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 and the Jazz and Blues Fest, Burton Agnes Hall on Saturday

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

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

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

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

Pictured: Antony Gormley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Mr B

For tickets to the Vortex show tomorrow, go to


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

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

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

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

Stephen Graham

Pictured above: Bitty McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Graham



Photos: Olivier Bruchez

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

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

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

Stephen Graham

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

Cheering news from 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, and if you want to hear Mark in person with his new band he’s playing tonight with his Sack o’ Woe Quintet in a bill that also includes prog organ trio Troyka and avant garde pianist Howard Riley.

Stephen Graham

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

One thing though that the video ( 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

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:   


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


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

I still can’t quite believe that Lonnie Liston Smith is to play London once again in a high profile jazz club setting after a considerable gap. He’s coming in to Hideaway in Streatham on 13 July, and in some style.

The laidback jazz, funk and soul keyboardist used to come to the UK fairly regularly, often at the Jazz Cafe in Camden where I saw him in the 1990s, and he certainly made a strong impression on me at the time. Liston Smith, who is 71, has a very laidback, spaced out won’t-be-hurried style, very African at times, and in keeping with the moods of Bobby Hutcherson’s San Francisco period say or even Steve Reid’s crossover explorations. Associated with Pharoah Sanders (the wondrous Karma) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and a sideman briefly with Miles Davis appearing with Miles in On The Corner and Big Fun, Smith, who was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1940, led his own band Cosmic Echoes memorably in the 1970s making a string of albums including Expansions.

He’s been quiet of late, but still a name to conjure with among the cognoscenti, leaving the acid jazzers in the UK in the 1990s and since to keep Liston Smith’s music on everyone’s radar. The smoochy ‘Quiet Storm’ late night sound did not prevail as much as the Hammond organ approach acid jazz also got behind but Smith never conformed to a rigid genre, which is part of his great appeal and explains his distinctiveness.

His appearance in Streatham is all the more remarkable given that it’s on the same bill as Brian (Winter in America) Jackson, the keyboardist/singer who with Gil Scot-Heron made one of the key black consciousness albums of the 1970s, a classic whose influence is still relevant today.

Heavily sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Common, Jackson is still woefully undersung by the broader UK music community.

Family Stand’s Sandra St Victor and Mark Adams are also on the Hideaway bill with Liston Smith and Jackson.

Stephen Graham

Lonnie Liston Smith (pictured, above)

While jazz’s loss is clearly humanism’s gain (or are they not both and the same?) guitarist Billy Jenkins’ role as a humanist officiant means we don’t see him gigging or recording quite as much as in the past.

So it’s good that this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival is to mount, get this: ‘The Drum Machine Plays The Battlemarch of Consumerism’, an extended Jenkins composition created, composed and scored for six drumkits by the guitar poet of the suburbs himself.

Martin France of Spin Marvel is at the helm, and he’s perfectly placed as a leading percussionist in Jenkins’ outlandish Voice of God Collective for many years, with percussion students from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama heading to Brecon to perform the piece.

‘The Drum Machine’ dates back a dozen or so years with Jenkins making plain to Making Music magazine at the time his motivation for the piece: “I want folks in clubs dancing to real musicians — those who take the responsibility for every single sound they make, not a pre-programmed pathetic microchip with parameters, pressed once by a self appointed purveyor of so-called music taste."

Jenkins has not been terribly impressed, to say the least, by “the rise of compressed digital recorded sound sources that constrict timbre and intonation," and you can see his point as we have all become inured to the march of technology which often values ease of use more than quality of sound.

The concert takes place in Brecon’s Theatr Brycheiniog at midday on 10 August.

Stephen Graham

Pictured above: Still sounds like Brecon Billy Jenkins

Recently performing with Food at the Bath festival the Anglo-Norwegian band is to return with the follow-up to the acclaimed Quiet Inlet in September. The band, which fuses a sense of English pastoralism with airy Nordic textures, is to be released again by the ECM label, with the album, as yet untitled, bringing together Iain Ballamy and Thomas Stronen, with guitarists Christian Fennesz and Eivind Aarset, plus trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and south Indian slide guitarist/singer Prakash Sontakke.
That’s not all, as Ballamy’s relationship with ECM has blossomed to also encompass the debut of the band Quercus expected next year. Quercus sees the saxophonist joined by pianist Huw Warren and folk singer June Tabor, with tracks including traditional folk songs and music by the elegiac John Dowland who Warren has championed in the past, and new music from Ballamy including a setting of  Shakespeare.
Stephen Graham

Pictured: Quercus

It was a rare sighting of the Danilo Pérez trio at Ronnie Scott’s last night, a whistle stop appearance ahead of a gig in Paris at the Duc des Lombards club tonight. These days it’s easy to think of the US-based Panamanian in terms of the Wayne Shorter Quartet primarily and that’s not surprising as the quartet has had such an impact on jazz over the last 10 years. Pérez’s trio has a very different approach but like Shorter it’s a showcase for the imagination of a composer at work. Bassist Ben Street (“the Godfather,” as Pérez jokingly dubbed him in the second set) has a Scott LaFaro scrabbling way about him and bunches his fingers almost like a contortionist across the bass producing some exquisite chordal ideas, sounding at times loosely coiled to give the ex-Paul Motian sideman even more syncopating fire power. Drummer Adam Cruz, looking a little like a younger Barack Obama, could turn up the power but was able to anticipate and develop soloing lines when Pérez wanted to stretch out. Performing some new music, dedicated to his daughter, the set highlight was easily Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ from the 1985 In Square Circle album, although Pérez did a fun mischievous unfolding version of ‘Besame Mucho’ late on which drew smiles. Pérez is a natural educator and as artistic director of the Berklee Global Institute in Boston has been bringing on top new talent from around the world. His communication in music outside the halls of academe was easily demonstrated as he got the audience to sing a note, harmonise, adapt, and then with the trio improvise on the chords created, plucking music from the air. Overall an evening heavy on ballad-type songs, it perhaps needed a bit more momentum at times, but the delights more than compensated. Pérez said a few times he’d like to take the audience with him on the train to Paris: “Nine o’clock at the station!”

Stephen Graham  

The Clearing, great song; yes

If you’re around on Thursday check out singer Sara Schiralli who is appearing at the Apple Store in Covent Garden with former Amy Winehouse guitarist Robin (Burnin’ Bobby G) Banerjee. She’s signed to Universal France for what it’s worth. The album hasn’t surfaced at all here. It’s free; pop in after work. I’ll post some more videos and links on more posts coming up.