Multi-award winning saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows hits the road for a string of UK dates in March and April in the run up to recording his next studio album. Meadows has a formidable reputation as an innovative composer via his own Project band, as well as his work with versatile string ensemble Engines Orchestra, who've recently performed ambitious collaborations with Phronesis and guitarist Femi Temowo.

The latest forward-thinking configuration of the Phil Meadows Project now includes guitarist Michael De Souza (from the band Big Bad Wolf), drummer Jay Davis and bassist Joe Downard, who all combine on a widescreen sound palette. This includes electronica-influenced grooves akin to trip-hop kingpins Bonobo, plus hook-laden melodies and spacious soundscapes, all of which will be further enhanced on the up-coming album by electronic artist Nick Tyson and producer Mikko Gordon.

Catch the band on tour (which is supported by Arts Council England) at the following dates: Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho, London (12 March); The Lescar, Sheffield (14 March); Matt and Phred's, Manchester (15 March); JATP, Bradford (16 March); Ronnie Scott's, London (Late Show, 4 April) and The Storey, Lancaster (13 April).

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.philmeadowsmusic.co.uk

The Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf) returns this year from 20 to 28 July at venues across the city. Ahead of the announcement of the full programme on 24 April, the recipient of the festival's Irwin Mitchell Award commission has been presented to harpist and composer Esther Swift (pictured). Her composition 'Light Gatherer' will be performed by harp quartet, string trio, piano, saxophone, trombone, voice and percussion at the festival. Very much reflecting the mjf's longstanding commitment to programming new and innovative music, this year's Irwin Mitchell award is also aimed at championing women in music in the centenary year of women being given the vote in Britain. 'Light Gatherer' will showcase the harp in a contemporary jazz context, as well experimenting with "words, texture, purpose and expectation". Commenting on the commission, Swift said: "The Irwin Mitchell: mjf originals commission is a bit of a dream come true for me. It has come along at a really exciting point in my creative development and I am itching to write the music and play it with my friends."

The festival's commitment to supporting and programming female jazz musicians saw the 2017 edition feature 50% of all bands that played include women in their line-up, translating as 49 out of 98 gigs having a strong female presence. And this trend is set to continue with the mjf's association as a member of the PRS Foundation's Keychange initiative, which is encouraging music festivals to sign-up to a 50:50 gender balance by 2022. MJF artistic director Steve Mead, said: "I'm absolutely thrilled that Esther will be producing Light Gatherer for mjf 2018. Not only does it promise to be an intriguing piece of new work, but it helps us build on our historical achievements in celebrating female creative talent across our programmes, it adds to our increasingly impressive canon of commissioned work and it brings together some of the outstanding artists we have living and working in the north west. The 2018 suffrage centenary, and our appointment as a Keychange Associate, naturally add a special dimension. My priority is for mjf to sustain its solid reputation for balanced, adventurous programming that continues to inspire audiences and support artists – and always questions the norm."

The full Manchester Jazz Festival line-up will be announced on 24 April – watch this space for details.

– Mike Flynn

Photo by Mike Guest

For more info visit www.manchesterjazz.com

Iconic Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison makes a dramatic return with a heavily jazz-influenced new album, You're Driving Me Crazy, which sees him join forces with renowned virtuoso Hammond-organist (and trumpeter) Joey DeFrancesco. Released on 27 April via Sony Legacy Recordings, Morrison's 39th album finds him exploring fresh interpretations of jazz and blues songs by the likes of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer, alongside reworkings of originals from his extensive back catalogue, all set to DeFrancesco's hard-swinging Hammond work. The fine studio band also includes guitarist Dan Wilson, drummer Michael Ode and tenor saxophonist Troy Roberts.

The album's jazz-centred sound revives memories of Morrison's acclaimed 1968 album Astral Weeks, which featured jazz musicians Connie Kay, Jay Berliner, and Richard Davis, while the singer has regularly shared stage and studio time with some of jazz and blues' biggest names including John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Mose Allison, Bobby Bland, Solomon Burke, Jeff Beck, Georgie Fame, Robbie Robertson, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Maceo Parker among others. DeFrancesco has also worked with a who's who of jazz, working alongside Miles Davis, Jimmy Smith, Ray Charles, David Sanborn, Larry Coryell, Frank Wess and John McLaughlin to name but a few.

A limited edition seven-inch single from the album 'Close Enough For Jazz', and a rendition of Guitar Slim's 'The Things I Used To Do', will be available for Record Store Day 2018 on Saturday 21 April. Morrison is set to open the Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 3 May.

Mike Flynn

Photo by Richard Wade

Zara McF LWorms 2

The night outside may be freezing, but there's already a decent-sized crowd gathered under the Komedia's notoriously low ceiling as support act Thabo does his utmost to warm them up. He gives a lesson in effortless charisma, and despite appearing with just a pianist in support he easily fills the whole stage with his expansive personality and measured nu-soul stylings.

