Elina Duni Quartet
It’s always tempting to second guess a label or make sweeping generalisations about their output. Labels with a big release schedule and eclectic tastes, such as ECM’s, regularly by their ambition prove the absurdity of such dragooning of music into neat little phrases. Of course, that’s not to say that everything is individual, again a fairly ludicrous attitude, but certainly this release by the Elina Duni Quartet is unusual. Singer Duni born in the Albanian capital of Tirana in 1981, sings mournfully over a dozen songs on the album, the title of which means ‘Beyond the Mountain’, several of which mine the fairly unknown folk music of her native land. Her Swiss husband Colin Vallon’s trio (its personnel changed now since their Albanian-influenced album Rruga with the trio’s longstanding drummer Samuel Rohrer replaced here by Norbert Pfammatter) is a typically modern European style very quiet piano trio that we’re accustomed to since Tord Gustavsen’s rise to prominence. So it’s library-like in the level of contemplation at play. Duni came to Switzerland in the early-1990s and it’s her collision with the world outside the formerly closed country of Albania through her music that makes this album startling. The quartet has released hard to find albums Baresha and Lume Lume for the tiny Meta Records label which I’ll seek out as clearly the music here on the new album is mature and deepy considered and the journey the musicians have made would be interesting to trace. Patrice Moret, the quartet’s bassist, holds the key to much of the integrating of vocals and trio on Matanë Malit, and it’s clear that Balkan folk songs have rarely sounded so ancient seen through the lens of a very modern artist in Duni.
Elina Duni Quartet, pictured above
2012 has been a big year for Breach. With touring in the summer that led them to the Rochester Jazz Festival in New York state and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada as well as a run of dates all over England and Scotland recently, their just released new album Borders finds them claim their due place in the sun at last, or as the album cover picture has it, an overcast beach. The album, released on their own Breach label sees guitarist Graeme Stephen also manipulating electronics, with organist Paul Harrison in electronic mode as well, plus drummer/percussionist Chris Wallace testing very interesting waters.
Whether it’s teasing with the melody of ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ on ‘I Smell Something’, or the organ trio format itself, at the heart of the matter, there’s a playfulness at work and plenty of explorative and engaged playing throughout that manages to vault over the stultifying limitations of the format. “Paul Harrison would like to apologise to Duke Ellington”, the drily amusing note puts it, so clearly Breach aren’t up themselves, the latter a factory fault setting in band ego-land quite often. This trio find a way on these eight tracks to dispel nearest easy comparisons (say Lifetime, or to a lesser extent Troyka), and fit in well with the current redefining of how prog fits within jazz. Harrison plays the organ like a synth, if you know what I mean, and that makes all the difference, so he comes over like Gary Husband might with John McLaughlin sometimes, Larry Young very occasionally. There’s less firepower needed as the idea clearly is not a Heath Robinson-like fusion explosion, and I think that’s where the subtlety of the electronics comes in as well as Stephen’s superb approach to jazz guitar. He plays in the lineage of Phil Robson perhaps more than McLaughlin and there is considerable flexibility and passion in his playing. Take his Celtic rock-like solo on ‘Borders’, say. The tunes are good (‘Judgement’ is the pick of a strong set, especially the ‘bridge’ section there). A fine record from three players who have something that bit different and distinctive to say with their improvising. Seek them out.
Pictured, above Breach
So what’s in store for 2013? Well, everything goes quiet for a bit in terms of record releases now and over Christmas but already there are pre-release copies of some big releases available and some tracks from them online.
The record companies, at least the ones that are really sussed, allow considerable promo of their albums ages before release these days. It takes time for people to find music despite the universality of the web, time to think about buying tracks, and pre-buy listens are essential in the build, and it’s not just about the hard sell or even a subliminally insidious push.
In the digital age and in a recession it’s as if you have to really believe in the artist to then invest with hard cash and people can get engaged whether they’re media or especially not.
