Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project
Edition **** RECOMMENDED NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
With all music by Kenny Wheeler, London Vocal Project director Pete Churchill in the album notes explains that Mirrors was a commission for five solo voices in the first place, and with Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler, they duly performed it at the 1998 Berlin Jazz Festival. After performing the material with various college choirs and then, with the London Vocal Project five years ago, Churchill realised he “knew Mirrors had finally found a home.” The poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) lies at its heart, and Kenny Wheeler’s music has meshed with it perfectly. But it’s not just Smith whose work forms the text for the vocals element, here interpreted by the LVP whose members number 25 split into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with Wheeler joining on flugelhorn, Winstone the featured solo singer, pianist Nikki Iles, Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophones, bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren. Besides settings of Smith’s work, the highlight of which for me is the delightful ‘Black March’ (‘I have a friend/At the end/Of the world’), there are settings of Lewis Carroll, and briefly WB Yeats (Winstone excelling on ‘The Lover Mourns’). Delight is a word that constantly springs to mind, an echo of ‘I sing this song for your delight’ on ‘Humpty Dumpty’ at the beginning. The singing is lovely throughout, ethereal, and endowed with a life force all of its own. Somehow everything manages to remain understated yet has impact, the unique charm of the album. Mirrors is still a further example, after The Long Waiting, of the extraordinary late-period flowering of Kenny Wheeler’s artistry once again. There’s a section on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ when Wheeler, Lockheart and Winstone interact spontaneously to tremendous effect, but it’s just one instance of the spirit on display on this remarkable album.
Released on 25 February
The View From Here
Jazz Village ***1/2
It’s uncanny although not a drummer’s record, The View From Here has that Jazz Messengers feel subtly transformed organically with the passage of time. “The View From Here” could even be an outlook on a pivotal period of jazz history, the Golden Age in the 1950s and 60s, rather than in some literal sense of a landscape or babbling brook. It’s scenic though, with the two Graemes (Blevins and Flowers) on saxophone and trumpet/flugel respectively, Martyn Kane on drums and Andrew McCormack on piano with Eastwood working as one on some pretty melodies. As much a film composer in recent years he’s no slouch at releasing records with his band and at only 44 Eastwood has packed in a great deal in his career so far. I think From There to Here right at the beginning is his best album to date, but this latest one builds on the huge advances made in Songs from the Chateau, and is easily his most mature album. Eastwood isn’t the most showy of bassists, and his instrument is quietly amplified whether on double or electric bass, and often not that demonstrative even on some of the solos he takes. That’s to his credit to an extent leaving the two Graemes as the public face of the album, with the harmonically advanced McCormack taking up the slack when he chooses to let off some steam. But The View From Here is also a classic hard bop quintet record, and not about the individuals as individuals. So in that sense, and perhaps it’s the first time in Eastwood’s jazz work so far, all the elements of his personal musical interests mostly steeped in the golden age of Blue Note records have come together on one set of tunes. ‘Sirocco’ has a perky “unsquare dance” feel to it (one of the most notable tunes, which each of the band had a hand in writing), and the album is also imbued with a link to the winds of the Mediterranean, and to Africa, with some track titles to reinforce these connections. There’s also, characteristically, an air of romance in Eastwood’s writing, and ‘Luxor’, which Eastwood has co-written with McCormack, is a good showcase for the Clifford Brown side of Graeme Flowers to emerge, with a melody that has a gracenote-leading character, before his peach of a solo. An unashamedly retro album that could have been made in the late-1950s or early-1960s, but no worse for this. If you’re an Eastwood fan already you’ll love this. For the unconvinced The View From Here is as good a place as any to start.
