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There’s art in entertainment, and entertainment in art: a truism often trotted out. But is there entertainment in artwork or artwork as entertainment? Mostly Other People Do The Killing’s Slippery Rock! (Hot Cup ****) says yes there is to the latter, and the band’s latest CD comes laden with a riot in garish graphics on the cover and inside, so if that’s your idea of entertainment then this is the album for you. Don the sunglasses before picking the album up, though. If you prefer your entertainment wrapped up in art then this album, the quartet’s fifth, is also for you. So far their output has left me a bit unmoved because despite the trappings it didn’t seem that adventurous even if the playing was always really full-on. For a while it also seemed to me that the band was all about Jon Irabagon’s saxophone pyrotechnics, which of course it’s not. Bassist Moppa Elliott writes the tunes on Slippery Rock but he’s pretty anonymous as the free jazz- and improv-friendly band, powered by the Seb Rochford-like agile drumming of Kevin Shea, plays as a band not as a wonky IKEA flatpack where everything is put together solo by solo and then falls apart creakingly after standing up for all of two fairly unconvincing seconds.

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Their song titles are fun, and Pennsylvania certainly has a bunch of irony-loving jazz ambassadors waiting for that call (and the state governor Tom Corbett could do worse than invite the band along next time he’s throwing a soirée although they could be washing their hair that night). The heirs apparent to John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards? A bit, with a strong resemblance to Led Bib as well. Peter Evans is a major voice on trumpet throughout making the band direction veer off on its own itinerary, though. Working together with the very listenable Irabagon on the episodic improv-laden sections on the ninth of the nine tunes, ‘Is Granny Spry?’, he shows his musical ideas are as box-fresh, and at least as sharp, as Leonardo Featherweight’s “lyrical” sleevenotes.
Stephen Graham
Mostly Other People Do The Killing, above. Slippery Rock! is out now

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The full Cheltenham Jazz Festival line-up for 2013 has just been announced, and it’s good to see Madeleine Peyroux back to the scene of earlier triumphs at the festival, although that was back in the Everyman theatre era of the festival. Now of course the festival is centred on the Montpellier area with a bespoke main arena and big top as core venues. Booking Laura Mvula (above) is a good idea as the gospel and soul-infused new star-in-the-making ought to attract a non-jazz audience who’ve seen her on TV, and yet whose sensibility is directly in keeping with the high artistic qualities of the festival, and the key spirit of jazz.

Other impressions: Marius Neset at the Parabola will be keenly followed. The Norwegian saxophonist’s new album Birds is astonishingly accomplished and shows artistic progression since Golden Xplosion which you would have thought would itself have been hard to beat. Georgie Fame at the Friday Night is Music Night Radio 2 broadcast show is a great nostalgic touch and builds on the reminder Georgie gave us last year of just how significant an artist he still is with his latest album Lost in a Lover’s Dream.

The Dave Douglas Quintet should be another strong draw for hardcore Cheltenham attendees, and it’s also a unique festival chance this year to catch Alex Wilson’s Mali trio and also find out what all the fuss about GoGo Penguin is if you haven’t heard them. If you have, you’ll probably still want to catch the north west band’s EST-derived sound at first hand.

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The Ravi Coltrane Quintet includes in its number pianist of the moment David Virelles (above), the Brooklyn-based Cuban who’s on Tomasz Stańko’s exquisite new Wisława double album and Chris Potter’s The Sirens. Rumour has it Virelles has inked a solo deal with ECM’s Manfred Eicher as well for his own record.

Gregory Porter is back for 2013, which is good news and he’s artist-in-residence this year, an inspired choice, and it’s to the festival’s credit that Cheltenham has booked Sons of Kemet, arguably the best new underground band on the London scene last year, and they’re still to issue their debut album although it was recorded in February.

The Reuben James Trio is, if you’re seeking brand new talent, well worth your time, James of course a young protégé of the late Abram Wilson. The pianist was on fine form in January at the 606 sitting in with Theo Jackson who’s also appearing at the fest in his case in duo with Nathaniel Facey.

Troyk-estra pick up where they left off at last year’s Jazzwise to the Power of 15 festival at Ronnie Scott’s, playing the Parabola, and one of the biggest events this year is sure to be an appearance by the classy Mike Gibbs Ensemble.

Gary Burton is always a popular visitor to the UK scene, and his presence in the grand old Gloucestershire spa town should augment the programme in the eyes of his many fans in the UK. Mike Stern and Bill Evans by complete contrast should blow away a few cobwebs with their gutsy jazz-rock come May.

