Saturday, 10 October 2020

A shift in the calendar!

These are still strange times!

The show has been back on the air since June. What has been really strange has been record companies trying to adjust their releases to tie in with an upturn in sales, perhaps also hoping to to catch the dreaded Christmas market (while I think of it I ought to add that the first 'Christmas' release came out the last week in September - great if what you want to hear is Warren Wolf playing Christmas standards!) So the 'new' Thelonious Monk album which I had at the start of August from the record company, finally got released during the third week of September, The same thing has happened with several other major label releases.
  It hasn't however stopped me thinking about preparing for my annual top 10 albums of the year, which consistently fail to coincide with what other critics have chosen. What is going to make this year particularly difficult however is the sheer diversity of what has been released. It's always been difficult to categorize jazz genres, but in lots of ways it now almost impossible (hence I guess the Edge of Jazz!). Anyway the pile of 'possibles' is, as usual large and it's going to be difficult, as ever, to choose just ten.

D.A.B+ the preparations.

When we had research done last Academic Year by The Business School at Exeter University (undertaken by a cohort of 177 students, so quite a lot to wade through) several outcomes became clear. One of the most glaring was the ways in which radio listening was (or wasn't) consumed by under 35's was clearly different to those over 35. A large proportion of the student population (which in Exeter is over 25,000) didn't listen to the radio at all. They streamed and downloaded on a regular basis, but consumption of radio wasn't done by listening to 'a radio'. Even in the age range immediately above the student group consumption was mainly confined to listening in a car or by means of a smart speaker. It also became clear that new cars had radio which were DAB based, and although they had the provision for FM radio it was seldom used, mainly because of the ease of switching between channels.
  When Ofcom announced that they were going to extend their pilot scheme for localised DAB+ broadcasting, and Exeter was named as one of the initial 30 towns/cities to be chosen it became obvious that Phonic FM had to be involved. We're lucky in that unlike in other places we had a good relationship with our local 'large' provider, and after talking to them and other interested parties we decided that would put together a consortium which would apply for the license. Hence was born which aims to win the local Exeter output. The deadline for application is 29th November this year, and if we're successful we'll start to have a signal which will significantly increase the area we cover. I'd only add that, as ever with Ofcom. the process is not as straightforward as writing an application ,it also requires the fulfillment of a host of other requirements. If we win it, we'll have the license for a 7 year period.
  There's a lot of hard work to be done, and a lot of connections to be made, but we consider that the outcome would be well worth the effort.
  So watch this space!

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Pre broadcast apprehensions

Briefly! I'm really quite apprehensive about getting back into the studio to get under way with The Edge of Jazz. Several things pertain;
1. The building we broadcast from is, apart from us, in total lockdown. Most of the things that we tend to take for granted will not be there. So there'll no going for a cup of coffee or a drink after the show is ended. The other occupants of the basement we inhabit will not be there. We'll be turning on the lights and the air conditioning and having to remember to turn them off again at the end of the day. We'll have to forego (for the moment) the joyous banter that you can have both during and after your show because we'll be socially distancing. Perhaps most peculiarly will be;

2. We're responsible for our own health and well-being. It's us who will have to wipe the surfaces, microphones, keyboards and mouses that we share (thought, is the multiple of mouse in this sense mouses?). We'll need to wear gloves through out the process. We'll also have to be responsible for general cleaning of the studio space, though quite how we're going to do that has still to be sorted out. It'll be interesting to see how other presenters go about adhering to the quite strict rules that have been imposed. It's been interesting to see how anxious several presenters have been about getting back to live broadcasting, and also the lengths that some are going to, to ensure that co-presenters are able to get to air though the use of skype as well as the ever reliable medium of telephone.

