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Piano great Ahmad Jamal brought the inaugural Jazz FM Awards to an exultant close last night at the grade one listed former church One Marylebone in central London with a brief set featuring ‘Blue Moon’, on which he was joined by singer Jamie Cullum who added his distinctive vocals to the standard. Jamal had been presented with a lifetime achievement award at the awards and performed with his band of Reginald Veal on bass, Herlin Riley, drums, and Manolo Badrena, percussion. The intention of the Jazz FM Awards, sponsored by US audio firm Klipsch, the organisers said ahead of the event, was to “recognise and commend those who have made exceptional contributions to the jazz industry during the preceding twelve months.” The chief executive of Jazz FM Richard Wheatly spoke at the beginning of the event, held in front of an invited dining audience seated at large round tables. Hosted wittily by singer Ian Shaw, a house trio with pianist Ross Stanley, bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Chris Higginbottom, performed in the early part of the evening.

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And the winners were: UK Jazz artist of the year (public vote) Neil Cowley Trio; Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution to Jazz Ramsey Lewis; International Jazz Artist of the Year Kurt Elling; UK Instrumentalist of the Year Nathaniel Facey; UK Live Shows of the Year Gregory Porter; UK Vocalist of the Year Carleen Anderson; Cutting Edge Award for Jazz Innovation Robert Glasper; Best Jazz Media Jazzwise; Best UK Jazz Venue Ronnie Scott’s; Best UK Newcomer Beats & Pieces Big Band; Album of the Year Saltash Bells by John Surman; and Lifetime Achievement Award Ahmad Jamal. Performers on the night included the London Youth Gospel Choir during the reception, Cerys Matthews, Ramsey Lewis, Carleen Anderson singing her trademark gospel tinged version of ‘Don’t Look Back in anger’, Ian Shaw, Nathaniel Facey, and of course, Ahmad Jamal. Presenters of the awards included Jazz FM’s Helen Mayhew and David Freeman, Courtney Pine CBE, Jamie Cullum, and Suggs.
Stephen Graham

 

 

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One Saturday night, in what could have been described but wasn’t quite, as the Indian summer of 2010, there wasn’t much of a Waterloo sunset to gaze on. But that night Jay Phelps, who on Monday night you’ll see on television in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge as a member of the fictional Louis Lester band, was playing, as himself, a routinely relaxed but accomplished gig at the plush Waterloo Brasserie near the Old Vic. He was about to bring out his debut album Jay Walkin’ back then and in his band as “people so busy”, to echo The Kinks song, could be seen through the windows of the brasserie walking up to the Old Vic’s foyer for the evening performance of Noel Coward’s Design For Living, Phelps had Empirical’s Shaney Forbes on drums, and rising star Tim Thornton on double bass, plus the fine under-the-radar Pat Martino-influenced Kevin Glasgow here on guitar. Thornton often plays, just as Jay does, at Ronnie Scott’s regularly and last year quietly brought out a new album called New Kid which deserved more show at the time, for sure, featuring as it did some sophisticated playing and a fine cast of soulful, mainstream, and bop-into-hard bop players including Dave O’Higgins, Grant Windsor, and Dave Hamblett. The time for Thornton and New Kid has come, though, as next month Thornton is appearing with his fine quartet on a Jazz Services backed 14-date national tour beginning at Dempsey’s in Cardiff on 12 February, and concluding on 26 April at Marigolds Jazz Club in Harlow. With a sound that recalls the succulent tone of Paul Chambers, and the more recent work of bass behemoth Christian McBride, and as an alert accompanist with a listenable way about him, Thornton is the real thing. Catch up with him wherever you are. Stephen Graham

Full tour details are at http://www.timthorntonbass.com

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I’ve loved Tomasz Stańko’s music since the first time I heard him play, back in the early-1990s. And for once it was hearing the music live before listening to any of the records. That dramatically changes your perception of an artist, doesn’t it? Substantially more than even seeing a video. Actually seeing a video, despite the curiosity value, is pretty worthless unless it’s a fully blown artistic interpretation of the music, and sadly that doesn’t happen very often.

You go away with so much more information by seeing someone live, how the artist moves and interacts; how they carry themselves; all the non-verbal communicative signs; the way they speak if they speak. It’s still only a small part of the live experience. Stańko has assembled a new band called the New York Quartet for his latest studio album Wisława (**** RECOMMENDED), a double album to be released by ECM on Monday.

There are no UK dates for him so far, but he and the quartet, a band as skilled and intuitive as Stańko’s quartet with the Marcin Wasilewski trio, are appearing at the significant ECM cultural archaeology exhibition next month in Munich, and he will play Warsaw soon again before touring in Poland in May. Stańko’s band is Reflex pianist David Virelles, also playing prepared piano and celeste on Chris Potter’s new album The Sirens; Californian bassist Thomas Morgan now living in Harlem; and the drummer the avant garde cognoscenti adore, the Brooklyn-based drummer Gerald Cleaver who played a great set at the Vortex just last year with Lotte Anker and Craig Taborn.

