Since its inception in 2001 the Auand imprint has emerged as a key hub for jazz in Italy, providing an essential platform for new generations of improvisers such as Gianluca Petrella, Francesco Bearzatti and, latterly, Zeno De Rossi and Leonardo Rizzi. Its catalogue also boasts releases by Americans who always manage to be interesting, such as David Binney and Cuong Vu, which means that, despite its relatively low profile in the UK, Auand is very much a benchmark of quality whose distinctive luminous green hand-eye logo is the sign of music that is worth looking up and lending an ear to. Most impressively, the label is run by the one-man band of producer Marco Valente in the picturesque seaside town of Bisceglie in the Puglia region of southern Italy. His relentless dynamism is perhaps mirrored by the powerhouse achievements that have come to define the local cuisine and foodstuffs. In the 1920s and 1930s Bisceglie was the largest supplier of table grapes in Europe and the quality of cherries, olives, fish and 'sospiro', an iced sponge cake moulded into the shape of a breast, has been recognized by many 'Slow Food' evangelists.
Over the eight days of the Auand Festival, Valente judiciously programmed events to give a vivid sense of the Bisceglian art de vivre and cultural richness, as well as the excellence of the musicians on his label. A walking tour of Palazzo Tuputti by Piero Bittolo Bon is the highpoint of the schedule. The alto saxophonist leads the audience through this exhibition centre housed in a medieval building of high ceilings and fine masonry where each room tells the story of a particular kind of local produce. Showing much creativity in his changes of timbre, attack and phrasing, from lyrical whispers to rugged overtones, Bittolo Bon keeps flawless time, and his use of the instrument's keys as a percussive, 'finger-drumming' device is quite electrifying to hear at high tempo. Required to play while almost constantly on the move Bittolo Bon proves an incisive and potent improviser who creates intriguing melodic vignettes that effectively soundtrack the texts and images that present a wealth of riches dalla terra et mare.
The other solo performance that greatly captures the imagination is guitarist Manlio Maresca's lunchtime set at Verde Matematico. The charming restaurant with a courtyard for al fresco dining provides a serene setting for a performance that is anything but. Pleasingly, there is a tightly calibrated violence in the performance that takes it far away from the timid sedations of any background music. As the patrons clink cutlery Maresca bangs out off-centre beats from a sampler while an effects unit enables him to mangle his tone with a somewhat acrid flavour that contrasts entirely with the finesse of the dishes on the menu. A worthy inheritor of the distortion-as-sonic-sculpture aesthetic of the likes of Marc Ducret and Jeff Parker, Maresca is nothing if not audacious in his blend of rhythmic zigzags, serrated themes and psycho-funk chords that create a danse macabre with much humour.
Joyous cheers rather than coughs of indigestion are the tips thrown in his direction. If the intensity of the audience reaction says a lot about how well Auand Days works in small venues then further confirmation comes in the shape of trios at the very genial Make Art bar in the centre of town. Crammed into the corner of the heaving room The Storytellers offer a zestful take on the guitar-organ-drums combo, while Mirko Signorile leads a piano trio in which the Fender Rhodes rather than a Steinway takes pride of place, evoking post-Bitches Brew imagery as if to the manner born. More small groups appear at the Palazzo Tuputti, the pick of the bunch being the quartet in which Federico Pierantoni's trombone and Andrea Grillini's drums combine to produce a barreling low-end funk that occasionally loosens into more freeish abstraction. Several of the aforementioned players, along with the articulate guitarist Francesco Diodati, a noted young sideman to Enrico Rava among others, feature in the Piccolo Coro Elettroacoustico as well as the all-star Auanders. The former sees them stationed at laptops to create a shifting canvas of crunchy digital eruptions that has moments of intriguing tension and underwhelming tedium, which is to be expected given its wholly improvised nature, while the latter is an enjoyable demonstration of ensemble playing in which swirling horn lines as well as the hearty gurgles of Bittolo Bon's bass clarinet work well.
The climax of the festival though is Orchestre Specale Don Uva, which is a big band comprising patients from a nearby mental health hospital. The performance achieves the not inconsiderable feat of giving a degree of dignity to those that society might deem 'special needs', and allows them to express themselves all the while responding to the wily directions of conductor Stefano Tamborrino. In an age when mixed ability ensembles are in fashion it is very rewarding to see a concert that strikes such a winning balance between discipline and freedom, creating a deeply prevailing sense of humanity. Yet that is the defining theme of a festival in which music is presented as social cohesion within a warm, grande famiglia ambiance.
