Thursday, 28 April 2011


Far longer between posts than even I'd have liked, but this blog isn't about to be declared dead. Far from it, recent projects have confirmed just how much I enjoy writing about jazz. If time permitted there'd be far more, but with a hectic day job and an onerous college course (work-related) my free time ain't what it used to be.

So, what are those recent projects which have re-kindled my enthusiasm for writing? It's simply a case of stepping up to do more features and interviews on top of my allocation of review discs, and no more than that.

The next edition should have a short interview/feature that I recently completed with Stan Sulzmann on the subject of his new 'Neon Quartet' (with rising star Kit Downes). Then there was this year's Gateshead International Jazz Festival, which I covered once again - Louise loved Debbie Harry, but it was Stian Westerhus, Eivind Aarset (with Food) and Mike Stern who really grabbed me. Joe Lovano with his new 'Us 5' group was fine, but I missed half of his show as I had to nip backstage to interview a hyper-animated Mike Stern. In a little over 10 minutes he fired me up with his infectious appetite for music, and surprised me with his genuine love of be-bop. The interview is now written up as a 2000 word feature and should hopefully make it into Jazz Journal in the coming months.

All in all it has been a good 2011 for jazz so far. The new Matthias Eick disc on ECM is easily the best thing I've heard, but Brad Mehldau's new 'Marciac' set is also quite stunning. Vijay Iyer's latest Indo-Jazz fusion, Marius Neset's wonderful 'Golden Xplosion' and Erik Truffaz's 'Istanbul Sessions' all stand out from the crowd too. In terms of live music, other than the festival there has only really been Larry Coryell (with his Mumbai Jazz project) and Kyle Eastwood at the Sage a couple of nights ago that we've turned out for so far this year.

Good to see Paul Bream surviving the national austerity by securing more Arts Council grant  for his 'On The Outside' series. Apart from Michael Wollny later this year, and possibly Charles Gayle/Han Bennink and Mats Gustaffson's 'The Thing', there's not really a lot there to get my pulse racing though. In fact, seeing the Glasgow Improviser's Orchestra with guests Lol Coxhill and Evan Parker at this year's Gateshead Festival was probably the low point of the year. Even with elements of conducted improvisation, the language was as tired and predictable as ever. Evan Parker will always be an honourable exception, a link to the music's early '70s Golden Age, but for the majority of performers in this increasingly stilted idiom there's little excuse. Those who still consider this music to be avant-garde really need to reset their antennae, but I suspect that for many the music's process has its-self become a sacrosanct article of faith.

On that note, I'll leave you with a review of an old CD by Ted Nash, in which I suffer the ultimate public humiliation of praising Wynton Marsalis...

Still Evolved

The Shooting Star; Jump Start; Still Evolved; The Competitor; Bells of Brescia; Point of Arrival; Ida’s Spoons; Rubber Soul.

Wynton Marsalis (t); Marcus Printup (t); Ted Nash (ts); Frank Kimbrough (p); Ben Allison (b); Matt Wilson (d). Recorded 8/02.

Known principally for work with both Ben Allison’s Herbie Nichols Project and Jazz Composer’s Collective, and no stranger to reed section duties with the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra, saxophonist and composer Ted Nash now steps out as leader of his own post-bop quintet. There are many remarkable things about this record. but for Nash to have coaxed the unfeasibly pious Wynton Marsalis down from his ivory tower to play as a sideman with such fire and creativity is little short of sensational. In an attractive, varied and frequently infectious set of compositions that linger in the mind, this is contemporary jazz of rare and genuine distinction. 

Marsalis shares the trumpet chair with the equally impressive Marcus Printup, and the contrast between the two is interesting to observe. Printup plays more comfortably in the blues idiom and the material he’s given seems to acknowledge that. Nash’s own style is relatively unflamboyant, a dark sinewy improviser who prefers to stay inside the changes. It is actually Marsalis who takes most of the risks - his growls and upper register exclamations on ‘The Shooting Star’ sounding almost avant-garde (albeit if only in the same manner as Freddie Hubbard’s most outward bound moments from the ‘60s). The title track is the type of relaxed retro-swinger that could just as easily have been performed by The Vandermark 5 as a dedication to Shelly Manne. ‘The Bells of Brescia’ gives Marsalis a chance to re-examine Miles’ way with a ballad, and he plays beautifully. Matt Wilson consolidates his burgeoning reputation with a probing presence throughout, whilst both Allison and Kimbrough demonstrate the virtue of familiarity gained as regular working partners. 

Nowhere is the band’s togetherness better felt than on ‘Rubber Soul’, where the collective delight at an in-the-pocket performance is preserved for posterity as the tapes are allowed to roll. Still Evolved looks both backwards and forwards equally convincingly and is unreservedly recommended.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, July 2003)