Guitarists Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier have reunited for a second album and extensive tour of the UK in February and March. Chasing Tales, released on Meier’s MGP Records on 9 February, is the follow up to their 2011 collaboration Travels To The West, and finds them once again exploring a diverse blend of Turkish, African, latin, jazz and folk influences on a variety of instruments including nylon string, steel string, electric, 12-string, fretless, slide, synth and glissentar guitars.

Versatile and virtuosic by turns Oxley is a stalwart of the Oxford jazz scene and regular performer at the city’s Spin Jazz Club, while UK-based Swiss guitarist Meier is well known for his solo work as well as his recent world tours with jazz-rock guitar star Jeff Beck. The duo will launch the album next week on Wednesday 11 February at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London before setting off on an extensive series of concerts.

Dates are: St. Lawrence Chapel, Ashburton (19 Feb); Hazelwood House, Kingsbridge (20 Feb); Royal Clifton Hotel, Southport (22 Feb); Southern Jazz Guitar Society, Romsey (24 Feb); Albion Beatnik Bookshop, Oxford (25 Feb); Oliver’s Jazz Bar, Greenwich (26 Feb);
The Collection, Danes Terrace, Lincoln (27 Feb); Milestones Jazz Club, Lowestoft (1 Mar); Jazz On Tap, Burton (4 Mar); Arts Centre, East Street, Ilminster (6 Mar); Meeting House, Ringwood (13 Mar); The Bear Club, Luton (20 Mar); The Duke Of Cornwall, Plymouth (27 Mar); Dempsey’s, Cardiff (31 Mar); and Swansea Jazzland, Swansea (1 Apr).

– Mike Flynn


For more info go to www.meiergroup.com/meiergroup

This year’s Parliamentary Jazz Awards take place on 10 March, nearly three months earlier than usual due to the general election on 5 May, on the Terrace Pavilion at the Houses Of parliament and are set to recognise a wide range of emerging and established names from the British jazz scene.

These include nominations for rising stars singer/violinist Alice Zawadzki and trumpeter Laura Jurd respectively in the Jazz Vocalist and Instrumentalist categories, jazz-rockers Partisans for Jazz Album Of The Year for Swamp, and saxophonist Phil Meadow’s newly formed Engines Orchestra and resurgent Brit jazz icons Loose Tubes are nominated for Jazz Ensemble of the Year.

Now in its eleventh year the Parliamentary Jazz Awards are the premiere awards in the UK jazz calendar and are voted for by the public online with a shortlist of nominations subsequently voted for by a selection panel of jazz industry figures. Judging members of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG) then chooses the winners. The awards are sponsored by PPL and will be presented by well-known broadcaster Moira Stuart.

The nominations are:
Jazz Vocalist of the Year: Alice Zawadzki, Georgia Mancio, Norma Winstone MBE and Zara McFarlane; Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year: Jason Yarde, Laura Jurd and Phil Robson; Jazz Album of the Year: Partisans Swamp, Julian Argüelles Circularity and Tim Garland Songs to the North Sky; Jazz Ensemble of the Year: Engines Orchestra, Loose Tubes and Partisans; Jazz Newcomer of the Year: Blue-Eyed Hawk, Elliot Galvin Trio and Peter Edwards; Jazz Venue of the Year: Manchester Jazz Festival, Spice of Life and St Ives Jazz Club; Jazz Media Award: Jazz on 3, BBC Radio 3, London Jazz News, www.londonjazznews.com and The Jazz Breakfast, www.thejazzbreakfast.com; Jazz Education Award: Dr Tommy Smith, National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Simon Purcell; and Services to Jazz Award: Chris Hodgkins, Evan Parker and Mike Gordon.

The winners will be announced on the Jazzwise website on the night of the awards at www.jazzwisemagazine.com

Laura Jurd is often described in the press as a rising star, but Verdict boss Andy Lavender introduced her as ‘already risen’ to an eager sell-out crowd. Her seven-piece band crowded onto a stage already dominated by Mick Foster’s bass saxophone and launched into the first salvo of ‘Opening Sequence’ - the massed brass sounded impressive in the packed intimate venue, and Jurd’s imperturbable calm at the helm of this unusual ensemble indicated that the hype might be justified.

