Category Archives: British Jazz

Simon Spillett, Ted Beament, Simon Thorpe & Clive Fenner: Live at East Side Jazz Club: 12 July 2016

Simon Spillett 120716

Simon Spillett has been on my ‘to hear list’ of tenor saxophonists for a while now and the East Side Jazz Club offered an opportunity to catch up with him. Tubby Hayes has been a particular influence on his playing and last night’s set was largely made up of tunes that Hayes had covered. Opening with a lively Royal Ascot, the set moved through Like Someone in Love and Alone Together through to Miles Davis’ Vierd Blues, Polkadots and Moonbeams and The Theme.

Spillett’s playing combined fluent dexterity with fleeting references to a veritable history of jazz riffs and it was good to hear fine controlled mainstream soloing. Simon Thorpe, last seen a couple of weeks ago at the same venue with Vasilis Xenopoulis had gigged with Spillett in the previous week. The live sound from his double bass was a joy to listen to and his solos and runs added to the programme, rather than merely filling it out. I don’t think I’ve encountered Bob Beament’s piano before but he impressed on East Side’s trusty upright, combining delicate softly played single notes with great percussive chords and leading this non-pianist to ponder the mysteries of effective pedal work. The guests excelled, as did Clive Fenner on drums, who was given more space than usual with plenty of ‘fours’ and longer fills afforded by Spillett’s benign leadership. Spillett told us that Beament had last played at East Side 18 years ago and it never ceases to astound how four musicians can meet up without rehearsal and deliver such an engaging performance. That’s the essence of what good professional live jazz is about, I guess.

The second set featured There is No Greater Love, Misty, It Could Happen To You and Caravan, before Beament and Spillett produced Blue Monk, which was of particular interest as I am currently reading Robin D.G. Kelley’s excellent ‘Thelonious Monk: The life and times of an American Original’.

Throughout the performance Spillett interspersed the music with tales that displayed a wry, self-deprecating sense of humour and I look forward to reading his acclaimed recent book on Tubby Hayes when funds allow.

The East Side Jazz Club is closed until 20 September 2016 but downwithit will be back there in the autumn to catch a selection of the consistently high standard performances.

By using the search box at the top of this page you will be able to look at content from over 140 separate posts for views and reviews of work by numerous modern jazz artists.

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Same As You: Polar Bear

Polar Bear Same As You

The latest Polar Bear album has been out for about a month now and it was to have been my contemporary album of the month for April but other demands on my time conspired against reviewing it until now. It’s even more accessible than last year’s In Each And Every One and I have enjoyed listening to it, both at home and on the bus and tube to work, where it has enlivened my trip through London Bridge.

Life, Love and Light Is an invocation which gets things underway. It wouldn’t be out of place on a Pharoah Sanders Impulse set and it is a meditation designed to set up a train of thought and take you somewhere else.

We Feel The Echoes moves things along. I like it but the backing beats feel somehow independent from the the gentle meditative saxophone improvisations. The track has a sense of calm, despite the pacy percussion. It is restorative music offering a chance to slow down your heart rate and let your mind go where it will.

The First Steps has a driving beat underlying it as a horn player contributes a simple phrase.

Of Hi Lands would not be out of place on an ECM album, which probably isn’t surprising as Seb Rochford recently worked on Andy Sheppards ECM debut Surrounded By Sea. The introduction is followed by a sax led, beat driven track which is how I would imagine may be like waking up while on some sort of bespoke safari to a place where unfamiliar sounds surround.

Don’t Let The Feeling Go includes vocals from Hannah Darling and Gar Robertson, while while Shabaka Hutchings makes an appearance on tenor saxophone. The track has a great and relentless bass line which is reminiscent of dub reggae and reminded a second set of ears of a visit to Morocco. You can take a listen courtesy of YouTube:-

To play touch or click on the arrow

Unrelenting, Unconditional is a long meditative track and is definitely in ECM meets Augustus Pablo territory. Once more there is an Eastern feel here, or maybe it is the influence of the high Californian desert where Seb Rochford mixed this album. There’s an enjoyable piece of solo percussion before we have a reprise of the Don’t Let The Feeling Go vocals to close.

