Category Archives: Live performance

Vasilis Xenopoulos, Nigel Price, Simon Thorpe & Clive Fenner: Live at East Side Jazz Club: 28 June 2016

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At the end of June 2016 disappointment holds sway, from the ballot box to the football field and Tuesday night saw me heading off to Leytonstone for some respite at the East Side Jazz Club. It is amazing how time flies and it is probably over 12 months since my last visit. Indeed it was my first visit to the new venue (Leytonstone and District Ex-Servicemen’s Club) with its floral kitsch stage dressing providing an unexpected splash of colour.

I was drawn by Vasilis Xenopoulos, a Greek tenor saxophonist and graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music. He shared the stage with guitar and bass stalwarts, Nigel Price and Simon Thorpe with the ever-present Clive Fenner on drum and MC duties.

Xenopoulis immediately won the audience over with his engaging personality before slowly revealing his excellent command of his instrument throughout a set which was made up of mainstream standards such as I Remember You, Autumn Leaves, Witchcraft and Imagination. I was equally impressed by the inventive guitar work of Nigel Price, whose schedule of forthcoming gigs confirms the the ex- James Taylor Quartet member is massively in demand. I have a weakness for good jazz guitar and was delighted when the third number of the set, Grant Green’s Mambo Inn was introduced.

East Side always have a raffle during the interval and one of this week’s prizes was a CD copy of Oliver Nelson’s Blues And The Abstract Truth. Such was the versatility of this outfit that Vasilis was able to call Stolen Moments, one of the highpoints of the recording, seemingly on the spur of the moment, with the band delivering a solid version. Also of particular note was Nigel Price’s mash-up of Monk and Charlie Parker on Straight No Bounce which was an unlikely but excellent melding of Billie’s Bounce and Straight No Chaser.

Throughout the show, Simon Thorpe and Clive Fenner provided a rock-solid foundation and were able to show what they are capable of through their own short solos.

All in all, another fine night at East Side Jazz Club, where you are assured a warm welcome every week and which is well worth a visit (although they will be taking their summer break after 12 July through to 20 September). Indeed, next week’s annual visit by Derek Nash and the East Side R & B Band is highly recommended and a review from 2014 is here.

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Marc Ribot live at Cafe Oto: 28 April 2016

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(A2 screenprint sold via Cafe Oto- see link below. Permission granted for use here).

Marc Ribot is a brilliant guitarist and composer, whose last two releases have been reviewed here at downwithit, most recently, in March 2016, when I looked at his Young Philadelphians project (which you can read about here).

The diverse musical interests of this artist have resulted in him having an extensive and wide-ranging back catalogue of recordings. These include film scores; free-jazz; classical guitar; New York avant-garde; Cuban; funk and session work with an impressive list of artists. I was looking forward to this show, which was the first of two at this London venue but I was curious and indeed slightly apprehensive about what aspects of his repertoire would be featured.

This was my first visit to Cafe Oto which is located a couple of hundred metres from Dalston Junction Overground Station in a street that shows signs of recent changes of use from commercial to residential and entertainment and which now hosts a theatre and a couple of interesting bars, including Cafe Oto. The venue concentrates on cutting-edge music that is rarely heard elsewhere. My fellow audience members were an older, urban crowd drawn from the thoughtful and knowledgable segment of concertgoers. Conversations around me in the long line outside the club centered on gallery openings and other arts related matters and I felt confident that Ribot was going to be received with rapt attention for this sold-out performance.

A support slot was provided by Paul Abbott (drums) and Pat Thomas (piano). Back in the 80’s I saw Cecil Taylor play an extremely challenging set at Ronnie Scott’s. It was not to my taste and was 90 minutes of my life that could have been put to better use. For this set I was fortunate to be able to have a very clear view of the keyboard and, for this non-pianist, seeing exactly what Pat Thomas was doing made this free form performance intelligible. Thomas played keyboards on the Black Top album that I looked at back in August 2014 and it was good to have an opportunity to see him play live. The single long piece that they delivered had much of the complexity of a fiery late John Coltrane composition like Interstellar Space, although I felt it took on a degree of predictability towards its conclusion as I found myself having a very clear idea of where the duo were taking us. Perhaps I’m more open to less conventionally structured music these days so I have to say that I enjoyed this live set, although in my opinion it was music best heard in a live setting rather than something that would easily fit with my home listening.

It was soon time for Marc Ribot who played a single well worn-in steel strung acoustic guitar throughout the entire performance. His set included two pieces by classical composer Frantz Casseus and a John Zorn number which involved ‘preparation’ of the guitar using an additional bridge and what looked like a nail file and playing utilising a steel bottle neck, a bow and several balloons. As you may assume, this did sound most unconventional but was well received within the context of Ribot’s show. Overall, his playing entranced and shook away the cares of the world. There was no direct reference to the music of Young Philadelphians or to Albert Ayler but I was more than happy with the artist’s own choice of material.

