Percy Pursglove – Far Reaching Dreams Of Mortal Souls at CBSO Centre, Birmingham

Taking his texts from the diary of Anne Frank, interviews with Nelson Mandela and Charles Darwin, speeches from Aung San Suu Kyi and Malala Yousafzai, and suchlike sources, and then turning them into coherent vocal music was going to be a challenge for trumpeter Percy Pursglove, but these texts were the inspiration and the heart of this jazz suite.

While some of it flowed more easily, it was all strongly conveyed by the eight-strong choir. The vocal music ranged from incantation to lyrical song, much of it rich with the harmony that I associate with 20th-century English church music.

The band was no conventional jazz ensemble. It comprised Pursglove on trumpet, Julian Argüelles on tenor and soprano saxophones, Melinda Maxwell on oboe and cor anglais, James Allsopp on bass clarinet, Jim Rattigan on French horn and accordion, Helen Tunstall on harp, Hans Koller on piano, Michael Janisch on double bass and Paul Clarvis on percussion.

The composition fully exploited this wide range of timbre and texture, setting harp against accordion, or cor anglais with bass clarinet, or trumpet under voices. There were solo spaces – the lion's share going to Argüelles whose characteristic rich, rising tenor figures fitted just perfectly at the centre of the ensemble – but mainly this was about interactive, group playing. And yet it never felt over-written – it never felt unlike jazz.

The full integration of choir with band, both as a section and as soloists, was one of the richest rewards of the evening.Compelling moments included Pursglove doing an extraordinary circular-breathing sound full of breath and bubbles and white noise underneath a massed vocal line; the whole group making a rainstorm of finger clicks and claps; and the brief Central American sound of full, fruity trumpet against accordion.

Somehow Percy Pursglove created a completely whole musical world all of his own. That is a rare achievement.

– Peter Bacon

Verneri Pohjola matches beauty with bullishness at The Forge

Were it not for a smattering of concert-goers on the front row and a handful more who slunk in midway through the first number, ducking their heads beneath the bank of high-spec video cameras at the back of the room, the Forge in Camden would have felt like the meeting place of an exclusive club. Label executives, artists and jazz industry insiders were out in force and if it sounds like we were all privy to a secret that’s because we were. It’s a secret called Bullhorn, a new album by Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and, on the evidence of last night, it’s a secret you’ll want to be in on.

Pohjola’s first release on the Edition Records label, Bullhorn isn’t out until February, but that didn’t stop the trumpeter and his quartet, completed by pianist Aki Rissanen, bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen, from playing it back to back as part of a preview and live recording that made it clear just what all the fuss was about. In part it’s the strength of Pohjola’s melodies; the tropical lilt of ‘Girls from Costa Rica’; ‘Another Day’, a gently swinging waltz with a soaring refrain; ‘Bullhorn’ and ‘The End is Nigh’ with their soulful, folkloric leanings; and the gleeful chaos of ‘Nano Machines’, a schizophrenic burner that was among the highlights of the second set. But there was more to it than that. Interspersed between numbers were poignant improvisations, the first – and strongest – of which saw the trumpeter playing softly into the piano, stirring up a celestial chorus of overtones, to a backdrop of rattles and textural kit playing.

Verneri-gig-1049

There were snatches of clever orchestration too, from stops and catches to precipitous drops in dynamic and riffs that emerged seamlessly from soloistic flights. And then, of course, there was Pohjola’s captivating, kaleidoscopic sound. A sandpaper rasp at one extreme, airy and flute-like at the other, it allowed his solos to be both vulnerable and bullish, adding new colours to the set. If anything was lacking, it was interplay with the rhythm section. At times it felt as if they were playing for, rather than with, Pohjola, leading to the odd one-sided exchange and a few wandering moments during passages of collective improvisation. But I’m splitting hairs. The secret’s out and if Bullhorn sounds this good on record, come February, it’ll be a worse kept secret still.

