The last Keith Jarrett solo concert in London at the Royal Festival Hall in 2008 became two thirds of the triple album Paris/London: Testament, and memories of that extraordinary night run high still.
Manfred Eicher, founder in 1969 of ECM, Jarrett’s long time label and where the story of his global success began in solo piano terms with the studio album Facing You, speaking in the foyer of the Hall beforehand smiled at the mention of Testament, and recalled it was recorded in Paris as well. “We’re recording tonight,” he said, having made the trip over to be in the hall in person. Jarrett is still finding new audiences, and the National Concert Hall concert in Dublin on Thursday was his first in Ireland in 30 years. Imagine hearing Keith Jarrett for the very first time.
Like the Testament night that distant December Jarrett started with a wild improvisation, a clearing for what would follow. He could have played in that vein all night as he does on albums such as Radiance, but this was not an improv set in its entirety.
Most of the songs particularly in the second set after the official interval were lovely ballads or ballad-inclined leavened with the gospel-tinged blues: the left hand on one such number showed the groove set-up Jarrett did on such classics as ‘Long As You’re Living Yours’ players such as Brad Mehldau have done much to learn from.
Jarrett only name checked one song, ‘Summertime’, and launched into an anecdote about the night he first played the Gershwin number, a perennial favourite with jazz audiences the world over since Porgy and Bess. It was a night in San Francisco he said when he played the tune for the first time in front of an audience. Jarrett explained that that particular crowd was an unruly one, and he had to take requests and bit by bit the troublemakers melted away. Later Robin Williams came backstage to see him afterwards and congratulated him on getting shot of the troublemakers. Jarrett impersonated the Good Morning Vietnam man’s voice, and then laughed at his own impersonation.
The second half showed a hitherto little known aspect of Jarrett’s public persona: he told jokes and people in the audience laughed. It was a relief, as there is always massive tension at Jarrett gigs, partly why it’s fair to say even if the concerts are demanding they’re so good.
During the first set he left the stage quite early on as he had to take a “two minutes” break. He mentioned “medicines” that he had been taking, and he was gone for about five minutes. That gave the audience a chance to chat to friends or strangers sitting next to them after the enforced stifling silence demanded at his concerts.
Later after the official interval when the man from Allentown came back for the second half referred back to the unscheduled break and the medicines earlier mentioned that people had given him advice on what remedies he should take. He had a cold as it turned out. He said his response to the advice was: “all of them!”
Someone inevitably took pictures despite a very polite announcement by John Cumming of the concert producers Serious at the very beginning. The snapping began shortly after he took the stage for the second set, and the good humour on Jarrett’s part could have dissipated, but didn’t, although Jarrett did say archly that photography is a great art but taking photos on “equipment like that” meaning presumably camera phones “doesn’t make great art.”
People did continue to take pictures bafflingly, even after this, and later on. The Festival Hall was packed, and even the choir stalls sold so Jarrett had people to the left side of him above his head curving round to the sides. The piano position was different to the time he did the Testament concert (the Steinway last night was side on, a lot straighter), and his body language was a bit different as sometimes he sits at the piano almost side saddle at an angle. Sometimes in his posture last night the shape was like an anglepoise lamp. At the beginning of Pixar films there is a short animated sequence and the anglepoise lamp hops about. Jarrett doesn’t hop about, but he does stand up a lot, and the first thing he did last night, was to look inside the piano and reach out to the strings. He vocalised quite a bit as well throughout, humming and sort of singing.
