Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren at Liverpool Jazz Festival

Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren at Liverpool Jazz Festival

On Thursday evening, after storm Doris had raged all day, I turned up for the opening event of this year’s Liverpool Jazz Festival to find that Sons of Kemet had been stranded in London by the suspension of all services out of Euston. However, by Sunday lunchtime everything was balmy in the meteorological department when I returned to the Capstone to see saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren perform a remarkably eclectic set that embraced music from many genres, times and places. Continue reading “Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren at Liverpool Jazz Festival”

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone

Back in the 1990s, idly sifting through CDs in Probes Records, I stumbled across an album called A Meeting by the River that featured an Indian musician whose name was unknown to me: Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. But, drawn by Ry Cooder’s name I bought the record and once at home discovered a gem.

The Grammy award winning album is a masterclass of musical interplay, particularly outstanding considering that Cooder and Bhatt met for the first time only a half-hour before the recording. Most of all, though, it is the album’s mood of harmony and peace, a reverie of tranquillity, that enthrals the listener.

So when Vishwa Mohan Bhatt introduced his performance at the Capstone last Saturday night saying that his was as ‘music for meditation and  thepurification of the soul’ I expected a similar mood to follow. Continue reading “Vishwa Mohan Bhatt gives an astounding, ear-bending performance at the Capstone”

Two fine concerts wrap up the 2016 Liverpool Jazz Festival

Two fine concerts wrap up the 2016 Liverpool Jazz Festival

This year’s Liverpool International Jazz Festival concluded with two superb sell-out concerts.  On Saturday evening Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman showcased songs from their duet album, Song: The Ballad Book, and on Sunday Andy Sheppard brought Bristol Hotel, his quartet of Bristol-based musicians to close the Festival. Continue reading “Two fine concerts wrap up the 2016 Liverpool Jazz Festival”

Joanna MacGregor and the eccentric genius of Erik Satie

Joanna MacGregor and the eccentric genius of Erik Satie

An evening in the presence of pianist Joanna MacGregor is always guaranteed to be both enjoyable and informative so we didn’t hesitate when we saw the Capstone theatre advertising ‘an evening devoted to the eccentric genius of Erik Satie’, presented by MacGregor.  We were not disappointed. Continue reading “Joanna MacGregor and the eccentric genius of Erik Satie”

Chamber: musicians nearly outnumber audience

Last night, on spec, I went to the Capstone Theatre to see a group perform which I’d never heard of before.  Chamber  consists of  guitar, double bass, drums and a three-piece string section.  So there were six performers on stage – just two more than the number in the audience: an unusual experience for me – and, I hope, for the performers too.

Chamber is a brand-new project from guitarist and composer Nick Tyson who has other things on the go, including the dub, ska and roots reggae outfit Gentleman’s Dub Club – which I hadn’t heard until I looked up the video below on YouTube. Chamber is entirely different-sounding kettle of fish. The blend of acoustic bass and cello with electric violin and viola results in cinematic, almost orchestral sound that I thought, especially in the fuller passages, had a tendency to drift towards the middle of the road and the sound of a film score.

Nevertheless the compositions are inventive and exciting, seeming to blend all kinds of influences, from middle eastern, folk and celtic traditions. In the second half, especially, the interaction between a group of sterling musicians was uncanny.  When individual instruments emerged from the orchestral weave, there was some truly fine playing.

Kate Shortt (above) extracted sounds from a cello that you would not believe, while there was some fine interplay between Nick Tyson’s guitar, Paul Baxter on double bass, and percussionist Sebastian Hankins.  I’m sure others would disagree, but for me the electrically amplified violin and viola (Charlotte Glasson and Ruth Gibson) were the reason that the sound sometimes became rather too sweet.  I longed for a sax or a trumpet to carry their lines.

But these are excellent musicians and did not deserve such a small audience.  Their first outing together was only a week ago at the Vortex in London, and they are now touring.  You can download a couple of the tunes they played at the Capstone for free here, and this is their promo video:

Nick Tyson graduated with a first class honours in Jazz Studies from Leeds College of Music in 2007, and was subsequently awarded the first Parliamentary Jazz Award for outstanding young musician. He has established himself on the UK Jazz scene as an instrumentalist, composer and improviser, but also as a member of the dub and ska band, Gentleman’s Dub Club.  This is Gentleman’s Dub Club performing ‘High Grade’:

Zoe Rahman Quartet: bit of an Irish-Bengali mash-up

It was not the kind of evening to encourage setting foot outside. There had been a moderate  version of what the Americans call an ice storm: rain falling for most of the day and freezing on the ground.  Roads and pavements were sheets of ice and there were icicles hanging on the car.

