The Paul Dunmall Trio filmed session captures Paul Dunmall at his absolute best, improvising in a trio context with two excellent young players based in the West Midlands: bass player James Owston and drummer Tymoteusz Jozwiak. The video will be broadcast this Thursday 26th November at 7.45 om www.youtu.be/GjbY7tTeH7k.
I should declare an interest in that I set up this project knowing that Paul has recorded some excellent albums at Sansom Studios in the outskirts of Birmingham and Solihull. For this session we took a step further, and filmed a whole session of about 55 minutes. This has been funded by the collaboration between TDE Promotions and Fizzle.
There are five tracks, all totally improvised; the first two tracks feature Paul on tenor saxophone, the third on alto saxophone, the fourth on the C-Melody saxophone and the final track on flute. This provides quite a bit of sonic variety, but the overall impression of the music is of a trio totally at ease with one another and producing a wonderfully interactive set. Both James and Tymoteusz are graduates of the jazz course and have taken to free improvisation with an impressive flexibility and it is clear that one feature of the Birmingham scene is how many young players have shown a willingness to engage with different styles of creative music and become good improvisers. Paul has played a role in this by booking many of these players for gigs and recordings.
Between each of the five tracks Paul talks briefly about music. He talks of how he has played in various styles, but now wishes to concentrate on free playing; he talks of how he tries never to repeat himself in his solos, and how impressed he has been with the many young players in Birmingham and the West Midlands. He also names his absolute favourite album, but you’ll have to watch the video to find out the answer!
I know that Paul is very pleased with both the film and the recording. Paul tends to be very modest about his own performances, but I know he has watched it straight through at least three times. That is definitely a recommendation.
This year the London Jazz Festival overcame the difficulties created by the second national lockdown and managed to create a huge and very successful online event. It is only possible to catch a certain number of events and here I will concentrate on nine events that I believe reflect the range and diversity of the festival. I also reviewed two major concerts for London Jazz News: Seed Ensemble’s tribute to Pharoah Sanders, the review of which you can read here, and Shabaka Hutchings’ performance with the Britten Sinfonia, the review of which you can read here.
Clod Ensemble: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
This dance performance by the Clod Ensemble built around Charles Mingus’ masterpiece was something unique and a type of event I would love to see more of in jazz programmes. The dance company had conducted a number of workshops in which the dancers improvised to the music of the album as played by members of the Nu Civilisation Orchestra. These improvisations were then choreographed and performed as part of a Listening Party. In view of the restrictions the dancers performed to the original studio album, but NCU’s director, Peter Edwards, was there to introduce the music in interview with Suzy Willson, Clod Ensemble’s co- artistic director. The dancing and the way it was presented in the film was brilliant and certainly brought out aspects of the music that I had not been aware of before.
This snapshot of jazz from Lithuania was part of a collaboration with other European jazz festivals and scenes which included programmes from Switzerland, Poland and Turkey (istanbul). Vilnius tried to pack a little too much into a short programme resulting in frustratingly short features for each band. Nonetheless, it was good to hear a very exciting improvising large ensemble, the Improdimensia Orchestra, a nicely melodic piano trio in the Dainius Pulauskas Trio, anda performance entitled Prayer which featured a Jewish prayer declaimed by a cantor. This latter combination works really well and has been used by Uri Caine in his interpretation of Mahler’s music.
Nathaniel Facey Quartet
Nathaniel Facey led an excellent quartet with two fellow members of Empirical: bass player Tom Farmer and drummer Shane Forbes, plus guitarist David Preston. This was a nicely judged set with excellent playing from Facey on alto sax, often playing unison lines with Preston. The vibe was very much that of the Empirical quartet with its focus on the adventurous music found on the Blue Note label in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with tunes by Eric Dolphy and original material in the same vein.
Binker Golding with Olie Brice and Steve Noble
Binker Goldinghas moved away from the music of his duo with Moses Boyd into the area of free jazz. He has recorded with Evan Parker and has a huge respect for Evan’s music. Here Golding was in the very challenging situation of playing with two leading improvisers in bass player Olie Brice and drummer Steve Noble. Golding created a number of excellent improvisations driven along by the massive swing of Brice and Noble; he was able to produce long flowing lines in which invention was always at the fore.
Olie Brice Trio
Olie Brice had his own gig recorded at The Vortex Jazz Club in which he led a trio with tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Will Glaser. As mentioned above, Brice is very active as an improvising bass player, but in his own groups he likes to base the improvisations on a number of his own tunes. Both Challenger and Glaser responded to this material with great delicacy and energy. A wonderful set.
