Royal Academy big band goes back to Basie

RAM-big-band

Sub-titled ‘Count Basie: Kansas City to New York’ this was another in the occasional series of RAM big band concerts devoted to the swing-era repertoire, curated and directed by jazz authority Keith Nichols, who teaches jazz history there.

An avuncular conductor and commentator, Nichols pin-pointed time and place in his introductions as he took this talented bunch through such early master-pieces as Bennie Moten’s Moten Swing and Squabblin’ by the legendary Walter Page’s Blue Devils, these from 1932 and 1930 respectively. That said it’s entirely to their credit that these youngsters so evidently relished the challenge of making these old charts live again. Is this the music they will seek to play after they graduate? Unlikely, but I applaud the notion that they should know about its value and also get to perform it in such august surroundings, the packed audience clearly relishing every minute.

While the first half was devoted to the territory bands active in Basie’s early days, the second offered a more specific look at Basie’s own story, via an evocation of Moten’s Toby, with Nichols guesting with aplomb on piano. Lessons learned the RAM lot then tackled Basie classics like Jive at Five and Blue and Sentimental before getting into the concert’s meatiest segment with four Neal Hefti compositions from the much-lauded ‘Atomic Mr Basie’ album. Just to observe pianist Ashley Henry cope with the piano parts on The Kid from Red Bank was inspiring as it was to hear the trumpeters tear into Whirlybird and Splanky, the saxes at one as they handled Hefti’s deft writing.

Invidious, perhaps, to pick out too many soloists, but bravura trumpeter Tom Gardner impressed throughout as did altoist Tom Smith, [at one point standing in for Bird on McShann’s Dexter Blues] and tenorists Ed Haine and Quinn Poulton. A word also for the splendid drumming of Edward Dunlop, whether playing the two-beat antique style or ramping things up on the Atomic numbers; good too to hear vocalist Miriam Ast on Swing, Brother Swing and the slightly-built Julian Chou-Lambert filling the ample shoes of Jimmy Rushing on Sent For You Yesterday.

All in all, a grand night for swing, and for these exceptional young players.

- Peter Vacher

Azymuth bring the Jazz Carnival to Ronnie Scott’s

azymuth1

A rare moment at a jazz gig: a request not just for a song, but a chart hit. The very expression is so foreign to the world of improvised music these days that some might be alienated by the audible pleas for ‘Jazz Carnival’, the track that took the Brazilian trio Azymuth into the UK top 20 in February 1980, squeezing them into a somewhat unique berth between The Beat and the Bee Gees. However the passion shrilling up among the front row faithful makes it clear that the track does indeed mean something to those of a certain age and culture, ‘soul boys’, for want of a better term, who vigorously loosened limbs to instrumental jazz-fusion in clubs as well as lending an ear to it front rooms.

Prior to that commercial breakthrough Azymuth already had a good decade of activity under their belts and the white hair and generous waistlines of drummer Ivan Conti and bass guitarist Alex Malheiros signal their place as elder statesmen in a form of Brazilian music that stirred the electronic innovations of Herbie Hancock and the aggressive funk of James Brown into the bubbling pot of local samba rhythms to cook up a sound that was both earthy and intricate.  

Completing the trio is keyboardist Fernand Moraes, who is arguably under the greatest pressure as the replacement for the late founder member José Roberto Bertrami, the man who created the most vivid colours in the band’s tonal palette.

While Moraes plays satisfactorily for most of the evening there are moments when he is less expansive than his predecessor, and in the gentler bossa novas that are sprinkled throughout the first set he could have stretched out a touch more just to supply the kind of vigour that stopped Azymuth’s numerous studio sets, Outubro, Telecommunication and Cascade being among the most favoured, becoming too tepid. When the electric piano adds more gloss than grit one too many of the mid-tempo ballads simply flatline.

