Steve Coleman and Five Elements fire-up at CBSO Centre, Birmingham

The Chicago altoist Steve Coleman has distilled his source material down to an essential four or five notes, together with a linking rhythm and stress. From such a foundation Coleman was able to begin a series of pieces stretching over nearly two hours.

Electric six-string bassist Anthony Tidd joined him, playing a four-note repeating riff with a big, fat sound, and drummer Sean Rickman added a rich, expansive beat, which made the riff blossom. It bloomed wider and wider still as Coleman further expanded his extension on those four notes, and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson joined him in harmony or simultaneous improv, choosing his moments with care, dropping out at times, then re-entering to bring a different aspect to the music.

Coleman calls it spontaneously composed jazz music, its foundations going deep down not only into jazz, especially of that other Coleman – Ornette – but also into African drumming, contemporary composed music, blues, rock and R&B.

– Peter Bacon

@jazzbreakfast

Paul Ryan strides through the standards at Ronnie Scott’s

There are those singers who like to experiment with sound or put a highly “personal” slant on material and those whose delivery is less idiosyncratic, respecting the songwriter’s craft with its emphasis on telling a story, but at the same time not losing individuality. Paul Ryan stands firmly in the latter category.

His set at Ronnie Scott’s showed how well he interprets standards, delivers them with panache and with a knowledge and understanding of the nuances and wit of the great lyricists. His performance included ‘If I Were a Bell’ and ‘Luck Be a Lady’ from Frank Loesser’s Guys & Dolls and some familiar compositions of Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, etc., but within these were lesser known numbers, his rich baritone lending itself well to the slow tempos of Matt Dennis’ ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Violets For Your Furs’, and Johnny Mercer’s ‘PS I Love You’; each a narrative – personal and poignant, opening up a thousand memories.

Songs and tunes cleverly segued from one into another. ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ into ‘Singing in the Rain’ and back again, with a slight soul jazz tinge; ‘Moonlight Sonata’ introduced Night & Day; Rachmaninoff’s ‘Prelude in C Sharp Minor’ preceded ‘In the Still of the Night’, with its accentuated alliteration and rhythmic phrasing (and musically reminding this writer of Mingus’ ‘All The Things You C Sharp’ from the Café Bohemia); a section in fluent French ushered in ‘Autumn Leaves’.

All were ably supported by pianist Kenny Clayton and his trio (John Rees Jones bass, Mike Osborne drums), with whom Ryan has a well-established rapport, feeding off each other and infusing a wry humour into the proceedings. Clayton himself showed particularly adept and sensitive touches in his version of Jerome Kern’s ‘Long Ago and Far Away’.

In all, a satisfying way to spend a couple of hours and it was a tribute to their infectious admiration for the genre that, en route to the French House, I made a mental note to dust off my unforgivably neglected Johnny Hartman records as soon as I got home.

– Matthew Wright

Nat Birchall Quartet, Leafcutter John and Andreas Schaerer make for an irresistible Jazz In The Round

Less than 24 hours after the finale of this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival you would have thought that live jazz would have been the last thing on most Londoners’ minds. But a ticket to Jazz In The Round, a monthly event held at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone and hosted by Jazz on 3’s Jez Nelson, is a difficult thing to resist.

Informally dubbed the Jazz In The Round Christmas Party but mercifully free from festive repertoire, this month’s triple bill opened with a set from Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer who performed to a packed house. Schaerer is part standup comedian, part beatboxer and part singer and his immaculately paced introductory spiel and vocal trickery had the audience in fits of giggles from the start. (I won’t spoil it by telling you why). Those giggles turned to murmurs of disbelief in the following number as he sang a simple township melody while beatboxing over the top, throwing in an assortment of effects that ranged from trumpet and rattle noises to the sound of a squash ball ricocheting around the room. A ‘stereo’ rendition of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Oleo’ sung across two microphones came next and then it was time for some participatory drones from the audience while Schaerer added a haunting near-eastern melody and hammed up his role as conductor.

