This time last year The Face of Mount Molehill was just a twinkle in the eye, in that vacuum between advance copy and release and no one really apart from the band and their nearest and dearest had actually heard the record.
Molehill, released at the start of 2012 in that funny old world when the London Olympics hadn’t actually taken place and the capital was even then still reeling from the previous summer’s riots, has since gone on to become the biggest selling new UK jazz release of the year so far with more than 8,000 copies sold and climbing. That’s pretty unlikely to be beaten by any other jazz release, even though it’s still only September.
But before the end of the year wheels around once more the trio is rehearsing ahead of an autumn tour in the States, and then back in Blighty with the Goldsmiths (Big) Strings on 17 November plays an unsual London Jazz Festival afternoon show at the Barbican, a “never-been-done-before project", says the venue, which involves the trio along with Molehill violinist/arranger Julian Ferraretto challenging a hand picked 30-piece ‘big strings’ orchestra to play by ear instead of from notation music from The Face of Mount Molehill plus new tunes specially written.
Last year at the London Jazz Festival, the complete programme of which for this year is announced next week but which features already such flagged-up luminaries as Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau and Kurt Elling in the festival’s biggest ever incarnation fittingly in its 20th anniversary year, the Neil Cowley Trio played a midnight gig at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, the album’s producer Dom Monks (who engineered on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida) even manning the sound desk.
That night it was a chance to hear the album in a relaxed setting as the NCT kicked right in after soundchecking in front of an audience made up of Facebook friends, musicians and gig-goers who had made their way over from other London Jazz Festival venues that night. They began with ‘Rooster Was A Witness’ and the hum of feedback still ringing in their ears, pianist Cowley also doubling on Nord keyboards; new recruit Aussie indie rocker Rex Horan (Mama’s Gun) on double bass; the trio’s long standing and original drummer Evan Jenkins; and the Mount Molehill Strings squeezed decorously in the rear of the compact bandstand of the Dean Street basement club demonstrating a certain amount of ingenuity in running through the material with Cowley in the tiny breaks between songs bantering with the audience, the desk, and the band. The band settled on the highly effective ‘Skies Are Rare’ and by ‘Fable’ started to rock. Cowley got into the zone headbanging away on the Steinway, with minimalist lines, fast breakout improvising and resolved melodic flourishes, while on the title track of the album the strings came into their own.
The classical players who will come head to head with the Neil Cowley Trio at the Barbican at this year’s London Jazz Festival may not know quite what’s hit them. One thing’s for sure with this trio, as the record has also shown and as the public continues to snap it up, jazz has never quite sounded the same before.
Neil Cowley Trio top and the cover of The Face of Mount Molehill. US dates are: Iridium, New York (11 October); Wexner Center, Columbus, Ohio (13 Oct); Franklin Theatre, Nashville (14 Oct); Yoshi’s, Oakland, California (15 Oct); and The Mint, Los Angeles (16 Oct).
Musicweek.com reports today of a new Jazz FM awards to be launched on the last day of January next year by digital radio station Jazz FM, sponsored by US audio firm Klipsch. According to the story: “The annual accolades will recognise and commend those who have made exceptional contributions to the jazz industry during the preceding twelve months," and both the new generation and jazz legends will be recognised. Jazz FM has worked with Klipsch already and the firm founded in Arkansas in the 1940s has already sponsored the station’s retro jazz dance Peppermint Candy show.
The awards will complement the existing Parliamentary Jazz Awards, the only significant UK jazz awards at the moment, held each year in May, but will be seen as a broader media event with some similarities to the BBC Jazz Awards that the corporation ran successfully for a number of years in the noughties until funding cuts ushered in their demise along with the sister world music awards event.
2013 will also see Jazz FM mount the Love Supreme outdoor jazz festival near Brighton to add to its burgeoning live sector that this year has seen the station extend its Funky Sensation club night from its Ronnie Scott’s base, and promote major concert hall gigs by such stars as Marcus Miller and Dionne Warwick.
Pictured above: New Bluetooth On-Ear headphones awards sponsor Klipsch launches this month; and the Jazz FM logo.
Fresh from his “sit down" comedy shows in Edinburgh Ian Shaw was on familiar ground at a venue he loves, the Vortex, and where he is constantly asked back and plays several times a year, even appearing there on New Year’s Eve. At the end of his gig last night he was comfortable enough to be found behind the bar talking in relaxed form to old friends and newcomers alike who had filed in to fill up the Gillett Square club earlier.
The concert was, I don’t want to use the expression but here goes anyway, a game of two halves, with the first a run of songs from Ian’s fine new Fran Landesman album A Ghost in Every Bar released on Sussex indie jazz label Splashpoint. Accompanying himself on the piano mostly he was joined towards the end of the first half only vacating the stool for pianist Simon Wallace who co-wrote many of the songs by the great Landesman featured on the album.
Best known of course for standards ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ and ‘Ballad of the Sad Young Men’, Landesman songs have a depth and a bittersweet realness few lyricists achieve, and Ian who has a strong affinity with her songs developed over many years was then joined on ‘Ballad’ by Sue Richardson on flugelhorn, to add that extra touch of piquancy.