However, the band emerges for the second set with a renewed energy that grabs the audience by the scruff of the neck on the downbeat of the subtle but percolating ‘Light As A Feather’, the title track of the album that spawned the aforesaid Jazz Carnival and that remains arguably the definitive Azymuth studio recording, before peaking on the quite magnificent ‘Partido Alto.’ This is also the cue for Conti to come into his own as a front man, standing up and playing a ‘pandheiro’, a large tambourine and a ‘tamborim’, a small tambourine, to demonstrate the zigzag polyrhythms that form the basis of the piece before seamlessly transferring these patterns to the kit. Visually and aurally, it’s a great moment.

azymuth2

Conti’s rimshots are razor sharp, teasingly wrapping around Malheiros’ short, hiccupping bass lines while Moraes’ choppy Rhodes syncopations now have the kind of sting previously missing. The introduction of the song, which has the feel of cleverly adrenalinized reggae, works up a sweat before giving way to a gliding melody that in turn swerves into chord changes that set up Moraes’ fully engaged improvisations. While the chemistry between the players reaches a real highpoint here the overall sound canvas of the group is enriched by Conti’s secret weapon, an additional tom tom that has the crackling high pitch of a timbale. It is used more inventively than before and infuses an additional percussive barrage to the music that hints at the tightly controlled noisefest of a samba school.           

Thereafter the dance implications of Azymuth’s music become more explicit and, although slightly undercooked, the very soulful ‘Dear Limmertz’ draws a huge round of applause before the inevitable rendition of ‘Jazz Carnival’ brings many members of the audience to its feet as the Ronnie’s rule of keeping conversation to a minimum is relaxed with no voices of dissent to be heard in the now raucous venue.

Exactly 35 years old the song is essentially a tasteful blend of jazz and funky disco that does indeed remind us that Azymuth was a product of its time and as Malheiros’ powers the groove along it’s easy to hear, and indeed see why the track captured the imagination of dancers around the world. Somewhat poignantly, the moment is also a marker of change, for there has been no real successor to ‘Jazz Carnival’, namely a piece of instrumental music that garners an audience big enough to make a dent in the national charts and hold its own alongside vocal-led pop. It is a challenge that players, listeners and mainstream radio programmers might do well to take up.


– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Carl Hyde    

Simon Spillett Quartet vibe up The Verdict

Simon Spillett

The Verdict, Brighton

The start is explosive. Tonight is a celebration of what would have been Tubby Hayes’ 80th year, and as Simon Spillett bends straight into an exuberant tenor solo, with a smoothly powerful tone, which confidently handles the melodic bends in a strong-flowing river-rush of notes, it’s clear that no UK saxophonist is better equipped for the task.

Spillett is at the heart of the revival of interest in Britain’s most revered early player. His Hayes biography The Long Shadow of the Little Giant is out shortly, and he has contributed to the upcoming documentary, Tubby Hayes: A Man In A Hurry. More pertinent tonight is the Hayes-like charisma and capacity to entertain he adds to playing which is more personal than a mere tribute, but has a strength, facility and happy lust for life the man he’s honouring would surely approve. The presence of Hayes band-mates John Critchinson (piano), Dave Green (bass) and Spike Wells (drums) in this occasionally convened quartet adds to its authenticity. Critch especially, just turned 80 himself, brings with him the whole history of British modern jazz, and a bone-dry, mock-curmudgeon’s wit learned, with much else, at Ronnie Scott’s side. This meeting of old English masters with the Modernist-suited, 40-year-old Spillett would be worth hearing any time. A packed crowd in Brighton’s basement jazz Mecca, The Verdict, ices the anniversary cake.

Rocketing out of the traps, that opening version of Hayes’ ‘Royal Ascot’ screeches to a halt. Spillett, voice sandpapered to a whisper by a heavy cold, introduces another Hayes tune, ‘The Serpent’, by noting it was named after the infamous “appendage” of The Flamingo’s Essex MC Bix Curtis. Critchinson shows a flickering blues touch, then hits a lightly jabbing rhythm. Green’s antic, brightly melodic bass is, like this whole band, a deceptively breezy marvel. Spillett’s appropriately snaking, speeding ease, sneaking in a snatch of ‘My Favourite Things’ in a modal passage, finally soars into another solo which seems set to crash through the roof. The energy’s huge.
Clark Terry’s ‘Opus Ocean’, from his Tubbs In NY session with Hayes and played here just days before Terry’s death, is super-charged dance music, Wells smashing a cymbal with a flourish, everyone relishing the chance to go full-pelt. ‘Grits, Greens and Beans’ gets more dynamite-blast wailing from Spillett, who then slips gears into slower, no less relentless intensity, ending by bending into a classic sax-player’s profile. Wells provides Blakeyesque drive, while Critch spikily skims the keys. The wryly celebratory ‘Off the Wagon’, written in the wake of a rare, hospital-enforced spell of Hayes sobriety, warmly swings. Then another cut from 1967’s Mexican Green LP, ‘Dedication to Joy’, Hayes’ tribute to what Spillett terms his “short but bloody liaison” with his mistress Joy Marshall, sinks into nocturnal, noir reflection. Showing his softly lyrical side, Spillett finishes alone.

