Award-winning pianist Andrew McCormack is set to make a dramatic return with his next solo project, Graviton, which features a stunning line-up that includes two Mercury nominees, vocalist Eska and saxophonist Shabaka 'Comet is Coming' Hutchings, alongside a powerful rhythm team of first-call session bassist Robin Mullarkey and explosive Phronesis drummer Anton Eger. The starry group explore a powerful mix of through-written melodically led, heavily polyrhythmic material that draws inspiration from Steve Reich and Armenian piano star Tigran Hamasyan's trio work – all in marked contrast to his well-received trio album, First Light, released on Edition in 2014.

Known for his key sideman role with US bassist Kyle Eastwood for the last decade, Graviton finds McCormack revealing his love of a broader soundworld with jazz, rock and electronic textures set against a deeply rhythmic backdrop. Set for release on Jazz Village on 16 une, material from the album gets its premiere, with Naomi Nuti providing vocals and Jean Toussaint on saxes on the live dates at Kings Place, London on 13 May, with two further dates at: Turner Sims, Southampton (20 May) and Hare & Hounds, Birmingham (25 May). And see the June issue of Jazzwise for an exclusive interview with Andrew talking about the album - the issue is on-sale on 25 May - subscribe here to save money and get a FREE CD.

For more info visit www.mccormackmusic.com

 

TD-Chick-Corea-2017-20

A successful jazz festival is made in the mix: the weave of established players (maybe even a couple of icons) with new ones on the way up; the incorporation of names that tick the jazz credibility box, and others that help to pay the festival bills; the geographical sweep that when it comes to jazz means, crucially, the transatlantic balance – all these are important. And then there are the cherry-on-the-top mixes: the unpredictable intermingling of musicians that the organisers hope will happen. And pitfalls, too: the infiltrations that would have been best avoided. Cheltenham Jazz Festival has been fine-honing this mix for years and, looking back on 2017, I think it can be considered a good, if not great, year.

If Chick Corea is a jazz icon he certainly doesn't behave like one. He began and ended by leading an audience sing-along. I can't imagine that happening at a Keith Jarrett concert. With his cross-generational trio partners, Eddie Gomez and Brian Blade, he treated a delighted Big Top crowd to '500 Miles High', 'Spanish Song' and 'Spain', nodded to Gomez's time with the Bill Evans Trio with 'Alice In Wonderland', and explored an obscure Monk tune called 'Work'. Corea's playing achieved the extraordinary twin distinction of being both virtuosic and also immediately comprehensible. The trio had the same flexibility that one hears in Wayne Shorter's quartet, stretching out far and wide from the pieces, all three pushing themselves towards that ultimate jazz prize that risk brings.

TD-Lionel-Loueke-05

"Leaving the comfort zone," was very much Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke's stated objective. He goes back a long way with bassist Massimo Biocalti and drummer Ferenc Nemeth, so a three-way leap into the unknown proved as exhilarating to listen to as I am sure it was to perform. The juxtaposition of a meditative bass solo against a Dixieland accompaniment, the result of the sound ingress into the Jazz Arena from the free stage, was one of many unwelcome infiltrations in this particular tent. Not so much risk-taking with the Steve Gadd Band, a group which moves the rhythm section into the spotlight, but another kind of delight. The sound was exemplary, the playing of bassist Jimmy Johnson, guitarist Michael Landau and pianist Kevin Hays just as fine, and the treat of hearing in the flesh the sound of a drum icon who is on so many of our records was reflected not only in the cheers but in the snaking line to where Gadd was signing afterwards.

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Saxophonist Chris Potter is surely on his way to iconic status. His Quartet's performance took the energy level many bands would consider the climax of their set as its starting point and moved up from there. Then Potter nipped to the Town Hall to guest with Snarky Puppy. In a masterclass the next morning pianist Bill Laurance called Potter's playing "next level improvisation" to nods of similarly awed agreement from bassist Michael League and drummer Larnell Lewis. There was another unexpected – and most welcome – guest with Denys Baptiste's Late Trane band when the rarely-heard Steve Williamson joined on tenor for Coltrane's 'Transition' and 'Vigil'. Previous subsidiary Cheltenham visitors, Kandace Springs and Logan Richardson were each given their own concert this year. Springs has all the qualities to make her a star of the future though, for my money, bassist/singer Meshell Ndegeocello packed more meaning and listener reward into one song – Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne' – than the young Nashville singer/pianist could convey in a whole set. Richardson and his band Shift played a highly focused set which centred on the leader's hard-blown, richly pure alto. A fresh exposition of Kansas City's ongoing contribution jazz's development.

