Wheeler, the poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) lies at its heart, and Wheeler’s music has meshed with it perfectly. But it’s not just Smith whose work forms the text for the vocals element, here interpreted by the  25-strong LVP split into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with Wheeler joining on flugelhorn, Winstone the featured solo singer, pianist Nikki Iles, Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophones, bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren. Besides settings of Smith’s work, the highlight of which for me is the delightful ‘Black March’ (‘I have a friend/At the end/Of the world’), there are settings of Lewis Carroll, and briefly WB Yeats.

Delight is a word that constantly springs to mind, an echo of ‘I sing this song for your delight’ on ‘Humpty Dumpty’ at the beginning. The singing is lovely throughout, ethereal, and endowed with a life force all of its own. Somehow everything manages to remain understated yet has impact, the unique charm of the album.

www.recordstoreday.co.uk/participating-stores

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What goes around: Local record shops are back from the dead

Record Store Day isn’t just about the special editions and novelty items released for the big day today. It’s primarily about going to a record shop. That’s actually stepping foot in one. For most people now it is a distinctly odd experience to do just this as it’s a thing that has gone out of fashion. When CDs were new the music industry predicted for years that the end was nigh for vinyl, and now the writing is on the wall for CDs, yet they too are still with us. The last two years has against all industry wisdom seen a big uplift in vinyl sales. Ask a label such as Gearbox who have responded with enthusiasm to the turn-up in trade and they’ll tell you about their Record Store Day plans, and that’s just for one. More at: http://www.marlbank.net/post/47693394770/record-store-day-approaches-hip-to-the-beat.

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Sphere: Barronial sounds

While genuinely rare vinyl attracts often staggeringly high prices on a par with a particularly fine vintage wine, relatively recent releases, particularly 1970s and 80s pressings of hard-to-find albums can still be snapped up for less than £10. And of course there’s the added bonus of artwork coming with the vinyl, and album information that digital formats are less equipped to handle unless you like tiny thumb nails run off on a home printer. But it’s not really about trophy items. Pop in, like I did earlier in the week, to an old favourite shop such as Alan’s in north London, where I was delighted to pick up Sphere’s Flight Path. Put out in 1983 a decade that many from the counter-culture generation thought was the death of music itself, on the back of this white Elektra Musician liveried cardboard cover there’s a pipe-smoking Charlie Rouse and the band grouped around him (that’s Buster Williams, the great Kenny Barron and Ben Riley) simply smiling. Put on first track ‘If I Should Lose You’ and you’ll join me in smiling too. And that’s what great music does, and you’ll find it nearer to you than you might think, in a last record shop standing, or not, and not just on Record Store Day. SG 

www.recordstoreday.co.uk/participating-stores

Miles Davis Quintet
Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2
Columbia/Legacy (3 CDs and a DVD) ****

Recorded live in France, Sweden and Germany separated by less than four months these quintet recordings are a curiosity, the work of what’s being called a ‘lost band’ or more optimistically ‘the third great quintet’. It never released a studio album. The bootleg in the subtitle is slightly deceptive as these are official recordings made by European radio stations, not the work of fly-by-night characters with microphones hidden in their coats, and follow the first in the series a 1967 recording released two years ago. Miles is here with Wayne Shorter, the last remaining second quintet member besides the trumpeter; Chick Corea on electric piano and piano; Dave Holland on bass; and Jack DeJohnette, drums.

Tucked inside the box’s sleeve on the back of the pull-out notes there’s a black and white poster depicting four of the band with Wayne sporting a slight moustache caught in the middle of a solo, and Miles eyes shut standing beside him wearing leather trousers, DeJohnette at the back is in a stripy shirt, and a bearded Holland is looking down as he plays. They were even more snappily dressed in the Berlin video with Corea looking sombre.

Each album has stage introductions and share some songs although none are exactly the same in terms of tunes. There are two versions of ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down’, for instance, the first on the opening CD with Holland’s riff ringing clear and true. ‘Bitches Brew’ crops up on both the final CD recorded in Stockholm and on the DVD. Corea’s ‘This’ on the Stockholm CD, the producers note, Miles never officially recorded.

Downbeat writer Josef Woodward in the notes quotes Chick Corea who explains that the recordings “document an important step in Miles’ artistic development which take us from the famous suit-and-tie wearing quintet with Herbie… through to this quintet, which definitely leaned more towards the rock and beat generation.”

