Playing the Forge in Camden for the first time Christine Tobin chose the occasion yesterday to perform songs from her new 2012 album Sailing to Byzantium, matching the album selections with songs by Leonard Cohen, Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman, and at the end Carole King.

With the Margate-based singer’s band of pianist Liam Noble, her accompanist on Carole King songbook album Tapestry Unravelled, bassist Dave Whitford, cellist Kate Shortt, and guitarist Phil Robson, Tobin, whose latest album sets music to the poetry of WB Yeats with spoken word contributions by the great actor Gabriel Byrne (his recorded voice an evocative early presence here on ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’), was able to channel deep to the heart of the matter in her intelligent treatment of the peerless poetry of Ireland’s national poet. ‘The Second Coming’, Tobin describing it as ‘apocalypic’, was the most dramatic interpretation of the two-set concert, although one of Tobin’s great many strengths is that she relies on close study of her texts in terms of enunciation and above all timing performing the songs with a vocal range that makes use of a great deal of flexibility in terms of tone, and understated but hugely effective communicative quality. It could be said that having heard Tobin’s vocal versions of choice poems from the Yeatsian canon returning to the source has added meaning, added light and texture such is the finely judged sensitivity Tobin brought to the project. ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ was quite superb, and ‘Long-Legged Fly’ with lovely little syncopated touches from Shortt a strong feature of the programme dotted with delights. Tobin is also a remarkable interpreter of the songs of Leonard Cohen, and the inclusion of a few of his songs was a strong match, and I particularly enjoyed her rendition of ‘Everybody Knows’ that drew out the humour and seriousness of the lyric. Sailing to Byzantium is a quite extraordinary album, Tobin peerless and unassailable here, Yeats clearly her métier, in Cohen’s line ‘a shining artifact of the past.’ Stephen Graham

Sailing to Byzantium is on Trail Belle records

Historic jazz label Okeh is to be revived by Sony Classical, although the first new signings are still to be announced. The US label founded by Otto K. E. Heinemann, began operations in 1918 and was later owned by Columbia. Mamie Smith produced the label’s first big hit, ‘Crazy Blues’, and Okeh recording from a studio base in Chicago later in the 1920s became synonymous with what’s now regarded as classic jazz, particularly with artists such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington.

The label also was heavily known for its blues releases, but its name disappeared from view periodically over the years to be revived at different times, under Epic, for instance in the 1960s, recording Little Richard under the marque. More recently Sony retooled it in the 1990s as a blues label although the new initiative has jazz at its heart.

The label’s new Madrid-based A&R (artists and repertoire) executive Wulf Müller is no stranger to the UK jazz scene, and was based in London at Universal for many years. The executive, who is 57, grew up in Berlin and later studied politics and journalism at Vienna University.

At the beginning of the 1980s he became co-manager of a jazz club in Austria called Miles Smiles, a club that opened with Bill Frisell in duo with the great German bassist Eberhard Weber (known for such groundbreaking work as The Colours of Chloe and later as a member of the great Jan Garbarek Quartet).

Müller was also involved in starting a magazine called JazzLive, before going on to work as product manager for PolyGram Austria’s Import Music Service division. Later he started the Amadeo label with local Austrian jazz musicians, including releases by Karheinz Miklin, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, and executive-produced artists such as alto sax star Wolfgang Puschnig, known for his work with Carla Bley, and the now sadly defunct but very influential Vienna Art Orchestra.

In 1992 Müller moved to London as international marketing director for Jazz at PolyGram International, and began the Verve Nights at a range of European summer jazz festivals including the Montreux Jazz Festival and North Sea in the Hague where it was based at that time, and he worked with leading jazz artists Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln and the great singer Betty Carter.

Later as vice president of International Marketing Classics & Jazz for Universal he was responsible for international marketing for classics and jazz priorities worldwide, and signed local artists to Emarcy who he also did A&R for. Müller signed Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Michael Brecker to the label, along with many other leading artists.

The label Jazzland, which he developed with Norwegian keyboards polymath Bugge Wesseltoft, is one of the labels divested by Universal under the terms of their recent takeover of EMI. Müller left Universal before the takeover and with his wife Yolanda Chalmeta founded consultancy company All-In-Music Service, and relocated to Madrid, where their company has been active working with artists such as Sergio Mendes, producing Chinese star Karen Mok with a studio session back in London, and acting as a European tour co-ordinator for Branford Marsalis, Jane Monheit, and other artists.

