If Britain once had a dubiously pop prime minister then Estonia claims a convincingly rock & roll president. In fact there is much more than a stratocaster of credibility between Tony Blair and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, first and foremost because the latter simply isn’t trying too hard to pluck any strings of spun-out cool and strike a chord with the kids. In his address at the opening ceremony of this exciting four-day event in which the buzzing city becomes wired for sound Ilves warned against the corporate takeover of music and cracked jokes about radio shows and life-changing tracks. All in the kind of perfect American accent that would make for a special relationship with Washington.

International in outlook and wide-ranging in content – Tallinn Music Week (TMW) features 200 odd showcases and seminars presenting artists, promoters, movers and shakers from all over Europe – the event has the feel of a Midem, Womex or Jazzahead! but is not restricted to a single genre (much like By:Larm in Oslo). Which means that there is a jazz night right in the middle of the programme, sandwiched between rock, folk, electronica gigs and the beguiling spectacle that is the ‘classical music rave.’ Small and easy to negotiate on foot or by public transport Tallinn is a city that lends itself to the ebb and flow of festival-goers between multiple venues.

Presented by Jazzkaar & the Estonian Jazz Union, the evening of mainly young local improvising artists at the large, well-appointed No 99 concert hall provides an insight into what is still a largely unknown entity in international jazz. While Joel Remmel shows that there is a competent rather than inspirational grasp of the contemporary piano trio lexicon and the intriguingly named Paul Daniel band – maybe Debbie McGee is magically bigger in the Baltic than a lot of people know – gets a Methenyesque groove on that never quite takes off, the strength of the Estonian jazz scene boldly comes into its own by way of a quite outstanding solo guitar performance from Robert Jurjendal.

Displaying a fantastically delicate touch and ability to unfurl a wide variety of melodic lines from a single harmonic point of departure, the man who released his acclaimed Sound Of Joy a few years ago has the audience rapt, which is no mean feat given the size of the venue.

Having written for strings, harpsichord, brass and choir Jurjendal clearly has a broad sonic outlook and his subtle evocations of a sound world beyond the guitar are mightily impressive. A capella ensemble Estonian Voices is also a group that aims to push its six singers into original textural areas but the results are variable, sometimes veering into close harmony overkill after vibrant contrapuntal gymnastics.

keizars tmw2015 1204

In any case vocalist Kadri Voorand also features in Avarus Ensemble (pictured top) and this turns out to be a TMW highlight. With material mostly written and arranged by double bassist Mingo Rajandi (pictured above)the octet draws equally on jazz and classical vocabularies yet defies any kind of chamber-jazz expectations with pieces that are rigorously scored yet frequently open out into more freewheeling forms. Strings, reeds, particularly bass clarinet, are deployed economically and expressively but it is the use of a battery of percussion that galvanizes the group sound without upsetting its fine balance. The resulting energy flows rather than rushes. An adaptation of William Blake’s The Tiger is a fitting climax to a fine set from a group that should be recorded in the near future.

The opportunity to hear music of this structural ambition within a predominantly pop assembly is a pleasing take on the contemporary festival experience but Tallinn Music Week, only six years old, looks like a vote winner for its director Helen Sildna as well as president Ilves.  

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Kaisa Keizars

Bristol’s BeBop Club continues its unbroken twenty plus years run, hosting top-drawer jazz weekly. Its more often than not touring bands but there are plenty of slots for the best of a dynamic local scene. Friday saw a visit from the quintet of local bass player/ composer and shaker and mover Greg Cordez. A couple of years ago he was behind the formation of a loose composers collective with regular performances in a variety for formations, all trying out new ideas and material. The sharp-eyed would have spotted Jake McMurchie’s Michelson Morley taking shape there, an adventurous octet led by Kevin Figes and the odd Cordez ensemble honing his fusion of slow burning rocky grooves, strong elegant melodies and collective improv. Now the quintet have recorded an album due for release soon on the New York based Ninety and Nine record label and Friday was a chance for a full foretaste.

‘Eight Minutes and Twenty Three’ seconds is the time it takes light to travel from the sun to earth and the inspiration for a typical Cordez composition. In the hands of his formidable quintet, it built steadily from Jim Blomfield‘s simple, fragile, piano opening to a roaring, all hands on deck climax, before subsiding suddenly to a whisper. The emotional punch was powerful, a pattern they’d followed most of the evening with the bass player leader’s pieces developing an inexorable momentum the march-like pulses overlayed with themes that declared themselves steadily, given space to breath and take hold as first one soloist and then the next developed and expanded them.

Tenor man Jake McMurchie‘s regular foil Nick Malcolm was absent for the evening from the line-up that recorded the album, so Nick Dover stepped in forming a twin tenor frontline. The two horns blended beautifully, now stating another of Cordez’s compelling melodic fragments, now offering contrasting developments of the looping sequences, Jake’s throaty, warm sound swooping and crying, Nick offering an edgier sound and probing harmonic embellishments, no less emotionally laden. The only tunes not from the leaders’ pen were by American bassist Todd Sickafoose.