The follow-up, ‘She Knew Him’ featured her incisive, agile and controlled soloing through an electronic effect, power chords from Alex Roth’s guitar and a beautifully lugubrious solo from the bass sax; then ‘Brighter Days’ started with a duet between veteran trumpeter Chris Batchelor and vocalist Laura Kinsella in which the latter’s repertoire of vocal tics and effects strayed towards the area bordering between music and performance art associated with Meredith Monk, before veering off into a tight, off-centre groove – there’s an impressive range to Jurd’s musical vision which makes it impossible to guess what’s going to happen next, and her superb band nail the long, multi-faceted compositions and complex arrangements. As the set moved on, through a duet between clangourous drummer Corrie Dick and the vibrato-less clarion of Jurd’s trumpet, to the guitar employing rubbery, squelching acid-house effects, to impassioned solos from Batchelor and trombonist Colm O’Hara over ever-shifting rhythms, a certain pastoral, very British identity started to become apparent.

The band’s unusual textures and adventurous spirit was akin to contemporaries such as Sons Of Kemet or Roller Trio, but Laura Kinsella’s decisively English accented, clear but soft voice evoked memories of 1970s jazz-folksters Pentangle, while the odd-number time signatures and multi-part compositions were reminiscent of the same era’s experimentalists at the meeting point of jazz and rock, such as Ian Carr’s Nucleus or Soft Machine. A self-deprecating humour and quirkiness in the spirit of Robert Wyatt saved the performance from pomposity. Yet at first, for all its structural unpredictability, the music sometimes seemed a little too careful to really engage emotionally.

Jurd herself is an unassuming but convivial presence, and the second set warmed up considerably, with a beautiful duet with her former tutor Batchelor leading into triumphant versions of ‘More Than Just A Fairy Tale’ and ‘Closing Sequence’, and the crowd response indicating that this star had certainly risen to the occasion.


– Eddie Myer

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club continues its varied programming over the next couple of months with newly announced bookings including a triple bill of young Brit jazz rising stars and the return of drum hero Billy Cobham (above) with special guests Mark King and Mike Lindup of Level 42 from 23-28 February.

Two mid-month highlights include two nights of hard-hitting downtown sounds from some of New York’s finest with the very welcome return of saxophonist of the moment Chris Potter and his Underground band. Featuring an updated personnel of bassist Fima Ephron, drummer Nate Smith and regular guitarist Adam Rogers this unit is the perfect launch-pad for Potter’s ingenious solos to take flight (16-17 Feb).

This is closely followed by equally fiery Russian saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev (pictured left) who performs with his fusion-edged six-piece band Smiling Organizm (Wednesday 18 Feb) on a set drawn from their newly released second album, Robin Goodie, named after the unlikely combined themes of Robin Hood and boogie-woogie. The live incarnation of the band features a strong line up of trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, pianist Liam Noble, a twin low-end attack from bass guitarist Linley Marthe and double bassist Matt Penman and in-demand drummer Eric Harland.

Ronnie’s also extends its programme out to include a triple bill of three young bands on 10 February that includes 2014 MOBO Best Jazz Act nominee Peter Edwards and his trio, irreverent punk-jazz-funk WorldService Project and Henry Spencer and Juncture who draw from jazz, rock and minimalism.

A heady brew of voodoo-swing, jazz and blues from Dr John and the high-flying improv of revered US saxophonist Ravi Coltrane are among the further highlights, as the former makes a rare club appearance over two nights on 13-14 March, performing his Louis Armstrong set from his latest album Ske-Dat-De-Dat The Spirit of Satch. Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane returns to the club on 8-9 March as part of his UK tour, and is followed by another contemporary sax colossuses in the form of the Kenny Garrett Quintet (11-13 March).

