Fear of Flying
The title of this enjoyable record refers to pianist Tom Gibbs’ recently acquired nervousness about taking to the skies on a plane ride, that’s what becoming a father he says did to him. Being a dad also inspired the two-part second track here named after his daughter. Family man Gibbs is with the much touted sax player Will Vinson, bassist Euan Burton, and Kit Downes Golden Trio stalwart James Maddren. It’s highly proficient, likeable, and at the melodic end of the spectrum, although there is plenty of improvising going on. What is distinctive is the sincerity at work, the characterful soprano saxophone lines in particular from Vinson, Maddren keeping the pot boiling and I really liked the bass solo on ‘A Little Something’. Great title, that track, even better solo, a kind of sub-plot to the main tune. Glasgow-based Gibbs, who was mentored by John Taylor at York university, is certainly worth keeping an eye out for at a jazz club near you. He is his own man, although like so many he owes a small debt to Brad Mehldau, who is fairly indirectly referred to at the beginning of ‘The Smile That Never Forgets’, when Euan Burton channelling Larry Grenadier bounces Gibbs into a friendly familiar riff that allows Vinson scope later. The later track puntastically called ‘Daily Brad’ is possibly up Mehldau’s alley some more as well. You don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to work these things out, although maybe the track is a homage to that fine guitarist Brad Shepik or a Hieronymous Brad with unknowable and mysterious merit. Gibbs is worth hearing, so watch the local papers or online for news of Gibbs’ next gig. Going to hear him on this evidence is definitely preferable to walking the dog, watching TV, or playing darts down your local, apparently a growing pastime in some parts, and this record similarly hits the bullseye in its own sweet way.
Released on 15 October
One of the most admired and respected pianists in UK jazz history, an influence on a young generation of international musicians as well as the possessor of a healthy critical reputation around the world based on quality and his musical vision, John Taylor turns 70 today. Since the late-1960s Taylor has been a leading fixture on the international jazz scene as a player, bandleader, recording artist and educator. Emerging initially alongside such players as tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore, the Manchester-born pianist whose style has a still self-completeness to it, English, yet of no country, cerebral at times, but with a warmth that draws people in. A new generation of players, including young award winning pianist John Turville have been favourably compared to Taylor, and it’s extraordinary to think that a band such as Meadow came together because of the path finding Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen’s desire to work and play with Taylor in the first place. A generation of British players from the Loose Tubes school in the 1980s (he’s on Julian Arguelles’ album Phaedrus, for instance) to the current generation emerging from music colleges up and down the country has turned to Taylor’s music becoming aware of the sheer distinctiveness of his approach, with its roots in the style of Bill Evans perhaps as well as classical music and English traditions from choral music to the avant garde, and not forgetting the personalised innovations and style of a pianist few would hesitate to comfortably ignore. In the 1970s, with Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone, Taylor was involved in the ensemble most associated with his name, Azimuth, one of the most influential instrumental/vocals groupings (sometimes referred to, in terms of the vocals, as “wordless") to have come out of England throughout the 90-odd years jazz has been played here. Taylor by that time was working for ECM, the label that has defined large chunks of his career, along with the Italian Camjazz label more recently, and he went on to record many albums with a range of leading artists that has included Jan Garbarek and Enrico Rava. With Wheeler, for instance, hear Taylor on the sumptuous The Widow in the Window, but his own albums have left their own indelible footprints on jazz, and landmarks along the way have included the the languidly enigmatic Ambleside Days an early-1990s duo album with John Surman that once more consolidated his reputation as a fine interpreter, but also as a composer of note. His recent trio with Martin France and Palle Danielsson has picked up plaudits from a new generation coming to his music perhaps for the first time especially on such albums as Angel of the Presence, a landmark of European jazz past, present and in all likelihood, future. Stephen Graham
John Taylor pictured above
One more important upshot from last night’s iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse, before hunkering down for the next wave of gigs, is definitely worth recalling. Robert Glasper, typically generous with his bandstand and genuinely collectively-inclined, let drop extra detail of some recent news that the Experiment bassist Derrick Hodge standing on the far left of the stage and newly signed to Blue Note will release (as Derrick’s nods and bright smile confirmed) his debut for the label in early-2013.
