Kongsberg-Tubaloon-rdo
Jazzwise
and Master Travel have combined to present a jazz tour of Norway, the tour leader, Charles Alexander, introduces the sights and sounds of the up-coming trip

I was delighted when Jazzwise and Master Travel invited me to be Tour Leader of their Nordic Sounds tour in July. I first visited Norway in the late 1980s on a walking holiday and found it to be one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. It was easy to see why the rugged grandeur of its mountains and fjords, the clear northern light, its long coastline and challenging climate would be reflected in the work of so many of its many writers, artists and musicians.

My first introduction to Norwegian jazz was through the early-1970s debut albums of Jan Garbarek and guitarist Terje Rypdal. Both of these young musicians shared certain distinctive characteristics – a unique sound on their particular instrument, the unhurried pace of their music, an absence of any bebop clichés, and a sense of dramatic tension and release. Although both were talented improvisers, their musical language was far removed from that of the American jazz of the period or, indeed, of the growing European free jazz music scene. Later in the 1970s I invited the Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen to present his trio at a Jazz Centre Society concert at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, possibly the first Norwegian jazz musician to lead his own group in the UK. Since then, Andersen has never stopped touring internationally, while Garbarek has enjoyed a stellar career. The latter in particular has inspired successive generations of Norwegian musicians to find their own creative voice and today the ears of the world are increasingly drawn to the evocative original music emanating from this small country.

The Nordic Sounds Tour offers us an opportunity to listen to Arild Andersen’s quartet at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary during our visit. Alongside Arild Andersen will be the Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, the Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Hofseth and the legendary US drummer Billy Hart, plus a special guest whose identity remains a closely guarded secret. Other artists at Kongsberg during our visit include Dave Holland’s Prism, Joshua Redman, Jan Gunnar Hoff and the powerhouse saxophone trio of Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker and Joe McPhee.

After two days of music in Kongsberg, the Nordic Sounds Tour then winds its way by road and the world’s steepest railway through beautiful mountain landscapes including the Hardangervidda Mountain Plateau towards the fjord village of Fläm. Here we cruise by boat to the world’s deepest fjord, Songefjord, staying overnight in the delightful mountain village Ulvik. From there we sail along the coastline to Bergen where, among other pleasures, you may visit the house of composer Edvard Grieg.

There is an optional tour extension to Denmark (8-12 July) where we visit Copenhagen, one of Europe’s celebrated jazz cities, and Aarhus which hosts a wonderful informal jazz festival in its cosy cafes, bars and open-air in its parks and squares.

The Nordic Sounds tour is a wonderful opportunity to hear some great jazz in two countries famed for their musicality and for the beauty of their landscapes and the charm of their towns and cities.
For full information on the tour go to www.mastertravel.co.uk

Charles Alexander

 

podcast-logoThis month's podcast – Jazzwise #18 – accompanies the May 2014 edition of the multi-award winning publication. Hosted by magazine editor Jon Newey and radio presenter Chris Philips each month it's an informed and passionate look at what's featured in the pages.

This month there's news, review and music from Led Bib, Loose Tubes and Ambrose Akinmusire plus talk of this year's Jazzahead gathering in Bremen with music from Marc Cary and Elephant9 who appeared to great acclaim. As usual Jon Newey adds in some personal favourites from his ongoing quest to secure rare vinyl records.

Jazzwise #18 by Chris Philips on Mixcloud

 

Alexander-BoneThe final of the first ever BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, which was won by 17-year-old Darlington-born saxophonist Alexander Bone (pictured), will be broadcast this Friday, 23 May on BBC4 between 7.30-9pm.

The final of this first ever ‘jazz’ edition of the hugely popular Young Musician Competition took place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama on 8 March, Cardiff and featured Jake Labazzi – trumpet (16 years old), Sean Payne – saxophone (13 years old), Tom Smith – saxophone (18 years old), Freddie Jensen – double bass (14 years old) and Alexander Bone – saxophone (17 years old) all backed by the Gwilym Simcock Trio.

