Off Minor

Musings of a Jazz geek

Alec Dankworth – Spanish Accents, at Coventry Jazz Festival 2007

Posted June 1, 2007

Alec Dankworth

Alec Dankworth – Spanish Accents, at the Coventry Biggin Hall 24/5/07 » Alec Dankworth (bass), Christian Garrick (violin), Mark Lockheart (saxes), Phil Robson (guitars), Marc Miralta (percussion) «

The Coventry Jazz Festival guide-booklet lists this as ‘A Taste of Spain’; the Warwick Arts Centre programme as ‘Con Alma’; but, definitively, the bands own flyer puts it as Alec Dankworth’s ‘Spanish Accents’. In any case, the clue is in the title. (Any of them.) A hard-bop, post-hard-bop quintet playing various tunes (covers and originals) of anything with a Spanish twinge… Authenticity established through the inclusion of a real Spaniard—yes, a real one—in the form of percussionist Marc Miralta, this percussion being a conventional drum kit assisted by a (pretty neat, and new to me) cajón. In fact most of the distinctly Spanish sound seemed to come from Miralta and Robson, both: Miralta’s playing consistently, impressively controlled; powerful, intriguing, changing lines. The violin added a nice extra dimension, Christian Garrick using some slight electronics, I think, particularly when called upon to recreate some Spanish bagpipes. (Apparently these are featured on Dankworth’s upcoming, related, CD release.) I was sitting there thinking back how often I’ve seen violin featured in improvising groups recently… More often than I would have imagined a few years ago… Whether that’s a movement real or imaginary I can’t say, but it’s quite interesting; the strings are capable of such a wide range of textures, compared to, for example, just a sax front-line, it’s nice. Mark Lockheart played mannered and industrious solos (is industrious the right word?)… Dankworth’s site claims that this group usually features Julian Arguelles on horns, but Lockheart has apparently been featured throughout this May tour. As for Dankworth himself, he was fluid and lyrical, but seemed to spend a lot of the time ‘running’ the band, as band-leader, leaving most of the staging up to the other players.

The tunes themselves ranged from Dizzy Gillespie, Jack De Johnette and Chick Corea covers, to a selection of homegrown material, some of it based on traditional Spanish melodies. I think it was noticeable that the band sounded best on their own pieces; the tunes had a lot more life and energy to them.

A nice straight-up jazz band, well worth checking out… CD apparently out soon… This gig pretty much opened the Coventry jazz festival, and was playing as a Jazz Coventry event at the Jazz Coventry traditional Biggin Hall…


Freedom of the City 2007

Posted May 10, 2007

Seven Sisters Road

The Evan Parker, Eddie Prévost, Martin Davidson curated Freedom of the City festival returned this bank holiday weekend for two days of ‘radical and improvised music’, at the Red Rose, Finsbury Park, London. Two days, two sessions a-piece, featuring twelve groups and many musicians, drawn mostly from London and the UK, but with a couple of international visitors… A great way to spend a slightly miserable bank holiday weekend, but also great to see condensed, perhaps, a good cross-section of ‘the scene’ and to catch up with a few names and faces that I’d only heard about or seen on record. A live-primer, of sorts…

There were so many groups coming thick and fast that some aspects have fallen out of my head already… So this won’t be a very intelligent discussion, but I’ll try and cover what I can remember coherently! I’ve stuck a few of my more interesting photos here… Didn’t get too many that were decent one way or the other (and most of them are from Monday, so scroll down…), but the rest I’ll put up on flickr at some point. This is also quite a long post, so I’ll reserve the right to continually fiddle, and reorganise things at a later date.

Sunday Afternoon

A slightly varied first day, kicked-off by the outstanding trio of Eddie Prévost (percussion), Joe Williamson (double bass) and Alan Wilkinson (saxes). Only Wilkinson had I seen before; he usually plays pretty intense and free, but this trio was actually pretty jazzy. I think the main jazz pulse came from Prévost, whose drums were pretty swinging, in the more conventional sense. Joe Williamson played some nice jazz-like lines, while Wilkinson sort of sprawled around fierily, on top… Didn’t plump for their trio CD, but got a Wilkinson/Prévost duo recording, although I haven’t listened to it yet (getting access to the large Psi/Emanem/Matchless/etc record stall at the back of the room was a worthwhile aspect of the festival itself!).

