Tuesday 29 November 2011

René Thomas: Live 1974

Probably recorded in the last year of René's life, this is a typically intense performance by René in which he plays his compositions My Wife Maria and Theme for Emmanual and Jobim's Chega de Saudade (No More Blues). It's great that people are digging out and publishing these old videos as they have fascinating details. For example, he's playing a Guild (not is famous Gibson ES-150). He's got fairly light strings on, perhaps striving for a more rock influenced sound. He's dressed like a Sixties' man, looking slightly out of place with the (then) hip, hippy bass player. He's endeavouring to take the music to new places, particularly in the the cadenza sections. This makes him the hippest musician in the room.

Friday 25 November 2011

Live: Bill Frisell and Louis Stewart

Two very contrasting gigs this week. Last Sunday Bill Frisell mixed Americana with Philip Glass style minimalism with his 858 Quartet. I saw this line-up at the Village Vanguard where we were in the thick of the music in the small wedge-shaped venue. At the Queen Elizabeth Hall we sat high up with a very objective perspective on the music. Bill created blues, folk, bluegrass-style themes on his Fender Stratocaster accompanied by the minimalists interventions form Jenny Scheinmann (violin), Eyvind Kang (viola) and the very dynamic cello of Hank Roberts. The music moved quite slowly. It was like being mesmerised by a gradually changing kaleidoscope of sound. Pieces built up, grew in intensity and then died down again. No fast tempos, nothing really slow. There was compositional depth and it was musically very satisfying.

Support was from Scottish-based NeWt with its unusual line-up of drums, guitar and trombone. The trombone used effects to create some very deep bass frequencies and there was some rock-inspired guitar riffing. The unique combination of sounds made me sit up and listen. Like other contemporary British bands (Phronesis, Kit Downes, Portico) you couldn't easily hear the joins between the composed and improvised sections. Is this something that distinguishes modern European jazz? EST used this type of approach but Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Mark Turner, Jonathan Kreisberg seem to stick to the more traditional theme, improv, theme. The standard of musicianship and inventiveness was high and I'd like to hear them again.

On Wednesday night I heard Irish jazz guitar legend Louis Stewart at The Jazz Store. It's almost 20 years since I last saw him - Brighton Jazz Club at The Concorde. He kicked off with Alone Together and then went into Speak Low. He spun lovely, long flowing lines from his 1950s Gibson ES 175 (with a single P90 PUP). His pitch range seems very similar to the male voice and his lines seemed very in singable. They also had a spontaneous quality to them, nothing too arched or contrived. Spike Wells and Dan Shepherd played very tastefully on drums and bass. Roy Hilton's sold were very inventive and showed is mastery of bebop. The tunes were all standards (I didn't see any music all evening). In the second half they were joined by trumpeter Gary Kavanagh and singer Sarah Oschlag and Louis was able to show off some very tasteful comping.

I was really inspired by Louis' relaxed approach. Nothing seems forced or showy. Certainly something to aspire to. I'm looking forward to his gig at Wickwoods Country Club on Sunday.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Geoff Simkins Quartet at Hastings Jazz Club

Enjoyable gig last night. Geoff Simkins was playing with pianist Nikki Iles, bassist Simon Woolf and drummer Martin France on the first night of a short tour. They're all great improvisers in their own right but the focus last night was on ensemble playing.

Highlights for me were the the head of Konitz' Subconscious Lee with Nikki playing an improvised counterpoint to Geoff's theme, a sensitive rendition of the waltz Elsa written by Earl Zinders and recorded by Bill Evans, Kenny's Wheeler's interesting changes on Kind Folk and Steve Swallow's mesmerising Falling Grace. On these numbers the quartet sounded like themselves - a distinctive and beautiful sound.

