Thursday, 8 June 2017

Somewhat in the way that the early part of the year passed me by, so May has done the same! I'm looking forward to going to the Love Supreme Festival at the end of this month and I caught part of the Lyme Regis Festival a couple of weeks ago. So what has prevented me from keeping this blog up to date?
  Mainly it's because it's time for Phonic FM to re-apply for its licence which we have to do every five years. It ought to be a straightforward process, but because so many Community Radio Stations have been facing difficulties with funding the requirements to prove financial stability are becoming more stringent. This hasn't been helped by the fact that our financial year ends in October and the only figures we were able to produce based on our last set of accounts were deemed to have too large a gap in being able to prove that we're stable and solvent. This being the case we've had to ask our new accountant to provide meaningful figures so that we can bridge the gap. A second impediment has been that the regulator requires us to estimate how much volunteer time we use, and to cost those figures against a formula that they have laid out. I ought to add that as Director I'm deemed to be a more valuable asset than anyone else who works just as hard! So jazz, for the time being has had to take a secondary role to ensure that the station stays on air after February 2018. Incidentally, assuming we get a re-award of the licence it'll start on the tenth anniversary of it coming on air. We aim to celebrate somehow!
  I ought also to mention the pleasure I get from having listeners who get in touch and ask "Have you heard so and so, it's great?" It enables me to find out about artists and music that has either slipped past me or has such a small circulation that you have to hunt past outlets like Amazon to find a distributor. It's often only available on the artists website or from them at gigs.. However, even more frustrating is when you are recommended something that you can't find by an artist that has a quite high profile. A recent example of this is "Stretch Music" by Christian Scott whom I saw at Love Supreme a couple of years ago. He's a great trumpet player, but this album doesn't appear to have had a release as a CD or on download in Britain. I've been offered a vinyl copy (extortionate!) or a Japanese import CD (completely ridiculous), but no CD version. I live in hope that my friend Ian will be able to get a CD when he comes back from the States at the end of the month.
 Finally, there's a ridiculous amount of good new material being released so you can expect a resume of a new Ahmad Jamal album soon, as well as news of what's happening in the world of Zara McFarlane, who at the time of writing has a new single out on Brownswood, which seems to precede a potential album release later in the year. I'm also trying to fix up an overdue interview with Emily Saunders who had a knee operation on the day she was due to appear as a guest - get well soon.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

So far this year has been a blur. Not because of any of the usual stimulants but because time is rushing past and there are so many things to do and write about.
  2017 has already been a pretty eventful year in jazz. Quite often there's a short period in the late winter/early spring where recorded jazz goes through a dormant spell....but not this year! It's also been pretty eventful as far as gigs are concerned. I'm not even going to try and cover in any great depth the plethora of music that I've been playing and listening to, but instead mention some of those that have particularly appealed. Thereafter, as I seem to mention most years, I'll try keep up with events of a more regular basis. I'd also offer holidays as a reason for tardiness, but that's another set of  events altogether!
 Difficult to slim down the number of CD's to talk about, but I'll start with "Isang" by The Camilla George Quartet. Not only does her pedigree from involvement in Jazz Jamaica show through, but she also writes some mean tunes. I'd also especially mention the piano playing of Sarah Tandy. "The behemoth" by Phronesis has also been an unexpected pleasure. It features Bib Band arrangements from assorted material from their first six(?) albums, but beautifully arranged for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band by Julian Arguilles. Enjoyed it a lot. Also played a lot of tracks from "ABUC" by Roberto Fonseca whose previous albums only gave a hint of the full on nature of the Caribbean  music that is unleashed here. Be interesting to see what comes next.
  One of the great joys of compiling Tuesday's show on a Sunday night is the opportunity to play some laid back stuff late at night. Quite whether it translates into music for Tuesday afternoons is sometime debatable, but one of the great releases in this category is "Up and Coming" by John Abercrombie Quartet. Languid sometimes barely describes it, but I love his playing and the band are luminary in their own right. Mellow mood music an great jazz. Certainly NOT falling into any such category is "Cubafonia" by Dayme Arocenaan out and out energy surge from an artist much championed by Gilles Peterson. It's a joyous album with a whole range of Afro Caribbean styles that is thoroughly recommended. I've also enjoyed t " Landed in Brooklyn" by Julian and Roman Wasserfuhr. One of the other features of this year is the amount of good European Jazz that is being produced, and this (together with my next selection) exemplifies what's happening in Germany. Some great compositions and as well as the main artists on trumpet and piano respectively a welcome input from Donny McCaslin, who played sax on the last David Bowie album. Which leads on to "Sooner and Later" by Julia Hulsmann Trio. I think she's used the same trio on all her ECM recordings and the ease of playing and the quality of the compositions is an absolute delight. I'm hoping to see them play live this summer. Final European choice is "The Roc" by Daniel Herskedal. As I've written elsewhere, the Tuba may sound like an instrument with a limiting range, but Herskedal has made sure that the instrument, together with his bass trumpet forms the basis of some wonderfully composed and performed music.

