Jazzknight NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT ****
Beginning like a foxtrot, when was the last time that happened?, ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ has a twinkling style, full of the chirpiness Nat King Cole managed to endow old Broadway songs with when he himself played piano. Shearing turns on his significant charm though after about a minute in, and these living room songs recorded in the great pianist’s New York home in 1983 draw out Don Thompson’s role as a confidant to Shearing’s left hand. Thompson played with Shearing for some 20 years in all, and you feel as if he knows Shearing’s every move on the tracks they play together. Now 73, he accompanied Barney Kessel early in his career in Vancouver clubs, and appears on the John Handy Quintet classic live album Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival recorded in 1965.
Don Thompson: hearth of the matter
Thompson began playing concerts with Shearing decades later, from 1982 onwards, the year before the newly discovered At Home was recorded. And just under the three-minute mark he and the recording engineer (in fact one and the same), draw out the woodiness of the bass a skilled carpenter would find hard to locate.
A sprightly start then to this remarkable Jazzknight records album, Lady Shearing’s label, with the backing of discerning jazz distributor Proper Note, there’s an elegant fade at the end of the opener; and then, like some sort of mirage Johnny Mandel’s ‘A Time For Love’ emerges after the silence. Well what can you say? It’s beautiful. You just want to be there, even though the track’s very short. Thompson comes in on the arc of the Shearing line here time and again, at the emotional tug of the note.
Thompson’s own tune ‘Ghoti’ (apparently Shearing dubbed it: “up at the crack of Don”), leads into a riot in swing, and you could hear this being played with a vibes quintet, Shearing’s preferred stomping ground in his heyday. This one’s got bebop written all over it. After two minutes Shearing changes the goalposts, and there’s a rhythmic murmur that’s the very essence of bop syncopation.
The sound quality is fine throughout At Home: you can really hear the piano and bass and the instruments together. The album was mastered much later in Toronto, the city where Ellie Shearing first heard the tapes played before pressing green for go to start the process towards release after an ice age of 30 years in the obscurity of a drawer.
‘The Things We Did Last Summer’, the Jule Style/Sammy Cahn song begins jauntily, as if the duo are feeling completely at ease, and that’s a defining feature of this wonderful album. Apparently Lady Shearing provided cups of tea in breaks over the few days the album took to make. No producer was present, and there is a comfortable feel to all these tracks recorded around the time of a run of club dates in New York.
‘Laura’ is the first big talking point and really the test of the album. Opening expansively the theme is stated quite simply with a few ornate touches, but Shearing seems more interested in building the darkness in his left hand at which he more than succeeds. The tempo slows right down and there are some lovely washes after the 150-second mark moving towards some high-end tinkling that ends even more seriously than it began. With Thompson back ‘The Skye Boat Song’ I could have done without, although it’s a pretty enough melody and close to the bassist’s heart. But Shearing and Thompson are on more satisfying territory with Bird’s ‘Confirmation’ joyously foot tapping, but not fast at all. Remaining tracks are a winningly shy take on ‘The Girl Next Door’ with its hesitant opening; a swayingly optimistic ‘Can’t We Be Friends?’; the more mundane ‘I Cover the Waterfront’; and ‘Out of Nowhere’. Although ‘That Old Devil Called Love’ opens things up, ‘SubconsciousLee’ allows lots of bass space, and little detours here and there. Victor Young’s ‘Beautiful Love’ is simply a display of Shearing genius at the end.
At Home is released on 15 April
Sir George Shearing top, Don Thompson above; and the album cover
What a Life
Heads Up **** RECOMMENDED
This is quite a special album: full of great songs delivered in a very commercial way. Some of the songs could chart even. Boheme has been around a while, signed as a teenager, and the album has added stardust, as Michael Bublé has produced. But where’s the jazz you might ask? Well if you ask that kind of question, this album is not for you. It’s about songs not improvising, but it’s perfectly compatible within its alt.country framework rather than the flawed smooth jazz format that is now disappearing or at best morphing into more acceptable soul-jazz. Contrast the Eric Benet version of ‘The Last Time’ with the version here and there’s a huge difference in interpretation, less cheesy for sure. In Benet’s take on his own highly effective melancholic song, co-written among others with famed songwriter David Foster (who penned ‘I Have Nothing’ for the late Whitney Houston and produced the Corrs), the natural feeling gets lost a bit crouched behind the layers of glossy audio production and arrangement. Bublé’s approach although you mightn’t think so at first blush is to strip away the varnish, and let the songs breathe, and Carly Simon-loving Boheme begins demurely on a low key Emeraldesque rumba ‘Everything But Me’, which is close enough for jazz as Van Morrison might put it. Why Boheme needed to cover a Coldplay song I don’t know, and I didn’t care for the Bublé-sounding Spencer Day who is on the otherwise excellent ‘I’d Love To Be Your Last’. But ‘One More Try’ is quite superb, and jazz-intuitive, and of the band we really should be hearing more of pianist Alan Chang who co-wrote the song with Boheme. Overall then, songs that will stay with you, delivered by a singer who clearly believes in her material and carries both the record and the day.
