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...

Beautiful Lily

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...

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Glasgow Jazz Festival 2012

I've been going to the Glasgow Jazz Festival on and off for years, always attracted by its adventurous contemporary programming. This year I was fortunate enough to be able to cover it for Jazz Journal, so we headed up north for 5 nights determined to cover as many bases as possible.

It hardly stopped raining in all the time we were there, but there was some superb music to be heard, with several artists surpassing all expectations and playing really stunning sets. Louise discovered a Bavarian-style micro-brewery and gastro-pub near the People's Palace - great currywurst for me, veggie kartoffelsalat and rye bread for her - and Tinderbox on Ingram Street are still selling some of the best coffee you'll find anywhere.

So, here are the links to the reviews:

Pharoah Sanders
Robert Glasper Experiment
Neil Cowley Trio & the JTQ
Svara-Kanti & Tommy Smith
Ginger Baker

I've also finished writing up my interview/article with Marius Neset, so for once there are no deadlines looming and I might just be able to slow down and sit back. Coinciding with the Tour de France, I'd call that perfect timing.

More soon...


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Gateshead International Jazz Festival, 2012...

Fully recovered now from a busy weekend at The Sage, where once again I was lucky enough to be covering the annual GIJF for Jazz Journal. A copy of my impressions can be found at the JJ website (here).

I won't say too much about the music, because you can read about that over at Jazz Journal, but I've got to mention Marius Neset and Jasper Høiby, who I managed to interview after the thrilling set by Golden Xplosion on Sunday afternoon. The interview should find its way to the magazine in due course. 

Marius is one of those talents who will divide listeners. In him I heard the perfect fusion of ridiculously advanced post-Brecker chops and the incendiary fire of the best free-jazz. The precision with which he plays up and down the horn is stunning, and not even his impressive UK debut on Edition Records could have prepared me for being there and witnessing it live. Others I spoke to found the music cold and alienating, but I suspect that Marius is well ahead of the game and that it'll take some time to appreciate just how significant his playing seems set to become in the future. 

At the moment he's a young and raw talent, albeit with the most awe-inspiring technique imaginable. He's full of ideas that he's keen to present to the world, very much like Ken Vandermark was back in the late '90s. Many in the past have crashed and burned, but few have had such potential at this stage in their careers. You could hardly even say that he's being over-hyped, as he's still not really reached the mainstream. All in all I think he's just the kind of figure that our music needs to reinvigorate and extend its popularity.

Hopefully I'll get back to honouring that pledge to keep this blog alive very soon, posting more thoughts along with some older reviews, even if just to keep friends up to date on what I'm doing. Time for a few days of well deserved nothingness - just so damn busy...

Fred Grand

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Geir Lysne and Christian Wallumrød...

Time to dredge up another of those old reviews to clutter the web. 'Solid' and 'sub-ECM' are two bits of fairly faint praise, though all things are relative and there's still lots to enjoy here. I've sampled other bits of Lysne's work over the last year or two, and I know that he'll come good at some point with a really definitive statement.

I realise that Afric Pepperbird didn't make any reference to the slightly disappointing gig by Christian Wallumrød at The Sage last Autumn. This was same Ensemble responsible for the similarly dull Fabula Suite Lugano, their music stuck in a hinterland somewhere between contemporary composition and 'improv'. I prefer the more playful and declamatory Wallumrød, and if I'd never heard great discs such as The Zoo Is Far and A Year From Easter then the Ensemble's rather flat performance with few obvious highs would have left me completely non-plussed. 

Wallumrød is the kind of guy who'll keep exploring though, and although not everything will strike a chord with me I'm confident that, just like Lysne, there's a lot more to come from him in the future.

Right, that's it for now...

The Grieg Code
ACT (9479-2)

Transad Nias; Memorits N’Gneng; Blog Her; Vebburedong; Wonde Hinsisi; Døse Dås; Glossi Vangse; L’omai

Geir Lysne (ts); Morten Halle (as/ss/fl); Tore Bruneborg (ts/fl); Steffen Schorn (bs/bfl); Eckhard Bauer (t/flh); Jesper Riis (t/flh); Arkady Shilkloper (frhn/flh); Helge Sunde (tb); Lars A Haug (tba); Jørn Øien (ky/elec); Bjørn Kjellemyr (b); Andreas Bye (d); Terje Isungset (voc/perc). Recorded 6/08.

Composer and saxophonist Geir Lysne has been bubbling under for a few years now, picking up awards in his native Norway and notching a string of releases on the Eurojazz-friendly ACT label. Although principally working within jazz, Lysne has a background in teaching and can sometimes be found playing in classical ensembles. Bringing together his many stylistic interests for this project, what we get is a nod to fellow countryman and musical predecessor Edvard Grieg. Commissioned for a conference in the great composer’s honour, the music of The Grieg Code places fragments of his themes, heavily disguised and anagrammatically re-titled by Lysne, into contemporary clothing.

Lysne’s subtle use of electronics and voices is very Norwegian, and you’ve probably guessed that he’s not simply doing jazz versions of Grieg. Lysne prismatically diffuses the source material, using a band bristling with familiar voices. Jon Balke’s brass-heavy Oslo 13 an important touchstone, but although the Jan Erik Kongshaug/Rainbow Studios production sounds reassuringly familiar, the project couldn’t really be described as sub-ECM. A handful of scholars may attempt to crack the code and identify the fragments Lysne has lifted, but to enjoy the music you need never know his points of reference. It may not be the record to set 2009 ablaze, but if you like the contemporary Scandinavian sound, this is a solid disc that you’ll want to return to many times.

