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With a UK release now confirmed for May although it’s released in the States this week Kendrick Scott and his band Oracle’s album Conviction, the drummer’s 11-track debut for Concord, follows on from the huge promise shown by The Source, Scott’s debut as a leader, released six years ago. But just in the autumn at Ronnie Scott’s club in London Scott, no stranger to homegrown audiences, was on storming form as the band shot into Eddie Cleanhead Vinson’s ‘Four’ with some fleetness of foot just days after President Obama was re-elected, the choice of tune title appropriate. Scott was Blakey-fast and driving hard, alongside young bass sensation Joshua “Smiler” Crumbly who himself was moving like a young Jimmy Blanton to his side. “Stoked” as he had put it before the gig and clearly up for it Scott displayed great mallet touch as the set developed, and he found the sweet part of the cymbal time and again.

Tracks on Conviction are Broadcast’s ‘Pendulum’; Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Too Much’ with a vocal by Alan Hampton who Glasper fans would have witnessed live guesting at the iTunes fest last year; Herbie Hancock’s ‘I Have a Dream’; solo bass track ‘We Shall By Any Means’; ‘Liberty or Death’; ‘Cycling Through Reality’; ‘Conviction’; ‘Apollo’; ‘Serenity’; ‘Be Water’ with a unusal monologue by that well known jazzer, martial arts master Bruce Lee; and solo piano piece ‘Memory of Enchantment’.

Scott, best known for his work in Terence Blanchard’s band, is joined in Oracle by a mostly new line-up with saxophonist and bass clarinettist John Ellis, guitarist Mike Moreno (the only band member here featured on The Source), hotshot pianist the still developing Taylor Eigsti, and bassist Joe Sanders, with Alan Hampton on two tracks in all. Co-produced by The Experiment’s Derrick Hodge, expected himself to debut for Blue Note records later this year, Hodge also wrote the title track ‘Conviction’. Scott, who’s 32 and comes from Houston where he attended the famed High School for the Performing and Visual Arts where both Robert Glasper and Jason Moran studied, and later Berklee in Boston, the drummer appeared on Terence Blanchard’s albums A Tale of God’s Will, and Flow, on which Scott’s tune ‘The Source’ features Herbie Hancock, who picked up a Grammy nomination for his solo. The song then gave its name to Scott’s own first album as a leader. New York-based for approaching a decade Scott besides Blanchard has also toured heavily with Herbie, John Scofield, and Wayne Shorter, as well as Pat Metheny and Christian McBride. Look out for an early review of Conviction in these pages soon. MB

Kendrick Scott above

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Band on the Wall has confirmed on its website that Rokia Traoré is to play the Manchester club on 20 May hot on the heels of the release of the Malian singer/songwriter/guitarist’s latest album Beautiful Africa. It’s a coup for the Swan Street club as Traoré’s appearance in the city marks a return to heartland jazz clubs in the UK by the musician who has in the last year galvanised support among artists since Islamic militants threatened artistic and cultural freedoms in her home country following a bloody uprising. Beautiful Africa released in April features drummer Seb Rochford, in action at the weekend with the touring Ellington in Anticipation band in Belfast, in a session recorded in Bristol by PJ Harvey producer John Parish. Traoré sings in French, Bambara and English and plays guitar on an album comprising nine songs with the singer also joined by Mamah Diabaté on ngoni; Fatim Kouyaté and Bintou Soumbounou, backing vocals; Nicolaï Munch Hansen, bass; producer John Parish, on additional guitar; Stefano Pilia, guitar; and Jason Singh, human beatbox. Beautiful Africa is Traoré’s first album since Tchamantché in 2009. MB 
www.bandonthewall.org

Rokia Traoré, above

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Neil Cowley: artist in residence at the UK city of culture

The Neil Cowley trio appearing at the Nerve Centre, drummer David Lyttle’s trio featuring ex-Sting keyboardist Jason Rebello, and Irish jazz guitar legend Louis Stewart have been announced as part of the extensive line-up of this year’s Derry jazz and big band festival.

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David Lyttle: driving the new Irish jazz scene

The Cowley Trio, who just ahead of the festival on Monday 29 April are to release a live album recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival following the popular success of The Face of Mount Molehill, will also during a run of Irish dates play an earlier club date at the Black Box in Belfast with a village festival in west Cork also on their itinerary in May.

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Jason Rebello: ex-Sting keyboardist
performing with David Lyttle in Derry

But Derry is the big one, with Cowley artist-in-residence at the city celebrating its prestigious UK city of culture status this year. In this very special year for culture in the north west of Ireland the festival will also 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 saxophonist Trish Clowes with a band featuring Troyka guitarist Chris Montague, bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer James Maddren and The Impossible Gentlemen’s Gwilym Simcock on piano. Local Radio Ulster presenter trumpeter Linley Hamilton’s Saxtet will also appear on the broadcast.