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Claire Martin also brings her classic jazz vocal approach to the festival, and look out for Anglo-French collaboration Barbacana featuring Kit Downes and they also have an intriguingly abstract new album out this year. Cheltenham is experienced at bringing hip fairly unknown US players to the festival, and this year is no exception with the appearance scheduled of vibes player Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms. And as with the Laura Mvula booking it’s fitting that Lianne La Havas is on the bill, another one for the Jools Holland Later following. The double bill of Polar Bear (above) and Roller trio is a good idea joining the dots between old-young Britjazz and new-young Britjazz. And finally Van Morrison on the Monday, given that Born to Sing: No Plan B was a hit with the critics and top 10 success last year, is a fine way to bring the festival to a close. The Big Top should suit him to a T.

Stephen Graham
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival runs from 1-6 May. Tickets on sale from Monday 4 March.  The full line-up is at http://www.cheltenhamfestivals.com

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The jazz vocals scene has changed immeasurably since 2003, the big year that Jamie Cullum broke through with the million selling Twentysomething inspiring a tsunami of interest in the niche, and seeing singers such as Clare Teal, who actually ‘discovered’ Cullum in the first place, sign to a major label. A decade on Cullum, about to release his latest album in May, is still apparently tapping the scene for the Great American Songbook on Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ rumoured to be on the new album. But Cullum has moved on himself, and who would have thought a decade ago that he would have been covering Rihanna and The White Stripes? Answer no one. Purists would have been incredulous or would have intoned darkly “told you so”. Clare Teal on the other hand moved away from jazz quite a bit into the showbiz mainstream for a while as she switched labels, moving from one major to another, and developing her broadcasting career, but certainly on a recent hearing has moved back to her initial Ella Fitzgerald-influenced starting point. Working with the likes of talented retro-radical Jay Phelps has certainly paid dividends or maybe reminded her that jazz is her real strength and on her day no one has a finer classic female jazz singer’s voice rooted in swing in the UK than Teal. In terms of male crooning the scene has changed, and while no one could claim that Jamie Cullum sounds like Harry Connick any more (that’s how he started out) there are others who do. Anthony Strong, say, is beginning to make a name for himself in France and Germany, and interesting Mancunian Alexander Stewart has managed to inject his own personality, love of The Smiths, and more besides, into his idea of crooning.

Another singer who we’ll be hearing more about in the spring is Theo Jackson. The newly London-based singer has a distinctive style and unlike orthodox crooners is very hard to place. He’s not of the Rat Pack, and he’s not a Bublé-ite, which Stewart to a certain extent is, but places himself more inside the band not just because he plays the piano but inserts his vocals in settings that relate to the saxophone lines of Nathaniel Facey, the Empirical co-founder who recently won instrumentalist of the year at the Jazz FM awards. Jackson writes his own songs, and last year released a promising debut album called Jericho that nonetheless failed to achieve a huge impact. Now with imaginative management, above all talent, and a determination to break through Jackson is embarking on his first big tour. The 27-year-old Durham university music graduate is hardly wet behind the ears, and his tall confident demeanour makes the right statement in a jazz club. He’s not toe-curlingly schmaltzy, like some wannabe jazz singers tend to be, and you feel that he doesn’t take himself too seriously even if that’s the way he prefers his music. Live it all starts on 5 May at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival as a duo with Nathaniel Facey playing original tunes and Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy material, and continues usually as a vocals-piano trio with Jackson joined by bassist Shane Allessio and drummer Jason Reeve. Dates are 606, London (8 May); Soundcellar, Poole (9 May); Stables, Wavendon (14 May); Chapel Arts, Bath (18 May); Pizza Express, Maidstone (24 May); Jam Factory, Oxford (26 May); Dean Clough, Halifax (30 May); Matt and Phred’s, Manchester (31 May); and Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate (6, 8 June). SG

Too cool just to croon: Theo Jackson, above

Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran
Hagar’s Song
ECM ****
Sometimes with instrumental jazz it’s like non-fiction: the facts, the history, the issues all there contained in the music in the notes on the page. The vocals variety can be the fiction, the metaphors, the fantasies, the reimaginings. The characters portrayed. Only rarely, and usually it’s only in the work of a truly great instrumentalist, the kind who can move you, make you even not think about music but of life itself, that can produce in their art a synthesis of the two so that as tactile notes with their musicological resources it exists, but equally beyond there is a life force that summons some sort of imagined life, a world away from reality.

