Many of those with their digits usually found firmly on exotic pulses weren't so familiar with the achievements of Basil Kirchin, prior to the announcement of this extensive Mind On The Run tribute weekender. Even some of its participating musicians confessed ignorance, until being invited by Hull's UK City Of Culture organisers. Perhaps this ultra-low profile was due to Kirchin's passing relationship to multiple musical forms, including jazz, electroacoustic, free improvisation, movie soundtracking and easy listening (though often faintly sinister and surreptitiously experimental) library music. Kirchin was fully fluent in all of these languages.
Although born in Blackpool, Kirchin grew up in Hull, returning to that city periodically, and finally settling there during the last years of his life, until his demise in 2005. At age 13 Kirchin played drums in his father Ivor's big band, soon moving on to play with Ted Heath and Harry Roy. A couple of decades later, Kirchin was employing the talents of Derek Bailey and Evan Parker, developing his powers as a composer. It's rare to observe Parker and Alan Barnes chatting together in a hotel bar, but here they were, during this weekend, swapping notes about their time playing for Kirchin.
Parker occupied a prime Saturday night position, reviving a partnership with the Spring Heel Jack duo, augmented by Matt Wright and bassist Adam Linson. All except Parker were cloaked with electronic effects, their individual sonic output often hard to untangle. Parker was originally approached by Kirchin to help sculpt film scores, so it's appropriate that this quintet's extended improvisation amassed a sense of pictorial development, nodding to the original Hullster's love of environmental birdcall capturings. Back in the day, Kirchin had challenged Alan Barnes to discern the individual contributions of Parker and a whooping swan. He failed! Parker rippled his soprano saxophone through the wash of intensified turntable surface scurf, as Linson bowed his bass, its sound finally being recognisable as such, through his veil of electronic transformation. Parker receded for a spell, then returned, leading the structural way, as heavy bells tolled through the Hull fog, his chirruping repeats welcoming a lighter patch. This was a lesson in finely-crafted restraint and long-distance atmospheric pooling.
Late on the Friday night, a screening of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (a 1971 British horror flick) was accompanied by Alexander Hawkins on the mighty pipe organ of Hull City Hall. A kitsch classic, this Vincent Price vehicle also possesses a genuinely unsettling sense of terror, as Phibes triumphs over all in his drive to discover ever more imaginative murder methods. The presence of Hawkins didn't rule out an airing of Kirchin's original ensemble score, as the organist was used sparingly, only during the parts of the film where Phibes is actually sitting at his own instrument. This was a canny strategy, as Hawkins suddenly and sporadically became visible, lit up in a crimson glow, behind and below the frontal screen, draped in his silken cape. Like the movie, this was at once dramatic and amusing in its spectacular thrust.
Since 2003, the raising of the Kirchin presence can almost single-handedly be attributed to the informed efforts of Jonny Trunk and his Trunk Records empire, as he's gradually worked through a self-admittedly meandering album reissue schedule. Here was Jonny, right down on the front table at the early Sunday afternoon Jerry Dammers DJ session, calling out facts and exchanging anecdotes with the vinyl-spinning Spatial Special. This two-hour set was an excellent display of mood-altering library music exotica, with Dammers rambling verbally between each selection, a mixture of erudite historian and absurdist comedian.
Sunday afternoon's Musical Modernism concert brought this bountiful weekend to a close, with Will Gregory (half of Goldfrapp) leading the BBC Concert Orchestra through a maze of Kirchin and Kirchin-inspired works. A virtual jazz big band swelled the usual ranks, with Parker, Barnes, Raymond MacDonald, Eddie Parker, Dudley Phillips, Ralph Salmins and Martin France.
Matthew Bourne opened up with a solo performance, sitting cross-legged at his synthesiser, forming a multi-tiered drone foundation for the triggering of snatched Kirchin dialogue. A deep bass pulse grew, eventually turning higher and higher in pitch, making a strange alternative to the hall's own organ. Bourne talked about the autistic kids that Kirchin's wife Esther had taught, bending his own pitches in sympathy with the sounds of those children, as recorded and utilised by Basil. Bourne added Moog oscillations to the recipe during his second piece, freed up to fly over them on his keyboard.
