Few styles of music can claim to have come as close to articulating and confronting the issues of the day as prevalently as jazz. Its historical significance and study of tension/resolution has not only sought to lay bare the unjust treatment of those marginalised, but often sought to directly challenge the fraudulent and slippery powers that be. Presently in the UK, Brexit negotiations harrow the land far and wide, yet its precursor still casts a large and menacing shadow. The issue of the day is austerity. And it’s this that’s the inspiration of Mark O’Thomas’ The Austerity Playbook, a satirical jazz musical that details the lasting impact of its namesake in Burnside, a mythical city in the north-east of England. O’Thomas has teamed up with musical director/pianist Andrea Vicari to re-interpret the research of professors Laurence Ferry (Durham University Business School) and Ileana Steccolini (Newcastle University), whose examination of damaging government policy and consequent public-spending cuts has led to UK-wide poverty, displacement and unemployment.

Andre Pink Musical 72

Following its premiere at Northern Stage in Newcastle, The Austerity Playbook now travels to London and the recently refurbished Hoxton Hall, to deliver an imaginative and entertaining recital performance featuring a live ensemble and the Dende Company of Elders (60+), a community theatre group directed joyously by founder, André Pink. The story follows the struggle to prevent Burnside’s local library from closing at the hands of an increasingly strapped local council, desperately searching for ways to “balance the books”. Tonight, Vicari calls in the assistance of guest vocalists Juliet Kelly, Fini Bearman, Georgia Van Etten and Luca Manning, who assume the roles of four lead characters, supported by an impressive group of players including Ronnie Scott’s jam host, trumpeter Andy Davies and NYJO alumni, saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael.

Billed as a work in progress, the show’s improvisatory nature is charming but rough and at times, difficult to follow. Nevertheless, frequent rallying calls to “Save Our Services!” and lifelike Cameron and Osborne puppets dance to Vicari’s dynamic and purposeful compositions. Vicari tackles complex the themes of love, loss, immigration and community resistance, across a wide range of styles, in what feels like a true celebration of cross-disciplinary collaboration and artistic activism. As the UK dangles off a cliff of uncertainty, The Austerity Playbook reminds us where the real fight lies.

Fabrice Robinson

– Photos by Leandro Facundo

 

Grammy-winning groove crew Snarky Puppy return with a new studio album, Immigrance (GroundUp Music), on 15 March ahead of a year of globe-trotting live performances. Much like their Grammy-winning 2016 set Culcha Vulcha, which broke with their previous albums that were recorded live with an audience present in the studio, Immigrance is also multi-tracked, this time with the band ensuring they retain some rough edges and raw-energy in the music.

Bandleader/composer Michael League has taken a far more direct approach to the writing, as can be heard on preview track ‘Xavi’, which features a percussion-heavy Afro-beat-fuelled groove and some typically climactic melodic surges. Explaining the idea behind the album’s title League said: “The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration. Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones.” As well featuring many longtime band members, the record also includes three drummers – Jamison Ross, Jason ‘JT’ Thomas and Larnell Lewis – who all take separate sections of each tune to create exciting dynamic changes across the music.

Snarky Puppy will once again host the GroundUP Music Festival on Miami Beach, Florida on 8-10 February, with a line-up that see the band headline all three nights (performing songs from Immigrance live for the first time), as well as David Crosby, Andrew Bird, Tank and the Bangas, Lalah Hathaway, Richard Bona and more. This will be followed by a show at the Walt Disney Hall Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on 23 February, with the band kicking off their world tour in April. These dates will include European and UK shows, with a headline performance at the Love Supreme Jazz Festival in July, while the band are set to return to Europe and the UK in the autumn for more live shows.

Mike Flynn

Take a first listen to ‘Xavi’ from Immigrance below – and click here for more info on the GroundUp Music Festival

 

The iconic Blue Note label will celebrate its milestone 80th birthday in 2019, with a year-long spree of activity including two major vinyl-led release campaigns, alongside new artist albums, live dates and film screenings.

Founded in 1939 by Francis Wolff and Alfred Lion, the label’s catalogue is one of the most celebrated and sought after in jazz history. Extraordinarily, following the retirement of its long-time boss Bruce Lundvall in 2015, its future could have been in jeopardy. Current president, Don Was, revealed in a recent interview with Forbes magazine: “There was some talk about making it a website that just sold catalogue and Blue Note t-shirts.”

This was before Was serendipitously had a breakfast meeting with Capital Records President Dan MacCarroll, who, following Was’ suggestion that Capital sign Gregory Porter, offered him the Blue Note role. Taking the helm since 2012, Was has ushered in a fresh approach embracing the label’s illustrious past, while creating a vital, forward-looking present. He’s spearheading the 80th anniversary year with the Tone Poet 180g Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series, which will initially include 18 titles spanning albums by Hank Mobley and Cassandra Wilson, as well as 36 titles in a Blue Note 80 series of mid-price vinyl releases with themes such as Blue Note Debuts, Blue Grooves, Great Reid Miles Covers, Blue Note Live and Drummer Leaders.

Plans also include festival showings and a theatrical run (plus a DVD release) for Sophie Huber’s film Blue Note Records: Beyond The Notes. There will also be special programming for the Blue Note at Sea Cruises, plus a US autumn tour for a Blue Note 80 triple bill featuring emerging stars Kandace Springs and James Francies, alongside the newly-signed sax firebrand James Carter

Mike Flynn

For more full details visit www.bluenote.com

Pianist and composer John Turville returns with a new album, Head First, released on 22 February on Whirlwind Recordings, ahead of a run of UK live dates. His first solo album since 2012’s acclaimed Conception, the new album features his Quintet (above) of renowned saxophonist Julian Argüelles, trumpeter Robbie Robson, bassist Dave Whitford and drummer James Maddren. See an exclusive clip of the group performing the track 'Fall Out' below.

