Rileys Revel In The Art Of Rippling Repetition

Terry Gyan Riley IMG 3881

Terry Riley is one of those few and far between composers whose oeuvre straddles Western minimalism (of which he is a founding father), Indian classical and jazz. Now approaching his 84th birthday, and joined on stage by guitarist son Gyan Riley, he treated the capacity audience at the Riley Smith Theatre in Leeds to two long sets, and reaffirmed his standing as a highly evolved and questing composer and musician.

The concert opened with a complex, modal piece. Gyan’s intimate, otherworldly electric guitar meanderings grew louder as his father rippled repetitive figures over off-kilter block chords. Often playing in unison, the son's organic sighing and wailing guitar demonstrated his facility for experimental soundscapes, though these were often eclipsed by Terry’s instruments (piano, electronic keyboard, ipad, melodica) which seemed far louder in the mix.

One passage came over like a warm, enveloping balm: simple, melodic, and gentle as the affection evident between the Rileys. Another improvisational piece had the elder statesman looping with his ipad as Gyan showered glissandos, combining to evoke the march of tiny soldiers. 

Highlights came in the shape of a sumptuous devotional raga sung by the older musician, which brought to mind the beautiful American traditional song, ‘Oh Death’, and a highly dramatic flamenco-style guitar piece, with Terry accompanying on melodica and keys, which surfed out on a tranquil ebb-and-flow.

Fiona Mactaggart
Photo by Katharine Coates

Thomas Dixon Quartet and Not Now Charlie show zeal and promise at Newcastle's Bridge Hotel

Not Now Charlie

One night, two exciting young bands, at the Bridge Hotel in Newcastle. 

Thomas Dixon is a young reedsman to watch. Graduating from the Sage Jazz Degree in 2017, Dixon has recently found his feet as a bandleader and composer of impressive talent. His acoustic quartet played NFoJaIM in October 2018, performing atmospheric, emotive original material to a packed afternoon house. Just five months later he presented an entirely new electric quartet, showcasing another set of original material.

From the opener 'Moondrunk', the ensemble has a very contemporary electronic jazz feel, with an itchy beat courtesy of drummer Ben Livingstone and an analogue synth bass-line from Ines Goncalves, overlaid with Dixon’s tenor. 'Inciting Incident' featured mesmeric sections of parallel chords in pianist Ben Lawrence’s solo, and some stickwork that could give Louis Cole a run for his money in an alto and drum play-off. 'Bartesque' looped applause from the previous track with a ton of reverb as an intro, which gradually transitioned into a multi-layered soundscape. 'Emoji' had beautifully behind-beat syncopation, with a hi-hat lead and that parallel chord work again. The set closed with the up-beat, latin infused 'Pr1mav3ra', reflecting another of Dixon’s wide ranging influences. Keep Dixon on your radar; he’s a young player who’s going places.

Led by saxophonist Jamie Toms, Not Now Charlie (pictured) are a quintet of fellow graduates from the Sage, whose set showcased material from their new EP, Keep Your Eyes On The Prize. The title-track and 'Tribute Artist' both tip the hat to Led Bib, whilst 'The Greatest Game' and 'Chasing Your Tail' were reminiscent of early Roxy Music. The standout track of the set was new composition 'Flight 19', a spacious guitar-scape leading to a slow, reggae-like groove, alternating with more swining samba-like passages. Another strong number was 'The Day the Snow Came', written while Toms was snowbound by the Beast from the East, the darkly swirling guitar and sax lines perfectly recreating the atmosphere of that tumultuous storm. The best moments in this set were the less referential compositions, with the band’s newest material hinting at exciting things to come.

Melanie Grundy

Metamorphic Rock Reflective Modes At Newcastle's Black Swan

Metamorphic by Ken Drew

“I am the person I know best... it will be better in the knowing.” This refrain, which recurs throughout pianist Laura Cole’s composition ‘The Two Fridas’ could well serve as the key to much of her music, an intensely personal distillation of her emotions and experiences as a woman, a mother, and creative artist. Many of her compositions are built around spoken passages, her own poetry and found texts which have significance for her, integrated into and expanded by the instrumental writing and improvisations delivered by her intensely sympathetic octet – as much a community as a band.

