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Saalfelden is a small quiet Austrian town in a very green and rural location, surrounded by mountains and hills and there are two picturesque lakes close by too. The town has a couple of small hotels and a very quint and old centre. Of course, I could easily also be describing Brecon – a town I know and have loved for many years. The other obvious similarity is that for one weekend a year the whole town is taken over by an international jazz festival.

Fans flock in from far and wide to immerse themselves in what looks to be quite an intimidating programme of music – from mid-morning until 2am there are almost non-stop concerts – 28 over three days – plus four concerts as a warm up on Thursday evening – 32 shows in total. Free concerts take place in the Town Hall Square (under canvas) there is a smaller venue (Short Cuts) for more intimate shows and the larger Saalfelden Congress centre for the main shows. A few concerts are also organised for venues that are reached by Ski-lift – offering stunning views of the town and valley below. The festival is well known for its avant garde leanings but there was an excellent mix of jazz genres to keep everyone happy and get the place buzzing.

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The highlight of the Thursday night shows (apart from an amazing sunset) were Nels Cline and Marc Ribot (pictured above) – two exceptional guitarists who are certainly leftfield in their styles and approach. The concert comprised two extended numbers – the first on acoustic guitars and the second, on electric. The conversation between them was fascinating, like a married couple arguing and then making up, both using multiple effects to create soundscapes from ambient to heavy metal. Friday saw both guitarists in action again.

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Eyebone is drummer Jim Black’s latest project (above) – a trio featuring Nels Cline and Austrian Wurlitzer player Elias Stemeseder – a hard heavy sound with Cline mashing his guitar sound with anything that came to hand and Black pounding out a heavy rock beat on the drums. All three players wore black and had an emblemised tape line from their eye down to their elbows – machines maybe, but not as we know it.

Later Ribot played a solo concert ‘Protest Songs’ in a wry take on the genre, with some no more than comic ditties, others quite poignant and thought provoking – he’s is a man of many talents, his singing voice somewhere near a mid career Neil Young, his humour certainly more Frank Zappa.

Which leads on to the very excellent Young Mothers, playing their first European date. Led by Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, the rest of the band come from Austin, Texas. A strange but fascinating combination of musical styles and ideas that would canyon between free improv, rap, death metal and relatively straightahead jazz – a bit like Elephant9 mixing it up with Kenny Garrett. Stefan Gonzalez was excellent too, doubling up on vibes and drums as well as adding death metal-style vocals; they are far cry from anything currently around and well worth catching live.

Saturday was a day of huge contrasts with beautifully lyrical concerts from cellist Erik Friedlander, first playing his music ‘Claws & Wings’ with Sylvie Courvoisier in majestic form on piano, then back again later with his Black Phoebe project featuring Shoko Nagai on piano and accordion and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. There was a Satoko Fuji solo piano concert so full of emotion there were tears in the audience. Ben Goldberg, Muhlbacher’s USM and KAZE gave the middle ground leading up to the Henry Threadgill Ensemble that was the main event (pictured below) – a concert in remembrance of Butch Morris.

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Threadgill conducted, well he pointed and nodded a lot, while the band, notably Jason Moran and David Virelles both on piano were outstanding. However, the first composition did linger rather too long and ultimately became predictable, whereas the much shorter second piece was trademark Threadgill and brought the concert to a fitting climax.

The late concert was a piece of genius programming by artistic directors Michaela Mayer and Mario Steidel. Roy Paci and his band Corleone (he comes from Sicily as will become clear) base their musical ideas around the seedy goings on of the Mafia, Paci (trumpet & flugelhorn) mixing styles from Ska, Punk, free Jazz and unsurprisingly, funeral marches to tell musical stories of the deadly deeds done cheap in his home land. Whilst this may all sound very depressing in fact the opposite is true – the music is full of life, humour and some outstanding playing - especially guitarist Alberto Turra that made this show a real highlight and a great relief after the Threadgill experience.

Sunday had a brilliant progression of shows from good to outstanding. The Sylvie Courvoisier trio very kindly played earlier than programmed due to the late arrival of Get the Blessing (not the bands fault, their plane was delayed) Playing here her more usual style of free jazz with Drew Gress (Bass) and Kenny Wollesen (drums) the band were brilliant and surely Courvoisier must be one of the best female improving pianists around.

