There’s a kind of perceived wisdom out there that bands that play together stay together. So instead of their members picking up gigs wherever they can, they only play in one formation and you don’t see them anywhere else until they break up. It’s a hard thing to do, and only a tiny number of bands manage it, EST, the chief example for many years.

Yet other bands and their individual members thrive on separate lives from time to time and Phronesis is one of them. The trio even operated as the band of Nordic sax ace Marius Neset when he was starting to make a name for himself in the UK.

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Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame, who’s playing at the Vortex tomorrow with his celebrated octet, has created some space away from the band, and Phronesis founder Jasper Høiby crops up regularly with other leading bands.

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Phronesis are touring in the UK in April previewing new material for their next album with a big gig at the QEH in London on 5 April as well as a date in Suffolk a couple of days earlier and then a trip to the north east for the Gateshead Jazz Festival.

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For the London date the band is joined by singer Olivia Chaney, multi-instrumentalist Dave Maric, and vibist Jim Hart of Cloudmakers Trio. Phronesis are expected in the studio later in the year. Stephen Graham

Ivo Neame (top), Jasper Høiby (middle), and Anton Eger above

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Last week on Marlbank I wrote about Simon Spillett’s new album Square One and commented: “Spillett is a self confessed purist and recently this comment was attributed to him: ‘Jazz will only survive if people are exposed to the music in its purest form.’ Disputing that this thinking isn’t particularly helpful, “as it requires someone to step forward and presumably spell out what jazz purism is”, I went on to question the need for jazz in its purest form and suggested its historic hybrid nature, and broad international and stylistic appeal, mitigated against such an attitude that Spillett maintained. I also said: “You can draw a line back via pianist John Critchinson here to Ronnie Scott’s regular band, which Critch for many years was a member of, and long before that back to the Scott and Tubby Hayes co-led Jazz Couriers," and that Spillett’s quartet kept “the Hayes spirit well and truly alive" before going on to praise the “high standard" and “enjoyable nature" of the playing with its “unfettered drive from Clark Tracey who sounds as if he’s in his element.” There was a little speculation in the article, which you can read in full here, that Square One will stir debate and sure enough it has, with Simon Spillett himself getting in touch with his reaction. “I deliberately avoided any heavy Tubby Hayes connections on this album and yet what does the first reviewer pick up on? The point is, I don’t want to have to keep defending my right to play in a style that isn’t up at ‘da cutting edge, man’. I don’t really care what the critics think of my ‘approach’ as long as I’m playing as well as I can. I’m not consciously thinking of turning back the clock, restoring old values or of looking like I’m standing by Barnes bridge in 1962. You don’t have the luxury of that when you’re trying to make a living!” SG

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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