Sony Classical in a statement jointly issued in Berlin and New York last month announced his appointment as an exclusive jazz A&R consultant stating that Müller will be working with Sony Classical teams in both cities bringing “new and established artists to the company, overseeing product development and supporting the international marketing of the releases.”

The president of Sony Classical is quoted as saying: “Wulf is one of the most experienced and respected executives in the jazz world and I have wanted to bring him to Sony for a long time, and for his part Müller said he is “honoured and excited to be asked to start jazz activities within Sony Classical and look forward to working with the Sony teams on some of the greatest artists in today’s music world”.

On his blog Müller expands: “It will all be jazz as usual, but this time on the OKeh label, founded in 1918 and home to many jazz greats at the time – Louis Armstrong among them.

A new chapter begins for major label jazz in a fast changing jazz record industry dominated by the coming together of Universal and EMI, the custodians of Verve and Blue Note, and the ongoing migration to digital formats and the brave new world of streaming. How the other major, Warners, will respond in terms of ramping up their jazz activity in terms of new signings remains to be seen.

Stephen Graham

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Stacey Kent performed new song ‘The Changing Lights’, first debuted in Liverpool earlier in her latest UK tour, written for her by distinguished novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and her husband saxophonist Jim Tomlinson last night at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, during the singer’s latest residency at the Soho institution, which celebrated its 53rd anniversary earlier in the week.

Informing the attentive audience that she is shortly to enter the studio for her latest album to be completed some time in the spring, as this tour for her latest album Dreamer In Concert reaches its conclusion shortly, she was coming full circle in her return to Frith Street. Because last year at Ronnie Scott’s, also at Halloween time, the singer started the ball rolling by launching the album in the UK, the follow-up to her mainly French language album Raconte Moi.

Last night the stand out song from earlier album Breakfast On The Morning Tram, ‘The Ice Hotel’, another Ishiguro/Tomlinson collaboration, was a firm highlight of the first set, but ‘The Changing Lights’, is, if anything, an even stronger, more intimate number, with a certain loneliness and big city melancholia implicit in its atmosphere and lyrics.

‘Dreamer’ worked well once again surpassed by the lovely feel of ‘Quiet Nights’, while Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s ‘The Trolley Song’ from Meet Me In Saint Louis she does so well and has recorded in the past was accomplished, even if ‘Waters of March’ was a bit more laboured than her rendition at the club last year.

Kent was joined by Graham Harvey on piano and Rhodes and bassist Jeremy Brown, regular playing partners both, but Stephen Keogh on drums was less familiar, although the experienced Charles McPherson and Tina May sideman read his part very well and gave the drum line a certain straightahead gravitas the material needs especially as the piano was meekly miked and contemplatively performed, contributing to the nocturne-like atmosphere of both sets. Tomlinson played beautifully on tenor sax (it was almost as if we were back in 1964, the year Getz/Gilberto came out) and he also switched to guitar late in the second set, an instrument Stacey had picked up to comp softly on earlier. There was a bit of exuberance at the bar later as a fan expressed his vocal enthusiasm (satisfied minutes later by ‘Hushabye Mountain’) and besides the airing of the new song the highlight, and maybe it will make the album was ‘This Happy Madness’ (‘Estrada Branca’ the title in Portuguese as Kent explained), a Jobim song again with English lyrics by the late Gene Lees, who also wrote English lyrics to ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Quiet Nights’. Jobim recorded the song with Frank Sinatra, on the Sinatra-Jobim Sessions, and this without a shadow of a doubt stole the show only just surpassing the remarkable new song.

