Sunny

Drummer Sunny Murray, who passed away on 7 December, will forever be associated with the 'New Thing' movement of the mid-1960s, given the decisive contribution he made to the music of several of its most revered spearheads, above all Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor. Born in Idabel, Oklahoma but an adopted New Yorker, Murray was a self-taught musician who developed his own idiosyncratic style of playing, which saw him use the drums to create startling textures and thunderously powerful percussive figures rather than keep straight time. His originality was a perfect match for the aforementioned innovators, both of whom were intent on challenging prevailing concepts of harmony, melody and rhythm, certainly as it was enshrined by the bebop school. Murray's work on Ayler's classic trio sets Ghosts and Spiritual Unity was pivotal in extending the expressive range of his instrument and was highly effective in a small group setting, where openness and spontaneity were at a premium.

Murray went on to play with many other acclaimed improvisers and composers such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, though his recordings as leader, first and foremost An Even Break (Never Give A Sucker) and Homage To Africa, both cut for BYG in 1970, are notable statements. He spent a great deal of his career in Europe, striking up creative partnerships with French pianist François Tusques as well as British musicians, saxophonist Tony Bevan and double-bassist John Edwards. The appearances Murray made with the two aforementioned players on stage and in the studio – see their 2004 CD Home Cooking In The UK – were also important insofar as they gave new audiences an opportunity to experience firsthand the energy and charisma of one of the original architects of what is referred to as 'free jazz'. In the final stretch of his career Murray proved irrepressibly adventurous, working with the likes of the Afro-Cuban oriented ensemble Sonic Liberation Front as well as Louie Belogenis. Sunny's Tine Now, the documentary made by Antoine Prum in 2008, is an excellent portrait of a rich, complex personality as well as an audacious musician.

– Kevin Le Gendre

The Jazz FM Awards will return in 2018 at Shoreditch Town Hall London on 30 April, International Jazz Day. Last year's ceremony was the national jazz station's highest profile to-date, attracting a wealth of wide media attention, as well as some controversy, thanks to the presence of Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts of The Rolling Stones, who won Album Of The Year for their LP, Blue and Lonesome (based on a public vote), while their drummer Watts picked up The Gold Award, in recognition of his life-long love and commitment to jazz, notably with his renowned Tentet.

The remaining awards went to a wide range of highly credible jazz artists, ranging from US players such as former David Bowie saxophonist Donny McCaslin and innovative drummer Jaimeo Brown, to leading UK names such as vibes master Orphy Robinson, fiery British saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and pianist Nikki Yeoh.

The awards will once again be produced by Serious, with the nominees announced in early 2018, and will cover the diversity of the current jazz, blues and soul scenes – honouring established stars and emerging talents alike. Jazz FM CEO Jonathan Arendt commented: "2017 has been a remarkable year of stellar live performances, inventive collaborations, and exceptional recordings. We are delighted to be working with the brilliant producers at Serious to reflect this all in the Jazz FM Awards 2018, returning to the Shoreditch Town Hall, our new venue partner."

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.jazzfmawards.com

theo-irwin-hall

Jazz Jantar is one of the less well-known Polish festivals, but it has been running in the northern port of Gdańsk for two decades, and is housed by Klub Zak, an arts centre that has roots stretching back 60 years. It also spans 10 days, presenting mostly two (but sometimes one, or three) sets each evening, displaying a notable good taste via its trio of programmers. 'Jantar' refers to amber, for which this coast is renowned (but it's also Portuguese for 'dinner', appropriately). The Zak sound is well-balanced, the room darkly atmospheric, and there's a buzzing café bar just across the foyer. Before your Jazzwise scribe arrived, folks had already been enjoying sets by Steve Lehman, Peter Brötzmann and our own Dinosaur, but there were still six more nights of heavy pleasure in store, before the fest finished.

