Greg Cordez Quintet bustle up at Bristol’s Wardrobe Theatre

The backstory: having written the music during a personally difficult year Bristol-based bass player Greg Cordez decided to recruit some of his favourite New York musicians to record it over there. The inevitable economic constraints, however, only allowed a single day for the project. The resulting album, Last Things Last, is a fine set of tunes in Greg's lyrical contemporary style, with notable soloing from guitarist Steve Cardenas. It remained to be seen, however, how his regular Quintet would develop the material live.

The gig: a capacity audience with a sizeable presence of younger people reflected the popularity of both Cordez as a college tutor and his promising support act Harvey Causon (a tutee). Shifting between electronica and indie-rock arrangements the three-piece band's short set of tightly constructed songs' repetitions and broken vocal textures recalled James Blake and others.

Cordez's own set warmed up with a couple of older tracks before tackling 'Low Winter Sun', a tune written the night before that NY recording session. The empathetic brass pairing of Get The Blessing's Pete Judge (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Jake McMurchie (tenor sax) captured the sense of nervous anticipation, their ambivalent dialogue progressing over a deceptively relaxed rhythm. By contrast, post-rocker 'Cherry V Des Moines' came from a more confident place, with McMurchie's increasingly rough-edged exposition matched by explosive drumming outbursts from Matt Brown. Steve Banks' careful solo guitar introduction to 'Last Things Last' evoked a plaintive Metheny-esque lyricism in a simmering piece whose haunting flugelhorn elegy felt like an unspoken tribute to Hugh Masakela.

The emotional richness of the new music was well nurtured in the ensemble playing, with Greg's own understated contribution emphasising his preference for keeping things together while leaving space for others. By the time they reached 'Figlock''s feature solo, with Steve Banks wandering through the psychedelic end of Bill Frisell territory, the bassist's continuing development as an astute composer was more than evident, firmly underlined by the strength and consistency of his accomplices.

Story and photo Tony Benjamin

Hasidic New Wave and Yakar Rhythms at Littlefield, Brooklyn, NY

 

It's a treat to have the opportunity see a band who rarely play live. In the case of Hasidic New Wave, the anticipation that accompanies this rarity is amplified by the band's genre-crossing, convention-defying attitude and musicality. Hailing from New York's downtown scene, with already atypical roots in jazz and Jewish song, the quintet span experimental and more traditional sounds, written melodies and free improvisation, via spacey dub, Arabic dance, funky bass, avant-garde rock, and beyond.

And what else would one expect from a band fronted by jazz rabbi saxophonist Greg Wall, and trumpet player Frank London, whose roles range from Grammy-winning klezmer band The Klezmatics to collaborations with the experimentally diverse composer-improviser John Zorn? Drummer Aaron Alexander, bassist Fima Ephron, and guest keys player Brian Marsella are rooted in similar eclecticism, frequently marrying jazz and Jewish sounds, and each worth checking out in the context of their other projects.

The Brooklyn concert included great moments of improvised exchange between wind players London and Wall, and some fantastic individual soloing. London's heartfelt playing made exciting use of range, rhythm and his signature turns, trills and bends, crossing more traditional klezmer technique with exploratory jazz. Marsella's improvised passages also stood out, stretching into wild moments of note-bending frenzy, appearing to energise both band and audience.

Part-way through the set, and returning to the stage after their opening performance, Hasidic New Wave were joined by Senegalese sabar drummer trio Yakar Rhythms, led by Alioune Faye. In a stunning collaboration the ensembles performed material from their joint album From the Belly of Abraham, as well as new pieces. At times they swapped in and out, leaving space and respect for diversity of sound; at others they performed fluidly and energetically as one. The driving rhythms of Faye's griot legacy appeared to propel Hasidic New Wave's fervency, while Alexander masterfully worked in the sounds of his kit to the phrases of the sabar drums.

Bending notes, genre and 'rules', Hasidic New Wave and Yakar Rhythms both accentuate and defy traditions, questioning convention and preconceptions, musically and, more implicitly, socially and politically. Their playing was sweet and wild, with fantastic energy. My only criticism: that it doesn't happen more often.

– Celeste Cantor-Stephens

Scott Hamilton makes a big noise at Small's, Brighton

While it's gratifying in the extreme to see the amount of attention that's starting to coalesce around the current crop of young British jazz players, the bedrock of the music shouldn't be overlooked. Across the country a network of small clubs, often run by volunteers on miniscule budgets, exist to maintain the verities that underpin whatever it is that jazz is becoming as it evolves into the 21st century. Such qualities as immaculate swing, effortless flow of creative language and a sincere and passionate reading of the standards repertoire may not inspire excited headlines, but they are at the heart of what it's all about and deserve to be nurtured.

