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Persistence paid off on Tuesday night for Todd Wills, Bristol Colston Hall’s Head of Programming, when Anthony Braxton took the stage with his Diamond Curtain Quartet in The Lantern, the smaller of the city centre venue’s two halls. “I’ve been trying to book him for years” explained Wills in response to a question about how he’d managed to lassoo the newly endowed NEA Jazz Master for this sole UK date on a rare foray outside the US and, according to the band, his first visit to these shores since 2004. “I just kept asking” said Todd and a capacity audience in The Lantern were pleased he did, judging by the rapturous reception at the end of two sets, each one long, unbroken piece. Wills, known to many in the jazz world for his years at London’s Vortex, is fast establishing The Lantern as a space with an eclectic but adventurous programme, pushing boundaries in all directions and attracting healthy audiences in the process.

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Expect the unexpected might be sage advice for someone purchasing a ticket to a Braxton performance. He’d brought with him regular collaborators guitarist Mary Halvorson, reed player James Fei and brass player Taylor Bo Hynum. Apart from Halvorson, there was a constant rotation of instruments as shifting registers and textures were demanded. Braxton’s recognition by America’s National Endowment for the Arts with the Jazz Master award was, according to Braxton in other interviews, a big surprise as he sees his music as extending beyond the boundaries of jazz. He names ensembles for the systems he uses to create the music and direct the band. Diamond Curtain Music uses pre-recorded sounds controlled by programmes that respond to what the bands are doing and there were plenty of ringing, metallic noises and drones laced through the squalls of notes and rumbles from the band. Ghost Trance Music made an appearance too with streams of notes and looping episodes, orchestrated by the occasional wave and gesture from the leader.

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The evening was an adventure in listening as well as playing and if the size and attentiveness of the audience for this gig is an indication, Todd Wills is on a winning streak with his programming. Mr Braxton was excited too. As the music came to an abrupt halt, he leaned to the mic, thanking everyone for coming and declaring "I love UK, its one of my favourite countries!"

– Mike Collins


– Photos by Chris Cooper / Shotaway

There are easier ways to make music; it doesn’t have to be a jazz orchestra, does it? I’m asking composer and bandleader Sid Peacock about the challenge he has set himself with his latest project, called Surge Orchestra, and its debut outing in a concert at Birmingham’s MAC Theatre on 7 February.

“It's Challenge Anneka on steroids,” he tells me. “You have to raise the cash and do the whole organising thing yourself that big orchestras have a whole team of people doing. You'd think in times of austerity it'd be better to be a solo or duo act,” he agrees, “but that's not how musicians think.”

It’s certainly not how Sid Peacock thinks. Over the past year, in addition to the education and performance work he has been doing as associate artist at the MAC in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham, Sid has also played in the Peacock Angell Band, the Celtic folk group he co-leads with his partner Ruth Angell, and spent time with the Sichuan Opera Troupe in Chongqing, China, as a British Council musician.

Before all that Sid had been back home in Northern Ireland working with his mentor and fellow composer Brian Irvine on Beyond The March, a project to get Loyalist marching bands playing their music in a cultural context. All those recent influences in his life will be reflected in the music he is currently writing for the Surge Orchestra, an expansion of his Surge Big Band, which was formed in 2003 and has recorded two albums.

“It's going great so far. I've been trying to reconnect with my Celtic influences. It's not exactly Enya though. I'd recommend checking out the novelist Patrick McCabe, who wrote The Butcher Boy and Dead School. It’s something like that. It deals with the darker and delirious side of everyday small town Irish life.” He quickly adds: “There'll be plenty of brighter moments too, though!”

In addition to having added string players, the Surge Orchestra will feature two soloists, drummer Mark Sanders and pianist Steve Tromans.

Sid Peacock and Surge Orchestra with featured soloists Mark Sanders and Steve Tromans will be at the MAC, Birmingham, at 8pm on Saturday 7 February – for full info and tickets go to macbirmingham.co.uk

(Pictured top: Sid Peacock, centre, with featured soloists Steve Tromans, left, and Mark Sanders)

– Peter Bacon

Bass master Dave Holland made a rare appearance in the Houses of Parliament last night, Wednesday 21 January, when he played as special guest with the National Youth Jazz Collective at the Youth Jazz concert: an annual event organised by the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group in the House of Commons’ Attlee Suite, situated in Portcullis House.

British born but New York-based since he moved to America to join Miles Davis in 1968 after Davis had spotted him playing at Ronnie Scott’s Club, Holland has built a formidable career as a much-in-demand bassist and bandleader with over 20 solo albums, starting with Conference Of The Birds on ECM in 1972, over 19 albums as co-leader and dozens of dates as featured bassist on albums by Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Kenny Wheeler and Anthony Braxton among many others. Holland had been in London for the past week as International Artist in Residence for the Royal Academy of Music’s jazz course: a long standing relationship and commitment to helping up and coming musicians, which this year included a Masterclass and a special performance of his ‘Monterey Suite’ with the Royal Academy Big Band.

Run by artistic director Issie Barratt, the National Youth Jazz Collective is made up of young musicians who are about to or have just started jazz courses at conservatoires across the UK. The standard of musicianship is already praiseworthy and featured in the large ensemble at Portcullis House were trumpeters Alex Ridout and Jake Labazzi; alto saxophonists Alexander Bone and Tom Smith; tenor saxophonist Ash Parkinson; guitarist Nick Fitch; pianist Stephanie Wills; bassist Daisy George; drummer Adam Woodcock; vocalist Ella Hohnen and Jessica Mistry on Indian flute.