Well, Charles Lloyd is one of those artists, he combines in his non-fictive way as an instrumentalist the fictive properties inherent in Ellingtonia (Strayhorn’s ‘Pretty Girl’ and Duke’s ‘Mood Indigo’), with the narrative shockingly real family history in the five-part ‘Hagar Suite’ about Lloyd’s great-great-grandmother taken from her parents at just 10 and sold to a slaveowner who made her pregnant when she was only 14.

Lloyd, a deeply serious spiritual artist with a great communicator’s ability, is able to paint pictures like few others in jazz. Via flute on ‘Journey Up River’, the first part of the ‘Hagar Suite’, he provides with pianist Moran’s tumbling accompaniment (and later tambourine) an episodic element not often found in his general approach, a feature throughout the suite that provides a distinctive thread to this album.

Turning 75 this year it’s interesting that Lloyd has chosen with this new studio album, recorded last April, to reduce his quartet to a duo, its simplicity via the time machine of piano styles that Moran provides, in the fictive sense invoking a line in jazz piano almost taking the listener, say on Moran’s introduction to ‘Mood Indigo’, to Harlem in the 1930s. Lloyd is very bluesy on some tracks, but he’s capable of altering the mood throughout and the blues become a miniature requiem on one notable standout ‘I Shall Be Released’, a tribute to Levon Helm of The Band.

A great deal of the strengths on Hagar’s Song reside in the force of sheer feeling involved that act as much as a warning from the past as a hymn to the dead. Just as ‘I Shall Be Released’ is about protest it’s also about friendship. So all in all a very personal, wonderful sounding album, full of lovely moments, an oasis of contemplation in a world full of tumult, and every bit as good as the marvellous Mirror.
Stephen Graham
Released on 18 February. Side by side: Charles Lloyd top and with Jason Moran above

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Saturday nights for jazz at Kings Place are quite subdued usually, and last night’s small but appreciative audience for the Hans Koller Ensemble was no exception, although the concertgoers showed their enthusiasm in a typically polite way. Hall two, or “The Base” as it’s known, I suppose to sound a bit more down-with-da-kids although looking around it was probably a case of down-with-da-grandkids, has great sightlines and a certain unclaustrophobic intimacy. But the somewhat mature audience certainly had the wisdom to turn up to hear the highly rated Hans Koller Ensemble, which a wider audience will catch when it’s broadcast on Radio 3’s Monday night show Jazz on 3 later this month. British-based German born composer, arranger, valve trombonist and pianist Koller, only in his forties, so a relative babe-in-arms compared to his great hero Mike Gibbs who he’s been working with recently in the studio, was best I thought in the first half as the Gil Evans cool school material suited the band better than the more tricksy vocal settings of poetry in German by Friedrich Hölderlin in the second. Singer Christine Tobin did her best but the overly intricate arrangements were a barrier to spontaneity and the band looked as if they were facing an uphill task. The sound mix also was a bit lopsided in the hall and did the vocals no favours but on radio it will come off differently. Koller spoke too much to the audience (he himself sensed this as he smilingly, but a bit geekily, nattered away to the audience), but of the soloists US alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher was expressive and interesting to listen to with hints of Lee Konitz here and there in his sound and his own conversational tone. Phil Robson’s sure footed harmonic grasp was always important, and it was the first opportunity to hear him in tandem with erstwhile Tomasz Stańko guitarist Jako Bro, from Denmark, whose contribution took a while to come but whose janglingly abstract style meshed well with Robson. Best moment of the evening? Definitely the band’s reading of ‘Temporarily’ an extra track that appeared on the reissue of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 Verve album Thesis, renamed 1961 when ECM reissued it. Percy Pursglove had some excellent flugelhorn runs in the second half, and gave firm direction to count in the other reeds and horns when tricky unisons where needed in the later part of the concert. Jeff Williams showed discretion and taste on drums throughout, very reminiscent of the late Paul Motian’s approach, and Koller made subtle use of Jim Rattigan on French horn in the ensemble passages, with his velvety tone peeking out in just the right spots. It might well be a case of back to the drawing board for the Hölderlin material, though: a tweak here and there might make it less doleful and heighten that latent quality with suitable contrasts.

Stephen Graham

Hans Koller, above

25/05/18 last updated

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It’s a bit of a mug’s game predicting who’s going to win music industry awards, but the same could be said about not predicting who’s going to win in the Grammys tomorrow. You mean you just don’t care? OK, understood.