Titled Live Today the electric bassist’s website adds more information about what’s to come on the release, a record likely to add to this highly tasteful and imaginative player’s wider fanbase. "Live Today”, says Hodge, “is the way I chose to begin my story as a solo artist. It is a melting pot of sound and emotions, and is how I decided to capture my thoughts at that moment in time. There were many directions that this record could have went, but I chose to give people what was on my mind in a very raw, unedited way. Live Today is about acceptance, being in the moment while paying respect to those that came before me, and about writing music that feels good to me."
The Experiment’s set-list last night included a knowing take on Floetry’s ‘Say Yes’, knowing, as Glasper explained because the band had played the song many times before yet Glasper himself as he fessed up did not know who the bassist was until Hodge volunteered “that was a fun session". The cut appeared on the original multi-platinum selling album Floetic released by the UK R&B duo a decade ago.
Hodge besides the Experiment has performed with Maxwell, Common, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Kanye West, Sade and Terence Blanchard, also works as a film composer, and has written a piece for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Last night’s gig included a song of Hodge’s, ‘Holding on to You’ performed by singer/guitarist Alan Hampton.
Derrick Hodge pictured
When David Mossman and Irving Kindersley founded the Vortex Jazz Bar, as the sign has it still, 25 years ago on Stoke Newington Church Street little did either of these pioneers know just how the club would develop. As David Mossman explained during a break standing on the stairs leading to the club now relocated in nearby Dalston these past seven years: “It was a complete accident. Irving was the jazz lover, and we had the gallery but needed to make better use of the space. Irving moved on later for the book trade but I was the one who got into jazz and stayed." David, a former taxi driver, who now runs the Harbour Café Bar in Margate, is still is to be found on the door of the club most Fridays and Saturdays.
The Vortex itself is now run by a foundation whose main operational director is Oliver Weindling, the public face of the club in many ways, and inspiration behind its move to Dalston’s Culture House when the landlord of the old place forced the club out preferring to usher in a Nando’s instead. Speaking on NTS radio, the Hackney community web radio station broadcasting live from the special free festival running all day to celebrate the 25th anniversary, Oliver talked to saxophonist Alan Wilkinson on air about the way the club has developed. Wilkinson spoke of the hub of great music in Dalston with neighbouring Cafe Oto boosting the buzz. “It’s like 52nd St," Weindling quipped, and as he spoke as if to prove his point, Mats Gustafsson of The Thing and Thurston Moore were performing at Oto to a full house on the second day of their residency.
Outside the studio on Gillett Square up to 1,000 people and growing were listening to Grime MC Olushola Ajose, aka Afrikan Boy, performing with a DJ and dancers, while later Nostalgia 77, Ben Lamdin’s band fusing old school funk and soul with spiritual jazz, would complete the fest.
The festival had opened at 2pm with the glorious free jazz anarchy of the rarely heard People Band with its Ayler-esque sense of abandon and great horns featuring Davey Payne of Blockheads renown, 33 records’ Paul Jolly, and Westbrook alumnus George Khan, with spoken word poetry from Terry Day also a highlight. An incantatory hippie spell was summoned up at times with bells, little grunts and sighs, the lot. Wonderful stuff.
Later highlights included a feel-good Township Comets with the fine singer Pinise Saul joining the infectious ensemble of Adam Glasser on keys and harmonica, Frank Tontoh on drums, Harry Brown trombone, Rob Townsend saxophone, and Dudley Phillips, bass, creating a scintillating township sound.
With Annie Whitehead’s world music workshop, the sounds of Seddik Zebiri from Algeria and his multicultural Seeds of Creation, gnawa psychedelia from Electric Jalaba (pictured) and more besides the crowd enjoyed the fine weather as they mingled and sampled the food and real ale stands.
