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Stefano Battaglia Trio
Songways
ECM ****
Still one of the least known ECM pianists although that began to change with The River of Anyder, Milan-born Battaglia is joined here once again by Sassari-born double bassist Salvatore Maiore, and drummer Roberto Dani, the youngest member of the trio who has performed with Norma Winstone among others. Battaglia on this his fifth album as a leader for the label manages to merge a deep contemplative playing style with a sparkling joyous side to his playing, say on a track such as ‘Babel Hymn’ where to place Battaglia it’s like the coming together of Keith Jarrett and Danilo Pérez’s combined playing styles. Recorded last April it’s an album of songs, chants, and dances with Battaglia attempting to bridge what he calls “archaic modal pre-tonal chant and dances, pure tonal songs and hymns and abstract texture.” I’m not quite sure hearing this album where these technical distinctions lie as it’s a record that does not hesitate to exhibit an emotional response throughout, again like Jarrett particularly on the more chant-like tunes. The most significant of his compositions (and this is a significant album, more profound than its predecessor) is the long ‘Euphonia Elegy’ full of big dramatic statements that do not seem at all overblown. With references in song titles to Homer, Jonathan Swift, Italo Calvino (the title track), Charles Fourier, Adalbert Stifter, Edgar Allan Poe, the surrealism of Renée Daumal, and Alfred Kubin, not forgetting the bible, that’s quite an extensive reading list to be going on with as inspirations of a suitably engrossing record. The trio has reached a tipping point in terms of group empathy, and on a more experimental track such as the opening of ‘Perla’ both Maiore and Dani show uncanny poise. SG
Just released

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The Jazz Warriors have announced more details of regular Sunday gigs at Hoxton jazz club Charlie Wright’s. Following the first gigs in January the first Sunday of the month dubbed Draw2Tunes sees leading musicians such as Julian Joseph, Byron Wallen, Django Bates, and Christine Tobin DJ-ing while second Sundays in the series will introduce a Voice First Instrument vocal workshop, gig and club afternoon-into-evening session with Cleveland Watkiss and Chantelle Nandi Masuku joined by guest vocalists. The third Sunday of the month at Charlie’s (above) on Pitfield Street is the Duke Joint DJ night with Cleveland Watkiss and Orphy Robinson spinning some tunes, while the fourth Sunday has vibes star Orphy back plus trumpeter Claude Deppa for a live free jazz improv session plus DJ Paul Bradshaw at the decks. SG

More at http://thejazzwarriors.com

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So who will be the toast of the first ever Jazz FM awards on Thursday? Well, of course it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts, or at least that’s what the lucky losers might well say. Beyond the results it’s a much needed opportunity to boost the profile of the vibrant UK jazz scene with a major awards, the first new initiative of a high impact nature such as this since the BBC Jazz Awards were cancelled.

We do know already that Ramsey Lewis will be presented with a gold award for outstanding contribution to jazz, while Ahmad Jamal will pick up the lifetime achievement award before bringing the evening to a close with a special performance in central London venue One Marylebone, where the awards are taking place. There’s a public vote (now closed) for UK jazz artist of the year, so presumably this will go to the artist who can draw on the biggest fan base, particularly the online massive, and with various fan sites and a big radio audience, I would guess Jamie Cullum should pick up the public seal of appreciation with some ease. International jazz artist is a trickier call, but a very popular and appropriate winner would be Sonny Rollins whose appearance at the London Jazz Festival in recent years has underlined the stature of a saxophonist who for many has always been primus inter pares.

Cutting Edge is also tough to predict, and Django Bates would be a popular choice as too would Robert Glasper, while Troyka, who have spearheaded the nascent prog jazz movement since the band’s inception, would be a major boost. With the resurgence in jazz vocals and the sheer joy he’s brought to the UK jazz scene in recent years I really hope Gregory Porter wins in the best album category for Be Good, and it would be fitting if Jazzwise, who have been behind the singer from the start, wins in the jazz media category.

Best UK Newcomer should go to everyone’s favourite Mancunian big band Beats & Pieces, although Roller Trio fresh from an award winning 2012 are also in with a strong shout. Will host for the evening Ian Shaw scoop vocalist of the year? Well, he’s got an excellent chance especially since 2012 saw the release of one of his finest albums in an often distinguished career, the Fran Landesman tribute album A Ghost In Every Bar. Instrumentalist of the year is almost impossible to call and all three nominees, Nathaniel Facey, Ivo Neame, and Phil Robson, are in with a decent chance. I’d like the constantly inventive Nathaniel Facey to win it although I was deeply impressed by Neame’s octet album Yatra last year as well, and Phil Robson is a guitarist, composer and bandleader of some clout.

