tony-allen-jazzcafe

One of the distinguishing marks of the London Jazz Cafe's décor back in the halcyon days of the late 1990s was the acronymic command on the pillar in the centre of the room that was in full view of one and all – S.T.F.U. This incitation to silence, whose emphatically profane code was cracked by anybody who has had ever had cause to raise their voice so that a noisy neighbour would lower theirs, is no longer in place.

Yet it is sorely missed in the first part of this performance. Drummer Tony Allen makes a slow and easy start with his band. The music is mostly down tempo, the ambiance mellow, the themes subtle. At times you can't hear a damn thing for the small talk coming from all corners of the venue. The disconnect between the music and the attitude of the audience brings back unsavoury memories of artists either berating punters, as was the case with Ray Barretto, or, more dramatically, storming offstage, like Patricia Barber. Relaxed character that he is, Allen is not about to throw any kind of tantrum, and chances are the 77-year-old drummer probably lived through much more testing circumstances as a member of Fela Kuti's band in the 1960s and 1970s, times when life on the road in their native Nigeria and beyond could entail great disruption.

Having said that, Allen is decidedly not here in his capacity as one of the central architects of Fela's Afrobeat, and this launch gig for his Blue Note debut The Source is very much a tribute to the founding fathers of jazz drumming, above all the hard-bop legend Art Blakey, who inspired him as a fledgling musician. Using a sextet, with double bass, trumpet, tenor sax and piano, makes the reference clear enough, but the twist is that there is an electric guitar instead of the expected third horn, and Indy Dibongue largely opts for sharp finger-picked phrases rather than dense chords. Overall the music has levity, which suits the mild, leisurely swing and sauntering horns, yet compounds the problems for those who've come to listen.

tony-allen-JC2

It is only when Jean-Philippe Dary burns into an organ solo on a very tasty reprise of Bobby Timmons' 'Moanin'', one of Blakey's most enduring signature pieces, that the band ratchets up a notch in terms of volume and attack. Suddenly the energy on stage syncs up with the bustle off it. That's when the performance begins in earnest. More bite can be heard in some of Yann Jankielewicz's arrangements and the soloing from double-bassist Mathias Allamane in particular stirs meatier funk into the mix, which Allen matches with his effortlessly spring-loaded snare and hi-hat, their skipping patterns drawing a hearty response from those more than ready to loosen limbs. Therein lies the irony of the evening. The premise of the music is that Allen reveals another side of his musical character that requires as much a focused ear as it does a set of sidewinder hips, and, though the two are hardly incompatible, it is the latter that wills out on this occasion, which makes perfect sense, given the irresistibility of Allen's groove. Hearing this music when sat at Ronnie Scott's would be fascinating, for the change in ambience as well as, probably, the audience demographic. The evening ends with a chic cheer, in any case. Most members of the faithful have no hesitation in obeying Dary's order to 'make some noise'. Some crack a wry smile.

– Kevin Le Gendre

Jazz for Labour is presenting multi-award winning singers Liane Carroll and Claire Martin plus other jazz names over two nights at The Walrus in Ship Street, Brighton during this year's Labour Party Conference, which takes place at the Brighton Centre from 24-27 September.

Inspired by the big Jazz for Labour concert at the Barbican in February 2015, which starred Courtney Pine, Darius Brubeck, Claire Martin, Liane Carroll, Arun Ghosh and many others, the gigs will raise money for the local Labour Party as well as promote fairness and diversity in arts and music. Liane Carroll plus Terry Seabrook's Triversion and a jam session play on 25 Sept, and Claire Martin plus Julian Nicholas Band with special guests and a jam session will play on 26 Sept.

– Jon Newey

More details from www.thewalrusbrighton.com

 Millar

As the example of Artist Share amply demonstrates, crowdfunding initiatives apply as much to jazz artists as they do their peers in pop. At the end of this launch event for his debut album Unnatural Events, pianist-bandleader Tom Millar makes a point of acknowledging the Kickstarter campaign that partly enabled the recording to happen, and it feels very much like a reality check for the music industry in an age of shrinking budgets and diminishing returns. On stage, the figures are in a better state.

Millar's quartet has the premium of musicianship and technical prowess that is increasingly commonplace among millennial college graduates. Indeed the Royal Academy alumnus has very able support in double-bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado, drummer Jon Scott and guitarist Alex Munk. Each has sufficient skill to handle the demands of compositions that have a structural complexity that is anything but pedestrian. Millar's writing is part of a lineage of polished modernism whose building blocks are to be found in the holy trinity of Herbie, Chick and Bill Evans, but whose additional masonry has pleasing echoes of their scions, namely Pat Metheny and Brian Blade. At its highpoint the performance reaches a poetic, pastoral grace, notably on 'Azura Days', a piece that is defined by a lengthy, spiraling theme, played in tight unison by Millar and Munk, that resolves in short, singing phrases that glide swishly over a steady latinesque rhythm enhanced by Scott's crisp, clicking rimshots.

A similar attention to detail marks songs such as 'The Seafarer', and 'Park Hill', yet for all these undeniable plus points there are moments when the music is found wanting in terms of internal dynamics and emotional charge. Impressive as he is, guitarist Munk is given too much solo space, often taking a high-flying lead that is a touch overwhelming. Millar, by contrast, doesn't expand some of his improvisations enough to really wring the most out of the material, and a sense of restraint, if not timidity, in some of his phrasing lessens the impact of pieces where the intent is high energy. 'Power Chord Thing' is a case in point. The title is transparent but the promise of a hard edge in the groove doesn't materialise, as if the players just won't let go, toughen up and rock out as their command of the beat suggests they can. It makes you wonder what they could achieve if they were spurred on by a more experienced player or producer with a pedigree who can challenge and stimulate his charges, be it a Jason Yarde or a Django Bates, Millar's former tutor.

Interestingly, the moment when that convincingly happens is the arrival of vocalist Alice Zawadzki on a very finely wrought adaptation of Gerard Manley-Hopkins' 'Inversaid'. The poet's thought-provoking ode to the environment, penned with much vivid descriptive energy following a visit to a Scottish loch, translates into a series of undulating melodies and darting counter-lines that have the urbane beauty of Corea's interplay with Flora Purim in the first iteration of Return to Forever. Yet amid all of the sophistication there is a robust rhythmic undercurrent that is more stirring than anything else heard throughout the whole evening. Millar's quartet is a band with an obvious potential as well as talent, but as is the case with a number of artists in the early stage of their careers there is a developmental path stretching out before them.

How, and with whom they proceed to negotiate it should be interesting to observe.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Emma Perry

Mats

Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson has trawled the archives of his online record-collecting grotto, Discaholic Corner, to collate a series of interviews with fellow artists who share his obsession for vinyl gathering. Issued via Marhaug Forlag publications, Discaholics!: Record Collector Confessions Volume 1, presents conversations with artists/hoarders including Brian Morton, Paal Nilssen-Love, Thurston Moore, Oren Ambarchi and Robert Crumb, plus 25 bespoke lists of Gustafsson's personally beloved platters, numerous illustrations and photos, as well as a unique one-sided seven-inch single with an exclusive track created using elements from the author's personal record collection.

– Spencer Grady
– Photo by Ziga Koritnik

For more info visit www.marhaugforlag.no

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