3. Where do I start with the backlog of material that has accumulated since March? In total I have about 100+ records, CD's and downloads that have arrived since lockdown. I pondered on the viability of simply doing a couple of new to you shows, but have abandoned that idea and what was new in April and May will have to wait its turn with the older material as I return to the normal cycle of including some classic material. What will be innovative is that at least for a while I'll be playing a lot more jazz-funk, that peculiar jazz fusion that suffered such a backlash from fans who though that their heroes were 'selling out'. I remember that artists like Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd were all accused of the ;'crime'. In lockdown I've been digging out some of the best of it, aided and abetted by a sudden slew of re- releases that complete the picture and in several cases move across several different labels to complete the picture.

4. What will make it all worthwhile is the fact that it will allow me to sit and listen to two hours of the music that has sustained me through this extraordinary period. This is the longest break I've had since in broadcasting since 1984 and my appetite for playing jazz, in all its various forms, remains undiminished. It's all the more exciting for the changes that we move towards in 2021, about which more in a future set of posts.

Friday, 8 May 2020

A May time catch-up

Most of the things that I promised myself I would do whilst self-isolating have been left undone. On the other hand some of the things that I didn't expect to do have been fulfilled in spades! At the same time the flow of new jazz has continued unabated and I've spent a lot of time listening to Cd's and vinyl old and new.  The really strange thing has been that I've also had quite lucid moments of auto suggestion - the act of hearing something and it suggesting something that I haven't listened to in an awfully long time. So I've been dusting off some old favourites some of which haven't been played in full for an awfully long time. So let's get straight to the music.

Blue Note re-issues: 

Some of the stuff that they've re-released hasn't been about for a long time, and instead of re-releasing them both on CD and vinyl they've gone for the more profitable option of vinyl. Problem is that the quality is, in my opinion, incredibly variable. Some have been lovingly remastered, some remastered from the original tapes and frankly, some of them have been resurrected when they should have been allowed to be a fond memory. It's really hard to decide in advance which falls into which category and they are, for the most part exactly as they were originally released. This is a shame, because as the CD re-issue series showed earlier in the century, there is quite a lot material that was worth hearing, but will not fit easily onto a vinyl format. So I've enjoyed some of the Bobby Hutcherson releases, but if you're tempted to buy them research what others have to say about them before you lob out the 22 odd quid. If I can help, do get in touch.  

New stuff:

Kandace Springs: The Women who raised me: I'd have to say this already a major contender for the end of year Top 10 albums. It's a wide ranging tribute to a selection of female artists who contributed to her development. I think it's stunning, not only because her voice is so right for the material but because she breathed life into the tunes with sympathetic support from a wide range of other artists (listen to track 1 with Christian McBride as an example. It also sent me back to the originals (after I had remembered who they were!) Stunning.
Jose James: No beginning no end part 2: I don't think that Blue Note had the faintest idea what to do with James after they'd signed him. This is out on a label called Rainbow Blonde and is a return to what he does best which is to interpret strong songs, and in the case of this album with a range of guests from Christian Scott to Laura Mvula and onto Erik Truffaz. A welcome return to form, and one which sent me back to "The Dreamer" which he released on Brownswood in about 2010. It's very laid back, with sparse accompaniment but with some wonderful piano playing from Nori Ochiai. It's well worth checking out.
Lakecia Benjamin: Pursuance: The Coltranes: It's a work through some Coltrane music, both John and Alice by a saxophonist who is new to me. It's beautifully created and takes the Coltrane tunes as a starting point, so it's not about copies but also adding to the heritage. There's an interesting set of contributions from Reggie Workman who played bass with both John Coltrane and Art Blakey and here adds bass to some tracks and helped out with production. A great debut.
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Angular Blues: Stripped back and beautiful. Much aided by Scott Colley on Bas and Brian Blade on drums and recorded in Japan I guess it's a style of jazz that you either like or you don't -sparse and, yes, angular, but consummately played. The sound is somehow different to the normal Manfred Eicher production, and the album sent me back to Manu Katche: Third Round: where Jacob Young adds some guitar playing. Although the style is very different it was an interesting thought transferral process that took me back to it.

