WorldService Project top rip-roaring Ronnie’s triple bill

A sold-out Ronnie Scott’s revelled in three dynamic faces of young British jazz on Tuesday night. The Peter Edwards Trio’s 2014 debut album Safe and Sound impressed with a soulful, intense depiction of atmosphere, from the impressionistic piano of ‘Southern African Sunrise’, to the Cuban lilt of ‘Meet You at El Malecón’. Edwards (pictured below) and bassist Max Luthert (who have played together for the equally soulful Zara McFarlane) are deeply entwined throughout, while drummer Ed Richardson (Moses Boyd on the album) disrupts their rhythmic bond with complex, layered grooves. They broke no rules, but the mood pictures are lovely.

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There’s a whiff of the boyband sophomore about Henry Spencer’s fresh-faced presentation of his quintet Juncture (pictured below), but there’s nothing immature about the tone of his trumpet and flugelhorn, tender, soulful and dangerously cracked round the edges. Spencer’s solo work is at the centre of everything, oozing heartache on ‘Remember Why’ and ‘Knocked Back, Knock Forward’, and sorrow on ‘Eulogy’, for his grandfather. Guitarist Nick Costley-White supports with some appealing melodic tracery on ‘The Survivor and Descendant’, while drummer David Ingamells balances the smoothness with neurotic rhythmic texture.   

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The crazy blazers and bowler hats of headliners WorldService Project (pictured top), like Downton Abbey run by anarchists, topped the bill with a mesmerising combination of brutality and dark humour. Their live sound, blending bleeding chunks of free brass noise with the ironic sentimentality of tracks like ‘Requiem for a Worm’, has only got better. The razor-sharp rhythmic edges are polished, the ensemble is painfully slick, and you can smell the rubber burning from their stylistic handbrake turns. Raph Clarkson (trombone) and Tim Ower (sax) mix raw brass power to awesome effect, leader Dave Morecroft channels a unique blend of Johnny Rotten and John Cleese on synth and spooky vocals, while drummer Liam Waugh holds the free-jazz freak-outs together with a fierce punk beat.   

– Matthew Wright

– Photos by Carl Hyde

The Impossible Gentlemen brimming with bonhomie in Brighton

It’s a busy life being an Impossible Gentleman. Despite starting their day at 4am in Budapest, Mike Walker, Gwilym Simcock, Adam Nussbaum and relative newcomer to the bass chair Steve Rodby took to the Old Market stage punctually at 8pm, already exuding a relaxed confidence, and treated the packed house to a preview of material from their forthcoming album.

From the first rippling guitar figures of opening number ‘Hold Out For The Sun’ it was apparent that the Gentlemen operate within the territory that Rodby’s long-time employer Pat Metheny first staked out in the seminal albums that he recorded for ECM in the 1980s. Rodby’s soft, sure-footed basslines combined with Nussbaum’s gently insistent, pulsing cymbal groove to support washes of electronic colour from Simcock’s trio of keyboards, topped by peals of flawlessly articulated notes from the guitar. Metheny’s influence still casts a long shadow over jazz guitarists, but Walker’s breadth and versatility over the course of the gig showed that he’s very much his own man – producing harp-like textures to introduce the slow greasy groove of ‘Dog Time’, then building up to an artful deployment of rock axe-hero clichés, or moving effortlessly from a Derek Bailey-esque barrage of tapping and strumming to a beautifully realised melodic passage that defied genre categorisation in Nussbaum’s ‘Insight And Light’.

Simcock’s fast swinging ‘Earworm’ gave the composer a vehicle to display his chops in a truly incendiary improvisation, and also featured a riveting solo from Nussbaum, but the real character of this band, over and above its members individual virtuosity, lies in the telepathic rapport between them, and the strength and diversity of their compositions which for all their attention to detail (Walker especially shows a knack for surprising endings) never seem overwrought. It’s a vision of what used to be called ‘fusion’, but far removed from that of the bombastic ‘everything louder and faster’ brigade, and Nussbaum’s superlative drumming is pivotal to its success – crouched behind the kit, he can impart a simmering intensity even at the quietest moments, and his flawless control of colour and dynamics is a constant joy.