Last time I tried this exercise was before the Jazz FM awards and this is how I did BEFORE http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/41706599727/jazz-fm-awards-runners-and-riders and AFTER http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/42012416559/jazz-fm-awards-winners Excluding the already known winners out of the “should go to" or “should surely go to" stabs I got five out of ten. Not too bad. After all as Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow had it: "It is wrong to blame anyone for failing to forecast accurately in an unpredictable world." But he also added: “Claims for correct intuitions in an unpredictable situation are self-delusional at best, sometimes worse."

Moving swiftly on…  let’s see if my Grammy predictions posted on Marlbank when the nominations were announced are nearer the mark. You can check on Monday when we all wake up to the results.

So, one more time, who should win and who will win in an oddly Herbie Hancock-less year.

Nominated for best Improvised jazz solo ‘Cross Roads’ Ravi Coltrane. Track from: Spirit Fiction Blue Note ‘Hot House’ Gary Burton & Chick Corea. Track from: Hot House Concord Jazz ‘Alice In Wonderland’ Chick Corea. Track from: Further Explorations (Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian) Concord Jazz ‘J. Mac’ Kenny Garrett. Track from: Seeds From The Underground Mack Avenue Records ‘Ode’ Brad Mehldau. Track from: Ode (Brad Mehldau Trio) Nonesuch
Pretty good choices. A return to form for Garrett for sure. This category is probably the most subjective of the jazz ones, and it’s interesting that all the artists play in the post-bop domain and with the exception of Garrett record for major labels. The Grammys are in many ways all about the big labels.

Will win: Chick Corea. Should win: Kenny Garrett

Nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album
Soul Shadows Denise Donatelli Savant Records 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project Kurt Elling Concord Jazz Live Al Jarreau (And The Metropole Orkest) Concord The Book Of Chet Luciana Souza Sunnyside Records Radio Music Society Esperanza Spalding Heads Up International
Donatelli is a surprise inclusion, unknown outside America, and it’s good to see Souza long on many people’s radar getting recognition.

Will win: Esperanza Spalding. Should win: Esperanza Spalding

Nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Further Explorations Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian Concord Jazz Hot House Chick Corea & Gary Burton Concord Jazz Seeds From The Underground Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue Records Blue Moon Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village Unity Band Pat Metheny Unity Band Nonesuch
A strong list. Chick is a Grammy darling and you can’t rule him out here especially as his reimagining of Bill Evans on Further Explorations was such an imaginative exercise, and a poignant reminder of the much missed Motian. But, the big but, with Pat Metheny also in the running (the most beGrammied jazz musician ever) and more importantly the sheer vitality of his “with sax” Unity Band quartet he’s nominated for this time the Academy might just be swayed once again in his favour. It should be Ahmad Jamal’s year, but let’s not hold our breath even though the album is a credit to the great Pittsburgian and a wake-up call to pianists half or even a quarter of his age.

Will win: Unity Band. Should win: Blue Moon

Nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album Centennial: Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans Gil Evans Project ArtistShare For The Moment Bob Mintzer Big Band MCG Jazz Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You) Arturo Sandoval Concord Jazz
Bit of a ho hum selection (and only three names), although they’re all class acts. The Evans album was also up for a Jazz FM award in January.

Will win: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans.Should win: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans

Nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album
Flamenco Sketches Chano Domínguez Blue Note ¡Ritmo! The Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band Clare Fischer Productions/Clavo Records Multiverse Bobby Sanabria Big Band Jazzheads Duos III Luciana Souza Sunnyside Records New Cuban Express Manuel Valera New Cuban Express Mavo Records
Hard to predict this one but Domínguez is the coming man with the imprimatur of no less a figure than Wynton Marsalis in his back catalogue, although Sanabria could get the nod.

Will win: Flamenco Sketches Should win: Flamenco Sketches

In other major categories Gregory Porter is surely a shoo-in for ‘Real Good Hands’ in the best traditional R&B performance category (why’s he not in jazz vocals?), and Hugh Masekela is up for a world music nod (again, categories, categories). Robert Glasper again is not in a jazz category but is up for best R&B album for Black Radio and best R&B performance for the Ledisi track ‘Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B)’, a sign the way his career is perceived to be going, while Dr John is nominated for the very fine Locked Down in the blues category. Finally, the category no one wants to be in, apart from obviously the nominees, the pop instrumental album nominees with Gerald Albright & Norman Brown, Chris Botti, Larry Carlton, Arun Shenoy, and of course Dave Koz, all vying for the accolade no-one surely can deep down want.
Stephen Graham

Gregory Porter, beyond category, above