Soft Machine fly loud and free at the Elgar Room

“He’s not just a roaring, swinging jazz saxophonist, he’s actually got the prog credentials as well!” shouts  John Etheridge introducing bandmate and reeds player Theo Travis, who has played with Gong and King Crimson, to an audience eager to experience, or re-live, the legend. Competitive and convivial by turns, the fiery on-stage relationship between Etheridge and Travis, and the wider band dynamic, embodies a constant theme of tonight’s show.

Under purple, blue and silver lights, The Soft Machine, the first rock band to play the Proms in 1970, albeit with a different line-up then headed by founders Hugh Hopper (bass), Elton Dean (alto sax, saxello), Mike Ratlidge (keyboards) and Robert Wyatt (drums and voice), are now revisiting  the original Summer of Love,  for the new Late Night Jazz sessions’ intimate small stage, with  lead guitarist Etheridge  returning to perform there after thirty years. This set for the Elgar Room, is gleaned from various Soft Machine and Soft Machine Legacy albums, including compositions from classic albums Fourth ('Kings and Queens') and Seven ('The Man Who Waved At Trains').

Etheridge has good reason to exult. He gets to open the first set with  Karl Jenkins’ ‘Bundles’, a big, expansive, busy suite in which the influence of free-form jazz is clearly felt, and which displays his signature bright,  robust,jazz-rock  guitar solos, with a majestic “choral wall of sound”bouncing off his effects pedals.   Travis delights and spellbinds the audience on Mike Ratlidge’s “Chloe and the Pirates”,  with dazzling, high, piccolo-like trills on his tenor sax.

'Voyage Beyond Seven' (Travis also) points up the striking interplay between Etheridge and John Marshall, whose subtly powerful percussion solo in the second set, skilfully anchors the eclectic, disparate elements evident in the music. From a powerhouse of kick-ass sax swing and verve on 'Grapehound', to an abundance of flowing, bubbling, descending basslines delivered by Roy Babbington,  notably on 'Kings and Queens', a powerful rhythmic heart emerges, an alchemical blend of  rock, psychedelica,  free improvisational and experimental music.   The epic poem, “Taliesin”, is soulfully explored by call-and-response interludes between guitar, bass and flute. 

Historically, the ‘Softs’ are part of the renowned Canterbury scene,  known for its early nurturing of touring acts Caravan, Hatfield and the North, and Gong. However, from tonight’s momentous performance it’s clear that there is  plenty of buried treasure for new fans to explore.

– Jasmine Sharif

Robert Glasper and Christian McBride spell quality at Sofia’s A to JazZ Festival

Now in its seventh year, Sofia's A to JazZ Festival is both a surprise and a rarity. In high summer heat, with the backdrop of the Vitosha mountain, the atmosphere in the city's southern park is easy, friendly and relaxed and the three evenings of music on the outdoor stage are offered to the audience completely free, courtesy of their public funders and an array of commercial sponsors. The result is an open air event but without the usual barriers, fences or heavy security and, despite the presence of the various alcohol brand sponsors, a peaceful, good natured 'picnic in the park' vibe with an audience of families and friends of all ages.

Musically, the programme pointed in many directions, both geographically and in terms of its relation to jazz. On Friday night Sweden's Dirty Loops powered through their headliner set of distorted cover versions with a lot more punk-inflected energy than jazz-inflected meaning. The evening had opened with Bulgaria's National Academy of Music Big Band, playing a standard repertoire with a starred first level of ability (a tribute to the discipline of Bulgarian music education) and a drums plus two percussion rhythm section which kept the ensemble breathtakingly tight throughout. Fast pace and driving rhythm characterised much of the festival. Austria's FunkXpress showed just how much they'd learned from their compatriot mentor Joe Zawinul although without his flights of invention. Bulgaria's RomaNero somehow mixed latin rhythms in between the unmistakeable sounds of Roma wedding band music and ancient folk melodies; their countrymen in Jazzanita took contemporary jazz as their homeground but still managed to give much of their set a strong inflection of those frenetic wedding dances.

bulgabria-a-z-jazz

Local pop stars Angel Kovachev and Dorothy Takev were both, to be honest, more A to X-Factor than A to JazZ, but the Czech/Italian/Bulgarian piano trio of Uvira, Bruno and Hafizi (above) brought the programme back firmly to the jazz of today as they opened on Sunday with a set that featured more reflective music than was heard for most of the rest of the weekend. From neighbouring Slovakia, trumpeter Lukas Oravec and his quartet also gave the Sunday evening audience a set of well-played but workmanlike straight-ahead contemporary jazz; on the Friday, Spanish sextet Mastretta had ranged cheerfully around a mix of earlier, jollier jazz styles.