The second act was a largish group, Unit, which, from their ages, looked like it was probably something made up of music students. It was ok, kind-of overlapping melodies, but would have been better with a bit of structural editing; it got a bit too repetitive and could have been cut down a bit in length…

The afternoon finished with some nice textural stuff from a trio of Matt Milton (myspace), Bechir Saadé (his site) and Matt Davis. The instruments were all used ‘unconventionally’: Saadé making scattering, flattering, breathy sounds on bass clarinet; Matt Milton scratched away on a violin, initially using it as a sounding board for some bowed sticks, etc… Matt Davis spent the first half of the piece spending as much time as possible blowing a trumpet whilst not actually producing the sound of anything approaching that of a trumpet, and for the latter parts switched to laptop effects, perhaps processing and bringing back things that he had played earlier (that’s what it sounded like, but it was hard to tell…). It had a nice delicate, natural-sounding rhythm; essentially a collection of pure sounds, really. Dry and slow-paced, but it came together very well, with the trumpet-to-laptop switch breaking the piece up nicely, preventing it from burning out…

Sunday Evening

Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra

The evening was filled by outings of the London, and Glasgow, Improvisors Orchestras (separately, and together). On my return at 8 o’clock, The Red Rose was straining to fit in all of the LIO; I didn’t count but there were probably about 25–30 musicians crammed onto the stage, spilling out into the audience. It was a pretty monumental and impressive sight; after his introductions Martin Davidson almost ran from the stage… Itself, the music seemed to start off like an explosion, everyone playing at once, as a massive ensemble but one without real centre… After a while, Philipp Wachsmann put down his violin and emerged to the front, baton in hand, and proceded to conduct the form, by drawing in (or pushing out) various sections of the group (strings, horns, percussion), or by indicating individual players; this was repeated with another three ‘guest’ conductors who appeared, in turn, at various points throughout the performance (after Wachsmann: Alison Blunt, Ashley Wales, and Terry Day). This created some variation in the piece, but there was no real obvious structure; Ashley Wales tried to bring in some patterning to his conduction, but it ended up sounding a bit obvious and twee. Generally, it was just taking a massive maelstrom, and then making parts of it go away, or play louder; the conducted fragmentation didn’t really create anything specifically new, just altered the dynamics a bit… Having said that, Terry Day‘s contribution revolved around a sort-of anti-poem, Day crying out line after line, bringing the orchestra up into a sort of call-and-response. A lot of the musicians suddenly seemed to start beaming with suppresed laughter; maybe they were getting ‘into’ it, or maybe it was just the more formalised structure, but it seemed to come together to make something at that point. Hmm…

Some reviews (here and here) of their recorded works seem to draw a common observation: that it might be better with a bit more formalised composition, rather than kicking off a melee, and then trying to draw out structure afterwards; some alternative to trying to rely on self-organisation in a fist-fight. Maybe it was just too big? The Glasgow Improvisors Orchestra (their site and myspace) was a much smaller group; 14 people (see the photo above) and, then, there was less of the massive duplication of instruments found in the LIO. They played two pieces that were said to have been composed (I think ‘organised’ might have been the exact term used), whatever that meant in reality… And they sounded pretty good! Like something you’d hear on Hear and Now (that’s a bit vague, isn’t it?). They finished their own set with a free improvisation that started off pretty wicked, but I think soon decended into slight chaos. But having individual players rather than the sections of instruments made it a little more transparent, and easy to follow, than the behemoth that was the L.I.O.. The third part to that evening was supposed to see parts of LIO and GIO come together, but I had to leave early, to wrangle with engineering works on the Portsmouth line, so I missed that and can’t say what happened. I’d be interested to listen to some more of LIO on record—to see if I was just overwhelmed by the imposing live-presence—or give them another try live… (Supposedly, they play at the Red Rose on the first Sunday of every (?) month). Anyway, it’s pretty fantastic that such a group (as the LIO) exists, and it is a pretty incredible experience, but I remain to be convinced that it’s not just the musicians who are actually getting anything out of it; for this night, and for this man in the audience, I think Scotland won…