Stephen Graham

Stacey Kent continues at Ronnie Scott’s tonight and completes her residency tomorrow

Pictured top Stacey Kent, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jim Tomlinson

Vinicius Cantuária

Indio De Apartamento

Naïve Records **** RECOMMENDED

Released next week hip New York-based Brazilian guitarist and singer (here also playing drums, keyboards and percussion) Cantuária emerges ever more prominently into the mainstream consciousness helped here by the presence of Norah Jones on Cantuária’s song ‘Quem Sou Eu’, the sixth song of 10 here, along with songwriter Jesse Harris whose song ‘Don’t Know Why’ made Jones famous in the first place. Harris appears with a vocal on his co-penned song in duo with the Brazilian, ‘This Time’, singing in English that provides some pointers to the A&R positioning of this album. That’s all very well, but thankfully Cantuária is not a mainstream bland artist and this is a quite beautiful record no matter who it’s aimed at. Bill Frisell, whose album with Cantuária Lágrimas Mexicanas was a strong seller in 2011, is on three tracks towards the end of the album and for jazz fans it’s Cantuária’s work with the likes of the great guitarist and a repertory cast over the years of maverick eclectic musical geniuses including Marc Ribot and Arto Lindsay that register most, and his appearance with Frisell in this country at Ronnie Scott’s fittingly garnered rare five star reviews in the broadsheet press.

Continuing to record with the commercially inclined French label Naïve Indio De Apartamento (‘Indian in the Apartment’), it’s the record company that has just signed Britjazz crooner Anthony Strong incidentally, the new release follows Cymbals, recorded with Brad Mehldau soon to return to these shores, alto sax man Dave Binney, and other leading lights of the eclectic non-genre jazzed diaspora.

Indio De Apartamento is not a massively long album as it’s song based in the short-form old school radioplay sense. Samba carioca (eg NYC samba) in nature first track ‘Humanos’ has a guitar-and-strings arrangement that recall (don’t run screaming) production on a massively successful Sting period in the 1990s and a song such as ‘Shape of My Heart’ while this brief atypical diversion gives way to gorgeous bossa nova on the second track. It’s soft, sensuous and the tempo on it is as good as anything I’ve heard since oh, Rosa Passos’ lovely 2004 album Amorosa. Cantuária adds many electronic textures to his music and the intro to ‘Purus’ allows a glimpse into his way of working, a gradual build that has a strong pulse and a kind of ‘wind of change’ momentum from the percussion that is very unusual. It’s a romantic album, full of sublime musicianship, soft textures that instantly compel further attention and the guests don’t distract although their input is not the strongest element of this fine album, as Cantuária is demonstrably The Man.
Stephen Graham

Pictured top: Vinicius Cantuária

The phenomenon of “your next box set”, an evening in with a DVD set of typically some quintessentially Scandinavian crime epic noir for company, a luxuriant soaking in uninterrupted subtitled emblazoned grisly goings-on in chilly climes, and fodder for the next vaguely passable social gathering is now well established in media land. To wit: the very words “your next” assuming it’s a regular pastime akin to gardening, happily flagged up in a regular spot in The Guardian. So clearly, instead of spending an evening down the pub, ruminating about the next must-attend piece of performance art, shopping for trainers, or dressing up for Halloween, it’s the thing to do. And why not while you’re at it, unless you actually prefer to go to a real-life cinema, that is, or opt for being really old fashioned and actually watch TV episode-by-episode when they’re actually on. Somehow, though, even if it is appealing with a bit of forward planning, the “all you can eat” all-of-the-time aspect of the box set-as-evening-entertainment is a little too good to be true, and it strikes me as though you need to be a bit of a glutton for punishment to really get it, chaining yourself to the TV no less, in the hope that the plot gets somewhere by the end although you’re bracing yourself just on the off chance that there’s some ending worth waiting for and not the kind, beloved of the arthouse, when the action grinds to a halt or, the big come on, stops… as if mid-sentence making sure a new series isn’t out of the question.

By the yardstick of the box set evening a four-hour opera is for softies although the path to the fridge is that bit more direct from the comfort of your sofa. But what about the “CD box set” night in? An outlandish concept you might say. Who in their right mind would listen to hours and hours of music, it’s fair to speculate, with only a few pictures of the artwork for visual stimulus, and nothing to stare at but the wall, should arty pics of image-conscious bands scowling begin to suddenly pall?

Well, shockingly, an evening in with a box set could work OK with the help of a roaring fire very possibly, a friendly hound by the hearth, hearty fare, suitable beverages, and a goodly mix of female company, with the hi-fi tinkling at just the right volume in the background.

