Monday, 17 May 2021

Notes from a wet May

 It's about this time of year that I start noting the albums that have been released during the current year that I've particularly enjoyed. 2021 being what it is it's not been a normal year for releases. Not only has it been a period of lock down, but here in south-west England the weather has been, to say the least haphazard with a very dry April and (so far ) an incredibly wet May. If you look at the release schedules for albums you'll notice that record companies keep on changing the dates of new releases on a regular basis. I've also been playing tracks that were (supposedly) been released during 2020, but have only now reached me. Rather confusing! However these are the starting five, all of which have definitely been released during 2021, and present as diverse an approach to 'jazz' as it would be possible to find.

Emmet Cohen - Future stride.

It's based around a basic trio of drums (Kyle Poole), Bass ( Russel Hall) and Cohen himself on piano. Several of the tracks have trumpet Marquis Hill) and Melissa Aldana (Tenor sax). The tunes are a mixture of old (one from 1919 ) Rogers and hart and Duke Ellington and other are self composed. Stride is a piano style that requires a specific left hand technique, and Cohen finds many ways of adapting the style to the range of music that he's chosen. The album is full of variation and an enormous sense of fun, and his piano playing isn't the only time he occurs on this brief list. Highly recommended.

Nubiyan Twist - Freedom Fables.

A nine or ten pice band that have taken elelments of the jazz styles of the emergent London jazz scene and harnessed it a more afro centric kind of style, with a punchy horn section. They're going to be doing a huge tour later in the year, as well as playing at WOMAD. The album displays a range of facets of their playing from a track with Soweto Kinch together with a wide range of (guest?) vocalists. Actually it's really hard to pigeon hole their style, which is probably why it fits so well into 'The Edge of Jazz'

Shai Maestro - Human.

An Israeli pianist with a distinctive style, and a strong and cohesive Trio. There are a range of styles in his largely self composed album for ECM. The one cover is Duke Ellington's 'In a sentimental mood'. There are a range of tempo's and the recording quality is superb. What makes it even more impressive is the trumpet playing of Philip Dizack. His controlled tone suits the album superbly, and this is certainly the best recording of his work that I've heard. It's not an album to sit down and get into right away, but after many listens it's still giving me an increasing sense of satifaction and enjoyment.

Veronica Swift - This bitter earth.

Her fifth album - although she's only 24, and the second for Mack Avenue. The selection of songs are representative of a feminist view of the world through songs. . There's a basic trio backing her (Emmet Cohen makes his second appearance of this list) with a string quartet on some of the ttracks and a rather wonderful version of cCarole King's " He hit me (and it felt like a kiss)" which has a guitar accompanyment by Armand Hirsch. The choice is, to say the least, eclectic, but her voice is wonderful throughout.Worth seeking out.

Vijay Iyer - Uneasy.

I think this is the third Vijay Iyer album on ECM. I very much liked the lat one 'Far from over' but the trio on this new album is the strongest that he's recorded with. The very much in demand bass player Linda May Han Oh gives the set a very much fulller sound and the drummer Tyshawn Sorey uses the whole of what must be a very large kit to great effect. All but two of the tracks are Iyer originals, with a Cole Porter tune and one by Geri Allen to complete the set. Like the maestro album mentioned above the recording quality is amazing, and if you can afford it, think about splashing out on the vinyl version. Again, not an immediate album, but one that I've been playing more and more.

Friday, 19 March 2021

More jazzy thoughts - from a strange year.

 As everybody else is likely to have said "it's been a strange old year", not that, at the time of writing, we're by any means clear of the restrictions that we've endured for the last year. Nonetheless, after staying at home, and catching up on all the things that 'you always meant to do' (most of mine are still unfinished - though at the time of writing, two of them have been completed, whether to my complete satisfaction remains to be seen!)

Luckily, after several 'home recorded' shows I've finally got back into the studio and it's been a real relief to discover that it's all still working. Actually for my colleagues, when they back to work (hopefully around 29th March) they're going to find that they're on a learning curve because during the lockdown an entirely updated playout system has been installed. Any certainty that they might have had about finding cherished drop-ins or 'tuneage' on the system are going to need review because although a lot of what was on the old system is till there it's all been moved during the change-over. Thus I've been finding favourite things that I use during the shows have been scattered to odd corners of the system. In the most extreme case 11,645 places away from where it used to be. We will, of course be able to give instruction, although in the first place, and probably until late May, it'll have to be on a one-to-one basis. At this point I ought to thank Ian and Tom who worked through the lock-down (remotely!) to make the switch.

So far then, not a lot of jazz! For jazz musicians, and particularly at a local level it's been a really difficult year. One player who made a living from jazz and lives locally told me that his last 'live' gig was March 10th 2020. It's also evident that many tours have had to be re-arranged, often not just once or twice, but up to three times. Let's hope that when those tours take place they are well supported. This also had a strange effect on CD releases which have also in many cases had their release dates moved several times. At the time of writing I'm still waiting for four albums that should have appeared during February - but haven't! There also appears to have been problems with CD manufacture, which for the largest labels is now done, more likely than not, somewhere in Europe. I don't thank the UK's status change has helped with distribution!

