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

Lauren Bush Quartet bring sunshine, charm and Frim Fram Sauce to the Elgar Room


Perhaps it was the singer's setlist, which ranged from 'O Pato', a light-footed samba about a dancing duck, to Charlie Chaplin's 'Smile', or her left-field introductions to tunes like 'Love for Sale' and 'I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter', but there was something charmingly quirky about this late night appearance from Lauren Bush and her quartet. A young Canadian vocalist now resident in London, Bush's claim to fame is a performance of 'Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise' which has racked up over 100,000 views on YouTube, enough to land her a gig at the Royal Albert Hall's Elgar Room and a supremely talented new band comprising pianist Liam Dunachie, double bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado (winner of the 2014 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize from the Royal Academy of Music) and drummer David Ingamells (a 2013 Yamaha Jazz Scholar).

Opening with a straightforward rendition of 'The Song is You', Bush sounded less assured that she does on her YouTube hit, but she found her stride on 'The Frim-Fram Sauce', a raunchy blues through which she scatted and growled to the delight of the audience. 'I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter' and 'O Pato' were further highlights and it was clear from the confidence of her delivery and the neatly resolving lines in her improvisations, that Bush knew the changes inside out.

More confident still were the rhythm section, who played with sensitivity and skill throughout, each player offering something different when it came to the solos. Ingamells kept things short and sweet, trading fours with the singer and livening up a rendition of 'Sweet Georgia Brown' with drum breaks and a New Orleans-style street beat. Dunachie contributed twisting lines and Simcock-like harmonic exploration, while Mullov-Abbado took inspiration from the tunes themselves, referencing and reworking their familiar melodies on the worn fingerboard of his bass.

It was when the group tried to experiment that they came a little unstuck. A version of 'My Romance' re-imagined as a waltz took a while to settle down while a 'funk' rendition of 'Love for Sale' was something of a stylistic no man's land until the head out. But, with 'You're Nearer', a wistful ballad on which Bush's voice was at its fullest, they recovered admirably, before closing with a cheery rendition of 'On the Sunny Side of the Street'. Described by Bush in another of her musings as being an antidote to British weather, it was a strong finish and a welcome one on a cold, drizzly night in west London.

– Thomas Rees @ThomasNRees

Hidden Orchestra and guests preach electro-jazz sermon @ Union Chapel

The soaring Gothic rotunda and hushed reverence amongst the creaking pews of Islington’s working church, The Union Chapel, make an inspiring pulpit for jazz-electro proselytizers, Hidden Orchestra, and their disciples: solo pianist, Poppy Ackroyd, and borrowed sounds trio, Origamibiro, at tonight’s thunder and light show.

Accompanied by moody video above her head, violinist and pianist Poppy Ackroyd’s classical-meets-loops compositions are mournful without feeling sorry for themselves. Next up, producer Tom Hill and instrumentalist Andy Tytherleigh of Origamibiro: a live radiophonic workshop using loops in the vein of the musique concrète school while visual artist The Joy of Box throws videos of fleeting words and images onto the screen behind them.

Conceieved as a solo studio project by producer, bassist and composer Joe Achelon, Hidden Orchestra is incarnated for live outings by a stable of musicians including regular members Poppy Ackroyd, double drummers Jaime Green and Tim Lane (also on occasional trombone), plus spotlights from clarinettist and electro-acoustic specialist, Florex (aka Tomas Dvorak)on ‘Hushed’ and trumpeter Phil Cardwell on ‘Seven Hunters’. Starting life in Achelon’s mixing desk, bass sounds worm their way into the ear as the band gradually develops an idea and piles on the layers, with Green’s hi-hat and snare-based groove work cutting through sympathetically over the texture laid down by Lane with mallets and beaters. The live performance is necessarily rich in detail, but it also injects some of the beating energy from 2010’s more upfront debut album Night Walks which is less in evident on the recorded version of 2012’s more contemplative follow-up album, Archipelago.

For this live AV show, as well as impeccable acoustics, the unique architecture of the building presents a majestic canvas for Leeds-based audio-visual collective, Lumen. Theroom is illuminated with phantasmal green light and the spectacular rose window behind the stage becomes a spinning kaleidoscope pulsating to the hypnotic beat like a giant sub-woofer. The impassive stone walls are continually bricked up and torn down again Tetris style, and the columns around the pews are carved and re-carved using forced-perspective light-work. By the end the congregation is full of the Spirit and stomps its feet in a gesture of supplication. But timeliness is next to godliness and stage times at Union Chapel run strictly to schedule; it is a somewhat nervous Achelon who is coaxed back to the stage for a seemingly unplanned encore of ‘Antiphon’.

