Guitarist Ronny Jordan, widely credited for bringing jazz guitar briefly back to a pop and dance audience as part of the early-1990s Acid Jazz scene with his signature take on Miles Davis’ ‘So What’, has died aged 51. His death was confirmed by his brother and sister Rickey and Denise Jordan who set up a tribute page on Facebook saying:
“Dear Friends, Family and Well Wishers – It is with our deep regret that Ronny Jordan has recently passed away. We are still coming to terms with the loss of our brother. We are taking steps to manage Ronny's personal affairs and so we ask if you could kindly bear with us as we deal with his matters in the background. We appreciate that Ronny has got many fans around the world and so we ask that you keep an eye out for further announcements in relation to his funeral arrangements. In the meantime, tributes to Ronny can be left on this Facebook page. Thank you for your patience and understanding. With every blessings and love – Rickey and Denise, Brother and Sister, 14 January 2014”
Born in London in 1962, Ronny Jordan first come to prominence with his 1992 Island Records debut, The Antidote, which contained his propulsive take on Davis’ classic composition, ‘So What’, from Kind Of Blue – Jordan single handedly put the sound of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and George Benson back on the map, giving the tune a hard-swinging backbeat groove.
Jordan was one of the few British jazz artists on a major label at the time, alongside Courtney Pine and Andy Sheppard, who were all signed to Island Records’ Antilles imprint. The guitarist was also prominently featured on Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol.1 that, prior to such projects as Nuyorican Soul, brought jazz back to the dancefloor adding hip-hop beats to the instrumental mix with Jordan performing alongside such US names as Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis, Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith.
Jordan’s recording career continued with three more albums; Quiet Revolution (1993), Light to Dark (1996) and Brighter Day (2000) while he also worked with the likes of Mos Def, DJ Krush, Pieces Of A Dream and Jonathan Butler and remained a popular live performer at festivals and jazz clubs around the world. Jazzwise sends our deepest sympathies to Ronny Jordan’s family and friends.
Back after a Christmas break Sheffield Jazz continues its strong winter-into-spring programme with highlights that include the return of top UK trombonist Dennis Rollins’ Velocity Trio (Millennium Hall, 14 Feb), and a performance by former Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers saxophonist Jean Toussaint (Millennium Hall, 21 March). Rollins (pictured left) is set to return with a new album later this year and this date will be a taster of the new music, performed by his kicking-trio of drummer Pedro Segundo and Hammond organist Ross Stanley. Toussaint is also back with a new album, entitled Tate Song, on drummer David Lyttle’s Lyte Records and is set for release on 24 February. The album features his regular band of pianist Andrew McCormack, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Troy Miller, who all appear on this Sheffield date, which is part of a UK tour that will also include a headline spot at Ronnie Scott’s in London.
Another highly anticipated appearance comes in the form of German piano star Michael Wollny Trio (Millennium Hall, 2 May), which features bassist Christian Weber – who replaces Tim Lefebvre for this tour – and drummer Eric Schaefer, all performing music from his new album on ACT, Weltentraum. This date is one of four for the trio who also visit Queens Theatre, Barnstable (30 Apr), Watermill Jazz, Dorking (1 May) and finally a headline spot Cheltenham Jazz Festival (3 May).
Other forthcoming Sheffield Jazz dates include: Ian Shaw (Millennium Hall, 24 Jan); Gary Crosby’s Groundation (Millennium Hall, 31 Jan); Kit Downes Quintet (Millennium Hall, 7 Feb); Modern Jazz Quintet Celebration (Millennium Hall, 7 Mar); Jay Phelps Sextet - Projections of Miles featuring Soweto Kinch (Crucible Studio, 14 Mar); Get The Blessing (Auditorium, SUSU, 27 Mar); Brandon Allen Quartet (Millennium Hall, 4 Apr); John Turville Trio (Millennium Hall, 11 Apr); Led Bib (Millennium Hall, 25 Apr); Julian Siegel Quartet (Millennium Hall, 9 May) and Anita Wardell/Dave O’Higgins Quintet (Millennium Hall, 16 May).
– Daniel Taylor
For more info go to www.sheffieldjazz.org.uk
If black jazz critics are mostly conspicuous by their absence today then the importance of pioneers in the field cannot be overstated. When LeRoi Jones made his debut as a reviewer, liner note writer and essayist in the early 1960s he challenged the standard image of the ‘serious’ music scribe as a member of the white middle class. Jones was born to bourgeois African-Americans in Newark, New Jersey and saw the likes of the Shorter brothers, Wayne and Alan, around his neighbourhood as a boy. Although a lover of hard-bop and soul-jazz who wrote eloquently about players like Gene Ammons, Jones emerged as a champion of the ‘New Music’ or avant-garde, making a substantial case for the innovations of Coltrane, Coleman, Ayler, Taylor and Shepp at a time when their work alienated much of the critical establishment.
Of no less importance was the 1963 book Blues People, in which Jones gave an illuminating account of the multi-faceted, complex nature of African-American music, and how the closely entwined strands of blues, gospel and jazz reflected the broad sweep of Negro socio-cultural history that covered slavery and the post-Emancipation period. Criticism was merely one strand of Jones’s output. He was as versatile as he was prolific, and the plethora of dramatic literature, poetry and fiction that he produced singled him out as a complete man of letters. Different as they are in form, the play Dutchman and the poem 'It’s Nation Time' are uncompromising reflections on black mental repression and the need for self-empowerment.