And for the first running of this newly invented concept evening? Step forward Beat, Square & Cool, the second box set from boutique reissue label Moochin’ About. Last year the label put out the critically acclaimed Jazz on Film… Film Noir box set, and label founders record distribution sales executive Jason Lee Lazell and jazz writer Selwyn Harris have followed suit with a batch of films that retains the general concept, recognising the need for good mastering, a rarity in the world of public domain reissues where releases are often copied from less than pristine sources, the provision of detailed notes, again as rare as hen’s teeth, and plenty of pictures including original poster artwork reproduced along with the five CDs, each disc covering extracts from sometimes two films. So there’s The Wild One from 1953 and Crime in the Streets from three years later on CD1; I Want to Live! from 1958 given a whole disc; Marcel Carné’s Les Tricheurs from the same year bunking up with Paris Blues from three years later on CD3; while the fourth CD has The Subterraneans from 1960, with music by André Previn; and finally Shadows from 1959, and The Connection, from two years later, are on the last CD.

A foreword from Jazzwise editor Jon Newey sets the scene: “Out of the twilight murk of post-war film noir emerged a new strand of shadowy cinematic concepts,” and then Selwyn Harris, who writes the regular Jazz on Film column in Jazzwise, in his introduction charts how the films in question emerged from those shadows, firstly marking the teenage revolution in the making via films such as The Wild One while jazz was similarly in flux with cinema trying to encapsulate both the bohemianism of the jazz community’s take on the world they find themselves unwillingly part of, and the transformation of attitudes to music and society in The Subterraneans, as well as in Paris Blues, with music by Duke Ellington, and French film Les Tricheurs.

Harris finds the society of the day’s racial taboos are shied away from in some of these films, particularly Paris Blues and The Subterraneans but points to the growing confidence of independent film making in the United States with figures such as director John Cassavetes who in Shadows with wonderful music by Charles Mingus and an semi-improvised ethos in the film making process Harris contends allowed for greater complexity and representation of issues that few before Cassavetes would have been capable of tackling with the same degree of commitment.

While the music for The Connection is better known, the inclusion of Shadows plugs a gap in many people’s record collections, and the notes about this important though cultish film are good on details about the Mingus octet and the story of how the film came to be made.

It’s not surprising to discover where Harris’ heart lies in the selections here (with the clue in the booklet cover image bled on to the back of Cassavetes’ hands in the air, with Shafi Hadi emerging on the far left on the back cover recording the score for the film). And it’s the later noticeably more modern material that the main interest in this superlative box set lies. These Moochin’ About releases take on the marker for film and jazz set down by the quality of numerous Proper Box series,  although the design is that much more appealing and the notes so much more readable and interesting.

As full migration to digital threatens to mothball CDs at some point in the near future, detailed readable information and properly presented audio that is worth its place on your shelf for frequent reference particularly in the realms of reissues is so very valuable as it won’t be around for ever in current formats and who knows what online solutions will be found as the buccaneering spirit of digital format-finding gathers pace in the years to come. It’s extraordinary and short sighted, though, that record labels concentrate on putting out poor quality digital music as downloads (not even reissuing so much on CD these days especially if it’s owned by the majors).

So the age of “your next box set” may yet take on a different dimension. Breathe life into an old format by taking it home for an evening in and not a Wallander in sight. The 300 minutes of music on this set would make a very full and entertaining evening no matter how beat, square or cool you happen to be.

Stephen Graham

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When an artist has a signature sound, and David Sanborn, whose two-CD anthology Then Again is released today, clearly has, then a few things happen. First and foremost a lot of people copy it or modify it, and this is clearly the case with Sanborn whose sound has spawned a great many imitators on this side of the Atlantic as well as in the US.

Sanborn can also be seen as a player whose work is adjacent to smooth jazz, even though he has retained his credibility although empirically his style is not too different to generic smooth jazz as we now understand it, as this compilation covering Warner albums starting in 1975, and continuing until 1996, easily shows.

The compilation features the work of a variety of leading producers, and people who hate commercial jazz should sit down and listen to this set to either banish their prejudices or confirm them. Highlights for me are ‘Lisa’ and ‘Hideaway’ from the first CD, and the Don Grolnick arrangement of ‘Lotus Blossom’ on the second. Never underestimate Sanborn, it’s wise to say; and this well put together 2-CD set provides plenty of reasons for such caution. 