Other names for Derry this year include The Dark Energy trio (The Playhouse, 2 May), that’s bassist Alan Niblock with Mujician saxophonist Paul Dunmall and leading improv drummer Mark Sanders; Brass Impact Big Band (Waterside theatre, 3 May); Dana Masters band (City Hotel, 3 May); the Paul McIntyre trio plus Richie Buckley (The Playhouse, 4 May); the Puppini Sisters (The Venue 4 May); and Pink Martini (Millennium Forum, 5 May). MB
2-6 May www.cityofderryjazzfestival.com

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Victor Wooten

West will, you’d have thought, once again be best if the line-up at the just announced Sligo Jazz Festival is anything to go by this year. The town, well known for its love of traditional Irish music, and in recent years a burgeoning reputation as a jazz place thanks to local jazz education initiative the Sligo Jazz Project, hosts the Sligo jazz festival from 16-21 July. This year’s line-up features the Mike Stern/Victor Wooten band with multi-Grammy award winning bass guitarist Victor Wooten of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones renown teaming up with We Want Miles-period ex-Miles jazz-rock force-of-nature guitarist Mike Stern in their co-led quartet completed by saxophonist Bob Franceschini and drummer Derico Watson.

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The Olllam

A big feature of the Sligo programme this year is the pairing of the Janek Gwizdala Trio, with fusion hotshot Gwizdala joined by guitarist Mike Nielsen and Human drummer Steve Davis, in a double bill with exciting new Celtic-alt.rock fusion trio The Olllam, featuring the great Belfast uilleann piper John McSherry (Lúnasa), the Detroit-born guitarist/keyboardist/piper Tyler Duncan, and drummer Michael Shimmin. Also for Sligo: pianist Kenny Werner with his trio; and an appearance by the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra plus guests Ian Shaw, Marshall Gilkes, and Jean Toussaint. MB
www.sligojazz.ie 

Victor Wooten top and The Olllam above

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Damon Albarn with Michael Horovitz

The vinyl-only Kings Cross jazz label Gearbox is to release a single featuring poet Michael Horovitz’s ‘Ballade Of The Nocturnal Commune / Extra Time Meltdown’ when the poet is joined by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Paul Weller.

The Blur pair and the Modfather also appear with the distinguished anti-war poet on the new heavy vinyl album Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues, the title track of which was commissioned by Paul Weller and the text of which appeared within the artwork of Weller’s album Sonik Kicks.

These releases are to coincide with the first ever release of archive recording Blues For The Hitchiking Dead (Jazz Poetry SuperJam #1) on two pieces of heavy 12-inch vinyl within a box set that recalls the important anti-nuclear era of the 1960s. ‘Hitchhiking Dead’ features the Live New Departures Jazz Poetry Septet in a March 1962 recording, with Horovitz and poet/songwriter Pete Brown playing the student union of Southampton university along with Stan Tracey, Jeff Clyne, Laurie Morgan, John Mumford and Bobby Wellins. In pre-release publicity material Pete Brown is quoted as saying: “Listening to the Blues again, the first thing that hits me is the fear. This was the most dangerous known period in history for a potential nuclear war, and we really felt it…. This may be a piece of history, an antique even, but it still has a lot to say. And we are by no means out of trouble yet.” MB

Damon Albarn and Michael Horovitz above (photo: courtesy Damon Albarn unofficial)

Released for Record Store Day, Saturday 20 April www.recordstoreday.co.uk Support your local record shop

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(Updated at 3.15)
Babel records has just confirmed on its Bandcamp page the release of Being Human, the debut release of Human, Irish-born drummer and composer Stephen Davis’ new quartet. A pre-release gig at the Vortex tomorrow has, though, just been cancelled, the band’s Alex Bonney has said, explaining that the cancellation is “due to weather/travel etc," via Twitter. The inclement weather also affected the band’s Brilliant Corners festival appearance in Belfast yesterday.

Best known for Davis’ decade-long and continuing adventures as part of Bourne/Davis/Kane, the Human sound is coloured by the violin of the maverick Dylan Bates, notable for his work with Billly Jenkins and his tenure in the bizarre Waiting For Dwarfs. Human also features the talismanic presence of pianist Alexander Hawkins, and the electronicist, trumpeter Alex Bonney. There’s no bass on Being Human, confirmed by the east London-based label for a Monday 29 April release.

Tracks are ‘Frozen Goat’, ‘Being Human’, ‘Little Particles’ with Bonney finding an In a Silent Way sense of calm on this number amid the complementary African-sounding piano and drums, with the album completed by ‘I Am Planet’, ‘Cartagena’ and ‘Vinila Life’. Davis doesn’t need to channel anyone on this record, although there are echoes of Tony Oxley at times, and the benign presence of the late John Stevens hovers tantalisingly. Early listens suggest strong evidence of what Bates really can do: think Leroy Jenkins in his pomp with a jagged Beckenham-derived individuality bolted on, while Hawkins is a haunting presence throughout. ‘I Am Planet’ has a rustling unsettled feel to it, with Hawkins’ three-note figure after the three-minute marking the warts-and-all groove that opens up for Davis to then move deep into multi-directional territory. ‘Cartagena’ is very different, a track clued-up DJs might well wish to sample, as the clash of Davis’ snare pumps the band up and would get any club audience going. MB
The cover of Being Human top 

