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

image

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

http://www.happy-days-enniskillen.com

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.

http://www.souljazzrecords.co.uk/releases/?id=28326#

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

http://www.theo2.co.uk/indigo2

http://venues.meanfiddler.com/jazz-cafe/full-listings/featured-gigs/7042

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

image

  image

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

http://thecockpit.org.uk

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

http://www.chiswickjazz.co.uk

I’d read The Bosphorus Dogs: it raised funds successfully through Kickstarter last year, but it won’t be published until 2015 apparently. Why so long? Who knows.

But we do know it’s a “character-driven, literary novel set in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul", according to Zabor, that begins in September 2003.

Three main characters, an American expat in his fifties, now teaching in a local college; his estranged grown up daughter; and a Israeli friend of the expat’s, are the main engine for the action. The intriguing bit based on this tiny summary is the last of the three, as he or she (Zabor leaves it open so far) may or may not be a stringer for Mossad.

Zabor says “Istanbul’s roving dog packs do get a mention and a look, but the title refers more generally to anyone who has come to Byzantium-Constantinople-Istanbul for a scrap of its old and new glories and a richer sense of life."

I’m a big fan of The Bear Comes Home, Zabor’s earlier much celebrated novel about a saxophone-playing bear. If you like any author, and appreciate the style, sincerity and energy of the writing, the little indulgences, quirks and irregularities, particularly someone as funny, engaging and knowing as Zabor, then the subject matter is less important.

If it corresponds with something you’re interested in deeply than it’s even better. But he could write about marmalade or gorse bushes or tiny little trinkets or great big sculptures and I’d probably read it.  I won’t even be too disappointed if it is a dog: promise. Stephen Graham

One of the key things director of Warner Music Group Edgar Bronfman Jr. said against the Universal/EMI merger in front of the US Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee was this: “To put it in context, last year, the largest movie studio, Paramount, had a market share of around 20 per cent. Random House, the largest trade book publisher, was less than 20 per cent. And Comcast, the largest cable operator, had just over 20 per cent of pay television."

The danger for jazz music, a tiny part of the overall picture notwithstanding, in such a merger is that historic labels chiefly Blue Note could possibly go into semi-hibernation for a period of some time as the reorganisation unfolds and then become just like any other label to be marketed this way and that. It would be a bit like what’s happened to the Verve marque for long periods under Universal’s stewardship. 

Artists that might have appeared on Blue Note could well be having “Universal Music" slapped on their records or some compromise construct, a blanding out that means nothing except it’s music from a big company that could be selling soap powder or ball bearings. It has no connection with the soul and heartbeat of the music whatsoever. Labels used to have this crucial element at their core, big or small, and many still do.

Surely the wheels should come off this deal if such strong objections are registered, and Bronfman has made an important point. The chilling thing is that should the deal go through Universal/EMI combined would have a huge 42 per cent US market share.

Stephen Graham

Arriving earlier in the day by plane from Hamburg, where they have been recently working on the soundtrack of a television drama, Tingvall Trio made their UK debut last night at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho.

Tingvall trio, that’s Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall based like Cuban bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo and German drummer Jürgen Spiegel in Hamburg, are a big deal in Germany winning ensemble of the year at the Echo awards and charting at number one in the German jazz charts. Their previous albums Vattensaga (2009), Norr (2008), and Skagerrak (2006) have each sold around 15,000 copies, and their latest album Vägen (‘The Road’) has just been released in the UK by their long time label Skip, like the band based in Hamburg.  

Martin Tingvall, 37, was born in the southern Swedish province of Skåne and studied jazz piano and composition at the Malmö Academy of Music moving to Hamburg in 1999 and founding the trio four years later. Tingvall writes the songs, which have an anthemic nuanced feel, and the band is frequently compared to EST, whose last ever UK club appearance was coincidentally in Pizza Express Jazz Club during a lunchtime industry event held by Jazzwise celebrating its tenth anniversary. Spiegel, the oldest of the group at 40 has a background in rock and African music, while Calvo two years younger has a wonderful ringing tone in the tradition of the late great Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ López tempered with the European sound of say Palle Danielsson. The trio has a contrapuntal style that draws out prettily punctuated themes, but retains a sense of drama despite the accessibility, and features some real improvising, with an obvious unforced band empathy throughout.

