Passion and vision drives pianist Anthony de Mare's takes on Sondheim

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As the streets of the City went quiet on a late Sunday evening, a semi-virtual meeting of 13 modern composers was unravelling in its heart. Brought together by a contemporary-classical US pianist, Anthony de Mare, and recorded for ECM across three CDs, the Liaisons: Reimagining Sondheim project demonstrates a fascination with the musical maestro's works as expressed through commissioned short piano pieces by 36 composers from Nico Muhly to Steve Reich. 

Repetitive, yet playful, Phil Klein's 'Paraphrase' served as a bright beginning, an interpretation of 'Someone in a Tree' from Pacific Overtures which set the tone for the entire performance where invitation has been given to think and imagine beyond a backdrop of a grand piano in front of a heavy theatre curtains. Surprisingly, for a solo piano concert, De Mare regularly engaged with the audience, talking about pieces and introducing the composers. At other times, pre-recorded fragments of interviews would be aired, with composers discussing their written pieces by remote. Some works were quite minimalist, others spirited, while other scoped territories both sultry and melancholic. But arguably the peak of the concert arrived with Duncan Sheik's 'Johanna in Space' (after 'Johanna' from Sweeney Todd), a undulating sonic wave providing a foundation onto which the deft piano part was layered.

Not only could the audience take home the memories of an intimate and sophisticatedly piano recital, but also an appreciation of all the endless musical choices and possibilities Sondheim's work affords both composer and performer.

– Jekaterina Sarigina 

Norma Winstone captivates with career retrospective at Cadogan Hall

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It's been a long path since her debut appearance opposite Roland Kirk at Ronnie Scott's in 1966. Fifty years later, the pride of the British jazz, Norma Winstone, celebrates her 75th birthday in a gala concert at the Cadogan Hall for a two-part show featuring key compositions and arrangements plucked from her career.

The first set sees her ECM European Trio, with Italian Glauco Venier (grand-piano) and the German Klaus Gesing (soprano saxophone/bass clarinet), perform intimate compositions plucked from her past recordings for Manfred Eicher's esteemed imprint. After the exotic and dreamy notes of the Moroccan 'High Places', the Trio dedicates a special tribute to one of Norma's most influential and dear musicians/composers (and ex-husband), the late John Taylor. The selected piece, a composition from Taylor's final album 2081, was produced in collaboration with his and Norma's two sons in 2015. Appropriatly, Leo, on the drums, and baritone vocalalsit Alex are on hand to help the Trio in conducting this soulful and circular song based on one of Kurt Vonegut's short stories. The Trio close with an unexpected arrangement of John Coltrane's 'Giant Steps', Norma referencing the spiritual and mystic aspects of Coltrane's persona.

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After the interval, the full Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra and Big Band, conducted by Nick Smart, join Norma onstage for a feast of swing and ringing woodwinds, especially on Cole Porter's 'So in Love'. The set, which included compositions arranged by Winstone's musical guru Steve Gray, provided a stunningly emotional performance of 'Wait Till You See Her (Him)', while  Vince Mendoza's 'House of Reflection' (specifically commissioned for this event) perfectly suited Norma's measured vocals. It all ended with a haunting take on Jimmy Rowles' 'The Peacocks', which left the audience nursing a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of witnessing something very special. 

– Alessandro Albano
– Photos by Roger Thomas

Glasper Gleans From Reservoirs Of Trust For Genre-Hopping Experiment

 

First came the visuals and DJ, then drummer Mark Colenburg, quickly followed on stage by Casey Benjamin, alto sax, and Burniss Travis II, bass. This combination could, in itself, represent a jazz/hip hop collaboration to tempt the predominantly young audience out to London's Koko on a Monday night. Next came Mike Severson, electric guitar and finally Grammy-winning jazz pianist, Robert Glasper. Together this five-piece electric band, The Robert Glasper Experiment, took us on a journey through different genres, beginning with hip hop and ending with disco, hitting on aspects of rock, jazz and psychedelia inbetween.

