2018 11 23 Brad Melhdau lo res 3

The entire spectrum can dazzle at Jazztopad, a Polish festival in the south-western city of Wrocław,which has just reached its 15th edition. Gigs happen on all levels, from the new and impressive main concert hall of the National Forum of Music, down to the heavy late-night jam sessions in the brick basement of Mleczarnia, a café that’s just along the street. We could find pianist Brad Mehldau in both locations.

He gave the premiere of his 'Piano Concerto', with the NFM Philharmonic, but opened with an unexpected solo set, which began by merging Bach into Radiohead, proceeding through an older school of standards which included the wise selection of Frank Loesser’s ‘Inchworm’, in homage to Danny Kaye. The grand concerto revealed Mehldau as a semi-traditionalist, unlike, let’s say, Uri Caine. Mehldau’s work favoured a romantic, lyrical sweep, definitely rural as opposed to urban. Prominent harp and tubular bells eased the transition towards the second section’s almost suburban pointillism, with the composer making responses, commenting on the massed string phrases, sometimes alone, other times with the entire ranks.

There are two cities where ‘jam session’ means ‘free improvisation’, Vilnius and Wrocław. No standards are allowed here, apart from an odd trad number at 4am, under duress of shots. The sessions were run by the inspired core trio of Mateusz Rybicki (clarinets), Zbigniew Kozera (bass) and Samuel Hall (drums), and following his big gig, Mehldau lurked around in the shadows before taking his place at the small-and-quaint Yamaha Clavinova keyboard. This was a first, hearing him in abstract free-jazz mode, and was just one of the multitude of compelling jam sets witnessed during your scribe’s six nights of sleep deprivation.

The French quartet Novembre played a dedicated set in the basement, mixing Jimmy Lyons wired alto (courtesy of Antonin-Tri Hoang) with complicated jazz funk and mood minimalism. Later, they piled into the jam, getting even more extreme. Hamid Drake also joined an expanded line-up to deliver what amounted to a Moroccan Gnaoua-style improvisation, magnetised around double-drum ritual rhythms. Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and keyboardist Alexander Hawkins also turned up for some after hours wildness.

Earlier on that final evening, Hawkins had played an odd couple duo set with Esperanza Spalding, in the main hall, gratifyingly allowing her repertoire to take on an increased free-form character. This was where we realised how malleable Spalding’s phrasing between voice and bass can be, full of pauses and spaces, strategic surprises. She played solo, dipping into the Brazilian songbook (besides her own), then Hawkins offered some dense post-ragtime runs, and Spalding’s substance-filled words were revealed, with their open ambiguity, so listeners can choose meanings. Sadly, she seemed to be at odds with her audience at first, seeming to genuinely realise how much warmth they were beaming towards her, as the set progressed. Then, Spalding cut out the hectoring, negative banter.

Meanwhile, the jam sessions were overtaken by Melbournians, who made a significant nightly contribution. This was because the Australian Art Orchestra had played in full, operating the lower Red Hall space, with their narrative/conceptual extended works. Words were intoned, usually as text-poems, with slow steps made by the players, densities gradually increasing, coated with thick electronic tones, several members using effects devices. Fanfare horns and boom drums made them sound like a thicker Necks, or a Liberation Music Orchestra with Reichian pulses, or a stately Nyman preen, climaxing with drum solo thunder, garrulous trombone interjections and a megaphone vocal crackle.

The AAO’s percussionist Simon Barker played in duo with Drake, the following night, delivering another festival highlight, as the former’s Korean log-lashing meshed well with the latter’s frame drum sensitivity. Primacy altered alarmingly, as the pair exchanged endurance intensities, journeying from faint ear-pricking to bleeding ritual racket. Cowbells, clacks, gong groans, rim-rattles, and Drake delicately flicking dust from his skins

The final weekend featured the exceptional Concerts In Living Rooms, with three gigs on both afternoons, scattered around city-wide apartments. There were vibrant player permutations from Poland, Australia, and Italy, with the American ElSaffar being involved in two of the most magical improvisations. Over the course of these afternoons, the auras bled from serene meditation to violent clashing, then back again to reflective explorations of near-silence. Then, the last jam session ran until 5am..!

Martin Longley
– Photo by Łukasz Rajchert

The Jazz FM Awards return for a sixth time next year, taking place on Tuesday 30 April 2019 at Shoreditch Town Hall. This year's awards recognised the latest generation of jazz talent emerging both in the UK and US with young Brit jazz stars saxophonist Nubya Garcia (above right) and popular groove-led band Ezra Collective, as well as top US names such as vocalists Cécile McLorin Salvant (above left) and Esperanza Spalding and guitar legend Pat Metheny (above centre) among the winners. Last year the Lifetime Achievement went to a then 90-year-old Dame Cleo Laine, who also gave a spellbinding performance on the night.

