Wynton MarsalisSwing Symphony (Symphony No. 3) received its UK premiere last night with the London Symphony Orchestra joining forces with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

Conducting without the score for the opening performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances it was a bit like being under the knife of the most remarkable surgeon in the world: the orchestra and the audience mere putty in his hands, the outcome never in doubt.

Wynton came on to the stage at the beginning of the second half almost in disguise, as the momentarily distracted audience settling into their seats took a while to spot the great New Orleansian as he walked to his seat right in the middle of the trumpet section of JALCO in front of the conductor’s podium, with the LSO spread out all around the jazz orchestra.

‘All Rise’ and ‘Blues Symphony’, the work’s predecessors paradoxically given that they were called that most classical of forms, ‘symphonies’, were actually experimental music in the sense that Wynton was trying out his solutions to orchestrating for symphony orchestra and jazz band. Neither succeeded particularly beyond their ambition and initial impact at the time, and I’m sure most fans of Wynton’s as well as critics see them more of a curiosity than say the oratorio Blood on the Fields, a much more significant achievement despite its massive length. Swing Symphony is different, a notch up in terms of the art of the composer, although the jury’s out as to whether it will be any more significant than say the likeable score Marsalis composed for Dan Pritzker’s silent film, Louis.

The symphony’s obvious sophistication and the multiple inspirations it summons, from ragtime and plantation dance forms, through Fletcher Henderson to Ellington, shares at least these links in common with the earlier works among the active ingredients at play. The heart of the matter, though, in his work is the parallel lines of the harmony, the scrabbling indeterminacy of the juxtaposing of chromaticism with classic song-like saxophone solos, at others echoing Leonard Bernstein in terms of romanticism, or Aaron Copland occasionally but as ever owing its creative core to Ellington. But without wishing to be trite, where were the tunes? Answer, for the most part absent, although one or two seemed to peep through which Ellington was always adept at drawing out. While Rachmaninov used the brass instruments in his Symphonic Dances only sparingly Marsalis liberally calls them into the action. Yet the carefully sculpted solo space for jazz tenor saxophone and clarinet and good use of the strings involved both orchestras to best effect, with the LSO zealous in their determination to enter into an accord with the spirit of the endeavour firmly intact.

Stephen Graham

Wynton MarsalisSwing Symphony (Symphony No. 3) is performed again tonight by the London Symphony Orchestra and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (JALCO, above), conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. www.barbican.org.uk

The Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s, the jam session that draws in some of the cream of the capital’s jazz talent for informal performances after the main draw of the evening has finished, last night dedicated the evening to Abram Wilson whose death from colon cancer at just 38 on 9 June was such a cruel blow. With members of the widely admired and respected trumpeter, composer, and bandleader’s family in the club following a New Orleans-type procession from the South Bank Centre to a memorial service in Waterloo earlier in the day when musicians taking part included Wynton Marsalis, pianist James Pearson leading the jamming told the audience that Abram was due to return to the club in a few weeks if death hadn’t taken him away.

In just 10 years living in the UK the Arkansas-born trumpeter made a big and lasting impact on the national scene, and with Tim Thornton, bass, and Pedro Segundo on drums, Pearson, the club’s artistic director and leader of the Ronnie’s All-Stars, called on Andy Davies who runs the popular upstairs hard bop jam on Wednesdays to play a few songs in tribute. Welshman Davies, with his love of Kenny Dorham and Chet Baker, a communicative ability on the trumpet and the expressive tone of a musician who knows what he wants to say and does so with aplomb, was able to squeeze out every little nuance in a lovely sparkling rendition of ‘The Nearness of You’ in particular as well as opener ‘If I Were A Bell’. Singer Emma Smith, newly blond, also joined, running through ‘Skylark’ and scatting with some ease before guests from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, trombonist Chris Crenshaw tall and lean and playing fine and mellow with ridiculous skill, and trumpeter Marcus Printup in immaculately subtle form at low volume came down to Ronnie’s to jam fresh from performing with JALCO and The London Symphony Orchestra as they premiered Wynton’s Swing Symphony at the Barbican under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.

As young up-and-coming players lined up to jam including a name to watch in the smartly tailored pianist Reuben James who Abram had himself mentored, a new generation of NYJO players and Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni circulated in the club into the wee small hours to play their socks off. It was a night that you’d guess Abram would have enjoyed. His spirit lives on for sure at the heart of it all, on Frith Street. Stephen Graham

Abram Wilson (pictured, top) Photo: Benjamin Amure

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.

Stephen Graham


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.

Stephen Graham

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

Jorge Ben


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

Type jazz into the UK version of Google News and what do you find today, Saturday 14 July just after midday on a rainy London day?

Well of course there are pages and pages of the stuff so trawling is going to take some time.

What do you mean you use Bing or Yahoo for your jazz news? Of course you do! But jazz news, is there actually any I hear some grumblers contend, as the music died in 1961?

Well up to a point (without stating the obvious), but may I suggest typing “jazz is dead" into Google? You’ll be fine and dandy in that cheerful, slightly spooky corner of the web.

So here goes, and bear in mind it is a Saturday, so some jazz news sites go to sleep this being the weekend.

First then, right at the top, the very newsy jazz entry from Wikipedia. In depth yes, but bang up to the minute, maybe not.

Ah, next, wait: a theatre show to close, from the Daily Mail website? Yes, interesting, but what a shame, it’s Chicago that well known jazz musical.

Moving swiftly on, Keith Chegwin at the Marlborough Jazz Festival… well fancy that? Celebs rule after all.

But the next story down with more than 300 stories on the same topic is the sad passing of Nat King Cole’s widow Maria, which was widely reported a few days back by other sources including The Hollywood Reporter.

The Copenhagen Jazz Festival is next to be mentioned in Google jazz dispatches on the first page and then an irrelevant Utah Jazz story, followed down page by the sad passing of Nova Scotia musician Bucky Adams, more Utah Jazz doings, even more, a review of Wynton Marsalis some two days old, and thanks to Wigan Today the first sighting of the day of the headline that’s daddy of them all: the venerable All That Jazz.

So all very salutary, and it certainly makes a change from reading sleeve notes, but in the midst of a busy festival season, and with more than 400 new or reissued CDs appearing every month, it’s not much to go on, is it? The inevitable trek back to print beckons for now.

