JLR Review – Camilla George Quartet at Pizza Express Jazz Club, January 2017

We are experiencing a colder than usual winter so far in 2017, so what better way to start the year than heading down to the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho to take in some live music.



Last Wednesday I did just that to see rising star on the scene Camilla George and her quartet. The night was a special one for Camilla, it was the launch of her debut CD entitled Isang on Ubuntu records with a one off performance before the start of a national tour. It was doubly special for Camilla who was celebrating her 26th birthday that very evening as well.  An important moment with a slew of prominent people in jazz present in the audience; Camilla played to a packed house where demand outstripped supply for tickets.  Prominent figures present included Director of Jazz FM, Chris Philips, who also was celebrating his birthday that day! Jazz Jamaica founder and Tomorrow’s Warriors Gary Crosby, saxophonist Jean Toussaint, Paul Pace of Spice of Life and Ronnie Scotts, Ubuntu record label owner Mike Hummel among others; to see the next generation of British jazz coming through before our eyes.

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Camilla was very relaxed on stage and beautifully dressed wearing an African headscarf and with alto saxophone in hand; if she was nervous beforehand she certainly didn’t show it as the quartet played with great verve and understanding, the music a showcase for the whole group with Camilla as the lead which is how it should be; we so often see soloists who get a bit carried away and dominate the sound with their personality and overplaying.  Speaking of the quartet, the members were Camilla on alto saxophone and chief composer, Sarah Tandy on piano, Daniel Casimir on double bass and Femi Coleoso on drums; with Zara McFarlane guesting on stage for a couple of tunes. The quartet has been together since 2014 which is certainly reflected in their musicianship and stage presence.

The tracks performed were intriguing in terms of compositional style.  Camilla said she was born in Nigeria and her father was in fact from Grenada; an island in the Caribbean which is part of the Windward Islands and the track entitled Song for Reds was dedicated to her father.  With that background the music has a seamless flow of Afro Caribbean undertone to it.  After all, the calypso sound of the southern Caribbean islands which includes Trinidad and Tobago has a very similar sound and structure to West African music.  There was not much difference between the Afrobeat sound of Fela Kuti and Tony Allen in the 1970s and the Soca sound which came out of Trinidad during the same period (soca was a term to describe Soul Calypso). The track Mami Wata Returns/Usoro was underpinned by a pulsating and very danceable Affro Caribbean rhythm.

Other tracks performed such as Dreaming of Eket displayed a different style of jazz. I would refer to it more as chamber jazz, not far removed from the “ECM” sound. This is not untypical of musicians who come out of Europe regardless of origin or influence, jazz from Europe often has a diverse mixture of influences which American jazz tends not to have quite to the same degree. This is understandable and gives European jazz a bit of an edge in my opinion; American jazz will often be influenced externally by latin or hip hop in the main whereas European jazz can draw on folk, classical, Afro Caribbean, West African, Mediterranean and Balkans, a lot of influences to potentially draw on!

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On Dreaming of Eket, drummer Femi Coleoso played a brilliant solo which reminded me of Billy Higgins and Joe Chambers, a musical style of interplay as opposed to the more percussive style associated with the likes of Elvin Jones and Art Blakey.  Daniel Casimir’s bass playing was a revelation; his soloing and accompaniment was at a different level which is great to see. I heard innovative bass playing and this is not easy to do nowadays; it is relatively easier to play efficiently, excellently and competently, but playing innovatively is a lot more difficult to pull off. The trick is to make it look easy, and Daniel comes into that category, a stellar career awaits I’m sure. Singer Zara McFarlane also joined the quartet on stage for a couple of numbers and to present the birthday cake at the end :-0

All in all a very nice evening of top class jazz music and we know that the future of British jazz is in good hands.

JLR Review – Fini Bearman and Elda Trio at Union Chapel, November 2016

We’ve come to the end of another edition of the EFG London Jazz Festival.  The London Jazz Festival caters for every type of jazz fan, with large and small venues around the capital holding top class jazz over a ten day period.




One such venue is the Union Chapel in Islington, which hosted artists Fini Bearman and Elda Trio on a double bill last Sunday evening.  The Union Chapel is an interesting venue based in Compton Terrace, just off Upper Street and five minutes away from Highbury and Islington tube station.  Described as a “working church, live entertainment venue and charity drop-in centre for the homeless in Islington”, the church was built in the late 19th century and is a Grade 1 listed building.  Large concerts take place in the auditorium, whilst this performance took place in the Upper Hall bar.

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I arrived just after 2pm during the sound checks to conduct interviews; it is always fun to see the behind the scenes sound checks, watching musicians go through their paces for the main event; much like a sportsman does before their race or match, getting in the zone. We found a quiet spot away from the sound check where I interviewed first Fine Bearman for ten minutes, then Emilia Martensson for another ten minutes. Doors opened for the performances at 3.30pm and the room filled up very quickly indeed with the first performance commencing just after 4pm.