With electric piano and increased volume at times you can see what he means but how intense is the music? Well it’s not as in-your-face as say the Isle of Wight concert or some later studio sessions but there is plenty of fire power, the first a coiled fist within the velvet glove of ‘Sanctuary’ say and the abstractions of Corea on electric piano do give the music a very modernist edge. But contrast this with the beginning of ‘Milestones’, which sounds actually very old in the opening theme, like a jam session Miles might have played on in the earlier part of his career. Yet listen on and a transformation takes place: DeJohnette’s slashing rhythms are so very different. A track such as ‘Nefertiti’ on the second Antibes CD shows how modern the band is, the nihilism of Corea’s solo early on, say, and the blare and loneliness of ‘Sanctuary’.

George Wein’s polite introduction to the Stockholm concert leads into ‘Bitches Brew’ and this is when for me the music really gets going, more rock-inclined and getting pretty out there rapidly. DeJohnette is vital: providing rolling thunder in a makeshift laboratory. ‘This’, with its shrill opening, is an eye opener. Produced by Richard Seidel and Michael Cuscuna the set is yet another distinguished piece of curating “all in Honor of Miles Davis”. For the Miles Davis obsessive in your life, and those who are verging in that direction, it’s a must.

Stephen Graham         

 

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Nathan Haines
The Poet’s Embrace
Warner Jazz ****

At last gaining a UK release it’s the best album yet by hipster Haines playing a 1964 Selmer Mark VI

Dance music’s loss may well be jazz’s gain, as the New Zealand tenor saxophonist relocates his sound firmly within the spiritual domain. With his quartet here (pianist Kevin Field, bassist Thomas Botting, and drummer Alain Koetsier) the band journey deep into John Coltrane quartet territory rather than say Alice’s later experimentations beloved of the Mancunian Gondwana school. Dig deep, go way back and make it sincere, and Haines does this very admirably.

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Best heard on vinyl

A big gutsy sound, not too dissimilar to Alan Skidmore’s Coltranian tenor approach but with a dance floor skip inevitably folded in, on a ballad of the quality of ‘Offering’ Haines manages to reproduce the feeling Trane put into the different sounding ‘Naima’. That’s no small feat. Using vintage microphones and recording in analogue in Haines’ native New Zealand The Poet’s Embrace is detailed without being stuffy and should appeal to Impulse! obsessives everywhere. Most of the tunes are Haines’ but there’s a suitably laidback take on a tune credited here by Patrick Forge in the notes to Yusef Lateef but also confusingly in the credits to Song For My Father drummer Roy Brooks whose version of ‘Eboness’ (from 1973 Im-Hotep album Ethnic Expression) is nonetheless hugely collectable whoever the author is. Best heard, it’s almost compulsory to say, on vinyl: but the CD sound is immaculate. SG
Released on 6 May

Nathan Haines, top, and the album cover above

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Man of mystery Sam Lasserson joins Ethan Iverson above and Jeff Williams at the Vortex tomorrow

Surely Ethan Iverson won’t, will he, lean over to say ‘play it again, Sam?’ Even a whisper might be out of the question from the piano player, or the fun-loving fans in the audience bound to turn out in some number when The Bad Plus’ Iverson plays an exclusive trio club date tomorrow.

No, it’s not with The Bad Plus although he will be back on tour with the acclaimed trio in the UK soon but instead it’s with man of mystery, bassist Sam Lasserson, and the more familiar ex-Lee Konitz drummer and Dave Liebman associate, Jeff Williams whose new quartet album The Listener is released in June. But who exactly is Lasserson?

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Well, the bassist (above) is in ECM saxophonist Martin Speake’s quartet, and plays with rising star of the guitar Hannes Riepler, the “Country Gentleman” player who has been helming the burgeoning Sunday night jam downstairs at the Vortex. Lasserson obviously keeps good company.

How the polymath Iverson has hooked up with Lasserson is anyone’s guess but the pianist is a shrewd observer of the scene, and in terms of London is no stranger to the Vortex where the gig is to take place. Iverson four years ago joined Bad Plus drummer Dave King, hipster alto sensation Tim Berne, and cellist Hank Roberts in the very spot for one of the most hardcore improvising gigs ever witnessed at the cutting edge club. Be prepared to stand.
www.vortexjazz.co.uk, Saturday 20 April

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Steve Coleman and Five Elements
Functional Arrhythmias
Pi **** Album of the week
There’s always been a thirst for knowledge with Steve Coleman, and an urge to connect his musical explorations to the wider world. “The title of this recording,” the MBASE originator says in the sleeve notes, “refers to paths of modulating heartbeat-like rhythmic melodies that function similar to the contrapuntal firing of nerve impulses.” And he goes on to explain that the compositions were created spontaneously, then transcribed, and then more improvisations added to “arrive at the final compositions performed by the ensemble.” Coleman credits drummer Milford Graves for his research and music that allowed him to “first become aware of the connection between the biology of the human body, the human soul and music.”