Stephen Graham

Writing for guitar, a string section and percussion is a stretch, no pun intended, for any musician.

Add in the word ‘Chamber’ front loaded as the name of the project, the band, and the planned album to the title ramps up the stakes still more.

Nick Tyson was sanguine about the word as he talked about his plans just a few days before going in to record with producer Ben Lamdin, the in demand producer who has been working with Stonephace Stabbins of late (see Dreamjazz yesterday).

Chamber to him comes from his sense of baroque classical music, but cast half an ear and it’s clear there’s more to this than meets a first glance as is pretty evident from hearing Chamber live.

Bantering over a coffee on a sofa downstairs at the Vortex, only a few weeks earlier he and Chamber had packed out the place on a busy Friday night as he toured the music some of which will go on the album to be released by F-IRE with basically the same line-up from the gig. Only the cello chair is up in the air as he speaks.

Tyson, 27, picked up a prestigious PRS award to help him on his way as a composer, and Chamber due to be released in October with a string of dates around a launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho promises much.

Tyson, a Londoner, studied at the Leeds College of Music following secondary school at Pimlico School, a progressive comprehensive in its day with an influential music education reputation.

His passport to Pimlico as it were came after a spell living in a village in France where he attended primary school and began to play guitar.

Both his dad and brother played a bit and, says Tyson, as a youngster it was fun to pick up three chords and sing along as he plinked away.

With Chamber, the first fruits of someone who excelled as a student, it’s more than reclaiming the word, it’s a statement of intent.

Influenced by Ralph Towner and Jim Hall, and with classical Spanish music a factor arrived at through Towner and Oregon in the music of Albeniz, Chamber was greenlighted last year when PRS backed the project and with the music already written Tyson a keen DIY organiser, and amateur cyclist who also plays reggae in the ironically named Gentleman’s Dub Club where his old Leeds chum and If Destroyed Still True bandmate Tommy Evans share the stage with a bunch of players whose publicity shots make them look as if they’re card shark hustlers.

It’s a world away from Chamber the very adjectival conjuring historic pinging acoustics, old boys and gals togged out in their best clothes listening to Vivaldi or Bach.

For Tyson chamber music is not about neck ties or evening wear and the third stream but built on the potential of the guitar as a massive palette to let him compose for strings (he also likes playing as a guitar trio) and writing cinematically with the possibility of an electronics layer but the project he says matter of factly is an acoustic one.

Tyson likes to compose on guitar and record a prototype version of a new tune before sculpting it sonically in Logic or Garage Band before the final Sibelius coiffed version is ready for the band.

He expresses an admiration for the work of the likes of the Cinematic Orchestra and The Invisible but warms to his first real exposure to the jazz he could identify with in Wolfgang Muthspiel’s celebrated appearance when he was just 16 at the Old Vortex in Stoke Newington when the Austrian guitarist was part of a dream team with the great Marc Johnson of Bass Desires/Bill Evans repute and Wayne Shorter Quartet drummer Brian Blade.

Those influences are coming to fruition it’s surely clear and the album later in the year will be the best indication yet of a fine new jazz guitar talent it’s good to have around.

Stephen Graham

Nick Tyson (pictured above)

Check out a longer version of this article in the July issue of Jazzwise on sale until Wednesday

Larry Stabbins returns with his latest album Transcendental to be released by the Cornwall-based Noetic Records on 1 September.

It’s an organic twist on 2009 Tru-Thoughts album Stonephace (the moniker the veteran saxophonist and flautist is using nowadays) switching from the electronic laden drum sound of that well received album. Stabbins’ band features his colleague in Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA band, pianist Zoe Rahman, along with Galliano percussionist Crispin “Spry" Robinson, Soweto Kinch Band bassist Karl Rasheed Abel and drummer Pat Illingworth, well known for his work with clarinettist Arun Ghosh.

Recorded by Ben Lamdin at the Fish Factory studio in Willesden the main talking point of the album is a version of Coltrane’s ‘Africa’ clocking in at just under eight minutes, and songs from Stonephace plus ‘Soul Train’ from Working Week days along with new tunes.

Definitely in the spiritual jazz vein, it’s a welcome return for Stabbins and a shot in the arm for the Coltrane revivalist scene which has been lit up once again in recent years by the likes of Nat Birchall, as well as Rowland Sutherland and Orphy Robinson’s reimagining of ‘A Love Supreme’ last month.

Stephen Graham

Larry Stabbins, pictured above

Sad to hear of the death on 8 July in Rio at the age of 66 of Jose Roberto Bertrami, of Azymuth renown. He founded the popular trio in the 1970s, and playing their trademark samba doida style the band had a strong following in the UK and frequently performed at the Jazz Cafe in London.

Bertrami also arranged and wrote for Sarah Vaughan, Elis Regina, Mark Murphy, Joe Pass, Erasmo Carlos, Milton Nascimento, Airto, and Flora Purim. His solo albums include Things Are Different and Aventura. Stephen Graham

Jose Roberto Bertrami (pictured above)

When Carmen Lundy returned to the capital and Ronnie Scott’s with her trio launching brand new album Changes few people took note.

It’s the lot of many a jazz singer these days, even one as creative as Lundy (even Betty Carter suffered in her day).

Announcing the names of her trio like a boxing announcer might introduce the main event – so it was “Anthony Wonsey from Chicago, Illinois”, as a taster, Lundy was on suitably athletic form in the company of star pianist Wonsey (Roy Hargrove, Nnenna Freelon) who also switched to keyboards; Philly bassist Darryl Hall on both acoustic bass and later electric; and introducing young Floridian Jamison Ross on drums, a real find with a big recessed beat that made me think of Terreon “Tank” Gulley.

Appearing from behind the dressing room door to the left of the stage, Lundy with her bare shoulders draped in a fur with her fingers and arms covered by long crimson gloves, the singer soon controlled the stage with a dizzying array of gestures, gesticulations and knowing looks.

Half Betty Carter, half Grace Jones as she shoulder danced along to the trio, opening with her simmering Maya Angelou referencing ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ frequently grimacing as she scanned the decent sized Monday first set crowd, picking out the middle distance with her extended right hand. With her cropped hair, youthfully slim appearance, and riotous sense of abandon, she showed both her power and ideas on mostly original material new and longstanding.