It’s democratising and there’s more open access to listen early than in the old white label days when white labels were scarce. Of course some artists don’t like this new method, and there are records that simply are kept under strict wraps until release, although protective marketing can mess things up. The trailing of tracks generally works and crucially allows time for fans to really get to grip with what their artists are doing new and then they can choose to go out to the clubs and concert halls to hear them. Take a look at say the Babel site for great upfront access to the latest releases and new bands: http://babel-label.bandcamp.com
Last year UK indie Naim Jazz began circulating copies of The Face of Mount Molehill four to five months before its release, something that really helped push sales way past the 6,000 mark, and Harlem indie Motéma garnered even more UK sales for Gregory Porter’s Be Good by providing easily available good quality videos and streams before release although word of mouth from the live shows was the best promotion ultimately, as t’will ever be.
Blue Note are doing the advance trail in different ways for two big releases for 2013: Wayne Shorter’s Without a Net, more of which in a later blog, and José James’ No Beginning No End, which is released on 21-22 January. The work on this began with the help of iTunes and ‘Trouble’ was named track of the week, but also an appearance by James at the associated iTunes fest was a significant factor, supporting Robert Glasper who since then has appeared in promo video form interviewing the New York-based singer for extra matching.
James’ career has fluctuated a great deal since he first emerged on Gilles Peterson’s radar with the hipster DJ signing the at-that-point complete unknown to his label, Brownswood. James’ Coltrane-rooted gigs with Jef Neve were very fine live (see links below) yet their duo album for Impulse disappointed a bit, and I’m not that keen on the hip hop-tinged Black Magic even with Flying Lotus’ imput.
Signing to Blue Note has done wonders for James’ creativity. The new album has an authentic retro jazzed soul sound, not Gregory Porter’s way, say, although both singers profess much love for the music of Nat King Cole. They have very different voices, and James is more alert to the club scene, ‘club’ as in the old acid jazz rare groove sense, and with James it’s one ear to Bill Withers, one ear to Flying Lotus and all ears to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman but Gil Scott-Heron comes in to the picture as well.
The new album of originals opens in bedroom fashion with JJ’s lyrics on ‘It’s All Over Your Body’ with a band featuring bassist Pino Palladino, some retro horns, Robert Glasper and Chris Daddy Dave. World-jazz singer Hindi Zahra guests memorably on the next track ‘Sword and Gun’, yet it’s ‘Trouble’ blessed with a monster groove that really impresses. Ex-Guy Barker and current Van Morrison band member Alistair White on trombone makes his presence felt on this JJ-penned song, written with Scott Jacoby.
‘Vanguard’ following is also excellent, Glasper helming it on Rhodes with Daddy Dave and Pino Palladino, the latter who played very well live with Glasper at the Roundhouse in October and is an album co-producer. Emily King adds lovely feminine touches on the seductive ‘Come to my Door’, the fifth track, and she’s even better on the second of her two album tracks ‘Heaven on the Ground’, which is track six.
‘Do You Feel’ and ‘Make it Right’ passed me by a bit, but ‘Bird of Space’ didn’t, possibly the connoisseurs’ choice and if rumours are right James’ favourite cut from the whole superlative affair, while final tracks ‘No Beginning No End’ and ‘Tomorrow’, the latter with Monk prizewinning pianist Kris Bowers an interesting presence. A record this good hardly ever comes along. Thank goodness it has. Set your clocks for release time in late-January.
Some José James links
They’re new in that they have debuted with an album or haven’t even done that. They’ve often picked up good reviews, impressed live, or have that extra distinctive touch that makes them stand out from the crowd. There’s no science involved in picking them, it’s just a gut feeling. They may change their line-ups, break up acrimoniously in the years to come, last as long as the Rolling Stones, or simply vanish without a trace by breakfast. They’re the lifeblood of the scene, though, and they’re bands, not groups, and nope not ensembles either.