Yazz Ahmed Quartet
Yazz Ahmed played with what I believe is her regular quartet with Ralph Wyld on vibes, Dave Mannington on bass and Martin France on drums. As ever, her blend of jazz, electronics and Arabic music produced a beautifully atmospheric set. Interesting that contemporary Arabic music is receiving some attention this year; Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival has had a fascinating focus on the experimental scene in Beirut.
Linda Oh Quartet
Linda Oh is an extremely active bass player on the New York scene where she works with, amongst others, Dave Douglas, Pat Metheny and Joe Lovano as well as leading her own groups. She was born in Malaysia, but was brought up in Perth, Western Australia, and this gig saw her back there playing with pianist Fabian Almazan and two Australian players: saxophonist Jamie Oehlers and drummer Ben Wanderwal. It was great to hear these two, both new names to me, and this was a nicely integrated group.
Between The Lines: Skylla and Leafcutter John + Helen Pappaioannou
Leafcutter John curated this excellent set which featured a wonderfully interactive duo between baritone saxophonist Pappaioannou and himself on electronics and various toys. This followed a stunning set from Skylla, Ruth Goller’s new project with herself on electric bass and vocals plus Alice Grant and Lauren Kinsella, both also on vocals. I loved the description of the music as ‘raw folk and gentle punk’ (Debra Richards, personal communication).
I had heard and been impressed by JFrisco at a Thinking/Not Thinking event in Birmingham last year. It’s a trio with Lara Jones on saxophone, Jemma Freese on keys, and Megan Roe surprising everyone on this London gig by playing drums rather than guitar. It’s an improvising trio that creates a mesmeric almost ritualistic sound.
Finally, this year’s London Jazz Festival was undoubtedly a triumph in its solution to the pandemic. However, I have to say I really appreciated the concentrated nature of the Berlin Jazz Festival earlier in the month. There I listened to 22 hours of music over three days with every concert easy to access. The online nature of this year’s London festival really brought out how spread out the festival is. But this is a relatively minor quibble!
Two recently released albums show trends in contemporary jazz that indicate yet again how barriers between jazz and other musics are breaking down. On these albums the musical blend takes in influences from electronica, punk rock, noise and improvised music, but come up with a mix that has the variety, the risk taking and the spontaneity that characterise the best of contemporary jazz.
AKU! Is a trio based in Glasgow featuring Harry Weir on tenor and baritone saxophones plus electronics, Liam Shortall on trombone and electronics, and Graham Costello on drums. Their album has the title Blind Fury, and I like the description of their album on the Bandcamp site as one that ‘takes you on a raucous, foot-stomping journey through the dreich underbelly of Glasgow’s emergent jazz scene’. The trio describe their music as ‘doom jazz’, a style that creates a dark ambient mood by drawing on doom metal. The combination of baritone sax and trombone plus electronics works very well in creating this mood. This might seem a bit off-putting, but, in fact, there is a lot of variety in the music and both Harry Weir and Liam Shortall take excellent solos throughout, and Graham Costello takes a fine extended drum solo on the Kraken track. Often a track will open with an aggressive statement of a theme, but then move into a gentler passage before returning to a high energy climax . The Dub Ting track is a good example of this: the track starts with a growling trombone phrase, then it is joined by a nicely contrasting and gentler tenor sax solo, and throughout it varies between building up the intensity and taking it down. Other tracks, e.g. the title track Blind Fury , create something of a celebratory, even joyous mood.
The album is available on Bandcamp on the Aku! page.
Shiver is a trio from Leeds and Newcastle with Chris Sharkey on guitar, synths and vocals, Andy Champion on electric bass and vocals, and Joost Hendrickx on drums. Chris Sharkey has been active this year in issuing a number of albums in which he explores the possibilities of extended improvisation using electronics. There are two duo albums with drummers: Lines of Flight with Mark Sanders and Watercress with Paul Hession, three trio albums: Delirium Atom Paths with pianist Pat Thomas and drummer Luke Reddin-Williams, SALTSwithbass player Michael Bardon and Paul Hession, and #4, the album reviewed here.
The music on #4 was created from three separate improvised sessions in which the trio experimented with loops, electronics and vocal textures. From these recordings they have produced a 40 min track entitled I Need You To Focus which combines some of the original improvisations with other passages created from different takes and, interestingly, accidents; I say this as it is often said that jazz has the unique ability to take advantage of and build on mistakes.