Recorded in June not long after a brief tour in Europe the theme of the album ties in with the poetry of the great Wisława Szymborska, hence its title: Wisława. Stańko performed with the Nobel laureate late in her life, and a number of the album’s compositions are inspired directly by her work. And they are sublime, particularly the title track ballad and ‘Mikrokosmos’. Stańko can stop you dead in your tracks with the honesty and emotion of his playing, the blues connotation, and the sheer abstraction of it all. Wisława is this and much more, his best album since Leosia and a potent reminder of the artistry of the man. SG

 

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With the recent London A Cappella Festival curated by the Swingle Singers featuring acts from around the world including The Magnets, Rajaton, and The King’s Singers, and the enduring appeal of TV series Glee, a cappella has never been more popular in the mainstream. Although the appeal of unaccompanied close harmony singing is pan-genre, with pop and rock, the light classics or even contemporary classical music equally important in terms of repertoire as well as carefully introduced original material, one of the festival’s newer acts this year was six-part a cappella group Vive who are more deeply rooted in jazz than most, and make a point of it, seeing themselves as “re-imagining the close-harmony jazz/spiritual/a cappella sound.”

Vive’s singers include Emily Dankworth, the daughter of leading jazz bassist Alec Dankworth, and was founded by James Rose a year ago. They’re joined by Sam Robson, Ben Cox, Martynas Vilpisauskas and Lewis Daniel. Vive Album released earlier this month was funded via crowdsourced backing on Kickstarter, with money going towards a mixing desk and microphones. The album’s six tracks include an expert take on Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Somewhere’, while a version of Lighthouse Family’s ‘High’ has a suitably vivacious feel. Vive has an overriding jazz pop sensibility strongly hinted at in the original arrangements here, and new material that James Rose and Sam Robson have written. SG 

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The great saxophonist Charles Lloyd turns 75 on 15 March, and to mark this significant day his label ECM is releasing a new duo album called Hagar’s Song on 18 February, with Lloyd joined by pianist Jason Moran, the award winning pianist who is also a member of the acclaimed Charles Lloyd Quartet.

Hagar’s Song features favourites of Lloyd’s, with Billy Strayhorn tune ‘Pretty Girl’ (also known as ‘Star-Crossed Lovers’), ‘Mood Indigo’, and Gershwin’s ‘Bess You Is My Woman Now’ among the material included for the duo treatment.

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Lloyd in the 1970s worked extensively with the Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson’s classic, ‘God Only Knows’, is also featured on Hagar’s Song as is a title suite dedicated to Lloyd’s great-great-grandmother who was sold to a Tennessee slave owner when she was just 10 years old, and whose story has greatly affected Lloyd so inspiring the suite. Well before Charles Lloyd returns to the London stage for a Barbican concert with his quartet (joined by guest singer Maria Farantouri) on 28 April, and just three days after his 75th, ECM is also to release a major boxed set of Lloyd’s first five albums for the label: Fish Out of Water, Notes From Big Sur, The Call, All My Relations, and Canto recorded between 1989 and the end of 1996 at the Rainbow studio in Oslo.

Stephen Graham

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Stefano Battaglia Trio
Songways
ECM ****
Still one of the least known ECM pianists although that began to change with The River of Anyder, Milan-born Battaglia is joined here once again by Sassari-born double bassist Salvatore Maiore, and drummer Roberto Dani, the youngest member of the trio who has performed with Norma Winstone among others. Battaglia on this his fifth album as a leader for the label manages to merge a deep contemplative playing style with a sparkling joyous side to his playing, say on a track such as ‘Babel Hymn’ where to place Battaglia it’s like the coming together of Keith Jarrett and Danilo Pérez’s combined playing styles. Recorded last April it’s an album of songs, chants, and dances with Battaglia attempting to bridge what he calls “archaic modal pre-tonal chant and dances, pure tonal songs and hymns and abstract texture.” I’m not quite sure hearing this album where these technical distinctions lie as it’s a record that does not hesitate to exhibit an emotional response throughout, again like Jarrett particularly on the more chant-like tunes. The most significant of his compositions (and this is a significant album, more profound than its predecessor) is the long ‘Euphonia Elegy’ full of big dramatic statements that do not seem at all overblown. With references in song titles to Homer, Jonathan Swift, Italo Calvino (the title track), Charles Fourier, Adalbert Stifter, Edgar Allan Poe, the surrealism of Renée Daumal, and Alfred Kubin, not forgetting the bible, that’s quite an extensive reading list to be going on with as inspirations of a suitably engrossing record. The trio has reached a tipping point in terms of group empathy, and on a more experimental track such as the opening of ‘Perla’ both Maiore and Dani show uncanny poise. SG
Just released