This personal dimension, and the shape-shifting trajectory of the compositions, makes for music that demands – and richly rewards – close attention, and it’s no surprise that uniformly enthusiastic reviews of Metamorphic’s double-album (of which ‘The Two Fridas’ is the title-track) have nonetheless been peppered with caveats such as “significant demands on the listener” and “a difficult listen at times”.

But any fears that this live performance would be a daunting experience for the audience were very quickly dispelled. Even though the first set began challengingly with one of the more abstract pieces, ‘Cellular’, a largely spontaneous interweaving of four melodic motifs, this actually served to focus the attention of the listeners, and the transition to the more rhythmically urgent ‘Senken’ saw the energy and enthusiasm of the musicians connecting with an impact which was visceral and cerebral in equal measure. Subsequent offerings maintained that same balance between gripping introspection and animated celebration; even the lengthy suite-like piece ‘Digging for Memories’, inspired by Cole’s visit to Auschwitz, moved through atmospherically reflective passages to a rousing, almost joyous, climax that seemed to affirm the triumph of hope over evil.

In fact the music – mainly from the pen of Cole, apart from two short pieces by Seth Bennett and Peter Fairclough - was admirably served throughout by all of the players. The three horn section of John Martin (tenor), Chris Williams (alto) and Tom Ward (bass clarinet) were tight and punchy in scored ensemble passages, and unfailingly imaginative when seizing their improvisational opportunities. The same could be said of Kari Bleivik, whose expressive delivery of most of the texts, interspersed with seamlessly integrated wordless vocals, made her effectively a fourth frontline instrument. The two bass team of Seth Bennett and John Pope – the latter making only his second appearance as a dep for Ruth Goller, but handling the material with confident panache – laid down a foundation that was simultaneously firm yet elastic, while Johnny Hunter didn’t so much drive proceedings (the term would be too suggestive of an obtrusive dominance) as respond to changes in direction in a manner that enhanced his growing reputation as one of the most fluid and versatile kit drummers on the UK scene.

And throughout it all Cole’s own keyboard playing was a vital ingredient, much of the time unobtrusively nudging and steering the music, but demonstrating impressive fluency and imagination in her rare solo contributions. But individual excursions are really not the point in music of this nature; this is essentially a collective, ensemble endeavour, exploring the interface between composition and improvisation, and embracing the potential of the leader’s exquisitely crafted yet open charts. And on those terms this was a magnificent and memorable performance.

And one final bonus. Following the gig I went back to the double-album with renewed pleasure and, yes, enhanced understanding. The two performances – recorded and live – seem to me to be complementary expressions of Laura Cole’s ambitious and deeply considered music, each casting light on the other. One really couldn’t ask for more.

Paul Bream
– Photo by Ken Drew

Kirk Knuffke Trio go deep at New York’s Zinc Bar

Deep in Manhattan's West Village, where the New York jazz cats hang, lie venues such as Blue Note, Smalls, the Village Vanguard, and Zinc Bar. At the latter, cornettist-composer Kirk Knuffke, with bassist Stomu Takeishi and drummer Jeff Davis, warmed up the audience as they came in from snowy streets on this late February night.

Diverse while satisfyingly, coherently whole, their set represented some of the best aspects of American music. This flowed over a mix of originals and covers, ranging from Cannonball Adderley's 'Cyclops' to the trio's unique take on Ernest Tubb's 'Thanks a Lot'. At times a minimalist rhythm section was punctuated by beautifully-delivered, precise, trad-jazz-leaning horn lines, before spinning into swinging beats and a more bop-oriented language. These morphed into sung phrases that hinted at gospel, with brief suggestions of funk and moments that pushed rhythmic and timbral experimentalism. A fresh, contemporary approach ran throughout.