The 14 tracks of Functional Arrhythmias feature the Five Elements in quartet or quintet formation, the main difference between the two settings being the tracks that don’t feature guitarist Miles Okazaki.

Cultured British bassist Anthony Tidd who now lives in the States is back in the Five Elements fold and he plays an important anchoring role throughout but the main drama of the record is the trialogue between saxophone, trumpet, and drums.

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When you hear a Steve Coleman record or see him live (for instance most recently with Reflex during the London Jazz Festival in 2011) the sound is immediately identifiable. After all, Coleman invented a whole sound that has influenced a new generation of what people now loosely call “maths jazz” musicians, or for those longer in the tooth, still MBASE. Musicians such as Tom Challenger and Tom Farmer most recently have followed in the wake of Vijay Iyer and before Vijay got the MBASE bug, Steve Williamson, and Barak Schmool who spread the message to his F-IRE Collective adding to other new ideas.

Its base sound is avant funk with a rough edge mixed in with bebop although as the years have gone by there are few clichés of classic bebop left. On a track such as ‘Medulla-Vagus’ there is an Afro-Cuban layer to the abstract picture Coleman paints (an element Coleman has investigated before extensively), while on an Improv-heavy ballad such as the very stark ‘Chemical Intuition’ once more Coleman’s debt to Bunky Green’s sound comes through, and Jonathan Finlayson manages to channel the late Bill Dixon a little. Sean Rickman plays time and no-time on a track such as ‘Chemical Intuition’, and when trumpet, sax and drums play separate melody and rhythm lines the true no-safety-net improvising approach can be glimpsed. This record is about the naked improvising method customised by Coleman as he explained in his method mentioned earlier. It’s uncompromising, and a worthy successor to Harvesting Semblances and Affinities his first album for Pi.

Last year I was chatting to David Murray at the London Jazz Festival launch briefly and I asked him about Curves of Life, the Paris live album he appeared on with Coleman back in the 1990s. Murray’s eyes lit up, and agreed that he thought it was some of Coleman’s best work. Although Coleman’s music is very different now but just as appealing, its essence is no different to Curves of Life. Rhythm is key, and when blocks and drum rhythms embed themselves behind the loose off-beats and off kilter momentum often implied, as on ‘Cerebrum Crossover’, a tipping point is reached. It’s another language entirely, one that now has many dialects, but Coleman is the source and this fine, inspirational album is a reminder of just what he has to say: and how potent that message still is.

Stephen Graham


Steve Coleman above and the cover of Functional Arrhythmias. Out now

    

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Paul Edis Sextet
There Will Be Time
Jazz action ***
A second release involving 27-year-old north east pianist Paul Edis, following his appearance on ACV’s Babel debut Busk released earlier this month, There Will Be Time, with a clock on the front depicting the timepiece’s hands stuck at eight minutes past ten surrounded by autumnal leaves, is a three-horn sextet full of the spirit of the Jazz Messengers even if the muted trumpet of Graham Hardy on opener ‘Administrate This!’ seems to dig back further stylistically to Rex Stewart or Buck Clayton. There are a dozen tunes, mostly written and arranged by Edis, and it’s pretty orderly modern mainstream stuff: exuberantly brassy on ‘Re: Vamp’, with Edis dismantling his chords behind the plaintive trumpet melody, and drummer Adam Sinclair lending an air of solid authority as he does throughout. Edis can sound like a disciple of Herbie Hancock or Horace Silver at times and favours accessible licks and funky solo lines but perhaps the easy going tempi make the tunes just too digestible. The funky turns and twists on ‘Sharp 9/8’, though, exhibit plenty of spirit and it’s likeable enough fare by a promising pianist. SG   

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As an enfant terrible Django Bates last played the Proms with Loose Tubes some 26 years ago, but it’s just been announced that the composer/ pianist is to return to the Proms this year to celebrate another great maverick: bebop pioneer Charlie Parker. The concert will also include the UK premiere of a new Bates piece called ‘The Study of Touch’.