The categories also recognise blues and soul artists as well as how the use of technology and online music making is affecting jazz artists today. Nick Pitts, Content Director of Jazz FM commented on the awards: “We’re thrilled to announce the return of the Jazz FM Awards in 2019. Jazz, soul and blues has continued to thrive over the last 12 months and has been bolstered further still by exceptional live performances and groundbreaking recordings. We’re excited to be returning to Shoreditch Town Hall for another celebration of the genre’s vibrancy and diversity along with many of our sponsors who make the awards possible and our new radio family at Bauer Media.”

The nominees will be announced at a ceremony in February 2019.

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.jazzfmawards.com

 

The organisers of the Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs from 5 to 7 July 2019, have confirmed that iconic jazz pianist Chick Corea will be performing at next year’s festival. The Return to Forever keyboard maestro, who’ll be 78 next June, will be bringing his fiery Spanish Heart band with him, the ensemble featuring stunning jazz flautist Jorge Pardo and guitarist Niño Josele (both former Paco De Lucia bandmembers), as well as trumpeter Michael Rodriguez, trombonist Steve Davis, bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, drummer Marcus Gilmore and flamenco dancer Nino de los Reyes for what promises to be a festival highlight. Also announced is hot London keyboardist Kamaal Williams who will be performing his danceable drum’n’bass-inspired funky fusion from his recent album The Return.

The third headline name confirmed is best-selling jazz-folk singer Madeleine Peyroux, who’ll be preforming songs from her 2018 album, Anthem. These names join those already announced by Jazzwise, which include multi-Grammy Award winning jazz-funk crew Snarky Puppy, high-energy UK jazz star Jamie Cullum, and celebrated soul diva Gladys Knight. Taking place once more in the idyllic countryside setting of Glynde in the South Downs in East Sussex, the festival looks set to build on its biggest year to date in 2018, which saw 45,000 people in attendance across the weekend. Jazzwise is media partner for the festival.

Mike Flynn

Early bird tickets are available for a limited time from www.lovesupremefestival.com/tickets

The press obituaries for Peter Boizot, who has died aged 89 after a lengthy illness, have largely concentrated on his role as founder of the Pizza Express restaurant chain. He had enjoyed pizza while working in Europe and brought the first specialist oven to the UK, opened his initial Pizza Express outlet in Wardour Street in 1965 and the rest is history, as they say.

More pertinently for Jazzwise readers he began to feature jazz performances in the basement of his Dean Street restaurant in Soho. Initially, these involved pianists like the late Lennie Felix, but gradually under the auspices of successive bookers Dave Bennett and KC Sulkin, Dean Street became a seven-nights-a-week haven for every visiting American musician and a whole school of mainstreamers like Warren Vache, Ruby Braff and, particularly, tenorist Scott Hamilton, who continues to appear there often. Peter later took on Kettner’s, a venerable Soho landmark and employed a series of pianists, Jazzwise’s own Brian Priestley included, to play there for the lunch-time diners. Gradually other Pizza Express outlets also began to offer jazz, including the Maidstone restaurant and Pizza on the Park, eventually London’s principal cabaret venue until it was sold off and converted into a boutique hotel.

Boizot, who had already started an employee’s newsletter, later initiated Jazz Express, a monthly magazine which employed writers like Peter Clayton and Max Jones (as well as me) and covered the wider jazz scene. There were also occasional releases on his Pizza record label and he supported two resident bands, the Kettner’s Modern Jazz Sextet, which gave musicians like Alan Barnes and Gerard Presencer early prominence, and the more mainstream Pizza Express All Stars, led successively by Dave Shepherd and Tommy Whittle. He also sponsored the Soho Jazz Festival and underwrote the all-star Pizza Express Jazz Festivals.

Very much a man of eclectic tastes and interests other than jazz, Boizot held contributor’s lunches at Kettner’s where one might rub shoulders with the likes of Spike Milligan or the artist Eduardo Paolozzi whose work he collected. A keen hockey player into his early sixties, Peter liked to host his hockey friends and his Liberal Party associates at Dean Street. He had twice stood unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate.

He became substantially wealthy when the Pizza Express chain went public in 1993 and later returned to his home town of Peterborough, investing heavily in the town’s cultural and sporting life. Boizot owned Peterborough FC for 10 years, bought the town’s Great Northern Hotel which hosted Peterborough Jazz Club and ploughed extensive funds into a new cultural centre.

