Saxophonist Phil Meadows has been announced as the winner of this year’s Peter Whittingham Award, having performed in front of a high-calibre judging panel that included Soweto Kinch, Norma Winstone MBE, Gwilym Simcock and the 606 Club’s Steve Rubie who unanimously agreed on him as the winner. Graduating from Trinity Laban last year the London-based saxophonist has been a busy freelance musician as lead saxophonist with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, shining as an exciting soloist at NYJO’s concert at the BBC Proms 2012, while his own Phil Meadows Group showcases his penchant for energetic yet angular compositions, snaking melodies and wide-angle harmonically rich solos on their debut album, Engines of Creation. He’s in fine company too as the group’s line up also includes hotly tipped trumpeter Laura Jurd, fellow Chaos Collective member/pianist Elliot Galvin, and the hard-firing bass and drum pairing of Conor Chaplin and Simon Roth.
Meadows plans to use the £4,000 prize money to help develop the band into a larger ensemble recording project in 2014. Pianist Galvin, also on many jazz critic’s radars as another name to watch, has been offered a Musicians Benevolent Fund Development Award to support their plans to develop a new multimedia collaboration combining live music with film. Meadows commented on his win: “I am very excited to have been offered the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award 2013. It comes at a crucial moment in my career and will enable me to develop my creative ambitions and profile as a musician, composer and bandleader in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.”
The Peter Whittingham Award has, over its 20-year existence, been a significant milestone for many rising and current stars of the current UK jazz scene with past winners including likes of Roller Trio, Led Bib, Soweto Kinch, Gwilym Simcock and Empirical who have all been nominated or won both Mercury Music Prize and MOBO Jazz Awards and gone on to wider international acclaim. Trumpeter Reuben Fowler, last year’s winner, used the prize money to record his widely acclaimed Between Shadows for leading UK jazz label Edition Records.
– Mike Flynn
Click here to listen to the Phil Meadows Group’s Engines Of Creation
When I went to St Albans to chat to Stan about his 70 years in the music business for Jazzwise back in the summer, he was on top form. There was no sign of the illness that was about to overtake him, and my last memories of him are literally sunny – in every respect. I can’t remember how many times I interviewed him for various publications and radio shows, but although he was always prone to play down his achievements, we always found plenty to chat about. I think the time we really broke the ice was in 1999, when we were both appearing on a fledgling BBC 4 (then called BBC Choice) TV show Backstage, to celebrate the Ellington centenary. Stan was confronted with a very ‘OK-Yah’ female presenter who didn’t listen to a word he said, and I was expected to comment on ancient films that clearly showed Barney Bigard and Juan Tizol blacked up for the camera. We both ended up in helpless giggles. Ever afterwards, a chat together was good fun, and a chance to relive that surreal experience.
Stan’s music was part of my childhood. His records played in the house and when Under Milk Wood came out in 1964 it was seldom off the turntable. I remember forays to London as a teenager to hear him at Jazz Centre Society gigs, and being blown away by his playing with Art Themen at the Seven Dials. When I co-founded the Excelsior Brass Band to play New Orleans street parade music in 1976, we appeared at South Hill Park, Bracknell as a curtain-raiser for Stan’s Bracknell Connection with Harry Beckett, Don Weller and Peter King in the line-up. Stan’s band was fabulous and played even better, in my mind’s ear, than the 100 Club version of the same music that later came out on the Steam label. It was a precursor to much later times when I had the privilege to present Stan from the Appleby Festival for Radio 3, when whichever band he was leading at the time was always at its best in that happy beer-tented atmosphere. Radio 3 was on hand too for his 70th birthday, with a special performance of his arrangement of Ellington’s Sacred Concert music from the QEH.
