Nigel Price Organ Quartet live and loud at Lauderdale House

Three-quarters of the way through a 40-date UK tour that has already taken on legendary status, the Nigel Price Trio augmented by tenor-saxophonist Vasilis Xenopoulos made their way to Lauderdale House in Highgate for gig No.31. Not world-weary as might be expected after their zigzag travels across the nation but battle-hardened, they turned in a towering performance that pleased everyone, young and old, packed into the house’s elegant interior.

It’s no secret that guitarist Price is a Wes Montgomery aficionado or that the tenor-organ-guitar-drums concept is a well-worked strand in the jazz tapestry. Are there still rewards to be gained from its reiteration in this day and age? On this evidence, and that of earlier hearings, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. Price brings an intensity to his own improvisations that can make each solo seem like a personal challenge to be overcome and it’s his energy and drive that rubs off on the reminder of the quartet. With new recruit Ross Stanley at the imposing Hammond B-3 organ, this group can move from a rewarding, bluesy groove on to a lashing, hard bop driver and then subside to a limpid ballad, all without turning the proverbial hair. As one observer put it, commenting on Stanley’s command of the Hammond’s potential for bombast, “he goes beyond cheesy into brilliance”.

Xenopoulos is my nomination for tenor find of the year, always unflappable, his nicely centred mid-period sound moving from Turrentine-like placidity on to roaring Chicago-style shout-ups, with an occasional hint of Shorter’s asperity showing through, this evident on the group’s fevered version of ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’. Matt Home’s drum accents and his instinct for impactive snare explosions, never more evident than on Oscar Pettiford’s perky ‘Trichotism’, play a vital part too. Whether taking in a familiar standard like ‘Angel Eyes’ or Emily Remler’s ‘Blues for Herb’ and Price’s own ‘Blue Genes’, this quartet was as one, tight, hard-swinging, creative and exhilarating all the way. As Price put it, as if stumbling on a new truth about his band after 30+ dates on the road, “you suddenly realise it sounds amazing.” He’s right, you know.

– Peter Vacher

EFG London Jazz Festival: Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble bid farewell to London in style

Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and vocalists the Hilliard Ensemble first performed together in the remote, alpine monastery of St Gerold in 1993. Just over 20 years and three albums later, their partnership is coming to an end as the Hillards go into retirement. Their farewell tour as a quintet has them zigzagging across much of continental Europe but there was something very English about this, their final appearance in London and its air of low-key spectacle. 

As we took our seats in the creaking pews of Temple Church, Garbarek appeared on stage. Turning his back to the audience and using the round nave as a vast stone amplifier, he began to play and, from the corners of the chancel, the Hilliards answered, singing fragile multiphonic drones and plodding solemnly towards him. 

Much of their set, which ranged from works of plainchant to the hauntingly beautiful ‘Most Holy Mother of God’, written for the group by Arvo Pärt, was solemn too, but there was no shortage of glorious, ethereal moments. Members of the audience closed their eyes in contentment as Garbarek’s soprano soared above the gently unfurling vocal lines and hypnotic, unison sibilants. Glistening like sunlight through stained glass and ringing with an icy fury, it was an angelic fifth voice that lifted the performance and varied the harmonic palette. 

On a spritely medieval number with a gentle pulse, the saxophonist stamped his feet and played a string of folk melodies before weaving in a bluesy cadenza. At times his improvised responses whispered of eastern mysticism and there were even hints of bebop chord changes – unmistakable but, somehow, not at all out of place. 

As the concert drew to a close, the four singers strayed from their music stands once again, walking through the audience in the penultimate number and leaving through a side door at the very end, with Garbarek in tow. Throughout, no one said a word. Whether out of English reticence or simple good taste, there were no thank yous or goodbyes and, despite multiple standing ovations, just a single monastic hymn by way of an encore. But then there was no need to over do it. Better to go out in style and let a 20-year legacy and an uplifting final programme do the talking.

