For 40 amazing years, the singer Harriet Coleman has presented jazz sessions in and around the Shepperton area. First it was local pubs. Now she uses Bagster House, a capacious social club and has built a loyal audience there for the best of modern mainstream jazz. In earlier times, she ran her sessions weekly, this while holding down a top job in banking, but more recently the gigs were monthly featuring the likes of Jimmy Hastings, Derek Nash, Mark Nightingale et al. But here’s the rub – Harriet is calling a halt and this was her final club presentation.

So, a packed house, much sentiment, grateful words of thanks for her dedication, a tear or two, a sense that all good things must inevitably end. Well, maybe not, for guitarist Nigel Price, that rescuer of apparently lost causes, is to take over from Harriet and was on hand to say so. He’ll start in September when the club will revert to its earlier name of Shepperton Jazz Club. ‘Bravo, Nigel!’, was the cry.

And so to the evening’s musical treat with the presence of Italian-American pianist Rossano Sportiello, a sure-fire favourite with UK audiences ever since he first toured here in 2004. Classically trained , with a delicacy of touch and a gleaming keyboard command that allows him to go wherever his imagination takes him, Sportiello had his loyal confreres Dave Green and Steve Brown alongside. Style-wise, Sportiello offers a compendium of possibilities: he’ll include itemised Tatum runs, back them up with Waller stride, revert to Wilson-ian stateliness, add a hint of Garner’s behind-the beat phrasing and even launch into a spot of boogie. Here, he gauged his audience’s expectations well: sticking closely to the Great American Songbook, taking each song through a series of twists and turns, allowing space for Green and Brown to solo, and then segueing into another. Thus, ‘I Can’t Get Started’ morphed into ‘The Sheik of Araby’, an unlikely conjunction perhaps but it worked here.

There followed a solo ballad reading of another ‘old song’ ‘My Romance’, quietly deconstructed. I’ve heard Sportiello dig deeper than here, swing harder too, but this time it was filigree over ferocity, for sure. This audience loved every minute: a fitting way to say goodbye to Harriet, and hello to Nigel.

– Peter Vacher (Story and Photo)

Ronnie Scott’s, the iconic London jazz club, will mark its 60th anniversary in style this autumn, when artists associated with the venue line-up for a special charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 30 October.

The starry line-up includes revered Irish singer Van Morrison, popular Irish songstress Imelda May, renowned US singer Madeline Bell, Grammy-winning vocalist Kurt Elling, celebrated Brit-jazz singer Georgie Fame and top UK-based saxophonists Pee Wee Ellis and Courtney Pine. Ronnie’s regulars also appearing include a trio of acclaimed singers – Natalie Williams, Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll – as well as leading trumpeter/arranger Guy Barker whose association with the venue goes back to his teenage years and an early encounter with Dizzy Gillespie, when he first played wth the jazz legend aged 17.

The club’s resident pianist and MD James Pearson will lead the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, while bandleader Pete Long will direct the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra. The evening’s programme will tell the story of the club, which was founded by Ronnie Scott and Pete King in Gerrard Street in 1959, with proceeds from the gala concert going to the venue’s Charitable Foundation.

The club'c Managing Director, Simon Cooke, commented on the concert’s line-up: “We are transporting the club, for one night only, into the slightly larger Royal Albert Hall but have every intention of recreating the unique atmosphere we have here in Frith Street. It’s wonderful that so many artists have asked to appear at the show and is indicative of the affection and importance the club holds in London and across the world.’’

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.royalalberthall.com

ELBJAZZ 19 Michael WollnyTrio 2 Christoph Eisenmenger copy

The first thing to notice were the queues, over 200 yards long and four abreast, at both ticket outlets. For a jazz festival? Fantastic. Apparently 30,000 people attended Elb Jazz 2019, spread between an open-air harbour site, a decommissioned cargo ship and Hamburg's stunning new Elbphilharmonie Hall. (Think the Albert Hall, reimagined by Gaudi, with perfect acoustics and balanced on top of a disused warehouse…). The programme’s strands reflected those venues, too, with the ship’s Stygian cargo hold hosting club-friendly acts including Belgium’s Glass Museum – tightly constructed dance-informed music, like Michael Nyman with ‘drops’ – and the uproariously funky Butcher Brown

ELBJAZZ 19 Michael WollnyTrio Christoph Eisenmenger copy

Across the harbour the three stages’ eclectic mix ranged from Randy Brecker with the NDR Bigband to vintage funk-soul legends Tower of Power via headliner Jamie Cullum. Clearly a festival favourite, pianist Michael Wollny (pictured top and above) stole the opening night show, blasting in with the Nirvana-esque 'Wasted & Wanted' before a bluesy reading of Scott Walker’s 'Big Louise' unleashed a phenomenal burst of improvised playing. His trio kept the balance between jazz and rock values, not least in Erik Schaefer’s remorseless drumming, and the climactically over-indulgent 'When The Sleeper Wakes' was perfectly judged for a roaring outdoor audience.

