Backtracking: jazz encounters in the room of dreams

Backtracking: jazz encounters in the room of dreams

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”

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”

Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue

Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue

A Klezmer-ish night out? Why not – especially when the venue is one of the most beautiful buildings in our neighbourhood. Klezmer-ish are a group of four musicians whose day job is with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. They play klezmer, but at the same time (thus the -ish) explore a wide range of music created by immigrants from all sorts of places around the world – from Argentinean tango to gypsy jazz and Irish fiddle music. Last night they were performing in the dazzling Princes Road synagogue.
Continue reading “Migrant tunes: a Klezmer-ish night out at the local synagogue”

Simply Dylan: simply brilliant!

Simply Dylan: simply brilliant!

Last night I finally caught up with a local musical phenomenon. John O’Connell’s Simply Dylan band has been amassing a growing following on Merseyside and then around the country since beginning as a modest project in 2011 to celebrate Dylan’s 70th birthday. After selling out the Cavern Club six times and several successful UK tours, I saw their rousing show at the Citadel in St Helens.

I’ll admit to a degree of scepticism before the show: though I’d never contemplate going to a show by the real Dylan anymore (voice shot, too many Frank Sinatra songs), I thought it unlikely that a show of Dylan covers would move me. But it did: Simply Dylan are Simply brilliant.
Continue reading “Simply Dylan: simply brilliant!”

At the London Jazz Festival: Mehldau and Redman deliver a jazz masterclass, but the Garbarek quartet disappoints

At the London Jazz Festival: Mehldau and Redman deliver a jazz masterclass, but the Garbarek quartet disappoints

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”

Paul Simon: a joyous celebration the night after a dream was shattered and driven to its knees

Paul Simon: a joyous celebration the night after a dream was shattered and driven to its knees

Last night, before the news came of Leonard Cohen’s departure from this life, I was privileged to see an outstanding show by another great poet of song, Paul Simon.

On our way into Manchester I said to my travelling companions, ‘He must, surely, do An American Tune.’ He hadn’t the previous night in London, but I prayed that in Manchester he would sing what is truly a song for these times.

And he did! Continue reading “Paul Simon: a joyous celebration the night after a dream was shattered and driven to its knees”

Van Morrison at the Phil: in good voice and totally committed

Van Morrison at the Phil: in good voice and totally committed

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 Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s <em>Stabat Mater</em>: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

Can a medieval poem meditating on the suffering of Mary, the mother of Christ, as she stands at the foot of the cross have any relevance to these times, or to someone like me who adheres to no faith? The answer given by the performance of James Macmillan’s new setting of Stabat Mater at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall was a resounding yes.

The singers of Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and the strings of the Britten Sinfonia combined to produce an electrifying performance of Macmillan’s elegiac, angry and often discordant cry of grief and personal commitment in the face of tragedy. I don’t think I’ve attended a more enthralling concert of contemporary music in the classical tradition. Continue reading “The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity”

Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon seek The Lowest Common Denominator

Alan Barnes and Gilad Atzmon seek The Lowest Common Denominator

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”

The Simon and Garfunkel Story: passing time and frail memories

The Simon and Garfunkel Story: passing time and frail memories

Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence

If he ever got back to the twentieth century, Paul Simon wrote in a recent song, he would ‘open the book of his vanishing memory.’ Listening to a succession of glorious songs from his catalogue in The Simon and Garfunkel Story at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall on Sunday night, made evident how many of Paul Simon’s songs right from the early days were concerned with the passing of time and the frailty of memories. Continue reading “The Simon and Garfunkel Story: passing time and frail memories”

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”

An extraordinary performance of Different Trains in the world’s first railway station

An extraordinary performance of <em>Different Trains</em> in the world’s first railway station

An amazing event took place in Liverpool last night. On a railway station platform a mile from my home the American composer Steve Reich appeared on an outdoor stage to present a world exclusive presentation of his iconic 1988 composition Different Trains, performed for the first time with a film accompaniment created by documentarist Bill Morrison. Continue reading “An extraordinary performance of Different Trains in the world’s first railway station”