A rare UK appearance by the iconic trio of pianist and composer Carla Bley, bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard (pictured left), who first performed together in 1993, is among the latest names to be added to the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival, which takes place at all the capital’s major concert halls and jazz clubs from 15 to 24 November. Bley, who has a new album released by ECM in September, plays a special all-acoustic set with the trio at the Wigmore Hall on the festival’s closing night, Sunday 24 November. Also added to the festival, which celebrates its 21st birthday and is sponsored by Jazzwise, is a special three-concert performance by Phronesis at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone on 16-17 November, which will be recorded for a forthcoming live album on Edition Records.
There’s also a tribute to trumpeter, bandleader and educator Abram Wilson, who died in 2012, which will feature his band of pianist Reuben James, bassist Alex Davies and drummer Dave Hamblett, performing with Jason Marsalis, Jean Toussaint and saxophonist Keith Loftus at the Purcell Room on 20 November, while Gwilym Simcock plays a special solo concert at St Stephen’s, Hampstead on 19 November, and acclaimed Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjørnstad brings his Story of Edvard Munch project, with Kari Bremnes, to the Purcell Room on 21 November. These latest names are in addition to the headliners exclusively announced last month by Jazzwise, including Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Remember Shakti and Hugh Masekela.
Singer and bandleader Andrew Plummer, best known for his snarling Tom Waits style vocals with the likes of World Sanguine Report, Bilbao Syndrome and Fringe Magnetic, is spearheading a radical prog-jazz school band project featuring a group of talented 11-16 year olds from Tottenham, north London. Named Rhythm Sticks (pictured left), the band features students from Park View School, a mixed comprehensive secondary school in the borough of Haringey, one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the UK, all playing adventurous progressive jazz-rock originals developed with Plummer and drummer Tom Greenhalgh over the last five years. The radical sound is matched in its creativity by a remarkable level of confidence among the musicians, all greeted with wild applause from their fellow students as seen on their YouTube live video from a school concert (see video below). It’s a bold ripost to the dull ubiquity of identikit post-X Factor style karaoke singing, as the band performs incredibly mature and engaging original music with a serious edge.
Entering the 2012 Music-For-Youth Festival, which enabled them to perform at various venues around the country, the group won two awards, and they’ve since decided to step things up a gear launching a Kickstarter crowd-sourcing project to raise funds for a professionally produced album pressed on to 1,000 CDs. Having generated a buzz online the band are already on target to have enough to record the album, and they plan to use any further funds to help pay for a five date UK tour in August 2014, and an album launch gig at a high profile London venue – the closing date for the Kickstarter campaign is 28 May.
Plummer, who leads the band on guitar, commented on the quality and high level of this project: “Even as a bandleader with other professional bands, this is truly one of the most exciting things I do!” The project also echoes some of the pioneering work late great British trumpeter Ian Carr did with his jazz workshop at the Interchange Arts Scheme, which helped mentor the likes of the Mondesir Brothers, Dave Okumu and Finn Peters – inspiring a young generation of musicians to experiment, improvise and embrace music from a wide range of sources, perform live and take risks musically.
The inaugural Royal Welsh College of Music & DramaJazz Festival in Cardiff was an outstanding success with seven big name concerts and 13 free concerts by the students of the college. The festival was launched on Friday by Nikki Iles’ Printmakers featuring Norma Winstone, who are on tour celebrating Nikki's 50th birthday, playing songs from the forthcoming Printmakers CD, with Ralph Towner, Joni Mitchell and Kenny Wheeler providing Iles and Winstone with really diverse material for saxophonist Mark Lockheart and guitarist Mike Walker to improvise around on an exhilarating opening set.
Saturday saw the Royal Welsh College big band take the stage in the large Dora Stoutzker Hall, under the direction of Teddy Smith, followed by the Kit Downes Quintet in the intimate Richard Burton theatre. Downes was playing material from his latest CD, New Light from Old Stars, joined by James Maddren (drums), Calum Gourlay (bass), James Allsopp (bass clarinet, clarinet and sax) and Lucy Railton (cello). The set opened with ‘Wander & Colossus’, a dark, brooding number perfect for Allsopp’s bass clarinet to growl over. The more lighthearted 'Two Ones' (a tune about his cats) and 'Jan Johansson' (for the pianist) led into the quirky 'Bleydays' a homage to Paul Bley and the children's TV show Play Away – obviously a favourite of the young Downes. Railton's cello is instrumental in holding this complex and at times chaotic music together, helping it move from dark to light and adding a new and very interesting sound into the mix. The evening concert was by the James Taylor Quartet, who proved extremely popular among the students from all parts of the college.
