lansky

What do you get when you fuse jazz with a symphonic choir and theatrical tales from the mob underworld? The unlikely but no less fascinating answer is Lansky: The Mob’s Money Man, a ‘choral-jazz-drama’ (to coin a term) coming to the Southbank Centre in London this 27 April.

The multi-disciplinary piece dramatizes the life and crimes of mafioso man-of-mystery Meyer Lansky (pictured), popularly known as ‘The Mob’s Accountant’, who rose from abject poverty to global gambling kingpin. The staged tale of the Polish immigrant begins in the orthodox Jewish communities of pre-war Europe, moves through Ellis Island and into jazz-era New York and the hedonism of 1950s Havana.

Roland Perrin, the jazz pianist and composer responsible for this innovative work, has utilised a passion for jazz, film noir, Jewish heritage and Afro-Cuban music in this upcoming collaboration. Moreover, an autobiographical lens gives the interpretation potent depth; his own father, another ambitious young Jewish émigré, lived a similar life on the run from authorities, with family in tow. The itinerant globe-trotting behind him and now resident here in the UK, pianist Perrin claims he is ready for an “exploration of my Jewish roots.”

The performers include Perrin’s own Blue Planet Orchestra in collaboration with the David Temple’s acclaimed choir, Crouch End Festival Chorus. Vocalists Rachel Sutton and Allan Corduner also take leading roles in the storytelling.

Catch the world premier of the new commission at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre on 27 April. Touted as “Gershwin for the 21st Century” this promises to be a fascinating and pioneering concert.

For more information and tickets see: www.cefc.org.uk

– Tommie Black-Roff

This month brings a rare chance to see eclectic jazzman Shahin Novrasli live on stage in a tantalising collaboration titled The Pursuit of Now, with English/Bangladeshi dancer Akram Khan, presenting itsworld premiere on 17-18 March at Sadler’s Wells as part of the second Buta Festival. Pianist and singer Novrasli blends blinding technique, faultless jazz sensibilities with a passion for ‘Mugham’, the national music of his native Azerbaijan.

For his upcoming concert in London, Novrasli’s ensemble will be providing the musical tapestry for the improvised choreography. The acclaimed Akram Khan Company, produced by Farooq Chaudry, are themselves a seasoned fusion-artist, having already collaborated with the likes of Steve Reich, Nitin Sawhney and Ben Frost.

This season’s exciting association takes place against the backdrop of increasingly ‘localised’ jazz culture in a global age. Young Novrasli, described as “formidably accomplished” by Jazzwise’s Stuart Nicholson back in May 2014, and critically acclaimed for his debut album Bayati, adds another welcome voice to jazz from the Caucasus. Tigran Hamasyan has company. The festival, whose mission is to stage Azerbaijani culture across London, winds down next month with the concert.

– Tommie Black-Roff


For more info go to www.butafestival.com

Grammy-winning groove collective Snarky Puppy (pictured above) have announced a series of UK tour dates for the autumn while their keyboardist/composer Bill Laurance is also set to return to these shores in May with a tour to support the release of his new album, Swift. Following his sold-out run of eight UK dates in 2014, the keyboardist will once again be joined by Snarky bandleader/bassist Michael League and drummer Robert ‘Sput’ Searight plus members of the Dutch Metropole Orkest who will accompany the trio as they perform Laurance’s genre-hopping string-laden blend of dance-fuelled electro jazz-fusion. Their tour kicks off on 23 May at the Union Chapel in Islington. Further tour dates are: Band on the Wall, Manchester (25 May); Hall Two, The Sage, Gateshead (26 May); Nottingham Contemporary (27 May); Colston Hall, Bristol (28 May); St George’s Church, Brighton (29 May).

The full Metropole Orkest also feature on Snarky Puppy’s latest opus Sylva, which was recorded last year in the Netherlands and is released in the UK on 20 April on the Impulse! label. The band also recently recorded the vocal-led Family Dinner Vol.2 in New Orleans, with guests including Salif Keita and Jacob Collier, with that album scheduled for release in September, followed by a run of UK dates. With a large UK fanbase the band concluded their several here visits last year with a spectacular sold-out night at London’s historic Roundhouse venue, performing to over 3,000 fans as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. Snarky Puppy dates are: Vicar Street, Dublin (29 September); O2 Academy, Leeds (1 October); Ritz Ballroom, Manchester (2 October); O2 ABC, Glasgow (3 October); The Institute, Birmingham (4 October); O2 Academy, Bristol (5 October); Eventim Apollo Hammersmith, London (6 October) and Concorde 2, Brighton (7 October).

– Mike Flynn


For more info on Bill Laurance dates go to www.serious.org.uk/Bill+Laurance+Project and Snarky Puppy go to www.serious.org.uk//snarky-puppy

The final applications are now being accepted for the Junior Guildhall Jazz Course that starts in September 2015. Junior Guildhall – part of Guildhall School of Music and Drama – offers pre-conservatoire training to over 400 students between the ages of 4 and 19. The Saturday weekly jazz course was launched in September 2014 to help young people to achieve their ambitions for a career in jazz. 

The Saturday class allows students to play, listen and learn about technique and repertoire – from Count Basie to Kenny Wheeler – as well as improvisation, sight-reading skills, performing in large ensembles and big bands, creating musical arrangements, section playing, problem solving and the history of jazz.

All application enquiries to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

"I hope you like bass with your chips mate..." Mark King joked with one of the front row diners, strapping on his infamous four-string to cheers from a packed house. This comical rapport with the audience is all too familiar with fans of his band Level 42, but tonight King's confidence was stroked by the fact that he and fellow 42 founder Mike Lindup on keyboards, got to guest with one of their all-time heroes, drummer Billy Cobham.