Following an opening set by the NYJC, Dave Holland took over on double bass as the ensemble tore into a brisk, often latin flavoured set with captivating arrangements and a lively confidence that belied their junior years. Among the highlights were Asha Parkinson’s anti-war ‘Battles’ and Stephanie Wills’ ‘July’, which provided a surge of summer heat on a freezing winter night. The performance wrapped with a scorching blow through Horace Silver’s ‘Nica’s Dream’ with Holland’s assured melodic depth anchoring and driving the youthful exuberance, particularly a whiplash alto solo from Alexander Bone – a name already recognised by the BBC as the 2014 Young Jazz Musician of the Year. Judging by some of last night’s impressive performances, he won’t be the only one.

– Jon Newey

– Photo by Hayley Madden featuring Dave Holland and the National Youth Jazz Collective together with NYJC director Issie Barratt, Michael Connarty MP, Jazz FM's Helen Mayhew and Jonathan Morrish and Keith Harris of sponsors PPL

The London A Cappella Festival, the first of its kind in the capital solely dedicated to all-vocal groups, runs from 28 to 31 January at Cadogan Hall, The Spice of Life and Kings Place. Its diverse programme ensures that there’s a decidedly jazz flavour to some of its artists, among them are six-piece group Accent (above) whose bandmembers are based across five different countries. Meeting online in 2011 the band were drawn together through shared musical interests, initially arranging music collectively through a private Facebook group and recording individual parts separately (uploaded as a group video). The members finally met in person at the Swedish Umea Choral Festival in June 2014, transforming from a ‘virtual’ group into a live act within three days of intense rehearsal. The group perform two dates, including an intimate warm-up gig at The Spice of Life, Soho (28 Jan) before headlining at Kings Place on a double-bill with MICappella (30 Jan).

Other jazz-orientated highlights include Helsinki-based Club for Five (Kings Place, 30 Jan), a vocal quintet founded in 2001 that have performed alongside the likes of Manhattan Transfer and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra. In contrast, Countermeasure is a 14-piece vocal group from Canada, led by composer/arranger Aaron Jenson, who perform as part of their first UK tour (Kings Place, 31 Jan). Other groups at the festival include Straight No Chaser (Cadogan hall, 28 Jan), The King’s Singers (Kings Place, 19 Jan), The Swingles (Kings Place, 31 Jan) and Anúna (Kings Place, 31 Jan).

– Jamie Fyffe

For more go to www.londonacappellafestival.co.uk

AlexGarnet MG 0612

Alex Garnett’s Bunch Of Five have an album to plug, a tour underway and a collective sense that they’re on to something very worthwhile. And so it proved at the 606, three dates into the launch of Andromeda, newly out on Mike Janisch’s Whirlwind label, this fast becoming the source of choice for the brightest and best in current jazz-making.

There’s something about the 606 that seems to concentrate minds, for there are no hooray sideshows, and it’s not the setting for the glitterati to strut their stuff. The food is good, the look plain Jane but above all it’s a place centred on the music and this band knew that. With Tim Armacost, his American co-star alongside Garnett, it was a two-tenor affair throughout, the rhythm section of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Janisch [of course] and drummer James Maddren busting a gut to propel these front-liners [and themselves] to jazz heaven.

Club gigs mean players can stretch out, enabling Noble in particular to captivate the onlooker with his very distinctive keyboard ruminations, while Janisch seemed about to fall into mortal combat with his bass at times and Maddren thought up an infinite variety of percussive interjections. Better than the album? Well, yes, but that’s the way of live gigs, isn’t it?

AlexGarnet MG 0550

Inevitably with a Garnett appearance, there was humour in abundance, Armacost confessing that however many times he heard the gags they were always different. That said there was no tenor coasting from AG, or TA, for that matter. Chunky lines like ‘So Long’, the two heard as one kicked hard, the American taking the motorway route, running fast but going straight, while Garnett looked to go off-road, taking in rhythmic bumps and diversions, his tone darker, as the spirit built.

Each title had its story, Garnett explaining that his compositions reflected the 20-year span of his association with Armacost, this taking in ‘Charlie’s World’ for his son and ‘Delusions of Grandma’, for a malapropian friend [you had to be there!] the latter the ultimate in ferocious, two-tenor shout-ups, yet almost eclipsed by ‘This Will Be’, a Chris Potter piece, which revealed yet again Maddren’s inventiveness and Noble’s enigmatic, sometimes Monk-ian touch.

This was stirring, virtuosic music by masters of the art, up on their toes and going for it. A case of the right music in the right place and I’m glad I was there.

– Peter Vacher
– Photos by Roger Thomas

The band continues its tour this month and next at the following venues: St James Social Club, Swansea Jazzland, St James Crescent, Uplands, Swansea (21 Jan); The Coronation Tap, 8 Sion Place, Clifton, Bristol (22 Jan); Wakefield Jazz Club, Eastmoor Rd, Wakefield (23 Jan); The Cube Deda, Chapel St, Derby (6 Feb); and The Progress Theatre, The Mount, Christchurch Road, Reading (2 April).

Click here to pre-order the album from the Whirlwind Recordings website

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