Concert venue Turner Sims Southampton, which is part of the University of Southampton, will receive over £315,000 from Arts Council England to launch Jazz South, a three-year talent development programme.

The only music project in the country selected within the final round of the ACE's Ambition for Excellence programme fund, the Jazz South initiative seeks to "significantly raise the aspirations of emerging and professional jazz artists, standards of performance, composition and promotion" for jazz musicians based in southern England. The scheme aims to work with established and emerging artists, as well as talented children and young people. It will also engage with promoters and leading UK and international jazz figures. New work will be commissioned, with talent developed through music masterclasses and artist residencies.

The funding further enhances Turner Sims' reputation for programming imaginative and high-profile artists across jazz, folk, avant-garde and classical music. Kevin Appleby, Turner Sims Concert Hall Manager, said of the award: "This is a hugely exciting moment for Turner Sims and I'm most grateful to Arts Council England for their support. This investment enables us to realise our aspirations for creating new opportunities for the jazz sector in the south of England. I know from the conversations we have had with a range of organisations and individuals across the region already that there is a great appetite for this, and I look forward to working with partners regionally, nationally and internationally to bring these opportunities to life."

– Mike Flynn

– Photo by Tom Askew-Miller (Binker & Moses with Evan Parker and Byron Wallen at Turner Sims)

For more info visit www.turnersims.co.uk

evan-p-live

Returning to the place of their 2012 debut performance and live recording, Rocket Science took the audience on a wild and captivating journey at the Vortex on Friday. Mavericks of their instruments, saxophonist Evan Parker, trumpeter Peter Evans and electronics musician Sam Pluta (this time performing without pianist Craig Taborn) are remarkable in their progressive approach to testing and expanding the limits of musical convention. The concert was an explosion of radical sound and sonic manipulation: voluminous, spatial passages juxtaposed ferocious explorations of range, dynamic and timbre with delicate melody and well-placed squeaks, fluttering, slapping, breathing and whistling.

This was decidedly free music, but the trio were wonderfully simpatico, entering new movements and ideas with collective precision. Sensations were captured in split seconds, as textural and melodic concepts developed, overlapped and bounced between players. Pluta's electronic improvisation added a mind-bending dimension to the concert. At moments it was fierce and pointed; at more subtle times it was impossible to know where the acoustic ended and electronic began. These magic moments of real-time manipulation allowed Parker to dance and interweave with his own sounds, and one cacophonous passage evoked sensations of auditory illusions, rather than live electro-acoustic creation. Peter Evans' performance was particularly spellbinding. He captivated the eyes and ears as he appeared to transcend the realms of his instrument, transforming it from roaring motorbike to the delicate source of a sweetly whistled melody. Spanning range, tone, timbre and emotion he abandoned any preconceptions of conventional trumpet playing. Evans' sounds are so precise and refined that his 'extended technique' no longer seems unusual, but a logical means of expressive communication. 

Of course, this boundary-pushing isn't to everyone's taste, and such sonic unorthodoxy can be a challenge to the more squeamish listener. The audience at The Vortex, though, appeared enthralled by the journey, from frantic fervour to floating through a space strewn with crunchy electronic meteoroids. By the end my heart was racing along with the on-stage energy. The beauty of these fresh, free sounds is that they break through the rules and confinements of habitual listening experiences. These are exciting (and potentially uncomfortable) because they are otherwise unexpressed: because they go beyond familiar vocabulary. At the end of Rocket Science's set, the friend beside me glanced at the pen and paper grasped between my fingers, and joked: "Did you get all that down?" No. Not at all.

– Celeste Cantor-Stephens

Multi-award winning saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows hits the road for a string of UK dates in March and April in the run up to recording his next studio album. Meadows has a formidable reputation as an innovative composer via his own Project band, as well as his work with versatile string ensemble Engines Orchestra, who've recently performed ambitious collaborations with Phronesis and guitarist Femi Temowo.