Matthew Herbert's 'Primitive 5 Remix' sampled rustling-of-plastic-bag, tooth-brushing, torn newspaper, cello, and then further orchestra instruments, built up on the spot, as the composer arranged these sonics from the back of the hall, a plexiglass water tank at side-stage, with a brick-weighted plunger taking a platform down to its depths. Herbert was inspired by the possibly apocryphal tale of Kirchin's early tapes being lost at harbour. Despite this weight of construction, the actual piece was pleasingly impressionistic rather than strikingly bold.
Barnes was back, remembering his duet with the voice of Adolf Hitler, prompted by Kirchin as an alternative to the whooping swans. "He would have loved this," says Barnes, of the weekend's celebration (Kirchin, not Hitler). The next Basil barrage married the feels of Colin McPhee and Arthur Lyman, moving into fragments of Philip Glass and Ealing comedy pastoral scenes. A particular highlight of the programme was 'Abstractions Of Holderness', a pictorial documentary set to music by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs (of St. Etienne). Kirchin dwelled in this remote zone during the 1970s, the Holderness images strolling by, mixing zoom-grain with further-away scenes, always perfectly framed, toned and textured in lovingly miserable monochrome. Jim O'Rourke's '12 Dollars Is A Lot' featured MacDonald's spiral soprano, then Parker spoke of Kirchin calling himself, Bailey, Kenny Wheeler and Dave Holland his "paranoia boys". Kirchin's 'L'esprit d'Amour' closed the set, spotlighting Barnes in a loungey latin trotter. On a riser up at the back of the stage stood an empty drumkit, reserved for the doubtless smiling spirit of Kirchin himself.
– Martin Longley
– Photos by Tom Arran
Renowned fusion guitarist Larry Coryell died on Sunday 19 February aged 73. He was staying in a New York hotel and, according to his publicist Jim Eigo, passed away due to natural causes – the news coming just days after his last two concerts at the city's Iridium Jazz Club.
One of the most individual guitar stylists in jazz, Coryell's career spanned over 60 albums, incorporating elements of rock and blues with the finesse of a bebop virtuoso. Born in Galveston, Texas in 1943, he played piano from age four, but switched to guitar in his teens and had an early love of rock music. He studied journalism but his move to New York from his family home in Washington in the mid-1960s saw his reputation as a musician grow on the NYC jazz scene, eventually going on to replace Gabor Szabo in Chico Hamilton's band, with whom he made his debut recording on the drummer's 1966 album, The Dealer. His status as a gifted guitarist was consolidated through his solo albums Lady Coryell, Coryell and 1969's Spaces, which also featured preeminent fusion maestro John McLaughlin on a guitar-heavy summit.
Coryell was to make an indelible mark as a pioneer of jazz fusion with his 1970s band Eleventh House, which pre-dated Return to Forever and Weather Report, the group also featuring keyboardist Mike Mandel and the earth-shattering drumming of Alphonse Mouzon. The success of his fellow fusioneers eluded him, yet Coryell changed tack and explored acoustic territory in a wide range of high-level collaborations with the likes of Phillipe Catherine, John Scofield, Joe Beck and notably a memorable trio with McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia. He also recorded with such luminaries as Stéphane Grappelli, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins, while his later years saw a return to his fusion roots with several new line-ups alongside players such as Paul Wertigo, Chester Thompson, Victor Bailey and Lenny White, and even a reformed Eleventh House with original bandmate, trumpeter Randy Brecker.
He is survived by his wife, Tracey, his daughter Annie, his sons Murali and Julian, and his daughter Allegra, as well as six grandchildren. A memorial service is being planned on Friday 24 February 24 at the S.G.I-USA Buddhist Cenre, New York at 7 p.m.
– Mike Flynn
– Photo by Tim Dickeson
London-based saxophonist Rachael Cohen is among the featured musicians in the latest series of Edinburgh's popular Playtime jazz sessions, which begins this Thursday. Cohen, whose debut album for Michael Janisch's Whirlwind Recordings, Halftime, earned enthusiastic reviews and was a Mojo magazine jazz album of the month, will join Playtime regulars, saxophonist Martin Kershaw, guitarist Graeme Stephen, bassist Mario Caribe and drummer Tom Bancroft on Thursday, 9 March in the Outhouse, the loft space where the resident quartet created a regular opportunity to experiment and pay tribute to jazz's major figures.