Marc Ribot showed that he is a virtuoso guitarist, in complete command of his instrument and willing to forge out beyond the conventional range of the guitar. He can play beautifully but can also present the sour with the sweet in a way which stretches and enriches the listener’s metaphorical palate. I enjoyed myself tremendously and will be the first in the queue for tickets next time he plays at a venue near me. If you enjoy great guitar you may want to do the same.

The image is by Oliver Barrett from photos by Dawid Laskowski. It was formerly available from Cafe Oto While stocks lasted.

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Pharoah Sanders coming to Ronnie Scott’s in July 2016

It will come as no surprise to regular readers when I repeat my very high regard for Pharoah Sanders. I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to see him again for several years.

I was delighted to learn that this great saxophonist is coming back to the UK in July and that he will be playing two shows at Ronnie Scott’s in London on Saturday 9th July 2016.

If you are quick you may also be able to book a ticket for this unmissable master musician. The last time I looked in early May, the earlier show had sold out. By late May 2016, both sets had sold out

The details are here.

Pharoah was at Birdland in New York City in early April 2016, and you can read a fine review from Chris Tart of the dubera.com blog here

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Pop-up Jazz

The BBC, in a groundbreaking partnership with Jazz FM, is launching a pop-up Jazz radio station which will be broadcasted during the London Jazz Festival from Thursday 12 November until midnight on Sunday 15 November.

It will be available on digital radios and via BBC iPlayer.

Although it is a very short experiment, it is a welcome opportunity to showcase Jazz and we at downwithit hope that it is a great success.

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Ingrid Jensen live at Smoke NYC. 13 June 2015

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A short trip to New York has provided the opportunity to follow up on a tip from the esteemed Jazz Collector (the American one, not our own LJC).

Smoke is a small and intimate jazz venue located on the Upper West Side. Boasting its own in-house label with CDs bursting with information that suggests that this is a labour of love (my review of Orrin Evans Liberation Blues set is here), it is becoming a must-visit for discerning jazz aficiandos.

While writing about the Evans album I was looking for a YouTube clip and used one featuring Ingrid Jensen performing as a guest with his band at Smoke. It was uncanny to discover that Jensen would be headlining during my short visit to New York this year.

Berkelee alumni, Jensen was accompanied by her sister Christine on alto and soprano sax (who apparently scores big band charts for fun) together with piano from Gary Versace, Mark Clohesy on drums and John Wikan on bass. They were joined by special guest, Joel Miller, on tenor sax.

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(Image hopefully non-copyright- if so I’ll remove immediately on notification)

I was there for the end of the second and the whole of the third set. I’m always alarmed when somebody produces a melodica. Although Augustus Pablo and Bernard Sumner of New Order have convinced me of its merits, I just can’t get beyond infant memories of a cruel nun at my primary school who played one to me and my fellow mixed infants when she was not slapping my ears with both hands. It’s fair to say I always squirm when I see that strange confection of an instrument!

In any event Jensen played a brief intro before unveiling a trumpet-led set that steered well clear of the stock standards that we often hear too much of in London. The band combined originals with a couple of covers including a Kenny Wheeler tune and the late Clark Terry’s Serenade to a Bus Seat.

Ingrid Jensen’s playing was wonderful. In a masterclass that you can seek out on YouTube she describes how she has worked to develop an approach to playing that is relaxed and upright (almost like Alexander Technique for the instrumentalist). Whatever she is doing, it works. I wasn’t surprised when she spoke with great admiration of great musicians including Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard who had welcomed her to join them on the bandstand when she was starting out. Her tasteful improvisation refreshes and really hits the spot. A self-penned tune entitled Margaretta was a highlight.

If you are in NYC, Smoke is well-worth a visit (I’ll be back again one day), although the three short sets a night from the headliner format is not one that I like. It’s also a little disappointing to watch a band of this calibre playing to an audience, many of whom are concentrating on food and the company they are with. All the same, the world-class Ingrid Jensen and her band merit an 8/10 on my patented performance rating scale, with the venue rating 7/10.

A good evening out was had.

The band: Ingrid Jensen [trumpet]; Christine Jensen [alto and soprano saxophones]; Gary Versace [piano] Matt Clohesy [bass]; Jon Wikan [drums]; Joel Miller (tenor sax), guest.

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Pharoah Sanders live. Baby’s All Right NYC. 7 May 2015

This is another Pharoah Sanders gig that I didn’t get to see, mainly because it was in New York City and I was in London.

There is a New York Times review here accompanied by an excellent photo.

It seems like Pharoah was playing well and I enjoyed this paragraph in particular:-

But this crowd was listening hard and well. At one point, Mr. Booth played a solo that alternated between only two notes. It was an exercise in focused simplicity, and the crowd processed exactly what was good about it: Cheers erupted when he finished. The same went for a single note played by Mr. Sanders toward the end: not particularly long or showstopping, but big and strong and decisive, full of overtones. The audience members seemed to understand that it was more than a note; they understood the power of its placement, and the information it contained, and how in a way it represented Mr. Sanders’s whole enterprise.