  Finally Pete Canter came onto the show to talk about and play tracks from his album "Strange Bird" played by Pete Canter's Sky Ensemble. Pete has been experimenting with all sorts of instruments and this album is the fruits of his attempt to fuse elements of folk music with jazz. The recorded version has quintet playing, but recently he's expanded the group to a sextet, and seems destined to add further instruments to further enhance the high quality of what is on offer. It's an exceptional piece of work from a hard working local musician (who incidentally runs the Bridge Jazz Club on the first Wednesday of every month at the Phoenix in Exeter)

I'll have to leave  this blog at just the recordings, but next up will be some live gigs and some updates about the radio station itself.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

It's been a good, if strange year in trying to pick the whole of the Top Ten Jazz albums for 2016. It's also notable for the fact that there's hardly a saxophonist in sight! I've also cheated by including two more albums that were in the list right up until the last moment, but deserve honourable mentions!  So, in rising order I chose;

4. "Something Gold, Something Blue" -Tom Harrell

I've liked all of Harrell's recent albums  and played "Colors of a dream" a lot. This is even better, possibly because he's chose Ambrose Akinmusire as a foil for his own trumpet playing. Add in Bass, Guitar and drums to the mix (and an oud on one track) and the album deliver a delicious mixture of styles and some great trumpet playing. Recorded in just two days it's a stunning piece of improvisation and technique.

3. "Convergence"- Warren Wolf

With a band that consists of Christian McBride, Brad Mehldau, John Scofield and Jeff Watts provided the tunes were judiciously chosen and executed with aplomb what's not to like? In fact this third outing shows Wolf at his best, restrained when he need to be and prepared to allow the sides-men full freedom to express themselves. This is the sort of album you can safely put on 'repeat' and hear something different every time.

2. "Secular Hymns" - Madeleine Peyroux

Having left Rounder records Peyroux has hitched up with Impulse and produced an album that she should have produced several years ago. The Rounder years were often lost between trying to find a radio friendly 'hit' and a style that melded together all the genres she can do with consummate ease. Here, she's settled for a stripped down sound within a trio format, recorded mainly live in a Church with the most eclectic mix of material that she so obviously feels at ease with. Thankfully (to my ears) she's abandoned the quasi country kick and just settled down with a what is comfortable. Just try and persuade me that this isn't jazz - you won't!

1. " Rising Grace" - Wolfgang Muthspiel.

Interestingly Brad Mehldau has featured in several of the chosen Top 10, and here he appears as a sides-man on another. Ambrose Akinmusire also makes another appearance and with a rhythm section that includes Brian Blade and Larry Grenadier, Muthspiel is free to express himself, stretching out where he needs to and sitting back where he wants to. The result is an album that delivers something new with every play. It's also the first vinyl album that I have gone out an bought in about eight years, as I think it's that good. The recording of this ECM album is a real credit to Manfred Eicher, and is my album of the year.

