Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, a former winner of the Monk saxophone competition, and a well travelled recording artist since, returns with a studio album to be released on the Whirlwind label recorded in Paris called Guardians of the Heart Machine. Blake appears fittingly enough with a French band (Tony Tixier, piano, Florent Nisse, double bass, and Gautier Garrigue, drums) and tracks include ‘Wandering Aengus’ inspired by the great Irish national poet WB Yeats. To be issued on vinyl and digital on 15 March.

Billed as the first jazz conference in Ireland and to be held over three days the Dublin conference at the newly named Technological University Dublin marks the centenary of the first documented jazz performance anywhere in the 32 counties. Keynote speakers are Krin Gabbard whose books include Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus; and Gabriel Solis author of Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Organiser Dr Damian Evans explains more in this Q&A: 

How did you come up with the idea and why?
When I finished my PhD, I wanted to stay in contact with the European jazz studies research community and in particular bring some more awareness in Ireland to the fascinating research being conducted in Europe and globally. The timing seemed perfect with the 100th anniversary of jazz performance in Ireland. The conference was a way of bringing some of those scholars to Ireland, to try to develop and foster an Irish jazz studies community and at the same time add to my own list of experiences. I was one of the founders of the Galway Jazz Festival so organising large events wasn’t entirely outside of my skill set.

How do you think jazz has developed in Ireland in the last decade?
Tough question. I think there are fewer performance opportunities for most musicians. It’s become more of a band scene rather than individual musicians. The younger scene has developed, as it usually does, and as could be expected, their influences are wide and varied. I haven’t gotten out to nearly as many gigs as I would have liked to have in the last four years or so, but there are a lot of good musicians, though it’s as difficult as ever to turn into a career.  

Why the focus on Documenting and what do you mean by that? Could you give some examples?
Anytime we talk about a representation of jazz that isn’t live performance, we are talking about documenting jazz. Liner notes, posters, internet images, blog posts, newspaper archives, recordings, movies, the list goes on. Often when we are talking about jazz, it is these things we are talking about. The process of documentation is a process of mediation, in which meaning is created and embedded. It shapes how we understand the music, and ultimately what the music becomes. 

Who will be speaking and what will they be speaking about?
There will be 25 3-speaker panels so approximately 75 speakers. There is an extensive range of topics, that can be found on the draft programme on the website. From historical analysis to critical analysis to lecture recitals, from pre-jazz to the present. From Japan to Ireland to America and everywhere in-between. 
The conference website can be accessed here 


EXCLUSIVE Elegant avant interplay here on the almost hymnal meditation ‘Non Plus Ultra’ taken from the upcoming limited edition vinyl (also digital) album Ex Nihilo (like the title all the tracks are in Latin) from saxophonist Binker Golding and pianist Elliot Galvin. Engrossing intertwining improvisation with Golding landing ever more in the Evan Parker domain the album featuring tracks recorded at the Vortex is released by the London indie label Byrd Out who are promoting the Walthamstow Jazz Festival which takes place next month during which Golding and Galvin can be heard.



“Hobgood is continually pulling rabbits out of hats, getting me to re-think and re-feel songs I’ve heard thousands of times, shining a light on hidden structure and interplays I had never noticed before,” according to Dr Daniel J. Levitin who wrote the million selling This is Your Brain on Music.

The latest “rabbits” on pianist composer Laurence Hobgood’s upcoming jazz trio + strings album Tesseterra, more than four years in the making according to issuing label Ubuntu, include ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘Blackbird’, and  ‘We Shall Overcome’ among the instantly familiar repertoire he tackles.

The recording features pianist composer Hobgood famed for his work with Kurt Elling and Charlie Haden alongside bassist Matthew Clohesy and drummer Jared Schonig + the ETHEL string quartet.

In an video issued to promote the project Hobgood says the process involved: “Writing for jazz trio and string quartet where we take songs that everybody knows, iconic songs and rework them in thoroughly fleshed out and imaginative ways that are intended to delight and suspend time if possible.” Release date, no exact date has been specified yet, is February/March.

Hearing Gemstones (released by the Listen Foundation, “Fundacja Słuchaj”, in Polish) the other day for the first time I was convinced that I had heard it before. It seems so familiar. Like a pair of old shoes, a favourite coat, somehow all freshened up after a trip to the cobbler’s to get a new heel or to the dry cleaners to get rid of the remnants of last night’s grits and gravy it feels just right. Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola is a fine player and knows how to deliver utilising an open, no safety net, rambling, bluesy free-jazz (ie Stańko or Wadada Leo Smith resembling) sometimes brutal and ferocious style.

Caught in the heat of expression the sympathetic and highly driven bass part (the work of Maciej Garbowski, who reminds me of a John Edwards approach) and Andrew Cyrille-like drum input (by Krzysztof Gradziuk) goad him on. Without piano there is a freedom.

Each of the five tracks is named after a gemstone and all were freely improvised recorded live in the Polish city of Katowice. This has instant classic written all over it. Want some spirit, some sheer balls? Look no further. Tell your mates. A perfect act for a club like the Vortex.

Melancholy Blues

Another very auspicious anniversary. 2019 is one of those years. 60 years since Ronnie Scott’s opened, 50 since ECM was founded.

Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis 80 years ago were booked into a studio by Alfred Lion for his new at that time unnamed label Blue Note on 6 January 1939 at the radio station WMGM in New York. Lewis four years earlier had been found by producer John Hammond working at a car wash and soon placed Lewis and his earlier song Honky Tonk Train Blues’ at the heart of a craze for boogie-woogie.

Lion provided whiskey and tunes included ‘Boogie Woogie Stomp’ and Ammons and Lewis played 19 takes in all.