Further dates by the Geoff Simkins Quartet:

Fri 18 8.00pm Sheffield Jazz
Wed 23 8.00pm The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Wed 30 8.00pm 606 Club, London

Fri 2         8.00pm The Spice of Life, London

May 2012

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Barracuda live at The Hare & Hounds Worthing, 25th October 2011

Barracuda is an organ trio featuring Simon Robinson on Hammond, Tony Shepherd on drums and myself on guitar. We played our debut on Tuesday at Worthing's Hare & Hounds. We really appreciated having such a warm and attentive audience.

Here are most of the tracks. Pretty guitar-heavy but they give a sense of how the trio works together.

The organisers do a great job of promoting local jazz and deserve all the support they can get. You can get an up-to-date gig listing here: http://worthingjazz.org.uk/index.php?page=events

Saturday 15 October 2011

More Jazz at Smalls, The Caxton Arms, Brighton

Alan Barnes [multi-reed] is one of the most versatile and respected jazz players and composers in the UK. His album last year with Scott Hamilton, 'Hi-Ya' was received with great critical acclaim and was featured as one of the top ten albums of the year by jazz critics. This year he has repeated the feat, his collaboration with Ken Mathieson ‘The Glasgow Suite [The music of Benny Carter] has received sumptuous recognition - ‘’Barnes principally plays alto saxophone...his solos are excellent...surely this will feature in 2011’s album of the year poll...this is a real treat for all jazz fans’’ [Jazz Journal].

His optimistic and good nature seem to have 'magical' qualities. At the recent Titley Jazz Festival [Powys] – ‘’soon the grim clouds crowded out much of the failing light...after a superbly crisp 14 minute ‘Just One Of Those Things’, Alan Barnes’ opening number, things had considerably brightened...he seems to have permeated the whole festival’’ [Jazz Journal].

He had a long-standing association with the late writer/lyricist Alan Plater producing a number of jazz influenced shows and recordings. Alan also runs his own recording label and has featured with Harry Allen, Ken Peplowski and Warren Vache. He tours extensively and is much in demand at jazz festivals and concerts in the UK and abroad. It is a real pleasure to welcome Alan back to Smalls, where his great performance last year created an atmosphere that swung.

Alan is joined by the wonderful rhythm section of Terry Seabrook [piano], Piers Clark [rhythm guitar] and Steve Thompson [bass] who have done so much to enhance the quality of music at Smalls.

liz and dennis simpson

Friday 30 September 2011

Blue Note cover art comes to life!

I'm a big fan of the Blue Note cover art work of Reid Miles with photos by Blue Note co-owner Francis Wolff. This video brings some of those classic album covers to life. Amazing!

Thursday 29 September 2011

Bill Frisell & The 858 Quartet

Really looking forward to seeing this band at The London Jazz Festival. Signs of Life is a kind of jazz/classical crossover inspired by the paintings of Gerhard Richter. Caught them at The Village Vanguard last year on a memorable Sunday evening. Interested in how they sound at The QEH. This video gives a wonderful flavour of the music and its background.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Peter Bernstein on listening at the start of tunes

At the recent Barry Harris gig at Pizza Express I was really struck by the way that Barry would start a tune, unannounced then look up to see if bass player Dave Green had got it and Dave and drummer Steve Brown would just slide seamlessly in.

It's just about listening.

In this clip Peter Bernstein talks about starting tunes with no words spoken. Just listening and following, or leading the other musicians in:
 If you can just learn to follow and say, "I hear what he's playing, I hear what key he's playing it in, and it's obvious what tempo he's playing it in (hopefully)," and go from there.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Jim Hall & Barney Kessell: You Stepped Out of a Dream

It's ages since I blogged. Mostly because I've been busy, but also because I haven't had a great deal to write about. Barry Harris at The Pizza Express was superb, but that was the only significant gig I've been too for a couple of months.

This is a superb video of Jim Hall and Barney Kessell playing at the top of their respective games in the early 60s. There's not too much say about this, just listen to 6 minutes of bliss.