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Zoe Rahman, directing the Guildhall Jazz Ensemble, gets the Guildhall jazz festival off to a flying start tonight. The London conservatoire’s annual festival also features Ian Shaw, guesting with the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble; saxophonist Tom Challenger; Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts and Paul Dunmall better known as the Dartington Improvising Trio. Iain Ballamy and the Guildhall Jazz Band are also appearing during this year’s running. Zoe Rahman, above
http://www.gsmd.ac.uk

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Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print opened the Brilliant Corners jazz festival at the Belfast Barge on Thursday

Brilliant Corners began in Belfast the night before the snow arrived yesterday. While the festival was named in honour of Monk’s Brilliant Corners album there were no obvious tie-ins on the opening night to the great composer and pianist’s music; the festival was too cool to offer a literal interpretation although the spirit was clearly felt. So instead the bands booked did the interpreting by way of original new music.

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Below deck: rising star saxophonist Meilana Gillard’s accomplished set

Brilliant Corners utilised three venues: the Belfast Barge, the MAC in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter; and the nearby Black Box; and new talent on display included Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print, a US tenor saxophonist now resident in Northern Ireland joined by double bassist Marcos Varela, who appears on Gillard’s Greg Osby-produced album Day One. Varela’s debut with Billy Hart and George Cables will be released later this year, with Spike Lee’s brother Arnold Lee and Sonny Rollins trombonist Clifton Anderson guesting. Varela pushed the band hard and tastefully with Gillard, whose individual non-retro sound on the tenor saxophone, probing and darting with a salty edge especially in her reading of Herman Hupfeld’s ‘As Time Goes By’. Leading Irish jazz musician David Lyttle was on drums and excelled. Meilana’s composition ‘Rear View’ was the big highlight of the first set by a highly proficient unit.

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Ellington in Anticipation band played the Factory in the MAC

At the MAC in the Factory on the sixth floor of the very smart post-brutalist arts temple opened in 2012, its volcanic stone facade tastefully undemonstrative, Mark Lockheart’s Ellington in Anticipation band were already burning by the time I got over from the Barge. It’s Ellington for the Polar Bear generation and in many ways codifies the mysterious non-linear compositional method Lockheart has cultivated in his own music a step on from his acclaimed Edition records set, In Deep.

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The Black Box opens for Brilliant Corners

Ellington’s music is like a dream behind the new music, not old music in new clothes at all. Seb Rochford and The Invisible’s Tom Herbert had that kind of ESP that people who are comfortable with each other on a bandstand possess, and chopped it up throughout, especially on ‘My Caravan’ while ‘Azure’ was a revelation. Lockheart blew wildly on ‘Jungle Lady’, clearly at ease, and both Finn Peters and James Allsopp knew how to stoke the flames especially as the music went further out.

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Playing the Sun Ra blues on Hill Street: Decoy debut 

And taking the music even further out free improv rounded off the evening at the Black Box, with Decoy, the tremendous organ trio of Alexander Hawkins, bassist John Edwards, and drummer Steve Noble marking Hawkins’ first Northern Ireland appearance. Sun Ra and kinetic bar-vaulting improv never sounded so good: a suitably Saturnine way to draw the first night of this exciting new festival to a close.
Story and photos: Stephen Graham

The father of Chucho Valdés, and the inspiration of the acclaimed animated film Chico and Rita, the pianist, bandleader, and composer Bebo Valdés, has died at the age of 94. Valdés, who passed away in Sweden where he had lived for many years, began his career as a pianist in the night clubs of Havana and it was in one such, Tropicana, that he made his name. In the 1950s Valdés was a pivotal figure in the development of the mambo with his championing of the batanga rhythm. Valdés settled in Sweden after the 1959 revolution in Cuba and played bar lounges there in virtual obscurity until the mid-1990s when his album Bebo Rides Again caught the music industry’s attention, followed by the success firstly of documentary Calle 54 and then the inspired Chico and Rita which featured much of his music in 2010 and fictionalised his life story so evocatively.
Bebo Valdés top pictured with his son Chucho. Photo: Berklee

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Still under the radar but not for long Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco has been confirmed for the Glasgow Jazz Festival in the first tranche of bookings announced so far. Blanco is to appear at the City Halls recital room on 26 June.

Blind Boys of Alabama, Georgie Fame and Three Line Whip and 1980s band Jazzateers (Rough 46) are also confirmed for the five-day festival with the full line-up expected soon. MB

Leo Blanco top www.jazzfest.co.uk

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The stellar Miles Smiles band has been confirmed for Ronnie Scott’s, the club has now confirmed on its website. A superband, it’s the return of Wallace Roney to Frith Street, the trumpeter above who famously was mentored and performed extensively with Miles Davis late in the great East St Louis man’s career. Miles Smiles is also headed up by drum titan Omar Hakim (Amandla, Tutu), with saxophonist Rick Margitza (Amandla, Live in Montreux), organist Joey DeFrancesco (Live Around the World), and ex-Herbie man Ralphe Armstrong on bass. The band has been playing in the States and appeared at the Cork jazz festival in the autumn, but this is a rare chance for London jazz club audiences to sample the band and its core material based around the Second Great Quintet album Miles Smiles released in 1967.