Live shows of the year? Well it could be Gregory Porter triumphing again for his much talked about club shows at Pizza Express Jazz Club, but surprise nominee PB Underground with their high octane Tower of Power-like energy might be a surprise winner, while no one is going to rule out the consistently excellent Phronesis. Jazz venue of the year is a hard call. It’s a pity that the Vortex wasn’t among the nominations, especially with lively outdoor events adding to the mix at the Dalston club this year. But for sheer high profile class this accolade must surely go to Ronnie Scott’s. Don’t rule out the north’s premier jazz club Band on the Wall though.
Stephen Graham

More on the awards at www.jazzfmawards.com

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Saxophonist, clarinettist, and composer Gilad Atzmon collects controversy effortlessly, yet Songs of the Metropolis (World Village) recorded at the end of September and beginning of October last year is not controversial in the slightest, with a theme based around the “sound of the city”, with tracks named after places: Paris, the opener, say. Or Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires, and so on, with one odd exception: the seaside town of Scarborough, “as opposed to London” as Atzmon’s gloss in the notes has it. With text translated into French as well, as World Village is a French label, Atzmon says: “Now our planet weeps. Beauty is perhaps the last true form of spiritual resistance. The song is there to counter detachment and alienation.” Later in the album booklet there’s a quotation from the David Garrioch 2003 book Sounds of the City that contrasts how the sounds in a city were heard in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to the way they are heard today. “The evolution of this information system reflects changes in social and political organization and in attitudes towards time and urban space,” Garrioch writes. An “auditory community” is how he also terms it. Atzmon’s ballads-driven album does tap into a line of jazz ballad-making that goes way back to at least Sidney Bechet in terms of the saxophone. The quartet, Atzmon with pianist Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi, and drummer Eddie Hick, meld well to the expressive Atzmon playing style, which for me works best in his take on the traditional ‘Scarborough Fair’ melody (‘Scarborough’), and on the lovely ‘Vienna’. This album is a different view of the city, as urban soundscapes are usually thrusting affairs, radically different in flavour, and a lot grittier and volatile as Atzmon himself usually is. One of Atzmon’s best, alongside Exile and his work with Robert Wyatt, particularly For The Ghosts Within. SG

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Stephan Micus
Panagia
ECM ***1/2
With settings of Byzantine Greek prayers Stephan Micus returns for his twentieth album for ECM with Panagia, an astonishing tally for the Mallorca-based German composer who defies categorisation. Only rarely on a concert stage in the UK, though returning for a concert in April at Kings Place in London, Micus, who turned 60 earlier this month, sings and performs on an array of instruments on this his latest album released last week, including Bavarian zither, dilruba, chitrali sitar, and his own customised 14-string guitar. On Panagia, the Virgin Mary, Micus meditates via a concept of female energy inherent in the symbolism. New Agey, contemplative, and thought provoking, the album comes into its own on the third track ‘I Praise You Lady of Passion’, but it’s an hour of music with its alternating sung poems and instrumentals you need to experience as a single entity, preferably in one hearing. A music based on a sense of wonder and mysticism. SG 
Stephan Micus above

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Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project
Mirrors
Edition **** RECOMMENDED NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
With all music by Kenny Wheeler, London Vocal Project director Pete Churchill in the album notes explains that Mirrors was a commission for five solo voices in the first place, and with Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler, they duly performed it at the 1998 Berlin Jazz Festival. After performing the material with various college choirs and then, with the London Vocal Project five years ago, Churchill realised he “knew Mirrors had finally found a home.” The poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) lies at its heart, and Kenny Wheeler’s music has meshed with it perfectly. But it’s not just Smith whose work forms the text for the vocals element, here interpreted by the LVP whose members number 25 split into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with Wheeler joining on flugelhorn, Winstone the featured solo singer, pianist Nikki Iles, Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophones, bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren. Besides settings of Smith’s work, the highlight of which for me is the delightful ‘Black March’ (‘I have a friend/At the end/Of the world’), there are settings of Lewis Carroll, and briefly WB Yeats (Winstone excelling on ‘The Lover Mourns’). Delight is a word that constantly springs to mind, an echo of ‘I sing this song for your delight’ on ‘Humpty Dumpty’ at the beginning. The singing is lovely throughout, ethereal, and endowed with a life force all of its own. Somehow everything manages to remain understated yet has impact, the unique charm of the album. Mirrors is still a further example, after The Long Waiting, of the extraordinary late-period flowering of Kenny Wheeler’s artistry once again. There’s a section on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ when Wheeler, Lockheart and Winstone interact spontaneously to tremendous effect, but it’s just one instance of the spirit on display on this remarkable album.
Stephen Graham

 

Released on 25 February