David Mossman could not have envisaged the tremendous success of the club all those years ago when the Vortex was emerging tucked away on a quiet London street with only the occasional bus trundling by to make some noise beyond for company. What the future holds is anyone’s guess; however, one thing is for sure, the club holds the key to the most creative edge of the London jazz scene, and without its input that incubating area for the music of today and tomorrow would be immeasurably worse off, and yet it’s only just begun.
Photos: Paolo Ganino and Alev Lenz
En ny dag
The leader of one of the most acclaimed and best selling young European piano jazz trios currently around En ny dag ("a new day") is Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall’s first solo piano album, and like the trio it’s very different to anything you’ll hear, despite appearances.
Tingvall, and maybe critics of his approach will say it’s simplistic and naïve, goes for the obvious improvising route, ie melodic variation. He doesn’t really deal with abstraction in the sense that there are dense harmonies and structural idiosyncrasies, lots of dissonance and knotty rhythms. But there’s much more going on beneath the surface and the tunes are more than good and he builds them via softly realised cycles and subtle shifts in not so much tempo as mood and register. They speak to you. I’d compare him to a popular novelist whose books are readable and have a certain logic to them, rather than to a writer who wishes to redo the rules of the novel and make sure you know that’s what’s going on.
There are naturalistic aspects to some of the song titles, all in Swedish, with English translations provided. So you get a falling star and a constellation bookending the album, with thunder (track six), the light and joy of midsummer, and also little asides in terms of song title choices that link to more domestic references.
All the compositions are by Tingvall himself, and they all tread a path between quietly melancholic interpretation and contemplative expression. There are no miniature anthems, thank goodness, and it never becomes some sort of vainglorious hymn of awkward quietude and introspection, but there is a positive force at work that is hard to pin down. If you see him with the trio or at a rarer solo concert you’ll know what I mean: you just feel as if you’re glad you made the effort to come, and that what you’ve just heard has made up for the nonsense of the day gone by.
Tingvall who was born in the southern Swedish province of Skåne 37 years ago studied jazz piano and composition at the Malmö Academy of Music, moving to Hamburg in 1999, and founded the trio four years later. His first inspiration was McCoy Tyner, something now deep in the background as is Scandinavian folk music to an extent although it’s within touching distance just about. Occasionally there are hints of the approach of Abdullah Ibrahim here and there although despite claims to the contrary I can’t hear the link to Chopin or Bach as primary classical influences that some listeners ascribe to his background, at least on this album where everything is out in the open. A very impressive album from a fine player who has a highly persuasive musical personality all of his own.
Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway was invited on stage at Ronnie Scott’s by host actor and comedian Keith Allen on the first night of the late night homage to The Establishment club, the Greek Street night spot that kickstarted the satire boom in the 1960s courtesy of Peter Cook whose widow Lin gave her blessing to the return of the historic name at Ronnie’s. Galloway sat down with Allen after delivering his joke about a man ‘wafting’ a blanket over another man having sex with his wife to talk about some of the fall out from Galloway’s recent controversial comments about rape, and discussed, to a bit of heckling, the controversial case of Julian Assange currently living in the Ecuadorian embassy having been granted political asylum. Galloway feels the rape charge against Assange is a set-up.
Allen introduced a range of comedians as the show continued. With continuity music by the James Pearson trio (Pearson, piano, Sam Burgess, bass, and Dave Ohm, drums) who played some snatches of little known Dudley Moore trio songs and other material although Allen confessed to the audience that he actually “fucking hated jazz”. First on was Glaswegian comic Arnold Brown whose droll lugubrious manner brought the poet Ivor Cutler to mind and perhaps even the patter of the maverick performer Earl Okin. Later came the disappointing Marian Pashley, the pretty tame Phil Nichol whose ‘I’m The Only Gay Eskimo’ routine went on a bit too long; slightly underwhelming Mark Nelson, and the likeable Ria Lina but who could have done with better material. There was a talented mime artist in a red wig, interpreting a Judy Garland recording from the 1960s which worked surprisingly well, but thank goodness for Terry Alderton who blew all the others away with a routine that was genuinely inventive, risky in some ways with a variety of voices delivered with his back to the audience, great microphone sound effects, and a playful routine utilising the assistance of an elderly chap in the front row of the audience. Maybe not risqué overall as in Peter Cook’s understanding of the word back in the Establishment days when the Lord Chamberlain had to be circumvented, how could it be?, but very engaging.
