Saxophonist Josh Kemp cuts a free range groove at Pizza


Jazz is cool again, report the latest editorials. But, launching his album Rare Groove at the Pizza Express, Josh Kemp embodied the spirit that sustains jazz no matter which way the weather vane of vogue is pointing. Kemp is a musician at the coal face of jazz, his expression of the idiom uncut with additives or E numbers. No slugged hip hop beats or EDM drops here, just 100 per cent free-range swing.

His ensemble of outstanding sidemen ring every drop of groove from Kemp's compositions. 'Stirred not Shaken', a high-wire hard-bop blend of 'Straight, No Chaser' and 'Sweet Georgia Brown', sees Arnie Somogyi's blisteringly groovy basslines meld with Ross Stanley's perfectly weighted piano voicings. Kemp's own playing recalls the soulful fluidity of Hank Mobley, an influence alluded to with a cover of Harry Warren's 'The More I See You'. But his sound isn't tied to any particular tenor touchstone; his improvisatory language speaks of a deep and comprehensive engagement with the jazz canon.


Kemp is no historical re-enactor of jazz's glorious past, however. His compositions speak of an impulse for creation not curation. From a selection of grittier grooves in a second set that saw Ross Stanley switch to Hammond organ 'Home Cookin'' stood out. The riotous New Orleans inspired jam, propelled by Chris Higginbottom's stomp-inducing second line beat, turns out to be inspired by building work undertaken in Kemp's kitchen. Many of the pieces have domestic inspiration, from Kemp's daughter's bedtime ('Turn on the Dark'), which hints at Head Hunters-era Herbie, to a moody, bluesy meditation on his Walthamstow home ('East Wind').

Kemp's domestic vignettes tell of a jazz-man in the finest tradition. A fierce talent, cemented by studious shedding, who is practising a devotion to the genre that is rarely glamorous and often hard. If music is its own reward, we are lucky that we can share in Josh Kemp's gift.

– Liam Izod
– Photos by Colin Izod

Partisans and Norma Winstone shine at Limerick Jazz Festival

Founded five years ago, Limerick JF always comes up with interesting and/or unexpected players or presentations. The opening big-band concert this year saw the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra celebrating aspects of Gerry Mulligan and Stan Kenton, with America's Claire Daly (on her first visit to Ireland, pictured top) playing the baritone parts in Mulligan's distinctive charts for his Concert Jazz Band and at least one originally done for Kenton. More surprisingly, the second half had Norma Winstone lapping up her unaccustomed role as a 1940s/1950s band vocalist on tunes debuted by Kentonites Anita O'Day, June Christy and Chris Connor, while a later set by the LIMK educational project was enlivened by singer Linda Galvin.


Much programming featured different aspects of the guitar, initially via UK band Partisans, fronted by Phil Robson and Julian Siegel (formerly separate visitors to Limerick JF), their multi-faceted and quirky compositions alternately anchored and driven by the no-holds-barred Gene Calderazzo and bassist Thaddeus Kelly. Artist-in-residence for the weekend David O'Rourke, the NYC-based Dublin-born guitarist-arranger, did two notable sets, one with Cork trombonist Paul Dunlea and one with three other Celtic pluckers, namely Hugh Buckley, Tommy Halferty and Joe O'Callaghan (above). What threatened to be just a chops-fest was in fact well organised, reflecting four very different personalities and inevitably becoming a tribute to the late Louis Stewart.

The hit of the festival was undoubtedly Tenerife-based jazz-salsa band Atcheré, who did a workshop, a late-night pub date and an afternoon concert. Led by vibist Jordi Arocha, the eight-piece has a dynamite rhythm-section, strong jazz solos from tenorman Fernando Barrios and pianist Samuel Labrador, and inventive arrangements by trumpeter Manuel Lorenzo. His tight originals and extended versions of standards like 'My Little Suede Shoes' and 'Guarachi Guaro' led to outbreaks of dancing and smiles all round.