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Already this year fans of Wayne Shorter who wrote several tunes on the album have warmed to his new take on ‘Orbits’, the lead-off track Wayne wrote for Miles Smiles, and which appears on the brand new Wayne Shorter Quartet album Without a Net that signalled a significant return for the saxophonist to Blue Note records, brought back to the fold by Don Was.

Miles Smiles originally recorded at the 30th Street Studio in New York city and produced by Teo Macero, besides ‘Orbits’ features ‘Circle’, plus Wayne’s most famous piece ‘Footprints’, and on side two of the original vinyl ‘Dolores’, Eddie Harris’ ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, and Jimmy Heath’s ‘Gingerbread Boy’. MB
Miles Smiles plays Ronnie’s on 3-4 May www.ronniescotts.co.uk

Wallace Roney top

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The Erik Truffaz Quartet
El tiempo de la Revolución
Blue Note ****
A highly impressive return to form, this, by French Swiss trumpeter Erik Truffaz. Bristling with club friendly, modal, and electronically processed sounds reminiscent of Mark Isham’s 1990s purple patch, Truffaz’s quartet has produced an evocative mood piece that joins the dots between the reimagined-1950s in his head and the “successive revolutions through which our lives are chronicled”, as the unsigned note on the sleeve has it. Intelligent dance music through a jazz filter as ever with Truffaz, but this has more edge than his last few albums, and Anna Aaron’s Nico-via-Beth Gibbons vocal touches are a definite plus. Stephen Graham
The Truffaz quartet play Ronnie Scott’s, London on Monday www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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The image of a jazz club has changed drastically in recent years. The biggest change? Well no one smokes in clubs any longer, although gig-goers may huddle on the pavement outside where the sounds of that seventeenth chorus inside can still just about be picked out through the vents. Saxophones no longer honk, it’s just as likely to be the hum of a Mac or the pop of a guitar plugging in as the gleam of a Selmer or the bright flash of a Monette when the stagelights go on. But jazz clubs yearn to live up to romantic clichés, and yes you can find some places with murals depicting the heroes of yesteryear proudly displayed, or clubs with beautifully framed photographs or paintings on the walls, their interiors decked out with little lamps or candles sitting discreetly on tables, and knowledgeable bar staff on hand ready to reminisce about the days Harry Sweets Edison played the club, or Wynton arrived to jam at two o’clock in the morning.

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Many clubs, worthy of the name, put on jazz just once or twice a week, providing ‘nights’ only. Take Wednesday nights in Sheffield. You won’t find the kids who necessarily want to be the next Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, or Human League at the Lescar on Sharrowvale Road, although this “charmingly vintage pub” does have a quiz night on Tuesdays to stoke their general knowledge in the meantime. Starter for ten:  Who appeared at the Lescar this month? Well, guitarist Ant Law did, taking in the Lescar as part of his first national tour. The price of a couple of cups of coffee, just £5 on the door, would have gained you admittance to hear the guitarist, with his band of James Maddren, Dice Factory’s Tom Farmer, and new star of the alto saxophone, Michael Chillingworth. It’s not just national names at the Lescar, as the scene looks after its own as well, as all the best and longest running jazz spots tend to do, and Sheffield singer Sally Doherty was there last night. Coming up are Jiannis Pavlidis (27 March), the miraculously-monikered Fluff (3 April), GoGo Penguin, the cuddliest piano trio on eternal tastemaker Gilles Peterson’s radar at the moment (10 April), and Beats & Pieces guitarist Anton Hunter with his trio on 17 April.

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Real jazz fans of course muse on living the dream, having a club at the end of their street, ideally. They’d live in one if they could, or at least go there most nights, hear music, but crucially treat the place as a café, a bar, a restaurant, somewhere to glance at the paper, fiddle with their phones, date, and ruminate on the issues of the day while taking in the best improvised music irrespective of whether it’s played on orthodox instruments or kazoo, stylophone, banjo, mini-iPad, or the back of a biscuit tin. There’s been an upsurge in jazz club activity even in these days of the imminent triple dip and the Con/Dems’ ruinous economic policies. In the wake of the budget yesterday, and where better than to gauge the mood of the economy than in a jazz club, which club would JM Keynes, were he still around, ‘chill’ in to take a break from addressing the nation’s woes? He might well muse sat in one of the clubs below that “jazz improvising," or ‘words’ as Keynes had it, “ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking." MB