Next time I'll write more specifically about some of the albums (old and new) that I've enjoyed, or in some cases rediscovered during 2021.

Stay safe!


Friday, 18 December 2020

 Top 10 of 2020 - five to one ( and one that nearly made it!)

To repeat the preface to ten to six, this list is about what I've enjoyed this year. It's got nothing to do with chart placings, other people's opinions, money paid over in bribes or, indeed to please other people. It clearly doesn't do that, since comments about part one have been about what I  had not included, although there was occasional agreement with at least one of my choices. You'll also discover that I've cheated in order to hide my indecision. Now read on....Never mind - here's the Top 5!

5. Donald Byrd and the Blackbyrds: The Jazz Funk Collection.

Robinsongs ( a part of the Cherry Red Organisation) don't release too many albums - but they tend to be crackers when they do. They only released two albums in 2020. This was one of them. It brought together tracks from a whole host of record companies that which charts the changes that took place when Donald Byrd moved from straight ahead jazz to jazz-funk fusion and then onto all the collaborations with the Blackbyrds. Not only are the choices well made, but the compilers also made sure to annotate properly what was happening thanks to an informative and well written set of notes by Charles Waring. It's a three CD set that repays repeated plays and to my ears does exactly what it set out to do. I haven't enjoyed a box set so much since the Hugh Masekela triple set. For 18 quid it's amazing value.

4. Alison Neale: Quietly there.


It's quite possible that choices 4 and 3 could appear here in different order - it was hard to choose between the two. Alison Neale plays beautifully on Alto sax, and the repertoire is incredibly diverse from Horace Silver  through Rogers and Hart and on to Cole Porter and on to the title track written by Johnny Mandel. What makes it extra special is the backing band, Dave Green on Bass and Steve Brown on drums, but especially Peter Bernstein on guitar who is both restrained and melodic, but above all bounces off Neale's sax playing in a most empathetic way. Credit too to Ubuntu Records who have maintained a steady stream of diverse and contrast in styles of music through this most difficult year.

3. Nubya Garcia: Source.

It sounds as though quite a lot of thought was put into the production of this album, and it appeared on a 'major' label, Concord. Garcia herself has been all over the media this year, but she can certainly cut it as a saxophone player, and is supported by a band that contains several of the top players in the emergent (or should that be 'emerged'' London jazz scene). Joe Armon- Jones is a great piano player in his own right, but his playing here is really empathetic throughout. However she's also made extensive used of Sheila Maurice (or Ms Maurice as she appears here) borrowed from Kokoroko, who avid listeners will know are a long time favourite of the presenter. She brings a trumpet/flugelhorn support on several tracks as well as adding vocals. All of this shouldn't detract from the fact that the compositions are excellent, the playing superb and you should certainly take time to listen to the extended title track - which we've played a couple of times on the show in its entirety.

2. Orlando Le Fleming: Romantic Funk; The unfamiliar.

Ignoring the fact that Orlando probably doesn't want to be reminded that he grew up in Exeter, went to school here and played cricket for Devon -or that one of the presenters on Phonic taught him! -this is a belting album. I've seen it described as 'high intensity fusion" but that barely begins to cover what emerges. Firstly he's a great Bass player, and secondly he has gathered around him and empathetic band, which includes Philip Dizak on trumpet and Will Vinson on Alto Sax. It's one of the very few albums that, on receipt, I played right the way through, and then played it again. Since then I've played it numerous times and have come to realise that if this is 'fusion', it has more too with the joining of two traditions, being British and living in America, and also not in the tradition as I saw in another review that it's like Weather Report. No, it's much more than that, and the title says it all. Hope there's another album soon.

Now the indecision that I mentioned in the preface.....
I've chosen two number ones. They are two albums that illustrate how far apart you can be in style and still call it jazz. So no apologies- here they are;

1=. Lionel Loueke: HH.

Don't know how Dave Stapleton of Edition Records managed to pick up on the album, but however it was this is high octane guitar playing in a unique style. All the tracks except two are Herbie Hancock tunes - Loueke currently plays in the Herbie Hancock band- but as an improviser Loueke does magical things on all the tracks. Forget the preconceptions that you may have about guitar albums, because these are virtuoso renditions of songs you might already know from the HH back catalogue. It sounds as though he had fun making it, which in lots of ways is credit enough, but included are noises made by the player, hums and times when it sounds more than just one guitar - I'd like to know more about the production methods. 

1.=. Kandace Springs: The women who raised me.

I've seen some criticism of this album which suggested that it was all too easy to hear the originals of the songs she performs on the album - but  this misses the point that she's interpreting them in the way that she heard them, rather than a copy of them. It's also striking for having a luminary backing band that seldom ever gets to 'stretch out ' Springs piano playing is often featured but it's only Chris Potter, the Sax player. who gets anything like solo time, although David Sanborn plays a lovely Alto Sax break on "I put a spell on you". The songs are from a plethora of sources, from Sade to Billie Holiday, through Duke Ellington to Roberta Flack. The breadth of what is being attempted here augurs well for whatever is to follow but it's an album that's been played constantly since I first received it. It also illustrates my stated dilemma. How can you separate two albums that are sonically far apart but linked by an enduring tradition of jazz? 

