If only the walls could talk: Terence Blanchard was reflecting on the many nights he has played Ronnie Scott’s over the years. Introduced to the stage minutes before by club managing director Simon Cooke who wished he could have booked him for more nights adding as a cool by-the-way on the biggest night of the metropolitan jazz year: “A girl at the bar told me to say ‘it’s the first night of the London Jazz Festival’."
Blanchard was in good spirits after the first night of this short stint the previous evening and this single set was ahead of a live radio air shot later on in the evening for the BBC. In his most telling comment to the audience Terence would say that in jazz: “The tradition is to break tradition", something the set would go some way to illuminate.
Kicking off with a two-prong attack in classic Messengers tradition alongside Tuczon tenorist and fellow road warrior Brice Winston the band shot into Eddie Cleanhead Vinson’s ‘Four’ with some fleetness of foot, Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan quickly in the zone. Blanchard’s old boss Art Blakey, would you guess have appreciated Kendrick Scott at the kit although he might have had a thing or two to say! Young Julliard student Joshua, “Smiler", Blanchard has dubbed him, Crumbly, is a worthy successor to Ben Williams now sky diving admirably with the Unity Band. The walking blues towards the end, trumpet against bass, had the bounce and wit of Jimmy Blanton.
Quick and agile at the kit H-Town man Kendrick Scott has taste to burn. On Twitter before the gig he said he was “stoked" for action and so it proved. Displaying great mallet touch as the set developed, and he found the sweet part of the cymbal time and again. Blanchard standing back from the action sometimes impassive at the back of the stand coming forward to pick up shakers later for extra percussion and to throw in some finger snaps upped the ante in some style but it was balladry rather than high octane blasting a feature here. He had a Friday feeling as he cracked jokes after the second number, introducing the band and talking a bit of politics but not much he promised although not forgetting to mention that he turned down an invitation to the Bush White House, to applause.
Blanchard is a tender player and one of the finest jazz composers alive, but here was generous with his bandstand and Winston’s tune the band is to record called ‘Time To Spare’ has a sinewy charm, while former band guitarist Lionel Loueke’s ‘Benny’s Tune’ at the end was a joy as ever.
Stephen Graham

Spilling out on to the street, and taking some 20 minutes or more to even ascend the stairs and get through the doors, the audience who filled the Vortex to capacity last night were there for Lionel Loueke, one of the biggest draws in jazz today from the new generation in a rare small club setting in the UK. Loueke began his three-week European tour, the first of two nights, the second tonight, at the Dalston club with his new trio.

There was a big turn-out of fellow musicians in the audience including such luminaries as  2012 MOBO-nominated guitarist Femi Temowo, Phil Robson of Partisans and The Immeasurable Code, and Indigo Kid’s Dan Messore. Downstairs in the bar, there was a circus-like atmosphere with violin enfant terrible Dylan Bates and friends including the extraordinarily bewiggged ‘Miss Roberts’ of Rude Mechanicals performing to the diners and drinkers. The place was heaving with, again, many musicians in the audience downstairs, including Dylan’s brother Django Bates, relaxing after a busy and highly successful year.

Lionel Loueke was playing with his new trio of the now New York-based but former UK jazz scene Nigerian bass guitarist Michael Olatuja, as steady as a rock on the fast mutating and ridiculously long metrical lines that flew effortlessly from Loueke’s guitar.

The third member of the band needs no introduction to fans of Phronesis as he appeared on the Camden Town-recorded live album Alive helping Jasper Høiby’s band scoop Jazzwise album of the year just two years ago. Mark Guiliana is about to tour with the marvelously monikered and exciting band Mehliana with (geddit?) the Bradster himself (Mr Mehldau in London on Wednesday) playing keyboards in duo along with a cupboard-full of electronics for good measure. Guiliana brings the excitement of a rhythm machine made flesh to the band, with great technical skill, metrical precision and abandon, and Loueke just lifted off. The new album Heritage not on sale on the night because of problems to do with shipping following super storm Sandy in New York, provided some choice cuts including ‘Ife’ (‘Love’), sung in Yoruba, and ‘Ouidah’ with its meditation on the slave trade a feature of the album, although the beginning of the set was dogged by some small sound problems. They didn’t last long and Loueke was just limbering up for some serious improvising, interesting pedal effects, and the style of a player whose presence has enhanced the bands of Terence Blanchard, at Ronnie Scott’s tonight incidentally, and the great Herbie Hancock due to play solo next week, in no small measure.

At the beginning of the second set ‘Tribal Dance’ written by the album’s producer Robert Glasper who wrote the memorably lilting melody while he was still a high school student, was a perfect start and the concert just built and built. Loueke has switched to steel strings rather than the nylon he used on earlier albums for this new phase of his career on Blue Note records, but his sound remains as unique as ever irrespective of the textural and technical changes. It has a humanity, warmth, jazz complexity, and above all spirit that you’ve got to hear. When his vocals and guitar combine there’s also a special dimension reminiscent of something Loueke’s great hero George Benson achieved in following his solo lines with his voice every step of the way. Maybe they’ll have to take the tables out if even more people come down tonight, as Loueke joked. A great gig: the band’s on fire.  

Stephen Graham

Lionel Loueke trio last night, above. Photo: Will Harris

The London Jazz Festival, which at last begins on Friday after one of the biggest and longest trails in its 20-year history, is not so much a snapshot of jazz in the capital, more a lingeringly long wide shot of the music. Think the famous Art Kane photograph A Great Day in Harlem magnify it from its brownstone building setting in New York, populate the shot with hundreds more musicians, and let the photographer go click on the widest pavement in London, with the widest lens imaginable, and you’ll not even get close to what’s about to take place.
Under the radar and away from the big names this year who include Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, the Brad Mehldau Trio, Jan Garbarek, Jack DeJohnette, and so many more, there are dozens of musicians, some appearing for the first time at the festival, who have significant profile in the UK or the countries they are based. You might have to put on your hiking gear and consult the fine print of the festival programme to track them down, but there’s considerable kudos in just doing that, particularly if your friends are sticking to the tried and tested and you just want to broaden your horizons that bit more.
One of the artists who falls firmly in the worth taking the trouble category is French trumpeter and flugelhorn player Stéphane Belmondo who earlier this year, just properly available here now, released his latest typically accomplished disarmingly refreshing album The Same as it Never Was Before, a neat absurdity on the title as playfully cynical as the understated but steely playing on the album. Belmondo is playing on the Barbican free stage, a platform where during the build up to a range of evening concerts you’ll discover some similar artists either too little known in this country yet to mount concerts in bigger spaces, or being promoted as the Finns are doing, to swell interest in national scenes only concerted showcase promotion can achieve. Belmondo was an important element on Jacky Terrasson’s vibrant Gouache released earlier in the autumn and in France he has a significant following. He’s with Kirk Lightsey, Sylvain Romano and the great Billy Hart on the album with all but Hart making the trip for the LJF. Billing is relative after all, but for such a distinguished name from the French scene to appear unheralded indicates the strength in depth at the festival this year. Bojan Z at Artsdepot is another top drawer act coming in among many. This year may just be the discovery show writ large.
Stephen Graham

Stéphane Belmondo above


http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=13822

 

Playing the Forge in Camden for the first time Christine Tobin chose the occasion yesterday to perform songs from her new 2012 album Sailing to Byzantium, matching the album selections with songs by Leonard Cohen, Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman, and at the end Carole King.

With the Margate-based singer’s band of pianist Liam Noble, her accompanist on Carole King songbook album Tapestry Unravelled, bassist Dave Whitford, cellist Kate Shortt, and guitarist Phil Robson, Tobin, whose latest album sets music to the poetry of WB Yeats with spoken word contributions by the great actor Gabriel Byrne (his recorded voice an evocative early presence here on ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’), was able to channel deep to the heart of the matter in her intelligent treatment of the peerless poetry of Ireland’s national poet. ‘The Second Coming’, Tobin describing it as ‘apocalypic’, was the most dramatic interpretation of the two-set concert, although one of Tobin’s great many strengths is that she relies on close study of her texts in terms of enunciation and above all timing performing the songs with a vocal range that makes use of a great deal of flexibility in terms of tone, and understated but hugely effective communicative quality. It could be said that having heard Tobin’s vocal versions of choice poems from the Yeatsian canon returning to the source has added meaning, added light and texture such is the finely judged sensitivity Tobin brought to the project. ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ was quite superb, and ‘Long-Legged Fly’ with lovely little syncopated touches from Shortt a strong feature of the programme dotted with delights. Tobin is also a remarkable interpreter of the songs of Leonard Cohen, and the inclusion of a few of his songs was a strong match, and I particularly enjoyed her rendition of ‘Everybody Knows’ that drew out the humour and seriousness of the lyric. Sailing to Byzantium is a quite extraordinary album, Tobin peerless and unassailable here, Yeats clearly her métier, in Cohen’s line ‘a shining artifact of the past.’ Stephen Graham

Sailing to Byzantium is on Trail Belle records

Historic jazz label Okeh is to be revived by Sony Classical, although the first new signings are still to be announced. The US label founded by Otto K. E. Heinemann, began operations in 1918 and was later owned by Columbia. Mamie Smith produced the label’s first big hit, ‘Crazy Blues’, and Okeh recording from a studio base in Chicago later in the 1920s became synonymous with what’s now regarded as classic jazz, particularly with artists such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington.

The label also was heavily known for its blues releases, but its name disappeared from view periodically over the years to be revived at different times, under Epic, for instance in the 1960s, recording Little Richard under the marque. More recently Sony retooled it in the 1990s as a blues label although the new initiative has jazz at its heart.

The label’s new Madrid-based A&R (artists and repertoire) executive Wulf Müller is no stranger to the UK jazz scene, and was based in London at Universal for many years. The executive, who is 57, grew up in Berlin and later studied politics and journalism at Vienna University.

At the beginning of the 1980s he became co-manager of a jazz club in Austria called Miles Smiles, a club that opened with Bill Frisell in duo with the great German bassist Eberhard Weber (known for such groundbreaking work as The Colours of Chloe and later as a member of the great Jan Garbarek Quartet).

Müller was also involved in starting a magazine called JazzLive, before going on to work as product manager for PolyGram Austria’s Import Music Service division. Later he started the Amadeo label with local Austrian jazz musicians, including releases by Karheinz Miklin, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, and executive-produced artists such as alto sax star Wolfgang Puschnig, known for his work with Carla Bley, and the now sadly defunct but very influential Vienna Art Orchestra.