Honourable mentions;

"Alex Munk's Flying Machine"- Alex Munk

I interviewed Alex on the show and he explained the process by which this album's material was written and produced. That it was made at all is down to a mixture of self-belief and gritty determination. Extensive (and prolonged) listens to the album reveals a range of layers and depth.

"The Darkening Blue" - Andre Canniere 

An attempt to produce an album that incorporates Canniere's great trumpet playing together with poems by Rilke and music inspired by Bukowski. It helps that the band are so empathetic to what he's trying to achieve and in Brigitte Beraha has a vocalist who draws all the nuances out of the writing. It's not easy listening on the first play, but with repeated plays gives great depth and satisfaction. An attempt to produce something different, that really works.

I'll be back in 2017 almost certainly bemoaning the fact that I left something really obvious out of the 2016 selection. However, what is certain is that it threatens to be a year with just as much good recorded jazz as 2016 has been.

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year make it enjoyable.


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Top Ten of 2016 10-5

Ooh! It's that difficult time of year when I have to try and condense a whole year's worth of new releases into a top  10. 2016 is perhaps more difficult than it's been in the past because of the plethora of new releases that have surged into the in-box at Phonic.FM. Like previous years I'm going to cheat and add a 'bubbling under' album for each of the two posts I make, but unlike other years I'm going to maker it a 10 to 1 choice. Get ready to quibble!

10. "Evidential" - Mike Hobart.

I often wonder when new albums arrive whether they'll live up to the 'blurb' that publicists so often use to hype up the product. This album exceeds anything that I had expected, and is a  good example of how 'new' British jazz is going through such a good phase. There are no histrionics, just straight ahead playing with strong material and great arrangements. The album was produced by Derek Nash who made it onto my "albums of 2015" list, and is well worth seeking out to listen to. Continued listening hasn't diminished its power.

9. "Heritage" - Richard Bona.

Multi-instrumentalist Bona has brought together an Afro-Cuban band of great power and versatility and written some great material which bounces along with a strong horn section and three percussion players which include Bona himself. The album melds the African roots with a definite Cuban sensibility with the whole album looking towards the 'heritage' that is the title. This could be the antidote to post-Christmas lethargy.

 8. " Blues and Ballads" - Brad Mehldau Trio.

Brad Mehldau is a prolific recorder of material and he's graced several albums as a sides-man during 2016, but in a trio format with Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums he's left to extemporise across a range of different tunes which originally appeared in a variety of musical styles. He tackles Lennon and McCartney (And I love her) Charlie Parker (Cheryl) and my favourite, Buddy Johnson's "Since I fell for you". This is not a get up and grab you by the throat album, but one that gradually gives more and more with repeated listenings.

7. "Blackwater" - Henrik Jensen's followed by Thirteen.

Probably my favourite gig on the year was this band in Ashburton. It helps that bass player Jensen was able to gather together the band that is on the album and gets luminary help from Esben Tjalve on piano ( his first solo album is expected in early 2017) Andre Canniere on trumpet and flugelhorn (of which more later!) and the extraordinary Antonio Fusco on drums. The compositions range across a number of different styles, but the playing and togetherness of the band is quite notable. If you haven't yet caught up with this Jellymould release it's a situation you ought to rectify quickly.

6. "All about melody" - Russell Malone.

Anyone who listens to the show must know that Russell Malone is one of my favourite guitar players and this album, on High Note is an excellent example of what he does well, that is to say play some consummate guitar backed by a band that are familiar with his work and style and back him superbly. The material is from a wide range of sources from Sonny Rollins "Nice lady" Freddie Hubbard's "One the real side" and Bob Brookmeyer's "Jive Hoot" as well as just one self composition and the traditional "He's gone away" Listened to a lot since its release.

