Before Duck Baker’s gig last night a fan who had travelled across London to Dalston from Croydon was recalling the first time he had heard the player, as he remembered in an obscure part of Hampshire. “Hope he plays ‘Zebra Blues’." Baker, an American avant gardist known for his work with Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn, didn’t get round to ‘Zebra Blues’ at least in the first set but began instead with ‘Friday’ firmly in Jimmy Giuffre-land with a lively Alex Ward on clarinet. Decoy’s John Edwards was on bass with his bandmate Steve Noble either joining the trio on drums or sitting out as the quartet became a trio before our very eyes.
Duck Baker above left before the gig and top
“The balance all right out there?” asked Baker near the beginning. “You can hear the trumpet?” This bit of banter was typical of the guitarist’s agreeably droll humour and luckily there were plenty of people in the club to hear it and this fine performance, and more came in as the set progressed to fill the place, and the musicians responded to the congenial atmosphere. The quirkiness of ‘The Odd Fellows’ March’ which was where Noble took the loping gait of the tune under his wing coaxing the band along like Han Bennink might the ICP. ‘There’s No Time Like The Past’ was where the band hit their stride and their humour collided perfectly with Baker’s on ‘Ode to Joe’, a rewriting of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ leaving out “mostly every seven notes”, Baker said, the 63-year-old Washington DC-born musician a little amused. His own ballad ‘Always’ near the end showed great control at low volume and Baker’s grasp of bebop harmonies to render them not too twangy on the nylon strings and his dextrous navigational sense at the frets was always sure-fingered. Sometimes his sound resembled the approach of Jim Hall, but with more of an avant edge. ‘The Legend of the Legend of Bebop’ at the end (a play on words and reference to Ornette’s tune from The Art of The Improvisers) was a case of keeping the very best to last, its sinuous labyrinthine swing a good way to go to the break. Wonder if they played ‘Zebra Blues’ in the second half? That would have sent the Baker fan from earlier back to Croydon a happy man. Stephen Graham
Iiro Rantala/Michael Wollny/Leszek Możdżer
Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Interesting for a number of reasons chief among them the fact that the concert was able to take place at the home of the Berlin Philharmonic, in the Kammermusiksaal, the chamber music room, at all. Also of topical interest is the presence of Iiro Rantala, now confirmed as the pianist at the first EST Symphonic concert to take place in Stockholm in June. In a double piano setting with [em]’s Michael Wollny the pair fittingly perform the Finn’s composition ‘Tears for Esbjörn’, the lovely melody of which curiously recalls Phil Collins’ ‘Another Day in Paradise’ in the harmonic setting of the opening notes of the main theme. The sound of this album is as you’d expect given the acoustics of the room, pianos utilised and the quality of ACT album sound, very fine with the audience applause superbly captured, a sure indication as well of the album’s live feel. These three pianists comprise a troika of ACT’s stellar front line main piano jazz talent (the others including Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock, and the veteran Joachim Kühn) an aggregation few labels are able to match globally. Rantala, Wollny and Możdżer come together to play Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rumba’ at the end in a dazzling piano and Rhodes display but highlights for me were Rantala’s measured Jarrett-esque arrangement of ‘Aria and Goldberg Variation’ (which turns into ‘All the Things You Are’ by the end), and Możdżer’s modulating pointilist tour de force ‘No Message’ half way through.
A dazzling December night at the Berlin Phil: the cover of Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I, above
Joe Morello above left, Eugene Wright, Tony Bennett, and Dave Brubeck
In the White House of President John F Kennedy two jazz legends came together for a concert that has never before been issued in full. It was a special time and a place in American history, but the long wait for the recordings in full to see the light of day for the first time is almost over. RPM/Columbia/Legacy recordings are recalling this brief glimpse of the Camelot years with the release of the meeting of Tony Bennett and the late Dave Brubeck in what’s being dubbed “the White House sessions" and officially Bennett & Brubeck: Live at the Washington Monument.
It was 28 August 1962, but the record company only dusted down the Teo Macero produced master tapes in the Sony vaults just in December not long after Brubeck’s death at the age of 91 to ready the process it takes for a release. Next month the recordings are released in their entirety for the first time. The show, a party thrown by President Kennedy for college students working as interns for the administration, was recorded in the Sylvan Theater in the grounds of the White House with the Washington Monument in the near distance. The plan had been to stage the concert in the Rose Garden, but there were too many people to accommodate so the venue switch was made. Bennett was on an early career high in 1962 having released what became the song most identified with the singer, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’. But he and Brubeck didn’t work together again until four years ago at the Newport jazz festival which adds further to the interest in this 1962 collaboration.