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The Elda Trio were first up; comprising of Emilia Martensson from Sweden on vocals, Adriano Adewale from Brazil on drums / percussion and Janez Dovč from Slovenia on accordion and experimental loops.  The Elda Trio are a true representation of the potential of world music, it is also true to say the Elda Trio have a unique sound which I haven’t heard anywhere else.  Over the years we have heard many bands / groups / artists who perform world music and it sounds incredibly clichéd, as if you heard it 127 times before; that’s not the case with the Elda Trio, it is much more than that primarily because their combination is Brazilian rhythms mixed with Swedish and Slovenian folk is so unusual. Add to that Emilia’s vocals in English and sometimes Swedish and that’s the Elda Trio.  The percussion and accordion is also interesting, Adriano played an assortment of instruments on his drum kit, whilst Janez played various effects and doubled up as a bass player through the accordion with electronic loops.  Many of the songs are folk tales including their single called Aleksandrinke, a song about Slovenian women who went to Egypt to become nannies in the 19th century.  This is precisely what Pat Metheny meant when he called jazz a “modern folk music”.

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The Elda Trio performed a set of around 75 minutes which was very well received, after which there was a short break to get the stage ready for Fini Bearman and her band who were next up on the set.  Fini’s band comprised a five piece of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards with Fini on vocals, showcasing tunes from her new CD entitled Burn the Boat on Two River Records, a title that definitely grabs the attention!  Fini started off with the title track, an interesting philosophical song (you can hear an explanation on the podcast).  Each song had a story behind it which was well told by Fini and beautifully performed as well.  The set was quite different from the Elda Trio but still superb, Fini Bearman’s music is a mix of folk, pop, jazz with interesting melodies and time shifts going on at the same time, which is a combination I always enjoy if done well. For those who have heard music from the Galician region in Spain, there is an element of that contrast and counterpoint, Fini’s music has all of those elements which make it immediately interesting. With great lyrics and ideas thrown in, this should make her music playable on jazz and non-jazz stations.

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Fini’s set lasted just under 80 minutes and the audience were treated to an encore at the end, which Fini used to perform a song that wasn’t on the new record; a nice way to finish the evening.  The audience were treated to three hours of great contrasting music which showcases the best that British jazz has to offer.  It also shows how many different directions the music of jazz has taken and continues to take, reflecting the influences and backgrounds of the performers, but also reflecting the diversity of current British culture, which despite Brexit has a strong European and international influence 😉 which I am sure will continue to be the case for years to come.

JLR Review – Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione Concert at Kings Place, October 2016

Jazz London Radio had the opportunity last Wednesday to attend the album launch of two of the stalwarts of British creative music.




The artists in question were Sarah Jane Morris and Antonio Forcione, who launched their new CD entitled “Compared To What” with a special appearance at the Kings Place. The Kings Place is a new venue in Kings Cross so aptly named indeed; for those who have yet to visit, I would call Kings Place a cross between a mini Barbican and mini South Bank centre; meaning, the two rooms for musical performances are fairly small and not the large halls associated with the other venues.  Hall 1 (as it is called) holds 420 sears and Hall 2 holds 220 seats.  However, there are a few factors which make these Halls very impressive.  The first is the acoustics are absolutely incredible.  This is the second time I have attended a concert there in the space of a month and each time I have been incredibly impressed.  The roof is very high up and the space for the music to resonate is really well done. There is never any boom in the bass parts and the stage for the performers is fairly spacious.  The seats are comfortable and of course the venue is completely modern, which makes a nice experience every time.

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photo by Sara Leigh Lewis

This seems to make the Kings Place the perfect venue for album launches! As in September I saw the Elda Trio launch their new album there as well.  Antonio and Sarah Jane brought trusted musicians from both of their respected bands to make the ideal collective collaboration.  Antonio was featured on various acoustic guitars with electronic pick-ups. Jenny Adejayan played cello, Martyn Baker played drums and percussion with Henry Thomas rounding off the band on acoustic bass guitar; and of course Sarah Jane on vocals and a bit of percussion too.  These are all high class musicians who have performed with some of the most famous bands in the world.

The set kicked off with Sarah Jane’s compositions “Awestruck and “Comfort Zone” which are the first two tracks on the new album. Sarah Jane gave the audience an insight to what the songs were about which is always a good thing.  What grabbed my attention was the reworking of famous songs including Message In a Bottle by the Police, Superstition by Stevie Wonder and the title of the album, originally written and performed by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. Now, I admit that I am generally weary of cover versions by any artist but these covers were terrific and Antonio brought something different with his guitar playing and use of various percussive techniques and harmonics on the instrument.  Sarah Jane sums it up best by stating an artist should always claim a cover version; which is illustrated perfectly on “Compared to What” where Sarah Jane namechecked some of the important figures in history towards the end of the song.