Sunday saw an opening double bill of the Neil Yates Five Countries Trio and Stan Sulzmann's Neon (again featuring Kit Downes, and proving once again just how versatile he is). Yates started off with his tone poem 'Rainy Harbour' a delightfully evocative piece complete with seagulls, waves and ropes tapping against masts. 'Frozen Forest' another very evocative piece conjuring images of ice, trees and stillness. Zsolt Bende (acoustic Guitar) and Cormac Byrne (percussion) are the perfect foil for Yates’ breathy and very fluid trumpet playing. Stan Sulzmann (pictured above) would be the first to admit that he has been around for a long time but would also add that there is nothing like playing with musicians half his age to keep him on his toes (Kit Downes on piano/Hammond, vibist Jim Hart, and drummer Tim Giles). With Neon Quartet he has the perfect mix of youthful exuberance and his own vast experience to create a highly enjoyable sound that is cultured but at the same time hip and edgy. ‘Mother Hen’, ‘Bye Ya’ and ‘New Balls’ (about tennis) all were excellent examples of this mixture working so well.
The last show in the series (excellently put together by Andrew Miller) featured Mark Lockheart and his Ellington in Anticipation project (pictured left) where the saxophonist has deconstructed some of the Duke's finest tunes and come up with his own highly original versions (this concert was recorded by Radio 3, Jazz on 3, for broadcast later this month). An excellent concert with no little humour, expertly played out by his very classy band. Let’s hope that the college can keep this an annual event and can build on this high quality of music for next year’s festival.
From a small stage bleached by flashing lights and a monster-sized projection of the band's 1974 debut album sleeve, it was left to the shake, sizzle and snap of the band's original drummer and percussionist – Harvey Mason and Bill Summers – to drive this latest model of Herbie's former fusioneers through a exhilarating two hour show. Through whistles and rowdy cheer, most of which honoured to the inspired interplay between electric bassist Reggie Washington, saxophonist Rob Dixon and synth-smith Rob Bargad, came a wish-list of tunes that, kick-starting with a Latin-like ‘Cantaloupe Island’, quickly gave in to a fetish for funk that would litter the rest of the set. Unveiled by Summers as the ‘first of three tunes from that first album we'll play tonight’ heard ‘Sly’ flip from its mellow Moog beginnings, into a fallout of frantic drumming, wah-wah clavinet and shrill alto sax, only to be cooled by the breezy ‘Butterfly’.
Along the way, possibly to drag back any of the audience lost to drawn-out displays of jazzy virtuosity during a shot at Shorter's ‘Footprints’, Summers shared stories and comical anecdotes, later reserving room to remind all of the group's heavy debt to the spiritual sounds of Africa with a raw, and momentarily moving, vocal and percussion showcase. With regular service resuming to room-rattling bass guitar and Dixon's crisp soprano sax scissoring into the bottle-blown bit to ‘Watermelon Man’, it was fair to declare this, and the instant-recall riff to ‘Chameleon’, clear highlights. Even an impromptu tribute to James Brown spitting out some of the most arresting playing of the evening managed to get most up dancing and make up for the shock-horror no-show of the band's biggest hit in ‘God Made Me Funky’.
One of the most talked about bands on London’s leftfield jazz scene since their formation two years ago, Sons Of Kemet release their debut album, Burn, on the Naim Jazz label on 9 September. Led by saxophonist/clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings (pictured), with tuba virtuoso Oren Marshall and drummers Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford – plus guest guitarist Dave Okumu (of electro-rock trio The Invisible) also on the sessions – SOK whip up a bewitching brew of African, Arabic and Caribbean sounds laced with dub reggae in the vein of cult Jamaican drummer Count Ossie and his band Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, via the transcendental sax flights of Pharoah Sanders.
Conceptually the twin-drummer set-up is inspired by polyrhythmic west African drumming, creating conversational percussive layers to hypnotic effect, which hooked to Marshall’s depth-charge tuba bass lines and heady live effects and Hutchings’ scything melodic lines on top, creates a wall of head-spinning sounds. Recorded with all bandmembers in the same room the intensely meshed recording also embraces electronics and club-style beats simultaneously referencing deep diasporic African music and a highly danceable street-level energy on one of the most exciting UK albums of the year so far. See the September issue of Jazzwise for an exclusive interview with the band.