Catching such snapshots of Stan’s music over the years, and having the chance to hear him in every setting from solo piano, via duo and trio to Octet and big band, was an education. With the possible exception of George Shearing, Stan is the greatest jazz pianist this country has produced. As a bandleader and composer he was unparalleled, and although his writing in this year’s The Flying Pig might have been more economical than of yore, it was every bit as effective. Last year’s reunion with Bobby Wellins for Under Milk Wood at Hertford was as profound as ever, proving that Britain can inspire jazz every bit as genuine and convincing as the American model. In that piece Stan produced his one enduring masterpiece, but every stage in his career produced more contenders, from Alfie to We Love You Madly, and from Alice in Jazzland to the explosive ‘Crackers and Bangers’ of the Hong Kong Suite. Stan was a one-off, and everyone who ever came into his musical orbit will be the poorer for his passing.
It is with great sadness that we hear that legendary British pianist Stan Tracey died earlier today after a battle with cancer, he was 86 years old. One of the true giants of British jazz, the news was announced on the official Stan Tracey Appreciation Facebook Page:
“It is with deepest regret that I must announce the death of Stan Tracey OBE, CBE today, at the age of 86. After a struggle with illness, he passed away having recently celebrated his 70 year professional career as a jazz pianist/composer. He is survived by a family who love him, and will miss him profoundly. His legacy is the generations of musicians young and old, past and future who have his influential example to look to. Many thanks to all those who have shown him such love and support over these many years.”
Jazzwise was the last magazine to interview Tracey, when Alyn Shipton spoke to him for our October issue’s cover feature (pictured) celebrating his incredible 70 years as a professional musician. There will be a full appreciation of Tracey’s life posted here later today.
Imagination, enthusiasm and the carefree vibrancy of youth (and that was just the audience) were out in force last night, 4 December, as the 2013 crop of Yamaha Jazz Scholars took over London’s 606 Jazz Club for the launch of The Yamaha New Jazz Sessions CD (pictured left), covermounted to the December issue of Jazzwise magazine. Now in its sixth year, the Yamaha Jazz Scholars initiative and the resulting New Jazz Sessions CD launch have steadily become key annual events in the jazz calendar, helping to shine a light on hot young UK talent and give them the chance to record their work in a high-end studio set-up, often for the first time. Organized by Yamaha Music Europe in partnership with the All Party Parliamentary Appreciation Group, Jazzwise, PPL and the 606 Club, this important project has helped bring names such as pianist Kit Downes, saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer Dave Hamblett and guitarist Alex Munk to far wider recognition amongst jazz audiences in Europe and beyond
The Jazz Scholars are each nominated by the Heads of Jazz at seven of the UK’s leading conservatoires and universities, and the 2013 musicians all displayed the high standards of musical skill, composition and creative individualism that have become a hallmark of the scheme. The CD launch presented a jammed bill of five groups, including bassist Angus Milne Trio, pianist Elliot Galvin Trio, drummer Lloyd Haines Quintet, pianist Peter Johnstone Trio and drummer David Ingamells Duo, to a highly appreciative crowd, which included big parliamentary figures such as Ken Clarke MP and Eric Pickles MP, packed in alongside APPJAG co-chair Michael Connarty MP and a host of jazz industry and Yamaha professionals.
Aside from artful drummer Lloyd Haines, a name we’ll be hearing a lot more of, who delivered a table-thumping romp through Monk’s rumbustious ‘Trinkle Tinkle’, the line-up was heavy on piano trios - perhaps not surprisingly given the ongoing trend – who all in their own ways strived to take the form in new directions. The Angus Milne Trio opened the box with space and subtle inward invention, while Elliot Galvin, a founder of the Chaos Collective, showed why he is already being touted as a major name to watch with unexpected quirky twists, riveting angular lines, strong composition and, importantly for a genre known for tight-bottomed seriousness, a wacky sense of humour. Surprise of the night however was the Peter Johnstone Trio, (pictured left) where the pianist/leader, who won Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the year 2012, moulded a robust compositional strength with the dynamic punch of EST and Phronesis and the micro-detailed labyrinthine lines of Brad Mehldau into his own muscular voice that, if there’s any justice, should be set to soar over the next few years.
– Jon Newey
Click here to subscribe to Jazzwise and receive the special Dec/Jan double issue with the covermounted Yamaha New Jazz Sessions CD plus a fantastic FREE 3CD set of Norwegian Jazz
MOBO Award winning and Mercury Prize nominated altoist/MC Soweto Kinch returns to London for his final show of 2013, presented by Jazz FM Live at Rich Mix, London on Friday 13 December. A charismatic live performer, masterful alto saxophonist and dynamic MC, Kinch will be performing tracks from his expansive double album, The Legend of Mike Smith, which tells the story of an aspiring rapper possessed by each of the seven sins as he struggles to make his way in the music industry.