Dissatisfaction with the sound mix led Walker to take the unusual step of asking the audience what to do about it, provoking an enthusiastic outburst of detailed but contradictory advice that momentarily threatened to derail proceedings. Problem solved, he embarked on series of gently surreal anecdotes, and his banter with Nussbaum over the quirks of their respective accents – New York and Salford – confirmed that the warmth and esteem between the Gentlemen isn’t limited to their music. Congratulations are due to promoters David Forman and Ralph Erle for bringing this outstanding, international calibre quartet on an all-too-rare visit outside the capital.

– Eddie Myer

Dylan Howe's Subterranean waltzes at Watermill Jazz

With enough rave reviews of his album Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie's Berlin to earn it a rightful place in all the end of year jazz polls, 2014 certainly ended on a high for drummer Dylan Howe.

As well as all the applause for the album (which interprets, for a small jazz group, music from David Bowie's Low and Heroes albums from 1977) an equally potent live show also thrilled the critics, bringing together an all-star band – Ross Stanley on piano, Dave Whitford on double bass, Steve Lodder on synthesizers and Andy Sheppard on saxophones – that would effortlessly re-capture the multi-layered mix of cold, ambient textures, and hard-hitting bop, the album offered up.

Sheppard-1For those that missed out, extra demand has kept Howe's Bowie show on the road, and tonight, assembled in a darkened hall in front of a huge projection screen screening grainy footage of 1970's Berlin, the band began with a surprise add-on to previous shows, and a beautiful reading of recent Bowie song 'Where Are You Now' Its queasy synth melody, in unison with tenor sax, was met with dark, discordant piano chords, creating a tense, eerie ambience that would sustain throughout, thus acquainting all in the hall with the underlying mood of the album, of which, all would be rolled out in sequence tonight.

Following a sax-led 'Subterraneans', cyclic percussion parts from Bowie's original 'Weeping Wall' had been lifted from Low to layer a new, dramatic waltz take on the tune. It was here that the band shifted gear, proving that, whilst Howe's arrangements have gone to enormous lengths to preserve the bleak beauty of Bowie's recordings, what brought colour, energy, and great contrast to all the wired atmospherics was the injection of raw swing.

'All Saints' best exampled this. From Whitford's solo bass intro, to its main theme trailing off into a long, ruthless swing-out, it resembled the roadmap to Coltrane's 'Resolution', right down to Sheppard's Trane-like tone snaking around the melody, or the screamy intensity he reached at breakneck tempo. Stanley's solo here would also dance uptight, but while a Casio-sounding synth break from Lodder added extra thrill, it indirectly shattered the illusion of '60s small group, delivering something more suited to sci-fi.

Stanley-1Throughout the show, the passion in the performance against the glare of the visuals was entrancing. If not back to a drizzly, post-war Berlin, the band's soft soundtrack to old clips of airports, art galleries and the Autobahn during drowsy ballad 'Some Are' took you somewhere else, anywhere but a small jazz club in darkest Dorking, that at any moment will be flicking on its lights to announce a short interval and the winners of the raffle. It was mesmerising.

Elsewhere, a moody 'Art Decade' was unveiled with a short drum solo, as Howe's sluggish, military-style rolls, and tribal tom fills rattled into an ethereal mix of laser strings, and Morse Code-like bleeps. 'Warszawa' would resonate as shadowy at first, before its lazy pulse and sombre melody were abruptly flipped into a higher register by a crack of snare, signalling some more killer swinging from all.

As the set was coming to a close, and the film behind the band bleached out to white to match the noise seeping through a long ovation for 'Warszawa', Howe smiled. His group would go on to deliver the last two tracks of his five star album, and he would once more go out on a high, and this writer will plead that if you're yet to see this sublime show and believe that jazz covers of rock standards are standard these days, you should hear how Howe interprets this one.

– Mark Youll

– Photos by Jon Frost

Bobby Wellins, Liane Carroll and Claire Martin get South Coast Jazz Festival swinging

The first South Coast Jazz Festival was an unqualified success. Sell-out crowds turned out for three nights of carefully varied, engaging bills, spanning vocal stars, big bands, a British bop veteran, and the barely classifiable klezmer-circus-noir-swing of Mark Edwards’ Cloggz. The nightly walk from the train station past Shoreham-by-Sea’s Norman church, which looms magnificently over this old Sussex port, was almost pleasure enough, showing what organisers Claire Martin and Julian Nicholas’s home county and jazz have to offer each other. The real ale-replete, ideally-sized and welcoming Ropetackle Arts Centre added to the crowd’s audible, happy buzz between sets.

