During the closing weekend of the London Jazz Festival last year, the most avant garde in nature of the LJF in recent years the final Saturday programme provided a unique snapshot of how substantial and wide ranging the avant garde is stylistically within the music across the decades. For instance, on just one day there was Henry Threadgill and his band Zooid covering the A-Z of the Chicago and New York jazz avant garde supported by US-based Doncaster area pianist John Escreet, while earlier Gannets featuring moonlighting Guillemot Fyfe Dangerfield, not singing but playing piano and synths, delved deep into improv rather than strictly free jazz along with drummer Steve Noble, bass clarinet virtuoso Chris Cundy, clarinettist Alex Ward and double bassist Dominic Lash. By contrast and it was still very much avant garde but this time from the new generation of French improvisers over at the Vortex in Dalston the Coax Collectif triple bill had Pipeline, Irène and Metalophone on stage.
Two nights ago Irène returned to the club in a double bill, this time with English electronicists Ma who opened proceedings. Irène has been billed as the French version of Polar Bear and I can see why people have written this down although it’s a bit of a back-of-a tatty-envelope description, tempting though it is. The band is (and I still haven’t found out who the titular ‘Irène’ is, although it’s safe to say she wasn’t on stage) Yoann Durant and Clement Edouard on saxophones and electronics, plus the interesting sounding bluesy texturalist Julien Desprez on guitar and Sebastien Brun at the drums. Coax is a bit like the Loop collective in practice and artistic impulse, and it’s fair to say they’re where it’s at in terms of the new young French scene. They aren’t that known yet beyond la belle France and the Vortex show was alas sparsely attended, although word had seeped out among musicians and the likes of José James’ drum hotshot Richard Spaven came in for a listen, and the band complemented Ma nicely. In Ma’s mature set Tom Challenger played beautifully at the helm of a three-piece that deserves to be better known although his other band Dice Factory may well get talked up a bit more but they’re both inspiring.
Irène have released a four-track EP (pictured) and plan to release an album this year co-operating with the British Babel label for added exposure. The band has won awards at the prestigious La Défense Jazz Festival in France but like many young bands in France and in the UK it’s hard to make the next step forward even with kudos such as this. There is definitely an audience out there. The music is not massively difficult. It can be loud, it has some spiky touches and it’s abstract harmonically for sure but it is different, and pointless comparisons would not be helpful. Perhaps some of the material needs tightening, and I’m not sure about playing a soprano saxophone upside down, but hey vive la différence and go hear them if you get a chance.
Pictured top, Irène
Gareth Lockrane’s Grooveyard
Full marks for the album title, a neat turn of phrase, and praise too for the illustrations by one Bill Bragg with lively design from Matt Willey contributing to a strong look featuring cat-like freaky creatures in overcoats carrying musical instruments against a great dollop of red, the figures zigzagging from as far as the eye can see to up close at the front, matched with a litter of well chosen fonts. Highly rated flautist Lockrane (above, pic by Tom Cawley) has written all but one of the tunes that very often rely on the Lonnie Smith-like organ of Ross Stanley. Vocals later by Nia Lynn retain the outlook of a band that won’t be hurried, and it’s a set for connoisseurs of the soul-jazz sound from the 1960s played by some of the busiest straightahead players around. Old school for sure, The Strut is a highly likeable release that values musicianship and strong tunes played with a respect and the right attitude adhering to the best traditions of jazz from the Golden Age.