In 1992 Müller moved to London as international marketing director for Jazz at PolyGram International, and began the Verve Nights at a range of European summer jazz festivals including the Montreux Jazz Festival and North Sea in the Hague where it was based at that time, and he worked with leading jazz artists Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln and the great singer Betty Carter.

Later as vice president of International Marketing Classics & Jazz for Universal he was responsible for international marketing for classics and jazz priorities worldwide, and signed local artists to Emarcy who he also did A&R for. Müller signed Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Michael Brecker to the label, along with many other leading artists.

The label Jazzland, which he developed with Norwegian keyboards polymath Bugge Wesseltoft, is one of the labels divested by Universal under the terms of their recent takeover of EMI. Müller left Universal before the takeover and with his wife Yolanda Chalmeta founded consultancy company All-In-Music Service, and relocated to Madrid, where their company has been active working with artists such as Sergio Mendes, producing Chinese star Karen Mok with a studio session back in London, and acting as a European tour co-ordinator for Branford Marsalis, Jane Monheit, and other artists.

Sony Classical in a statement jointly issued in Berlin and New York last month announced his appointment as an exclusive jazz A&R consultant stating that Müller will be working with Sony Classical teams in both cities bringing “new and established artists to the company, overseeing product development and supporting the international marketing of the releases.”

The president of Sony Classical is quoted as saying: “Wulf is one of the most experienced and respected executives in the jazz world and I have wanted to bring him to Sony for a long time, and for his part Müller said he is “honoured and excited to be asked to start jazz activities within Sony Classical and look forward to working with the Sony teams on some of the greatest artists in today’s music world”.

On his blog Müller expands: “It will all be jazz as usual, but this time on the OKeh label, founded in 1918 and home to many jazz greats at the time – Louis Armstrong among them.

A new chapter begins for major label jazz in a fast changing jazz record industry dominated by the coming together of Universal and EMI, the custodians of Verve and Blue Note, and the ongoing migration to digital formats and the brave new world of streaming. How the other major, Warners, will respond in terms of ramping up their jazz activity in terms of new signings remains to be seen.

Stephen Graham

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Stacey Kent performed new song ‘The Changing Lights’, first debuted in Liverpool earlier in her latest UK tour, written for her by distinguished novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and her husband saxophonist Jim Tomlinson last night at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, during the singer’s latest residency at the Soho institution, which celebrated its 53rd anniversary earlier in the week.

Informing the attentive audience that she is shortly to enter the studio for her latest album to be completed some time in the spring, as this tour for her latest album Dreamer In Concert reaches its conclusion shortly, she was coming full circle in her return to Frith Street. Because last year at Ronnie Scott’s, also at Halloween time, the singer started the ball rolling by launching the album in the UK, the follow-up to her mainly French language album Raconte Moi.

Last night the stand out song from earlier album Breakfast On The Morning Tram, ‘The Ice Hotel’, another Ishiguro/Tomlinson collaboration, was a firm highlight of the first set, but ‘The Changing Lights’, is, if anything, an even stronger, more intimate number, with a certain loneliness and big city melancholia implicit in its atmosphere and lyrics.

‘Dreamer’ worked well once again surpassed by the lovely feel of ‘Quiet Nights’, while Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s ‘The Trolley Song’ from Meet Me In Saint Louis she does so well and has recorded in the past was accomplished, even if ‘Waters of March’ was a bit more laboured than her rendition at the club last year.

Kent was joined by Graham Harvey on piano and Rhodes and bassist Jeremy Brown, regular playing partners both, but Stephen Keogh on drums was less familiar, although the experienced Charles McPherson and Tina May sideman read his part very well and gave the drum line a certain straightahead gravitas the material needs especially as the piano was meekly miked and contemplatively performed, contributing to the nocturne-like atmosphere of both sets. Tomlinson played beautifully on tenor sax (it was almost as if we were back in 1964, the year Getz/Gilberto came out) and he also switched to guitar late in the second set, an instrument Stacey had picked up to comp softly on earlier. There was a bit of exuberance at the bar later as a fan expressed his vocal enthusiasm (satisfied minutes later by ‘Hushabye Mountain’) and besides the airing of the new song the highlight, and maybe it will make the album was ‘This Happy Madness’ (‘Estrada Branca’ the title in Portuguese as Kent explained), a Jobim song again with English lyrics by the late Gene Lees, who also wrote English lyrics to ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Quiet Nights’. Jobim recorded the song with Frank Sinatra, on the Sinatra-Jobim Sessions, and this without a shadow of a doubt stole the show only just surpassing the remarkable new song.

Stephen Graham

Stacey Kent continues at Ronnie Scott’s tonight and completes her residency tomorrow

Pictured top Stacey Kent, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jim Tomlinson

Vinicius Cantuária

Indio De Apartamento

Naïve Records **** RECOMMENDED

Released next week hip New York-based Brazilian guitarist and singer (here also playing drums, keyboards and percussion) Cantuária emerges ever more prominently into the mainstream consciousness helped here by the presence of Norah Jones on Cantuária’s song ‘Quem Sou Eu’, the sixth song of 10 here, along with songwriter Jesse Harris whose song ‘Don’t Know Why’ made Jones famous in the first place. Harris appears with a vocal on his co-penned song in duo with the Brazilian, ‘This Time’, singing in English that provides some pointers to the A&R positioning of this album. That’s all very well, but thankfully Cantuária is not a mainstream bland artist and this is a quite beautiful record no matter who it’s aimed at. Bill Frisell, whose album with Cantuária Lágrimas Mexicanas was a strong seller in 2011, is on three tracks towards the end of the album and for jazz fans it’s Cantuária’s work with the likes of the great guitarist and a repertory cast over the years of maverick eclectic musical geniuses including Marc Ribot and Arto Lindsay that register most, and his appearance with Frisell in this country at Ronnie Scott’s fittingly garnered rare five star reviews in the broadsheet press.

Continuing to record with the commercially inclined French label Naïve Indio De Apartamento (‘Indian in the Apartment’), it’s the record company that has just signed Britjazz crooner Anthony Strong incidentally, the new release follows Cymbals, recorded with Brad Mehldau soon to return to these shores, alto sax man Dave Binney, and other leading lights of the eclectic non-genre jazzed diaspora.

Indio De Apartamento is not a massively long album as it’s song based in the short-form old school radioplay sense. Samba carioca (eg NYC samba) in nature first track ‘Humanos’ has a guitar-and-strings arrangement that recall (don’t run screaming) production on a massively successful Sting period in the 1990s and a song such as ‘Shape of My Heart’ while this brief atypical diversion gives way to gorgeous bossa nova on the second track. It’s soft, sensuous and the tempo on it is as good as anything I’ve heard since oh, Rosa Passos’ lovely 2004 album Amorosa. Cantuária adds many electronic textures to his music and the intro to ‘Purus’ allows a glimpse into his way of working, a gradual build that has a strong pulse and a kind of ‘wind of change’ momentum from the percussion that is very unusual. It’s a romantic album, full of sublime musicianship, soft textures that instantly compel further attention and the guests don’t distract although their input is not the strongest element of this fine album, as Cantuária is demonstrably The Man.
Stephen Graham

Pictured top: Vinicius Cantuária

The phenomenon of “your next box set”, an evening in with a DVD set of typically some quintessentially Scandinavian crime epic noir for company, a luxuriant soaking in uninterrupted subtitled emblazoned grisly goings-on in chilly climes, and fodder for the next vaguely passable social gathering is now well established in media land. To wit: the very words “your next” assuming it’s a regular pastime akin to gardening, happily flagged up in a regular spot in The Guardian. So clearly, instead of spending an evening down the pub, ruminating about the next must-attend piece of performance art, shopping for trainers, or dressing up for Halloween, it’s the thing to do. And why not while you’re at it, unless you actually prefer to go to a real-life cinema, that is, or opt for being really old fashioned and actually watch TV episode-by-episode when they’re actually on. Somehow, though, even if it is appealing with a bit of forward planning, the “all you can eat” all-of-the-time aspect of the box set-as-evening-entertainment is a little too good to be true, and it strikes me as though you need to be a bit of a glutton for punishment to really get it, chaining yourself to the TV no less, in the hope that the plot gets somewhere by the end although you’re bracing yourself just on the off chance that there’s some ending worth waiting for and not the kind, beloved of the arthouse, when the action grinds to a halt or, the big come on, stops… as if mid-sentence making sure a new series isn’t out of the question.

By the yardstick of the box set evening a four-hour opera is for softies although the path to the fridge is that bit more direct from the comfort of your sofa. But what about the “CD box set” night in? An outlandish concept you might say. Who in their right mind would listen to hours and hours of music, it’s fair to speculate, with only a few pictures of the artwork for visual stimulus, and nothing to stare at but the wall, should arty pics of image-conscious bands scowling begin to suddenly pall?

Well, shockingly, an evening in with a box set could work OK with the help of a roaring fire very possibly, a friendly hound by the hearth, hearty fare, suitable beverages, and a goodly mix of female company, with the hi-fi tinkling at just the right volume in the background.

And for the first running of this newly invented concept evening? Step forward Beat, Square & Cool, the second box set from boutique reissue label Moochin’ About. Last year the label put out the critically acclaimed Jazz on Film… Film Noir box set, and label founders record distribution sales executive Jason Lee Lazell and jazz writer Selwyn Harris have followed suit with a batch of films that retains the general concept, recognising the need for good mastering, a rarity in the world of public domain reissues where releases are often copied from less than pristine sources, the provision of detailed notes, again as rare as hen’s teeth, and plenty of pictures including original poster artwork reproduced along with the five CDs, each disc covering extracts from sometimes two films. So there’s The Wild One from 1953 and Crime in the Streets from three years later on CD1; I Want to Live! from 1958 given a whole disc; Marcel Carné’s Les Tricheurs from the same year bunking up with Paris Blues from three years later on CD3; while the fourth CD has The Subterraneans from 1960, with music by André Previn; and finally Shadows from 1959, and The Connection, from two years later, are on the last CD.