In tonight’s contemplative performance space, the repetition and iteration of recorded sounds in the minimalist tradition combined with the awe-inspiring light show transubstantiated the night from gig to religious experience for the assembled masses.

– Steve Owen

Fire! Orchestra scorch and Youn Sun Nah swings at Skopje Jazz Fest


Even with a slightly reduced festival (four days instead of the usual five) Skopje 2014 was a resounding success providing an excellently varied programme ranging from free improv to mainstream latin jazz.

Youn Sun Nah (above), who opened the festival, has been playing all over Europe this summer with her quartet but here it was just a duo with guitarist Ulf Wakenius – and in this paired down setting it is even more apparent what an incredible performer she is.

Her vocal range is astonishing – but her real talent lies in extracting so much more from her songs – her depth of understanding of how to use her voice as a multi-faceted instrument is her unique-ness. All of this of course would be wasted if it were not for Wakenius who is equally responsible for this amazing sound – his playing and writing is totally in harmony with Nah’s ability – the opener a haunting version of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’ – was jaw dropping - the standing ovation at the end was thoroughly deserved.

Terri Lyne Carrington followed playing her tribute to Ellington’s Money Jungle – and sadly it felt rather ordinary after Youn Sun Nah’s opening set. The midnight show featured Obara International – Polish sax player Maciej Obara with fellow countryman pianist Dominik Wania joined by two members of Norwegian band Bushman’s Revenge, Ole Morten Vagan on bass and Gard Nilssen on drums – a hugely enjoyable set – Wania is a brilliant young pianist and his playing on Krzysztof Komeda’s ‘Kattorna’ was perfect – definitely someone to make the effort to go and see.


The Fire! Orchestra (above) is saxophonist Mats Gustafsson’s tour de force – the 24-piece orchestra featuring some of the best musicians from the Swedish music scene is a glorious mix of avant-rock players and vocalists. With a sound that can shift seamlessly from minimalist to out and out thrash metal the show is an endurance test for the ears and senses – akin to the sauna to ice pool experience so loved by these Scandinavians – full marks to the festival for being able to afford and having the foresight to put this on. The main act that followed – Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin Rhythm Clan – an expanded version of his usual ensemble – again suffered the fate of following the un-followable – as good as it was the ringing in the ears from the previous set dulled the experience just a little too much.

By the time the action had moved to the late night club the freshness and choice of material played by Belgium band Dans Dans was just perfect – their aggressive but very controlled treatment was very fresh and eye opening.

The most anticipated and certainly best sold artist at this years festival was Eliane Elias – with the audience crammed into every inch of the auditorium – Elias had the perfect ‘intimate’ setting for her very laid back latin-jazz show – a fantastic trio featuring Marc Johnson on bass and the excellent Graham Dechter on guitar – Elias is the master of this music and her little bossa nova dance at the end of the show was just sublime. Intense solo piano from Matthew Shipp (below) opened the show and this time the order of performance was perfect – Angel Eyes his stand out moment.

Red Snapper concluded the evening’s show at the jazz club and the incredibly packed venue was bouncing around to there infectious drum ‘n’ bass and trip hop sounds – nice to see Tom Challenger having a ball on sax and keyboards.

The closing day of the festival was a truly remarkable mix of music and styles. The Sunday lunch concert was a true ‘new’ experience – a duet featuring Ned Rothenberg on woodwind instruments and the incredible talents of Russian overtone singer Sainkho Namtchylak. Her vocal’s ranged from beautiful melodic blues singing (almost Billie Holiday style) to guttural roars and grunts, squeaks, screams and sometimes all at the same time – Rothenberg was her foil – the constant, in what was a very complicated equation – a sound bite of the show would be completely out of context – you have to see it all from start to finish to truly ‘get’ what this music is all about – a unique experience indeed.
TD-Wadada-Leo-Smith-08The two closing shows were as different as chalk and cheese. The first half featured Wadada Leo Smith (above) and Hardedge (sound design) – a set that never properly gelled – Smith tried very hard to create something but had no help at all from the effects and button pushing of his stage companion – his vain efforts to get something more tangible fell on deaf ears.


This rather disappointing start was soon turned to mesmeric joy as The Necks (above) took the stage and blew the audience away – the slow build and patient construction of the set demanded absolute concentration and was rewarded by an immensely moving and subtly shifting soundscape that was build not on vast and complicated electronic equipment or computers, but by three musicians playing piano, bass and drums and was the perfect end to an extremely interesting festival

– Tim Dickeson (story and photos)

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