Launching Changes, her twelfth album ahead of its US launch in February, Lundy was also content to reprise earlier material including the tour de force ‘You’re Not In Love’ which allowed her to reach out to long time fans and reminisce about Hoxton’s Bass Clef the club former Lennie Tristano bassist Peter Ind used to run. There were a few scenesters from that time in the audience as someone in the audience chatted back to Lundy as she recalled the jazz club scene of the time, and even Gilles Peterson could be seen emerging from backstage.

Best in the first set was the political ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ from the new album, a civil rights anthem all the more fitting as it was delivered on the evening of the Martin Luther King federal holiday in the States. Hall immediately drew you in on electric bass with a groove straight out of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Bottle’ period, a sound that makes you shut up and wait for the message of social toleration and respect in the lyrics.

By complete contrast and resuming the London theme ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ was sweetly delivered later, and remarkably for a singer who can sing down to her baritone depths her variety is such that the different registers introduce a different characterful persona each time, again reminiscent of the much missed Carter.

Changing costume for her second set appearance during the break, gone were the fur and the gloves, instead Lundy had donned a black dress with a white formal cut away jacket and a stiff collar. There was a bit too much schmaltz towards the end, and the well worn ‘New Year’ song I could take or leave, but the more sensual second set songs added yet another dimension to this strong showing with ‘(I Dream) In Living Colour’ another highlight.

Stephen Graham


Yesterday on Dreamjazz I mentioned José James, a singer it’s easy to temporarily forget about in the wake of Gregory Porter’s stratospheric rise to fame and the achievements of Kurt Elling since his John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman record and The Gate.

But less than three years ago James was on the ascendant, and he has not gone anywhere despite a few delays and mysteries.

Granted his performance with McCoy Tyner in London last year during the London Jazz Festival was not his finest, although he still impressed some critics who had not seen him before.

But think back to the early autumn of 2009 and the low om, that began his East Coasting band’s show at Ronnie Scott’s.

This band still has not recorded, possibly to do with some of the rights of the material, possibly other reasons, but in any case this is the band that plays ‘Equinox’ and other material from Coltrane’s Sound.

It was clear at Ronnie Scott’s that James and his band were on a quest that night and his quest continues given snippets of recent activity releaed online and via social media.

Since his devastatingly promising album The Dreamer and rumours of his version of Coltrane material and a fine Easter show earlier that year at the Jazz Café, the clock has been ticking in the countdown to James’ next album.

Not surprisingly the search is a spiritual one with Coltrane that ultimate enigma and totemic timeless figure. It is also, for the New York-based singer, partly a statement of where the jazz singer finds himself today, because he has clearly worked it out and come up with something fresh.

Early on a reworked ‘Welcome’ from Kulu Sé Mama with its echo of probably the most famous piece of music known to man in the modern age (‘Happy Birthday’) the long involved specially conceived set featuring James with the highly rated Belgian pianist Jef Neve, UK bassist Neville Malcolm and newcomer US tenorist Michael Campagna adding soprano saxophone and flute.

The gig that night caught fire on ‘My Favorite Things’ and the roaring opening to ‘Equinox’ and when James later worked at the high end of his range harmonising with Campagna’s soprano saxophone on ‘Naima’ while the momentum only dipped slightly when ‘Central Park West’ needed a quick restart.

Neve, James and Campagna worked superbly together while Richard Spaven’s displaced beats modernised at times without distracting.

Neve manages the feat of not sounding like McCoy Tyner who James has got to perform often with while keeping to the spirit of his musical approach with the extra element of Debussian light and shade added at times informing his more delicate touches.

Surely James’ next move will be agenda setting just as this band that night was live in a jazz club, the biggest test of them all.

Stephen Graham

José James, pictured above


Tomasz Stańko who turns 70 on 11 July is the most remarkable jazz musician to have come out of Poland. His career once stuck in an avant garde cul-de-sac and he himself almost completely forgotten about and unheard was reborn in the 1990s. As the decades since have passed he has ascended effortlessly ever upwards to the top of the international touring circuit with his artistry undiminished.

This process of “progress", a concept Stańko would probably laugh about or certainly scorn, is inimical to an avant gardist of his stature. In the 1960s he was a rebel and his first band the Jazz Darings was a statement of intent. Somehow he had heard the music of Ornette Coleman early on and was an early interpreter of the saxophonist, as was Joe Harriott in England.

Stańko’s career would in more recent years be thought about within the prism of the ever growing cult of film composer and pianist Krzysztof Komeda because in 1997 after much persuading Stańko released Litania which changed everything. There have been Komeda tributes since (this wasn’t, it was a concept album) but only Stańko’s has done justice to the mysterious composer who died young and is associated with the films of Roman Polanski. The notes for Litania featured some words from Polanski and Stańko in interviews before and since has spoken of above all the poetry of Komeda, his sense of space and the romanticism of a pianist who to Stańko’s generation meant everything. Stanko played with the composer for about three years and appears on the classic album Astigmatic recorded in 1965. With this album alone Stańko’s place in jazz history is secure.

But by no means was that it. His late-1960s quintet introduced a new strand into jazz, that of Slavic abstraction, searing, often brutal and very nihilistic, Stańko understandably attracted the notice of the avant garde both in Europe and the States. His was a painterly version of the style whose structures were established in the late-1950s by Cecil Taylor, who he would later play alongside, and then given a “blues connotation" by Ornette Coleman, the hook that Stańko initially picked up on as a young man.

The change for Stańko first began in the late-1980s. The Berlin Wall was to come down at the turn of the decade, and proud Varsavian that he was and still is, his native Poland was starting to embrace all sorts of new independent activity within its music scene and Stańko himself was changing. The one time darling of the avant garde was beginning to mellow, at least by his own standards.

The first time I came across him live he was in a disgruntled mood playing at a tribute to Miles concert, shortly after the death of the great trumpeter, in Warsaw’s Philharmonic Hall in 1991. He went on to play a solo set which was utterly distinctive in the sea of tributes to Miles’ modal music where ‘All Blues’ seemed to be the standard of choice. Stańko unleashed a fanfare of blues driven signature motifs, at once raw and powerful and as individual in its design as Miles’ own music.

