Sunday, 28 July 2019

Dr John:

The recent death of Dr John a.k.a. Malcolm John Rebennack Jnr brought back to me a memory of seeing him perform in the City where I'm based (Exeter, Devon) sometime in the 1980's. Some considerable scoffing when I said that I was certain that I'd seen him led me to go digging in the archives. My memory did not deceive me. On Monday 4th November 1985 I paid £4.50 to see him perform at what was then The Exeter and Devon Arts Centre, and in its current incarnation is Exeter Phoenix. 
    I then discovered the bi-monthly brochure that the Arts Centre produced and realised what an amazing line up November and December of that year had brought to Exeter. The same organisation that co promoted Dr John also booked Robert Cray for an appearance at Tiffany's on the Quay in Exeter, and I found a 15" reel to reel recording of an interview that I did with him that very night. Only problem is I can't listen to it , because I don't have reel to reel recorder, let alone one that plays at 15ips..
  The same venue also hosted two magnificent jazz gigs. On November 30th for £3.00 you could see Howard Riley's "Facets" with bass player Jeff Clyne and drummer Tony Levin. The same gig had a special guest appearance by Evan Parker on saxes. The following Saturday - if you had been to the Howard Riley gig you could have bought a joint ticket for both gigs for £4.50 (I did!) - Keith Tippett's Canoe. Tippett  is still out on the road playing all sorts of venues and recording. He also played on a couple of King Crimson albums. However the highlight for me was that his wife, Julie Tippetts was featured vocalist with the group. In a previous life she had been Julie Driscoll who had had a huge UK pop hit with the Brian Auger Trinity on Bob Dylan's "Wheels on fire".
It also brought home to me how active South West Jazz were at the time, and conversely how much they are missed in helping to promote the sort of gigs that would otherwise be unaffordable for a lot of south west venues.
Finally, I ought to add that at the time I was working for the ILR station DevonAir and every year we held Operation Devon Care to raise money for good causes. In the very same brochure I notice that I had presented and hosted an evening of live music with music from 'Firing on Five' (of whom I have no recollection at all -perhaps if you read this an remember them you can contact me via the Edge of Jazz website) and Sneaky Pete and the Vipers who were from somewhere in North Dorset (but again details elude me). I can't remember anything at al about the evening though whether that was through the ingestion of drink or just a failing memory I can't decide.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Halfway through 2019 already! Time to sort out a few of the albums that may make my Top 10 albums at the end of the year. Big dilemma this year is going to be whether to include any of the plethora of re-releases that are pouring forth at the time of writing, especially as Blue Note Records in their 75th year are releasing a host of vinyl albums that have long been out of print. Some of them have arrived already and are blasting through the house on a regular basis courtesy of my new (upgraded) Arcam amp. The following albums are the ones that have made an impression this year (so far);

Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret between the Shadow and the Soul. 

Marsalis plays beautifully, and the rest of the group are hugely supportive. Joey Calderazzo on piano contributes two compositions as does Eric Revis on Bass. The drummer is Justin Faulkner. Marsalsis contributes one composition and there's an Andrew Hill and Keith Jarrett tune as well. This is not heavyweight blowing, but considered and elegant and an album to be savoured with lots of listens as it has a lot to give texturally. 

Duncan Eagles: Citizen.

Saw the band play at Ashburton. Like the Marsalis album mentioned above this is a complex  album which delivers with repeated listenings. Technically this is a 2018 release, but my copy (which came from his new label Ropeadope) didn't appear until January, so I'm counting this as a 2019 release. The band are a quintet and David Preston on guitar adds a welcome dimension to the sound. Highly recommended.

Quiana Lynell: A little love.

Suddenly there has been a rush of new female artists who have something unique to offer. Quiana's album encompasses a whole range of styles from "Hip shakin' Momma" which I associate with Irma Thomas, to Donny Hathaways "Tryin' times" and George and Ira Gershwin's "They all laughed". I guess it's meant to emphasise her versatility, and I really enjoyed the album, and have played it a lot. It'll be interesting to see which of the styles she settles on for her next album.

Cyrille Aimee: Move on.

For her fourth (?) album Cyrille Aimee has abandoned her guitar trio with which she's toured for the last couple of years and moved onto something different, with a wider palette of musicians and a choice of material that she subtitles as " A Sondheim Adventure". Not all the tracks are self-evident as Sondheim material, but she has produced an album that does what it says in the title with a satisfying range of songs given her unique vocal treatment. Be not afraid of the sub-title this is a really diverse album.

Jeff Ballard: Fairgrounds.