There were four encores at the end, including ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, but most of the great moments came earlier especially on the tune that sounded like the melody of an old 1970s ballad ‘Sometimes When We Touch’ in the theme. Whatever it is called this one was the most beautiful. There was another tune that could have turned into ‘Here’s To Life’. Jarrett isn’t averse to popular songs from more recent times, and on Jasmine, the duo studio album with Charlie Haden, there’s a very good version of Joe Sample and Will Jennings’ ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’. Another of last night’s songs had a fine flamenco section (think the spirit of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain). As raconteur in the second half his anecdote about Nürnberg was the most interesting. Maybe it was the March 1973 concert he was referring to, the same year as Solo Concerts Bremen Lausanne made less than 16 months after Facing You. Jarrett said in the university auditorium on that occasion the audience were up close to him. That night, he went on, he said that he was ill (as he was last night) not helped by bad food “Chinese food made by Italians”, as he put it, that he and “my producer here tonight” meaning Manfred Eicher had eaten ahead of the concert all those years ago, but they liked the music made that night. The inference was clear: even though he didn’t feel well it wouldn’t stop the music being good. The most famous instance of this was the later masterpiece The Köln Concert when he had not only eaten bad food beforehand, but had a bad back and was tired after travelling. Last night’s concert wasn’t a classic, but there were many beautiful moments, one or two of these quite moving. The record when it comes out eventually will tell a different story as live records often do with all the extra detail. But no one can forget hearing Keith Jarrett play.
UPDATED with setlist added at 6.15
Draw a line in the sand from Soft Machine to well out into the sea. The tide may have changed many thousands of times since the late-1960s, yet prog jazz or the nuprog, emanating in the Canterbury sound, and more especially psychedelic rock, is increasingly where it’s at in terms of the new wave of experimental Britjazz. It has been for a while. Prog began to be reclaimed after the term became derided for many years as its creativity waned and became bloated and identified with ELP and god help us Rick Wakeman. Psychedelic prog is really at the heart of the matter and it’s very different to say Jon Hiseman’s more jazz-rock approach back in the day. There are only a few bands who come under the banner, you can’t really fake it unless somebody decides to add a click track to it and loads of vocals. So there’s Troyka and World Service Project, and Polar Bear more elliptically. The jazz influences that feed in are very disparate. There’s probably Weather Report in there, big dollops of M-BASE, and spoonfuls of Django Bates and wistful nods to King Crimson.
WSP export the concept all over the place via Match & Fuse, the name east London web producer Lee Paterson dreamt up brainstorming with the band driven by the visionary and well organised Dave Morecroft.
The idea is to link WSP with bands who don’t happen to live their lives in a Redditch potting shed, or whatever the equivalent is in Caen or Stavanger, or play bowls on the village green or discuss the finer points of wood burning in their spare time. These bands include Twin Peaks‘-loving Owls Are Not What They Seem, and the pick of the bunch Pixel, from Norway, now signed to Soft Machine-loving US experimental label Cuneiform.
In arts-speak Match & Fuse has a “primary aim of connecting creative scenes across Europe", which it sort of does. After touring England with Matt Jacobsen’s “two horns/no chords" boffins Redivider last year and playing the Gillett Square M & F all dayer to good effect they hook up with Redivider again this time in Ireland next month. Dates are Dolan’s, Limerick (7 March); Crane Lane Theatre Cork (8 March); and The Twisted Pepper, Dublin (10 March). SG
World Service Project, above
Alex Wilson Records ***1/2
A prisoner to his big technique and eclecticism at times, the trio format suits Wilson well although the sequencing here doesn’t do him any favours. Big, booming number ‘Kalisz’ named for Paweł Brodowski’s piano festival in Poland is an early peak (it might have been better at the end) but ‘Remercier les travailleurs’ with its Malian lilt is less overly energetic and all the better for it, allowing bassist Davide Mantovani more scope. It’s great to hear drummer Frank Tontoh in a trio setting on an album again, although you can often hear him in clubs such as Hideaway regularly. Recorded live in London and at the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry, as well as in studios in the capital, the danzón take on ‘Solar’ is a clever departure, and listen hard and you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Not sure about some of the tinkling applause at the beginning of some of the tracks as it makes everything resemble a vicar’s tea party. That’s not much of a drawback on an otherwise effortless sounding release by a pianist clearly hitting his stride.
