Jazz blog: notes, tips, recommendations
One of the most notorious and ill fated drains on the public purse in the late-1990s was the egregious waste of many millions of pounds poured into ill fated Hackney venue Ocean. Kitted out with a state-of-the-art sound system, and beautifully designed, its booking policy though was a disaster from the off, and it quickly became a beacon for Saturday night fighting and general mayhem combined with the frittering away of much new millennial period cash. But there were some notable gigs, and in those days the Arts Council of England’s Contemporary Music Network put on the best international big budget and elephant eared jazz and improv-related art-jazz national tours, and in 2001 at Ocean one of these featured an appearance by P.I.L. alumnus dub bass exponent Jah Wobble with his Solaris band that included bass genius Bill Laswell and drummer Jaki Liebezeit, a founder of the influential Cologne Krautrock band Can. The sound system at Ocean captured the filthy underground rumble of this mighty music machine thrillingly to the nth degree.
Forewarning you dear reader, to move you right up to speed with the imminent arrival of a slab of laidback audio pleasure, Kingdom of Fitzrovia (****) is on the horizon for an April release courtesy of the historic Danish jazz label Storyville not otherwise known for its commitment to post-Milesian funk. Teaming Wobble with keyboardist Bill Sharpe who was in late-disco funksters Shakatak beloved of the people who liked to ride around in Capri Ghias in the 1980s, and a band that also includes former Nu-Trooper Sean Corby here on trumpet and flugel plus Marc Layton-Bennett at the kit, house music singer PJ Higgins, and Sharpe-approved guitarist Fridrik Karlsson, the eight tunes written by Wobble and Sharpe take on the concept of the central London area of Fitzrovia as a framing device, and the album was recorded there in a Berners Street studio. Wobble mentions that Fitzrovia was where the forward thinking Chartists met in the 1830s, and during the counterculture of the 1960s was home to the psychedelic UFO club. In his notes Wobble also refers to 1982 Saul Bellow novel The Dean’s December (by way of Ian McEwan) whose character Albert Corde eats at a restaurant called the Étoile on Charlotte Street, one of the main thoroughfares of the area and now paradoxically at the heart of Adland. “Bill and I regularly dined at Étoile while recording KoF,” Wobble recalls. “During lulls in our conversation we would sense the collective spectral, bohemian spirit of the Kingdom of Fitzrovia.” What’s on the menu on this attractive album is a Milesian spirit courtesy of Corby, although the album is probably closer to Bob Belden’s approach, which is the right kind of lineage, and the rhythm section is consistently excellent. ‘Loquacious Loretta’ has a superb groove, for instance, and drummer Marc Layton-Bennett from the evidence of this track alone, won’t be under anyone’s radar for too long, while Sharpe’s album-stealing suitably laconic solo is a gem.
Released on 15 April. The album cover top. Jah Wobble above and Bill Sharpe play the Islington Assembly Hall on 26 April.
UPDATE (20/2/13): Shakatak dates coming up include Gala Theatre Durham (1 March); Hideaway, Streatham, London (9 March); Nantwich Jazz Festival, Cheshire (30 March); The Robin, Bilston (5 April); Lighthouse, Poole (6 April); and Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (13-16 June)
Do It While You Can
Broad Reach Records ***1/2
Seize the day is the motto of the Kai Hoffman quartet’s first album Do It While You Can and not one but three versions of the smiling face of this livewire jump jive enthusiast extraordinaire and exponent of all things vintage on the cover is a sure indication of the singer’s preferred upbeat and positive approach. With arrangements by Twentysomething-period Jamie Cullum bassist Geoff Gascoyne, and plenty of zip provided along the way by his old Cullum rhythm section partner Seb de Krom on drums, as well as pianist Gunther Kurmayr in finger-snapping tow, Do it While You Can is a collection of predominantly feelgood swing-based songs.