The rest is improvisation

Clubs in Britain
Ronnie Scott’s, London www.ronniescotts.co.uk
Pizza Express Jazz Club, London www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk
Vortex, London www.vortexjazz.co.uk
Cafe Oto, London www.cafeoto.co.uk
606, London www.606club.co.uk
Spice of Life, London www.spiceoflifesoho.com
Charlie Wright’s, London www.charliewrights.com
Bull’s Head, London www.thebullshead.com
Quecumbar, London www.quecumbar.co.uk
Pheasantry, London www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk
Hideaway, London www.hideawaylive.co.uk
Boisdale, London www.boisdale.co.uk
Jazz Bar, Edinburgh www.thejazzbar.co.uk
Dempsey’s, Cardiff www.jazzatdempseys.org.uk
Band on the Wall, Manchester www.bandonthewall.org
Matt & Phred’s, Manchester www.mattandphreds.com
Seven Jazz, Leeds www.sevenjazz.co.uk
Lescar, Sheffield www.jazzatthelescar.com
Jagz, Ascot www.jagz.co.uk
The Verdict, Brighton www.verdictjazz.co.uk
Be-bop club, Bristol www.bebopclub.co.uk
St Ives jazz club, St Ives, Cornwall http://www.stivesjazzclub.com

In Ireland
JJ Smyth’s, Dublin www.jjsmyths.com

And in other parts of Europe
Duc des Lombards, Paris www.ducdeslombards.com
Sunset Sunside, Paris www.sunset-sunside.com
Bimhuis, Amsterdam www.bimhuis.nl
Porgy & Bess, Vienna www.porgy.at
L’Archiduc, Brussels www.archiduc.net
Blue Note, Milan www.bluenotemilano.com
Blue Note, Poznań www.bluenote.poznan.pl
Half Note, Athens www.halfnote.gr
A-Trane, Berlin www.a-trane.de/
Stadtgarten, Cologne www.stadtgarten.de
Unterfahrt, Munich http://www.unterfahrt.de
Fasching, Stockholm www.fasching.se
Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, Oslo www.nasjonaljazzscene.no
Casa del jazz, Rome http://www.casajazz.it

A jazz audience anticipates the night’s entertainment ahead top; and GoGo Penguin above coming to the Lescar in Sheffield soon

 

 

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She’s been on the cover of both Downbeat and Jazz Times, and with the release of her latest album Claroscuro as recently as the autumn, the multi-award winning clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone player Anat Cohen, with a finely honed individualism in her extraordinarily burnished playing, here achieves maximum impact with her down home version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’. That version alone along with her reputation Stateside should whet the appetites of UK jazz fans sufficiently to draw the serious jazz heads down to the Soho basement club she’s to play when the Israeli-born musician debuts in the UK for a first appearance in London as part of a brief European tour. With a band on the album that includes the hip Jason Lindner on piano, skilled bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freedman, all of whom are making the trip, there’s much to savour from the deep traditions of jazz clarinet onwards towards the modern global sound on an album that playfully uses the Spanish spelling of the Italian word ‘chiaroscuro’ in its title. Don’t forget to catch Cohen’s wonderful take on Artie Shaw’s ‘Nightmare’, with Paquito d’Rivera guesting, if you pick up Claroscuro. Stephen Graham 
Anat Cohen above plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London tonight 
Last minute tickets: www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk

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Thought-Fox: part of the new wave of the Irish jazz scene

Named after a Ted Hughes poem Thought-Fox are a world away from a Hughesian landscape, with the poet’s somewhat severe and even brutalistic grasp of the natural world a long way distant. With singer Lauren Kinsella’s voice the main distinguishing feature, My Guess (Diatribe) opens with the knotty ‘Nightlight’, which might have benefited, though, from being placed much later in the album. Kinsella’s advanced approach compares immediately to a singer such as Gretchen Parlato, so it’s not a big blustery wave of noise but one that favours asides and confidences, syllabic invention, and daring intervallic leaps, with a control at low volumes that can translate to a bigger effect. The singer is a confidante, as it were, to the instrumentalists who respond from her hints and cues.

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‘Ideas burning brightly’

Thought-Fox are that bit different, with a bespoke rhythm imperative, and Simon Roth on drums sculpts this alternative direction with a growing sense of unforced momentum as the album develops. By ‘Worm of Thought’ (inspired by The Waste Land) when the album gains a free improv impetus both he and Kinsella have clearly found common ground, a sort of “peace of mind” as the lyric to the title track later has it, as the singer’s ambition increases and the direction of the music becomes less mannered.

Remaining tracks ‘Malin’s Chai’ (the best melody by far and most involved band interplay), ‘Celia’, and title track ‘My Guess’ build on the promise shown first in ‘Worm of Thought’. There’s probably an even better album inside this one crying to get out but it’s clear that a fine new singer with ideas burning brightly inside and the right improvising attitude has arrived. For that in a scene often bereft of original approaches we should be very grateful. Stephen Graham

My Guess is released on Monday 6 May. Thought-Fox play the Vortex in London on 8 May

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Newly named a UNESCO artist for peace the distinguished bassist and producer Marcus Miller is to perform a concert on Friday (22 March) at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York, in a programme that will follow the slave trade route, starting with artists from Africa, the Caribbean and North America, with other artists taking part including the National Ballet of Cameroon, west African band Benyoro, singer Somi, and Handsworth Revolution reggae legends Steel Pulse.