Bates will be joined for the concert by his Belovèd Bird trio, the Norbotten big band from Sweden, and Ashley Slater (Freak Power) with a programme of Bird-related tunes.

The BBC Proms this year in addition to the main classical programme, dominated by Daniel Barenboim’s complete Ring cycle with the Staatskapelle Berlin also feature a gospel prom; an appearance by a cappella group Naturally 7; a performance of Frank Zappa’s ‘The Adventures of Greggery Peccary’; an urban classic prom with Jules Buckley leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra bringing together the music of Fazer, Henze, Laura Mvula, Mosolov and Maverick Sabre; and a World  Routes prom featuring Fidan Hajiyeva, Gochaq Askarov, Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba, and Tinariwen. SG
The full programme is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/proms
Django Bates, above, plays the Proms on 28 August at 10.15

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Jazz bookings this year include Charles Lloyd and Vijay Iyer

Quincy Jones, who turned 80 in March, will during this year’s Montreux Jazz Festival combine a special birthday concert with a tribute to Claude Nobs at the first festival to be held since Nobs’ death following a skiing accident.

The concert will feature Patti Austin, James Ingram, Siedah Garrett, Nikki Yanofsky, Emily Bear, Alfredo Rodriguez, Andreas Varady, and Justin Kauflin taking part.

At Montreux this year jazz bookings also include Charles Lloyd, Gregory Porter, the Joe Sample trio, Avishai Cohen Quartet, Vijay Iyer trio, Youn Sun Nah, José James, Jonathan Batiste and Stay Human, with Bob James and David Sanborn reuniting, and George Benson.

Pianists Michael Wollny, Iiro Rantala, shortly to perform with the EST Symphony in Stockholm, and Leszek Możdżer will also appear in Montreux at the ACT label night.

The festival is always a mix of jazz and stellar names from rock, R&B, and pop, and will also feature Leonard Cohen, Lianne la Havas, Green Day, Prince, and Sting as headliners.

For the full line-up just announced go to www.montreuxjazz.com

Quincy Jones, above

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New producer Sushil Dade 

Sushil Dade is the new producer of BBC Radio 3 Sunday night show Jazz Line-Up. Long time producer Keith Loxam, who has been synonymous with the show since its beginning, and who was recently nominated for a Parliamentary Jazz Award for services to jazz, is retiring at the end of June.

Glasgow-born Dade grew up listening to Bollywood and Indian classical music, and has worked in the past as a content producer for BBC Radio Scotland and produced Radio Scotland’s Jazz House show. He also produced the first BBC Radio Scotland young jazz musician of the year competition for the station. Dade has also served on the board of the Scottish Academy of Asian Arts, and as a specialist music advisor at the Scottish Arts Council. Story: Stephen Graham
Sushil Dade above. Photo: BBC

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Danzón take on ‘Solar’: a clever departure

Alex Wilson
Trio

Alex Wilson Records ***1/2
A prisoner to his big technique and eclecticism at times, the trio format on Trio released earlier this week suits Alex Wilson well although the sequencing here doesn’t do him any favours. Big, booming number ‘Kalisz’ named for Paweł Brodowski’s piano festival in Poland is an early peak (it might have been better at the end) but ‘Remercier les travailleurs’ with its Malian lilt is less overly energetic and all the better for it, allowing bassist Davide Mantovani more scope. It’s great to hear drummer Frank Tontoh in a trio setting on an album again, although you can often hear him in clubs such as Hideaway regularly. Recorded live in London and at the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry, as well as in studios in the capital, the danzón take on ‘Solar’ is a clever departure, and listen hard and you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Not sure about some of the tinkling applause at the beginning of some of the tracks as it makes everything resemble a vicar’s tea party. That’s not much of a drawback on an otherwise effortless sounding release by a pianist clearly hitting his stride.
Just released

Alex Wilson top left with Frank Tontoh and Davide Mantovani

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John Medeski
A Different Time
Okeh ***

Medeski originals, gospel, and Willie Nelson’s ‘I’m Falling in Love Again’ feature on new solo piano album by the jam band hero

The spine says it all. On the far left on black the yellow letters in a familiar handwritten script allow the eye to catch the word “OKeh”. It’s tiny. As the label is owned by a major record company there’s only so much romance in its return, but A Different Time is the first album to appear since welcome news came that the historical blues and jazz label is now back in the land of the living and signing again.