The British contingent did well, with Kamaal Williams and Jamie garnering big crowds, and it was gratifying to see Kokoroko packing out the enormous Schiffbauhalle to close the festival. Their accomplished Afro-beat brought fine solo playing to a highly danceable sound. In particular, Oscar Jerome’s guitar and Sheila Maurice-Grey’s trumpet caught the ear of the crowd inside the hall and outside, thanks to audio-video relays.

ELBJAZZ 19 Jason Moran photo Claudia Hoehne

Given Hamburg’s association with Steinway it was unsurprising that pianos loomed large, but surely Messrs Wollny and Cullum would both concede any accolades to Jason Moran (above). Playing solo on the wide empty stage of a sold-out Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall he began with economy, underscoring the spiritual melody of 'Wind' with rich harmony. It was a beguiling precursor to the intense 'Reanimation', its Bach-echoing counterpoint and phrasing a marvel of technical skill that culminated in an intricate right-hand motif repeated beyond the physically possible. More technique (and even more swing) drove stride classic 'Carolina Shout' through its ragtime structure to an exploration that included audacious Fats Waller-style variations. But the most impressive piece began with an extended 10-fingered battering of the lower octave. The lights dimmed and he continued in darkness, the roaring growl of the music throwing up unexpected harmonics and elusive bass phrases, swelling like a dangerously close jet engine. It was an intense and meditative piece that, absurdly, suddenly threw up a filigree of chirpy high-register blues and a rolling bassline that could have come from St Louis. Confounding expectations is another of his many skills.

ELBJAZZ 19 Kit Downes photo 2 Claudia Hoehne

To his own surprise Kit Downes (above) also pulled off a triumphant performance in the same hall, admitting: “This is the first time I’ve had to worry about an encore for a solo organ concert”. The instrument in question was the phenomenal beast with 4,000-plus pipes woven into the organic architecture of the hall and played by Downes sitting in a mid-stage pool of light. From the bubbling Terry Riley-influenced 'Obsidian' to the stately hymn tune of 'The Last Leviathan' it felt as though he was exploring the full potential of the instrument as much as the music, wafting from reedy solo clarity to massive orchestral sweeps. It was captivating stuff, ancient and modern, that fully merited the ovation.

If Swiss vocal gymnast Andreas Schaerer (below) felt disappointing it was only because his improvisational duel with Soweto Kinch at Cheltenham Jazz had been so phenomenal. Singing with regular band Novel of Anomaly diminished his chances for spontaneity, restraining his remarkable combination of scat, beatbox and vocalisation. Fast Finnish tango 'Aritmia' showed off accordionist Luciano Biondini’s quick-thinking skills, 'Stagione' gained a plausible faux-trumpet solo, and the set finished with a virtuoso solo display from the capering Schaerer that clearly disappointed no-one.

ELBJAZZ 19 Andreas Schaerer and A Novel Of Anomaly photo 2 Claudia Hoehne

For the seasoned jazz festival goer it would hard be to fault Elb Jazz. A satisfying programme blessed by brilliant weather, with shuttle buses and boats efficiently criss-crossing between venues that included one of Europe’s most spectacular concert halls. What’s not to like?

Tony Benjamin
– Photos by Christoph Eisenmenger (Michael Wollny) and Claudia Hoehne (Jason Moran, Kit Downes and Andreas Schaerer)

Stroud’s reputation as the alternative hippy hub of the Cotswolds is just fine with many of the locals, and naturally when they have a jazz festival it’s on their own terms. The posters offered ‘jazz influenced music’ and 2019’s eclectic four day programme ranged from electronica and dance-oriented grooves to classic acoustic jazz. Being Stroud, audiences might include tumbling toddlers, barking dogs, miscellaneous sketching artists and the occasional passerby from the town’s Steampunk weekend.