This flagging, spluttering quartet, wrung-out not by one of Hayes’ exotic addictions but multiple winter colds, slump over the finishing tape. They’re met by rousing cheers from an audience mostly very familiar with the Little Giant, who recognise he’s been done justice by a band of peers, and one worthy descendent.

- Nick Hasted

Tony Kofi’s Sphinx play the music of Ornette Coleman

tony-kofibanner
The Verdict, Brighton 28 February 2015

Any improvised jazz gig sends the performers out on a tightrope walk in front of the audience - Tony Kofi introduces tonight’s show as “no parachute, no safety net”. Tackling the music of one of jazz’s most distinctive originals, in a trio format, with no written scores, would be audacious enough even without the unforeseen traffic problems that delayed bassist Larry Bartley’s arrival, forcing him to virtually run onstage and into the first number.

Fortunately, spontaneity is the essence of Ornette’s muse, and Bartley rose to the challenge with a sonorous, big-toned statement, making full use of the instrument’s natural resonance, that set the scene for the leader’s solo, which moved from an uncanny semblance of Ornette’s unmistakeable burning cry to encompass R&B inflections and furious contemporary harmonic language before taking off into a scalding free improvisation. On the ballad “Beauty Is A Rare Thing” Kofi captured the master’s keening intensity over the rich tones of arco bass, while “Humpty Dumpty” demonstrated a perfect grasp of the unique emotional ambience of mid-tempo Ornette, at once mournful and uplifting.

The set flowed seamlessly from one number to the next, with Rod Youngs on drums exhibiting an effortless rhythmic fluency, and the whole band giving a lesson in rapport - with each other, and also with the breadth and diversity of Ornette’s material. The performance built up to it’s apogee in the second set with an all-out interpretation of “Lonely Woman”.

Bartley manages to conjure an impressive presence from his unwieldly instrument; he combined with Young’s subtly shifting pulse to launch Kofi into a stunning solo that reached beyond the source of it’s inspiration to evoke some of the uncompromising passion and intensity of Ayler and Coltrane’s final recordings. The band showed how thoroughly they’ve internalised the language of one of the great mavericks, and the packed house and rapturous ovation showed how much of an appetite there is for this seldom-performed music when someone’s prepared to risk it!

- Eddie Myer

Zhenya Strigalev goes Robin Hood at Ronnie’s

zhenya-ronnies2

Compressed into contorted shape, the body’s bent frame is sprung under a mass of notes pouring down into the saxophone. The face though floats upwards, as if sighting some higher perch before take-off, all apparent introversion lost. Then, with football chant flutter, the frenetic coil of tension releases and the saxophone recedes back into the red-hued gloom of Ronnie Scott’s.

This is the young Russian Zhenya Strigalev who displays more than just a hint of Moondog-esque eccentricity in his threadbare presence. His new album Robin Goodie (boogie woogie crossed with Robin Hood, apparently) is out this month and displays the author clambering out of the trees with some timber thingamabob. But it wasn’t the love for a woodland hero, nor the fractured English, nor even the surrealist poetry that kept Ronnie’s crowd pinned to their seats last Wednesday; it was the shear force of the playing.

The ‘Smiling Organizm’, as Strigalev’s band of merrymakers is called, sport a star-studded cast of transatlantic jazzmen. Understandably, not all the album’s a-listers (such as Ambrose Akinmusire) were available for tour dates. But little worry there with such substitutes as fellow-countryman Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, acclaimed pianist Liam Noble, bassist Matt Penman and man-turned-groove-machine Linely Marthe on bass guitar. The one constant from the album, Eric Harland on drums, burned particularly bright effortlessly skipping between a technicolour range of beats.

