Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2014

Over the week-end I was asked if my blog was still an ongoing concern, and I couldn't quite work out how to answer what was a perfectly clear and unambiguous question. It's not officially dead because I haven't deleted it, but posts are fewer and further between and it now seems to be less significant to me than it once was. 

Partly responsible is the fact that most of my writing now goes straight to Jazz Journal and appears either in the magazine or on the web-site. I don't really want to close the blog because it's good to have a permanent archive of posts to look back on from time to time, yet I'll never have the time and energy to do a Peter Bacon, a Lance Liddle or a Sebastian Scotney.

So, for the time being it stays. There will be periodical updates, but probably too periodical for most to ever get into the habit of becoming regular visitors. Let this be the first post in a series which may signal some kind of resuscitation, although I wouldn't bank on it.

This year's GIJF was packed with inspiring moments, and a personal highlight for me was getting the chance to sit down and interview Rudy Royston (drummer with Bill Frisell, JD Allen, Dave Douglas, Ben Allison and many more). I first came across in the '90s when he was a member of Ron Miles's group, appearing on one of my favourite albums of all time (My Cruel Heart, Grammavision). After that I dug out some obscure sessions led by Fred Hess, and have been seeking out his work wherever I find it. He has only just released his first album as leader, 303 (Greenleaf Music), and it's one of my favourite releases in recent times. Hopefully you'll hear more of what he had to say in an upcoming Jazz Journal profile.




Below are the links to the 3 separate reviews of this year's event, and above is a wonderful photograph by John Watson of Rudy in action at the final show of a memorable week-end. 


Oh, and I also interviewed the great Joakim Milder, another player I've admired since the '90s.  Remember the sessions with Lars Danielsson, Palle Danielsson and Tomasz Stanko's Litania?  Here's a photograph of me in rather sedentary action, backstage:



Until next time, goodbye and goodnight.

(Fred Grand)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Leo Blanco @ Sage Gateshead...

Review of Leo Blanco's sensational gig at Sage Gateshead last weekend is now available online at Jazz Journal.

I'd been a bit ambivalent about going along until Rob Adams dropped me a line a couple of days beforehand. I'm glad I did, because it was easily up there with the most absorbing and sustained solo piano performances I've ever seen - right up there with memorable sets by Joachim Kühn, Marilyn Crispell, Keith Tippett and Michel Petrucciani for sure.

Image courtesy of leoblanco.com


Couldn't resist weaving in that reference to José Mourinho in the closing paragraph - I gather that Leo has been branded a George Clooney lookalike in the past, but for my money the special one seems far more fitting.

I've finally filed my Soweto Kinch interview, which I hope will be in the August edition of Jazz Journal, and next I'm psyching myself up for the marathon of transcribing my recent 70 minute conversation with Verneri Pohjola. Turning such an interesting and wide-ranging conversation into an article worthy of his considerable talents won't be easy, but I can think of far worse things to be doing...

Fred


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Gateshead 2013...

Here's a quick link to my round-up (and what an epic it is!) of this year's Gateshead International Jazz Festival. Lots of great music, mostly a result of its Northern European theme, and I bagged interviews with Soweto Kinch and Verneri Pohjola which I'll be writing up for Jazz Journal in due course.

Pohjola was by far and away the revelation and star of the festival for me. I'd listened to his ACT discs, and actually reviewed his Ilmiliekki Quartet several years ago. None of that had really prepared me for the deep and fully rounded artist that I heard here, and his performance with Jens Thomas on the Saturday evening has had a bit of a depth-charge effect and now seems strangely better than the the riveting performance I saw at the time. 




Still horrendously busy - hence the lack of new posts - my work-related college course does at least end in about 6 weeks time, which should free up some time again. A premature celebration to mark the passing of the last ever course of study that I agree to undertake will be marked at Ronnie's in early May when we'll take a trip to catch Mike Stern with Bill Evans...




Monday, 19 November 2012

London Jazz Festival 2012...

After fearing at one stage that I'd have to miss the 2012 LJF completely, we managed to cram in an overnight stay and three very different gigs (all at the Barbican).

Neil Cowley ran through 'Mount Molehill' again, this time with one of the largest string sections I've ever seen. Along with a superb light show, Cowley really rocked the house. On the free (as in not paying) stage there was then the absolute treat of a very rare UK visit by Juhani Aaltonen's quartet (with Iro Haarla and Uffe Krokfors). Aaltonen's 50 blissful minutes of smouldering (musically free) balladry seemed completely effortless, and is almost certainly the best thing I've seen all year.




After that it was time for the main headline event of the day Chick Corea, which I reviewed for Jazz Journal (you can find the review here). Festival organisers Serious certainly obliged with some top seats, and Corea obliged in turn with a riveting performance.

We didn't bother catching anything on Sunday - Yaron Herman at the South Bank may have been nice, but it would have been too tight to get back to Kings Cross in time for the train.

It's Jack DeJohnette at The Sage on Wednesday, and then back to humdrum normality for a while. I won't be reviewing Jack, and merely want to sit back and enjoy one of my all time favourite drummers. You can however read a review of my last visit to The Sage (Kairos 4tet and Ayanna) here...

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Forthcoming attractions: Kairos 4tet and Ayanna @ The Sage...

As we move ever closer to that exciting time of the year when The Sage announce the line-up for their Spring Jazz Festival, next week brings a timely reminder of a couple of the highlights of the 2012 event.

