Fumi Okiji and Brigitte Beraha vibe up traditional sounds at The Vortex

Fumimain

The launch of singer Fumi Okiji’s album Old Fashion (the first based around her Old Time Jazz Band ensemble) supported by fellow singer Brigitte Beraha, presented two contrasting experiences of the interpretation of existing repertoire. Accompanied solely by guitarist Stuart Hall, Beraha treated the audience to a set of largely Brazilian works with a voice perfectly suited to this style. Her sound production, vibrato (or lack of) and rhythmic conception were right on the money, while she also added to the Brazilian vocal tradition an extended upper register (with pleasing sweetness) and well-conceived scat lines delivered with discretely chosen phonetics. Her arrangements echoed the less-is-more charm of Brazilian music with minimal introductions and endings – highlights included Jobim classics ‘Chovendo Na Roseira’ (‘Double Rainbow’) and ‘Aguas de Marco’ (‘Waters of March’). Placed within the minimal line-up of a guitar-voice duo and singing well-suited repertoire, Beraha flourished in a performance that was a pleasure to hear.

Okiji’s set, the main event of the evening, was naturally more involved with the forging of a distinctive new ensemble and the release of a new album. Her voice is balanced across all registers with a finished sound and natural vibrato, and as a singer she is her own woman: melismatic but not overly bluesy, seemingly free from American diction and influenced by a broader musical palette than her Old Time Jazz Band moniker might suggest. Although there were few vocal surprises during straight-ahead selections such as ‘I’m Old Fashioned’, Okiji was sublime in her delivery of more atypical repertoire such as the blues ‘Shake Surgery’. Still close to the beginning of her Old Time Band project, Okiji appears in the process of discovering the group’s A-list materials.

The Old Time Jazz Band utilises cello rather than double bass, lending the group a lighter bottom-end. Drummer Roy Dodds, whose unhurried marking of the time suits the album concept, left his sticks in the bag (swapping between two sets of brushes and mallets) which ensured the bass lines of cellist Ben Davis were not overpowered. Davis proved to be an excellent soloist, swapping from pizzicato to bow and utilising the entire register of his instrument. Nowhere was this more evident than during ‘Mood Indigo’ (counted-off at the perfect slow-medium tempo) balanced out by a superb improvisation by clarinettist Idris Rahman. He proved an excellent foil for Okiji, interjecting her rendition of ‘St. Louis Blues’ with characteristic bluesy clarinet fills. Idiosyncratic contributions by guitarist Hall (e.g. playing high up the strings beyond the fretted area, percussively rubbing the guitar body and detuning the guitar strings) meant the group presented three contrasting solo voices.

Understatement was the order of the day for the Old Time Jazz Band, which unfortunately did appear to hold back the momentum of the gig. Although the group swung cohesively during ‘Tea for Two’ and ‘Yesterdays’, surprisingly this full-group effort proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Individual contributions sometimes left an excessive amount of empty musical space, while both guitar and cello had a tendency to drop out during the solo efforts of colleagues. This meant the group was often out-of-gear, despite the required manpower being present. The Old Time Jazz Band appears to be in the process of discovering how to blend the respective traits of its members to best effect. While Beraha presented a much more finished product on the night, Okiji has successfully initiated an exciting new project with obvious potential.

– Jamie Fyffe

Laura Jurd gets spiritual at the Forge

It’s just over two years since a 21-year-old Laura Jurd released Landing Ground, her unnervingly assured debut album. Human Spirit is the follow up, due for release on 19 January and now touring the UK. On the evidence of Wednesday night’s launch at the Forge, it’s a worthy successor – every bit as impressive as the young trumpeter’s first outing, but markedly different.

The strings have been ditched in favour of a brass heavy front line, comprising Jurd, trumpeter Chris Batchelor and trombonist Colm O’Hara, while a monster of a bass saxophone takes care of the low end – with help from Mick Foster, its bearded keeper. The rest of the group – vocalist Lauren Kinsella, guitarist Alex Roth and drummer Corrie Dick – are Jurd’s bandmates from art rock/improv group Blue-Eyed Hawk and their inclusion is telling.