The recordings begin with an introduction by New York radio DJ William B Williams, then Paul Desmond’s ‘Take Five’, a band introduction, ‘Nomad’, ‘Thank you Dziekuje’ [that’s Polish for “thank you"], and ‘Castilian Blues’, performed by the classic Brubeck quartet (the pianist plus Paul Desmond, alto sax; Eugene Wright, bass; and Joe Morello, drums). Then after another introduction from Williams, Bennett, joined by longstanding pianist and musical director Ralph Sharon on piano, Hal Gaylor on bass, and Billy Exiner, drums, perform ‘Just in Time’, ‘Small World, ‘Make Someone Happy’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)’ and ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ . The final tracks feature the key collaboration: with Bennett joining Brubeck, Wright and Morello on ‘Lullaby Of Broadway’, ‘Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)’, ‘That Old Black Magic’ [which has previously appeared on record], and ‘There Will Never Be Another You’. The album will be released on Monday 27 May in the UK.
In September last year Martin Tingvall, the leader of one of the most acclaimed and best selling young European piano jazz trios currently around, released En ny dag, his first solo piano album. Here the trio reconvene and are back with another first: their debut live album recorded on tour in the autumn.They’re still fairly unknown in the UK with only a single club appearance in London so far but I guess this will change although don’t hold your breath given the difficulties jazz promoters are facing taking risks with new bands particularly outside the capital even if Tingvall are a safe bet.
The trio, that’s Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall based like Cuban bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo and German drummer Jürgen Spiegel in Hamburg, are a big deal in Germany winning ensemble of the year at the Echo awards and charting at number one in the German jazz charts. Their previous albums Vattensaga (2009), Norr (2008), and Skagerrak (2006) have each sold very well, and Vägen (‘The Road’) was released in the UK by their long time label Skip. All the songs on In Concert were written by Tingvall and arranged by the trio, and several of the tunes the band played at their Pizza Express Jazz Club concert last summer including ‘Mustasch’ and ‘Trolldans-Monster’ are here. From the off and certainly by ‘Nu Djävlar’ the band is in the zone, and Martin Tingvall has the ability to raise the drama at a rate of knots while he throws in little touchs of stride and funk. The big track ‘Vägen’ , the title track of the last studio album and played live in London is quite superb, an emotional tour de force, with little folk-y touches that recall Jan Johansson the patron saint of Swedish jazz piano who English piano star Kit Downes is remembering as well on his latest album for Basho. The talented Calvo (think Cachaito) makes his presence felt, for instance at the end of ‘Valsang’, and Spiegel brings life force and personality to all the tracks.
Martin Tingvall, above left, Jürgen Spiegel, and Omar
‘Trolldans-Monster’ takes the improvising a step further and has a great deal of impact and it’s here the band is closest to EST. But really Tingvall are quite different: naturalistic in essence, and they’re not afraid to play what they feel. If you’re still unfamiliar with Tingvall experience the sheer flow of these talented improvisers: they’re the real thing.
Released on Monday 8 April
Murphy: a continuing inspiration
The release date is still to be confirmed but Gearbox records hopes it will be in time for what would have been Shirley Horn’s 79th birthday on 1 May. The release in question, Mark Murphy’s vinyl EP A Beautiful Friendship Remembering Shirley Horn, with tracks ‘A Beautiful Friendship’, ‘But Beautiful’, ‘Get out of Town’ and ‘Here’s To Life’ were recorded in the US as recently as November 2012 as previously reported in these pages. It’s a rare chance to hear Mark Murphy on a record at all these days and recently even though he was to have appeared at Ronnie Scott’s in London for club dates, Murphy, who’s 81, on doctor’s orders, wasn’t able to fly to make the gigs.
The only jazz singer (possibly the only person) on the planet to make Kurt Elling seem unhip, Murphy is no stranger to the UK and lived in London for a spell in the late-1960s and later in the acid jazz years the young retro clubbers took to Murphy with some fervour and he found a new young listenership. Murphy’s setting of lyrics to Oliver Nelson’s ‘Stolen Moments’ was just one point of entry for new fans, and he still retained the affection of the beats. Many think of Murphy as the only jazz singer truly on the same artistic wavelength as Jack Kerouac. Murphy’s last great album, one of the best vocal jazz albums of the 1990s, was Song for the Geese for which he was Grammy nominated, but Murphy has continued to work with younger musicians such as the driving Five Corners Quintet. On A Beautiful Friendship: Remembering Shirley Horn two of the songs, ‘But Beautiful’ and ‘Here’s To Life’ Horn recorded, apparently at a New York spot called the Au bar, and was released in 2005 with Roy Hargrove her muse, as Miles Davis once regarded Shirley Horn as his.