Just as engaging was an appearance from Polar Bear electronicist Leafcutter John (pictured above) who arrived armed with a sparkler, a candle, two bike lights, a camera phone and a lighter, with which to conjure fizzing, ambient soundscapes from a perspex box full of light sensitive electronics. By altering the settings on his painstakingly pre-programmed laptop and varying the intensity and the position of the lights, he produced a mesmerising array of sounds, layering pitch bends and distorted vocals over muffled drumbeats and trembling washes of church organ before handing things over to headliner Nat Birchall (pictured top).

Performing alongside pianist Adam Fairhall, bassist Michael Bardon, drummer Johnny Hunter and an animated, barefoot Corey Mwamba on vibraphone, the Manchester-based saxophonist offered up a series of impassioned, musical prayers set against smouldering modal backdrops. Among the highlights was a unnamed track from the group's forthcoming album, which floated an imploring sax melody over throbbing bass and punchy piano and vibes.

The saxophonist makes no secret of his love for John Coltrane and, though his soprano sound (at times uncannily like that of a cor anglais) is very much his own, both his tenor playing and his compositional style owe a lot to the great man. A rendition of Bill Lee’s ‘John Coltrane’ was a fitting tribute, opening with gravely piano and bass before launching a solo for Birchall that merged seamlessly with the opening line of a blistering Mwamba vibes feature. Closing with the title track from their 2011 release Sacred Dimension, the group brought the house down. Jazz festival or no jazz festival, there’s always room for more good music.

– Thomas Rees

– Photos by Steven Cropper

Jazz In The Round returns on 26 January 2015 – for more info go to www.thecockpit.org.uk

Vilnius International Jazz Festival: A small place with big ideas

Having grown through the repressive times of the Soviet Union, when foreign artists had to be minibussed from the all-seeing-eye of Moscow to the Lithuanian capital, this festival, now in its 27th edition, does not want for either large, passionate, engaged audiences or adventurous programming. Indeed the rapturous reception given to the generally avantgarde bill at the well-appointed Rusu Dramos Teatras lends weight to the theory that ‘free jazz’ has a sharp resonance for a population that once lived with KGB prisons in its midst.

Japan’s Pre-Cambria Clarinet Quartet and Denmark’s Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra were two highlights of the event; drawing gasps of admiration and guffaws of laughter in equal measure. The former audaciously blended WSQ and Captain Beefheart and the latter Duke Ellington, Sun Ra, South African township swing and an overall circus sensibility that culminated in the horn players climbing over smiling seated punters in the auditorium. Young Lithuanian multi-reed virtuoso Liudas Mockunas was an impressive guest and he also made a wholly substantial contribution to Finish saxophonist Mikko Innanen’s bold Innkvisitio, an ensemble whose thrash-happy grooves were enhanced by the dazzling warp and weft of Seppo Kantonen’s keys.

Other notable local representation came by way of the young Ornette-influenced quartet Armed Sheep Doom Cloud, a strong contender in the esoteric name stakes. But the Lithuanian musician who really brought the house down was Juozas Milasius (a maverick guitarist extending the lineage of Sharrock, Ulmer and Ducret), who appeared in a fabulous duet with the American alto saxophonistclarinetist Sabir Mateen (both pictured top). Pushing the aesthetic of broken rhythms and tonal distortion to an imaginative and highly focused extreme, Milasius created a sonic minefield upon which Mateen threw his own fortissimo molotovs to great effect, improvising themes of the most wounded, Ayleresque melancholy as his partner gleefully confected a kind of psychoflamenco metal. As if that was not enough there was also the revered figure of Vyacheslav Ganelin leading a Lithuanian/Israeli supergroup and the zestful French brass trio Journal Intime re-imagining the music of Jimi Hendrix. All of which heartily made the point that Vilnius is a small place with big ideas.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo by Antanas Gustys

Bennie Maupin evergreen and engerised at Ronnie Scott’s

Playing the night after the close of the London Jazz Festival may be the shortest of short straws for many musicians fearful of possible audience exhaustion following ten days of gigs. Yet the sizeable crowd drawn by multi-reedist Bennie Maupin attests to both his pulling power and the unquenchable thirst of punters, some of whom may have still been lapping up the memory of Charles Lloyd’s celestial session at the Barbican the evening before. Maupin’s place in history, in any case, is by no means a drop in the ocean. For the generation of listeners who came into jazz via fusion he was the introduction to the bass clarinet, the still relatively uncommon instrument the 74 year-old Detroit native played so memorably on Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters as well as on the accomplished solo albums that came both before and after.

