CD Round Up: Quercus/Wako/McCormack/Simkins/Baptiste/Latchin/Malija

I have been steadily listening and reviewing a few CDs for London Jazz News over the last few months (other distractions notwithstanding) – more than I thought looking back.  Here’s a round up.  The obvious thought is how much great music is being produced,  how varied it is and how much it deserves  proper attention (as well as being good for the heart and soul!).  The latter is a slightly coded mea culpa apology to slow response/ digestion time  for new offerings that come my way.

I’ve also noticed that four of the seven are trios, three of which are drumless.  Is a new trend quietly emerging? Here’s the list/ round up (oldest first). Clink on the links to see full review on London Jazz News

quercus_nightfallQuercus – Nightfall.  The latest offering on ECM from jazz-folk crossover trio of Tabor/Ballamy/Warren. Review here.

 

Wako_modes for all eternityWako & Oslo Strings – Modes for all Eternity.  A Norwegian quartet  and string trio thread a line through improv, through composed and jazzy pieces.  Review here.

McCormack_gravAndrew McCormack – Graviton.  The pianist explores more groove based/ electronica based turf with a stellar band including Shabaka Hutchings and Eska.  Review here.

Simkins_TrioGeoff Simkins – In A Quiet Way.  The Brighton based altoist weaves a bit of deeply jazzy magic with pianist Nikki Iles and bass legend Dave Green. Review here.

Baptiste_late traneDenys Baptiste – Late Trane. The British tenor man’s tribute to and exploration of Coltrane’s latter years output. Review here.

 

Gabriel Latchin photoGabriel Latchin – Introducing Gabriel Latchin. Debut release from (not-so) new-comer Latchin. A swinging trio out of the classic mould. Review here.

 

MalijaMalija – Instinct.  Another (drumless) trio, this time of Lockeart/ Noble/ Høiby. There’s plenty of melody, groove and imagination to spare. Review here.

 

 

 

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Ambleside Days – the last post

The bass was parked, music scattered, instruments abandoned to be collected later.  The musicians had left the stage. As we all left  Screen 2 at Zeffirellis for the last time in the four-day-fest, there was an inescapable sense of having witnessed something momentous.

I mused mid fest about the ‘recipe’, orchestrated by Derek Hook the festival director, of a pool of musicians combined and recombined over the four nights.  Saturday saw the sublime Printmakers playing opposite a trio of Gwilym Simcock, Tim Garland and Joe Locke.  Sunday was billed as evening with Dave Holland, which turned out to be solo, quartet (Dave with Simcock- Mike WalkerNorma Winstone), trio (Dave with Nikki IlesJames Maddren), quartet (the trio plus Mike Walker) and then the ensemble flowered into a mini big band, the full cast list from the previous days with the addition of Nick Smart popping up on trumpet and flugel-horn.

What held the dizzying rotation together was that ‘contemporary music’ tag and the reference point and celebration of John Taylor.  There was a tricky to define but discernible sound, a particular use of harmony, musical choices about melody and space that gave the music identity.   It was a joyous and appropriate finale then for the mini big band to play  a couple of sections of Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Time Suite.  Holland, Stan Sulzmann and Norma Winstone were all on stage who played on the original Large and Small Ensembles recording with of course, John Taylor on piano. The final blast of Wheeler’s Foxy Trot also had the Holland-Taylor rhythm section on the original.  The Wheeler, Taylor legacy flavours so much of the music that these musicians play and it sounded like their natural habitat.

That was true even when they were playing standards or original material.   Added to that was a visible delight in each other’s presence.  Joe Locke’s quartet set had started with an angular arrangement of Autumn in New York and he was grinning delightedly at Asaf Sirkis as the drummer caught and embellished every rythmic fill.  Heads turned and eyes snapped sideways all weekend at moments of magic and hot interaction.  Mike Walker beamed slowly as Dave Holland’s solo on In Your Own Sweet Way worked its way to an intense climax in the quartet set with Winstone.  Holland visibly caught his breath and smiled as an exquisitely crafted line seemed to float from the piano and hang in the air during a Nikki Iles solo in their trio moment.

