Things are hotting up for this year's 22nd edition of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, which runs from 2 to 7 May, with the latest additions including leftfield US heavyweights and key UK names. The former includes consistently compelling guitar icon Bill Frisell and his lyrically-inclined partnership with bassist Thomas Morgan (above centre), the duo's Small Town ECM album an understated highlight of 2017. They appear on Saturday 5 May as does influential NYC downtown drummer Jim Black with his feisty four-piece Malamute, which features Icelandic tenor saxophonist Óskar Guðjónsson, Austrian keyboardist Elias Stemeseder and New York bass-guitarist Chris Tordini, all exploring expansive, electronica-tinged jazz-rock. Coruscating Leeds guitarist Chris Sharkey – who led his own Shiver trio in a storming set at last year's festival – is set to reappear as part of the newly rejuvenated Roller Trio for an exclusive festival premiere of their new material. The trio, which also includes founding members James Mainwaring on sax and Luke Reddin-Williams on drums, is set to release their third album in July on Edition Records, after a lengthy hiatus following their acclaimed eponymous 2011 Mercury Prize-nominated debut and its tricky 2014 follow-up, Fracture.

British luminaries also announced include top Bristol sax man Andy Sheppard with his high-flying Quartet (above left) of Eivind Aarset, Michel Benita and Seb Rochford (5 May), while renowned violinist Nigel Kennedy (top right) whips up a Jimi Hendrix-inspired frenzy with his excellent Polish jazz band (3 May). These names join those already announced in Jazzwise, who are media partners for the festival, with the impressive line-up so far including Randy Crawford (Big Top, 2 May); Dinosaur (4 May); Beth Hart (Big Top, 5 May); Jason Moran Bandwagon Trio (5 May); Christian McBride Big Band (Town Hall, 6 May); Kamasi Washington (Big Top, 6 May) and Donny McCaslin Band (6 May).

Taking place once more in its dedicated festival site in the spa town's Montpellier Gardens, venues within the festival village include the Big Top and Jazz Arena alongside the site's Free Stage, record shop, international food stalls and bars. Other major venues within walking distance of the main site include the Town Hall, Parabola Arts Centre (PAC) and The Daffodil, alongside free street performances, plus many more participating clubs and bars hosting fringe
events around the town.

Mike Flynn

More info and tickets visit www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz

Vibrant vibes-led group Cloudmakers – the long-running trio featuring vibes maestro Jim Hart, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Dave Smith – expand into a five-piece formation for a series of tour dates in support of their new album, Traveling Pulse, which is released on Whirlwind Recordings on 23 February. The new line-up includes French altoist/clarinettist Antonin-Tri Hoang and London-based Austrian guitarist Hannes Riepler, both of whom unleash fiery performances on the record, which was recorded live at The Vortex Jazz Club in March 2017.

The tour kicks off tonight at East Side Jazz Club, Birmingham (11 Jan) and continues at the following venues across England, Norway, Scotland and Ireland: Verdict Jazz Club, Brighton (12 Jan); Lille Ole Bull, Bergen Live, Bergen, Norway (16 Jan); Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (17 Jan); Blue Lamp, Aberdeen (18 Jan); Aberdeen University, Aberdeen (19 Jan); ​Vortex Jazz Club, London (20 Jan, album launch); Groove Tots & Sam's Kitchen, Frome (21 Jan); Wells Cathedral School, Wells (22 Jan); Crane Lane Theatre, Cork, Ireland (23 Jan) and Bonington Theatre, Nottingham (25 Jan).

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.whirlwindrecordings.com

Emerging Scottish saxophonist/bandleader Helena Kay (pictured) has been announced as the winner of the prestigious Peter Whittingham Jazz Award 2017 of £5,000. Presented by Help Musicians UK (HMUK), the UK's biggest independent music charity, three further musicians were also awarded development funds: pianist Olly Chalk, saxophonist/clarinettist Faye MacCalman and saxophonist Jasmine Whalley.

Hailing from Perth, Scotland, and already winner of the 2015 Young Scottish Jazz Musician Of The Year, Kay commented on her win: "Recording, releasing and promoting my debut album is a daunting and expensive prospect, but the support and guidance that this award provides will be a massive help in making it possible. It means a lot to have been selected for this prestigious award, given the reputation of the panel and previous winners; I'm very grateful and excited to get started."

Previous recipients of the Peter Whittingham Award include Errollyn Wallen MBE, Andrea Vicari, Empirical, Phil Meadows and several Mercury Prize nominees including Soweto Kinch, Gwilym Simcock, Led Bib, and Roller Trio. This year's independent judging panel included chaired by Peter Whittingham's son-in-law Clive Shelton, alongside leading jazz musicians Zoe Rahman, Geoff Gascoyne, Issie Barratt and Noel Langley.