5. "Out of the Sky" - John Etheridge & Vimala Rowe

 The simplest of concepts. A man who plays the guitar and a woman who sings. This, however, transcends all of that because John Etheridge is an ethereal guitar stylist who I think is vastly under-represented in recorded form and a lady whose voice is an excellent foil to what Etheridge does. This is not to belittle Vimala Rowe, who if the publicity is to be believed simply asked Etheridge of perform with her (or was it the other way round?). However it happened, this is just superb.

One that missed the cut:

Crimson: Delta Saxophone Quartet -

I love this album.  Gwilym Simcock  arranged a set of King Crimson originals for a saxophone quartet, and adds his own edge to an eclectic choice of Crimso originals, with two from my favourite album "Starless and Bible Black". It's not recorded what Robert Fripp thought of this, but I hope he's delighted by what they've done. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do next and I'm only sorry that this missed the top 10 at the last moment.

So there are albums ten to five. Four to one, and two more 'near misses' are the subject of the blog I'll post next week.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

A plethora of all sorts of jazz.

August and September has seen no let up in the quality or quantity of jazz both on vinyl and CD, but also live in the south west (and contrary to what some journalists seem to think, the south-west does not end at Bristol!). It's difficult to cover all the material that come in a recorded form, but here are some of my current favourites:

All about melody: Russell Malone

Just because he's probably my favourite guitarist active at the moment (John Etheridge comes close, mind) I don't expect to like all the work he creates, but this album, recorded with a trio that he works with has everything from experimental, funky and straightforward damned good playing. Start with "Jive hoot" and work in from there....

Heritage: Richard Bona

Backed by an Afro quintet that has three percussion players, plus a trumpet and trombone brass section this has seldom been off my turntable this summer. Best described as "joyous" and very African. It all seems effortless, but the band are at the top of their game, and Bona is in fine voice

Soul eyes: Kandace Springs

Very hyped on its release now that I've settled down and really got into this is a wonderfully varied set of tunes. She hasn't gone for the obvious first album ploy of stuffing it full of self-penned tunes but has selected some great covers and some interesting collaborations with other writers. I suppose the real proof will be what she does with the second album, but somehow I d guess that she will not make the mistake that I think Norah Jones did by rushing to get out that 'difficult' second album.

Channel the Spirits: Come is Coming 

Most press releases seemed to equate this with Sun Ra, but its so much different - if you like its very British and seems to follow on from a lot of the prog. stuff that floated around in the late 70's and early 80's, but with an added black music ethos that marks it out as a moving forward.

The Dreaming Room: Laura Mvula

I've thought that ever since the first album she was anxious to avoid some obvious comparisons with the late Nina Simone, and get trapped in that bag. This is an affirmation that she was never going to allow that to happen, and the album is a mixture of new songs and sometimes unexpected arrangements. Having seen her live at the Radio Academy in Exeter in May, and hearing her ideas and views I'm certain that this is another step on the road to a great career done her way.

Secular Hymns: Madeleine Peyroux.

A long time favourite on EoJ moves to a major label (Impulse) and releases an album which fits right into the ethos of the show. There's blues, jazz, reggae, traditional and folk al mixed together on an album recorded in an English Church (and at the request of Raymond Blanc). It's a lot more intimate than her recent outings and all the better for being part of an excellent and sympathetic trio that suits her style and the material.

Blackwater: Henrik Jensen's followed by thirteen.

Saw this quartet at St Lawrence's chapel at Ashburton ( a very special venue if I haven't told you before). Not only are the compositions stunning but the interplay between the band members was astounding. Andre Canniere the trumpet player has got a new album due soon, and Esben Tjalve the pianist has as well. Mention too for Antonio Fusco. Andy who runs @ashburtonlive recorded the live set and some of the tracks will appear on the show before the end of the year.