His pedigree is even richer though, for it was Maupin who brought much to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and his opening salvo tonight, a gorgeous reprise of Joe Zawinul’s In A Silent Way, the sister album to the aforesaid electric pathfinder, establishes a clear historical gravitas for proceedings. Backed by an excellent British pick-up band – Rod Youngs [drums], Vidal Montgomery [bass] and Carl Orr [guitar] – Maupin plays the piece on soprano, vividly conveying the deep pathos and yearning poignancy of the anti-war anthem by way of spacious, full-bodied sustained notes that ebb to the most gentle of hushes. Later on an iconic Milesian reference surfaces again via a smartly swinging take on ‘All Blues’, but if that represents the more reflective, lyrical side of the leader his energetic, joyful character is not far away.

The band segues into boisterous high tempo funk in which Youngs’ and Montgomery’s experience of playing both soul and Caribbean flavoured music comes into its own, and the injection of a flighty, dancing aggression into the downbeat draws a hearty cheer from a responsive audience. Switching to tenor, Maupin has a pinched, quite high tone that cuts through a dry, tight ensemble sound, which is given a pleasingly scratchy, grainy quality by some of Orr’s fuller power chords, but when he moves to the bass clarinet elsewhere in the set he creates the kind of sensual gurgle that recalls the singers who held down the low end lines in ‘50s barbershop vocal groups. Having said that, the percussion played by all members of the ensemble – on the skins of the kit; the body of the bass; the neck of the guitar; the keys of the horn – momentarily turns the stage into a smilingly subversive drum circle.  

While Maupin originals such as ‘See The Positive’ serve notice of his ability to compose as well as improvise it must be said that, clad in a dark jacket and Afro-Asian skullcap, he has the unforced charisma given to one who has covered much cultural and stylistic ground in an eventful life. He makes a point not often made – that the seminal bebop revolution started with Lester Young rather than Charlie Parker – and takes time to pay tribute to another musician, the great pianist and Parker sideman, Walter Bishop Jnr, whose name is not mentioned too much these days. All the young British members of the band, as well as the audience, seem to appreciate the opportunity to engage with Maupin, an elder whose influence should not be overlooked.


– Kevin Le Gendre

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Cécile McLorin Salvant draws on the past…

After a lovely low-key opening set from Femi Temowo, featuring...

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Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz Fest

Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz…

The theme at this year’s Belgrade Jazz Festival was ‘The...

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Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future-soul to The Concorde

Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future…

There’s a crush of boho twentysomethings up against Brighton’s Concorde...

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Steve Smith grooves hard with Vital Information NYC at Ronnie Scott’s

Steve Smith grooves hard with Vital Info…

It was the early 1990s when this writer first discovered...

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Knoel Scott takes on tradition at the 100 Club

Knoel Scott takes on tradition at the 10…

If walls could talk then the 100 Club, squeezed between...

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Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's Elgar Room

Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's El…

Given the limitless ocean of music in which the world...

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Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz Happening

Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz …

Festival directors often have to unhitch hitches right in the...

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Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electric Brixton

Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electri…

While Elephant9’s recent studio sets might’ve inaugurated amassing embroideries of...

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Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bowl

Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bo…

When taking an evening to see a true legend of...

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Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Reunite With Jim Mullen At The Jazz Cafe

Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Reunite W…

It had been forty years since the legendary Jim Mullen...

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Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic at the Bull’s Head

Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic…

Sheryl Bailey, one of New York’s foremost guitarists and now...

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Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Austria’s place in the jazz firmament has been well established...

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Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a rapturous Rich Mix

Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a raptu…

Last time Jazzwise took an evening to see Bex Burch’s...

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Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 606

Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 60…

There is a significant coterie of jazz fans that come...

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Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in style

Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in…

Three nights in to his five-night stay at Pizza Express...

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Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage performance at Celebrate Voice Festival

Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage perfo…

Liane Carroll celebrated, life, jazz and the unrestrained joy of...

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Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

On a rainy evening in Dalston, 21 October – ‘Back...

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Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at Ronnie Scott’s

Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at R…

It’s a great recipe: take a string quartet line-up, dispense...

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Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at Ronnie Scott’s

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at …

For the first time in eleven years, leading US drummer...