Miller’s involvement with UNESCO goes back to masterclasses he taught at the first International Jazz Day hosted by UNESCO in association with the Thelonious Monk Institute, and next month Miller will be involved in jazz day once more. In July the bassist famed for his work with Miles Davis among others will be officially designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace in Paris and in his new role Miller will support UNESCO’s Slave Route Project and promote peace, dialogue, and unity through jazz. The international day of remembrance for the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade is held on 25 March, with this year’s theme celebrating emancipation.
Stephen Graham

Marcus Miller above
 

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Stepping out

Jay’s Jitter Jive dance night began at the Hippodrome on Charing Cross Road, just yards from Leicester Square earlier this month with trumpeter Jay Phelps leading his eight-piece band featuring Lauren Dalrymple on vocals, and Perry Louis, of Jazzcotech renown, leading the dance moves. Jay, acting a role as one of two trumpeters in the Louis Lester Band, and also on the hit soundtrack of Adrian Johnston’s music for the Dancing on the Edge band, and whose own debut as a leader Jay Walkin’ was released to good reviews in 2010, did a trial run for Jitter Jive just before the end of 2012 at Kings Place. On his website he says speaking of the night at the prestigious York Way venue: “We had a great time playing the music of the era, and we even included three tunes from the Snakehips Johnson band transcribed by Soweto Kinch.” On recent BBC2 documentary Swinging into the Blitz the death was grippingly recalled of Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnson, who was among the many to die in the Blitzed-out West End night club Café de Paris, just a few hundred yards from the Hippodrome, on 8 March 1941. Jay performed in the documentary band sequences recreating the Snakehips sound as did Soweto Kinch who has a new record out, The Legend of Mike Smith, released earlier this year, and Jay appears on it in one of the best spots of the whole affair on the ballad ‘Vacuum’, his horn set alongside the elegiac piano of Julian Joseph. SG

Jitter jive takes place on Wed 27 March. More at http://www.hippodromecasino.com

Watch some Cab Calloway jitterbug jive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N06KxYyUZkk

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Rokia Traoré
Beautiful Africa
Nonesuch ***1/2
A jazz sensibility connects with a great deal of world music. Many African artists manage to navigate their music away from too many compromises in reaching out to new audiences but inevitably (if you recall Baaba Maal’s Television) the tunes are memorable but made for a limited ‘pop’ shelf life albeit loaded with much more mass appeal potential than most jazz people could ever dream of. Malian singer Traoré’s latest begins in a very poppy way with the appealing ‘Lalla’ but the album stroked home impressively by Seb Rochford, with PJ Harvey producer John Parish on board recording not in Bamako but Bristol, moves beyond simple radio appeal swiftly enough from ‘Kouma’ on. All the songs were written and composed by Traoré, an important cultural role model for a new generation of musicians in Mali including the acclaimed singer/guitarist Fatoumata Diawara who used to be her backing singer. There’s plenty to savour, although ‘Lalla’ is easily the most accessible song even if the song structures are hardly a stretch throughout. Traoré has a gritty forceful side to her voice and there’s a vitality and a certain edge in her delivery that jazz fans best appreciate and, as her fame widens, genre niceties won’t hold back. Released on 8 April 

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Christine Tobin, Guy Barker, and John Etheridge have been nominated for jazz musician of the year at this year’s Parliamentary Jazz Awards sponsored by royalties body PPL and Jazz Services the winners of which will be announced at a ceremony in the Terrace Pavilion of the House of Commons on 8 May.

In the album of the year category, Irish singer Tobin receives another nomination for her acclaimed album Sailing to Byzantium, while Jazz FM award winner Saltash Bells by John Surman and Walking Dark by Phronesis are also nominated.

The jazz ensemble of the year nominations are Beats & Pieces Big Band, Impossible Gentlemen, and Troyka; while the Live Jazz award of the year nominations are Café Oto, Herts Jazz, Manchester Jazz Festival, and the Vortex.

Jazz journalist of the year nominees are: previous winner John Fordham of The Guardian; the Financial Times’ Mike Hobart; and The Herald’s Rob Adams who was nominated last year. Jazz broadcaster of the year nominees are Gilles Peterson, previous winner Helen Mayhew, and Mike Chadwick, often nominated at the awards now in their ninth running, while jazz publication of the year nominations go to Catherine Tackley for Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert; previous winner Jazzwise; and the website London Jazz News.

The jazz education nominees are Brian Moore, Jonathan Eno, Nick Smart, and Tommy Smith; while Services to Jazz nominees are Evan Parker, BBC producer Keith Loxam, Norma Winstone, and Stan Tracey.

The winners are chosen by peers and MPs, the judging members of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group in Parliament. James Pearson and the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars will perform at the awards in May, making a return appearance.
Double nomination: Christine Tobin, top

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Rotterdam bound: McCoy Tyner

Rotterdam’s North Sea Jazz Festival has announced details of artists to appear at this year’s staging of the long running festival, held over three days as usual in July.

On the opening day, Friday 12 July, Santana, Diana Krall, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Roy Hargrove Quintet, retro diva Caro Emerald, the Monty Alexander Trio, soul singer James Hunter, Mala in Cuba, and Lianne La Havas are all scheduled to appear. Next day Saturday 13 July has John Legend, Kenny Barron and his trio, Chick Corea’s new band the Vigil recently debuting at Ronnie Scott’s, quartertone trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, the great jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and Jazz FM gold award-winning pianist Ramsey Lewis.

