Category Archives: Mark Lockheart

Chris Batchelor, Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble, Steve Watts & Clive Fenner: Live at East Side Jazz Club: 21 February 2017

It was astonishing! Did they really play that? You must be joking. If I hadn’t witnessed the performance given by Chris Batchelor, Mark Lockheart and their pickup rhythm section of Noble, Watts and Fenner, I wouldn’t believe the breadth of material that was covered. Although it could have been a dogs breakfast, this gig at Leytonstone’s East Side Jazz Club was a feast of many flavours, which resulted in a memorable meal with ingredients from Hollywood, New Orleans, South Africa and New York blended and served up with brilliance.

Batchelor (trumpet) and Lockheart (tenor saxophone) had played together in the 1980’s as members of the British big band Loose Tubes in a lineup that was a who’s who of emerging talents. Despite the passing of the years and involvement in multiple projects as diverse as Microgroove and Polar Bear, they demonstrate a deep understanding and connection with each other in their musical dialogue.

The band eased into the set with Angel Eyes and if they hadn’t been heard sound checking with what could have been a lively John Coltrane blues, there would be reason to fear that they would not be straying too far from well-worn standards from the 1940s and 1950s. This was followed by Fat’s Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz from 1942, the first jazz waltz to gain widespread acclaim and a ballad which could have been either Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes or Jimmy Van Heusen’s Nancy With The Laughing Face (although it could have been something else entirely- let me know if you know what it was).

Each number was given new life by the energy transfused into it by the two front men, before the fourth selection introduced a real element of surprise with Batchelor venturing back to the era of trad jazz with a Louis Armstrong tune. It wasn’t simply a case of getting away with an interesting anomaly as these musicians brought freshness to a style that I associate with a ancient breed of men playing on Sunday afternoons in dingy pubs, sometimes with banjos! (I may be unfair here). Any remaining sense of a set overly dependent on tired icons was well and truly smashed into clast fragments with an audacious version of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. I’m not regular enough at East Side to state categorically that free jazz has never featured there but I’ll wager that Batchelor, Lockheart et al took us as close to the territory favoured at Dalston’s Cafe Oto as the Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s club may have ever been.

After the interval expectations were further confounded with two Thelonious Monk tunes, Bemsha Swing from Brilliant Corners and the later Ugly Beauty from 1968s Underground. The band tackled these with skill and aplomb before Batchelor introduced Ages Of Mali, a township jazz tune composed by the great Dudu Pukwana who he played with in Zila when he was 17. This brought back many memories of those stalwarts of the 1980’s London scene (from the audience response, I was not alone in my enjoyment) and a dedication to Zila’s singer, the late Pinise Saul who passed away in October 2016 followed.

A further shift in mood and tempo was crafted with Jobim’s smooth I You Ever Come To Me before Harry Beckett’s Harambee was chosen as the penultimate piece. Although I did not know Harry Beckett personally I gained the deepest respect for him as, despite his eminence as an artist, he worked with and shared his love of music with the rawest of raw beginners at the much-missed Lewisham Academy Of Music, a community project which worked with all-comers walking in from 1980 to 2000. Finally, the gig concluded with Come Ye Disconsolate, a traditional gospel anthem recorded by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, which you can listen to courtesy of Youtube:-

To play click on or touch the arrow

Once again, East Side Jazz Club presented the cream of British Jazz to spice up this quiet and unpretentious part of town and Clive Fenner and his crew are to be commended for their consistent hard work to ensure that the flag is kept flying. We’ll be back there again very soon.

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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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Polar Bear: In Each and Every One

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I’ve made a commitment to look at least one relatively new recording each month. So here we go with the third set by musicians that you may be able to see at a venue near you, should you choose to accept the challenge!

The traditionalists can roll their eyes in the direction of the moon and be dismissive- but here at downwithit we will attempt to be adventurous. As I will be pushing well beyond hard bop and even 60’s free jazz, there will be hits and misses, hopefully a few rubies inspite of a little dust.

This month’s choice is In Each and Every One, the fifth and most recently released album by London based, Polar Bear. I’ve been playing it for about a month, slowly trying to get a sense of things.

At the point of writing this, I’ve been pondering whether Polar Bear’s music fits here. Is it jazz? Well, yes, but it relies heavily on electronic sounds. What would Horace Silver think? What would Coltrane’s opinion be? Would Miles Davis find something new and refreshing in it? The question was answered for me, in my own mind, when I put on Charles Mingus’s Black Saint and the Sinner Lady after my last play through of In Each and Every One. Polar Bear are in search of something new and it is important to respect them for that.

The set starts with the aptly titled Open See, an introspective scene setter that I could imagine as the soundtrack for a modern dance piece at Sadlers Wells. Electronics maestro Leafcutter John is working hard on this one and, given his electronic expertise, an imagined three-way conversation between himself, Brian Eno and Miles Davis would have been an interesting one. It is quite a delicate piece that acts as a signpost which indicates that the rest of the album will defy neat categorisations.

Be Free is a percussion centred tune with saxophone that offers a nod in the direction of some of Ornette Coleman’s work. This is a foot-tapper, with a sense of a battle to restrain discord, that is just about won.

Chotpot strikes me as being a little too flippant but eventually it wins me over. It’s a long time since I’ve listened to Penguin Café Orchestra but if on a blind listening I were told that this was one of their tunes I would be easy to convince. There’s a great bassline hidden away in this performance, by the way.

All K’s and Q’s Now gets off to a frenetic start incorporating some engaging horn playing before it gives way to electronica that is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream (not that I’ve spent too much time listening to them). The track concludes with a brief and disconcerting passage that seems to sound a little like an electronic take on human distress. Not everything in Polar Bear’s garden is rosy.

I couldn’t find any material from the album on YouTube (although there’s some great stuff via the website link below), so I have lifted some live footage courtesy of Band On The Wall:-

To watch click or touch the arrow.

WW is an interesting noise, nothing more to these ears that are currently struggling with the beautiful but discordant excesses found on some Albert Ayler recordings. Lost In Death Part 2 wins me back with its possible resemblance to something that could sit alongside Bartok’s folk tunes. Once again, Leafcutter John plays his part and there is some great plaintive saxophone as it ends.

Maliana is a complex piece with several phases and what I perceive as a slight African feel, which is probably conveyed to me by the drums. There is a phase that almost has a Glam Rock edge to it- but don’t mention the Glitter Band! Lost In Death Part 1 Doesn’t have a great deal to commend it apart from some interesting bass but Life and Life unveils a splendid brooding theme evocative of storm clouds gathering and of Jan Gabarek.

Two Storms is a further soundscape: a series of scales and a melodic start giving way to what I imagine the death of a whale by strangulation and its rebirth could conceivably sound like before Sometimes closes this adventurous and pleasing recording with more brooding.

I’ll definitely try to see Polar Bear live this year if I get the chance and I’m certainly delighted to be able to write about the challenges that they present here. However, at this stage, I find their music a bit of a stretch from my comfort zone and for the time being I’ll content myself with what may prove to be a ruby but won’t be immediately breaking my back or pocket to obtain their back catalogue.

Incidentally, the set is dedicated: RIP Stan Tracey. A Wonderful Man

The band etc: Mark Lockheart (tenor saxophone); Pete Wareham (tenor saxophone); Tom Herbert (double bass); Leafcutter John (electronics); Sebastian Rochford (drums). Sonny (Sonny Channel). Produced by Sebastian Rochford. Recorded by Sonny at Livingston Studios. Artwork: Criag Keenan. Released on The Laef Label. Bay 90 1st April 2014. Website: www.polarbearmusic.com

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