But we persevered, heading for what is becoming Liverpool’s best jazz venue, the Capstone Theatre, to see the Zoe Rahman Quartet on their Kindred Spirits tour.  The band had made it over the Snake Pass from Sheffield before the snow came down, and we were treated to a great evening’s jazz, relaxed and spontaneous.

We’d previously seen pianist Zoe Rahman at the same venue last year with Courtney Pine on the Europa tour, and as a member of the ensemble that performed Way to Blue: the songs of Nick Drake.  I think a radio broadcast or CD review had led me to the fine album Where Rivers Meet on which she and her clarinettist brother Idris explored their Bengali roots.

Mistakenly, I took that to be her first album; it turns out that it was the fourth.  Now she has released her fifth album Kindred Spirits which takes the exploration of her family roots further, blending elements of a combined English, Irish and Bengali heritage.  As All About Jazz expressed it in their review of the album:

Holy soul food, Batman! It feels good to listen to a musician who plays from the heart rather than the brain. Not that British pianist Zoe Rahman is deficient in the grey stuff or technique. She studied music at Oxford University, the Royal Academy of Music and Berklee; once, twice, three times an alumnus. But when Rahman is seated at the keyboard, and her band kicks in, it is her exuberant spirit that she channels, not her learning. That, anyway, is how it sounds.  Kindred Spirits, recorded in spring 2011, is Rahman’s fifth album, and like its predecessors it makes the world seem, for a precious while, a better place. […] It all adds up to another bliss infusion.

The Quartet features her brother Idris on clarinet alongside her regular jazz trio partners Gene Calderazzo on drums and Davide Mantovani on bass.  They kicked off with Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘Cherry’ before exploring numbers from the new album – ‘Down To Earth’, ‘Maya’ (written for a one year-old neice), and a sequence in which an Irish melody ‘Go Where Glory Waits Thee’ adapted by the great Bengali composer and poet Rabindranath Tagore as the tune ‘Mana Na Manili’ segued into another Tagore song, ‘My Heart Dances like A Peacock, It Dances’ before the quartet stormed into another traditional Irish tune, ‘Butlers of Glen Avenue’.

Zoe and Idris were born in Chichester to a Bengali father and English mother. In the Kindred Spirits CD notes, Zoe explains:

We recorded this album after touring Ireland in 2011, a year that happened to coincide with the 150 th birth anniversary of Bengali writer, musician, artist and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. These two events account, in part, for my choice of music. Mostly though, it’s a collection of my own compositions from the past couple of years and tunes that I love playing.

From my experience of visiting my father’s extensive family in Dhaka, usic plays a huge part in the lives of Bengalis.  At family gatherings, a harmonium seems to be produced at any opportunity, everyone taking it in turn to sing (more often than not Tagore songs).  The music sessions we were lucky enough to experience in the pubs around ireland very much reminded me of that tradition, and the love of music.

In the second set, Zoe introduced the number ‘Conversation With Nellie’ as being inspired by her Irish grandmother: ‘I’d always been curious about my grandmother’s Irish roots, and this track was inspired by talking with her, and by the experience of touring Ireland’.

The second set began with Stevie Wonder’s ‘Contusion’ before the band moved on to respond to requests they had received during the interval by playing two Bengali songs from Where Rivers Meet, and the beautiful ‘Muchhe Jaoa Dinguli (‘Past Days’) a lovely arrangement of a Bengali song by the renowned composer Hemant Mukherjee that featured haunting clarinet by Idris.

Throughout the evening, Zoe had introduced numbers from the piano with an easygoing manner, and there was a real sense of a band happy to play just as the mood took them, or what the audience asked for – sometimes not every member of the band having ever played the tune (forget the set list). This was apparent when they returned for the encore.  About to start on an agreed number, someone shouted, ‘What’s the saxophone for?’  (indeed, a saxophone had been prominent, unplayed, throughout the show).  It was there as an alternative for Idris, and now the band launched into a rousing, impromptu account of Duke Ellington’s ‘Amad’ from his Far East Suite.