In truth it was the two American headliners who put the fire and adventure in this A to Z compendium. On Saturday night Robert Glasper (top) proved his band Experiment is just that. What can we do with so many facets of music now available to us? Hell, let's find out in the true spirit of improvisation! The whole set was that kind of roller-coaster exploration in which every member of this remarkable outfit (including bassist Burniss Travis and Glasper on keyboards and Fender Rhodes) pushed the music out and up, with a camaraderie of delight at each other's invention – such as, just for two instances among so many, Casey Benjamin's wild, free saxophone solos, which simply scorched the night air, and Justin Tyson's drumming, which more than justified the use of 'drumkilla' in his email address.

Christian McBride's quartet (a starry combination of the bassist himself, Nasheed Waits on drums, Markus Strickland on tenor and bass clarinet and trumpeter Josh Evans) closed the festival on Sunday night with a masterly exposition of what's at the heart and soul of jazz – freedom, more adventure, empathy, dynamic range, immense skill and (something that eluded several of the other bands at the festival) giving the music space to breathe. Their penultimate number – the simplest of blues - drew some of the most exquisite soloing and interplay and brought the audience to an emotional peak as they cheered with delight for more.

– Story and photos – Robert Beard

Wild Card beat the heat at Ronnie’s Bar

It was fitting, perhaps, that Clement Regert's (above) groove jazz outfit Wild Card should have arrived at Ronnie's upstairs bar on one of the hottest nights of the year. Scorched by the London heat, the audience was then scalded by Wild Card's horns, steamed by the Hammond, then blasted by a powerhouse of a performance from stand-in drummer Francesco Mendolia (below, of Incognito), constantly stretching the beat and throwing rhythmic ideas around.

Francesco-Mendolia

Wild Card takes an eclectic approach to genre: if the audience are itching to the groove, it works. A funked-up version of 'Beat It', started by Regert's glossy guitar melody and supported by Mendolia's chinking percussion, and concluded by Jim Knight's summit-charging solo on alto sax, led onto 'Heartshape Box', a muscular, driving funk take on the Nirvana tune that opened deceptively smoothly before roaring into life with another massive sax solo. Alistair White (below) on trombone matched Knight in adrenaline, though perhaps his stand-out moment was the yowling, muted accompaniment on 'Fever'. The vocals were performed by another new collaborator, Lily Dior. She combined ultra-precise articulation with an irresistibly sultry, yearning tone that gave her pieces some welcome breathing space after the pedal-to-the-metal instrumental numbers.

Wild-Card-Ronnie-2

Showing the band's gentle side was 'Lullaby for Lauren', with Mendolia picking up the brushes for a samba turned sax-explosion, and 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', featuring Alistair White's acrobatic trombone tribute to ska. Alongside the incendiary Mendolia, Regert's regular Hammond player Andy Noble often took a back seat, adding silky texture and cute melodic flourishes, but he led the swinging band through 'The Ritz' until another massive Mendolia solo blew everyone away. Occasionally, with three new players in a quintet the ensemble had a seat-of-the-pants feel to it, but such momentary raggedness just added to the gig's immediacy. On a night when the overwhelming temptation was to lie still, Wild Card had the joint jumping.

– Matthew Wright

– Photos by www.goatnoisephotography.com

SEN3 Square Circle At The Oval

Sen3

The Oval Tavern in Croydon might not be the first place you'd look for new jazz talent, but that's where emerging trio SEN3 were playing their latest gig. Drawing on tunes from their debut album released in February this year, SEN3 presented a heady mix of Thrust-era Herbie Hancock funk mixed with more contemporary vibes. Bassist Dan Gulino is a regular with chart successes such as Jamie Woon and Jessie Ware, but in this trio you could sense the craft of a session pro being let loose on more cutting-edge material. He has a near-telepathic connection with drummer Saleem Raman, and the two formed the backbone of the action, with Max O'Donnell's guitar free to float lines over the top or occasionally drop into the engine room and push things forward.

'Benson Dealer' began with luxurious slow neo-soul chords, before kicking into another gear and evoking late 1970s Headhunters. Raman laid straight 16ths across a shifting 7/4 structure in 'The Drop', which had echoes of Roller Trio. O'Donnell's natural ear for melody came into its own, with his long phrases contrasting against Gulino's busy counterpoint, culminating in a scintillating drum and bass groove. The set closed with a turbo-charged roast through 'Mr Clean', which would have had lesser players hanging on for dear life, before a similarly breakneck rendition of 'Actual Proof'. Gulino was fearless in flying into the central semi-quaver hook each time it came round, and Raman and O'Donnell were right there with him on every beat. One audience member passed out at the bar and had to be escorted off site – perhaps due to the potency of SEN3's grooves as much as the Friday night drinks.