Get the Blessing (picture top of page), probably one of the least well known bands to the Austrians at the festival, certainly left with a huge number of new fans – Jim Barr’s quirky humour and thumping groove based bass lines won instant approval – add in the dual attack of Pete Judge (trumpet) and Jake McMurchie (sax) and world class drummer Clive Deamer, all left audience very impressed.

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The final show of the festival was outstanding in all respects – Joachim Kuhn with his regular trio (Majid Bekkas, guembri and vocals plus Ramon Lopez, drums) were joined by Archie Shepp (pictured above) to play tunes from their collaborative 2013 album Voodoo Sense. Shepp is playing probably better now than he has done for many years – controlled, imaginative and exciting. The synergy with Kuhn (one of my favourite pianists) was stunning – second skin would be a better way to describe them than second sense – such an intimate understanding of each others playing was a joy – never more so than on ‘Nina’ taken from their duo album Wo-Man – a beautiful ballad played sublimely.

This is a great festival with a long history (this was the 35th edition) It is very well run and has excellent programming – top class jazz in a stunningly beautiful location – a three day pass for everything costs from €142 or if you want the VIP experience (food and drink included plus meet the bands) it’s €300 for the weekend or €125 per day. I’d say by most festival ticket prices that’s a bargain!

– Tim Dickeson (report and pictures)

For more info go to www.jazzsalfelden.com

 

Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club has a packed programme of gigs between September and October kicking off tonight with something of a return for revered yet reclusive saxophonist Steve Williamson who debuts his new band featuring singer Filomena Campus, bassist Mike Mondesir, pianist Benet McLean and drummer Seb Rochford. Williamson will be playing new versions of music from his three albums Waltz for Grace, Rhyme Time and Journey to Truth as well as saying about the new material and band:

“The music for the forthcoming Pizza Express date will be mostly material from previous albums going back to the 1980s but with new arrangements – with well thought out and very special new line up of musicians. I also plan to introduce to the people, some pieces from the new batch of compositions reflecting where I am right now, in terms of harmonic approach, expression and of course compositionally. I am really very excited to do this! It will be the first time that I will be able to really explore the subtleties embedded within these new offerings.

“The reason for this proposed format is to familiarise the band with the development (work them in gently if you will) and also provide the audience with some pieces that they may be familiar with – but it really is all about the new compositions and approach. Hence the earlier pieces getting somewhat of a re-working. An approach that I humbly refer to as Organic Metric (O.M), a very intricate but joyous and melodic approach and contribution to the rich tradition of 'metric' musics from around the globe. I aim to record this material before the year's end.”

The programme continues with UK guitar great John Etheridge follows with a five-night residency (2-6 Sept); then it’s two roof-raising nights from saxophonist supreme Courtney Pine (12-13 Sept), and Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop’s Mingus Moves project (15 Sept). The venue also hosts more of its hugely successful themed festivals including London Latin Jazz Fest 2014 (23-27 Sept); Georgia Mancio’s fifth ReVoice! festival (10-18 Oct); and Filomena Campus’ Jazz Islands Festival (10-12 Nov). International names appearing include Spanish 19-year old vocal/trumpet sensation Andrea Motis (30 Sept-1 Oct), US trumpeter Jeremy Pelt (19 Oct), Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen (21 Oct) and Japanese pianist Makoto Kuriya who hosts a week of gigs (27-31 Oct).

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk

 

Bridge Music, the organisation that promotes jazz in the Jazz Bar in Edinburgh and Glasgow Art Club, has announced a full programme for September and October. New York-based pianist John Colianni’s big swinging quartet leads a stylistically varied September menu in both venues (Edinburgh 3 Oct and Glasgow 4 Oct), followed by drummer Tom Bancroft’s (pictured) new experimental project, Vincent with Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and bassist Una McGlone (10-11 Sept). Scottish National Jazz Orchestra stalwarts, trumpeter Tom MacNiven and trombonist Phil O’Malley front their Blue Note-styled quintet (17-18 Sept). Polish guitarist Przemyslaw Straczek brings his international quartet to Scotland for the first time (24-25 Sept) and drummer Ollie Howell slots in an extra Bridge Music gig with his quintet at the Edinburgh venue on (21 Sept).