Boizot later sold the hotel and returned only occasionally to his old Soho haunts. He had been one of London’s primary jazz impresarios and we, musicians and punters alike, owe him a great deal. Peter was mercurial, generous, impulsive, always dynamic and sometimes exasperating, but a wonderful companion and ambassador for jazz.

Peter Vacher

 

Ahead of starting the Vortex in 1988, there is nothing in the early life of David Mossman, who died on Saturday at the age of 76, that would naturally make us think that he was ‘destined’ to run a jazz club in a relatively unrecognised part of London. Here was an East End-born black cab driver with a love of mountaineering, a grandfather at the age of 34, with a love of the music of Neil Diamond. His only experience of jazz previously had been going to see some gigs in the 1950s. But he was a man with a sense of flair and intuition, who could take calculated risks in terms of what he did, which musicians played at the club and how it looked. He knew how to survive, and take so many of us with him.

In so many ways, he had a lot in common with another person who was as influential in his own way on the London scene: John Jack. Both of them were ‘improvisers’ – not in terms of the pure jazz sense, but in terms of working out how to get the music heard. Meanwhile, on the other side of London, Steve Rubie has been doing the same at the 606 for 40 years. (In fact, David sought out Steve’s advice when the club first opened.)

Most vital of all, once the club had started, he had to find musicians whom he could trust to put together the groups and perform the music. He worked it out through listening carefully and working out who had the right feel. He wasn’t hoodwinked by groups with great marketing nous, nor by pure technical wizardry. But it seemed to work, as he gave slots to many who have gone on to greater things. I have spoken to so many musicians grateful for getting first opportunities. This has also come up in many of the contributions on social media over the past day since he died. Some of those who got major early ‘breaks’ at the Vortex include Partisans, Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Arthurs and Christine Tobin. He somehow managed to squeeze in extra large Kenny Wheeler Big Bands and I am surprised that the floor, precarious at the best of times, survived the numbers who turned up to a benefit gig for Steve Buckley with Delightful Precipice.

Once he trusted musicians, then he would give a pretty free hand in what they did, and he had them back regularly and through these he found more connections. Jazz Umbrella, Blow The Fuse, The London Jazz Orchestra, the Vortex Jazz Quartet led by Huw Warren and John Parricelli. The list is endless. And not to forget the themed seasons by Billy Jenkins.

But it also extended to giving at weekends a more ‘commercial’ stability with Ian Shaw, Stan Tracey and more, and the improv scene around Elton Dean, Derek Bailey and Evan Parker. I am grateful that he helped me in my own first experiences of live music promotion, having been mainly just a record label founder till then.

The musicians repaid his faith, and helped out to create a club that felt like what a club should be, as a place for musicians, fans and people wanting a great night out. He wasn’t a form filler, and so it never became a place reliant on an Arts Council life support system. He was generous to his friends, which is really how he regarded the musicians, but also he was concerned that the public got nights to remember. Through that commitment, generosity and passion, he likewise found the audience and similarly changed many of their lives (my own being no exception).

The Vortex had built up a position of being a loved community hub. So it was a group of fans and musicians that dissuaded him from moving to Ocean in Hackney, a short-lived over-funded arts centre disaster, and started looking first to buy the existing building (now a Nando’s if you are looking along Stoke Newington Church Street) and then find the present place in Dalston to where the club moved in 2005.

The aim was to keep as much of that imaginative, social and creative side to the club but take some of the weight off David’s shoulders. He was in the process of moving to Margate with his partner Lesley, well before the town became ‘Hackney-on-Sea’. And soon his new cafe there was putting on jazz gigs and he started the Margate Jazz Festival.

Nevertheless he still came up regularly at weekends to the Vortex to help out, to sort out the seating, to check that we were behaving right and introduce the bands at “London’s listening jazz venue”. And this went on even when his cancer, which was first diagnosed 15 years ago, was worsening. The Vortex to him was as powerful as any drug that was keeping him going and he had a real survivor’s instinct even in this.

We are proud that we have continued to keep much of what made the Vortex under David’s stewardship. David created what a jazz club should be – a living room owned by everyone. A place where musicians can be creative and interact with audiences. It has changed to being more of a social enterprise mainly run by volunteers. Of course it has needed to continually adapt to survive. The legacy is there in terms of the support given to so many. And together let us ensure that this is not forgotten. The Vortex is more than just a brand name. I myself am proud to have got to know David and have been regarded as a friend as well as a business associate.

David has given his body to science, in gratitude to all that the specialists at UCL did for him over the years. I am sure that there will be a problem finding a new home for his heart which was so big that there is no space large enough for it.

Oliver Weindling

Photo by Mark Hewins – www.flickr.com/photos/mark_hewins/

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