Shakespeare’s most musical work, As You Like It, will be transformed into a piece of renaissance-inspired jazz theatre this weekend under the baton of its composer, Scott Stroman. The musical, which has been six years in the offing, began as eight Shakespeare songs in 2008. Stroman was commissioned to write them by Robert Cecil, the earl of Salisbury, to mark the 450th anniversary of the coronation of Elizabeth I.

Now, a two and a half hour version of the play will feature an extended suite of 13 songs, interpreted by a jazz band featuring Tim Wells, bass, Paul Clarvis, drums and percussion, Pete Hurt, saxophones and woodwinds, Stuart Hall, guitar and Sonia Slany and Nick Cooper on violin and cello. A professional cast of five plus a 100-strong chorus of adults and children from Highbury Opera Theatre make up the ensemble.

Stroman (pictured below) commented on the work: “The original idea was to set these songs in a way which was modern, attractive and jazzy that still had a bit of the ‘sound world’ of Shakespeare’s own time... My starting point was to study William Byrd and imagine if I improvised on [his] songs, what would I come up with?”

scott-stroman-300The end result is modal jazz which draws upon the modal music of the 15th and 16th centuries, where much of the momentum is derived from variations between the major and minor scale rather than changes of key. The songs include a poignant setting of ‘All the World’s a Stage’, ‘It was a Lover and his Lass’, from the original play, and also ‘Crabbed Age and Youth’, originally from the The Passionate Pilgrim.

The songs have two to three levels – there’s the rhyme, what you’re actually speaking about, and then there’s the subtext. You can say the words in one way but set the words in another i.e. with harmony and rhythm. That’s what has been so attractive for me – trying to dig inside these poems and find out what the subtext really was” Stroman added.

Stroman is a multi-faceted musician: atrombonist and singer, working with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie; the director of the London Jazz Orchestra; and previously head of jazz at the Guildhall. He has also had a long association with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and has previous form setting Shakespeare’s poetry, having written arrangements of Shakespeare songs for Cleo Laine.

Stroman adds: “People can expect a clever story, a comedy with a life-enhancing, positive message, and uplifting, joyous, rich music – and some great jazz playing along the way.”

The play is directed by Bernie Moran and stars Grace Andrews (pictured top) as Rosalind, Robin Bailey as Orlando, Donna Canale as Celia, Robert Gildon as Touchstone and Jacques Verzier as Jaques.

Three performances will take place at Union Chapel on 13-14 June as part of the Shakespeare 450 celebrations marking the 450th year of The Bard’s birth.

– Hannah Crown

For more info go to unionchapel.org.uk

 


The presence of camera crews from the pioneering Franco-German television channel Arte, live-streaming each concert of the four day event and interviewing artists as soon as they come off-stage, is a sign of the stature of the Moers festival. Yet one might also point to the absence of the word jazz in its billing, possibly because its 43 year history makes it redundant, possibly because genre is not, and perhaps never was, the raison d’etre. Indeed the openness in the programme is best encapsulated in the first night, where the contrasts between the four artists on the bill could not be greater.

Sebastian Gramss’ BassMasse brings together no fewer than 42 double basses, with varying results, to the magnificently appointed Konzert Halle, then the orchestral gives way to the personal as Marc Ribot performs a solo set of protest songs that reveal a brilliant, wry voice and probing lyric writer in addition to the known guitar virtuoso. He is followed by a Dutch duo, drummer Han Bennink and pianist Oscar Jan Hoogland, whose funhouse ingenuity is rousing and grating in equal measure.

Things go macro again for the engaging Ricky Tick Big Band, who invigorate classic soul jazz scores by the presence of rappers and several strong soloists. The pattern of sizing up and down continues throughout the festival and obvious highlights are Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit (pictured above) and the Joey Baron-Robyn Schulkowsky duo. Both are linked by immense attention to detail and creativity with regard to instrumentation, the former proving that the tuba is a definitive source of surreal textures, the latter that the tympani is the ultimate in unplugged electronica.

Talking of which the meeting of laptop tyro Macus Schmickler and drummer Jaki Liebzeit proves one of the few damp squibs, with the Can legend labouring joylessly to loops and pitch shifts that meet dead ends in double quick time. Saving the day rhapsodically are two more brilliant big bands – Fred Frith’s Gravity, a free wheeling head spinning ensemble in which folk music from around the world feeds into a group sound so personal it can make Martha Reeves’ ‘Dancing In Street’ feel like a souped-up Lynch soundtrack. Lastly the Sun Ra Arkestra is the Lynch soundtrack, its hard swinging outer-galactic strangeness still wild at heart after all these many eons.

– Kevin Le Gendre

 

ReVoice! – the acclaimed vocal-festival curated by singer Georgia Mancio – celebrates its fifth edition in serious style across four venues (inside and outside London) in an expanded 12-night programme that runs from 9 to 20 October.

The event’s ethos of spotlighting a wide variety of British and international jazz vocal talent and kicks off at its first regional concert at Watermill Jazz Club in Dorking with renowned UK vocalists Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe (9 Oct). Other highlights among the numerous artists appearing will be the duo of US soul-jazz-looping singer/percussionist Vinx and English tap dancer Lee Payne with their Hands, Mouth & Feet show, striking French/Cameroonian singer songwriter Sandra Nkake, and a rare four shows over two club nights from Grammy-winning US star Carmen Lundy (pictured above) backed by a trio led by revered keyboardist Patrice Rushen.

