The Portuguese Jazz Scene

Last week I attended the recent Europe Jazz Conference in Lisbon with my colleague Mary Wakelam Sloan.  As well as the conference, there was an extensive showcase for Portuguese jazz groups.  I was impressed by the range and quality of these bands, and I’d like to comment on a few of these here.

The Rite of Trio









I had heard the excellent Rite of Trio, a guitar bass drums trio, at the 12 Points Festival the previous week, so in a sense I knew what to expect.  I had also heard trumpeter Susana Santos Silva in a number of contexts in the last few years so it was good to hear her own group Impermanence.  Their music was an interesting mix of structure and free improvisation.

Perhaps the most impressive band was the Lisbon Underground Music Ensemble (L.U.M.E), a 15-piece ensemble led by pianist and composer Marco Barroso who played a late night gig in the back room of the Livraria Ler Devagar, a bookshop in the club area of the city.  The acoustic of the room was difficult for the ensemble’s upbeat music, but nonetheless it came over with a wonderful spirit.  I was particularly taken with the trumpet solos of a Jessica Pina who I believe was a dep for one of the regular members of the section.

rodrigo amado
Rodrigo Amado

Also in the Ler Devagar bookshop, but in the main room the Rodrigo Amado Trio impressed with a beautifully paced free set.  Amado on tenor saxophone played long flowing lines full of invention, seemingly totally improvised, but very much at the jazz end of the spectrum.  The interaction with the bass and drums, Hernani Faustino and Joao Lencastre respectively, was also excellent.  Amado has recently issued an album with a group featuring Joe McPhee, Kent Kessler and Chris Corsano and is building a reputation outside Portugal.

I also enjoyed Eduardo Cardinho Trio, an attractive vibes led group and Axes, a sextet with a front line of four saxophones accompanied by two drummers.  The latter’s music was a crazy mix of tight ensemble passages and free solos from each of the saxophones, always driven by the antics of the two drummers.

Pedro Melo Alves’s Omniae Ensemble was led by Pedro Alves, the drummer from the Rite of Trio mentioned above and also featured its bass player Filipe Louro.  Alves had formed the septet as a result of his winning the Bernardo Sassetti Composition Award and the music was built around intricate and detailed compositions.  I enjoyed these, but have to admit that I agreed with colleagues that the music was at times a little too intricate.

Andy Sheppard is now living just outside Lisbon, so can be considered part of the Portuguese scene.  He played a set in the main conference centre in the Belem district of Lisbon with a new collaboration with the Norwegian Espen Eriksen Trio.  They played a gently mesmeric set mostly at a medium slow tempo with Sheppard’s beautiful tone and phrasing very much to the fore.

I found myself asking where all this excellent music had emerged from.  The organisers of the conference and the showcases were at pains to point out that Portugal and its jazz scene are on the edge of Europe and that links with other scenes are limited.   This may, in fact, be one of the reasons why the music I heard was so distinctive.  It’s a small scene , mostly based around Lisbon and Porto, and seems to be built around a system of collectives.  I got the sense that the collectives provide an integration of the scene that has helped its resilience.

Postcript:  I recognise that I have commented on just a few bands, and not even all the bands performing at the Europe Jazz Conference.


The Fizzle and TDE Programme: Autumn 2018

The collaboration between Fizzle run by Andrew Woodhead and TDE Promotions run by myself has been very successful and has become as a key part of the music scene in Birmingham, providing a strong platform for experimental music.  We are delighted that we have our second grant from the Arts Council of England under the Projects Grants scheme that has replaced the Grants for the Arts scheme.

I will outline the autumn programme here. There are two main venues, Fizzle sessions take place at The Lamp Tavern in the Digbeth area of Birmingham, the TDE Promotions sessions mostly take place in the lovely Hexagon Theatre at mac, the arts centre at the edge of Cannon Hill Park.  TDEPromotions also has two events in the Eastside Jazz Club at Birmingham Conservatoire and one at the Hare and Hounds venue.