Very much a heart-on-sleeve band ‘Degree Absolute’ the second track here exemplifies Andy Champion’s band ACV’s debut for Babel best, with ‘Dust Red’ at the end driving the point home. Rough and ready, but deliberately so, as the band swarms and separates on opening numbers they’re big softies really. On ‘Nutmeg State’ the short stabby phrases leaking out of Paul Edis’ rubbery keyboards as drummer Adrian Tilbrook conjures a Billy Cobham-like rhythm undertow have impact that Champion builds on; but ‘She Said It Ugly’ throws the ball sharply to Edis to kick about, and like ‘Degree Absolute’ this song is all about anthemic saxophone with Graeme Wilson giving it plenty of wellie guided by an in-your-face production approach that Chris Sharkey of trioVD injects. ‘Second Season’ allows the proggy McCallum-esque guitar of Mark Williams a bit of space at the beginning, but the song drags its heels and Busk does have its longueurs, feeling more like a gig (part of the point I suppose) than an album at times. ‘Giant Mice’ is the band at its proggiest with gizmo keyboards and Tilbrook hooligan-like on drums, and later Sharkey’s no-messing-about influence coming to bear on ‘What’s For Breakfast’. So, honest music-making by a band that follows its own instincts, and sees them through come what may.
Currently on release.
ACV play the Vortex on Thursday 4 April, supported by Dialogues. See Gigs
There are slim pickings for jazz fans at the Glastonbury festival this year given its sheer scale but there are some notable names close enough for jazz at the biggest rock festival in the world when all attention this year will understandably be on The Rolling Stones. Closest to a jazz sensibility on the Pyramid stage is Rokia Traoré who before Glastonbury will be taking herself to Band on the Wall for a jazz club set soon. And Laura Mvula, who’s appearing at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in May, is also heading for the Pyramid stage, while the Other Stage has only Portishead of interest, a bit tangential maybe although Jim Barr and Clive Deamer of Get the Blessing are strongly part of the Portishead sound. The West Holts stage has Lianne La Havas, like Mvula Cheltenham-bound, and also there’s a chance to hear the jazztronica sound of BadBadNotGood, and the soul jazz clubber’s delight approach of Alice Russell. Michael Kiwanuka who’s appearing at many jazz festivals on the continent this summer is on at the Park stage, while other highlights include Steve Winwood in the Acoustic tent.
Laura Mvula above
Joshua Redman to release ballad-driven new album Walking Shadows
Brad Mehldau has produced the soon to be released Walking Shadows, saxophonist and composer Joshua Redman’s latest album to be released in early-May. Ballad-heavy and characterised by an orchestral ensemble with a core quartet featuring Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, and Brian Blade from Wayne Shorter’s quartet the tunes feature Redman and Mehldau originals and songs by John Mayer, Pino Palladino, Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein, and Lennon and McCartney.
Legendary guitarist to release interpretation of
John Zorn’s Tap: The Book of Angels, Vol 20
In the spirit of Pat Metheny’s groundbreaking forays into free improvised music that dates back to Song X with Ornette Coleman released in 1986 and a collaboration with Derek Bailey called The Sign Of Four a decade later, the great jazz guitarist’s label Nonesuch has united with John Zorn’s Tzadik label to release a new album called Tap: The Book of Angels, Vol 20 in late-May. John Zorn, about to embark on a major Zorn At 60 festival tour with key appearances including one at the historic Moers festival in Germany next month, has never collaborated with Metheny on a record before. The music Metheny is to release is taken from the second volume of the Masada Book known as the ‘Book of Angels’, inspired like the first volume by traditional Jewish music. Metheny and Zorn started to think about working together via email, Metheny says, after Zorn contacted him to write notes for one of his Arcana publications. “I mentioned", Metheny says via his record company, “that I had followed his Book of Angels series from the start and felt like I might be able to contribute something unique to the collection. With his enthusiastic encouragement, he gave me some suggestions as to which tunes were still unrecorded, and I picked the ones that jumped out and spoke to me. Over the next year, in between breaks from the road, I recorded them one by one in my home studio whenever I got a chance." Tracks are ‘Mastema’, ‘Albim’, ‘Tharsis’, ‘Sariel’, ‘Phanuel’, and ‘Hurmiz’. Look out for a review in Marlbank nearer release.
