London Vocal Project – Miles Ahead, Kings Place, Sunday 21st May

Everything on the stage at Kings Place on Sunday had taken time. A lot of it. Writing lyrics to every note of the whole Miles Ahead suite; extracting them from Jon Hendricks’ head, notating and arranging them; a choir that can make the sound of a perfectly blended  string section or the stabbing riffs of a horn section; it all takes a lot of time. Years. The reviews are popping up of the evening and the music. John Walters’ account is hard to beat – giving the achievement due recognition in its vivid detail.  This is a response more than a review.

When the now nonegenarian Jon Hendricks was nearing the completion of his self imposed, 50  year undertaking of setting lyrics to every solo, slur and nuance of every arrangement of Miles Ahead the IMG_8066reaction of his daughter Michele was  ‘Who’s gonna sing this stuff?’  History doesn’t record the reaction of the  musicians when first presented with Gil Evans’ score for Miles Ahead at the original recording session   Posterity and critical acclaim have assured the result’s place in jazz history.    On stage, behind Michele on Sunday at Kings Place was the answer to her question (gleefully pointed out by Pete Churchill):The London Vocal Project.  Pointing to Pete she cried ‘.. this guy made it happen!’  It was impossible to listen without the knowledge of all that had led up to this.   all that commitment, creativity and effort focused into forty odd minutes: sure they’ll do it again, yes they’ve been recording, but they’ll never do it again for the first time in London, here, now.

A wild imagining? A crazy dream? A magnificent obsession?  Surely Hendricks’ idea was all of these. The story of the last six years of Pete Churchill’s work with Hendricks’ to complete the job, work with the choir, premiere the work in New York and now bring it back to London is well told elsewhere . We got a little taster three years ago one special Sunday at Ronnie’s.

And then the finished article was performed, with a copy of the vinyl original ceremonially in attendance on the stage and the choir fronted by Hendricks’ daughter Michele, Norma Winstone and Kevin Fitzgerald Burke singing Miles’ solos.

And Hendricks’ lyrics.

And then it was just about the music. And the sound.

I can still feel the swell of the arrangement in My Ship. I can still hear the horn stabs in Blues for Pablo. I can still here that very last chord, like a sigh.

And I still love that line from Maids of Cadiz – ‘If you would know what beauty is’

Bravo.

Bravo.

Christmas musical post(s) … aiding recovery

A pre-christmas tangle with the seasonal flu virus has pretty much halted any blogging and gig going over the last couple of weeks (although there was a weekend of delights to be reported on involving Andre Canniere at the BeBop and Andy Sheppard‘s valedictory show at the Hen Chicken just as the virus was revving up).

But enough of this self-pity.  Something that’s put a smile on my face and aided recovery has been the rash of musicians/ bands posting live christmas performances on various platforms. Is it just me or is there suddenly more of it?  I may just be paying more attention of course.  Below are some gems I’ve found myself playing more than once ( in no particular order… and I’m sure there a plenty more out there – do post if you stop by and know of one you think I’d like.

With the technology to string these together, it will make a world beating soundtrack to the cooking/ eating/ general festivities.  And you get multiple ‘In the Bleak Midwinter‘s (ItBMW)

London Vocal Project:  Four (count ’em) Pete Churchill arrangements  including ItBMW (1)

Jacob Collier   (ItBMW (2) )

Iain Ballamy and Jason Rebello‘s annual get-together   (includes ItBMW (3)

 I confess this shades it as my favourite selection – some deadpan cheese, total class and that Ballamy sound on tenor… I just melt.

Joey Alexander… looking like a teenager who just got out of bed (.. cos he is) .. sounding like… this.

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Positively the last list of 2014: My live and recorded highlights

I think the first review of the year I saw was definitely early December, so I’m surely near the curfew for this.  But this is mostly a personal idiosyncratic review of the year based entirely on what I happened to have listened to, and live moments I’ve happened upon. One criterion (the only?) for inclusion is  being moved or excited beyond the norm, definitely a very personal response.

Recorded Music

I have an old fashioned 6 CD changer in the living room, so a good starting point is what gets stuck in that during the year

I see that these three are still in there despite a fairly heavy turnover.

Joy in spite of Everything, Stefano Bollani  – title captures the spirit of the album

Circularity, Julian Arguelles – super group playing Arguelles’ sublime compositions

Present Joys, Dave Douglas and Uri Caine – what is it with Dave Douglas and hymns?  Be Still was on my fave list last year

Popping up repeatedly on the iPod playlists and somehow  never getting replaced (limited space means more turnover!) these gems

Under the Moon, Blue Eyed Hawk – Chaos Collective luminaries collaborating on uncategorisable collection. Great listening

Songs to The North Sky, Tim Garland – A double CD seeming to sum up the breadth of the mighty Garland’s writing and playing

Weaving the Spell, Busnoys – Does what is says on the tin (er… CD cover) for me. Quirky trio led by vibes man Martin Pyne

Live in Hamburg (72), Keith Jarrett – a reminder, if needed, of the unbridled, dazzling energy of the trio with Motian and Haden as well as moments of breathtaking tenderness ( I admit I can take or leave Jarrett’s soprano sax sounding like wounded animal episodes)

There are so many more great albums, but these are the ones that seem to have kept coming back to this year. Two I haven’t heard (so much music, so little time) but mean to seek out:  Michael Wollny (see below for reasons),  Jason Moran, Elegy to Waller – on the basis that looking at Peter Bacon’s Festive Fifty Fifty, tow of my top faves are in his top three and the third is Jason.. maybe I should check it out!