So Polar Bear have produced another set which oozes atmosphere. Indeed, when it gets heard by the people who seek out and source engaging yet somehow brooding background music for TV there is likely to be a regular stream of royalty payments.

I hope to catch Polar Bear live in the not too distant future and if I do I’ll tell you about it here at downwithit.info

The band etc: Mark Lockheart (tenor saxophone); Pete Wareham (tenor saxophone); Tom Herbert (bass); Leafcutter John (electronics); Sebastian Rochford (drums). Written and Produced by Sebastian Rochford. Recorded by Sonny at Assault and Battery Studios, London. Artwork: Sanchita Islam. Released on The Laef Label. April 2015. Website: www.polarbearmusic.com

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Pocket Compass: Trish Clowes

Trish Clowes Pocket Compass cover

Just when I was wondering which CD to select as my March contemporary review, I received a copy of this offering from this young British saxophonist. It fits the bill perfectly- although it has been out since November 2014, so I’m not writing about the newest of new releases for you here today.

The set features three tracks recorded with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a further five from a quintet session. Since the quintet tracks were recorded exactly a year ago and this (4th March 2015) is the first birthday for some of them, I have no excuse other than to listen and enjoy immediately.

This is Trish Clowes third album and it is a work which exudes confidence and maturity, with all of the tracks being self-written and arranged. It is adventurous without losing sight of being melodious so let’s have a run through the tracks.

Radiation is the first of the three collaborations with the Concert Orchestra. Starting out with a rich and plaintiff saxophone phrase over a lush orchestral arrangement the tempo first speeds and then alternates featuring great dialogue between guitar, piano, sax and orchestra.

Question Mark is a tone poem that has a decidedly modern feel to it.

Porcupine is jangly and angular without being extreme, culminating in an interesting extended tenor solo from Clowes, which leads into a hard bop accompaniment from the rhythm section

Symphony In Yellow was inspired by an Oscar Wilde poem. The piano playing from Gwilym Simcock is particularly deft and sensitive and Chris Montague paves the way for a short lyrical interlude from Trish Clowes leading to a finale

The BBC Concert Orchestra is back for Balloon, which features the oboe of Lauren Weavers and more fine electric guitar from Montague.

Pfeiffer and the Whales was inspired by a trip that Clowes made to Monterey and Big Sur in California. It is enormously relaxing- the very sort of piece to accompany a short morning meditation for those that are into that, apparently very rewarding, sort of thing. Great stuff.

Wayne’s Waltz is dedicated to Wayne Shorter, following a meeting between the saxophone giant and Clowes. The soprano sax and piano enjoy an exchange before the voice of Calum Gourlay’s bass is heard. This track is currently available on YouTube and you can take a look here:-

To listen click or touch the arrow.

Chorale reunites Clowes with the orchestra. She explains in her brief but informative sleeve notes that she encouraged them to improvise over two chords on this piece, which strikes me as capturing a certain sophisticated London Jazz sound. It is very enjoyable.

The recorded sound is excellent and the production by Curtis Schwartz and Neil Varley (orchestral tracks) captures the instrumentation to fine effect. Two of photographs by Kira Doherty were taken on an atmospheric reach of the Thames in a bit of South-East London that I know really well, but which is getting built up really quickly. An unexpected bonus from this review is the encouragement for me to don my running shoes and get out there again very soon.

Thanks to my industry contact Christine for the review copy of this complex yet accessible set and for introducing me to this great young British talent. She informed me that she had enjoyed a recent performance by ‘…this charming saxophonist’ in London last week. If Chris enjoyed the show that’s a good enough recommendation for me!

The band etc: Trish Clowes (tenor & soprano saxophone); Gwilym Simcock (piano); Chris Montague (electric guitar); Calum Gourlay (double bass); James Maddren (drums). Small band tracks recorded at Curtis Schwartz Studios, W. Sussex on 3 & 4 March 2014. Radiation, Balloon and Chorale recorded at Air Studios, London on 22 January 2014. Produced by Curtis Schwartz and Neil Varley (orchestral tracks). Mixing and mastering by Curtis Schwartz. Photography: Kira Doherty. Issued on Basho Records, SRCD 45-2. November 2014.