– Thomas Rees

@ThomasNRees

Lauren Kinsella and the Gorodi/Ingamells duo explore far away lands aboard the good ship Jazz Nursery

You’d be hard pushed to find a more eccentric or imaginative live music event than the Jazz Nursery, a monthly platform for young talent once held under a draughty Southwark railway arch but now stowed away on the lower deck of the Golden Hinde II, a replica of the vessel in which Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world in the late 16th century, moored on London’s Southbank.

As if in homage to the pioneering spirit of the galleon, this month’s Nursery event featured sets from two groups of sonic adventurers. Trumpeter Miguel Gorodi and drummer David Ingamells got things underway with an engrossing and unpredictable account of Dave Holland’s ‘Four Winds’, blurred by freewheeling lines and textural drum work, following it up with tunes by Thelonious Monk and trad jazz great Kid Ory. Most arresting of all was their treatment of the Hoagy Carmichael classic ‘Stardust’. After the rawness and strut of Ornette Coleman’s ‘When Will the Blues Leave?’, its lonesome melody was shocking in its tenderness and simplicity.

Amongst the varnished woodwork, the lanterns and the slumbering black cannons, rising star vocalist Lauren Kinsella and her trio, comprising former Loose Tubes trumpeter Chris Batchelor and keys player Liam Noble, pushed the boundaries still further. Their wholly improvised second half was one of shifting textures and bold new colours. Kinsella juxtaposed giggles and trills with tongue clicks and nonsensical strings of syllables that blurred and overlapped with the bullfrog croaks and trippy electronics at Noble’s fingertips. Switching between trumpet and cornet and experimenting with a range of different mutes, Batchelor offered rasps, squeals and moments of serene lyricism, once dropping out and rejoining the action in unison with a rising vocal line which he seemed to pick up out of nowhere.

The trio’s approach proved too much for some and there were audible snorts of laughter from a particularly mutinous group on the gun deck. But, they didn’t last long. By the end all but a handful were swept along by the creative intensity of the music, willing participants in a voyage of discovery that carried them into uncharted waters.

– Thomas Rees

@ThomasNRees

Salzburg swings with Jazz and the City festival

In the city of Mozart and the von Trapp family (and you certainly can’t miss either anywhere you look) the surprise and delight of a jazz festival that ranks with the best in Europe is only surpassed by the fact that the gigs – dozens of them – are all free admission.

In most cities, in most countries, free entry would mean either badly paid musicians or dodgy local bands. But not in Salzburg – quite the reverse, as a string of unmissable names – Bjørnstadt, Pushnig, Frisell, Masekela, Surman, Scofield, Blanchard, Sheppard…. and on and on – play, wreathed in smiles and embraced by the enthusiasm of audiences who, one suspects, may not even realise just how utterly lucky they are.

Fifteen years ago, an enlightened city centre manager in this historic tourist-centred city (er, hello Cambridge, Bath, York, Oxford, Durham….?) grabbed ace festival director (and ex-Saalfelden boss) Gerhard Eder and initiated an event across a range of large and smaller venues in the heart of the old town that quickly grew into one of the autumn’s busiest attractions. Funded half-each by local government and business sponsors, Jazz and the City fills the gap at the end of a previous ‘down’ month for tourism with exactly one hundred gigs (and many of them double bills) over the five days Wednesday to Sunday. Take a taxi driver’s word for it (always the economic and cultural litmus test) – the place is fairly brimming over with people and activity in this otherwise quiet time of year.

And so to the music – or at least a taste of it in two days, since no-one, however enthusisatic, can get to every gig because there are so many. If reading the title ‘Big Band’ (say it in a phoney Austrian accent?) in the programme struck a note of apprehension, guitarist/vocalist/composer/leader Monika Roscher (above) defused it immediately with some wild guitar and far-reaching original compositions. In an Austrian premiere for this German project Roscher brought fresh thinking and uplift to big ensemble arrangements.

