Trumpet-Man Martin Shaw Gets Linear And Limber At Imber

Martin Shaw-20.7

Promoter Carole Merritt has built a loyal following for jazz at Imber Court in Surrey, me included, and tends to pick a star player for her monthly events and put him or her in front of a good rhythm section and see what develops. This time it was trumpeter Martin Shaw in pole position, his band of brothers comprising pianist John Pearce, bassist Dave Green and drummer Matt Home. So no passengers there.

Shaw seems either to be submerged in the ranks of the BBC Big Band or to appear in the line-ups of other leaders. In other words, he's a jazz all-rounder and has the aptitude to step into any kind of musical situation and excel. Yet his solo outings are rare and, on this evidence, to be cherished. Broadly of the Clifford Brown persuasion, one might say, he's not a grandstand player, more a linear improviser who enjoys seeing where the creative impulse takes him.

A nicely balanced programme emerged, its variety sufficient to place Shaw among our very best practitioners, either on trumpet or flugelhorn. Pianist Pearce was in commanding form, alert to every signal, his adroit touch making me think of Hank Jones, no notes wasted, each response or solo a quiet gem. Still with the tireless Dave Green alongside and Matt Home, another who is quick to follow and enhance a soloist's direction, there was the ideal bedrock for Shaw to prosper and he did.

Opening with a nifty 'Bernie's Tune', the trumpet tone nicely centred, Shaw followed with 'My Romance' as a flugel ballad, wringing out every embellishment possible, Green's solo similarly affecting. Then it was 'Secret Love' and 'Lover Man', before Shaw fell back from all this love-making and gave Pearce a trio run at 'Just in Time'. Tightly muted for 'What Is This Thing', Shaw then tackled 'All Blues' on flugel, the familiar bass motif presaging a distinctive move away from the Davis model. That said, he shoved the Harmon back in and gave 'Bye Bye Blackbird' his close attention, the highlight a duo joust with Green.

A personable communicator, Shaw clearly relished the occasion and so did we. Get him back soon, Carole!

Peter Vacher

Kofi's Cannonball Caps Swanage Summer Weekender

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The sun, sea and sounds were a reminder of the famous film, Jazz On A Summer's Day, and while an introduction from Eli's Chosen Few was missing, traditional jazz emanating from the Marquee suitably provided the backdrop. In the Lindop Tent, named after long standing festival director Fred, Tony Kofi's Portrait of Cannonball started the festival, setting the bar high for subsequent acts. Tearing into the Adderley canon, both familiar ('Sack O'Woe', 'Nardis' and 'Work Song') and less so, Kofi's spirited approach was supported by a tight rhythm section – Alex Webb (piano), Andy Cleyndert (bass) and Alfonso Vitale (drums) – and he was joined by Andy Davies, whose trumpet solos were sharp and clear. Vocalist Deelee Dube was added for several numbers from the Nancy Wilson/Adderley 1961 collaboration.

Friday's proceedings continued with the octet of another altoist, Alan Barnes, the strong line-up including fellow saxophonists Robert Fowler and Karen Sharp, with Mark Nightingale on trombone and Bruce Adams on trumpet. They handled a mixture of old and new standards with great versatility and style, including, surprisingly, a rendition of Bix's 'I'm Coming Virginia', a feature for the forthright Adams. 

By Saturday, a listener could have been forgiven for thinking the festival was an altoists' convention, as Greg Abate showed what a brilliant interpreter of Parker-inspired post-bop he is, breezing through 'Yardbird Suite', 'Out of Nowhere', 'Steeplechase' and others, his predilection for fast tempos ably matched by Craig Milverton's trio. Other highlights were Rollins' 'Pent Up House' and his own composition 'Contemplation'. The bar set high, it seemed unfair to throw the youngsters of Clark Tracey's Quintet into the arena, but the front row of talented trumpeter Alexandra Rideout and Sean Payne's oblique and imaginative alto was sufficiently different to prevent comparisons. Bebop's future is in good hands.