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downwithit.info: Jazz Gigs of The Year 2014

One of my New Year resolutions at the start of 2014 was to get myself out rather more to catch live Jazz performances. As the year ends it is time to take stock of what I saw and where I went.

A deep benchmark was engraved in February when legendary funk masters, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley played at Ronnie Scott’s. Their performance was commented on here and I rated them with an 8/10. I was expecting a deep disappointment when they introduced a female vocalist- so many promise much, but deliver nothing. In this case my lack of faith was exposed and confounded. Robin McKelle was superb and is a real talent to catch (if she ever plays any where else other than France).

2014 was the year when I made my first visit to East Side Jazz Club in Leytonstone. Denys Baptiste featured one May evening and I was there to enjoy the first of six visits this summer.

I was assured that I would enjoy Gilad Atzmon and they were right. His powerful and intense soloing merited my second 8/10 rating of 2014. There were times when I that he was going to blow his alto sax apart, such is the forcefulness that he has on tap.

Another saxophonist also merited an 8/10 the ESJC. I’ve always harboured a strong mistrust of sax players who play several instruments from Adolphe Sax’s brood. They are usually adequate on one and dire on the rest. Derek Nash made me review that particular prejudice (Gilad Atzmon is a fine multi-reedsman too). Playing with the Letonstone R & B Allstars in an end of Summer season spectacular, I enjoyed his showmanship and that of the rest of a band which also featured Geoff Gascoyne on bass.

In addition to playing several members of the sax family, Derek Nash also fronts several bands, which he uses to showcase different repertoires. Following up on a gig he publicised on Twitter took me to a bar called The Water Margin at the 02 (Dome) in Greenwich in late July. I suppose all musicians have performed before small audiences, but that night saw Nash and his jazz funk outfit, Protect The Beat open to no more than three friends of the band and five civilians, myself included. After some deliberation amongst the band about whether to play or not, pure professionalism kicked in and the result was a performance which rated a rare 9/10. Nash is a very entertaining frontman and his joy encouraged his band mates to excel. Particular mention should be given to guitarist Dave Ital and drummer Darby Todd, but the whole show saw great musicians triumphing over a sadly meagre audience.

My home town of Macclesfield hosts a summer arts festival, which is growing year on year and it was there that I attended a rendition of Under Milk Wood, which was another memorable evening. On the same weekend I also saw a re-creation of A Love Supreme on London’s Southbank.

Unexpectedly, and for no particular reason, a hectic summer of gig-going gave way to an autumn in which I only got to three live Jazz performances. Dylan Howe merited the second of my two 9/10 ratings this year, while I was disappointed by Abdullah Ibrahim at London Jazz Festival, and Steve Wiiliamson‘s long overdue return to leading a band also gave me the opportunity to visit Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho for the first of what I hope will be many visits.

All in all I went to 14 jazz gigs, none of which rated lower than 6/10. Out of these, the downwithit gig of the Year 2014 was:-

Derek Nash and Protect The Beat at The Water Margin, for a triumph of brilliant professionalism against the odds.

Well done Derek and here’s to getting out and about again in 2015, with seeing another performance by Pharaoh Sanders as my New Year’s wish. Hope I will have lots to tell you about this time next year!

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downwithit.info Contemporary Set of The Year 2014

Occasionally, opinionated people come out with ill-formed assertions. They say: ‘Jazz is dead’, or ‘There’s nothing new to hear’. The downwithit.info party line on this is that they are not trying hard enough. They might be too scared or blinkered but one way or another they need to do a bit of work and, at the very least test their opinion against the market. That’s what I did this year, after listening to an excellent recent set from 2012 by RipRap, and I’m delighted to present our first album of the year, from a truncated crop of eight new sets.

These are the new recordings I wrote about. Each of them was issued in 2014 for the first time and all were recorded, either this year or in 2013. You can visit my review by clicking on the red titles.

Robin McKelle- Heart Of Memphis. March 2014. The only vocal set in this list- but what a wonderful soul voice she has. She has been concentrating on the French market in 2014 and I hope we will get to see her in London again sometime soon.

Polar Bear- In Each And Every One. May 2014. Electronica infused jazz. A brave set, justifiably on the Mercury Awards list.

Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard. June 2014. This trio led by guitar virtuoso Ribot go intense and free on a set featuring Coltrane and Albert Ayler tunes, but with a couple of ballads as respite.

Dylan Howe- Subterranean, New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin. July 2014. A labour of love brought to us via Kickstarter crowdfunding. Bowie’s instrumentals sound wonderful in this context. An unrushed, wonderfully executed set featuring some excellent musicianship and arrangements.

Blacktop- #One. August 2014. Disappointing Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas project featuring Steve Williamson on sax. Hopefully there’s better to come from this source next year.

Pharaoh Sanders- Spiral Mercury. October 2014 (1). More of an ensemble piece than an album dominated by Pharoah but it brought a taste of a hot night in Lisbon and is worth seeking out if you like this great saxophonist.

GoGo Penguin- V2.0 October 2014 (2). A light piano led set which was also on the Mercury shortlist but was slighter and less adventurous than Polar Bear.

Neil Cowley Trio- Touch And Flee. November 2014. Enjoyable piano trio- a good listen from a band to watch, with even better things expected.

And the first downwithit.info Contemporary Set Of The Year 2014 is…

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…Dylan Howe- Subterranean.

If I could only grab two others from a burning room they would be-
Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard
And
Polar Bear- In Each And Every One

I’m delighted with this crop of releases from artists, many of whom were new to me at the start of 2014.

Before Christmas 2014, I will be looking back over the older sets that I’ve brought to you this year in an on the shoulders of giants / dead Jazzer’s shoes posting. I’ll also be reflecting on the handful of gigs that I’ve attended- not such a bad list, come to think of it! In the meantime, why not use the comments section to tell us about your new album of the year, especially if it is one of the many that I’ve overlooked.

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Byron Wallen live at East Side Jazz Club. 1st July 2014

East Side Jazz Club hosted yet another attractive gig as part of the weekly series at Tommy Flynn’s on Leytonstone High Road. Byron Wallen was featured but before I saw him I had to take care of the inner man as I was hungry. Thankfully the pub serves food downstairs (I’m glad it’s not available in the music room) and I was tempted by their very good battered cod, served in a huge portion with a freshly dressed salad and some proper chips. The new landlord is carrying on with a good menu and I’ll be eating here again.

After that I caught the end of the first set from Byron Wallen (trumpet) Simon Purcell (piano), Gary Crosby (bass) and ever-present Clive Fenner (drums). Bye Bye Blackbird, brought to mind the version on Miles Davis’s In Person Live At The Blackhawk, which was followed by a good solid rendition of Blue Monk.

Several days after the gig and the initial posting of this piece I realised that Byron Wallen opened the Meltdown performance of A Love Supreme with a Tibetan Horn and a fine trumpet and bass duet which you can read about here.

During the interval, on the big screen in the downstairs bar, the Belgium v USA World Cup match was heating up, but when the musicians returned, the fare upstairs was even better. The second set opened with a second Thelonious Monk composition, I Mean You, with each of the performers given space to express themselves. Indeed it was a very open and welcoming bandstand with Alexandra (surname awaited) guesting on alto saxophone on Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee.

I am fond of On Green Dolphin Street, when it is played well, as was the case tonight. There was even more of a treat when Cuban, Yelfris Valdes was invited to join in on a second trumpet. Byron’s playing had been very good up to that point but the addition of another excellent horn player pushed him on even further. His remarkable willingness to share the spotlight with such a talented exponent of the same instrument spoke volumes about Wallen’s great self-confidence and it leads me to ask you, the readership…

A question!

…Can you recall and inform us of any instances of Miles Davis allowing another trumpeter to play alongside him in an equal role? I know the famous story about Wynton Marsalis being told where he could go to when he attempted to take to the stage that Miles was ruling. There’s lots of space for comments here at downwithit, so don’t be shy.

Afterword: There’s a picture of Miles and Dizzy Gillespie playing together here-although I assume that Miles was the guest on that session.

Caravan was a tour de force with both leads trading ideas and alto player, Alexandra, growing in confidence with every note. Sadly though the clock turned and it was time for the closing number, the Billie Holiday ballad, You Don’t Know What Love Is.