In amongst all the ‘for one night only’ configurations, The Printmakers reminded us how compelling a regular ensemble can be. Their take on Vince Mendoza’s Ambivalence was a hear-a-pin drop moment as the chanting motif faded away.   Mark Lockheart and Walker did their familiar but always enchanting evocation of a beach, the guitar providing swooping seagulls over the sax’s breathy shifting sands before the band slid into Nikki Iles’ Tideways. Walker’s scatological story telling threatened to become a stand-up routine before his own glorious, surely-nearly-a-standard-now Clockmakers made the stoniest heart swell.

We saw a lot of everyone in different line-ups.  Gwilym Simcock appeared every night and was dazzling in his range of expression from the faintest glazes of an open piano string to the tumult of Barber Blues that closed the trio set with Mike Walker and Joe Locke.   Mike Walker’s instinct for when not to play, conjure an unlikely growl or rumble from his guitar, let a fluid melodic line insinuate itself through a chord sequence or simply to rock out was a consistent delight every time he took the stage.  And what a treat to see and hear so much of Dave Holland. For all the virtuosity and command of his instrument, there was tingling thrill every time he settled into a groove and made the music pulse and glow.

Creating so many one-off line ups could have been a risk. As it was, there wasn’t a part that didn’t create special, exciting and moving moments. And the sum of all those parts? That word ‘momentous’ seems about right.

 

 

 

 

Cheltenham Jazz Festival Round -Up, April 30th & May 1st

Cheltenham Jazz Festival  just gets better. Uncertain sunshine and icy squalls couldn’t take the gloss off, although it may temporarily have driven a few punters out of the open air festival pitch in Montpellier Gardens. Capacity of the wallet and ability to absorb sublime music limited me to a couple of gigs on Saturday and delicious trio of them on Sunday, almost all of which have been reviewed by London Jazz News’ near wall to wall coverage , so brief impressions here.

Saturday

Having in recent years come across various alumni of either Birmingham, or Norway’s Trondheim Conservartoires, I thought it was about time I caught up with the Trondheim Jazz Exchange‘s now annual showcase of the current generation of students on Saturday lunchtime. Three ensembles, each a mixture of students from both institutions performed mainly original music seasoned with a few classics. The second drumless ensemble, performed a piece based around a haunting theme that emerged after much atmospherics, and the ethereal sound of Sondre Ferstad‘s harmonica. A sparse pulse from Ben Moorhead‘s bass anchored Simon Ovinge‘s Frisell-esque guitar solo, all lingering phrases and country-ish reverb.   Vittoria Mura‘s tenor completed the quartet that rather stole an absorbing show for me, sandwiched as they were between two very classy sets full of vim and explosive and exploratory playing.  An absorbing hour or so in the present that augered well for the future.

After a bit more dodging of showers, I was back in the Parabola Theatre for The Printmakers to show just why they’ve been nominated (again) for a Parliamentary Jazz Award.  After a few introductory riffles and sighs from the band, Breath Away developed a seemingly effortless headlong momentum, James Maddren on drums and Steve Watts‘ bass a master class in how to lock together and generate propulsive energy without filling all the space up. With Norman Winstone‘s vocal twisting around Mark Lockhart‘s sax it was glorious whilst being familiar.  Niki Iles‘ Tideaway had a ‘natural effects central’ intro with Winstone and Lockhart evoking breezes whilst Mike Walker supplied the seagulls from somewhere inside his guitar. His Clockmaker had the band flying and Maddren lighting a fire under them on a vamp out, no wonder Walker was grinning. They are surely one of our finest small groups, with a playful energy and restrained lyricism that enfolds the listener.

Sunday

It didn’t take long for the FDR Big Band to warm the cavernous Town Hall early on Sunday afternoon, playing Julian Arguelles‘ arrangements of South African Jazz, much of it penned by the exiles, like Chris Macgregor, Dudu Pukwana with whom he, brother Steve and Django Bates played. Those three were the guests with the big band. Arguelle’s arrangements were sublime, packaging up the irrepressibly joyous tunes and grooves for maximum impact and bouncing the melodies around the band, so they were like a massed choir.   The repertoire was largely that of the CD release Let It Be Told,  but this was a rare, possibly not to be repeated chance to see the live set. I for one left wondering how anything was going to come close for the rest of the day (or maybe the year).