French clarinet maestro Louis Sclavis proved once again with his new Silk Quartet his unerring Ellington-like ability to bring phenomenally talented sidemen to the fore and foster their very best performances. His percussionist Keyvan Chemirani, for example, played hand drums that out-shone anything a full kit drummer might have done with Sclavis’ fluent, rhythmic, melodic twists and turns. Next evening, in duo with his co-maestro Michel Portal, Sclavis provided percussion and bass lines himself on bass clarinet along with soaring flights of improvisation in tandem with Portal in not just one but two genial, playful, intimate concerts.

England’s Sons of Kemet drove a capacity crowd of teenagers to grandmas to racous enthusiasm. Playful in their own inexorable, high energy way – and grinning ear to ear as groove after groove gave way to further excitement – Kemet fully deserved the crowd’s stomping calls for encore.

In the same large venue, Republic, Avishai Cohen’s trio played with delicacy and sophistication – sounding perhaps more Johann Sebastian than Wolfgang Amadeus. In the ridiculously baroque gilded rooms of the Mirabellschloss, the aptly named female voice/fiddle duo Kitsch and Glory played electronic loop-the-loop to underline at least one half of their name; whilst back in Republic loop veteran Nils Petter Molvaer’s band took many by surprise with Geir Sundstel doubling pedal steel with harmonica and (how times have changed!) banjo.

In a programme full of Gerhard Eder’s inspired musical choices, two newcomers stood out as particular revelations. In a relaxed, informal lunchtime set, the four-fifths-female and very young chuffDRONE (Austrian, no clue about the name though) soared and smiled and improvised with absolute confidence and empathy though their own fresh, open, not in the least conventional compositions – a band to watch if ever there was one. And the final smiling genial presence late on Saturday evening was 78rpm DJ Blue Flamingo – a brilliant curator and collector of shellac who not only knows how to grab audiences young and old with a masterly choice of pre-1960s dance music (jazz to world to early rock n roll) but surely also surely the only DJ in the world to carry an original pressing of the first ever jazz record, the 1917 Livery Stable Blues by the ODJB.

Salzburg – your hills (and tills) are certainly alive with the Sound of Jazz.

– Robert Beard

Mingus Big Band roaring again at Ronnie’s

Legacy, certainly in an Olympics-conscious world, has become something of an overstated principle. Yet ensembles such as the Mingus Big Band and, for that matter, the Sun Ra Arkestra, who were also at Ronnie’s back in August, are as important to the jazz world as any purpose-built stadium that survives a glorious summer of sport and genuinely serves the community thereafter. Rather than a static white elephant, the 14-piece ensemble that plays the music of Charles Mingus is a big beast of an orchestra that roars mightily but knows how to seductively purr when revealing the wry sensitivity that was also an integral part of the great bassist-pianist-composer’s psyche.  

His small groups always sounded like big bands such was the intricacy and hyperactivity of both rhythm and horn sections, so the orchestra assembled tonight, with its array of outstanding soloists such as baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, trombonist Conrad Herwig, trumpeter Lew Soloff, tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffrey and pianist David Kikoski, renders the epic, baroque character of Mingus’ aesthetic all the more striking. While much is made of his ability to draw on all of the major schools in jazz history, from swing to bebop to Latin to avant-garde, Mingus took a firm root in gospel and the blues and added branch upon branch of harmonic and rhythmic finesse, so much so that the bulk of his songbook is like a prayer meeting in which the minister’s sermon, in its lengthy undulations and ecstatic invocations, acts as complex verse and chorus.

Rousing, galvanising titles such as ‘Invisible Lady’, ‘The Shoes Of The Fisherman’s Wife (Are Some Jiveass Slippers)’ and ‘Pinkie‘ make that clear in no uncertain terms while ‘Ysabel’s Table Dance’, with its startling strummed flamenco chords from bassist Michael Richmond, also shows how Mingus extrapolated Jellyroll Morton’s famous ’Spanish tinge’ and made it his own. Good as those moments are, the highpoint of the evening is the sterling vocal performance of trumpeter Philip Harper, who swoons his way Louis-like through ‘Baby, Take A Chance With Me’ and ‘Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me’, a piece in which, like a trusty preacher, he calls on heaven to save us from the hell of our own making.


– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo courtesy Carl Hyde www.hydeandhyde-photography.com

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