Musicians, industry professionals and politicians packed in to the Terrace Pavilion at the Houses of Parliament for the announcement of the winners of the 2013 Parliamentary Jazz Awards, hosted this year by popular former BBC news reader, and ardent jazz fan, Moira Stuart. The awards, which are organised by All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG) and music copyright company PPL and Jazz Services, featured several guest presenters including singer Ian Shaw, who provided a pithy dose of comedy, an emotional Keith Ball, revered ECM-signed singer Norma Winstone, and an effusive Gregory Porter who couldn’t help breaking into a song from his forthcoming album.
Among the notable winners was London venue, The Vortex, which took the Live Jazz Award of the Year much to the pleasure of the venue’s founder David Mossman who noted it was their first such prize in their 28 year existence; pioneering Manchester-based Jazz FM DJ Mike Chadwick picked up Jazz Broadcaster Of The Year; the Royal Academy jazz course leader Nick Smart was another popular winner as he took the Jazz Education Award gong; and Stan Tracey (pictured below) was given an equally rousing reception, winning the Services to Jazz Award.
Other winners on the night were: Jazz Musician of the Year – Guy Barker (pictured above); Jazz Album of the Year – John Surman, Saltash Bells; Jazz Ensemble of the Year – Impossible Gentlemen; Jazz Publication of the Year – Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert by Catherine Tackley; Jazz Journalist of the Year – Rob Adams and Special Award – Elaine Delmar.
If last year's bold move to a new, tented village locale had ended in a torrential downpour, then this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival will be remembered as the one when the sun shone and it got its mojo back. The bill had a new confidence about it too, albeit using accessible crowd-pleasing artists such as Dionne Warwick, The Noisettes and Van Morrison to shout out to a wider public that something interesting was happening here. And beneath this brightly coloured surface there was depth and substance aplenty, with the likes of Ravi Coltrane and Gary Burton showing off sophisticated American jazz at its adventurous best. Their bands spoke volumes too of the swathes of quality players around at the moment – pianist David Virelles and trumpeter Ralph Alessi shining alongside the saxophonist, drummer Antonio Sánchez and dazzling young guitarist Julian Lage both outstanding with Burton. Over at the big top former Miles alumni Mike Stern and Bill Evans gave it their all in a reunion quartet of considerable power, rocking it up in the Big Top to a rapturous reception.
The second only performance from Troyk-estra, originally put together for Jazzwise’s 15th anniversary at Ronnie Scott’s last year, with the fearsomely good three-piece joined by the current crop of Royal Academy brass hotshots, was also a genuine highlight. Fully grooved in now it’s almost unnerving to hear such mind melting music played at such high velocity by a big band. Highly detailed and highly charged, the ripples of rhythm and melody emanating from Chris Montague’s guitar were magnified through the swathes of horns to dizzying effect. This is a killer band in need of more gigs. As for Artist In Residence Gregory Porter it was a bit of a mutual love in between the festival, his fans and the man himself. His headline performance was one of adrenalin pumping thrills, in a turbo charged set that didn’t let up for a full hour and a half. Backed by his sublimely simpatico NYC quartet, complete with alto sax tornado Yosuke Sato, he included some new material but it was tumultuous 15-minute ‘1960 What?’ that brought the feverish crowd to an ecstatic high. If that wasn’t enough he stepped up too at Van Morrison’s acclaimed Monday night gig to sing ‘Tupelo Honey’, to close this event on the sweetest of notes.
– Mike Flynn
– Photo by Ruth Butler
Read the full review with exclusive photos in the June issue of Jazzwise
The Impulse! label tape vaults are about to deliver a rare bundle of joy with the news that the original three-track masters for John Coltrane’sSun Ship album have recently been discovered and will be released for the first time in full unedited form as The Complete Sun Ship Session. Although not originally released by Impulse! until 1971, four years after Coltrane died, the Sun Ship album was recorded on 26 August 1965 and was one of the final sessions of the classic Coltrane Quartet that featured, pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones.
The album included five tracks edited together from different takes and overseen by Alice Coltrane. But with the discovery of the original masters all the unedited takes can now be heard for the first time as each piece of music evolved in the studio. The Complete Sun Ship Session is released on 21 May as a triple vinyl set on Mosaic Records and a two CD set on Verve/Impulse. The recordings will also include studio conversation and will be remixed from the three track master tapes for, what is claimed by the label, as a great improvement in sound over previous Sun Ship releases.