Returning to Gateshead are cellist/vocalist Ayanna, who offered a captivating festival curtain raiser when she supported Roberto Fonseca, and messrs. Ivo Neame and Jasper Høiby, who wowed the crowd when they performed before a packed Foundation Hall with Marius Neset's 'Golden Xplosion'.



I'm particularly excited to be able to catch Høiby and Neame again, particularly as I was fortunate enough to have interviewed the bassist (along with Neset) for what subsequently became a couple of features for Jazz Journal. This time the pair appear with Adam Waldmann's 2011 Jazz MOBO winning Kairos 4tet, and we can expect intelligent but accessible contemporary jazz with with genuine cross-over potential.

Ayanna has cemented her reputation working alongside such notable artists as Courtney Pine, Nitin Sawhney, Jason Yarde and Robert Mitchell. It'll be great to hear her in the more intimate surroundings of the Foundation Hall. The even - a co-production with my old friends Jazz North East, who seem to have gone into overdrive since the alarmingly gloomy prognosis for their financial future was issued earlier this year - kicks off at 7:45.





Although I didn't expect to get to this year's London Jazz Festival, I've managed to free up some time and we'll go down to review Chick Corea with Brian Blade and Christian McBride at The Barbican. Appearing in the building during the same afternoon are Neil Cowley and Juhani Aaltonen, and the whole thing is starting to look like quite a prospect...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Tim Hagans...

Two posts in one day, this time another of the old reviews from my time at Jazz Review. Tim Hagans is a trumpeter I've admired for a long time, his thoughtful and adventurous approach to improvisation never failing to hit the spot. Although they were fun at the time, his adventures in NuJaz for Blue Note haven't stood up quite so well as this beauty for Pirouet...




TIM HAGANS
Beautiful Lily
PIROUET (PIT3016)

Prologue; Space Dozen; Beautiful Lily; Doyle’s Foil; Interlude I; The Sun At The Zenith; Buck Eyes; Interlude II; Footprints; Emazing; Epilogue

Tim Hagans (t); Marc Copland (p); Drew Gress (b); Bill Stewart (d)
Recorded January 2005.

Whilst Nujazz has been kind to many trumpeters - Nils Petter Molvaer, Erik Truffaz and  latterly even Wallace Roney - Tim Hagans hasn’t been so lucky. Beautiful Lily marks his first release in six years since signing off from Blue Note with Re Animation: Live In Montreal. Although making several superb acoustic records for the label, his last offerings mixed drum’n’bass with vogue-ishly moody trumpet stylings, somewhat disguising the fact that here was a trumpeter comfortable in the advanced harmonic areas opened up by Woody Shaw. Beautiful Lily sees Hagans back to his best, leading a stellar quartet through a selection of music rich in suspense and drama. Copland and Stewart have worked with him many times before, including the pre-electric Blue Note album No Words, and a high level of understanding has already been built. Bassist Gress is increasingly in demand and perfectly suits Hagans’ expansive vision, flirting with freedom whilst always keeping one eye firmly on the ball. Four duet tracks featuring Hagans and Copland frame and interleave the ensemble music, exhibiting a peculiar tension as the trumpeter’s extroversion encounters the pianist’s more reflective classical muse. Even when the full quartet play, small sub-groupings of players peeling off into duos and trios are common. 

This is a recording which also seems to contain a musical narrative, an imaginary soundtrack to a sepia-toned film noir. Hagans’ duet passage with the powerful Stewart during ‘Doyle’s Foil’ is one of the few overtly brazen moments, where abstraction changes from the ellipticism to expressionism. Ambiguous harmony and free floating pulse, such as on Copland’s stark tone poem ‘The Sun at the Zenith’, is more typical. Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’, already enigmatic, gets an even more mysteriously sideways reading.  ‘Buck Eyes’ is remarkably straight-ahead swing , and Hagans’ slurs could be mistaken for Wynton. ‘Space Dozen’ is more the mazy shapeshifter you’d expect from this foursome, and some tender latin-tinged balladry on ‘Beautiful Lily’ and ‘Emazing’ rounds out a superbly balanced programme of music. The way in which Hagans’ jigsaw fits together isn’t always obvious, perhaps due to Copland’s hazy harmonic ambivalence, but there’s no doubt that the music oozes craftsmanship and class. Let’s hope Beautiful Lily serves as a springboard to a new phase in the career of one of the finest trumpeters of his generation.

Fred Grand

Marius Neset and more...



Just by way of registering my continued existence, it was really good to see my Marius Neset feature making it to the cover of September's Jazz Journal. I'm sure that Neset has a great future ahead of him and I'll be assiduously following every step, but the sudden impact of his dramatic 'arrival' makes it slightly problematic to get a balanced perspective on his importance as an artist. Certain sections of the press have inevitably let their enthusiasms run wild, but I hope that my contribution (if nothing else) takes a balanced view.

Far from provoking a 'mouldy fig' revolt amongst readers, none other than Courtney Pine felt sufficiently moved to write in to 'One Sweet Letter' to register his approval!!





Very little else in the pipeline at the moment, and it even looks as though we'll miss our annual trip to the upcoming London Jazz Festival because I'm just so busy with work and study. I did however enjoy interviewing Jacob Karlzon on the back of his superb new CD 'More' (ACT Music), and hopefully that piece should be appearing in the next edition...