Sometimes-complex rhythmic transformations were tightly upheld by Takeishi and Davis, who delivered wonderfully engaging moments of unexpected patterns and sounds, from pops to taps and drawn-out sonic shapes. Kirk, too, mastered his instrument with control and finesse, from the softest delicate tones, to an emphatic, hearty fullness. His well-honed use of extended technique was both exquisitely exciting and so wonderfully executed that traditionally 'unconventional' sounds felt easy, flawlessly incorporated. Flutters, growls, bends and whispers, the light clinking of a metal mute against a cornet's bell; all were undeniably musical, intentional, meaningful.

Occasionally Knuffke lowered his horn to sing sweetly delivered, often-understated, repeated lines. Their simple messages and memories, profound sonic and lyrical truths were re-evoked as he seamlessly returned to the cornet. The communicative trio used collective space and individual musicianship to great effect, and a wonderful sense of presence and connection bound the performance. Through its diversity and breadth of influences, the show was driven by innovation, grounded by a consistent originality, for music that flowed uninterrupted and deep.

Celeste Cantor-Stephens

– Dago Ulloa

Black Art Jazz Collective bring the heat to Dizzy’s in sub-zero NYC

“You just came here to keep warm, right?” quipped tenorist Wayne Escoffery well into the second set at NYC’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, on a blustery winter night in late February. Levity, coupled with a serious pedigree and chops, were in ample supply for the Black Art Jazz Collective, an arsenal of five players dedicated to furthering black identity, thought and culture in music – much needed especially in our politically divisive times.

Formed in the early 2010s, the Black Art Jazz Collective made its debut performance as a group at Dizzy’s back in 2013. Nearly six years later, the need for them is now stronger than ever. Co-founded by Escoffery, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and the noticeably absent drummer Johnathan Blake, another aim for the Collective is to honor the many progenitors of modern jazz who inspired them – Jackie McLean, Betty Carter, Freddie Hubbard – these venerable greats who hired them to join their bands and, in some cases, taught them their craft firsthand. Now as celebrated bandleaders in their own right, the Collective ensures that the legacy of these exceptional black men and women will continue to inspire more audiences.

Supported by a steady rhythm section of bassist Vicente Archer and Rodney Green, sitting in for Blake on drums, the horns picked up more steam on their opening tune ‘Devil Eyes’. Recorded by the late Roy Hargrove on the 2006 album Nothing Serious (Verve Records), the tune was composed by Dwayne Burno, a founding member of the Collective who died of kidney failure at 43 in 2013, just months following the group’s debut at Dizzy’s. Subtly different from Hargrove’s take, Pelt’s horn blazes in razor sharp and strong, decimating all in its line of fire, while James Burton III brings roundness and depth to the tune on trombone – a fitting tribute for one of this music’s most sought after bassists.

There are many tunes that can only be conceived and inspired by the times in which they’re created. ‘The Waiting Change’ is such an example. Recorded on their 2016 self-titled debut on Sunnyside Records, Escoffery composed the tune following the election of Barack Obama, whose Administration (unlike the current one) was full of diplomacy, inspiring the ample room created for each player to shine, notably pianist Xavier Davis, Archer and Green on backing rhythms.

‘Pretty’ was, by far, the highlight of the evening. A number pinned by Pelt, off their 2018 sophomore release Armor of Pride (Highnote Records), the trumpeter joked that the tune was originally titled something – one can only speculate. The composition is a sumptuous feast from the very first ‘bite’, conjoining every single player to explore untapped possibilities, as both a duo between Escoffery’s tenor sax and the walking bass line of Archer, and a trio of supporting rhythms from Archer, Green and Davis, who steadfastly held down the fort throughout.

Disappointed to be part of such a sparsely attended crowd midweek, it felt reassuring to see (and hear) the Black Art Jazz Collective draw its sustainable energy from their camaraderie and years of collaboration on other projects, and ultimately flourish after a slow start during their hour-long set. Perhaps the low turnout was attributed to several factors, either the abrupt dip in weather or the stiff competition of other artists playing throughout NYC. One could also ascribe this to the growing homogenisation of jazz itself, as players become globalised and less distinctive, further removed from its humble black origins birthed by gospel and the blues of the Delta. In spite of the turnout, the warmth of the room that overlooks Central Park, coupled with Dizzy’s friendly staff, made the evening a memorable one.

Shannon J Effinger

– Photo by Leo Oliveira

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