Released on 25 March
Oli Road Records ***
Singer-songwriter, keyboardist and arranger Oli Rockberger, a Londoner who has made his way steadily in the US music industry since studying at Berklee, has played with a host of jazz luminaries since, including the likes of Randy Brecker and Les McCann and two of his co-written songs will appear on Randy Brecker’s latest album. Old Habits is Rockberger’s second album as a singer songwriter (following the promising Hush Now), and this his latest album to be released in March, has guests who include erstwhile Pat Metheny Group harmonica whiz Gregoire Maret, guitarist John Shannon, and Becca Stevens Band drummer Jordan Perlson. The nine songs, plus bonus track ‘My Home’, are radio friendly jazzy pop with resemblances to Randy Newman and James Taylor. ‘Old Habits Die Hard’ has a bluesy feel that opens out into a gospellised keyboards break with the sound all misted up, which is part of the oblique appeal in the production. ‘Don’t Forget Me’, with multi-tracked vocals, harks back to the Phil Collins 1980s vocal sound circa ‘In the Air Tonight’, and is the best song on the album by far with its air of slight regret (‘Under the stars with the falling snow/Don’t forget me when I go’). The more upbeat ‘Queen of Evasion’ has a Steely Dan-like vibe, while ‘My Home’ has a lovely piano opening, a bit like Bob James would have recorded in years gone by, and sounds as if it could be used as a TV theme. It’s got that slightly ambiguous bittersweet quality, a character the album as a whole shares. Stephen Graham
Oli Rockberger, above
John Turville performed at the first Shearing Hour last night at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in a new early-evening piano hour slot at the Soho club in London. The theme of the hour was the music of George Shearing, and award winning pianist Turville whose album Conception, the title track of which is one of Shearing’s best known compositions, performed some newly transcribed material associated with Shearing. He interpreted Shearing’s signature “locked hands" style admirably, with a nuanced airy feel, and the club’s newly tuned Steinway sounded a treat. As well as ‘Conception’ he played the great Horace Silver’s composition ‘The Outlaw’, which appeared on the Shearing Quintet’s 1960 Capitol album San Francisco Scene, and another of Silver’s, ‘Room 608’. The set also featured ‘Station Break’, a lesser known tune from the Shearing live album Rare Form recorded in San Fran, the standard ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’, ‘September in the Rain’ (the Shearing Hour’s theme song), and of course ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, which Turville played quite beautifully. Earlier the audience, who would swell to fill the club to hear jazz singer Clare Teal deliver a fine performance later in the evening with her piano trio, warmed to some original 1947-1952 Shearing gems played over the club’s house sound system. SG
John Turville pictured at the Shearing Hour. Photo: Aimua Eghobamien
One word is already amounting to a major theme of jazz releases this year and that is: Duke. Of course, it’s Duke as in Ellington, and with Mark Lockheart releasing his remarkable Ellington in Anticipation record and heading out on tour http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/38943427946/265 , the uncanny Ellingtonian homage in Adrian Johnston’s original music for Dancing on the Edge http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/40600198373/2847525 set to reach a TV audience next month, the early part of 2013 will also see the release of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s new Spartacus records album In the Spirit of Duke. Recorded in the autumn of last year actually in Scotland the album follows the SNJO’s 2012 debut for ECM, Celebration, which featured Norwegian bass supremo Arild Andersen. Tracks on the new album are thought to include ‘Black & Tan Fantasy’, ‘Concerto for Cootie’, ‘Harlem Airshaft’, ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’, and movements from ‘The Queenʼs Suite’, plus the Ellington Strayhorn jazz adaptation of Edvard Griegʼs ‘Peer Gynt Suite’. Soloists on the album include pianist Brian Kellock, trumpeters Tom MacNiven and Ryan Quigley, alto saxophonist Ru Pattison, and director Tommy Smith on saxophone adopting the role of Paul Gonsalves on the Ellingtonian’s celebrated Newport crowdstealer, ‘Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.’ SG
In the Spirit of Duke is released on 13 March. Members of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Tommy Smith pictured top. Upcoming SNJO dates with guest trumpeter Paolo Fresu are Caird Hall, Dundee, 21 February; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 22 Feb; Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow, 23 Feb; and Macrobert, Stirling, 24 Feb
The input of the music of the Cape Verde islands in jazz, particularly as it appears indirectly within the music of Horace Silver and more directly with the late Cesária Évora, is considerable, and Souza, who’s in her early thirties from Lisbon of Cape Verdean descent is another part of the stream merging local folkloric musics and jazz. Released in France as long ago as September the new album comes out in the UK next month. Called Kachupada, after a well loved Cape Verdean dish, Souza is certainly not brand new, but fairly unknown to jazz audiences in the UK, although world music fans know of her here more but she has mutual appeal it’s clear. A decade ago the singer whose voice has a lingering contralto lilt was first working with the producer bassist Theo Pas’cal and she debuted in 2003 with an album that mixed Creole, African and Cape Verdean rhythms. Poppy at times, but not as light as a singer such as Luisa Sobral, on the new album Souza lets loose some lively vocalese on tracks such as ‘Tchega’, and there are jazz standards such as ‘Donna Lee’ and ‘My Favourite Things’ here sparkily handled, with a sympathetic band varying in size as the album tracks demand. So, a laidback sound with plenty of jazz textures (fine instrumental solos for instance saxophonist Guto Lucena’s on ‘Terra Sab’ [‘Amazing Land’]), along with pleasurable rhythms in abundance, although saudade is never far away. SG
Following news earlier this week that Liane Carroll is to headline the new Brilliant Corners festival in March, the following month, it’s now understood, will see the latest album to be released by the award winning singer who is also touring heavily in the spring. Titled, quite simply, Ballads, it’s the classic jazz singer’s latest for Quiet Money Recordings, trumpeter James McMillan’s label, who returns to produce Liane once more following their work together on Up and Down released two years ago. This new album features arrangements by Chris Walden whose work includes Paul McCartney’s 2012 album, Kisses on the Bottom.