Not to be outdone, the tenor players arrived, firstly in the shape of Simon Spillett, characteristically fast and inventive, who with trombonist Ian Bateman covered material by J.J. Johnson. They were augmented by forceful trumpeter Ben Cummings, later to be seen with the enjoyable New Orleans inspired band, Brass Volcanoes. In a different setting, Diane McLoughlin's tenor provided the perfect foil for bassist Alison Rayner's lyrical and thoughtful compositions, then on the main stage Scott Hamilton showed why he is firmly in the mainstream tenor tradition. With his rich, full tone, he attentively accompanied the engaging vocalist Champian Fulton, an accomplished pianist whose ballad work at times had a Garnerish touch. Echoes of Ellington, featuring Claire Martin, shared the top spot on Saturday, to the appreciation of a large audience, though to this listener it seemed uninspiring at times. Meanwhile, in the contemporary camp, Phronesis overshot their start time for an elongated soundcheck – mystifyingly so for a trio – then into their second number had to pause for more. A slightly disappointing set which could have been more adventurous. As one audience member observed: "the emperor's not-so-new clothes".

Sunday's highlights included the close collaborative duo of Alan Barnes and Dave Newton and a wonderfully joyous set from Jazz Jamaica, who invited the audience to dance, a risky proposition given the mature years of some. But little encouragement was needed and there were chants for more at the end. The Jazz Repertory Company closed the festival with a JATP performance full of power, enthusiasm and entertainment. Appropriately, guitarist Nigel Price was featured as a player, rather than in his capacity as festival organiser – a role for which a good deal of recognition and appreciation is due.

Matthew Wright 

Ageless Astatke Leads African Head Charge At Jazz Á Vienne

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Jazz á Vienne's annual two-week gathering has been charming crowds for almost four decades, thanks to a diverse and vibrant programme and a headline venue – a stone-built Roman amphitheatre – that never fails to get jaws dropping.

Choosing what to see from this year's embarassment of riches (Ron Carter, Melody Gardot, Marcus Miller, more) wasn't easy. But after a 20-minute taxi ride from Lyon and a meander around an old town festooned with images of this year's mascot – a Miles-meets-Marvel trumpet player (courtesy of graphic artist Brüno), it was up the hill to the Théatre Antique, with its vertiginous terraces and summit dotted with temples and ancient statues, and an Africa-themed night boasting three A-listers.

Mulatu Astatke, the daddy from Addy, led a seven-piece outfit of UK-based players, among them cellist Shanti Paul Jayasinha, fresh from Orphy Robinson's remarkable Voicestra Polyphonic Collective debut at the Gibraltar World Music Festival. Astatke, 74, seemed reinvigorated by his music, a hypnotic meld of funk, soul, latin jazz, Ethiopian tones and extra heavy percussion, gifting us stints on congas, timbales, vibes and keys: effortlessly, elegantly dexterous. This line-up, give or take the odd change, has been with Astatke for a while and no wonder, what with John Edwards' bass thundering mightily alongside percussionist Richard Olatunde Baker's chattering krakeb castanets, Byron Wallen's warm and expansive horn vying with James Arben's fierce tenor-sax squalls and a loose-limbed Hawkins perched, Gould-like, at a baby grand, delivering chords chewy enough to get your teeth into.

Then came Malian singer/songwriter Rokia Traore, barefoot and regal in a blue shift dress, a Stratocaster around her neck, the fire in her belly almost palpable. Flanked by musicians on electric bass, guitar and riffing ngoni lute, aided by a kit drummer on a mission, Traoré unwound slowly, her lyrics in French and Bambara crisp and pure, her charisma mesmerising. Traoré is a committed boundary pusher who has long blended traditional West African rhythms with jazz, folk and rock. She has previously covered 'Strange Fruit' and collaborated with the likes of the Kronos Quartet, but here she worked on adding layers, establishing grooves. Laying aside her guitar, she danced with a fluid freneticism, taking back the mic to sing of the power and beauty of Africa, of its challenges and riches. It was a consummate performance cheered on by the 7,000 plus crowd. That new Mama Africa mantle is in the bag.