Together as one: Dinosaur/Laura Jurd.

Cripes! This may well be my record of the year for 2015. A complete and utter surprise with an astoundingly composed and considered set of compositions. Laura Jurd has always been an excellent trumpet player, but her experiments with synthesiser takes the playing to a new plane, and special mention for Elliot Galvin whose keyboard work has moved on apace from his recent album. However it's the overall sound and recording that is so astounding. If you haven't heard it yet you're in for a real treat.

Of course this is a selection of what has come out, and I haven't written about others like the recent Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau album " Nearness"  or Badbadnotgood's album  "IV," but as I've reflected elsewhere jazz is going through a really inventive and interesting time, and I've no doubt there will be much more to write about as the Christmas (sorry!) releases start to come thick and fast. Until then do try to listen to at least a couple of these albums if you can.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Thoughts on a rainy day; August 1st 2016:

Went to see John Martin last night at Ashburton. Quite how the band managed to fit on the stage I don't know, but the gig and the band were excellent. It was the tail end of the tour to support "The Hidden Notes" a double CD/album that features, as the name suggests, John's music based on what he describes as "the beautiful colours hidden just below the surface". It wasn't always an easy listen, but my experience is that quite a lot of jazz requires hard listening. He was backed by the band that are on the album, and they were superb, particularly Ralph Wyld on Vibraphone, but to single him would do scant justice to the other members of the band, because it was a real group effort. I didn't know that John had a previous album that he had recorded for F-IRE records (he said it came out about four years ago and was recorded in E.C.M.'s Italian studio) and asked him why it was a double C.D. rather than saving material for another album. He told me that there was another set of recordings under way, and that in any case some of the pieces are so long that they didn't comfortably sit in a single album format. This was probably borne out by the fact that during the gig, and excluding a much appreciated encore, they played six numbers. If you haven't heard the album it's well worth checking out, and if the opportunity comes again you ought to go and see them play. This tour was, incidentally, sponsored by Arts Council  England.

A note about the venue. St Lawrence's Chapel, Ashburton is a wonderfully intimate small venue with  great acoustics. It's a wonder that the gigs aren't better supported. They're nearly all on Sunday's, which I suppose might deter some people, but most of the gigs finish around ten thirty, so it's not as if it's a late finish. It also benefits (in my view) from being intimate enough to allow punters to go down to the "Silent Whistle" for drinks during the interval and then to be summoned for the second half. The pub will supply plastic glasses so that there is no need to bolt your beer. You can check out details of events by googling 'Ashburton Live or follow then on Twitter @ashburtonlive

Finally, my need for further space for my wine collection enabled me to rediscover another box of vinyl albums, probably unplayed since, well who knows? They are in remarkable condition considering the neglect they have been subject to. Some of them are more Blue Note albums from the eighties and Nineties, like a Holly Cole album, but others are older and in the case of the three George Braith albums U.S. releases on real deck lowering thick vinyl. I'm fairly certain that a lot of them were bought in one (or perhaps two) of the record shops I used when I was in Davis (City of Bicycles) California. I spent an inordinate amount of time talking records with the owners, who were always ready to talk rare vinyl and could usually be relied upon to find a source for some of the more obscure things I used to ask for.


Monday, 25 July 2016

I've had to fill in a couple of forms recently for magazine articles that haven't been published (and I wonder whether they ever will be.) I'm sure you've seen them in lots of magazines, usually just inside the back cover. Most the questions are either incredibly impertinent (How old are you?) or assume that you live in some sort of mono culture (What is you favourite food?). Others are impossible to answer (What are your hobbies?) or so unlikely (What famous people [dead or alive]  would you invite to a dinner party?) that I defy anybody to give answers that satisfy anybody or prevent them from shouting out at the printed page "You pretentious git!"
  As an antidote to this I thought I'd create answers to the sorts of questions that I really do get asked about "The Edge of Jazz", but they're the sort that are asked when you get together with a few mates, or even, on the odd occasion by somebody who listens to the show. So here are five questions with their answers that have actually been asked and I've made an attempt to answer them;

Why don't you play more Dave Brubeck?