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The Jazz Warriors have announced more details of regular Sunday gigs at Hoxton jazz club Charlie Wright’s. Following the first gigs in January the first Sunday of the month dubbed Draw2Tunes sees leading musicians such as Julian Joseph, Byron Wallen, Django Bates, and Christine Tobin DJ-ing while second Sundays in the series will introduce a Voice First Instrument vocal workshop, gig and club afternoon-into-evening session with Cleveland Watkiss and Chantelle Nandi Masuku joined by guest vocalists. The third Sunday of the month at Charlie’s (above) on Pitfield Street is the Duke Joint DJ night with Cleveland Watkiss and Orphy Robinson spinning some tunes, while the fourth Sunday has vibes star Orphy back plus trumpeter Claude Deppa for a live free jazz improv session plus DJ Paul Bradshaw at the decks. SG

More at http://thejazzwarriors.com

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So who will be the toast of the first ever Jazz FM awards on Thursday? Well, of course it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts, or at least that’s what the lucky losers might well say. Beyond the results it’s a much needed opportunity to boost the profile of the vibrant UK jazz scene with a major awards, the first new initiative of a high impact nature such as this since the BBC Jazz Awards were cancelled.

We do know already that Ramsey Lewis will be presented with a gold award for outstanding contribution to jazz, while Ahmad Jamal will pick up the lifetime achievement award before bringing the evening to a close with a special performance in central London venue One Marylebone, where the awards are taking place. There’s a public vote (now closed) for UK jazz artist of the year, so presumably this will go to the artist who can draw on the biggest fan base, particularly the online massive, and with various fan sites and a big radio audience, I would guess Jamie Cullum should pick up the public seal of appreciation with some ease. International jazz artist is a trickier call, but a very popular and appropriate winner would be Sonny Rollins whose appearance at the London Jazz Festival in recent years has underlined the stature of a saxophonist who for many has always been primus inter pares.

Cutting Edge is also tough to predict, and Django Bates would be a popular choice as too would Robert Glasper, while Troyka, who have spearheaded the nascent prog jazz movement since the band’s inception, would be a major boost. With the resurgence in jazz vocals and the sheer joy he’s brought to the UK jazz scene in recent years I really hope Gregory Porter wins in the best album category for Be Good, and it would be fitting if Jazzwise, who have been behind the singer from the start, wins in the jazz media category.

Best UK Newcomer should go to everyone’s favourite Mancunian big band Beats & Pieces, although Roller Trio fresh from an award winning 2012 are also in with a strong shout. Will host for the evening Ian Shaw scoop vocalist of the year? Well, he’s got an excellent chance especially since 2012 saw the release of one of his finest albums in an often distinguished career, the Fran Landesman tribute album A Ghost In Every Bar. Instrumentalist of the year is almost impossible to call and all three nominees, Nathaniel Facey, Ivo Neame, and Phil Robson, are in with a decent chance. I’d like the constantly inventive Nathaniel Facey to win it although I was deeply impressed by Neame’s octet album Yatra last year as well, and Phil Robson is a guitarist, composer and bandleader of some clout.

Live shows of the year? Well it could be Gregory Porter triumphing again for his much talked about club shows at Pizza Express Jazz Club, but surprise nominee PB Underground with their high octane Tower of Power-like energy might be a surprise winner, while no one is going to rule out the consistently excellent Phronesis. Jazz venue of the year is a hard call. It’s a pity that the Vortex wasn’t among the nominations, especially with lively outdoor events adding to the mix at the Dalston club this year. But for sheer high profile class this accolade must surely go to Ronnie Scott’s. Don’t rule out the north’s premier jazz club Band on the Wall though.
Stephen Graham

More on the awards at www.jazzfmawards.com

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Saxophonist, clarinettist, and composer Gilad Atzmon collects controversy effortlessly, yet Songs of the Metropolis (World Village) recorded at the end of September and beginning of October last year is not controversial in the slightest, with a theme based around the “sound of the city”, with tracks named after places: Paris, the opener, say. Or Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires, and so on, with one odd exception: the seaside town of Scarborough, “as opposed to London” as Atzmon’s gloss in the notes has it. With text translated into French as well, as World Village is a French label, Atzmon says: “Now our planet weeps. Beauty is perhaps the last true form of spiritual resistance. The song is there to counter detachment and alienation.” Later in the album booklet there’s a quotation from the David Garrioch 2003 book Sounds of the City that contrasts how the sounds in a city were heard in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to the way they are heard today. “The evolution of this information system reflects changes in social and political organization and in attitudes towards time and urban space,” Garrioch writes. An “auditory community” is how he also terms it. Atzmon’s ballads-driven album does tap into a line of jazz ballad-making that goes way back to at least Sidney Bechet in terms of the saxophone. The quartet, Atzmon with pianist Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi, and drummer Eddie Hick, meld well to the expressive Atzmon playing style, which for me works best in his take on the traditional ‘Scarborough Fair’ melody (‘Scarborough’), and on the lovely ‘Vienna’. This album is a different view of the city, as urban soundscapes are usually thrusting affairs, radically different in flavour, and a lot grittier and volatile as Atzmon himself usually is. One of Atzmon’s best, alongside Exile and his work with Robert Wyatt, particularly For The Ghosts Within. SG