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Bohman Brothers Present, 2-May-07 — David Leahy, Jamie McCarthy, Angeline Conaghan, and others…

Posted May 4, 2007

Battersea Arts Centre

A nice Bohman Brothers Present (at Battersea Arts Centre), with three groups… And I might be dropping myself in it, since I ended up the last (only) member of the audience still standing. First:

David Leahy, Jamie McCarthy, Angeline Conaghan
I really liked this… Conaghan (myspace) sang some pretty intense vocals; the odd piece of fragmented song-line, the rest: sort of long vibrating throaty tones, sounding like some unknown language, cut-and-spliced, mashed up; wrong; great. Not just scatting! David Leahy (myspace) played nice bass, getting quite manic in places, and pretty exciting. Jamie McCarthy (myspace, and as doghead) played some nice bluesy*-sounding violin, and sang along a bit as well. It was an interesting coming together of styles – the bass, the rootsy violin, and the broken-operatic voice; quite nice! (* Probably not bluesy; American of some description, I’ll think of the right word later…)

Steve Beresford and Satoko Fukuda
Satoko Fukuda was also playing violin, making some rich, wide sounds. Steve Beresford was as genius as ever, playing inside and outside of his piano, using it as a complete instrument and pulling out every possible sound… and not even dropping a beat as he pulled out a screwdriver to fix some troublesome fixture inside the piano cabinet… Someone said that it’s often difficult for strings and piano to come together, but I thought it worked really well and it sounded pretty special (whatever I know). Fukuda apparently has a CD in the Emanem pipeline (with Veryan Weston and Hannah Marshall)… I’ll have to keep an eye out!…

Adam Bohman, Adrian Northover, and David Leahy
David Leahy stood in to replace an incapacitated Dave Tucker (who would have been playing guitar); Northover played some shreaking lines on alto and soprano saxes; Leahy had fun in the back, while Adam Bohman clamped contact mikes to pieces of junk (see here), bowing, beating, plucking wires, strings, springs, light bulbs, forks, table boards… Sometime I should get round to writing about Reality Fandango, his acoustic duo recordings with Roger Smith, which is awesome. I just found this Adam Bohman solo CD, which looks cool; the mp3 link on that page gives a perfect representation of the mad humour there is in everything he seems to do. I hope it’s not rude to start laughing…

PS. The next Bohman Brothers Present is next Thursday (against normal practise, which would have made it a week next Wednesday), supposedly featuring Ingrid Laubrock playing the music of Steve Lacy?!?


Bruise, at the Red Rose 19/4/07

Posted April 21, 2007

Tony Bevan and Orphy Robinson

I think this must rank as one of the best nights of free-music I’ve seen… A special CD-release performance by Bruise (Tony Bevan, saxes, Orphy Robinson, marimba?/steel drum/electronics, John Edwards, bass, Mark Sanders, drums, Ashley Wales, electronics), joined by guest Matthew Bourne (keyboards), at the Red Rose, Finsbury Park (and technically forming this month’s Back in Your Town).