Grooveyard play the Forge in Camden, London NW1 on 9 November, and The Strut is released on 12 November
Fletcher Moss Park
Prolific and increasingly confident in his writing trumpeter Halsall has by now more than managed to carve out a space for himself alongside his main influences whether they are the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane or rooted in the club-scene he’s part of as a DJ and producer. Pianist Adam Fairhill delivers the necessary stillness throughout that Halsall seems to be after, and Rachael Gladwin’s harp playing is an important constituent sound in the Halsall approach and has been for a while. The album is named after a Manchester park that Halsall likes to write in and gain inspiration from, and he clearly has come up with something special here, although you need to be patient with the unfolding spectacle. Fletcher Moss Park is an album that takes its time, and it’s one that spreads itself luxuriously but doesn’t overstay its welcome too much although the seven tracks each act like an extended mood piece at lingeringly slow and medium tempos mostly. The opener ‘Cherry Blossom’ immediately demands some proper attention and the title track may well be Halsall performing at the top of his game. An album that should delight his growing army of admirers and may even blow newcomers away.
Released on 22 October
Original Album Series
The latest in this elegant line of reissues (there’s a Modern Jazz Quartet release coming as well incidentally), the formula is unbeatable, the presentation effortless and crisp. OK, Miles’ long Columbia tenure is incomparable, but by presenting Tutu **** Music From Siesta ***, Amandla ****, Dingo Selections From The Motion Picture Soundtrack ***, and Doo-Bop ** in a simple card box, and five facsimile albums in slim cardboard sleeves inside, the music does the talking, naysayers can as they say do the walking. Head straight for the Marcus Miller-produced Tutu and the politically conscious Amandla (Miller co-produced it with Tommy LiPuma and George Duke), clearly the pick of the bunch. Avoid Doo-Bop although it’s a curiosity worth a little more than a passing glance if you don’t know it but no great shakes mainly as Miles was not in good health at all as he reached the end of the road. Dingo is so-so although the orchestrations by Michel Legrand and the decent tunes add interest. Music From Siesta is far superior, and like the material for Dingo has actually more staying power than the films the music was written for in the first place, as both movies sank without a trace. The only small down side of this immaculate release is the lack of info beyond song titles and basic production details. A small booklet tucked inside would have helped in this regard without going the whole hog, and there is just enough room to squeeze a booklet in. But as a working tool for anyone who thinks Miles Davis from any period should be listened to by any cultured person at least once or twice every day, a reasonable point of view, the Original Album Series late period Miles presented here is a godsend. So do yourself a big favour and grab this set especially if you only have bits and pieces of Miles’ last period. It’s just common sense. Stephen Graham
Playing like EST is not a put down, it’s a compliment. Why? Well it’s not just because the Swedish band who changed the course of the piano trio are personal favourites of mine, that would be a bit crap, wouldn’t it? (Although they are, incidentally.) But it’s because they were so significant, and have inspired a host of bedroom dreamers and thinkers to found bands all over the place. So if you can play like them or rise to their level you’ve got musicianship for sure, taste as well, and good compositional horse sense into the bargain, because after EST piano jazz has never been the same. This cannot be ignored. GoGo Penguin you feel realise they have to face up to what the Swedes achieved together and like them are all about the band “as band", their individual names, pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Grant Russell, and drummer Rob Turner, are all emblazoned in a ridiculously tiny point size on the back of the CD, under the titles of their songs although these tune names are all picked out in block capitals. That says something.
Opener ‘Seven Sons of Björn’ flares up with “pop chords", a lot of fluid build, and owes everything to EST. ‘Last Words’, which follows, doesn’t, although Russell takes on Dan Berglund’s method without the extra ampage, and the tasteful use of electronics. The beginning of the title song ‘Fanfares’ again recalls the late Esbjörn Svensson, and Illingworth sounds as if he knows what he’s doing and has tackled the faintly heretical notion that there’s more to life than just music. Most good musicians know how to step back eventually because in their music they are able to draw on what life is all about, even if they don’t know all the answers. I felt this about GoGo Penguin. They don’t have an innocence in the same way that say the excellent Hamburg melodicists Tingvall trio project for instance, but Tingvall aren’t as close to EST as these Mancunian aquatically-inclined creatures seem to be. The bar with these post-EST bands is set incredibly high, and GoGo Penguin have made a good dip into challenging Nordic waters here on their debut, and the seven co-written tunes recorded in January knit well. So far, so good.
