19-year-old vibraphonist Sasha Berliner wins LetterOne Rising Stars Award

California-based jazz musician, composer and bandleader, Sasha Berliner, has won this year’s LetterOne Rising Stars Award. The win will see her career given a substantial boost through the prize’s yearlong touring and press support.

Selected from the 230 entrants by a judging panel comprised of musicians, journalists and record producers, chaired by its founder Mikhail Fridman, Berliner’s winnings include an international seven-city tour and a full year of PR and marketing support through Air Artist Agency, DL Media and the West End Strategy Team.

Berliner, who began playing drums aged eight, starting vibraphone at 13, is now a student at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary in New York, previously studying at Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Canada and performing as a member of the SF Jazz High School All-Stars Orchestra.

– Mike Flynn
– Photo by John Rogers

 Listen to Sasha Berliner play a beautiful rendition of ‘Between The World and Me’ here:

Motorpsycho 0419 kopi

Determined individuals who ignore categories define the Norwegian scene, in which fuzzed-up prog, electronica, contemporary classical and free-jazz collide with ECM’s fjord soundscapes. Rune Grammofon’s debut release in 1998, Supersilent 1-3, helped crack the Nordic consensus with its punk-prog noise aesthetic. Twenty years on, the label’s soft-spoken founder, Rune Kristoffersen, modestly watches from the merch-stand as Motorpsycho (pictured) lead an anniversary celebration.

The venue, Nasjonal Jazzscene, is an unusually atmospheric, decade-old national jazz club, originally built as a cinema in 1913. With only an alcoved curtain screening it from Friday-night Oslo, misdirected drunks make a fist-flying exit, outraged at Maja Ratkje. A versatile composer and provocative performer, her witchy susurrations in inky dark suggest a feminist demon persona, confirmed when her mouth yawns in a cavernous growl, and she commands her Theremin’s wolf-howl oscillations with wizardly waves. The unpleasant crackle of plastic-wrap on her mic then contrasts with frail folk singing about industrial cruelty: “Can’t you feel the dust in your lungs?” Another lyric was used on Rune’s 10th anniversary: “Money ruins everything.”

The iconic Motorpsycho combine an early Floyd lightshow, Zeppelin-esque folk and incremental improv ending in rapid, roaring riffs. One boogie-blues is more Quo than Coltrane, not always a bad thing. In a rock context, the deep local devotion to their cult can mystify. The details give a clue, from the stoner grooves’ dynamic grind to Lars Horntveth’s final, fjord-side flute.

Fire 1371 kopi

Come Saturday, and Swedish super-trio Fire! (pictured)– featuring The Thing saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, Wildbirds & Peacedrums drummer Andreas Werliin and bassist Johan Berthling – mesmerise. Werliin’s slow-motion kit explorations haul the rhythm forward as if under gravitational duress, while Gustafsson is equally capable of primordial Brötzmann-isms and lyricism, live sampling and axe-man poses. Apparently free but grippingly structured, with the dramatic physicality of a rock power trio, it’s a spectacular performance.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio are archetypal current Rune in their taste for hard rock and jazz rigor. Mollestad, a red leather jacket-wearing rocker offstage, dons a sparkly red dress when playing head-banging guitar, wordlessly toying with her gender. Ellen Brekken’s double-bass gives jazz tone to a tune with the liquid languor of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, before a launch into electric wilds, cushioned fuzz and cutting screams. They gratefully dedicate a blues to Kristoffersen. As stragglers linger at the small-hours bar, he packs LPs, and leaves his label’s birthday party satisfied.

The next day, Norway’s indie label riches are shown in wooded, suburban Høvikodden, where the Henie Onstad Art Centre has encouraged jazz experiment since the Norwegian scene’s 1970s flowering. The Svein Finnerud Trio’s 1970 LP Plastic Sun, a landmark launch into collective improv and rock textures, was recorded there. A gorgeous vinyl remaster by original Norwegian indie Odin is reason enough for its performance by fine young trio Moskus in the same space, with the same piano. The “collage of contrasts within the music”, noted on release by Finnerud’s drummer Espen Rud, equally describes Moskus; their label Hubro, too, with its distinct sleeves, range of strange, jaggedly ambient sounds, and warped folk strains.

Moskus pianist Anja Lauvdal grins as a little girl dances in the aisles to the inviting blues bounce of ‘Alnafet Street’. Prepared-instrument fiddling about during the album’s Annette Peacock/Paul Bley cover ‘Cartoon’, unplugged electric guitar and the application of what looks like a hairdryer are followed by dreamy classical piano, and reconfiguration as a strumming, avant-jug band. The lovely encore is their tribute cover of a Christian Wallumrød tribute to the Svein Finnerud Trio. Moskus’s own restless impulses, and growing interest in emotionally affecting solid ground, find a perfect match in Plastic Sun: two trios meeting across time, in a country of enduringly fertile experiments.

Nick Hasted
– Photos by Julia Naglestad 

 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

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