Stephen Graham

Saturday lunchtime is an unusual and quite brave time for an album launch that didn’t nonetheless affect Cloudmakers Trio too much despite the modest turn-out at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London yesterday. Kicking off with ‘Snaggletooth’ “dedicated to the noble art of British dentistry", quipped vibes player Jim Hart above, the band were performing material from new album Live at the Pizza recorded on the very spot here with Ivo Neame octet drummer Dave Hamblett deputising for Cloudmakers sticksman Dave Smith who is touring South America with Robert Plant, Hart patiently informed the audience, the latter mainly quietly intent on munching pizza in the darkness of the Dean Street basement reserving their applause for later. Fresh over on the train from Paris in the morning the trio were joined by alto saxophonist Antonin Tri Hoang (it’s trumpeter Ralph Alessi on the album) whose tone and general style at times resembled the approach of a master like Lee Konitz, and who excelled particularly on Monk’s ‘Bye Ya’ in the first set, and in the second on the bebop pioneer’s ‘Epistrophy’ with Hart explaining that everyone on stage were keen appreciators of Monk. The original material complemented the original inclinations of bebop to some extent with a vertical harmonic orientation that revelled in keenly carved out structure and strong momentum, the confidently insistent bass lines of Janisch and idiomatic drumming from Hamblett maintaining sustained interest, despite this being Hamblett’s first live performance of the material. Must have been a bit of a roast! You may have heard both Hart and Hamblett on Ivo Neame’s superlative octet release Yatra recently. ‘Social Assassin’, dedicated to Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David, was an exuberant way to open the second set, and later ‘Passwords’, from the album, was the pick of the original material, a very fine composition for a variety of reasons, particularly the shape of the piece and the fact that the band produced some spontaneous polyrhythmic lift-off, in other words, whether it was the intention or not the tune swung. I also liked the avant garde ‘Post Stone’, named after a night at John Zorn’s New York downtown venue The Stone. Maybe Saturday afternoon gigs need to catch on a bit more to gain the extra bums on seats, but Cloudmakers are worth catching live on any day of the week even in the afternoon.

Stephen Graham

A film and its soundtrack, they go together; or do they? It’s not always obvious and I’m talking about the continuity dialogue-and-music version, not the music-only separately issued one. It’s all about context, stating the obvious, choice; and above all the interpretative ability of the composer and the allied decisions to use song-based or instrumental material that already exists that can amplify the story. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master the director is reunited with film composer Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, following their previous work together on There Will Be Blood.

The music that Greenwood didn’t compose reflects the film’s period setting to an extent, and it has a jazz-tinged and popular music quality to it, relating to the 1940s following victory in Japan, the beginning of a new era as traumatised navy veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes part of The Cause, the cultish Scientology-like group led by charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, above). Greenwood’s music harnesses electronic textures via acoustic means and dense harmonic strings-laden clusters that particularly in the second half of the film, past the one-hour mark, uses clarinet a great deal. Some of the instrumentalists on the score, released by Nonesuch records on 5 November, are jazz people including former Humphrey Lyttelton sideman the veteran mainstream musician Jimmy Hastings, and a voice of the new generation, Sons of Kemet clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings, along with Zed-U bandmates Neil Charles and Tom Skinner.

The key non-Greenwood music comes in three main varieties each with particular justifications in terms of plot and context.

The first is the inclusion of the Ella Fitzgerald version of the Irving Berlin song ‘Get Thee Behind Me Satan’, chosen I suppose for its playful hint of menace and played against a show of photographs.

The second is ‘No Other Love’ (the spooky song that owes much to Chopin’s ‘Tristesse’) sung by Jo Stafford, which belongs to the Arizona section of the film where the Master finds himself, in Phoenix, addressing the first congress of The Cause. While impactful it retains a non-literal ambivalence in terms of narrative.