– Kevin Le Gendre – Photos by Leonardo Todisco and Domenico Soriano
The passing of Allan Holdsworth on Easter day has robbed the world of jazz, rock and, damnit, the world in general of a unique voice. Few people are gifted to bring something new to the world of music, but it could be argued that Holdsworth contrived not once, but twice, to change the sound of guitar forever. Holdsworth, self-deprecating as ever, would have denied such hyperbole. He once declaimed to this correspondent, in his quiet Bradford tones that decades in Southern California never quite extinguished, that his initial musical ambition was only ever to play Scotty Moore's solo off 'Hound Dog', "but I never could bloody get it down" he sighed.
In fact, Holdsworth was never that keen on playing the guitar at all. His whole playing career, in a perversity that Holdsworth's dry humour doubtless appreciated, was probably predicated on his ambition to make the guitar sound nothing like a guitar. He wanted it to be a horn. Or, at least a violin. But his father, who deeply shaped Holdsworth's musical sensibility, playing him a mix of Coltrane and Ravel, jazz and classics, couldn't afford to buy the young Allan the sax he desired. Instead Holdsworth had to make do with the guitar an uncle brought him.
Holdsworth the tyro guitarist hardly set the world on fire, joining as he did at the end of the Blues Boom and the nascent Prog Scene. From the off, his idiosyncratic chordings and long legato lines didn't fit with Clapton-era histrionics. But having taken the inevitable road south, it wasn't until his mid-twenties that Holdsworth found a fellowship with a generation of jazzers who increasingly didn't see a schism between the worlds of jazz and rock. Having your own voice was what mattered. Ray Warleigh and Gordon Beck became particular colleagues and mentors, and it was with Ian Carr's Nucleus that Holdsworth first grabbed the world by its ears. Following 1972's Belladonna came associations with Tempest (occasionally playing alongside the equally unique but tragically short-lived Ollie Halsall), Soft Machine and ultimately Tony Williams' New Lifetime.
This was the first time Holdsworth changed the guitar world. John McLaughlin, a fellow Yorkshireman who never lost respect for Holdsworth, may have gone first, yoking jazz and rock together, but it was Holdsworth who created something new from their synthesis, essentially inventing his own colour coded chord notation which still leaves students of the guitar bedazzled, creating a heritage in rock through the likes of Van Halen and Satriani or in jazz that has led to the likes of Ant Law and Alex Hutchings.
Holdsworth loved Tony Williams the musician – 'The Drums Were Yellow' being his tribute to Miles' 'little genius'. But his days with the drum man also summed up the fragile nature of the jazz world. When a tour with Williams collapsed, Holdsworth found himself broke in the USA and he literally had to hock his guitar to get home again. Again, when the adoring Van Halen wangled Holdsworth a Warners deal which should have won him the kind of superstar status that the likes of Bill Bruford always felt he deserved, it all fell through in what Holdsworth called a 'miserable experience' when the label rejected his choice of drummer and singer.
Holdsworth it seemed was always meant to plough a lone furrow, doomed to carry that ambiguous accolade of a 'musician's musician'. But that freedom from corporate moulding, his blithe ignorance of 'commercial potential' (it's no surprise Zappa was another soul brother) liberated Holdsworth, even if it never put cash in the bank. In the mid 1980s a series of albums, notably Metal Fatigue,Atavachron and Sand found him discovering a whole new voice, with songs like 'Non Brewed Condiment' bringing the SynthAxe to the fore. Not everyone loved the new vibe, but again this was Holdsworth changing the very sound of the guitar. Suddenly on songs like 'Distance v Desire' Holdsworth could be both orchestra and clarinet yet be playing guitar. Lush harmonies blossomed around eerie melodies, voiced in ways still yet to be understood. When he found he could add a blow tube, his ambition to breathe the guitar was finally achieved, and it was kind of fitting that his last solo album, Flat Tire in 2001, was almost entirely produced on synth guitar, with his ability to recreate 'fake' clarinets being as satisfying for him as anything in his previous 30 years of recording.