Old stuff:(!) 

I'm currently going through a re- appraisal phase of some of the 'jazz funk' albums that were moving established jazz artists into new musical realms at the end of the 70's and 80's. I've started with Freddie Hubbard from his CTI/Elektra Musician and Columbia albums and will be moving on to look at late Donald Byrd material which perhaps I'll reflect on in the next set of msuings.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

These are strange times!

  I'll get around to the music in a couple of paragraphs, but as I write this I'm sat at home and able to listen to all the material that's still being sent to me. Unfortunately it's just me that's sat in splendid isolation with a record deck, CD player and an internet receiver. I decided late last week that isolation really was the best outcome for me, and I set myself a list of things to do that I'd always tried to get around to, and never have. Seven days in, and I have to admit that although I've made a start on one (the list is nine long) I'd rather listen to music than do them!
 This isolation coincided with the decision by the other Directors and me not to attempt any live broadcasting on Phonic FM until current events have resolved themselves. It's a real shame as there are things that we're aiming to do in 2020 that will further enhance the esoteric output of the station, but the public health of our presents is of paramount importance so our sustaining service is in operation, but just to note that with the material loaded on the machine you shouldn't hear the same tunes too often. Then there's the music I'm still receiving!
 It's been a strange start to 2020. Firstly, there's nearly always a lull twixt Christmas and New Year when new releases dry up, and January into February becomes a delve into a litany of old favourites and trusty classics. Not so, this year. The first new releases arrived on 6th January and have been pouring in ever since - a very gratifying situation as some of them are of a very high quality. I very much liked the Wolfgang Haffner album "Kind of Tango" which treads on some of the material that was recorded by Gary Burton on the album "Libertango" which came out in 2000, but adds some other compositions in the style of Astor Piazzolla.  There's also a new album by Byron Wallen which he's going to be touring in early May. (well maybe) It's a departure from what he normally plays - it's a quartet album - which is called "Portrait" and mixes some long tracks with some much shorter tracks examining his life and work - although it's not a retrospective! I also very much like the new Henrik Jensen followed by thirteen  album called "Affinity" Like Byron, Henrik was due to tour in support of the album, but that's all been put on hold, but I thoroughly recommend the album to listen to. Finally I really do have a penchant for Wolfgang Muthspiel and his new album "Angular Blues" is everything that I hoped it would be. He's back to a trio format, but interestingly the sound is much more forward than the usual ECM sound, perhaps because the album was recorded in Japan without the close attention of Manfred Eicher who mastered the album back in Germany. This is deeply satisfying and highly recommended.
I will try to keep you up to date with what I'm listening to whilst the current situation persist. Apart from that stay safe, and keep listening (to jazz, natch!)

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Five to one - The best of 2019 (on the Edge of Jazz)

As I've written before, this list has nothing to do with sales, plays or bungs from record companies. It's based on tracks that I've played on the show and those that I've probably carried around for too long in the car or say in front of the sound system ingesting by listening. I've also included another two at the end of the list that in any normal year would have been there, or thereabouts. 2019 has definitely been special for jazz!

5. Nguyen Le: Overseas

Another album where it's possible to ask "Yes, but is it jazz?" The sleeve notes say it all. In France where he now lives he is ' Viet Kieu' a Frenchman from Vietnam.  and he sets out to answer the question "Am I Vietnamese?"  All the musicians are, one way or another, but they too share the experience of living somewhere else, or as the album title would have it 'overseas'. It wasn't recorded in one place, though mainly it was in Paris, but some of the musicians added their input in studio elsewhere. It's pointless me trying to explain what the music is like. It's an album that you need to listen to many times before it starts to seep into your consciousness, but thereafter it opens a new door on what is happening. An unexpected delight.

