Armenian piano ace Tigran Hamasyan is set to return with a new solo piano album on 31 March 2017 when he releases An Ancient Observer on Nonesuch records. His first solo piano album since his acclaimed breakthrough solo album A Fable, and the follow up to his barnstorming fusion record for Nonesuch, Mockroot, it sees him delve deeper into his Armenian roots with a new set of contemporaneous takes on his birthplace's folk music.
Composed over the last four years, An Ancient Observer is a fusion of improvisation, hip hop grooves, Baroque themes and inventive but occasional use of synths alongside his piano playing. Speaking about the album Hamasyan said: "For me it is an awakening, and a beautiful feeling, to be able to observe the magnificence of this sleeping volcanic giant, which has existed for millions of years and was observed by the Ararat Valley Koura-Arax culture through to the present-day citizens of the Armenian republic. I can see and observe the same birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that the craftsman of 4,000 years ago painted on a clay vessel. He was observing the same thing I observe now, and what remains is his or her beautiful work of art."
The album also marks his reengagement with the label after two collaborative recordings on ECM, Luys I Luso with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir and Atmosphéres with a stellar Norwegian trio. Hamasyan embarks on a 40-date world tour to support the release appearing in the UK and Ireland at RNCM, Manchester(5 April); Kings Place, London (6 April) and Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin (7 April).
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club are set to get the new year fired up with several key January bookings including a three-day 'Weekender' from acclaimed jazz-soul singer Natalie Williams and her Soul Family 10-piece, who celebrate the decade milestone of their monthly residency at the club on 6 to 8 January with special guest vocalists soon to be announced.
Other highlights across the month include a debut Ronnie's gig for powerful drummer/soundscaper Jaimeo Brown and his group Transcendence, featuring guitarist/laptopist Chris Sholar (pictured above with Brown) and fiery altoist Jaleel Shaw (11-12 January) who created one of 2016's strongest releases in the form of Work Songs on the Motéma label. Fellow renowned drummer Manu Katché appears for two nights (9-10 Jan) with his hard-grooving European five-piece of leading Norwegians, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and talented bassist/singer Ellen Andrea Wang, Italian trumpeter Luca Luca Aquino and heavyweight UK Hammond man Jim Watson, while leading British jazz singer Claire Martin also appears for two nights with her band (16-17 Jan).
Further bookings include: Booker T Jones (1-6 Jan); Nicola Conte Combo (13-14 Jan); Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart Trio (18 Jan); Marcia Ball (19-20 Jan); James Carter Organ Trio (21 Jan); Ruby Turner (30 Jan-1 Feb and 5-7 Feb); Dr Lonnie Smith Trio (2-4 Feb); Louis Hayes 80th Birthday Celebration Tour featuring Jeremy Pelt (8-9 Feb); Pee Wee Ellis Funk Assembly (10-11 Feb) and Wolfgang Muthspiel Quintet with Brian Blade, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gwilym Simcock and Scott Colley (5-6 Mar).
Drummer, composer and bandleader Ollie Howell, a rising star in the UK, is taking a step on the path to international prominence with a three-month engagement at Quincy Jones's intimate new venue, Q's Bar and Lounge, in the unlikely setting of the über-luxurious Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai.
Leading a quartet of fellow young London-based musicians, Howell is presenting three sets of music a night from Monday to Friday until mid-February, mixing tracks from his well-received 2013 debut album, Sutures and Stitches, from the follow-up Self Identity, to be released in March on the US Ropeadope label, as well as tunes from the jazz tradition. The personnel is changing through the residency, each switch in lineup contributing its own twist to the stage chemistry.
For the press opening on 8 December he was flanked by Duncan Eagles on tenor sax and Max Luthert on double bass, both long-term accomplices, and pianist Tom Millar. Earlier in the week, with Eagles and Luthert on tour in Germany, saxophonist Alam Nathoo and bassist Daniel Casimir took their places, Casimir playing the electric bass for the first time in months when the bridge of his double bass collapsed at the worst possible time – just before what was in effect a private gig for Quincy Jones (pictured below). Casimir rose to the challenge with flying colours, and will be returning to the lineup in January.
Howell's notably clean drumming drew a succession of stunning performances from his sidemen through the opening week, their poise and confidence well suited to the sophisticated setting. His melodic gifts as a composer shone through in such numbers as 'Balancing Stones', which builds towards a fine crescendo, and 'Almost Tomorrow', a lilting late-night melody played as a trio, with a plangent opening section, Howell on brushes and Luthert's warm bass providing the perfect backdrop to Millar's beautifully articulated piano lines. Among the standards, standout tunes included Howell's arrangement of the traditional Swedish folksong 'Dear Old Stockholm', while a moving intro from Eagles launched a rendition of 'I Remember Clifford', Benny Golson's tribute to a lost friend. Sam Rivers' 'Beatrice' also impressed.