‘Blood Orange’’s hooky theme over a snappy groove set Jim Blomfield up for a blistering solo with a Rhodes sound, shimmering clouds of notes scattered between wild percussive episodes. The twin tenors came in with a shout chorus cum backing riff and suddenly everyone was blowing, Mark Whitlam‘s drumming goading them on. It was thrilling stuff. Later, after the ‘Eight Minutes and Twenty Three’ seconds of ever brightening sunlight, another Blomfield workout, this time solo piano, segued the band into the sumptuous ballad ‘Camilla Rose’, before ‘1000 Paper Cranes’ traced another arc to end the gig, from simple chiming phrase on piano underpinned by a bass figure through swelling, building, melody and impassioned blowing back to that chiming phrase. On this showing the album, Paper Crane will be well worth looking out for.

– Mike Collins

@jazzyblogman

Influential Israeli bass master and composer Avishai Cohen is set to make an emphatic return to his piano trio roots with his latest album as a leader, From Darkness, released on 9 February on Raz Daz records ahead of a return headline concert at London’s Barbican on 16 July.

With a reputation for spotlighting startling young talents (such as his fine 2011 trio of pianist Omri Mor and drummer Amir Bresler) his current three-piece features Israeli rising stars Nitai Hershkovits on piano and Daniel Dor on drums who join him on a coruscating set of propulsive Mediterranean-tinged trio jazz, which early listens confirm to be his strongest recording since his last trio album, 2008’s Gently Disturbed.

Having brought his string-laden Almah project to the Barbican in May 2013, this summer’s date will feature a rare UK concert by his New York Division sextet that, alongside his trio, also includes acclaimed guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, trumpeter Diego Urcola and trombonist Steve Davis.

– Mike Flynn


See the April issue of Jazzwise for an exclusive interview with Avishai Cohen about his new album – for more info go to www.barbican.org.uk/music/

Renowned Blue Note-signed pianist Jason Moran, genre-defying singer Neneh Cherry and legendary funk bassist Larry Graham are among the second tranche of names to be confirmed for this year’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs from 3-5 July in Glynde Place, East Sussex. Moran will be performing music from his Grammy-nominated album All Rise: A Joyful Elegy To Fats Waller, which recasts the iconic pianist Waller’s music into a modern dance-party that takes in jazz-funk, hip hop and soul, while Neneh Cherry will once again team up with London duo RocketNumberNine to perform songs from her extensive back catalogue as well as her well-received 2014 album, Blank Project. Founding Sly and the Family Stone member and influential bass guitar ‘slap’ pioneer, Larry Graham, will bring his barnstorming brand of funk to the festival for the first time on the Saturday night as he performs with his Graham Central Station band.    

Other newly announced names added to the eclectic bill include rising star multi-instrumentalist (and son of Bobby) Taylor McFerrin, Irish jazz drummer David Lyttle, popular UK soul singer Lisa Stansfield, blues-rock group Vintage Trouble and funk-infused Afro-electronica group Ibibio Sound Machine. These names join the very strong billing so far announced – with the Saturday line-up now featuring Chaka Khan, Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, The Bad Plus with Joshua Redman, Rebecca Ferguson, Neneh Cherry, Jason Moran’s Elegy for Fats Waller, Dianne Reeves, Submotion Orchestra, Vintage Trouble, Ambrose Akinmusire, GoGo Penguin, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man, Bill Laurance Project, Get The Blessing, Gabby Young & Other Animals, Hackney Colliery Band, Partisans, Blue Eyed Hawk and Elliot Galvin Trio.

The Sunday line-up now includes Van Morrison, Hugh Masekela, Candi Staton, Terence Blanchard E-Collective, Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion, Lisa Stansfield, Hiatus Kaiyote, Ibibio Sound Machine, Jarrod Lawson, Taylor Mcferrin, Theo Croker, Kneebody, Joe Stilgoe, Hackney Colliery Band, Dylan Howe's Subterraneans, Christine Tobin, David Lyttle, The Vampires and Chris Sharkey’s Shiver.

Set in the idyllic location of the Sussex Downs, Love Supreme is presented by Jazz FM, with Jazzwise as media partner, with day tickets from £55 and full-weekend passes available from £110 with camping, luxury glamping and family options available.

– Mike Flynn

For full details go to www.lovesupremefestival.com

Having established its winning week-long mix of top level jazz tuition and high-calibre jazz festival, the Sligo Jazz Project celebrates its tenth edition this summer from 21 to 26 July with the Impossible Gentlemen as artists in residence. The acclaimed band, which features leading UK jazz guitarist Mike Walker and pianist Gwilym Simcock, alongside top US jazz bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Adam Nussbaum, will hold ensemble workshops and individual masterclasses as well as performing concerts throughout the week.

They join a stellar 15-strong faculty that includes the likes of US jazz sax maestro Ernie Watts, multi-award winning UK vocalist Liane Carroll and top US bassist Chuck Rainey, best known for his work with Donald Byrd, Steely Dan and Quincy Jones.

Held in
St Edwards NS School, Yeats County in northwest Ireland, each student will not only get daily tuition between 10am-4pm, as well as twice-daily jam sessions, but also entry to every evening concert across the week which also includes performances this year from festival opener Dhafer Youssef and the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra.

Course fees are from under £300 and there’s a limited amount of subsidised accommodation available.

– Mike Flynn

For full details go to www.silgojazz.ie

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