It’s a curious thing, but just as I was entering the time of sleep lost after the arrival of the new pup, I began listening to the new release on the ECM label from the Tarkovsky Quartet. Not only was the album entitled Nuit blanche (‘sleepless night’ this side of the Channel), it also featured a dog on the cover. Not only that, the quartet, founded some years ago by the French pianist François Couturier and consisting of cellist Anja Lechner, soprano saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché and accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier takes its name from the Russian film director whose greatest works include Stalker – which was itself the subject of Zona, a brilliant meandering, meditative book by Geoff Dyer, a bunch of whose books were all that I could focus on in the indolent, zoned-out state in which I found myself. In situations like this you can’t help asking, ‘What’s going on?’ Continue reading “Backtracking: jazz encounters in the room of dreams”
I have two strong memories associated with the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who is celebrating his 70th birthday today. The first is of discovering his LP Folk Songs, the first of his albums that I bought, and the one that opened up the world of music recorded by Manfred Eicher on the ECM label. The second memory is of listening to a specific Garbarek tune in a particular place, symbolizing for me a moment of European optimism. Continue reading “Celebrating Jan Garbarek on his 70th birthday”
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”
Once in a while there comes an album that is so musically perfect and so in tune with its times that you know on one listen that it is destined to be a classic. Such is Freedom Highway, the second collection that Rhiannon Giddens has released under her own name. Its songs are drenched in her country’s history while speaking directly to its troubled present. There is horror here, but inspiration too.
Oh please! Dig me a bunker, and bury it deep. There let me spend the next four years watching La La Land on endless repeat, safe from the horrors of the Trumpian, post-Brexit wasteland above, in a feather-bed of fantasy, blissfully out of touch with reality.
If the foregoing sounds a shade sardonic about Damien Chazelle’s garlanded new film, it’s not meant to be – simply a statement that in these dark and fearful times it feels good to be bathed in the romantic aura of a decently made film, that most of us feel that moving to La La Land, an old metaphor for a fantasy bubble somewhere over the rainbow, would not be such a bad thing. Not that La La Land is truly romantic, as I’ll suggest.
Something I’ve remarked on before is that these posts don’t properly reflect the ubiquitous presence of music in my daily life. Occasionally I do mention a new album that has made an impact, and I do record here all the live music events that I attend. But there’s always so much more. So here is a roundup of some of the music which I have particularly enjoyed in 2016. The post ends with a playlist of the music mentioned. Continue reading “The music in my head in 2016”
Sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s, on a trip to London, we were lucky to see Mose Allison perform a set at the Pizza Express which included such characteristically witty and sardonic songs, rooted in the blues, as Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy, I Love The Life I Live (I Live The Life I Love), Gettin’ There, Tell Me Somethin’, and Your Mind Is On Vacation.
Today, in his Guardian obituary of Mose Allison, who has died aged 89, John Fordham writes:
At the PizzaExpress jazz club in London, which he took to visiting twice a year in the 90s and early 2000s, Allison would sometimes seem to be in a fascinating private reverie, in which stomping bluesy figures would wrestle with swirling, wind-in-trees melodies, or turn into a jerky clatter like a silent-movie soundtrack. Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues, Trouble in Mind and Knock on Wood might hurtle by in a blur.
‘Pizza Express has been a real godsend for me,’ Allison once said. ‘I’ve been working there for several years, six weeks a year. You can go to work every night and play. It’s a nice little club. It’s just about the right size for me, about 150 people.’ Continue reading “Mose Allison, the William Faulkner of jazz, dies aged 89”
Once again, we made the journey down to the capital to sample three events during the opening weekend of the London Jazz Festival. The music began with what was, for me, a welcome second helping of Tord Gustavsen’s collaboration with the German-Afghan vocalist Simin Tander on songs from their ECM album, What Was Said. The weekend concluded with a strong set but not totally convincing set from the Jan Garbarek Quartet at the Royal Festival Hall. But the outstanding event was a masterclass of breathtaking jazz improvisation by pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman. That alone was worth the journey. Continue reading “At the London Jazz Festival: Mehldau and Redman deliver a jazz masterclass, but the Garbarek quartet disappoints”
On Tuesday evening we sloshed our way through the first real rain of this autumn to the Philharmonic for a performance by a man whose lyrics have revealed a man who loves nothing better than to walk in gardens wet with rain – Van Morrison. With a notorious reputation for grumpiness and offhand behaviour in his concerts, we were a little apprehensive about what we might get. But Van was in fine form and, supported by an excellent band, crammed 90 minutes with a stellar selection of songs from a career in which he has recorded an astonishing 36 albums. Continue reading “Van Morrison at the Phil: in good voice and totally committed”
The mercurial Gilad Atzmon has a new project, its purpose defined on the sleeve of his new CD as being ‘to revive the dwindling and complacent British jazz audience.’ At the Band on the Wall in Manchester last week a much-revived and expansive audience were treated to the result: an evening of straight-ahead jazz and lively on-stage banter.
The banter ricocheted between two stalwarts of the British jazz scene: Atzmon, no slouch in the motormouth department, and fellow saxophonist Alan Barnes who was once described as playing ‘music that was radical 50 years ago – hard, urban post-bop’ but infusing it with ‘so much passion and energy you could believe it was minted on the spot.’ With the sterling support from Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on double bass and Chris Higginbottom on drums the pair led an evening of superb music that bore the name of The Lowest Common Denominator. Continue reading “Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon seek The Lowest Common Denominator”
Terence Blanchard is a magnificent trumpet player with a huge reputation. Even if you’re not into jazz you may have heard his music on the soundtrack of films, including most of those directed by Spike Lee – including, memorably When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Lee’s 2006 powerful film about Katrina and its aftermath.
So it was quite something to be able to hear Blanchard perform live at Parr Hall in Warrington recently as part of a new project – piloted by The Band on the Wall – in which he had worked with some of the UK’s most remarkable emerging musicians, as a mentor offering a bunch of thirteen musicians an apprenticeship culminating in live performances around the northwest.
What resulted was an evening of sensational jazz in which Blanchard treated us to stellar moments of trumpet virtuosity, while the young musicians of the Inner City Ensemble, left to their own devices by Blanchard for a major part of the gig, proved an equal match in both their collective playing and in individual exchanges between instruments. Continue reading “Terence Blanchard and the Inner City Ensemble”
Among the galaxy of boundary-probing musicians recorded by Manfred Eicher’s ECM label, the name of Markus Stockhausen has a particular resonance. He’s the son of composer and pioneer of the avant-garde Karlheinz Stockhausen, regarded as one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music, with whom Markus collaborated on several compositions.
The flugelhorn player has got a new album out on ECM, Alba, on which he appears with pianist Florian Weber, and he was at the RNCM in Manchester last night to promote it, at the same time leading sessions teaching students the rudiments of what he calls ‘intuitive music’. During the concert – in which the duo – a.k.a. Inside Out – played several compositions from the new CD, we were treated to two exhilarating examples of intuitive music, performed with a band of the brilliant students with whom he had been working. Continue reading “Markus Stockhausen and Florian Weber at RNCM: exhilarating, intuitive music”