This was another memorable visit to East Side Jazz Club, which was rounded off with a final, non-musical treat as I watched the captivating extra-time conclusion to the Belgium v USA game.

A further 7/10 performance rating is merited and somehow I expect that we won’t see many months pass without having witnessed Yelfris Valdes as featured artist at ESJC. For those of you that can’t wait there’s a small taste on YouTube:

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Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood: Live: Macclesfield Barnaby Big Weekend 21 June 2014

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There used to be trouble at ‘t mill in my home town of Macclesfield until the workers sorted the bosses out.

If my memory serves me, the story goes something like this: Once upon a time, in a town not known for militancy, a great day dawned, when a group of silk mill workers decided that they would act to improve their conditions. It being Macc, they didn’t strike. They took a self-selected holiday instead and then held a procession around the local mills to invite fellow workers to join them. Much fun was then had by all (except perhaps the mill-owners, who lost a day’s productivity and were forced to re-think about how to keep their wage-slaves happy). A great idea, in my opinion- should be more of it going on!

Subsequently, and not directly as a consequence of the above, the silk mills closed for annual overhaul for a wakes week during the early summer. This coincided with the feast of St Barnabas and the town’s annual holiday, known as Barnaby, started.

When I was growing up, Macclesfield more or less closed down for the week. Then, the following week the local papers carried pictures of groups of people leaving for the seaside and, increasingly as the 1970’s unfolded, for European package holidays. These days that week of calm peacefulness, in an empty town, which seemed so boring when I was young, has long gone. Gone away with the working mills, I suppose. However, about five years ago some visionary individuals started an arts festival and that is where downwithit will be tonight.

In the late afternoon, I was very lucky to get into the performance of Acid (House) Brass given by The Williams Fairey Brass Band. The venue, Christ Church in Macc was built by a mill owner who fell out with the local vicar. What did he do next? He built his own bigger, better church down the road (or, once again, I may be making that up- which doesn’t matter, because the Macclesfield Fibbing (lying) Competition is also taking place tonight.

Anyhow, the performance featured the award winning Fairey Brass Band playing rave flavours by KLF, 808 State and others. It was splendid to see over 30 musicians blowing a hurricane and entertaining the capacity crowd. What might Monk and Miles have thought? Don’t know, but I think they would have enjoyed themselves.

There’s a performance of Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood and I’m going.

I’ll write about it for you later, but in the meantime, here’s a taster from YouTube. Starless and bible black has to be one of the richest and most evocative descriptions of a dark night in the British language, well done Dylan Thomas (who probably, as a proud Welshman, wouldn’t have allowed me to say English language).

To play, click on or touch the arrow.

And so, onto the performance, for that, indeed, was what it was. I’m not familiar with Stan Tracey’s interpretations of Under Milk Wood, but I have a passing knowledge of the work by Dylan Thomas that inspired it. I need not have worried because what I witnessed was an excellent introduction to both, since the music was accompanied and preceded by narrative and the poem itself. Caroline Berry and Phylip Harries, two fine actors, took the speaking roles.

It has been suggested that Stan Tracey worked on the idea of a suite based on Under Milk Wood on his small hours night bus journeys home to Streatham, from his job as resident pianist at Ronnie Scott’s. That would have given him plenty of time to think about the parallels with Thomas’ Llareggub and it’s residents rehearsing their life’s concerns in their dreams.

I was expecting the musical suite to be far more impressionistic and evocative. So I was surprised that it was no more, or less than, well-crafted though conventional early sixties jazz. Hard bop, a couple of slower ballads and all with a tenuous link to the words and feelings they were linked to in the composer’s mind. The performance and the quartet led by pianist Richard Roberts was captivating and the experience merited a rating of 7/10. The music was superior mid-60’s jazz, but it has very little to do, in my mind, with a tiny Welsh seaside village. I’m not the first to have experienced this and won’t be the last to comment on the ill-matched marriage where both elements have their own strengths but don’t sit together particularly well. However, perhaps there are some who think differently about the piece?

The venue for this performance was Macclesfield’s Parish Church (the rival to the one where The Fairey Brass Band appeared). I’d never been in there before and was impressed by the acoustics, and historic tombs, which provided a suitable backdrop for a piece that captures the unconscious dramas set in the depths of the night.

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