It's nearly always Dave Brubeck, though Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and John Coltrane have also been mentioned from time to time. Truth is I find Brubeck's music limited and constrained, and with distance utterly predictable. I know he helped Jazz into the mainstream consciousness of music for a while, but he suffered badly, in my view. from a record company who wanted him to complete albums quickly in the post "Take Five" era, each with another tune that was as instantly recognisable, and on each of the subsequent albums he tried to oblige. Unsuccessfully. All that, without saying anything about how much a I detest Paul Desmond's alto sax playing within the group.

The show's been on the air for eight years - how has it changed?

When it started I played much more smooth jazz than I do now. I'd had the experience of playing on a U.S. based station and that was more or less what was on playlist. Free choice was a strange experience and I took a long time to adjust to playing out on a station that has neither adverts nor (at the moment) sponsorship. I found I no longer had the constraints of 3-4 minute tracks and gradually started playing longer tracks, which seemed to suit my taste for artists like Miles Davis and a lot of the Blue Note material from the early 60's. I also played more "soul" than I do now, not that I love it less, but the range of  jazz vocalists that are now available is amazing. I also try to play more British based artists. Then there are all the drop ins which are a fairly recent innovation. They're done by the same guy that did them for me on WSSJ. 

Who's your favourite artist?

This is impossible to answer. I love jazz, but at any given time I'm listening to dozens of different artists and all sorts of different genres. For example I love the Pet Shop Boys and at the time of writing I'm having some Elgar moments (especially some of his Church music). If push comes to shove and I had to nominate three I'd go for Russell Malone, James Carter and any of the Horace Silver bands with Junior Cook and Blue Mitchell. Malone because he superseded my previous favourite guitarist Eric Gale by recording in so many varied genres. Carter because he's the best, bar none, Tenor Sax player that I've seen live, and he always has such wonderful groups backing him - except they don't back him they become part of what he's doing. Horace Silver is perhaps cheating, but I've recently rediscovered all the albums he recorded with Cook and Mitchell and (wait for it here comes a "you pretentious git" moment) they speak to me about how 'tight' a working band could be.
Ask me at the end of the year I might add some others!

How are the shows compiled?

Normally over a couple of days at the weekend by sorting through a stack of CD's and downloads. A fairly recent innovation has been to start playing vinyl again since I still have a lot of it and in the studio (if not on-air) it's usually got a fuller sound. One of the things that I do notice if that if I put the playlist together late on Sunday the tracks end up getting more and more soporific, which is often great late on Sunday's, but possibly not so good a between two and four on a Tuesday afternoon! I also find that if it's done over two days it can have a lot of tracks which have, for example, trumpet as the lead instrument, and I do try to mix up the content of the show to try and represent all aspects of jazz, and all instruments (though I would admit to being averse to playing jazz flute tracks!)

You say on the website you don't play trad. jazz. Why?

When I was starting out, and still at school (where you had to learn an instrument) I played sax, but doubled on clarinet. A local trad jazz band was looking for a clarinet player and I was looking to earn some money. It was at a time when there was a schism in Traditional Jazz between two schools of jazz tradition (If you want more details read "Owning Up" by the late George Melly). The band I played in was riven with arguments about 'style' so sometimes we had a banjo player, sometimes a piano player, sometimes bass player and others a sousaphone player. Whatever the line up I always felt totally constrained by the format, hated the lack of freedom to improvise and left after 18 months to join a "progressive rock band" where I could wail and improvise to my hearts content. I've always disliked trad jazz ever since, and especially those bands that adhere to the format laid out by the commercially more successful bands of the period. Harumph! 

Sorry to have this interlude in what's going down well, but it'll be back to whatever normal is next time!