Stańko had been drifting in the years before I met him. Cut off in his own country with few fellow conspirators he was reduced to playing solo concerts or occasional duos with sympathetic keyboards players such as Janusz Skowron.

A few months after witnessing Stańko’s performance at the Miles show I went to a launch of his CD at the time Tales for a Girl, 12, and a Shaky Chica, about his daughter Anna, now his personal manager. Stańko’s first effort on one of the new wave of Polish indie labels, Jam. It was typical Stańko of the 1980s and early-90s, full of swagger, an eerie rumble from Skowron on synthesiser and a mournful, sad demeanour that seemed to characterise Stańko’s music at the time. A dignified dirge.

The disc got little attention and it seemed as if Stańko’s drifting career was about to continue for an indeterminate amount of time. It was a long way from his glory days when he was an early champion of free music in Europe. “I come from Krakow, I studied there," he told me some years ago, “so I know the city well. In the early- 1960s Krakow was an oasis of the arts in Poland. It was where Komeda and the Polish jazz player elite lived, where Penderecki taught at the Music Academy, where there were very strong communities of visual artists and actors. It was where a (literally) underground poetic-political cabaret, Piwnica pod Baranami (The Cellar under Rams), operated, a hotbed for innovative artists of many colours. A jazz club was opened there at that time, with a live music programme, where I also debuted. This was the most powerful jazz scene in Poland, where I set up my first combo, the Jazz Darings. We started together with Adam Makowicz, the pianist, but then together with reedsman Janusz Muniak, I started experimenting with free jazz, inspired by Ornette Coleman and George Russell and his lydian system. From this band my quintet evolved that featured the late Zbigniew Seifert."

Stańko spent several years with Komeda, learning his craft, honing his ideas and developing a sound of his own. In these years he had developed from being a young musician initially influenced by Chet Baker and Miles Davis to a sophisticated explorer of modern jazz taking in new sounds from across the Atlantic, including the new saxophonist everyone was talking about, Ornette Coleman, as well as learning from Komeda.

"I believe that my natural musical talent and predilection for interest in the arts," he says, “resulted in my love for music and the arts that has always been omnipresent at my home. My father was a judge, but he also played professional violin, so music has been ever present in my life. My sister studied piano, I started with piano and then violin. I took up trumpet at 16, inspired by a Dave Brubeck performance in Krakow in the winter of 1958. I started by listening to Willis Conover’s Music USA radio shows, but I had a predisposition for this music even before. I associated jazz with something beautiful but also mysterious, far remote, an idea, a music of the wronged, global and great in its power. Conover introduced me to the recordings of Chet Baker and then Miles Davis, who were my first idols. Miles, Coltrane and Monk were my first great idols."

By the 1960s he had moved a long way from the chamber jazz sensibilities of Brubeck and his beginnings in jazz. With Komeda and another young rising star Zbigniew Namyslowski, Stańko would record Astigmatic in 1965, still held up as the most remarkable Polish jazz record.

"The session took place one night only during the Jazz Jamboree 1964 festival, on the occasion of which more musicians were available. We were recording at the National Philharmonic’s concert hall. There were many music scene insiders and musicians in the audience cheering us on, so the atmosphere was hot, ‘semi-live’. All Komeda’s compositions are beautiful, both these elaborated ones, strictly jazz tunes, such as ‘Svantetic’, ‘Astigmatic’, or ‘Requiem’, and those short ones, written for film. They are great to play, always fresh and creative. They sound different with different bands, retaining at the same time this specific, Komeda-esque feeling. They are innovative but also well embedded in the tradition. Despite their monumental forms they are charmingly simple and easy to listen to. They are very, very jazzy indeed in their nature."

The album’s long loping themes gave plenty of room for Stańko’s achingly stark lines and the success of the record and his experience with Komeda allowed the trumpeter the confidence to go on to form his own group which lasted on into the 1970s. That group included the imaginative violinist Zbigniew Seifert and toured abroad making an especially strong impact in Germany at the Berlin Jazztage.

With its dissolution Stańko embarked on a difficult period collaborating with one of the most experimental improvisers in Europe at the time, Finnish drummer Edward Vesala. And from 1974-8 they worked together recording and in concert. Stańko says: “At the beginning of the 70s Jan Garbarek played in Frankfurt and I lived in Germany, so I went to listen to him and Edward invited me to sit in. So I played with them and after disbanding my quintet I invited Edward to play together with Peter Warren on bass, Tomek Szukalski on sax, and myself. This alliance produced the album TWET. Later on I recorded with Edward a few of my albums: Balladyna, Almost Green, Live in Remont."

Sometimes their work together threw up exciting aurally dramatic works. At other times it was more art’s for arts sake such as the unaccompanied solo recordings the pair made at the Taj Mahal in India as the 1980s dawned. But Stańko was not completely heading towards the obscure margins of improvised music at the times despite the sometimes wayward direction he took with Vesala. One of the albums he mentions above, Balladyna, was to be his introduction to the German ECM label and at the time, 1975 was Stańko’s greatest achievement on record after his tribute to Komeda Music for K recorded five years earlier. Stańko was in good company on Balladyna.

Besides Vesala he had heartfelt support from his country’s leading tenor saxophone player Tomasz Szukalski and the great bassist Dave Holland who uniquely was tuned in to the direction of the European avant garde just as much as he was to the new currents in American jazz.

Balladyna was a rare treat for the trumpeter’s fans and the next 10 years saw little from Stańko on labels with international distribution. Was it a frustrating period? “I wouldn’t call it frustrating. I recorded a few very interesting records for the Finnish Leo label such as Almost Green, Music from Taj Mahal and Carla Caves, another few interesting records I released in Poland: Peyotl, Lady Go, C.O.C.X. As a matter of fact my every record makes me feel great, even now, after all these years. Later on I recorded Bluish, with Arild Andersen on bass and Jon Christensen on drums, and one of my favourites: Tales for a Girl, 12…"

Bluish, recorded in 1991, was the breakthrough Stańko needed. Again made for a new Polish indie label, Krzysztof Popek’s Power Bros, it brought Stanko in touch with the great Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen and bassist Arild Andersen, an inspired group that distilled Stańko’s essential sound into a more simplified framework which emphasised the core sounds and rhythmic urgency of Stańko’s sound. This was a record that could connect with a new generation of Polish musicians as well as Stańko’s old fans. And most importantly it was the record that brought Stańko back to the ECM fold after a long break. The Bluish group was a one off but he formed an equally strong quartet with pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Anders Jormin and expat English drummer Tony Oxley and it was this group which proved to be the backbone of Stańko’s approach for the next few years.