TD-Marius-Neset-26

Phronesis's collaboration with composer Dave Maric and the Engines Orchestra was a valuable co-commission, and another example of a mix where the sum of the parts really does add up. If the transatlantic mix was a little States-biased this year, the strongest European contribution, according to many I spoke to, came from Marius Neset. His talent, already near to overwhelming the listener, seems to grow stronger with each outing.

Peter Bacon
– Photos by Tim Dickeson

Rock'n'roll icons The Rolling Stones walked away from last week's Jazz FM Awards with three gongs to their name – most controversially winning for Album of the Year – which caused some outrage among jazz musicians but garnered the event some high profile coverage. Writer and musician Eddie Myer reflects on an eventful night

A combination of the diligent pursuit of journalistic integrity on behalf of you, dear reader, and the organiser's generous assessment of my actual capabilities to deliver as such, resulted in my being fortunate enough to attend this year's Jazz FM Awards. The setting was the Shoreditch Town Hall, its high-Victorian architecture evoking a suitable spirit of serious-minded yet aspirational collective endeavour. Would that my humble keyboard were able fully to describe the dazzling splendour of the assembled company, the rapier-like cut and thrust of the repartee, the sumptuousness of the canapés, and the dignity and forbearance of the ushers and waitresses, but these details will have to wait for the attentions of one upon whom Calliope has more generously bestowed her gifts. I can confirm that among the musical highlights were Laura Mvula's performance of 'The Man I Love' in tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, accompanied by pianist Oli Rockberger, Georgie Fame's unexpected, affectingly artless cockney-flavoured rendition of 'Everything Happens to Me' backed by an all-star house band featuring Guy Barker, and a storming performance from New York man of the moment Donny McCaslin. Among the eclectic array of presenters adding lustre to proceedings were fearless guardian of the democratic process Gina Miller, jazz-funk supremo Bluey Maunick, eternally boyish radio star Gilles Peterson and famously irascible veteran Van Morrison, whose valiant but ultimately unsuccessful struggle with a recalcitrant microphone stand commanded the respect and admiration of all who witnessed it. It was a real pleasure to see Ashley Henry and Nubya Garcia among the nominees for Breakthrough Act of the Year, both of whom were featured at New Generation Jazz events at Brighton's Verdict Club in 2016. However it would be fair to say that even these eminences were overshadowed by the nominees who garnered the majority of the subsequent press coverage, and sparked much heated debate in the process – Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones.

Between them, the old-timers notched up three awards. Charlie Watts was up first, receiving a Gold Award 'in recognition of his lifelong contribution to jazz and blues'. Watts' enthusiasm for jazz, especially the bop big-band styles of his youth, is well known; he cut a very modest, self-effacing figure onstage, particularly in contrast with his presenter, the indefatigable free-jazz crusader Evan Parker, who was as ebullient as Watts was reticent. Introduced by host Jez Nelson as 'the most important man in the room', Parker started his speech by declaring impishly 'I bet 98 per cent of you have never even heard of me' – Watts responded by muttering 'I should be giving this award to you' before both men paid tribute to bassist Dave Green, one of the stalwarts of jazz in the UK for as long as the Stones have been on the radio. That two figures from such radically different areas of the music biz should share a stage and find common ground in esteem for a style that both admire but neither regularly perform was a heartening display of ecumenicalism. Equally, when Mick and Ronnie took to the stage to accept the award for Blues Act of the Year for their recent release of back-to-their-roots R&B with Blue & Lonesome the choice seemed uncontroversial. It was the same record's award for overall Album Of The Year that set social media buzzing. Jazz FM runs a broad church, but despite the presence of categories for Blues and Soul artists, the impression given is of an award ceremony for jazz. How could the Stones possibly qualify?