4. Julia Hulsmann Quartet: Not far from here.

Possibly having the seen the trio perform live in 2019 gave this album a boost, but it's such a well recorded, cohesive album that it's been a constant on my turntable (the CD version, as with all ECM recording is excellent but the vinyl is astounding). The fourth member of the group is Uli Kempendorff and as with all Hulsmann's side persons he is not intrusive, but weaves his way into he tunes as if  he were a normal member of the trio. All the compositions except two are Hulsmann's, with Marc Muellbauer (bass player) contributing one and there's a version of  'This is not America' that surely David Bowie would have owned up to and approved of. Classic, and very European!

3. Leo Richardson Quartet: Move.

Ubuntu, the record label, seem to have an issue with distribution. I had no idea that this album was available until I spoke to Leo at the Ashburton Arts Centre. It's a follow on from last years 'The Chase' and is e4xactly the same kind of sound with some excellent hard blowing from Richardson, who also allows space for Rick Simpson, the pianist to add some interesting counterpoints. Alex Garnett is a guest on track eight, the excellent 'Second wind'. All the tracks were written by Richardson, except for the title track for which Rick Simpson and Tim Thornton (the bass player) wrote. It's an album that repays endless playing- which it got on the show this year.

2. Quentin Collins Sextet: 'Road Warrior'.

A close run thing!  The album is all that was promised at their gig at Ashburton (although the band had a different line-up there). Leo Richardson (see above) is excellent on Tenor Sax, and Jean Toussaint sits in on a couple of the tracks. Composition duties are split between Collins and Tom Harrison, with one 'standard to round off the set. The playing is excellent throughout as is the recording standard. I wrote at the time of reviewing, "Bound to be there, or thereabouts come the listings." I'd just reiterate that British Jazz has had a great year, and I've been to some marvellous gigs, of which the one at Ashburton Arts Centre, noted above, was the one that I enjoyed the most this year. It gets my vote as venue of the year for intimacy and sheer breadth of programming (Thanks, Andy!)

1. Dave O'Higgins & Rob Luft:Play Monk and Trane.

If you look at what I've written about the distribution of  Leo Richardson's album (see 3 above) the same applies to this record on the same label. Notionally, at the time of writing it's available, but on Amazon it's a hefty 25 quid, and available as an import. They toured to promote the album, but unless you bought on at a gig it's still really difficult to obtain. Perhaps it's choice is compounded by the disappointment of the 'new' John Coltrane album released this year, which in my opinion only had one track that stood up to scrutiny as essential Coltrane. However this re-assessment of the work of the two players in question is an absolute belter of an album. It gives scope for O'Higgins (Sax) and Luft (guitar) to reinterpret, spread out and bring something new to the party. They're much helped (but never overwhelmed) by the support of Scott Flanigan on organ and US drummer Rod Youngs. The more I've listened to it the more I've liked it, and it's been on pretty much continuous play in the car. A worthy number one!

Two that nearly made the ten (and would have made a fifteen!)

Tonbruket: Masters of fog.

They've been together for ten years and most of the previous albums have had a theme. This one they described as 'genre bending' and it's all that. Martin Hederos (the keyboard, synth and violin player) and Andreas Werlin have lives outside the band, the former as a guitarist in a rock band, the latter with the former as part of a jazz/psychedelic duo. The album is not easy to get into, but gradually unfolds with repeated listens. Highly recommended.

Erik Truffaz: Lune Rouge.

Still relatively unknown in the U.K., and out on yet another label Truffaz is a trumpet/horn player who mixes straight ahead jazz with fusions and electronics.This record, like several recent ones, emanate from French labels (in this case Warner's France) and although there's an English translation of the notes, the credits are all in French. There are two guest vocalists Andrina Bollinger and Jose James. I'm fortunate enough to have seen Truffaz live, but if you are looking for an artist to explore, and with a long back catalogue, you might like his work.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Ten to six ( Top albums of 2019 )

In the eleven years that the Edge of Jazz has been air I can't remember a more satisfying or diverse set of albums to choose from than what's been released in 2019. I did think about extending the ten to fifteen, which I have done in the past, but I've settled for ten with four that are 'near misses' and in a less extraordinary year would be in the top ten. Some have appeared in the blog during the year, but some haven't, either because they have only recently arrived or they have seeped into my consciousness over after playing them in the car or at home. I'd reiterate that this is a personal selection and they have nothing to do with any sales chart, radio plays, steaming downloads or any other form of electronic reproduction.