The resulting music goes through a series of fascinating episodes each one leading into the next and therefore has a cohesion and coherence that holds one’s attention throughout. Each player is a formidable improviser, but here the focus is on interaction and a group dynamic. I particularly enjoyed the vocal textures that occur at certain points as the music develops.
The track is available on Bandcamp on Chris Sharkey’s page.
The music on both albums draws on other styles of music, but develop aspects of those styles in an improvisatory framework. My experience of styles such as noise music, or certain kinds of metal is that they often set up a particular interesting sound or rhythm, but essentially stick to that particular sound or rhythm without developing it to any extent. In the albums reviewed here the music shows a development and variety over eight tracks in the case of Blind Fury, and over one long track in the case of I Need You to Focus. An alternative way of looking at these albums is taking on board the notes to the #4 album which describe the aim as creating ‘music that does not recognise convention, hierarchy or genre’. In other words, we should think of them as nothing more than excellent examples of creative improvised music. In terms of the classification, you pays your money and you takes your choice!
I have not managed to attend the JazzFestBerlin in the past, so it was a very welcome opportunity to catch the festival in this year’s exclusively online event. This involved eight hours of listening on the Friday and Saturday and a further six hours on the Sunday; no time for cooking nor bodily functions!
I got a tremendous amount of enjoyment from the festival and I will try to summarise why under various headings.
It is possible to present live streams across continents
The Festival presented events live streamed from the Roulette club in Brooklyn New York followed immediately by a concert from Silent Green, Betonhallein Berlin. This was the core of the festival and provided a very stimulating snapshot of the two scenes. The programme from Roulette started with the strongly spiritual tribute to both John and Alice Coltrane from an experienced group led by alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin. This was followed immediately in Berlin by Lina Allemano’sOhrenschmaus; this fitted well with Benjamin’s Coltranes set as the music moved nicely between spirituality and freeness. Ohrenschmaus featured the Berlin-based Canadian trumpeter Lina Allemano with Dan Peter Sundland on bass and Michael Griener on drums dissecting and deconstructing tunes by Allemano. One other pairing that fitted well was that between the Ingrid Laubrock Kris Davis Duo (saxophone and piano) in New York and the Jim Black Trio (piano bass drums) in Berlin. Both groups moved effortlessly between written material and improvised passages and overall created a very interactive improvisatory mood.
At other times there was an interesting and no doubt intentional contrast between the two sets. For me the Anna Webber Septet playing music from her Clockwise album was a particular highlight of the festival for Webber’s intricate writing and for the way in which members of the group negotiated the movement between the written passages and the improvised passages. The way they did this provided an excellent example of how much contemporary jazz integrates the improvisation into the overall mix, and one often cannot tell when the music moves from one to the other. Following this set TRAINING featured a group with saxophone/flute, drums, a video artist (Işıl Karataş) and guitarist John Dieterich from the alternative rock group Deerhof. Dieterich had been filmed in his home New York cooking, playing with his dog and playing the guitar. Here the music was built around the video and the electronics with saxophonist Johannes Schleiermacher and drummer Max Andrzejewski both using electronic devices to manipulate or magnify the sound.
There were also nice contrasts between CraigTaborn’s brilliant new trio with Mary Halvorsen on guitar and Ches Smith on drums and the following set with Dan Nicholls and Ludwig Wandiger remixing Otis Sandsjö’s Y-Otis material, and between Joel Ross’ more straightahead set built around the vibraphone and the hilarious MEOW! set with the quartet led by Jim Black with Dan Peter Sundland on bass, Liz Kosack on keys and the amazing cat cries, screams and vocals from Cansu Tanrıkulu.
The final pairing of the streaming project was between Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double, a name reflecting the structure of the group with two guitars, Mary Halvorsen and Brandon Seabrook, two trumpets, Ralph Alessi and Adam O’Farrell, and two drummersFujiwara and Gerald Cleaver. This line up made for a very distinctive sound the key to which was the sensitive collaboration between the drummers. This was followed by Potsa Lotsa, a 10-piece ensemble led by saxophonist Silke Eberhard featuring arrangements by Eberhard of compositions by Henry Threadgill.
The streaming worked extremely well without any real hitches. All the groups seemed to keep to time and the short interviews with Nate Chinen or Keanna Fairloughin New York and festival director Nadin Deventer in Berlin worked well.