Ballads tracks include ‘Here’s To Life’, featuring Carroll’s powerful vocals along with classical guitar and celeste; ‘Goodbye’ with a Walden orchestration and Mark Edwards on piano; a big band take on ‘Only The Lonely’ (not the Roy Orbison song, the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen torch song closely identified with Frank Sinatra); ‘Mad About The Boy’ with an appearance by pianist Gwilym Simcock; jazz standard ‘You’ve Changed’; Todd Rundgren’s ‘Pretending To Care’ featuring the bass clarinet of Julian Siegel; ‘Calgary Bay’ by songwriter Sophie Bancroft; a strong reading of ‘My One and Only Love’; ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ with acoustic guitar and the saxophone of Kirk Whalum who worked with Liane on Up and Down; ‘The Two Lonely People’; and the Buddy Holly associated song ‘Raining in My Heart’. Stephen Graham
Liane Carroll pictured top, and the album’s cover. Ballads is released on 15 April
Muddy Waters’ son, bluesman Mud Morganfield, and a debuting Champian Fulton, are two highlights of this year’s Fife Jazz Festival fast approaching. New York-based singer Fulton is appearing with her trio. Also for Fife in 2013 are The Norrbotten Big Band, Carla Cook, Graeme Stephen, Erja Lyytinen, The Nimmo Brothers, Red Stripe, Dan Block, Eric Alexander, Tim Kliphuis, Brian Kellock, and David Blenkhorn. This weekend festival runs from 1-3 February, and concerts are spread across the kingdom of Fife in cities and towns from Anstruther to Auchtermuchty, with main concerts in Dunfermline, Glenrothes and St Andrews. SG
Above Mud Morganfield, and right Champian Fulton. For the full programme click http://www.fifejazzfestival.com/2013-programme.html
The Hillside Mechanisms
Roland Ramanan, the trumpeter son of the influential West Indian trumpeter and poet Shake Keane to whom he paid tribute on the 2002 Emanem album Shaken, has with this trio record laid down a substantial footprint all of his own. Vole, on the record that’s Ramanan, guitarist/electronicist Roberto Sassi, and drummer Javier Carmona, in their band name sound as if they collect together as one small creature, but the album artwork with its mechanical drawings makes one think not of a small being but instead of a futuristic machine as the artwork has some extraordinary cylindrical apparatus depicted in diagram form. Ramanan, who is also known for his longstanding work with the London Improvisers Orchestra, as well as his bands Swift and Wooden Tops, was inspired early in his career by the drummer and educator John Stevens at a Search and Reflect workshop. In the album note to this Babel records release, one of the distinguished label’s finest, speaking of the Hillside in the title Ramanan refers to the road where the “laboratory” of drummer Carmona’s house has acted as a hub for musicians such as himself and guitarist Sassi, who has also created the artwork, “passing through”. What they concocted musically via this meeting of minds was to draw on pure improvisation and composed music. Ramanan, speaking further of “interesting interlocking rhythm structures as well as a certain gritty edge to it”, has an appealing tone, a little reminiscent of Don Cherry’s but also with the wildness of the European avant garde, say early Enrico Rava. There’s also a tenderness on a tune such as ‘No Knees’ that says hit the replay. An album that’s both free jazz and improv (sometimes it’s easy to say one or the other, harder to claim both), and to my mind this doubling indicates width and vision in both performance and improvisational approach. Co-operatively written the eight tracks with the unobtrusive electronic textures on ‘Tim’s Frosties’ just one of the ways the music manifests itself, the exploratory forays of Ramanan’s here and on other tracks, and prevailing drums, a little like the Sunny Murray approach, add up to an excellent album.
The Shearing Hour launches at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Thursday. It’s a solo piano hour beginning at 7.15, ahead of singer Clare Teal’s return to the club later in the evening. The first Shearing Hour, named after the great pianist and composer George Shearing, features a set from pianist John Turville whose trio album Conception was released in the autumn by F-IRE Records. The winner of a Parliamentary Jazz Award for best album in 2011 Turville’s debut Midas turned heads on release gaining a profile for the pianist and composer part of the burgeoning Walthamstow scene. On Conception, he was joined by Jamie Cullum bassist Chris Hill and drummer Ben Reynolds plus cellist Eduardo Vassallo on some tracks. The album highlight turned out to be its title track ‘Conception’, the George Shearing bop original arranged sympathetically by Turville.