– Brian Priestley
– Photos by Salvatore Conte - Instagram - Facebook

Gareth Lockrane's Grooveyard Get To Grips At The Verdict


Gareth Lockrane is in town tonight with a bag full of new tunes and a cohort of old friends to play them with. To set the scene, he opens with 'Put The Cat Out' from the original Grooveyard album - a skittish, blues-y waltz that Lalo Schifrin might definitely have enjoyed, embodying the type of hard-driving accessible soul-jazz that inspired the project. Lockrane is such a powerful player that he has no trouble occupying the space that might usually have been filled by trumpet or alto sax, as he demonstrates during his first solo – fluent, warm-toned, urgent and architecturally well-structured. Next comes the first of the new material, as yet untitled; a piece of Steps Ahead-style acoustic fusion, with Lockrane pulling out an inexhaustible supply of in-the-pocket phrases and Tristan Maillot on drums keeping a fierce but flexible groove – despite the frowns of concentration over the printed page the piece takes off.


Maillot was part of the original, organ-led line-up; perhaps reflecting shifting tastes there's also an Acoustic Grooveyard, and Lockrane has brought a mix-and-match rhythm team including Dave Whitford on bass from the latter line-up, and Rob Barron standing in heroically on keys – together they're as supple and solid as you could wish for. The constant factor since the band's inception has been the presence of Alex Garnett on tenor, and the next new offering, labelled 'Slow Burner' for obvious reasons, pairs him with the low seductive tones of Lockrane's bass flute to hypnotic effect, as he mixes slippery post-bop elisions with some righteous preaching. They are a perfectly-matched foil for each other – Lockrane's clean cut persona, exuding wholesome energy like an inspirational youth club leader, contrasting with Garnett's dapper style and mordant wit, bearing with it the unmistakeable scent of the Soho night-club. They're both such powerful practitioners on their instruments – Garnett's darker chromatic shadings contrast with Lockrane's no less complex but somehow sunnier feel for melody. They simply fly over the high-energy 'Dark Swinger' (the titles still need working on) – Lockrane seems invincible, pouring out a torrent of perfectly-executed ideas over a rock-solid but free swing.

The second set brings further hot-off-the-press delights; 'New Tasty Swinger' features alto flute in some airy mid-tempo bop that gives Baron a chance to shine. "New Ballad Waltz" is a real highlight, with a melody hinting at Mingus' immortal 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' and lovely low-end statements from Whitford and Lockrane on bass flute. 'Frizz' sounds like an updated Horace Silver, though the piercing tones of the piccolo are perhaps an acquired taste, and 'Method In The Madness" is a great feature for Garnett's virtuosity and Lockrane's tight, logical writing. It's a real pleasure to see such outstanding players in a relaxed, informal setting, working through the challenges of new material and coming up trumps every time; a mix of discipline and spontaneity that's surely the essence of jazz.

– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley


Atmosphères, Apneseth, Westerhus and Wesseltoft mix it up for Punkt


If there was an air of self-congratulation about this year’s Punkt festival then it was entirely justified: now in its 12th year, this ‘small, but perfectly formed’ niche festival in the Norwegian city of Kristiansand looms impressively large on the international scene. Its reputation largely rests on the quality of the programming and the festival’s unique founding principle that each ‘live’ act is immediately followed by a ‘live’ remix of the music, with anything from a solo producer to another band emerging at the back of the stage. 

This process is deliberately very open-ended, as festival co-curator Jan Bang explained to Fiona Talkington in an interview on the opening night, and indeed would prove so over the next two days. It also lends itself to an eclectic programme, since each act is both a performance and a source of stimulation for the remixers. Thus the 2016 line-up included elements of Norwegian traditional music, hard-hitting jazz, post-rock, ambient soundscapes, pure improvisation and even a pop act straight from the Norwegian charts. Both Ingfrid Breie Nyhus’ piano and Hardanger fiddle virtuoso Erland Apneseth root their music in the distinctive phrasing and rhythms of Norwegian folk music, but where Nyhus’ compelling solo exploration had a careful unravelling of repetitive phrasing and a studied harmonic discipline that was almost academic, Apneseth’s trio with drums and acoustic guitar built similar elements into something altogether more rowdy and rocking, with incessant guitar and rolling drums more than justifying the flashing light show and smoke machine embellishing it. 


