The shape of jazz to come: who to look out for in 2018

Rohey

Photo: Rohey

It’s time to divine the divine, as we ask our crack unit of writers and assorted other taste-formers to gaze into their crystal balls and reveal the intel on those artists they think are set to sizzle in 2018

Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise, Echoes, BBC Radio 3 Jazz Line-Up

The young Guadeloupian drummer Arnauld Dolmen is a very exciting prospect. He’s just made an impressive debut album, Tonbe Leve, that showcases his skills as a composer, as well as improviser, who brings a fresh contemporary jazz sensibility to the rhythmic riches of his heartland.

 

Alyn Shipton, BBC Jazz Now, Jazzwise

Drummer and vibes player Jonny Mansfield not only plays in the up-and-coming Jam Experiment, but his own Elftet will release an album this year of strikingly original music, mixing whimsy with rhythmic grooves.

 

Andy Robson, Jazzwise

Look no further than Mary Halvorson, whose unique guitar voice has burned bright for some years and now deserves a wider audience.

 

Daniel Spicer, Jazzwise, The Wire

For old-fashioned funk-fusion with, ahem, plenty of chops, check out quintet Butcher Brown from Richmond, Virginia.

 

Brian Glasser, Jazzwise

Colin Steele: technically, a re-entry. Not one, but two, albums have announced the second coming, after a long layoff, of the brilliant but tender Scottish trumpeter this year.

 

Chris Philips, Jazz FM

Pianist and keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, already making a name for himself in the highly energetic Ezra Collective, is pianist of choice for China Moses. He is currently working on a raft of different collaborative cross-genre projects, while launching a new solo venture in 2018. Look out for his electronic work with producer and DJ Maxwell Owin called Idiom, set to play at Love Supreme’s all-day event at the London Roundhouse in May and, with a solo album now complete, 2018 could be quite a year for this in-demand musician.

 

Eddie Myer, The Verdict Jazz Club, Brighton

Zenel Trio, Cesca, Shabaka, Triforce, Maisha, James Beckwith, Yussef Dayes, Binker and Moses, Alex Hitchcock – hanging at the Bandstand at Love Supreme we heard a new generation of UK artists breaking through with a fresh sound – looking forward to New Generation Jazz in 2018!

 

Helen Mayhew, Jazz FM

Vibes player, composer and bandleader Jonny Mansfield, still at college, much in demand and his 11-piece band Elftet is an exciting prospect. Also, saxophonist Tom Barford, winner of this year’s Kenny Wheeler Prize from the Royal Academy of Music, is about to release his debut album on the Edition Label.

 

Jan Granlie, editor salt-peanuts.eu

Jeppe Zeeberg is a great Danish piano-player whose distinct musical dialect you can hear in his solo work or with his Horse Orchestra. Modern and free, but still in the rich piano tradition. Another Dane, Lasse Mørch, has his own piano-less quartet whose fantastic Imagining Places I Have Never Been was released early in 2017. A great composer and bassist who has been listening to plenty of Charles Mingus.

 

Jane Cornwell, Evening Standard, Jazzwise

Yelfris Valdés is one of the brightest stars on London’s already vibrant Cuban and latin jazz scenes, having made his name with son kings Sierra Maestra and the pianist Roberto Fonseca. The classically-trained trumpeter landed in the British capital three years ago and swiftly stuck his fingers in a veritable smorgasbord of musical pies. There’ve been sessions for the likes of Quantic, Dayme Arocena, Gilles Peterson, Yussef Kamaal, Cuban/Iranian outfit Ariwo and Henry Wu, with whom he interpreted the music of Freddie Hubbard. 2018 brings a solo project, The World of Eschu Dina. Get ready.

 

Jez Nelson, Jazz FM

Sam Barnett – 16-year-old saxophonist who’s been playing jazz since he was eight. His compositions are ridiculously advanced for someone so bloody young!

 

John Fordham, The Guardian

A former BBC Young Musician of the Year as a classical pianist, Sarah Tandy has been making waves on the London club scene this year – notably with young saxophonist Camilla George – as an incisive, exciting and original new post-bop presence on the keys.

 

Jon Newey, Jazzwise

With their compelling mash-up of spiritual jazz, Afrobeat, drum’n’ bass rhythms and vintage keyboard textures, Maisha hit the head, heart and feet in equal measure. Led by drummer Jake Long and featuring saxophonist Nubya Garcia and guitarist Shirley Teteh their sessions at east London’s Church of Sound have been a revelation and are now set to take their raw, uplifting spirit to a temple near you. Meanwhile, when can we expect astonishing drummer Yussef Dayes’ next venture?

 

Michael Jackson, Jazzwise, DownBeat

Chicago-based Jason Stein has been flying around on a private jet of late, opening stadium gigs for his sister, comedian Amy Schumer, but it hasn’t changed this bass clarinet specialist’s attitude to making uncompromising music. Check his latest, Lucille, on Delmark Records. Elsewhere, alto-saxophonist Nick Mazzarella’s first crush is clearly Ornette Coleman, but he’s quickly become his own brand of virtuoso and a fine composer who can match lyrical ‘in’ playing with wide-ranging free improv.

 

Mike Flynn, Jazzwise

The rebith of fusion sees imaginative guitar/bass/drums crew SEN3 emerging among a new armada of drum’n’bass inspired trios with their sumptuous hybrid of lush melodies, kicking grooves and dime-stop dynamics. Also making waves are the frenetic James Beckwith Trio (powered-up by Harry Pope’s fearsome drumming), impressive London foursome Triforce, with their raw and soulful take on the Mahavishnu Orchestra, while US world-fusion threesome House of Waters which sees Max ZT taking the hammered dulcimer to infinity and beyond, as Moto Fukishima’s bass-playing leaves many slack-jawed in awe.

 

Mike Hobart, Jazzwise, Financial Times

David Virelles is a pianist with serious chops. His latest album, Gnosis, confirms him as an equally serious composer blending classical, jazz and Afro-Cuban traditions. Trumpeter Alexandra Ridout was an outstanding winner of the BBC young musician jazz award of 2016 and just keeps on growing as an artist.

 

Nick Hasted, Jazzwise, The Independent, Uncut

Istanbul’s Korhan Fatuci & Kara Orkestra show the ritualistic communal power still latent in psychedelic, Near Eastern-rooted jazz-rock. Belgian trio Hermia/Ceccaldi/Darrifourcq are also adding immersive, mysterious atmosphere to their playing’s lucid, high-wire intricacy.

 

Paul Pace, Ronnie Scott’s, Spice Of Life

Trombonist Rory Ingham is a young man on the way up – excellent musicianship, swagger and a winning ‘can-do’ attitude – his main project Jam Experiment also contain a coterie of other superb young players.

 

Peter Bacon, Jazzwise

David Austin Grey, Birmingham-based pianist/composer. His energy and creativity mean laurels will not be rested upon. Charlie Haden’s rightful heir, bassist Thomas Morgan, has an impressive CV, but might still be in the foothills of his potential.

 

Peter Quinn, Jazzwise, The Arts Desk

One of five finalists in this year’s Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, vocalist, musician, songwriter and educator Tatiana ‘LadyMay’ Mayfield possesses an unfailingly beautiful timbre and a real jazz feel. Her third album, The Next Chapter, is hotly anticipated.

 

Rob Adams, Glasgow Herald, Jazzwise

Drummer Stephen Henderson has already made an impression with Peter Whittingham Award winners Square One, but has reinforced his credentials this year with superbly buoyant playing in Spark Trio and by adding great shape and assurance to bassist David Bowden and fiddler Charlie Stewart’s new jazz-folk band.

 

Robert Shore, Jazzwise

Sam Barnett’s New York-London Suite was the very definition of musical precocity. Sixteen-years-old when the album was released, the saxophonist/composer/bandleader was just 14 when he penned it.

