Simon Spillett setting the Standard at Lauderdale House


You can’t fault tenor-saxophonist Simon Spillett for his dedication to the music. He creates bands, employs the finest musicians and regularly turns in performances that stand comparison with the best of British modern jazz. What’s more, he’s an able historian with a biography of Tubby Hayes in the offing. He also took the late Tubby as his musical exemplar ages ago, absorbed the best of Hank Mobley and Sonny Stitt along the way, and now pours his apparently unquenchable energies into a new quintet, known as Standard Miles.

With Highgate’s congenial Lauderdale House as their backdrop and with an audience avid for it all, Spillett’s fellow luminaries included trumpeter Henry Lowther, pianist John Critchinson, bassist Dave Green and drummer Trevor Tomkins, every man in commanding form. Their intention was to take a celebratory canter through pieces associated with Davis, concentrating on, as the band name implies, show songs and familiar originals with a Davis association, re-casting each in their own distinctive fashion and my, how well they succeeded.  

The opening trumpet exposition on ‘Stella by Starlight’ set the tone, every note a gem, their placements punctuated by sudden flurries and quicksilver darts, this emphasising just how valuable a player Lowther is, before Spillett’s tenor burst in, bleary-eyed yet urgent, Tomkins’ cymbal beat as springy as could be as Critch turned the harmonies around. Then came ‘If I Were A Bell’, HL Harmon-muted and anchored tight in to the mike, Spillett pillaging the harmonies as the rhythm section grooved. Lowther then took Harry Warren’s seldom-heard ‘Summer Night’ for an ambulatory jaunt, solo with the trio, those characteristically plaintive long notes again earning a collective sigh of appreciation. ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ always works, Green handling the bass ostinato and Tomkins soloing at length, without bombast or meaningless clatter, before the first-half highlight, ‘No Blues’ which roared and soared like the proverbial runaway train, Tomkins varying accents to suit every situation. Marvellous.

How better to start the second half than with ‘Green Dolphin Street’, with Critch wrenching new meaning from those familiar chords, as Spillett and Lowther shared the solo space. Critch’s trio version of ‘Baby Won’t You Please Come Home’ used Victor Feldman’s voicings, a feat that he seemed to imply might be akin to climbing Mount Everest in plimsolls but which nonetheless, he turned into a triumph. Naturally enough, ‘My Funny Valentine’ had to come before ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’, signalled the concert’s end, the audience rapturous and rightly so.  

Rest assured, dear reader, this was music of considerable worth performed with evident enthusiasm by all, the collective cap doffed to the late Prince of Darkness quickly discarded as the quintet found suitable headgear of their own. Final thought: why does music of this quality, hard-swinging and intensely creative, utilising players who combine exceptional experience with a well-spring of rewarding ideas never make it onto the short list for the APPJAG Awards?

– Peter Vacher

Michael Wollny Trio cast a spell at Watermill Jazz


Having been described on his label's website as a "consummate piano maestro", whose approach to making music is invariably geared around a "quest for the never-before-heard", there was a lot riding on tonight's show to keep Michael Wollny's lofty reputation intact.

Fortunately for all in this hall, such qualities were confirmed the moment the he sat down to play - at once immersed in the sweet-to-solemn swing of Berg's 'Nacht', his every emotive chord, or impulsive, violent sweep across the keys complimented by his just-as-skilled sidemen, Christian Weber on double bass, and drummer Eric Schaefer.

Here on the second stop of a short European tour that would hear them perform much of their latest record, Weltentraum, this German-born band abandoned the traits of the traditional trio for a set that bridged swing, classical-informed ballads, ambient rock, hip-hop and frenetic, free-for-all fusion.

A sample of the latter was Schaefer's 'Phlegma Phighter', a riotous mess of scribbly themes pressed into difficult time signatures that not only stressed the drummer's tireless creativity behind a stripped-down kit, but his flair for generating creaky and clattery atmospheric noise with some tiny gongs, a bicycle chain and bits of battered percussion.

To the relief of those singed by the sparks on the front row, tensions eventually cooled for a reading of the Flaming Lips' 'Be Free, A Way'. Motored at first by just a faint, off-beat bass drum thump and Weber tied to a single-note drone, before a crack of snare cued up a more robust rock beat to endure Wollny's clunky, gospel-style chords hammering out the melody on top.

A similarly-slick feel from Schaefer spilt over into Wollny's own 'When the Sleeper Wakes', a pretty ballad that allowed the pianist to both stretch out rhythmically, and find weight in long notes, cushioned by a warm, soulful finger-style line from Weber.

Elsewhere, and whereas a strident re-working of Schubert's 'Ihr Bild' stressed both Wollny's classical credentials, and Schaefer's clear love of hip-hop, the band's most legit 'jazz' entry of the evening was a cover of Joachim Kühn's 'More Tuna'. Bright with a bop-fast, muscular melody that soared across the audience, and then back again, as if wired to Schaefer's equally emphatic cymbal playing.

Wollny's band duly delivered a set that proved a masterclass in light and shade. But while all admired the top-tempo thrills, high-note twiddles and long, spotlit solos that would also dominate (and detonate) the likes of Schaefer's 'Gorilla Biscuits' and nod-to-Neu! Kraut-rocker, 'Gravite' - it was the jaw-dropping interplay between these players throughout, and in particular Wollny's use of space to place rich lyricism - most notably over the almost cinematic-sized closer 'Little Person' - that left this the entire hall sedated. In harmony with all the hype.

Mark Youll
– Jon Frost (photo)
          

 

Omar Keeping The South London Vibe Alive

OmarQCBA-live-2
As was evident from various overheard conversations, there are many who revere Hideaway in Streatham as a musical oasis in south London. "It's great not having to traipse all the way to the West End to get a decent meal and hear great music" said one punter, avowing his credentials as a devoted Omar fan since the first 1990 album, There's Nothing Like This, and appearances were that this mature capacity audience had come out in force possibly to re-live a youth nurtured on the music of neo-soul master Omar Lye-Fook.