Nyhus was the opening performer in the highly formal setting of the Klubben gentleman’s club on Thursday, followed by the playful improvisation duo Streifenjunko, who used trumpet, tenor sax and electronics to create an endlessly inventive soundworld. Rarely using their instruments conventionally, they wove a bewildering range of vocalisations and percussive effects around a steady rhythmic evolution that provided remixer Erik Honoré (the other co-curator of the festival) with the basis for a thick electronic restaging of their piece, taking the ideas into a bleaker industrial place and allowing them to flourish into something compelling and affirmative. It was a much more satisfying pairing than that offered to Ingfrid Breie Nyhus, whose piece was followed by what seemed to be an entirely autonomous electronic performance from Jon S Lunde and Morton Liene, onto which they had awkwardly grafted a closing coda sampled from her performance.

Saturday’s proceedings moved to the much less formal nightclub venue Kick Scene, allowing for a two-tier stage setting with the remixers set up behind the live band: a particularly dynamic arrangement for Erland Apseneth’s set with a trio of Stian Westerhus, Arve Henriksen and oud-player Rolf Lislevand assembled in waiting. Accompanied by vivid projections and moody lighting, they did a great job of adding deeper resonances to the Norwegian themes, Henriksen’s trademark siren-call trumpet nicely bridging the gap between Scandinavian fiddle and Arabic oud. It was a distinct contrast with what followed: to judge by the response of the people sitting next to me Band of Gold are a bona fide pop sensation in their home country, and their demeanour suggested they belonged on much bigger stages. The music was brash and direct, too, mostly four-to-the-floor rockers with an oddly retro feel of early 1970s Fleetwood Mac, all driven by the ferociously busy bass of Elephant9’s Nikolai Haengsle Eilertsen and fronted by Nina Elisabeth Mortvedt’s assured rock-chick delivery. The brilliant remix, by ‘cosmic Balearics’ Mungolian Jetset was a proper dancefloor number, vocal samples given sub-bass resonances, lyrics slowed down and the beats weighted against chattering live drumming to build a powerful contemporary groove. 


The insistence of the remix paved the way perfectly for the final live act: the UK’s Three Trapped Tigers kicked straight into their trademark hard rock wall of sound, each number a construction of riffs and dynamics launching surprisingly disciplined solos and letting loose cheeky drops – Rage Against The (Soft) Machine? It was properly electric and electrifying, cramming an immense amount of music and energy into 45 minutes, and the remix trio of Jan Bang, Auden Klieve and Band of Gold’s bass man Eilertsen were gifted a groove which they stripped away and rebooted with samples into a Friday night variant that finally slid away in the back seat of Kraftwerk’s tour bus.

If Saturday saw a final triple bill that would eventually culminate in something the uninitiated might recognise as jazz in headliner Bugge Wesseltoft’s newest band it began very much in rock god territory with guitarist Stian Westerhus’ solo set. From the start he looked imposing: raised on a small plinth, surrounded by a complex ring of pedals, underlit to emphasise his deranged hair and shadowed eyes, he launched into songs from this year’s Amputation album, building the dark and forceful music behind his fluting falsetto vocals. It was powerful, visceral stuff, somehow managing the balance between increasingly impassioned singing and storming noise-rock freedom and the technical dexterity needed to control the sounds and structures. At times it was as though his roaring voice was what triggered the guitar, at others the electronics seemed to have a life of their own. Combined with the high-energy lighting and projections it was not for the fainthearted and remixer Eric Honoré wisely chose to distil the music, adding Moroder-style sub-bass and tentative saxophone textures, with snatches of vocals emerging in a more refined version that reduced to a closing choral payout. 