The HMUK charity will also celebrate Women in Jazz at a specially curated gig featuring Helena Kay's KIM Trio and Jasmine Whalley's Tȇtes De Pois, alongside leading young UK trumpeter Laura Jurd, all of whom appear at London's iconic 100 Club on Sunday 4 February.

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.helpmusicians.org.uk

 

Camden Town's revamped Jazz Cafe presents series of album playbacks and related live shows under the auspices of Colleen 'Cosmo' Murphy (pictured) and her Classic Album Sundays sessions banner.

Colleen-MurphyThe series kicks off on 5 February with trumpeter Yelfris Valdes (formerly of Yussef Kamaal) interpreting Donald Byrd's 1973 Blue Note release, Black Byrd. Things continue on 5 March with drummer/bandleader Jake Long, of emerging groove-led band Maisha, who appears with an expansive line-up of trumpeter Dylan Jones, saxophonist/flautist Nubya Garcia, bassist Mutale Chashi, keyboardist Amané Suganami, guitarist Artie Zaitz and percussionist Yahael Camara-Onono for a widescreen take on Miles Davis' epochal 1970 album, Bitches Brew. The series concludes on 17 April with electronic musician and composer Ben Hayes' interpretation of hugely influential electronica artist Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works 85–92.

Murphy first presented Classic Albums Sundays on BBC 6music and Worldwide FM, and has since held CAS listening sessions at The V&A Museum, Royal Albert Hall and The British Library, but the Jazz Cafe run will be the first to feature live performances of the records themselves.

Jazzwise spoke to Colleen Murphy about the series:

How will Classic Album Sundays work at Jazz Cafe?

Classic Album Sundays has always focused on full replays of albums, so we are excited to work together with the legendary Jazz Cafe on a series of live renditions that will shed new light on the records. With our usual events, we tell the story behind the album followed by an uninterrupted replay on our state of the art world-class audiophile hi-fi sound system so that the album is truly brought to life in the way the artist intended. With our series with the Jazz Cafe, we will focus on the great legacy of these classic albums. I will interview the guest musicians about the influence of the artist and album they are covering both on their own work and contemporary music in general. Then we will be treated to a live interpretation of the entire recording in which the musicians will bring their own personality into play and will sonically translate the music in a fresh, contemporary way. This series aims to show how classic albums can morph and change with the times and therefore have a life of their own.

Do you think the renewed interest in vinyl, as an analogue real-world experience, has had a positive effect on how people interact with music – specifically audiences listening to live music?

An analogue audiophile sound system is almost as good as hearing a band play live (sometimes it can be better if the band is having an off night and the venue has poor acoustics!). The aim of an audiophile reproduction is to get as close as possible to the live event of the actual recording. Having said that, sometimes there isn't an actual live recording event, as much of today's music is created with one or two producers working on computers and is more of an assemblage. The renewed interest in vinyl reflects an increasing interest in music and that is music to my ears. Music has been in danger of becoming a devalued commodity that can be accessed without much interaction or intent. It's so easy to stream music and then barely pay attention while you get on with your activities, allowing it to take on the role of aural wallpaper. The vinyl experience is interactive, as you have to physically engage with the record – putting it on the turntable and flipping it over just in time so it doesn't wreck your stylus. The fact one has to pay for a physical unit rather than a download or stream, means the listener will take more notice. It gives music more value both emotionally and economically and this can only be a good thing for both live and recorded music.

It's good to see Aphex Twin in the mix – do you think electronica artists share some of the uncompromising creative values jazz musicians do?

Absolutely! An artist like Richard D James has pushed boundaries and experimented with not only sound, but also with what actually constitutes music. John Coltrane expanded the possibilities of saxophone and, similarly, Aphex Twin widened the scope of potential of a keyboard and computer.

Do you have any plans for another season of these gigs and what albums may feature if you do?

We hope to continue as the programme seems to be very popular! Other albums I would personally like to feature are Joni Mitchell's Blue, Massive Attack's Mezzanine, Radiohead's Kid A, Portishead's Dummy, Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express, Talking Heads' Remain in Light, Björk's Homogenic and a dub version of one of the most classic albums of all, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.

For more info visit www.thejazzcafelondon.com

– Mike Flynn

Pharoah-John-Sharpe

Vilnius Mama Jazz is the younger sibling of the three-decades-old Vilnius Jazz Festival, which has carefully built a reputation for adventurous, improvisationally-based programming. For some inexplicable reason, Mama Jazz takes place only a month after the VJF, but at least this maintains the momentum, as one excellent festival runs on to the next. On the surface, Mama Jazz has a more mainline orientation, but for this 16th edition there was no lack of extremity among its artists.