Before recording again for ECM with Matka Joanna in 1994 the four made Bossanossa and Other Ballads for Gowi and later for ECM there was Leosia released in 1997, one of Stańko’s most majestic achievements on record. Stanko’s renewed relationship with Manfred Eicher at ECM was also fortuitous in that the ECM producer had over the years been developing a great fascination with film music and had a great love for Komeda’s music. He persuaded Stańko to perform the music of his former colleague and friend and the result Litania was Stańko’s biggest success. The band was an international affair that brought in the Komeda saxophonist Bernt Rosengren to join Stańko’s regular colleagues Stenson and Jon Christensen as well as Terje Rypdal, Joakim Milder and Palle Danielsson.

The material encompassed Komeda’ ‘Svantetic’, ‘Sleep Safe and Warm’ (from Rosemary’s Baby) and of course ‘Ballad for Bernt’ from Komeda’s music for Polanski’s early classic Knife in the Water. Komeda, Polanski wrote “contributed magnificent scores for several of my films, notably Rosemary’s Baby, whose success owed much to his empathy and creative imagination."

Stańko says: “I was introduced to Komeda by Michal Urbaniak, with whom I then played. It was the autumn of 1963. Komeda offered me to sit in his quintet at the Jazz Jamboree festival. That’s how my five year long stint with Komeda started that eventually lasted until Komeda’s departure for Hollywood and California in 1968. He was a strong personality and has made a strong impression on me." In the notes to the album he writes: “The jazz scene was very active in Poland at the time and there was a lot of communication going on with film directors, writers, actors. In the middle of this was Komeda - a very quiet man. At rehearsals he told us nothing. He would give us the score and we could play and the silence was very strong and intense. He wouldn’t say if we were right or wrong in our approach. He’d just smile."

And Stańko too would have plenty to smile about as the industry buzz had it that he was back with a record to be proud of. The touring version of the album would travel widely and he would return to the studio for another outing for ECM soon after, albeit with a different group.

The next stage in Stańko’s renaissance was a more unlikely one and looked inwardly instead of to the outside. Throughout his long career he had had as much contact with the international jazz scene as he had with the local scene. In particular kindred spirits such as pianist Cecil Taylor. “Cecil for me is a great, charismatic artist, for whom ‘pure art’ is of fundamental relevance. He is an artist, whose creation process is art in itself, an absolutely non-commercial artist, an
artist whose life and art are one. I’ve learned from him how important transitory-ness is." Stańko took part in Taylor’s great splurge of recordings for the German FMP label in the late 80s and he has also over his career performed with a wide range of avant garde figures He could have lived abroad or emigrated to America like his colleague Michal Urbaniak. But despite the often lack of warmth the Polish scene showed towards him he stayed put. “In the early 1970s, following a spectacular success at the Berliner Jazztage," he says, “I settled down for a while in Darmstadt, Germany, but since I never had any problem with travelling out of Poland, I came back there for practical reasons." Despite social upheavals in his native land he did not feel as shackled as some artists. “The communist regime was in the 1960s much more liberal in Poland than elsewhere. We had an agency, Pagart, that arranged our tours efficiently. I can’t recall any problem with getting out of the country."

The Solidarity revolution did not come into his reckoning much. “Jazz always was and still is a niche music, so these changes are not that significant as those with respect to other art genres. I always had to play not only in Poland, and it was never a problem to me. Still the market condition that now has taken over seems to be much more favourable to me than ever before."

But his musical preferences could have left him isolated within the Polish mainstream jazz scene although in recent years with his successful quartet and film projects this has changed. “I’m very glad indeed that I started from free jazz. It helped to shape my personality and develop my musical language. Free jazz for me is not only a musical genre, it is a certain philosophy, a synonym of an idea and desire for something non-existent, still something I’ve always and ceaselessly pursued. The longer I live, the more important is free jazz to me in philosophical, not practical, terms. This is the soul of jazz." Stephen Graham

Tomasz Stańko pictured above. Photo: ECM

There is a dream-like quality to Stacey Kent, a voice you don’t hear every day, one that conjures up songs of love and romance, and recalls an era in popular song that remains somehow vital.

It’s a sound that retains a certain innocence, cloaked in the sophistication of the Great American Songbook, the bossa nova and samba sounds of Brazil, and the heady preoccupations of French chanson. It’s a voice, too, that through extensive touring and the release of a string of best selling records, the world has got to know well.

Since her debut album Close Your Eyes in 1997, Stacey Kent made her mark early on with a voice that reminded some listeners a little of Blossom Dearie. The late Humphrey Lyttelton played her records on the radio and Kent soon staked out a place of her own, sounding unlike anyone around. She quickly began to tour widely and released more records.

With the album Dreamsville Kent reached a turning point. Listen to ‘Violets for your furs’ for instance and you’ll hear a new seriousness, a less girlish confidence in the slow tempo, and an enunciation that is still quite remarkable, although from her first records Kent’s diction was often remarked on as was her interpretation of complex lyrics.   

By 2012, in a space of just 15 years, Stacey Kent has become one of the world’s most popular jazz singers. How she has achieved this is marked along the way by certain milestones, the chief of which was her signing to Blue Note records, which she announced in the summer of 2006 the night Quincy Jones appeared on the same stage she performed on at the Mermaid Theatre at the BBC Jazz Awards. Her first album for the label began a new songwriting partnership with the Booker prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro who, with her husband saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, wrote lyrics especially for Stacey, a partnership that made an immediate impact with ‘The Ice Hotel.’

Last year, on her first live album Dreamer In Concert, a more recent song joined their growing catalogue, the charming ‘Postcard Lovers’. Describing Ishiguro’s lyrics Kent says: “They’re very tender, optimistic, the perfect balance between the joy and the pain; and there’s one other thing that they do for me, there’s a lot of space, a lot of breathing. The lyrics allow me to talk to myself.”