Georgia Mancio, as well as curating the event, performs each night on the opening set and has lined up another ambitious series of collaborations as she performs each night with the likes of Andrew McCormack, Tom Cawley, Michael Janisch and Gareth Lockrane among others.

The festival continues at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho for nine-nights with a double bill each night topped by: Rebecca Parris (10-11 Oct); Diana Torto/John Taylor/Julian Siegel (12 Oct); Liane Carroll/Ian Shaw/Georgia Mancio (13 Oct); Christine Tobin’s Deep Song (14 Oct); Vinx/Lee Payne (15 Oct); Sandra Nkake’s Shadow Of A Doubt (16 Oct); and Carmen Lundy with Patrice Rushen Trio (17-18 Oct).

The event then closes out over two nights with Belgian-born singer Gabrielle Ducomble at the Hunter Club, Bury St Edmunds (19 Oct) and then a trio of Georgia Mancio, Sara Colman and Randolph Matthews at the 606 Club, Chelsea (20 Oct).

– Mike Flynn

For full details and tickets go to www.revoicefestival.com


As this stylish unit gathered on stage at Surrey’s Watermill Jazz Club, and the tinny din of an old Oscar Peterson record was promptly faded out on the house PA, it was questionable what grabbed the hall's attention first: drummer Moses Boyd's crisp, sock-style hi-hat intro to 'Ornithology', or the band's natty suits.

Whatever it was merely lit the fuse to a two-hour show that packed in 20-plus of the 40-plus tunes Charlie Parker recorded for the Dial label between 1946 and 47. Each one freshly re-arranged and informatively introduced by pianist Alex Webb, and brought to life by a crack band fronted by the "man with a lot of responsibility on his shoulders", altoist Nathaniel Facey.

From the get-go the show swung hard throughout, but the first set was noteworthy in that it rolled out most of Bird's biggies first. 'Ornithology' was tailed by the ever-seductive sax melody to 'A Night in Tunisia’, which, over a clattering cowbell and tribal tom-tom rumba lick from Boyd, snaked across the beat in unison with trumpeter Freddie Gavita.

Completing the line-up was Alex Davis on double bass, and guitarist Jo Calee, who lent a heavy, finger-picked solo to the swing section on 'Tunisia', before resuming his light rhythm duties over house-favourites 'Moose the Mooch' and 'The Gypsy'. The latter was a lush ballad that heard Facey shine, effortlessly emulating the sluggish and breathy style on Parker's original, to mesmerising effect.  

While most focus fell on Facey, whistles and applause greeted solos from the whole band. Boyd, who for the bulk of the gig was satisfied to simply sit back and swing, dug his heels into 'Cool Blues', breaking out triplet licks around the kit with whipcrack accuracy, before laying an infectious second-line-style march under Davis during a bluesy 'Relaxin' at Camarillo'.

'Dexterity' (similar to 'Moose' in that its melody is stitched to the changes of Gershwin's 'I Got Rhythm') brought some equally potent playing from Allen and Webb. Trading fours and flexing their bop chops over the tune's busy theme, they remained fixed on Boyd's quarter-note ride cymbal pulse, which would drive them home, and eventually into a sassier 'Scrapple from the Apple'.

Playing a mellower Miles than blazing Diz to Facey's Bird, Gavita blew well throughout, particularly in unison with the saxophonist, or over sweet muted-horn ballads like 'Old Flame'. But he often lacked the fire and conviction that high-energy numbers such as 'Quasimodo' or 'Crazyology' demanded, struggling sometimes to cut through such ruthless accompaniment, especially when soloing.

All in all though, Webb's gig to honour Parker proved a continuously exuberant ride. From the side of the stage, when not occupied in his position tonight as leader, pianist and tell-all-tale-spinner, Webb resembled a proud dad, smiling, as he surveyed the fine young talent he'd brought together for this show. A more-than-befitting tribute to Bird, performed by a band as razor-sharp as those suits.

– Mark Youll

 

Following their triumphant headlining appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in May and their subsequent sold-out week at Ronnie Scott’s, Loose Tubes are set to feature in a special edition of Jazz On 3 to be broadcast on Monday 9 June on BBC Radio 3 at 11pm. The programme features all four of their newly commissioned works for BBC Radio 3 – composed by Chris Batchelor, Eddie Parker, Steve Berry and Django Bates – all recorded during their recent residency at the club.

The programme, presented by Jez Nelson, will also feature new interviews with the band members reminiscing about some of their more interesting riders and the band's sometimes-questionable fashion sense.

Jazz On 3 recorded the Thursday night of their six-night Ronnie Scott’s residency and will be broadcasting much of it on Monday – there’s a taster of the music below in the form of Eddie Parker’s ‘Children’s Game’ (that first appeared on their third album Open Letter) – and the programme will be available for seven days after broadcast on the Jazz On 3 iPlayer Page here.

– Mike Flynn


 

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