The Shearing Hour with its theme of ‘September in the Rain’ has never been a better time to recall Sir George Shearing who died on Valentine’s day in 2011 at the age of 91. Famed for ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, the 1952 theme that was written for the original New York jazz club Birdland, Shearing was a hero of the beats and in On the Road Jack Kerouac writes: “Shearing rose from the piano, dripping with sweat; these were his great 1949 days before he became cool and commercial. When he was gone Dean pointed to the empty piano seat. ‘God’s empty chair,’ he said. God was gone; it was the silence of his departure. It was a rainy night. It was the myth of the rainy night.” Shearing who was blind was born in Battersea and after learning piano at the Linden Lodge school for the blind became a pub pianist in Lambeth, and after a break began recording for BBC radio in the late-1930s. He joined a band led by Harry Parry and won Melody Maker awards before two years after the war emigrating to the United States where he made a name for himself playing at New York night spot the Hickory House with the Oscar Pettiford Trio. Later he recorded for Capitol (famously with Nat King Cole one of several revered albums for the label), among other record companies. His quintet with vibes player Margie Hyams, guitarist Chuck Wayne, bassist John Levy and drummer Denzil Best recorded the best selling ‘September in the Rain’ for MGM and the quintet with different personnels ran intermittently until the late-1970s. The Shearing Hour, put together by Marlbank in association with Pizza Express Jazz Club, is a celebration of the great man’s music and an introduction to the fine talent of John Turville.
John Turville top and Sir George Shearing above. pizzaexpresslive.co.uk Visit the Shearing Hour on Pinterest for clips and photos http://pinterest.com/shearinghour/the-shearing-hour
Liane Carroll, David Lyttle, Mark Lockheart’s Ellington In Anticipation, Steve Davis, and Alexander Hawkins are part of the line-up of the first Brilliant Corners jazz festival, to be held in Belfast from 21-23 March at the MAC, the Black Box and the Belfast Barge. Taking place in the city’s Cathedral Quarter, the three-day festival, which draws its name from the classic 1957 Thelonious Monk Riverside album, is promoted by leading Northern Ireland producer Moving on Music.
Director Brian Carson says: “Many of today’s more popular music forms take direct influence from jazz and there seems to be a real movement at the moment. Jazz has had a bit of an image problem in recent years, which is definitely changing. We’re seeing a whole new audience coming to our events throughout the year, and an extremely talented group of new musicians emerging. It’s an exciting time.” The line-up is: Continuous Battle Of Order, Decoy (Thursday 21 March, Black Box); Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print (21 March, Barge); Ellington in Anticipation (21 March, MAC); David Lyttle and Interlude (Friday 22 March, Black Box); Ronnie Greer Blues Trio (22 March, Barge); Steve Davis’ Human (22 March, MAC); Arthur Kell (Saturday 23 March, Barge); and Liane Carroll (23 March, MAC). Stephen Graham
David Lyttle top right, to play the Black Box at Brilliant Corners, and Liane Carroll headlining at the MAC on the Saturday night
Concert in Athens
ECM New Series ***
With a considerable body of work for ECM already in the catalogue, this Athens concert hall performance of music by the distinguished veteran film, theatre and TV composer Eleni Karaindrou recorded in 2010 begins somewhat glacially with saxophonist Jan Garbarek a slightly masked presence at first. Slowly its treasure unfolds as the strings draw out the tender theme. Along with other guests, celebrated viola player Kim Kashkashian and oboist Vangelis Christopoulos with Karaindrou on piano, this chamber music album, utilising a small band of musicians and the Camerata Friends of Music Orchestra conducted by Alexandros Myrat, takes in music written for the films of the late Theo Angelopoulos, with whom Karaindrou is strongly associated, as well as music for the theatre including American classics Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Death of a Salesman. ‘Requiem for Willie Loman’, the tragic hero of Arthur Miller’s great play, and the very theme captured so well by Garbarek, and reprised at the end of the album once more, is the sort of work that the composer must have had to keep a brave face writing. You’d need to be made of flint not to be moved by this album highlight as it unfolds so unflinchingly and returns so effectively at the album’s conclusion. So, superior arthouse mood music as a whole, with a serious disposition the meditational footprint of which is often tellingly felt. SG
Released on 11 February
A Childhood Suite