Released on 15 April
Alive in the Singing Air
Turtle Ridge Records ***
Their first full album together, sisters Rachel and Sara Caswell (Rachel’s the pure-voiced singer, and Sara the intuitive violinist), are joined by a piano trio led by the great Fred Hersch, and that’s the chief interest on this album. But there’s another connection as ‘Song of Life’ and the standout track ‘A Wish’ (introduced beautifully by Hersch) have words by Norma Winstone and music by Hersch. The very influential educator David Baker taught both sisters, and I’m sure he will find a lot to savour on this highly accomplished album. Chamber jazz, but that bit different.
Released on 5 March in the US
Be Not So Long To Speak
Minsi Ridge Records ***
The title is a bit clunky, almost a half sentence invented by a bot, but this solo piano album recorded in New York in 2011 with a fairly anonymous wiggy head of hair covering the monochrome cover deserves your attention. It may be overly serious at times and a bit full-on but ‘Late November’ joins the dots more with heavy holds and dark momentum. But listen to Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’ tucked in at the end before Avey’s own tunes and you’ll get what he’s doing that bit more. Having to acclimatise to this very different sound via a familiar tune makes this slightly odd album by an original thinker that bit easier to grasp.
The Ian Carey Quintet + 1
Roads and Codes
Kabocha Records ***
Heavily influenced by Dave Douglas but with a slightly airier sound, trumpeter Carey did the whole of this album in a day with his band in a San Francisco studio, and it benefits from the real time method at work. More people across the Atlantic are remarking on just how much Kenny Wheeler has influenced them and are playing his tunes and Carey’s the latest. Carey’s own tune ‘Wheels’ here is another tribute, a hipster waltz, that works on more than a name-checking level. Carey, who’s on flugel as well as trumpet, might not have the bite of a player like Tom Arthurs on the instrument but he has a lost-in-the-mirror haze to his style that is really appealing. Inspired by Jim Jarmusch, and Charles Ives as well as Wheeler, there’s nothing stuck in the mud about this young player and his band. SG
The Alex Wilson Trio top
There’s no more erudite a jazz writer and critic than Brian Morton, in his use of language as a treasure chest, rather than a toolbox, his pen a much needed scalpel for criticism to root out the malign or facilitate the benign, his ear attuned to the kind of phrase you just wished you yourself could have come up with. He also, with the late Richard Cook in the Penguin Guide to Jazz, picked up on new music and then called the shots: like an expert in the paddock looking at how a young colt is shaping up or as an observer stating something obvious yet that no-one has hitherto chosen to express. Brian used to speak of “lost leaders", he probably still does; and would cite a range of greats who qualified: Krzysztof Komeda; Jan Johansson; and Eric Dolphy among them.
Bill Evans was hardly a lost leader but his bassist Scott LaFaro, who died aged 25 in a car crash, most definitely was in the Morton sense. Although no one can really be sure how his career in music would have unfolded, if following a remarkable series of concerts at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1961 he hadn’t died at such a young age. A new novel by Welsh writer Owen Martell takes up the facts and adds the fiction interpreting how LaFaro’s life affected Bill Evans and his family. Intermission takes its title from the crisis in Evans’ life as he was gripped by the trauma of the loss of LaFaro. Boyd Tonkin writing in The Independent says: “Like Evans’ own music, Intermission might prove simply too rarefied and intangible for some tastes; too disdainful of the sweet chords and easy resolutions of major-key story-telling.” He does compare the book favourably to Michael Ondaatje’s novel Coming through Slaughter about fabled trumpeter Buddy Bolden, another “lost leader”, whose memory has become putty in the hands of myth makers notably Wynton Marsalis.
Half-Blood Blues author Esi Edugyan reviewing Intermission in The Guardian today says more directly that Martell’s book is “an introspective, original novel”, and that it concerns family grief as much as it does the idolising of a musician. She also says: “At its best, this novel stands as a well-written lament… an apt tribute to a music so full of life that even a pause, a silence, can go down howling.”
