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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.

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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.

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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

Jorge Ben

Jorge

Wrasse ***

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

Edition            ***

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.

Antonio Forcione

Sketches of Africa

antonioforcione.com  ****

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.’

Stephen Graham

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.

Stephen Graham

Pictured above: Antonio Forcione

John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension are scheduled to release their latest album, the title of which is now confirmed as Now Here This, in the autumn.

Details are still sketchy at this stage, although the release date is set for 16 October, according to UK distributor Proper Note.

Now Here This is to be released by Souvik Dutta’s AbstractLogix label, the US record and publishing company that first signed a distribution and retail agreement to promote John McLaughlin’s guitar instruction DVD This is the Way I Do It following a merchandising connection with McLaughlin’s Indo-fusion band Remember Shakti.

AbstractLogix also released 4th Dimension’s A Love Supreme-inspired Grammy-nominated album To the One in 2010.

Complete personnel details have not been confirmed so far for the new album, but tracks are: ‘Trancefusion’, ‘Riff Raff’, ‘Echoes From Then’, ‘Wonderfall’, ‘Call and Answer’, ‘Not Here Not There’,’ Guitar Love’ and ‘Take It or Leave It’.

Stephen Graham

John McLaughlin 4th Dimension, pictured above, play the London Jazz Festival on 11 November. For more go to: http://www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk/event/john-mclaughlin-the-4th-dimension-1

Here’s an extract of my review of Neneh Cherry and The Thing, who slayed the devoted in Shoreditch’s Village Undeground last night.

The frequently riotous, and defiantly non-conformist collaboration between Neneh Cherry and The Thing hit London’s Village Underground with some thump last night, as part of its fast wheeling European tour. Their album The Cherry Thing was “born here in Acton,” Cherry told the all-standing audience who jostled for position in this cavernous, old industrial building near the train tracks in Shoreditch. It has caused quite a stir, and producer Robert Harder was also on hand here manning the sound desk, something Cherry was obviously pleased about.

The place was packed to the gills with a mix of old punks, free jazz nuts and gaggles of women who had earlier danced around to the dub reggae blasting out like a furnace from the venue’s sound system before Cherry and The Thing came on around 10pm.

– Stephen Graham

Read more at jazzwisemagazine.com

Neneh Cherry, pictured above. Photo: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen

August sees the dynamite debut album from newcomer Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s Towering Poppies.

The young saxophonist launched the album at the Sidewalk Cafe in New York last month.

Lovell-Smith, her Twitter profile winkingly says she’s a “composer, soprano saxophonist, part-time publicist, vegetarian chef, and voracious reader”, is a US/New Zealander living for now in New York, but about to head off to begin studying for a masters in composition at Wesleyan University, where the great Anthony Braxton teaches.

Before beginning her studies Lovell-Smith has been working with another band called Common Wealth which she co-leads with saxophonist/composer Angela Morris.

Whether she will be able to juggle the demands of academia with the very different discipline of developing her band, playing with Common Wealth, and composing, remains to be seen in terms of direction, but the signs seem promising as the album Fortune Songs is quite a statement of intent.

Lovell-Smith studied at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand, and graduated six years ago with a first class honours degree, majoring in jazz saxophone performance and composition.

Then in 2008 she took part in the high flying Banff international workshop in jazz and creative music in Canada, and two years ago moved to New York where Towering Poppies was formed, and is based.

The band, a chamber jazz collective with a melodic slightly astringent song-based direction at times with a Caribbean lilt, features Lovell-Smith with pianist Cat Toren, trumpeter Russell Moore, bassist Patrick Reid and drummer Kate Pittman.

The band has been going for a good couple of years and the music, she says on her website, is “informed by folk, impressionism and free improvisation.”

At times as a player with an agreeably winning tone Lovell-Smith resembles the significant but vastly underrated Jane Ira Bloom. A new compositional voice on the saxophone for sure going by early listens of Fortune Songs, watch out for this new name when the album hits.

Stephen Graham 

Listen at http://jasminelovellsmith.bandcamp.com

Jasmine Lovell-Smith’s Towering Poppies, pictured above