Off Minor

Musings of a Jazz geek

Jazz on 3: Freedom of the City 2007

Posted June 29, 2007

You can get a chance to see how wrong my descriptions of Freedom of the City were (original post), by listening to BBC Radio 3’s Jazz on 3 programme, tonight… If you don’t have access to a UK-based radio set (!), you can listen live online (BBC Radio player; direct links: real stream, Windows Media stream high/low quality), or, Listen Again for all of the following week… Transmission is at 2330, British Summer Time (2230 GMT).

From the programme newsletter:

Tonight – 29th June 2007 – at 11.30pm on BBC Radio 3

A programme of highlights tonight from London’s premier festival of free jazz and improv. Recorded over the weekend of the 6th-8th May of this year in London’s Red Rose, Freedom Of The City this year offered a diverse range of ensembles (you can have a look at the line-up at: ) and we’re bringing you highlights of almost all the performances.

From the massed ranks of the London and Glasgow Improvisers Orchestras (separately and en masse) to the pin-drop solo guitar set from Pascal Marzan and the incessant scrapings of Barrel (get it?). We’ll also hear from key AMM figure Eddie Prévost’s latest group, 9!

Postscript: (1/7/07) That was actually quite interesting, since the London Improvisor’s Orchestra sounded a lot better on radio than it did when I saw them live at the festival itself… Sort of compactified and easier to grasp, but also clearer and better separated than I remember (if that’s not a contradiction!). Maybe I was just overwhelmed!

The Mahasvanah Trio, at the Vortex 27/6/07

Posted June 28, 2007

The Mahasvanah Trio

The Mahasvanah Trio, at the Vortex 27/6/07 » Jon Wilkinson (guitar), Tony Bianco (drums), Julian Siegel (soprano/tenor sax, bass clarinet) «

Julian Siegel was depping for Paul Dunmall, who was unavailable (and apparently flooded out). The trio is described in the Vortex leaflet as “a concept orientated improvising trio using the drum as an arkestra … reminding one … of the Indian drone”. Basically Tony Bianco fired away with a rattling, droning drum line, while Siegel improvised around on top. The drums were a bit like Rashied Ali on Interstellar Space, or Isis and Osiris with Alice Coltrane… Pretty mesmerising, hypnotic. Siegel played both saxes and bass clarinet, while Jon Wilkinson—whose sound was a little overwhelmed in the mix—played interference patterns on electric guitar.

They played a first set for something like an hour, continuously, and then a second for something like closer to twenty-five minutes; Siegel played the first on tenor and bass clarinet, playing moving (shifting) lines that seemed to want to play something specifically tuneful. For the second half (much on soprano) he played more abstractly, in sorts of rhythmic changes (again not unlike Interstellar Space) and in this sense the horns and drums fit together more seamlessly. Throughout, Siegel and Bianco would fade in and out, coming together every so often to create something extra-ordinary… only to move off again, and allow the audience and themselves to become hypnotised purely by their own polyrhythms and pulse.

State of Off Minor

Posted June 27, 2007

So: a small fiddle with the site layout, and a bit of tweaking here and there… Hopefully a bit easier to read, particularly for those on small monitors.

Apologies for the lack of worthwhile postage recently; juggling a PhD and a blog that no one reads can get tricky…

Earconnector celebrates Steve Lacy

Posted June 15, 2007

Evan Parker at Earconnector

Earconnector celebrates Steve Lacy at the Vortex, 14/6/07 » Hans Koller/Paul Clarvis duo (piano/drums); Evan Parker solo (soprano sax); Liam Noble/Christine Tobin (piano/vocals); Outhouse: Mark Hanslip/Robin Fincker/Jonny Brierly/Dave Smith + Jeanne «

Earconnector has a website with various audio downloads from various people (this evening will apparently be put up soon); I don’t know quite how far the enterprise extends, but I guess they’re some sort of promoting unit… Tonight at the Vortex: four groups playing music inspired by, and celebrating, the legacy of Steve Lacy…

Hans Koller (apparently the official Earconnector representative) played a short set with Paul Clarvis, then Evan Parker—maybe the artist tonight with the most personal Lacy connection?—played a sax solo bookended by sections from Lacy’s tune Hubris. Certainly impressive, but it would have been cool to hear him stretch out on the Hubris, more…

The last group, Outhouse, played some firey arrangements of Lacy tunes, and were cool when joined by vocalist Jeanne (she isn’t billed in the Vortex stuff, and Earconnector only gives her first name… is that it?). The highlight of the evening, for me though, was the third act: a Liam Noble, Christine Tobin duo, which was something of an ear-opener for me… Never knowingly listened to Tobin before, sticking to my tendancy to ignore most vocalists through default… But this short set was quite inspiring, actually… Out of the half-dozen pieces they performed, she said she only knew one specifically Steve Lacy tune (and I can’t remember what it was called), but it was quite beautiful really, and really evocative of what I’d regard as the Lacy sound, her voice seemingly directly channeling the tone of his saxophone, from another place… Great!