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival, which kicked off this week with headline performances from Dionne Warwick and Madeleine Peyroux on Wednesday and Thursday nights continues today with an eclectic programme that includes rising soul-pop star Laura Mvula (Jazz Arena, 6.30pm); sultry jazz singer Natalie Duncan (The Daffodil, 7.30pm); Friday Night is Music Night with Georgie Fame with top-notch backing from the Guy Barker Big Band and the BBC Concert Orchestra (Big Top, 8pm); and stellar Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset who performs music from his excellent new album, Birds (Parabola Arts Centre, 8pm). The festival, held in association with BBC Radio 2 and sponsored by Jazzwise, runs from 1-6 May in Cheltenham’s centrally located Montpelier Gardens around a tented festival village that features the main 1,300-seater Big Top stage, the Jazz Arena that seats 630, a free stage and food, drink and market stalls.
Other notable headliners this year include revered Irish singer Van Morrison (pictured above), who returns to the festival for the first time since 2008, topping the bill with a special closing night concert in the Big Top on Monday 6 May. The performance is a coup for the festival coming off the back of Morrison’s most jazz inspired album in years, Born To Sing: No Plan B, which was released last October on Blue Note.
The other big name to watch out for is Gregory Porter (pictured), who follows a barnstorming debut Cheltenham appearance last year by becoming Artist-in-Residence at this year’s festival with a headline concert in the Big Top on Saturday. Also appearing in the Big Top, alongside the Mike Stern/Bill Evans band, are soul-jazz-rock group the Noisettes, and Gabby Young and Other Animals. The Jazz Arena stage has the blues, gospel and roots singer Jo Harman and Company among a vibrant programme that includes Ravi Coltrane, Dave Douglas, Joe Stilgoe, the New Gary Burton Quartet, Mike Gibbs and a Polar Bear and Roller Trio double bill on the bank holiday Monday.
Following last year’s acclaimed strand of new and experimental jazz, the Parabola Arts Centre ups the ante with another hot line-up including Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms, Manchester upstarts GoGo Penguin, Reuben James Trio with Zara McFarlane and new band Barbacana featuring James Allsopp and Kit Downes, alongside Sons of Kemet and the Edition Quartet.
The busy weekend of gigs also includes a rare appearance by Troyk-estra, the special large ensemble collaboration between Troyka and musicians from the Royal Academy of Music under the direction of Nick Smart who drew widespread acclaim when they debuted at Jazzwise’s 15th anniversary week at Ronnie Scott’s last year. The band perform on Sunday 5 May at PAC at 12noon.
The weekend and bank holiday Monday line-up is: Friday 3 May: Laura Mvula (Jazz Arena, 6.30pm); Natalie Duncan (The Daffodil, 7.30pm); Georgie Fame (Big Top, 8pm); Marius Neset Quartet (PAC, 8pm); Saturday 4 May: Trondheim Jazz Exchange (PAC, 12 noon); Dave Douglas Quintet with special guest Heather Masse (Jazz Arena, 1.30pm); GoGo Penguin (PAC, 3pm); Ravi ColtraneQuintet (Jazz Arena, 4.30pm); Alex Wilson’s Trio Mali Latino and guests (Big Top, 2.45pm); Sons of Kemet (PAC, 6pm); Gregory Porter (The Big Top, 5.45pm); Joe Stilgoe (Jazz Arena, 7.30pm); Edition Quartet (PAC, 9pm); Noisettes (Big Top, 9pm); The Speakeasy (The Daffodil, 10.30pm). Sunday 5 May: Troyk-estra (PAC, 12 noon), Mike Gibbs Ensemble (Jazz Arena, 1.30pm); Emilia Mitiku & Josephine (Big Top, 2.45pm); Reuben James Trio with Zara McFarlane (PAC, 3pm); Mike Stern & Bill Evans Band (Big Top, 5.45pm); The New Gary Burton Quartet (Jazz Arena, 4.30pm); Barbacana (PAC, 6pm); Lianne La Havas (Big Top, 9pm); Claire Martin (Jazz Arena, 7.30pm); Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms (PAC, 9pm). Monday 6 May: Family Show with Trio Damba (Jazz Arena, 11am); Gabby Young & Other Animals (Big Top, 1pm); Polar Bear plus Roller Trio (Jazz Arena, 6pm); Fresh Dixie Project (Jazz Arena, 2.30pm); Van Morrison (Big Top, 8pm).