In Dominic Alldis’s latest trio album A Childhood Suite for jazz piano trio and orchestra, the pianist, arranger, and composer explains he is “always looking for melodic material with which to inspire new creative projects.” He had realized at an earlier point that the simplicity of nursery rhymes allowed for great variation and instant recognition, and earlier album Songs We Heard (with bassist Mark Hodgson and drummer Stephen Keogh) first drew on the idea of a trio improvising on nursery rhymes from around the world. This new release reworks more than a dozen of these arrangements, adding a string section and containing an Alldis original. With the pianist are modern-mainstream bassist Andrew Cleyndert, and Spin Marvel drummer Martin France, whose trio work with John Taylor and Palle Danielsson has been justly praised. Beautifully recorded at Menuhin Hall, A Childhood Suite, has a simplicity and sincerity rare these days in the hustle and bustle of the record industry demanding a certain crash, bang, wallop approach. You many have come across Bruno Heinen’s Dialogues trio record Twinkle Twinkle last year, when the pianist put ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ under the microscope as Mozart did in a different time and fashion, and as Alldis does here. But think of A Childhood Suite as a broader sweep, beyond jazz although of it in the same way as the album draws on classical music, with a soft soothing touch more like a finely constructed harmonic reverie than a more inquisitive foray at the raw materials of the musical themes. ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ is typical of some of the momentum generated by the trio, and with a dark opening, the mood changes to allow for a developing momentum and joyousness that many of the other improvisations also possess. Very much in the Jacques Loussier or David Rees-Williams stream of light jazz and classical synthesis it’s an album that never lacks for charm and empathy, with some lovely moments along the way including the captivating Vaughan Williams-like violin solo and fine arrangement on ‘Girls and Boys Come Out To Play.’ Stephen Graham
The Dominic Alldis trio pictured above
Last year was like a dream for Roller Trio, and it wasn’t just that they picked up nods from the Mercury and MOBO prize panjandrums or surprise discombobulated indie scenesters at the Roundhouse. It was also a good year for the F-IRE label whose vicarious pleasure in their band’s success was palpable.
This year, once the snow has melted, is about touring and while the northern outfit is not returning to Milo’s in Leeds where the fuse was lit at least on YouTube where you’ll see them play ‘The Nail That Stands Up’, Roller Trio are appearing not far away at the Venue in Leeds College of Music, the very college where the band first met. Super educated young jazz polite boys and girls who haven’t heard them so far can catch the band there should they venture out or at a jazz spot around and about. Dates are: The Lescar, Sheffield (30 January); Kings Place, London (2 February); King Tut’s, Glasgow (23 Feb); Capstone Theatre, Liverpool (28 Feb); Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich (7 March); Vibraphonic Festival, Exeter (14 March); Venue, Leeds (22 March); Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham (6 May); and Hare and Hounds, Birmingham, on 29 May. SG
The Venue, Leeds College of Music top where Roller trio above, right play in March
The James Taylor Quartet are to release their latest album Closer to the Moon an album that suggests a broadening of scope for the Jimmy Smith-influenced Hammond organ-led acid jazz era band as the album planned for a 6 May release is to bristle with added celeste, vibes, harp, zither, gong, glockenspiel, and apparently even tubular bells. Hammond man Taylor who fronts the longstanding outfit also takes a lead vocal on ‘Close To You’, a definite departure. JTQ touring dates before the album release include a return to Ronnie Scott’s, London appearing with the Nick Smart Horns and singer Yvonne Yanney from 20-23 March; then the Donkey in Leicester on 6 April; Guildhall, Portsmouth (12 April); and Assembly Hall, Islington, London for two nights on 3-4 May just ahead of Closer to the Moon album day. SG
James Taylor, above
In the National Theatre foyer earlier, and returning later this afternoon for a further 90-minute set, singer Aimua Eghobamien’s Indigo Sessions took the chill off a wintry day on the Southbank with a fine mix of songs subtly delivered. Featuring two double bassists Jerome Davies and Oli Hayhurst joining Eghobamien and The Face of Mount Molehill violinist Julian Ferraretto the set opened with a poised, downtempo reading of the 1920s Irving Berlin standard ‘Blue Skies’ , but the highlight was perhaps Randy Newman’s ‘Same Girl’ from the singer/songwriter’s Trouble in Paradise album released 30 years ago this month, with a lyric close enough to indigo just like the opening Berlin song, the ‘Same Girl’ lyric effortlessly captured by Eghobamien’s bass baritone: ‘With the same sweet smile that you always had/And the same blue eyes like the sun’, performed with a suitably languid jazz connotation. SG
Indigo Sessions above continue at 5.45