Opening with ‘Sevilla’ from Vägen and bookending the first set with the album’s hooky title track, Tingvall’s first inspiration was McCoy Tyner but he has a style that does not betray this first love. With an impressive lightly worn technique Tingvall’s naturalistic style encourages an emotional kinetic connection with the audience, and, looking around, people responded with smiles of recognition, and warm applause that got progressively greater as the evening went along. Most of Tingvall’s songs have Swedish titles, and the band also played ‘Trolldans’ from earlier album Norr, and the devastating ‘Movie’ from Skagerrak as well as material from Vattensaga (‘Water stories’).

It’s taken years for the band to play in this country; let’s hope it will be only a short time before they return, so many more audiences can experience their intuitive musicianship and refreshing intelligent approach to the jazz trio.

Stephen Graham

Three as one: Martin Tingvall (above, left), Omar Rodriguez Calvo, and Jürgen Spiegel at Pizza Express Jazz Club last night. Photo: Roger Thomas

The Forge in Camden may well have that Friday feeling this week as guitarist Hannes Riepler beams in with a pretty extraordinary band to launch his debut album The Brave.

Riepler is pretty special himself, and since taking hold of the Tuesday jam at Charlie Wright’s in Hoxton over the past two years, the Austrian has got himself firmly established.

In his early-thirties he has written all the tunes on The Brave, just released by Huddersfield indie jazz label Jellymould.

With roots in the acoustic jazz of the 1950s and 60s, he’s joined on the album and at the Forge by piano star Kit Downes; Ma saxman Tom Challenger; Cornish bassist Ryan Trebilcock; and Kairos 4tet drummer, Jon Scott.

The album is urban sounding at times, despite the mountain air evoked in ‘Tyrol, Tyrol’, the song Riepler says charts his journey from his homeland to the big city, Amsterdam and now London.

Playing a 1980s Gibson Chet Atkins Country Gentleman that evoke sounds steeped in the tradition with an ear to the ground for contemporary jazz guitar particularly post-Kurt Rosenwinkel, Riepler is raring to go. Check him out, you might be too.

Stephen Graham

The Forge is on Delancey Street. Tickets: www.forgevenue.org   


image

After 33 years the emergence of Sleeper is a seismic event the significance of which will be felt for years to come.

Listening to the 28-minute version of ‘Oasis’, the flute/percussion flavoured track on the second CD of the Keith Jarrett ‘European Quartet’ album – some 10 minutes longer than the rendition of the composition you’ll find on Personal Mountains – it’s hard to avoid thinking about Jarrett’s former employer Charles Lloyd.

Jan Garbarek has always had an unworldliness about him, just like Lloyd, a mysticism too, and there is a sense of this here that Garbarek is placeless, operating not in 1979 when the music was recorded and is now released for the first time, but in the ancient past.

The song feels as if it could have been performed in a cave, or on some lonely plain with just the four musicians present, but yet it’s in front of an audience in Tokyo.

Jarrett possibly contributes percussion effects on this track as well (it sounds as if there’s more than Christensen at work), but even if this is not the case his role here is different to say that on the wondrous ‘Innocence’ from the first disc.

‘Unlike the version of ‘Innocence’ on Personal Mountains it takes five minutes for the heartstopping theme from Garbarek to emerge after a so-honest-it-hurts bass build up from Danielsson’

Towards the latter part of ‘Oasis’, an informal but no less grand symphony of a piece, both Garbarek and Jarrett become more emotional on the song, as if some switch has been turned on, and it’s the level of intensity that makes the European Quartet so special not just here but made blindingly obvious with this release.

There is something quite naïve about the level of motivation on Sleeper which in artistic terms is almost like a surrender, and it’s easy for a listener to sense this sheer abandon. 

In a year when remarkable new music has already been unearthed from the archives (the game changing early-Wes Montgomery Echoes of Indiana Avenue set from Resonance; and 301 the beautiful Sydney swan song by EST), Sleeper is still a milestone and adds hugely to what we know about the Belonging band.

Stephen Graham

Sleeper is released by ECM on 16 July

Herne Hill in south London, an increasingly bijou area not far from Tulse Hill and Streatham with the lovely Brockwell Park a popular local amenity and lots of new cafes and boutiques opening up in recent years, is to have its very own jazz venue in 10 days’ time with Jazz on the Hill starting up.

Billed as a “new jazz venue in south London", it opens not long after Streatham’s Hideaway which opened its doors successfully in 2010 and has expanded greatly since, a very hard act to follow.

Kicking off on 29 June with a free entry day and what owner Tony Dyett and the team are dubbing “three days of great jazz to celebrate the best of live jazz in London", the venue located at 214-216 Railton Road, London SE24, offers Caribbean cuisine, cocktails with lunch, dinner and available.