In the years since, Holdsworth grew quieter, his health more fragile. He kept up his interest in road cycling for as long as possible, and relished his own hand-pumped home brews, employing the swan necks he wanted to sell to US micro-breweries. Long-time associate and fellow Yorkshireman Gary Husband got him to play on his Dirty and Beautiful Vols 1 and 2, but even Husband couldn't get McLaughlin and Holdsworth together simultaneously in a studio.
But coming out from the pain of divorce that underwrote Flat Tire, with his solo catalogue re-issued by Manifesto, a new album being recorded and his first tour in years recently begun, it looked as if Holdsworth was about to bring pleasure to a whole new generation. But sadly it's not to be. Rest in peace, Allan Holdsworth, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever.
Hot-shot saxophonist and bandleader Kamasi Washington has announced the release of his first new music since 2015's critically acclaimed The Epic. His forthcoming Harmony Of Difference EP, an original six-movement suite that premiered as part of this year's Whitney Biennial, will be out later this summer and represents the first fruits of his recently-penned global deal with the London-based Young Turks label.
'Truth', A 13-minute track from that record, can already be heard in accompaniment to a film by AG Rojas (check it out below).
Fast rising British trumpeter Freddie Gavita is set to launch his debut album, Transient, at a special gig Upstairs at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club on 19 April. Known for his regular appearances on the main stage of Ronnie Scott's with the Ronnie Scott's All Stars, drummer Mark Fletcher's fusion four-piece Fletch's Brew and for his wide range of sideman and session work Peter Erskine, Joe Locke, Kenny Wheeler, Tim Garland, Gregory Porter and many others, this is Gavita's first solo album, which was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised £5,429. Joined by long-time musical associates, pianist Tom Cawley, bassist Calum Gourlay and drummer James Maddren, the album features 10 original compositions that showcase his strong writing and the group's collective empathy. Jazzwise is proud to present an exclusive video about the album here:
Minneapolis piano trio pioneers The Bad Plus have announced, after a seemingly unshakeable alliance for the last 17 years together, that pianist Ethan Iverson is to leave the group at the end of 2017. Breaking the shock news via their Facebook page, the group stated: "As of January 1, 2018, The Bad Plus will consist of founding members Reid Anderson (bass) and Dave King (drums) and new member Orrin Evans (piano). Original pianist Ethan Iverson will finish out the 2017 touring schedule in support of the album It's Hard, culminating in a New Year's Eve gig at the Village Vanguard in New York City."
While the trio has remained intact over a gruelling 150-gigs-a-year schedule, the band has embraced collaboration as part of their consistent run of albums – most recently recording and touring extensively with star saxophonist Joshua Redman. They've also previously worked with vocalist Wendy Lewis, and guitarists Bill Frisell and Kurt Rosenwinkel. It's the latter guitarist that links new recruit Evans and The Bad Plus, the pianist collaborating with Rosenwinkel and Kevin Eubanks on his latest solo album Knowing Is Half The Battle.
Evans is an increasingly prominent and highly imaginative post-bop player, distinguishing himself as a prolific solo artist and bandleader, with his large ensemble, Captain Black Big Band, edgy trio Tarbaby (with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits) while his own albums have featured such luminaries as Christian McBride, Karriem Riggins and JD Allen among many others. Reporting on the split for WBGO.org, Nate Chinen cites various personal differences between Iverson, Reid and King – with the drummer stating that Iverson's increasingly prominent role of jazz critic on his high-profile Do The Math website, was affecting the group as well as a disconnection with the band's bassist, which had led to the decision for Iverson to leave.
Iverson is already getting busy with new projects including a duo album with saxophonist Mark Turner, plus a live recording with trumpeter Tom Harrell set for a possible release, while his work with the Mark Morris Dance Company, and their piece Pepperland, will be featured as part of the celebrations around the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ iconic album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The work will be premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool on 25-27 May.
Commenting on the first time he played with Evans at a rehearsal session in Brooklyn, King stated: "The second he started playing one of Reid's tunes, the sound just exploded out of the instrument. And we needed that: to say, 'You know what? This music is alive.' When it's inhabited by someone who is excited to be there. It just crushed." The band plan to record later this summer with the new line-up, while Iverson will continue to play with them live, the symbolic final date set to take place on New Year's Eve at the Village Vanguard. The new line-up will start playing live in early 2018 with a new album to follow.