The judging panel of Django Bates, Trish Clowes, Julian Joseph and Jason Yarde praised Bone’s winning performance for its “passion, beautiful sound, good control, ability to guide the band, stage-craft, choice of programme” and for taking the music beyond the purely technical aspects of playing jazz. Presented by Soweto Kinch, who also jammed with all of the finalists, the programme will be shown as part of a season of jazz broadcasts under the heading ‘Old Masters, Rising Stars: Jazz on BBC Four', which also includes a documentary about Nat King Cole and two films unlocking the BBC Archives – Jazz 625 and Jazz Legends In Their Own Words.

Gwilym Simcock commented on the inaugural event: “It’s been a really special and unique experience. The standard of instrumental ability, but more importantly, musicianship, has by far exceeded anything I could have imagined. All these musicians have a wonderful future in the music world and it’s been a pleasure to have even a tiny part in their development.”

See a preview clip of the final below:


 

TD-Martin-Speake-11
With a great programme of top quality jazz – not just from some of the biggest names in UK jazz but also from the students here at the college playing their end of year assessments – the AmserJazz Time Festival at the RWCMD in Cardiff was a resounding success.

The opening show on the Friday night featured Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble – Atzmon playing tunes mostly from his, Songs of the Metropolis album. 'Paris', 'Berlin', 'Tel Aviv' and 'Moscow' all perfect cameos evoking a glimpse of the city beneath the gloss, but it was on Scarborough (a loose interpretation of ‘Scarborough Fayre’), that Atzmon let the music run playing an incredible solo with pianist Frank Harrison joining in with an equally brilliant piece of improvisation – he ended with one of his favourite pieces of music, ‘Burning Bush’ this time dedicated not to the former US President but a former girlfriend.

Saturday’s two concerts also featured alto saxophonists – firstly the Martin Speake Trio (pictured above) and later Soweto Kinch. Speake, who was joined by Mike Outram on guitar and Jeff Williams on drums, played a very mellow set, with long haunting solos, Outram creating ambient sound-washes and Williams (a quite brilliant trio drummer) keeping it all together; the stand out number was ‘Folk Song for Paul’ a tune dedicated to drummer Paul Motian.

Out in the fantastic glass foyer I spotted Alan Barnes and drummer Tim Giles who were sitting among the free-stage audience marking the students on their performances, Barnes was knocked out with the high quality musicianship on show.

Back in the main hall Soweto Kinch, as you would expect compared to Speake, was much more, ‘in your face’. Joined by Shaney Forbes on drums and the excellent Nick Jurd on bass he set the pace with ‘Roadblock’ and ‘When will I be getting mine’ before getting the slightly conservative audience involved with ‘Privatise the Gains’, which, given the slightly small audience, was a great effort; a great show with an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm – let’s not forget Kinch is an extremely gifted alto player too.

TD-Gareth-Lockrane-20
Two of the three Sunday concerts were recorded by Radio 3 for broadcast on Claire Martin’s show in the summer. First up was Gareth Lockrane’s Grooveyard Unplugged (pictured above) – featuring Lockrane on alto and bass flutes alongside saxophonist Alex Garnett.

Playing an up-tempo funky soul-groove mix, Lockrane gets an incredible sound from his flutes and the interplay between him and Garnett is excellent – Ross Stanley on piano and organ and the back line of Dave Whitford on bass and Tim Giles on drums ensured that the music powered along nicely. This show will be broadcast on 21st June on Radio 3.

The second performance in the Dora Stoutzker Hall was the McCormack & Yarde MY Duo with the Elysian String Quartet (pictured below), they looked far more at home in this beautiful wooden-clad concert hall than Soweto Kinch did the night before. The conversational interplay between pianist Andrew McCormack and multi-reedist Jason Yarde is well known but now with the introduction of an improvising string quartet the conversation is thrown open to a whole set of new voices.