Jazzfm-Shabaka

Something of the sort seems to have occurred to Jagger, who noted in his acceptance speech that in their early days the Stones were regularly thrown out of jazz clubs for playing R&B. Back in the early 1960s, jazz was still hip and the R&B pop stylings of his band were rather looked down upon by the cognoscenti. 'It's come full circle' he declared, visibly pleased to receive the award; how are we to interpret that remark?

To many jazz fans and performers of their era, the Stones were at the forefront of the musical revolution that swept their scene away, closing the clubs, bankrupting the record labels and putting the artists out of work. Interviews from the period seethe with resentment at the way that rock'n'roll took over as the dominant popular music of the day, and at its perceived coarsening effect on the nation's musical culture. Jazz in its early days had attracted exactly the same opprobrium and had been described in exactly the same terms – 'primitive' music appealing to the lower instincts – but this was forgotten as the effects of the bop innovators took over and jazz moved out of the dancehalls and into the hipster clubs. The Stones had helped kill jazz – were they now to be honoured, already garlanded with awards and material success beyond measure, with a trophy that surely belonged to a jazz artist? Which, of course, also raised the long-standing and ever-unresolved question: who would qualify as a jazz artist nowadays anyway?

Jazzfm-Donny

A look at some of the other, uncontroversial winners gives us a clue to how the latter question would be answered by Jazz FM – awards were handed to Shabaka Hutchings, Orphy Robinson, Norma Winstone and Nikki Yeoh, among nominations including Brad Meldhau, Wayne Shorter, Julian Arguelles, Laura Jurd, Tim Garland, Soweto Kinch and Gwilym Simcock. Other nominees contesting the Stones for Album of the Year included Gregory Porter, Kurt Elling and Donny McCaslin – and also Madeleine Peyroux and Anderson .Paak whose status as jazz artists is perhaps more debatable. Despite the presence of many artists whose relationship to jazz is tangential at best and the inclusion of 'Best Soul Artist' and 'Best Blues Act' among the categories, there were rather more incontestably jazz acts among the nominees than can be typically found on a Jazz FM playlist.

Defenders would argue that Jazz FM is a commercial radio station, and in the ancient battle between art and commerce, jazz has usually come off badly. By nominating The Stones, the awards ceremony secured far more of the valuable oxygen of publicity. The award was voted for by the listening public, and so reflects what a majority of them actually like to listen to and perhaps some of their attention, once gained, might be diverted onto the fertile UK jazz scene as represented by the other, less famous nominees. At the end of the day, everybody has to make a living, and critical accolades and esoteric artistic ambitions often don't pay the bills. This attitude, however, is anathema to some. There will always be those uncompromising jazz fans for whom any stylistic development later than 1959 is highly suspect, or who see the purity of the free-improv scene as the only true representation of the music – Jazz FM and all its works will have little appeal for them. But in addition some respected and forward-thinking players also raised their voices on social media, with the assertion that this was simply another example of jazz being sidelined, marginalised and diluted by a musical establishment that pays lipservice to the idea of jazz music, hoping to borrow some of it's cultural cachet, while actually ignoring anything outside the tried and tested commercial mainstream. That the Stones should have been nominated, not once, but thrice, for a purportedly jazz award ceremony, seemed to some to show a timidity on the part of the organisers, or at least a readiness to sacrifice artistic ideals on the altar of commercial necessity. This is not an isolated complaint – many of the larger jazz festivals have attracted criticism for their policy of booking non-jazz popular headliners – the same complaint has been made against the Jazz Cafe and even the venerable Ronnie Scott's. It's easier to find agreement on what jazz isn't than on what it is. Yet the label persists, with all its baggage, and seems increasingly to be commercially deployed for it's positive connotations – who shall be its guardian and gatekeeper?