In which drummer Ballard has gathered around himself some excellent musicians (including guitarist Lionel Loueke) and taken them out on the road, recording as they went along. There's a mixture of both self-penned and other people's material, and the band included a couple of guest appearances by Chris Cheek and Mark Lockheart (both Tenor Sax players). It's another album that I've grown into, with new depths being revealed with every listen. Recommended.

The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of deep mystery.

Received quite a lot of air play on 6 music, and the music has certainly moved on from their last outing being both 'heavier' (now there's a 60's cliché!). dynamic and based around a single developed theme. Several people who saw them at the Sea Change Festival were disappointed with the live show, but this is definitely a studio based album loosely associated with jazz and extremely percussive. If all that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not, it's a really impressive album!

There were several other albums that should probably have made the half year cut, and maybe I'll find time to mention a couple more in an upcoming blog. As to the issue of re-issues perhaps it's a topic I can also cover in another forthcoming blog. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Just before May diappears...

I've been caught up in the frantic pace of life in the last couple of months and that applies just as much to the jazz I've seen. I've just got back from a rushed trip to the Manchester Jazz Festival having completely missed everything that went on at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. I also completely missed the events that took place at the local Sea Change Festival because it coincided with Manchester (see above) where I missed seeing The Comet is Coming and Szun Waves. As a result I also missed the Lyme Jazz Festival. Just at the moment there's scarcely a week goes by without a Festival taking place somewhere.
  Which, of course begets the question as to whether there are too many?
  As I write the Bristol Jazz Festival, which I've very much enjoyed when I've visited, is trying to raise funds to survive. There was also some doubt about whether the Swanage Jazz Festival would go ahead this year, but thanks to some speedy fund raising, it is. Nonetheless they are all competing with events like Love Supreme and the London Jazz Festival (as well as Cheltenham) which are well established, well funded, and are able to attract top guests (at a price!). Although British jazz is healthier than it has been for many years several of the new and rising stars find it more lucrative (and possibly warmer) to play at Continental  events that are dotted throughout the summer.
  There's also the evergreen problem of the schisms that still beset jazz, that of the factionalism. Interestingly the line up for the Swanage Jazz Festival, for example, seems to have swayed back towards 'traditional' jazz and mainstream jazz. I hate the falseness of trying to define jazz (as I say on the front page of the website!) which is why the programme is called the Edge of Jazz. I don't want to listen to a surfeit of any particular style of jazz at a festival, but would like to think that organisers could embrace a wide style of styles at a wide ranging set of venues whilst continuing to attract an audience that would recompense the outlay of the promoters.
 Looking forward I've been invited to the Ilkley Jazz Festival in August and will be interested to see what the event (and how the event) will function apparently without a major venue. Even Brecon, which I've very much enjoyed in the past has a theatre type venue to house the bigger name guests. Watch out for a report at the end of August.
 Three final thoughts relevant to the area I live in. Encouraging to note that the monthly Bridge Jazz Club in Exeter has spawned the Red Pendulum Jazz Night on the third Wednesday of the month in the same venue at the Phoenix. Also good to see Blue Vanguard attracting some excellent guests as has the Ashburton Arts Centre ( where guests are often booked at very short notice) Finally I'm hoping to go to The Calstock Arts Centre some time this summer for one of their regular jazz nights.
Next time I'll try to catch up with some of the recent releases...if my schedule permits.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Who'd have thought it?

   I'm delighted that the last couple of years has seen an explosion of new talent onto the British "jazz scene". Not only that, but even more nature artists have been tempted into more experimental formats, and fusions with all sorts of sub genres. In fact, it's even more difficult to define "jazz" than it ever has been, something that I really appreciate. I hope that the fusion continues unabated, and "The Edge of Jazz" will be doing all that it can to help explore the fringes of what's going on out there, and encouraging it.
"Why?" you may well ask do I want to preserve this spirit of experimentation, and why is it so important?
The answer lies buried (for me) in the long ago distant past. From the earliest time that I was ever asked to play in a band I became aware that the musical scene I was about to enter was riven with a set of completely impractical rules. I was recruited because I could play the clarinet..very was, after all, my third instrument. Nor did I enjoy playing it very much, but the temptation of money loomed large, so I was asked to join a band local to where I was living at the time, and who were gigging regularly in a time frame and area that I could manage. After several moderately successful gigs I asked the leader of the band which played straight ahead new Orleans Jazz (I thought) whether I could take along one of my saxes to play on a couple of numbers. The response has stayed with me to this day " New Orleans Bands don't have saxophones" . I didn't realise just how constricted the view of what 'jazz' was for the members of the band that I was playing in, and then only became aware subsequently of the strict rules that debarred some of the local bands from having banjo's, piano players, or (and always the oddest to me) not allowing a sousaphone player to take the place of a bass player. 
  It was therefore an intense relief to be asked to sit in with a group of local muso's who didn't want to be a part of the raging trad arguments that were endemic at the time, but just wanted to be free to play what they wanted to with any line up that was available to them. Truly a dilemma. Earn money in front of a leaping crowd of young folk getting off their head in cider and be constrained within a musical framework that I didn't fancy or play for nothing within the confines of a band which I enjoyed playing with and who were kindred spirits. Regretfully money won, but I always thought that if I were starting out again I'd want to make it clear at the outset that I wasn't going to hemmed in by the constraints of playing within a format I hated. Which is, I suppose why I so readily applaud all those players who are out there, fusing together styles that deserve to be heard, and playing without the restraints of a single tradition or ethnic approach.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Ten best albums of 2018; Part 2.

