Although the narrative of the meteoric rise of Gregory Porter from the basement jazz club of Soho’s Pizza Express Jazz Club to the gilded institution that is the Royal Albert Hall in the space of just four years is somewhat irresistible there is a bigger, more important story that needs to be told. It is that of the decade’s worth of tireless graft in off-Broadway musical theatre, and, perhaps more importantly, the childhood spent soaking up both his mother’s sermons and praise songs in a church in Bakersfield, California. So when the singer enters the stage to rapturous applause his great sense of authority can be said to have roots that run deeper than that sensational recent success.

No clearer sign of the impact Porter has made on UK fans is the recognition that greets the introductions of material taken from his three albums cut between 2009 and 2013, Water, Be Good and Liquid Spirit, and chief among the ‘hits’ is ‘1960 What?’, whose electrifying gospel backbeat potently reinforces its urgent, if not angry call for justice for victims of political assassination and police brutality alike.

A superb transatlantic band has original Porter collaborators, pianist Chip Crawford and alto saxophonist Yoske Sato, marshalling a three-piece rhythm section and 4-piece horn ensemble respectively, the latter bolstered by the presence of British tenor titan Jean Toussaint who might well be Wayne Shorter to Sato’s Jackie McClean given the sharp contrast in their improvisations.

Indeed there are moments when the combination of the hard bop strain of the arrangements and the gospel-fired soul of Porter’s voice suggests a virtual union of Art Blakey and Donny Hathaway.

Therein lies a huge part of Porter’s appeal and an explanation of the balance he has stuck between credibility and accessibility. ‘On My Way To Harlem’, ‘Real Good Hands’ and ‘Hey Laura’ exude both the joy and romanticism that have the possé of middle aged bleached blond ladies in the row behind me singing to their heart’s content, yet at the same time there is a rapt concentration in the auditorium when the horn players push their solos, none more so than Sato, to daring technical heights.

As much as the evening is defined by the dual force of singer and band, there is no doubt that Porter’s baritone, with its ocean deep low register and laser beam precision in the high, is the star of the show. When he audaciously stands several feet from the mike to sing an a capella prelude of ‘Worksong’, he can be heard with the utmost clarity, and the dramatic effect of the gesture as well as the sonic feat of an unamplified voice filling such a big space proves to be the ultimate cameraphone moment of the evening. Then again word of mouth, so instrumental in Porter’s rise to fame, remains a key form of social media, especially for one who believes the blues, in the image of a heartbroken guy ‘sitting on his own on a barstool’, is still the greatest story ever told. There are many who appear to share his point of view.

– Kevin Le Gendre        

A Who’s Who of British jazz musicians are set to pay a heartfelt and exceptionally musical tribute to revered expat Canadian trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler who died on 18 September, at a Memorial Service that will be held this Friday 31 October at 2.30pm at St James's Church, Sussex Gardens, Paddington, London W2 3UD. It will be open to the public although the church only has capacity for 400 people so space will be limited inside.

It’s testimony to Wheeler’s influence and the respect in which he is held by multiple generations of British jazz musicians that so many are performing in tribute to him, choosing to play a wide variety of his compositions. The order of service has been organised by Nick Smart (who is Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music) and has stated: "The music will be interspersed with speakers; as well as the vicar there are a few old friends and colleagues of Kenny's, all distinguished musicians, as you can imagine."

Order of Service is as follows


Entrance Music – Trumpet Quartet Movement 1 & 2
Tom Rees-Roberts – trumpet
Reuben Fowler – trumpet
Robbie Robson – trumpet
Yazz Ahmed– trumpet

Big Band – Opening of ‘Sweet Time Suite’
Saxophones – Ray Warleigh, Duncan Lamont, Stan Sulzmann,
Evan Parker, Julian Argüelles
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Richard Iles, Nick Smart
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah Williams
Piano– Gwilym Simcock     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence     Drums – John Marshall
Voice – Norma Winstone       Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Pete Churchill

Big Band – Enowena
Saxophones – Ray Warleigh, Duncan Lamont, Stan Sulzmann,
Evan Parker, Julian Argüelles
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Richard Iles, Nick Smart
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah WIlliams
Piano – Gwilym Simcock     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence     Drums – Martin France
Voice – Norma Winstone       Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Pete Churchill

Brass Ensemble – Opening movement of ‘Long time ago Suite’
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Tom Rees-Roberts, Reuben Fowler
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah Williams
Piano– John Taylor     Guitar – John Parricelli
Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Nick Smart

Quartet – Vital Spark
Norma Winstone – voice
Glauco Venier – piano
Jim Vivian – bass                 
Klaus Gesing – soprano saxophone

Sextet – Mark Time
Saxophones – Stan Sulzmann and Evan Parker
Piano John Taylor         Guitar John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence       Drums – Martin France

Big Band – Canter No 1/Old Ballad
Saxophones – Ray Warleigh, Duncan Lamont, Stan Sulzmann,
Evan Parker, Julian Argüelles
Trumpets – John Barclay, Noel Langley, Richard Iles, Nick Smart
Trombones – Dave Horler, Mark Nightingale, Barnaby Dickinson
Bass Trombone – Sarah WIlliams
Piano– Gwilym Simcock     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Chris Laurence     Drums – John Hollenbeck
Voice – Norma Winstone       Flugel – Henry Lowther
Conductor – Pete Churchill

London Vocal Project – 'Breughel' from Mirrors Suite
Choir – London Vocal Project
Voice – Norma Winstone     Saxophone – Mark Lockheart
Piano– Nikki Iles     Guitar – John Parricelli
Bass – Steve Watts     Drums – John Hollenbeck
Director – Pete Churchill

 

– Mike Flynn

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

 

Jazzwise can exclusively announce that Troyka, the progressive jazz Hammond/keys/guitar/drums trio of Kit Downes, Chris Montague and Joshua Blackmore, are set to make a dramatic return with their fourth album, Ornithophobia, which will be released on 26 January on the Naim Label, followed by an extensive UK tour throughout February.