The German jazz scene is much more than just the Berlin scene
Jazzfest Berlin has always had a strong relationship with the German radio stations, and this year the festival was able to present recordings especially made for the festival of German groups from radio stations in seven cities: Munich, Cologne, Saarbrucken, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Freiberg and Berlin itself. Outstanding was the Embracing Bill Withers project in which arrangements of certain Bill Withers’ tunes by Natalia Mateo were performed by five vocalists plus piano bass and drums. Also extremely enjoyable was Gabriel Coburger’s Quintet Jean Paul from Hamburg with American singer Ken Norris. Norris’ use of spoken word and wordless singing in unison with the band in his deep baritone voice were impressive and moving. Strong regional scenes are very much a feature of the German scene and this part of the programme reflected this extremely well.
The festival provided evidence of the increasing convergence between contemporary jazz and contemporary classical music
The best example of the growing overlap between these two aspects of creative music was Anne Webber’s Septet and the music they performed from Webber’s Clockwise album. The intricate writing and the use of short overlapping phrases creating complex textures have much in common with the music of new music ensembles such as those coming under the Bang on a Can banner. Also, Witch ‘N Monk, the UK duo of Heidi Heidelberg and Mauricio Velasierra now based in Berlin, worked with the contemporary music ensemble LUX:NM in their Fluid Formations set that combined a groove-based approach led by drummer Jim Black and over which LUX:NM played.
The festival provided evidence of the importance of electronics in contemporary jazz and improvised music
The best example came in the commission for British pianist and composer Alex Hawkins. Alex, with the cooperation of Shabaka Hutchings on clarinet and Matt Wright on electronics, created an electronic score, in reality a kind of backing track with many different sounds, such as birdsong, radio distortion and scratchy LP sounds for vocalist and visual artist Siska to rap over supported by bass player Nick Dunston and trumpeter Lina Allemano. As a result of the Covid-19 virus, the three British players could not travel to perform with the Berliners, hence the solution of creating a recording for the Berliners to play over.
Berlin hosts many musicians from other countries who have found their niche in the city
Running alongside the jazz programme on the Sunday was a whole programme curated by the SAVVY Contemporary organisation which focusses on experimental music and art by non-European artists. The programme had the title Bodi No Be Fayawood, the Nigerian pidgin for ‘The Body Is Not Firewood’ which argues for the need for relaxation in times of crisis. The programme had artists of different ethnicities from the USA, Africa and Latin America. I particularly enjoyed the Charles Sammons Collective which performed a very interesting blend of experimental music drawing on aspects of African music, jazz and blues, including a version of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit.
It was also noticeable how many of the Berlin jazz groups included a non-German player now based in Berlin, e.g Jim Black from the USA, Cansu Tanrıkulu from Turkey, Lina Allemano from Canada
Jazzfest Berlin achieved a good gender balance in the groups presented
Virtually every group had at least one female performer and several had many more; there were very few all-male groups I believe that this emphasis on balance is an aim of the festival, but I would imagine that the diversity of the programme with its broad definition of jazz makes it relatively easy to achieve the balance.
The Coltrane tradition is still strong in contemporary jazz
The concert with the quartet led by Lakecia Benjamin which was infused with the spirit of both John and Alice Coltrane’s music is the obvious example here, but the influence of John Coltrane was certainly heard elsewhere, e.g., in the playing of saxophonists Christof Lauer and Tony Lakatos in the quartet they led on the Frankfurt radio recording.
The Jazzfest Berlin is brilliantly curated
This conclusion must be evident from the descriptions above! My congratulations to the Festival Director Nadin Deventer!
The festival will be available online for the next 12 months, go to here.
For technical reasons I was unable to access the final concert of the Tampere Jazz Festival (see previous review) by the Timo Lassy Band. This has now been rectified and I’m glad that I have been to hear this set as it is one of the strongest sets of the festival.
Timo Lassy was one of the founder members of the Five Corners Quintet that gained an international reputation for its dance floor friendly jazz; these days he is concentrating on his own projects with a greater focus on contemporary jazz. He has a strong muscular tone on the tenor saxophone and an ability to construct excellent coherent solos. At the Tampere Festival he was playing with a quartet of players who had appeared in various other groups at the festival: pianist Henri Mäntylä, bass player Antti Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen. The group integrated well and produced a nicely swinging set. There was perhaps an over-reliance on the head + solos format, but both the compositions and the solos were strong, so no real complaints on that score.