A foreword from Jazzwise editor Jon Newey sets the scene: “Out of the twilight murk of post-war film noir emerged a new strand of shadowy cinematic concepts,” and then Selwyn Harris, who writes the regular Jazz on Film column in Jazzwise, in his introduction charts how the films in question emerged from those shadows, firstly marking the teenage revolution in the making via films such as The Wild One while jazz was similarly in flux with cinema trying to encapsulate both the bohemianism of the jazz community’s take on the world they find themselves unwillingly part of, and the transformation of attitudes to music and society in The Subterraneans, as well as in Paris Blues, with music by Duke Ellington, and French film Les Tricheurs.

Harris finds the society of the day’s racial taboos are shied away from in some of these films, particularly Paris Blues and The Subterraneans but points to the growing confidence of independent film making in the United States with figures such as director John Cassavetes who in Shadows with wonderful music by Charles Mingus and an semi-improvised ethos in the film making process Harris contends allowed for greater complexity and representation of issues that few before Cassavetes would have been capable of tackling with the same degree of commitment.

While the music for The Connection is better known, the inclusion of Shadows plugs a gap in many people’s record collections, and the notes about this important though cultish film are good on details about the Mingus octet and the story of how the film came to be made.

It’s not surprising to discover where Harris’ heart lies in the selections here (with the clue in the booklet cover image bled on to the back of Cassavetes’ hands in the air, with Shafi Hadi emerging on the far left on the back cover recording the score for the film). And it’s the later noticeably more modern material that the main interest in this superlative box set lies. These Moochin’ About releases take on the marker for film and jazz set down by the quality of numerous Proper Box series,  although the design is that much more appealing and the notes so much more readable and interesting.

As full migration to digital threatens to mothball CDs at some point in the near future, detailed readable information and properly presented audio that is worth its place on your shelf for frequent reference particularly in the realms of reissues is so very valuable as it won’t be around for ever in current formats and who knows what online solutions will be found as the buccaneering spirit of digital format-finding gathers pace in the years to come. It’s extraordinary and short sighted, though, that record labels concentrate on putting out poor quality digital music as downloads (not even reissuing so much on CD these days especially if it’s owned by the majors).

So the age of “your next box set” may yet take on a different dimension. Breathe life into an old format by taking it home for an evening in and not a Wallander in sight. The 300 minutes of music on this set would make a very full and entertaining evening no matter how beat, square or cool you happen to be.

Stephen Graham

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When an artist has a signature sound, and David Sanborn, whose two-CD anthology Then Again is released today, clearly has, then a few things happen. First and foremost a lot of people copy it or modify it, and this is clearly the case with Sanborn whose sound has spawned a great many imitators on this side of the Atlantic as well as in the US.

Sanborn can also be seen as a player whose work is adjacent to smooth jazz, even though he has retained his credibility although empirically his style is not too different to generic smooth jazz as we now understand it, as this compilation covering Warner albums starting in 1975, and continuing until 1996, easily shows.

The compilation features the work of a variety of leading producers, and people who hate commercial jazz should sit down and listen to this set to either banish their prejudices or confirm them. Highlights for me are ‘Lisa’ and ‘Hideaway’ from the first CD, and the Don Grolnick arrangement of ‘Lotus Blossom’ on the second. Never underestimate Sanborn, it’s wise to say; and this well put together 2-CD set provides plenty of reasons for such caution. 

Stephen Graham

Saturday lunchtime is an unusual and quite brave time for an album launch that didn’t nonetheless affect Cloudmakers Trio too much despite the modest turn-out at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London yesterday. Kicking off with ‘Snaggletooth’ “dedicated to the noble art of British dentistry", quipped vibes player Jim Hart above, the band were performing material from new album Live at the Pizza recorded on the very spot here with Ivo Neame octet drummer Dave Hamblett deputising for Cloudmakers sticksman Dave Smith who is touring South America with Robert Plant, Hart patiently informed the audience, the latter mainly quietly intent on munching pizza in the darkness of the Dean Street basement reserving their applause for later. Fresh over on the train from Paris in the morning the trio were joined by alto saxophonist Antonin Tri Hoang (it’s trumpeter Ralph Alessi on the album) whose tone and general style at times resembled the approach of a master like Lee Konitz, and who excelled particularly on Monk’s ‘Bye Ya’ in the first set, and in the second on the bebop pioneer’s ‘Epistrophy’ with Hart explaining that everyone on stage were keen appreciators of Monk. The original material complemented the original inclinations of bebop to some extent with a vertical harmonic orientation that revelled in keenly carved out structure and strong momentum, the confidently insistent bass lines of Janisch and idiomatic drumming from Hamblett maintaining sustained interest, despite this being Hamblett’s first live performance of the material. Must have been a bit of a roast! You may have heard both Hart and Hamblett on Ivo Neame’s superlative octet release Yatra recently. ‘Social Assassin’, dedicated to Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David, was an exuberant way to open the second set, and later ‘Passwords’, from the album, was the pick of the original material, a very fine composition for a variety of reasons, particularly the shape of the piece and the fact that the band produced some spontaneous polyrhythmic lift-off, in other words, whether it was the intention or not the tune swung. I also liked the avant garde ‘Post Stone’, named after a night at John Zorn’s New York downtown venue The Stone. Maybe Saturday afternoon gigs need to catch on a bit more to gain the extra bums on seats, but Cloudmakers are worth catching live on any day of the week even in the afternoon.

Stephen Graham

A film and its soundtrack, they go together; or do they? It’s not always obvious and I’m talking about the continuity dialogue-and-music version, not the music-only separately issued one. It’s all about context, stating the obvious, choice; and above all the interpretative ability of the composer and the allied decisions to use song-based or instrumental material that already exists that can amplify the story. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master the director is reunited with film composer Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, following their previous work together on There Will Be Blood.

The music that Greenwood didn’t compose reflects the film’s period setting to an extent, and it has a jazz-tinged and popular music quality to it, relating to the 1940s following victory in Japan, the beginning of a new era as traumatised navy veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes part of The Cause, the cultish Scientology-like group led by charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, above). Greenwood’s music harnesses electronic textures via acoustic means and dense harmonic strings-laden clusters that particularly in the second half of the film, past the one-hour mark, uses clarinet a great deal. Some of the instrumentalists on the score, released by Nonesuch records on 5 November, are jazz people including former Humphrey Lyttelton sideman the veteran mainstream musician Jimmy Hastings, and a voice of the new generation, Sons of Kemet clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings, along with Zed-U bandmates Neil Charles and Tom Skinner.

The key non-Greenwood music comes in three main varieties each with particular justifications in terms of plot and context.

The first is the inclusion of the Ella Fitzgerald version of the Irving Berlin song ‘Get Thee Behind Me Satan’, chosen I suppose for its playful hint of menace and played against a show of photographs.

The second is ‘No Other Love’ (the spooky song that owes much to Chopin’s ‘Tristesse’) sung by Jo Stafford, which belongs to the Arizona section of the film where the Master finds himself, in Phoenix, addressing the first congress of The Cause. While impactful it retains a non-literal ambivalence in terms of narrative.

And finally the third song is Helen Forrest’s version of ‘Changing Partners’ in waltz time accompanied by the Sy Oliver orchestra (think the feel of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ a tune that Sonny Rollins interpreted in its definitive jazz treatment). This last song charts the ultimate choice of Freddie after his final dealing with Dodd in his mansion in England where the action moves to after some wanderings in America and quite some time after the seafaring episodes in the early part of the film.

The Greenwood soundtrack itself in the context of the film, leaving aside the songs referred to, and they are important, has a great deal of depth and an abstract logic to it unlike much modern cinema composition that relies on mood-setting minimalism as a jumping off point, or anthemic electronica even no matter the period. Texturally Greenwood’s approach adds gravitas and provides parallel, although properly allusive, commentary on the drama. It also never distracts and integrates itself organically. The Master is absorbing, stimulating, a quite brilliant piece of film-making and thought-provoking storytelling, beautifully acted and shot. It’s a film that people will, hazarding a wild guess, be talking about for a long time to come. Stephen Graham

In cinemas from Friday

With over 110 people on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Urban Soul Orchestra and Voicelab with special guest Brinsley Forde celebrated 50 years of Jamaican independence in some style with a themed concert based on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1973 classic album Catch a Fire.

Forde, pictured above right, who with ASWAD had significant chart success with songs such as ‘Don’t Turn Around’ going to number one in the charts in 1988, and ‘Shine’, was the front man of the evening standing wearing a leather jacket and sporting a baseball cap with a guitar loosely slung over his shoulder.

Behind him to his right were the Urban Soul Orchestra an eight piece strings section led by violinist Stephen Hussey, while immediately behind Forde at the back of the stage Jazz Jamaica’s bandleader Gary Crosby OBE was beefing up his double bass reggae style to suit the occasion. The bass lines were extra fat, extra juicy, the reggae beat of guitarist Robin Banerjee and propulsive drums of Rod Youngs lovingly honed, and percussionist Pete Eckford was clearly raring to go from the start, fine and choppy on congas.

Not all the songs performed were from Catch a Fire but they formed the main strand of the musical programme, including album opener ‘Concrete Jungle’, ‘Slave Driver’, ‘400 Years’, ‘Stop That Train’, ‘Baby We’ve Got a Date’, and ‘Stir It up’, the latter opening the second set with a great string arrangement involving the fiddling duo of violinist Miles Brett and Stephen Hussey. ‘Kinky Reggae’, and the formidable ‘No More Trouble’ were also performed from Catch a Fire (only ‘Midnight Ravers’ was absent), and other Marley classics featured included ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘One Love’ from Exodus for good measure.

All the arrangements were by alto saxophonist Jason Yarde who was part of a strong sax section that included newcomer baritone saxophonist Teresina Morra, whose solo early on acted as a marker for an exciting new name of note to watch out for. Harry Brown in the trombone section was as listenable as ever, and notable trumpet solos were taken by Yazz Ahmed and James McKay.