Joining the label’s roster that also includes Neil Cowley Trio, Sons Of Kemet, Empirical and Get The Blessing, the new album came together over a two-year period with most of the recording done at Eton College, where guitarist Montague teaches, with the producing duties taken care of by Swedish bassist Petter Eldh, who’s known for his work with Django Bates Belov
èd Bird Trio.

In contrast to their Parliamentary Jazz Award winning Troyk-estra big band album Live At Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2013, Ornithophobia features the trio creating an imaginative multi-layered sound-world inspired by the idea of a fictionalised post-apocalyptic London under attack from an avian flu that’s turning people into human-sized birds – with the title based on Montague’s genuine fear of birds. This sci-fi comic theme is taken to its logical conclusion with the album coming complete with its own comic. Early listens suggest it’s the band’s most ambitious and fully realised album to date that dives into beat-fuelled Flying Lotus-style jazztronica – listen to some samples of the music on our exclusive soundcloud stream below.

The band follow the release of the album with an extensive UK tour at the following venues: Leeds College of Music, Leeds (9 Feb); North Devon Theatre, Barnstable (10 Feb); The Stables, Milton Keynes (11 Feb); Rich Mix, London (12 Feb); RWCMD, Cardiff (13 Feb); RNCM, Manchester (20 Feb); MAC, Birmingham (25 Feb); Capstone Theatre, Liverpool (27 Feb); Morecambe Hothouse, Morecambe (28 Feb); Sheffield Student’s Union, Sheffield (12 Mar); Moving On Music, Belfast (26 Mar); and Spin Jazz at the Wheatsheaf, Oxford (2 Apr).

– Mike Flynn

The music world has been mourning the loss of one of its greatest and most influential figures as news that former Cream bassist and vocalist, Jack Bruce, has died aged 71 after a long struggle with liver disease. News of his death was confirmed in a statement released by his family on Saturday 25 October: “It is with great sadness that we, Jack’s family, announce the passing of our beloved Jack: husband, father, granddad, and all round legend. The world of music will be a poorer place without him but he lives on in his music and forever in our hearts.”

Classically and jazz trained at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, Bruce rose to great acclaim in blues-rock power trio Cream alongside drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton, forging a super-charged sound featuring intense extended improvisations. Bruce had been at the heart of the British blues boom performing as a member of such bands as Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, the Graham Bond Organisation, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann. But it was with Cream that he consolidated his powerful contrapuntal bass lines, famously joking that Cream were really meant to be the Ornette Coleman Trio with Eric as Ornette Coleman, “only we never told him”.

He continued his questing improvisatory approach with jazz drum legend Tony Williams as part of his band Lifetime, alongside guitar icon John McLaughlin and organist Larry Young as well as working with revered composer and pianist Carla Bley on her acclaimed 1971 album Escalator Over The Hill. He continued his jazz-rock associations from
2008 performing as part of a Tony Williams Lifetime Tribute Band with drummer Cindy Blackman-Santana, keyboardist John Medeski, and guitarist Vernon Reid.

Speaking to Jazzwise in 2011 Bruce described his early days at music college: “I got a scholarship to study classical cello at the Royal Scottish Academy for Music and Drama – but I didn’t go for long, and now they’ve given me an honorary doctorate! So it shows you that what you should really do is go for a few months then drop out – I recommend that to every student.”

Tributes were posted across social media by his countless fans, friends and fellow musicians including one from his former Cream bandmate Eric Clapton who said:He was a great musician and composer, and a tremendous inspiration to me”.

– Mike Flynn



The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and special guests are to perform the music of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin at Scotland’s Ayr Jazz Festival before embarking on a short Scottish tour in tribute to the music of Jaco Pastorius.

The renowned ensemble is set to headline the opening night of the three-day Ayr Jazz Festival tonight, 24 October, with a programme, which pays homage to the two legendary composers and bandleaders of the jazz era. The orchestra will be joined by guest pianist Brian Kellock and will perform music from their critically acclaimed album In the Spirit of Duke – which sees it play standards from Ellington’s extensive repertoire – before giving a performance of George Gershwin’s classic jazz concerto, Rhapsody in Blue, which has been re-arranged especially for the SNJO by their leader/saxophonist Tommy Smith. For tickets and further details of the festival line-up go to www.ayrgaiety.co.uk.

Following their festival performance, the orchestra embarks on a brief tour playing the music of iconic bassist Jaco Pastorius. Best known for his work in 1970s fusion outfit, Weather Report, Pastorius also garnered acclaim in his own right for his innovative eponymous debut solo album, and subsequently went on to develop his reputation as an arranger and composer on a number of solo projects, most notably his Word of Mouth big band.

This three-night tour features brand new arrangements of Pastorius’ compositions from all stages of his career, written and performed by acclaimed virtuoso bass guitarist Laurence Cottle – who has previously performed the music with his own big band but never a full jazz orchestra. The ensemble will also feature brilliant flautist Gareth Lockrane and percussionist Marcio Doctor. The performances which are at Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (Fri 7 Nov); Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow (Sat 8 Nov); and, The Gardyne Theatre (Sun 9 Nov), will be preceded by a pre-concert talk lasting 45 minutes.

– Steve Owen

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

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