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The trad era, with the passing of luminaries Kenny Ball, Terry Lightfoot at the weekend, and the writer Jim Godbolt earlier this year probably turned away as many people from jazz as it attracted to it, a paradox unseen in its day as trad reached the largest audiences jazz has ever reached in this country.

With their subsequent outlandishly outmoded stage wear, and the music seemingly reluctant to move beyond banjo-and-braces clichés it’s no wonder that trad became seen as part of a cultural backwater eventually, a garden gnome of a genre.

With the birth of rock ’n’ roll it became a joke, and the music identified with your parents’ generation. Former rock journalist John Harris, writing in The Guardian has put it like this: “I came of age in a culture in which the jazz both categorised and demonised as ‘trad’ would not do at all. I have childhood memories that fit the picture – of impatiently flicking through the three TV channels, and alighting on ensembles of men in candy-striped waistcoats, blowing out a racket that seemed dated, even flatly silly.”

Poet Philip Larkin used trad partly as a criticism of modernism in his jazz critiques, while Melly tells how, rather than taking sides, he found that in the Scala theatre in London’s Charlotte Street he discovered the power of ‘revivalist jazz’, the term used before ‘trad’ supplanted it. “I came out of that concert a changed person,” Melly wrote in Owning Up first published in 1965, when trad was a distant memory. Now the music is still widely played in under-the-radar places, often very stubbornly, to an often baffled, uninterested, and dwindling audience.

Melly discovered the revivalist scene via the Melody Maker and began to sing with Beryl Bryden at the Leicester Square Jazz Club and later Eel Pie Island eventually joining Mick Mulligan’s band, a big hero of Melly’s whose picaresque adventures the singer was so adept at telling so very entertainingly.

Trad for Melly was a state of mind, and it was about fun, not a word that the young maths-jazzers today like to use overly much. The venues then were pretty unrecognisable from today’s jazz places, according to Melly’s description. “Many of those pub rooms were temples of the ‘Ancient Order of Buffaloes’, that mysterious proletarian version of the ‘Freemasons’, and it was under dusty horns and framed nineteenth century characters that we struggled through ‘Sunset Café Stomp’ or ‘Miss Henry’s Ball’."

Melly is astute enough to mention that some traditionalists became modernists or mainstreamers, and some trad musicians “began to realize that Gillespie and Parker, Monk and Davis were not perverse iconoclasts but in the great tradition.”

Yet there developed a schism between the two big styles in jazz of the day, a lack of toleration, that carried a heavy toll. With Larkin ludicrously pitting Miles Davis (bad) on the one hand against Eddie Condon (good) on the other the madness of the rivalry, and the prejudices involved still scream off the page. “As it enters the ear,” Larkin wrote, “does it come in like broken glass or does it come in like honey?”

There are a few figures from the trad era still left and topping festival bills, most notably Acker Bilk who appears at Brecon in the summer, and the constantly touring Chris Barber. Although the years of trad as a popular movement disappeared long ago just as the craze for jungle or grime in recent years has, trad has endured long beyond its natural shelf-life, and will in all likelihood live on past the departure eventually of all of the trad gentlemen of jazz. Will a new generation, even if it wanted to, manage to capture that initial excitement that made trad significant in the first place? Maybe not. Remixing ‘Petite Fleur’ or performing a punk jazz revamp of ‘Stranger on the Shore’, might have to wait a while yet.  

The cover of Owning Up, pictured top

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Improv momentum
at Brilliant Corners

Improv rising star pianist Alexander Hawkins crops up in two playing situations at the inaugural Brilliant Corners festival later this week.

The Oxford-based musician performs with his own band Decoy on organ, alongside John Edwards and Steve Noble, but Hawkins is also to feature at the Belfast festival in Human, drummer Steve Davis’ new band.

Davis, best known for Bourne/Davis/Kane, no not a firm of architects but a peerlessly anarchic piano trio, has teamed up to be Human, as it were, with the maverick violinist Dylan Bates, and trumpeter/electronicist Alex Bonney.  

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MAC attack: the new Belfast arts venue
is at the heart of Brilliant Corners

Liane Carroll, David Lyttle, and Mark Lockheart’s Ellington In Anticipation, are also part of the three-day festival previously trailed in these pages, taking place in the city’s Cathedral Quarter from Thursday.

Alexander Hawkins, top


More at www.movingonmusic.co.uk and www.themaclive.com

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Black Top’s Pat Thomas in the summer of June 2011 began a series of solo improvisations in the City University Music Studios and set to work on a solo piano album now released under the title Al-Khwarizmi Variations. The album builds its own unique soundscape via the arc of 10 elaborately realised variations anyone who’s heard Black Top, which sees Thomas often joined by Steve Williamson or Orphy Robinson, will be familiar with. It’s released on the Fataka label, home to John Coxon, Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost’s album Cinema, and John Butcher/Matthew Shipp’s At Oto. Muḥammad Al-Khwarizmi was an eighth century Baghdad-born mathematician whose works introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals and algebraic ideas into Western mathematics.
The cover of Al-Khwarizmi Variations, above. Pat Thomas plays Leftitude in London on Wednesday: www.leftitudefestival.com

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Manu Dibango will celebrate his 80th birthday later this year with a major concert at London’s Barbican.The saxophonist, an icon of African jazz, has a career in music that stretches back to the 1950s when the Cameroonian first made a name for himself in France and Belgium where he lived for long spells. But Dibango had to wait until the 1970s for his breakthrough, the funky ‘Soul Makossa’, a song that smashed into the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973. Identified loosely with prevaling 1970s African jazz flavours, such as Afrobeat, Dibango worked with the genre’s chief figure Fela Kuti during this time, and in the UK became a firm favourite at Ronnie Scott’s where he was a regular draw. The Barbican concert is on 26 November just over a fortnight before Dibango turns 80. MB

Manu Dibango, pictured

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Robert Hurst
Bob: a Palindrome
Bebob Records NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT ****
It’s not quite the heavy metal umlaut, more an upside down version of one as you can see on the sleeve above, but Bob: a Palindrome, is Robert Hurst’s latest on his own Bebob records, a stellar septet befitting the company the musician habitually keeps, as the bassist appeared just last year on Macca’s Grammy winning Kisses on the Bottom.