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photo by Sara Leigh Lewis

Another highlight of the set was the “Wedding Song”, again written by Sarah Jane, a cross between a poem and a waltz, if that makes any sense :-0 A lovely piece of music interpreted beautifully by the musicians.  Speaking of which, the acoustic bass guitar played by Henry Thomas was as good a sound as I have heard for a long time.  Henry was able to slide the notes like a fretless bass guitar and have a resonance similar to an acoustic bass.  Sarah Jane looked fabulous on stage with a red dress which was custom made for her by an Italian designer; she is very animated on stage and is a great story teller. All in all a really great evening of top notch music, great vibes with socially conscious messages in many of the songs.

I interviewed Sarah Jane and Antonio during the interval backstage which was a lot of fun, in fact, I got a lot longer with them than I was expecting, ten minutes. I was expecting four to five minutes; everyone was in a nice relaxed mood really enjoying themselves.  You can hear my interview with Sarah Jane and Antonio below.

JLR Review – Hiromi Trio Project at The Jazz Cafe, July 2016

Big time jazz returned to London on Tuesday night with the Hiromi trio project performing at the Jazz Café in Camden Town.  Hiromi came on stage to the sort of reception we have come to expect from the Jazz Café, a nice raucous one and we were not disappointed.

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The trio project consists of Hiromi on piano and keyboards, Anthony Jackson on contrabass guitar and Simon Phillips on drums.  An international trio; Hiromi being Japanese, Anthony hailing from the United States and Simon from good old London.  The trio have recorded four albums together and have been touring the world the last few years.  When the Hiromi trio project appears in a town near you, every effort should be made to see them play.  Jazz Café was absolutely packed, in fact standing room only, which is good; as the Café is standing room only anyway, other than the restaurant area upstairs.

The music performed was a unique mixture of jazz and rock, with elements of oriental and perhaps classical plus folk as well.  This is no coincidence; Hiromi hired Anthony and Simon precisely for the vision of the sound she wanted to create.  Simon has been one of the top drummers in the world since the 1970s, recording with the likes Toto, Jeff Beck, Jack Bruce and many others.  Anthony Jackson has been one of the top session musicians, for instance he played on Chaka Khan’s hit “What Cha Gonna Do For Me”.  Anthony has also performed with many greats since the 1970s, including John Scofield, Grover Washington jnr and the brilliant group Eyewitness headed by Steve Khan.  Anthony plays the six string contrabass guitar, in the manner of a rock player as opposed to the typical punchy sound of a jazz bass guitar player; which is why Anthony’s sound is so unique and has been in demand on all types of recordings.  Hiromi herself is a bundle of energy on the piano, bopping up and down, standing up, sitting down!  Not seen anything quite like her for some time.  Besides the great musical experience, it was a great visual experience as well.

This is why it is important artists like Hiromi play at venues such as the Jazz Café.  Since its opening in 1991, the Jazz Café has always offered a different experience for jazz fans.  The venue has changed hands on a few occasions and the latest incarnation has a slightly new look and a change in layout, however, the relaxed atmosphere has remained undeniably the same; in fact Joe Zawinul often called the Jazz Café his favourite venue when he came to London.  The Café offers something special; standing room only.  That allows the audience to really let it hang out, dance, sing, shout, scream and in turn inspire the musicians on stage.

Since 1991 I have seen some of the very best jazz musicians at the Jazz Café; Jackie McLean, Zawinul Syndicate, Tony Williams, Barbara Dennerlein, Yellowjackets, Mike Stern, Billy Cobham, Greg Osby, McCoy Tyner, James Blood Ulmer, Christian McBride, Azymuth, Eddie Henderson, Stanley Clarke, George Duke, Steve Williamson, Dennis Rollins, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.  Larry Corryel, Victor Bailey, Harvey Mason, Randy Brecker, Robin Eubanks, Robben Ford, Jean-Luc Ponty and John Scofield.   Other artists I have enjoyed there include Jody Watley (Shalamar), Fat Back Band, Soulive, Mark King, Headhunters and Blackbyrds. What makes seeing artists at the Jazz Café so unique? It is like watching artists play at a venue like the Borderline, jazz becomes a vibrant force, not just something you sit down, listen to and clap politely,

A musician friend who was at the gig mentioned to me how surprised she was by the demographic of the audience.  Having been to the Jazz Café so many times over the years, I never gave it much thought until this came up, which was the audience on the whole was very young!  To me that has always been the case, in fact, the first time I went to Jazz Café I was 21 years old, to see Jackie McLean; the Jazz Café has always been a young audience.  This is important, because the question has always been how does jazz attract a young audience?  And for me the answer is simple; have venues where you can turn up to see the best musicians in the world, in an environment which is relaxed, ticket prices fairly reasonable, standing room only and allow people to dance if they want to dance and take photos if they want to take photos.