The cover of Tap, above
There’s minimalism and there’s minimalism. Cast a glance in the direction of the blotchy almost opaque seascape of the artwork to Iva Bittová above, an album incidentally succinct enough to be self titled. The composition titles complete the effect: there’s just one word ‘Fragments’, and then a dozen roman numerals tacked on although they’re not so much variations as chapters in a continuing and engrossing tale. The Czech vocalist and violinist isn’t a minimalist in the Terry Riley sense at all but hovers at the pared-down end of improv with occasional bird-like forays and the incantatory power of a prophetess at other times. Surprisingly tuneful at times, although mysteriously so the approach is defiantly unorthodox and more structured than it seems at first. The best clues you might have thought beforehand would be to look in the songs with lyrics provided by Gertrude Stein and Chris Cutler, There’s even an additional ‘fragment’ of composer Joaquin Rodrigo in here as well. But the words are as elemental and inscrutable as the seascape on the cover. Bittová manages to sound as if she’s from a desperately remote place, the instrument of a song emerging from the earth itself, yet the improvisations are never alienating. These ‘fragments’ would have been inconsequential in a lesser artist’s hands, but with Bittová enlarge before your very eyes. It’s a quality that makes this album, where less is more is paramount, so appealing.
Symphony of the senses
Stockholm is to host the world première of EST Symphony. Tickets for the concert went on sale at the weekend in Stockholm for the concert to be held at the city’s Konserthuset on 12 June. An announcement about further concert dates in July will be made later, EST management confirms.
Distinguished Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala, formerly of the hit Finnish band Trio Töykeät, whose latest solo album My History of Jazz was released in the autumn is to perform with EST’s Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Ek, with acclaimed Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick (Skala, The Door), Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder, and pedal steel guitarist Johan Lindström (from Berglund’s band Tonbruket) joining.
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Esbjörn Svensson, the charismatic and influential pianist and composer tragically died on 14 June 2008 aged just 44 as a result of a scuba diving accident in his native Sweden. In his short career he changed the face of European jazz taking it global, and has influenced a countless number of bands around the world since including Trichotomy, GoGo Penguin, Tingvall Trio, Neil Cowley Trio, and Brad Mehldau, to name just five. Svensson gained the appreciation and respect of jazz giant Pat Metheny who performed with EST at the Jazz Baltica festival in Germany and songs performed at JazzBaltica, arranged by Svensson for chamber orchestra, form the basis of the symphony with totally new arrangements for symphony by Hans Ek. Material is thought to include the beautiful ‘Serenade for the Renegade’ from the 2002-released album Strange Place for Snow; ‘Definition of a Dog’ (from Gagarin’s Point of View, a version of which also later appeared on the epic Live in Hamburg); ‘When God Created the Coffee Break’ (again from Strange Place for Snow); and ‘Pavane’ (featured on Good Morning Susie Soho).
At JazzBaltica Pat Metheny joined EST and the chamber orchestra to play ‘Behind the Yashmak’, and that concert at the core of EST Symphonic also featured ‘Believe, Beleft, Below’, and ‘Dodge the Dodo’.
Ek, born in Uppsala is best known for his work as music director of the Polar Music Prize ceremony, where he has arranged and performed with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra music by Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Björk, and Paul Simon among the winners of the prestigious prize.
