Jazz blog: notes, tips, recommendations
Saturday lunchtime gigs are very unusual but sometimes a good thing comes along and you’d be a fool to miss one, no matter the time.
Back in October there was one such occasion, when the Cloudmakers Trio launched their debut album. It was a special gig, not just because of the time but because the line-up was different as the band’s usual drummer Dave Smith was away touring in South America with no less a figure than Led Zep’s Robert Plant.
Instead the audience had the chance to hear very in-form Ivo Neame octet drummer Dave Hamblett who took the Cloudmakers and Outhouse drummer Smith’s place, and the more alert members of the audience quietly munching pizza in the spectral gloom of the Dean Street Pizza Express Jazz Club must have picked up on the clear evidence that while little known beyond musician circles Hamblett was the coming man, following his graduation from the Royal Academy of Music with first class honours a few years earlier, and picking up a Yamaha Jazz Scholarship along the way.
Whirlwind records who in May will release a live Lee Konitz album have picked up on Hamblett’s promise indicated as well on Ivo Neame’s superb album Yatra, and Light at Night, the drummer’s highly promising debut for the label, is released in February. There are eight tracks on the album, with the title track kept to last and it features Hamblett with members of saxophonist Josh Arcoleo’s band (bassist Calum Goulay and Ivo Neame) plus saxophonist Joe Wright, the increasingly mature sounding guitarist Alex Munk, with all the tunes written by Hamblett.
Recorded in the studio in the latter part of 2011 Hamblett is pictured in the artwork in front of autumnal trees with the low sun just about nudging some blurry sunlight through reluctantly obliging branches.
The album is all about the optimism of youth, and while it’s not too overly romantic Arcoleo’s old fashioned lyrical tenor shines through time and again. Hamblett credits Martin France in the notes, and the Spin Marvel drummer has clearly influenced Hamblett especially in those light, nimble strokes that effortlessly push the horn players on without ever seeming too martial or rigid.
While this recording is perhaps only an early statement of intent and the tunes lack immediate impact, it’s easy to enjoy the musicianship at work and realise that a fine new drummer who we’ll all be hearing much more about in the future has arrived. He’s appearing on 8 February with his group at The Forge in London’s Camden Town when Light at Night is launched. Other dates coming soon are St Lawrence Chapel in Ashburton (17 Feb); the Beaver Inn, Appledore (18 Feb); Dempsey’s, Cardiff (20); and the Lescar in Sheffield (27 Feb). SG
Dave Hamblett top
He’s presented papers on subjects as varied as “air guitar and the music of Sigur Rós” and the “sound of a rock record” but now Hull university academic Peter Elsdon has turned his attention to Keith Jarrett, and has written a book called Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert, named after the pianist’s groundbreaking concert recorded on 24 January 1975.
It’s to be published next month just under 38 years on from the groundbreaking concert Jarrett gave in the Cologne opera house when he was just 29.
The concert began late in the evening, a half an hour before midnight, and was the first jazz concert ever to be staged in the North Rhine Westphalian city’s 1950s-era opera house, sited on Offenbachplatz.
The highest selling solo piano album in recorded music, with more than 3 million copies sold, the record finds Jarrett compensating for a less-than-satisfactory Bösendorfer following a backstage mix-up, as well as feeling back pain and the effects of heavy touring including tiredness from a recent concert in Zurich. The record nonetheless has changed people’s lives by the power of its improvising and unique atmosphere.
