James-Taylor-Quartet I1A3179 PressWeb

The Limerick Jazz Festival continues to spring surprises, and to find groups that succeed in impressing several categories of listener. For instance, the young Irish group Booka Brass initially sound like a cross between, say, the Dirty Dozen and a mariachi band. Consisting of four horns, bass (formerly a brass bass), drums and latin percussion, they featured short solos and short tunes – all of them in minor keys! – with no vocals but with musicianly choreography. 

In his element with a 100-strong club audience, organist James Taylor was grimacing like George Galloway, but with a better rhythm-section than George. Opening for Taylor, the locally-based guitar virtuoso Joe O'Callaghan's trio Electric Freeplay sported high-energy McLaughlinisms, but was perhaps more affecting in the slow and spacey 'Moments'. This year's programme by the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra looked intriguing on paper, taking 1917 as its starting point for repertoire. After opening with 'Indiana' (the first pop tune covered by the ODJB), the highpoint was David O'Rourke's 'John McCormack Suite', adapting songs associated with Ireland's answer to Caruso. But missing a couple of key band-members, the DCJO stretched the parameters as far as 'I Got Rhythm' (1930) and 'Sing Sing Sing' (1935), which hardly made up for some unidiomatic vocalists. 

More than living up to expectations, however, was Soweto Kinch. In a late-night trio set (with bassist Nick Jurd and drummer Will Glaser), his engaging personality was matched by both verbal dexterity and fiery musicality. And his afternoon workshop even included an unaccompanied tribute to Johnny Hodges.

– Brian Priestley
– Photos by Salvatore Conte 

Jazz in the Midlands got a huge boost with the opening in September of a state of the art £57million premises for Birmingham Conservatoire, which is now home to the Eastside Jazz Club and will present the first gig of its autumn programme tonight with revered US saxophonist David Liebman lining up with longtime piano collaborator Richie Beirach (pictured), ahead of more appearances by stellar US and UK artists.

The first purpose-built UK music college in a generation, there is no less than five venues within the main building, with a large 500-seater concert hall, 150-seat recital room, 100-seat experimental 'lab' space, the 80 seat Eastside Jazz Club and a 100-seat organ studio. The top-spec technical facilities available also include a £2.5million audiovisual and lighting package, while the building itself features high-calibre acoustic treatment of all spaces, 100 practice rooms for students, a stage capable of accommodating a full orchestra, recording studio and a large public foyer space with floor to ceiling glazing over three floors.

The new venue will host the biannual BBC Young Musician competition, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year in March 2018. Head of Jazz at the Birmingham conservatoire, Jeremy Price said: "I lobbied hard at the planning stage to get our jazz club included from the outset. I took architects and designers down to Ronnie Scott's to help explain that very special space that jazz thrives on; where the audience are there to listen, but they can relax and have a good time, and where the feel is of one social it Eastside Jazz Club: Birmingham, and plan to programme music throughout the week. Monday to Wednesday will be student gigs, including the Jazz Orchestra and Ellington Orchestra alternating on Monday nights, and the best of student combos Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday nights will be 'guest nights' that we can also tie in with masterclasses in the afternoon before. For these we already have lined up Dave Liebman, Richie Beirach, Gilad Hekselman, Mark Turner, Christine and Ingrid Jensen and Ben Monder. Friday is for commercial hire and Saturday is offered to the local scene. The students are going to be in jazz heaven!"

With some high-calibre international and UK names set to appear, each one preceded by an opening set from a local jazz group, the twice-monthly programme kicks off tonight with David Liebman & Richie Beirach (5 Oct) and continues with Oli Rockberger (13 Oct); Christine & Ingrid Jensen with Ben Monder (2 Nov) Jeremy Price Quartet with Rex Richardson (9 Nov); Gilad Hekselman Trio with Mark Turner (16 Nov) and Stan Sulzmann with Eastside Jazz Club Trio (30 Nov).

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.bcu.ac.uk

 JW-mike-gibbs-80th-birmingham-009-by-john-watson

In celebration of his 80th year, the composer and arranger Mike Gibbs took his big band out on the road, to play a select six-date UK tour. His actual birthday was 25th September, the night of the band's first of two performances at London's Vortex, but three days later at Birmingham's CBSO Centre perhaps this assemblage was drilled even deeper.

Gibbs is strangely borderless, actually born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), but spending many of his years either in the US or the UK. As a result, his accent and demeanour are strangely without obvious geographic placement. His music also embraces characteristics found in the large scale works from Britain and America, as well as featuring a significant African influence. Gibbs has also been consistently open to funk and rock elements, the strongest model being Gil Evans, who remains his key colouristic guru.

The line-up of this big band is a testament to the respect that Gibbs commands, with a particularly impressive saxophone section, featuring Julian Siegel, Alex Garnett, Jason Yarde and John O'Gallagher. Gibbs is concentrating on his arranging side for this tour, chiefly using the works of other composers as a basis for painting his thoughtful layers, and strategically deploying the soloing ranks.

