Andy Sheppard, in between the odd ECM recording date and world tours with one of his own or Carla Bley’s projects, has been gigging round various pubs in Bristol and Bath with organ trio The Pushy Doctors (pictured above) for three years or so now. They’ve been a mainstay of the weekly Fringe Jazz programme, one of the city’s newest regular club nights, since it kicked off just over a year ago in the bijou back room of the Clifton bar after which it’s named. The Doctors, Andy with Dan Moore on organ and Tony Orrell on drums were there for their first outing of the year last week.
This band has a lot of fun, but it’s no knock-about session. Ten minutes in and Andy was flushed with exertion as he paid homage to the spirit of Coltrane with the intense blizzard of arpeggios he reeled out over a blistering take on ‘Mr. PC’. There was plenty of the musical game-playing that a maturing partnership generates. An extended intro from Moore, full of fragments of funky phrases and angular runs hinted at various meters and tempos until an audible ‘ah’ from Sheppard signalled they’d tuned in and ‘My Favorite Things’ was launched. Tony Orrel’s luminous grin lit up the stage as he lashed the cymbals in his minimal kit, stoking the energy. There was a collective glint in the trio’s eye. ‘My Favorite Things’ didn’t so much segue as handbrake-turn into ‘Saving All My Love for You’. This band has won a special place in hearts locally for its joyful uninhibited music making.
Down the hill and 24-hours later one of Bristol’s younger talents packed out the city’s longest running session. James Gardiner-Bateman had lured his buddy Reuben Fowler (pictured below) down the M4 to play at the BeBop Club, another weekly session and still going strong after more than 20 years. James and Reuben were joined by a fearsome rhythm section of Matt Robinson on piano, Andrew Robb on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums.
They loosened up on ‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’ and left the standing room only crowd in no doubt of the treat in store. After a blistering solo on ‘Speak no Evil’ from Matt Robinson, all spiky lines and evolving motifs, Reuben Fowler slid into his solo with a fluttering cluster of notes high up in the Flugel horn’s register; a magical moment. Time and again Gardiner-Bateman showed us why he keeps turning heads wherever he plays. He has a knack of developing an idea and building excitement before seeming to flick a switch and notch everything up a gear. Whoops that greeted his solo on Ornette Coleman’s ‘Tears Inside’ weren’t the first of the evening. Fowler’s complex and thrilling piece ‘Dundry’ gave a platform for passionate blowing all round in the second set giving us just a glimpse of his composing talent. There’s no excuse for January blues with jazz of this quality on the doorstep.
– Mike Collins (story and photos)
In a 20-minute display of madcap invention, the Neil Cowley Trio brought a musical re-enactment of recent British weather to Islington Town Hall for the PRS Foundation. Featuring a storm lashed opener, 'Balkaseltzer', written by guesting Derry musicians, Robert Peoples and Marty Coyle, the Trio blasted the chattering music bizzers into stunned silence, then into startled applause. Just when you think you've got Cowley in the bag - Satie, Debussy, Glass, Reich, Monk - he flips you with a new composition 'Queen', a labyrinth of deep orchestral melancholy, flowing melody, a poignant winter landscape.
Deeply moving, it's soon offset by the Pythonesque 'She Eats Flies', where the Trio give new meaning to the term virtuosity. Evan Jenkins' atom splitting percussion and bassist Rex Horan's relentless sonority underpin the frenzied inspirational insanity of Cowley, a true piano headbanger - Joe Zawinul meets Jerry Lee Lewis - to mark this collective as one of the most vital of modern times. The NCT push beyond technicality towards magical telepathy. The term ‘jazz’, as we know it, need not apply, but the concept certainly does. Relentless, questing, searching. It's been a while since jazz pulled the rug out and dealt in uncertainty. Like our weather.
– Paul Bowen
Portcullis House, overlooking the Thames by Westminster Underground Station, is a spacious modern building in which much of the real work of the House of Commons gets done. Many a media mogul and minister have been grilled by a committee upstairs in The Attlee Room upstairs, but last night its walls resounded to the sounds of the 12-piece jazz ensemble Jambone.
Based at the SAGE, Gateshead, its members range in age from 13 to 19 and benefit from a series of high profile guest directors whose music may introduce them to swing, funk, jazz-rock, world music, Latin or fusion. Their current director, trombonist Rick Taylor (pictured above), wrote all of the music for this performance, consciously reflecting the influence of various big band jazz composers who had inspired him, including Duke Ellington and Bill Holman.