 

Selwyn Harris, Jazzwise

Keep an eagle eye out for a young Norwegian singer-songwriter with a star quality, Rohey – sort of a cross between Eska, Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse. In the UK, check enterprising London-based LUME saxophonists Dee Byrne (Entropi) and Cath Roberts (Sloth Racket).

 

Spencer Grady, Jazzwise

After a recent series of psychotropic lathes, tapes and other sonic ephemera New York noiseniks Grasshopper (aka Josh Millrod and Jesse DeRosa) will emerge all-conquering from the entrails of 2018 clutching a talismanic third full-length. Quakes from the under-crust ought to be seismic, followers of outlier orbits already thirsty for more of the duo’s blissed-out post-Dark Magus deviancy.

 

Steve Mead, Manchester Jazz Festival

Hold on tight for the short, sharp shocks of Skeltr – the new Manchester duo of Sam Healey’s alto (Beats & Pieces) and drummer Craig Hanson (Toolshed) – it’s high-energy, compact and immediate. Emerging singer-songwriter Mali Hayes also wowed the crowds at MJF this year, with her neo-soulful vocals and her quirkily funky nine-piece.

 

Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise

Keep an eye out for Cologne-based Pablo Held and his Trio. They have been quietly labouring at the coal face of the German jazz scene to much acclaim and a breakthrough must surely be imminent.

 

Tony Dudley-Evans, Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Birmingham Jazzlines

Chris Mapp continues to work with Gonimoblast and that group’s live album on Stoney Lane Records with special guests Maja Ratkje and Arve Henriksen is wonderful. In 2018, Chris will launch his ‹quiet› band Stillefelt with Percy Pursglove on trumpet/flugelhorn and Thomas Seminar Ford on guitar.

Top 20 Jazz Albums of 2017

Albums of the Year 2017

In another turbulent year of head-spinning change, much of it unwelcome, jazz has once again proved itself as resilient and inspirational as ever. Jazzwise’s prestigious Albums of the Year New Releases Top 20 poll represents the vibrant stylistic diversity running through the contemporary scene. Cécile McLorin Salvant, one of the most exciting jazz singers to emerge in years, has stormed to the top of the chart with her exceptional and adventurous double-album, Dreams and Daggers. Recorded for the most part live at New York’s hallowed Village Vanguard jazz club, Salvant delivers an electrifying performance that’s a perfect blend of old-time authenticity, innate virtuosity and heat of the moment invention. It’s also pertinent to see old masters honoured at positions two and three, with leading UK saxophonist Denys Baptiste’s thrilling and original tribute, The Late Trane, marking 50 years since Coltrane’s death with a forward-looking take on his music; while 87-year-old master pianist Ahmad Jamal returned with an impassioned and richly resonant homage to his home in France, simply and aptly titled, Marseille. Mike Flynn

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Cecile McLorin SalvantCécile McLorin Salvant

Dreams and Daggers

Mack Avenue

As she showed on her auspicious 2010 release WomanChild, the singer is really not one to shirk a challenge. In what is the defining moment of this impressive live performance spread over two discs she looks up at two of the towers of the Great American Songbook – Gershwin's 'My Man's Gone Now' and Berlin's 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' – and scales the heights set by some of her predecessors with a poise and self-possession beyond her 27 summers. Indeed, the impression of a wizened old soul in a young body is greatly reinforced by the wide range of emotional nuance, from desolation to resignation via irony and devil-may-care abandon, that Salvant conveys in her modulations of phrase, some of which are sober and some bold, like an arched eyebrow by way of her voice. That the recording took place at no less historic a venue than the Village Vanguard lends a certain gravitas to the occasion, and the inclusion of a string section on several complementary studio tracks simply dignifies proceedings further. Retaining the able acoustic trio led by pianist Aaron Diehl that graced her previous releases, Salvant negotiates a largely standards-based repertoire with none of the trying-too-hard emphasis that can blight young pretenders. She sometimes, slightly à la Billie, skims the slow pace of introspective spoken word, as if she understands the homoerotic sub-text of Noel Coward's 'Mad About The Boy' and its tragedy in an era of criminalised homosexuality, just as much as she sees the relevance of 'Si J'etais Blanche' ('If I Were White'), a song made famous in France by Josephine Baker in the 1930s, to a modern America bitterly divided along racial fault-lines. Salvant's ability to find such strong echoes of the present in the music of the past and invest each lyric with immense strength of character mark her out as an artist who has a grip on cultural history to match a talent rooted in the now. Kevin Le Gendre

 

BaptisteDenys Baptiste

The Late Trane 

Edition

I was fortunate enough to see the saxophonist perform this tribute to Coltrane at last year’s London Jazz Festival, and it was a five star night. The studio recording more than consolidates what was presented on stage, crucially retaining the spontaneity as well as the precision of the playing, and, courtesy of producer Jason Yarde’s careful mix, a sense of the ‘heaviness’ Baptiste is shooting for with an expanded ensemble. That was very necessary given the subject matter, which is an interpretation of the final phase of Ohnedaruth’s career, when his pursuit of music that evoked the infinite as well as the primeval took him to the outer fringes of sonic convention. Baptiste manages to create similar density with the doubling of instruments such as bass and tenor sax – from stellar guest Steve Williamson, who sounds quite glorious, his broad roar marking a fine contrast with Baptiste’s piercing cry – while retaining an accessible touch that reflects his own Caribbean and black British heritage. The slides into rumba and drum’n’bass don’t so much lighten a bulky sound as nudge it in a more danceable direction that in turn reminds us that the putative divide between avant-garde and pop culture was never unbridgeable for Trane. Baptiste leads this ensemble with great maturity, giving a sense of measure and focus to his improvisations, really capturing the lyricism of the source material all the while bringing his personality to bear on it. 2005’s Let Freedom Ring, his tribute to Martin Luther King, served notice of Baptiste’s imagination, and this laterally courageous take on Coltrane also underlines ambition to match a substantial talent. Kevin Le Gendre

 

JamalAhmad Jamal

Marseille

Jazz Village

A new album from Ahmad Jamal is always an event, as he has seldom stood still in his career, always looking for new settings, new ideas and new material. Although (between periods of semi-retirement) he has preferred a quartet format in recent years, there’s nothing settled about it. The rhythmic variety created by Herlin Riley’s drumming – showing an encyclopedic grasp of rhythm section playing – and Manolo Badrena’s percussion varies the texture beguilingly, while the interplay between Jamal and James Cammack’s bass is apparently casual, but actually deeply nuanced. For example, in the vamp out of which ‘Autumn Leaves’ gradually appears, disappears and returns again, a left hand piano figure becomes a bass ostinato, as Jamal superimposes a second repetitive figure over the bassline. He has always been a past master of building and releasing tension, of dynamic contrasts, and of juxtaposing alarmingly forceful piano figures with playing of such exquisite delicacy that the listener is seduced by the sheer beauty of his touch. On this album we also share the degree to which France, and its southern seaport of the title in particular, has seduced Jamal himself. The dreamy opening title track, where Jamal cunningly superimposes a lazy modal texture over the paradiddles and ratamacues of Riley’s snare drumming, brilliantly creates two moods at once, and this sense of dreaming while time passes relentlessly is recaptured in Al Malik’s declamatory reading of the lyrics, and Agossi’s sensuous singing of them. By weaving the other tracks, mainly new, but also containing two standards, into the spaces between the three versions of ‘Marseille’, means that the album is also conceived as an entity. Individual tracks, including a muscular version of ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ repay separate listening, but the record rewards listening right through as a whole, in just the way a Jamal concert set unfolds, with a mixture of being self-referential and bravely exploring the new. Alyn Shipton

 