Trumpeter Christian Scott provided a total contrast later in the afternoon on the smaller of the two tented stages, the Jazz Arena.  Tony Dudley Evans (who must have been getting quite a bit of exercise as he popped up introducing every band I saw), described Stretch Music as an embracing  different types and inspirations for music beyond classic jazz. That could have been a metaphor for the whole festival as I’d arrived there via the future  of North European jazz, the cream of English bands and a German big band playing South African music.  It was ironic then, that this set stretched the definition the least although it was no less thrilling for that. This was a new line-up for Scott, with alto Logan Richardson and pianist Tony Tixier joining Scott. As a result, there were just a couple of forays into stretch territory with pre-recorded loops, heavy beats, distorted twisting melodies and lots of effects producing ghostly hoots and keening screeches from the trumpet. Most of the set however was an exuberant, burning versions of some classics with Eye of the Hurricane, Equinox, a modal Donald Harrison piece that even had Scott quoting solos from So What before the tune suddenly veered off into a racing take on Miles Davis’ Dolores.  It was exhilarating stuff, Richardson showing just why he’s so lauded currently and TIxier on piano a revelation. The packed Jazz Arena crowd loved it.

My day ended with another contrast, back in the Parabola Theatre for a Sunday evening set IMG_0002.jpgwith Gioavanni Guidi‘s trio.  The intimate space could have been designed for a set like this.  The trio weave between quite simple themes, sometimes a tone poem, at others the most delicate of Bach – like decorated melodies, still others repeating growling motifs. There may be a hail of notes, sounding like they might be pouring from a bucket, or a single bell like tone allowed to fill the room. Joao Lobo shadowed and complemented every move with rustles, disruptive flurries of rhythm and moody squeals using what looked like random ‘objet trouves’.   A delightful set, ending with an encore of, getting its second airing of the day, the South African stomper, You aint gonna know me cos you think you me dedicated by a grinning Guidi to Claudio Ranieri.

There may be bigger festivals, there may be louder festivals, but the diverse programme and concentrated buzz of Cheltenham’s annual jazz feast is surely hard to beat.

 

 

 

The shock of the familiar; Welcome back Loose Tubes, Cheltenham Festival, Saturday 3rd May

“I’m feeling a bit emotional” declared Tony Dudley-Evans, Cheltenham Festival host and programme advisor, as he took the stage to introduce the first gig of the re-formed Loose Tubes. He wasn’t the only one. With preview features galore in the jazz press and I’m sure a deluge of reviews to follow, I’m not going to add to them with an account of the gig and the music, but with a brief personal reflection on the emotional response.

Like a significant portion of the audience, I had never seen Loose Tubes live (Ashley Slater‘s wildly divergent repartee in between tunes included an invitation to previous initiates to raise their hands; it was a minority) and yet from the first chord of the huge ensemble, there was something breathtakingly familiar about the sound. It wasn’t the familiarity of a much listened to recording, more like the sound of an old friend’s voice, something that has made up the warp weft of life’s routine.  This was momentarily a puzzle until I reminded myself, with a quick scan of the stage, just who was in the band.   My personal discovery of jazz started around 1990 with a ‘hear something you like – listen to something connected’ odyssey that quickly led to all sorts of music that moved and excited me and was surprised to find under an umbrella marked jazz; Iain Ballamy‘s All Men Amen, Julian Arguelles‘ Phaedrus, bands like The Perfect Houseplants and Django Bates‘ Human Chain and Delightful Precipice.  Which of those bands didn’t have Martin France on drums? Hallf of them had Steve Watts on bass. There they all were on the stage.  Chris Batchlelor was there as well , animator of so many diverse bands, so too was Mark Lockheart. Without knowing it at the time I was delighting in the legacy of the creative maelstrom that was Loose Tubes and an approach to music making that was unapologetically eclectic, often politically committed, always passionate and frequently delivered with a huge grin and a wink.  No wonder the band sounded like an old friend, I’ve been listening to them all in different incarnations for approaching 25 years. And their individual and collective influences are readily apparent if you listen carefully to new generations of musicians all around. Once those Tubes were Loose, there was no putting them back in a box.  I can report that on the evidence of Saturday’s gig, their joy and exuberance in music making is undimmed (old and freshly penned alike) .  Long may they continue. It’s life enriching and life affirming stuff.

