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.
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.
(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.
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 reviewhere 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.
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.
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.
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!
One of the highlights of this year’s London Jazz Festival was a rare opportunity to attend a performance by Abdullah Ibrahim at London’s Royal Festival Hall.
I last saw him play in the 90’s, when a solo concert was part of the Greenwich Jazz Festival programme and I was relishing a chance to see him at work with other instrumentalists, as the gig promised solo piano, work as part of a trio and in a septet.
The radio presenter who introduced the evening assured us, incorrectly as it turned out, that we would be begging the pardon of those seated next to us as we would be needing to move our bodies when the band played Township tunes.
What we actually got was an evening where subtlety and virtuosity were the keywords rather than funk and energy. The expected exhuberance was present but it was a delicately weighted concert hall set, rather than a dance set that we received.
While listening, I thought of a young Dollar Brand impressing the Duke Ellington, to the extent that the older genius became a mentor. The evening commenced with Ibrahim alone on stage, in absolute command of the RFH’s mighty concert grand piano for an extended solo piece that took me to the good place that only the best pianists can reach. On its conclusion he introduced Noah Jackson, who played cello in this segment and Cleave Guyton doubling on flute and clarinet. They took us through about six short pieces that reminded me of the Duet set that Abdullah Ibrahim recorded as Dollar Brand with Archie Shepp, which I took a look at here.
After an intermission, the full septet added tenor and baritone saxophone, drums and trombone. The set was made up of mature and exquisite arrangements with Abdullah Ibrahim sitting out for long periods, seemingly to enjoy and absorb the voicings that he had written and which were being played out for him by the accompanying ensemble.
Overall, the performance was very easy on the ear but seemed to lack a certain spark. There was no sense of musical risk-taking and the accompanists seemed to have been offered little scope to add their own contributions in their short solos. They were more the well-drilled back line rather than contributors with freedom to improvise.
What the audience got was an evening of refined concert hall Jazz from a great musician who is now 80 years old. There were only the slightest nods to the Township sound and definitely no dancing in the aisles. I wasn’t disappointed as the opportunity to see Abdullah Ibrahim playing what he wanted to play in the way he wanted his music to be heard was too good to miss. We were, after all being treated to an evening with a musical genius.
As I close in on completing this review I’m listening to Voice Of Africa, a recording made in 1974 in Cape Town. It has something in abundance that last Saturday’s RFH concert lacked (as well as the great anthem Mannenberg that you can hear on this post from last year here). The recording clarfies that the qualities that were missing from this London concert were exhuberent inventiveness and soul. Saturday’s cool proficiency can go a long way but music that comes from both the head and the heart is what really moves me. It seems almost mean to rate this as a 6/10 performance- but that is what the great Man is getting.
My apologies for being a little tardy in writing about my latest contemporary recording.
This live performance, recorded in August 2013, is the latest release by Pharoah Sanders. It involves him playing as part of Rob Mazurek’s Chicago / São Paulo Underground ensemble. Spiral Mercury captures half of a live set and I’ve yet to listen to the other tranche which is release as Primative Jupiter– which I’ll be ordering before the weekend is out. The compositions on both sets are all by Rob Mazurek, so these albums don’t feature Pharoah’s own repertoire. However, this may have its own unexpected bounty because it allows us to listen to how Pharoah works in a live setting with material that is, presumably, relatively new to him.
I’ve been living with it for over a month now and it is proving a bit of a challenge to write about. Initially I thought of it as a set led by Pharoah and that hasn’t been helpful to my efforts to capture a flavour of it, as it is more of a collective effort featuring the great saxophonist both as a soloist but mainly as part of a larger whole.
The set also features Chad Taylor who we last met as a part of The Marc Ribot Trio on his Live At The Village Vanguard release which I took a look at here in early June this year.
The recording took place in one of my favourite settings. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is located in Lisbon, a city I love to visit. It combines superb indoor and outdoor performance spaces with a unique, world-class collection of paintings and other objects de art put together by a very interesting man (read about him here), who was known as ‘Mr Five Percent’, because that was the perpetual retainer he insisted on for using his expertise to broker the formation of several of the great oil companies including Royal Dutch / Shell. His extreme wealth (a Bill Gates of his time) allowed his team of experts the freedom to scour the world for the very best available examples of anything that he wanted. He insisted on ‘nothing but the best!’ I’ve steered clear of my love of football here at downwithit but suffice to say, his motto is written on my heart. I’d nominate the late Mr Calouste Gulbenkian (d.1955) as a dinner guest, as his take on the first half of the last century and any candid asides would be priceless.
Back to Pharoah and the boys though. It’s time to publish, so here goes!
Cna Toom opens the set. Spaceage synthesiser meanderings beg the question that a Sun Ra session is on the system. A repeated bass loop provides a reference point for free improvisation. A contemplative second phase changes the soundscape after ten minutes. A drum and bass led title track,Spiral Mercury, follows and is reminiscent of Mingus on The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady.
Blue Sparks From Her opens with an incisive trumpet which leads us into a soundscape shaped by synthesised keyboards and then a repeated melodic pattern which Pharoah growls at with his tenor for a while. The track takes on a brief trance-like quality before the horns solo freestyle over a percussion base.
Asasumamehn is a dreamy soundscape embroidered around what I assume to be an mbira (African Thumb Piano). It works well in context providing a peaceful phase amidst more complex and demanding tracks.
Pigeon commences as a somewhat abstract piece before the percussionists and bass impose a strong rhythmic discipline, with Pharoah hidden in the background of the mix.
Jagoda’s Dream would not sound at all out of place on the Dylan Howe Subterraneans set that you can read about here
Finally, The Ghost Zoo is another abstract piece of free improvisation over electronica that does not work wonderfully well, and is somewhat void of a purpose, to my ears, until Pharoah finally gets space for a lyrical solo as the piece draws towards its conclusion.
Although the following lengthy YouTube film was not recorded in Lisbon, it features the same lineup and starts off with some wonderful playing from Pharoah.
To pay either click on or touch the arrow.
It’s great to know that our esteemed elder, Pharoah Sanders is still playing in an extremely adventurous way that challenges the way we we listen. If you are a newcomer to this hero you may want to start somewhere else (perhaps with Africa, which I look at here. However, make sure you catch this great saxophonist live soon!)
The band etc:- Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax, voice); Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics, flute, voice); Guilherme Granado (synths, samples, percussion, voice); Mauricio Takara (cavaquinho, percussion, electronics); Matthew Lux (electric bass); Chad Taylor (drums, mbira). Produced: Rob Mazurek. Recorded 11 August 2013. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Design & Artwork: Pedro Costa /Trem Azul. Liner photo: Nuno Martins. Issued as Clean Feed CF301CD.
As this recording may be very difficult to find otherwise you are probably best advised to buy it directly from Clean Feed’s website, which you can access here. Please note, this is a not for profit site and I do not benefit financially from providing this link.