Kevin Davy interviewed Trumpet player and ex Sun Ra sideman Ahmed Abdullah to discuss his CD “A Music of the Spirit / Out of Sistas’ Place” Spring 2020
The British jazz scene is going through an extremely vibrant period right now. As 2019 draws to a close, there have been more new releases by British acts than for some time, facilitated by record labels like Whirlwind and Ubuntu who have contributed significantly to this trend over the last few years.
One artist to come to the fore is pianist / keyboardist Rebecca Nash and her group Atlas who released her debut CD in July entitled Peaceful King on Whirlwind records. Peaceful King straddles many musical forms focusing mainly on jazz with a sprinkling of new age and electronica; an extremely mature and ethereal offering for a debut. Rebecca recently embarked on a UK wide tour to promote Peaceful King and I was fortunate to catch her album launch at the Seabright Arms in East London in the tail end of November.
The Seabright Arms is an interesting venue; although a pub upstairs there is a vibrant music venue downstairs in the basement, with a layout that can only be described as a mini version of the 02 Academy in Islington, not what you would expect hidden below a typical looking pub! There is no seating, well there wasn’t for this gig, so you have to stand the whole way through, or dance if that is your wont. This layout is In keeping with a venue perhaps more suited to rock and other forms of popular music. And similar to a rock venue, there was a support act first up called the Nick Walters quartet, led by trumpet player Nick Walters, who also joined Atlas and played in the main performance of the night.
The gig featured tracks from Rebecca’s album, starting off with the title track which has an “ECM” feel, combining jazz with electronics, Sarah Colman provided vocals on Hotwired and Grace, whilst Dreamer contained a haunting trumpet solo by Nick Walters. There was a vibrant and attentive audience including many big figures on the scene, which indicates the esteem in which Rebecca Nash is held. The only downside was the gig was too short! The band was on stage for exactly one hour but the more important thing to note is how much talent is coming out of Britain right now, and definitely these artists deserve as much airplay as possible.
Rebecca Nash: Piano / Keyboards
Thomas Seminar Ford: Guitar
Chris Mapp: Bass
Matt Fisher: Drums
Sara Coleman: Keyboards
Nick Walters: Trumpet
Nicholas Malcolm: Trumpet
Here at Jazz London radio we get the opportunity to see and interview some top class performers.
One man who comes into this category is Arun Luthra, a saxophonist and konnakol artist who hails from Massachusetts in the United States and bases his musical career In New York City. What is konnakol I hear you ask? Konnakol is the art of performing percussion syllables vocally in South Indian Carnatic music https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konnakol .
Arun was in the UK recently on tour with his group, Arun Luthra’s Konnakol Jazz Project, playing venues in London and Brighton, including Ronnie Scott’s, where he had the opportunity to play as leader for the first time. Arun also came down to Greenwich to play in Oliver’s Jazz Bar, which is where I went to interview him and take in his performance. Oliver’s is a bar in the heart of Greenwich town centre, opposite Greenwich theatre and bordering Greenwich park. To access the bar you have to proceed downstairs into a dark but very cosy old school setting, perfect for taking in creative music.
Arun is a very tall and statuesque figure, in fact, too tall for the stage at Oliver’s! Arun had to perform off the stage just in front of the seated audience, one way to get closer to the musicians. As for the music itself, Arun went through an interesting repertoire of various musical fusions, from the hard bop influenced Perc-kol-ude/Toorna, which contained some konnakol to The Divvy-Up Dance with its propulsive beat and changes in tempo; where Arun played soprano saxophone. Arun was a founder member of Bjorkestra, a big band dedicated to the music of Bjork and performed Soon Starts Now, a Bjork inspired composition. Arun also played a cover, called Suspone, which was written by Mike Stern and appeared on Michael Brecker’s Don’t Try This At Home album in 1988. Arun finished his set performing Collective where he brought his konnakol skills to the fore and allowed his musicians to stretch out a bit.
All in all a highly enjoyable set in front of a very appreciate audience. Arun’s Konnakol Jazz Project U.K. tour consisted of:
Arun on tenor & soprano saxophone
Sam Leak – piano
Tom Mason – bass
David Ingamells – drums
You can listen to our interview before his set here:
On Saturday 20th July at members’ club Vout-O-Reenee’s, the House of Customs debuted in London. Naples-born Dani Diodatoheadlined the intimate gathering, the British inauguration of the pop-up concert brand following its migration from Copenhagen. Fittingly, Diodato’s music also placed migration in the spotlight.