Sons of Kemet
Unbeatable energy from Shabaka and the two-tubs tuba turbanauts
Are you going to go my way? Maths jazz par excellence from mystery man George Fogel and co
Laura Jurd Quartet
Trumpeter’s sensational debut
World Service Project
They matched, it fused
The new melodic straight out of Hamburg
Flexible resourceful improvising: Steve Williamson in his element with Pat Thomas and Orphy Robinson with Cleveland Watkiss on some gigs
Opalińska & Whates
Distant echoes of Komeda and Roman Dylag
Dice Factory, top and Tingvall Trio above
It has been the worst year in living memory for reading good books about jazz, despite (because of?) the rise and rise of the eBook. Good writers generally can’t get published for money, it’s as simple as that.
Thankfully, there are a few just published or on the horizon to make up for this a bit, and some that have caught my eye include The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire by Ted Gioia, Soul Unsung by Kevin Le Gendre, and You’ll Know When You Get There by Bob Gluck, about Herbie’s Mwandishi period.
One I did enjoy was Keystone Korner: a Portrait of a Jazz Club. It made me think…
Next time you’re standing in a jazz club or sitting around perusing the club programme, looking at the menu or sipping a beverage ahead of the band coming on, spare a thought for the photographer. Ever thought what it would be like photographing the band you’ve come to see?
‘In My Years at Keystone’, a chapter in Keystone Korner: a Portrait of a Jazz Club photographer Kathy Sloane offers a glimpse of her time photographing Todd Barkan’s famed San Francisco club Keystone Korner in the 1970s. “I opened the door to Keystone Korner and walked into what felt like Manhattan. The jazz club was small and dark,” she writes, “and the sounds coming from the bandstand – the honks, the cries. The sirens of the streets, the confinement and freedom of New York, rushed at me with such force that I stood in the doorway as though rooted to the floor.” Sloane, a New Yorker, tells of the challenges of limited light in the club, the distraction of the psychedelic mural merging with the musicians, but what about that mirror to the right of the stage? She recalls: “I loved shooting musicians in the mirror.”
Sloane’s recollections are just one voice, and her photographs another point of entry, besides the dozens of recollections of the club by Barkan himself, waitresses, customers, musicians including Dave Liebman, Eddie Henderson, Eddie Marshall, Steve Turre, and poets, with California poet laureate Al Young writing the preface.
Barkan, now in New York programming Dizzy’s in Jazz at Lincoln Center, says of the club: “Keystone Korner was definitely a bright moment in song. It was very much a co-operative effort, a very rare oasis where everybody seemed to be focused, with the same feelings about the music, and that’s part of what made it a special experience.”
The club eventually ran out of money and closed in the early-1980s but its place in jazz history is secure with many important albums including McCoy Tyner’s Atlantis recorded on the North Beach premises at 750 Vallejo next to a police station. Some of the best reminiscences of all are from the waitresses and the club’s cook Ora Harris provides some great anecdotes. An essential read for anyone who’s ever stepped foot in a jazz club.
Keystone Korner: a Portrait of a Jazz Club, Indiana University Press, £25
While the cause of death is still to be established the passing of pianist Austin Peralta yesterday, at the age of just 22, is a huge shock to appreciators of his artistry and burgeoning talent. A prodigy, while still in high school he recorded a pair of albums with Peralta finding himself quickly in the fast lane alongside the likes of the great bassist Ron Carter, and former Dave Holland quintet drummer Billy Kilson. After high school Peralta, in New York, studied at the New School and then returned to the West Coast collaborating there with Stanley Clarke, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, among others, joining Fly-Lo’s Brainfeeder label. Peralta’s albums include Endless Planets released last year.
Do jazz fans still rail against the “plus-strings" concept, or later “third stream", as they did in Charlie Parker’s day, or wail inconsolably when Gunther Schuller and John Lewis took the synthesis a step further?
Possibly not, apart from a few diehards. But this year has seen less of the lonely string quartet parked on stage, hardly written into the action, than in the past. In fact they are more common than ever, and fully integrated, surely a sign that the antagonism to the concept is dying out.