PhronesisPhronesis

The Behemoth

Edition

After a decade faithful to their beloved and classic trio format, Phronesis find themselves borne aloft upon the giant sound of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Given wings by the arrangements of Julian Argüelles, who knows the FRBB and Phronesis with some intimacy, the band’s back catalogue comes alive with a revisioning that yet remains true to the originals. It would have been ‘easy’ for Argüelles to reimagine the songs in his own image, reshaping them through the lens of his own experience of Loose Tubes and the European big band scene. There’s an element of that in the fresh chordings of ‘Untitled #1’. But in general Argüelles remains true to the band’s own arrangements, adding instead colourations, dynamic build and tectonic structures for the likes of Stefan Weber’s tenor to erupt on the urgent propulsion of ‘Stillness’ or for Christian Jaksjø’s unlikely bass trumpet to sing on ‘Charm Defensive’. By not attempting to get a big band to replicate the details and intricacies of the trio’s fleet-footed interplay, Argüelles has liberated both Phronesis and the orchestra to do what they each do best. You’ll gaze amazed as this dragon dances. Andy Robson

 

Charles LloydCharles Lloyd New Quartet

Passin’ Thru

Blue Note

Charles Lloyd formed his New Quartet in April 2007, and has toured and recorded with it whenever he has returned to the quartet format over the last decade. Surrounded by musicians half his age, he seems rejuvenated in their presence – certainly his playing does not betray the passing of years (he was born in 1938) but instead displays a rich, ripe maturity – while the younger men, aware they are under the wing of a master, willingly surrender individual ambition to collective endeavour. Certainly, there is a focus and intensity to Moran’s playing when with Lloyd that’s not so apparent on his own recordings. Lloyd reaches back into his distinguished past with a performance of ‘Dream Weaver’, the title track of his debut album on the Atlantic label that introduced his then new quartet with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette. Recorded at the Montreux Jazz festival on 30 June 2016, it’s a memorable performance, Lloyd commenting, “I bring many more years of experience that I did not have as an idealistic young man.” The remaining performances are drawn from a concert at The Lensic in Santa Fé, New Mexico on 29 July 2016, and include standout performances from both Lloyd and Moran on ‘Nu Blues’, ‘How Can I Tell You’ and ‘Passin’ Thru’. Stuart Nicholson

 

McLaughlinJohn McLaughlin & The Fourth Dimension

Live @ Ronnie Scott’s

Abstract Logix

Not that we’d ever unnecessarily blow our own trumpet, so to speak, but it’s worth mentioning that the CD sleeve text of this ‘live’ highlights compilation from the legendary jazz axe’s memorable two-nighter at Ronnie’s in March forgets to mention that these were also the opening gigs of Jazzwise’s 20th anniversary festival. More significantly, though, this is a recording that could be one of the 75-year-old guitarist’s last UK date, as he comes to the end of a farewell US tour in December with his 4th Dimension band. With this in mind, and the fact that Ronnie’s was such a special venue during his formative years, were probably significant factors in the incisive and soulfully intimate performances heard by sell-out audiences on both nights, a selection of which has transferred well onto CD. Thankfully eschewing a boring muscle-flexing, ego-led fusion workout, McLaughlin and company instead set about freshening up the original jazz-rock ensemble/ composition-focused template. It’s all about the tunes and this is a well-balanced and pretty diverse selection of Mahavishnu Orchestra classics and tracks mostly from 4th Dimension’s most recent 2015 CD Black Light. They announce themselves with a Mahavishnu epic ‘Meeting Of The Spirits’, that kicks in abruptly with crashing chords and percussion before McLaughlin’s lightning Indo-psych fretwork hooks up with Gary Husband’s intensely edge-of-the-seat Fender Rhodes, more of which occurs on ‘El Hombre Que Sabia’, McLaughlin’s otherworldly flamenco-infused tribute to old sparring partner Paco De Lucia. Other big moments include the ominous Led Zep-like chime on ‘Sanctuary’ lifted from Birds of Fire, McLaughlin’s tastefully understated blues references on ‘New Blues Old Bruise’ and bassist Etienne M’Bappe ability to turn jawdropping virtuosity into something shapely and eloquent on ‘Here Comes the Jiis’. Selwyn Harris

 

Jazzmeia HornJazzmeia Horn

A Social Call

Prestige

The Dallas-born, New York City-based vocalist Jazzmeia Horn was my one to watch for in the December 2015/January 2016 issue of Jazzwise. At the time, she was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Vocals Competition. She went on to win the competition, one of the results of which is this outstanding debut on the historic Prestige label. The traits which first impressed me about the singer – her incredible time feel, impressive range and consistently beautiful timbre – are everywhere in evidence here. One of her touchstones, Horn’s take on Betty Carter’s ‘Tight’ strikes freewheeling scat gold from the get-go, while the constant gear shifts of the Gigi Gryce-Jon Hendricks title track shows the tight rapport between Horn and her musicians. Whether breathing fresh new life into standards such as ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)’, soaring spectacularly on a joyous ‘I’m Going Down’, phrasing ‘The Peacocks’ with an immaculate legato, or charting the narrative ebb and flow of ‘Medley’, A Social Call is one of the singularly most powerful debuts of recent times. Peter Quinn

 

DjangoDjango Bates with The Frankfurt Radio Big Band

Saluting Sgt. Pepper

Edition

A heady brew of Beatles, Bates and beefy big band, Saluting Sgt. Pepper could easily have been one seriously over-egged concoction. But though we are whisked away on a Wurlitzer of multi-tracked voices and instrumentation, Bates and the assembled masses have pulled off a master stroke of wit and imagination delivered with discipline. What holds it together is that Bates has remained loyal to the original album’s concept: the arrangements are essentially the same, as is the running order, preserving the flow of one song into another. Bates has also retained familiar musical coat hooks from the original that orient us throughout the project, like Ringo’s fills, that meat and potatoes piano, all the vocals (a heroic performance from Dahl). But around those loved elements, Bates interleaves colours and rhythmic reinventions that complement the songs while maintaining a deep respect, and, crucially, an even deeper affection for the music and the emotions it evokes. Somehow Bates finds musical equivalents for the studio effects (most obviously on that iconic close to ‘A Day In The Life’), sometimes he joyously builds on what’s already there (a choir of clarinets on ‘When I’m 64’), or he cheekily inserts, as with the extra beat in ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. Because it’s so tightly visioned, there’s little room for the band to stretch out, except on the reprise of ‘Lonely Hearts Club Band’, which kicks in funky and dirty. But all that does is make you want to hear how special this could be live. Andy Robson

 

WollnyParisien / Peirani / Schaerer / Wollny

Out of Land

ACT

Though this was the first performance by this intriguing line-up in Bern in 2016, it is already being hailed a supergroup. And with good reason. Between them, this hugely talented group of thirty-somethings have won 12 German ECHO awards – and let’s not kid ourselves here, the ECHO award given by the Deutsche Phono-Akademie, an association of recording companies, is to recognise outstanding achievement on record and is a big deal in Europe – placing them among the crème de la crème of European jazz musicians. Parisien and Peirani are leading exhibits on the Paris jazz scene, Schaerer from Switzerland is one of the great singing improvisers of our time while Michael Wollny’s shooting star career into the top ranks of European jazz has been a thing to behold. What is remarkable in the light of these performances is that neither Wollny or Schaerer had previously played together before three days of rehearsal prior to the concert. Yet what emerges is a series of five highly interactive, in-the-blink-of-an-eye give-and-take creations where each individual performer is charged with sustaining the creative moment in solo without upsetting the symmetry of the collective whole. In other words, they don’t go off in pursuit of their own creative muse that may or may not fit the context of what has been created collectively, but work within its parameters. During the course of these remarkable performances each musician seems intent in raising the bar of collective interaction so that what emerges is something that exceeds the sum of its component parts. Climaxed by ‘Ukuhamba’, an audacious 14-minute epic, it demands recognition for the triumph of spontaneously conceived jazz improvisation it is. Stuart Nicholson