The familiar ones: ‘Pure Imagination’, ‘Make Someone Happy’, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ (maybe done too much these days), ‘People Will Say We’re In Love’, ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’, and ‘The Masquerade Is Over’, jostle with the less familiar ones: Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace’s wryly in-the-know ‘Some Boys’, which promisingly opens the album, and ‘History Repeating’ by Alex Gifford of 1990s big beat outfit Propellerheads complete with what sounds like a take on the opening riff of Mingus’ ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’. Hoffman has written the title track with Simon Whiteside, and there’s a fun Dave Frishberg song, ‘Long Daddy Green’, plus another Whiteside number ‘I’ve Never Met a Guy Who’s Perfect’ (think a variant on Edwyn Collins’ ‘A Girl Like You’), and a very hip choice in Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’ from the singer/songwriter’s 1972 album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim issued posthumously as a single after Croce’s death in a plane crash the following year. There are plenty of double meanings, quite a few nudges and winks along the way from the Keely Smith and Peggy Lee-influenced Hoffman, and an insatiable joie de vivre rare in these cynical times. It’s an effective approach overall although not everything quite comes off (‘Moonlight’ drags a bit, but that’s but a small blemish). Precious time may be slipping away, but this album deserves to be heard for more than a day. Stephen Graham
Retro resurgence: Kai Hoffman top. Released in March
She’s been on the cover of both Downbeat and Jazz Times, and with the release of her latest album Claroscuro as recently as the autumn, the multi-award winning clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone player Anat Cohen, with a finely honed individualism in her extraordinarily burnished playing, here achieves maximum impact with her down home version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’. That version alone along with her reputation Stateside should whet the appetites of UK jazz fans sufficiently to draw the serious jazz heads down to the Soho basement club she’s to play when the Israeli-born musician debuts in the UK for a first appearance in London next month as part of a brief European tour. With a band on the album that includes the hip Jason Lindner on piano, skilled bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freedman, all of whom are making the trip, there’s much to savour from the deep traditions of jazz clarinet onwards towards the modern global sound on an album that playfully uses the Spanish spelling of the Italian word ‘chiaroscuro’ in its title. Don’t forget to catch Cohen’s wonderful take on Artie Shaw’s ‘Nightmare’, with Paquito d’Rivera guesting, if you pick up Claroscuro. Stephen Graham
Anat Cohen above plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 20 March with her quartet.
There’s a jam session explosion at the moment with recently launched sessions at Charlie Wright’s, run by the Jazz Warriors, Hannes Riepler downstairs at the Vortex, and the continuing vibrant scene both upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s and downstairs there with the laidback Late Late Show programming. Across Soho at Pizza Express Jazz Club the Whirlwind Sessions is the latest to add to the London scene’s resurgent fecundity, and Friday 8 March from 11.30pm-3am sees the first of the Michael Janisch-helmed label sessions. It’s free to get in, and double bassist Janisch, with saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev, who used to host nights and jam at Charlie Wright’s, in association with Maggie Black Productions, have set up the jam session with a Whirlwind artist leading each running, choosing the format, either quartet or quintet, and then opening the bandstand up for invited guests later. The 8 March jam has Janisch and Strigalev, plus Partisans guitarist Phil Robson (just in action this past weekend with the Hans Koller Ensemble), and Robson’s Partisans bandmate Gene Calderazzo on drums. SG
The wind’s whipping up: Michael Janisch top
EXCLUSIVE Although details are still to be further fleshed out and officially announced, this summer will see a major new festival series of concerts involving a number of symphony orchestras across Europe performing the music of the late great Esbjörn Svensson, the charismatic and influential pianist and composer who tragically died on 14 June 2008 aged just 44 as a result of a scuba diving accident in his native Sweden. Svensson changed the face of European jazz, and has influenced countless numbers of bands around the world including Trichotomy, GoGo Penguin, Tingvall Trio, Neil Cowley Trio, and not forgetting Brad Mehldau, to name just five, and who gained the appreciation and respect of jazz giant Pat Metheny who performed memorably with EST at the Jazz Baltica festival. Svensson was the most significant figure in Swedish jazz since Jan Johansson in the 1960s the revered figure best known for his classic album Jazz på svenska (‘Jazz in Swedish’), which used European folk music as an ingredient for jazz improvisation, one of the first to do so. The Västeras-born Svensson unlike Johansson harnessed the power of rock, free jazz, and electronics allying them to his own virtuoso grasp of the music of the masters of jazz piano including chiefly Thelonious Monk in the early stages of his career and Svensson’s compositional strength rooted within the co-operative spirit of the trio as the band shared writing duties and credits. Following study at the University of Stockholm Svensson founded EST in 1993 with his childhood friend drummer Magnus Öström and bassist Dan Berglund. They together went on to become global jazz stars, releasing 11 albums during Esbjörn’s lifetime with another, Leucocyte, appearing shortly after Svensson’s death, and four years later the extraordinary 301 released in March last year. Further details are to be confirmed by the band’s management but work is understood to be well advanced on symphonic arrangements of Svensson’s music with partner symphony orchestras lined up across Europe for performances in the summer with a possible UK orchestra involved for concerts in the autumn.