The band head out for an extensive series of gigs, dates are: Blue Room Theatre, Lincoln (8 Feb); Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (album launch, 25 Feb); Herts Jazz, The Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans (26 Feb); Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham (evening, 27 Feb); Workshop, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (afternoon, 28 Feb); Cambridge Modern Jazz Club at Hidden Rooms (evening, 28 Feb); The Fleece, Colchester (1 Mar); Royal Academy of Music, London (workshop, 2 Mar); Cedars Hall, Wells Cathedral (4 Mar); St Ives Jazz Club, Great Western Hotel, Cornwall (5 Mar); Purcell School, Bushey (workshop and concert, 6 Mar); Bonington Theatre, Arnold, Nottingham (7 Mar); Leeds College of Music, Leeds (workshop, 8 Mar); Crookes Social Club, Sheffield (8 Mar) and The Verdict, Brighton (9 Mar).

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.johnturville.bandcamp.com

Erik Friedlanders Throw A Glass DSF3917 Ansgar Bolle 190105

Jazzfestival Münster is celebrating its 40th anniversary, but has only notched up 27 editions, having converted to a biennial existence in 1997. This January festival hasn’t got the high profile of other German weekenders such as Moers and Berlin. Nevertheless, its programme is bustling with variety and adventure, a largely Pan-European roster sprinkled with token Americans. All acts play at Theatre Münster, mostly in its main concert hall, although a few of the early afternoon sets took place in a smaller side-space.

The headlining Stateside band were Erik Friedlander’s Throw A Glass, probably the cellist’s jazziest outfit, featuring Uri Caine (piano, pictured top), Mark Helias (bass) and Ches Smith (drums). Caine had never seen a scarlet Steinway piano before, and its arresting hue doubtless had an influence over our sonic perception during the festival. ‘The Great Revelation’ had a surprisingly direct jazz-funk nature, with Caine in particular spinning out a lounge complexity. Smith ran off into hard, precise patterns, then ‘Seven Heartbreaks’ had quite a jazz bar nature, swingin’ forcefully. ‘Artemesia’ featured glum cello, coupled with deep-bowed bass, Smith using both ends of his brushes. Caine soloed completely alone, followed by a similar spot for Friedlander, pronouncing in a kind of mordant classical swing language. They unveiled a new, as yet untitled piece, with a waltzing feel, Caine offering a percussive solo against the leader’s bittersweet cello, whilst Smith introduced a fast bass drum tapping, with firm cymbal time.

Henri Texier’s Sand Quintet provided a double climax on the Saturday night. Old and new numbers were mixed up, the latter including ‘Sand Woman’ and ‘Hungry Man’, a guitar solo rising from Manu Codjia, as the reeds of Sébastien Texier and François Corneloup (below) were set riffing from their temporary position behind Gautier Garrigue’s drums. The leader chased with a talkative bass solo, always delivering with authority. A bluesy slog emerged on the second new tune, with a squint-eyed Texier solo, and a keen clarinet bite from his son. To finish, they brought out the 1975 classic ‘Amir’, uniting upright bass, alto and baritone saxophones in equal forcefulness.

Henri Texier DSF4263 Ansgar Bolle 190106

The surprise towering pinnacle of the weekend were new discovery LBT (Leo Betzl Trio, who are signed to the Enja label), who imposed all-nighter techno vibrations at 3pm on the Sunday, turning the smaller theatre into a throbbing party. A German piano trio, with effects extras, replicated repetitive electronic music via acoustic means, their closest cousins being Dawn Of Midi in NYC. LBT are more intent on actually sounding like hard techno, with the advantage of improvised trimmings, as upright bassist Maximilian Hirning bowed with a dragging savagery, Sebastian Wolfgruber snapped drumhead-echo, fast dub beats, and Betzl hand-dampened the strings of his grand piano. Pauses arrived, then the swell built up again, a disused hi-hat loaded with metal clutter, coupled with an active hiss from a working hi-hat.

Rhythmic divergences were allowed, in variations from mechanoid rigidity. Betzl’s piano was prepared on the hoof, turning into a buzzing kora, as the trio began to mess with the expected structure, halting and soloing, with gaffa-tape stuck across piano strings while the extended piece was still in full motion. Betzl had a special microphone, just for his reverb fingerclicks. Meanwhile, Wolfgruber hissed a spraycan rhythmically, hopefully not destroying his microphone in the process, then played a bass solo that sounded like it was emanating from an Indian sarangi. Folks were dancing in the aisles, and it felt like 4am someday in 1989, where improvised jazz enjoyed an alternate reality in the rave warehouse.

It was enlightening to witness Swiss-born trumpeter Erik Truffaz in the quiet duo zone, playing acoustically and softly beside the Polish pianist Krzysztof Kobyliński, eventually removing his clip-on mic and spraying fine dust lightly from a distance into the stage microphone. Truffaz set up a mass finger-clicking among the audience, as Kobyliński traipsed out a tiptoe melody, graduating to handclaps. This was creative crowd management. Truffaz played boldly throughout the set, his crisp sound to be savoured.

The trio of Hermia/Darrifourq/Ceccaldi also startled, with peculiar resonances between cello and percussion, and an inviting crab-crouching tenor solo. They moved from near silence to full intensity, savouring the acoustics of the theatre, with its ceiling initially looking like a forest of tiny sonic baffles, revealed upon closer observation as an upside-down carpet growth of numerous lampshade-looking lights…

– Martin Longley

– Photographs by Ansgar Bolle/Jazzfestival Münster

 

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