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Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Pizza Express

Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Piz…

The advance billing might have suggested a Joel Harrison solo...

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Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place

Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place…

I’m writing this with one eye on an article about...

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Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry Wallenstein and Mike Hobart’s Urban Jazz Collective at Vortex

Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry W…

New York beat poet Barry Wallenstein joined Mike Hobart’s Urban...

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Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blasts off with Birchall, Brand and more

Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blast…

With its emphasis on adventurous programming and bids to redress...

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Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offer an enthralling glimpse of the future

Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offe…

 Anyone bold or foolhardy enough to essay a career in...

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Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy to the Verdict

Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy …

Bobby Wellins is unique; a near contemporary of Rollins, Shorter...

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Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at The Vortex

Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at …

Stan Sulzmann stepped in for an indisposed Bobby Wellins on Saturday...

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Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power up at Palatia Jazz Festival

Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power u…

The two evenings that we visited the Palatia Jazz Festival...

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Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew at the Vortex

Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew a…

As Fletch’s Brew steamed through two sets at the Vortex...

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Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub, Edinburgh

Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub…

As the audience waits for the Robert Glasper Trio to...

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Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cadogan Hall, London

Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cado…

I’m tempted to paraphrase the old musician’s joke about not...

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Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escreet unlock jazz’s secrets in Siena

Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escr…

Such is the quite breathtaking beauty of one of Italy’s...

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Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman top triumphant Umbria Jazz Festival

Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The B…

Umbria Jazz is a brand and like all brands it’s...

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Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in the heat of Jazz á Vienne

Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in …

  One of the biggest French summer Festivals enjoyed the hottest...

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Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Climate

Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Cl…

Guitarist and educator Brad Shepik’s compositions have attracted sufficient attention...

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Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho

Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Ex…

Singer and composer Zara McFarlane played to sold-out crowds at...

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Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kings Place

Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kin…

  In Michael Chabon’s 2012 novel Telegraph Avenue, the fictitious jazz...

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A party atmosphere reigns supreme at Jazz à Vienne 2015

A party atmosphere reigns supreme at Jaz…

One of the biggest French summer Festivals enjoyed the hottest...

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Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling hit the heights at the Malta Jazz Festival

Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling hit the hei…

Soweto Kinch’s gig is nearing its climax when he finds...

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The cerebral meets the popular at the Rigas Ritmi Festival in Latvia

The cerebral meets the popular at the Ri…

As Ramon Valle explains, the Ritmi in the title of...

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Swanage Jazz Fest swings hard with Jean Tousaint’s Art Blakey Sextet

Swanage Jazz Fest swings hard with Jean …

Swanage’s format is well-established and well-understood. A marquee each for...

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Jason Moran, Justin Kauflin and D’Angelo shine at Montreux Jazz Festival

Jason Moran, Justin Kauflin and D’Angelo…

Thomas Rees is swept away by glamour, history and stand...

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Ant Law Quintet zero in at The Verdict, Brighton

Ant Law Quintet zero in at The Verdict, …

It’s been a scant 18 months since Ant Law played...

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Mammoth 36th Montreal jazz round-up with Lovano, Cullum, Mammal Hands, Abdullah Ibrahim among the highlights

Mammoth 36th Montreal jazz round-up with…

Each visit there are switcheroos at the goliath Montreal Jazz...

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Sly & Robbie with Nils Petter Molvaer create blissful ‘Nordub’ at Barbican

Sly & Robbie with Nils Petter Molvae…

A meeting of the world’s greatest rhythm section, two progressive...

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Average White Band Jarrod Lawson get the Rio funking at Glasgow Jazz Festival

Average White Band Jarrod Lawson get the…

Although the concert hall experience is a major part of...

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Manu Katché and Dado Moroni  get Bari in Jazz bopping

Manu Katché and Dado Moroni get Bari in…

This year’s edition of Bari in Jazz marked a transition...

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Black Top funk up Freedom: The Art Of Improvisation Festival

Black Top funk up Freedom: The Art Of Im…

“Yes… central heating.” These words from Cleveland Watkiss, closing Black...

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Joe Stilgoe goes Big Band at The Old Vic for album launch

Joe Stilgoe goes Big Band at The Old Vic…

A packed venue, atmospheric lighting, crystal clear sound and the...

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