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.



Friday, 23 August 2019

I forgot that I'd be on holiday when I promised to go and see Byron Wallen play at Ashburton Arts Centre with the Blue Vanguard House Trio. So I made the 150ish mile round trip from where I was staying in Studland, Dorset to  see and hear the gig. It was certainly worth it, and there was a good audience to take it all in. More of this later.
  Because the A30/A35/A38 trip is notoriously difficult to judge because of traffic flow I allowed myself plenty of time and managed to arrive about half an hour early. It actually gave me time to talk to the man sitting next to me. What he had to say was, I thought, quite thought provoking. He moved down from south west London about a year ago - he described it as "a lifestyle change" and one that he had welcomed. He'd bought a motor bike the better to relive all those early extinguished dreams of early twenty something or others. He then went on to tell me how much better his cultural life was in Devon than it had been for the last years of his time in London. I was slightly astounded by this assertion, but when he went on to explain why, it made me realise that we tend to take what goes on around us in Devon, rather for granted.
 He pointed out that since he moved he's seen more jazz, and usually of an excellent quality than he managed during his time in London. He'd been to see jazz in Torquay, Exeter, Crediton, Calstock and even a trip to North Devon Jazz at Appledore. He pointed out that the cost of seeing excellent quality performances was usually at least half of what it would cost in London, and also pointed out that at Ashburton Arts a flexible payment regime meant that you take a six pound punt on going to see something that you had doubts about, and he would (if he liked the performance!) pay more on the way out. He also though that the mixed age audience range that most of the venues attracted was a distinct advantage since many of the gigs that he attended in later years in London had tended to have audiences who sat back and almost challenged the performers with a "Go on then, entertain me " attitude that he hadn't found in Devon.
   It was an interesting conversation, and one I hope to extend and build upon next time he and I meet (presumably at Ashburton!)
The gig was all I hoped it would be. It helped that the Blue Vanguard Trio are so well rehearsed and empathetic to each others styles. Craig Milverton is an excellent pianist - don't suppose he would much like to be reminded that I first saw him play as a 17/18 year old with Junkyard Angels an Exeter based blues outfit - he's certainly developed and refined his technique since then. Byron Wallen went through the full range of his repertoire with some of his own material alongside that of Thelonious Monk, Clifford Davis and Charlie Parker. He also visibly relaxed into the gig and told some anecdotes and stories about some of the influences on his writing and playing. I hope that when (if?) the Jean Toussaint Band tour again that they'll come to Ashburton, hopefully this time as a sextet- Dennis Rollins missed the Ashburton gig last time round.
  Incidentally, Byron will also feature on the forthcoming Emily Saunders album, and therein  lies another whole story which will wait for a future airing.

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 badly...it 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.