Ellington in Anticipation, Saturday 26th April, Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-upon-Avon

Ant_Ell_WMCFragments of a familiar melody appeared and then evaporated at the end of a piece that was all insistent, chattering rhythms from different sections of the septet, overlayed by flowing melodic lines and fiery soloing from the consistently exciting Finn Peters on alto  and peerless, always individual Liam Noble on piano; “… ahh, its Caravan..” . Composer, arranger, saxophonist and leader Mark Lockheart  confirmed it for us with a wry smile and “that started life as ..” a phrase used more than once in the evening.

Ellington in Anticipation is transparently born out of Lockheart’s lifelong immersion in, love of and intensely personal response to the music of one of the twentieth centuries greatest composers and bandleaders. The success of  his own re-imagining of many of the classics and the performance of them  by a fantastic band as well as originals inspired by the master has been widely recognised. The CD topped many critics ‘best of 2013’ lists and they are short listed for a Parliamentary Jazz Award. The chance to catch a live performance at the Wiltshire Music Centre was one not be missed, a decision shared by a healthy audience on the night. The new sound system there and investment in managing the lively acoustic of the hall has really paid off with a really good balance and presence everywhere in the hall that makes gigs like this a great prospect.

Having launched the evening with It don’t mean a thing if it aint got that swing re  – worked with a rolling African flavoured groove under it and that desconstruction of Caravan, the eclectic references continued. Satin Doll became Jungle Lady with more urgent rhythms in an endless flow from Seb Rochford‘s deceptively minimal kit and James Allsopp‘s clarinet solo upping the excitement levels. Come Sunday slowed the pace, the hymn-like vibe there but with as many folk like inflections as gospelly ones in Lockheart’s reading of the familiar melody.   The arranging was unfailing inventive and evocative. Viola player Magrit Hasler was frequently given lines that doubled the piano’s right hand or Allsopp’s bass clarinet locked with Tom Herbert‘s propulsive bass creating unususal textures and sounds that  nevertheless somehow conjured up the atmosphere of the Ellington Orchestra.

If at the halfway mark we were savouring the beautiful music but were wishing they’d just let rip a bit more, this was a line-up of some of the most creative and incendiary improvisers on the current scene after all, then in the second set they certainly stretched out. A dazzling exchange between Mark Lockheart and Finn Peters over a driving riff was viscerally exciting; Liam Noble’s solo piano introduction to Lockheart’s composition Beautiful Man was packed with rhythmic and melodic ideas explored and developed with alternating cascades of notes and two fisted percussive playing.

This was an evening of music making of the highest order, unquestionably a celebration of Ellington’s music and influence. If he’d been there he’d surely have been elbowing Liam Noble out of the way to get stuck in.

Essentially Ellington: SNJO/ Ellington in Anticipation, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, Saturday 23rd November

Duke Ellington is said to have avoided the word jazz, saying there was only good and bad music and referred to his own work as American and ‘beyond category’. It ‘s impossible however to make sense of all the music we celebrates as jazz and jazz inspired without acknowledging the musical language and legacy of the great composer, bandleader and pianist. This gig was the centrepiece of a series of events doing just that as part of London Jazz Festival.

Two contrasting sets first by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, re-creating the sound, look and experience of the Ellington Orchestra and then Ellington in Anticipation, reinterpreting and re-working the repertoire, made for a fascinating, entertaining and moving evening.

The attention to detail of saxophonist, leader Tommy Smith’s Scottish National Jazz Orchestra goes far beyond playing the exact arrangements with the stylistic quirks of the great band. The layout of the stage, style of the music stands and dress sense of the band were all in keeping (barring the odd fulsome beard).  The effect was enchanting. As well as now universally known standards like ‘Mood Indigo’ we were treated to lesser-known material from the Queen’s Suite ; ‘Le Sucrier Velours’, ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’ – a sumptuous duet between Smith and Brian Kellock on piano.  There were pieces written by Ellington for individual virtuosos in his band; Jack the Bear for bass player Jimmy Blanton, Concerto for Cootie for pyrotechnic trumpeter Cootie Williams, Calum Gourlay and Tom Walsh respectively stepping up to fill the shoes on the night.  If this couldn’t help but be drenched in a sense of nostalgia, the seriousness and artistry with which it was done made the music pulse with life.