– Thomas Rees

– Photos by Aga Tomaszek

@ThomasNRees

Georgina Jackson Quartet takes requests at 606 Club

Fresh back from guesting with the BBC Big Band at the Lockerbie Jazz Festival on 26 September, Wigan-born jazz singer and trumpet player, Georgina Jackson, exuded a warm, down-to-earth stage presence as she spoke of her obsession with the Great American Songbook, from whence she’d selected the majority of the numbers for this Sunday lunchtime set.

Dave Chamberlain on bass, Matt Skelton on drums and Matt Regan on piano joined Jackson and her sonorous vocals on bouncy opener, ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’, after which she invited song requests from the audience, reminding us that this gig would be “a one-off thing: the music is never going to be played in the same way again.”

Next up came a song Jackson described wittily as a fusion of “jazz and nagging”, entitled, ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ from her 2013 album, Peggy, Duke & Benny – Georgina Jackson and the Peter Long Quintet. It featured the fluidity of Regan’s discordant phrasing on piano, which lent to this standard a welcome piquancy. Chamberlain’s clean, long-tone pizzicato sound à la Duke Ellington double bassist, Jimmy Blanton, worked well on bossa nova, ‘Change Partners’, the title track off Jackson’s 2012 album, Watch What Happens.

Unfortunately sometimes the drums and tinny upright electric bass were slightly out of sync, and Skelton’s monotone hitting of the cymbals with sticks, too ‘big band’ in style for such an intimate venue. Jackson’s zesty vibrato on trumpet during Bunny Berigan classic, ‘I Can’t Get Started’, however, demonstrated exactly why she is a characterful force to be reckoned with in her fronting of large ensemble groups.

The introduction to ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ was rhythmically most unusual and interesting, with Jackson singing in tempo rubato accompanied by Skelton’s subtler drumming with mallets, and Eydie Gormé’s ‘I’ll Take Romance’ was performed with more energy, driven along by Chamberlain’s bass pedal point. Mixed in with the standards were some unexpected arrangements, including ‘Pure Imagination’ from the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Jackson’s heroine, Peggy Lee’s 1957 version of ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’ is backed by a rich string section. Likewise, Jackson’s vocals (particularly well-suited to ballad singing) on her takedown of this song for quartet, filled the room as effectively as any orchestra could, and judging by the many CDs she sold at the end, the audience left happy.

– Gemma Boyd

– Photo by Janet Lee

Robert Mitchell’s Invocation sets sail at Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival

Although Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival is bringing many charming open-air events to the historic seaside town over the next fortnight [until October12], the interior space of St. Peter’s Church was the scene of a superb opening night concert. London-based pianist Robert Mitchell has always been a formidable improviser whose composing has the sort of baroque, multi-layered character that lends itself to bigger orchestral settings so the collaboration between his longstanding group Panacea, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and young students from Avonbourne and Harewood colleges made perfect sense. The ambition of the concept was matched by the beauty of the result.

Invocation is a tribute to, in Mitchell’s own words, ‘life-changing teachers’, and the suite in five movements made specific reference to such iconic figures as Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr as well as quoting ancient Chinese proverbs and Sumerian riddles, which had the effect of placing the general concept of education, or perhaps the gift of wisdom, within a kind of timeless, dare one say, ageless context. 

In its most inspired moments the performance vividly created a deeply ancestral, almost primeval atmosphere, that resonated with the nature of the subject, as if the act of passing on the most vital of lessons in life could only be done with a knowledge of and respect for history of the most far-reaching kind. The inherent drama of Mitchell’s writing was skillfully rendered by Deborah Jordan’s operatic, gymnastic vocal that negotiated wide intervallic leaps, dissonant thematic lines and stark shifts of harmony with impressive poise. Rather than overload the score with the added power of the 100-strong Chorus, Mitchell spread out their interventions with a fair amount of economy, yet they reinforced the numerous counter-melodic subtexts of the composition and provided a gauzy, string-like texture to Jordan’s many daring flights into the soprano range. The singers had a delicate power.    