The first observation is that mainline American jazz acts are happily seated beside maverick extremists (some of these also being American), and the contrasting blend works out just fine. The Pimpono Ensemble ranges young Polish players across the stage, with drums, twinned basses, tuba, baritone, tenor and alto saxophones, guitar and trumpet, initially free-shaped, then coalescing into linear form. The basses are both bowed, the guitar too, while the horns are holding long notes, until the drummer prompts sudden horn rank unison attacks, guitar figures weaving between their ankles like a disruptive minor. Eventually it all erupts into explosive soloing of the near chaotic variety. A first example of the night's contrasting forms arrives early, as the Stateside trumpeter Theo Croker then leads his funky five-piece into zones that are surely more free jazzed than is usual for this Dee Dee Bridgewater sideman. Perhaps, already, the environmental influences are beginning to bleed? Croker's easy groovin' flow releases a piano solo from the impressive Liya Grigoryan, who plays with creative authority, as a drum tattoo from Dexter Hurcules encourages an extensive solo from the leader, and a stirring alto saxophone chaser from Irwin Hall. These two make up a formidable horn frontline. The set peaks with an immaculate reading of Croker's 'Because Of You', a bewitching number that has an oddly Ethiopian bent.

makaya-mccraven

The following night's double-bill was more closely matched, with a pair of US outfits who each have their own extreme approaches to groove. The Chicagoan drummer Makaya McCraven (above) has an unusual devotion to improvisation that revolves around funky repeats, but these are still prone to extreme abstraction stretches (or stretching). "We're just gonna make some shit up for y'all," announces the leader of a quartet that also includes saxophonist Greg Ward, bassman Junius Paul and multi-instrumentalist Ben Lamar Gay (cornet, keys, electronics, vocals). With 'Above & Beyond', for instance, what's happening is that an original improvisation found on the freshly released Highly Rare album is reproduced as a new variation, now that the crew has learned how to replay it. A post-Art Ensemble rainforest bountifully sprouts, getting into a horn vamp, seeping bass and skitter-groove. Paul's line is heavily ornamented, the horns becoming vocally echoey as the hard drum breaks are released, driving towards the Italian horror-flick soundtrack zone. They climax with 'Three Fifths A Man' (fast-pulse skip drums, with samba solo) and Joe Henderson's 1969 'Power To The People' (insistent beats, with sparking cornet solo).

john-Medeski

Medeski's Mad Skillet operates around an alternative bounce, taking New Orleans parade music as the quartet's starting point. John Medeski (above) twitches between piano and Hammond organ, often in the middle of a phrase, let alone a number, with Kirk Joseph's nimble wah-wah-ed sousaphone hogging a central role. Rollicking and lolopping, they also slide hard, courtesy of Will Bernard's bottleneck guitar solos, against the easy slink of 'Inside Straight', then a pair of his own tunes, soaked in 1950s rockabilly reverb, as Medeski's drooling Dr. Phibes organ laps around the knees of Joseph's distressed sousaphone waddle. It was that kinda nite!

– Martin Longley
– Photos by Anna Maria Biniecka (Theo Croker) and Paweł Wyszomirski (Makaya McCraven/John Medeski)

Being an American jazz singer in St. Petersburg is a full-time job, with diplomatic requirements. Kurt Elling (above) has barely touched down before President Putin asks to meet. A four-hour wait later, Chicago hip royalty is introduced to Russia's pseudo-democratic Tsar for three minutes. Ambassador Satch was the name of a Louis Armstrong European live album, back when this was the Soviet Union and jazz was banned, and Elling knows some things have to be done.

St. Petersburg was announced as UNESCO's prestigious International Jazz Day location in 2018, just before delegates arrive for the nation's first jazz conference, Jazz Across Borders. Elling headlines the latter's gala concert with Igor Butman's Moscow Jazz Orchestra (pictured below), in the State Academic Chapel's gilt-edged Great Hall. Once a more radical saxophonist, Butman is now a music business lynchpin and beloved entertainer, not least as the showman leader of his Orchestra's slick swing machine. He's joined by lauded American pianist/arranger John Beasley and Canadian saxophonist Kent Sangster, before Elling arrives in wide-lapelled, gangster pinstripe. Though his voice at first sounds stretched fronting the big band roar, he luxuriates in Billie Holiday's 'More Than You Know', toying with it like a verbally voracious connoisseur, and relishes punching its booming climax home. Earlier, Butman's young, blind pianist-singer protégé Oleg Akkuratov masters the elaborate, breakneck bop machinery of 'Memories of Charlie Parker', and Alina Rostotskaya sings Russian and Sephardic folk, veering between near-Arabic and operatic styles.

Kurt-Igor-live

Days are spent in improbably stifling rooms elsewhere in the Chapel complex's corridors. The drama of revolutionary Russia's brief embrace of jazz is sighed over on one panel, while Elling workshops good young local singers, hoping for the influence of "different songs that your grandmother sang to you... that should be in the sound of St. Petersburg". Local accents and jazz's fabled sound of surprise are, though, in short supply during a dozen showcases. Armenia's Van Quartet do provide gently pleading, Near East melancholy. Russian classical tradition then becomes a sort of blues for the LRK Trio, whose orderly, conceptual approach also splices techno shuffles to polka folk. Evgeniy Pobozhiy's Quartet have hurtling fusion dexterity, but it's pianist Julia Perminova who adds their jagged edge.