US sax don Joe Lovano unleashes his exciting new Village Rhythms Band at the club with a stunning line-up of bassist Matthew Garrison, guitarist Liberty Ellman, percussionist Abdou Mboup, trumpeter Tim Hagans, drummer Otis Brown III and singer Judi Silvano (30 Apr-1 May) just ahead of their appearance at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Other notable bookings for 2015 include Pat Martino Trio (11-12 May); Meshell Ndegeocello (13-14 May); Kyle Eastwood Band (20-23 May) and Marlena Shaw (25–30 May).

– Mike Flynn


For more info go to www.ronniescotts.co.uk

The breadth of Soho’s live jazz scene was clearly illustrated by two contrasting gigs on the same night, both within walking distance of one another. First, through an opportunity to see forward-looking jazz group Empirical at Foyles bookshop, immediately followed by a stroll around the corner to Pizza Express Jazz Club for smooth jazz saxophonist Gerald Albright. The experience provided an interesting comparison. Empirical’s gig – part of an on-going six-night residency – was free to the public on the understanding that listeners complete a feedback form to describe their experiences on hearing each number, an initiative designed to help the group develop material for their new album. Unsurprisingly, creative thinking and artistic integrity abounded with great success, whereas Albright – who was in London to present his new album Slam Dunk – was more a master showman presenting his commercially successful established formula.

Empirical performed original compositions by Nathaniel Facey (sax), Lewis Wright (vibes) and bassist Tom Farmer, giving the quartet (completed by drummer Shaney Forbes) three different writing voices. Chief contributor Farmer’s most memorable piece, ‘Initiate’, was constructed around a palindromic number (1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1), typified the group’s search for imaginative writing techniques which audiences might emotionally relate to. While introducing the piece, Farmer encouraged the audience to clap his palindrome to which the band began playing, thus offering listeners a direct path into the composition. Similarly, improvised solos appeared to mix uncompromised musical integrity with melodic lines that told a story, thus holding audience attention. Wright was particularly accessible, perhaps in part due to the visual layout of his vibraphone bars, but also because of arresting shifts in rhythmic intensity and sweeping lines which encompassed the entire instrument. The result was that Empirical’s lengthy single set gig flew by as an absorbing series of engaging musical moments.

Albright left no table unoccupied at Pizza Express Jazz Club’s first smooth jazz date of the year. The saxophonist was played on-stage by his band complete with horn phrases on top-synth by keyboardist Oli Silk, an intro that quickly settled into a funky groove that typified the first three numbers including title track ‘Slam Dunk’. His band kept it tight with five-string slap-tastic electric bass by Orefo Orakwue and funky backbeats courtesy of drummer Andrew Small. In a performance archetypal of smooth jazz, Albright worked his audience through the dramatic use of his alto sax’s upper register during largely vamp-based solos. From this base, Albright moved quickly through the gears hitting maximum intensity before falling to a lower dynamic level only to rebuild relentlessly towards an identical peak. Albright also made good use of medium-slow halftime soul grooves – such as the Johnny Gill R&B hit ‘My, My, My’ which the audience sang along to – during which times the saxophonist played sultry to the extreme. The shuffle based ‘Cheaper to Keep Her’, from Albright’s Sax for Stax album, found him in a more bluesy mood which provided welcome stylistic contrast.

Overall, the smooth jazz-loving audience clearly enjoyed an Albright performance that was undeniably polishedand utilised an effective approach that has fuelled his 17 albums to date. Although, like any artist, Albright makes new ground with every release, he’s clearly a man who knows his craft delivering in a big way through the use of tempos, dynamics and saxophone devices that are proven crowd-pleasers. The experience of seeing him in action was thrown into sharper relief by having first observed the non-commercially driven creative imagination of Empirical. Nevertheless, through their honest questionnaire and in their own manner, the young group also sought to understand how music moved their audience. Live jazz in London was the clear winner, with a thought-provoking night in Soho.



– Jamie Fyffe

– Photo by Mike Flynn

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