According to publishers OUP the 192-page book is the “first detailed study” of The Köln Concert, and it explores the “musical construction” of the Cologne improvisations in particular, as well as examining the reception and success of the record along with its “importance as a cultural symbol.” SG
Keith Jarrett top. The album sleeve of The Köln Concert, and above the cover of the new book
Very sad to learn today of the passing of poet Jayne Cortez, whose death at the age of 76 has been reported in New York. The mother of Denardo Coleman, and former wife of Ornette Coleman, Cortez was a significant poet and intellectually inclined performance artist of some note. She was what all good poets are, honest, and also acutely aware of socio-economic, gender and racial injustice in her work and said so directly whether people wanted to hear or not. She wrote as many as 10 books of poetry, and her work encompassed performance and behind-the-scenes writer workshops, organisations, and conferences including one entitled Yari Yari Pamberi: Black Women Writer Dissecting Globalization, held in New York. She was awarded the Langston Hughes Medal, an NEA award, and the American Book Award, among other honours, and her books include Firespitter, and Jazz Fan Looks Back of which this extract is taken:
I crisscrossed with Monk Wailed with Bud Counted every star with Stitt Sang "Don't Blame Me" with Sarah Wore a flower like Billie Screamed in the range of Dinah & scatted "How High the Moon" with Ella Fitzgerald as she blew roof off the Shrine Auditorium Jazz at the Philharmonic
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Fast and quick thinking with an energy that propels his music beyond the typical bebop threshold into another sphere entirely, a micro world of possibilities and rarely heard sounds merging with the more familiar, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is on exquisite form here. With the microtonally inclined David Fiuczynski a clever foil, chunky no-nonsense bass from François Moutin and thundering attack from drummer Dan Weiss, Gamak is full-on with the ornamentation of south Indian music a titular factor, but also a reinvented bebop spirit, hints at the delta blues and heavy rock. The clever bit is the microtonal or south Indian-sounding harmony Fiuczynski does much to provide, sometimes Fuze can be like the late Pete Cosey, at other times he’s just bluesy or wigs out detuned like a mutant tincan, so this is never going to be a trip to the bebop museum interesting though that may well be on a quiet afternoon. Yet the core of the Mahanthappa band style, particularly its roots in Charlie Parker’s music, are there like invisible ink. ‘Waiting is Forbidden’ is first and best for me, but every track has its merits, with the circling-in on ‘Ballad for Troubled Times’ a great build to a sad song that has the ache and forboding of a certain ugly sense of unease, while ‘The Majesty of the Blues’ rocks out. The album is also beautifully recorded by Mike Marciano.
Released on 7 January. Gamak with cover art by Peter Bremer above
From Istanbul to Ceuta With a Smile
MGP Records ***
Guitarist Nicolas Meier likes to do things in twos. Back in 2010 he released a pair of albums in the same month, but in 2013 he’s spacing them out a bit more so while again two albums are scheduled, we’ll have to wait until September for Kismet, as luck would have it. First though in February there’s his new suite-based concept album From Istanbul to Ceuta with a Smile featuring the virtuoso UK-based Swiss musician’s compositions whose playing style mixes flamenco, Turkish music and contemporary progressive jazz guitar, in the company of a band that includes Ronnie Scott’s club musical director pianist James Pearson straying from his more regular mainstream and straightahead inclinations, saxophone titan Gilad Atzmon, Lighthouse percussionist Asaf Sirkis, bass stalwart Pat Bettison, and talented violinist Lizzie Ball. Quality playing for sure, with rigorous improvisation teased out winningly on tracks such as ‘The Gate’, the album could, though, have done with more of an edge for yet more of an impact to lift it way beyond the realm of intrepid traveller’s tale. Stephen Graham
Journeying instinct: Nicolas Meier above
Interest in Duke Ellington (1899-1974) is something that is hardly going to go out of fashion. Whether it’s a repertory band such as the Echoes of Ellington Orchestra dedicated to the Washingtonian, or such suitably inspired composer-pianists as the Nu Cilvilisation Orchestra’s Peter Edwards reviving ‘The Queen’s Suite’, or even musicians casually playing a tune from the great man’s work at a low-key club date any night of the week whether in Fargo or Folkestone, you’ll guarantee the Ellington repertoire will bring people together, hardcore jazz fans familiar with his work, “reminiscing in tempo”, and newcomers alike.