Forde was uniformly excellent, with great stage presence and a mellifluously persuasive voice, particularly on ‘Stop That Train’, ‘400 Years’ and ‘Redemption Song’, and the South Bank Centre choir Voice Lab directed by Mark De-Lisser went down a storm in the second set with their spirited sense of involvement. The audience got on to their feet and it all felt so natural. Earlier the vocal torch was carried under their own pared down auspices by the All Stars’ backing singers who Crosby dubbed “them three”, Jazz Jamaica’s own I-Threes: MOBO-nominated Zara McFarlane, Valerie Etienne and Rasiyah Jubari, whose harmonies and occasional ensemble-stealing moments were just great. Musical director and conductor Kevin Robinson’s trumpet solo at the end was also a classy touch. Hear this very fine presentation if you can before the tour ends next week, and you’ll lively up yourself for sure. Stephen Graham

Photos: Roger Thomas

The Lively Up festival tour continues on Friday night at Leeds Town Hall, followed by De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on 31 October, and reaches the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 2 November





Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson
New Focus
Whirlwind ***1/2
Better known for his tenure in Brass Jaw, Scottish saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski (above) and pianist Euan Stevenson (below) are here not appearing as a duo as a casual glance at the billing might first suggest, but as part of a quartet (Whirlwind label boss Michael Janisch on double bass and Scottish National Jazz Orchestra rhythm maker par excellence Alyn Cosker completing the core band on drums). And there’s also the Glasgow String Quartet and a harpist attached, a major element of New Focus. The album has its genesis in an Edinburgh Jazz Festival Stan Getz Focus-themed concert for which Wiszniewski and Stevenson wrote new material and performed, recording this album in the studio as a result last summer to reflect their own compositional direction with each contributing pieces included on the album. New Focus is very accessible and melodic, and the tunes are so much stronger than you’ll hear around. It is dreamier than Getz’s master work, and is romantic in the style of a player such as say the late Tomasz Szukalski or Janusz Muniak (in terms of Wiszniewski’s playing that has classic Polish jazz roots), although Bobby Wellins’ singular style circa Under Milk Wood rings a bell as well in terms of placing Wiszniewski’s highly proficient and characterful style if you are unfamiliar with his work so far. With Stevenson pinpointing influences is not so easy although he has been compared a little loosely to Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner and on this album does not embrace needless grandstanding, a big plus, as he is a nuanced performer.

There are 10 tracks and Wiszniewski is the clear instrumental voice to cling on to, or at least his role is more obvious. The softly unfolding ‘El Paraiso’ with some quizzical saxophone and dynamic pizzicato from the strings commands close attention as the album progresses, and I very much liked Stevenson’s introduction to the following track, ‘For Ray’. Brass Jaw fans will be fascinated to hear Wiszniewski in another musical situation while Stevenson’s star will undoubtedly rise both for his writing here (for instance ‘Music for a Northern Mining Town’), and the tastefulness of his overriding approach.

Stephen Graham

Released on 5 November. The album launch takes place at the London Jazz Festival on 13 November with a concert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, W1

Bobo Stenson Trio
Indicum
ECM 279 4575
****
RECOMMENDED
Young musicians relate to the past in different ways. Some adhere to it closely, some refuse to at all, consciously, at least. In jazz the past is always present, just walk into any record shop or trawl online, the new artists’ music is displayed side by side with that of the masters; at concerts they pay tribute to the greats while at the same time implicitly or explicitly make as if to say: "this is me now; that is them, then." Take the remarkable young Hamburg-based Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall who in the summer during some press interviews was talking about how much he revered the music of his countryman Bobo Stenson, the longstanding ECM artist whose new album Indicum was released just yesterday. It comes after quite a gap of four years since his last trio outing in the company of fellow Swedes bassist Anders Jormin (Stenson and Jormin’s playing relationship encompassing long spells with Charles Lloyd and Tomasz Stanko) and drummer Jon Fält.

Recorded towards the end of last year in southern Switzerland, Indicum, for me Stenson’s most inspiring work since War Orphans recorded in 1997, possibly even surpassing that considerable achievement in terms of sheer rhapsodic expression, begins with a Bill Evans tune, ‘Your Story’, which itself appeared on a live album Letter to Evan recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in 1980, a record that incidentally had to wait some 14 years for release. The Stenson trio album continues with a pair of tracks credited to the trio including the title track. Then there’s a Wolf Biermann protest song called ‘Ermutigung’ (meaning ‘Encouragement’), trio-penned ‘Indigo’, a Jormin composition, folk song by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez, George Russell’s ‘Event V1’, a Norwegian traditional rendition of ‘Ave Maria’, and the final three tracks, respectively, by composer Carl Nielson, Jormin once more, and a contemporary composition by the Norwegian Ola Gjello.

At 68 Stenson is well into his prime, and this is a beautiful and at times quite moving record, thoughtful in the best possible sense encompassing special musical insight, with considerable improvising candour and a rugged determination, but one that also indicates the vision of an improviser at the top of his game who has searched within himself at least that’s how it seems to appear given the nocturnal atmospheres evoked. Stenson is also to be heard on the recently reissued and frequently revelatory 1970s Dansere period recordings with Jan Garbarek so his present and past collide at least in terms of audio documentation. Stenson relates to what has gone before by concerning himself with the present on this new record, the here and now. Those who quite sensibly follow in his footsteps know that his past could very well be their present. Stephen Graham

Bobo Stenson pictured above

Tonight Jazz Line-Up on BBC Radio 3 broadcasts a programme that was recorded yesterday as part of the station’s piano season and celebrates the 70th birthday of pianist John Taylor. One of the most influential and revered pianists in UK jazz history, an influence on a young generation of international musicians as well as the possessor of a healthy critical reputation around the world, John Taylor since the late-1960s has been a leading fixture on the international jazz scene as a player, bandleader, recording artist and educator. Emerging initially alongside such players as tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore, the Manchester-born musician whose style has a still self-completeness to it, English, yet of no country, cerebral at times, but with a warmth that draws people in.

The solo pieces at the beginning of the concert, which included ‘Coniston’, and ‘Ambleside’, with their evocation of the places and people of the Lake District, as Taylor explained in conversation with presenter Claire Martin, were a jolt in terms of immediacy and distinctive style with their deftly probing improvising lines drawn from the pools of the pianist’s experience.

It’s not surprising in the least the influence Taylor has had on a new generation of players, including pianist Richard Fairhurst (well known recently for his work with trumpeter Tom Arthurs), who later in the concert joined Taylor to perform some arranged pieces for two pianos including the evening’s highlight for me, a beautiful rendition of Bill Evans’ ‘Turn Out The Stars’, with Taylor’s modal grasp a thing to behold as Fairhurst carried the melody line. On the broadcast Taylor is on the left of the stereo image, and Fairhurst on the right.

After the initial solo pieces heard at the concert Taylor was joined by Spin Marvel drummer Martin France, saxophonist Julian Siegel of Partisans, and Chris Laurence on bass, the latter known for his longstanding work with Taylor but also with Andy Sheppard for many years. Laurence and Taylor clearly showed their mutual empathy and the extended range to his double bass, sparingly used, captured some sense of the satisfying stillness that Taylor’s writing seems to bring out as did his mobility on ‘Calypso 53’ inspired by Kurt Vonnegut.

Late in the concert Sons of Kemet tuba player Oren Marshall joined Taylor for a duo, and then became part of the ensemble, adding an extra sonic dimension to a programme that had surprising width, but nonetheless was only a small glimpse of Taylor’s musical world. His roots in Evansiana were one of the main features for sure, and recent tunes such as music from last year’s Requiem for A Dreamer were quite superb.

Stephen Graham

The programme begins at ten minutes before midnight http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006tnmw

The well sprung dance floor of the Islington Assembly Hall used to attract dancers when bluebeat was around in the early-1960s to the Upper Street venue. Teenagers from the area and further out in Tottenham, and as far afield as Wood Green would come down to dance the night away to bands from the Caribbean.

Fifty years later Courtney Pine was in the hall last night on a classically drizzling yet warm London evening for a hometown gig to launch House of Legends, released earlier in the week on his own label Destin-e records, with a strong north and east London contingent present as his shouts outs to the different sections of the hall later confirmed.

House of Legends is very different to its predecessor Europa when Pine, a continuing inspiration for jazz in this country and beyond, continued his explorations as part of his new period bass clarinet phase having made a shift in his overriding musical conception firstly heard on Transition in Tradition and his meditations on the music of Sidney Bechet.

In some ways the new album is a return to the Caribbean, 50 years since the independence of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, but it’s also about Britain itself and ongoing important political concerns because the legends as Courtney explained include the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, a recognition of the contribution of cultural pioneer Claudia Jones who founded the Notting Hill Carnival, as well as the recollection of a historic figure such as Samuel Sharpe who led the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 in Jamaica.

With Courtney’s sisters in the audience, and his wife also present, the gig was a family affair, the audience the extended family if you like: it had that friendly, approachable and comfortable feel to it, with Pine the affable host.

The band’s approach followed a subtly different path to earlier albums such as the more reggae-inflected Closer To Home, mainly because of the presence of French Martinique pianist Mario Canonge, who had a dominant role in the ensemble, his zouk style a fresh and stimulating element. It was a bit like adding in some cinnamon in cooking up a fine dish as Pine mentioned in a different context in one of his asides to the audience, although the band, with Darren Taylor playing in his customarily forthright manner on stand-up bass and Cameron Pierre fresh from his Radio Jumbo opening set, had some deep Courtney Pine Group road experience to draw on.

Early highlights of Courtney’s own set were ‘Redemption Song’, which in the past Courtney has delivered as an encore, and steel pan player Samuel Dubois, who appeared on Courtney’s definitive large ensemble album Afropeans recorded live at the Barbican, made his presence felt, his gently lilting Caribbean swing beautifully weighted. From the album itself ‘From The Father To the Son’ was a definite standout.

Courtney, wearing a Jamaican football shirt with the number 7 and words ‘Pine’, and ‘Jah’ emblazoned on it played soprano saxophone and later EWI against closely miked piano, guitar low in the mix, carefully weighted and supportive drumming from Robert Fordjour and beacon beats throughout from a beaming Taylor who came into his own on the “sci-fi” section near the end when there was lots of treated EWI, the floaty wind sounds strafing the ceiling of the old 1930s hall like a sonic comet.

The hall’s bouncy floor got a good opportunity to show what it was capable of later in the evening that had shortly before seen Courtney tutoring the main body of the crowd downstairs to jump together in unison, complete with crashing chords and laughter all round.

More seriously Courtney made a call for unity in society through the power of music, and to any “pharaohs of industry” present to give the youth of the country a chance, mentioning an old African saying: “If you exclude the young from building the village they will burn it.”

Courtney’s stalwart and highly likeable guitarist Cameron Pierre opened the evening after a short welcome from Pine with his Radio Jumbo band featuring French Martinique pianist Mario Canonge who played quite superbly with the Wes-inspired Pierre and later Pine. Bassist Michael Bailey, the sterling percussion from super steady Donald Gamble, and drums from Wesley Joseph completed Cameron’s compadres in an ideal warm-up to the main event.