 

DiasporaChristian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Diaspora

Ropeadope

Review of the first part of the trilogy, Ruler Rebel: Is this the future sound of black American jazz – an inclusive yet rhythmically complex groove based music that owes as a much to black urban culture – predominantly hip hop and trap music rhythms – as it does to jazz improv techniques and rhythms? It’s certainly interesting that similar elements swim through the music of Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington, who along with Scott are currently big box office, pulling-in substantial new audiences for their music. Ruler Rebel is the first album of a trilogy celebrating 100 years of recorded jazz, and will be followed by Diaspora and Emancipation Procrastination later in the year. At the heart of this music are polyrhythmic grooves that might come from jazz, New Orleans black Indian music, trap, Malian rhythm Kassa Soro and the interplay between an SPD drum machine and live drumming. Largely featuring Scott’s trumpet, the record introduces his articulate and frequently eloquent voice as the narrator of Ruler Rebel, much like the Persian Princess Scheherazade narrating her tales of the mysterious east to Sultan Shahriar over one thousand and one nights. A key track is ‘Encryption’, a summation of Scott’s direction of travel on the album. Here the running rhythm is derived from the New Orleansian Afro-Indian culture married with Malian Kassa Soro. This is in turn is layered with SPD-SX electronic drum machine and sampling machine played by Joe Dyson and Cory Fonsville that introduce rhythmic elements from trap and hip hop. Sounds complex? Well it is, but it works. Other highlights include ‘New Orleansian Love Song’ and ‘New Orleansian Love Song II’ and a celebration of Afro-Indian culture on ‘The Coronation of K. Atunde Adjuah’. Stuart Nicholson

 

Anouar BrahemAnouar Brahem

Blue Maqams

ECM

Those who took Tunisian oudist Brahem’s beautiful 1998 album Thimar to their hearts might show some love for this release that reunites him with that session’s featured bassist Dave Holland. While there is no sign of saxophonist John Surman, drummer Jack DeJohnette steps in to the breach alongside pianist Django Bates. All of which makes for an interesting blend of both sounds and CVs. Over the years Brahem’s musical world has been intimate, if not hushed, and largely devoid of the presence of snare and cymbal. So DeJohnette’s appearance is noteworthy, as is the decisive but unforced authority he brings to proceedings. Making very focused use of the kit, his astute prodding of the bass drum and skipping tom patterns create a groove that is airy rather than weighty. That said, the whole session has a tremulous, simmering intensity. The title refers to Arabic modes, the richness of which is grist to the mill of an imaginative composer-improviser such as Brahem, and he draws on them extensively, presenting compositions in which curled, careening melody enhances the strong ensemble voice. However, in the moments when the group breaks down to leave him unaccompanied he excels by way of phrasing that is majestically doleful, conveying moods that are then heightened by the gently brushed, mandolin-like yearnings of Bates’ right hand. For both the poise and restraint of the band as well as the beauty of the tonal palette and material this is a strong entry in Brahem’s discography. Kevin Le Gendre

 

TabornCraig Taborn

Daylight Ghosts

ECM

Daylight Ghosts is one of the most evocative and tantalising titles in recent memory, but, more to the point, it stands as a meaningful cousin to Taborn’s release Avenging Angel. Whether a comment on an increasingly dehumanised world or a cryptic claim that spirits, perhaps both good and evil, move among us when the sun is up rather than down, there is an intellectual and emotional substance in the pianist’s use of language that matches the creative core of his music. As has been the case since his emergence in the early 1990s, Taborn has a strong interest in group chemistry and Daylight Ghosts is an ensemble offering in the true sense of the term. In most songs it is the overlap and entwining of parts, the polymelodies as much as polyrhythms, that hold the attention, with head-solo-head strategies largely eschewed. Furthermore, Taborn excels at conjuring ambiences where chords don’t so much shift as melt in and out of focus, and the vapor trails of electronics and icy slivers of acoustic piano of ‘The Great Silence’ make for one of the finest soundscape pieces in his songbook to date. However, the carefully considered breathing space afforded these disparate elements and Taborn’s ability to blur the line between organic and synthetic timbres so that contemporary technology does not feel at all like a bolted-on element in the arrangements is no less impressive. Sprightly non-western rhythms, fluid time and bluesy backbeats simply enhance this beguiling hypnosis. Taborn’s compositional voice is one of distinction, capturing the chill winds that blow over the world today in shadowy laments and juddering grooves, anthems for the anxiety felt by those who see (more) trouble ahead. Or maybe he has written great songs of solace for people in sorrow. Kevin Le Gendre

 

StankoTomasz Stańko New York Quartet

December Avenue

ECM

Listening to the enigmatic Polish trumpet legend Tomasz Stańko is not something to be taken lightly. His mesmerising new album December Avenue by his so-called New York quartet, the follow up to 2013’s Wisława, illustrates this point perfectly. On the surface the darkly reflective character of the music is one that marks out all his recordings, though this particular group creates perhaps more of a balance than previously with the injection of more playful, urban jazz grooves. Underneath though lie deeper layers of meaning that require more focused listening. Moving between apartments in Warsaw and New York, Stańko has no doubt been reinvigorated of late by having a regular east coast line-up, the only new member since Wisława being Reuben Rogers, a compelling bass sideman for both Charles Lloyd and Joshua Redman among others. The contribution from both drummer Gerald Cleaver and pianist David Virelles is nothing less than sublime, the latter delicately drawing from classical music and jazz as well as his Cuban roots, but always organically and entirely at the service of the trumpeter’s compositions. Throughout the recording they manage to say more with less and, following Stańko’s example, attach as much symbolic significance to space as they do sound. From the wearily atmospheric vignette ‘Cloud’ through to the Miles’ free bop-intofusion era references on ‘Burning Hot’ and the title track, Stańko’s compositions are at a high standard with no shortage of ear-catching melodies. The band make a very welcome return to the London Jazz Festival in November. Selwyn Harris

 

HawkinsAlexander Hawkins

Unit[e]

Alexander Hawkins Music

His collaborations and sideman gigs, above all with the legendary Louis Moholo-Moholo, are notable, but Hawkins’ recordings under his own name have also been worthy of attention. This 2CD release is an impressive overview of the British pianist’s strength in both small group and orchestral formats, though there is some overlap in personnel between the sextet on the first disc and the 13-piece ensemble on the second. The tremendous vigour and momentum of the first band is writ large on the opening track, a reprise of Jerome Cooper’s ‘For The People’, in which the joyous hop-skip-jump theme is embellished with a series of taut, concise but memorable variations. Elsewhere there is a strong resonance of Prime Time’s low slung off-centre funk while the orchestral material has an architectural complexity that reflects Hawkins’ avowed interest in AACM aesthetics. While the quality of the collaborators across the two discs is consistently high the fine details really make a difference, be it the bittersweet sway of Otto Fischer’s voice, which is well juxtaposed with the croak of Shabaka Hutchings’ bass clarinet, or the way Matthew Wright’s electronics provide sly embers to the dusk fire of the horns. As absorbing a soloist as he is, with his slanted, elliptical lines, Hawkins is really a vital link in a long historical chain, and his ability to sculpt his own language from a deeply rooted creative bedrock is compelling. Kevin Le Gendre

 