This is what everyone was expecting anyway. Though via a surprise announcement before the band took to the stage, it would be at the request of Cobham himself that this, his final show of his week-long residency here, would be something really special: a Level 42 gig with himself on drums. With the exception of any hardcore jazzers or Cobham nuts out there, hungry for more of the athletic fusion he'd been dishing out all week, this news stirred a wave of excitement around the room that only swelled as the intro bass to b-side 'Foundation and Empire' opened the show.

billyC

Joined by guitarist Nathan King and saxophonist Sean Freeman, the band held back hits from their commercial cannon in favour of lesser-known tracks they made in the early '80s, as a raw Brit-funk collective still mad on Mahavishnu, Return to Forever and Earth Wind & Fire. Fat grooves sat under songs like 'A Physical Presence' and a meatier 'Floating Life', but it was the frenetic bass hook to ‘True Believers’ that first gave Cobham at the back something to really chew on. Slicing into the tune with violent cymbal sweeps, signature blurred tom rolls the drummer climaxed with some room-rumbling double bass drum work to replicate a busy sixteenth-note riff from King.

While Cobham's clout and sashaying beats remained faithful to the pop sensibility of the songs, his tireless invention around his huge drum set encouraged some funky improv from all. During a jam hung around the instrumental 'Heathrow' (which King would later describe as "more Marmite than jam") a crisp shuffle from the drummer underpinned some soulful sax lines, noodling guitar, and a shrill, pitch-bent vocoda solo before trading fours with some equally percussive bass. Escaping the rarity net, one of the band's big singles 'Hot Water' proved as dynamic. A synth, slap and horn workout, it erupted from the stage like a dam bursting, urging the crowd to sing-a-long with its memorable chorus, before shifting through various keys and deft time signatures.

L42-BC2

Elsewhere, reconfirming King's infamous "thunder-thumbs" handle, another killer slap solo launched 'Love Games', before Cobham cooled things off with a slow, sock-style hi hat groove to fit the band's first single, 'Love Meeting Love'. Marked by King's rich voice and a smooth, finger-style bass line, the song's disco feel would trip over into a more danceable 'Sunbed Song' before live favourite 'Starchild' brought the house down, its creamy clavinet and sax licks getting busy under Lindup's angelic vocal.

The evening would wrap up with explosive 'Chinese Way' and Billy's last night at Ronnie's went out with a bang. The crowd called out for more, and the music of this criminally overlooked band had been taken to another level, no doubt leaving even the most hardcore of jazzers here tonight swayed and slack-jawed. Magnificent.

– Mark Youll

– Photos by Carl Hyde

Speaking to Mark Youll after the show, bassist Mark King considered Cobham's influence on Level 42, and how it felt to help conclude his hero's residency at Ronnie's.

How did it feel to be on stage with Cobham and have your band close his week-long residency at Ronnie's?

It was epic! We are all such fans of Bill that when he called me towards the end of last year I jumped at the chance to play with him again. He is unique. A true legend.

A lot has been written about how much Cobham's '70s solo albums, and the music he made with the Mahavishnu Orchestra influenced Level 42's early output. How much of an influence was he, and what was it about those records that inspired you and the band so much?

Bill’s influence on Mike Lindup and myself was enormous. The very first time I met Mike in Oxford Street he was proudly carrying a pair of ‘Billy Cobham’ drumsticks, which said all I need to know about Mike, and we became buddies immediately. For me The Mahavishnu Orchestra was the musical epiphany that all young musicians wait for, I was fourteen years of age when I happened across them on BBC2’s In Concert program. It looked to me as if Bill was playing a kit made of glass, and even though I’d been a fan of Buddy Rich, Ginger Baker, Buddy Miles, this was a whole new ball game. The music of The MO was the perfect vehicle for Bill’s power, and uncanny intuition when it came to duetting with John McLaughlin. Bill’s solo albums were all ‘must have’ vinyl for me too, and of course any like-minded player had them in their collection too!

When and how did you come to meet Cobham?

My bud Gary Husband had the Level 42 drum stool in 2008, but when we were offered The Hague Jazz Festival that year he had already committed to some shows with John McLaughlin. Gary suggested I give Bill a call, and what do you know, he said yes! It was quite something standing in rehearsals looking at your hero sitting behind the drums, and playing your songs. Surreal doesn’t come close…..


It's well-know that you were first a drummer before picking up the bass. How much would you say playing drums and listening to drummers influenced your approach to playing bass?


Hugely. I guess it’s fair to say that I’m known as a slap player primarily, and my approach to slap is very much like a funk drummer, so the lines are very linear, very sixteenth’s, and hopefully creating a rolling pattern that makes you want to dance.

For a drummer well known for his athletic style in the jazz/rock arena, I thought Cobham remained faithful to the often simple grooves of the original records. Was Cobham a fan of L42 before working with you?

I think it’s testimony to what a great musician Bill is that he instinctively knows when to hold the groove down, and not go ape-shit all the time just because he can. You have to remember that (original L42 drummer) Phil Gould, Gary (Husband), Mike, and I were all influenced by Bill’s groove’s from the ’70’s, so it’s no surprise that playing with him fits hand-in-glove.

Was there a reason you avoided playing some your biggest hits for this show?

We wanted to take the opportunity to just jam really, so the set we chose included some of the more ‘left-field-and-live’ tunes we have. I thoroughly enjoyed it I have to say, and didn’t miss the biggies at all.

Do you have any plans to work with Cobham again?

I would love to, so I am waiting by the phone as we speak…...

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