Stephen Graham

Freddie. What a great word. Freddie. Anyone who’s into jazz knows what name’s coming next. Sadly, the great Mr Hubbard has moved on to the great jam session in the sky but there are always the records, and the people who sound great in the Freddie idiom (not like Freddie, there’s a big difference, isn’t there?), are doing some great things. Just think Jeremy Pelt for one, and Eddie Henderson burrowing deep into the style in the Cookers as well.

And on a different tack with plenty to say on his own account, in his own way and his own time, and a sound you just want to bottle and enjoy at a moment’s notice is trumpeter Pharez Whitted, who plays in the Freddie domain and then some.

His new album For The People is an absolute pleasure from start to finish. It’s released on the Origin label, and it’s got Bobby Broom on it. Say no more. You may have heard the soulful guitarist with Sonny Rollins or know his own records. Broom co-produced the record with Whitted, who’s 52, and lives in Chicago where he is an associate professor of music at Chicago State. He’s also a member of an Indianapolis jazz family, the son of a drummer and vocalist/bassist, and the nephew of the great Slide Hampton. Freddie Hubbard and Wes Montgomery, both of whom Pharez’s dad played with, they even practised in his grandparents’ house, and Pharez’s brothers are jazz musicians, while one of his sisters sings.

A sextet record with 11 tracks For The People comes after Transient Journey from two years ago with a big break of 14 years before that release until the previous record. So while not prolific as a recording artist, it doesn’t show one bit, and this record just cries out to be heard.

All the tunes are originals and they’re steeped in a deep understanding of the vibrant sub-currents within hard bop that makes the music swell and froth. Take the first track ‘Watusi Boogaloo’, which refers to the dance craze of the early-1960s, or ‘Keep The Faith’ written with President Barack Obama in mind: both have got that indefinable feel of the undergrowth and energy and filters into a very hip momentum. Four more years, in 4/4, or whatever meter it takes!

Whitted’s trumpet combines mostly on the record like a boxer sparring amiably with Eddie Bayard on tenor and soprano saxophones. Bayard, Whitted taught and mentored at Ohio State, and there is good rapport between the two bolstered by ingenious and hearty support from drummer Greg Artry. Broom’s role is more subtle at times, and the artillery is provided mainly when bassist Dennis Carroll whips up the big beats thrown over from Ron Perrillo on piano. The great educator David Baker taught Pharez at Indiana University where the trumpeter did his masters, and his learning shows in the best possible manner because he performs with all that key theory in his head, as if he has a picture of the style in front of him, a knowledge of the sound and is instinctive enough not to fuss about the arcane detail but make sure the feeling is right. His days recording and touring with John Mellencamp may be long back, and a 1990s smooth diversion similarly so. But this record stands on its own, a refreshing blast of hard bop and more. If you’re always going to be ready for Freddie you’ll definitely be in the mood for Pharez.

Stephen Graham

Pharez Whitted, pictured top

When Saturday comes it’s a jazz indie record night this week at Kings Place as the Norwegian label Hubro presents two bands from its roster.

“Label night" has a certain ring to it, you don’t hear that expression so much any more, do you? But that’s not all, as the bands in question are also very out-of-the-ordinary. Because, taking to the small stage in the agreeably contemplative atmosphere of Hall 2 in the York Way venue not far away from the recently ensconced Central St Martin’s art college, are the folk/improv ensemble 1982 with BJ Cole, Cole being the famed Enfield-born pedal steel player who ages ago was in country rock band Cochise, and who has appeared since on albums by a wide range of big name artists including David Sylvian and Elvis Costello. BJ appears alongside the integrated trio of hardanger fiddle virtuoso ECM artist Nils Økland; organist Sigbjørn Apeland; and drummer Øyvind Skarbø.
Support is provided by the promising Moskus, and both bands have records out, the self titled 1982 with BJ Cole, and the Moskus release Salmesykkel, the trio’s gently loping arthouse debut released on CD and vinyl with a striking cover depicting assorted bits of slumbering statuary, and, um, a bicycle.

Very much still in their twenties pianist Anja Lauvdal, bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson and drummer Hans Hulbækmo emerged initially from the Trondheim Conservatory of Music scene, and nestling on the Hubro roster, a subsidiary of Norwegian indie record company Grappa, a label that describes itself as cherishing the album as a “physical object”, now sit comfortably alongside such contrasting and complementary luminaries as the neo-doom inclined improv-rockers Splashgirl, and bassist Mats Eilertsen, best known for his tenure in the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, and whose album Skydive got good reviews last year. Hubro has taste, and a bagful of ideas, and you will have too, very probably, if you find yourself in the audience when Saturday comes.

Stephen Graham

Moskus pictured top and 1982 with BJ Cole, above

Chris Higginbottom
Where Land Ends
F-IRE CD 63 ****
Water is there where the land ends, and in this natural element ancient and modern civilisations have always found a way of coming together, a life force. Chris Higginbottom has found his own sense of time and tide with this astute, mature quartet release, a record pooled from discipline, study, and performed here with great skill. The drummer composer has been on quite a journey that a decade ago saw him studying at the New School in New York whose new generation alumni have included Robert Glasper and Bilal. Higginbottom’s career since has seen him return to the UK following a fruitful period in the States, but it’s seven years since he released his album One. More acoustically inclined that debut outing was recorded in America with a band that included the formidable US saxophonist Seamus Blake. On Where Land Ends recorded in London at the same studio as the recent Ivo Neame record Yatra there isn’t a sax in sight, instead the album is characterised initially by the agenda-setting jazz-rock guitar of Mike Outram with former Acoustic Ladyland keyboardist Tom Cawley (who’s on another fine drummer Tom Bancroft’s First Hello to Last Goodbye), and impressive electric bassist Robin Mullarkey.

Listen to Cawley’s part say on ‘The Wide Open’ for an example of some of the light and shade on this six-tracker that thankfully does not burn itself out too quickly, although at times you’re wondering what the musical satnav of the band is set for, as clearly no one wants to give the destination away until you as a listener get there. The blues-rock that in the 1960s, on the London scene at least, jazz-rock learned from and then promptly discarded comes to the fore a little (say on ‘Taters in the Mould’), but there’s no exhausting charging about or retro cul de sacs anywhere to be found on this record even if there is the odd nod to the likes of a classic later jazz-rock behemoth like Return to Forever (in terms of what Cawley is doing) and even Derek Trucks-like Indofusion in the latter part of the record, in the hands of Outram.

Higginbottom knows how to pace things, a bit like Adam Nussbaum plays perhaps, and in his tunes he has come up with some great material for the band that is as strong as say those by drummer/composer Alyn Cosker on his album Lyn’s Une, the last time for me an essentially straightahead UK jazz drummer/composer made such an impact from a compositional point of view clearly pushing outside the core of his style. I don’t want to give the plot away too much, and this album does have a sort of narrative because the track sequencing is well thought-through, but zone in on what’s happening after about six minutes on the epic title track with the quick-as-a-flash bass line, Indo-jazz vignettes and a barnstorming guitar solo.

Stephen Graham
Released on Monday 29 October. Chris Higginbottom plays a F-IRE Festival gig that night with his band at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, London W1.

Chris Higginbottom , pictured top

Guitarist Kevin Eubanks is to release The Messenger next week, his second album for US label Mack Avenue following on from Zen Food from two years ago.

Coming out in the UK some five months ahead of its US release, the Philadelphian, who in the early-1980s was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and until two years ago was well known in the States for his long tenure in The Tonight Show leading Jay Leno’s house band, has written most of the tunes of the album with tracks including ‘JB’, a tribute to James Brown, Jeff Beck’s ‘Led Boots’, and Trane’s ‘Resolution’, from A Love Supreme like you’ve never heard it before, with a striking vocal bass line sung by Take 6’s Alvin Chea.

Eubanks’ band sees the guitarist joined by reedsman Billy Pierce, bassist Rene Camacho, long time drum pal Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Joey De Leon, Jr. on percussion with Eubanks’ younger brother Duane on trumpet on three tracks, and older brother Robin on trombone on a brace of numbers.

Explaining the title track Eubanks has said: “There is an urgency about it; it has the energy of a message that really should get across. The Messenger, I feel, is in everyone. We’re at the point that whatever it is that you feel strongly about, that can help a person or persons that you love, or a situation that affects your life…you should let that message out”.

The album opens uptempo with the percussion driven title track softly opening out to Billy Pierce’s sax line and a vibrant bass figure, with Eubanks opening up the throttle to give the band a pacey run out.

Born into a musical family on 15 November 1957 Eubanks’ mother Vera was a composer and held a doctorate in music, and Kevin had two musical uncles, the great pianist Ray and Tommy Bryant, so it was natural in a way that Eubanks would go into music. It was hardly a surprise that he firstly moved to Boston to study at Berklee with a bunch of influences in his head including the likes of John McLaughlin and George Benson, although his life was to be changed forever by touring with the great Blakey and work with other leaders including Sam Rivers.

Eubanks’ career took a fusion turn in the 1980s with a bunch of records for GRP including Face to Face and Promise of Tomorrow that perhaps did not totally show the full roundness of his musical personality. In the 1990s though he changed tack and was in a memorable trio with ex-Miles Davis bassist Dave Holland and percussionist Mino Cinelu for a while that really showed what he could do, as a stylish soulful guitarist capable of appealing to straightahead, fusion and jazz-rock fans alike. Eubanks was as recently as the summer just past playing with Holland once again for some tour dates by the much fancied band they’re calling Prism, also featuring pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland.

The tenderness of George Benson comes across on a track like ‘Sister Veil’ on The Messenger, while tackling ‘Resolution’ could be seen as a risk few would undertake lightly comes off winningly with that light funk and dancefloor-friendly feel certainly blowing a few cobwebs off some overly studious approaches to the track you might have come across.

‘JB’ takes up the mantle of that other great Phillie jazz player Christian McBride whose affection for the music of James Brown is widely understood, and this quietly engrossing song is all about the build and in this it’s clear Rene Camacho’s role is an important presence on the album, but so too is Robin Eubanks who also shines here as the trombone gathers some seriously sinuous pace. ‘420’ has great drive with a late-Milesian feel, although Kevin Eubanks’ lightly strung sound here is more reminiscent of the approach of a player such as the UK’s Tony Remy than say Mike Stern, one of Miles’ most favoured guitarists during his latter years on the planet.