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The Vigil

The middle day of the festival also sees Dutch favourites New Cool Collective, John Zorn at 60 Marathon, Michel Camilo (newly signed to Okeh records), and flamenco star Tomatito.

While there are no significant surprises, the festival this year has picked up on a high profile mix of legends and newer names in remarkable quantity as ever. It’s possible to survey great swathes of the global jazz scene over just three days spent in Rotterdam checking out the gigs held inside the massive Ahoy venue.

Also for the Saturday shows are Gary Clark Jr, Sangam featuring Charles Lloyd, the great McCoy Tyner and his Latin Jazz All Stars, Laura Mvula, Shuggie Otis, Cody ChesnuTT, Re:Freshed Orchestra, and Bassekou Kouyate/Ngoni ba.

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Dionne Warwick

The final day at North Sea this year features Sting, Kendrick Lamar, Marcus Miller, Joe Jackson and the Bigger Band featuring Regina Carter, Dionne Warwick, Charles Bradley, Bettye LaVette, Branford Marsalis Quartet, Avishai Cohen Quartet, José James, Ebo Taylor, Mud Morganfield, and Calexico. MB

http://www.northseajazz.com  

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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

 

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Ivan Lins
Cornucopía
Moosicus ***
For the first few bars of Cornucopía it’s like the beginning of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo record. Not surprising really as a South African choir is on hand to inject a sense of vibrant motion to the set. Not typical of the record as a whole, though, these songs speak mainly of the sound of Brazil through and through but with the limber German SWR big band conducted by Ralf Schmid, and the persuasive vocals of Brazilian MPB icon Lins (with a fine spot by Paula Morelenbaum on the evocative ‘Atlantida’), there is plenty of stylistic development. All the songs are Lins’: the tantalising ‘Estrela Guia’ my pick of an appealing set made up of mostly unreleased songs. It’s a slow burner that hints at a separate improvisational dimension that in itself speaks volumes for the musical imagination at play. As the samba-strewn Cornucopía unfolds, the record draws on a Quincy Jones-influenced arranging style to great effect, and the SWR respond with impeccable taste.

Released on Monday 25 March

 Ivan Lins, above

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With a programme that so far has included US jazz-rock fusion heavyweights Yellowjackets, the Henry Threadgill-inspired improv of the acclaimed Trio Red, a sold out slice of New Orleans with  Hot 8 Brass Band, pianist Brian Kellock playing the music of Fats Waller, the intriguingly monikered Trio Elf at the Blue Lamp, as well as blues hero Mud Morganfield, gospel from Ruby Turner, and Courtney Pine, the festival moves to a conclusion tonight with Trio Libero featuring the ‘King of Aberdeen’ himself: Polar Bear’s Seb Rochford. The open-minded trio with Rochford joined by Andy Sheppard and Michel Benita make their Scottish debut. More at www.aberdeenjazzfestival.com

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Marian McPartland, radio days

There’s a rare screening next week of a film that recalls the career highlights of pianist Marian McPartland, host of US public radio network NPR’s Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, the programme that since 1978 has offered a startlingly different look at how pianists present themselves both in conversation and musically.

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With Mary Lou Williams and Thelonious Monk in
A Great Day of Harlem, in 1958.

An American radio institution In Good Time, The Piano Jazz of Marian McPartland traces McPartland’s time in the States since leaving England where her jazz story began in the late-1940s and concentrates on the 94-year-old’s tunes and improvisational style down the years, recalling the Hickory House years the 52nd street jazz spot where steaks were on the menu, and sitting-in the order of the day.  
Marian McPartland, top and pictured

The screening is on Sunday 24 March at the Stables in Wavendon
For tickets and more details go to www.stables.org

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Following quickly on from the death of trad era trumpeter Kenny Ball on 7 March clarinettist Terry Lightfoot has died, aged 77, it’s been announced. Lightfoot had been suffering from prostate cancer, and passed away yesterday, according to ITV news. Born on 21 May 1935 in Potters Bar, the clarinettist and bandleader would go on to lead the Wood Green Stompers while still in his teens, having left Enfield Grammar School and following a brief stint as a reporter on The Barnet Press. He formed his own band, the long-running Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzmen, after RAF service in the mid-1950s, a band Kenny Ball was a member of for a spell. Lightfoot would continue to lead his own bands during his long career in music, although he took breaks for long periods in the 1960s and 70s to run a pub. 