That has always been the case at the Jazz Café.  The much larger Forum in Kentish Town also had that vibe for many years but in recent times has stopped booking jazz musicians.  That kind of environment always inspires musicians to go that extra mile and really pull out a performance, which is exactly what the Hiromi trio project did on Tuesday night.  With that kind of reception, for one night jazz musicians must feel like pop stars when they perform at the Jazz Café.

It was a pleasure to see the Hiromi trio project perform at the Jazz Café, and it is great to see the Jazz Café bring top jazz artists to London, this could really help to revive the London jazz scene and provide a much needed alternative venue for jazz.

JLR Review – Olivia Trummer Concert in Omnibus Clapham, March 2016

The month of March sees a very talented musician on tour throughout Britain and Ireland.

That musician is piano player, singer and composer Olivia Trummer.  Originally from Stuttgart in Germany, Olivia now resides in Berlin and recently brought out a new CD entitled Classical to Jazz One on Bauer records, a specialist jazz and alternative label.  This tour is in support of this new release, her sixth as leader.

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The press release for the CD says that Olivia “is not the first one to face the challenge to merge two genres that are seemingly contradictory like jazz and classical music.  On both sides musicians consistently pose the question how they can combine the sophisticated touch and richness of nuances of classical music with the spontaneity, freedom and rhythmical energy of jazz”.  Which is exactly right; we know there have been many attempts over the years to merge classical with jazz, musicians of the calibre of Dave Brubeck have done that.  We also know that some of the combinations don’t always work and can sound clichéd and staid. However, that was not the case when I first heard Classical to Jazz One in November 2015.  From the first note, I realised this was an extra special disc, something that grabs your attention from beginning to end, music that sounds completely fresh and interesting.

This is no mean feat in an era where it has become rare to come up with a concept that sounds fresh to the ears.  In 1990, I got a similar feeling when I heard Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on the radio for the first time on David Sanborn’s show; I followed their progress since and saw them play live at the Jazz Café and Borderline.  Not to say there isn’t great jazz released all of the time as there clearly is but what Olivia has done is add her own arrangements to the “Masters” of classical such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Amadeus Mozart and Dominico Scarlatti.  In fact, they have been rearranged so incredibly that you could not equate them to the classical interpretation.  The perfect example of this is Scarlattacca, which features voice and the marvellous vibes of Jean-Lou Treboux.  It is one of the most beautiful rearrangements of any music I have ever heard in all genres of music, a remarkable composition.  Jean-Lou’s vibes really add the most brilliant tonal colours to this music.  People reading this may think of Chick Corea on piano and Gary Burton on vibes when it comes to this type of combination but I think a more appropriate comparison would be the lesser known David Lahm with vibes player David Friedman who manged to combine rhythm, melody and inventiveness all in one, this is exactly what Olivia Trummer and Jean-Lou have achieved, her voice giving an even extra dimension as well.

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So, I made my way to Omnibus in Clapham on Sunday evening in great anticipation to see this music presented live, and to say hello to Olivia whom I had interviewed via Skype back in January.  And of course I was not disappointed!  Seeing this music played live was an incredible treat, with the audience captivated in a way I haven’t seen for some time (and I go to a lot of gigs).  Olivia explained the concept of the record and played one of two of the compositions in the original interpretation and then played her arrangement, jazz at its finest as there was quite a shift from the original compositions.

The concert had two sets and at the end, Olivia and Jean-Lou got a rousing reception and from what I can see, rip roaring trade in selling her signed CDs!  In fact, after the concert was over, one of the punters came up to me and asked if any improvisation had taken place during the concert but was a bit too shy to ask Olivia as he was not an expert of jazz.  I explained to him the way Olivia rearranged  compositions by Bach and Mozart, there was a lot of improvisation, particularly by Jean Lou on vibes who was given freedom.  Olivia improvised as well but as the piano player played the simultaneous role of bass player and providing melodic function.  The punter was pretty happy with what I said; the main thing is he really enjoyed the music.

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Olivia’s music has really made an impression.  She has been interviewed on BBC London by Robert Elms and is due to finish her tour of Britain with dates in Liverpool, Abergavenny and London having already performed five dates in Ireland.  A bass player I am due to interview told me how much he is enjoying Olivia’s CD played on Jazz London Radio!  I strongly recommend to check out this great artist while she is on tour, and to purchase her CDs.