For opening night Polar Bear electronics doyen Leafcutter John found himself corralled by random sofas in the middle of the Goods Shed’s cavernous barn. The intimacy was enhanced by the need for near darkness in order to deploy his self-built light operated synth interface. Like some kind of cosmic conductor he waved and swooped torches and bike lights to release a soundtrack that shifted startlingly from cascading birdsong to throbbing analogue techno and gripping avant-dub. As a showcase for the specially installed d&b audiotechnik soundsystem PA it could hardly be rivaled.

jazz stroud vels 1

(Jazz)man of the match had to be livewire drummer Dougal Taylor, however, who featured at two of the weekend’s high points: behind trumpeter/producer Emma-Jean Thackray in the Goods Shed and keeping a packed SVA bar dancing with the Vels Trio (above). Barely 40 minutes separated these two gigs – a testament to his energy. Emma-Jean’s performance was an especial revelation, with Ben Kelly’s harmonised sousaphone bass adding grit to tunes like ‘Ley Lines’. Shorn of its high production vocals and with ramped-up drumming Thackray’s (below) sharp trumpet and easy singing gave the number real feeling.

Sam Rapley’s Sunday afternoon performance was an impressive surprise, too. With his regular Fabled quintet reduced to a saxophone trio he bore the melodic weight of his own compositions with impressive ease. That said, having Conor Chaplin’s bass and Will Glaser drumming meant the work was well shared and each tune nicely characterized. Trumpeter Paul Jordanous’ Ensemble also benefitted from imaginative rhythm contributions thanks to drummer Ted Carrasco and nimble-fingered bass man Kevin Glasgow. The latter’s 6-string solo on the Metheny-esque ‘Summation’ was a nicely-judged showstopper, as was Paul’s trumpet coolly coasting through Blue Note tribute ‘Latin Vase’. Even more adroit use of the six-string bass via a packed pedal board and laptop enabled Forrest’s Mike Flynn to create complex tapestries of layered loops for Matt Telfer to add lyrical saxophones. Their combination of low down grooves, rich sonics and upbeat melodic phrasing was the perfect pick-me-up for an attentive (if jaded) Sunday SVA lunchtime audience.

jazz stroud emma jane t 2

While not officially twinned with South London there was a definite linkage, with strong showing from smokily poised poet/singer Cil, vigorous modal grooving from Roella Oloro’s young quintet and a great Friday night party set from Deptford’s Steam Down (pictured top). With Ahnanse’s Ethio-sax and Wonky Logic’s grinding synth bass meshing like Sons of Kemet behind epic vocals from And Is Phi it was intelligent, evolutionary music with a big sense of fun. Bristol’s excellent Snazzback had earlier established a similar mood with their more cosmic ensemble sound. Embracing flamenco, rhumba, Blaxploitation and House styles yet smuggling in off-kilter time signatures, they deployed a rich percussion mix and unforced solo playing while the d&b PA system to whirl around the room. That effect was deployed the following night for Ishmael Ensemble’s more measured approach to spiritual jazz, with producer Pete Cunningham’s sinuous tenor sax an organic ghost in the machinery of cinematic mood pieces like 'The River' and 'Lapwing'.

Stroud being Stroud, for all the ear-catching visitors there was a fair showing of local talent, too, with renowned bass clarinet improviser Chris Cundy unveiling the lyrically neo-classical Triofolio in the atmospheric St Laurance’s Church, followed by the incongruously playful duo Mermaid Chunky’s willful (and skillful) blend of layered electronics and ridiculous noise-toys with sax and vocals. Equally upbeat, the nine-piece latin-swamp-blues outfit Albino Tarrantino rammed out the Ale House venue with impeccably precise grooves and a Tom Waits-recalling loucheness that nonetheless blew out the house PA.

It was a fitting climax to a successful weekend that had brought an entertaining cross-section of the current UK jazz scene to a very receptive slice of the local community. And their dogs.

– Tony Benjamin (Story and photos)

 

Award-winning pianist Andrew McCormack storms back with the second volume of music from his Graviton project, with new album The Calling, released on 7 June on the Ubuntu Music imprint.

The pianist’s band now features Brit-jazz rhythm section kings Tom Herbert on bass and Joshua Blackmore on drums, alongside vocalist Noemi Nuti and saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, who both appeared on the group’s eponymous 2017 debut. Initially inspired by the complex rhythms and hook-laden harmonies of Arminian piano star Tigran Hamasyan, this second album features a tighter, more melodic sound, with the new music underpinned by an overarching concept of a hero following ‘the calling’, and staying on that path no matter the cost or consequences.

The title track is released as a single on Friday 24 May – see the video below – with the album getting its official launch at The Vortex, Dalston on 13 June. The band then play the following dates: NQ Jazz, Manchester (1 Jul); The Flute and Tankard, Cardiff (2 Jul) and 606 Club, London (1 Aug).

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.mccormackmusic.com

 

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