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.
– Bruce Millar
– Photos courtesy www.dubainight.com
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.
– Mike Flynn
For full details and tickets visit www.southcoastjazzfestival.com
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.
– Kevin Le Gendre
Hot ticket US guitarist, composer and producer Jeff Parker follows a blistering run of record form in 2016 – check out both his bewitching solo set The New Breed and The Catastrophist, which saw him again take his place beside influential post-rock troupers Tortoise – with news of a highly-anticipated appearance at Ronnie Scott's on Sunday 2 April 2017.
– Spencer Grady
For more info on this and other shows visit www.ronniescotts.co.uk
A special screening celebrating the 30th anniversary of French director Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight will take place at the Lumiere at the French Institute in Kensington on Sunday 11th December 4.30pm with a introductory short 'live' set by the superlative Brit saxman Tony Kofi (plus drummer TBC) inspired by the film soundtrack. The saxophonist joins Jazzwise/BBC broadcaster Kevin LeGendre and Jazzwise/Jazz on Film Records label owner Selwyn Harris for a Q&A following the screening.
Arguably the most convincing and 'authentic' feature film ever made about jazz and its formerly destructive background, Round Midnight is a semi-fictional film made in 1986 and inspired by the French author Francis Paudras' Dance of the Infidels, a biography of the pianist Bud Powell. It's an understated, eloquent memorial to the dedicated 'jazz life' of the bebop greats that lived in Paris during the late 1950s. Dexter Gordon deservedly got an Oscar nomination for his role as Dale Turner, a character that's a cross between Lester Young and Bud Powell, while Herbie Hancock, who makes a cameo in the film, won an Oscar for the soundtrack.
– Spencer Grady
Tickets are available at the Lumiere: www.institut-francais.org.uk/cine-lumiere/whats-on/special-screenings/round-midnight/