The evening blasted off on genre-defying romp, melding old-school Orleans to hard bop and deep hip-hop groove. Early on, the band gelled solidly with bebop showcase, ‘Unlimited Source of Pleasure’ and the rather more labyrinthine ‘Snails’. Tender moments ranged from Strigalev’s absurd poetry interlude to Marthe’s lyrical expositions that almost landed in Gabor Szabo territory. Past halfway the balance faltered slightly, yet with no loss of individual brilliance.

The crew were, if anything, a little overwhelmed in talent, with Penman and Noble occasionally feeling reclusive behind the tour-de-force of Marthe and Harland. The live energy was nonetheless addictive with some truly world-class soloing emerging from Strigalev’s more kernelled compositions. If this surreal fur-hatted alto-saxophonist can galvanise this dream team with such zeal, who can say where he’ll stop.

– Tommie Black-Roff

– Photos by Ben Amure

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Daymé Arocena showcases soulful talents at The Forge

Daymé Arocena showcases soulful talents …

At just 22 years of age, Cuban singer Daymé Arocena...

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Chris Mapp’s Gonimoblast and Arve Henriksen burst out of the sonic darkness at The Crossing

Chris Mapp’s Gonimoblast and Arve Henrik…

Chris Mapp was one of three ‘Fellows’ (the other two...

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Rising sax star Melissa Aldana gets cooking at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Rising sax star Melissa Aldana gets cook…

It isn’t unusual at events such as the London Jazz...

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Filomena Campus’ spellbinding Monk homage at Theatralia Jazz Fest

Filomena Campus’ spellbinding Monk homag…

Curated by the award winning jazz vocalist, lyricist, lecturer and...

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Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company and Alex Garnett’s Bunch of Five & NYSQ swing London Jazz Fest out in style

Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company an…

The EFG London Jazz Festival’s final day allowed the fleet...

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Kurt Elling, Get the Blessing and Ralph Towner ensure Pančevo punches above its weight

Kurt Elling, Get the Blessing and Ralph …

Hosted in the city’s Cultural Centre and featuring a line-up...

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 Cuban Mela fires up at Camden Forge

Cuban Mela fires up at Camden Forge

The Cuban Mela was inarguably the LJF’s most vibrant closing...

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Terri Lyne Carrington and Charenee Wade hit celebratory soulful groove down at Ronnie Scott’s

Terri Lyne Carrington and Charenee Wade …

If there is such a thing as the short straw...

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Liane Carroll Trio wraps up LJF in fine style at 606

Liane Carroll Trio wraps up LJF in fine …

  Consummate performer and every singer’s vocal idol, Liane Carroll, sidles...

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James Pearson and WordTheatre presents ‘And All That Jazz’

James Pearson and WordTheatre presents ‘…

WordTheatre, a company specialising in live readings of stories by...

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Sam Braysher, Nick Costley-White, The Dixie Ticklers with Johnny Mars set sail at Jazz Nursery

Sam Braysher, Nick Costley-White, The Di…

The Jazz Nursery, set aboard a magnificent replica of Sir...

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Simon Spillett plays up a storm for Foyles launch of Tubby Hayes – A Man in a Hurry

Simon Spillett plays up a storm for Foyl…

Last Thursday saw the launch of the Tubby Hayes documentary...

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Legends gather in somber tribute to Kenny Wheeler at Cadogan Hall

Legends gather in somber tribute to Kenn…

We were promised a smorgasbord of jazz royalty at this...

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Cécile McLorin Salvant draws on the past to captivate at Cadogan Hall

Cécile McLorin Salvant draws on the past…

After a lovely low-key opening set from Femi Temowo, featuring...

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Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz Fest

Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz…

The theme at this year’s Belgrade Jazz Festival was ‘The...

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Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future-soul to The Concorde

Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future…

There’s a crush of boho twentysomethings up against Brighton’s Concorde...

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Steve Smith grooves hard with Vital Information NYC at Ronnie Scott’s

Steve Smith grooves hard with Vital Info…

It was the early 1990s when this writer first discovered...

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Knoel Scott takes on tradition at the 100 Club

Knoel Scott takes on tradition at the 10…

If walls could talk then the 100 Club, squeezed between...

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Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's Elgar Room

Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's El…

Given the limitless ocean of music in which the world...

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Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz Happening

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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