The VOX choir from county town Lewes’s Old Grammar School opened the festival, a community connection maintained with master-classes and workshops throughout the weekend. A Vocal Summit sold-out months in advance continued with British all-stars Joe Stilgoe, Ian Shaw, Liane Carroll and a Claire Martn cameo. Shaw brought his Joni Mitchell set, bringing out the longing and evocative Americana of ‘Night Ride Home’, the softly-sung, all-encompassing reach of Mitchell’s last song to date, ‘Shine’, and the sprightly cynicism of a song she covered, Rodgers and Hart’s ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’. Tending to boogie bounce at the piano, Shaw was a considerably jauntier presence than Joni, to a fault when ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ became a double-speed comic duet with Martin.

Liane Carroll is no stranger to big-hearted ebullience and ribald asides. Tonight, though, eyes shut, she dropped without ceremony deep into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘If I Loved You’, deploying the arsenal of effects and feeling which make her Britain’s best ballad singer: gliding through a line, pouring on the power with smoky timbre or scatting. Tom Waits’ ‘Take Me Home’, in which she swapped lines with Julian Nicholas’s soprano sax, gave loving, sentimental admonishment to a partner without whom “the world’s not round”. She held the “s” in ‘Wild Is The Wind’ with a caressing hiss, finding the song’s sultry exoticism, before turning it into gospel-scat and getting the Sussex crowd to clap on the off-beat. The sense we’d all be welcome back at her place in Hastings, especially if we brought our own bottle, meant Carroll’s melancholy skill stayed invitingly entertaining. Stilgoe, Shaw and Martin joined her for this extremely good-humoured Summit’s big finish.

The last time I saw Saturday’s first act, Bobby Wellins, was at the Glasgow Jazz Festival in 2013, headlining alone when his friend and musical partner Stan Tracey had to cancel that morning, as the illness which killed him that year started to bite. Wellins seemed bottomlessly sad then, and that is always somewhere in his nature. But on his 79th birthday, he appeared happy and purposeful, and played gorgeously. With Geoff Simkins’ alto partnering his sax, backed by the Gareth Williams Trio, Wellins was a busy bandleader, thinking and pecking at arrangements as he went in consultation with Simkins. His lines were inevitably on the short side, but the cool worldliness of his tone, its sense of interior, subdued soulfulness, remained. Hawkish, his quizzical look as others played became hood-eyed focus when he stepped commandingly forward. His first solo on ‘It Never Entered My Mind’ had a huge, breathy sadness. ‘See You, CB’, his tribute to his hero Clifford Brown, by contrast saw Wellins and Simkins in unison for a glistening, big city strut. The soul-jazz-style ‘The Promised Land’ referred to the country of Wellins’ beloved Americans, and their revelatory post-war visits. He ghosted through the repertoire they taught him. Young local musicians watched agog from the bar, learning themselves. The old stager even blew out all the birthday cake candles Martin presented him with. “There goes the diet – thankfully,” he purred. The crowd left floating on this music’s warmth.

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Martin Edwards’ Cloggz (above) completed an unlikely but complimentary double-bill. Like everyone over the weekend, he communicated his music’s pleasure (Whiplash seemed a world away). The circus is the wellspring of Cloggz’ upcoming album. This was emphasised by back-projections of human cannonballs, and traumatised kids watching Punch and Judy during ‘Souvenir’’s bittersweet seaside waltz. Initially fox-masked bassist Terry Pack added to a highly visual show. With Julian Nicholas on sax and clarinet, banjo, accordion and harmonium among the instrumentation, they veered from woozy klezmer to the Big Top surrealism of Fellini favourite Nino Rota (though it was Morricone, with his Latin American theme from The Mission, whose music was covered). Imogen Ryall added hugely effective vocals and gospel-torch-song lyrics to Brad Mehldau’s ‘When It Rains’. Nicholas starred on his own ‘Mrs. Mephistopheles’, a giddy, spiral staircase of a tune. Then Edwards himself played rolling shivers of saloon-bar piano on Tom Waits’ ‘Johnsburg, Illinois’, before violinist Ben Sarfas’s star turn on John Williams’ ‘Schindler’s List’ theme brought out a stately, Yiddish flavour, and deep European blues. This good-humoured, strange brew was another great hit.