Mopomoso, June 10th 2007

Posted June 13, 2007

Mopomoso June 10th 2007

Mopomoso » Henry Kaiser (guitar), Steve Beresford (electronics), Lol Coxhill (saxophone), Satoko Fukuda (violin), John Russell (guitar), Roger Turner (percussion), Hannah Marshall (cello) «

A specially assembled Mopomoso, at the Red Rose, this weekend (extra to the usual third Sunday of the month) in order to feature the visiting US guitarist Henry Kaiser… I also went along to see Sakoto Fukuda, again; I’ve only seen her once before, but she’s apparently this blog’s second most-popular referring google search term (thanks, Sakoto Fukuda!).

Sakoto FakudaSakoto Fakuda

The evening opened with a John Russell + Henry Kaiser acoustic duet; twin plucking, scrabbling Bailey-esque lines that was pretty marvellous; but too short! Play longer!

Steve Beresford had a cool duet with Roger Turner; Beresford with electronics and toy stuff, Roger Turner on inventive percussion… After seeing them both in succession at Boat-Ting once before (and not having seen Turner too much, at all), I had previously compared his playing to that of Steve Noble; he’s not so much playing a drum kit, but sort of pouring a box of metal spare parts out all over it, and then seeing what sort of noises he can create with the mess… Turner’s fantastic, although tonight my Noble comparison diverged; Turner played with a lot more space, whereas, whenever I’ve seen Noble, he’s seemed more forcefully full-on… Beresford’s electronic toy stuff is cool… At first a seemingly incongruous collection of noise making machines that all somehow come together… For the Turner duet, although there was no obvious dialogue taking place, everything still fit together perfectly, each sound (effect) colliding perfectly with the others…

John RussellJohn Russell

Elsewhere, there were a lot of strings attending: two guitars (John Russell sticking to acoustic throughout, Henry Kaiser moving to electric for everything except his duet); Hannah Marshall, cello, and Fukuda’s violin… so, as the small groups were divied up, it was all a little bit of a variation on a theme… But I felt like I wasn’t paying enough attention, and all the complex string textures all sort of blended the one into the other… For example, Russell (photo, above) played really nice movements, but I found it hard to pick up on all the detail he was obviously contributing; it looked like something where there’d be an improvement in having it on record, so that it’d be easier to dive in close to his delicate lines…

Hannah Marshall at Mopomoso Steve Beresford and Roger Turner at Mopomoso Mopomoso June 10th 2007 Henry Kaiser at Mopomoso

Sunday at Coventry Jazz Festival 2007

Posted June 7, 2007

A mixture of stuff to fill the Sunday afternoon and evening (May 28th), all of it at the Cathedral ruins marquee, and all of it in paired sets. (Apologies for the disgraceful posting delay!)

Sunday Afternoon

Bheki Mseleku

Bheki Mseleku Quartet » Bheki Mseleku (piano), Gareth Lockrane (flute), Paul Duncan (bass), Gene Caldeazzo (percussion) «

The afternoon was filled with the double-bill of Bheki Mseleku, and then, secondly, Gwyneth Herbert and her quartet. I was feeling pretty knackered by this point and didn’t really respond to it as well as I could have done… The cold and the terrible bank holiday rains were beginning to set it too. Mseleku played a pretty solid hour and a bit, but it all seemed a bit tentative. Since he had to read their names off a piece of paper, I’m not sure, however, how long before the gig the band had actually first met… But, they were all pretty able… I liked Gene Caldeazzo’s strong polyrhythms… Gareth Lockrane was nice on flute, but struggled to really hold his own on the front-line (the flute itself tending to sound like a bit of a wash). The group seemed to end up playing for a little bit longer than they should have been, and the stage manager hopping up and down in the wings was really seriously distracting…

Gwyneth Herbert » Steve Holness (piano), Al Cherry (guitar), Sam Burgess (bass), Dave Price (percussion), Gwyneth Herbert (vocals) «

‘Jazz-folk diva’ Gwyneth Herbert was entertaining in the second part… but then I’m not generally one for singers, really, so it’s probably unfair for me to comment… I see that songs can quickly generate a wide range of moods, each lurching to some new angle or emotion, and this set was certainly more varied than Mseleku’s. Herbert is a fine vocalist, I think, but, with all this ‘diva’ business it all gets a bit ‘show-business’… It was also frustratingly undemocratic; with Herbert being the single focus, the band never really got much of a chance to stretch out.