Morton in the seclusion of bucolic windswept Argyll these days would add some prescient comments of his own on a book about loss and its overthrow of leadership: buffeting jazz in 1961 and an ocean of music since.
Best rated albums on Marlbank since the beginning of the year
10 Joe Lovano UsFive (date of review 21 February 2013)
Blue Note ****
9 Jah Wobble/Bill Sharpe (17 February 2013)
Kingdom of Fitzrovia
8 Terri Lyne Carrington (6 January)
Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue
Concord **** equivalent
7 Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran (10 February)
6 Liane Carroll
Quiet Money Recordings **** RECOMMENDED (7 February)
5 Rudresh Mahanthappa (7 January)
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
4 Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet (30 January)
ECM **** RECOMMENDED
3 Soweto Kinch (12 January)
The Legend of Mike Smith
Soweto Kinch Productions **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT RECOMMENDED
2 Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project (27 January)
Edition **** RECOMMENDED NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
1 Chris Potter
The Sirens (15 January)
Chris Potter top, Terri Lyne Carrington middle, and the cover of Wisława above
There’s a growing collegiate atmosphere in UK jazz. That sounds odd, as ‘collegiate’ is a term you don’t hear as much here as in US academic circles. It’s unheard of at jazz gigs. Why I say that is the use of the word “fellows” and “fellowships”, in the wake of the announcement last night of the recipients of the first Jazzlines Fellowships in Birmingham. It’s a trend that’s been around for a while and musical instrument company Yamaha got there a while back with their jazz “scholars” scheme. One of the new fellows Lluis Mather was a scholar himself three years ago. The image of musicians, possibly monks, toiling over illuminated manuscripts springs absurdly to mind. There’s even a pun there somewhere.
The Birmingham fellowships offer mentoring, advice and masterclasses, a bit like Take Five that the promoter Serious runs and has extended to a wider European roll-out. But the Birmingham scheme is different, angled at the creation of new work and then the touring of it directly, with no residential element as far as I can make out involved, unlike Take Five’s annual sojourns in Kent. The Jerwood Charitable Foundation’s involvement means the scheme connects with the foundation’s work in other sectors of the arts.
The three musicians selected are part of the Birmingham and increasingly national scene having graduated from the Conservatoire jazz course, and in trumpeter Percy Pursglove’s case have had an active involvement in running the Harmonic festival, one of the most imaginative new festivals to begin in recent years. Dan Nicholls reminds me in his setting up of magazine Green Chimneys and gigging with his band Strobes of the enterprise demonstrated by someone like World Service Project’s Dave Morecroft, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he isn’t on the talent-spotting Whittingham prize radar already for later in the year as WSP were.
Maybe the Jazzlines fellows will also be in the vanguard of the new jazz in the future. Tony Dudley-Evans of Jazzlines has a good track record working with Jerwood in the past at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, and if the new music produced is of the calibre achieved in a festival commission such as the one that resulted in the formation of the band Food then it will prove to be of wider European let alone national significance. So collegiality might be as jazz a word in 2013 as ‘Congeniality’ even if the mortar boards might have to be ditched.
Dan Nicholls (above left), Lluis Mather, and Percy Pursglove.