In his small, softly lit surroundings, he presented his project SUNAAT, which bills itself as a musical exploration of the current experience of migration in Europe. Naples-born and now London-based, Diodato seeks to achieve his project’s goals through melodies, trumpet solos and electronic drum beats. The result is a cohesive sound that unifies new London and classic Naples into a singular jazz harmony. The snug space and cosy decor gave the impression of a private living room, the band playing barely a meter away from the guests. Diodato’s sound was speakeasy-like, a vibrant hum of noise that broke free of the background and commanded the audience’s full attention.
Following stints at Glastonbury and Love Supreme Festival, Diodato has established a strong foothold in the vibrant London jazz scene. His confident image complemented the newly arrived House of Customs. In Copenhagen, the brand worked with jazz festivals and partnered with luxury venues as it developed its own voice. Judging by the London launch, it will extend its track record by showcasing artists such as Diodato.
The audience consisted of jazz enthusiasts, attracted by the House’s focus on the night’s talent. One attendee, however, admitted that while it was his first Jazz event, it would not be his last. He names the ‘intimate setting,’ ‘chilled vibe’ and ‘personal and relaxed environment’ as contributors to his overall enjoyment of the music. Another guest noted her amazement at how ‘in-sync and talented the artists [were] to make such beautiful jazz music.’
Diodato will be playing at the jazz club Kansas Smitty’s on Wednesday 7th August, and again on Saturday 24th August at Bar 91 in Shoreditch. It is possible that he will partner with House of Customs in the future. In the meantime, the brand, headed by Folayinka Coker, will continue to combine London’s most luxurious venues and best jazz talent.
Natasha Franks is a graduate of the University of St Andrews, where she studied English. She enjoys writing, reading, and learning new words. She currently lives in London.
2019 will be a momentous one. The country is rife with division over Brexit and we still don’t know how that is going to be decided, this uncertainty could take months if not years to resolve. So it is an interesting time to be alive!
The complexities of Brexit, and why people voted the way they did in June 2016 could well be linked to the austerity policy adopted by the coalition government of 2010 to 2015 and since continued by the Conservative government under Theresa May. Despite Theresa May making the claim in recent months that austerity would be coming to an end, there is no evidence that is the case. The cuts to services by local authorities, the trebling of tuition fees, the average fall in wages since the financial crash of 2008 have all contributed to the lack of a feel good factor which ultimately culminated in a referendum by David Cameron in 2016 which led to the Brexit vote. Europe was the fall guy here, inadvertently blamed by some for Britain’s internal problems created by government policy. The policy of austerity indirectly affected the way politics is not only conducted in this country since 2010 but throughout the continent of Europe as well over the last nine years. Countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain have felt the full weight of austerity and recession or lack of growth affecting youth employment.
Therefore, during a period of national difficulty or constitutional crisis, the arts can be at its most fertile as musicians, composers and playwrights produce material which reflects the times we live, it is vital for the arts to be prominent in times like these. This is where the Austerity Playbook comes in. The Austerity Playbook held its London premiere on 18 January at the Hoxton Hall, in Hoxton street, in Hoxton……Performed more as a musical than a play on this particular night with twelve short scenes, it was an extravaganza featuring nine musicians on stage and supported by the Dende Company of Elders who performed the role of a vociferous crowd off stage right next to the audience. An interesting concept which surprisingly has not been explored before to my knowledge, The Austerity Playbook takes a satirical look at a town in the north east of England where the local authority decides to sanction lots of cuts to services and budgets over an extensive period. Fini Bearman played the Council Leader forcing through cuts whilst encouraging residents to meet the shortfall by volunteering their time to bridge the gap and keep some services going. Juliet Kelly doubled up as a Librarian, Georgia Van Etten was the Community Support worker and Luca Manning played an Eastern European immigrant. The Dende Company of Elders performed the role of a rowdy crowd chanting “Save Our Services” at civic meetings. It might well be satirical and amusing but a lot of the subject matter was pretty close to the bone.
Considering the subject matter is quite complex, it should not come as any surprise that it involved a lot of collaboration to put the project together. The play was written by Mark O’Thomas, who used research by two Professors of Accounting; Professor Laurence Ferri of Durham University and Ileana Steccolini of Newcastle University. Andre Pink took care of the Direction, knitting five musicians and four singers on stage with the Dende Company of Elders off it, and finally music was written by JLR’s Andrea Vicari. Professor Ferri told me that “the motivation was to show the impacts that central government austerity based budget cuts have on the lives of everyday citizens and the resilience of local government and communities to deal with the implications.” “Austerity is a policy choice to deal with budget pressures. In the case of the UK it has arguably went on far too long and undoubtedly is causing a multitude of problems for local government and citizens.” Professor Steccolini furthered that austerity “rather than solving problems, has created new ones. Our effort, as researchers, was to try to point out the critical issues related to austerity, but also identify possible solutions, valid not only in the short, but also the long term.”