A look at the full list of nominees shows a scene bursting with original talent, steeped in the tradition and unafraid to carry it forward. Jazz is enjoying a period of expansion in the UK and part of this will surely depend on the extent to which it can move beyond a limited set of true believers and find its position within the mainstream. A generation of musicians is emerging in the UK who draw part of their musical sustenance from the jazz tradition but who see no conflict in mixing up their music with influences discovered elsewhere. Robert Glasper's credentials as an important jazz figure are frequently, and perhaps justifiably, called into question by the establishment, but his name is constantly invoked by young players in the process of developing their own voices, in large part because of his cross-genre appeal. In the past the devastating effect of rock music on the jazz community has resulted in a tendency to develop a bunker-type mentality, as if jazz can only exist in isolation from other musical forms, and a zero-sum type of thinking where the advance of any other music is seen as detracting from jazz' s precarious position. There are historical reasons for this, in which the Stones have unwittingly played a part, but there is something incongruous when an artist deliberately chooses a musical path that defines itself by it's esoteric appeal, then complains that other, easier music is getting all the attention. This weekend the indie-rock flagship station BBC 6Music was broadcast from the Cheltenham Jazz Festival – both Sussex's Love Supreme and Birmingham's Mostly Jazz festivals feature an equal mix of jazz, soul and pop artists without consigning the jazz line-up to its own sideshow ghetto. If jazz is to thrive beyond the conservatoires and the arts centres it will have to find its place alongside the rest of the current soundscape, it's all music, after all. Let's hope that at the very least the Jazz FM award is placed in a prominent position on Mr Jagger's already crowded mantlepiece.

– Eddie Myer (music programmer of The Verdict, Brighton)

Photos by Hannah Young - from top The Rolling Stones, Nikki Yeoh, Shabaka Hutchings and Donny McCaslin

ggp-colston

GoGo Penguin have always had one eye on the dancefloor. Now they have the other fixed on film scores.

Versatility, though, is not necessarily the first thing that springs to mind when considering the Mancunian trio, who've to date released three albums of decent but samey post-EST jazztronica. Their harshest critics doubtless claim they're a one-trick-pony who repeatedly match coffee-table jazz with laptop beats. But that's precisely why the band's live rescoring of cult movie Koyaanisqatsi is such an exciting prospect (on top of their recent inking to legendary label Blue Note) – this is a band with a lot to lose and a sizeable hill to climb in terms of proving their artistic scope.

Backing Koyaanisqatsi, a psychedelic trip into the dark heart of American civilisation, then, is a brave move. The hypnotic grandeur of Phillip Glass's (a composer to whom the band owe a huge debt) original soundtrack, with its shimmering arpeggios and ethereal chorals, could be tricky to measure up to. But opting to retrack this particular feature is, equally, a shrewd manoeuvre. Firstly, the rarefied spectacle on offer, jam-packed as it is with hallucinatory montages of crawling cityscapes, lends itself well to the band's club-ready electronics. Secondly, experimental disaster documentaries, a genre pioneered by director Godfrey Reggio, are currently hot with hipster audiences – Adam Curtis' uncompromising BBC essays and Leonardo DiCaprio's climate-change exploration Before The Flood, for example, are not only hugely popular, but follow devotedly in the footsteps of Reggio's impressive back-catalogue.

For the first quarter of an hour, with the trio shrouded in darkness, you might've been forgiven for thinking that Australian minimalists The Necks had supplanted them, thanks to the slow unravelling of lightly fingered piano, aerially suspended double-bass and bustling drums. But when the band fully took wing, there's no mistaking GoGo Penguin's classically inflected grooves. Atop breathtaking scenes of atmospheric turmoil and roiling seas, pianist Chris Illingworth and co laid down rippling rhythms slick with trembly arpeggios and danceable polyrhythms. So far, so GoGo Penguin.

But when the film took a left turn, cranking up the tempo with shots of aircraft dogfights, gridlocked cities and the runaway chug of munitions factories, the band broadened and deepened their well-trodden sound. Bassist Nick Blacka, both at the centre of the stage and the music, strapped on an electric four-string and fired out joltingly funky futurist riffs which seemed to shock Illingworth from his minimalist stupor. As chilling scenes of warfare and industry grew in intensity, they triggered a dizzying shoot-out of jaggedly free piano and tensely unstable low-end. All the while, drummer Rob Turner marshalled the crossfire with beats that, if played in a club, would've wrongfooted the most slick-moving partygoer.

The verdict? This dazzling sound-and-screen mash-up was inventive enough to silence the critics and offered a snapshot of the truly breathtaking musical vistas the trio are capable of conjuring.