MitchellNicole Mitchell

Mandoria Awakening II: Emerging Worlds

FPE

Mitchell’s work over the past decade has been of a consistently high standard, but she excels herself on this new offering. An improviser with both attention to detail and flourish, Mitchell also has an ear for astute combinations of instruments and an understanding of myriad cultural traditions that allow her to fashion vocabulary well beyond genre confines. Halfway in to the set there is a startling passage of solo vocal testifying by Avery R. Young and it stands as a fine centrepiece, shoring up the essential gospel foundation of the album. Yet the route taken to this epiphany is utterly unforeseen, for the preceding arrangements are an intriguing composite of spectral Japanese and European classical music, industrial guitar rock and back-o-yard blues. Mitchell’s scores are like shapeshifters that bring these disparate elements in and out of focus, but the backbone of the music has the requisite flexibility and clarity to make this possible. Wisely, there is percussion where one might expect a kit drum, and the additional space enables the many timbres to coalesce without any real clutter, much as they do in Afro-latin or indeed Middle Eastern music. Taut, often spare basslines only serve to centre the choral ornamentation. The net result is a real ensemble voice in which solos are contained rather than extended and the interplay of various woodwinds or strings – the overlapping of flute and shakuhachi or the weaving of guitar and cello – is very effective. Mitchell has crafted a structural canvas that is not top-heavy but has great depth, both sonically and emotionally. Mandorla, inspired by ‘the Great Mother’, is confirmation of a brilliant storyteller as well as composer-player in contemporary creative music. Kevin Le Gendre

 

Courtney PineCourtney Pine

Black Notes From The Deep

Freestyle

The headlines may be about the eye-catching collaboration with Omar, but more significantly Black Notes From The Deep finds Pine turning to the tenor for the first time in a decade, wrestling with his horn and the challenge that is about being black and British in our interesting times. As if given confidence by the no frills vibe of The Ballad Book, Pine has taken the intimacy of the classic quartet structure and assembled an album of ballads and blues pierced through with soul and sharp intelligence. The tone is set by the assertive but never aggressive ‘Rules’, with Omar declaiming, “Let’s state our rules… be in control of the main thing”. And control is the key to Black Notes: the tenor of course can be tough and terrifying, yet Pine keeps it proud and purposeful, never being seduced by anger, even on the chillingly titled ‘Rivers of Blood’. His achievement is to reflect on the current spirit of our age, filter it through references to past experience (check his ‘A Change Is Sure To Come’ or the noirish blues of ‘You Know Who You Are’) and then re-present it to us dark, blue and occasionally bible black, but always clear-eyed and courageous. Of his own admission, Pine sometimes writes essays to ‘explain’ his works, especially the epic scaled messages of House of Legends or Europa: but with Black Notes from The Deep, the jazz warrior has stiffened his tenor sinews and summoned the blood to let the music do the talking, and Omar do the singing. Andy Robson

 

AkinmusireAmbrose Akinmusire

A Rift In Decorum: Live at the Village Vanguard

Blue Note

Trumpeter Akinmusire’s studio output has been steady since his 2008 album Prelude To Cora, and this double album recorded in performance at the storied New York venue is an assured milestone in his career to date. There are patented Ambrosisms both in terms of playing and writing – that almost flute-like swoon and smear of tone; brooding minor themes full of nonlinearity and melodic asides arriving unforeseen. When the trumpeter says that, although he and his ensemble play ‘a lot’, there is also a spare Chopin quality to what they do, he tells no lie. The shadowy, crepuscular character of much of the material is well to the fore, the result of which can be an intimacy that honours the memory of Booker Little and the living legacy of the great Ron Miles. The richness of Akinmusire’s timbre and phrasing is such that the absence of a reed is not really felt, and his quartet, in any case, is a highly accomplished small group in contemporary jazz. The players are capable of covering the excitingly wide spectrum of the elegiac and the energetic, and the various points of intersection between the two, facilitated in no small measure by drummer Justin Brown’s superlative variations of hard swing, percolating funk and cleverly stuttered march beats. A notable coming of age. Kevin Le Gendre

 

PeltJeremy Pelt

Make Noise

HighNote

With every new Jeremy Pelt album, there’s always something different to look forward to. This is the follow-up to the recently reviewed Jiveculture which featured Ron Carter. This time around he uses Victor Gould on piano, whose leader debut CD on FSNT made this writer’s ‘Best of…’ list for 2016; Vincente Archer, one of New York’s major bassists; Jonathan Barber, a highly rhythmic drummer, whom Pelt used for European dates (very loud in person!), whose feature number is ‘Evolution’, probably the most adventurous of the originals; and, as an additional stimulant, his young percussionist discovery Jacquelene Acevado, who kicks off the record with a prologue for the melodically exciting title tune. Another big difference to Jiveculture is that Jeremy wrote all the tunes, with the exception of ‘Digression’ (Archer’s feature), which is by a Pelt associate, pianist Simona Premazzi, and one of the album’s high-spots. But it’s Jeremy’s record, with arguably his best trumpet playing to date. For once, no fluegelhorn. His sound is robustly flawless – very pure and, of course, there’s a lovely ballad ‘Your First Touch…’, which has some equally tender Gould piano. Two of the most satisfying tracks are saved until the end – the ultramellow, conga-backed ‘Chateau d’Eau’ and the closing hard-hitting belter, ‘Bodega Social’. There are some really terrific trumpet records around at the moment, like the Roney, Weiss and Harrell/ Akinmusire. Here’s another corker! If you can, try and buy them all! Tony Hall

 

VijayVijay Iyer Sextet

Far From Over

ECM

Far From Over arrests on so many levels that at times the energy and varying emotional pulses seem nearly uncontainable. As the pianist fronts this formidable sextet on such compositions as the volatile ‘Down to the Wire’, the whiplashing ‘Good on the Ground’ and the charging title-track, he impels shifting rhythmic beds with serrated melodies and improvisations, while the dynamic frontline horns concoct writhing parallel lines that often bloom into intense strains of laser-sharp passages. In turn, the disc offers moments of glowing introspection – the best of which are the elegiac, piano-bass-drums treatment of ‘For Amiri Baraka’, the spectral ‘End of the Tunnel’, which finds Iyer’s Fender Rhodes chords glimmering alongside Graham Haynes’ lamenting wails, and the pensive ‘Threnody’. Here Iyer slowly unravels a suspenseful melody underneath Stephan Crump’s economical bass counterpoint and Tyshawn Sorey’s delicate cymbal and tom rhythms before the song’s balladry gives way to more foreboding intensity once Haynes, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman, and tenor saxophonist Mark Shim enter the fray.

 

BinkerBinker & Moses

Journey To The Mountain of Forever

Gearbox

Following the critical acclaim lavished on their 2015 debut Dem Ones, Binker and Moses consolidate and expand, both in ideas and personnel. This ambitious double album comprises one session in which the drummer and saxophonist deliver another potent duologue and a second in which they are joined by stellar guests drawn from different generations and backgrounds. Needless to say the format highlights a strong contrast, and not just between music made from small and large resources. B&M’s strength as composers and improvisers, or co-composers in a setting of considerable spontaneity, comes well to the fore. While a piece such as the ‘Fete By The River’ is a compelling example of how a timeless West Indian rhythm such as calypso provides much stimulus for players who can tune into its essence while avoiding soft-option clichés, the more introspective investigations of the ensemble work are no less gripping, primarily because of the careful balance that is struck between the numerous voices at play. They nestle into an open assembly that shifts beguilingly through all manner of tone poetry with a spiky sub-text. A bold statement of intent from two artists who have stayed focused while taking risks. Kevin Le Gendre

John Etheridge interview: “We never got paid for Soft Machine. God knows what happened to the money”

John Etheridge

AJ Dehany caught up with Soft Machine’s John Etheridge and spoke to him about his formative fretboard influences and approaches to guitar playing, as well as penetrating the complex chronology and politics of the ongoing Softs saga

“Around 1969 I lost interest in what you’d call rock music,” says guitarist John Etheridge. “I’d got bored with jazz, because it was all safe. I’d heard Clapton, Hendrix, Peter Green, Jeff Beck. When you’ve had that intensity it’s kind of hard to engage, but when John McLaughlin’s album Extrapolation came along, and then Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, it was like, ‘Wow! This is jazz with bollocks!’”