Although his adoption of the Muslim name Amiri Baraka in1967 may have been perceived as a sign of the writer’s growth as a black cultural nationalist, he had been going down that road several years prior.
Baraka was indefatigable in his efforts to enshrine the principle of ‘Black Art’ as a means of defence against a dehumanising white power structure. Some of his views drew accusations of homophobia and misogyny, charges to which he responded by pointing out the tide of violence that had been unleashed upon African-Americans, white liberals and progressive African politicians alike: draw the line from Emmett Till to Patrice Lumumba via King, Kennedy and Malcolm X. While it is a shock to read some of the early extreme positions that Baraka took it should be noted that he was a frontline activist who lived through extreme times and confronted inequities head on.
Radical and rabble-rouser in equal measure, Baraka was also an important educator, and he held teaching posts at several universities during his life. Yet he was never an armchair academic content to sit in a book-filled study and mark papers. An integral part of Baraka’s whole being was performance. The stage was his real home. He could not conceive of the written word without the spoken word.
Arguably, the highlights of his creative life are the collaborations with jazz and hip-hop musicians, from New York Art Quartet and Sun-Ra Myth Science Orchestra in the 1960s to The Roots and Vijay Iyer at the turn of the second millennium via David Murray in the 1980s.
Baraka’s substantial body of work makes him a seminal figure in contemporary black culture. His talent was matched by a determination to tell stories from a community that he’d seen struggle up close and personal. That stance paved the way for subsequent writers, notably Greg Tate, to deliver the word of their own generation.
– Kevin Le Gendre
Trombonist Tom Green’s Septet came to the Forge on Tuesday on the back of a winter tour, the leader garlanded by the award of the 2013 Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition, this complemented by praise from none other than Dame Cleo Laine herself. With a packed venue and a young, enthusiastic crowd, expectations were running high and rightly so as Green’s men, mostly current or past Royal Academy students and supplemented by guest tenorist Iain Ballamy, delivered a programme largely based on the leader’s own compositions. In effect, writing was king, Green’s liking for densely-plotted outcomes calling for concentration and the kind of dynamic interplay that might mark out a contemporary concert group. Indeed, there was a sense here at times of a graduate recital, brows furrowed in concentration.
Green likes his pieces to open quietly, one instrument with another, as on his ‘Peace of Mind’ before allowing the ensemble to plunge in, using complex voicings amid dense musical foliage, the solos quite contained and often solemn. On this basis, it was hard at first to evaluate his players’ solo capabilities, Green’s own trombone supple and rich-toned but never quite breaking free from the bonds of these pieces. Trumpeter James Davison was note-perfect and spot-on throughout the compositional ebb-and flow, drummer Scott Chapman keeping the ship on course whatever the musical weather. Reasonably enough, Ballamy was seldom at a loss, his characteristic push-and-pull tenor style well in evidence, even if his through-composed original ‘Floaters’ seemed dirge-like and portentous.
As so often happens, Green and company appeared more relaxed post-interval, smiles replacing frowns, these later pieces opening up more, with Ballamy’s ‘Veg Gary’ (his tribute to a market-trader friend), prompting pianist Sam James (definitely a player to watch) to unleash some darkly funky harmonies ahead of Ballamy’s own vibrant solo, the band clearly relishing the zigzag lines of the piece. Green’s ‘Equilibrium’ followed, complete with its Iberian allusions and the band began to fly, paced by Chapman’s fine drumming. The final ‘D.I.Y.’ was altogether more cheerful, hinting at the Dirty Dozen’s collective style, hosted by Chapman’s second-line drum moves and great walking bass from Misha Mullov-Abbado. So a game of two halves perhaps: more light and less reverence in the second half making for a rewarding evening’s music. There’s promise aplenty here.
– Peter Vacher
Celebrated experimental contemporary music group, Icebreaker – the 12-piece ensemble formed in 1989 by James Poke and John Godfrey – are set to explore the avant garde roots of pioneering German electronic band Kraftwerk on a four-date UK tour from 24 January to 12 February. The cult German band were given a feverish reception for their gigs in the UK last year, which included a 3D film shown behind them while they played live. Icebreaker – who play guitars, keys, pan-pipes, saxes, flutes, drums and percussion – also aim to create an outlandish, experimental audiovisual live experience and have teamed up with German composer, producer, and soundscape artist J. Peter Schwalm and visual artists Sophie Clements and Toby Cornish.
Schwalm explained the approach for the project: “Our focus is on Kraftwerk’s early, semi-improvised music that combined acoustic and electronic instruments. Where Kraftwerk’s aesthetic moved ever closer to the ‘man machine’ we aim to adopt a more ‘retro-futurist’ approach to find the ‘human’ inside the machine, beginning with [Kraftwerk’s] Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider’s own early albums.” The tour dates are: IMAX Cinema at the Science Museum, London (24 Jan); Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool (5 Feb); Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (6 Feb), Town Hall, Birmingham (8 Feb) and Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham (12 Feb), and Corn Exchange, Cambridge (2 May).
– Mike Flynn
For more info go to www.icebreaker.org.uk