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Of his records some of his peak early-1960s period has been featured on Lightfoot at Lansdowne, a compilation by trad specialists Lake, with sides originally produced by Denis Preston, better known for his work with Joe Harriott, including ‘Tiger Rag’, ‘Bali Hai’ and ‘Old Man River’. Lightfoot continued performing until last year, with fairly recent shows of his including The Special Magic of Louis Armstrong, Hit Me With A Hot Note, and From Bourbon Street to Broadway along with the Jazzmen who in recent years were joined by his daughter Melinda who survives him, as does Lightfoot’s daughter Michele, and wife Iris.
Terry Lightfoot, above

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Martin Speake
Always a First Time
Pumpkin Records 2 CDs *** / ****
Recorded over a decade ago Change of Heart was saxophonist Martin Speake’s last big statement but it took a long while to appear, eventually emerging on ECM. Recorded with the late Paul Motian, Mick Hutton, and Bobo Stenson, that album was praised at the time for its Lee Konitz-type clarity and “unhurried” playing. Always a First Time, this new double album released on Speake’s own label, an imprint that two years ago released a quartet album called Live at Riverhouse, retains that palpable sense of patience, beginning at an almost stately pace. The Konitz connection is retained, not just in Speake’s sound but in the presence of former Konitz drummer Jeff Williams returning from the quartet. Speake also dedicates ‘Ramshackle’ to Konitz.

Williams appears in an up-front role throughout the 20 songs just like the other two musicians, with guitarist’s guitarist Mike Outram also performing a crucial function, colouring the sound especially on the Puccini aria ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (dedicated to Speake’s father, appropriately). Oddly you don’t miss the bass, but Outram’s skill has a lot to do with this as well as Williams’ ability to make the drums sing.

From the heart: Jeff Williams, above left,
Martin Speake and Mike Outram

The trio covers a great deal of ground only partially explained by the extra canvas the two CDs provide. With songs dedicated to friends, mentors and inspirations Always a First Time is predominantly ballad-driven, but it’s not particularly brooding. More philosophical, and on tracks such as ‘Twister’, on the second CD, there is also a sense of abandon that a quick first listen might not straight away fix on to but is definitely there.

In the notes the author of Love and Will, the existential psychologist Rollo May is quoted to the effect that the creative artist, poet and saint, must fight the gods of conformism, apathy, material success and exploitative power: formidable foes one and all yet May despairs that “These are the ‘idols’ of our society that are worshipped by multitudes of people.” Further quotes within the artwork contribute a sense of aphorism to Speake’s outlook as does his typically thoughtful, but skilfully non-conformist playing.

Recorded in the same room, unseparated, without headphones, the way records used to be made Speake says “we all played from the heart”. And you can tell this when a song like ‘Meditation’, which crops up on both discs with two different dedicatees one of whom includes Fidel Castro, dissolves (on the second disc) into a ‘listening silence’, when you just know the players like what they’re hearing and do not need to push the tune on any more than is strictly necessary in case the mood is spoiled. The second of the CDs has the edge, as it’s a bit more open, but the more orthodox ballad-and- cool school bop approach on the first disc, with songs that include Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ and many fine Speake originals, have an integrity that is a hallmark of Always a First Time. As is its sense of the bigger picture.

Released on 25 March

 

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Kenny Garrett: intimate appearances

It’s not easy to catch, live, the undisputed giants of the music up close and personal in a jazz club. When it happens it’s impossible to forget.

Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, Charles Lloyd, Wynton Marsalis, even, in your neighbourhood jazz club any time soon? Forget about it: it’s just not going to happen. But a kid can dream.

Well truth can be stranger and even more mind blowing than fiction sometimes, and last year one of the giants of the music alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett best known for his intuitive work with Miles Davis and for his own records made a welcome return to the UK playing a few jazz clubs rather than a concert hall.

And he returns to one of the clubs, the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London tonight for two shows after last night’s opener. Garrett is reunited with pianist Vernell Brown Jr., bassist Corcoran Holt, and drummer McClenty Hunter Jr. who played London last year slaying the crowd on one of the nights with the infectious ‘Happy People’ but adding percussionist Rudy Bird this week for even more heat.

On form in the studio, it’s just a year since the release of one of Garrett’s most memorably melodic albums to date, Seeds From The Underground, yet live there’s an additional rapid-fire spontaneity from the alto man, allied by Hunter’s Tony Williams-type attack that communicates immediately.

With his trademark skull cap, still youthful demeanour and playing style head-bobbing up and down, alto saxophone in the air, or down low to the ground, Garrett can deliver elegant runs of beautifully fluid improvising episodes with at times a Mali-meets-McCoy Tyner style bubbling up from pianist Brown on original material of the quality of ‘Boogety Boogety’. Not to be missed. MB

Kenny Garrett, above

www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk

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Northern exposure

Double bassist Andy Champion and his band ACV have signed to the cutting edge jazz independent record label Babel and will launch their debut Busk early next month.

From the north east of England a relative newcomer to the national scene Andy Champion performs with Voice of The North, and with his wife singer Zoe Gilby, and for the new album Champion has worked closely with producer Chris Sharkey, of Leeds skronksters trioVD.

The Champion five sees the bassist joined by saxophonist Graeme Wilson, pianist/keyboardist Paul Edis, guitarist Mark Williams, and drummer Adrian Tilbrook in ACV whose sound is grounded in prog and free improv. 

ACV above launch the album with dates at the Vortex, London on Thursday 4 April, and the Gateshead Jazz Festival two days later. In Gateshead, in addition to launching Busk, Champion will also perform Ian Carr’s ‘Northumbrian Sketches’ in a band to include Henry Lowther, Tim Whitehead and strings.