The musical was fun to watch and it would be good if they get commissioned to perform the play / musical around the country over the coming months. The ending did have a somewhat unresolved feel to it; and that is where we are at right now as a country, as there is no let up despite Theresa May’s claim that austerity is coming to an end.
Fini Bearman – singer / Council Leader turns Labour MP
Juliet Kelly – singer / Librarian
Georgia Van Etten – singer / Community Support Officer
Luca Manning – singer / Eastern European Immigrant
Andrea Vicari – keyboards / composer
Dorian Lockett – bass
Caroline Scott – Drums
Andy Davies – Trumpet / Narrator
Chelsea Carmichael – Saxophone
Photographs by Leandro Dacundo
Lorraine Baker is one of the upcoming talents on the British jazz scene. A drummer with excellent touch and timing, she brought out her debut album called the Eden exactly one week ago, and I went along to Vortex jazz club in Dalston to see the album launch with her band.
The first thing to note is this is an excellent debut album. I interviewed Lorraine in early October and have been featuring tracks on our “Latest Releases” slot since then. Rather interestingly, the album focuses entirely on one of the great drummers called Ed Blackwell, who played with some of the greats of American jazz from Ornette Coleman to Don Cherry to Joe Lovano over a forty year period. Ed Blackwell came from a generation of drummers who turned a primarily percussion instrument into musical and melodic instrument as well, along with the likes of Billy Higgins and Joe Chambers. Therefore, it is fascinating that a young drummer coming out of Kent would base her album on the achievements of a drummer who passed on twenty six years ago.
photo by Helena DornellasAnd just for good measure, Lorraine arranges the compositions and puts a 21st century slant to them. A refreshing approach to looking at the one of the stalwarts of the music who would otherwise not be in the consciousness of the general jazz fan. Lorraine has assembled some excellent musicians for the tour including John Turville on piano, Paul Michael on electric bass and Binker Golding on saxophones; Liam Noble played piano on the album. Highlights from the first set included Blues Connotation, a track written by Ornette Coleman which featured a lovely solo by Lorraine where she used her hands as part of the percussion ensemble.
As I was listening and watching her perform, my mind was drawn to the drummer Bob Moses who played on Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life album in 1976. Bob also played on guitarist Emily Remler’s albums in the early 1980s and took a different approach where he was the outright percussionist, as opposed to the traditional riding of the cymbals and hi hat method, Lorraine was performing at that level of performance, coming up with something innovative. It was also interesting to watch a drummer play left handed or sinistra as they say in Latin.
On the second set, Lorraine played some great compositions including a cover of Central Park West, a track written by John Coltrane which Joe Lovano featured on his 1992 album From The Soul, one of the last records Ed Blackwell recorded on. Pentahouve is one of the highlights of the CD, and it was great to listen to it in a live setting, a tune with a deep groove and wonderful time signature, allowing the musicians to really get into it and branch out with Lorraine revelling in the odd time signatures the track provides.
I think all in attendance left the concert feeling that jazz is in good hands with Lorraine Baker letting us know that it is possible to combine musicality with innovation. Lorraine shows as a leader and drummer that the most important thing is the quality of the music, that alone will be an inspiration to girls who want to pick up the drum kit as an instrument to have a go and see what happens.
Xhosa Cole announced as BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2018
by Sophia Alexandra Hall
Five fantastic young jazz musicians competed in the BBC Young Jazz Musician Final last night (recorded November 24th, broadcast at 9pm on BBC4 November 25th) however, the title of BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2018 was awarded to saxophonist Xhosa Cole. The final took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s Southbank Centre, event supported by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. This year, for the first time, the Final was held at the EFG London Jazz Festival, as part of a new relationship designed to further the competition’s aim of showcasing the most talented young jazz performers to audiences across the UK.
In the grand final, each performer was tasked with playing a sixteen-minute set, which included at least one piece written or arranged by themselves. Xhosa played “Moving Ladywood” (Xhosa Cole), “I Cover The Waterfront” (Johnny Green) and “Moment’s Notice” (John Coltrane). Each of the contestants were backed by an outstanding band, consisting of Paula Gardiner (bass), Asaf Sirkis (drums), and led by Gwilym Simcock (piano).