The Birmingham Conservatoire trained Cohen will be back in the Scottish capital to appear in a special homecoming concert at the Queen's Hall on Friday 10 March featuring fellow former students at the City of Edinburgh Music School and to take workshops at her alma mater, and Martin Kershaw, who was her tutor at the music school, invited her to make her Playtime debut to take advantage of a rare trip back.
Also scheduled to appear for Playtime are Trio AAB guitarist Kevin Mackenzie, who will lead a celebration of the music of John Coltrane on Thursday 23 February to mark the 15th year since the great saxophonist's death, and pianist Peter Johnstone. Johnstone, a former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year and winner, with Glasgow quartet Square One, of the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award 2015, recently joined saxophonist Tommy Smith's new quartet and will lead a Playtime homage to Herbie Hancock on Thursday 23 March.
– Rob Adams
For more info visit www.playtime-music.com
Jazz continues to play a strong part in this year's Bath Festival programme, which runs from 19 to 28 May, with the theme of music and verse combining in various forms. Chief among the artists appearing is a rare UK outing for the much-feted Brad Mehldau Trio, featuring bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard (Assembly Rooms, 20 May) all fresh from the critical success that was their 2016 album, Blues and Ballads.
A jazz-informed tribute to the music of Bob Dylan is led by chanteuse Barb Jungr and fellow musicians Justin Adams, CN Lester and Sid Griffin alongside music writers David Hepworth, Dorian Lynskey and Hajar Woodland, and host Danny Kelly, for a diffuse look at Dylan's words and music (Forum, 20 May).
Further dates include rising-star violinist Alice Zawadzki in a trio with drummer/ pianist/producer Fred Thomas and emerging bass talent Misha Mullov-Abbado (Masonic Hall at Old Theatre Royal, 21 May); the eternally hip Georgie Fame backed by the Guy Barker Big Band (Forum, 22 May); a newly-created piece from Alex Webb entitled 'Stormy: The Life of Lena Horne', which celebrates the life and music of the singer through the multi-talents of vocalist and actress Camilla Beeput (Komedia, 24 May).
Two vocal-led performances complete the programme with popular US songstress Madeleine Peyroux performing music from her Secular Hymns album (Forum, 27 May) and the hugely entertaining a capella beat-box and instrumental imitators Naturally 7 (Komedia, 28 May) closing things out in emphatic style.
– Mike Flynn
For more info visit www.thebathfestival.org.uk
On an otherwise quiet Tuesday night in Central London, rising stars Henry Spencer and Juncture drew a sell-out crowd for the launch of their debut album. More than two years in the making, The Reasons Don't Change combines hard-driving 1950s-style jazz with the emotional punch of the Cinematic Orchestra.
Tonight the band seem to be enjoying their freedom from the constraints of the studio, giving themselves ample room for improvisation across two sets at Soho's Pizza Express Jazz Club. Spencer is a jovial and confidant host, gently mocking his bandmates between songs and directing them with the hand signals of a Wall Street trader. Switching between trumpet and flugelhorn, he specialises in simple, catchy motifs and mournful solos. At his most sombre on 'Joanne's Diary' and 'Hopeless Heartless', his group are always close behind, urging an emotional resolution, with blasting beats and loud, towering harmonies. This sense of camaraderie between the friends and Guildhall alumini often escalates the tension to hypnotic effect.
Central to the action, drummer David Ingamells impresses, whether he's barely hitting the kit or pounding through an all-out wall of rhythm. Pianist Matt Robinson gradually expands three-note melodies over guest guitarist Ant Law's single chord riffs with a rumbling energy that belies his calm, upright posture at the keys. And double bassist Andrew Robb shapes the drama with low-end hooks. Tucked in a corner, string ensemble the Guastalla Quartet add a symphonic quality to four of the band's compositions and premiere a short chamber piece by George Stevenson.
Throughout both sets, there is a keenness to reinterpret Spencer's work rather than simply playing through the songs on the record. The approach creates some of their finest moments, such as the closing number 'The Survivor and the Descendant', where the musicians give the reprise an avant-garde twist, thick with atonal squalls and clattering rhythms. A haze of noise around him, Spencer takes a swig of beer before firing a final series of drawn-out notes. An evening of resonant jazz dowsed in rock'n'roll fury.
– Edward Lander