‘Led Boots’ is simply infectious and may well prove to be the album’s main talking point taking its cue from Max Middleton’s penned homage to Led Zep on Beck’s 1976 album Wired. But don’t expect a power version of the classic, it’s not what Eubanks is all about. Softly insistent ‘M.I.N.D’, ‘Queen of Hearts’, ‘The Gloaming’, a beautiful charmer worked around acoustic guitar and saxophone, as is the supermelodic slow ‘Loved Ones’, all have plenty of character, but ‘Ghost Dog Blues’ with its  compelling momentum alters the scope of the album just as it seems to be becoming a little too ballad-heavy.

A very classy album indeed that marks a welcome return of a player whose quality is beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Messenger cleverly steers a path away from some sort of slick confection that would turn a lot of people off. Instead we’ll all want to talk about Kevin.

Stephen Graham

Released on 23 October

Kevin Eubanks pictured above. Photo: Raj Naik

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Finnish record label Tum has just released Ancestors by Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo, their first recording together, and for anyone who caught Wadada’s recent Cafe Oto shows a further appetising glimpse of an artist who is clearly in the middle of a fertile period artistically here in intimate duo with Moholo-Moholo, one of the abiding heroes of the 1970s-era UK and London improvisers who were inspired by the South African Blue Notes during the anti-apartheid era. Wadada Leo Smith has worked in duo with many drummers, most notably Ed Blackwell and Jack DeJohnette, while Moholo-Moholo’s playing partners over the years in this format have included Cecil Taylor and Keith Tippett.

The new album, a beauty, has five tracks, two written by Smith, two by Moholo-Moholo and Smith together and one, ‘Siholaro’, by Moholo-Moholo just by himself dedicated to his late father. At just under half the album’s length title track ‘Ancestors’ is a five-part suite that stands as the most thought provoking element of a genuinely thought-provoking album one that retains the unique ability to unify uncompromising aesthetic considerations, a sense of history and cultural context, to then combine these aspects with lucid interaction and the creative impulse.

Stephen Graham

Pictured top Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo. Artwork from an acrylic reproduced in the CD booklet by Marianna Uutinen above

ReVoice, the wide ranging jazz vocals-themed festival run by singer Georgia Mancio in association with the Pizza Express Jazz Club, was well underway on Saturday night after the return on opening night of Gregory Porter. The marvellous Gregory, newly signed to Universal and a very hot property with a busy schedule as everyone wants to hear him, nonetheless keeping up his close association with the Dean Street club, arrived a little late and as the sold out evening featured two houses, the staff had to turn around the club within minutes to get everyone in and fired up again. For fans who couldn’t be there Porter is on the great David Murray’s new album due in early-2013 and Murray told me recently he very much enjoyed working with the big man, so expect some chemistry as one of the most significant tenor saxophonists since John Coltrane teams up with the jazz singer of the year.

So second night, and a very busy club, with something of a party vibe, more of which later. The format of the festival, which moves across to the larger Union Chapel in Islington later in the week for Tuck & Patti and Raul Midón, is for Mancio, intrepidly multitasking, to open each night with different playing partners. Last night she appeared in duo with vibes player Jim Hart of Cloudmakers, reassuring the cooing audience that the black rosette on her right shoulder was a “fashion statement", and that “I’m not a Tory". These things are important.

The brief set worked well. Georgia is good singing in Portuguese and interpreting Jobim, although ‘Laura’ in more prosaic English was the pick of the set for me. Hart plays vibes like they are a piano and what I mean by that is you’re not drowning in the aftertaste of the note, a problem sometimes with this most subtle but occasionally soporific of instruments.

So, on to the main act, and singer Jamie Davis who’s also on tonight. He’s best known for his work with the Basie orchestra, and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, and without beating around the bush too much, he’s an old school deep baritone who likes to croon. People say he sounds like Joe Williams, and so I spent a bit of the afternoon earlier reacquainting myself with Williams thanks to a 1980s vinyl pressing of the old Roulette album Sing Along With Basie. OK, on Joe’s contribution to ‘Going to Chicago Blues’, maybe, that kind of song, it’s why people make the big Joe link. Whatever, it’s OK to be compared to people sometimes. Davis is definitely old school and a shock to young people not acquainted with KC-type swing, and later I thought about the first time I was in Pizza Express Jazz Club when it was a smaller place before the expansion in the 1990s. Harry Sweets Edison was on the stand and he did ‘Centrepiece’, and that theme song of his took him to the bar after the first half. It was as natural as breathing, and Davis is like that. He also says “Oh baby" a lot and was backed by the brittle but effective Leon Greening on piano, the perfect double bass accompaniment of Malcolm Creese, think Milt Hinton in his heyday, the reliable tinkling swing of Steve Brown at the kit, and highly simpático tenor sax of Alex Garnett. Davis got the crowd going on Stevie Wonder’s 1976 megahit ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’, was knowledgeable on ‘How High The Moon’, and extraordinarily found time to leave the band to its own devices to play a little fast-flowing feature called ‘Limehouse Blues’ (Limehouse as in the Tunnel), as he grabbed a beer from the bar, signed fans’ autographs, had his picture taken with a couple of young women, and returned to the stage, to much excitement. At the end you somewhat reluctantly went home. A swinging time was had by all.

Stephen Graham

Jamie Davis, top, and Georgia Mancio

During the closing weekend of the London Jazz Festival last year, the most avant garde in nature of the LJF in recent years the final Saturday programme provided a unique snapshot of how substantial and wide ranging the avant garde is stylistically within the music across the decades. For instance, on just one day there was Henry Threadgill and his band Zooid covering the A-Z of the Chicago and New York jazz avant garde supported by US-based Doncaster area pianist John Escreet, while earlier Gannets featuring moonlighting Guillemot Fyfe Dangerfield, not singing but playing piano and synths, delved deep into improv rather than strictly free jazz along with drummer Steve Noble, bass clarinet virtuoso Chris Cundy, clarinettist Alex Ward and double bassist Dominic Lash. By contrast and it was still very much avant garde but this time from the new generation of French improvisers over at the Vortex in Dalston the Coax Collectif triple bill had Pipeline, Irène and Metalophone on stage.

Two nights ago Irène returned to the club in a double bill, this time with English electronicists Ma who opened proceedings. Irène has been billed as the French version of Polar Bear and I can see why people have written this down although it’s a bit of a back-of-a tatty-envelope description, tempting though it is. The band is (and I still haven’t found out who the titular ‘Irène’ is, although it’s safe to say she wasn’t on stage) Yoann Durant and Clement Edouard on saxophones and electronics, plus the interesting sounding bluesy texturalist Julien Desprez on guitar and Sebastien Brun at the drums. Coax is a bit like the Loop collective in practice and artistic impulse, and it’s fair to say they’re where it’s at in terms of the new young French scene. They aren’t that known yet beyond la belle France and the Vortex show was alas sparsely attended, although word had seeped out among musicians and the likes of José James’ drum hotshot Richard Spaven came in for a listen, and the band complemented Ma nicely. In Ma’s mature set Tom Challenger played beautifully at the helm of a three-piece that deserves to be better known although his other band Dice Factory may well get talked up a bit more but they’re both inspiring.

Irène have released a four-track EP (pictured) and plan to release an album this year co-operating with the British Babel label for added exposure. The band has won awards at the prestigious La Défense Jazz Festival in France but like many young bands in France and in the UK it’s hard to make the next step forward even with kudos such as this. There is definitely an audience out there. The music is not massively difficult. It can be loud, it has some spiky touches and it’s abstract harmonically for sure but it is different, and pointless comparisons would not be helpful. Perhaps some of the material needs tightening, and I’m not sure about playing a soprano saxophone upside down, but hey vive la différence and go hear them if you get a chance.

Stephen Graham

Pictured top, Irène

Gareth Lockrane’s Grooveyard
The Strut

Whirlwind ***

Full marks for the album title, a neat turn of phrase, and praise too for the illustrations by one Bill Bragg with lively design from Matt Willey contributing to a strong look featuring cat-like freaky creatures in overcoats carrying musical instruments against a great dollop of red, the figures zigzagging from as far as the eye can see to up close at the front, matched with a litter of well chosen fonts. Highly rated flautist Lockrane (above, pic by Tom Cawley) has written all but one of the tunes that very often rely on the Lonnie Smith-like organ of Ross Stanley. Vocals later by Nia Lynn retain the outlook of a band that won’t be hurried, and it’s a set for connoisseurs of the soul-jazz sound from the 1960s played by some of the busiest straightahead players around. Old school for sure, The Strut is a highly likeable release that values musicianship and strong tunes played with a respect and the right attitude adhering to the best traditions of jazz from the Golden Age. 

Grooveyard play the Forge in Camden, London NW1 on 9 November, and The Strut is released on 12 November

Matthew Halsall
Fletcher Moss Park
Gondwana ***
Prolific and increasingly confident in his writing trumpeter Halsall has by now more than managed to carve out a space for himself alongside his main influences whether they are the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane or rooted in the club-scene he’s part of as a DJ and producer. Pianist Adam Fairhill delivers the necessary stillness throughout that Halsall seems to be after, and Rachael Gladwin’s harp playing is an important constituent sound in the Halsall approach and has been for a while. The album is named after a Manchester park that Halsall likes to write in and gain inspiration from, and he clearly has come up with something special here, although you need to be patient with the unfolding spectacle. Fletcher Moss Park is an album that takes its time, and it’s one that spreads itself luxuriously but doesn’t overstay its welcome too much although the seven tracks each act like an extended mood piece at lingeringly slow and medium tempos mostly. The opener ‘Cherry Blossom’ immediately demands some proper attention and the title track may well be Halsall performing at the top of his game. An album that should delight his growing army of admirers and may even blow newcomers away.