Following his victory, Xhosa said:
“It’s been amazing to represent and have been represented at this prestigious celebration of jazz music in the UK. The calibre of musicianship and passion for jazz music displayed on the stage today has been incredibly inspiring to be a part of.”
This year’s judging panel was made up of Monty Alexander, Zoe Rahman, Gary Crosby, Zara McFarlane and Iain Ballamy.
Of the winner, judge Iain Ballamy said:
“Xhosa’s performance was so heartfelt, sincere and communicative. It’s easy to see he has such a deep and genuine love of the tradition that gave us such a convincing performance on the night. All five finalists were brilliant – I’d be happy to share the stage with any one of them – and hope to do so!”
The full line-up of BBC Young Jazz Musician finalists included:
- Xhosa Cole – saxophone – 22 years old
- Reuben Goldmark – piano – 18 years old
- Fergus McCreadie – piano – 21 years old
- James Owston – bass – 22 years old
- Seth Tackaberry – bass – 20 years old
2016 winner Alexandra Ridout also performed at the final and said of her time as BBC Young Jazz Musician:
“Being named BBC Young Jazz Musician in 2016 was inspiring and so enjoyable. The whole competition made such an impact on my life because my playing improved and I gained more confidence as a musician and a person. I’m really excited for what the future holds for Xhosa.”
Since winning the 2016 final, Alexandra has performed around the country in festivals, concert halls, arts centres, music societies and major jazz clubs, and has had her music played on various BBC Radio 3 shows, Jazz FM and Jazz London Radio (listen to Ridout on the JLR interview series). She began studying at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in September 2017.
In addition to the television coverage on BBC Four and iPlayer for 30 days, BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting highlights of the Final in J to Z – a weekly programme exploring new sounds with classic recordings and exclusive sessions – on Saturday 1st December.
EFG London Jazz Festival Report – JLR Review Series
Part 1: Down for the Count Swing Orchestra, Jeff Goldblum, BBC Concert Orchestra with Shiva Feshareki
Day 1 – Friday 16th November
The Down for the Count Swing Orchestra is the perfect festival draw – steeped in old-school swing, powerhouse big band charts, smooth seductive ballads, and sprinkled with top-notch vocalists. The opening Sing Sing Sing (made famous by Benny Goodman in 1937) is the iconic opening expected from a “Big Band Bash” as advertised by the band, and the audience knew they were in safe hands when the clarinettist took the original Goodman clarinet solo. Amongst the stand out performers, was recent RAM graduate, lead vocalist Katie Birtill who effortlessly blended contemporary clean melodic phrases, with style-appropriate sassy scat. Being an eleven-piece unit as opposed to the eighteen-piece norm meant occasionally the band’s melodic lines were lost or overpowered, however, the musicians still managed to capture the fun and punchiness of the Big Band genre, captivating traditionalists and seasoned professionals alike.
Day 2 – Saturday 17th November
Opening with an accidental fire alarm, the 3pm performance at Cadogan Hall of Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra was set from the get-go to be a memorable afternoon. The Hollywood legend had the audience wrapped around his finger from the moment he apparated onto the stage, and kept the whole room engaged for the duration of the concert by combining a mix of music with spontaneous quizzes and trivia facts; a particular herculean task due to the dramatic age range of the sold-out hall.
Musically, Goldblum’s jazz improvisation was often slightly sparse, yet also stylistically sound and harmonically defiant. The five-piece band alongside Goldblum on keys and Imelda May’s unmistakable vocals – organ, tenor saxophone, guitar, bass, drums – spotlights some of LA’s top musicians including the roaring shady tone of tenor saxophonist James King which quickly became a highlight in each arrangement.
Day 3 – Sunday 18th November
In a bizarre BBC Concert Orchestra program where during a jazz festival, not a single saxophone joined the ensemble’s ranks on stage, the fantastic composer and turntablist Shiva Feshareki guided the London Jazz Festival’s audience through her carefully constructed sound-world, making the unfamiliar familiar. After an opening half of stereotypically jazz associated charts such as the popular Wayne Shorter, Nefertiti and the Coltrane influenced Gordon Hamilton, Baby Steps First, the introduction of turntables to the stage brought a changed air to the performance venue.
Using both live musicians and the pre-recorded sounds of the audience, Feshareki’s work moved in retrograde to the orchestra’s performance, joining in the midsection to create a deeply satisfying cacophonous duet between electronic and acoustic. This moving performance from both Feshareki and the BBCCO should be hailed as one of the triumphs of this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, as it successfully and accessibly welcomed in a new development of the ever-changing genre of Jazz.
