It was the first Soho Session at Pizza Express Jazz Club last night, a special invitation-only affair when the club went to some pains to put on a fine array of talent. Music manager Ross Dines hovered by the stage while over at the sound desk “voice of the club" sound engineer Luc Saint-Martin was happily twiddling the knobs of a specially installed state-of-the-art audio system set up for the night. The club has been toying with upgrading the sound in the basement space for some time and this was a key opportunity to put the kit through its paces although it all goes back in the box today.
Beat boxer extraordinaire Shlomo opened proceedings with his uncanny technique and the capability, with the help of a Loop Station and bags of natural talent, to resemble a complete band not just a guy standing there making odd noises into a pair of microphones. I liked his Public Enemy-type rush at the beginning and he accurately built up some Michael Jackson-type routines later. But the novelty faded after a while, although it was big fun. Happily the crystal-clear sound system definitely captured every hi-hat lick, the pop of a Shlomo snare and more in amazing clarity.
Next up was singer/songwriter Mara Carlyle who was accompanied by Nick Ramm on piano. Drenched with what sounded like reverb or some textural wash her voice has nonetheless a delicate freshness about it and she performed an engaged set accompanying herself on ukulele and adding a remarkable turn on musical saw later. Frail and delicate her stage persona may well be but she has a strong folky voice, like a female Jeff Buckley, with lots of interesting contrasts (her take on Schumann ‘I Blame You Not’ [‘Ich Grolle Nicht’] came off best) although some of the stage patter was a bit on the twee side.
Jamie Cullum was the surprise guest making a return to the club after his Big Audition concert last year. Trialling new material, he’s preparing his latest album, “if you talk to my manager", he joked to fans earlier, “he’ll tell you it’s coming out next week!" Cullum sat at the Steinway as if it were his second home, and got the audience on side and some of the singers present harmonising along to the mambo-hinting opening song ‘When I Get Famous’, about a schoolboy’s unrequited love for a girl and the feelings he has about her rejecting him.
The lovely ballad-like second song, ‘Save Your Soul’, hit the mark almost in the vein of his still unreleased ‘Rayleigh Road’, and he finished it off by romping home with ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ on a day that Mara Carlyle had noted giggling was “the hottest day of the year". You’re always on a hiding to nothing with a weather song, but Cullum is comfortable on classic songbook material like this so everyone’s luck was in.
Gregory Porter then charmed the audience and I really envy people present who had not heard the Brooklyn-based Californian before. A great sensory overload even if you’ve heard him umpteen times. Here, he was on his way "through" Harlem he twinkled changing the preposition from ‘to’ in his evocative homage to Langston Hughes and Marvin Gaye and the unrecognisable face of an America and a New York only a thoughtfully wistful song and great singer such as Porter can adequately convey. With José James’ drummer-of-choice Richard Spaven, gutsy tenor sax from Ben Castle and soulful Grant Windsor on piano plus lively bass from Chris Hill, this was a party performance fun but serious, of the moment yet of the past. Such a great talent and a joy to listen to on any occasion. I could listen to ‘Be Good’ all day long. Mr Bojangles himself would be proud.
Gregory Porter on the microphone and Jamie Cullum pictured above last night at the Soho Session, with Chris Hill on double bass at the rear of the stage and Ben Castle standing with his tenor saxophone
In a day and age when it’s so easy for a musician or band to slip under the radar, particularly as they enter middle age, saxophonist Yuri Honing who turned 47 earlier this month although still massively young by most jazz yardsticks (!) was pre-Bad Plus one of the pace setters in terms of the new post-jazz movement.
That’s ‘post’ in the sense of Coltrane on the one hand, and post in the sense of ‘punk’ on the other.
A Generation X-er from the Netherlands, Honing emerged quietly at least internationally like so many Dutch jazz people at first, forming a trio, which in 1996 made waves with Star Tracks. In essence they took absurd songs by the likes of Abba and The Police and tore them up note by note much like The Bad Plus would do and still do.
Never too arch, but very knowing and ironic in a classic post-jazz way, Honing with bassist Tony Overwater and drummer Joost Lijbaart paved the way for a new cynical generation wishing to question complacent attitudes grown unwieldy by both the excesses of free jazz and the posturing of certain strands of jazz-rock.
It’s easy to make the link to more recent improvisers such as Pete Wareham of Acoustic Ladyland who would emerge a little later in the UK.
Honing and Lijbaart are still playing together, and on their latest release True, recorded in Berlin to be released on the Amsterdam-based Challenge Records on 17 September, are joined by pianist/harmonium player Wolfert Brederode – remember his fine quartet album Post Scriptum ECM put out quietly last year? – and bassist Ruben Samama.
Most of the songs on True are Honing’s own, apart from a cover of Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp’s ‘Paper Bag’; a tender take on Bowie’s ‘Bring Me The Disco King’ from his 2003 album Reality; and a new song ‘Nobody Knows’ by the bassist Samama.
Honing sounds infinitely more at ease here than the last time I heard him live with his band Wired Paradise in 2010 during the Cork Jazz Festival.