GoGo Penguin, top, and the CD sleeve above right. Fanfares is released on 5 November
The Aruán Ortiz and Michael Janisch Quintet
Banned in London
Recorded last November live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London this quintet co-led by Cuban pianist Ortiz and UK-based American bassist Janisch and a horn section of adopted Catalan Raynald Colom on trumpet and the great MBASE altoist Greg Osby plus drummer Rudy Royston, best known for his work for JD Allen and Bill Frisell, is a hearty release, and meat and drink to lovers of 21st century bop-become-hard bop. It doesn’t sound at all like hard bop used to sound, but you can hear where this thrusting, in-your-face, kind of jazz has its roots. Imagine if Charlie Parker was 18 years old in 2012; or Clifford Brown was a 20-year-old now walking down the street and into a club, and simply blowing everyone away. Take a moment just to contemplate what their music would be like. It wouldn’t be the same of course as the music they used to play, but it wouldn’t be like this either, as these fine musicians have something to say and no one else can say it for them either in the past or the present. There are five tracks, all very long (no track is shorter than ten-and-a-half minutes) but each individually persuasive and involving. I liked Osby’s opening to ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, but the heart of the album lies on Ortiz’s tunes ‘Orbiting’ and ‘The Maestro’. Go straight there and pretend you’re in the middle of Soho as day becomes night walking down the stairs with the band right in front of you, because the club engineer Luc Saint-Martin has faithfully captured the sound in this special place so it’s easy to imagine. This record unites different generations of jazz fans who know some things never go out of fashion. In fact the concept of being ‘all the rage’ is just plain nonsense to these guys. Strictly no messing. Stephen Graham
Released on 29 October
E One Music ****
Resonating bells and soft, deftly explorative piano are the way Jack DeJohnette chooses to begin this his latest album released later in the autumn during a year in which the great Chicago drummer has turned 70. The second track, after the brief opener, has delicious vocals from Esperanza Spalding over the top of Jack’s salsa beat and Luisito Quintero’s percussion, and there’s lovely guitar syncopation from Lionel Loueke, with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire chipping in as only he knows how. The cover with concentric rings radiating from a deepening red cymbal hub is emblematic of the ripples DeJohnette sends out not just with his virtuoso playing but his holistic musical approach, one involved in the search for the rhythm within as much as the rhythm without.
There are quite a few different line-up variations on this Robert Sadin-produced nine-tracker, with the band’s size swelling and contracting to suit Jack’s arrangements. ‘Dirty Ground’ with a vocal from Bruce Hornsby is the most accessible, with a “New Orleans-meets-The Band" vibe, and a great downhome shuffle from Jack who co-wrote the song with the man DeJohnette in the notes refers to as ‘The Bruce’. Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Ries adds great soprano sax on the song, and Loueke shows his range with some funky licks on a tune the lyric of which points to the need in New Orleans or anywhere for that matter not to give up or give in!
‘New Music’ arranged by DeJohnette for just quartet with Spalding on bass this time and more Ries is followed by the expanded Caribbean-flavoured ‘Sonny Light’, then the title track and two other deeply engrossing tracks, including a lovely spot from Bobby McFerrin on ‘Oneness’ written for Gateway, and Jason Moran cropping up on ‘Indigo Dreamscapes’ leading eventually to the meditative Abdullah Ibrahim-flavoured ‘Home’, with DeJohnette on piano by himself, back as it were to where it all began on piano before the drums took him into another sphere entirely.