There's a very good reason why this is appearing late, not just my tardiness, but also the inability of BT to provide service at some crucial times this December. However, here it is, in all it's splendour,the five to one of albums rated by Edge of Jazz in 2018.

Five: Tony Kofi; "Point blank"

Pretty straightforward blowing, but what blowing! Toni Kofi, backed by 'The Organisation" worked their way through a whole bunch of jazz standards. Kofi plays both alto and baritone sax on the album, but it's all driven along by a really tight band, with Pete Whittaker the organist propelling the whole delightful album along. I played every track on the album in one show or another and you can expect to hear it again in 2019.

Four: Jakob Bro; " Bay of Rainbows"

It always felt wrong playing tracks from this album between two and four in the afternoon. This is a real "late night listen". Bro is, to say the least, sparse in his approach and there are some solo and some group tracks on this album that was (and at times you forget this) recorded live in New York with Thomas Morgan on Bass and Joey Baron on drums. It's recorded with all the clarity you expect from ECM recordings, and this is a belting album that gives more with every listen.

Three: Various Artists; " We out there"

London continues to be melting pot of music and particularly jazz, and this album demonstrates everything that is good about the emerging scene that's been developing. It says a lot for the varied music on here that several of the bands have subsequently recorded albums, whilst others (like Kokoroko!!) are going to produce albums during 2019. What makes it especially creditable is that although the sleeve says "recorded over three days in London" you'd never have guessed with most of the tracks that there were any time constraints at all. There are errors and wrong notes but it all adds to the refreshing gust of wind blowing through British jazz.

Two: Cecile McLorin Salvant; "The Window"

After two encouraging Mack Avenue albums Cecile decided to record both in the studio and live in front of audiences an album on which she's accompanied only by a piano and organ played by Sullivan Fortner (one track has a tenor sax as well). The strength and inventiveness of what was done is staggering in its depth, choice of material and performance. She manages to perform all the songs in such a way that it's often difficult to remember that the backing is so sparse and that its only one persons voice. It's the sort of album that refreshes belief in what a solo human voice can do.

One: Jean Toussaint All Star 6tet; "Brother Raymond"

The album blew me away and then I saw the band perform it, once as a sixtet and the next time as a quintet (that was Ashburton at the start of November). The album was recorded by an ever changing rhythm section, but a constant frontline of Dennis Rollins on trombone, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Jean Toussaint on tenor sax. They are going to re-record parts of the programme as a live album, which will include new material that isn't on this album. The sense of togetherness that the band bring to the album is audible, and the ability to reproduce the sound live (even without Rollins at Ashburton) is amazing. I have a short interview with Jean, but aim to catch up with them in 2019 to turn it into a programme feature. A terrific album that you ought to own! 

Two that nearly made the top ten.

Madeleine Peyroux; "Anthem"

Madeleine Peyroux given a full band major recording label makeover. Somehow Peyroux doesn't get swamped by what is an all start band fronted by Larry Klein on keyboards, but also featuring Dean Parks and a luminary group of other Hollywood musicians. The material is strong, and so are the performances. Highly recommended.

Gwyneth Herbert; "Letters I haven't written".

I'm clearly biased as I contributed to the crowd funding that brought this album into being in mid November. It's a collection of songs that is based on the premise that everybody has letters that they could/should/would have written, but didn't. Part of the attraction of Gwyneth is that the performance is an important part of the story that the album has to tell. I believe (and hope) that she's going to tour this a bit more in 2019 and getting to a performance will enhance the strength of what is on offer in the album.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Ten best albums of 2018 (and a few more!)

  Unlike other years where I've done a top 15 albums of the year, I decided that a Top Ten would better reflect the width of material that gets played on The Edge of Jazz. It has made the selection even more difficult than it has in previous years, and at the last minute decided to add 5 albums that nearly made the cut. Three at the end of ten to six and two more at the end of five to one. Purely subjective, of course, and probably including a couple that probably will not make it anywhere else - but that's the joy of compiling your own top ten! Disagree if you must - but if you want to make it proactive. You can always voice your opinions @phonicjazz.