– Jon Carvell

Simon Spillett Quartet swing hard in homage to Harry South

Harry South has been an overlooked figure in British jazz, yet this pianist, composer and arranger not only played with some of the major musicians of his time – including Tubby Hayes, Dick Morrissey and Joe Harriott – but was held in such high esteem generally that when Georgie Fame decided to record his 1965/6 album Sound Venture, Harry was the arranger and big band leader that the young vocalist wanted.

As a celebration of his life and work, the Spice of Life saw Simon Spillett perform an evening of numbers associated with Harry, to coincide with the release of The Songbook, a 4CD set of Harry's work. An appropriate choice of saxophonist, given Spillett's in-depth knowledge of the playing of Hayes and Morrissey and his own straight-ahead technique.

Kicking off with 'Downhome', which was the Morrissey/South theme tune, the quartet showed immediately what the audience could expect – a hard driving attack full of fluency and swing, using the compositions as vehicles on which the soloists could stretch out. Baltimore-born bassist Tim Wells held a pivotal position around which the others weaved and he took impressively lyrical and commanding solos; Spillett's muscular, full-toned approach combined with fast sinewy lines while pianist John Horler and drummer Trevor Tomkins showed the kind of interaction that often only comes with years of playing together.

The Stan Tracey ballad 'Little Miss Sadly' (Spillett's tenor moving from forthright blowing to a mellow response) and 'Off The Wagon', were taken from the Morrissey/South album Here and Now, as was 'Corpus', in which Horler's variations drew sensitive and thoughtful support from Tomkins, who adeptly alternated between sticks, brushes and rutes to create the desired effect. In return, the pianist's economy of touch through an occasional chord, phrase or note during the drum solo on 'Simple Waltz', underlined their mutual awareness. And when Spillett came in to double the tempo, there were smiles all round and Tomkins, completely unfazed, took it in his stride and once more showed what an excellent player he is.

Other numbers played included 'The Scandinavian', Leroy Anderson's 'Serenata' and 'Sound of Seventeen', all introduced by Spillett's laconic wit, making this a special night, especially for members of the South family who were in the audience and for the distinguished writer Brian Case, a connoisseur of hard edged tenor men, making one of his rare and welcome excursions into Soho.

– Matthew Wright
– Photo by Paul Pace

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Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz …

Festival directors often have to unhitch hitches right in the...

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Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electric Brixton

Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electri…

While Elephant9’s recent studio sets might’ve inaugurated amassing embroideries of...

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Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bowl

Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bo…

When taking an evening to see a true legend of...

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Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Reunite With Jim Mullen At The Jazz Cafe

Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Reunite W…

It had been forty years since the legendary Jim Mullen...

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Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic at the Bull’s Head

Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic…

Sheryl Bailey, one of New York’s foremost guitarists and now...

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Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Austria’s place in the jazz firmament has been well established...

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Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a rapturous Rich Mix

Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a raptu…

Last time Jazzwise took an evening to see Bex Burch’s...

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Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 606

Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 60…

There is a significant coterie of jazz fans that come...

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Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in style

Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in…

Three nights in to his five-night stay at Pizza Express...

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Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage performance at Celebrate Voice Festival

Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage perfo…

Liane Carroll celebrated, life, jazz and the unrestrained joy of...

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Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

On a rainy evening in Dalston, 21 October – ‘Back...

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Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at Ronnie Scott’s

Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at R…

It’s a great recipe: take a string quartet line-up, dispense...

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Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at Ronnie Scott’s

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at …

For the first time in eleven years, leading US drummer...

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Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Pizza Express

Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Piz…

The advance billing might have suggested a Joel Harrison solo...

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Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place

Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place…

I’m writing this with one eye on an article about...

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Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry Wallenstein and Mike Hobart’s Urban Jazz Collective at Vortex

Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry W…

New York beat poet Barry Wallenstein joined Mike Hobart’s Urban...

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Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blasts off with Birchall, Brand and more

Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blast…

With its emphasis on adventurous programming and bids to redress...

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Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offer an enthralling glimpse of the future

Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offe…

 Anyone bold or foolhardy enough to essay a career in...

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Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy to the Verdict

Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy …

Bobby Wellins is unique; a near contemporary of Rollins, Shorter...

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Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at The Vortex

Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at …

Stan Sulzmann stepped in for an indisposed Bobby Wellins on Saturday...

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Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power up at Palatia Jazz Festival

Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power u…

The two evenings that we visited the Palatia Jazz Festival...

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Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew at the Vortex

Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew a…

As Fletch’s Brew steamed through two sets at the Vortex...

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Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub, Edinburgh

Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub…

As the audience waits for the Robert Glasper Trio to...