Reviewed by Sophia Alexandra Hall
Charlie was on a quick-fire tour of the UK, performing in London, Coventry and Manchester before making his way back to the United States to continue touring across the pond. I have known Charlie’s music since the mid 1990s when he came to international attention with his Blue Note album called Bing Bing Bing which was played a lot on jazz radio. Charlie’s music always has a strong groove orientation and that has been evident in all of his subsequent releases, whether more on the commercial side, or a more abstract style; Charlie never loses sight of the groove in his music, and he has released well over twenty albums during this period.
That musical concept was very much in evidence in his live performance where he was joined by an excellent British based Cuban trumpeter Yelfris Valdés and drummer Carter McLean. The first thing that strikes you as a watching audience is that three becomes four! Charlie doubles up as the bass player on his custom made seven string guitar, using his thumb to play the baseline whilst also playing guitar chords or taking a solo. An incredible skill which no doubt is quite a niche in the world of music; we often see bass players use a six string bass guitar to play in the higher register for solos, but not the other way round. On stage the music of a quartet was being made, much in the way a Hammond organist might play bass using their foot pedals.
The music was pretty good too. There was a lot of space, leaving it to the imagination of the listeners to fill the spaces, the phrase “less is more” springs to mind. Charlie played tunes from his vaults including his most recent release, the amusingly titled Everybody Has A Plan Until They Get Punched In The Mouth. However, Charlie also kept the audience on their toes, slipping in references to famous tunes in his repertoire, leaving me to ponder “what tune was that?” with the answer flashing to me some moments later. That “guess what tune” theme continued throughout; Charlie performed Wishing Well, a tune originally sung by Terrence Trent Darby back in the late 1980s. Charlie also slipped in riffs of Faith by George Michael and performed a Curtis Mayfield tune for good measure, it definitely brought something different musically which the audience really enjoyed.
Charlie was ably supported by Yelfris and Carter who did great comping and superb solos as well, it was a thoroughly entertaining evening of music from a master performer who believes in music first as opposed to showing off his chops and technique.
By Laurie Burnette
Here at Jazz London Radio we get to witness a variety of styles of music in different settings. Last Tuesday, I was invited to Live At Zedel in Soho to see a new name in jazz called Lucy Dixon. Lucy is British born but has been forging a career for herself in France where she has lived for the past fifteen years.
The term jazz singer / artist usually conjures up certain images or conceptions, however, Lucy is not a singer in the straight ahead vein, or cutting edge contemporary; Lucy is a cabaret performer who also has a few strings to her bow which won’t come to mind immediately. Lucy sings, and tap dances!
So it was a case of being intrigued when I arrived at Zedel to see Lucy perform with her Gypsy jazz trio which comprised of David Gastine and Vincent Simonelli on acoustic guitars plus Sebastien Gastine on double bass, all arriving from France via Eurostar that evening. As the performance got underway, I was initially confused as the trio came on stage and started playing; I was wondering if I was there for the wrong night and started checking the brochure. Then, about three minutes later, a tall lady came on stage wearing a striking white three piece suit, with tie, black waistcoat and a fedora hat. Ah, that must be Lucy I thought, she kind of appeared unannounced; which then made it into a quartet on stage.
Lucy released a CD in 2016 entitled Lulu’s Back In Town on dStream records and most of the repertoire from Tuesday’s performance came from that CD, which are reworkings of classics from the Great American songbook and Blues singers done in a gypsy jazz style. Tunes such as Bye Bye Blackbird, Fascinating Rhythm and Lulu’s Back In Town by Fats Waller got the gypsy jazz treatment. On stage there was no drummer or percussionist, that’s where Lucy’s uniqueness came to the fore, as her job was to provide percussion moments through tap dancing along with her singing; duelling with both guitarists and bassist, it was quite a sight to see a performer tap dancing. Not only that, Lucy also contributed other percussion by playing a tambourine and used a drum stick to bang on a teapot, that’s right, a teapot :-0 Lucy also managed to get musical sounds out of a plastic bag, interpreting the sounds of brushes you would see drummers use when playing ballads. Clearly Lucy is talented and innovative.
You might wonder why Lucy is so unusual in a jazz scene so occupied these days by “hipsters”; that would be partly explained in Lucy’s cabaret background, hence her being based in Paris for such a long period of time performing over there. Lucy has a voice that is very easy on the ear, but trained to a high standard, Lucy is a high quality singer in the idiom she performs.
If you want to see something a bit different from the more orthodox straight ahead jazz / fusion music that is so prevalent today, then Lucy Dixon is your girl.