Faces repeat across gigs, suggesting a limited, Butman-approved mainstream talent pool. Perminova is related to Butman, but long before I know that, her engaged resourcefulness stands out in one of the nightly jams where showcase sterility loosens, and real Russian steam builds. There's a Miles-like mural in the riverside window of the White Night club where she's playing, and Elling is called up for more scat detente. The next night, sitting at the back of the JFC club, I focus on the unseen, softly accepting melancholy of Vladimir Galaktionov's trumpet, from a cramped, downstairs stage where young women swing each other round in Saturday night abandon. That's where barriers are broken, and jazz really spoken. There, and in conversations with two equally thoughtful Russians with opposite views on Putin, and Stalin, and with banned Jehovah's Witnesses who give me directions in the culture-heavy streets near the Hermitage. In St. Petersburg, as elsewhere, international jazz has an expansive embrace.

– Nick Hasted

– Photos by Daniil Jerdev

Miles-Davis--John-Coltrane-cover-artwork-Bootleg-Series-Vol-6

The widely acclaimed Miles Davis Bootleg Series issues its sixth instalment with Miles Davis & John Coltrane – The Final Tour: The Bootleg Series Vol.6, a 4CD to be released by Columbia/Legacy on 23 March 2018. It includes five of the best-recorded European concerts from the important 1960 period with the two jazz giants at the peak of their powers, still exploring the music of the recently recorded, and epoch-defining, Kind of Blue.

Miles-Davis-r--John-Coltrane-l-bw-photo-Bootleg-Series-Vol-6

These shows were among the last Coltrane performed as a sideman, with two of the concerts recorded at Paris's L'Olympia Theater on Monday 21 March; two shows from the next night at Stockholm's Konserthuset and one from Copenhagen's Tivolis Koncertsal three days later on 24 March 1960. The band also includes key personnel from the Kind of Blue sessions: pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. 'So What' and 'All Blues' appear here alongside Davis hits such as ''Round Midnight', 'Bye Bye Blackbird', 'On Green Dolphin Street', 'Walkin'', 'All Of You' and 'Oleo'. The set concludes with a rare interview with John Coltrane conducted by Swedish DJ Carl-Erik Lindgren.

Originally broadcast on European radio in March 1960, these shows have been available on various unofficial releases over the years but this is the first time they've been officially released by Davis' record company. This collection has been authorised by the Miles Davis Estate, the John Coltrane Estate and Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings. Produced by the multi-Grammy winning team of producers Steve Berkowitz, Michael Cuscuna and Richard Seidel, the recordings have been mastered by multi-Grammy winning Sony Music engineer Mark Wilder, who worked on other sets in the Bootleg series. The 4CD set also includes an extensive essay by music historian Ashley Khan and will also be available as a digital download and a single 12" LP.

Track-listing below:

CD 1
Olympia Theatre, Paris – March 21, 1960
First Concert
1. All of You
2. So What
3. On Green Dolphin Street
Second Concert
4. Walkin'

CD 2
Olympia Theatre, Paris – March 21, 1960 (second concert continued)
1. Bye Bye Blackbird
2. 'Round Midnight
3. Oleo
4. The Theme
Tivoli Kosertsal, Copenhagen – March 24, 1960
5. Introduction
6. So What
7. On Green Dolphin Street
8. All Blues
9. The Theme (incomplete)

CD 3
Koncerthuset, Stockholm – March 22, 1960 (first concert)
1. Introduction by Norman Granz
2. So What
3. Fran Dance
4. Walkin'
5. The Theme

CD 4
Koncerthuset, Stockholm – March 22, 1960 (second concert)
1. So What
2. On Green Dolphin Street
3. All Blues
4. The Theme
5. John Coltrane interview by Carl-Erik Lindgren

-------------------------------------------

1LP Track List (Copenhagen)
Side A
1. Introduction (by Norman Granz)
2. So What
3. On Green Dolphin Street (part one)

Side B
1. On Green Dolphin Street (part two)
2. All Blues
3. The Theme (incomplete)

– Mike Flynn

– Photo by Jean Pierre Leloir

For more info visit www.milesdavis.com and www.legacyrecordings.com

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