After the break, Ian turned to his Edinburgh show A Bit of a Mouthful, named he said mischievously for the jaw-breaking Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, as he’s from Wales. Frequently hilarious the show charts topics featuring tall tales of love and sex from Shaw’s point of view of, as he puts it, “a practising homosexual." Some are deliciously rude (the tale of the hapless Gareth, for instance), and a beautifully conceived list song featuring lots of Internet acronyms. Best of all was his James Taylor pastiche which was very, very funny, even managing a good old swipe at James Blunt which was well aimed. At the end Shaw topped it off expertly by seguing beautifully into Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again Naturally’, which was wonderfully done. A hugely enjoyable night all in all.
Ian Shaw pictured above
Universal France **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
A welcome return from pianist Terrasson whose profile has dipped lately but who is newly signed to a major label after a spell in the past with Blue Note. Terrasson follows the Yaron Herman path a little by choosing unusual pop songs to cover (Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ the equivalent of Herman doing Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ a while back), but there’s nothing gimmicky in the slightest about Gouache, which also features a fun version of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, some Satie, original music of Terrasson’s, and listen out for the delicate and affecting voice of rising star Cécile McLorin Salvant on John Lennon’s ‘Oh My Love’. The latter provides some spine tingling moments on what is overall a fine jazz pop-inclined album full of delights that draw you back in time through jazz history, a nod to James P Johnson here, a Herbie-ism there, but all these styles are stood back from, absorbed, and given a nowadays personality. Terrasson also plays Rhodes on some tracks, and he shows considerable depth throughout both as a soloist (on the Chopin-esque ‘Happiness’) and an accompanist, particularly set against the trumpet of Stéphane Belmondo on some tracks.
Released on Monday
Glad Rag Doll
A very different Diana Krall at work on this T Bone Burnett-produced album, with a rootsy Americana flavour, recorded on an old nineteenth century piano, that unmistakable voice and lots of guitar. There’s very little jazz, possibly even none, but instead mature interpretations of songs ranging from the 1920s and 30s to the 50s. Glad Rag Doll, which takes its name from the Ager/Dougherty/Yellen song, the fifth track, has people like Marc Ribot cropping up to considerable effect, and it’s a bit of a reality check when you hear him in this context as other projects of his have included the wildly different Spirits Rejoice Albert Ayler project with Henry Grimes that played in London last year. The Krall band besides Ribot and producer Burnett on guitar by contrast has ukulele player Howard Coward, drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Dennis Crouch, guitarists Bryan Sutton and Colin Linden, plus keyboardist Keefus Green. Krall, it’s easy to forget, began as a pianist and mentored by the late great Ray Brown developed her vocals side, becoming a very high class and much celebrated jazz singer who then switched to co-write her own songs on The Girl in The Other Room, away from her earlier interests in say the music of Nat King Cole. I think this album will appeal to Bill Frisell or Bob Dylan fans a bit, maybe Charlie Haden devotees even, at the country end of his work, will take to it as well. Highlights here are Doc Pomus’ ‘Lonely Avenue’, which is an interesting contrast to say the way Van Morrison interprets the song, and a deeply satisfying rendition of the Millers’ ‘Wide River To Cross’. A sophisticated album, with unexpected pleasures including the tempo and feel of ‘When The Curtain Comes Down’ and one that shows considerable artistic growth despite the tacky artwork. Clearly Krall won’t be pigeonholed, although of course that is not an ultimate end in itself and not the point of the album at all. What though is harder to ascertain is whether it is just a bunch of songs or not.
Released on Monday 15 October
Mick Coady’s Synergy
Nine Tales of the Pendulum
Jelly Mould ***
‘Naturally Liberating Molecules’ might be the most science-laden song title I have come across in a while (ask Irish bassist Coady after the gig what the song title means if you catch him and his band on tour this autumn). More familiar although that bit more metaphysical is Ivo Neame’s ‘Unseen Coracle’, which also features on the pianist’s octet album Yatra released soon. Featuring the cerebral circuitously engaging US alto sax player David Binney and with Irish jazz scene faces drummer Sean Carpio and saxophonist Michael Buckley joining Coady and Neame, Nine Tales is intelligent music making, with an engaging abstract accent that fans of Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman will relate to. Released in October
Equilateral Records ***
While a little over produced but with a pleasantly pan-global feel to it UK-based Italian bassist Davide Mantovani is well known for his work as a sideman with a range of leading jazz artists including Zoe Rahman, who appears here on a number of tracks. At times the album transports you to Africa via the kora of Madou Sidiki Diabate (on ‘Choice is Yours’), but also skips back in time to the baroque for a brief foray into the world of Bach. But Choices also recalls the Pat Metheny Group at times, the approach of Antonio Forcione as well occasionally, and features tunes mainly by Mantovani that will delight this well liked and tasteful player’s fans and maybe newcomers as well.
Released on 24 September
Anzic **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
Highly accomplished clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone player, a critics’ favourite in the States, and rightly so, Anat Cohen doesn’t take herself too seriously and there is a finely honed character in her extraordinarily burnished playing at times as well as monstrously well developed technique. Go straight to her down home version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’, which could bring her many new fans and wider audiences beyond America if news of this release spreads beyond New York and she tours. But with a band that includes the hip Jason Lindner on piano, skilled bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freeman with special guests among them Wycliffe Gordon there’s much to savour on an album that slightly perversely uses the Spanish spelling of the Italian word ‘chiaroscuro’ in its title (a mere quibble, incidentally). Don’t forget to catch Cohen’s wonderful take on Artie Shaw’s ‘Nightmare’ with Paquito d’Rivera guesting.
US release date 25 September