The sprawling project has been staged as a fully-fledged theatre production at both London’s Albany Theatre and Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre, as it features Kinch’s vivid cast of characters and choreography from hip hop dance pioneer, Jonzi D. For the Rich Mix show the music will be performed by Kinch on sax, rap plus laptop and effects alongside his core trio of bassist Karl Rasheed-Abel and drummer Graham Godfrey.
Weaving together cutting edge jazz with rap and richly-plotted drama, that extends African-American oral traditions, drawing on influences as divergent as Dante, J.S. Bach, Ornette Coleman and Madlib, Kinch singlehandedly mixes these elements with his own high energy vision of jazz, spoken word and rap.
Leading UK jazz vocalist Cleveland Watkiss will be the first jazz artist to perform as part of a brand new live events programme in the Studio Theatre on historic ship the Cutty Sark, on Thursday 12 December. This initial gig comes ahead of the Cutty Sark Studio Theatre’s official launch early next year with future plans mooted to include jazz and folk gigs as part of the core programme of this innovative space, alongside stand-up comedy, theatre and classical music. The studio theatre is located in the lower hold of the Cutty Sark (pictured below) where, a century ago, precious cargoes of tea and wool were stacked. During the daytime, the hold contains displays of tea chests and other artefacts relating to the ship’s extraordinary history. In the evening, however, the central portion can convert into an eclectic performing arts space. The ship is located in Greenwich, south east London and is part of Royal Museums Greenwich.
Cleveland Watkiss is known for his wide vocal range and genre-hopping CV that includes work with the cream of the UK and international jazz scene – including Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis – and he appears here in his acclaimed solo setting that seamlessly links many musical styles from classical to African songs, through to bebop improvisations and choral rhapsodies. He brings all this together in his Vocal Suite performances that utilise a loop pedal and vocal effects, which allow him to create a one man orchestra of beats, basslines and many interweaving layers of harmony and rhythm to create a unique vocal soundscape.
Vocalist Zoë Gilby and her quartet set out on a major Jazz Services supported UK tour throughout December, showcasing music from their forthcoming album Twelve Stories, which will be released on 1 December on 33Jazz. This strong collection of songs is delivered with her powerful narrative style and follows her earlier albums Now That I Am Real (2007) and Looking Glass (2010).
Gilby’s repertoire encompasses a wide range of contemporary material, including innovative reworkings of The Great American Songbook through to Pink Floyd and Kate Bush. Known for her finely poised vocal style, she will be joined by her regular band of guitarist Mark Williams, double bassist Andy Champion and drummer Richard Brown, all performing at the following venues: The Bridge Hotel, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (01 Dec); Dacre Hall, Brampton Cumbria (07 Dec); The Forum, Darlington (08 Dec); Woodhouses Working Mens Club, Manchester (09 Dec); The Cottage, Norwich (10 Dec); Spice of Life, London (11 Dec); The Blue Boar, Dorset (12 Dec); and Colston Hall Foyer, Bristol (13 Dec).
For the finale of an adventurous final weekend at the Jazztopad Festival in the western Polish city of Wroclaw, a svelte 75-year-old Charles Lloyd (pictured left) added the occasional little shimmy to his performance. In the city’s Philharmonic Concert Hall, the shamanic post-Coltrane reedsman led a new ensemble for a world premiere of Wild Man Dance, a suite commissioned by the festival for its 10th anniversary – the week previously had seen exclusive commissions by the likes of William Parker and Tony Malaby. Lloyd’s compositions stuck to the familiar dreamy post-bop nirvanas of his ECM output in spite of the addition of more exotic instrumental colours from both ancient Hungarian and Greek cultures – cimbalom player Miklos Lukacs and lyre player Socratis Sinopoulos. But at least Sinopoulos conjured up some excitement and context in his diverting solos, as did the effervescent American rhythm section of pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
It was part of a festival growing in stature, one that would rather set a fresh artistic and collaborative challenge to a big name musician than offer a convenient stop off for their current touring European band. Another focus was on a series of showcases from the local new jazz generation with an emphasis on the intense, progressive side of the modal-into-free jazz era, an area traditionally a focal point for Polish jazz. Among the most storming sets was by a Polish-Norwegian ‘Take 5 Europe’ quartet led by saxophonist Maciej Obara, although a more patient, melody-building contemporary piano all-improv trio, Stryjo, also made an impact.