Paul Dunmall 2.jpgThe Fizzle season starts on Tuesday 25th September with  a sextet led by free jazz saxophonist Paul Dunmall featuring some of the best young improvisers in Birmingham, notably Percy Pursglove on trumpet, Richard Foote on trombone, Mike Fletcher on alto saxophone, Chris Mapp on bass and Tymek Jozwiak on drums.  Paul Dunmall is undoubtedly one of the top improvising saxophonists in the world today and is on a roll at the moment with a recording with Jon Irabogan (The Rain Sessions on FMR Records) and will be touring in November with a quintet featuring the great American drummer Hamid Drake; details of this TDE Promotions tour below.

Subsequent Fizzle gigs are:

Tuesday 9th October  A double bill curated by Richard Scott with Samuel Rogers, flute and Rebecca Lee, flute, and Richard Scott, viola with Joe Wright on saxophone and electronics

Tuesday 23rd October  A double bill with Cath Roberts, saxophone and Seth Bennett, double bass, plus Tom Ward, reeds and Adam Fairhall, piano.

Tuesday 6th November Another double bill with Miman and a trio with Jack Wright on saxophone, Dominic Lash on bass and Mark Sanders on drums.

Tuesday 20th November Two trios: Kim Macari, Andrew Woodhead, Olie Brice and Bruce Coates, Sarah Farmer Mark Sanders

Tuesday 4th December  Two more trios: Lori Freedman,clarinet; Corey Mwamba, vibes and Mark Sanders drums, and Luis Vicente, trumpet, Olie Brice, double bass and Mark Sanders.

The TDE Promotions season begins on Friday 5th October with a stunning double bill with Mark Hanslip’s HTrio featuring special guest Nate Wooley on trumpet, and the French trio Leila Martial’s Baa Box.  Leila is a brilliant singer whose live performances are stunning.  This plus the brilliant Nate Wooley guesting with the trio should make this a very special night.

Also coming up at The Hexagon are the Olie Brice Quintet (Wednesday 17th October) and Velvet Revolution (Saturday 17th November), an exquisite trio I heard in a church in The Netherlands; it has Daniel Erdmann on saxophone, Theo Ceccaldi on violin and Jim Hart on vibes.  The Becca Wilkins Tom Harris Duo will be in support.

As mentioned above, Paul Dunmall will be touring in November with a date in the Eastside Jazz Club on Friday 9th November.  He will be leading the quintet that toured so successfully last year with the American drummer Hamid Drake plus Percy Pursglove, trumpet, Steve Tromans, piano, Dave Kane, double bass.  Other dates are at The Fringe Café, Bristol (7th November), Café Oto London (8th November) and Derby (10th November).

TDE Promotions moves to the Hare & Hounds venue on 31st October to present Snack Family, a trio with vocalist Andrew Plummer, saxophonist James Allsopp and drummer Will Glaser.  Their music is reminiscent of the Captain Beefheart band and has been described as ‘ a creeping rock ‘n roll monster replete with gravelly drumbeats’.

Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne

However, the likely highlight of the autumn will be the three-day residency for FØrage, the duo of Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell.  The residency will culminate in a performance in the Eastside Jazz Club on Thursday 11th October.  It is a co-promotion with the Jazz Department at the Birmingham Conservatoire.


Check dates and times under Events on and

The Jazzlines Autumn Programme

I am proud to be part of the Jazzlines team working with Mary Wakelam Sloan in my role as Programme Adviser.  In this blog I would like to draw attention to the burgeoning Jazzlines programme for the autumn.

We start this Friday 7th September for the first Friday foyer session at Symphony Hall, which will then run through to Christmas with just the one break at the beginning of October when the Conservative Party Conference takes place at Symphony Hall.  We open with the Becca Willkins Tom Harris vocal piano duo.  We spotted this duo in performances at the Conservatoire, really liked them and facilitated their recording of an album, entitled simply Wilkins/Harris.  This will be available at the Café Bar session in the foyer at Symphony Hall that begins at 5pm.

wilkins harris

Eastside Jazz Club

We are collaborating with the Jazz Department to present a number of events in the Eastside Jazz Club at the Conservatoire.  Our first collaboration will be with the Julian Arguelles’ Tetra Quartet on Thursday 20th September.  Julian is launching a new album on the Edition Records with a change in the line up.  Ivo Neame comes in on piano, but Sam Lasserson and James Maddren remain on double bass and drum respectively.  Julian’s groups present world class small group post-bop and really innovative material penned by Julian.