TD-McYarde-Duo-40
Yarde explained that this project only works because the Elysian String Quartet are improvisers too. Both he and McCormack have written four pieces each for this project with Jason in London and Andrew in New York, where he now lives – but left large areas of improvisational room in the writing for all of the players and so the conversation has now four new voices. The album Juntos that features this music is released shortly.

To illustrate this improvisational collaboration Yarde gets the audience to shout out a selection of notes and timings (and a title) – they then proceeded to turn this into a tune and so ‘Caustic Happiness’ was born on its one and only performance! This concert will be broadcast of Claire Martin’s Jazz on 3 radio show in August.

TD-Leane-Carroll-01
The Liane Carroll Trio (pictured above), featuring Roger Carey on bass and drummer Mark Fletcher, provided a fitting end to the festival. The Richard Burton theatre was packed for her show and it seemed she knew most of the audience personally such is her warmth and appeal. Playing ‘just a bunch of songs that I really love’ from Disney to Donald Fagen, Carole King to Nina Simone, Carroll had a ball and the audience loved it.

Talking afterwards with Andrew Miller the artistic director he commented on the festival: “Over the last three years jazz in Cardiff has become synonymous with the Royal Welsh College. Our weekly JazzTime sessions in the foyer overlooking Bute Park attract regular audiences in the region of 100-200 people and provide a terrific showcase for the next generation of jazz artists training at the College”

The annual Amser Jazz Time Festival, which is made possible with the support of the Arts Council of Wales and BBC Radio 3, allows RWCMD to place a major programming focus on our unique and accessible approach to jazz. Students' performance exams sit alongside sets from established jazz stars to create a great weekend of music in both formal and informal spaces.

With stroller ticket to see all the shows costing just £65 (£55 concession) and with food and drink on hand and the beautiful Bute Park outside the back door, and the City Centre a mere five minutes walk away, this really is a great festival to come to.

– Tim Dickeson (story and photos)

 

BokaniDyer-live
Pick-up band’ may be one of the great pejoratives in jazz terminology, but it does not mean that a group of musicians pulled together in extremis cannot produce superlative results. This quite thrilling performance by young South African pianist-composer Bokani Dyer and his British combo is a case in point, but then again the fact that he had bandleaders and co-leaders in his ranks – drummer Seb Rochford, double bassist Neil Charles, alto saxophonist Chris Williams, tenor saxophonist Soweto Kinch – puts him at something of an advantage.

It may have passed the audience by, but, between them, the appointed sidemen have scooped Mercury nominations and also backed anybody from Beck to Speech Debelle. The high standard of musicianship and relaxed stance that comes with the experience of holding down a gig with minimal rehearsal time, as is true of tonight, can be heard in both sets. The band feels uncannily familiar with the very intricate scores.  

That said, Dyer’s music has an emotional depth and lyricism that one imagines any newcomer wanting to embrace. Over two absorbing sets that feature songs from his debut Emancipate The Story, the players grow with the audience into material which takes a widescreen view of jazz, classical and South African musical history. Looming large is the stately modalism of McCoy Tyner, with Dyer’s hypnotic left hand lines being counterweighted by a hard-working right, which impresses on lengthy, spiralling phrases.

Occasionally, Dyer’s sense of flourish takes him towards Liszt’s rhapsodic hyperactivity, but this ornate prettiness is complemented elsewhere by the sway and swirl of a township groove epitomised by legends such as the Blue Notes. While Charles and Rochford provide an entirely suitable rhythmic backbone for the material, observing the need for precision all the while keeping the beat supple, Kinch and Williams infuse long-toned themes with the requisite warmth that often crackles into a fire.

The combination of the two reeds is perhaps one of the most underrated in small group jazz, and the ability of the players to alter the character of the front line, from vocal-like close harmony to stark, eerie wide harmony, proves a key feature of the gig. Winston Mankunku and Dudu Pukwana would surely have approved. On the strength of this performance it would make great sense for Dyer to record this group the next time he’s in London. 

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Roger Thomas

 

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