– Jamie Skey

 Takase

Given the fact that Swiss record company Intakt has been one of the most adventurous outlets for improvised music for over three decades it makes perfect sense for a festival in its honour to run for no fewer than 12 nights. The scale of the label's achievement is reflected by the duration as well as the diversity of the programme, as stellar double-bills bring together artists often drawn from different generations as well as different countries. Intakt has always sought the cutting edge of players beyond borders, a case in point being the magical Swiss-South African axis of Irene Schweizer and Louis Moholo-Moholo.

In the initial days of the residency there was a 'first wave' of heavy artillery, such as the aforementioned as well other iconic veterans Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, Howard Riley and Barry Guy, not to mention dynamic younger players such as Lucas Niggli. But one of the most pleasing aspects of the programme was the fact that many artists appeared in various permutations, the effect of which was to create a kind of workshop-cum-open house ambiance. 

Feldman

Given the abundance of duos and trios the change of partners served as an exciting catalyst, none more so than in the case of the remarkable Berlin-based Japanese pianist and composer Aki Takase. As she takes to the stage with tenor-soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, another sound traveller whose musical itinerary has taken her from Germany to New York via London, Takase seems a touch on the nervous side, possibly because she is not confident about addressing the audience in English, which might be her third language. However, there are no communication problems whatsoever once the two of them start to play and Laubrock's potent tenor lands to good effect on the rhythmically choppy, at times turbulent waters of Takase's piano, which impressively flows into richly melodic statements that are steeped in the kind of brash lyricism that binds Ellington to Monk and Taylor. In fact, as she shows on the rest of the set, Takase is fully bound to this modernist root as well as its avant-garde openings into more fluid metres and harsher resonances. Her meeting with German bass clarinetist-clarinetist Rudi Mahall the following night provides a point of both contrast and continuity. They equally touch on a strain of mischievous, jaunty romanticism that is nonetheless sharpened with an explosive quality that invites us to imagine not just Dolphy playing Waller's 'Jitterbug Waltz', but the two of them doing so with the express intent of blurring the line between seduction and confrontation, both emotionally and sonically. Mahall's tone is so startlingly loud and his projection so overarching that even to a patron at the back of the room he appears to be blowing right in your ear. Takase's brilliantly gymnastic runs from the mid to high register, where locked hands give added weight to constantly skipping, swirling motifs, are a perfect foil for Mahall's mosaic of multi-phonics which peaks with a series of ascending, impish sounds that imply an electric mouth organ or melodica. Such tonal ingenuity also marks a very strong performance from another duo a few days later: French pianist Sylvie Courvoisier and American violinist Mark Feldman. Both have an iron-grip on classical technique, particularly Feldman's crystalline articulation of presto phrases, but their harmonic imagination, improvisatory flourish and subversive approaches to their instruments do not go unnoticed, particularly Courvoiser's live looping by way of strategically placed and cleverly manipulated objects on the piano strings. The result is a kind of rhapsody in skews rather than blues.

INTAKT-FAVRE-TWO

Also providing adept at taking a road less traveled to originality is Pierre Favre. In many ways the veteran Swiss percussionist is another great emblem of Intakt as a label whose vitality is well rooted in history. The sprightly octogenarian has been active for seven decades and contributed one of the most original works to the ECM catalogue, 1984's Singing Drums, alongside Paul Motian, Nana Vasconceles and Freddy Studer. Favre's new 4 Drums project also has a quartet of players – Chris Jaeger, Valeria Zangger and Markus Lauterburg – stationed at four kits, with Favre acting as a centrifugal force. There is a lot of unison playing to create dense, low burrs that have the quality of African log drums, a sensation which is heightened by the extended breakdowns in which no cymbals are used at all. Toms and wood blocks feature prominently, but as his accompanists drop out to leave him to play unaccompanied it becomes clear that Favre really upholds the key principle of pioneering jazz drummers in the way he has entirely personalized his set-up. The gong may be a sly nod to Sonny Greer, but the sundry items of percussion, lengths of tubing and sticks of varying size and shape that decisively alter pitch on the drums is really quite mesmerising. As befits a man who played with Philly Joe Jones, Bud Powell and Louis Armstrong Favre carries an important heritage on his shoulders as well as in his hands, a reminder that what might be called avant-garde jazz has roots running all the way back to New Orleans and West Africa. The set ends with a djembe drum circle and for just a moment Dalston becomes a little Dakar.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Dawid Laskowski

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