"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…...

Girls In Airports, rising stars of the Denmark’s young jazz scene, have signed to leading UK independent jazz label Edition Records. The five-piece band features saxophonists Martin Stender and Lars Greve (who also plays clarinet), keyboardist Mathias Holm, percussionist Victor Dybbroe and drummer Mads Forsby, who draw on a wide variety of influences that bring together savvy jazz sensibilities, folk-like melodies and indie rock attitude.

Releasing three albums since forming in 2009, the band have also explored African rhythms and hypnotic dance-influenced grooves, and are set to release their fourth album on Edition in the autumn of 2015. The band performed as part of the Danish jazz night showcase at last year’s JazzAhead! conference in Bremen, Germany.

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.girlsinairports.net

With five discs (and one vinyl-only release) underneath his belt, Elio Villafranca is steadfastly ascending as one of the most intriguing musicians of his generation to emerge from Cuba. His virtuosity on the piano is a standard bearer of an extended legacy of Cuban jazz titans who display impeccable technique, agility and alertness. Too often though, young Cuban jazz musicians are celebrated more for their pyrotechnics than their compositional guile. Villafranca continued to debunked such notions on 20-21 February inside the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s’ Frederick P. Rose Hall with the premiere of his mesmerizing five-part suite, ‘Cinqué: Suite of the Caribbean’.  

Villafranca fronted a slightly streamlined version of his noteworthy ensemble – the Jass Syncopators – with whom he released last year’s critically acclaimed disc, Caribbean Tinge: Live from Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. The concert band also had a few personnel changes from the disc, such as trombonist Steve Turre and clarinetist Michele Wright augmenting the horn section, and Willie Jones III handling the trap drums. Arturo Stable (Villafranca’s duo partner on 2012’s Dos y Mas) complemented Jonathan Troncoso on percussion. Also guesting were legendary trumpeter Jon Faddis (second night) and vocalist, cellist and banjo player Leyla McCalla.

EVJS2

The Jass Syncopators made a splendid vehicle for his lofty suite, which constantly shifted in tone and tempo while juxtaposing black American blues, swing and post-bop with indigenous melodies and rhythms from Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. The thematic tissues connecting those Caribbean islands were the impact of Congolese music and the inspiring story of Joseph Cinqué, who led the 19th century slave revolt on the Spanish ship, Amistad. Creating this type of expansive canvas and bolstering it with well-research curatorial weight has been Villafranca’s modus operandi since his 2003 debut disc, Incantations Encantaciones; and it has served him well as evidence by Saturday’s performance.

What’s fascinating about ‘Cinqué’ is how Villafranca avoided the obvious while utilizing such indigenous as Cuba’s comparsa (on the joyous closer ‘Comparsa’ and Puerto Rico’s bomba (on the forceful, percussion-driving ‘La Burla de Los Congos’) along with Afro-Latin folkloric melodies. Harmonic shades of Ellingtonia draped the material throughout; they became most evident during the fourth movement, ‘The Night at Bois/Burn Down the Fields.’ Still Villafranca’s evocations weren’t harmonically stuck in yesteryear; they contained the modernity of works by some of his kindred spirits such as Denys Baptiste and Maria Schneider.

EVJS3

Also impressive was Villafranca’s unwillingness to allow his formidable piano skills to glibly carry the day. His improvisations were indeed lissome but hardly callow and showy. That’s not say that the evening was devoid of riveting solos. Turre thrilled from get-go with his bluesy, plunge-enhanced trombone solo on the opening ‘Cinqué/The Capture/Troubled Waters’ and even more on the third section’s ‘Indigo’ on which he navigated several conch shells against percolating polyrhythms. McCalla also captivated the audience during the third-section with her poignant rendition of the Haitian Creole folk song, ‘Mesi Bondye.’ Faddis and saxophonists Vincent Herring and Gregory Tardy too contributed spirited asides throughout – but like Villafranca’s, they were all in service to the material. In the end, it was Villafranca’s rich, multifaceted suite – as a whole – more than any single spirited solo that made the most lasting impression.

– John Murph

– Photos by Lawrence Sumulong


JazzFMAwards2015-banner

Jazz FM has announced the return of the Jazz FM Awards for 2015 as part of the radio station’s 25th birthday celebrations. The DAB station, which recently saw its average listening hours rise in the latest Rajar quarterly figures survey, launched the Jazz FM Awards in 2013 and this second event will take place on Wednesday 10 June in the Great Halls at Vinopolis, the multi-space wine experience venue located in the atmospheric Victorian railway arches at London Bridge.

Produced by Serious, the leading UK jazz and specialist music producers, the awards will feature 11 categories including, Album of the Year; Instrumentalist of the Year; Breakthrough Act; Jazz Innovation of the Year; UK Jazz Act of the Year; International Jazz Artist of the Year; Vocalist of the Year; Blues Artist of the Year; Soul Artist of the Year and Lifetime Achievement. The event will feature guest presenters and live performances including Hugh Masekela, who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award and perform with pianist Larry Willis.

The inaugural Jazz FM Awards in 2013, held at No1 Marylebone in London, received considerable acclaim from the jazz industry and featured performances by Robert Glasper, Kurt Elling, Gregory Porter and Ahmad Jamal playing with Jamie Cullum. Commenting on the 2015 event, Jazz FM Chairman Richard Wheatley said; “We’re proud to be celebrating 25 years of Jazz FM at this year’s awards which recognise the best musicians and performers. The evening is set to be a fantastic occasion, bringing together the jazz world’s finest with Hugh Masekela headlining what will be an unforgettable night.”

– Jon Newey

For more details visit www.jazzfmawards.com

Legendary jazz producer, Riverside Records founder and Grammy winner Orrin Keepnews died at home in California on 1 March, aged 91. A former editor and jazz writer, Keepnews co-founded the Riverside Records label in 1953 and signed and produced Thelonious Monk, who cut classics such as Brilliant Corners, Monk’s Music and Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane, as well as Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley (pictured left with Keepnews), Sonny Rollins, Randy Weston and Bill Evans, who cut Waltz For Debby and Sunday Night at The Village Vanguard for the label.

Following the label’s demise in 1964 Keepnews founded Milestone Records in 1966 recording musicians such as McCoy Tyner, Gary Bartz and Joe Henderson before selling the company to Fantasy in 1972 where he worked as A&R director. He later started Landmark records in 1985 and in 1999 oversaw the remastering of a Keepnews Editions series of Riverside albums. He won Grammys for Bill Evans, Monk and Duke Ellington reissues, received a Lifetime Achievement award from the national Academy of Redording Arts in 2004 and was given a NEA JazzMasters award by the National Endowment of the Arts in 2011.

– Jon Newey

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