The guitarist is about to set out on a 10-date UK tour with Soft Machine, the legendary jazz-rock group formed in Canterbury in 1966 with Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen and Mike Ratledge. The current line-up includes three 1970s-era members, with Etheridge on guitar, Roy Babbington on bass, and John Marshall on drums, with Theo Travis replacing the late Elton Dean on reeds. We meet by Hampstead Heath, where he’s just been swimming. At nearly 70, he’s vigorous, voluble and totally affable. Everyone we pass seems to know him. As he talks, it turns out he knows everyone too. In his career he’s worked with countless talents and some huge names, including John Williams and Stéphane Grappelli. He jammed with Hendrix and Clapton during the blues boom in the 1960s, but struck out in a jazz direction that led to him joining Soft Machine in 1975.

His story is rich in characters and passion from the start. What made him take up the guitar in 1961 at age 13 was Hank Marvin and the Shadows with their red Stratocasters. It was a “flashbulb moment”. Another was seeing Eric Clapton in Golders Green Refectory in 1965. “I couldn’t believe it!” he says. “That was the real thing, absolutely devastating. I was quite an experienced player by then, but nobody had made the guitar sing for me before that. The guitar sang for the first time, actually sang.” By way of contrast he adds: “For us, the state-of-the-art guitar solo in 1964 was Dave Davies’ on ‘You Really Got Me’. It’s like Chuck Berry on amphetamines.”

It fits with Etheridge’s wider conception of what the guitar can do emotionally, what it can make us feel. “This is what Clapton did. He made the guitar sing, and people loved his playing. Every season there’s a Clapton imitation. At the moment it’s Joe Bonamassa doing his take on Eric circa 1966.” I tell Etheridge that my friends and I call Bonamassa ‘the Blues Dentist’. “He is! He’s a property tycoon! Can you imagine Eric doing that? I come from an era when I can still recall how absolutely authentic these people were to their core. That’s why they suffered. If you give it all like they did it’s bad for you. It’s great for the public, it’s bad for you. So Hendrix died, they all died, and Clapton essentially did – he lived on, but the real Clapton died in 1969, and that’s the truth. Full marks to him for carrying on and having a good career.”

The point is this: “We were all so young. All we wanted to do was play. We didn't care about money. I didn't take any interest in money until the late 1970s, when I had a family. We never got paid for Soft Machine. God knows what happened to the money. All I was thinking about was playing. Do you think Eric Clapton gave a shit about money when he was 20? These people were totally into what they were doing. This is a very important difference. Musicians now are much more balanced people, because they have to be. After Thatcher they had to be, but you can hear the effect on the music. Hendrix, Clapton, the intensity of their playing was extraordinary. Nobody plays like that now.”

Etheridge’s accounts of the 1960 would fill volumes. “It was crazy, it was a crazy period and a great period, inspiring but crazy, and destructive.”

I enjoyed a description I’d read of Soft Machine’s “deep roots in the musical revolution of the 1960s”, which was followed by an extended tree metaphor about limbs branching off. The Soft Machine family tree is particularly complicated. You can count at least 24 different incarnations, though it has been reasonably stable for over a decade now as Soft Machine Legacy. In 2015, the band reverted to the name Soft Machine. I ask John Etheridge about the philosophical and legal implications of that change.

“Because of the way the law goes, if you're directors of a firm that packs up you still technically own the name. When we reformed in 2004 there was talk about calling it Soft Machine. A lot of people abroad just called us Soft Machine, and people were saying, ‘Look! Just drop the ‘Legacy’, call it Soft Machine, ’cos people think it’s a tribute band’. That was the problem. We would go to a gig and not many people would show up, because they thought it was a tribute band. Last year we toured as Soft Machine and it went so much better. But I do still have this funny feeling about calling it Soft Machine.”

I ask him about a comment from Hugh Hopper, the long-standing bass player until 2008, who said, “We [Soft Machine] weren't consciously playing jazz rock. It was more a case of not wanting to sound like other bands; we certainly didn't want a guitarist.” Etheridge laughs: “That’s very interesting! It was a thing about Soft Machine, that there was no guitar, which was why I took no interest in them whatsoever, which stood me in good stead because there were loads of people going, ‘This isn't proper Soft Machine’. I didn't feel it personally at all. I was honoured to be in the band. They didn't have a guitarist for ages and, when they did, it was a bit like, ‘oh god, why have they got a guitar?’”

When the Soft Machine job came up in 1975, the album Bundles had already been recorded with Allan Holdsworth on guitar, who recommended Etheridge to the group (“which was incredible for me, an incredible break”). There was a ‘Year Zero’ feeling that Etheridge sardonically compares to the Soviet-era politburo, when Stalin dies and Khrushchev takes over. “When I joined, everybody from the earlier period was dissed: ‘They couldn't play, they're no good, their compositions were no good’, and without thinking I took that on board, because I respected the people I was playing with. They were very sniffy about the old days. The people who joined didn't have respect for the people from the past. It was only years later, when I listened to the old stuff, that I realised how good it was.

He explains his qualms: “I remember some friends of mine had Soft Machine’s Third at university and I listened to it and thought that as there’s no guitar player, I'm not interested. But now, when I hear it, I realise how good it was. Robert Wyatt was a very creative force. If they’d followed his direction with the vocals and things it would have made Soft Machine into a superstar band. Soft Machine could have been Pink Floyd. But they went into the jazz instrumental direction. As soon as you ditch vocals you're not finished, but your place in the pantheon is lowered.”

Before the dreaded guitar entered the Soft Machine mix with Allan Holdsworth in the mid-1970s, the band was briefly dominated by the compositionally-led keyboard player and composer Karl Jenkins, who was very much a ‘leader’. “When I listen to the albums I think they're good, but he was the opposite of a free improviser,” explains Etheridge. “He was a very controlling influence, extremely non-improvisational in essence. Jenkins was essentially not a jazz musician. He'd admit that. Marshall is, and I am by temperament, and Roy Babbington as well, and Hugh Hopper. But Hugh and Jenkins had this implicit hatred of each other.”

This returns to a key point. “In the 1960s and 1970s the other side of the intensity with which people played was the intensity with which they hated and loved. I don’t know what young people are like now, but it was a difficult environment.” I ask Etheridge if this might have been what Hugh Hopper really meant when he cited Jenkins’ “third-rate musical involvement”, and Etheridge’s own comments about the band in the late 1970s “not achieving its potential”. “No!” he protests. “Initially I levelled blame at the band’s appalling management arrangements: a certain amount of internecine strife, people pulling in different directions. When I look back now, I realise that the Wyatt direction would have probably borne more fruit. It wouldn't have involved me, obviously. So, thank god it never happened, or I’d never have been in the Soft Machine!”

Following Allan Holdsworth’s parts on 1975’s Bundles was hard work, but rewarding. Etheridge explains: “When I later joined Stéphane Grappelli people would say, ‘god, you're following Django Reinhardt!’ and I’d say, ‘No, I'm not: Stéphane Grappelli has played with 150 mediocre guitarists since Django died, so I don't feel intimidated at all!’ Whereas following Allan as the Soft Machine guitarist was demanding. I did feel that I was one of the few people who could cope. I was quite proud of that.”

Etheridge goes on to explain why the band went on hiatus: “We did some great touring, then that finished and the 1980s came along. Hugh Hopper was driving a cab. People went into running pubs and things because the 1980s killed everything. I loathed that decade. It was an appalling time for me and my generation. I had all sorts of awful things going on in my life, but through Stéphane Grappelli’s band I slipped into the jazz scene, in which I was low-level active throughout the 1980s. I did okay, but people like Hugh had to pack up.”

