Tuesday 30 March 2010

ERSATZ: Smile in Shadow

Not jazz exactly, but . . .

Formed in 1977, ERSATZ was a notable Cambridge punk band whose contemporaries included The Soft Boys, The Waves, The Zeds and The Sinix. From 1979 to 1982 the final (and probably best) incarnation played regularly at The Midland Tavern off Mill Road, a haven for punks and rastas. Influences on the band were diverse - Kraftwerk/Krautrock, Brian Eno/Roxy Music, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Doors, John Coltrane, free jazz, Parliament/Funkadelic, The Pop Group and The Clash. The sound was dense and intense and we referred to it as The Ersatz Wall of Sound - somewhere between John Coltrane's later period and Phil Spector. I joined in 1979 and this 1980 single on the band's Leisure Sounds label catches something of the full-on, liberating, swirling quality of the live sound, which we achieved through throwing cymbals downstairs, layering feedback from guitar and bass and generally improvising in Cambridge's Spaceward Studios.

The single was pretty well received by the music press (Single of the Week in Sounds). John Peel played it on his UK and BBC World Service shows and took time to come to Cambridge to join us for tea at Hugh's flat. We felt like a gang for while and the music got tighter, funkier and spacier. Inevitably we drifted apart musically before shooting off in diverging directions.

At the time of the recording, brilliant tearaway drummer Harvey Bassett was 15. He went on to become a DJ legend at the Ministry of Sound as DJ Harvey and now lives in Hawaii and performs in LA, NYC, Miami etc. as Harvey's Sarcastic Disco. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Adrian Tierney Jones went on to become Assistant Production Editor of the NME and is now an acclaimed beer writer. Bass, synth and keyboard player Hugh Ashton emigrated to Japan where he works as a journalist and novelist. I played guitar, went on to work on an early "world music" project called Somewhere In The Office with the likes of guitarist Mark Graham, drummer Tony Shepherd, jazz saxophonist Kevin Flanagan and bass-playing satirist Chris Morris before leaving the country, thus avoiding much of the 1980s.

The Leisure Sounds label also released CDs and cassettes by the likes of The Dogma Cats and Boo Hewerdine (of The Bible).

Here are reasonable quality MP3s of the A and B sides.

A: Smile in Shadow

B: House of Cards

Monday 29 March 2010

Liam Noble Trio, Brighton Jazz Club, 26 March

Liam's Noble's presentation of the work of Dave Brubeck was notable for bringing some of Brubeck's lesser know tunes into the spotlight and for blending the Brubeck sound with his own. It was also a performance by the Trio that was designed to delight and entertain.

The opening Give a Little Whistle from "Dave Digs Disney" showed that Liam Noble shares some of Brubeck's compositional approach to improvising. That said, it soon became clear that he has his own distinctive approach with balanced phrases, a dynamic left hand, modern-sounding harmony and a collective sense of improvisation.

Of those lesser know tunes, I particularly enjoyed Autumn in Washington Square, suffused with autumnal melancholy and with some particularly sensitive playing by Dave Whitford on bass. I think La Paloma Azul is a Jazz Record Requests perennial favourite, a simple, memorable Mexican folk tune which featured a very melodic bass solo from Dave.

There was a sense of balance across the Trio. Liam's playing was nicely balanced by Dave Wickens' inventive use of what Liam called his "scrapyard cum drumkit" - regular drumkit augmented by a teapot (for the delightful sound of pouring tea, of course!), an assortment of bells, chimes, wood blocks and more. In the middle of the two, Dave Whitford acted as a kind of fulcrum. There was as sense of the three musicians having equal air time.

With the better known tunes - Take Five, In Your Own Sweet Way, Blue Rondo a La TurkThe Duke - Liam approached them from a distance. He would start with an improvisation with just a hint at where he was going and then work himself towards the inevitable conclusion. I was glad that these tunes weren't the focus of the set, because it would have taken the focus away from the Trio's collective playing. At its best it was quite a long way from Dave Brubeck - somewhere around Paul Bley territory.

In all, a great gig by a great band led by a distinctive pianist who, judging by his amusing line in patter, clearly cares that the audience finds a way into what he is doing. It was also good to see the Wickens/Whitford rhythm section back after another recent great performance with Kirk Lightsey.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Around Joe Lee - documentary on Joe Lee Wilson

This is the opening for a recent documentary about Joe Lee Wilson by Yves Breux and Brad Scott. The film follows Joe Lee in Paris, New York, Oklahama and Brighton, UK.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

15 April 2010 - Joe Lee Wilson at The Basement, Brighton

I've just been working with friend and ex-workmate Steve Rayson of local e-learning company kineo and singer Ela Southgate to promote a new jazz event at a new venue. The 15th April sees legendary singer Joe Lee Wilson performing with support from Ela at upcoming arts venue The Basement in the North Laine.

The aim is an event with broad appeal for all-comers. Joe is a unique voice and his music is strongly inclusive. This is his first major gig for some time. Details on the flyer below and from the website - http://www.kineojazz.com/ (going up in the next day or so). Hopefully, we will be putting on the event regularly. Watch this space for more . . .

[Click images to enlarge]

Tickets £10 - Tickets can be purchased on the door, or in advance from The Basement, 24 Kensington Street, (01273 699 733) & The Dome Booking Office, 29 New Road, (01273 709709).

As a warm-up Joe Lee will be performing at The Coach House (22 Walpole Road, Kemptown BN2 0EA) this Sunday 14th March, 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. He will be performing acoustically with myself and Terry Seabrook on piano.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Phronesis, Brighton Jazz Club, 5th March

Phronesis was an enjoyable end to a busy week. Three versatile musicians making subtle music that drew in the smallish crown at the BJC. Jasper Høiby is the bass player and composer, joined by a versatile Ivo Neame on piano and interesting American Mark Guiliana on drums. It's a piano trio with a difference - it's led by the bass player.

Jasper's compositions tend to start with oddly angular bass patterns in unusual times - there was a lot of quiet counting going on the audience. They would moved through a number of sections of a varied tempos, seamlessly combining written and improvised parts. The compositions are structured but give the individual musicians maximum ability to improvise within the given structures. Having recorded a live album over the previous two evening, they seemed to have nailed the demanding arrangements. Mark Guiliana excelled at making the difficult time signatures flow naturally, generating constant rhythmic interest. Ivo Neame added tonal colours and textures.

There were a few points of reference. Jasper's bass patterns suggested Dave Holland but with a distinctive jerkiness and angularity. The compositions suggest EST in places (particularly the double bass and piano unison lines).  I liked their understanding of dynamics in volume and intensity. If I have one minor niggle it's thats all the compositions flowed along at medium tempos (some very slow or very fast tempos might have helped me avoid the 90 second "power nap" I took during the last number!). That said, I look forward to hearing the forthcoming live album and would love to see Ivo Neame and Mark Guiliana in other contexts.

Here's a short video introducing Phronesis:

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Booker Ervin's Freedom Book

Yesterday morning at some unearthly hour I heard Booker Ervin's Freedom Book for the first time. I was gripped from the first note. What a brilliant album and what a inspiring bandleader and saxophonist! This an album I will play a great deal in the coming weeks and months.

Inevitably this led me to YouTube where I unearthed this gem. The lineup seems to be:
  • Kenny Drew - piano
  • Booker Ervin - tenor
  • Edgar Bateman - drums
  • Eric Dolphy Nathan Davis - flute
  • Pony Poindexter - alto
  • Ted Curson - trumpet
  • Jimmy Woode - bass
The band is playing Milestones (and dig the TOTP camera zooms in the last 20 seconds).