Released on 22 October

Miles Davis
Original Album Series

Warner Bros 
The latest in this elegant line of reissues (there’s a Modern Jazz Quartet release coming as well incidentally), the formula is unbeatable, the presentation effortless and crisp. OK, Miles’ long Columbia tenure is incomparable, but by presenting Tutu **** Music From Siesta ***, Amandla ****, Dingo Selections From The Motion Picture Soundtrack ***, and Doo-Bop ** in a simple card box, and five facsimile albums in slim cardboard sleeves inside, the music does the talking, naysayers can as they say do the walking. Head straight for the Marcus Miller-produced Tutu and the politically conscious Amandla (Miller co-produced it with Tommy LiPuma and George Duke), clearly the pick of the bunch. Avoid Doo-Bop although it’s a curiosity worth a little more than a passing glance if you don’t know it but no great shakes mainly as Miles was not in good health at all as he reached the end of the road. Dingo is so-so although the orchestrations by Michel Legrand and the decent tunes add interest. Music From Siesta is far superior, and like the material for Dingo has actually more staying power than the films the music was written for in the first place, as both movies sank without a trace. The only small down side of this immaculate release is the lack of info beyond song titles and basic production details. A small booklet tucked inside would have helped in this regard without going the whole hog, and there is just enough room to squeeze a booklet in. But as a working tool for anyone who thinks Miles Davis from any period should be listened to by any cultured person at least once or twice every day, a reasonable point of view, the Original Album Series late period Miles presented here is a godsend. So do yourself a big favour and grab this set especially if you only have bits and pieces of Miles’ last period. It’s just common sense. Stephen Graham

Out now

GoGo Penguin
Fanfares
Gondwana ***
Playing like EST is not a put down, it’s a compliment. Why? Well it’s not just because the Swedish band who changed the course of the piano trio are personal favourites of mine, that would be a bit crap, wouldn’t it? (Although they are, incidentally.) But it’s because they were so significant, and have inspired a host of bedroom dreamers and thinkers to found bands all over the place. So if you can play like them or rise to their level you’ve got musicianship for sure, taste as well, and good compositional horse sense into the bargain, because after EST piano jazz has never been the same. This cannot be ignored. GoGo Penguin you feel realise they have to face up to what the Swedes achieved together and like them are all about the band “as band", their individual names, pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Grant Russell, and drummer Rob Turner, are all emblazoned in a ridiculously tiny point size on the back of the CD, under the titles of their songs although these tune names are all picked out in block capitals. That says something.

Opener ‘Seven Sons of Björn’ flares up with “pop chords", a lot of fluid build, and owes everything to EST. ‘Last Words’, which follows, doesn’t, although Russell takes on Dan Berglund’s method without the extra ampage, and the tasteful use of electronics. The beginning of the title song ‘Fanfares’ again recalls the late Esbjörn Svensson, and Illingworth sounds as if he knows what he’s doing and has tackled the faintly heretical notion that there’s more to life than just music. Most good musicians know how to step back eventually because in their music they are able to draw on what life is all about, even if they don’t know all the answers. I felt this about GoGo Penguin. They don’t have an innocence in the same way that say the excellent Hamburg melodicists Tingvall trio project for instance, but Tingvall aren’t as close to EST as these Mancunian aquatically-inclined creatures seem to be. The bar with these post-EST bands is set incredibly high, and GoGo Penguin have made a good dip into challenging Nordic waters here on their debut, and the seven co-written tunes recorded in January knit well. So far, so good.

Stephen Graham

GoGo Penguin, top, and the CD sleeve above right. Fanfares is released on 5 November

The Aruán Ortiz and Michael Janisch Quintet

Banned in London

Whirlwind ****

Recorded last November live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London this quintet co-led by Cuban pianist Ortiz and UK-based American bassist Janisch and a horn section of adopted Catalan Raynald Colom on trumpet and the great MBASE altoist Greg Osby plus drummer Rudy Royston, best known for his work for JD Allen and Bill Frisell, is a hearty release, and meat and drink to lovers of 21st century bop-become-hard bop. It doesn’t sound at all like hard bop used to sound, but you can hear where this thrusting, in-your-face, kind of jazz has its roots. Imagine if Charlie Parker was 18 years old in 2012; or Clifford Brown was a 20-year-old now walking down the street and into a club, and simply blowing everyone away. Take a moment just to contemplate what their music would be like. It wouldn’t be the same of course as the music they used to play, but it wouldn’t be like this either, as these fine musicians have something to say and no one else can say it for them either in the past or the present. There are five tracks, all very long (no track is shorter than ten-and-a-half minutes) but each individually persuasive and involving. I liked Osby’s opening to ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, but the heart of the album lies on Ortiz’s tunes ‘Orbiting’ and ‘The Maestro’. Go straight there and pretend you’re in the middle of Soho as day becomes night walking down the stairs with the band right in front of you, because the club engineer Luc Saint-Martin has faithfully captured the sound in this special place so it’s easy to imagine. This record unites different generations of jazz fans who know some things never go out of fashion. In fact the concept of being ‘all the rage’ is just plain nonsense to these guys. Strictly no messing. Stephen Graham

Released on 29 October

Jack DeJohnette
Sound Travels
E One Music ****
Resonating bells and soft, deftly explorative piano are the way Jack DeJohnette chooses to begin this his latest album released later in the autumn during a year in which the great Chicago drummer has turned 70. The second track, after the brief opener, has delicious vocals from Esperanza Spalding over the top of Jack’s salsa beat and Luisito Quintero’s percussion, and there’s lovely guitar syncopation from Lionel Loueke, with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire chipping in as only he knows how. The cover with concentric rings radiating from a deepening red cymbal hub is emblematic of the ripples DeJohnette sends out not just with his virtuoso playing but his holistic musical approach, one involved in the search for the rhythm within as much as the rhythm without.

There are quite a few different line-up variations on this Robert Sadin-produced nine-tracker, with the band’s size swelling and contracting to suit Jack’s arrangements. ‘Dirty Ground’ with a vocal from Bruce Hornsby is the most accessible, with a “New Orleans-meets-The Band" vibe, and a great downhome shuffle from Jack who co-wrote the song with the man DeJohnette in the notes refers to as ‘The Bruce’. Rolling Stones saxophonist Tim Ries adds great soprano sax on the song, and Loueke shows his range with some funky licks on a tune the lyric of which points to the need in New Orleans or anywhere for that matter not to give up or give in!

‘New Music’ arranged by DeJohnette for just quartet with Spalding on bass this time and more Ries is followed by the expanded Caribbean-flavoured ‘Sonny Light’, then the title track and two other deeply engrossing tracks, including a lovely spot from Bobby McFerrin on ‘Oneness’ written for Gateway, and Jason Moran cropping up on ‘Indigo Dreamscapes’ leading eventually to the meditative Abdullah Ibrahim-flavoured ‘Home’, with DeJohnette on piano by himself, back as it were to where it all began on piano before the drums took him into another sphere entirely.

A wonderful record, beautifully conceived and communicative throughout, with plenty going on from start to finish. Jack’s just about the greatest jazz drummer alive, and this record shows a spread of just a little of what’s he’s all about in a career that has seen him play with everyone from John Coltrane and Miles Davis to Charles Lloyd, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Jack DeJohnette is leading a fine quintet in the UK in November to support the release, and dates are: RNCM, Manchester (13 November); Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds (14 Nov); Corn Exchange, Cambridge (15 Nov); Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (16 Nov); Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham (20 Nov); and Sage, Gateshead (21 Nov). Stephen Graham

Pictured above: Jack DeJohnette

Cast your mind back to last year’s London Jazz Festival and the Impulse Records night. Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, joining the trio of the great pianist and composer McCoy Tyner, forever associated with the John Coltrane Quartet, was there on stage, as was a suited and booted José James performing a concert at the Barbican themed around the John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman album.

Two years earlier, this time a few miles away at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, James was the headliner, following on from the promise of his album The Dreamer but again channelling Coltrane with the gig catching fire on ‘My Favorite Things’ and the tremendous opening to ‘Equinox’ the song that first caught Gilles Peterson’s ear when the DJ signed him to his label Brownswood although the song could not be included on the album. So you had to hear it live. But when the singer now 34 who’s from Minneapolis but living these days in Brooklyn moved to the highest end of his range harmonising with soprano saxophone on ‘Naima’ it was plain for anyone there on the night that James was truly special. But the conundrum remained: which direction would he go in?

There’s been a fair amount of water under the bridge since even the LJF date just under a year ago with McCoy. James has returned to a clubbier vibe, and was signed to Blue Note this year most recently in London supporting Robert Glasper at the iTunes fest in the Roundhouse and playing Shoreditch’s Bedroom Bar the following night. No Beginning No End, his first release for his new label, does not come out until towards the end of January next year, but such has the buzz been already it’s a good chance before all the fuss around the physical release to look ahead to what promises to be a huge breakthrough for the talented singer. The 11-track album has a very clever retro feel to it, gathered around songs like the insistent laidback third track ‘Trouble’, a song that recalls the impact of hearing a song such as ‘Rehab’ for the first time. It’s clear that the album is a game changer for James moving him into a different area within popular music but retaining enough interest to appeal to jazz fans who have followed his career from the early Brownswood days. Soul seems to be more a natural fit for James than his earlier dabblings in hip hop, say, on the album Black Magic. The rest of the new album is just as strong and for me ‘Bird of Space’, the ninth track is the ultimate song on the record with lyrics and music by James with Fender Rhodes, guitar and drums although it doesn’t have the instant appeal and groove of ‘Trouble’. It might stay with you longer, though. The album opens with ‘It’s All Over Your Body’, which has a seductive feel that increasingly is also James’ direction. Bassist Pino Palladino who is one of the producers of the album, along with JJ and Brian Bender, appears on most of the tracks, and there are some guest vocalists for James to duet with, for instance Hindi Zahra on ‘Sword and Gun’, and Emily King on ‘Heaven on the Ground.’ This is soul coming at you from a very different angle to say Gregory Porter on Be Good, but the two have things very much in common, supreme musicianship and individualism, however James even plays with the fine keyboards player Grant Windsor and broken beats drum stylist Richard Spaven, the piano/drum team who perform from time to time with Gregory and who joined him for his Pizza Express Jazz Club show in July when Jamie Cullum guested.

Alistair White who was performing with Van Morrison at Ronnie Scott’s this week sounds great on trombone as does the trumpeter Takuya Kuroda who makes you think back to the freshness of acid jazz horn sampling days when Blue Note opened up the vaults back in the 1990s for DJs to breathe some new freshness into the old stuff, and Lee Morgan became a kind of hipster king all over again. Kuroda and White sound mighty fine together as they did live at the Roundhouse. The other track worth mentioning at this stage is ‘Vanguard’, and it’s every bit as good as ‘Trouble’, again with lyrics by JJ but music by Robert Glasper no less, with Glasper on Fender Rhodes, Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave on drums and Palladino again.