A wonderful record, beautifully conceived and communicative throughout, with plenty going on from start to finish. Jack’s just about the greatest jazz drummer alive, and this record shows a spread of just a little of what’s he’s all about in a career that has seen him play with everyone from John Coltrane and Miles Davis to Charles Lloyd, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Jack DeJohnette is leading a fine quintet in the UK in November to support the release, and dates are: RNCM, Manchester (13 November); Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds (14 Nov); Corn Exchange, Cambridge (15 Nov); Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (16 Nov); Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham (20 Nov); and Sage, Gateshead (21 Nov). Stephen Graham
Pictured above: Jack DeJohnette
Cast your mind back to last year’s London Jazz Festival and the Impulse Records night. Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, joining the trio of the great pianist and composer McCoy Tyner, forever associated with the John Coltrane Quartet, was there on stage, as was a suited and booted José James performing a concert at the Barbican themed around the John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman album.
Two years earlier, this time a few miles away at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, James was the headliner, following on from the promise of his album The Dreamer but again channelling Coltrane with the gig catching fire on ‘My Favorite Things’ and the tremendous opening to ‘Equinox’ the song that first caught Gilles Peterson’s ear when the DJ signed him to his label Brownswood although the song could not be included on the album. So you had to hear it live. But when the singer now 34 who’s from Minneapolis but living these days in Brooklyn moved to the highest end of his range harmonising with soprano saxophone on ‘Naima’ it was plain for anyone there on the night that James was truly special. But the conundrum remained: which direction would he go in?
There’s been a fair amount of water under the bridge since even the LJF date just under a year ago with McCoy. James has returned to a clubbier vibe, and was signed to Blue Note this year most recently in London supporting Robert Glasper at the iTunes fest in the Roundhouse and playing Shoreditch’s Bedroom Bar the following night. No Beginning No End, his first release for his new label, does not come out until towards the end of January next year, but such has the buzz been already it’s a good chance before all the fuss around the physical release to look ahead to what promises to be a huge breakthrough for the talented singer. The 11-track album has a very clever retro feel to it, gathered around songs like the insistent laidback third track ‘Trouble’, a song that recalls the impact of hearing a song such as ‘Rehab’ for the first time. It’s clear that the album is a game changer for James moving him into a different area within popular music but retaining enough interest to appeal to jazz fans who have followed his career from the early Brownswood days. Soul seems to be more a natural fit for James than his earlier dabblings in hip hop, say, on the album Black Magic. The rest of the new album is just as strong and for me ‘Bird of Space’, the ninth track is the ultimate song on the record with lyrics and music by James with Fender Rhodes, guitar and drums although it doesn’t have the instant appeal and groove of ‘Trouble’. It might stay with you longer, though. The album opens with ‘It’s All Over Your Body’, which has a seductive feel that increasingly is also James’ direction. Bassist Pino Palladino who is one of the producers of the album, along with JJ and Brian Bender, appears on most of the tracks, and there are some guest vocalists for James to duet with, for instance Hindi Zahra on ‘Sword and Gun’, and Emily King on ‘Heaven on the Ground.’ This is soul coming at you from a very different angle to say Gregory Porter on Be Good, but the two have things very much in common, supreme musicianship and individualism, however James even plays with the fine keyboards player Grant Windsor and broken beats drum stylist Richard Spaven, the piano/drum team who perform from time to time with Gregory and who joined him for his Pizza Express Jazz Club show in July when Jamie Cullum guested.
Alistair White who was performing with Van Morrison at Ronnie Scott’s this week sounds great on trombone as does the trumpeter Takuya Kuroda who makes you think back to the freshness of acid jazz horn sampling days when Blue Note opened up the vaults back in the 1990s for DJs to breathe some new freshness into the old stuff, and Lee Morgan became a kind of hipster king all over again. Kuroda and White sound mighty fine together as they did live at the Roundhouse. The other track worth mentioning at this stage is ‘Vanguard’, and it’s every bit as good as ‘Trouble’, again with lyrics by JJ but music by Robert Glasper no less, with Glasper on Fender Rhodes, Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave on drums and Palladino again.
So an album to get excited about and look forward to, and a great way of working towards that old music industry phrase built on a certain intuitive common sense, leaving aside the Ray Charles resonance, but retaining that feeling you just know once you’ve heard the magic even once: jazz + soul = genius.