He offers a glimpse of what could have happened: “It was only come 1993-94 that a lot of bands started reforming and there was suddenly an interest. Soft Machine should have done something then, but because of the chaotic nature of the general thing it didn't. Coliseum reformed about 1995, Caravan reformed in the same year – suddenly there was an interest, which there hadn't been throughout the 1980s. I did okay in the 1980s, but I didn't do anything particularly constructive.”

Etheridge tells me that this time around, and for the first time in its history, Soft Machine is a true democracy. With the group’s focus on improvisation, does that make the creative process easier? “Absolutely!” he enthuses. ‘You can’t do free improvisation unless it’s a democracy. You can’t! Imagine a dinner party where you've got four people and if one person holds forth the whole time it’s boring for everybody else. Or if one person doesn't speak at all it’s embarrassing. A good free is like a successful social interaction. Whether it’s of interest to the audience is something else. I never thought it was much of a spectator sport. Free improv is a participant sport, but it’s very satisfying.”

The most recent full-time member of the Soft Machine set-up, Theo Travis, gives the group a vital impetus. What I really like off albums like 2007’s Steam are the intensely-layered textures, with Travis and Etheridge’s free use of effects over disciplined rhythm playing. Etheridge agrees: “It’s quite communal in that sense. It’s got a good balance, which is the democratic thing. We’ve got our compositions, which tend to be fairly well-structured, with ordinary songs and solos, and then tunes that just start from somewhere and go anywhere else. I like doing that myself when playing solo, but I never quite have the nerve!”

It’s a surprising admission of humility for a man who throughout his career has always struck out on his own creative path, pursuing what felt right to him. “I love doing it! There are elements of me that are uncompromising, but I never had jazz bitterness. I accept that if I want to play like I want to play that it isn’t going to have universal appeal. It’s for a very limited, but obsessive, audience.” Etheridge remains unrepentant: “The very fortunate people in life, like Hendrix and Clapton, were playing to the max of what they could do and it also appealed to people. Everybody else goes into singing: Clapton, George Benson, Richard Thompson… They write songs and sing them and then you can go anywhere. But I was a guitar player who was hooked up on jazz, so there was no way! Considering all that, I’ve done okay. Once you’ve got the jazz disease you're on the way to penury and financial embarrassment. I’ve worked out that no guitarist who plays long lines has ever made any money. The highest paid guitarist in the universe per note is Pink Floyd’s Dave, don't you think?”

He may have a point. From as early as the 1960s, many Soft Machine tracks have been based around riffs or very tight one-note basslines, rather than chord progressions as such.

“One chord. Yep. Very little harmonic movement in the solo. But I'm happy with that. What you can do, if there’s no keyboard, is invent your own harmonies over the one-note bass, play a lot of chromatic stuff which implies harmonies that aren't there. That’s very liberating. In the 1980s, I spent a lot of time studying what they call playing outside, which is what John Schofield and people were doing.” Etheridge contrasts this to the playing of Stéphane Grappelli, who was “completely dependent on the harmony to generate ideas” and to ‘the Blues Dentist’: “If you took Joe Bonamassa, he’s a clever musician, but he'd probably find playing over changes difficult. It’s a thing that jazz musicians do. To me, it doesn't matter. I went through this jazz snobbery period in the 1980s where, if the changes weren't complicated, it was like cheating. But who gives a fuck? People don’t care.”

Confirming both his humility and his jazz sensibility he concludes: “The important thing is that you and the audience get to a space. If you're just trying to tickle the audience cynically then you're a cabaret act. If you're just getting off on playing and the audience are unmoved then you're a wanker. But if both of you go to some place together, like I experienced with Eric Clapton in 1965, that’s a real interaction.”

Introducing: Quincy Jones’ Qwest TV

Quincy Jones and TV producer Reza Ackbaraly

Quincy Jones is many things – a 27-time Grammy award winner, TV and movie producer, actor, record company head honcho, magazine founder, and arranger and music producer of the biggest selling album of all time, Thriller. But at his core Jones is essentially a jazz musician. His passion for the music remains as fresh as the night his 14-year-old fingertips flew across the trumpet keys alongside Ray Charles during a late-night bebop session at a jiving jazz club in downtown 1940s Seattle.

Seventy years later, at the age of 84 and not content to hang up his musical boots, the music maestro has created Qwest TV – the world’s first subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) platform dedicated to jazz and jazz-inspired music. And he’s determined to take the music to the masses.

“I always wanted to make sure that people in the U.S. and across the world could have access to high quality content: both jazz and jazz-inspired,” says Jones. The idea for Qwest TV had been in gestation since 2014. Jones met French TV producer Reza Ackbaraly – also music programmer for France’s prestigious jazz festival, Jazz à Vienne – who was working for European-based music channel Mezzo TV. They instantly connected over the common desire to elevate the profile of jazz and to expand its appeal to a wider audience.

True, in some quarters, jazz has suffered unfairly under the myopic misconception that it is the preserve of lofty musical elitists. Though it’s seen some sparkling moments in the spotlight, it’s then left the stage to recharge its mojo. Qwest’s mission, therefore, is “to bring exciting music from around the world back to jazz and music lovers who have yet to discover it,” says Ackbaraly. “Its influence is everywhere; in pop, in electro, in hip-hop,” he adds. “With Qwest, jazz is going to be at the source of everything we do – but we also want to highlight its influence on diverse forms of music, the connections between the different genres and how its narrative is evolving with the technological age.”

Jones concurs, and feels that such is the shape-shifting nature of the art form, jazz’s wide-ranging influences can capture anyone with a willing ear. “I always have to refer back to the breakthrough in the 50s and early 60s when Herbie did ‘Watermelon Man’ and Miles did Bitches Brew,” he says. “It really was a turning point, and I believe we are going to continue to have turning points as people discover how jazz can connect in ways that other genres haven’t been able to.”

His forecast is, quite possibly, already starting to ferment. Hip-hop superstar Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly featured the groove-tight talents of Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington – both of whom have idiom-bending albums under their belts. And an influx of nu-school jazz titans such as soul-jazz balladeer Gregory Porter, neo jazz-fusioneer Esperanza Spalding and experimental organ grinder Cory Henry are wowing a new generation of devotees.

Announced at this year’s Montreux Jazz Festival, Qwest TV will debut in October 2017. Subscribers will gain access to exclusive hand-picked content by industry professionals, such as concerts, documentaries, interviews and archival footage in HD or 4K for £6 per month. Supported by a stellar cast of artists, producers and venues, Qwest has already secured international rights to over 400 titles and plans to acquire a further 600 within its first three years.

Qwest, says Ackbaraly, will also be producing its own content. His expertise in running the New Jazz & World Music department of Mezzo TV stands the channel in good stead to produce high-tech, cutting-edge material, which will focus on new and exciting developments within the global pantheon of jazz.

With a roll-call of top-shelf talent cued-up for its launch, viewers can expect to stream unique performances from a dizzying array of retro and contemporary artists. From Billie Holiday to Esperanza Spalding, Sun Ra to Kamasi Washington, Bill Evans to Flying Lotus, and Ravi Shankar’s flying sitar solos to the traditions of Cuban Santeria, Jones and Ackbaraly’s Franco-American project is doubtless going to cruise the musical universe in a fashion that BBC 6 Music’s Gilles Peterson coined: “joining the dots.”

I ask Jones whether he can see foresee any specific styles of jazz re-emerging. “I read somewhere that most creativity is a combination of two unrelated elements that you put together and make them work. A lot of creativity is based on that, especially in music,” he says. “It’s not about a specific style of jazz re-emerging, it’s more so about the fact that everything is built upon what came before. So I would say it’s going to be an amalgamation of the different forms of jazz in general.”

