This year's Jazz FM Awards are now set to take place at Shoreditch Town Hall, London on Tuesday 25 April (moving from Under the Bridge in Chelsea) and are set to honour jazz-loving Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. Aside from rocking stadiums with the Stones, Watts has a longstanding parallel career playing jazz, blues and boogie-woogie. His most recent album: Charlie Watts meets the Danish Radio Big Band, has just been released on legendary jazz label, Impulse! The Gold Award is set to recognise his lifelong commitment to the music, while he's also nominated in the Blues Artist of the Year and Album of The Year categories for The Rolling Stones' recent blues-soaked long-player, Blue and Lonesome.
Commenting on the special award, Watts said: "I am very grateful to be honoured by Jazz FM for my contribution to jazz and blues. I've always loved and been influenced by the music and its players. It was one of the reasons I wanted to be a musician myself. It's still important that we continue to support this music, to ensure it lives on for the next generations."
The awards night coincides with what would have been Ella Fitzgerald's 100th birthday, 25 April, with the ceremony hosted by one of Jazz FM's original presenters, Jez Nelson, who returned to the station last year. Performances on the night will feature several of the nominees, including acclaimed former David Bowie saxophonist Donny McCaslin, soul-jazz singer Laura Mvula and a special appearance by this year's recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Brit-jazz vocalist Georgie Fame, who will be backed by a band featuring Guy Barker, Alec Dankworth, Jim Watson and James Powell.
Other nominees this year include Gregory Porter, William Bell, Wayne Shorter, Madeleine Peyroux, Gilles Peterson, Anderson.Paak, Kurt Elling, Robert Glasper, Shabaka Hutchings, Yussef Kaamal, Soweto Kinch and Julian Argüelles, while La La Land and Whiplash director Damien Chazelle will be the recipient of this year's Impact Award.
– Mike Flynn
For the full list of nominees visit www.jazzfmawards.com
It's a long way from Chicago's East Side to the well mannered bohemia of Lewes Con Club via the outer spaceways, but here are the Arkestra, resplendent in shimmering robes, swaying to the beat as their blue-lipsticked singer intones, "We're all living in a space age". The Afro-Futuristic schtick might seem like an exercise in arch nostalgia in these scruffily hip environs were it not for the ferocious energy emanating from their nonagenarian director, Marshall Allen.
A diminutive figure, his splendid attire topped with a pointed hat, he looks like a sprightly hobgoblin. With one hand worrying at his horn as the other clutches convulsively at the air, he leads his cohort from a forest of hypnotic groove into a swamp of anarchic chaos and out again into a rollicking big band riff-fest. When the horns suddenly lock together into a driving unison, with Allen's trademark shrieks swirling above like a flight of demented fruit bats, it's as thrilling as anything on the contemporary scene. Plenty of Arkestra trademarks have survived the passage of more than 60 years intact; enthusiastically amateurish percussion, hoarse impassioned group chants, bravura solo statements, impromptu outbreaks of dancing and offstage invasions by the garishly clad horns. Allen's leadership has maintained both the avante-garde explorations that characterised Sun Ra's original impulse, and the good old-fashioned sense of popular swing-era entertainment that nurtured his roots.
It's like being taken on a journey through the byways of black music history, delivered with equal measures of passion and good humour. Allen's alto tone is capable of surprising sweetness, like a feral Johnny Hodges, and there's great display of the timeless jazz verities from the band before the final inclusive singalong. The Arkestra is like a peripheral planet, eternally orbiting the horizon, yet remaining at the heart of what jazz is all about.
– Eddie Myer
– Photo by Jon Southcoasting
Twenty-five years and still going strong is some achievement, especially in jazz. It's also testimony to the high status this music enjoys in Germany, and tonight's sold-out concert at Berlin's grandly imposing Konzerthaus confirms the affection with which ACT Records and its boss, Siggi Loch, are held.
Applauded to the rafters as he introduced the dazzling line-up, Loch wasn't the only one grinning broadly for most of the night as trombonist and soulful vocalist Nils Landgren played the genial compere and dynamic soloist and singer throughout the evening. Musically it was a fair reflection of the label's approachable artistic outlook, which acknowledges jazz can work as a commercial entity, while embracing the edgier interactions that heat of the moment improv inspires. So while Landgren's low key opener 'Send in The Clowns' and slyly simmering take on The Beatles' 'Come Together' allowed for an accessible entry point into the programme there were more daring delights to come. These mainly involved pianist Michael Wollny (below), can miraculously transform anything he plays into miniature works of genius, so powerful are his ideas and so imposing his technique. He repeatedly impressed whether grooving to that Beatles classic, or busting out some dazzling stride runs in a swinging duo with drummer Wolfgang Haffner, or diving into his poetic realms with fellow trio collaborator Eric Schaefer – his imagination never faltering, his drive unstoppable.