JW-mike-gibbs-bigband-musicians-017-by-john-watson

Opening with 'You Go To My Head', from 1938, it seems like the natural choice to have Garnett take the solo, with his expert command of vintage jazz voicings. Paying tribute to old colleague Kenny Wheeler, Gibbs offers his own ''Tis As It Should Be', with the trumpet section highlighted as each of them steps forward to take a solo, led by Henry Lowther. In actuality, it's their flugel horns that are chosen to deliver this glowing sequence. The acoustics of the CBSO Centre are particularly suited to this multi-faceted ensemble spread, and the low-level amplification reveals all players in equal measure.

Gibbs polishes his player-parts, crafting a burnished, carefully layered and regimented spread. Next come Bill Frisell's 'Throughout' and 'Las Vegas Tango', by Gil Evans, running into each other with Jim Rattigan's accordion playing a prominent part, in the Gil Goldstein manner. Guitarist Mike Walker sends keening strokes into the ether, which Siegel snatches, maintaining the tonal character with a voluptuous tenor solo. A rousing horn section punctuation develops, bringing the piece to its climax, as Garnett joins for added emphasis. It gradually becomes apparent that a favoured Gibbs technique is to prompt an initial solo, and subsequently trigger another player to enter the fray at a crucial point, emphasising and heightening the drama.

As if cheerfully embracing his senior status, Gibbs appears to reject the concept of a set-list, though he does have a neatly stacked selection of scores. He delights in questioning his players over this or that detail, almost as if he's exaggerating the abstract forgetfulness of the elderly. Pianist Hans Koller is a long-standing cohort, here acting as 'musical director', and filling in any pieces of missing information. Even so, there's absolutely no doubt when it comes to Gibbs and his sensitive hand gestures, riding each piece with precision sensitivity.

Eberhard Weber's 'Maurizius' has a dancing, loquacious alto solo from O'Gallagher, ending on a gradually fading ensemble repeat. Yarde solos on a new arrangement of 'Django', by John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet, with a two-part solo to follow (trombone and muted trumpet), Walker churning up a groove, locked together with drummer Andrew Bain and chief tour-assembler and bassman Michael Janisch. The final explosive run is provided by Yarde, with a writhing solo reprise, as the versatile Rattigan sends soft notes hanging via French horn resonance. Not surprisingly, John Scofield's 'Meant To Be' acts as a showcase for Walker, with strategic punches provided by the horn ranks. Once it's fully aroused, O'Gallagher weighs in with one of this extended single set's finest searing solos. Gibbs probably overran what might have been an informal curfew, encoring with 'Tennis, Anyone?', amorphous and quietly triumphant. Heading for the two-hour mark, this was a delicious adventure in tonal positioning, roughed up by each individual member's passionate soloing interventions.

– Martin Longley
– Photos by John Watson

Mike Carr, who died on 22 September aged 79, was arguably the most compelling of British jazz organists, notable for his enthusiasm and for his unerring ability to generate powerful, swinging improvisations. In person, the style was the man, for Mike was excitable, always passionate on matters musical and invariably upbeat.

Calling on him at his London home was an adventure for Mike lived amid a multitude of cats, surrounded by a formidable array of Hammond B3 organs and their accompanying Leslie speakers, plus sundry special finds from car boot sales. Ever the optimist, Mike firmly believed that any one of these precious artefacts was about to make his fortune. Mike was from South Shields and first made his name as the instigator of the EmCee Four which became the EmCee Five once his trumpeter brother Ian had joined the group. Moving to London in the 1960s their impact was immediate for their grasp of the hard-bop idiom made them a formidable force. Powered by drummer Ronnie Stephenson and featuring Mike on piano and vibes they earned every plaudit going. Eventually the brothers Carr went their separate ways and Mike moved over to the B3, drawn to its funky strut and growling power, touring widely with Ronnie Scott. He then fronted any number of combos of his own, often appearing with Jim Mullen and Dick Morrissey and working with visiting US stars including the bluesy vocalist Irene Reid. His final Blue Note Band with the Fishwick brothers and Steve Kaldestad was one of the best groups around and a genuine festival favourite.

Loquacious, hugely talented and a paragon of swing, Mike's last years were dimmed by the onset of dementia, a cruel outcome for so engaging a character. RIP Mike.

– Peter Vacher

Two of Jazz FM's longest serving presenters, DJs Sarah Ward and Chris Philips, have been nominated for a Radio Industry ARIAS Award and a Parliamentary Jazz Award respectively. Ward has been with the station since its early and has worked in commercial radio since the 1970s, and has been nominated for The Sarah Ward Collection in the 'Best Specialist Music Show' category. Philips, who joined Jazz FM in 1990 when the station was first launched, and where he's now Head of Music as well as presenting the Morning Show and The Blueprint, is nominated in the Best Jazz Media category at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

Nigel Williams' programme Mardis Gras 2017 with British Airways has also been nominated for an ARIAS award in the Best Branded Content category. Fellow Jazz FM presenter Chris Gilvear, has been named as one of 2017's '30 Under 30 – ones to watch in the radio industry' by the Radio Academy and ReelWorld's annual list of emerging radio talent. The winners of the Radio Industry ARIAS take place on 19 October at the First Direct Arena, Leeds, while the Parliamentary Jazz Awards take place at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Holborn on 10 October.

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.jazzfm.com

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