I remain hopeful that we will get the chance to see Pharoah in the UK later this year.

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Pharoah Sanders live in San Francisco: 12 January 2015

Regular readers may know that Pharoah Sanders is a saxophonist that I enjoy very much.

When checking to see if any UK dates are scheduled (sadly, none listed at present), I came across a recent live review by Gary Vercelli, which you can read here. The author was wondering if 74 year old Pharoah can still perform at a high level. His conclusion is that:-

Pharoah Sanders showed that age is just a number. He still negotiates the chord changes with ease and finesse and inner child is still very much alive!

That’s good news– hopefully we’ll see for ourselves later in 2015.

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Liberation Blues: Orrin Evans

Orrin Evans

We are well into February and the end of winter is in sight. Indeed, I have planted some Oriental Lily bulbs And Double Freesias this very afternoon. It’s also time for my monthly review of a contemporary set and, hopefully it is something that readers will enjoy rather more than last month’s disappointing selection which featured Troyka.

Orrin Evans is a New York based pianist (born in Philadelphia in 1976). Recorded live at Smoke on New York’s Broadway (I had to write that as I used to live on Cardiff’s very own Broadway) in January 2014, it has just been issued on the in-house label Smoke Sessions. We’ll be paying Smoke a visit a little later in this review.

I choose contemporary sets in all sorts of ways. This one comes our way via a two-stage process. I’m a regular visitor to Jazz Collector‘s website. This largely concerns itself with monitoring the trade in eye-wateringly expensive early pressings of classic Jazz albums. Recently Jazz Collector wrote about a live performance at Smoke, which is not far from his NYC home. It’s over 20 years since I was last in NYC and the only Jazz club I’ve been to in the home of modern Jazz is Blue Note (where I saw Issac Hayes), so it was great to get a hot tip from a local. Apparently Gregory Porter was a regular fixture there until fame beckoned. Then, in early January when I was scouring the reviews in Jazzwise for a lead, I came across this set. A very positive 4 star endorsement contained the news that this was recorded at Smoke and that sealed my immediate order from an online retailer.

What have we got then? Orrin Evans plays this live set, largely with a quintet context with trumpet and saxophone. The first five tracks are grouped together as The Liberation Blues Suite and are performed as a musical tribute to Dwayne Allen Burno, a bass player and friend of Evans who passed away in late December 2013, a couple of weeks before this recording.

The opener, Devil Eyes, is a Burno composition and great lively blowing piece to kick off with.

Juanita, a cool ballad, is the next track up and as a special surprise, and while it is still on YouTube, why don’t we all jump all jump on my Lear Jet and make our way to grab our seats right down front at Smoke at the launch party for Liberation Blues in August 2014. Ingrid Jensen replaces Sean Jones on trumpet for this live rendition of a second Burno tune.

To play touch or click on the arrow

A Lil’ D.A.B. A do Ya zaps along before we arrive at the contemplative A Free Man? in which Evans delivers fellow pianist Donald Brown’s heartfelt musings on freedom, from slavery in the lyric (though Evans speculates in the sleeve notes that in an afterlife, his friend, Dwayne Allen Burno, is truly free of the pain and limitations caused by the kidney disease which led to his early death. Liberation Blues closes this section of the recording.

Simply Green, one of Orrin Evans own pieces is the sort of performance that elevates this live music from a NYC Jazz club into something that is outstanding. If we had actually been there on one of the recording nights, I’m sure what we witnessed would be unforgettable. Anysha, a beautiful ballad, sourced from Philadelphia organist Trudy Pitts, is every bit as good.

Meant To Shine is the final Evan’s penned item here and it is a further late-night piece, crafted with consummate skill. Paul Motian’s Mumbo Jumbo has a modern and complex beat, which the band play as a challenge, just for musicianly fun and it works well in this context. The sax and trumpet sit out for How High The Moon, which is the standard tune that Charlie Parker borrowed the chord changes for Ornithology from. Miles Davis’s The Theme also played by the piano, bass and drums trio, closes the set before the band are brought back, deservedly. They are joined by vocalist Joanna Pascale for a rendition of The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.

When I finally get to see a performance at Smoke, I’ll tell you all what I think and if you get there first let us know if it is a good as it sounds. In the meantime, Liberation Blues captures all the quality of a great club set that just whets the appetite for a visit. Thanks for the tip Jazz Collector and Jazzwise!

The band etc: Sean Jones (trumpet); JD Allen (trumpet); Orrin Evans (piano); Luques Curtis (bass); Bill Stewart (drums); Joanna Pascale (vocals on final track). Recorded live: 10 & 11 January 2014 at Smoke, New York City. Recorded and Produced by Paul Stache. Sleeve Design: Damon Smith. Photography: Jimmy Katz. Issued on Smoke Sessions, SSR-1409. 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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