What could also be better than to catch him with a band of equally seasoned musicianship; the QC/BA Quartet comprising Quentin Collins (trumpet), Brandon Allen (saxophone/flute), Ross Stanley (keyboard organ) and Enzo Zirilli (drums). They effortlessly crafted a sophisto-funk backdrop where Omar weaved silken vocals on soul classics such as Roy Ayres' 'Sunshine' and William DeVaughn's 'Be Thankful for What You Got', with the audience also taking every opportunity to exercise their own vocal abilities.

Omar-live1
With a career spanning almost three decades, mainly in the Soul/R&B arena, Omar's musical skills have attracted many and has seen him collaborate/contribute across many genres, such as his work with the Kairos 4tet and more recently the German Hidden Jazz Quartet who greatly feature on his latest album The Man. So it comes as no surprise the versatility displayed when the band performs a jazzy rendition of eponymous track 'The Man'.

'High Heels’, from the same album, tested the chops of Brandon Allen as he delivered an abrasive sax-led melody and gutsy solo over Ross Stanley's lush Hammond B3 sounds. With funky trumpet and sax stabs coupled with equally funky drumming from Zirilli, imaginations could run wild as Omar lyrically conveyed the image of a raunchy woman strutting her stuff through the night. His banter with the band and engagement of the audience showed true showmanship particularly his play on London’s supposed North/South divide creating a jovial relaxed atmosphere.

The Quartet shone on 'Fuerteventura', a Collins composition that saw him deliver a fluid happy-go-lucky solo juxtaposed by some animated drum work from Zirilli before Omar returned with another crowd pleaser 'This Is Not a Love Song' where he doubles up on synth, but the ultimate and most anticipated pleaser, came at the finale with 'There's Nothing Like This'. Written over 23 years ago "just down the road in Thornton Heath" he informs us, Omar expressed how glad he is to know that the south is being truly represented by a venue like Hideaway with their choice of programming.

– Roger Thomas – review and pictures

 

Borneo Jazz Festival Photo Report

Maria Bakkalapulo journeyed to the heart of the rainforest for the ninth annual Borneo Jazz Festival in Miri, Sarawak. Organised by Sarawak Tourism Board, supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism Sarawak, this two day event drew festival-goers from Brunei, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and beyond.

Maria Bakkalapulo was on hand to capture these images from the festival that took place May 9-10.

For more info go to www.jazzborneo.com and @mbakkalapulo

Diana Liu (Sarawak)
1--Diana-Liu

Mario Canonge (Martinique)
2-MarioCanonge

Anthony Strong (UK)
3-AnthonyStrong

Vocal Sampling (Cuba)
3-VocalSampling

Brassballett (Germany)
5-Brassballett

Junkofunc (Malaysia)
6-Junkofunc

DJ Roundhead (Malaysia)
7-DJ-Roundhead

The crowd getting down to Cuba's Vocal Sampling.
8-Crowd

Iriao (Georgia)
9-Iriao

Finale
10-Finale

 

Printmakers leave their mark at Wiltshire Music Centre

Nikki-Illes-PrintmakersStan Sulzman’s solo on the Kenny Wheeler 's Enowena reached a peak of flowing lyrical phrases over a bustling, multi-layered accompaniment from the band; drums, bass, guitar and piano combining to urge him on over a samba-ish latin groove. Then a dying fall of a phrase gave Nikki Iles a hook and the baton was passed to launch the piano solo. Her improvisations all evening, like this one, emerged from within the mood established by the piece or a previous soloist and then took the ideas somewhere else. This time she dug in, really grooving with James Maddren’s pulse from the drums and Mick Hutton’s driving bass and the energy levels rose until Norma Winstone’s wordless vocals returned with the quintessential Wheeler melody, all interval leaps and chromatic sidles.

The Printmakers, well into their first set at Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford-on-Avon, were giving the west country audience a taste of why they’ve forged such a reputation over the last few years. In 2010, they were nominated for a Parliamentary Jazz Award on that word of mouth buzz alone. There’s still no released recording, but they’ve been in the studio, so early next year it's rumoured there may be merchandise.

On Saturday, the delight was in the moment. With regular bass and tenor, Steve Watts and Mark Lockheart, on Loose Tubes duty, Mick Hutton and Stan Sulzman were formidable deps. The set had begun with Mediatation, from Nikki Iles’ 2012 album Hush, a loose stately chord progression quietly announcing their presence, before it morphed into Fred Hersch’s Stars, the tempo accelerating and the layers of sound gradually enveloping us with Winstone’s vocal threading through.

 

With tunes by John Taylor, Ralph Towner, Steve Swallow alongside more by Iles and guitarist Mike Walker a pallete of rich, shifting harmony and flowing rhythms was explored. The inspiration of Kenny Wheeler’s genius seemed never far away. When the Canadian’s now virtually standard tune, Everyone’s Song But My Own emerged towards the end of the second set, it was a special moment as soloist on the original recording, Stan Sulzman, sighed, fluttered and soared over the familiar changes with Norma Winstone nodding approvingly, leaning on the piano. 

Sheparded by the peerless Nikki Iles, The Printmakers never shout, but sweep an audience along with waves of musical energy. And they have a lot of fun. They finished first with Iles’ High Lands, with more than a hint of skirl and plenty of skip followed by Steve Swallows laconic country-ish City of Dallas to wish us good night.  The refurbished and re-energised Wiltshire Music Centre was echoing to the cheers and whoops satisfied punters.

– Mike Collins

@jazzyblogman

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