Christophe Fellay with Notes Inegales

Club Inégales, London

A warm and switched-on audience gathered for this edition of Peter Wiegold's category-defying, gently idealistic club-night, featuring Swiss drummer Fellay in a solo set and later in collaboration with the eclectic Notes Inégales band. But first the house ensemble, directed from the keyboard by Wiegold and revelling in the line-up of cello, tuba, piano, guitar and Korean flute, gave us a group improvisation that began sharp-edged and stormy and somehow ended in the serene soundworld of Mahler's 'Das Lied von Der Erde'. Fellay's solo improvisation was a lesson in feel and close listening as he shared with us the secret life of the drums. Using a tiny hand-held microphone to track his own playing, he was able to pick up the hidden frequencies and subtle resonances of his kit and develop these uncovered sounds into something like a new drum vocabulary – the revelation being that even one small cymbal contains a world of sound. With this extended language at his fingertips, Fellay produced a beautifully shaped and eloquent piece that was richly atmospheric, bringing to mind rain and skudding clouds – weather and nature. It wasn't a literal depiction, the music was too free-flowing and in-the-moment – even so, an artist's surroundings can't help but seep into their consciousness, and Fellay does come from the Alps.

The final part of the evening saw Notes Inégales back on stage with Fellay for another two adventurous pieces that blurred the boundaries between written and improvised music. The first was a set of four movements devised by Wiegold based on Korean rhythm-patterns; the second a wide-ranging suite by Fellay that mixed mellifluous textures with an edgy energy. The musicians had spent the afternoon shaping these pieces, which will evolve further: after this gig everyone was heading to Switzerland where the mountains will probably have their own effect.

– Philip Hogg

Adriano Adewale - Within the Waves

Adriano Adewale

Pre-show, in the main hall at Cecil Sharp House, there's a palpable buzz – something special is coming. The plethora of mics, stands, chairs, a table with bottles on it – not to mention the forest of percussion instruments – all suggest something big. Adriano Adewale's concert-piece (cantata almost) for percussion, soloists and choirs draws on British and Brazilian sea-faring traditions to weave a tapestry of human experiences and emotions, delving beneath the surface to look for our common threads.

Opening with the great shanty 'Rio Grande', it's spine-tingling to hear the massed voices and see the light in the faces of the singers, beautifully brought out of themselves by conductor Pete Churchill. Adewale and co-percussionist Andreas Ticino charge the atmosphere with evocative sounds from a range of sources, from berimbau to water in a stone pot; and we're introduced to the two soloists, symbolic of their respective homelands – Sarah Jane Morris and Rebeca Vallim (both stunning). Brazilian and British material alternates until the central section 'Storm and Poem' – this extraordinary movement features fantastic work by the choirs (Cecil Sharp House Choir under Sally Davies and, from Northumberland, Werca's Folk under Sandra Kerr), who use vocal effects to summon the sound of the sea after a great storm; the thought occurs that perhaps the sea is the greatest percussion instrument of all. 'The Jovial Broom Man' is a different kind of sea-song, a tall tale, suggestive of drinking but also the fraternity of the sea and the way that it has always brought people together. Just when we think things can't get any better, Afro-Brazilian praise song 'Canto de Iemanja' has the most gorgeous stirring harmonies! We finish with a return to 'Rio Grande' and some hearty audience participation. This was indeed something big, a rich, truthful and compelling evening of musical excellence and shared experience.

– Philip Hogg

INTERVIEW: JAMES BROWN IS ANNIE

james-brown-annie-1

Sarah Chaplin spoke to Barry Gordon and Aki Remally, the guitarist and lead vocalist from Scottish funk band James Brown is Annie, who will be performing their first London gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Dean Street on Saturday 20 June with none other than Malcolm ‘Molly’ Duncan, founder member of the Average White Band, who also just so happened to produce JBiA’s first album.

SC: How did the band form originally?