In ‘Opening Sequence’, the rich harmonies and folksy trumpet lines of Landing Ground made a return, but it wasn’t long before we were in Blue-Eyed Hawk territory. ‘She Knew Him’ saw Foster drop the first of many rumbling bass grooves as Jurd launched into a bluesy solo, heavy on the wah-wah pedal, and Roth kicked his guitar into overdrive. One of the highlights of the set, ‘Brighter Days’ juxtaposed reeling melody lines with a ponderous brass chorale, shifting between a series of complex grooves before descending into chaos.

‘Pirates’ brought further anarchy, plus a story book vocal narrative set to a reggae backbeat, and there was even more going on in the album’s title track. It opened with a spidery guitar riff and a slow moving verse. From there a grunge-rock chorus launched a stinger of a solo from Chris Batchelor followed by a funk groove, shot through with horn section injections that sounded like gleefully misplaced samples. Just as it was grinding to a halt, Foster and Jurd ushered in a second churning, head-nodder of a bassline and the rest of the band piled back in. The rhythm section rocked out as Kinsella whooped and trilled and Batchelor reached for his plunger mute to give the audience the full Goldfinger.

Sudden shifts between light and dark became the order of the day, and ‘More Than Just A Fairy Tale’ brought yet another when its gently rolling theme was derailed by a slide-shredding O’Hara trombone solo. Rounding out the set, ‘Closing Sequence’ was both warm and unsettling with a haunting vamp that bled into the texture towards the end.

In its essence Human Spirit is Blue-Eyed Hawk meets Landing Ground with horns. It's jabberwocky music; a thrilling mish mash of references and styles that makes for a rollercoaster of a live set. If Jurd's debut was unnervingly accomplished, then Human Spirit is edgy, irreverent and brave. It doesn't look for approval, it just makes you sit up and listen.

– Thomas Rees

@ThomasNRees

See the Feburay Issue of Jazzwise for an exclusive interview with Laura Jurd talking about Human Spirit

Joyce bewitches with bossa nova at Ronnie Scott’s

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Undoubtedly a great reservoir of rhythm Brazil is also a limitless source of melody. The real musical genius of the country that gave the world bossa nova is the intricacy with which the two elements combine, and in the singer-songwriter-guitarist Joyce Moreno it has a prime exponent of the art. Throughout an evening in which the strength of the repertoire is matched by the skill of execution of a fine quartet in which pianist Helio Alves stands out the 66 year-old Carioca, soberly elegant in a black dress and chunky necklace, gives several startling displays of how percussive the verse and chorus of samba-led material can be. Very often her melody is rhythm.

On brisk numbers such as ‘O Morro Nao Tem Vez’, where drummer Tutty Moreno’s rimshots tap-dance on the pulse she skips through notes like a ballerina, spinning between crotchets and quavers over difficult chord changes to make the whole piece swish along with effortless ease. The rub is of course that, structurally, the music is anything but a cakewalk and Joyce’s razor sharp guitar work, both in terms of her time keeping and harmonic flourish is far superior to that of a vocalist who unwinds the odd arpeggio on a six-string. Then again some 45 years of experience that have yielded a discography garlanded by highlights such as 1969’s Encontro Marcado, 1980’s Feminina and 2001’s Gafeira Moderna make Joyce a veritable institution, an artist who really should be mentioned in the same breath as the Reginas, Gils and Velhosos.

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The title of her current album Raiz means roots and in many ways the singer appears more connected than ever to the musical foundations – and their creative development – of her homeland. As she will demonstrate in the second set her original compositions, above all the jaunty ‘Penalty’, more than uphold the legacy of bossa’s progenitors such as Antonio Carlos Jobim and ‘his master’ Dori Caymmi but what raises her stock further is the consummate knowledge that she has of Brazilian composers, and the way that she can shed light on their lesser known glories. The perfect example, and arguably the highlight of the evening, is a rendition of ‘Canto De Yansan’, an ode to a deity from African derived religion written by the late Baden Powell, a virtuoso guitarist with the lyricism of a poet. The sombre, impassioned theme, full of long, fraught tones, sees Joyce explore the lower reaches of her range and produce a series of rasping, slightly rugged textures that perfectly capture the mysticism of the piece. It is a moment of high drama that draws a sharp intake of breath around the room.