The first set opened slowly, Mark Sanders beating out a call on block chimes, to be answered by Ashley Wales’ tactful electronic sound-scapes, and gentle vibes from Orphy Robinson. Tony Bevan came in with delicate tenor saxophone motifs, while Matthew Bourne laid out tight mathematical patterns on keys. After a while, John Edwards put out a grandiose rhythm on bass that pulled everyone up, and pushed the juggernaut forwards… Although crass, Bruise would be a pretty good metaphor for that first set; from then on, it was an assault that simmered away just under the obvious surface; a great momentum, but perhaps without a singularly identifyable drive; a purely collective contribution… However, individually: Tony Bevan is a great performer and presence, with articulate, powerful lines; Sanders’ loose, rootsy drumming maintaining the pulse… Wales deployed some background electronic effects that meshed nicely with the acoustic sound, his palette ranging from computerised glitch beats, to extended concrète big-band recordings and voice samples. Orphy Robinson played both marimba (electronic, plus effects pedals, and I think it was a marimba) and also steel drum, its uniquely bright sound adding an interesting and unusual texture to the mix. (Actually, it was a pretty impressive balance, all through, particularly—I think—for such a relatively complex instrumental base.) Alongside Tony Bevan, John Edwards was the star of the show; I think he might have been at the most inspired I’ve ever seen him… He played a short solo someway into the first set that was just fantastic, mesmerising… Overall, a great energy to everyone’s playing, continually avoiding the studious.

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Led Bib, at the Vortex 10/4/07

Posted April 11, 2007

Led Bib at the Vortex

A totally incendiary (two) sets from Led Bib at the Vortex, this Tuesday. Another of The Babel label’s great young progressive jazz acts… they were there promoting their new album Sizewell Tea (apparently released April 23rd, but available some places already).

Going in to see this was a fairly on-the-whim sort of thing, based pretty much on hearing their track on this month’s Jazzwise cover-mounted Babel sampler CD (pretty decent, plus you get a free magazine with it, too). I guess they’re a sort of punk-funk-jazz quintet; more ‘jazzy’ than Babel-mates Acoustic Ladyland or Polar Bear, but sharing that hot contemporary-London-jazz feel; a bunch of music-school graduates coming through from a background of growing up listening to rock music… What?

Led Bib is: Liran Donin (bass), Toby McLaren (keyboards), Chris Williams (alto sax, left in picture above), Pete Grogan (also alto sax), and Mark Holub, the group leader (on drums). The gig itself was a bit of a slow start; the band making it onto the Vortex stage almost an hour after the scheduled start, and with the first set seemingly thrown off-kilter by PA issues; the second set was a lot more cooking… The twin sax line up is cool; in a band like Polar Bear, for example, the saxes (Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart, in that case) tend to stick quite close together, weaving around a single line. With Led Bib, Grogan and Williams play the heads tight together in free swirls, but then separate with very much their own distinctive voices; Grogan plays a more considered, traditional line, with occasional Coltrane-tinges, while Williams is more stream-of-consciousness: every now and then moving into great bursts of bebop-Marshall-Allen. Liran Donin is a great bassist, contributing a couple of brilliantly melodic solos. Toby McLaren was laying the groove well-down with some tight Fender Rhodes, perfectly meshed with Holub’s restrained but inspired drumming. Holub is a New Jersey ex-pat, and you can hear a strong New York-downtown vibe in their music; free-jazz but with the awareness that “people are listening”. Really fantastic group; the nuclear-power reference from their Sizewell Tea is probably pretty apt, just a great fun uplifting band… Sample sounds are available on their myspace and Babel pages…


Boat-Ting 2/4/07: Ricardo Tejero / Javier Carmona / Ian Smith / Marcio Mattos, and others…

Posted April 3, 2007

Boat-Ting 2nd April 2007

Another foursome of great music at Boat-Ting, this Monday night. Opening were Alex Ward (clarinet) backing the poety of (the beautiful) Sibyl Madrigal. Alex Ward (website) is just perfect, really… Madrigal is the MC of the evening (and, presumably, Boat-Ting curator) so she tried to claim that they were just the warm-up act. Nonsense. It’s great seeing something fall together so effortlessly, almost ad-hoc… it’s why these evenings are so hot.