Born in South Orange, New Jersey on 27 March 1968, as a young girl Kent was influenced by her grandfather. “He was crazy about poetry”, she said speaking in Paris last year. “And he taught me to speak French. There was no English in our life. He would recite poetry to me. I adored this man. My grandfather was not happy in America. It was sort of a joke in the family. It was a beautiful little universe that the two of us had, and I shared the same sensibility that he had.”

No surprise then that before embarking on a career as a jazz singer she studied modern languages, but decided to follow her instincts and move to England for more study. While London may have made her and music became her direction incorporating her love of foreign languages by singing in French later in her career, in the capital she made a home for herself, got married, and in the early-1990s first started getting noticed. She sang in Soho restaurants and clubs, and then cropped up in a small film role in Richard III starring Ian McKellen, singing a lightly swinging version of Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd To His Love’ with its coquettish opening line ‘Come live with me and be my love.’

Kent soon reached another staging post in her career with a rich run of form in 2002 and 2003 and on The Boy Next Door showed new aspects of her artistry by delivering a poignant interpretation of Paul Simon’s pretty melody ‘Bookends’ that hinted at new directions, along with her take on Carole King’s ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ and possibly a future as a jazz singer who spreads her wings.

Since her initial album for Blue Note Kent has turned her attention increasingly towards chanson and Brazilian music and on Raconte-Moi sang in French partly a reflection of, like her grandfather, the affection she holds for the language and culture of France, and partly as she has become one of the biggest jazz vocal stars there touring relentlessly and to enthusiastic response. She also became a ‘chevalier’ in the order of arts and letters, an award presented to her by the French minister of culture.

Fittingly Kent decided to record her first live album in Paris at La Cigale, an album that ranks with her very best, and judging by the audience overtures faithfully captured by the Blue Note engineers went down a treat in the theatre. British audiences see her less often these days as she is so much in demand beyond these shores, but last autumn the singer returned to her old stomping ground of Ronnie Scott’s straight from an appearance in Oslo. The first set of the performance that night was dominated by the wonderful linking of two Jobim songs ‘Dreamer’ and then ‘Quiet Nights’ (‘Corcovado’) both reflecting her affection for the English lyrics of the late Gene Lees.

With Stacey’s band that night of Graham Harvey on piano comping admirably while Jeremy Brown on stand up acoustic bass and attentive drummer Matt Skelton were as slick as they needed to be, Tomlinson’s tenor playing moved beyond his preferred Getzian hinterland and Stacey surprised everyone by playing guitar on the Brazilian songs.

What the future holds for Stacey Kent is anyone’s guess. While plans for her next album could well feature a Brazilian direction she has now reached a certain point in her career when she could go in one of several directions. But one thing is clear as her fame spreads, and even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg was moved to name check her at a widely reported developer conference last year. “The best”, as the song she sings so well has it, “is yet to come.”

Stephen Graham

Stacey Kent appears at Sculpture by the Lakes, Pallington Lakes, Pallington tomorrow http://www.sculpturebythelakes.co.uk and the Jazz and Blues Fest, Burton Agnes Hall on Saturday http://www.yorkshire-east-coast-unofficial-guide.com/burton-agnes-jazz-and-blues-festival-68-july-2012.html

This article was originally published as a programme note for two Stacey Kent concerts presented by the St Luke’s Music Society in Battersea, south London on 28 April http://www.slms.org.uk

Next month sees the first Happy Days Samuel Beckett festival and the Gavin Bryars Ensemble are to perform their magnum opus 1969’s The Sinking of the Titanic and a world premiere of The Beckett Songbook.

Bryars says: “I have chosen six poems for the collection, four of which are performed here: ‘My way is in the sand flowing’, ‘I would like my love to die’, ‘Song’ and ‘Something There’.”

The festival, which takes place in Enniskillen, county Fermanagh from 23-27 August, where Beckett went to school at Portora, also includes theatre performances of Krapp’s Last Tape, Rough for Theatre II, What Where and What Is The Word, Act Without Words 1, All That Fall, and Not I; readings and talks by among others Paul Muldoon and Alice Oswald, Edna O’Brien, John Banville, John Calder, James Knowlson, Lady Antonia Fraser, and Maggi Hambling. There’s also an exhibition ‘Tree for Waiting for Godot’ by Antony Gormley which runs from 16 July until 13 September. Stephen Graham

Pictured: Antony Gormley


Bob Belden has just played his first gig in London since 1980 last night performing a special surround sound set before following up this return to the capital with a club date at the Vortex tomorrow night.

The flautist/saxophonist and record producer last appeared here with Woody Herman, just two years after Belden graduated from the University of North Texas.

In recent years Belden has been a hugely significant Miles Davis reissue producer, and his own records as a leader have pushed forward a consolidated reading of jazz noir, particularly his 2001 album Black Dahlia.

With Animation made up of Belden, opening up on flute before switching to saxophone later, along with the blindingly propulsive electric bassist Jacob Smith; winningly brittle trumpeter Peter Clagett; Nord keyboardist Roberto Verastegui channelling the Bitches Brew era; and the Zach Danziger-like drumming of Matt Young, he performed a special set in Ambisonic surround sound with live video projections at the Tabernacle in west London.

The project is a collaboration with sound architect Serafino Di Rosario who was also on stage last night crouched behind a MacBook.

Di Rosario explained in a short talk to the audience how the technology is like the grandson of Dolby 5.1, and demonstrated echo delays and volume flexibility with sounds unexpectedly “living” in the room in a more organic way, a sense of being there.

With the audience sitting in the centre surrounded by speakers the band played a wide range of Belden material, and also debuted songs from new album Transparent Heart for RareNoise.

The standout new song of the evening was ‘Occupy’, Belden’s tribute to the protest movement that sprang up in New York’s Zuccotti Park last September and fanned out all around the world.

With projected images that showed solarised marching bands and almost robotic city figures ‘fried’ in the psychedelic graphic effects, as well as Antony Gormley-like lonely figures on high rise buildings, the performance was also in a way a homage and wake-up call to Manhattan, “an island off the coast of America”, as Belden told the audience.

