MSJ 9106-2

The conventions of a jazz performance are so well established they are easily overlooked. Audiences applaud after solos because they catch the ear and usually mark a clear departure from a stated theme. However, at no point during two absorbing sets from this tightly cohesive ensemble are hands put together in the house when a single player is heard for any length of time. Improvs are not telegraphed.

The quartet jointly led by pianist Alexander Hawkins and vocalist Elaine Mitchener presents a suite of music in the true sense of the term, meaning that single pieces and moments within them, be it a solo, duo, impromptu exchange or burst of unison playing, form an overarching narrative. As with many an interesting group the large unit sub-divides into smaller cells without breaking the flow of ideas.

Launching Uproot, its debut album on Intakt, a label of optimum quality control, the quartet makes that sense of purpose clear from its arrival by again bucking a trend. Rather than take a few moments to settle and slowly count off the downbeat Hawkins, Mitchener, double bassist Neil Charles and drummer Stephen Davis attack their respective instruments as soon as they take to the stage, producing a notable jolt in the audience who are frankly caught off guard.

That could have been empty gesture politics if not edginess for edginess' sake but the creative richness of the performance, above all the tension between prepared and spontaneous materials, precludes that. Echoes of Hawkins' role models, AACM iconoclasts Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell [and occasionally Jaki Byard], come to the fore, as does Mitchener's immersion in theatre as well as in music. It is precisely the elision of performance art and sound exploration that makes the gig fascinating. Rhythmic turbulence, focussed harmonic distortion and dynamic interplay all bear down on Uproot but Hawkins and Mitchener also understand that the so-called avant-garde is nothing if not melodic and that beauty can occur when serenity dovetails ferocity.

MSJ 86681

While Abrams worked brilliantly with the unheralded Ella Jackson, Hawkins has found an equally poised, often operatic partner in Mitchener whose finesse of tone lights up the room on wry originals such as 'Love Is A Funny Thing' and Archie Shepp's 'Blasé'.

Her wide range of experimentalism – polyrhythmic clickings; throaty overtones; meshings of song and spoken word – are met by some very potent responses, above all Davis' jagged thumb piano and Charles' swaying arco. On just a few occasions the group's attack is overwhelming, and some balance is lost as an idea is explored beyond its natural life cycle, an occupational hazard with any ex-tempo creativity and a defiantly no-compromise spirit.

However, the seamless shifts into tough if not torrid vamps, especially one string of languorous descending chords from Hawkins, imbue the gig with direct currents of energy that are irresistible. Mitchener both reinforces and subverts that strategy, using her voice as an abstract sound source as well as vehicle for storytelling that is by turns full of sharp irony, deep pathos and stark, confrontational resolve. Right down to the recitation of a list of things she no longer needs, on which there might be consensus – the numbers of people to whom she no longer wants to speak – and dissent – her old discs from a mini-disc player. Some might argue it is worth reactivating that time machine.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Monika S. Jakubowska

Denys-Baptiste-Credit--Dave-Stapleton-5471

Award-winning saxophonist and Jazzwise 2017 end-of-year-chart podium-maker Denys Baptiste curates a special one-day fest dedicated to the life and music of John Coltrane.

Some of the UK’s finest artists, including Evan Parker, Alina Bzhezhinska, Tomorrow’s Warriors, Gary Crosby Quartet, as well as Baptiste himself, are all set to appear at the Mirth, Marvel & Maud space in Walthamstow, London on Saturday 17 February. The event will also host a screening of the critically acclaimed documentary Chasing The Trane, plus a plethora of DJ sets, jazz-inspired yoga/meditation sessions and other Coltrane-centred activity

– Spencer Grady

For more details and ticket info at www.coltraneculture.co.uk

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

 

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