And finally the third song is Helen Forrest’s version of ‘Changing Partners’ in waltz time accompanied by the Sy Oliver orchestra (think the feel of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ a tune that Sonny Rollins interpreted in its definitive jazz treatment). This last song charts the ultimate choice of Freddie after his final dealing with Dodd in his mansion in England where the action moves to after some wanderings in America and quite some time after the seafaring episodes in the early part of the film.

The Greenwood soundtrack itself in the context of the film, leaving aside the songs referred to, and they are important, has a great deal of depth and an abstract logic to it unlike much modern cinema composition that relies on mood-setting minimalism as a jumping off point, or anthemic electronica even no matter the period. Texturally Greenwood’s approach adds gravitas and provides parallel, although properly allusive, commentary on the drama. It also never distracts and integrates itself organically. The Master is absorbing, stimulating, a quite brilliant piece of film-making and thought-provoking storytelling, beautifully acted and shot. It’s a film that people will, hazarding a wild guess, be talking about for a long time to come. Stephen Graham

In cinemas from Friday

With over 110 people on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Urban Soul Orchestra and Voicelab with special guest Brinsley Forde celebrated 50 years of Jamaican independence in some style with a themed concert based on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1973 classic album Catch a Fire.

Forde, pictured above right, who with ASWAD had significant chart success with songs such as ‘Don’t Turn Around’ going to number one in the charts in 1988, and ‘Shine’, was the front man of the evening standing wearing a leather jacket and sporting a baseball cap with a guitar loosely slung over his shoulder.

Behind him to his right were the Urban Soul Orchestra an eight piece strings section led by violinist Stephen Hussey, while immediately behind Forde at the back of the stage Jazz Jamaica’s bandleader Gary Crosby OBE was beefing up his double bass reggae style to suit the occasion. The bass lines were extra fat, extra juicy, the reggae beat of guitarist Robin Banerjee and propulsive drums of Rod Youngs lovingly honed, and percussionist Pete Eckford was clearly raring to go from the start, fine and choppy on congas.

Not all the songs performed were from Catch a Fire but they formed the main strand of the musical programme, including album opener ‘Concrete Jungle’, ‘Slave Driver’, ‘400 Years’, ‘Stop That Train’, ‘Baby We’ve Got a Date’, and ‘Stir It up’, the latter opening the second set with a great string arrangement involving the fiddling duo of violinist Miles Brett and Stephen Hussey. ‘Kinky Reggae’, and the formidable ‘No More Trouble’ were also performed from Catch a Fire (only ‘Midnight Ravers’ was absent), and other Marley classics featured included ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘One Love’ from Exodus for good measure.

All the arrangements were by alto saxophonist Jason Yarde who was part of a strong sax section that included newcomer baritone saxophonist Teresina Morra, whose solo early on acted as a marker for an exciting new name of note to watch out for. Harry Brown in the trombone section was as listenable as ever, and notable trumpet solos were taken by Yazz Ahmed and James McKay.

Forde was uniformly excellent, with great stage presence and a mellifluously persuasive voice, particularly on ‘Stop That Train’, ‘400 Years’ and ‘Redemption Song’, and the South Bank Centre choir Voice Lab directed by Mark De-Lisser went down a storm in the second set with their spirited sense of involvement. The audience got on to their feet and it all felt so natural. Earlier the vocal torch was carried under their own pared down auspices by the All Stars’ backing singers who Crosby dubbed “them three”, Jazz Jamaica’s own I-Threes: MOBO-nominated Zara McFarlane, Valerie Etienne and Rasiyah Jubari, whose harmonies and occasional ensemble-stealing moments were just great. Musical director and conductor Kevin Robinson’s trumpet solo at the end was also a classy touch. Hear this very fine presentation if you can before the tour ends next week, and you’ll lively up yourself for sure. Stephen Graham

Photos: Roger Thomas

The Lively Up festival tour continues on Friday night at Leeds Town Hall, followed by De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on 31 October, and reaches the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 2 November





Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson
New Focus
Whirlwind ***1/2
Better known for his tenure in Brass Jaw, Scottish saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski (above) and pianist Euan Stevenson (below) are here not appearing as a duo as a casual glance at the billing might first suggest, but 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 last summer 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.

There are 10 tracks and 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.

Stephen Graham

Released on 5 November. The album launch takes place at the London Jazz Festival on 13 November with a concert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, W1