Sunday Evening

Abram Wilson

Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta » Abram Wilson (trumpet/vocals), Errol Linton (harmonica), Giorgio Serci (guitar), Gary Crosby (bass), Patrick Clahar (alto saxophone), Ben Burrell (piano), Rod Youngs (drums), Denys Baptiste (t.sax), Michael Mwenso (trombone), Andy Grappy (sousaphone) «

I had seen this ‘act’ last year at the London Jazz Festival, and this Coventry performance was essentially an exact repeat of everything they had done then… It’s basically the stage-version of Wilson’s most recent CD, Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta (although, disclaimer: I’ve never actually listened to the CD itself). Supposedly it tells the story of some kid wandering across the United States doing something or other with some people, and something else with someone who may or may not be his uncle, and who may or may not run a Jazz club somewhere in the Southern states… The tunes are interspersed with spoken word from Wilson, apparently carrying the story along, but they don’t really make sense by themselves; they sound like fragments of something that may be expanded upon in the record (?), but as fragments they don’t really make sense, and I found it hard (on both occasions) to really follow what was going on.

The band itself is fantastic; most of them Dune records stalwarts, Tomorrows Warriors alumni, etc. Wilson is, himself, a New Orleans ex pat, this record clearly dedicated to that origin of music. The band is tight, but fluid and easy, with strong blues and roots… I really liked the stuff coming from Denys Baptiste, some rip-roaring solos… Abram Wilson himself played pert trumpet lines… The drummer was really expressive… Although I had seen them before, there was more fire overall, this time around… A solid act, fabulously entertaining, and solid swinging jazz (traditional sounding arrangements, but present and fresh). Maybe would be better if they could sort out the weird nonsensical vocal bits (make the narrative a bit more obvious) and loosen up the rigorous ‘act’ a bit (hearing the same ‘off the cuff’ banter on both occasions gets a bit annoying).

Andy SheppardAndy Sheppard and James Morton

Andy Sheppard and the Luna-tics feat. James Morton » Andy Sheppard (tenor/soprano saxes), James Morton (alto sax), Dan Moore (piano), Spencer Brown (double bass), Andy Tween (drums) «

Technically the jazz festival wouldn’t be over until the end of Monday’s Blues in the Ruins but, out of habit, I always miss that bit out… Andy Sheppard brought a fine close to my festival, however, bringing his group the Luna-Tics. Although, I’m not exactly sure what that means, since the rhythm section appeared to have been bussed in, new to Sheppard and James Morton. It seemed to be something of a Sheppard-as-mentor (to Morton) project (if that’s not out of order); Sheppard seemed to be in tight control of the group, but there was a lot of delegation, leaving the majority of solo time to Morton. The group underlined by a powerful drum n bass drum and bass, twin bright saxes making it sound positively futuristic. Sheppard I find intriguing because his fluid, mellow soprano sax lines always seem to verge onto the edge of meandering Smooth, but his great improvisational skill just succeeds in pulling it back from the edge… He played tenor, too, on which he has a slightly more gruff and edgy style. The (young-ish) Morton played riffing post-boppish stuff, mixing in positively with the drum&bass. Specifically, they played a few solid 60’s standards, and then finished with a free-er revolving piece Sheppard called the ‘Hotel Suite’ (first piece: ‘Meet me in the Lobby’), which was apparently a work in progress, and based upon his touring experiences… Essentially this was the most straight-up, ‘safe’ band of the festival headliners, but Sheppard ensured it located itself somewhere much more forward looking than perhaps most other contemporary British post/neo-bop.

Polar Bear, at Coventry Jazz Festival 2007

Posted June 4, 2007

Polar Bear, at Taylor John

Polar Bear at Coventry Taylor John’s House, 26/5/07 » Sebastian Rochford (drums), Pete Wareham (tenor sax), Mark Lockheart (tenor sax), Tom Herbert (double bass), Leafcutter John (electronic percussion) «

It was down to Taylor John’s House, at the Canal Basin, after Stan Tracey’s big band on the Saturday night… The seats taken out of the stage space, standing room only. A mixture of Jazz Coventry Biggin Hall regulars, and a decently wide age cross-section of jazz festival attendees, local fans, and, presumably, those visiting because it was at Taylor John’s.