Senior keys man Joachim Kühn was equally compelling especially with his combustible duo with soprano sax firebrand Emile Parisien, the latter skipping, hopping and nearly karate kicking in a state of agitated excitement – the pair's spiralling web of interlocking lines snowballing to a thunderous climax that brought the house down and all the more impressive for the fact they'd never played together before. With an interchanging but never less than starry ACT Family Band, star soloists included the Asian quarter-tone invention of Nguyên Lê's serpentine guitar lines, and Ulf Wakinus' blues and funk soaked six-string breaks, yet a surprise highlight came in the form of the wittily conversational double bass dialogue of Dieter Ilg and Lars Danielsson, which was as dynamic as it was technically daring.
The older players may have exuded classy virtuosity but it was often the new generation of emerging stars that unleashed the fireworks, with violinist Adam Bałdych taking his soloing well into the red; beat boxer/jazz and opera vocal maverick Andreas Schaerer (above left) cracking and popping with infectious energy while accordionist Vincent Peirani (above right) was bouncing barefoot as he jabbed at the keys of his instrument with fleet-fingered finesse.
With some 30 artists on stage the after-party started early with unashamedly feel-good covers of Sister Sledge's 'We Are Family' and Roxy Music's 'Let's Stick Together'. It all pointed to a label in its prime, embracing the new while respecting the old, nurturing both emerging and established stars, ACT coming of age with a smile on its face and a swagger in its step.
– Mike Flynn
– Photos courtesy ACT by Gregor Hohenberg
Jasper Høiby's new band announced themselves with a bass riff like a drum roll and a near fanfare from the frontline. It was a prelude to what was nearly two hours of high-quality music that just flew by.
Høiby is well-known as one third of hugely popular and critically acclaimed trio Phronesis. With his Fellow Creatures band he wanted to fulfil "a dream... to start a larger ensemble... in an attempt to cover different ground". Høiby was also inspired by Naomi Klein's book on the environmental crisis, This Changes Everything, and by the memory of his late sister. Written by him for a quintet with a frontline of sax and trumpet, the group's eponymous debut album garnered much praise on its release last year.
Tonight's set consisted of almost the complete album played in near enough the same running order, but the music is a different, ahem, animal when performed live, so much so that the band are going to record a live version during the final gigs on this tour. Alterations in the formation of the band meant that it was inevitable there would be differences. Jim Gold on alto joined the stellar frontline of Mark Lockheart's lyrical and occasional honking tenor sax and the rich purity of Laura Jurd's trumpet, making the quintet a sextet and the sound of the unison-playing even more glorious. Also, the excellent and versatile Will Barry was on an electric keyboard rather than piano and more to the fore than on the album, introducing a touch of funk and prog to proceedings.
But the changes went still further, with the band pushing and probing into what were often much extended explorations of Høiby's songs, while still being true to their central motifs. Opener, 'Folk Song', was the extreme example, clocking in at about 20-minutes, as compared to six on the album. Yet the flow of fresh ideas combined with the heft, subtly and richness of the sonorities meant there was no flab on this or other songs. The angular and wild attack perhaps took the Fellow Creatures closer to the spirit of Phronesis than expected, and with sudden bursts of improv there were moments where they sounded downright angry. These more aggressive passages, however, were always resolved, generally by diminuendo finishes and Høiby's love of melody and perhaps also his optimism steering the music into calmer waters. There was much joy in this playing too. The delightful 'Song for Bees', with it's underlying South African vibe, just danced along. 'Before', a sinuous duo between Lockheart 's tenor and Høiby's bass, was delicious and the bright witty staccato rhythm of 'Suddenly, Everyone' skipped beneath flowing horn lines, with everything was framed by Corrie Dick's inventive drumming.
If the album was partially about Høiby's skill as a composer, this gig demonstrated his skill at working with an ensemble as an arranger. With Phronesis' tunes now having been arranged for big band by Julian Argülles (see Jazzwise, April 2017), it may only be a matter of time until Høiby himself tries his hand at writing for a big band.
– Colin May
The Abram Wilson Foundation, the charity set up by the late trumpeter's widow Jennie Cashman, celebrates its fifth anniversary with a gala concert on 11 May at Bush Hall, London, showcasing its ongoing work to support and nurture emerging jazz talent.
Having moved to the UK in 2002 from his native New Orleans, Wilson became widely respected as a passionate advocate for music education as well as his career as an acclaimed solo artist. He made a significant impact on the British jazz scene right up until his untimely death, aged 38, on 9 June 2012 following a short battle with cancer.
The Foundation celebrates his legacy with a packed triple bill that is topped by a special guest appearance by acclaimed multi-instrumentalist and solo artist Nitin Sawhney, and fast-rising Whirlwind Recordings alto-saxophonist Rachael Cohen and her Quartet, which features a stellar rhythm section of Ashley Henry, Daniel Casimir and Shane Forbes.
Strong support comes from two new groups: seven-piece Kokoroko, which include a three-horn frontline of Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Cassie Kinoshi (alto saxophone) and Richie Seivwright (trombone), plus the vocal-led quintet, Madam featuring singer Sukie Smith.
– Mike Flynn
For more info and tickets visit www.musicglue.com/bushhall/events/