Tucked under the arches of one of the busiest railway bridges in London, the Charing Cross Theatre (formerly The Players Theatre) is the ideal venue for a one-woman show about Billie Holiday. A comfortable, intimate space, Nina Kristofferson (pictured left) it quickly morphs into a 1950s jazz club when Nina Kristofferson takes the stage in the persona of Billie Holiday. As nearly every person in the audience has a preconceived view of Billie Holiday – her appearance, her vocal style, her life story – against which they will measure her performance, this is no mean challenge.
Up-tempo songs, 'A Fine Romance' and 'There Is No Greater Love' break the ice and Billie Holiday is soon chatting to the audience as if to a friend, reflecting on her childhood, the moments of joy, the warm relationship with her mother, the absence of her guitarist father, her vulnerability. She talks frankly about the gradual realisation of her lowly status in society, racial discrimination as an ever-present barrier to her advancement, the sexual abuse she experienced from men as a girl, her desire to find an honest, reliable man. After singing 'My Man' and 'God Bless the Child', she remarks that these are simply her way of expressing her feelings about her life so far. Her transformational moment was the discovery that she really could sing and that when she sang truly from the heart she gained not only the love and admiration of her audiences but financial independence and entry into a fast-lane life in the entertainment industry. Songs like 'All of Me', 'Easy Living', 'Don’t Explain' and 'Fine and Mellow' track the good times and the perils of this lifestyle.
A five-piece band is on stage throughout, directed by pianist Allan Rogers. The line-up may vary but is generally Albert Garza (sax/clarinet), Martin Shaw or George Hogg (trumpet), Geoff Gascoyne or Phil Donnelly (bass) and Oliver Patrick (drums). The arrangements are all in the period and similar to those of the original recordings and the soloists, saxophonist Albert Garza in particular, all play in the style of the period – no Coltrane or Brecker licks here!
By the end of the first act Kristofferson has become Billie Holiday vocally with all her idiosyncrasies and inflexions and is equally convincing visually, complete with Holiday’s trademark gardenia in her hair. The second act charts her success and decline against the background of her increasing dependence on drugs and alcohol and her impermanent relationships with men, skilfully integrating the songs into this tragic story: 'That Ole Devil Called Love', 'Good Morning Heartache', 'The Man I Love', 'I Cover the Waterfront', 'Love for Sale' and 'Strange Fruit'.
For anyone with an appreciation of Billie Holiday’s music, this show is a must-see. It is also a tour-de-force for classical actor Nina Kristofferson, who wrote and co-produced it and who brings Holiday back to the stage without sentimentality, portraying her passion for song alongside a faithful account of a difficult and ultimately tragic life.
Shaping up to be one of the biggest and brightest new jazz festivals of recent years the Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which is presented by Jazz FM and runs from 5-7 July at Glynde Place, near Lewes in Sussex, has confirmed top US trumpeter Terence Blanchard (pictured left), blues guitar star Eric Bibb and 64 year-old soul sensation Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires are all set to appear. Also announced is charismatic Indo-Jazz clarinetist Arun Ghosh, storming prog jazz three-piece Troyka, the 32-piece Ryan Quigley Big Band (performing wide-angle reinterpretations of The Beatles songbook), electro swing duo Kitten & The Hip, pianist/singer Oli Rockberger, and hard-firing sax/trumpet quartet Brass Jaw.
They join a line-up already brimming with British and international talent including stunning soul-jazz vocalist Gregory Porter, bass guitar hero Marcus Miller, revered saxophonist Branford Marsalis, Grammy Award winning singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding, jazz-blues singer Melody Gardot, Brit-funk icons the Brand New Heavies and hard-grooving New Orleans brass troupe Soul Rebels. Four young female vocal stars of the London scene – Gwyneth Herbert, Zara Mcfarlane, Lucinda Belle and Andreya Triana – are also set to appear, while the event’s Discovery Stage presents rising stars such as high-octane avant rock trio Three Trapped Tigers, saxophonist Adam Waldmann’s MOBO-winning group Kairos 4tet and up-and-coming singer/pianist Matthew Lee.
The festival programme also includes a stellar list of names that so far include the live premiere of Bryan Ferry'sThe Jazz Age album, Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, Michael Kiwanuka, Courtney Pine, Soweto Kinch, Neil Cowley Trio and Naturally 7. The first green field jazz festival in the UK in years, and differs from other UK city-based jazz festivals, just one ticket to the Love Supreme Jazz Festival will give fans access to all of the music provided on all four stages: over 40 acts, three days, for one price. The event will feature international food stalls, family activities, camping and a wide range of core, crossover and cutting edge jazz artists to compliment the main stage headliners.