Standing centre-stage in a white and gold boubou, Youssou N'Dour spread his arms and delivered 'New Africa', an exhortation to work together for change, to consider the legacy of pan-Africanists Cheikh Anta Diop and Kwame Nkrumah. Formerly Senegal's minister for culture, N'Dour has left political office and his music, refreshed, has benefitted. Africa's most successful singer, N'Dour garnered attention in the 1980s as the golden-voiced leader of Etoile de Dakar (a 'jazz orchestra' that like similarly designated ensembles in the region – represented a modern African negritude) and created the popular dance style, mbalax, fusing jazz, rock and latin music with traditional rhythms. Surrounded by stalwarts including maestro percussionist Babakar Faye, pounding a row of conical sabar drums into submission with a stick, and axeman Jimi Mbaye, firing lightning bolts from a Fender Strat (with which he also recreated the sound of the kora), and with keys, kit drums, two backing singers, a tama talking drum player and a face-off between Faye on djembe and a somersaulting acrobat/dancer, this was a Senegalese-style soul revue with hit after hit and encore 'Redemption Song' raising clenched fists along the terraces.

Down in the 350-capacity Theatre Municipal Vienne, the experimental Jazz Mix series kicked off at midnight with London's Ruby Rushton, here in trio format. Led by Ed 'Tenderlonious' Cawthorne on flute, beats and soprano sax, with Aidan Shepherd on keys and Tim Carnegie on drums, they served up spiritual jazz mains including 'Prayer for Yusef', along with edgy Hancock-esque fusion, holding their own under mercilessly hot stage lights before a gaggle of drunken twenty-somethings.

Special mention, too, to the following night's late nighters: Lagos-based guitarist Keziah Jones, who improvised a thrilling set under the stars at 2am. Representing Dalston's Total Refreshment Centre were improvisation dons Ill Considered, a London quartet featuring tenor saxophonist Idris Rahman, who squalled and snaked through, around and alongside the freeform expression of Emre Ramazanoglu on drums, Yahael Camara-Onono on percussion and way-out-there bassist Leon Brichard. Their intense free jazz had a 1960s devotional vibe and the potential to take them further, to a summit, perhaps, and beyond.

Jane Cornwell
Photo by Pierre Corvaisier 

See The Wood From The Trees: Splashgirl Sun-Blessed Amid Südtirol's Stunning Sights And Sounds

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Director Klaus Widmann's theme for this year's Südtirol Jazz Festival was 'Exploring the North', with most of the musicians and bands chosen from Scandinavian countries. Yet other nations were represented too, as demonstrated by a performance from Estonian saxophonist and composer Maria Faust (below) who led her band on-stage to perform her award-winning composition 'Sacrum Facere', a suite of seven pieces about the destiny of women through the ages. The music – inspired by Estonian folk and sacred music – is haunting and beautiful. As the natural light fades and the surrounding granite faces becomes more dominating, the experience becomes dramatic and quasi-spiritual.

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Norwegian piano trio Splashgirl (pictured top) are set up in a small glade in the trees, with the audience sat in wooden chairs scattered among the trees. The sun filters through the canopy above, acting as tiny spotlights highlighting the band, as they infuse their urbane post-jazz stylings with subtle electronics. Meanwhile, in the cellars of a small country hotel and vineyard artist-in-residence, saxophonist Pauli Lyytinen and Tuomas A. Turunen play two short improvised compositions – the Finns combining brassy bellows with Turunen's accompaniment on a pair of wine bottles. Turunen loves his wine and has, so far, transcribed the taste of over 150 wines into musical notation. As each wine is sampled the pair give their musical interpretation of it on piano and sax. A heady mix of improv and alcohol!