Photo: John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Ornette Coleman’s ‘Congeniality’ from The Shape of Jazz to Come: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNOzv2KuAAo
The Manchester scene is a pretty loose term. Take Adam Fairhall who is very much part of it even if he lives 40 miles from the city: he even hails from much further afield, Cornwall. Jazz is not defined by location any longer as Stuart Nicholson first pointed out in his influential book Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved To A New Address?) and dawned on everyone else despite protests from those with strong home town allegiances. Fairhall could have been part of the Leeds scene as he studied there but Leeds in jazz is different (it’s more punk jazz, no wave, and death-metal referencing) and I’m not making a glib comparison I hope. Leeds spawned Matthew Bourne, trioVD, Roller Trio, and now the intriguing Shatner’s Bassoon. Manchester has Stuart McCallum, Beats & Pieces at the cutting edge 12 Points new band Euro jazz fest in Dublin last week… and Adam Fairhall. Somehow he doesn’t fit in, composers of his distinctiveness and ideas rarely do. Think Django Bates: he’s not part of any place scene is he? Although you can note a geographical location for shorthand he’s usually referred to in terms of Loose Tubes or “his generation", but when you hear Django’s music influencing Norwegian musicians (as on Marius Neset’s new record Birds) or in Brooklyn feeding into Tim Berne’s ideas, you’ll realise that if people could live on the moon they’d probably play Earthling music and so calling it “Moon music” would be a bit ridiculous.
Fairhall plays a range of styles and he can do stride, say, or the rarely heard ragtime styles, but he’s attuned to mavericks in terms of piano, the uncategorisable talents of someone like the much missed Don Pullen. Still in his mid-thirties, a music boffin and academic who has a Phd (not that a doctorate cuts any swath at all on the bandstand), he plays his own music although he crops up as a sideman, and you might come across Fairhall in a Manchester scene place such as Band on the Wall. His records include Imaginary Delta, actually recorded at the Swan Street club, stemming from an original commission by the Manchester Jazz Festival. It’s a suite “celebrating American vernacular forms, early jazz, blues, rags and stomps, featuring unusual instruments”. A high powered gigging septet time travels back and forth with Fairhall, he’s written the music for players such as Golden Age of Steam’s reeds titan James Allsopp, and improv kingpin Paul Rogers who are in the band with him. The Manchester Evening News has written of Fairhall: “There is no jazz code he hasn’t deciphered and mastered.” Do a Bletchley, and hear him in Camden tonight playing music from The Imaginary Delta. SG
Adam Fairhall above
Watch an interview with Fairhall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk5JsS35-PY
Next month sees the return to the UK after her ReVoice debut in the autumn of singer Becca Stevens and her band. Known for her work with jazz luminaries who include Eric Harland and Brad Mehldau, the latter who happens to be in Birmingham tonight playing at Town Hall, Stevens, as well as singing in an improvising inclined Björk tribute band, is as attuned to Irish traditional folk music as she is to the latest improvising styles and progressive approaches. But inspirations as unexpected as Paula Abdul jostle in her list of influences as much as Joni Mitchell or even Michael Jackson. Brought up in North Carolina, where she began singing in a band called the Tune Mammals with her mum and dad, Stevens appeared last on these shores in Soho with her band featuring the accordion and keyboards of Liam Robinson; double bass and vocals of Chris Tordini who she knows from New School days; and the drums of Jordan Perlson, while Stevens herself plays guitar and ukulele in addition to singing. Her record Weightless came out in 2011 to favourable notices. Dates are Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (4 March); and Band on the Wall, Manchester (5 March). SG
The Becca Stevens band above
Joe Lovano UsFive
Blue Note ****
It’s a coincidence that Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Star Crossed Lovers’, the fifth track of Joe Lovano’s latest by his two-drummer band UsFive, appears around the same time as Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran’s Hagar’s Song on which Lloyd interprets the song that famously featured on Ellington’s Shakespeare-themed 1957 album Such Sweet Thunder. The Memphis man, though, opts for the alternative title the tune is known for, ‘Pretty Girl’. The two versions are strikingly different: Lloyd’s the spaces between the notes, and the poetry of the song; Lovano’s the lovingly rendered ur-text of the melody there for the ear to tune into, and as natural as the rain in the evocative flow of his improvising. As writer Willard Jenkins in the liner note puts it: “There’s a very humane quality to his saxophonic pronouncements.” And it’s that sense Jenkins alerts us to that is at the heart of another fine Lovano album, his 23rd for the label, a staggering record of achievement over many years.
The cover of Cross Culture, above