And finally a brief word about the sensational teenage four-piece from Cavan in Ireland, The Strypes, whose authentic and retro take on Yardbirds style blues-rock went down a treat with their rousing treatment of ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover’ and ‘My Generation’ among other numbers. It got lots of people in Ronnie’s on their hind legs and applauding with genuine enthusiasm. Jeff Beck sitting in the audience must have smiled and smiled.
Keith Allen (above) and The Strypes.
The Establishment continues tonight, 11.30pm
In a society that often reveres the ephemeral and mocks ideas or concepts that don’t conform to the norm of the day here’s something to cherish, something only an independent record company can produce these days, and something only people with a passion and determination can achieve when they set their minds to it.
It’s the reissue by Swedish record label Caprice of Don Cherry’s Organic Music Society on CD and handsome double vinyl, whose sonic pristine presence hovers over the sorry tattered mess of the major label reissue efforts of late like an avenging angel.
Cherry by the end of the 1960s was living in Sweden with his wife Moki Karlsson and family, and collaborating with a range of Swedish players exploring what’s now called, uncomfortably to some because of its ‘coffee table’ connotations, world music. So in 1971 and 1972 Cherry got down the tracks for this double album which until this year apparently hadn’t appeared on CD. A few tracks ‘Elixir’ and ‘Relativity Suite’ were taped in a studio but the rest was live made on portable machines. Along with a range of leading Swedish players of the day including Bengt Berger, Christer Bothén, and Tommy Koverhult who sound just great alongside Cherry listen out for Turkish percussionist Okay Temiz, and even Nana Vasconcelos little known in Europe at the time. As well as playing pocket cornet Cherry sings and takes to a range of instruments including harmonium, flute and conch shell. Of the music there’s a version of Pharoah Sanders and Leon Thomas’ ‘The Creator has a Masterplan’, music by Dollar Brand as he then was, and the great minimalist Terry Riley with plenty more beside to savour. The sound hits you in the face. So if you get hold of a copy, take your time, kick back, it might just make your day.
The MOBO nominations are released tonight. Last year Kairos 4tet was nominated in the best jazz act category, and Empirical and Yolanda Brown are recent winners. It’s a very difficult one to call, and I’ve blogged about this before in connection with the Mercurys.
The four in the frame for me this year are:
The cellist vocalist released this EP quietly last year. A rare UK winner at the famed Apollo amateur night in New York where she also spent time as a student at the Manhattan School of Music Witter-Johnson has the ability to cross boundaries with her carefully crafted compositions and thoughtful manner. If the 27-year-old Londoner gets the nomination, it will be for her authenticity and quiet distinctiveness, a quality in short supply for sure.
Just under a year ago guitarist Femi Temowo launched his second album Orin Meta in the unusual surroundings of Under The Bridge, the venue beneath the Shed End of Chelsea FC’s Stamford Bridge home, Best known for his work with Soweto Kinch who also appears on the album among a large cast of musicians and singers the British Nigerian surely has an original guitar approach, marking him out as a new jazz guitar star having absorbed his influences and come up with something new, honed in the past by performing with Soweto Kinch in the early J-Noir promoted days of Kinch’s career at gigs in the West End around 2003, and as a leader with his partly realised debut album Quiet Storm already under his belt released five years ago. He could well be on the MOBO radar this year.
Released on Gilles Peterson’s label last year this took a while to grow but with a confident live performance and interesting, emotive songs blessed with unusual harmonies and a refreshing approach McFarlane (pictured, top) made a lot of fans with this album. It’s a long way since she was a vocalist with Jazz Jamaica, but even then when she sang on Stevie Wonder’s ‘My Cherie Amour’ it was clear she had a big talent that has now come to fruition. Zara would be a popular choice.