Branford Marsalis, who Hurst made his name with in the Columbia years,  is also on this new septet album, the centrepiece of which is a ‘Middle Passage Suite’ the title referring to the Atlantic slave trade, with individual pieces reflecting survival, death, and the continuum. Robert Glasper plays piano and Rhodes, and it’s interesting to hear Glasper on someone else’s records as well as his own, especially following the success of Black Radio. In some way his playing here recalls the style of one of his earlier records, Canvas. Bennie Maupin, a fellow Detroiter of Hurst’s, makes his presence felt quite early on flute, and another Detroit jazz legend, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, who taught Kenny Garrett among others, melds more than well with Marsalis, and Glasper knits in beautifully behind the front line playing Rhodes on ‘Picked From Nick’.

It’s good to hear Tain Watts playing again with Branford (the Marsalis quartet hasn’t been the same without Tain), and the great drummer also has a significant musical rapport with percussionist Adam Rudolph who chops up the rhythms just right.

Highlights? Well the opening of ‘Big Queen’ has a sinuous momentum that recalls the Messengers with that slightly ominous atmosphere that Watts and Rudolph do much to build and push along; and Branford burns on the third part of the ‘Middle Passage’ suite.

The suite, in keeping with the rest of the album composed and arranged by Hurst, is the most important part of the record, the 21 minutes of music containing a unifying chamber music dimension as well as a jazz one; and Rudolph and Watts in Part II unite the separate ‘sections’ of the septet and ably direct the converging musics. UK group Zed-U were one of the first to highlight the Middle Passage as a subject for jazz composition in recent years and Neil Charles’ work on that record stands up well to Hurst’s superlative work here.

Later in Bob: a Palindrome ‘Indiscreet in da Street’ has formidable energy, and that’s a hallmark of this excellent album available for now as an import only.

Finally, with or without the upside down umlaut, this record might win an award for the most number of ‘thank you’ acknowledgements. More than 100 individual entries are printed so Hurst is clearly a grateful person! But we as listeners should be even more thankful for this quite superb album that achieves so much and shows such indomitable spirit throughout. MB

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Little known now yet one of the most fascinatingly diverse European jazz labels, often synonymous with the ECM aesthetic, Japo (Jazz by post) existed for some 15 years recording from 1971 to 1985.

It all began with the same artist who first started off ECM in 1969, pianist Mal Waldron, and The Call. History was repeating itself in this one respect.

Then came Dollar Brand, or Abdullah Ibrahim as we know the great pianist today, with African Piano.

Other titles swiftly followed: Barre Phillips’ For All It Is; Herbert Joos’ The Philosophy of the Fluegelhorn; a second Dollar Brand, Ancient Africa, then the obscure Bobby Naughton’s Understanding; Edward Vesala’s Nan Madol; Jiri Stivin and Rudolf Dasek’s System Tandem; Tom van der Geld’s Children at Play; and Enrico Rava’s Quotation Marks.

Japo is often seen as an extension of hippie jazz or New Age with a strong improv twist, but some artists are as little known today as Bobby Naughton and Magog were under the radar even then.

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The Jazz By Post years: free spirited and unorthodox in nature

They released the self-titled Magog; and Japo also put out Om album Kirikuki; Manfred Schoof’s Scales; Larry Karush’s May 24 1976; Herbert Joos’ Daybreak; a second Om work Rautionaha; and the first Stephan Micus album, the most prolific Japo artist besides Om, called Implosions.

There were a few British artists on the label, and journalist Ken Hyder’s Talisker released Land of Stone on Japo while the more widely known Manfred Schoof recorded Light Lines. Both these records were produced by former cellist Thomas Stöwsand, later a leading European booking agent, who died in 2006, and who produced many records for the label. Other producers included Steve Lake, Manfred Eicher, and individual musicians.

1977, with Japo only six years in existence, saw Rena Rama’s Landscapes; Globe Unity Orchestra’s Improvisations; and the Swiss quartet Om once again with the clumsily titled Om with Dom Um; and released in 1978 Lennart Åberg had made Partial Solar Eclipse for Japo, while bands such as Contact Trio slipped New Marks out, and the late George Gruntz, Percussion Profiles.

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The last batch of label releases saw an increased output from Stephan Micus with Till the End of Time the first; Globe Unity Orchestra’s Compositions; Barry Guy’s Beckettian-sounding (in its title at least), Endgame; TOK’s Paradox; Manfred Schoof, once more, with Horizons; and improv pioneers AMM III’s It Had Been an Ordinary Enough Day in Pueblo, Colorado.

Om, a Japo favourite released Cerberus; while English saxophonist Elton Dean’s Boundaries; Peter Warren’s Solidarity; Tom Van Der Geld / Children At Play Out Patients; Contact Trio’s Musik; Alfred Harth’s Es herrscht Uhu im Land; Micus’ Wings Over Water; Globe Unity Orchestra’s Intergalactic Blow; Micus’ Listen to the Rain and East of the Night, brought the trailblazing label’s output to a conclusion. MB