Earlier in his dressing room Belden spoke of his admiration for Blue Note producers such as Duke Pearson, and explained how Michael Cuscuna got him involved in working on detailed reissue projects in the first place.

Other projects have seen Belden make a video documentary more recently with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. With the Herbster Belden also arranged songs on Hancock’s innovative 1990s album A New Standard, an album way ahead of its time.

Belden’s new album was recorded in Bill Laswell’s studio in New Jersey. Plans are afoot to bring the Animation surround sound show back to London in the autumn as well as stage it in New York.  Stephen Graham

Above: Mr B

For tickets to the Vortex show tomorrow, go to www.vortexjazz.co.uk


Pentangle’s ‘Light Flight (Theme From Take Three Girls)’ is just one of the rarities included on a new double CD compilation, TV Sound and Image: British Television, Film and Library Composers 1956-80 featuring hard-to-find TV, film and library music. Curious then given the dates in the title that the strap line on the cover (below), has different dates.


Rocksteady is a style of reggae I’ve often been drawn to, with Toots and the Maytals and Augustus Pablo among my heroes. I’ve been listening to some Bitty McLean as well recently who I’m less familiar with, and he’s performing with the Jamaican Legends band soon, alongside Ernest Ranglin, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, and Monty Alexander appearing on 29 July as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence at London’s IndigO2 in Greenwich. He’s also playing in the more intimate surroundings of the Jazz Cafe in Camden two days later.

The O2 is playing host to the Jamaica 50 Festival for 12 days of gigs with some of the greatest names in reggae and Jamaican music taking part including Jimmy Cliff,Yellowman, U-Roy, Mighty Diamonds, Marcia Griffiths, Freddie McGregor, Maxi Priest, Damian Marley, Derrick Morgan, and Toots and the Maytals all to appear.

Born in Birmingham on 8 August 1972 McLean had hits in the early 1990s with Fats Domino’s ‘It Keeps Rainin’ (Tears from My Eyes)’ a big breakthrough, and he also worked with UB40 as an engineer/producer as well as singing with the band. His albums include On Bond Street, and Movin’ On, with Sly and Robbie, recorded in Jamaica, and he continues a gigging association with the great Jamaican rhythm team to this day. With the “Riddim Twins" McLean has also recorded a follow up to Movin’ On to be released (although this is still unconfirmed) in the autumn.  

Stephen Graham

Pictured above: Bitty McLean



There’s an awful lot of Keith Jarrett activity at the moment with the release in July of the Belonging Band/European Quartet’s Sleeper, which I’m sure will excite a lot of people, and acts as an even more intense companion piece to Personal Mountains.

Five Impulse! American Quartet albums from 1974-1977 have also been reissued, that’s Back hand, Mysteries, Shades, Byablue and Bop-be.

But the Standards trio has not been forgotten about, although the Lucerne album recorded in July 2009 is not coming out for the time being, although I think that’s a good thing given the amount of Jarrett activity at the moment. Sleeper alone will enchant many’s a Jarrett fan for months and possibly years to come. But hopefully Lucerne won’t be too long in the offing.

I’ve been looking at pictures taken from around the time of the concert by Olivier Bruchez and a few are below.

I’m looking forward to hearing this concert partly because I attended an Abdullah Ibrahim Ekaya concert at the venue last year which completely blew me away. 

Listening on CD to the Jarrett release won’t be quite the same as being there but part of the fun is imagining that you were there.

The concert hall has wondrous acoustics and is quite a remarkable venue with an art gallery, smaller hall, and restaurants as part of the complex overlooking Lake Lucerne.

According to unofficial fan site keithjarrett.org the title may be Somewhere, and has long versions of ‘Somewhere’ and ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story.

Stephen Graham



Photos: Olivier Bruchez

Blue Note president Don Was told the New York Times some weeks ago that Van Morrison was returning to the historic jazz label and details of the album have now emerged.

Titled Born to Sing: No Plan B the album is to come out on 2 October in the States nine years after Morrison’s only outing for Blue Note so far, What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Recorded in Morrison’s home city of Belfast and produced by the singer who plays a special Bluesfest show at the Hammersmith Apollo in London tonight tracks are ‘Open The Door (To Your Heart)’; ‘Going Down To Monte Carlo’; ‘Born To Sing’; ‘End Of The Rainbow’; ‘Close Enough For Jazz’; ‘Mystic Of The East’; ‘Retreat And View’; ‘If In Money We Trust’; ‘Pagan Heart’; and ‘Educating Archie.’

Stephen Graham

Van Morrison in his Blue Note days (above). The best track from What’s Wrong With This Picture? is ‘Little Village’ as most fans and casual observers know see clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot2WQrXXoDU

Cheering news from musicweek.com that Wilton’s Music Hall has received £56,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The money is to help finance a building project to conserve and protect the venue, the last surviving Grand Music Hall. Grade II listed, the building is at-risk but earlier this year received £700,000 funding from the SITA trust to secure the first phase of a building project. The next step is for the Wilton’s Music Hall Trust to apply for a full £1.6m grant.

The venue has been used in recent years, while full restoration awaits, for gigs that make good use of its intimate and atmospheric surroundings, including an appearance by the great Malian singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré this month, and was used as a location for the basement club scenes of Stephen Poliakoff’s upcoming five-part BBC drama Dancing on the Edge set in the 1930s and the world of the consciousness-changing Louis Lester Band. Stephen Graham

Pictured above: Wilton’s

Amazing line-up at Back2Black from across the diaspora this weekend at the Old Billingsgate Market in east London.

Tomorrow it’s Macy Gray, Luiz Melodia, Linton Kwesi Johnson & Dennis Bovell, Marcelo D2, Baile Funk featuring DJ Sany Pitbull, Passinhos & Fininho, and the Emicida Drum Heads & Pracatum Drumming School.