Barry: We started out as an instrumental funk outfit, gigging in a piano bar. I was also working as a music journalist at the time and got sent along to interview Alan Gorrie of the Average White Band. During the interview I mentioned I was also part of a funk band and offered to be their support band next time they played in Scotland. To our amazement, Alan later contacted us and asked us to do just that, and now we always have played as their warm up act twice now, and are scheduled to do so again in November.

JBiA has been kind of like military service for people - in the early days it seemed as though everyone came into band, stayed for a bit and then moved on to other things, so for a while the band membership was quite fluid. We are quite influenced by Frank Zappa and how he changed his band around every few years, so it seemed like a good thing at the time. Once we decided to do an album, however, the line-up became much more settled and we’ve found we’re able to maintain a much higher quality of sound and musicianship.

SC: Tell me a bit about how the album came about.

Barry: I was living in a cold, very isolated castle in far north of Scotland at the time I started thinking it would be good to record some stuff. I felt that in order to work, we would need to work with a well-known producer, so I found Molly Duncan’s website and sent him an email with links to our demo tape and hoped for the best. To my amazement he came back and said we had a really original sound and he’d like to work with us. By then we’d built up a good CV in terms of our playing and writing experience, so we applied to Creative Scotlandfor funding for the album. They fund about 20 albums a year across a wide range of genres. Luckily, we got the money and had plenty of material to choose from. We played it all to Molly and his main thing was to take each tune and really establish where the groove was, simplifying the tunes to make sure the hooks were strong and they got to the chorus quickly - his genius is to really make our music groove and tidy things up in terms of production.

Aki: Molly described himself as a ‘funky referee’ and although he made changes to our material we felt we could really trust his musical sense, so it was a great collaboration, and in terms of funk he really knew where we were coming from. We recorded it in July last year at the Chambers Studios in Edinburgh, had it mixed in Majorca, mastered in New Jersey and then printed in London.

james-brown-annie-2

SC: What can we expect at this London gig?

Barry: We are really looking forward to the gig - it’s a hell of a venue to play there as our first gig in town. We’re quite choosy about when and where we play, so this will be our London launch really, and our aim is to knock people out of their seats as soon as possible. London is where it’s at musically, and we are keen to reach a wider audience, so on many levels it’s a big step forward for us.

Aki: The cool thing is Molly Duncan is going to be playing saxophone with us, so hopefully that will immediately raise people’s expectations.

SC: What’s with the name? Can we expect some Annie tunes in your set?

Barry: Haha, one of our ideas is to do a medley of Annie songs in a hard-rocking funk style! When I was 14 I was bunking off school and we’d go round to a pal’s house and drink Scrumpy Jack cider and watch tapes of Saturday Night Live and I remember there being this one show where they were playing songs from the musical Annie in a James Brown style and we all thought it was hilarious. It might be too much of a gimmick now, but the name has stuck, so you never know! What it really captures though is how we like to take two totally unconnected things and put them together - we’ve always liked weird combinations. I suppose now we’re just a bit more conscious that we need to make it accessible for people too!

Aki: I should also add that our bass player looks great with a ginger afro, but I think he’d draw the line at dressing up as Annie!

SC: Funk seems to be in the ascendency again now, what new ingredients is JBiA throwing into the mix?

Barry: I think funk is all about the riff. I often develop these using a polyphonic octaver, then we put some guitar over the top, let the drummer work something into the mix, and individual band members all add their own take, so as a creative process it’s quite organic. We’ve learned a lot from Molly about making songs appealing and commercial without losing an opportunity to show some flamboyant jazz chops too. Our band is quite technical but we see ourselves operating a bit like Steely Dan in terms of being a jazz-pop outfit. I think we differ from the new ‘uptown funk’ genre; we’re more meat-and-potatoes.

Aki: It’s less about making music for the brain and more about being vibey and visceral. A lot of funk bands are more jazz-oriented; we want to reach both young kids as well as the older guys who grew up listening to the AWB.

SC: How did the song ‘Ask Your Doctor’ come about?