The latest forward-thinking configuration of the Phil Meadows Project now includes guitarist Michael De Souza (from the band Big Bad Wolf), drummer Jay Davis and bassist Joe Downard, who all combine on a widescreen sound palette. This includes electronica-influenced grooves akin to trip-hop kingpins Bonobo, plus hook-laden melodies and spacious soundscapes, all of which will be further enhanced on the up-coming album by electronic artist Nick Tyson and producer Mikko Gordon.

Catch the band on tour (which is supported by Arts Council England) at the following dates: Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho, London (12 March); The Lescar, Sheffield (14 March); Matt and Phred's, Manchester (15 March); JATP, Bradford (16 March); Ronnie Scott's, London (Late Show, 4 April) and The Storey, Lancaster (13 April).

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.philmeadowsmusic.co.uk

The Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf) returns this year from 20 to 28 July at venues across the city. Ahead of the announcement of the full programme on 24 April, the recipient of the festival's Irwin Mitchell Award commission has been presented to harpist and composer Esther Swift (pictured). Her composition 'Light Gatherer' will be performed by harp quartet, string trio, piano, saxophone, trombone, voice and percussion at the festival. Very much reflecting the mjf's longstanding commitment to programming new and innovative music, this year's Irwin Mitchell award is also aimed at championing women in music in the centenary year of women being given the vote in Britain. 'Light Gatherer' will showcase the harp in a contemporary jazz context, as well experimenting with "words, texture, purpose and expectation". Commenting on the commission, Swift said: "The Irwin Mitchell: mjf originals commission is a bit of a dream come true for me. It has come along at a really exciting point in my creative development and I am itching to write the music and play it with my friends."

The festival's commitment to supporting and programming female jazz musicians saw the 2017 edition feature 50% of all bands that played include women in their line-up, translating as 49 out of 98 gigs having a strong female presence. And this trend is set to continue with the mjf's association as a member of the PRS Foundation's Keychange initiative, which is encouraging music festivals to sign-up to a 50:50 gender balance by 2022. MJF artistic director Steve Mead, said: "I'm absolutely thrilled that Esther will be producing Light Gatherer for mjf 2018. Not only does it promise to be an intriguing piece of new work, but it helps us build on our historical achievements in celebrating female creative talent across our programmes, it adds to our increasingly impressive canon of commissioned work and it brings together some of the outstanding artists we have living and working in the north west. The 2018 suffrage centenary, and our appointment as a Keychange Associate, naturally add a special dimension. My priority is for mjf to sustain its solid reputation for balanced, adventurous programming that continues to inspire audiences and support artists – and always questions the norm."

The full Manchester Jazz Festival line-up will be announced on 24 April – watch this space for details.

– Mike Flynn

Photo by Mike Guest

For more info visit www.manchesterjazz.com

Iconic Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison makes a dramatic return with a heavily jazz-influenced new album, You're Driving Me Crazy, which sees him join forces with renowned virtuoso Hammond-organist (and trumpeter) Joey DeFrancesco. Released on 27 April via Sony Legacy Recordings, Morrison's 39th album finds him exploring fresh interpretations of jazz and blues songs by the likes of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer, alongside reworkings of originals from his extensive back catalogue, all set to DeFrancesco's hard-swinging Hammond work. The fine studio band also includes guitarist Dan Wilson, drummer Michael Ode and tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts.

The album's jazz-centred sound revives memories of Morrison's acclaimed 1968 album Astral Weeks, which featured jazz musicians Connie Kay, Jay Berliner, and Richard Davis, while the singer has regularly shared stage and studio time with some of jazz and blues' biggest names including John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Mose Allison, Bobby Bland, Solomon Burke, Jeff Beck, Georgie Fame, Robbie Robertson, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Maceo Parker among others. DeFrancesco has also worked with a who's who of jazz, working alongside Miles Davis, Jimmy Smith, Ray Charles, David Sanborn, Larry Coryell, Frank Wess and John McLaughlin to name but a few.

A limited edition seven-inch single from the album 'Close Enough For Jazz', and a rendition of Guitar Slim's 'The Things I Used To Do', will be available for Record Store Day 2018 on Saturday 21 April. Morrison is set to open the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 3 May.

Mike Flynn

Photo by Richard Wade

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