The one exception to the pattern of re-creation, that duet between Smith and Kellock, made the contrast between the constraints of the big band and the very short pieces of the early 1930s repertoire all the more striking. Smith’s warm tenor swooped and embellished the melody as Kellock responded giving a very contemporary, interpretive take on the beautiful melody.

Ellington in Anticipation was all re-invention and re-interpretation.  Leader, Mark Lockheart’s very personal treatment of the Ellingtonian source material gave us a riveting set and provided a platform for some gloriously uninhibited playing from a fantastic band with a dream rhythm section of Seb Roachford and Jasper Hoiby.

The melody of ‘It don’t mean a thing’ appeared, stretched out of over a rolling 12/8 feel and the familiar repeated notes became a distinctive, African flavoured, rhythmic figure. ‘Caravan’, starting with a collective bout of percussive tapping of instruments and stamping of feet, developed a flowing even quavered feel and evoked the first of a number of explosive solos from Finn Peters.  James Alsopp’s solo on Creole Love Call was a standout moment as was Liam Noble’s solo introduction to the dark Lockheart original ‘Beautiful Man’. The distinctive addition of Margrit Hasler’s viola added unusual colours to the sound.

This was an absorbing, celebratory and emotionally charged evening of music.

The Printmakers, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Friday 10th May

Credit Brian O'Connor via Londonjazz

Credit Brian O’Connor via Londonjazz

I think it may be one of Nikki Iles’ characteristic traits. The trick of sidling up to even the most familiar of tunes or climatic moments, so that having been drawn in by a mysterious harmonic sequence or some textural ripples, you find yourself surprised as a singing melody or a racing groove has emerged almost un-noticed. It happens more than once on last year’s fine trio album ‘Hush’ and this gig started that way. The whole band joined in creating the atmosphere as Nikki’s resonant chords insinuated themselves into the concert hall at the fabulous, still new buildings, of the Royal Welsh College.  Somehow the music morphed and by the time they’d launched into Kenny Wheeler’s Enowena, a typically soaring melody of leaps, twist and turns over a racing even pulse, I was hooked. The repertoire, drawing on an eclectic range of sources from Steve Swallow, Ralph Towner, Joni Mitchell as well Niki Iles originals and the ever present Kenny Wheeler,  meant plenty of joyful exuberance in the playing suffused with a reflective almost sweet melancholia.  At one point, as Mike Walker explained the utterly bleak back story to Joni Mitchell’s ‘2 grey rooms’ a collective fit of giggles was needed to break the tension.

This a fabulous band of musicians who weave improvisations of real melodic beauty over complex and angular structures. Mike Walker’s gorgeous tune Clockmakers (is that one of my favourite tunes ever? .. maybe!) evoked a dazzling solo from Nikki, flowing, melodic line building on flowing melodic line. Mike Walker himself pulled out solo after a solo but a standout was on Kenny Wheeler’s Everyone’s Song but My Own. He found rhythmic figures and phrases that seemed to surprise even him. And flowing around, up and over it all, blending beautifully were Norma Winstone’s voice and Mark Lockheart’s saxophones. It was all propelled unfussily but with huge energy and subtlety by Steve Watts’ bass and the drums of James Maddren.  Just in case it all sounds a bit solemn, there was more than a twinkle in the eye as they played us out with a sort of rocky, scottish reel cum folk song written by Nikki giving Mike Walker the chance to rev up his rock chops on guitar before whipping off his glasses for the last time as if to say ‘what do think of that then?’ . They followed it with a wonky country style Steve Swallow song.  Its a testament to this band that they have quite a reputation with no recordings out there (notwithstanding the individual reputations of all them), but I hear a rumour that they may be putting that right soon. Can’t wait.