Close enough for jazz: Erin Boheme above plays the Hippodrome, London on 16 April, with special guest Tammy Weis. What A Life is released on 25 March
Torchbearer for the beats: Michael Horovitz
Ian McMillan in ‘I wandered lonely as a cat’ on Radio 4 tomorrow at 11.30 explores the history of jazz and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance and the San Francisco beats, via Pete Brown and Michael Horovitz with McMillan joined in conversation by singer Barb Jungr.
Saturday’s Jazz Record Requests (R3, 7.45pm) concentrates on the trumpet, with tracks by Miles Davis, Valaida Snow, and Bill Coleman. Pat Halcox, of the Chris Barber band who died recently, is remembered by the programme’s presenter, Alyn Shipton.
Henri Texier: Inimitable savoir-faire
Jazz Line-Up (R3, Sun, 11pm) presented by Julian Joseph this week concentrates on the hard blowing Marius Neset quartet in concert, recorded in the Merseyside seaside town of Southport. The programme also features an interview with Mark Lockheart. Jazz on 3 on Monday evening, again on Radio 3 at 11pm, features French bass legend Henri Texier and his trio, plus the duo of Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston, recorded at the 2012 London Jazz Festival. MB
Surely Ethan Iverson won’t, will he, lean over to say ‘play it again, Sam?’ Even a whisper might be out of the question from the piano player, or the fun-loving fans in the audience bound to turn out in some number when The Bad Plus’ Iverson plays an exclusive trio club date in the spring.
No, it’s not with The Bad Plus although he will be back on tour with the acclaimed trio in the UK soon but instead with man of mystery, bassist Sam Lasserson, and the more familiar ex-Lee Konitz drummer and Dave Liebman associate, Jeff Williams. But who exactly is Lasserson?
‘I’ll play it again’: Sam Lasserson
Well, the bassist is in ECM saxophonist Martin Speake’s quartet, and plays with rising star of the guitar Hannes Riepler, the “Country Gentleman" player who helms the burgeoning Sunday night jam downstairs at the Vortex in Dalston’s Gillett Square. Lasserson obviously keeps good company.
Cool school: Jeff Williams
How the polymath Iverson has hooked up with Lasserson is anyone’s guess but the pianist is a shrewd observer of the scene, and in terms of London is no stranger to the Vortex where the gig is to take place. Iverson four years ago joined Bad Plus drummer Dave King, hipster alto sensation Tim Berne, and cellist Hank Roberts in the very spot for one of the most hardcore improvising gigs ever witnessed at the cutting edge club. Early booking advised. MB
Ethan Iverson, top
www.vortexjazz.co.uk, Saturday 20 April
It’s not easy to catch, live, the undisputed giants of the music up close and personal in a jazz club. When it happens it’s impossible to forget.
Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, Charles Lloyd, Wynton Marsalis, even, in your neighbourhood jazz club any time soon? Forget about it: it’s just not going to happen. But a kid can dream.
Well truth can be stranger and even more mind blowing than fiction sometimes, and last year one of the giants of the music alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett best known for his intuitive work with Miles Davis and for his own records made a welcome return to the UK playing a few jazz clubs rather than a concert hall.
And he returns to one of the clubs, the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on Friday, followed by two shows on Saturday. Garrett is reunited with pianist Vernell Brown Jr., bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer McClenty Hunter Jr. who played London last year slaying the crowd on one of the nights with the infectious ‘Happy People’ but adding percussionist Rudy Bird this week for even more heat.
On form in the studio, it’s just a year since the release of one of Garrett’s most memorably melodic albums to date, Seeds From The Underground, yet live there’s an additional rapid-fire spontaneity from the alto man, allied by Hunter’s Tony Williams-type attack that communicates immediately.