At the press night, Swedish pop fusion band Dirty Loops put on a loud show, which left the audience's ears ringing for Howell's final set. So the quartet dropped their slower tunes and turned up the tempo and volume to great effect with a driving version of 'Polka Dots and Moonbeams', a ballad transformed in trumpeter Philip Dizack's punchy arrangement. Then came Millar's percussive composition 'Rain in Rio', an audience favourite all week, leading up to a finale of Sonny Rollins's 'Oléo', Luthert's fingers racing up and down his bass in an exciting exchange of solos with Eagles.
Howell has an increasingly busy schedule, including a major orchestral commission and film and TV compositions on top of the new album, so it is unlikely that UK audiences will catch his quartet in such an intimate club setting next year. Lucky Dubai.
The South Coast Jazz Festival, which runs from 16 to 29 January 2017 and is co-curated by acclaimed singer Claire Martin (above centre) and saxophonist Julian Nichols, shakes off the January blues in no uncertain terms with a vibrant expanded third edition now including a busy six-nights at Brighton's burgeoning dedicated jazz venue, The Verdict.
The club's programme mixes it up with leading local names such as Terry Seabrook with his fusion-edged Hammond-led Triversion (17 Jan) and progressive bass man Eddie Myer's 5tet (24 Jan), alongside freeform firebrands Oli Brice/Rachel Musson/Mark Sanders (19 Jan), sax-toting BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year Alexander Bone with funky upstarts Jam Experiment (20 Jan) and the bass-led Nigel Thomas Quartet, featuring saxophonist Paul Booth (21 Jan). The venue also hosts a Sunday Roast jazz jam session (22 Jan) and a special 'Jazz Film & Photography Day' with jazz snapper Indigo Burns' work on show, plus screenings of classic jazz flicks Jazz On A Summer's Day, 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz and A Great Day In Harlem among others (23 Jan).
The main festival programme takes place at Shoreham's highly accommodating Ropetackle Arts Centre with a strong line-up including J-Sonics/ Alex Dankworth's Spanish Accents (26 Jan); Zoe Rahman/Dennis Rollins' FUNKY FUNK! (27 Jan); Jim Mullen Organ Trio/Sarah Jane Morris (28 Jan); and Ray Gelato's Giants featuring Claire Martin (29 Jan). Complimenting this will be free entry performances from Nigel Goodwin's Golden Oldies at 5pm each day, an all-day jazz workshop 'Tools of the Trade' (27 Jan) and an afternoon DJ set from Jazzwise writer and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre (29 Jan). The special festival launch gig by renowned jazz-funk crew Incognito takes place at The Old Market venue in Hove on 17 December.
Black Star, the BFI's high-profile celebration of African-American and Black British cinema that has been running for the past few months, is given a major shot in the arm tonight. The phenomenon of the classic movie plus live score has become increasingly popular over the last decade, but this screening at the National Film Theatre of one of the pivotal statements by the pioneering 'Negro' filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, set to a performance by a contemporary British jazz musician of West Indian heritage, Peter Edwards, is a fine example of the genre.
Sound and image are in symbiosis. Mood on screen and atmosphere in the auditorium are expertly matched. The essence of the story and the content of the characters are relayed by the skill of the composing and improvising. The trio of pianist Edwards, drummer Rod Youngs and double bassist Alex Davis form what is the scaled-down ensemble of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra, and play a set that vividly reinforces and enriches the 1925 silent movie. It has a cast headed by the iconic Paul Robeson, which is all the more interesting for his role against type as the dastardly 'faker' preacher Jenkins, an ex-con who preys on members of a naïve congregation in the Deep South, to the detriment of his virtuous brother. The portrayal of the 'evil twin' is gripping for the immense charisma Robeson exudes by way of an acting style that is mostly naturalistic, and Edwards plays a trump card with pieces that are subtle rather than excessively dramatic. His main vocabulary nestles between Ellingtonian nobility and a hearty New Orleans swing in which the crispness of Youngs' snare and Davis' concise quarter notes skillfully create the momentum to support the flow of the narrative.
The bustle of the church services, where Robeson opts for a more dynamic gestural repertoire, especially when he delivers the 'Dry bones in the valley' sermon, is met with an upbeat gospel groove that has a rousing charm that counterpoints the villainy slickly concealed under the outwardly righteous ways of the reverend. Similarly, a delicious detuned boogie, with piano chords toppling in and out of harmony while drums and bass drag in and out of time is a sharp reinforcement of the moments in which Jenkins succumbs to the perils of 'good liquor', staggering his way home in a line that is anything but straight.
While these parts of the score are notable it is the central theme, which is given a number of astute variations throughout the set, that really marks Edwards' growth as a composer. There is a Porgy and Bess-like resonance to it, a rechanneling of some of Gershwin's gift for deeply solemn minor melodies that feel so inherently vocal regardless of whether or not they are rendered by a group of singers or players.
Filmmaker Micheaux was a visionary in black cinema, the son of former slaves who broke new ground with his debut The Homesteader in 1919 and continued to boldly push the envelope on 'race films' for decades to come. Body and Soul is part of this historic contribution to black art that takes us right back to the pre-talkie era when musicians playing live to a film was commonplace. Edwards, as much as he is a jazz artist of today, proves an able incumbent of a role of this historical weight.