Second up were what was now safely described as the Boat-Ting house band: Steve Noble (drums), Lol Coxhill (sax) and John Edwards (bass). I think this is maybe the third Boat-Ting night I’ve written about on this fledgling blog, and I mentioned before that I’ve had difficulty really getting right into Lol Coxhill… Watching this “residency” fortnight-after-fortnight, I think it’s all come together; I’ve finally fallen, completely, under Coxhill’s manifest genius… Although I still haven’t bought any of his records…

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Tim Berne: (Paraphrase) ∪ (Big Satan), at the Vortex

Posted March 28, 2007

Tim Berne at the Vortex

I’m just so buzzing right now. Tim Berne was absolutely fantastic tonight (last night); this (Tuesday) was the final day in a three-night residency at the Vortex, organised essentially—I think—to coincide with the release of the new Big Satan live recording Livein Cognito. This long weekend he’s been playing, I gather, in various mash-ups and combinations of his regular touring groups; tonight he was with Tom Rainey (drums), Marc Ducret (guitar), and Drew Gress (bass)—as a quartet—which is essentially a union of his Paraphrase (no Ducret) and Big Satan (no Gress) groups.

I saw Big Satan, also at the Vortex, just under a year ago, and I can’t quite work out the difference between that and tonight; the dynamics were subtly different, I think… Was it just the addition of Gress? Were they playing more strictly tunes, before (or were the tunes just less obvious, tonight)? Every now and then Berne would let slip a fragment of familiar Science Friction-ish melody, but mostly it was two hour-long sets of swirling (what seemed like) pure improvisation.

On record, Berne never really gets to me; when it’s coming out of a pair of speakers in the corner of your bedroom, it over-plays the essentially quite minimalist, deconstructed melodies… and falls a bit flat. Live, it just bursts open; Tom Rainey’s awesome drumming, Berne’s screeching alto driving forward a pulsating, rhythmic maelstrom… Marc Ducret is an awesome presence, himself and his music, teasing sounds out of his guitar as if he’s at one with it… Drew Gress’ bass really pulled things together, filling that little space that’s slightly empty in what I’ve heard of pure Big Satan. What’s great is that everyone is playing together, there’s no obvious “internal dialogue”, no feeding off one another, in the the same way that John Coltrane’s classic quartet had no real “internal dialogue”; they all just play, together, instantly as one group. The brief solos were all fantastic (particularly Gress’, if I may say so), and they’re played to flow through the music; there’s no grandstanding, there’s no everyone-step-back-and-watch, it’s all just sublime… Wow, I think even Tom Rainey cracked a smile…


Bohman Brothers Present, 21/3/07: Dominic Lash / Phil Wachsmann / Bruno Guastella, and others

Posted March 24, 2007

Just some thoughts on last night’s Bohman Brothers Present… at the London Battersea Arts Centre (March 21st; a slight delay in posting!).

Dominic Lash, Phil Wachsmann & Bruno Guastella
I saw Dominic Lash at Boat-Ting a few weeks ago and said I thought he was brilliant; he was still brilliant last night at The Bohman Brothers’ Present…. Last time I saw him, I said I knew nothing about him… Well, I still know nothing but after looking around on google, I discover he’s quite active with the Oxford Improvisers group (and, that such a thing as the Oxford Improvisers group actually exists). Anyway, he has some samples on his myspace page (along with a long list of upcoming gigs), plus some info on the Studio 282 site. I just really enjoyed his playing, it’s all really scratchy and dark and grimy… maybe… not dark and grimy… You probably know what I mean… Excellent… Again trying to persuade me that I really need to learn how to play bass.

Alongside Lash there was Phil Wachsmann, on violin. According to the brief biog on the European Free Improvisation Pages, Wachsmann is coming to free jazz very much from a classical background… That really shows, I think; he’s really delicate, quick on the strings, his lines are really tight… he just exudes the impression of a great accomplished master… I saw him once before, playing with Evan Parker’s Electro-acoustic ensemble, last November, and you know that anything associated with Evan Parker is going to be tight (in that Evan-Parker-tight kind of way)… The third part in the trio was Bruno Guastella, on cello. Because of the placement of bodies (and the fact that I was right at the back of the hall) I couldn’t really see what he was doing. I notice that he and Lash have a CD out, which might be quite interesting, tho I have no idea how to get hold of it.

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