Downbeat’s 25 For The Future

November’s Downbeat magazine (only just arrived!) has a feature on the 25 artists who they consider have the potential to shape the future direction of jazz.  Inevitably as an American magazine 18 of the artists profiled are from the US.  Of the 7 non-US artists featured four are from the UK, one is from Poland, one is from Norway and one is from South Africa. 

The UK artists are Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Yazz Ahmed and Yussef Dayes. Perhaps the only surprise there is Yussef Dayes, but, having heard him play at the Hare & Hounds in a Leftfoot/Jazzlines co-promotion, I know he is a fantastic drummer and one who is a key member of the so-called new London scene, producing absorbing fusions of jazz with contemporary club music.  Both Shabaka and Nubya have established a well-deserved niche in the US, and it is not a surprise that they are on the list.  The same is true of Yazz Ahmed, and I am delighted that she has been recognised for the originality of an approach to jazz that is different from the other three UK representatives and, more generally, from the UK scene. 

I would have liked to see other UK players recognised, players really pushing the boundaries such Tom Challenger, Kit Downes or even improvising players such as Rachel Musson or Mark Sanders who have recorded albums on the Brooklyn based 577 Records.  Moreover, however good exciting young players as Hedwig Mollestad and Kuba Więcek are, they are hardly representative of the burgeoning European scene.  There are so many players from continental Europe who could have been included.   

The South African is Nduduzo Makhathini who appears on the latest album by Shabaka and the Ancestors We Are Sent Here By History, and who, as Head of Music at the University of Fort Hare, plays an important role in bringing together elements of South African culture and jazz.

Amongst the American players there are several who are becoming known over here:  Makaya McCraven and Junius Paul played at the premiere of Soweto Kinch’s The Black Peril commission at the 2019 London Jazz Festival.  Vocalist Jazzmeia Horn appeared at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2018; cellist Tomeka Reid was at Café Oto with the large version of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and has recorded an excellent album with Alex Hawkins; trumpeter Adam O’Farrill has appeared with Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl.  Then saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and vibraphone player Joel Ross played impressive sets at the recent online Berlin Jazz Festival. 

There are several new names for me:  vocalist Veronica Swift, bass player Luke Stewart who has played bass in James Brandon Lewis’ trio and led his own projects, vocalist/saxophonist Camille Thurman who has been depping for Walter Blanding in the Lincoln Center Orchestra as well as leading her own quintet; drummer Jimmy Macbride, now leading his own group after appearing as a sidesman on 40 albums; pianist James Francies who graduated from the Houston High School for Performing and Visual Arts where both Jason Moran and Robert Glasper studied, and saxophonist Morgan Guerin who has toured with Terri Lynne Carrington’s Social Science group and with Esperanza Spalding. 

The full list is Veronica Swift, Shabaka Hutchings, Jazzmeia Horn, Christian Sands, Camila Meza, Nubya Garcia, Nduduzo Makhathini, Makaya McCraven, Lakecia Benjamin, Junius Paul, Morgan Guerin, Yazz Ahmed, James Francies, Kuba Więcek, Fabian Almazan, Theo Croker, Jimmy Macbride, Camille Thurman, Alfredo Rodriguez, Hedvig Mollestad, Adam O’Farrill, Tomeka Reid, Luke Stewart, Yussef Dayes, Joel Ross. 

Jazz Connective: The Lyon Session

Jazz Connective is a project funded by the European Union that has brought together promoters and festivals in six European countries and seven cities, and has run mini-festivals and seminars in each of the cities. Jazzlines, the jazz programme at Town Hall Symphony Hall Birmingham has played an important role in the project hosting a three-day event in March immediately before the first lockdown, which was followed by a similar event at The Vortex Jazz Club in London.  The project has shown how much the UK scene is linked with other European scenes, and, although there are distinctive features of the music here in UK, there is so much in common with Europe.  Here I am making a musical point rather than a political point! 

The project will reach its conclusion in the next few days starting tonight (Saturday 5th December) with a series of online concerts featuring groups from each of the seven cities.  There will also be two days of seminars on Tuesday 8th December and Wednesday 9th, for details see below. 

The project has been organised by Le Périscope club in Lyon, and this final culminating session was due to take place at the club in May this year.  It is greatly to the credit of the organisers that they have managed to put together this online festival and seminar. 

There will be concerts featuring groups from each of the cities starting tonight at 5.30 UK time and running every night till next Sunday 13th December.   The sessions at the weekend including Friday 11th will begin at 5.30 while those shown during the week (except Friday) will begin at 7pm.   

The programme is outlined below.  We are particularly proud of the Birmingham programme on Monday 7th with a contrasting double bill with an improvising trio featuring Rachel Musson on saxophone, Liam Noble on piano and Mark Sanders on drums.  This is followed by a set featuring a sextet led by saxophonist Xhosa Cole playing five jazz standards; it is an excellent group which features a number of top players based in Birmingham: alto saxophonist James Romaine, trumpeter Jay Phelps (now back in London), bass player James Owston and drummer Jim Bashford, and special guest from London Deschanel Gordon, the winner of the recent BBC Young Jazz Musician of The Year Competition.  Both sets run for 30 minutes and give a snapshot of aspects of the Birmingham scene; highlights are the interaction between the three musicians in the Musson Noble Sanders set, a beautiful solo sax feature for Xhosa Cole, and the playing of Deschanel Gordon. 

Saturday 5th December 5.30pm  Finland, Helsinki:   Verneri Pohjola and Mika Kallio 

Sunday 6th December 5.30pm  Poland, Łodz: Kuba Więcek Trio and Marek Popieszalski (solo saxophone) 

Monday 7th December 7pm  Britain: Birmingham: Rachel Musson Liam Noble Mark Sanders and Xhosa Cole Sextet 

Tuesday 8th December 7pm Ireland, Dublin: Oho, Roamer and H-Ci 

Wednesday 9th December 7pm Slovenia, Ljubljana: Band Oholo 

Thursday 10th December 7pm Britain: London Alina Bzhezhinska’s Alina Hip Harp Quintet 

Friday 11th December 5.30pm France: Lyon: Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq 

Saturday 12th December 5.30pm France: Lyon: Ar Ker and Chromb 

Sunday 13th December 5.30pm France: Lyon: Hirsute and Marthe 

All these concerts can be accessed at www.facebook.com/jazzconnective.  The full programme including the seminar can be seen at http://www.jazzconnnective.com  

The Video Of The Paul Dunmall Trio Premieres This Thursday 26th November

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 7.45th; the link is here.  The video will still be available after the launch.

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.

So do watch the video on Thursday evening, and think about making a donation.  Here’s the link for the donation.  

Thoughts On London Jazz Festival 2020

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. 

Vilnius Jazz  

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, and a 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 Golding has 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). 

JFrisco 

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 Excellent Albums That Show Contemporary Trends: Aku! and Shiver

 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, SALTS with bass 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!