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The big concert on the festival's final day was held outside a mountain hut 2,154m up in the Dolomites (above). The concert featured a composition in five movements by Lyytinen, using seven drummers and Andreas Stensland Löwe on electronics) to augment the natural drama of the amazing backdrop. At times, ominous looking clouds added to the extraordinary combinations of sights and sound. 

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Other shows that deserve mention include Mats Gustafsson's Fire!, who were joined by the excellent Swedish vocalist Mariam Wallentin. The group managed to accomodate the fragility of Wallentin's beautiful vocals with the full onslaught of Gustafsson's baritone sax (above) and Johan Berthling's thumping bass to great effect. Elsewhere, Verneri Pohjola gave two excellent concerts – one a duo in the modern art museum with percussionist Mika Kallio and the other with his full band showcasing his Edition album Pekka in a working woollen mill.

This festival is clearly a labour of its director's passions – featuring mostly unknown or emerging artists, and most of the concerts are free. In choosing locations of outstanding natural beauty and, in some cases, sites that are completely off-the-wall, Widmann and his team create an experience that's not just unique, but world class.

Tim Dickeson (story & photos)

There's Noh Limit: Space In Between At London's King's Place

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This two-day festival that explores and extends the 650-year-old tradition of Japanese ritual performance art Noh is a welcome event, given the success of its previous 2016 edition. Although the talks and workshops on what is a highly complex, codified form, where mask and movement as well as music all cohere with enormously rigorous discipline, are not without interest, the concerts, which bring together artists from different backgrounds, are fascinating. Tonight Japanese nokhan flautist Yukihiro Isso and British pianist Leon Michener pool their respective talents on the same stage where Isso memorably met Evan Parker two years ago, and though it is a relatively sparse audience in Hall Two, the smaller of Kings Place's two basement auditoriums, there is nonetheless a palpable sense of excitement as they take up position. Isso can be heard clearly due to the clapping of his wooden clogs under long-flowing robes. He walks to a table under the light on which no fewer than nine flutes are laid out. Dressed soberly in a black shirt and trousers, Michener approaches a Steinway next to which is an electronics station comprising laptop, synth and mixer.

As they start another minor sartorial detail comes into play. Michener is wearing a black glove. It is glimpsed by any eyes that follow him as he leans right into the body of the piano, and presumably enables him to tighten or loosen his grip on the strings and other inner mechanisms in order to produce startling timbres that range from dark, dense roars that flood the low register to higher-pitched scrapings, the net result of which conjures up an ambience of both enticement and foreboding. Unflinching in his posture, Isso proceeds to shatter into life with a violent maelstrom of sound that he sustains with astonishing consistency and accuracy as he moves from one flute to another without pausing for a moment. Later on, in a passage of Parker-esque circular breathing, he will negotiate a series of wavering harmonies where his intonation is so pinpoint sharp it sounds as if he is atomising a split tone. On some instruments he is piccolo-like, practically scorching the air by the ferocity of his attack, and on a curved animal horn he has a warm velvety muffle akin to an alto-flute. The volume at which he plays is as remarkable as the sustained flow of ideas, and it is telling that at no point in his exchanges with Michener, who crafts grainy textures and displaced phrases over a stark sub-bass throb, is Isso ever drowned out.

After Rahsaan-like multi-phonics through two or three flutes played simultaneously, and some discrete but effective motifs from Michener on piano, the pair unite on the highpoint of the performance; a gorgeous passage where they play short themes and variations back to one another, with the low, slightly hoarse tone of the flutes now like a child's recorder. It is innocence incarnate. Further excitement is generated by the arrival of Mitsuhiro Kakihara on otsuzum hip drum. Yet, as he sits a few feet away from Isso, he looks quite tentative. He executes the distinctive action of stretching his arm out in time with a vocal cry, but struggles to be heard amid the other instruments. His projection is smothered out. It is a slightly underwhelming episode on what is otherwise a fascinating adventure through an 'ancient to future' musical landscape.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Mayumi Hirata 

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