Zoe has won a Mercury nomination in the past and at the beginning of her career a Perrier, so she’s no stranger to awards. Very experienced, an unusual pianist in that her key jazz influence was Joanne Brackeen, and she merges music from her Bengali heritage and even Irish heritage on this her latest album. Touring with Courtney Pine and Spatial AKA has added to her range and stagecraft, and her inclusion on the MOBO list of nominations would be a shrewd and knowledgeable choice.
Let’s see who’s on the list. From 8pm #mobo on Twitter and over at mobo.com
UPDATE: All the above were indeed nominated plus Roller Trio
One of the classiest guitarists and singers around, Matt Backer crops up in all sorts of people’s bands and on their records, most notably in recent years with Rumer on the superb Seasons of my Soul, and he’s currently touring with the Radio 2 A-playlisted Ethio-Swedish singer Emilia Mitiku.
But Backer doesn’t often release his own records, and the possibly ironically-titled Idle Hands is that bit more special for this reason.
His last album The Impulse Man came out in 2006 and picked up plenty of airplay in the States, but it was five years on from Is That All? So following a certain pattern here comes this one, with Julian Lennon joining the London-based American on the stirring ‘All That You’ve Wanted’, the fourth track here.
Martin Fry of ABC, who performed with Backer’s band at a rollicking Blues Kitchen gig in Camden at the tail end of last year, is also featured on the likeable Radio 2-friendly ‘Halfway To Jessica’ complete with a slab of standout Shadows-like shuddering bass.
But the album begins on a different tack with the Steely Dan-esque ‘Let’s Art’ and ‘Freak Patrol’, so there’s plenty of variety at work with Backer even unashamedly garage rock-inclined at times with a bluesy tinge on ‘I’m No Fool.’ A welcome return from a fine player who really should be better known under his own name.
Released by Right Recordings through Nova. Out now.
Playing in the foyer must be one of the hardest things an artist has to do.
Just looking around before Emilia Mårtensson and Barry Green took to the Box Office stage in the foyer of Kings Place at the annual Kings Place festival it’s as if there’s a riot in leisure going on. At the back there’s the candy store; over near some of the quietest escalators in London the regular café; and dotted about are simply dozens and dozens of people sitting, chatting, waiting to be entertained for free. Little kids before the duo came on were dancing to the re-imagined Brahms of a clarinet ‘taverna’ quintet, someone was grappling with a skateboard, don’t ask, and a steward was loading a bicycle into a lift.
But for Swedish singer Mårtensson and London pianist Green playing songs from their excellent Babel album And So It Goes they could have been in a library. Nothing would have fazed this pair. There was nothing subliminal in the opening song, Jacques Brel’s ‘If You Go Away’, or was there?
The audience to their credit began to listen after a while, and the din of excited and muffled chat, tinkling cups, and tumbling tots died down to at best a dull roar. Mårtensson tall, with long fair tresses and an imposing physique has a surprisingly quiet voice with plenty of light and shade to it not at all sung full gale at you, and the outcome was mellow but not in a Heart Radio sense. Green is an ideal accompanist who has a sensitivity to the gestures and cadences of singers as different as say show singer Claudia Morris as he is to the more left-field Mårtensson. In a purely instrumental setting, for instance with bop legend Charles McPherson, he can come over all Kenny Drew-like, remember that great master? But here he took a little run here and there although he didn’t really have to: it was enough to enjoy the voicings and resolutions.The foyer, no matter how plush, and Kings Place’s is exceedingly plush and beautiful, is a place no one wants to play, but everyone wants to congregate in. Mårtensson and Green gave it a great go, but please Mr Promoter put them on a stage that better suits their talents next time.
The pair, pictured above, play another foyer, at the Southbank Centre on the 28th; and the opening night of the London Jazz Festival on 9 November, at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho