Thursday Night: Two Brilliant Live Streams

Last week I was complaining that live streams all seem to happen on a Friday night, and that it was difficult to choose between Pablo Held Trio in Cologne, Mark Sanders/Sarah Gail Brand duo in the UK and the Andrea Wang/Andreas Ulvo duo in Oslo. This week it was Thursday with two excellent events at more or less the same time in the UK and in Oslo.

Both concerts were live streamed rather than pre-recorded, but in other respects they were quite different. The Oslo concert took place in Victoria, the Nasionjaljazzscene club in the centre of the city, and featured a quartet with a legend of the Norwegian scene, saxophonist Carl ‘Calle’ Neumann playing in a quartet with guitarist Ketil Gutvik, bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. This was a straightforward stream of a band playing in a club with good camera angles, but no extra visuals. The focus was on the music and this came across very strongly even though there was no audience. Because of the clash I wasn’t able to follow it all , but the parts I heard involved very powerful free improvisation. It is often said that in improv sessions the audience, although largely silent, is an important contributor to the improvisation in that the improvisers draw energy and inspiration from the intense concentration of the audience. It is fascinating that in the lockdown period, when improvisers have been playing without an audience, the intensity of the music does not seem to have changed and has remained at a high level. The players seem to have been drawing energy from each other.

The UK concert was quite different. It was organised by a concert platform with the name Papasang run by an Iranian electronic musician and sound sculptor, Pouya Ehsaei who had invited trumpeter Laura Jurd, pianist Elliot Galvin and visual artist Razieh Kooshki, also from Iran, but now based in Austria, for a marathon session of 90 minutes. The difference from the Oslo event was that the participants were in separate locations, and were reacting to each other through WiFi. The visuals created by Razieh Kooshki were stunning, and their abstract nature was entirely appropriate to the music. These visuals appeared as the backdrop to the video with the three musicians appearing in boxes in front of the background. The music was also captivating with Ehsaei providing beats and Laura and Elliot improvising inventively over them. I was particularly struck by a kind of pan pipe sound Laura produced by blowing down the valves of the trumpet. Also interesting that Elliot only played the upright piano; this seemed to fit well with Ehsaei’s electronics.

So two excellent concerts. The concert in Oslo was only available for the duration of the actual concert; however, the Papasang concert is still available online here.

A word about the Norwegian saxophonist Calle Neumann. As I say, he was a legend playing, for example, with Terje Rypdal on Terje’s Bleak House album in 1968, and joining Dizzy Gillespie at an early Kongsberg Jazz Festival. He retired from playing in 1985, but was persuaded to return in 1998 when The Quintet was formed with Paal Nilssen-Love, Ketil Gutvik and two bass players, Eivind Opsvik and Bjørnar Andresen. The quartet in the live stream with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass had no need for a second bass!

One can hear Neumann playing Laura in 1968 here, and the quartet has recently made an album available on Bandcamp.

Challenges for Women Musicians in Jazz: Sarah Raine’s Report

I welcome the recent report on the representation of women in the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and its analysis of the gender balance in the programme over the last 25 years. You can access the report here; it also reports on gender balance at three other jazz festivals: Manchester, Hull and Glasgow. Its key findings are:

Gender Data and Keychange

• Although the four festivals had each succeeded based upon the Keychange  interpretation (of one woman on stage) to reach a 50/50 gender balanced programme, they continued to experience a gender imbalance.

• Women made up at the best a third of the total musicians scheduled.

• Women instrumentalists were particularly underrepresented.

• All male bands continue to be a common sight at jazz festivals in the UK.

• The ‘one woman on stage’ interpretation of 50/50 hides continued gender inequality and the gendering of certain roles

Keychange is the policy developed by the PRS Foundation and its former CEO, Vanessa Reed, which sets up a target of the inclusion of at least one woman on stage in every band; most major jazz festivals and promoting organisations have signed up to this policy and have had some success in implementing it. Cheltenham signed up to the target in 2017 at a time when the proportion of male musicians in the main programme was 81%. The Keychange target was a realistic target that the festival embraced with enthusiasm, particularly under the leadership of Emily Jones as Programme Manager. In 2019 the interim target was achieved with 58% of the bands including at least one woman. The report shows that the other three jazz festivals that have signed up to the policy, and participated in Raine’s research, Glasgow, Manchester, and Hull, have also reached the target.

The report also goes into some detail about the issues that woman musicans face in engaging with agents, promoters and band leaders, noting that some woman musicians may face a failure to recognise their rightful place on the scene, a difficulty in learning ways to get recognition and even on some occasions sexual harassment from promoters. One thinks of the situation in the law courts where black barristers are assumed by doormen to be on trial rather than conducting the trial; woman musicians may be assumed on arrival at a gig to be partners of the band rather than members of the band.

However, I believe that the most important point made by the report is that, although the target of having at least 50% of the band with at least one woman may be a useful starting point, it needs to be expanded if woman jazz musicians are really to play an appropriate role in contemporary jazz and improvised music. I also believe that promoters and festival programmers have the responsibility to address this issue, and that they need to be proactive in providing opportunities for women composers and intrumentalists.

I believe that one approach is to concentrate on creating projects in which the bandleader or the composer – they are often one and the same person – is a woman. There is an increasing number of women playing at the more contemporary ends of the jazz to improvised music spectrum and the further the music moves away from bop and hard bop approaches the better the gender balance seems to become. Early free improvisation in the UK was very much a male dominated field, but, as that style has expanded and taken on a broader range of instruments than the standard modern jazz quartet or quintet, one has observed a pleasing improvement in the gender balance of the groups. One only has to look at the line up of the Freedom: The Art of Improvisation online sessions to see evidence of this. Moreover, there are a number of woman musicians in UK very active in composing extended works. Here I’m thinking of Rachel Musson’s I Went This Way, Yazz Ahmed’s Polyhymnia and Alhaan Al-Siduri, Nubya Garcia’s compositions on her debut album Source and Olivia Murphy’s Composer Chair at the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO).

I would suggest that promoters, festival programmers and funders should be actively looking out for women composers and interesting projects that women bandleaders are setting up. The resulting band may be all woman band, or it may be a mixed band; that seems to me to be less important than the fact of commissioning a woman composer or bandleader.

The integration of women into young jazz ensembles should also play an important role in encouraging women players to apply to university level jazz courses leading to a career in the music, or, alternatively, in music education. In Birmingham Jazzlines, the jazz programme within Town Hall and Symphony Hall, has recently established a 7-member women’s group Rise-Up. Jazzlines had run a number of ensembles before Rise-Up and there has never been any particular difficulty in attracting young women and, incidentally, members of the different ethnic communities of Birmingham to join these ensembles. It will be interesting to see how many of these to go to make a professional career in the music. Even if they just develop a passion for playing and continue to do so on a semi-proferssional or voluntary basis, the aims of the project will have been achieved.

University level jazz courses have an important role to play here, and need to be active in encouraging young women to join their courses.

It is also relevant to note here that there have been quite significant changes in the fraternity of jazz programmers. The image of the promoter as male, middle-aged, slightly overweight and rather obsessed with the music is changing. Here I’m thinking of Emily Jones, formerly Programme Manager of Cheltenham Jazz Festival now at The Sage Gateshead, Mary Wakelam Sloan, Jazzlines Manager at Town Hall Symphony Hall, Pelin Opcin, director of the London Jazz Festival, Jill Rodger, director of the Glasgow Jazz Festival and Nadin Deventer, director of the Berlin Jazz Festival. One feels confident that such leaders will have gender balance in programming as a top priority.

A Tribute to Milford Graves: A Shaman Of the Drums

When I heard of the death of Milford Graves, one of the pioneers of free jazz in the 1960s in the US, and a player who transformed the role of the drum in that style, I dug out my LP of The New York Art Quartet, the short-lived but influential group with saxophonist John Tchicai, trombonist Roswell Rudd, bass player Reggie Workman and Milford Graves. The LP is the Mohawk album made in 1965. The music on the album is interestingly different from that of other groups in the free jazz movements of the early to mid 1960s in that it included a lot of collective improvisation and an approach that involved for much of the time each player reacting to the short phrases of the other players. The music has an on-the-edge feel and David Toop (2014, p. 271) has suggested that the music seems to be on the verge of collapse throughout, but never actually does. Throughout Graves’ drumming is superb; he plays as an equal partner in the improvisations, and he brings a cohesion and musicality to the very exciting polyrhythms he creates. Apparently, Tchicai and Russ were amazed by his playing, but adapted to it and built on it, but the quartet’s original bass player, Don Moore, was so terrified by its intensity that he quit the group.

Listening to the Mohawk album I began to notice similarities to the playing on the Spontaneous Music Ensemble’s Karyobin album recorded in 1968, this was with John Stevens, Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland and Derek Bailey . There are similarities in the way both groups use collective improvisation and constantly react to the phrases of the other players; the difference is that the New York Art Quartet uses themes and improvise around the context that the theme provides, whereas the Karyobin album is totally improvised.

One interesting aspect of the Mohawk album is that two of the seven tunes played are standards, one the pop standard Everything Happens To Me, the other a Charlie Parker tune Mohawk. As with the other tunes composed by members of the quartet, the tune provides a kind of marker to the improvisations, but these go way beyong the tune and its chord sequence. The only time I heard Graves he was playing in early 2014 at the Sons D’Hiver festival just outside Paris with a quartet featuring pianist D D Jackson, saxophonist Charles Gayle and bass player Wiliam Parker. I remember that Graves announced that they would be playing jazz standards, but in the style of of the 21st century. I remember finding the mix very confusing; if I had been listening to the Mohawk album at the time, I might have got more out of the concert. As it was, it was great to hear Graves’ mesmeric drumming in a live situation.

I also listened to the recently re-issued BÄBI album recorded in 1976 with saxophonists Arthur Doyle and Hugh Glover, and 1994 album Real Deal, a duo album with saxophonist David Murray. BÄBI is an extremely intense album in which the extended techniques and screams of the two saxophonists are driven by some amazing drumming by Graves. I prefer the album with Murray, which, while being equally intense, has a welcome variety and a greater development in the interaction between the saxophone and ocasionally the bass clarinet, and the drums.

There is much more recorded material, an album with Sonny and Linda Sharrock: Black Woman, various drum ensembles and recordings with John Zorn (who was responsible for the description of Graves as a shaman used in the title of this blog), Anthony Braxton, William Parker and Bill Laswell. He was the drummer of choice for Albert Ayler for several years and memorably played with the Ayler Quartet at John Coltrane’s funeral in 1967.

I heard that Evan Parker played in duo format with Graves three years running at the Stone venue in New York. I would have loved to hear that; sadly no recordings of the sessions have been issued.

Reference Toop, David (2014) Into The Maelstrom: Music, Improvisation And The Dream Of Freedom London: Bloomsbury Academic, p. 271.

Memories of Don Cherry and Nu in Birmingham

Mark Helias has been putting out on Bandcamp a number of excellent recordings from his archive of live sessions, one with Dewey Redman, another with the BassDrumBone trio with Ray Anderson and Gerry Hemingway, and an album with his Open Loose Group with Tony Malaby and Tom Rainey. He also has put out sessions with Tim Berne and Jane Ira Bloom recorded recently. This month he has brought out a live recording with Don Cherry’s group Nu that undertook a 16 date tour of the UK in October 1987 under the auspices of the Contemporary Music Network (CMN). The recording was of the Glasgow concert in the Henry Wood Hall which was the final date of the tour, which included four dates in Scotland. The first date in Scotland was in Aberdeen, the day after the dates in England finished in Southampton. A crazy itinerary! In his notes Mark states that it was a 12-date tour, but a quick internet search suggests it was 16 dates.

The recording has its incompletions at the beginning and the end, but it’s definitely worth putting out. It’s wonderful to hear the recording as it brings back so many memories. Birmingham Jazz, of which I was Chair at the time, presented the concert in the Adrian Boult Hall, the main concert hall in the former building of the Birmingham Conservatoire in the city centre. Birmingham Jazz had been using The Triangle at Aston University, but that had closed, so it was something of an experiment to be using what was a more formal venue than the previous venues used by the society. It went well, the acoustics of the hall proved excellent for the style of music, a good crowd attended, the hall with a good crowd in proved much less formal than it appeared with nobody in, and it was a great and memorable gig. What was special was the mix of jazz with African and Brazilian elements.

The ABH continued to be a key venue for Birmingham Jazz for many years, and it is worth mentioning that I was told by the former Vice-Principal that the success of the concerts there encouraged the Conservatoire to set up its jazz course.

That concert took place early in the tour, the fourth to be precise. The line up was Don Cherry on pocket trumpet and the dousson gouni, the Malian guitar, Carlos Ward on alto saxophone and flute, Mark Helias on double bass and Nana Vasconcelos on drums and percussion. Drummer Ed Blackwell was also a member of the group, but illness prevented him from joining the early dates on the tour. He had joined by the dates in Scotland.

Listening to the recording of the Glasgow brings back many memories. The pattern of the gig is very similar to what I remember of the Birmingham gig. Although it was clearly Don Cherry’s group as he called the tunes and made the announcements, musically it was very much a collaborative group with a lot of interaction and spontaneity. Don Cherry took quite long solos on the pocket trumpet and featured the dousson gouni on one piece; Carlos Ward played deeply satisfying solos full of passion and invention, and also provided several of the compositions played; Mark Helias was the anchor of the group, particularly so in the absence of Blackwell. The main difference between the Glasgow concert and what I remember of the Birmingham concert (33 years ago!) is that, with Blackwell missing, we had a lot more of Nana Vasconcelos who fulfilled the drum role, but also demonstrated a lot more of his amazing Brazilian percussion techniques than come on the Glasgow recording. However, it’s clear that we missed something by not having Ed Blackwell in the group as he combines so well with Nana Vasconcelos.

The repertoire on the Glasgow recording is, I think, similar to that played in Birmingham. There is a great spirit to the whole gig, everyone contributes tunes to the set, and Don Cherry comes across as full of joy and enthusiasm in his announcements. All this also comes in what I remember of the Birmingham gig.

It was wonderful for the Birmingham audience to hear one of the giants of contemporary jazz playing at his best in an excellent group, and for the the Birmingham Jazz committee members to meet and chat to to Don and the rest of the group. One small trivial memory is that Don spilled a cup of coffee in the dressing room leaving a stain on the carpet. I used to like to visit that dressing room and see the stain as it always reminded me of the gig and the whole event. The recording of the Glasgow concert, however, provides a much more concrete reminder!

You can download the recording here.

A final point: the Contemporary Music Network (CMN) was a department of the Arts Council that ran up to twelve tours a year from 1971 up to the early 2000s. Founded by Annette Morreau, it always had a good sense of what was important and developing in the various strands of contemporary music including contemporary jazz and electronica, and played an important role in enabling audiences round the country to hear that music. It is missed!

Four Improvising Musicians In Birmingham

The two TDE Promotions/Fizzle recorded sessions, Paul Dunmall Trio (here) and Mark Sanders’ CollapseUncollapse (here) have been well received and well supported. Both were recorded at Sansom Studios just outside Birmingham and have top quality sound and visuals.

Both Mark Sanders and Paul Dunmall are recognised internationally as brilliant improvisers. Mark in normal times plays regularly across Europe as well as on sessions in UK in Birmingham and London with the likes of Evan Parker, John Butcher, Sarah Gail Brand, while Paul, also in normal times, focusses on his monthly Paul Dunmall Invites series at Birmingham’s Eastside Jazz Club, but has an international reputation as is shown by his latest recording, The Bright Awakening, a stunning set with Matthew Shipp, Joe Morris and Gerard Cleaver at the 2012 Vision Festival in New York .

What was particularly pleasing, however, was the way it which the two sessions highlighted four less well known players from the Birmingham improv and jazz scenes: James Owston and Tymoteusz Jozwiak in the Paul Dunmall Trio, and Chris Mapp and Andy Woodhead with CollapseUncollapse. All four are key members of the very healthy Birmingham improv scene.

James Owston has been playing recently on a number of Paul Dunmall’s audio recordings, see, for example Paul Dunmall Sextet: Cosmic Dream Projection and Unmasked, a quartet recording with Neil Metcalfe and Paul on flute and Jozwiak again on drums. James recently graduated from the jazz course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire during which time he was shortlisted for the 2018 BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition. James is equally at home in more straightahead jazz contexts, but has really taken to playing in free improvisation sessions where his strong sound and melodic invention really stand out.

Tymoteusz Jozwiak, usually known as Tymek, is Polish, but is resident in the UK having studied on the Birmingham jazz course. He, like Owston, is equally at home in straightahead jazz and free improvisation settings, and has also been playing on a number of Paul Dunmall’s recordings. He has his own projects, notably a group playing the music of Krzysztof Komeda, the Polish composer who wrote film music as well as running an innovative quintet.

Chris Mapp is a bass player, concentrating mostly on electric bass and pedals. He has worked and recorded with a large group Gonimoblast that included Arve Henriksen and Maja Ratjke from Norway, and the trio stillefelt with Percy Pursglove and Tom Seminar Ford. His solo bass performances bring together the range of sounds and textures that are possible with the various pedals that he uses.

Andy Woodhead is a pianist and sound sculptor with electronics. He has recorded and toured with the ELDA, a collaborative duo with Aaron Diaz on trumpet and effects, plus guests such as Kari Eskild Havenstrøm or Georgia Denham on vocals, Sam Wooster on trumpet, Faye MacCalman on saxophone, or Chris Mapp on bass. His recent project at the Ideas of Noise Festival with church bellringers and an improvising group was a truly original and very successful project. He is co-director of the Ideas of Noise Festival, and the programmer of the Fizzle series in Birmingham.

These four musicians really shine on the two recordings that have come out on the Fizzle YouTube channel and will no doubt feature on future sessions.