With his trademark skull cap, still youthful demeanour and playing style head-bobbing up and down, alto saxophone in the air, or down low to the ground, Garrett can deliver elegant runs of beautifully fluid improvising episodes with at times a Mali-meets-McCoy Tyner style bubbling up from pianist Brown on original material of the quality of ‘Boogety Boogety’.
Expect funk a plenty (in the Miles Davis 1980s sense), free-form Ornettian figures as well at these shows. On the Friday after Garrett leaves the stage there’s a free entry Whirlwind jam, so stick around if you’re stepping out, as the cream of the Soho scene are likely to show. MB
Kenny Garrett, top and Pizza Express Jazz Club above word on the street
The Aberdeen jazz festival gets underway later and on the programme of a busy festival today there’s US jazz-rock fusion heavyweights Yellowjackets, and the Henry Threadgill-inspired improv of the acclaimed Trio Red. Tomorrow (Wednesday 13 March) features a young musicians’ showcase, with the Hot 8 Brass Band already sold out, and Brian Kellock playing the music of Fats Waller. Thursday finds Trio Elf feat. guitarist Graeme Stephen at the Blue Lamp, and also for Aberdeen this week is bluesman Mud Morganfield. Friday features concerts by Ruby Turner, and Courtney Pine, with an appearance by Hidden Orchestra on Saturday and the festival moves to a climax with Trio Libero (above) featuring the ‘King of Aberdeen’ himself Seb Rochford, with Andy Sheppard and Michel Benita, making their Scottish debut on Sunday. More at www.aberdeenjazzfestival.com
On the horizon
Derry jazz and big band festival 2-6 May
Glasgow jazz festival 26 June-30 June
Edinburgh jazz and blues festival 19-28 July
Marlborough jazz festival 19-21 July
Hull jazz festival
26-28 July and 21-27 November
and from Marlbank yesterday:
Jazz festival 10
Brilliant Corners 21-23 March
With Liane Carroll, David Lyttle, Mark Lockheart’s Ellington In Anticipation, Steve Davis, and Alexander Hawkins to perform at this new festival inspired by a classic Monk album. http://movingonmusic.co.uk
Gateshead jazz festival 5-7 April
Centred at the Sage, Soweto Kinch, Lighthouse, Christine Tobin, Ruby Turner and Louis Moholo-Moholo/Alexander Hawkins are Tyneside bound this year.
Cheltenham jazz festival 1-6 May
Dionne Warwick, Van Morrison, Laura Mvula, Polar Bear, Gary Burton, Dave Douglas, and Mike Gibbs are set to appear in the lively old regency spa town. http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com
Love Supreme, 5-7 July
New outdoor festival in Sussex, Bryan Ferry, Chic, Gregory Porter, Michael Kiwanuka, Jools Holland, Courtney Pine, Robert Glasper, Neil Cowley Trio and Portico Quartet feature. (Porter, Pine and Portico, above)
Swanage jazz festival 12-14 July
Dorset bound are Kit Downes Quintet, Jean Toussaint, Gilad Atzmon, and Karen Street at the long established jazz gathering.
Manchester jazz festival 26 July-3 August
One of the most innovative jazz festivals in the country, with a strong regional and artistic identity. Worth waiting for the line-up to be announced in the spring.
Brecon jazz festival 9-11 August
Acker Bilk, Courtney Pine, Gilad Atzmon, Roller Trio, John Surman and more in the Powys market town for the biggest jazz gathering in Wales, now reborn.
Scarborough jazz festival 27-29 September
Kicking the sands from their shoes in Yorkshire are Courtney Pine, Kyle Eastwood, Ian Shaw, Beats & Pieces and more this year.
Cork jazz festival 25-29 Oct
Line-up should be available in September.
London jazz festival 15-24 November
The biggest of the UK jazz festivals, celebrating its 21st year in 2013.
Some singers are known only by their first name. It’s all that’s needed.
With Eska Mtungwazi, universally known as Eska, there’s no mistaking the musicianship and supreme vocal talent at play.
An improviser first and foremost, with an ear for a melody that vaults genres and continents, new EP Gatekeeper, to be followed by a milestone album English Skies, are expected later this year.
But before that, at a major solo headlining show the singer is to present, appearing at the Albany theatre in London previewing new songs some of which will appear on English Skies, an album that promises to be one of the most talked about UK jazz vocal events of the year.
Brought up in Lewisham, the Zimbabwe-born singer has a voice that communicates instantly no matter the style, and features a technique that’s unsurpassable in terms of range, emotion and skill, with Eska at home in an a cappella situation, part of a vocal grouping, or even improvising against a saxophone or raw bass line. Eska’s talents have also seen her work with acclaimed indie bands including The Invisible; and she has appeared with vocal great Bobby McFerrin, as well as maverick jazz composer and big band leader Matthew Herbert.
Now an associate artist at the Albany in Deptford, where Soweto Kinch previewed The Legend of Mike Smith last year, and clarinettist Arun Ghosh has performed multi-media experimental productions in the past, the Saturday 23 March show is a first-name-only affair, and a chance above all to glimpse a singer on the cusp of great things. MB
Jazz record labels make things happen, and although notions of what a record company are there to do vary enormously nowadays, they still count.
In recent years the tide has changed with the digital revolution and artist empowerment, and even since the last survey here in November, a bunch of important new labels, or reactivated ones, are making a real difference in pushing the music forward, connecting with fans and building the sector.
Digital-only releases, for instance, the latest Andrew McCormack trio album through Edition, are becoming more commonplace, but remain the exception to the rule. The vinyl-only label Gearbox, though, has begun to make its unique presence felt. What goes around…
…comes around, and watch out for the return of Verve records in the UK, with new A&R in the late-spring, a year after the UK office was closed down. It comes at a time when Blue Note and Verve will come under the same roof for the first time, “great ships coming in to dock", as the label chief at Universal has put it.
Prog-jazz inclined, artists include Redivider, ZoiD, and Thought-Fox. http://www.diatribe.ie/
Sax force-of-nature Tommy Smith’s label, back with a bang and In The Spirit of Duke
Alex Wilson records
A burgeoning label catalogue topped by a fine new trio release from the leading latin-jazz pianist of his generation
Drummer David Lyttle’s forward thinking label. Artists include teenage jazz guitar sensation Andreas Varady http://www.lyterecords.com
House of Legends was a big hit for Courtney Pine’s label in 2012 topping the Jazzwise Album of the Year critics’ poll
Martin Speake’s label, Polar Bear-meets-Ellington at last!
Part of Sony Classical: Bill Frisell, Dhafer Youssef, John Medeski, and Michel Camilo are on the roster. No website yet.
There is a UK placeholder website for the famed record company founded by Norman Granz. But there are few details so far, and the Universal-owned label won’t comment on the new signings. Check back for the first news when the publicity button is finally pressed. Last year before the label closed vocals starlet Natalie Duncan, among others, was signed.
Vinyl-only, artists include hard bop purist Simon Spillett, and the great Kenny Wheeler.
Report: Stephen Graham
Diatribe artist ZoiD, top
There must be a dream factory somewhere, a place where crooners are manufactured. Well there definitely is a crooner style and sound among new Britjazz singers, and it usually involves a suit, a sharp haircut and a knowing look. Alexander Stewart and Theo Jackson are just two of the latest to emerge, and ex-West End theatre singer Anthony Strong follows quickly on from these Manchester and London jazz stars in the making. A crooner and piano player, he has the suit of course, and the hair. With the trace of his own shadow on the wall Strong stands almost but not quite the rebel on a sofa on the cover of Stepping Out (Naïve **1/2). There’s a strong cast of players on this album with bass duties shared by Tom Farmer and Calum Gourlay; and former Jamie Cullum drummer Sebastiaan de Krom and Matt Skelton the sticksmen involved, on a selection of the 14 tracks here. Guitarist Chris Allard completes the core band, with guests Aussie trumpeter James Morrison, saxophonists Brandon Allen and Nigel Hitchcock, with still more players in the horn section and strings as well. I really didn’t warm to the rinky-dinky way the horns have been recorded (it’s just the audio style incidentally not the playing which is perfectly fine), but more than this Strong really doesn’t make his presence felt. The song choices are good, although you can’t really go wrong with ‘Witchcraft’, ‘Too Darn Hot’ and ‘My Ship’, yet the album sounds as if it’s going through the motions. Strong’s voice is like a younger, more bashful, Jamie Cullum and owes a debt to Harry Connick Jr; and it’s clearly too early to talk about an individual sound. Dream factories are all very well, but no one can create raw excitement on demand, and that’s an element Stepping Out could do with. MB
Anthony Strong above