Starting their performance with an out-of-tempo soundscape piece rather than a conventional bright swinger seemed at first a risky choice, but after progressing through a succession of different tonal colours and textures, Jambone had the audience of MPs, Lords, jazz musicians and educators and jazz industry professionals totally on-side. Their attention was rewarded next with a rousing swing piece in which the rhythm section, propelled by 16-year old drummer Sam Steemson, demonstrated its ability to hold a tempo, swing hard and negotiate tricky rhythms with consummate ease. Pianist Jack Kinrade (at 19 the oldest in the band) and guitarist Bradley Johnston both delivered outstanding solos.
Rick Taylor’s music takes no prisoners and much of this technically demanding music would have challenged a professional outfit. With only three trumpets, three saxes and two trombones, the front line sounded as full as a big band, partly due to Taylor’s careful voicings but also to the skill and enthusiasm of the young players.
This concert was the annual Youth Jazz Event hosted by APPJAG, the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group and sponsored by PPL, the music rights organisation. APPJAG also sponsor the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and voting for the 2014 Awards is open to everyone. To vote, visit www.jazzservices.org.uk closing date for votes is midday on 3 February
– Charles Alexander
(Pictured above: Jambone; Edward Milner (Head of Music Learning at Sage Gateshead); Jacqui Cameron (Young Musicians Programme Manager, Sage Gateshead); CEO PPL Peter Leathem; Ros Rigby (Performance Programme Director, Sage Gateshead); Michael Connaughty (APJAG co-chair); Jack Healy (L & P Activity Producer, Sage Gateshead); Rick Taylor – photos courtesy PPL)
Rising star trumpeter Reuben Fowler and his Big Band are set to take centre stage at Kings Place, Hall 2, London this Saturday 18 January. The London-based composer and arranger has taken the British scene by storm since graduating from the Royal Academy, receiving the prestigious Kenny Wheeler Music Prize in 2012. The award recognises graduating jazz musicians from the London Conservatoire who demonstrate excellence in performance and composition, giving them the chance to record an album with Edition records. The end result was Between Shadows his exciting and critically acclaimed debut featuring an all-star ensemble of established musicians such as Stan Sulzmann, Tom Harrell and flautist Gareth Lockrane alongside talented young artists such as saxophonists Sam Mayne and James Gardiner Bateman.
The concert at Kings Place is only the third live appearance for the big band, and follows on from a packed performance at the Royal Festival Hall's Clore Ballroom at last year’s London Jazz Festival. This promises to be a special concert, not only will the band perform music from Between Shadows, but it will also be the first time they are joined live by renowned UK saxophonist Stan Sulzmann. Troyka guitarist Chris Montague also joins the line-up along with top conductor and renowned arranger Guy Barker who will conduct the ensemble. The rest of the line up includes trumpeters Mike Lovatt, George Hogg, Percy Pursglove and Freddie Gavita; reeds players Joe Wright, George Crowley and Rob Cope; trombonists Gordon Campbell, Robbie Harvey, Kieran McLeod and Barry Clements; plus pianist Matt Robinson, bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Dave Hamblett.
– Daniel Taylor
For more info go to www.kingsplace.co.uk
One of Europe’s foremost jazz critics, of a status comparable to Nat Henhoff in the States, died on 16 December 2013 in Prague. Lubomír Dorůžka rose to become the preeminent Czech-language jazz historian in Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. He was a Czech musicologist, music historian and critic (not just jazz), author, literary translator (including, naturally, the Jazz Age writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, amongst others) and much more. Lubo Dorůžka had the ill-starred fortune to be a jazz aficionado under two totalitarian regimes, during periods when to call jazz dangerous was an understatement.
He was born on 18 March 1924 in what was then the capital of Czechoslovakia, Prague. Growing up, he bore witness to Czechoslovakia – after 1933 the last remaining parliamentary democracy in central and eastern Europe – pressured into ceding territory beginning with Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in late 1938. The War, sorry, History channels regularly repeat Nazi propaganda footage of Wehrmacht vehicles turning that hairpin bend that leads up to Prague Castle.
Anyone caught listening to swing jazz during the Nazi regime in occupied Czechoslovakia and France could expect imprisonment and possible internment or death in concentration camps. Loving jazz and the freedoms it represented was dangerous. Mike Zwerin, the author of La Tristesse de Saint Louis: Swing Under the Nazis, called this music “a metaphor for freedom”.
