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Band on the Wall has confirmed on its website that Rokia Traoré is to play the Manchester club on 20 May hot on the heels of the release of the Malian singer/songwriter/guitarist’s latest album Beautiful Africa. It’s a coup for the Swan Street club as Traoré’s appearance in the city marks a return to heartland jazz clubs in the UK by the musician who has in the last year galvanised support among artists since Islamic militants threatened artistic and cultural freedoms in her home country following a bloody uprising. Beautiful Africa released in April features drummer Seb Rochford, in action at the weekend with the touring Ellington in Anticipation band in Belfast, in a session recorded in Bristol by PJ Harvey producer John Parish. Traoré sings in French, Bambara and English and plays guitar on an album comprising nine songs with the singer also joined by Mamah Diabaté on ngoni; Fatim Kouyaté and Bintou Soumbounou, backing vocals; Nicolaï Munch Hansen, bass; producer John Parish, on additional guitar; Stefano Pilia, guitar; and Jason Singh, human beatbox. Beautiful Africa is Traoré’s first album since Tchamantché in 2009. MB 
www.bandonthewall.org

Rokia Traoré, above

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Neil Cowley: artist in residence at the UK city of culture

The Neil Cowley trio appearing at the Nerve Centre, drummer David Lyttle’s trio featuring ex-Sting keyboardist Jason Rebello, and Irish jazz guitar legend Louis Stewart have been announced as part of the extensive line-up of this year’s Derry jazz and big band festival.

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David Lyttle: driving the new Irish jazz scene

The Cowley Trio, who just ahead of the festival on Monday 29 April are to release a live album recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival following the popular success of The Face of Mount Molehill, will also during a run of Irish dates play an earlier club date at the Black Box in Belfast with a village festival in west Cork also on their itinerary in May.

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Jason Rebello: ex-Sting keyboardist
performing with David Lyttle in Derry

But Derry is the big one, with Cowley artist-in-residence at the city celebrating its prestigious UK city of culture status this year. In this very special year for culture in the north west of Ireland the festival will also host a radio broadcast to be recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up show presented by pianist Julian Joseph, with a concert to take place at the Tower Hotel in Derry on Monday 6 May. Artists to take part in the broadcast are to include saxophonist Trish Clowes with a band featuring Troyka guitarist Chris Montague, bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer James Maddren and The Impossible Gentlemen’s Gwilym Simcock on piano. Local Radio Ulster presenter trumpeter Linley Hamilton’s Saxtet will also appear on the broadcast.

Other names for Derry this year include The Dark Energy trio (The Playhouse, 2 May), that’s bassist Alan Niblock with Mujician saxophonist Paul Dunmall and leading improv drummer Mark Sanders; Brass Impact Big Band (Waterside theatre, 3 May); Dana Masters band (City Hotel, 3 May); the Paul McIntyre trio plus Richie Buckley (The Playhouse, 4 May); the Puppini Sisters (The Venue 4 May); and Pink Martini (Millennium Forum, 5 May). MB
2-6 May www.cityofderryjazzfestival.com

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Victor Wooten

West will, you’d have thought, once again be best if the line-up at the just announced Sligo Jazz Festival is anything to go by this year. The town, well known for its love of traditional Irish music, and in recent years a burgeoning reputation as a jazz place thanks to local jazz education initiative the Sligo Jazz Project, hosts the Sligo jazz festival from 16-21 July. This year’s line-up features the Mike Stern/Victor Wooten band with multi-Grammy award winning bass guitarist Victor Wooten of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones renown teaming up with We Want Miles-period ex-Miles jazz-rock force-of-nature guitarist Mike Stern in their co-led quartet completed by saxophonist Bob Franceschini and drummer Derico Watson.