October sees guitarist Jim Mullen return to home ground (Edinburgh 1 Oct and Glasgow 2 Oct) with his quartet. Then, having premiered his double big band commission Pro-Am in late July, saxophonist Paul Towndrow gets a bit more compact with his Organ Trio (8-9 Oct). Another Glasgow based saxophonist, Brian Molley continues to spread the word of his debut album, Clock (15-16 Oct) and Newcastle’s Eyes Wide Shut and Scottish horn quartet Brass Jaw share the next midweek slots, with the former in Edinburgh (22 Oct) and the latter in Glasgow (23 Oct). Guitarist Nigel Price’s Organ Trio completes the line-up with gigs in Edinburgh (29 Oct) and Glasgow (30 Oct) as part of their extensive autumn UK tour.

– Rob Adams

Further information is available from www.bridgemusic.co.uk

 

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Following a foray into pop, hip hop and singer-songwriter territory in recent years, British piano and vocal star Jamie Cullum is set to make an emphatic return to his first love, jazz, as he releases his new album Interlude – The Jazz Album on 6 October on Island Records. Cullum and producer Ben Lamdin (aka Nostalgia 77), both self-confessed jazz vinyl ‘crate-diggers’, have brought together a collection of jazz standards exploring a mix of classic big band swing, blues and lush vocal balladry all recorded on analogue equipment in Lamdin’s North London studio.

The album’s two guests include Grammy Award-winning US singer Gregory Porter on a barnstorming take of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, set to the first single from the album, and MOBO-winning British singer Laura Mvula who adds a sweet vulnerability to the ballad ‘Good Morning Heartache’.

Having premiered the album at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in May, (where Cullum was also guest festival director), he also performed the new material with his 24-piece big band at the Jazz a Vienne festival in France, which was filmed for the accompanying live DVD.

To launch the album, Cullum will be performing four shows over two nights at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club on 17 and 18 September, before setting off on a number of international tour dates in Germany, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Turkey and Hong Kong.

– Bethany Roberts

 – Photo by Tim Dickeson - Jamie Cullum live at Jazz a Vienne

It was a hot night, and having just ripped the place apart with a long, brutal, fast-fingered solo to close Mingus' ‘Flowers for a Lady’, Tony Kofi stood centre-stage, his gleaming baritone sax positioned rifle-like across his shoulder, his other hand swabbing sweat from his brow. "Now, we're gonna take things up a little..." he joked, before counting off the first ballad of the evening, McCoy Tyner's ‘Search For Peace’.

Against the growl of powerhouse trio Pete Whittaker on organ, Pete Cater on drums and guitarist Simon Fernsby, Kofi had kicked open the first set with some killer swingers in the shape of ‘Solid’ by Sonny Rollins and Miles' ‘Nardis’, the latter welcoming a warm, lyrical presence from Whittaker that would sustain throughout the show, seeping from every groove, and blending well with the band's slick, 1960s modernist sound.

Out of the Tyner tune, the tempo fast flipped back to breezy for an urgent reading of ‘Milestones’. Over a dry, discernible tap of ride cymbal, Kofi's melody here beautifully intertwined with some clever picking from Fernsby, a player whose style and weepy tone recalled both a silky Wes and a funky Metheny, with equal aplomb.

At the back, rapt in his own seductive pulse, Cater remained reserved behind a high-tuned vintage kit, whipping the band along with finesse and conviction. His monstrous chops and skills around the set were spotlit with a volcanic solo into ‘A Night in Tunisia’, the latin-like groove to which, swung so hard and fast, the high-register runs during a busy break from Kofi resembled the din of screeching tyres in a high-speed chase.

This intensity spilt over into a rousing run through of Duke Pearson's ‘Minor League’, opening a more song-based second set that brought deft arrangements of Billie Holiday and Bacharach classics to the bandstand. It was here, arch-backed and eyes shut, that Kofi revealed a sweet, more soulful side to his typically-full pelt sax act, blowing long, breathy lines across soft-strummed chords, swirling Hammond and the scratch of distant brushes.

While performances of Pat Martino's ‘Cisco’ and Woody Shaw's ‘Moontrane’ resumed a spirited service, the sludge organ funk-fest of ‘Ode to Billie Jo’, which closed the show, raised the roof. For many here tonight, the show also raised the profile of one of the U.K scene's finest saxophonists, tonight pushed beyond his potential by a killer band with real bite, especially when the heat was on.

– Mark Youll

 

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