Another focus on music from the Far East ranged from Tokyo-based clubby crowd pleasers Quasimode through to the haunting phenomenon of Australian drummer Simon Barker’s duo with Korean vocalist Bae II Dong – in the Pansori tradition – he had built up his primal roar practicing in solitude all day for years by a waterfall in the mountains.
The festival artists hung around for the jams as well as loft-style spontaneous improv ‘happenings’ in apartment living rooms across the city. It was never less than stimulating even if some of the diverse pairings inevitably didn’t work out. If the festival’s example can be followed in 2016 when Wroclaw is the Capital of Culture, it will be one to remember.
Internationally recognised multi-reedist and composer Tim Garland has been confirmed as a major new signing to leading UK indie jazz label, Edition Records, and is set to release a new double album of music by his Lighthouse group in May 2014. Marking a decade of music making with Lighthouse, this is a significant move for both Garland and Edition – as the saxophonist unveils a new line-up for the band that sees the departure of the trio’s star pianist Gwilym Simcock, who’s increasingly recognised as a notable solo artist in his own right. Lighthouse has enjoyed wide critical acclaim for its three previous albums and while Simcock is no longer in the line up, exciting Israeli-born drummer Asaf Sirkis remains and continues his pan-global percussive approach that also includes his use of Hang drum and Udu (the clay-pot drop-shaped hand percussion instrument).
The album is divided into two halves, the first a wide-screen string-led suite featuring Garland’s ‘Songs To The North Sky’ that’s performed with the 30-piece Royal Northern Sinfonia, stellar US bassist John Patitucci and drummer Sirkis. The work was shortlisted for the 2013 British Composer Awards. The second half features energised and expanded permutations of the group including three top-level pianists – Jason Rebello, Geoffrey Keezer and John Turville – plus two talented guitarists, rising star Ant Law and Garland’s former Lamas bandmate, Don Paterson.
Garland’s playing has gone from strength to strength over the last two decades, not least thanks to his ongoing work with jazz icon Chick Corea, since first working with him in his band Origin in 1999, he’s now his regular saxophonist – and was a standout performer of his recent world tour in support of Corea’s latest album, The Vigil. Garland is also Chick’s current writing collaborator and notable orchestrator for the pianist’s The New Crystal Silence with Gary Burton, for which he won a Grammy Award in 2009. The move to Edition marks a milestone for both Garland and the group's history and consolidates his experiences as one of the UK’s finest and most complete composer-performers with an enviable international reputation.
Such has been the recent growth of the EFG London Jazz Festival that major gig clashes are unavoidable. Yet this three-night residency by Wadada Leo Smith drew a more or less full house for each session. This is a sign of the pulling power of the 71 year-old trumpeter, who has been a frequent visitor to Oto, one of the capital’s key programmers of creative music, these past few years. But one might also attribute the healthy turnouts to the richness and ambition of Ten Freedom Summers, an epic meditation on the sacrifices made during the Civil rights movement that unites the trumpeter’s Golden Quartet with London’s Ligeti String Quartet. Cast against the backdrop of Jesse Gilbert’s skillfully assembled montages of Martin, Malcolm, lesser-known ‘freedom riders’ and action shots of the players on stage, Smith’s music, which is symphonic and metamorphic, had the emotional charge and structural invention to serve this weighty subject matter.