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The Olllam

A big feature of the Sligo programme this year is the pairing of the Janek Gwizdala Trio, with fusion hotshot Gwizdala joined by guitarist Mike Nielsen and Human drummer Steve Davis, in a double bill with exciting new Celtic-alt.rock fusion trio The Olllam, featuring the great Belfast uilleann piper John McSherry (Lúnasa), the Detroit-born guitarist/keyboardist/piper Tyler Duncan, and drummer Michael Shimmin. Also for Sligo: pianist Kenny Werner with his trio; and an appearance by the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra plus guests Ian Shaw, Marshall Gilkes, and Jean Toussaint. MB
www.sligojazz.ie 

Victor Wooten top and The Olllam above

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Damon Albarn with Michael Horovitz

The vinyl-only Kings Cross jazz label Gearbox is to release a single featuring poet Michael Horovitz’s ‘Ballade Of The Nocturnal Commune / Extra Time Meltdown’ when the poet is joined by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Paul Weller.

The Blur pair and the Modfather also appear with the distinguished anti-war poet on the new heavy vinyl album Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues, the title track of which was commissioned by Paul Weller and the text of which appeared within the artwork of Weller’s album Sonik Kicks.

These releases are to coincide with the first ever release of archive recording Blues For The Hitchiking Dead (Jazz Poetry SuperJam #1) on two pieces of heavy 12-inch vinyl within a box set that recalls the important anti-nuclear era of the 1960s. ‘Hitchhiking Dead’ features the Live New Departures Jazz Poetry Septet in a March 1962 recording, with Horovitz and poet/songwriter Pete Brown playing the student union of Southampton university along with Stan Tracey, Jeff Clyne, Laurie Morgan, John Mumford and Bobby Wellins. In pre-release publicity material Pete Brown is quoted as saying: “Listening to the Blues again, the first thing that hits me is the fear. This was the most dangerous known period in history for a potential nuclear war, and we really felt it…. This may be a piece of history, an antique even, but it still has a lot to say. And we are by no means out of trouble yet.” MB

Damon Albarn and Michael Horovitz above (photo: courtesy Damon Albarn unofficial)

Released for Record Store Day, Saturday 20 April www.recordstoreday.co.uk Support your local record shop

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(Updated at 3.15)
Babel records has just confirmed on its Bandcamp page the release of Being Human, the debut release of Human, Irish-born drummer and composer Stephen Davis’ new quartet. A pre-release gig at the Vortex tomorrow has, though, just been cancelled, the band’s Alex Bonney has said, explaining that the cancellation is “due to weather/travel etc," via Twitter. The inclement weather also affected the band’s Brilliant Corners festival appearance in Belfast yesterday.

Best known for Davis’ decade-long and continuing adventures as part of Bourne/Davis/Kane, the Human sound is coloured by the violin of the maverick Dylan Bates, notable for his work with Billly Jenkins and his tenure in the bizarre Waiting For Dwarfs. Human also features the talismanic presence of pianist Alexander Hawkins, and the electronicist, trumpeter Alex Bonney. There’s no bass on Being Human, confirmed by the east London-based label for a Monday 29 April release.

Tracks are ‘Frozen Goat’, ‘Being Human’, ‘Little Particles’ with Bonney finding an In a Silent Way sense of calm on this number amid the complementary African-sounding piano and drums, with the album completed by ‘I Am Planet’, ‘Cartagena’ and ‘Vinila Life’. Davis doesn’t need to channel anyone on this record, although there are echoes of Tony Oxley at times, and the benign presence of the late John Stevens hovers tantalisingly. Early listens suggest strong evidence of what Bates really can do: think Leroy Jenkins in his pomp with a jagged Beckenham-derived individuality bolted on, while Hawkins is a haunting presence throughout. ‘I Am Planet’ has a rustling unsettled feel to it, with Hawkins’ three-note figure after the three-minute marking the warts-and-all groove that opens up for Davis to then move deep into multi-directional territory. ‘Cartagena’ is very different, a track clued-up DJs might well wish to sample, as the clash of Davis’ snare pumps the band up and would get any club audience going. MB
The cover of Being Human top 

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Zoe Rahman, directing the Guildhall Jazz Ensemble, gets the Guildhall jazz festival off to a flying start tonight. The London conservatoire’s annual festival also features Ian Shaw, guesting with the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble; saxophonist Tom Challenger; Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts and Paul Dunmall better known as the Dartington Improvising Trio. Iain Ballamy and the Guildhall Jazz Band are also appearing during this year’s running. Zoe Rahman, above
http://www.gsmd.ac.uk

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Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print opened the Brilliant Corners jazz festival at the Belfast Barge on Thursday

Brilliant Corners began in Belfast the night before the snow arrived yesterday. While the festival was named in honour of Monk’s Brilliant Corners album there were no obvious tie-ins on the opening night to the great composer and pianist’s music; the festival was too cool to offer a literal interpretation although the spirit was clearly felt. So instead the bands booked did the interpreting by way of original new music.