So an album to get excited about and look forward to, and a great way of working towards that old music industry phrase built on a certain intuitive common sense, leaving aside the Ray Charles resonance, but retaining that feeling you just know once you’ve heard the magic even once: jazz + soul = genius.

Stephen Graham

Pictured José James

Here’s a version of ‘Trouble’ in session: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Gz2kqOupCI

Guy Barker has arranged a new suite based on Kind of Blue with his jazz orchestra joined by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to be recorded for radio broadcast.

The trumpeter and bandleader, film composer and arranger has had a high profile year with a Proms appearance, and in November he’s involved once more on the opening night of the London Jazz Festival when he conducts and arranges for a host of singers and his jazz orchestra at the Gala Vocals night held in the Barbican,

Before that for this one-off highly ambitious project Barker with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is combining in a presentation later this month called Miles Symphonic: The Music of Miles Davis at the glitzy Blackpool Tower Ballroom in the much loved Lancashire seaside resort.

Last year the BBC Philharmonic launched the first of a series of concerts of which this is the latest and what’s intended on this occasion is that Barker and his orchestra team up with the Philharmonic for a Milesian evening to be broadcast live.

The BBC Phil has broadened its horizons with cross-genre collaborations in the past few years featuring the likes of indie band the XX and singer Richard Hawley, but this is something of a first in terms of a major jazz project for them. The concert is on 17 October, and tickets are available through a ballot at www.bbc.co.uk/tickets until 8 October.

Stephen Graham

Guy Barker pictured

Michael Formanek
Small Places
ECM 370 9441 **** PICK OF THE WEEK

State of the art improvising with a forceful presence and massive attack, a mighty fist in a velvet glove, bassist Formanek’s quartet with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver (pictured above) is on fine form here, following on from their 2010 album The Rub And Spare Change. Berne has clearly moved into a new space with this band, building on the experimentalism of the past, his fascination with the music of Julius Hemphill and much else, and now with nothing to prove just letting it all hang out. Cleaver, expect to hear him on Tomasz Stanko’s next album for ECM, is peerless, pulses appearing, dying away, finding hidden rivers in the improvising stream. As for Formanek he’s the ringmaster in a very special circus. If you want to be obsessed by at least one CD this month then this is it.

Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias
Swept Away
ECM 279 4574 ***
Joe Lovano is the topping on the cake on this very classy quartet record of bass and piano husband and wife team Johnson and Elias also joined by Joey Baron on drums. There’s plenty to savour either via Elias’ own compositions or reliable mainstays such as the folk song ‘Shenandoah’. For sheer musicality it’s hard to beat. But Elias is probably at her best elsewhere interpreting the music of Bill Evans, or the way she adds that special touch to a samba or bossa, yet here she gets very close to her own formidable benchmark.

Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin
Live
ECM 371 4093 2CDs ***
There’s something very unearthly still about the band Ronin, and a feeling the more you listen that it is very much in a category of its own and that can be a lonely place. The minimalism still retains a zing to it despite its pristine cool facąde and all that confusing nonsense about “zen funk". The moduls are as mysterious and slightly chilling as ever, but there is change afoot as Bärtsch introduces a new bassist Thomy Jordi while Björn Meyer moves towards the exit door. I’m not sure if this release sustains two CDs, but it’s elegant, thought provoking and beautifully played, yet somehow not quite as compelling as in the past. Think twice before committing to this one unless you’re a diehard fan.

Stephen Graham

And who would disagree with Miles Davis quoted above? It’s months off but Ahmad Jamal’s return to play a concert in this country is surely as good a reason as any to have at least one reason to be cheerful on this intermittently dank and typically autumnal Monday.

2012 has been pretty good for Jamal watchers even though the great man has been nowhere to be seen in the UK because in February the illustrious French record company and distributor Harmonia Mundi inaugurated a new jazz label Jazz Village partly in his honour with a Jamal album and Blue Moon more than lived up to even the highest expectations surrounding its release. Surely one of the greatest piano albums in and of the classic jazz tradition in the last decade it featured a stellar trio at its core specially convened for the session performing Jamal originals and choice standards. The great Pittsburgh-born pianist, who turned 82 on 2 July, along with Frank Sinatra counts as a seminal influence on Davis, with Miles typically going out of his way to catch Jamal’s shows when he was passing through Chicago. But besides this historical link Jamal through his Pershing recordings created at the Pershing Lounge from 1958 where the pianist laid down his best known recordings along with bassist Israel Crosby and drummer Vernel Fournier that not just sold in very large numbers but also provided a snapshot of a music that would be changed irrevocably in the years to come by such innovators as Cecil Taylor, the free jazz movement and its socio-political and cultural consequences, and later by the demands and challenges of jazz-rock. Miles being a scholar of the music from a strictly bandstand point of view would incorporate Jamal’s treatments of ‘But Not For Me’, ‘Billy Boy’, ‘The Surrey With The Fringe On Top’ and more besides into his own repertoire, while at the same time realising intuitively that a milestone had been reached, a there-is-no-turning-back moment and above all a realisation that jazz piano would never be the same again. Jamal, as a master of improvising on standards and original song-based material, in performance can take on the mantle of an Erroll Garner at times as a starting point and layers hugely impressive rhapsodies and serenades almost at the drop of a hat. He’ll quite often, gaffer-like, stand up by the piano, turn his back to the audience to communicate further with the trio, and then sit down to resume the flow. With an extensive discography since the 1950s, in more recent years with the French Dreyfus label, Jamal has a big public across Europe particularly in France and Germany and although he was a fairly regular visitor to the UK in the past it’s now almost five years ago since his last appearances, sadly at an inexplicably poorly attended Ronnie Scott’s when he nonetheless played immaculately. Jamal was honoured by the French government becoming an officer of the order of arts in 2007, and has received many more honours over the years in the United States. Blue Moon features the elegant bassist Reginald Veal, well known for his work with Wynton Marsalis, and more recently Cassandra Wilson; plus the formidable New Orleansian Herlin Riley on drums. They are also joined by former-Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena, who has toured with Jamal extensively in recent years.

Stephen Graham

The Ahmad Jamal concert is on 8 February 2013 at the Barbican http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=13715

Taking its name from a story about “active dreaming" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Eyes of a Blue Dog is set to debut Rise on Babel Records although the band’s release date is to be confirmed. The Dog, as they surely will be known (?!), are a three-piece vocals/trumpet/drums electronica band filtered via 1970s Milesian metafunk and the release is surely a winner if early advance listens are anything to go by.

The record is a challenging new departure from trumpeter Rory Simmons, here with drummer/electronics head Terje Evensen and singer Elisabeth Nygård-Pearson, with a tiny walk-on part from bassist Chris Hill on the third track ‘Marble Faces’.With tunes written by the Dog mixing Agharta-like flavours without keyboards the artwork betrays no clues to the music inside the slim advance label copy apart from the colour blue, an inspired pantone selection by the designer it must be said, with green lettering cut out of leaves from an artfully blurred potted plant (actual artwork not shown in case you were wondering). Gardeners do get in touch with the botanical description of this particular variety. Scissors on the back do lend a clue, though, to some of the sonic finessing, no actual tape and snippers involved, but a suitable battery of digital studio software. This though is not a barrier and wouldn’t even prevent Rise coming off well live as the compositions although open ended feel solid enough to play in a live format. It does come across like a more in-your-face version of the approach of someone like post-Khmer Nils Petter Molvaer particularly so on ‘Marble Faces.’ 

      

The femme fatale vocals (particularly On ‘Reject the Rhapsody’) add a slightly disturbing edge to the direction of the playing in keeping with one of the characters in the story the band takes its name from and tunes are more industrial than say what Bob Belden is doing. The title track has a kind of updated downtempo feel with the matter-of-fact voice of Nygård-Pearson a feature on some but not all tracks. Intriguing. 

Stephen Graham

Updated: with 19 October launch night photo taken at the F-IRE Festival in Pizza Express Jazz Club, above, following the official CD and vinyl release on 8 October subsequently confirmed

 

Barb Jungr
Stockport to Memphis
Naim jazz ****
People who like and even love jazz, despite what a few purists think, actually like other music “as well as" the word with four letters rather than, in curmudgeon-speak, “instead of" it, as if they’re giving up being a member of a club that they don’t actually have to be a member of in the first place. Well, Barb Jungr is a singer who many jazz people really like and work with, and it’s not at all surprising as there is an integrity, musicality and liveliness about what she does although she couldn’t really be called a jazz singer, her music just runs parallel to it. She can take the odd wrong turn though and I personally did not warm much to her Dylan or Elvis albums, but completely agree that her forte is in chanson or related material of which she is a subtle and knowledgeable interpreter. Certainly, she has a strong reputation in this area, but her eclecticism I suppose means that people who like her approach dip in and out depending on the angle she chooses for her latest project.

Produced by pianist Simon Wallace who also performs on the album and a collective personnel of Rod Youngs on drums, Neville Malcolm double bass, Jenny Carr, piano, Natalie Rozario cello, backing vocals from Mari Wilson,
Ian Shaw and Sarah Moule, Gary Hammond percussion, Mark Armstrong trumpet, and Roddy Matthews guitar, there is a broad selection of well known songs presented here with five originals Barb has co-written, including the title track partly referencing the town she grew up in, although the Memphis bit is a little more complicated but all is explained in the title song. These days when it’s fashionable for singers to project at the tops of their voices it’s refreshing to hear a singer who doesn’t sing as if she’s yelling to quell the racket all the drinkers at the bar might be making. OK, the downside might be it can be too cosy, but that’s not really Jungr’s way. ‘River’ for instance is very unJoni-like, and sometimes on whatever the material she chooses the approach of someone like Sandy Denny springs to mind instead as a sort of benign presence. Jungr’s strength is the way she narrates a song, gently leading you in for a fulfilling dialogue in song, maybe involving, maybe not; autobiographical perhaps, like ‘New Life’, or more out on a limb as on the passionate ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the best cover song on the album for me because of the light and shade, and the way she loses herself in the material. Other songs include Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’, Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’, Hank Williams’ ‘Lost on the River’, but it’s the new songs that are interesting as well, particularly ‘Urban Fox’, a wonderful metaphorical lyric, and quietly dark with it. A great late-night listen. Stephen Graham

Barb Jungr continues at the Hippodrome, Leicester Square in London on Friday and Saturday. Stockport to Memphis is released on 22 October