Hot stuff! Outside it was freezing hard, and you had to watch yourself on the ice.

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Gwilym Simcock Trio at the Capstone

Gwilym Simcock Trio at the Capstone

Gwilym Simcock

Gwilym Simcock

The Capstone Theatre – part of the Hope University Everton campus – has some good jazz gigs lined up this autumn, kicking off last night with the Gwilym Simcock Trio.  This was not the trio line-up that has appeared at various venues this summer, but his original trio of Gwilym on piano, Yuri Goloubev playing bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums.  As Gwilym explained, this was their first time playing together for three years.  We saw him Simcock and Sirkis a year ago at the Rodewald Suite when they were performing as part of Tim Garland’s Lighthouse Project and Sirkis played an unusual array of percussion instruments.

Asaf Sirkis

Asaf Sirkis

As usual with a Gwilym Simcock gig, it was an evening of fine and varied jazz, featuring several new compositions, as well as others from albums such as Blues Vignette and Good Days at Schloss Elmau. Three of the new compositions were tributes to admired musicians, and demonstrated the breadth of Simcock’s musical interests and influences.  Particularly outstanding was ‘Barber Blues’, a jaunty, angular piece having some of the characteristics of the Samuel Barber piano music that he enjoyed when he was training as a classical pianist. It was, as Gwilym explained by way of introduction, driven by a  left-hand ostinato, typical of Barber.

‘Kenny’s Way’ was dedicated to Kenny Wheeler, the Canadian trumpet and flugelhorn player, based in this country since the 1950s, and another musician greatly admired by Simcock, who explained that he had tried  to capture Wheeler’s distinctive and intricate compositional style.  Another number was a tribute to the American bass player Buster Williams.

Schloss Elmau

By way of introducing ‘Elmau Tage’ from Good Days at Schloss Elmau, Gwilym filled us in on his experience of recording the album at the luxury hotel in the Bavarian mountains.  The beautiful setting, with the studio windows affording spectacular views of the mountains, would have seemed to guarantee peace and relaxation.  However, with only one day to record the album, they were interrupted by outside noises on several occasions – once by the sound of metal food carts rattling over the courtyard cobblestones bringing lunch, and later by the buzz of a tractor mowing a meadow outside (a sound which can still be heard at the end of one of the album’s tracks, if you turn up the volume).

Yuri Goloubev

Yuri Goloubev

The trio complement each other perfectly, with Yuri Goloubev providing some exciting plucked bass lines and bow playing, while Asaf Sirkismatched the mood made every sound count on drums. Yuri Goloubev was born in Moscow, and studied classical bass and composition at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire. After a distinguished career in classical music Yuri moved to Milan in 2004 and has since dedicated himself to jazz.  Asaf Sirkis was born in Israel and settled in London in 1999.  He soon become part of the UK Jazz and world music scene and in 2000 formed The Orient House Ensemble with Gilad Atzmon, the band which has since recorded seven albums. In 2006 Asaf started a collaboration with the highly acclaimed saxophonist and composer Tim Garland as a member of his Lighthouse Trio alongside Gwilym Simcock.

One of the numbers played was ‘These are the Good Days’ off Good Days at Schloss Elmau. There’s a video on The Guardian website in which Gwilym Simcock explains how he wrote the tune and gives an insight into its complex interplay of keys and rhythm,  one of those in which Gwilym plays the inside of the piano to create a drum-like percussive effect.

At the close, Gwilym spoke of how impressed the three musicians were by the Capstone Theatre, saying that it was very unusual for them to play in a room of such high quality (and for him, the piano – a Steinway – was a joy, too).

Gwyilm Simcock must be on a high at present, nominated for the 2011 Mercury Prize and critically acclaimed for his recording work.  He plays in a variety of jazz formations and collaborates with many senior jazz figures – on 12 November, he’ll be back on Merseyside at Pacific Road in Birkenhead (one of the last shows before the venue closes, sadly) playing with his ‘supergroup’, The Impossible Gentlemen, with guitarist  Mike Walker and American bass and drums stars Steve Rodby and Adam Nussbaum. Later this month, a live recording of the Simcock Trio will be broadcast  on Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up.

Gwilym Simcock interviewed about the 2011 Mercury Prize ‘Albums of the Year’ nomination:

Gwilym Simcock performing ‘These Are The Good Days’ at the Mercury Prize 2011 Albums of the Year launch in July 2011:

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