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Below deck: rising star saxophonist Meilana Gillard’s accomplished set

Brilliant Corners utilised three venues: the Belfast Barge, the MAC in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter; and the nearby Black Box; and new talent on display included Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print, a US tenor saxophonist now resident in Northern Ireland joined by double bassist Marcos Varela, who appears on Gillard’s Greg Osby-produced album Day One. Varela’s debut with Billy Hart and George Cables will be released later this year, with Spike Lee’s brother Arnold Lee and Sonny Rollins trombonist Clifton Anderson guesting. Varela pushed the band hard and tastefully with Gillard, whose individual non-retro sound on the tenor saxophone, probing and darting with a salty edge especially in her reading of Herman Hupfeld’s ‘As Time Goes By’. Leading Irish jazz musician David Lyttle was on drums and excelled. Meilana’s composition ‘Rear View’ was the big highlight of the first set by a highly proficient unit.

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Ellington in Anticipation band played the Factory in the MAC

At the MAC in the Factory on the sixth floor of the very smart post-brutalist arts temple opened in 2012, its volcanic stone facade tastefully undemonstrative, Mark Lockheart’s Ellington in Anticipation band were already burning by the time I got over from the Barge. It’s Ellington for the Polar Bear generation and in many ways codifies the mysterious non-linear compositional method Lockheart has cultivated in his own music a step on from his acclaimed Edition records set, In Deep.

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The Black Box opens for Brilliant Corners

Ellington’s music is like a dream behind the new music, not old music in new clothes at all. Seb Rochford and The Invisible’s Tom Herbert had that kind of ESP that people who are comfortable with each other on a bandstand possess, and chopped it up throughout, especially on ‘My Caravan’ while ‘Azure’ was a revelation. Lockheart blew wildly on ‘Jungle Lady’, clearly at ease, and both Finn Peters and James Allsopp knew how to stoke the flames especially as the music went further out.

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Playing the Sun Ra blues on Hill Street: Decoy debut 

And taking the music even further out free improv rounded off the evening at the Black Box, with Decoy, the tremendous organ trio of Alexander Hawkins, bassist John Edwards, and drummer Steve Noble marking Hawkins’ first Northern Ireland appearance. Sun Ra and kinetic bar-vaulting improv never sounded so good: a suitably Saturnine way to draw the first night of this exciting new festival to a close.
Story and photos: Stephen Graham

The father of Chucho Valdés, and the inspiration of the acclaimed animated film Chico and Rita, the pianist, bandleader, and composer Bebo Valdés, has died at the age of 94. Valdés, who passed away in Sweden where he had lived for many years, began his career as a pianist in the night clubs of Havana and it was in one such, Tropicana, that he made his name. In the 1950s Valdés was a pivotal figure in the development of the mambo with his championing of the batanga rhythm. Valdés settled in Sweden after the 1959 revolution in Cuba and played bar lounges there in virtual obscurity until the mid-1990s when his album Bebo Rides Again caught the music industry’s attention, followed by the success firstly of documentary Calle 54 and then the inspired Chico and Rita which featured much of his music in 2010 and fictionalised his life story so evocatively.
Bebo Valdés top pictured with his son Chucho. Photo: Berklee

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Still under the radar but not for long Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco has been confirmed for the Glasgow Jazz Festival in the first tranche of bookings announced so far. Blanco is to appear at the City Halls recital room on 26 June.

Blind Boys of Alabama, Georgie Fame and Three Line Whip and 1980s band Jazzateers (Rough 46) are also confirmed for the five-day festival with the full line-up expected soon. MB

Leo Blanco top www.jazzfest.co.uk