In March Blue Note 1 came out featuring two of those takes: Lewis playing ‘Melancholy Blues’ and ‘Solitude’. Blue Note 2 issued at the same time had Ammons playing ‘Boogie Woogie Stomp’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Blues’. Only 25 of each 10-inch disc were made and they were sold by mail order. 

SLIDER WITH ROSIE This looks worth your time, an extract from an original sounding EP by trombonist Rosie Turton called Rosie’s 5ive from the Jazz Re:freshed label. Tracks are Stolen Ribs, The Unknown, The Purge, the Herbie Hancock tune Butterfly covered in recent years by the likes of Robert Glasper, and Orange Moon. The band personnel is not listed but I think joining Turton are Johanna Burnheart – violin; Maria Chiara Argiro – piano; Twm Dylan – bass; and Pete Hill – drums. A sprawling laidback dark modal vibe, Turton takes up the mantle of Annie Whitehead a little although there is no South African side to her direction at all on this glimpse anyway but I am also hearing probably more to the point a bit of the bluesy sound of Frank Lacy as per his work with McCoy Tyner on an album like Journey or with the Mingus Big Band. Burnheart reminds me of someone like Nigel Kennedy feeding feverishly into the sound on top of the rhythm section. A 14 January 2019 release date is advertised. Turton plays Kings Place on 27 April in one of her biggest shows to date. SG

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve is a Frank (‘Baby’s It's Cold Outside’, ‘On a Slow Boat to China’) Loesser song. The lyrics, a “jackpot question in advance”, missing you, who are you with speculation, self doubting, self pitying, hopeful song with a happy ending, surfaced in 1947 sung by Margaret Whiting who sold a helluva lot of records in her day and her version is really pretty fetching, gently swinging, I suppose if you like Peggy Lee you will warm to this. The Frank de Vol band you could, should you be in that kind of mood, dance to. 

At the end of the 1940s the close harmony Orioles are much better even bearing the cheesy ‘Auld Lang Syne’ intro in mind. It lopes along and the quality of the lead singer croon has a real gospelly soulfulness which was completely absent on the Whiting version above. Even the out of tune piano lends it a certain atmosphere and charm.

Fast forward to the early-1960s and probably the best version you will ever hear, Ella Fitzgerald gives it an all-the-time-in-the-world nonchalance and skates along, the orchestra practically in awe behind her in a superb arrangement. Ella manages to imbue it with happiness and sadness at the same time something no one on any of these versions achieves.

The late Nancy Wilson tackled the song in a release three years on from Ella’s and hers has a twinkling beginning and then very forceful strings behind her from this modern vantage point Dionne Warwick-resembling voice. Very, very classy it must be said. There is such a vivaciousness here you will not find anywhere else which is remarkable.

Johnny Mathis is not known as a jazz singer but he was clearly influenced by Nat King Cole and his voice is a marvel. But to be fair while his version has its charms the production shrouds his vocal in all sorts of sonic gunk, more the ghostest than the mostest as a result.

Yes the 1980s were largely a terrible time for music. And that is where we have landed for soul singer Gladys Knight’s version of the song. Her version seems an uphill task until the backing singers rescue the song to make it passable and they ooze ease to spur Knight on although no one spares the treacle.

Harry Connick’s 1990s version underlines once again what an influence he was on Jamie Cullum. The tempo is perfectly stately and the piano player comps beautifully with both sax player and strings doing their best to crowd in.

Smooth jazz hell of course it is our duty to report from the mega-selling Boney James. 

Into the noughties Barbra Streisand is not a jazz singer although the much later Love is the Answer is a jazz album and she proves that she can be one if she wants to because it proved to be one of the finest jazz vocals albums you will ever hear. A top show singer however who can sing jazz well is always worth hearing. A wonderful strings intro sets this up and Streisand’s vocal, a breathless hush as ever, is showy perfection and worth your time.

I’d rate Clare Teal as the UK's greatest classic jazz vocalist alive and active today especially when a big band is to hand and this by contrast intimate setting stands up with the very best, jing jing-a linging along. SG

Larry Grenadier

It is not only Jeff Ballard from the Brad Mehldau trio who will be striking out again in 2019 as a leader. The famous piano trio’s Larry Grenadier will also be highly visible with The Gleaners, which is set for a mid-February post-Valentine day’s digital release first, which happens to fall shortly after Grenadier’s 53rd birthday, followed by CD and vinyl formats a week later.

A Manfred Eicher-produced studio album to be released by ECM which was recorded in New York in late-2016 will be that rarity: a bass solo album an endeavour few bassists have ever successfully traversed before.  

The only two marlbank can think of are Peter Kowald’s 1995 free-jazz classic Was Da Ist and probably a little closer in outlook Eberhard Weber’s beautiful Pendulum again from the 1990s. 

Grenadier, who we think is one of the world’s best jazz bassists and here is our list to make sense of the terrain, was “inspired by Agnès Varda’s film The Gleaners and I” according to ECM, and the album includes his so far unnamed originals, a dedication to Oscar Pettiford who remains a strong influence on another of the world’s great bassists, Christian McBride, plus George Gershwin, John Coltrane, Paul Motian, Rebecca Martin and Wolfgang Muthspiel material. On the Grenadier website there is a little more elaboration, the site author noting the presence of “a pair of works written especially for Grenadier by guitarist, longtime friend and fellow ECM artist Wolfgang Muthspiel” and an instrumental interpretation of a song by his wife the singer-songwriter Rebecca Martin. (Further reading, on a Muthspiel tack: a review of a record that Grenadier appeared on memorably, Driftwood.)  
Larry Grenadier photo: Wikipedia