10:  Kit Downes : Dreamlife of debris.

As ever, it's possible to ask the question "Is it jazz?" Is it, indeed a group effort? What does a cello player bring to the party? It's an immensely assured recording done in a couple of locations and with several different line-ups (if that's what you can call them). Downes contributes six tunes. The ones which have an organ (and understand it's a pipe organ) were recorded in Huddersfield and the rest at Snape. It doesn't swing, but as ever with ECM recordings, the recording quality is astounding. You can find out elsewhere on this website what equipment I use at home and this is best heard on the best system you can muster. It's taken multiple playing's (usually late at night) for it to start exposing itself as a work, but I would thoroughly recommend trying to listen to it in its entity.

9:  Jeff Ballard: Fairgrounds.

 I wrote about this early in the year. It a work n which drummer Ballard gathered together 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). Since writing about it, I've played it a lot more and come to appreciate the quality of both the writing and the arrangements. I don't want to overplay this aspect, but it's available on vinyl and gives of its best in that format.

8: Nerija: 'Blume'.

My opinion remains that other than the wonderful KoKoRoko (who spasmodically produced tracks during the year but no album yet)  very few of the emergent British/London Jazz scene artists have produced material on disc that approaches the work that they perform live, In part, I suggest that this is because they've been anxious to release any material.  I think Nerija are the exception, and though some might consider this a tad horn heavy the range of artists and their instruments and backgrounds shine through. It's a considerable improvement on their initial EP and indicates that as a band they are progressing along a very unique pathway.  In lots of ways this was the opposite of cerebral, but a great invitation to get up and move about to jazz. 

7: Patricia Barber: Higher.

Not even sure that this has been released in this Country. My copy came from a friend who saw it in Angers (France) and bought it for me. It's on the label of an artists share programme. Whatever! It's all you'd expect from a Patricia Barber album, and then some. There's a section called "Angels, birds and I" and then some covers of songs/tunes that are part of the current live set. Recorded in Chicago the production is impeccable as are the backing group. There are love songs to an un-named female, errant husbands and even some opera (a trick repeated in track 14 which is the same song sung by Katherine Webiansky). Barber really is a one-off, both in composition and performance, and this is an album that you should hear (somehow!).

6. Carmen Souza:  The Silver Messenger.

When you really like an artist it's sometime difficult to think of anybody 'tinkering' with the tunes, arrangements or settings. Horace Silver is a perennial on the Edge of Jazz, not just for his Blue Note output but for others too (Jazz has a sense of humour is a favourite) so having someone take the material and make it their own is some achievement. Souza has recorded several albums in Portuguese, but this, as far as I know, is her first in English. It helps that the arrangements don't try to ape the Silver style too much, but they emerge as something completely fresh and yet teasingly familiar. Have a listen to the version of Senor blues, and then listen to the whole album. An excellent album.

Two that were real contenders:

As I wrote elsewhere this was a superb year for new releases. Two that just missed the cut here are:

Wendy Kirkland: The music's in me.

Loved the album and she was great to interview (you can find the interview on the Edge of Jazz Mixcloud page on 5th December). The album was a great follow up to 2017's 'Piano Diva's' and in many ways more diverse. It's a great set and she had a couple of marvellous guests to supplement the work of her excellent Quartet. She's a wonderful keyboard player and the choice of material is great, especially where she's added her own lyrics to other peoples tunes. In another year this would have been in the ten. However, you should certainly listen to it (better still buy it!) because the music is great and the ethos of running your own label (Blue Quaver) is the antidote to large labels and heavy unconvincing PR campaigns.