(UPDATE): The orchestral arrangements are by Uppsala-born conductor and arranger Hans Ek, known for his work as music director of the Polar Music Prize ceremony, where he has arranged and performed with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra music by Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Björk, and Paul Simon among the winners of the prestigious prize, as well as orchestrating for theatre and film including Dogme director Thomas Vinterberg’s 2007 film A Man Comes Home. EST manager Burkhard Hopper says the festival details will be announced in April, and they will include some major European festivals this summer. “We will work with local pianists who have shown through their recordings/music/playing that they carry the torch of Esbjörn forward. There are no plans for an album yet.”
Jazz would never be the same again http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtEztYjk88s
Jazz guitar legend Martin Taylor is to pair up with the Chet Atkins-influenced fingerstyle guitar star Tommy Emmanuel for new album The Colonel and the Governor and the duo embark on a big UK and Irish tour during the month of release. Taylor who has jazz chops to burn can play most things and the album beginning with ‘I Won’t Last A Day Without You’ for the first few dozen bars could be in any style. Slowly but surely the jazz connotation comes through on the upbeat partially countrified song, but there are uncategorisable moments throughout the album and little blissful pleasures you wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at, such as the lovely ballad ‘Heat Wave’ redolent of an exile’s reverie. ‘Jersey Bounce’ could easily sit on one of those Woody Allen films long ago when an outside, slightly ambivalent, walking scene maybe involving Woody trying to avoid some girl friend or other would require a wry theme with a little pitch bending from Emanuel doing the trick and the trademark Taylor motion.
On ‘Bernie’s Tune’ (made famous by Gerry Mulligan in the 1950s) the musicians clearly let loose from the start with get-stuck-in laughs and a dash of gypsy jazz. Taylor whose Spirit of Django band brought gypsy jazz to a wide audience in the 1990s is in his element here, and for Emmanuel it’s to the manner born. Other tunes are ‘A Smooth One’, ‘True’, ‘Heat Wave’ referred to earlier, ‘One Day’, George Shearing’s ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ with a sort of double staircase scale-melting introduction as the guitarists ascend and descend to meet on the shared landing of the melody, ‘The Nearness of You’, ‘Down at Cocomos’, a favourite of Taylor’s with the lilting Caribbean melody a live mainstay for the leading UK jazz guitarist in recent years, ‘The Fair Haired Child’, ‘Secret Love’, a solo for Emmanuel, ‘Wonderful Baby’, and Billy Taylor’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ finishing things off. Taylor and Emmanuel have known each other and played together since the 1990s. The tour begins in Belfast on 2 March at the Ulster Hall, continuing at the University Concert Hall, Limerick (3 March); Opera House, Cork (4 March, album release date); Helix Theatre, Dublin (5 March); Anvil, Basingstoke (6 March); Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury (7 March); Sage, Gateshead (8 March); Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (9 March); Robin 2, Wolverhampton (10 March); Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple (12 March); Corn Exchange, Exeter (13 March); Colston Hall, Bristol (14 March); Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London (16 March); Leas Cliffe Hall, Folkestone (17 March); Hawth, Crawley (18 March); Corn Exchange, Ipswich (20 March); Winding Wheel, Chesterfield (21 March); Victoria Theatre, Halifax (22 March); Coronation Hall, Ulverston (24 March); Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (26 March); and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (28 March). SG
Tommy Emmanuel above left and Martin Taylor. Photo: Allen Clarke