Live Music

Is it a cliché to say what a privilege it is to see so much amazing music live?  Excuse me if so, but saying wow, whooping and explicitly acknowledging now and then seems only proper.

Just a few fabulous gigs then..

Charles Lloyd in the London Jazz Festival (the DVD of the film Arrows into Infinity would be on the recorded list as well if it was a CD!) – entrancing and uplifting.  My thoughts at the time here

Kit Downes Quintet at the Hen & Chicken, one of a few fantastic gigs there this year, but this was a standout – My thoughts at the time here

Michael Wollny Trio Brecon Festival.  Ok, first time I’d seen them live. Blown away doesn’t quite cover it – impressions here

Dave Holland’s – Prism – Ronnie Scott’s.  Just simply (although not very), groovily (very), sublime. My thoughts at the time here

And of course, for anyone who was there, these get on the highlights of the year – not one but two Loose Tubes gigs (for me) first at Cheltenham, then at Brecon again.

Moments within gigs sometime burn even brighter in the memory. Here are a few.

An ordinary Friday with another out of the ordinary local line-up at the BeBop club (this time Andy Hague’s Quintet) with 2014 British Jazz Award winner Dave Newton in the piano chair. Dave Newton’s trio feature, Alice in Wonderland, had me holding my breath but the moment Will Harris’  bass entered, so perfectly judged is still making me tingle.

A Sunday lunchtime at Ronnie Scott’s with the London Vocal Project. Pete Churchill just returned from New York working with Jon Hendricks on lyrics for Miles Ahead, has just recounted the latest episode. The first performance, the first words out of Anita Wardell‘s mouth ‘If you would know what beauty is’. The frisson is still there.

Involuntary weeping can be misunderstood at a gig I guess.  The opening chords of Nikki Iles‘  Hush, as the Royal Academy Big Band burst into life at their London Jazz Festival gig playing Nikki’s arrangement, in that moment was near overwhelming. I think I got away with it though.

Top that 2015

London Vocal Project, Ronnie Scott’s, Sunday 1st June

Everyone knew. This was an extraordinary moment. There was a special hush in a packed Ronnie Scott’s as Pete Churchill relived working with the legendary Jon Hendricks, taking down the 92 year old lyricist and singer’s words for the tunes from Miles Ahead, the seminal collaboration between Miles Davis and Gil Evans. And then we got to hear them, the first three arrangements translated for voices from the Gill Evans’ arrangements by Pete with Hendricks’ lyrics added and just a few days rehearsal since Pete’s return from New York: Maids of Cadiz, The Duke and My Ship. “If you would know what beauty is…” sang Anita Wardell and we sighed along.

It was well into the second half of the gig before that moment arrived. A long first set had swept through a stylistic pot pourri. There was selection of the Kenny Wheeler settings the group recorded on Mirrors and a new one of a Langston Hughes’ poem Jazzonia. So inspired was Wheeler by the Mirrors project that occasional new pieces still arrive through the post for Pete Churchill to work on with the choir. With shuffling of the piano chair between Pete Churchill and Nikki Iles; pop-up performances by members of the ensemble on tenor, flugel, accordion, mouth organ; another selection of tunes, a legacy of Pete Churchill’s work with Abdullah Ibrahim using lyrics penned by the South African including an energetic, grooving version of The Mountain; an exquisite setting of “He wishes for the cloths of heaven by project member Andrew Wilde and we were fully reminded of the breadth of the projects the group have tackled and depth of their musical resources. Then they raised the roof with a storming gospel number (‘look we can do this too!’ they seemed to say) and closed the set with the loping waltz of Steve Swallow’s City of Dallas.

 On their return we were gradually introduced to the new project. The rhythm section of Steve Watts on bass and percussionist Andres Ticino was augmented by Steve Brown on drums and a celebration of the lyrics of Jon Hendricks ensued. Hearing the vocal project sing Basie’s Sandman brought out what a beautifully blended ensemble sound they have and goodness, how they can swing! ‘Lil Darlin taken at a deliciously sleazy tempo gave Anita Wardell a chance to dig in and then we were hanging on Pete Churchill’s words with stories of hanging with Jon Hendricks. Hendricks’ ambition to put lyrics to the whole of Miles Ahead, gestated over decades and now beginning to be realised in this collaboration with Churchill is surely a little piece of jazz history. The performance at Ronnie’s of the first three pieces leaves no doubt that the London Vocal Project are more than equal to it. What an adventure they’ve embarked on with their animateur, peerless arranger, musical director and resident curator (and maker) of jazz history, Pete Churchill.