Peter Long’s Echoes of Ellington Orchestra and The Mingus Underground Octet wrapped things up on Sunday, bringing jazz’s great composers and big bands into the festival fold. There has to be another one in 2016.

– Nick Hasted

– Photos by Tim Dickeson

Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart and Peter Bernstein get Watermill Jazz grooving

From the opening tap of dry ride cymbal and warm, fluid guitar aloft some busy B3, lucky holders of this, the Watermill's most trumpeted ticket to date, were, at once, entranced by the emotive, almost telepathic interplay of this master trio.

Over for a run of four shows to promote last year's Ramshackle Serenade disc, the US-based band were tonight elevated to the club's main stage (normally concealed by curtains and reserved for big band orchestras), and eased in with a breezy reading of Duke Pearson's ‘Chant’. The low-end growl of Goldings' organ here may have had its sights on swallowing the whole hall, but its percussive punch in the higher register beautifully complimented Bernstein's spacious guitar, and sealed the gaps between some snappy fours from drummer Bill Stewart (below).

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An early highlight of the night was Goldings' ‘Jim Jam’, a tribute to his former leader Jim Hall, which raised the tempo and proved a perfect springboard for Bernstein's fast-fingered fretwork. Recalling Hall's unique phrasing, and subtle pick style, Bernstein would also deploy greasy blues riffs, adding weight to a solo he would slowly build across the tune's lengthy outro.

When the piece did eventually end, and the front row's ovation for Bernstein's solo was hushed, a church-like rush of reedy organ pricked the silence, spilling across the stage. This stunning, isolated introduction to Ellington's ‘All Too Soon’ may have been, as the title suggests, hastily embellished with busy accompaniment, but when Stewart and Bernstein joined Goldings to drive home the bluesy ballad, it was a moment to behold.

The groovy ‘Mr. Meagles’ was another staple of the set; with its latin feel forming a funky bed onto which all three could really stretch out. Remaining firm and blues-based, Bernstein'smelody throughout was ruffled only by the clatter of Stewart's tom fills, his fancy foot work on hi-hat and a scattergun solo from Goldings that would swerve the band back to the main theme, and towards a deft fade-out to a full stop.

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Elsewhere, more audacious drumming would fire up Bernstein waltzer ‘Jive Coffee’, but it was the intro to the trio's penultimate piece, Cole Porter's ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’ that stirred real scenes of joy around the room. Slow and understated, and fixed to pulse once more governed by Goldings' bass pedals, the song's memorable melody was gently picked out on guitar, swept along by the faint swish of brushes and piercing whistle from Larry's vintage Leslie speaker.

Wrapping up the night with unannounced bossa, Goldings' response to all the roars for more was to joke that they didn't know any more tunes, but they delivered one encore, ‘Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You’. Stripped back and sassy, Don Redman's classic not only managed to encapsulate many musical traits of this trio, but emphasize how a hot mix of sensitivity, instinct and solid swing from three leaders in a small humble jazz club, can so magnificently move a room.

As a footnote to the night – and with echoes of the iconic photo 'A Great Day In Harlem' and Terrence Donovan's 'A Great Day In Trafalga Square' – a small army of leading British jazz musicians came to the gig as well, captured here by photographer Jon Frost (see caption below for names):

Front Row, Left to Right: Dave Warren, Kathryn Shackleton, Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart, Ann Odell, Nat Lambson, Imogen Ryall and Dave Cliff.

Second Row, Left to Right: Nat Steele, Paul Hobbs, Pete Whittaker, Gary Wilcox, Dave Barry,  Robbie Robson, John Turville, Josephine Davies, Paul Whitten, Terry Seabrook, Andy Trim, John Critchinson, Kate Williams, Alec Dankworth, Stan Sulzmann, Bobby Worth, Ross Stanley and Dylan Howe.

Back Row, Left to Right: Pete Cater, Steve Wetherall,    Phil Hopkins, Iain Sutcliffe, Nigel Price, Dorian Lockett, Janette Mason, Andrea Vicari, Shane Hill, Matt Home and Roger Hind

– Review by Mark Youll

– Photos by Jon Frost

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