At one point he joked to the audience that he couldn't count, but as a musician ‘he had to feel’, and that nailed a compelling aspect of the arrangements: a near-constant flux. Drummer Anthony Brown seemed to slightly struggle with the metric dot dash at times – Smith turned to cue him more than anybody else- and the transitions between movements were unnervingly stark on occasion. Yet these jolts distilled the inherent drama of a piece that wheeled constantly between dream state modal passages and bursts of whirling ensemble playing marshalled by Smith’s blustery horn, Anthony Davis’ dynamic piano and John Lindberg’s sturdy double bass, the tonal richness of which was enhanced by flurries of open notes and flamenco strumming. As for the strings, they were not there simply to produce soft ‘pads’ or effete legatos for the rhythm section, but matched it in terms of collective and individual attack, leaping violently between registers to unleash a range of startling sounds that strongly suggested both the human and machine-generated yelps that pepper Rip, Rig & Panic.
Unlike the late Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Smith, although heavily associated with Chicago, has roots in Leland, Mississippi, and if there was one key element that marked the residency it was the blues, not necessarily as a set of chord changes, but as the same yearning, brooding weariness, the intensely human cry that defines Coltrane’s Alabama. The trumpeter’s quotation of that anthem sealed a certain historic gravitas that was resoundingly in line with a performance that became a London jazz festival highlight. If Wadada Leo Smith still professes to the Rastafarian faith he is dutifully carrying Jah’s heavy load.
The Vortex’s Oliver Weindling has been planning to unite Philip Catherine and John Etheridge, two giants of the contemporary jazz guitar, for some time now. His plan finally came together at The Vortex last Saturday, in an innovative Anglo-Belgian jazz night in association with Brussels-based Igloo Records.
Showcasing an appealing balance of youth and experience, the evening also included the launch of a debut album, Road Story, by the Igor Gehenot Trio (pictured), featuring original compositions by the precocious 23 year-old pianist, with both Catherine and Gehenot’s trio signed to Igloo.
Etheridge’s musical diversity and grasp of rock playing (with stints in Soft Machine, for example) is well known; Catherine, despite a more classical, acoustic sound, also has substantial jazz-rock experience. There was, all the same, a slight difference in attitudes to improvisation, Catherine’s in general more melodic, while Etheridge’s was slightly more chordal and rhythmic. The limited jamming time required a programme of standards, but their selection had a broad chronological and generic range.
Both players were, individually, in fluidly lyrical form, and it was fascinating to hear the relationship between two guitarists of this calibre evolve. They were, however, too polite for the first couple of pieces, avoiding the harmonic wrestling match that a duo like this requires. Then, after about half an hour, during ‘Willow Weep for Me’, the partnership clicked, and the rest of the evening was a model of duo skill, with sumptuous melodic echoes and scurrying rhythmical games.
Both players used plug-in acoustics, except for the Brazilian song ‘Manhã de Carnaval’, when Etheridge swapped to electric, which seemed to give a more defined tonal contrast. Etheridge’s use of modest distortion and reverb prompted Catherine to try to craft some lovely electric effects on his electro-acoustic, which then provoked Etheridge to improvise more assertively. By the end the players were enjoying one another’s company so much they played two encores. This partnership would, on make a great album – on Igloo Records perhaps?
With a sonic portfolio comprising Paul Bley, Brad Mehldau (in trio form), and perhaps a dash of EST, Igor Gehenot’s new trio specialised in delicacy, spaciousness, and the exquisite interplay of its players, though when they occasion demanded, they could raise both the volume and the tempo. They played Gehenot’s searching and ambitious compositions with a tangible sense of adventure and commitment. Stand-out track was perhaps ‘Au Lac’, a tone poem of mountain scenery, in which a looping melody, building over piano chords, crescendoed, then dissolved in an aqueous shimmer, before rising again in angry angular drumbeats.
The band had Sam Gerstmans on double bass and Teun Verbruggen on drums. Both more experienced than Gehenot, they improvised simultaneously with panache. Verbruggen was especially good during the quieter passages, creating spinning wheels of pattering sounds with fingertips and shakers. Gehenot’s trio does not yet have an entirely distinctive sound, but it can certainly make a beautiful one. Despite its proximity and the quality of her music, Belgian jazz has a much lower profile here than her smaller and more distant Nordic counterparts. This important and eye-opening event was a step towards changing that.