For the first three days, Mama's scene revolved around the international acts presented at the Tamsta music club, with its semi-circular stage and crow's nest balcony. Three or four bands played each night. Quite Sublime (a risky name) united four players from four European lands in spumy funk, with warm tenor saxophone, following Brecker and then Sanborn, when alto was selected. Jazzybit (Romania) exist on the crowded GoGo Penguin piano trio plain, but displayed a welcome toughness, with Teodor Pop switching between acoustic and Nord, both of these attacked percussively, as he impressively slid between piano and rippling organ sounds. 'Amor Moon' had a plodding boogie basis, but their third tune cut sharply to salsa, Pop flaying his virtual organ with bruiser abandon. The first night closed with Italian pianist Lorenzo De Finti's quartet, presenting 45 minutes of his slightly edited suite, a lyrical excursion, with pointillist keys and peppercorn trumpet, passing through many moods. A powerful combination of piano and bass notes produced deep resonance, and an emphatic chordal pounding climax.

The second evening had Quantum Trio (Poland) again stalking Bad-GoGo-Svensson-Plus territory, but one of their best pieces featured a piano/drums duo with a flamenco lilt, followed by 'Entanglement', which made a harder strut, developing a dub skip. Dogon (Switzerland) followed, improving as they got heavier, their guitar/bass/drums formation facilitating a Wayne Krantz complexity, with a stand-out, mildly distorted, Arabo-Andalusian-styled guitar solo from Eric Hunziker. Amazonas (Sweden) looked like a more experienced crew, creating a frisky bustle, with heavy bassline quake and lively alto/soprano exchanges. When Biggi Vinkeloe swapped saxophone for flute, joining the attractively disembodied bass, they started to sound like classic period Gong. H.Soror (Ukraine) are a tenor, electric bass and drums trio, dedicated to a 1990s-era rock influenced jazz, building a slurred slurry trough of slow groove that eventually graduated to slack dirge, barely destined to crawl out of their sacks in the morning.

On Friday night, the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre began its three days of headliner sets, but there was still one last session booked at Tamsta. Guitar power trios could be quite exhilarating, as an antidote to the continuing plague of piano threesomes! The Bodhisattwa Trio (India) made a rubbery slink with 'Cronos', their native ingredients comparatively subtle, but residing mostly in the sliding string-bends of their leader's guitar solos. A meaty bassline on 'Convergence' led to the introduction of space to increase dynamics, with a sudden heavy dub bridge leading to a crazed drum solo, infested by strafing guitar punctuations. Bringing a welcome climax, the ultra-confident projectile crew of Naked (Serbia) used tenor saxophone, violin, bass and drums at a high-energy setting, riddled with earthy toughness, their rhythm team's rapport elastically supporting a switch to clarinet, with grainy hardass fiddling creating a fresh genre called free gypsy, negotiated at a speeding punk rate. Audience communication reached profound levels, deep into the night.

Get-The-Blessing--John-Sharpe

On the main concert stage, Get the Blessing (Bristol) addressed 'Green Herring', the "least trustworthy of all the fish" (one of bassman Jim Barr's often profound observations). It's a groover, emanating electric extensions, relaxing the crowd for 'OCDC', and its speedy audience clapping-support, always integral to success. This foursome unite filmic roadster themes, effects trims, and strictly edited soloing, regurgitating the perfect combination of foot-and-bonce entwined majesty. Next, Norway's Jaga Jazzist continued to refine their headbanging pomp jazz complexity, nowadays becoming too much of a precision engineered juggernaut, leaving not much to chance, and demanding that someone open the windows. This hyper-evolved state is something that's still capable of giving pleasure, fortunately.

On the last night, the Neil Cowley Trio prepared the way for the Pharoah Sanders Quartet, laying down a complete contrast of mood, dwelling on the hyperactive side of town, and fuelled by their pianist leader's almost manic wit. Sadly, it must be said that Cowley's more recent tunes, deliberately simple and direct (compared to his old songbook), pale beside those original chestnuts. Sometimes the trio sounded a touch rigidly metronomic, but the loosening came via the verbal introductions rather than the music itself. Sanders (Los Angeles) was joined, as ever, by pianist William Henderson, plus the London team of bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo. At first, the tenorman was spreading out his impressionistic character, with waves of sound and feeling, but steadily, Sanders rose up out of the swirls with some bite, and once he began the heavier blowing, the soloing took on an epic scale, loaded with detailed accents and embellishments. The set eventually tipped over 90 minutes, which was well beyond the saxophonist's accustomed duration. Sanders merely hinted at 'The Creator Has A Master Plan', which was another very unusual move, to forgo playing his signature number in full.

– Martin Longley
– Photos by John Sharpe

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