Such a club is Small's in Brighton (not to be confused with the venerable NYC institution, and held at The Verdict jazz venue), run for the last eight years by the indefatigable Dennis Simpson. It's a friendly and relaxed affair, running fortnightly in season, but like many of the best things in life it operates within a strict set of limitations. No-one uses amplification, not even the guitarists or bass players. The headline performers are drawn from an international pool of mainstream talent, adhering to the classic values of Golden Age jazz: Ken Peplowski, Matthias Seuffert, Rico Tomasso or Jo Fooks might be found leading the band, though you might also come across Alex Garnett or Freddie Gavita taking it back to the tradition, while the likes of Steve Brown, Craig Milverton and Charlie Watts' old schoolfriend Dave Green regularly appear in the supporting cast.

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Tonight it's the doyen of traditionalists, Scott Hamilton, playing to a packed room of appreciative connoisseurs. He cuts a picture of rumpled elegance, all silver hair and fine patrician profile. His tone is full, burnished and pure, his timing immaculate. His fund of perfectly turned phrases seemingly inexhaustible, whether on the classic easy lope of 'The More I See You', the boppish minor key swagger of Carl Perkin's 'Grooveyard', or the spacious, achingly sincere 'What's New', the writer Bob Haggart was a personal friend.

Despite the lack of any amplification, his big tone fills the room, and there's a perfect aural blend that shows the eminently simpatico Small's House Band to fine advantage. There are outstanding solo moments from Mark Edwards on the piano and Steve Brown on drums, but really it's all about the empathetic support they create, together with Steve Thompson on bass, allowing the leader to blow at will, pause, then blow some more, without any lessening of the cogency of his creative flow.

Benny Golson's 'Sock Cha Cha' gives an indication that the players are perfectly capable of ranging further afield in search of repertoire, but choose to set their own limits. Self-restraint may be said to define the gentleman, but there's no ignoring the emotional sincerity evident in every note, illustrating how this music still has much to say, even if it isn't shouting loud.

– Eddie Myer

– Photos by David Forman

Joe Lovano, Ambrose Akinmusire and China Moses power-up at Pančevo Jazz Fest

is a quiet, post-industrial town separated from Serbia's capital Belgrade by the Danube. There is an imposing bridge that takes you over the river from the bustling capital to the flatlands that lie beyond and reach as far as the Hungarian border to the north. Civic pride is hugely important here and the town punches well above its weight when it comes to providing culture and entertainment to its citizens and visitors alike. This year was the 20th Pančevo Jazz Festival and, as in previous years, the festival director kept an open ear to bring a diverse selection of artists to the festival. Its location is the town's Cultural Centre, a 600-seat theatre with a foyer free-stage and bar. Every evening there were two main concerts plus additional talks by one or more of the main artists, plus a jam session. The first of these featured Joe Lovano, his talk primarily attended by local music students who performed later that night at the jam session.

The renowned saxophonist talked at length about his formative years before inviting the students to watch his sound check. One of the more interesting questions asked was by Tim Berne (who played the first show of the evening) who really wanted to know how Lovano practiced and how the process had changed for him over the years. Lovano duly demonstrated to the delight of the students. His parting shot to the students? 'The more you play, the more you'll say!"

Lovano's show was one of the best from him that I have seen in recent years. He was positively on fire, with his former Berklee student Lawrence Fields also a revelation on piano. Fields' fingers gliding over the keys with seemingly no effort, he's a brilliant improviser and can swing too. This was not just about Lovano either with rhythm section of Peter Slavov on bass and Otis Brown on drums rock-solid all night. The quartet were such a tight unit that when Joe stood back he appeared engrossed in their playing.

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China Moses was also hugely entertaining – some might say she takes the acting a little too far – 'Hungover' saw her rolling around the stage in a faux drunken state, collapsing on the floor towards the end. But ultimately the quality of her voice and of her material won out. Moses uses a storytelling style and has a very slick band featuring Joe Armon-Jones (piano), Neil Charles (bass) and playing his first ever concert with her, Josiah Woodson (guitar and trumpet). Ultimately the show became a good concert as she moved away from 'Summer Holiday' and more towards Billie Holiday.