Zara McFarlane's band play her on in true showbiz style with a piece of energetic jazz-funk, with plenty of space for her to riff and scat. Pianist and musical director Peter Edwards and sax man of the moment Binker Golding toss some trades back and forth with the assurance of star basketball players. Then bassist Jihad Darwish picks up his acoustic and we're off into 'Pride', played as a sultry afro 12/8 groove, winding through the long cascading vocal melodies before exploding into a drum/sax duet of the sort that Binker's been successfully exploring with Moses Boyd. The excellent Sam Jones on kit proves that he's fully up to the job, and the crowd are onside with whoops and hollers. Then there's 'Freedom Chain', featuring plenty of long jam-outs from Edwards on funked-up Fender Rhodes, while the rhythm section deploy a kind of mutant reggae that's hip and tight enough to avoid jazz-funk cliches. 'Allies And Enemies' is delivered with just Darwish on bass guitar and Jones on trigger pads, showcasing Zara's supple, clear-toned and accurate vocals. She steers clear of the kind of gospel-inflected dramatic affectations that are current in some contemporary jazz-and-related-music circles. The results are refreshingly unhyped, personal and sincere sounding.

Zara McF LWorms 1

The band can really play, and a substantial amount of the set is given over to loose, free-flowing jamming over heavy basslines, with a kind of open West Coast Get Down vibe, big-toned angular sax solos, lots of bravura work from behind the drumkit, and a ton of palpable fun and good humour. It's not all groove material – a version of 'Row Fisherman Row' over bowed bass and muted drums and piano gets heartfelt applause from the crowd, and Darwish even gets a superbly creative solo on stand-up bass, egged on by offstage exhortations from the rest of the band. Zara is a warm and friendly onstage presence and when she leads into some co-ordinated song-and-dance participation the whole room joins in. "Police And Thieves' is a sure crowd pleaser, a new track written by Boyd and Shabaka Hutchings extends into another potent reggae-flavoured workout, and there's a triumphant return on 'Fussing And Fighting' to conclude the night.

The set brims over with vibes and joyful, expansive energy. There's a balance struck between showcasing her characterful individual voice while still allowing the communal talents of the band to flourish; Gregory Porter has this down to a fine art, and it'll be interesting to see how the show develops when McFarlane and company return from their upcoming schedule of international touring.

– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley 

 

Jazz at Lincoln Center Barbican 0258

The 1938 Carnegie Hall concert that brought together Benny Goodman's hit-making orchestra and stars from the Ellington and Basie bands was a game-changing moment for 20th century America, both artistically and socially. Carnegie Hall, a temple of classical music, was opening its doors to a new world. It was also lending its stage to a glimpse of social harmony that – though yet to be fulfilled, 80 years later – was nonetheless a high-profile showcase for white/African-American artistic liaisons that were inconceivable to many in the 1930s.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra came to London's Barbican to celebrate that landmark's 80th anniversary – with founder Wynton Marsalis discreetly concealing himself in the trumpet section, and lively local stars Clare Teal (voice), Jim Hart (vibes), and clarinetists Giacomo Smith and Adrian Cox from the Kansas Smitty's House Band circle joining the Americans. The JLCO caught the elusive glide of a 1930s swing groove and the garrulous horn-section polyphonies with an offhand flawlessness that even Goodman the legendary martinet might have approved of, and the programme stayed close to the original, a sprint through 20-plus tunes in two tight sets.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Barbican 0857

Highlights of the first half included a smoothly-oiled 'Don't Be That Way' (with leader/saxophonist Victor Goines on clarinet sharing solos with tenor saxist Walter Blanding), a hurtling 'I Got Rhythm' for a scintillating Jim Hart spurred on by a fired-up Adrian Cox, some tender Bix Beiderbecke impressionism from trumpeter Kenny Rampton, and a terrific account of Fletcher Henderson's alternately stuttery and sultry arrangement of Irving Berlin's 'Blue Skies'. A crackling, tone-shifting, rhythmically fearless Marsalis trumpet solo opened the second half on Goodman's and Harry James' 'Life Goes to a Party'. Goines and Ted Nash roused cheers for their clarinet relay-race on 'Dizzy Spells', Blanding and Sherman Irby shared earthy sax speculations on Ellington's 'Blue Reverie', and Giacomo Smith, Hart, and pianist Dan Nimmer flung fireworks at each other on 'Stompin' at the Savoy'. 'Sing, Sing, Sing' was the predictable but still irresistible finale, with JLCO brassmen Elliot Mason and Marcus Printup in full cry, and all the clarinetists – Goines, Nash, Cox, and Smith – reflexively swapping phrases as if the notes were red hot.

The only thing missing was a little more sense of the import of the original gig in Victor Goines rather scholarly announcements – but the music left an indelible impression that something extraordinary had happened that January night in 1938.

– John Fordham
– Photos by Mark Allan/Barbican

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