Barry: ‘Ask Your Doctor’ was written for us by Alan Gorrie, who found out our band was working with Molly and emailed us to ask if we wanted him to write a song for us! So it’s built around Aki’s voice.

Aki: Yeah it was quite eerie singing it the first time, as well as being an honour, but it needed no adjustments, and immediately felt very hooky. It’s up on Youtube now.

SC: What do you plan to do next as a band?

Barry: Since recording the album we’ve played on STV, done some interviews with the BBC, gigged at a few major festivals and so on in the UK. So our next step is to build up more of an international following. We have fans now in Europe and North America so it would be great to tour and play live for them. It’s all about keeping up the momentum, but we think that anyone who loves jazz and funk will like our band. We just want people to have to good time.

- Sarah Chaplin

Mammal Hands get the Thump Festival grooving

The five-day Thump festival went with a bang at the prestigious Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho this March. Among the highlights were fast emerging band Mammal Hands who feature brothers Nick and Jordan Smart (piano and saxophone respectively) and drummer-percussionist Jesse Barrett. They came together through a shared interest in electronic, classical, world and jazz, and their three-year partnership has developed steadily with the release last year of their critically acclaimed debut album, Animalia, on Gondawana Records.

Given a rapturous welcome for what was their second London gig, the band is clearly building a name outside their native Manchester and the show a mixture of music from Animalia and some new material heard here for the first time. An immediate sense of a distant Himalayan influence was steered by Jordan who leads with floating solos on saxophone, which drift along in the opening bars of ‘Snow Bough’. The percussive rhythmic control of Barrett leads us into a bridge with Nick lightly tapping ascending arpeggios and a crescendo sustained by Jordan.

Ambient phrasing emerged in ‘Kandaiki’ alongside new tunes such as the seething ‘Story of the Paper Tiger’ contrasted with the faster beat of ‘Mansions of Million of Years’ and the rippling keys and disjointed sax of ‘Inuit Party’. Caught off guard with the unexpected demand for an encore; they returned to repeat the evening’s opening salvo. Driven by the rise and fall of the saxophone, the percussive throws on drums and the sustained lilting and melodic piano lines we got the measure of this musical and ambitiously determined band.


– Liv Fernandes

Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas Soundprints Band plus Charles Lloyd Quintet – Barbican, London

The Barbican stage was loaded with jazz history tonight. First on was Joe Lovano’s Soundprints Band previewing their debut album, for Blue Note Records, of music inspired by Wayne Shorter. They hit the ground running with compositions by Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas, featuring powerful, adventurous and melodic statements from the leaders, while the exemplary rhythm section of Linda Oh and Joey Baron demonstrated how effortlessly they could turn a groove around on a dime in the best tradition of Miles’ classic 1960s band.

Two works specially donated by Shorter followed, with long melodic contours reminiscent of his work with Weather Report; the band demonstrated their complete mastery of contemporary language, while traces of everything from the swinging funk of New Orleans to the joyous freedom of Ornette Coleman were bubbling just beneath the surface.

If Lovano’s set seemed to look both forwards and backwards along the timeline of jazz, Charles Lloyd and his uncannily telepathic band created a feeling of timelessness. Lloyd’s quartet was augmented with traditional Greek and Hungarian instruments, which added a haunting emotional depth as the music in this single continuous performance ebbed and flowed, drawing back to expose the archaic lament of the lyra, the stark, mittel-european tone of the cymbalom, or Eric Harland’s elementally explosive drum solo.

A gnomic figure in hat and sunglasses, Lloyd stalked the stage, his saxophone ever present to lead the turning of the tide or comment on the unfolding drama, throwing out fragments of melody or intense abstract explorations. His tone seemed to combine the gravity of Coltrane with the pellucid lightness of Getz in a truly remarkable performance packed with allusion, which nonetheless seemed as weightless as a feather. A rapturous standing ovation from the crowd drew this year’s festival to its close.

– Eddy Myer

The Write Stuff

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