The pianist and composer Larry Willis has died at the age of 76 following a pulmonary haemorrhage due to complications from diabetes. His death was confirmed by a long time friend.

Known to UK audiences in recent years for his acclaimed concerts with Hugh Masekela (the South African icon who died in 2018 and with whom Willis, on the right, is pictured, above), Willis had a long career and worked with Jackie McLean early on.

Read a full tribute in Jazz Times.  

Beats & Pieces

AND IT WAS ALL going so well…

But by two numbers in, the bass player’s bridge had collapsed and when they stopped to try to fix it the fire alarm went off. 

Not exactly the impact Beats & Pieces had planned to make on their first visit to Ireland but by the time the show was back on the road again, bassist Stewart Wilson had switched to electric and this exuberant 14-piece Manchester band were providing the only fire in the house. 

Now in their 11th year, which is remarkable in itself, this was the first of two Irish dates, the second being Limerick Jazz Festival the following night. Under the direction of composer/conductor Ben Cottrell, B&P are, as they say themselves, not so much a big band as a band that happens to be big.

Indeed they are worthy successors to those last great disrupters of convention, Loose Tubes. There is, indeed, a loose energy to their sound. It’s powered by a floor-shaking rhythm section that’s heavy on the electronics and there are big, uplifting ensemble sections (played with not a music stand in sight). 

There are also terrific soloists, in particular Nick Walters and Graham South on trumpets, Dee Byrne on alto and Anthony Brown on tenor, who featured on ‘Broken,’ which showed the band’s softer side. Other stand-out numbers included ‘Woody,’ with its second line New Orleans beat, a fast and ferocious ‘Jazzwalk’ and the touching ‘Fairytale,’ which could have been written for a North of England brass band. 

Well done to the indefatigable Moving on Music for providing this exciting experience.

— Keith Baker 

photo: Michael Bonner

Maria Chiara Argirò group

Hidden Seas by Italian pianist and composer Maria Chiara Argirò – full of a marine inspired folk and jazz impressionism conveyed by acoustic and electronic textures and inspired by Edward MacDowell’s Sea Pieces is strikingly fresh and appealing. The material leaps off the page in audio performance – French singer Leïla Martial matching the mood with a certain delicacy and clarity. Also on the album are Sam Rapley on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Tal Janes playing guitar and utilising effects), Andrea Di Biase on double bass and Gaspar Sena on drums. No better time to paddle a little while you still can. Out now on Cavalo Records **** recommended   

BleySchool on 577 Records this autumn is a tribute to Paul Bley, the influential avant garde pianist and composer who died in 2016.

It is the work of the trio of pianist Pat Thomas of Black Top, bassist Dominic Lash and the Pushy Doctors drummer Tony Orrell.

The album title puns on a BBC children’s TV series Play School that ran for 23 years for much of the 1960s through the 70s and into the 80s.

Tunes are: the cooperatively composed ‘Aloof,’ Ornette Coleman’s ‘The Blessing’ a tune that journeys back to the Live at the Hilcrest Club 1958 Ornette Coleman days Bley was part of at the birth of “free jazz” and that inspired the naming of Bristol band Get originally simply The BlessingBleySchool was recorded at Bristol university last year; Duke Ellington’s ‘In a Sentimental Mood’; ‘Ida Lupino’ written by Bley’s former wife the pianist and composer Carla Bley; and the uncredited original, ‘BleySchool’. To be issued on an LP. ‘Aloof’ is streaming.  

Kit Downes is joined by Tom Challenger (saxophone), Seb Rochford (drums), cellist Lucy Railton and guitarist Stian Westerhus in the line-up on Dreamlife of Debris to be released in late-October.

Listen to ‘Sculptor’ drawn from the album, above. On the website of Snape Maltings, the Suffolk venue where the pianist, organist and composer appeared recently Kit explains: “This latest record Dreamlife of Debris (ECM) is the continuation of a process that stretches right back to my initial residency as part of the ‘Open Space’ programme I participated in with Tom Challenger. There we created a project around rural local churches and organs, designed to be a collection of field recordings documenting both extended techniques and improvisations. This became the album Vyamanikal (SLIP Imprint), which we then performed live as part of an ‘Organ Crawl’ at the Aldeburgh Festival (complete with vintage buses taking the audience from church to church).” [Full quotation via the Snape Maltings site.

• Hear Kit Downes and the Dreamlife of Debris band at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff on 21 November followed by December appearances at the MAC Theatre, Birmingham (5 Dec), Anteros, Norwich (6th) and Kings Place, London (7th).

Look out for Higher Ground new from Jon Regen in October. Produced by the Jamiroquai keyboardist Matt Johnson starry guests joining the singer-songwriter keyboardist bandleader include Andy Summers of The Police, Larry Klein, Ricky Peterson, Keith Carlock, Tim Lefebvre, Davey Faragher, Julia Kent, Matt Beck and Grégoire Maret. The album arrives four years on from Stop Time. Check out the Randy Newman-esque ‘Who Cares If Everybody Else Knows’ that comes complete with a spoken word rap among the pre-release tracks.