Stepping back in time is what the record is about. A solo piano release recorded on a French period Gaveau piano, an instrument known for its crafted cases, manufactured by a company originally founded in the mid-19th century. Medeski in the notes says this 7-footer dates back to 1924 and “the feel is very different” and that “one must sing with the fingers.”

It’s a very quiet often elegiac album and gets that bit more whisper-soft after opener ‘A Different Time’ on Willie Nelson’s ‘I’m Falling in Love Again’, which has a sort of musical box quality to it that’s new and sometimes on the record you have to do a double take. After all with Medeski Martin & Wood in the early-1990s Medeski got swept up in what became known as the jam band phenomenon, often with Hammond organ leading the swelling youth-friendly grassroots movement as at ease in indie rock clubs and outdoor festivals as it was in jazz spots.

A Different Time is the antithesis of groove and acid jazz. Most of the tunes are by Medeski except the Nelson just mentioned and an arrangement of Gabriel and Martin’s early 20th century gospel hymn ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’. At its best, on say the lovely opening to ‘Graveyard Fields’ or the melodic exposition of ‘Luz Marina (From Mama Kia)’ the album shows another side to Medeski; at its worst it is that bit too ponderous.

On the cover there’s a piano on a flying carpet and a song such as ‘Luz Marina’ does just about have the ability to transport you to a land beyond the temporal sphere. For instance ‘Waiting at the Gate’ grows beautifully, like a Randy Newman song, with an air of optimistic expectation the album to that point had lacked and this song has a quiet grandeur to it, one that might outlast everything else on the album in my mind. So all in all very much the contemplative side of Medeski on display, in an album that has its moments but doesn’t always ignite. Stephen Graham

John Medeski above. Photo: Michael Bloom

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Kendrick Scott, Julian Siegel, and Sam Leak jam at Ronnie’s

Kurt Elling was having his picture taken with fans as the Ronnie Scott’s door staff last night let a bunch of people standing on the street in for the Late Late Show. He had just completed the second night of his sold out residency at the club this week, and there’s a buzz about the place.

The late show hosted by Alex Garnett, the diminutive flat cap-wearing saxophonist who can whip up a solo from the lower reaches of his horn with all the panache of a conjurer, was hosting the show, a featured band-led jam session for night owls after eleven, and this was a chance to let touring US alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius and his quartet show their undoubted class. The altoist may have kept his very best to last, to around 2am, with a fine take on his hero Charlie Parker’s tune ‘Dexterity’, but Cornelius with old friend Michael Janisch on pulsing bass and tasteful guitarist Phil Robson (pushed along by drummer Andrew Bain) called the shots harmonically on demandingly sinuous advanced bebop.

Garnett, who has a winningly deadpan patter introducing the musicians, encouraged a “quiet roar” from the sizable late night turn-out for a line-up of great players who then joined to jam. Besides Garnett on tenor another fine tenor attraction was Julian Siegel standing lean and mean attacking like a latter-day Sonny Rollins, and with pianist Sam Leak joining in, Harold Arlen’s ‘My Shining Hour’ was the pick of this section of the session. Arlen oddly has made headline news this week for very different reasons as the writer of ‘Ding Dong’, now a Margaret Thatcher protest song currently at number two in the charts.

The promising Konitzian altoist Allison Neale impressed on a few numbers with ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ the pick, and Kendrick Scott from the Elling band in residence really turned up the heat when he joined. And then towards the end former Amy Winehouse guitarist Robin Banerjee found those friction-heavy percussive sounds at low volume on the instrument only he seems to know how to locate: a nice surprise. 

Elling with his young daughter stayed to observe the jam for a while, and the Kurtster’s drummer Kendrick Scott told me later after he had eaten supper that he is in talks with promoters Serious to bring his band Oracle to the UK. Let’s hope this pans out as their latest album Conviction is one of the best jazz releases to appear this year, burning as it does with sheer energy and packed full of strong compositional ideas. Elling pianist and main man Laurence Hobgood chatted about his former Naim labelmate the late Chris Anderson, and reminisced about meeting Alan Broadbent which he said was “a thrill”. He also intimated that he’s putting together a new band for the autumn, featuring a trumpet in the line-up. When I asked who he’d envisage filling that role the pianist and arranger said unblinkingly: “Terence Blanchard.” Let’s hope that exciting prospect shapes up. SG