Coltrane-Tribute

One of the capital's lesser known jazz venues, Toulouse Lautrec, within walking distance of both Elephant & Castle and Kennington tubes, has nonetheless steadily burnished its credentials over a number of years. With the piano bar on the first floor and the loft club on the second there are two stages for a range of gigs, and its new showcase of Guildhall students reflects the establishment's eye on the future.

Having said that, the appearance of Ukrainian-Polish harpist Alina Bzhezhinska tonight celebrates heritage in a number of ways. Her band is an A-list multi-generational ensemble that brings together mid-career masters, saxophonist Tony Kofi, flautist Gareth Lockrane and double bassist Larry Bartley, alongside emerging players, guitarist Ed Riches and drummer Joel Prime, to celebrate the music of both John and Alice Coltrane. This is an unusual if not unique concept as the husband and wife are mostly seen as separate artistic entities, but the performance highlights the profound creative empathy that bound them as well as the strong personality of each.

The notable anniversaries – 50 years since John's passing and 10 since Alice's – become something of an irrelevance given the timelessness of the repertoire, and it is indeed the spellbinding modal structures, their relentless, unbroken circular motion so hard to resist, that defines most of the arrangements. Alice's glissandi on the harp were almost like the swaying and whispering of branches in the wind, and Bzhezhinska's superlative touch on the instrument does her role model proud, as can be heard on the opening late 1960s anthems 'Lovely Sky Boat' and 'Blue Nile', though she is equally incisive on John's quite mesmeric 'Equinox.' The absence of lingering left hand piano chords is well compensated by the strength of Bartley's tone as well as the heft of Kofi's tenor, which he pushes towards the low end of the instrument, sometimes broaching the register of the baritone, which he plays more regularly. On a few occasions this is problematic as the unison work of the horn and alto flute conspires to sadly drown out the harp, whose valuable detail is lost among the heavier resonances. Yet there is also great sensitivity in the handling of most of the material, particularly Alice's anthems 'Journey In Satchidadanda' and 'Isis And Osiris', whose majestic quality is enhanced by the hovering, almost airborne character of the legato phrases from the ensemble.

The gig really hits a peak on the songs where the band brings to the fore a facet of the Coltranes that is often overlooked in the prevailing narrative of their lives: dance. Both had come of age through the big-band era and the dynamics of swing and the blues were not alien to them. A very hard-hitting version of Joe Henderson's 'Fire', on which Alice played, is thus an astute choice, but it is the wily recasting of John's 'Naima' as a quite enchanting samba that has the audience rapt. Prime's swish, skipping rimshots are a very effective foil to Bzhezinska's lush chording as Lockrane and Kofi convey the deep romanticism of the theme by way of those familiarly serene, sigh-like whole notes. The use of an Afro-Brazilian rhythm is an inspired sub-text to the evening, a reminder of the all-consuming interest that the Coltranes took in the music of the black Diaspora, as well as the Indian sub-continent. Their pursuit of a 'universal sound' never felt more contemporary, as this performance convincingly showed.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Nassim Rad

norma-winstone-live

When a top vocalist is in such high demand and performing in various places with local musicians, it must be frustrating not to have sufficient opportunity to rehearse, especially unfamiliar material. This was the case with JazzFM Vocalist of the Year Norma Winstone at Leamington's Restaurant in the Park. However, it is a reflection on the professionalism and ability of the artists involved that this was largely undetected by an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, and many felt privileged to have seen how jazz musicians work, resolving the occasional glitch.

After an introductory number, 'Gratitude', from bassist Adrian Litvinoff's band, Interplay , Ms Winstone started with the Clifford Brown composition 'Joyspring', and immediately demonstrated how adept she is at dealing with lyrics at a fast tempo. Tenor saxophonist Alan Wakeman took a strong solo that wouldn't have been out of place with the original Brown/Max Roach group and showed that he is well on the way to peak form following his recent lay-off. A slightly Latinish up-tempo version of Raye/de Paul's 'You Don't Know What Love Is' followed, which included an effective unison passage of horns and voice.

Litvinoff's attractive ballad 'Ode to Duke' showed what a good composer he is and Ms.Winstone dealt with it as if she had been singing it for years, creating a mood and atmosphere that trombonist Richard Baker continued, with his rich and mellow solo ending in a flurry of notes, suitably Ellingtonian. Key changes and tempo variations were used to good effect on 'Hang Around' and 'Sometime Ago', whilst the famous jazz standard, 'Body and Soul', featured the singer with just Litvinoff's bass and the piano of Neil Hunter, both adding warm and melodious solos. At times Ms.Winstone's voice seemed to display a fragility that somehow enhanced the lyrics, giving them added poignancy; at others her strength of tone gave balance and authority to them. 'Memphis Shout' was a delve into the 60s, the electric piano of Hunter laying down a soul groove and an excellent trombone solo from Baker, full of slurs and licks, had members of the audience getting up and strutting their stuff.

The extended piece of Monk's 'Round Midnight' that segued into Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke's 'Midnight Sun' caused a problem, but with Ms.Winstone taking charge and quite rightly calling a halt, the audience were then treated to a keyhole class in resolution. The musicians quickly ironed out the problem and once again underway, Hunter's inventive piano solo drew a well deserved acknowledgement from the vocalist. The evening's direction then changed with a duet between vocalist and drummer/percussionist Dave Balen on tabla. Completely unrehearsed, the two entered into a musical conversation and Eastern sound experiment, the call and response elements and their rapport having the audience enthralled, reminding us of Ms.Winstone's reputation as a pioneer in vocal improvisation. Another Litvinoff number, 'When Loves Begins', once again gave the opportunity to show how well she delivers a ballad, this time with Wakeman giving a Ben Websterish breathiness to his full sounding tenor. 'Ladies in Mercedes' (composed by Steve Swallow, lyrics by Ms.Winstone) and an encore of Monk's 'Well You Needn't' sent the audience away with the confirmation that they had witnessed a soundly cohesive unit supporting someone thoroughly deserving of the title 'Jazz Vocalist of the Year'.

– Matthew Wright

– Photo by Petra Kemper

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.

TD-Chris-Potter-01

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

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