Saturday sees some huge variety with Roots Manuva, Criolo feat. Mulatu Astatke, Hugh Masekela, Femi Kuti, Fatoumata Diawara, The Story of the Blues feat. Vieux Farka Touré, Lucky Peterson & the Roberto Frejat band, Soul Caribbean, DJ Nepal, Shrine Synchro System, TonoFlavio, Renegado, Candylo, Drum Heads & Pracatum Drumming School again and Sunday features Gilberto Gil, Amadou & Mariam, Martn’nalia, Toumani Diabaté + Arnaldo Antunes + Edgar Scandurra, DJ Joao Brasi, Jupiter & Okwess International, All Comers Drumming Workshop, Afrik Bawantu, Natasha Llerena plus DJs and a full talks programme.

Barack Obama ‘Hope’ 2008 presidential campaign poster graphic designer Shepard Fairey has produced a variant on the Rolling Stones logo to incorporate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the band to be celebrated next year.

Stones logo (top) and Shepard Fairey

Vijay Iyer won in a remarkable five categories of the Downbeat international critics poll, just unveiled by the prestigious US jazz magazine’s website.

The pianist was named jazz artist of the year, won top album for trio release Accelerando, and voted top pianist. His trio picked up the top jazz group accolade, and Iyer also won in the much coveted rising star composer category.

Vijay, who lives in New York city and grew up in New York state, was last in the UK with his trio for a two-night run at the Vortex club in London on 1-2 May a few days ahead of his cutting edge improv band Fieldwork’s appearance at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Since then in his capacity as the incoming director of the Banff international workshop in jazz and creative music in Canada he attended this year’s workshop before taking over officially next year.

Iyer will be back in the UK it’s understood for an appearance at the beautiful Bishopsgate Institute, close to Liverpool Street station, for a concert the date of which is still to be confirmed, a venue that will allow more people to hear him and the trio perform.

What Iyer with bassist Stephan Crump originally from Memphis, Tennessee, and powerhouse drummer Marcus Gilmore, habitually achieve in performance is quite astonishing and their impact has spread word of mouth and by the originality of their albums across Europe so that they have become a popular jazz club draw across the continent. Take say the way they interpret Herbie Nichols’ skittering ‘Wildflower’ from Accelerando, or ‘Galang’ (creating their “trio riot version”) the MIA song from the trio’s ACT album Historicity. It’s a revelation.

Stephen Graham

Vijay Iyer (above). Photo: Jimmy Katz

Hard bop falls in and out of fashion in rapid cycles.

But the style has become a hardy perennial with sufficient scope for reinvention as well as reinforcement of the staple Blue Note/Prestige “golden era" period in the late-1950s and early-1960s.

Appearing on the London scene some five years ago as one of the then current crop of Tomorrow’s Warriors artists in the making that included Zem Audu and Shabaka Hutchings (heard incidentally to effect on the Jazz Line-Up show last night on Radio 3) Mark Crown has made giant leaps of late.

Along with someone like Andy Davies who leads the jazz jam in Ronnie’s Bar on Wednesdays (although Andy comes out of the Kenny Dorham lineage while Mark is more from the Clifford Brown school), he proves the point that hard bop is relevant to a younger generation who bring new ideas to the style and avoid being too knowingly retro. Check him out here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQnhtGxC0Jk, and if you want to hear Mark in person with his new band he’s playing tonight with his Sack o’ Woe Quintet in a bill that also includes prog organ trio Troyka and avant garde pianist Howard Riley.

Stephen Graham


What kind of place must Milo’s in Leeds be? You can make an educated guess by listening to a clip of Roller Trio playing ‘The Nail That Stands Up’ on YouTube and you would in all probability be completely wrong, because there’s only so much you can glean from a bit of murky video captured in some unknown club in a faraway place that you might only ever visit if the arbitrariness of life takes you there.

One thing though that the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsIm_SKzvuQ) does convey is the sharp scuzzy attack of the band that bristles with one thing a lot of super educated young jazz polite boys often lack: attitude, the kind of Only This Matters Ever attitude of a Paul Weller on form, a Roy Hargrove when he’s totally gone, or an Andrew Plummer in the dystopian depths of his stage persona when nothing else counts.

Roller first surfaced by winning the Whittingham, the prize that has spotted noted talents of the order of Soweto Kinch and World Service Project. The Roller boys are electronicist/tenor saxophonist James Mainwaring, guitarist Luke Wynter and drummer Luke Reddin-Williams, and in case you haven’t flicked up the clip or checked them out on Soundcloud, like to dip their toes in garage rock, and blend it with the brooding beats beloved of the Bristol scene, and up to the minute dubstep routines spliced with an on-the-fly improvising candour.

They’re featured as part of the BBC Introducing night at Band on the Wall in Manchester on 16 July along with new bands Dakhla, im Quartet, and Eyes Shut Tight. Worth buying their debut album if you can get hold of a copy.

Stephen Graham

A rare sighting: A few years ago John Garfield ran an excellent Sunday afternoon session in what was then called the iBar, now the Stone Marquee, in Whetstone, north London.

A jazz singer in the tradition of Frank Sinatra, every week for about nine months he appeared in residence as singer and MC with his swinging trio and guests of the calibre of Liane Carroll, Sebastiaan de Krom, Robin Jones, and Frank Holder, plus many more.

The atmosphere was convivial, fun, slightly unusual in an old school way, and a lot of this was to do with John.

In his heyday John made more than 200 broadcasts with the BBC Radio Orchestra, and Midland Light Orchestra.

Jazz standards in his hands are not like those performed by someone going through the motions: the songs mean something.

Garfield manages to make the songs come alive as if each line was a character, someone you know, or a set piece in a drama that like life itself you could have lived through.

At slow tempos, and still now when he’s well into his eighties Garfield has the kind of poise that young crooners like Alexander Stewart and Anthony Strong aspire to and even Jamie Cullum would admire the artistry of.

In New York Garfield performed with Dakota Staton, and worked as a staff writer with music publishers, and back in London recorded a tribute album to Sinatra at Abbey Road, with an orchestra arranged by Dave Lindup better known as writer of the theme music for classic TV sitcom Rising Damp and as a collaborator with John Dankworth. He professes a great admiration for Lena Horne, who he also performed with, as well as Bing Crosby in the unlikely venue in Bing’s case of the back of a cab!

John is guesting with the quartet of Derek Nash, Graham Harvey, Len Skeat and Neil Bullock on a few numbers for Jazz at The Comedy Club, in the George IV pub, 185 High Road, in Chiswick on Wednesday night.

Stephen Graham