The festival’s one disappointment had been the cancellation of an appearance from ECM’s Manfred Eicher that afternoon, but his presence was clearly felt in the set from the Atmosphères band that followed, Tigran Hamasyan’s all-star quartet with Arve Henriksen, guitarist Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang playing spacious explorations based on traditional Armenian melodies. With four players with nothing to prove, the sense of relaxed economy and reflective interaction was palpable, producing moments of spell-binding beauty as well as sudden shifts in tone and texture. Nothing jarred in their set, yet an ongoing sparring between the electronics and acoustic sounds gave a creative tension that produced the occasional wry smile onstage. The music’s ethereal integrity presented a challenge to remixer Simen Løvgren who felt his way into it from a fairly urban insistence, hinting at piano and muted trumpet, adding a bassline that became a heartbeat around which the sound coalesced. 

Serious stuff, then, but the evening ended on a much more straightforward, joyous note, with the latest incarnation of Bugge Wesseltoft’s New Conception of Jazz band. Twenty years after that group’s album was released, the Jazzland label founder has begun an entirely new ensemble with four young musicians and his own brand of youthful energy to urge them on. This was fun jazz in the Wesseltoft style, combining tight rhythms on drums and table, with intricately written parts for sax and guitar, all held together by the man himself behind his keyboards. Each player got at least one chance to solo, with Marthe Lea’s mature tenor sax especially impressive, while drummer Siv Øyunn Kjenstad did well to stay locked into Wesseltoft’s combination of playful funk and edgy whimsy. There was a quirky Zappa-recalling song about buying stuff to help the economy that nicely combined structure, freedom and a free jazz interlude led by a tabla/sax double solo that gave an idea of how skilled these young players are and how this new band could develop over time. It was a great way to end the festival but, being Punkt, it couldn’t do that because there had to be a remix that almost inevitably felt like a slightly damp squib as some people left before the end.


Notwithstanding that, however, there was no doubt that this had been a great event overall that showed both the Punkt concept and the Norwegian jazz scene remain vibrant at the centre of European jazz development.

     Tony Benjamin (Story & Photos)

Nightingale Quintet Fly High For Porter At Henley’s Phyllis Court Club


Mark Nightingale, easily our premier jazz trombonist (though Alistair White is snapping at his heels, in my opinion), had assembled an all-star quintet for this occasion, with that stalwart of British jazz Alan Barnes alongside on alto and baritone, the rarely seen Jim Watson (depping for the absent Graham Harvey) on piano, bassist Simon Woolf and drummer Matt Skelton.

In what may be imagined as a gesture to the age profile of the audience, Nightingale had subtitled his concert as ‘Totally Cole Porter’ and presented exactly that. If the audience (or the reader) might have expected a sing-along, or even a vocal or two, then look away now for this was largely a stern examination of the improvisatory potential of Porter’s timeless pieces, long known for their harmonic interest. If I say that it took a while for the group to cohere and swing, that’s no reflection on their individual efforts just the way it was. When it came, it was Jay and Kai’s classic version of ‘It’s Alright With Me’ (suitably adapted by Nightingale) that did the trick, unlocking the rewarding surge that had been missing earlier.    

On this Barnes played baritone, building well, his gutsy fluency a foil for Nightingale’s busy, almost forensic foray in the harmonies. The trombonist is an extemporiser who, having found a note, likes to add a good few more before moving on. Always intricate, sometimes startling, even ribald at times in his playing, and good-natured in his bandstand communication, Nightingale never takes the easy way out.

Other highlights included ‘I Concentrate On You’ in an intriguing stop-start arrangement by Woolf, whose basslines always compelled attention even if his arco solos were something of an acquired taste, and ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ in a solo version by Barnes on baritone, that was unhurried, heart-felt and touching, with Watson’s piano commentary similarly outstanding. In fact, Watson’s playing throughout was intriguing, creative, frequently dazzling, all of which suggests that he should be heard far more often in this kind of out-and-out jazz context. ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ came out just fine, the ideal closer, all five at one, pleasingly exultant, with swing uppermost.  Good news all round.

– Peter Vacher

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