Esbjörn Svensson became the most significant figure in Swedish jazz since Jan Johansson in the 1960s far surpassing Johansson’s reach despite the huge success of Johansson’s classic album Jazz på svenska (‘Jazz in Swedish’), which used European folk music as an ingredient for jazz improvisation, one of the first to do so. Västeras-born, Svensson harnessed the power of rock, free jazz, and electronics for the first time allying them to his own virtuoso grasp of the music of the masters of jazz piano including chiefly Thelonious Monk in the early stages of his career. Svensson’s compositional strength was firmly rooted within the co-operative spirit of the trio as the band shared writing duties and credits and thought as one. Svensson founded EST in 1993 with his childhood friend drummer Magnus Öström and bassist Dan Berglund. They together went on to become global jazz stars, releasing 11 albums during Esbjörn’s lifetime with another, Leucocyte, appearing shortly after Svensson’s death, and four years later the extraordinary 301 released in March last year. EST Symphony is a brand new day. Stephen Graham
Venue link: http://bit.ly/YVNPRL
Jamming at the new jazz club in Dubai
Pizza Express has opened a new jazz club called Jazz@PizzaExpress in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers residential district, local reports suggest. Next to the Mövenpick Hotel in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers district, there are no details of the club’s programme so far, but Time Out Dubai claims that: “In Dubai managers say they hope to replicate the London venue’s success by showcasing local talent." The picture above was run on the Undefined Declarations blog. Read more about the launch there: http://undefineddeclarations.wordpress.com/tag/jazzpizzaexpress
Photo: Undefined Declarations
Manchester commission for 2013: ‘The Felonious Monks’
The Manchester jazz festival traditionally leaves it late to declare its programme but one thing the festival was early in declaring again this year was the latest MJF Originals commission. That’s the leading north west of England summertime jazz festival’s pioneering scheme to unlock new creative talent and pinpoint new jazz. The 2013 commission, is unusual, titled ‘The Felonious Monks’, and it’s a collaboration between Mike Hall and Deborah Rogers in an ensemble work that meshes early renaissance music and contemporary jazz, with modern and replica 16th century instruments. Tonsured bebop, no less. Crumhorns (no me, neither, except you blow it), shawms, cornamuses, cornets, sackbuts, lute, gemshorns and recorders are part of the instrumentational palette. Hall is a saxophonist, a former member of NYJO, and is a member of Echoes of Ellington; while Deborah Rogers has been closely associated with early music group Kincorth Waits and leads No Strings Attached and big band In The Pink. This year’s Manchester Jazz Festival begins on 26 July.
Sony Music Italy ***1/2
This is quite a production, with a big brassy opening, lush strings, and Biondi’s deep very soulful voice. It’s very superior crooning in a soul-jazz situation with great diction and control and the voice speaks to you. Sun may well flatter to distract though as there are so many famous guests on the album, with the Incognito band in tow, quite a few songs by Bluey, and guests including Chaka Khan on Boz Scaggs’ ‘Lowdown’, Al Jarreau, and Leon Ware. The big songs with guests for me are ‘Never Stop’ featuring Omar in duo with Biondi, the higher voice contrasting with Biondi’s grizzly tones; and ‘Light to the World’ with Al Jarreau joining to duet, a still sadness in Jarreau’s voice although it’s an upbeat song. Tracks without famous people that impressed me include Biondi’s excellent vocal on ‘Come to Me’, with cadences oddly familiar (like Bacharach/David’s ‘Magic Moments’ in the bit here where the lyric goes the joy comes after). And the multi-tracked vocals on ‘What Have You Done To Me’, Bluey’s song co-written with Biondi and one Davide Florio, soar. Downsides? The Barry White moments which pop up along the way like a vocal alter ego Biondi releases some times can be a bit cheesy and intrude, but the Italian could teach some of the wannabe jazz crooners a thing or two. He’s a class act. Stephen Graham
Mario Biondi above plays the Albert Hall with Incognito on 10 May. Sun is released on 13 May
Top ten rated albums in March on Marlbank
1 & ALBUM OF THE MONTH Kendrick Scott and Oracle
2 Aaron Diehl
The Bespoke Man’s Narrative
4 Erin Boheme
What a Life
6 Robert Hurst
Bob: a Palindrome
7 Dave Douglas
Green Leaf Music
8 Barry Altschul
The 3dom Factor
9 Patricia Barber
At the city of Derry jazz and big band festival in a year that the city marks its UK city of culture status with many special festivals and events, the jazz festival in May will host a radio broadcast to be recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up show presented by pianist Julian Joseph, with a concert to take place at the Tower Hotel in Derry on Monday 6 May. Artists to take part in the broadcast are to include BBC New Generation artist saxophonist Trish Clowes who last year released And In The Night-Time She Is There, with a Derry-bound band featuring Troyka guitarist Chris Montague, bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer James Maddren, and The Impossible Gentlemen’s Gwilym Simcock on piano.
Three albums in the can for Gwilym Simcock
Welsh-born Simcock, 32, has been busy finishing the last studio work on the latest Impossible Gentlemen album set for release later this year. “Very exciting few days,” he says on Facebook, mentioning he’s also been preparing a new orchestral CD featuring the City of London Sinfonia and Martin France of Spin Marvel. Simcock has just returned from the Bavarian artist retreat of Schloss Elmau where his previous album Good Days At Schloss Elmau for Siggi Loch’s ACT label garnered the pianist a Mercury nomination in 2011. This time he was there for a duo recording with bassist Yuri Goloubev. Gwilym Simcock pictured