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Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cadogan Hall, London

Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cado…

I’m tempted to paraphrase the old musician’s joke about not...

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Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escreet unlock jazz’s secrets in Siena

Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escr…

Such is the quite breathtaking beauty of one of Italy’s...

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Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman top triumphant Umbria Jazz Festival

Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The B…

Umbria Jazz is a brand and like all brands it’s...

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Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in the heat of Jazz á Vienne

Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in …

  One of the biggest French summer Festivals enjoyed the hottest...

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Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Climate

Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Cl…

Guitarist and educator Brad Shepik’s compositions have attracted sufficient attention...

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Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho

Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Ex…

Singer and composer Zara McFarlane played to sold-out crowds at...

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Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kings Place

Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kin…

  In Michael Chabon’s 2012 novel Telegraph Avenue, the fictitious jazz...

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A party atmosphere reigns supreme at Jazz à Vienne 2015

A party atmosphere reigns supreme at Jaz…

One of the biggest French summer Festivals enjoyed the hottest...

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Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling hit the heights at the Malta Jazz Festival

Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling hit the hei…

Soweto Kinch’s gig is nearing its climax when he finds...

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The cerebral meets the popular at the Rigas Ritmi Festival in Latvia

The cerebral meets the popular at the Ri…

As Ramon Valle explains, the Ritmi in the title of...

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Swanage Jazz Fest swings hard with Jean Tousaint’s Art Blakey Sextet

Swanage Jazz Fest swings hard with Jean …

Swanage’s format is well-established and well-understood. A marquee each for...

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Jason Moran, Justin Kauflin and D’Angelo shine at Montreux Jazz Festival

Jason Moran, Justin Kauflin and D’Angelo…

Thomas Rees is swept away by glamour, history and stand...

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Ant Law Quintet zero in at The Verdict, Brighton

Ant Law Quintet zero in at The Verdict, …

It’s been a scant 18 months since Ant Law played...

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Mammoth 36th Montreal jazz round-up with Lovano, Cullum, Mammal Hands, Abdullah Ibrahim among the highlights

Mammoth 36th Montreal jazz round-up with…

Each visit there are switcheroos at the goliath Montreal Jazz...

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Sly & Robbie with Nils Petter Molvaer create blissful ‘Nordub’ at Barbican

Sly & Robbie with Nils Petter Molvae…

A meeting of the world’s greatest rhythm section, two progressive...

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Average White Band Jarrod Lawson get the Rio funking at Glasgow Jazz Festival

Average White Band Jarrod Lawson get the…

Although the concert hall experience is a major part of...

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Manu Katché and Dado Moroni  get Bari in Jazz bopping

Manu Katché and Dado Moroni get Bari in…

This year’s edition of Bari in Jazz marked a transition...

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Black Top funk up Freedom: The Art Of Improvisation Festival

Black Top funk up Freedom: The Art Of Im…

“Yes… central heating.” These words from Cleveland Watkiss, closing Black...

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Joe Stilgoe goes Big Band at The Old Vic for album launch

Joe Stilgoe goes Big Band at The Old Vic…

A packed venue, atmospheric lighting, crystal clear sound and the...

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Ivo Neame Quintet leap into the Strata at The Verdict, Brighton

Ivo Neame Quintet leap into the Strata a…

His highest profile work so far may have been with...

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Grand Bal Swing: The Espirit Jazz Big Band swing the Irish Cultural Centre, Paris

Grand Bal Swing: The Espirit Jazz Big Ba…

On their arrival at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris...

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Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock dynamic duo at The Verdict Brighton

Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock dynamic du…

A happy accident of international flight scheduling has brought Tommy...

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Dee Dee Bridgewater and Stacey Kent get down in the docks at Elbjazz Festival

Dee Dee Bridgewater and Stacey Kent get …

Elbjazz is defined by a deep sense of place, enticing...

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VEIN and Dave Liebman get serious at the Vortex

VEIN and Dave Liebman get serious at the…

A lemur with a life ring, a mock political campaign...

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Get the Blessing, John Taylor and Darius Brubeck headline vibrant Amser Jazz Time Festival

Get the Blessing, John Taylor and Darius…

Now firmly established on the jazz festival calendar the Amser...

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The Printmakers leave their mark at Pizza Express Jazz Club

The Printmakers leave their mark at Pizz…

The cellar of Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street was...

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Carleen Anderson and Julian Joseph pay tribute to Sarah Vaughan

Carleen Anderson and Julian Joseph pay t…

The faded victoriana of Brighton’s Theatre Royal provides a suitable...

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Nigel Thomas Quartet and Paul Booth shine at Brighton Festival

Nigel Thomas Quartet and Paul Booth shin…

Some jazz musicians achieve a place in the limelight; some...

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