Wednesday 24 February 2010

John Clarke talks jazz guitar on Skyline FM

I"ve just been listening to friend and fellow "ace" jazz guitarist John Clarke as a guest of Andi C's The Fret Connection show on Skyline FM, "local radio for the southern parishes".  Between ads for taxi firms, jewellers and mobile discos, John was playing tracks from his favourite post-1980 guitarists.

John is a big fan of Mike Stern and John Scofield but where our tastes really converge is with Peter Bernstein, Jonathan Kreisberg and the Dutchman Jesse van Ruller. Each track was chosen with care and designed to demonstrate the range of contemporary jazz guitar players. Interestingly, the more recent guitarists seem to hark back to an earlier age - I can hear Django Reinhardt in the playing of both Kreisberg and van Ruller.

John got into jazz guitar at university back in the Sixties and cut his teeth on the South London jazz scene with pianist Roger Simmonds, with whom he still gigs and records. John has some really nice original recordings on myspace site.

As a longstanding member of the Southern Jazz Guitar Society, John pointed out that it's unlikely that you would find a Southern Jazz Saxophone Society. Yes jazz guitarists like to listen to other jazz guitarists because, well, few other people will! The SJGS meet monthly in Romsey and every few months features a concert or workshop by name guitarists such as Nigel Price, Sid Jacobs and Mike Outram.

Here is John's sensitive interpretation of the standard "This Is Always" on his wonderful, old Gibson L7 and a Jazzamp.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

George Garzone: Pizza Express London, Dean Street, 16th February

Tenor saxophonist George Garzone was making a rare appearance in London. George is know primarily as an influential teacher (Mark Turner, Joshua Redman) with a heavyweight conceptual approach - The Triadic Chromatic Approach. That said, the performance was anything but academic. With a tone straight out of Coltrane George played with real intensity, spurring on his rhythm section of powerhouse drummer Pete Zimmer (US based) and muscular US bass player Michael Janisch (London based) towards jazz mayhem. In the photo (we were sitting by the drums) you can see how he leans into the rhythm section as the solo increases in intensity - at one point his arm was touching the crash cymbal, at another is almost knocking Michael's right hand. Quite an intimidating approach - certainly causing the rhythm section to sweat! Highlights for me were Naima and Invitation, both played with feeling and invention. A great show of improvisation in a friendly, intimate venue.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Stephen Longstreet's Jazz Illustrations

In the Eighties' I was living in Barcelona, where I picked up a Spanish Encyclopedia of Jazz published in 1963 (a translation of a German book published in 1957). It's a pretty comprehensive encyclopedia for its time but what is most striking about it are the wonderful illustrations by Stephen Longstreet. Here is a selection.

You can fine out about the late Stephen Longstreet at the  Stephen Longstreet Website.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Pat Metheny's Orchestrion: The Barbican, 10th February

The perpetually youthful Pat bounded on in trademark trainers, jeans, big hair and grin looking like he had just stepped out of Wayne's World (Garth's genius older brother?). He kicked the show off with a couple of numbers from his recent excursions with Brad Mehldau, playing first a Baritone Guitar (possibly, I was in the gods and had forgotten my opera glasses) and then his Picasso guitar, a weird beast with two necks and multiple sets of drone strings. The music was beautiful and inventive and his solo guitar filled the huge acoustic chamber that is the Barbican main hall. He then moved on to his PM signature archtop with some modifications that meant, somehow, he could accompany himself with a set of finger cymbals. Not quite the mechanical orchestra everyone was expecting. However, on the fourth number the coloured sheets that formed that formed the backdrop fell away to reveal something that resembled a cross between some Victorian fairground exotica and the Starship Enterprise.

Physically, the orchestrion is several cabinets contain instruments that are struck (symbols, drums), those that are blown (bottles) plus some standalone instruments (grand piano, marimba, glockenspiel). Pat played the Suite that he had recorded for the Orchestrion album in which he was accompanied by the orchestrion. The suite itself was classic Pat Metheny group, rather than Pat in jazz improvisation mode. The emphasis was on orchestration rather than improvisation but, slowly, the nature of the orchestrion was revealed. Just as player pianos were driven by piano rolls, the orchestrion was driven by arrangements driven, presumably, from a computer (as opposed to steam). However, the guitar also drove the instruments, so that Pat would play a melody on the guitar and, simultaneously, it would be played on the blown bottles. It was possible to see what was being played when because each time something was struck or blown, a little light would go on.