Pictured José James
Here’s a version of ‘Trouble’ in session: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Gz2kqOupCI
Guy Barker has arranged a new suite based on Kind of Blue with his jazz orchestra joined by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to be recorded for radio broadcast.
The trumpeter and bandleader, film composer and arranger has had a high profile year with a Proms appearance, and in November he’s involved once more on the opening night of the London Jazz Festival when he conducts and arranges for a host of singers and his jazz orchestra at the Gala Vocals night held in the Barbican,
Before that for this one-off highly ambitious project Barker with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is combining in a presentation later this month called Miles Symphonic: The Music of Miles Davis at the glitzy Blackpool Tower Ballroom in the much loved Lancashire seaside resort.
Last year the BBC Philharmonic launched the first of a series of concerts of which this is the latest and what’s intended on this occasion is that Barker and his orchestra team up with the Philharmonic for a Milesian evening to be broadcast live.
The BBC Phil has broadened its horizons with cross-genre collaborations in the past few years featuring the likes of indie band the XX and singer Richard Hawley, but this is something of a first in terms of a major jazz project for them. The concert is on 17 October, and tickets are available through a ballot at www.bbc.co.uk/tickets until 8 October.
Guy Barker pictured
ECM 370 9441 **** PICK OF THE WEEK
State of the art improvising with a forceful presence and massive attack, a mighty fist in a velvet glove, bassist Formanek’s quartet with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver (pictured above) is on fine form here, following on from their 2010 album The Rub And Spare Change. Berne has clearly moved into a new space with this band, building on the experimentalism of the past, his fascination with the music of Julius Hemphill and much else, and now with nothing to prove just letting it all hang out. Cleaver, expect to hear him on Tomasz Stanko’s next album for ECM, is peerless, pulses appearing, dying away, finding hidden rivers in the improvising stream. As for Formanek he’s the ringmaster in a very special circus. If you want to be obsessed by at least one CD this month then this is it.
Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias
ECM 279 4574 ***
Joe Lovano is the topping on the cake on this very classy quartet record of bass and piano husband and wife team Johnson and Elias also joined by Joey Baron on drums. There’s plenty to savour either via Elias’ own compositions or reliable mainstays such as the folk song ‘Shenandoah’. For sheer musicality it’s hard to beat. But Elias is probably at her best elsewhere interpreting the music of Bill Evans, or the way she adds that special touch to a samba or bossa, yet here she gets very close to her own formidable benchmark.
Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
ECM 371 4093 2CDs ***
There’s something very unearthly still about the band Ronin, and a feeling the more you listen that it is very much in a category of its own and that can be a lonely place. The minimalism still retains a zing to it despite its pristine cool facąde and all that confusing nonsense about “zen funk". The moduls are as mysterious and slightly chilling as ever, but there is change afoot as Bärtsch introduces a new bassist Thomy Jordi while Björn Meyer moves towards the exit door. I’m not sure if this release sustains two CDs, but it’s elegant, thought provoking and beautifully played, yet somehow not quite as compelling as in the past. Think twice before committing to this one unless you’re a diehard fan.
And who would disagree with Miles Davis quoted above? It’s months off but Ahmad Jamal’s return to play a concert in this country is surely as good a reason as any to have at least one reason to be cheerful on this intermittently dank and typically autumnal Monday.