Jones’ unswerving affection and respect for African, Brazilian and Cuban music is well documented. These countries’ rich musical traditions have consistently acted as a creative spur to his music. They have informed and underscored some of his most striking work. Their influence is there in the playful Brazilian waltz of ‘Soul Bossa Nova’. It’s there in the thrusting Cuban brass that flavours ‘Ai no Corrida’. It’s there in the ecstatic African-style chants adorning Michael Jackson’s ‘Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’’.

“I absolutely love how it’s all intertwined. Cuban music’s roots come from Yoruba and Brazilian music’s roots come from Angola. There is so much history in these places and they never stop growing,” he says. “The voices from South Africa mixed with the polyrhythmic percussions from West Africa were what came out of slavery – and it has lasted. It has stood the test of time and has been there for us in the darkest and brightest of days.”

Browsing Qwest’s press release, it comes as no surprise, then, to see that – as well as straight-ahead jazz – the channel’s inaugural roster is positively brimming with content that passes the sonorous torch across the globe: Paco de Lucia (Spain); Oumou Sangaré (Mali); Milton Nascimento (Brazil); Manu Dibango (Cameroon) are just a snapshot of what’s to come.

Another of Qwest’s objectives reaches into the world of education. Ackbaraly says they have plans to collaborate with 250 universities worldwide, including esteemed institutions such as Berklee, NYU and Paris’ Sorbonne.

Quincy Jones and TV producer Reza Ackbaraly

Photo: Quincy Jones with French TV producer Reza Ackbaraly (via YouTube)

Visiting UCLA last year, he had been puzzled to find the music library which holds exceptional resources for jazz on CD and DVD – once teeming with students – now hardly in use. “Students now go to YouTube to do their research,” he says. “Firstly, the quality is terrible. Secondly, it’s not curated.” His concern stems not from the library’s inactivity – times and trends change – but because it has not been replaced by anything resembling an equivalent.

He says his friend Danilo Perez, a lecturer at Berklee School of Music, stands in an amphitheatre in front of 500 students showing YouTube videos of Bud Powell trying to emphasise Powell’s piano technique. “It’s crazy,” he chuckles, “you have the adverts constantly popping up everywhere which disturb the performance.”

So for Qwest, what will this entail? Their response is to offer music schools and universities an annual subscription. This will provide students with free access to their extensive, curated catalogue – an unparalleled resource as a research facility, and a high-calibre content provider for students to exploit in their presentations and performances.

Jones’ unbridled zeal for the music and his belief in its positive and unifying force is irrepressible. “I have witnessed first-hand the power of jazz – and all of its off-spring from the blues and R&B to pop, rock and hip-hop, to tear down walls and bring the world together,” he commented. “I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will view Bird, Miles and Dizzy as our Mozarts, Bachs, Chopins and Tchaikovskys. It’s my hope that Qwest TV will serve to carry forth and build on the great legacy that is jazz for many generations to come."

Branded by BBC Radio 3’s Kevin Le Gendre as “the Netflix of jazz”, Qwest TV is undoubtedly set to become one of the most inspirational developments in music media in decades. Jones and Ackbaraly are akin to two time-travelling jazz messengers with the keys to the archives and the future of jazz-inspired music tucked in their back pockets, and for music lovers the world over, their exciting new venture is about to unlock the technicolour vaults – “from bebop to laptop.”

– Interview by Gareth Jones

To find out more about Qwest TV, please visit their website: qwest.tv

Life-changing jazz albums: 'Charlie Parker with Strings'

Keyboard-player Lonnie Liston Smith talks about the album that changed his life, Charlie Parker With Strings, by Charlie Parker. Interview by Brian Glasser

I know the one straight away – it was ‘Just Friends’, Charlie Parker With Strings. I was in high school, about 15. I grew up in a musical home, so we were always surrounded by music. We’d be sitting on the stairs on the front porch, singing – that was just natural for us. My father was in the Harmonising Four, they bin’ all over the world and went to different festivals every year. They’d have their own one in Virginia, the Dixie Hummingbirds would have theirs in Philly, and so on. I’d be running about backstage as a kid, and there’d be the Blind Boys, Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers. Bobby Womack was singing gospel then. But when I heard Bird, I said ‘What is that?’ They said, ‘that’s Charlie Parker, Bird. He’s playing jazz – you know, improvisation.’

 

‘He was so free and warm – he was flying around the whole universe, just playing’

 

I was at a friend’s house. His dad had a nice jazz collection. They were playing it there one day, and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness!’ It was just unbelievable. I didn’t buy it – way back then, it was mainly radio. We had a piano in the house, but I wasn’t taking lessons. I could play the basic things, but when I heard that, I thought ‘I gotta learn about improvisation!’ That was the thing – playing different all the way through, changing the tune and so on. Bird was amazing because he could do that, but at the same time it was beautiful. A lot of people do improvisation and they can’t make it beautiful. He was so free and warm – he was flying around the whole universe, just playing.

So I just started to figure out things on my own. [Evidently sitting at piano, he plays down the phone: C major – A major – G major – F major chords.] Those are the chords for doo-wop and lots of R&B. All the songs were basically that – ‘Stand By Me’ and so on. I thought, ‘I can play this, but I’m tired of playing it!’ So I’d start playing: [plays expanded harmonies on the same chords and changes rhythm]. You’d keep on expanding. You try to figure out different sounds. That’s when I started listening to everybody – all the pianists, Art Tatum, Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson. Another great thing was when the jazz shows would pass through town – I heard the Count Basie Band when he played ‘April in Paris’, which I loved.

I never saw Bird play, but I worked with Max Roach and Miles Davis. My thing was, after [high] school I wanted to go to New York and try to meet and work with all the masters; and I did that. When I worked with Max, I’m quiet and laid back and he used to say ‘Man, Charlie Parker would have had a field day with you!’. Charlie was a genius but he had another side too!

I didn’t have no lessons – that’s the thing. Now you talk to kids, they go to jazz school; or they listen to records and write every note down. We were just experimenting. Then you start working, which brings you on – the first band I played in was the Metronome All-Stars, we’d be playing dances and everything. But I guess my thing was always to try to come up with a different sound, to figure out different things. Sometimes you’d be playing and something would just happen, and you’d think ‘Oh, my goodness’. That’s what you’d always be looking for – when that magic happens.

I worked with everybody – Pharoah and Gato and Rahsaan. The producer Bob Thiele said, ‘You’re getting known everywhere, it’s time for you to do your record.’ A few months later the record came out – Astral Travelling – and I was still with Miles. Bob said ‘You gotta support your record’; and I said, ‘Man, I’m not leaving Miles. I just did the record so I could say I’d done my own record.’ I told Miles: ‘They want me to support the record and I don’t want to do it’; and he just laughed and said, ‘You shouldn’t did [sic] the record!’

The art of music is fantastic, but the business – oh man, it’s bad. The whole thing for me has been love of the music. You start in church, then you get to studying all kinds of things, philosophies and religions and you say, ‘Wow – everyone’s saying the same things, so why are we fighting?’ That’s why I wrote ‘Expansions’. But people still doin’ crazy things …!

The album

Charlie Parker with StringsCharlie Parker

Charlie Parker With Strings

Mercury (1950)

PERSONNEL :: Charlie Parker (as), with orchestra.

TRACKS :: ‘Just Friends’, ‘Everything Happens To Me’, ‘April In Paris’, ‘Summertime’, ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’ and ‘If I Should Lose You’.

 

 

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Jazzwise. To find out more about subscribing, please visit: www.jazzwisemagazine.com/subscribe

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