Notable sightings have included the Mount Molehill Strings joining the Neil Cowley Trio, supplemented by even more strings at their recent Barbican concert; the Urban Soul Orchestra strings touring with Jazz Jamaica and Brinsley Forde is another recent collaboration that worked, with Jason Yarde’s arrangements a strong factor; and on Laura Jurd’s Landing Ground a connection to both Molehill and Urban Soul as both bands and Jurd’s impressive debut featured violinist Mandhira de Saram, on Jurd’s record as part of the Ligeti Quartet.
Others dipping their toes in these difficult waters have included Nick Tyson’s Chambr, and continuing his interest in the area, Dave Stapleton, who with Flight draws together jazz quartet and the impressive Brodowski String Quartet.
Where the wider trend started is hard to say, and to some extent, although this is changing, classically trained players who turn to jazz have little difficulty working in chamber situations. Brad Mehldau working with the Britten Sinfonia for instance two years ago, and more recently touring a classical work of his with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, has placed his newly commissioned work, ‘Variations for Piano and Orchestra on a Melancholy Theme’, with classical repertoire from Prokofiev and Mozart in concert programmes. For the full jazz symphony experience it was Wynton Marsalis who made an impact back in the summer premiering his Swing Symphony with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra joining forces with the London Symphony Orchestra.
2013 will see a major new chamber work from Wayne Shorter, the tone poem ‘Pegasus’ for his great quartet and the Imani Winds on his album Without a Net due in February. It’s a protean game changer, and example, for the new generation working in this area, and could inspire yet more jazz and classical collaboration to feed the creativity of jazz once more.
Wayne Shorter above who shows the way forward in 2013 with the 23-minute chamber piece ‘Pegasus’ on Without a Net due for release in February. Photo: Robert Ascroft
Tomorrow sees the opening of new exhibition ECM — A Cultural Archaeology, with the first public view on Friday, running until 10 February at the Haus der Kunst museum in the record label’s home city of Munich. ECM (the letters standing for Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in 1969 by classical bassist Manfred Eicher pictured above left seated and is now the pre-eminent jazz independent record label in Europe, if not the world, with a strong classical side launched as the New Series in 1984 as well. Its roster of artists over the years is astonishing, with Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek pillars of the label, and many new signings releasing records regularly. Curated by Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller, the exhibition the organisers say “presents visual, archival, and recorded material, bringing together a range of formats, such as sound, music, photography, film, and edition work."
Installations and works by contemporary artists whose inspiration parallels that of the label’s is also featured, along with concerts by label artists. An exhibition catalogue will be published later this month.
How was the London Jazz Festival for you?
There could be a hundred or a thousand answers to this question.
Ten days of gigs, with innumerable permutations in gig going, pre-concert talk to-ing, and post-gig foyer fro-ing, as well as films, afternoon shows, late night jamming in the clubs and concert halls of the capital, saturated London with jazz dominating in central London especially with additional pockets of heightened activity in the suburbs.
Yes, there were lots this year, none bigger than Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock, but there were also a great many unknown or little known European names, and many young and established bands from the UK scene taking part, some for the first time.
While some venues from last year did not take part, Boisdale Canary Wharf the most high profile of these, others took their place, but the festival hubs in terms of concert hall activity are clearly at the South Bank Centre and the Barbican. The clubs saw a huge amount of high quality activity, but it was Ronnie Scott’s, the Vortex, and the Pizza Express Jazz Club that were upper-most on many people’s wish lists.
I attended about half a dozen events this year, and I’m sure many people attended many more concerts, or even considerably fewer. It struck me that there is a big difference in feel between the ticketed big concert hall events and freestage activity. Audiences in both the Festival Hall and the Barbican were generally quite subdued and polite whereas in the foyers for freestage and Clore Ballroom gigs the atmosphere was more casual, more sociable, and it felt as if large numbers were sampling new acts that they would be unlikely to attend in such large numbers on a whim parting with hard cash. Hopefully, a percentage of these audiences will return for ticketed concerts in the future if the new bands they saw gain a following. With a band such as Finnish hopefuls Oddarrang, for instance, that could well happen given the response they received on the SouthBank.