In this context, the abrupt changes of mood and tempo were appropriate. There was so much personality on stage that it was difficult to know where to focus. The group's roots grounded in contemporary jazz, they included plenty of solos to direct the attention. Benjamin's sax in particular had plenty to say. He made the notes float sweetly from under the brim of his hat or scream like a slaughtered lamb. The Experiment are all high-school buddies and with that connection comes trust. And, from that trust, freedom is born, exemplified by improvised versions of tracks like 'Find You', from new album ArtScience, which became far more expansive and spacy than the recorded versions.

When the audience reacts to each genre as if it were their favourite, you know you've made jazz cool again.

– Tina Blower

Applications now open for the Write Stuff 2016 – Here’s How To Apply

Aspiring jazz writers take note: this year’s edition of the Write Stuff, the new writers initiative, is back for its 14th year in November at London’s Southbank Centre with a series of workshops and mentoring sessions held throughout the week of the EFG London Jazz Festival, which runs from 11-20 November.

Founded and organised by Jazzwise and Serious, producers of the festival, the Write Stuff gives new jazz and improv music writers a valuable free opportunity to work with professional journalists to improve their writing skills and develop an understanding of music criticism and the workings of the jazz and mainstream music press and the blogosphere, as well as getting to see a bunch of concerts! The Write Stuff will include sessions on feature writing and live reviews by Jazzwise writer and BBC broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre; an insight into the history and development of the UK jazz and music press with Jazzwise editor in chief Jon Newey, and a workshop on how to run a jazz website, blogging and social media with Jazzwise editor Mike Flynn, alongside input from other writers and jazz industry figures. Several Write Stuff participants have gone on to have pieces published in The Guardian, The Wire and Jazzwise as well as work within the wider jazz and broadcasting industry.

This year’s participants will have their work posted on both the Jazzwise and festival’s websites, and one review considered to be of particular merit will be published in a subsequent issue of Jazzwise. If you are interested in participating in the Write Stuff please submit by email a 300-word review of a gig/concert that you have seen recently, together with a CV and full contact details by Monday 10 October 2016 to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with ‘The Write Stuff 2016’ in the subject line. Applicants must be 18 years old or over and be available in London on the following dates: Friday 11 November (evening); Saturday 12 – Sunday 13 November and Saturday 19 – Sunday 20 November.

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk/the-write-stuff

Marcin Wasilewski Trio reign at Edinburgh’s Queen's Hall

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The Marcin Wasilewski Trio have evolved since their early 1990s beginnings into one of Europe’s foremost jazz trios and, during this opening night concert of the 2016 Edinburgh Jazz & Blues festival, they presented a resoundingly varied and rich set, with the musicians’ exceptional levels of attunement being particularly noteworthy.

Beginning with gentle, precisely articulated melodies, the trio are quick to delve into a calm, receptive zone, with flashes of harmonic complexity signifying how this evening’s music will unfold. The gracefully ageing venue’s flickering wall lights barely distract. Wasilewski, a former pianist with Tomasz Stańko, is now most definitely his own man, leading his trio with accomplishment, juxtaposing western classical-style precision and sensitivity with muscular, in-your-face jazz chops. His multiplicity of variation is perhaps most obvious in his impressively extrapolated version of The Police’s 'Message in a Bottle'.

The pianist is supported with utmost sensitivity by bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michal Miskiewic. Their contributions, while often spare, are pitched just right, and both seize the opportunity to shine during brief solos, as on ‘Three Reflections’, one of several tunes aired from the trio’s 2014 ECM release, Spark of Life.

Wasilewski is clearly a lover of melody, who combines gorgeous chord progressions and harmonisations to stunning effect. In a jazz world where technical virtuosity has become an end in itself, such restrained sensibility is warmly welcomed.

– Fiona Mactaggart 

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The Write Stuff

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