Chorus master Gavin Carr, who often opened each piece with a short melodic rendition of one of the proverbs with his mighty baritone, was sufficiently precise in his conducting to harness the vocalists as effectively as possible, yet the changing landscape of the choir did not detract from the rhythmic volcano of the band. Indeed the surgical percussive precision of drummer Laurie Lowe, bassist Tom Mason and Mitchell himself on piano, skipping through lopsided meters as if every bar was a straight 4/4, was as impressive as it has been whenever the group has performed in the past few years. The leader’s distinctive composite of post-M-Base funk, Afro-Cuban son and McCoy Tyner-stamped swing is well and truly patented, and if there was the slightest crack in the otherwise impressive edifice of the performance it was the mixing of Lowe’s drums, which too often veered from flat to harsh.

At the end of the show Carr applied the term genius to Mitchell and it did not seem like a case of over-emoting in the heat of the moment. There was a conceptual richness to Invocation that would be beyond even the most creative of beings and if the immense intricacy of the composing was commendable then so too was the real soulfulness, the humanity, at its core. The piece will be performed again at the London Jazz Festival and could well be a highlight of the ten-day celebration.

– Kevin Le Gendre      

– Photo by Gerry Walden – www.gwpics.com

Robert Mitchell performs Invocation at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
– go to www.southbankcentre.co.uk for more info

      

Jason Rebello with Empirical bring fireworks to the Wiltshire Music Centre

empirical-rebello-live

There were a few sharp suits on stage at the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday. If anyone thought that meant it was going to be a solemn evening, the look on pianist Jason Rebello’s face was more ‘kid let loose in a sweet shop’ after the first scorching solo from Empirical’s alto man Nathaniel Facey. Rebello’s career went into orbit 25 years ago touring with Wayne Shorter, then saw him replace Kenny Kirkland in Sting’s band and subsequently tour relentlessly with Jeff Beck. Empirical have maintained their status as one of the hottest, most adventurous young jazz groups in the UK and Europe for nearly a decade now. The pianist’s decision to make the one off collaboration his inaugural gig of a year long artist-in-residence stint at the newly re-furbished Centre in Bradford-on-Avon, brought a near capacity crowd out and they were thrilled by the fireworks it produced.

It was a varied programme starting with that blistering take on ‘Whole in One’ from Rebello’s 1999 release Next Time Around. There was a sharing of back catalogues as Empirical dusted off tunes from their last album to feature a piano, Elements of Truth. ‘Ying and Yang’andCosmos (for Carl Sagan)’ evoked different moods, making the most of the moody wow of the vibes combining with chiming chords from the piano. There was more from Next Time Around including another burner to finish, ‘Justin Time’.

In between there were some delightful duos. Piano and alto on ‘Soul Eyes’hadNathaniel Facey evoking the spirit of Coltrane at his most tender. Vibes and piano on Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ raised the roof, Rebello laying down a viscerally exciting funky gospel tinged groove driving Lewis Wright onto another dazzling solo. Despite a streaming cold, he nearly stole the show a few times.

It was the evident delight of Rebello and Empirical in each other’s company that lifted this beyond what was always a sure fire jazz feast. Empirical found themselves grooving deliciously on Herbie Hancock’s Chan’ Song and etching out a lyrical flowing melody on Rebello’s own Closeness. Jason found himself in the middle of a dense tumult on Empirical’s ‘In the Grill’ and pulling out a wildly inventive solo on bass man Tom Farmer’s zany piece ‘Card Clash’. The grin on drummer Shaney Forbes’ face barely dimmed all evening. He had one of the moments of the evening with a ghostly drum solo using hot rods on ‘Ying and Yang’.

 This was a reminder, if we needed it, of the world beating quality of the UK scene and a mouth watering start to the programme at the Wiltshire Music Centre. The next in the series is a duo with Ola Onabule in November.

– Mike Collins

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