Tracks are ‘True’, ‘Paper Bag’, ‘End of Friedrichsheim’, ‘Borchardt’, ‘Paper Bag (reprise)’, ‘Bring Me The Disco King’, ‘Yasutani’, ‘Nobody Knows’ and ‘True (reprise)’.
Certainly not a long album it’s more than worth your while and has a brooding interior vision few albums these days get close to achieving.
Yuri Honing Quartet (pictured, above) plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 20 September. Photo: Jean-Boris Szymczak
The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars are going to be right at the heart of the action during the Olympics playing for no fewer than 17 nights at what’s being talked up as the closest venue to the Olympic Park.
The claim might not be that fishy, do read on, as from 10pm until Ronnie’s official closing time of three in the morning, the atmosphere of the Soho club is to be beamed east to Forman’s Fish Island at Stour Road on Fish Island appropriately enough for this Moby Dick-like run.
Apparently they’re ready to recreate the atmosphere of Soho on the banks of the Lea in this restaurant that’s come from nowhere just like the Stadium although the firm backing it is a London foodie institution and the place will stay open until 4am. The man behind the booking Lance Forman pops up in disembodied virtual maître d’ style on their website to elaborate. It’s all about “world class sport with world class jazz, cocktails and late-night dining." So, er, volleyball in the kitchen, table tennis on the bandstand, 100m dash to the bar, that sort of thing?
Maybe not, but fair play to the brains involved with the booking as it’s only a short hop from the Olympic Stadium and you can bet the music will be of Olympic standard as the effortlessly classy pianist James Pearson is on hand with his repertory rolling roster of seasoned players in the band with singer Natalie Williams always a popular luminous and soulful presence. She might even dye her hair specially for the run, who knows. Apparently the closing ceremony night will feature someone special so check their site for updates. Stephen Graham
James Pearson pictured above
Flying into Genoa airport on a humid July day the first thing that hit home is how close the tarmac of the runway is to the lapping waves of the sea. The modest heat of an overcast morning was nonetheless a welcome blast of goodness after the dreary English summer so far and matched the warmth of the prevailing reddish hue of many buildings along the way as the speedy cab driver drove like a bat out of hell from the airport to the hotel ahead of the gig in the evening.
Genoa has Italy’s largest port and there on the horizon as we sped along it was a cinch to spot slumbering tankers and ferry boats alike, just little dots in the distance. I was over in the Ligurian city to review a double bill of two bands, Planet Microjam from the United States and Interstatic from Norway who were to appear at the city’s Gezmataz Jazz Festival in the evening mounted by their London-based label RareNoise records on an open air stage at Porto Antico, the ancient port, now pedestrianised and revamped following a major overhaul in the 1990s. Trendy restaurants, little boutiques and tempting cafes were all scattered about the streets close to the venue, with old cotton warehouses, like old warehouses everywhere these days, used for everything except their original purpose. The seemingly ubiquitous architect Renzo Piano – he of the Shard and the ongoing reconstruction of Valletta’s historic city gate – has also been busy at work in Genoa creating the Bigo, a big quasi sculptural statement in the harbour resembling out size cranes or monstrous daddy long legs as part of a big development.
Before the gig at the Arena del Mare I joined members of Planet Microjam and Interstatic and personnel from RareNoise for dinner at a long table set out in front of the Rossopomodoro ‘Red Tomato’ restaurant (house speciality: Neapolitan pizza), and the pizza seemed to go down a treat washed down with a little vino. RareNoise is a London-based label, less than four years old run by the winningly enthusiastic Giacomo Bruzzo, who just recently brought the great Bob Belden to London for some rare dates. The label prides itself on promoting experimental non categorisable artists of note and both the bands to play later in the evening fit this aspiration completely. Giacomo introduced the musicians to the small but appreciate audience with first up a rare sighting of expat English organist Roy Powell, now living in Norway, whose band Interstatic chimes completely with the current wave of young prog jazz bands like Troyka and WorldService Project making an impact on the scene back in England.
Opening proceedings Powell on Hammond organ was joined by Tord Gustavsen Trio drummer Jarle Vespestad in unlikely jazz-rock mode along with tasteful guitarist Jacob Young playing in a bluesier style than you’d expect from his work for ECM. Powell channelled Keith Emerson and even the late Jon Lord into his lively style but explained to the audience that Interstatic play like Tony Williams’ Lifetime, most evident on their tune ‘The Elverum Incident’, but with a few modern twists. Yet the band took leave of this inspiration many times during a set only slightly hampered by a pedal of Young’s guitar needing to be replaced. Playing material mainly from the eponymous Interstatic release Powell got well and truly stuck in like some sort of hippy organ guru griot specially attuned to the sultry Genoese night.
