Dylan Howe’s 2014 set, Subterraneans: New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin was my first downwithit.info contemporary album of the year. He is playing on London’s Southbank on Sunday 8th February 2015. If you are quick, there are still a few tickets to be had (as of Monday).
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!
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.
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.
And the first downwithit.info Contemporary Set Of The Year 2014 is…
…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.
Regular visitors may recall that I’ve been taking a look at a new recording each month. In late July my attention turned to Dylan Howe’s interesting reinvestigations of David Bowie’s late 1970’s Berlin instrumental tracks. You can read about Subterranean: New Designs On Bowies Berlinhere. To summarise, I enjoyed the album massively.
I was delighted to discover that Howe intended to play this set live in its entirety on a UK tour. Even better, Andy Sheppard would be be taking care of saxophone duties.
The London gig was in King’s Cross at the newish King’s Place concert halls. A stylish setting amidst London’s latest district of architectural rejuvination and, somehow an apt place to hear Howe’s respectful jazz take on David Bowie and Eno’s compositions.
The band seemed very comfortable together and presented us with a faithful live reproduction of the recorded set. This was ideal and probably what most audiences would hope to hear at this stage, as there will be time enough for these arrangements to offer soloing space, if that is what Dylan Howe would eventually like to do with them. What we’ve currently got is a solid and, at times, very beautiful rendition of the recording and something that Howe deserves to be very proud of. However, there is still ample space for the live versions to develop to fully realise and release Howe’s aspiration of ‘John Coltrane meets David Bowie, recorded in outer space’.
Old School synthesiser passages are at the heart of many of these pieces and they were deftly delivered by Steve Lodder. Dave Whitford’s double bass added its deep natural-sounding gravitas, while Ross Stanley’s piano playing was as polished as the resident Steinway grand demanded. Dylan Howe’s drumming was subtle and fascinating to watch and hear. Andy Sheppard’s soprano on the the third number (All Saints, unless I’m mistaken) was my personal highlight amidst a very strong performance.
Bowie has, himself, given Dylan Howe’s album the thumbs up and it’s great to see the set and the tour gathering very positive reviews. As somebody who initially struggled with the instrumental side of Low, I never thought I would be still listening to and enjoying these pieces over 25 years later.
Congratulations to all involved with this interesting and imaginative musical resetting of these jewels. This performance deserves and will receive a rating of 9/10 on the downwithit.info live music index. As for me, to steal from and alter a Bowie title (cos, after all, Bowie is a self-declared magpie) I’ll continue to Watch This Man. Thanks Dylan.
It was my birthday the other week and I requested a copy of Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards- A Guide to The Repertoire. It is an excellent reference book and one that I will dip into with regularity.
In his introduction Gioia considers why he has felt unable to include very few recent compositions amongst the 250 plus tunes that he identifies for his opus. He concludes that: “The jazz repertoire is not as fluid as it once was and the same process of codification that has resulted in works such as The Real Book (a compendium of sheet music for widely recognised jazz tunes, or ‘heads’ as they are known in the trade) has also made it difficult for newer songs to enter the standard repertoire.”
I don’t suppose I’m alone in experiencing irritation when a classic 50’s or 60’s jazz album moves from a track that really has something to say to yet another hoary Broadway number (thank heavens John Coltrane never got round to recording a version of You’ll Never Walk Alone!). Occasionally a jazz artist will have a go with a modern popular song but mostly they draw on the standards.
So, I was intrigued when I read of Dylan Howe’s recording of tunes from David Bowie’s Berlin period. It was a nailed down certainty for my latest look at a contemporary jazz set.
I can remember listening to Low, fresh from the shops and in the possession of a mate who is the biggest Bowie fan I’ve ever met. The songs were great but it was the instrumentals on Side 2 that were so incredibly refreshing and different. There was a stark bleak beauty to them and we dived fathoms deep as we pondered their significance next to Buzzcocks, The Pistols and The Clash. There was a further selection of instrumentals on Heroes, while Lodger was a part of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, but is sadly, short on instrumental pieces.
This recording was a labour of love for Howe and he raised the money to undertake his project through a Kickstarter crowdfunding effort, which you can read about here.
So to the music. I’ve followed the song title with Bowie album that the original appeared on.
The album opens with Subterraneans (Low) and it is immediately apparent that this is going to be an exceptional recording, initially with Mark Hodgson’s wonderfully rendered double bass to the fore before Ross Stanley adds piano to the underlying layer of syths. Weeping Wall (Low) is as bleak and dolorous as the original before a tasteful piano solo that eases and offers hope, followed by a percussive break that reintroduces tension.
All Saints was a bonus track that did not appear on the original release of Low. This one is like Bowie meets the great quartet of John Coltrane. Julian Siegal and Brandon Allen’s saxophone work is exemplary, with Allen taking the solos. Some Are was recorded by Bowie during the Low sessions but didn’t make the cut for the original album either. It is another minor key piece with a subdued regal feel to it. The saxophonists join in at the midpoint.
The first of two takes on NeuKoln, NeuKoln- Night (Heroes) is next up and takes me in my imagination to the centre of a scurrying and bustling city centre that is unfamiliar and slightly menacing, where there may be danger down those side streets.
Art Decade (Low) seems to convey a sense of ennui and loss. In its long fade out it moves towards a meditative state of calm. Warszawa (Low) could be used as a soundtrack for a film of the aftermath of some destructive action until it takes on a jauntiness and swings out, bringing hope where Bowie left us with none.
Neukoln- Day (Heroes) is lighter than its cousin but it still conjures up an image of a grey, drizzly day, while Moss Garden (Heroes), ever a track I’ve returned to listen to, has obvious attractions for a drummer/percussionist and features Dylan Howe’s famous dad on koto, which is a stringed dulcimer-like instrument.
I’ve enjoyed repeated listens to Subterranean and recommend it strongly. I’m hoping that in due course, the Bowie fan I referred to above may give us a second opinion (I’ve sent him a copy).
Dylan Howe is presenting a series of performances in the UK in September featuring the great Andy Sheppard on tenor saxophone, so you are likely to get my opinion on how this comes over live, in a while.
The following short promo gives a flavour of some of the tracks and publicises the tour. To watch, click or touch the arrow.
The band etc: Dylan Howe (drums); Mark Hodgson (double bass); Ross Stanley (piano, synths); Julienne Siegal (saxophone); Brandon Allen (saxophone); Nick Pini (double bass: Neukoln night & day); Adrian Utley (guitar: Warazawa); Steve Howe (koto- Moss Garden). Released 2014. Recorded: Eastcote Studio, Motorik Studios, Pipe Dream Studios. Produced and Directed: Dylan Howe. Graphic Design: Sleeve photos Zoe Howe, Dylan Howe, Victoria Harley. Issued as Motorik MR1004