But how can a new generation who have come to jazz in the last decade, let’s call it the Polar Bear generation, after the band that from 2004 anticipated Brit-jazz with experimental albums such as Held on the Tips of Fingers. How do they take to Ellington? Well, the answer may well be found in significant upcoming album Ellington in Anticipation, the work of Mark Lockheart a pillar of Polar Bear, joined by the band’s drummer Seb Rochford, also known for his work with Sons of Kemet these days, and Polar Bear bassist Tom Herbert, who also performs with indie avatars The Invisible.
First roadtested by students of Trinity Laban, where Lockheart also teaches, the recording session came together over two days in May at the Livingston studio in north London.The EiA band is a septet with Lockheart, Rochford, and Herbert and four hip young gunslingers in Spatial AKA alto saxman Finn Peters, Golden Age of Steam’s James Allsopp on clarinet, Basquiat Strings violinist Emma Smith, and pianist Liam Noble, a mainstay of singer Christine Tobin’s Sailing to Byzantium band.
In Lockheart’s world view Ellington has not been preserved in aspic, and the Hampshire-born habitually leather-jacketed 51-year-old has managed to mingle his unfussy contemporary stylings with the core Ellington sound through this septet opening the album uncontroversially with ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing (if it ain’t got that swing)’. ‘My Caravan’, Lockheart’s complex variant on ‘Caravan’ has a fascinatingly intricate structure that unfolds almost as a big introduction for ‘Come Sunday’ one of Ellington’s most beautiful pieces allowing Finn Peters’ flute to provide sufficient space to make the arrangement seem that more fresh, even if it’s a familiar piece and one that’s regularly reprised by bands steeped in Ellingtonia these days however unselfconsciously or not.
Lockheart’s own pieces ‘Jungle Lady’, ‘Uptown’, and ‘Beautiful Man’ sit comfortably with ‘Take the A Train’, ‘Azure’, ‘Creole Love Call’, ‘Mood Indigo’ and Victor Herbert’s ‘Indian Summer’, Lockheart’s Gil Evans-like arrangement of that likeable old song Al Dubin later wrote words to is very different to Ellington’s alto-sax feature for Russell Procope, although Noble’s channelling of Ellington’s piano style is uncanny in its empathy.
Punctuated by the unimpeachable Rochfordian rhythm imperative, and leavened jauntily by Emma Smith in the Ray Nance role on the most Polar Bear-like track, Lockheart’s ‘Uptown’, this album, whether aimed at the deeply frosted ursine generation or the nostalgia-loving jazz fan in their sixties or seventies (or both), is cleverly balanced.
In Deep, Lockheart’s last major statement as a composer and bandleader, made a big impact in 2010, and with the massive hinterland of Ellingtonia behind this album expertly availed of, and the sheer quality of the musicianship and life force of this record, chances are this will too.
Lockheart recalls in a note included in the liner tray of the Subtone Records release how his fascination with Ellington began. It was a de facto wake-up call: “I was first introduced to Ellington’s music,” he writes, “by my father, who would play Duke’s records very loudly on Sunday mornings to get me out of bed. In 1973 when I was 12 years old he took me to see the Ellington band at Eastbourne, an experience that further ‘hooked’ me on Ellington’s music and made me realise that he wrote for each of the different musical personalities in the band.” And in his very different way Lockheart has done just that, as audiences will very well discover for themselves as the Ellington in Anticipation band tours. Dates so far confirmed are: Watermill, Dorking (28 February); Turner Sims, Southampton (5 March); Y Theatre, Leicester (6 March); Seven Arts, Leeds (7 March); Crucible Sheffield (8 March); Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (22 March); and Kings Place, London (23 March).
The Ellington in Anticipation band pictured top. Tom Herbert (above, left), Seb Rochford, Emma Smith, Finn Peters, Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble, and James Allsopp. Ellington in Anticipation is released on 18 February, cover above