How the BBC and Radio 3 will be involved next year for the festival’s 21st running remains to be seen as the “in association” sponsorship the festival has enjoyed comes to an end. But one would presume that the corporation will broadcast heavily at the festival whether it is a headline sponsor or not. With radio coverage and web reviews via blogs and social media and to a much lesser extent print media the festival made its presence felt, but given the epic size of the event this was still paltry compared to say the acres of media attention London Fashion Week, the Proms, and the London Film Festival receives.
It may be a controversial thing to say that the festival is now too big to make sensible choices, and it’s just another aspect of the plentiful array of entertainment in London. If gig-goers start to clamour for an intimate festival of some kind as an alternative then the chances are the festival has bulked up that bit too much. If they don’t then big is, for London jazz fans, most certainly beautiful.
View from the foyer above at the London Jazz Festival in the Barbican last week
2012 has seen an upsurge in the activity and ambition of UK indie jazz labels, even in tough times for CD sales. Here are some brief case studies of labels making a difference, beginning with some of the newer ones
Whirlwind Recordings Set up in the early part of last year with the release of Purpose Built by UK-based American bassist Michael Janisch, Whirlwind aims, it says, to “present the artists’ unadulterated artistic vision while exceeding industry standards in audio fidelity, graphic design, and promotional consideration." Releases have included The Immeasurable Code by Phil Robson, Smiling Organizm by Zhenya Strigalev, and Cohesion by Partikel.
Naim Jazz Just three years old the Salisbury-based imprint (previously the Naim Label) has had a good year with best selling well-received releases by the Neil Cowley Trio in The Face of Mount Molehill and Get The Blessing who launched OCDC, and both bands have also toured in the United States. The label says it is “dedicated to everything from smooth jazz right up to avant-garde", and presents its artists like an indie rock label might.
Edition Records Established in 2008 by pianist Dave Stapleton and photographer Tim Dickeson, Edition in a short space of time has been widely recognised both for its look and artistic taste. With the success of Phronesis the label had its first hit band on its hands, and successes have included the Ivo Neame Octet’s groundbreaking Yatra, and Marius Neset’s Golden Xplosion.
Basho Records Ahead of the release in 2013 of the sophomore Impossible Gentlemen release for Basho produced by Steve Rodby, this north London label, run by Christine Allen and Max Steuer since 2004, came of age when the Kit Downes Trio was nominated for a Mercury award, and the label has also been strongly associated with the early career of star pianist Gwilym Simcock. The label recently released the latest album of James Allsopp’s hugely promising band Golden Age of Steam.
Babel label A pillar of the UK jazz label community, and possibly the best known of them all, Babel was founded in the mid-1990s by former economist Oliver Weindling in London. With an unsurpassable passion for the music and a desire to develop both esoteric and the more accessible forms of jazz and improv Babel has seen critical success with Billy Jenkins, Polar Bear, Portico Quartet, Christine Tobin and trioVD. With increasing levels of output new bands Dice Factory and Indigo Kid coming on tap the creative spirit of the UK scene in the best traditions of the label.
F-ire Label The acclaimed Roller trio has spearheaded the F-ire Collective release roster this year. http://www.f-ire.com/label
Trio Drummer Clark Tracey’s label http://www.triorecords.co.uk
Emanem improv legend founded in 1974 http://www.emanemdisc.com/emanem.html
Leaf Leeds label whose artists include Polar Bear http://www.theleaflabel.com/en/index.php
Splashpoint Ian Shaw released his Fran Landesman album on this Sussex label in August http://www.splashpointmusic.com
Jellymould Huddersfield indie home to Hannes Riepler and the Magic Hat Ensemble. http://www.jellymouldjazz.net
Efpi Manchester pace-setting label with Beats and Pieces on its books. http://efpirecords.com
Phronesis pictured above