The one that got away;

Spanish Harlem Orchestra: The Latin Jazz project.

I was alerted to this by a review in the Financial Times by Mike Hobart. It's not available in shops and is part of the Artist Share label that brought me the latest Patricia Barber album last year. I applaud the endeavour, since the Artists are not seeing their money dissipated by the paying of agents, promoters and record companies. If you go on line and look up Artist Share you can find out more about how it works and how you can support a wide range of schemes. The album is a joyous rampage through big band arrangements by top session musicians or a range of various Latin tunes, and is highly recommended for both the music and the concept.

Finally 2020 has been an awful year for jazz musicians, especially in the area where I live, where gigs have been sparse, and cancellations the most notable feature for much of the year. It seems imperative that wherever you live supporting live jazz in 2021 is an imperative.


Friday, 11 December 2020

2020 Top 10 - ten to six.

Firstly, the annual reminder. These albums have got nothing at all to do with sales, other chart placing or money received as payola. They're the albums that have given me the most pleasure during the course of this very strange year, so it's an esoteric mix, for which I make no apology. It's (if you like) the equivalent of being asked to pick your "Desert Island Discs" on an annual basis. Anyway, there aren't any rules apart from the ones that I make up, so this year it includes an album that was recorded a long time ago, but appeared in public for the first time this year. Five to One will follow!

 10. Michel Benita: Looking at sounds.

As with many ECM releases you get very little information from the sleeve notes. Benita himself is Algerian, and he's based in Paris, so I would guess that the other musicians are French. He's featured in several other albums that I've liked, and recorded with Erik Truffaz and Nguyen Le, whose album I lauded last year. This album is for the main part very reflective, and the Flugelhorn Player Matthieu Michel adds his own style to the whole album. This is not an album which will allow you dance (except perhaps very slowly) but it's a wonderful example of reflective European Jazz in 2020.

9. Various Artists: Blue Note Re-imagined.

Tricky one this! Several of the tracks were pre-released and indeed several of the tracks are essential listening, but over 16 tracks there are only four or five that fall into that category. In the main they (for me) tend to be the artists who have had wider recognition in the proto jazz scene, and there are a couple of tracks that are very pale versions of the originals - for they are all tracks that have been recorded by other Blue Note artists. It's probably best for you to sort out for yourselves the tracks that you like, and then work out which ones I liked! My other disappointment was that there was so little information included within the package about the original tracks. When Blue Note re-released their re-mastered CD's in the late 90's they had an informative look at the original album and then added a more considered view. Pity they didn't do that for this package.

8. Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto.

I only got to see Thelonious Monk play once (yeah, I'm that old!) and it seemed at the time that the Quartet playing live suited Monk much better than in a more formal setting. That's why this album, recorded October 27th 1968 is such a delight because the band stretches out as they did and seldom were allowed to do in the recording studio. Quite why the Janitor recorded the session beggars belief, but the quality, apart from one or two blurs is amazing - and the band and Monk sound as though they really enjoyed it. The story behind the album is worth checking out, but so is the album. Incidentally I got my copies before the Monk Estate threatened legal action which delayed it's eventual release. By then I'd played most of the tracks on the show!

7. Benjamin Boone and the Ghana Jazz Collective: Joy

Can't remember who suggested this to me - but thanks! Strangely, Benjamin Boone was known to me because of his Classical music releases. he's a Professor at UC Fresno, but also went to Ghana as a Fulbright Scholar 2017 to 2018. It's there that he recorded this rather joyous slice of Afro- American jazz. At a guess they went into the studio with only the vaguest idea of what they wanted to produce and spent the time bouncing ideas off the 5 musicians and vocalist that were involved. Boone plays alto and soprano sax, and the rest of the band is tenor sax, keyboards, bass and drums. The titles vary from an excellent version of Herbie Hancock's 'Maiden voyage' through more cerebral stuff to '233 jazz bar' which is a joyous free for all vamp. Highly recommended.

6. Django Bates: Tenacity.

Recorded with his own trio, and the Norbotten Big Band. It's a mixture of self composed material and Charlie Parker tunes. It took me quite a long time to really get into the music that's on the CD, which Bates himself admits in the sleeve notes requires 'Tenacity' hence the title of the album. The Parker tunes present a different sound to the original sound of Parker himself so listeners might like to start with 'Confirmation' which to me is about as far away from the original as its possible to get. There are two commissioned tracks on the album with "We are not lost we are simply finding our way' being for Radio 3 and the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. As ever, Bates is pushing forward the boundaries of what can be described as 'jazz'

Part Two to follow, with choices from five to one, and a couple of tracks that nearly made the cut (but eventually didn't!)
 
 

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 www.exedab.com 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.