The Monica Ladurner film Schlurf (Im Swing gegen den Gleichschritt (‘Schlurf: With Swing against the Goosestep’) Austria, 2007) documents the American swing jazz-loving, underground youth movements in their German, Austrian, French and Czechoslovakian guises. The Austrian idiom Schlurf had been derogatory – though now it sounds quaintly antique – came from schlurfen – ‘to shuffle’. The word communicated a sense of wastrels, sluts (more correctly Schlurfkatzen) and ne’er-do-wells loitering in the shadows or an alleyway. It’s rather like an antecedent of punk. Its subtext summoned jazz, inferiority and degeneracy. In Germany one equivalent was the Swing-Jugend (‘Swing youth’) fond of substituting ‘Sieg Heil!’ with ‘Swing Heil!’ in the right circumstances. In occupied Czechoslovakia they were called Potápky, so-called after great crested grebes – its literal meaning. They ducked and dived like those birds – and, of course, they have the habit of resurfacing somewhere else than expected.
At a screening of Schlurf… at the Kino Světozor in Prague, where it was running as part of the MOFFOM (Music on Film Film on Music) festival in 2009, something unexpected happened. Partway through Lubo was in the film recalling the movement and those times. It took a while to click that he was speaking in German – in cultivated, Czech-inflected German – because we had never talked in German. At the time I was based in his and his wife Aša’s Prague apartment while they were away travelling. I was surrounded by framed photographs like him and Louis Armstrong, his book collection, certificates and so on. It seemed unreal. Between 1944 and 1945 he began writing about swing for a samizdat publication. In the screening I wept in the darkness. The day I flew back to London on the way to the Metro station, a deluge forced me to take shelter in a pub off Wenceslas Square. Waiting out the rain, I wrote a lyric directly inspired by Lubo and another cinema called Kino Laterna for the violinist-vocalist Iva Bittová. It is now part of the repertoire of Checkpoint KBK, her trio with clarinettist David Krakauer and accordionist Merima Ključo.
Lubo went on to become the Czechoslovakia correspondent for Downbeat during the Communist era as well as writing extensively for Billboard. Jazz was American and the authorities kept an eye on it and anyone peddling it. It meant that he was receiving all manner of US releases for review including ESP LPs like the Fugs. The country’s earlier official party line had been that jazz, like blues, was the voice of social struggle, the voice of the oppressed Negro in the United States and so on. In this ghetto jazz was safe and containable. As jazz’s popularity grew and its counter-cultural possibilities made themselves apparent the Czechoslovakian authorities picked what made political sense.
His Panoráma Jazzu (‘Panorama of Jazz’) was published in 1990, during the time of political climate change. It covers the standard jazz history and its Czechoslovakian complexion with, say Jaroslav Ježek and Karel Velebný, but extends to musicians such as Anthony Braxton and David Murray as well as the jazz released on Eastern bloc labels such as Amiga, Melodiya, Muza and Supraphon. His 2002 book Český jazz mezi tanky a klíči (‘Czech jazz between tanks and keys’) (2002) – though klíči has parallel possibilities like ‘musical keys’ and ‘passports’ – is another of his books on the nation’s jazz history. 'Between tanks and keys', his son clarified, refers to the exact time interval between the Soviet tanks in 1968, and the Velvet Revolution
in 1989, when crowds at Wenceslas Square rattled their keys as a symbol of resistance.
He and his wife (who died four days after him) came to love Cornwall on the Atlantic tip of England in the period when travel was possible. Into their 70s they would travel overland by coach from Prague to Victoria Coach Station and then on to Cornwall. The freedom to travel was something they prized highly, having spent time when possibilities were so restricted.
In late May 2013 Lubo, his music critic and broadcaster son, Petr and I attended a concert at Libeňská synagoga in Prague 8. It was a concert by Iva Bittová, his guitarist grandson David Dorůžka, the pianist Aneta Majerová (David’s partner) and the cellist Peter Nouzovský. He was treated like a dignitary, being addressed by all but family and close friends as Pán Dorůžka where Pán functions more on the Lord side of Mister. I felt myself privileged that for more than 20 years he and I were Lubo and Ken.
He was one of the greatest champions of jazz of our era. He rode out so many storms.
– Ken Hunt