Microjam were something else entirely, an experimental microtonal band led by David “Fuze” Fiuczynski who with his trademark double necked guitar specially tuned to allow for the band’s distinctive quarter tones, rocked up with the microtonal keyboards of young Turk Utar Artun to his side, although the main direction came through his duetting with English violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies. Kansas City drummer Alex Bailey, and the colourfully dressed Memphis bass guitarist Dywane ‘MonoNeon’ Thomas, who plays his bass guitar right handed but upside down, cooked up a mysterious heat around ‘Micro Emperor’, a fragment of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto.
Now heading up the Microjam Institute at Berklee in Boston Fiuczynski’s set based on music from the Planet Microjam record was a compelling snatch of a style of music you rarely get to hear, certainly not in a jazz setting. Sun Ra’s ‘Sun Song’ originally on the 1957 album Jazz By Sun Ra was for me the outstanding performance of the night, and let’s hope we hear more on this side of the Atlantic again from Helen Sherrah-Davies who like Fuze also teaches at Berklee.
Fuze is back with a great new concept to run with. It’s up to the rest of the jazz planet to catch up with this particular rare noise.
Flying out of Genoa the next day there was a chance to reflect on how all this new music will sit with listeners coming to it for the first time. The music is clearly out there but has a distinctive enough character to make it stand out from all the rehashes and reimaginings circling around the European festival scene this summer.
Fuze faces the future head on with Microjam. and Interstatic somehow have managed to breathe new life into the tired organ trio formula, no small feat for sure.
– Stephen Graham
Read my review of the double bill in the September issue of Jazzwise. Gezmataz poster (pictured, top), Interstatic, and David Fiuczynski
Ever wondered what the inspiration of ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ was? No, me neither, but hearing ‘Taj Mahal’ on this handy nicely packaged double CD overview of Jorge Ben’s output anchored firmly in the 1960s and early-70s is a white light moment.
Daniel Herskedal, Marius Neset
Neck of the Woods
Tuba meets saxophone essentially on this unlikely but compelling introduction to new tuba phenomenon in the making Herskedal (above). There’s a superb arrangement of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’ among many delights here, although the album does dip into classical waters a little too much. Neset goes from strength to strength if hearing too much tuba in one go palls but it’s their empathy that impresses even more.
Sketches of Africa
First album in five years by the popular UK-based Italian guitarist (pictured above). While for some his sheer eclecticism means Forcione is hard to pin down, here all the strands of his musical personality knit together rooted in Africa. ‘Madiba’s Jive’ written for Nelson Mandela is a fine addition to the large body of music inspired by the great statesman.
Tom Bancroft: Trio Red
First Hello to Last Goodbye
Interrupto **** PICK OF THE MONTH
A welcome return from the influential Scottish drummer and educator Bancroft (above) with his trio of pianist Tom Cawley and bassist Per Zanussi. There’s noticeably more discipline in Bancroft’s approach these days, especially if you compare this album to the early output of Trio AAB. Highlights here include an unlikely segue into Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’ via Joan Armatrading’s ‘Opportunity.’
He’s one of the biggest draws on the UK jazz club circuit and yet virtuoso guitarist Antonio Forcione lacks the profile that many musicians of his stature achieve. Not that he’s complaining, and those very much in the know are surely relishing next month’s three-week residency at the Edinburgh fringe.
The fringe is almost a home from home for the popular Italian London-based guitarist whose signature style encompasses contemporary jazz, world music and the strains of flamenco guitar.
Forcione has been performing in Edinburgh for some 20 years, but this year he unveils material from his latest album Sketches of Africa for the first time which to my ears on early listens sounds like one of his most effortlessly accomplished recording sessions in a long recording career.
Forcione is joined on the album by his core group of Adriano Adewale, Jenny Adejayan and Nathan Thompson, while musicians from Senegal, Zimbabwe, Gambia, South Africa among other countries make the release in typical Forcione style music without national boundaries or forced genre constraints.
In Edinburgh Forcione is appearing with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita and drummer Dado Pasqualini from 2-11 August at Venue No 3, and later in the run by Salvador’s Anselmo Netto and folk-latin bassist Matheus Nova from 12-27 August.
Antonio has been based in London since 1983 and hails from southern Italy, born in a village on the Adriatic coast. His musical journey began as a busker in the tourist heavy streets of Covent Garden, but he soon began to tour widely forming a regular quartet and releasing albums. In the 1990s he also was part of a musical comedy group Olé and in Edinburgh has won awards such as Best Spirit of the Fringe as well as awards in his native Italy.
Sketches of Africa, Forcione says on his website, was inspired by his many travels on the Continent and is his first release for five years. Opening track ‘Madiba’s Jive’ was composed as a tribute to Nelson Mandela who just this week celebrated his 94th birthday. Other tracks are ‘Song for Zimbabwe’, ‘Stay Forever’, ‘Africa’, ‘Tarifa’, ‘Tar’, ‘Clear Day’ and ‘Sun Groove’. All tracks are composed, arranged and produced by Forcione and the album’s co-producer is Chris Kimsey. More dates follow the fringe season with Pizza Express Jazz Club dates in London prominent among them from 13-16 September.
Pictured above: Antonio Forcione