Tom Syson: Different Coloured days.

He's a brilliant trumpet player with a band that amply reflects his technique and skill as well as hisd composing ability. Like the Wendy Kirkland this received only a very limited distribution, which is a shame because its another testimony to what is good about the diversity of the current British jazz scene Recorded at Peter Gabriel's studio it really is an under-rated (and poorly distributed) piece of magic. Stunning.

Monday, 14 October 2019

As we approach the mid point in October my thoughts inevitably turn to my top ten albums of the year. It's been a remarkable year for releases (yet again!) and I'm glad that the title of the show is 'The Edge of Jazz' because there are certainly some recordings that stretch the limits of what other might call jazz that are undoubtedly going to be contenders for the list. There's no doubt about;

Quentin Collins Sextet: 'Road Warrior'.

...being a jazz album! The album is all that was promised at their gig at Ashburton (although the band had a different line-up there). Leo Richardson (see below) is excellent on Tenor Sax, and Jean Toussaint sits in on a couple of the tracks. Composition duties are split between Collins and Tom Harrison, with one 'standard to round off the set. The playing is excellent throughout as is the recording standard. Bound to be there, or thereabouts come the listings.

Jazzmeia Horn: 'Love and Liberation'

Following on from last years effort ' A Social Call'  this album has a variety of styles and there are a variety of compositional credits from Hubert Laws and George Duke to Jazzmeia herself and Jimmy Van Heusen. Backing is from a lusty quintet, augmented with other instruments on some tracks, and vocally she really stretches herself across a range of different styles. Still an exciting prospect.

Abdullah Ibrahim: 'The Balance'

Back in a southern Africa groove after an excursion to Marseille this is Ibrahim (aka Dollar brand) in exciting form with backing from Ekaya. It all seems so effortless, though it obviously isn't. He defies his 80+ years by producing joyful and emotional township type music. His piano playing skills remain undiminished and this is a cracking album.

Leo Richardson: 'Move'

Saw Leo at the Quentin Collins gig (see above) and he told me he had a new album out. Maybe it was because I was on holiday, but I missed this when it first came out in July. It's an excellent follow up to 'The Chase'. It's hard blowing throughout, and the band is tight with Rick Simpson on piano doing an terrific job. There's a guest appearance from Alex Garnett on one track. The album is on Ubuntu (if you have difficulty in locating it you can buy it from his website).

Nguyen Le: 'Overseas'

Well, new to me, but evidently not to French audiences. Nguyen le is French Vietnamese and this is his fourth album for ACT and is based on the premise that he's looking for " the Vietnamese soul through the prism of jazz". Essentially he's a guitarist, but uses effects and pedal as well as being supported by a range of other instrumentalists all of whom appear to be of Vietnamese origins. It's almost impossible to describe the fusion that is played, but it's wonderfully expressive with a range of moods and textures. I've played it a lot.

Carmen Souza: 'The Silver Messengers'

Based around the Horace Silver songbook, Carmen is also from the Cape Verde Island, where Silver was born. It's a quartet album with guests and takes Silver's material and moulds it into something unique and expressive. She's already recorded extensively (mainly in Portuguese) but this album is well worth hunting down because the material may be Horace Silver but the performances are all her own.

Nerija: 'Blume'.

Other than the wonderful KoKoRoko very few of the emergent British/London Jazz scene artists have produced material on disc that approaches the work that they perform live, I think Nerija are the exception, and though some might consider this a tad horn heavy the range of artists and their instruments and backgrounds shine through. It;s a considerable improvement on their initial EP and indicates that as a band they are progressing along a very unique pathway.

Obviously there a lot more under consideration for the final top ten, and we have yet to have the onslaught of material launched for the 'Christmas market' (groan!), but I reckon at least half of these will be there, or thereabouts when I start making my choices in early December.