To this point, I had followed Polar Bear only on record (not that this required a lot of detailed skill). Apart from one song and a half from a gig at the old Vortex, years ago, this would be the first time to see a proper live set, and I admit to pretty ‘eagerly awaiting’ this gig… As it turned out, I reckon I’m pretty lucky to have seen them at this venue… The intimate setting of the small space, close stage, packed and hot audience brought it all magically close.

Seb RochfordSeb Rochford

After a hesitant start, the band assembled and started to move out… A mixture of new tracks (a third studio album patiently awaits) and older tunes off Held on the tips of Fingers (The King of Aberdeen and To Touch the Red Brick are the only names I can remember…). Things sounded a bit free-er than Held on the tips…, but that may have been from the freedom of the live situation itself… Polar Bear seem to have the perfect concept of the jazz tune; the melodies are distinctive hooks that can move and evolve conventionally, but it’s the freedom and fluidity that sets them apart from anyone else. The twin sax line-up of Lockheart and Wareham seems distinctive in it’s unity; they’re playing a single front line for two saxes, rather than two sax lines that meet in the middle. Their playing revolves and weaves around each other, though the standard heads, and through their solo playing. Seb Rochford’s drumming is maybe just the best in the country, just in terms of the movement and detail of the lines, the spontaneity, the constant shifting, and the power that can just crack out at once. It’s all very immediate but constantly surprising.

Seb Rochford and Leafcutter JohnLeafcutter John, Seb Rochford

Leafcutter John was to add a detailed extra dimension from his (I think, mostly) laptop-processed live percussion. Whether it’s glitching a spoon rattling inside a coffee cup, or straining a deflating balloon (on The Balloon Song, no less), he adds an important layer of abstraction to the sound, complementing Rochford’s drumming which sculpts with the rest of the band more directly. The electronics also add a rich extra sound base, to boost the acoustic instruments, and move closer towards the wall of sound.

Polar Bear, at Taylor JohnPete Wareham, Tom Herbert, Mark Lockheart

They played for about two hours straight, including the much demanded extended encore… but it all seemed over so quickly… I was reminded of seeing Tim Berne in his small groups at the Vortex. It’s a wide and detailed sound without necessarily any real definable center; it just envelops you and carries you along wherever. “Play some jazz” someone called out as they closed up… I suppose their music is pretty well within the conventional jazz tradition and the lineages are fairly well intact and observable. I think what I find so special about their act is their union of the hooks of this jazz tradition, with the more extended profundity, raw emotional aspect of the Free music… Does that make sense?

Henri Texier ‘Strada’ Quartet, at Coventry Jazz Festival 2007

Posted June 3, 2007

Henri Texier Strada Quartet, at Coventry Jazz Festival 2007

» Henri Texier (double bass), Sébastien Texier (clarinets, alto sax), Manu Codjia (guitar), Christophe Marguet (drums) «

It’s probably something of a personality deficiency that meant that this was the first I had ever knowingly heard of Texier… His Strada quartet taking the Saturday afternoon cathedral ruins’ stage for a solid workout, a good long single set that started slowly but which steadily built up pace, moving from mellow starts, through stomping rock beats, to unmitigated freedom… Texier’s bass always quite delicate, mild-mannered and understated but, at the same time, full of narrative. He was joined by his son Sébastien on wind; bright but naive-sounding post-bop falling streams… I liked him on bass clarinet; whenever I think of this instrument I usually reference back to the brash tones of Eric Dolphy; this was nicely smooth and liquid… From the word go it was obvious that this was a European quartet, the mood clearly influenced by tones of European folk music (I’m assuming French traditions play some significant role!). The bass clarinet played off this mood well, at times beginning to recreate some sort of accordion texture. The star performance was from Manu Codjia who played consistently evocative electric guitar lines… Glitchy percussion through to growling overdrive. As the set worked through, the pieces became more and more free and, with the end in sight, their final piece featured a pretty major and awesome rocking workout across the rhythm section, Codjia continually inventive, met by Christophe Marguet’s in-motion drumming. For Codjia, Marc Ducret would be my own immediate reference point… Is this some sort of French thing?

I didn’t know what to expect from this group, but it all turned out pretty magically satisfying. This was definitely one of the key festival highlights for me. Shame that the audience was so pitiful in size (small but plenty appreciative; as Texier pointed out, ‘it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality that counts’!). It was difficult, however, to completely separate it out from the surroundings of so much other music. Must try and check them out again, with undivided attention! Anyone care for some Texier CD recommendations?