2012 has been pretty good for Jamal watchers even though the great man has been nowhere to be seen in the UK because in February the illustrious French record company and distributor Harmonia Mundi inaugurated a new jazz label Jazz Village partly in his honour with a Jamal album and Blue Moon more than lived up to even the highest expectations surrounding its release. Surely one of the greatest piano albums in and of the classic jazz tradition in the last decade it featured a stellar trio at its core specially convened for the session performing Jamal originals and choice standards. The great Pittsburgh-born pianist, who turned 82 on 2 July, along with Frank Sinatra counts as a seminal influence on Davis, with Miles typically going out of his way to catch Jamal’s shows when he was passing through Chicago. But besides this historical link Jamal through his Pershing recordings created at the Pershing Lounge from 1958 where the pianist laid down his best known recordings along with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier that not just sold in very large numbers but also provided a snapshot of a music that would be changed irrevocably in the years to come by such innovators as Cecil Taylor, the free jazz movement and its socio-political and cultural consequences, and later by the demands and challenges of jazz-rock. Miles being a scholar of the music from a strictly bandstand point of view would incorporate Jamal’s treatments of ‘But Not For Me’, ‘Billy Boy’, ‘The Surrey With The Fringe On Top’ and more besides into his own repertoire, while at the same time realising intuitively that a milestone had been reached, a there-is-no-turning-back moment and above all a realisation that jazz piano would never be the same again. Jamal, as a master of improvising on standards and original song-based material, in performance can take on the mantle of an Erroll Garner at times as a starting point and layers hugely impressive rhapsodies and serenades almost at the drop of a hat. He’ll quite often, gaffer-like, stand up by the piano, turn his back to the audience to communicate further with the trio, and then sit down to resume the flow. With an extensive discography since the 1950s, in more recent years with the French Dreyfus label, Jamal has a big public across Europe particularly in France and Germany and although he was a fairly regular visitor to the UK in the past it’s now almost five years ago since his last appearances, sadly at an inexplicably poorly attended Ronnie Scott’s when he nonetheless played immaculately. Jamal was honoured by the French government becoming an officer of the order of arts in 2007, and has received many more honours over the years in the United States. Blue Moon features the elegant bassist Reginald Veal, well known for his work with Wynton Marsalis, and more recently Cassandra Wilson; plus the formidable New Orleansian Herlin Riley on drums. They are also joined by former-Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena, who has toured with Jamal extensively in recent years.
The Ahmad Jamal concert is on 8 February 2013 at the Barbican http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=13715
Taking its name from a story about “active dreaming" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Eyes of a Blue Dog is set to debut Rise on Babel Records although the band’s release date is to be confirmed. The Dog, as they surely will be known (?!), are a three-piece vocals/trumpet/drums electronica band filtered via 1970s Milesian metafunk and the release is surely a winner if early advance listens are anything to go by.
The record is a challenging new departure from trumpeter Rory Simmons, here with drummer/electronics head Terje Evensen and singer Elisabeth Nygård-Pearson, with a tiny walk-on part from bassist Chris Hill on the third track ‘Marble Faces’.With tunes written by the Dog mixing Agharta-like flavours without keyboards the artwork betrays no clues to the music inside the slim advance label copy apart from the colour blue, an inspired pantone selection by the designer it must be said, with green lettering cut out of leaves from an artfully blurred potted plant (actual artwork not shown in case you were wondering). Gardeners do get in touch with the botanical description of this particular variety. Scissors on the back do lend a clue, though, to some of the sonic finessing, no actual tape and snippers involved, but a suitable battery of digital studio software. This though is not a barrier and wouldn’t even prevent Rise coming off well live as the compositions although open ended feel solid enough to play in a live format. It does come across like a more in-your-face version of the approach of someone like post-Khmer Nils Petter Molvaer particularly so on ‘Marble Faces.’
The femme fatale vocals (particularly On ‘Reject the Rhapsody’) add a slightly disturbing edge to the direction of the playing in keeping with one of the characters in the story the band takes its name from and tunes are more industrial than say what Bob Belden is doing. The title track has a kind of updated downtempo feel with the matter-of-fact voice of Nygård-Pearson a feature on some but not all tracks. Intriguing.
Updated: with 19 October launch night photo taken at the F-IRE Festival in Pizza Express Jazz Club, above, following the official CD and vinyl release on 8 October subsequently confirmed