The suite seemed, largely, to be driven from a pre-written score. However, Pat then moved onto creating some improvised music which helped the audience understand what was happening. To summarise:
- Pat created a looped phrase on the guitar (e.g. a set of chords)
- Then created a looped melody to be played on top of the chords
- He then used the guitar to create a percussion loop
- He the added another looped melody (e.g. grand piano)

In recent years, I have seen quite a few gigs where guitarists use loops in similar ways (Bill Frisell, John Scofield, John Paricelli). Pat Metheny uses the loops to drive analogue instruments which is both "different" and"interesting". Yes, the orchestrion looks like it came from the fevered imagination of a Victorian inventor (or genius teenager in Metheny's case) but the saving grace was that it was, after all, Pat Metheny. His music is distinctive and extraordinary. The wide open melodies evoke the wide open spaces of the mid-West where he was brought up. The melodies are American, rather than African-American, and they they have an all-embracing, inclusive quality. You can whistle the themes (as the person next to me insisted on doing) and he has that Mozart-like ability to spontaneously create music that just sounds right and always managed to avoid (just) sounding cliched or sentimental. The charm of his on-stage persona matched that of his music.

The audience lapped up what they saw and heard and the performance was made more accessible by Pat describing the genesis of the idea and how he realised it. The technical difficulties of getting guitars to trigger solenoids that then hit instruments in real time is mind boggling (technicians were constantly hovering around the edges, adjusting things).  Pat admitted that he had sleepless nights worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Well, for the last number they did go wrong. The orchestrion packed up. "Helpful" suggestions came from the audience - "Reboot it!", "Try switching it off and switching it on again". Pat was embarrassed but charmed the audience by his response and to encore with just solo guitar was nothing less than the audience expected. The orchestrion is a folly, in the best sense of the word, but the challenge of making it work was one that Pat Metheny had set himself, not one that that audience had expected.

Sunday 7 February 2010

John Turville Trio: "Midas" reviewed

I saw the John Turville Trio at play to a small audience at The Brunswick in Hove a couple of weeks ago. It was a great gig from of trio of young and very talented musicians, part of a tour to promote a new recording - Midas. Unusually, the gig consisted almost entirely of original compositions (pianist John Taylor's Ambleside being the exception) so I thought I would check out Midas to get to know the material better.

The cover (above) is an impressionistic black & white photo of a very dark, rain soaked city street, late at night, possibly London, with spots of light radiating from the street lamps and reflected in puddles. It's seen from the point of view of a driver in a recently parked car. Perhaps John and the band arriving back home after an inspired performance waiting for the rain to let-up, making the casting the grim urban scene in an almost romantic light. For the Romantic poets the imagination was like a lamp that illuminated the material world. It would be fitting if it were the spirit of English Romanticism that pervaded this recording, because the overall sound is clearly not American.

The standard of individual muscianship here is very high as is the standard if interaction between the three members of the Trio. The recording has some very distinctive tunes, the first of which is the opener First Flight. The tune has a rolling feel, making me think of early Paul Bley. The tempo drops right down giving the first solo to bass player Chris Hill, a bluesy feel that he passes on to John, then the tempo is back up to the original pace. John's soloing suggests Keith Jarrett, playing inside, outside and around the changes. Drummer Ben Reynolds provides a whole range of colours to vary the accompaniment. The strength of the band's musicianship is shown by the ease with which they handle the odd time signatures and tempo changes.

All Or Nothing At All is a favourite standard of mine and has been covered in recent years by some of my favourite musicians including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner and Jonathan Kreisberg. This is a slow-ish taken on the tune in a straight four time with plenty of space. I like the way the bass holds everything down with some well chosen root notes. It is the restraint that John shows that really makes this work. In fact, it reminds me very much of the slightly ironic approach pianist (and friend of John) Frank Harrison has towards standards.

For the title tune, Midas, the Trio is augmented by singer  Brigitte Beraha. Her breathy, worldless vocals bring a muted Miles Davis feel to the proceedings, particularly on her improvised solo towards the end of tune.  Brigitte also features on the Trio's cover of Nick Drake's Fruit Tree, part of which she sings in unison with the bass. This tune has the "English" feel you would associate with Nick Drake - very different from Brad Mehldau's take on Drake's Riverman. Waltz for Bill Evans is a homage, showing that John is intimate with Evans' repertoire and, hearing this tune live, it came pretty close to a performance by one of the early Bill Evans Trios. Albaicin is named after a district in Granada, Spain. What works really works well here is the sense that the three musicians are finding their own paths through the piece but, at the same time, are complementing each other. This is the type of playing you only really get in a trios. I particular like the drum solo towards the end, played over a repeated riff on the bass and the pianist's left hand. The final tune is Ellington's Solitude, once again featuring Brigitte on vocals accompanied solely by John's piano. The treatment brings the tune across the Atlantic with Brigitte's distinctive, English diction.

Overall, an accomplished debut by three young musicians who perform at a very high standard. They deserve a large audience for their music, but where was the audience when they played in Hove. It will be interesting to see how the band develops in the coming years, particularly as it's not the best of times to be starting a career jazz.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Gabor Szabo - Stormy

Some pure listening pleasure on a grey Wednesday afternoon. Even when playing a throwaway pop song like Stormy, Gabor has his very moving and intense Hungarian thing going on.

Doug Payne's Gabor Szabo website