Fred Grand

Friday, 10 February 2012

Set the alarm for Bobby Previte...

Time to start the New Year (well, nearly new) with another old review of mine from the Jazz Review days. Previte is simply one of my enduring favourites, and I know each of his albums in much the same intimate kind of way that many claim to know the oeuvre of The Beatles. What is it that I so like about this easy to overlook artist? 

It's not the fact that he's a great drummer, or that he surrounds himself with some of the most creative players of his generation. It's not that he's a genuinely gifted composer of high quality and complex music, or that he takes outrageous liberties with a razor wit, making bold choices that invariably pay off. No, it's the way in which he combines all of these things to draw you into his rather unique and colourful world, and why he's pretty much omni-present in any listening I do that is purely for sake of pleasure. 

My first ever trip to New York (there've only been two) was to see a retrospective of his work presented over three nights at the Knitting Factory. Each of his albums were recreated, from Claude's Late Morning and Empty Suits to Hue & Cry and Euclid's Nightmare, the fiery duet with John Zorn that was at that time his most recent release. If you're not yet a fan of Previte, do yourself a favour and try him out. This disc probably makes as good a starting point as any, and should be available cheaply as either artefact or download.

I'm well aware that there hasn't been much content on Afric Pepperbird of late, but I'll once again make a vow to change that. Even if I don't get my own act together I've included a couple of widgets at the side of the page which from the redoubtable All About Jazz, which are guaranteed to generate something new each day.

London International Jazz Festival was as stimulating as I'd hoped, and apart from being a nice holiday with Louise I managed to burn the midnight and get my reviews filed within hours of the each performance for instant publication on the Jazz Journal website. If you haven't read them yet, you'll find them here.

Gearing up for a strong line-up at this year's Gateshead Festival, and at this stage I'm hoping to catch Jasper Hoiby, Andy Sheppard and/or Ambrose Akinmusire for interviews.  

We'll see...

Set The Alarm For Monday

Set The Alarm For Monday; I’d Advise You Not To Miss Your Train; She Has Information; Were You Followed?; I’m On To Her; There Was Something In My Drink; You’re In Over Your Head; Drive South, Along The Canyon; Wake Up Andrea, We’re Pulling In.

Ellery Eskelin (ts); Bill Ware (vib); Brad Jones (b); Bobby Previte (d) with guests Steven Bernstein (t) and Jim Pugliese (perc).
Recorded during 2007

Bobby Previte has always been more than just a drummer. A composer who plays the drums perhaps, his influences range from Mingus to Stravinsky via electric Miles and Terry Reilly. With a keen wit and ruthlessly individual musical signature, he now represents New York’s somewhat dissipated ‘Downtown’ scene as a distinguished elder statesman. Bump The Renaissance (Sound Aspects, 1985) showed an originality that was obvious even then, and I’ve followed his career assiduously ever since. Key ‘Downtown’ players such as Bill Frisell, and to an extent John Zorn, may have gained wider mainstream exposure, but Previte has continued to lead a spidery web of exciting projects, each exploring the many facets of his unashamedly individual musical persona. Even when dabbling in the ‘jam band’ scene as he did with Latin For Travellers and Ponga , he regularly planted epic chord progressions that would make composer John Adams sit up and payattention.

The history of ‘Bump’ in Previte’s oeuvre is an interesting but intermittent one. A pocket-sized orchestra mixing brass and reeds, re-appraising and subtly meddling with the tradition with wit that permeates his writing like a benign viral disease is what Bump are all about. I saw a re-formed BumpThe Renaissance group featuring Ray Anderson, Marty Ehrlich and Wayne Horvitz at a Previte retrospective held at New York’s Knitting Factory around adecade ago. A highlight then, the same group later made two fine albums for Palmetto (Just Add Water and Counterclockwise), and now five years on he’s at it again, this time with an entirely new cast of players.

Everything from the artwork to the credits, the track titles and naturally enough the music its self, is a nod to film noir. Many of Previte’s previous albums - Empty Suits in particular - have adopted a suite-like (if not cinematic) approach. Set The Alarm For Monday takes things a step further and often reminds me of the best moments of Miles’ Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud, thoroughly re-vamped and infused with infectious contemporary grooves. Using the programmatic music savvy of Jazz Passengers Ware and Jones was a smart move, whilst Ellery Eskelin is so good that no justification for getting him into the studios is ever needed. His deep affinity for the purring tones of Hawkins (via Rollins), and some supremely accomplished method acting, intrigue and delight by turns. Bernstein and long-term collaborator Pugliese appear sparingly as colourists, but are nevertheless crucial elements in the montage. The trumpeter’s gritty rubato opening to ‘Miss Your Train’ at first seems too rude a gesture, though all good film noirs need tension. On the delicious “She Has Information”, his retro muting meows to the fictional vixen with perfection. Jones’ deep bass pulse anchors the vast majority of these pieces and he’s increasingly becoming today’s Cecil McBee (‘Canyon’ is a great case in point), whilst Ware’s vibes have probably never been put to a more atmospheric use. Their beguiling sonorities lure the listener into the musicfrom the very opening bars and never let up.

Whilst soundtracks to imaginary movies are nothing new, this is the kind of fully realised concept album that only comes along once in a blue moon. Its smooth flow and catchy hooks reveal a master at the height of his powers. Anybody approaching Previte’s music for the first time will kick them selves for missing two decades of his individual music. In the middle of a purple patch just now, Set The Alarm ForMonday is an essential release, perhaps the most convincing ‘Downtown’ release since Tim Berne’s Science Friction. It really is that good.

Fred Grand