The opening programme includes the Damon Brown Quartet (29 June), The Simon Spillett All-Stars (30 June) and the Dave O’Higgins Septet (1 July)
Dave O’Higgins Septet

Stephen Graham

Pictured: Dave O’Higgins

A concert by Nat King Cole’s younger brother Freddy Cole in late-2010 for me was one of the most enjoyable and unexpected gigs I’d been to in years. Cole, it doesn’t really bother him, had just reprised performing as the voice of his brother Nat on the marvellous animated feature film Chico and Rita.

And at this particular concert playing piano and singing on the small stage of the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho’s Dean Street, sometimes standing at a separate microphone, accompanied by the band, he was settling down for a couple of nights. 

Since then he’s been back in London round the corner at Ronnie Scott’s and he’s back there tonight and tomorrow. Definitely a case of do yourself a favour and get down.

When he’s off stage, Cole told me during a break that night at the Pizza, he likes to play golf and take things easy. And maybe he was following the US Open on TV at the weekend.

Onstage golf couldn’t be further from his mind and he brings to life some very old songs by some very hip people, like Billy Eckstine and really knows how to do the lovely Eckstine song ‘Pretty One’. At Ronnie’s he’s with the same band I saw that night, guitarist Randy Napoleon, drummer Curtis Boyd and Elias Bailey on the bass.

Stephen Graham

Freddy Cole, pictured

I’m looking forward to catching Lively Up! later in the year.

The touring festival is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence with a raft of concerts around the country.

The centrepiece of the music is Bob Marley’s 1973 album Catch A Fire reconfigured by the Jazz Jamaica All Stars with the Urban Soul Orchestra and guest vocalist Brinsley Forde of Aswad.

Other elements include a tribute by Nu Civilisation Ochestra to Joe Harriott, a collaboration between Tomorrow’s Warriors and the JazzCotech dancers, and an education strand.  

Dates are: Sat 22 Sep - READING Concert Hall; Fri 28 Sep -  NOTTINGHAM Theatre Royal; Sat 29 Sep -  NOTTINGHAM Lakeside Arts Centre; Sun 30 Sep -  NOTTINGHAM Nottingham Contemporary; Fri 05 Oct -  HARROW Harrow Arts Centre; Sat 06 Oct -  BRISTOL Colston Hall; Sat 06 Oct -  BRISTOL St Paul’s Family Centre; Sun 07 Oct -  BRISTOL Trinity Theatre; Mon 08 Oct -  SOUTHAMPTON Turner Sims Concert Hall; Wed 10 Oct -  BRISTOL St George’s Hall; Fri 12 Oct -  SOUTHAMPTON Guildhall; Sat 13 Oct -  BIRMINGHAM Town Hall; Fri 19 Oct -  MANCHESTER Band On The Wall; Sat 20 Oct -  MANCHESTER RNCM Theatre; Sun 21 Oct -  MANCHESTER Band On The Wall; Wed 24 Oct -  LONDON Queen Elizabeth Hall; Fri 26 Oct -  LEEDS Town Hall; Wed 31 Oct -  LEICESTER De Montfort Hall; and Fri 02 Nov -  EDINBURGH Usher Hall

Stephen Graham

Info: http://livelyupfestival.com

Cover of Catch a Fire, above

Released earlier this week Unity Band, the first stirrings of Pat Metheny’s new acoustic quartet, a band of the great Missourian’s that features the presence of saxophone for the first time in many years, is the sort of album that does not come along every day. 

Metheny, while dazzling of late with his Orchestrion album and the charming if a little low-key What’s It All About (the spooky orchestrion makes a brief cameo on Unity Band), his output on the last two albums could be seen as part of a holding pattern to partly prove a point firstly technologically and secondly in terms of interpreting pop tunes. Unity Band is a more organic concept, and introduces two big talents: one fully formed and majestic in Chris Potter; the other, in Ben Williams, a player still on his way, but with sky high prospects and already displaying significant character on the double bass. Metheny has already started touring the band in Europe but here in the UK we’ll have to wait until 8 July to hear the Unity Band in the flesh, and what a prospect that is.Unity band cover

One thing that has struck me in following Metheny in recent years is: whatever happened to Lyle Mays? With the Pat Metheny Group parked in the (presumably American) garage, his writing talents with Metheny should not be underestimated, and his keyboards always added a unique flavour to PMG shows even if his solo albums invariably disappointed.

The Unity Band of course is completed by Metheny’s long time trio drummer Antonio Sánchez who we’ve never quite heard enough of in the UK as the trio with Pat, Antonio and Christian McBride never toured here. Now’s the time for him to shine as well.

Stephen Graham