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The harder edges of the song mark a significant contrast with its underlying finesse, making the point that much of the appeal of Brazilian music lies in a brilliant tension between opposite poles. It is the rapid shifts from major to minor key, the entwining of joy and melancholy and the blend of restraint and exuberance. Advanced arrangements do not preclude dance. Which is why there are bodies swaying discreetly at many tables by the end of the evening, especially when the anchor of the rhythm section, the impressive bass guitarist Rodolfo Stroeter lets fly his funkiest ostinatos. But then again the deep engagement of the whole band with African-American music, above all jazz, frames the entire performance. Switch off for a moment and you’ll miss a delicious quote of Strayhorn-Ellington’s ‘Take The A Train’ right in the middle of Jobim’s ‘Desafinado’, but even if you don’t listen intently you can hear the spirit of Bill Evans and Miles Davis hovering gently over Joyce’s very natural poise. Her jazz is as jazz as her bossa nova is bossa nova.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Ben Amure

David Redfern – Remembered at Ronnie’s

Family, friends, work associates, and fellow photographers all took turns on Ronnie Scott’s stage on Tuesday afternoon to tell us what many of us already knew. That David Redfern was a giant among jazz and music photographers, an amiable companion and an all-round good egg; above all, a man ‘who played the Hasselblad’ rather wonderfully.

His son Simon spoke for the family, the multiplicity of projected images emphasising just how much family meant to David. His shots of jazz greats, supplemented by the many prints scattered around the club’s wall, showed off David’s supreme ability to capture ‘the moment’. Buddy Rich called David “the Cartier-Bresson of jazz”. Seems about right to me. A hard act to follow, for sure, but younger, newer photographers spoke eloquently of his generosity and support so his legacy seems to be in good hands. Or lenses.

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Aside from the words, there was music too. Georgia Mancio (above) sang with feeling, pianist Dom Pitkin did his New Orleans thing and Ian Shaw gave us ‘Misty’, while Guy Barker MBE and tenor force Alex Garnett (pictured top) played us out with the kind of rousing jazz that David would have loved.

– Peter Vacher

– Photos by John Watson – www.jazzcamera.co.uk

Jesse Davis and Billy Hart come out swinging with the Damon Brown International Quintet

A wet Monday in early January didn’t auger well, but an agreeable sized audience greeted UK trumpeter/composer Damon Brown at Pizza Express Jazz Club, boosted by the presence of American cousins, saxophonist Jesse Davis and drummer Billy Hart. Davis, a former student of Ellis Marsalis at the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts, received the prestigious ‘Most Outstanding Musician’ Downbeat award in 1989 and since that time has recorded a steady flow of albums for Concord as leader. Hart’s back catalogue as a sideman is a veritable who’s who of jazz greats and so the venue held a warm sense of anticipation, which the International Quintet didn’t disappoint.

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Brown (above) mixed up his own compositions with a selection of standard tunes, and as a composer writes interesting melodies. His arrangements make good use of the quintet line-up with well-conceived rhythm section vamp figures and trumpet-sax harmonised melodies (the quirky cross-rhythm vamp of jazz waltz ‘Kit Kat’ comes to mind). Although the weighty tradition of this combination of instruments evokes a sound-legacy that is challenging to escape from, Brown’s originals successfully provided interesting vehicles to launch his soloists.

On his way to the bandstand the ever-friendly Hart commented: “I hope you like loud drummers!” The opening bars of ‘Blues for Somebody Else’ (Steve Grossman) proved he wasn’t kidding as the drummer (now in his seventies) thunderously raised the temperature gauge sky-high before settling into a cymbal-time simmer. Bombastic drum interjections characterised the evening, creating energy overloads that only a drummer of Hart’s standing could pull off with impunity.

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Brown led his group with confidence and as a soloist really knows how to move through the gears, shaping his lines with an increasing intensity while incorporating a pleasing motivic logic. The leader described sideman Davis as “lyrical and soulful” and the saxophonist performed with fluidity of ideas throughout. However, the sharp-suited reeds man hit top speed during the Duke Pearson number ‘Jeannine’, sweating through a monumental solo of focussed musical intent. Davis listened with obvious contentment throughout each of pianist Paul Kirkby’s solos whereas bassist Martin Zenker solidly led the band through each high-energy drum explosion, demonstrating a skilful use of double-stops throughout the night. Overall, although the gig was not without its blemishes, talent abounded and the leadership of Brown counterbalanced by the gravitas of Hart made for an interesting evening of jazz.

– Jamie Fyffe

– Photos by Roger Thomas

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