Ten:  John Scofield; " Combo 66"

Scofield is a long time favourite, and over his career has produced some belting albums, but recently, and particularly with the last couple of releases I began to wonder if he had anything new to say. This albums sees a real return to form. For the most part he's abandoned all the electronics and pedals that increasingly got in the way of what he was playing and just plugged the guitar straight into an amp. It helps that the trio behind him are so sympathetic, especially Bill Stewart on drums.. Difficult to pick favourite tracks, but "Can't dance" & "Uncle Southern" do it for me. A welcome return to form.

Nine:  Hugh Masakela; Masekela '66-76 

Somehow I've never really got into his later material but this triple CD set, recorded as the title suggests during a 'lost' decade is ample proof that he could not only play a mean horn, but also choose superb musicians to back him. It's a 3 CD set and contains the whole of two albums recorded in '73-'74 that have never made it onto CD before. It's joyous stuff that made me want to get up and dance a lot of the time (and that doesn't happen too often nowadays)

I didn't really think I could do anything else but cut and paste what I wrote in June about this 3 CD set, except to say that I've returned to it again and again and from each of the CD's I've found greater depths. Of course you could argue that this isn't a new release at all - and so it isn't but it presents music, the majority of which I'd never heard until 2018.

Eight: Wolfgang Muthspiel; "Where the river goes". 

A recurring factor in these lists, Wolfgang Muthspiel returned with an album with a luminary line up, a collection of varied tunes and some wonderful playing. The trumpet playing of Ambrose Akinmusere added a depth to what on any album would have been a dream team of Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on double bass and Eric Harland on drums. As usual with ECM records its impeccably recorded, and though it's not music to dance to(!) it's a really satisfying album.

Seven: Joshua Redman; "Still dreaming"

It's not really a Joshua Redman album as all the artists get credit. I particulalrly like the Ron Miles contributions on cornet, but Scott Coley on bass and Brian Blade on drums add to the overall feeling. Apart from the Redman/Coley compositions there is also a Charlie Haden and an Ornette Coleman tune. The playing is great. I'm still trying to work out the enigmatic sleeve notes penned by Redman.

Six: Lionel Loueke; "The Journey".

He made an appearance in my Top Fifteen from 2017, but this album is a series of self written songs and recorded in Paris in January 2018. You really are advised to read the sleeve notes (in both French and English) to understand something of his frame of mind and the background to the tracks.. He records with both electric and acoustic guitars and the tunes are a West African fusion of Nigerian, Senegalese and Malian music. 'is it jazz?'. Read the sleeve-notes and you'll find the answer. The vinyl version is worth getting hold of too.

 The Three that didn't make the Top Ten;

Jessica Lauren; "Almeira"  I regret that Lauren is so sparing with her recordings. This is a nod to West African/Caribbean roots with a lovingly assembled band that includes Yazz Ahmed on flugelhorn. Uniquely different.

Camilla George; "The People could fly". A wonderful set of tracks based on childhood stories. George's saxophone sound is terrific, and I particularly like the keyboard work of Sarah Tandy (and chance of an album in 2019?) and the addition of Quentin Collins on trumpet.

Toshio Matsuura Group; " Loveplaydance"

Subtitled "8 scenes from the floor" it's the kind of fusion that makes it harder and harder to define jazz. . Another left field release from the increasingly ecelectic Brownswood Recordings - see also five to one!

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

All the normal sluggard excuses, but no escaping from the fact that this year has just flown by and I've been too busy to write the normal flow of observations, thoughts, reviews and general observations about what's been happening around the Edge of Jazz. Nonetheless in less than two weeks I have to produce my top ten albums of the years, several of which are unlikely to have been reviewed in the normal way as part of this blog. As has been the case over the last couple of years the choice has been incredibly difficult- the more so because it appears, as I have noted elsewhere, that British Jazz, or whatever label or guise or heading it appears under, is undergoing a huge revival of interest.
So, really this is just a warning that over the next two weeks, and starting next Tuesday 11th December I will produce Part 1 - Ten to Six - of my favourite albums of the year. It's an annual occurrence and I usually manage to include several albums that make people utter words like, "What!" "Why" and " I didn't rate that at all". In other words it a choice from the just over 1000 tracks that I've played on the show this year. (Actually there are slightly more than 1000, and Part 2 will include exactly how many for those who are complete-ists).
  I will add that the most played track, i.e. the one that I sneaked in more than once (5 times to date) is "Abusey Junction" by Kokoroko whom I'm delighted to say have signed a recording contract and will be producing a whole album of material in 2019.
  So, until next week...…..