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Trumpeter Avishai Cohen on the other hand was the master of cool. His set was deep and moving, and had the audience on the edge of their seats, silently waiting for his next foray should they miss a single note. 'Shoot Me in the Leg', and 'Will I Die Miss, Will I Die', had fleeting moments of Miles in the playing but this was all Cohen's music, as he poured his soul out on the horn, it was hauntingly beautiful from beginning to end.

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The other trumpet star at the festival was Ambrose Akinmusire, who's a completely different prospect to Cohen. Akinmusire is taking the instrument in directions and places that few other players are presently even remotely trying to do. Starting with a solo number, somewhat reminding me of Lovano's practice piece in structure, soaring high and growling low, puffing and tonging till he came to an end. The set continued in the same way with blistering long runs with slow reflective moments such as 'Moment In Between the Rest (To curve an ache)'. A beautiful ballad there was delicate colouring from Justin Brown on drums and plaintive bass lines from Harish Raghavan. The penultimate tune, 'Umteyo' saw him playing the same note over and over while the band rotated the melody, until eventually Akinmusire broke the pattern and took the tune to the end. It was uncomfortable at times but ultimately exhilarating. Akinmusire has created an approach to playing that pushes the technical boundaries of his instrument and by doing so has created a totally unique sound.

Also playing at the festival were Serbian band, Fish In Oil, who play a quirky groove-driven funky jazz – band-member Bratislav Radovanović resplendent in dreadlocks thumping out the bass. Elsewhere Velvet RevolutionDaniel Erdmann (sax), Jim Hart (vibes) and Theo Ceccaldi (viola, violin) – comprise a power trio of virtuosos who play together with a telepathic understanding. Ceccaldi was a joy to watch, at times appearing to saw his violin in half such was the speed and ferocity of his playing.

Pančevo may not be the most obvious location on the jazz tourist's bucket list, but the festival programme and the town's friendly atmosphere (and wonderful local fish restaurants) certainly mark it out as something special. The ticket price for the whole festival is less than that of one show at most jazz festivals. Pančevo is always the first weekend in November and next year will be a very special 21st birthday edition.

Story and photos by Tim Dickeson

Amy Roberts-Richard Exall Quintet Limber At Imber

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Imber Court out in leafy East Molesey was once the Met Police's private playground. Now it's a sports and leisure centre open to the likes of you and I, and a regular monthly location for jazz gigs promoted by long-time fan Carole Merritt. She uses the centre's spacious dining room, bar downstairs, good sight lines, just right for a rousing couple of sets by this lively reeds pairing.

Amy Roberts and Richard Exall, multi-instrumentalists both, met while playing in the Big Chris Barber band and formed a partnership, musical and personal, touring the nation's clubs and festivals, their most recent CD a blend of hot numbers by Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges. Not quite sweet and sour maybe, but certainly a contrast in tone and attack, thus fully borne out in their tune choices here. Still with Dave Newton on keyboard, bassist Dave Green and last-minute dep Mark Fletcher on drums, no challenge seemed too great, the entire quintet at one in despatching a truly eclectic range of numbers.

Roberts tends to the flute and rightly so, adding alto and clarinet as and when, while Exall projects best on tenor, this evident on their opener, a cheery version of 'Just Friends' with Roberts impassioned while the hyper-active Fletcher very nearly sank the ship even as Newton sailed blithely on, quirky and probing in turn. Clark Terry's 'A Pint Of Bitter', composed for his recording collaboration with Tubby Hayes, had a nice funky strut, Newton more fragmentary, Green propulsive in the best way, Fletcher throttling down, Exall's tenor like an airy amalgam of Eddie Miller and Ken Peplowski. He sang on 'Sweet Lorraine', fetchingly, and revved up on alto, Roberts likewise, as they sounded out on Bostic's '845 Stomp', raunchy and red-hot, followed by Hodges' 'Below the Azores', a feature for Roberts' very captivating flute. Then came Art Pepper's 'Popo', altos intertwined again, Fletcher's cross-rhythms abundant, as Newton dug in, Green panther-like alongside.

In a second half that included a swing version of 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' with Exall vocalising, a piece by Gilbert O'Sullivan, a serene version of 'Robbins Nest' and Exall's Monk-like 'What's Going On', all bases were touched, all tastes satisfied. This pair knows how to pick top sidemen and, more to the point, how to build a programme packed with interest and classy creativity. Seek them out.

– Peter Vacher 

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