Then on October 5th Jean Toussaint brings a sextet that will feature the music from his latest album, Brother Raymond to the Eastside Club.  Jean was in the final version of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, but has lived in UK for many years.  His full tone and forceful saxophone playing is always a joy to hear.

We move to another venue in the new Conservatoire on Saturday 24th November to present a celebration of Stan Sulzmann’s 70th Birthday.   In the Recital Hall Stan will be leading his Neon Orchestra which will feature both well-established players such as Henry Lowther, Mark Nightingale and Nikki Iles as well as younger players such as Josh Arcaleo and Stan’s son Matt Sulzmann.

CBSO Centre

The CBSO Centre remains one of our favourite venues with its excellent acoustic and informal atmosphere, and we have three top concerts there.  Phronesis perform on Saturday 3rd November; they’re one of the most distinctive piano trios in jazz today.  On Saturday 10th November vocalist Sara Colman brings a programme to the Centre that mixes material from her latest album What We’re Made Of with a tribute to Joni Mitchell in her 75th year.  Sara’s group includes Percy Pursglove on trumpet, Rebecca Nash on piano and Jonathan Silk on drums, plus a string quartet.  Finally, we present on Saturday 1st December Yazz Ahmed’s Hafla Band.  We have a strong relationship with Yazz as she was one of our Jerwood Jazzlines Fellows which enabled her to visit Bahrain, where she was originally brought up, and to integrate aspects of Bahraini Arab music into her material.  She is now one of the most popular and busiest players in UK and Europe today.

Hare and Hounds

There is a tremendous buzz at the moment about to so-called South London jazz scene and Jazzlines is collaborating with Leftfoot at the Hare and Hounds to present five of these bands in the Hare and Hounds, which is the perfect venue for this music.  The music is very much jazz of today with influences from hip hop, grime and other contemporary music played by young bands that attract big and young audiences.  The gigs coming up are:

Sunday 30th September     YUSSEF DAYES

Friday 26th October            SONS OF KEMET  

Thursday 8th November     KAMAAL WILLIAMS  (This takes place at The Crossing, Digbeth)

Monday 12th November    EZRA COLLECTIVE

Wednesday 21st November ALFA MIST

sons of kemet
Sons of Kemet

The Hare season concludes with the appearance of Soweto Kinch with his group on Thursday 6th December.  Soweto is now a major figure in UK jazz hosting the Jazz Now programme on BBC Radio 3 and running the Flyover Festival in Handsworth and has a brilliant take on contemporary jazz with his blend of red hot saxophone playing and hip hop.

The Jam House

Jazzlines runs a monthly event at the atmospheric Jam House, usually on the third Tuesday of the month.  The first one is on Tuesday 18th September when we collaborate with The Jam House to present Brian Jackson, a member of Gil Scott Heron’s bands.  Jackson will be presenting his Spider & Stick American Griots programme that features material co-written with Gil Scott Heron.

For further details and to book tickets, see the Jazzlines page at

Review of the Ideas of Noise Festival

ideas of noise logoThe Ideas of Noise Festival that took place in Birmingham over the weekend (3rd to 5th August) is a wonderful addition to the range of relatively small but significant music festivals that take place in the city.  It presented an excellent range of music that took in a number of genres yet had an overriding and coherent theme brilliantly curated by the two directors, Sarah Farmer and Andy Woodhead.  Moreover, the festival created an inclusive and friendly atmosphere at the two venues, The Edge and Vivid Projects at Minerva Works, both informal venues in the Digbeth area of the city.  Key to this friendly atmosphere were the volunteers helping with general organisation and also serving foods and drinks at the bar; these volunteers included music fans and musicians, whether they were performing or not, and Andy’s parents who prepared a lot of the food.

Ideas of Noise is an excellent title for the festival and it gave the context for a whole range of music with each day having a particular focus.  Friday mostly concentrated on free improvisation with violinist Richard Scott playing at Vivid Projects surrounded by his own recent artwork.  He actually began outside in the courtyard and it seemed somehow appropriate in the philosophy of ‘noise’ that much of his playing there was drowned out by a rock band rehearsing the adjacent building.  Upstairs we were able to hear his interesting take on improvisation that mixes drones with folk music.

Back at The Edge the solo, duo and trio improvisations by Angharad Davies, Rhodri Davies and  Mark Sanders, curated by Fizzle and TDE Promotions (I should declare an interest here) were a particular highlight of the weekend.  Angharad Davies played a solo violin set that developed through a series of beautiful contemplative sections; I particularly enjoyed the passages towards the end of the set when she paused between a number of short statements, thereby creating a tension that was resolved by the next statement.  Rhodri Davies and Mark Sanders then followed playing a very exciting improvised set full of drum driven grooves from Sanders and powerful rhythms on Davies’ electric harp that inevitably led to a few broken strings – very much part of the performance.  Angharad joined the duo for a final trio set that continued in the vein of the duo set: strong grooves and drama.

Rhodri Davies Photo by Guri Bush

I was unable to attend the afternoon performances on the Saturday, but managed to catch the evening programme.  Here the theme was broad, but everything seemed linked to the integration of electronics with other genres.  The collaboration between ELDA, the duo of Andy Woodhead on electronics and trumpeter Aaron Diaz, and two musicians originally from Zimbabwe, Millicent Chapanda on mbira and vocals and Didier Kisala on guitar and vocals, worked really well with electronics and trumpet blending brilliantly with the African rhythms and vocals to produce something unique.  The project was supported by the Celebrating Sanctuary organisation, and it is to be hoped that the collaboration, like the Ideas of Noise Festival itself, has legs and will continue to develop.

The programme later in the evening involved three sets, all with a strong element of electronics.  It began with an impressive solo set from Anna Palmer, leader of the Dorcha band, followed by the Gonimoblast duo of Chris Mapp and Annie Mahtani, playing an absorbing set that integrated samples of material from the full Gonimoblast band with their own interactions.  The final set from Dan Nicholls’ Strobes was very powerful with dramatic surprises from Dan and Matt Calvert on electronics, plus strong grooves from drummer Dave Smith, who has now rejoined the group.

Sunday’s programme was a real eye-opener presenting some fascinating takes on contemporary music performed by musicians from different traditions, notably contemporary classical and jazz.  The New Noise Collective put together by composer/singer Georgia Denham presented four original pieces developed for the festival played by young players studying either at Birmingham Conservatoire or in the Music Department at the University of Birmingham and on either classical or jazz programmes.  Each piece had a mixture of composition and improvisation and each had its own particular character.   I enjoyed each of the four pieces, but especially the final one entitled Graphic Score; this had an interesting contrast between Shivraj Singh’s double bass lines that drew on improvised jazz, and the ambient sounds created by the synth effects of Ollie Farrow and the vocals plus electronics of Georgia Denham.

Maya Verlaak and Robert Blatt Photo by Guri Bush

Post- Paradise featured two duos, one with guitars and one with keyboards, both set up facing each other, seemingly trying to compete one with the other, but in fact interacting very collaboratively.  I loved the duo between Maya Verlaak and Robert Blatt who played two guitars (one each) laid out flat on a table.  They played opposite each other creating very strong electronic sounds with different devices in different structured sections.  The first was with sex toys, two each, the second was with various attachments to the guitar strings and the third was with violin bows.  The way the two interacted both musically and physically with the objects across the table was amazing.  Somehow it reminded of part of an Indonesian wedding ceremony I attended a few years ago where the couple being married compete jokingly in various tasks to see who will be the dominant partner. But in this piece it wasn’t a question of dominance rather that of selfless interaction between the two players.

The final performance of the evening and of the festival was the commission for flautist/saxophonist Xhosa Cole for string quartet plus himself just on flute on this occasion.  The piece, entitled The Greek Suite, was a wonderfully mature piece that brought together a number of attractive textures and rhythms.

As I stated at the beginning of this piece, this was a very successful festival.  It drew excellent audiences and created a special atmosphere in the two venues. Let’s hope it becomes a regular feature of the music scene in Birmingham.

The Ideas of Noise Festival 3rd to 5th August

The first weekend of August sees the launch of a new experimental festival in Birmingham: Ideas of Noise taking place at The Edge and Vivid Projects in Digbeth to coincide with the First Friday monthly event there.

The festival is an exciting prospect in the way it pulls together various strands of music from improvised music, electronica, noise, contemporary classical and sound art.  It also appeals through its use of different formats from performances to installations, workshops and participation areas.  It draws on the success of the regular Fizzle improv sessions, the TDE Promotions sessions at mac, the Surge in Spring Festival and the Supersonic Festival to bring together a whole range  of experimental music.

The festival has been brilliantly curated by Sarah Farmer, a violinist and sound artist frequently seen in experimental settings as well as performing with the Bonfire Radicals group, and Andrew Woodhead, curator of the Fizzle series and a pianist, equally at home in experimental contexts and more mainstream groups.  It is supported by an Arts Council grant.

They have built an excellent website which gives the flavour of the festival as well as all the detail.  You can access it here.

I am particularly looking forward to the performances in The Edge

rhodri-davies 2
Rhodri Davies

venue. The Rhodri Davies/Mark Sanders Duo on the Friday night is a real highlight that promises a set of high energy and intensity coming from the interaction from Davies’ electric harp and Sanders’ ever inventive drumming.  Before that on the Friday we have a solo violin set from Angharad Davies, and over at VIVID Projects there is an intriguing Bondage Plus Noise performance, (see the short video on the website under Performances Friday)

Mark Sanders by Bruce Milpied2
Mark sanders by Bruce Milipied

Then on the Saturday we have two of the leading UK groups blending electronica with free jazz: Dan Nicholls’ Strobes and the Chris Mapp/Annie Mahtani Duo, an electronica meets African music set with Elda (Andy Woodhead and Aaron Diaz) plus Millicent Chapanda and Didier Kasala, and a solo performance from Dorcha’s vocalist and composer, Anna Palmer.

Sunday sees the premiere of Xhosa Cole’s Greek Suite, for string quartet plus Xhosa himself on flute; this has been commissioned by the festival.

There is a lot more: other performances, including several in the now famous Ideas of Noise Shed, installations and workshops.  Have a look at the website!

Sarah and Andy have been interviewed about the festival for London Jazz News; you can read that here.  In the meantime Andy has given me this quote:

“We’re really excited to be bringing the first ever Ideas of Noise Festival to Birmingham next weekend! It’s all about celebrating experimental sound makers and artists around the Midlands, giving local artists the opportunity to showcase their work and expand their creative networks. 

We’re also interested in the overlap between different forms of experimental music, and looking at how we can share audiences across these; joining the dots to create a sustainable, diverse audience for the future.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Arts Council England for helping it happen as well as to all of our partners for their support: Capsule, Surge, Celebrating Sanctuary, The Lombard Method and TDE Promotions.”


Comments on Henry Threadgill’s Two Most Recent Albums

In a recent blog on this site ( I talked of re-discovering Henry Threadgill’s early albums with his Sextett and Very Very Circus and realising how the music had moved from being in the jazz tradition to becoming a very stimulating, but difficult to define contemporary black music.

threadgill 2
Henry Threadgill

I now have had the chance to listen to his two most recent albums, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs with an octet called Ensemble Double Up, and Dirt … And More Dirt with a 15-piece ensemble called 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg, both on the Pi label, the former recorded in 2015, the latter in 2017.  The greater size of these two ensembles have enabled Threadgill to broaden even further the arresting textures that Threadgill’s music is noted for.

In writing about the music, I’ll begin by trying to capture the essence of the music through a description of the six tracks of the piece entitled Dirt.  Part 1 begins with some sombre bass playing by Thomas Morgan accompanied by Elliott Humberto Kavee on drums.  After about two minutes David Virelles enters on harmonium followed by Threadgill’s regular tuba player, Jose Davila.  We then move into a reasonably lengthy guitar solo from Liberty Ellman that has all the inventiveness we associate with that player.  He is accompanied by the tuba and drums.  The guitar solo moves into a piano solo, I believe from David Bryant (solos are not listed), and he is joined by Virelles , this time on piano.  There is then an interjection from the horns with a gentle harmonium backing which leads into the sudden stop that Threadgill seems to favour.

Part 2 is a short 57 seconds duet between the two pianists.  Part 3 begins with an alto sax solo, followed by a trombone solo and then back into an alto sax solo.  They are accompanied by the swirling, stuttering rhythm coming from the combination of tuba with drums and cello.  As noted in my previous blog, there is a delicacy and edginess about this accompaniment that gives the music its flavour.  The track finishes with an attractive brassy line from the horns that again comes to a sudden stop.

Part 4 begins with a passage played by the whole ensemble with a strong element of Call and Response between the horns.  It then moves into a trumpet solo, a trombone solo and again into a trumpet solo.  The accompanying rhythm gradually grows in volume and intensity behind these solos.  The piece again stops suddenly after the second trumpet solo.

Track 5 is dominated by the percussion; after a short beautifully quirky ensemble passage, the percussion takes over with drums rolls and what sounds remarkably like a simple triangle.  A flute enters backed by the brass and the tuba, but then the percussion returns.  The brass and guitar interrupt, but the track ends with the percussion.

Track 6 begins with an ensemble passage that builds up into a multi-layered blow with everyone playing before calming down with a gentler passage with the flutes leading.  This passage alternates twice with a percussion passage before coming to its conclusion.

So we have a huge amount of variety, lots of different and quite unique textures, some interesting innovations for Threadgill such as the piano duets, the use of the harmonium and the absence of concluding ensemble passages (head out) and the frequent use of sudden stops.  The music is held together by the wonderfully quirky rhythms created by the combination of tuba, cello and drums.

I have focussed on Dirt …And More Dirt, but many of the features described above are found on the Old Locks and Irregular Verbs album; pianists Jason Moran and David Virelles play duets and the line up of the octet with two pianos, two alto saxophones, cello, tuba and drums offers the opportunity to create textures that float over the rhythmic patterns.  There is the same variation in the way the pieces begin and end and an absence of either opening or closing ensemble statements on many tracks.

It is interesting (though some would say pointless!) to try to classify Threadgill’s music.  In an interview with Ethan Iverson on the latter’s Do The Math blog (commissioned by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz on 3 and available here) Threadgill is adamant that his music is not jazz.  He states that ‘that (jazz) was a period’ by which I assume he was referring to jazz up to the 60s.  He goes on to discuss the African aesthetic in contemporary black music and argues that ‘most African music has nothing to do with form….  You know like a sonata form or a fugue form?… It just happens, and that’s it’.  Furthermore, he, talking again of jazz, states ‘the word has to expand’.  Finally, he claims that ‘I do exactly the way I feel, whatever I want to do’.

This approach is very clear in the two albums discussed here.  Threadgill has clearly moved on from the Sextett music, which, however innovative it was, was rooted in the jazz tradition.  These two albums have stretched that term quite far, but, given that the African aesthetic is still dominant, I would, despite my initial statement, still consider them to be jazz albums.

Whitney Houston and Archie Shepp

I was in Chicago in February 2012 on the day that Whitney Houston died.  I was struck and fascinated by the wall to wall coverage of this sudden death and must have heard her version of I Will Always Love You, one of the songs that made her famous, between fifteen and twenty times that night.  So I went earlier this week to see the documentary about her life entitled simply Whitney that is being shown in

whitney houston 3
Whitney Houston

cinemas round the country at the moment.  It’s a two hour documentary by Kevin Macdonald that traces her development from childhood through stardom to the decline resulting from drugs and perhaps other factors.  About three quarters of the way through the film comes the allegation of sexual abuse in her childhood from a woman relative and, as a number of critics have suggested, this makes one understand more fully the problems that ruined her career and led to her death.

I found the documentary very moving, particularly the transformation of the young and charming young woman with a beautiful voice into the thin anxious woman who had lost that stunning voice.

On my return from Chicago in 2012, I read around about Whitney and was amazed to find out that she had recorded a track with Archie Shepp and Bill Laswell in the group Material, a jazz funk group that had recorded with Sonny Sharrock, Henry Threadgill and Billy Bang.  The track was Memories, originally written by Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine and sung by Robert Wyatt.  The recording was made in 1982 when Houston was just 19 and  before her singing career really took off.  It’s a wonderful track lasting just over four minutes.  In it the vocals alternate with saxophone solos from Shepp and the movement between Houston’s beautiful rendition of the song and Shepp’s gruff tone and soulful statements on the tenor sax is very impressive.  Houston’s singing is relatively restrained, but the beauty of the voice is there and the song builds up to a strong climax.  Robert Christgau in the Village Voice described the track as ‘one of the most beautiful ballads you’ve ever heard’ (Village Voice, 1982).

You can listen to the track at