Friday 29 July 2011

Radio Tribute to Joe Lee Wilson on Seahaven FM

Keith B took over the Big Band spot on Seahaven FM last night and he devoted the second half to the music and life of Joe Lee Wilson. We chose choose that reflected the range of his singing style and were personal favourites.

Return of the Prodigal Son is a soul jazz track from 1969, not long after Joe Lee drew with Sly & The Family Stone in a national TV talent show. Sly Stone signed to Columbia and enjoyed huge commercial success. Joe Lee recorded for Columbia but they just sat on the tapes. A couple of singles appeared and disappeared (the first recording of He Ain't Heavy . . . He's My My Brother). The Return of the Prodigal Son is a big budget production (a nine piece band including Kenny Burrell and Kenny Barron) but first saw the light of day in Japan. Is this one of the Columbia tapes that they handed over to Joe Lee? Are there more out there?

How Deep Is The Ocean was recorded in Italy in 2008. Shows that Joe could still tell a story and move people with his voice.

Feelin' Good is from the album of the same name. A great session with Kirk Lightsey (piano), Steve Watts (bass), Julian Siegel (tenor), Dave Wickens (drums). Recorded in 2000 is shows Joe Lee on top form with  a great band, caught at the end of a UK tour. This is Joe Lee at his most joyful and positive.

Jazz Ain't Nothin' But Soul was recorded is 1972 as a live radio concert at Columbia University. When is was released two years later (on the Livin' High on Nickels and Dimes LP) it became a hit for Oblivion records. It describes jazz thus:

Jazz is makin' do with taters and grits
Standing up each time you get hit
Jazz ain't nothin' but soul

Jazz is livin' high on nickels and dimes
Telling folks what's on my mind
Jazz ain't nothin' but soul

Not financially rewarding but a kind of truth. Joe would have established his NYC loft (The Ladies Fort) at this time  and created many opportunities for himself and other musicians to entertain an audience. This song is another positive message from Joe.

You can hear the complete album here.

I Love You is from a 1981 session with guitarist Jimmy Ponder. Just the two of them. His voice is beautiful and the two musicians complement each other perfectly.

Goin' To Chicago (from Feelin' Good) is a straightforward blues. Joe Lee never considered himself a blues singer but he could certainly do justice to the blues, recalling blues shouters like Big Joe Turner.

Home in the Country (from Feelin' Good) was written by trumpet player and singer Kenny Dorham (KD). Joe Lee used to hand out in Tompkins Square Park with KD. Joe Lee was a country boy, raised a farm in Oklahoma, and this song talks about wanting to leave the city and get back to a home in the country. The story is dramatically told by Joe Lee with Kirk Lightsey:

The city's bright, bright like diamonds and hard like glittering stone
Ain't got some sweet place I can call my home
Your hair is soft, feels so fine, let's get out of New York City while we got time
I want a home in the country. Won't you come there with me.
Come to the country

Thanks to Seahaven FM for the opportunity to put some of Joe Lee's music on air and on the internet.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Joe Lee Wilson: December 22, 1935 - July 17, 2011

Sadly, Joe Lee Wilson passed away on Sunday. He was an inspirational singer, human being and friend who spread a message of peace, love and joy wherever he performed. I'm sure he will be missed by all the musicians who had the good fortune to play with him and the audiences who heard his magnificent voice first hand.
Joe Lee Wilson at kineojazz in 2010 by Yari Fontebasso
Joe Lee's voice was a gift and he accepted it with humility. Here is his prayer of thanks from the song Thoughts of a Season:

To you, I'm extending this special blessing
To include my family and friends, fans and musicians, promoters and organisers, who have helped me throughout my long singing career,
from gospel to blues, from blues to jazz (or perhaps I should say afro-american classical music!).
I thank God the Creator for presenting me with a unique artistic gift
to bring peace and love into every community in every corner of the world
Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.

The Guardian has published a lengthy obituary that really does Joe Lee justice. Thank you John Fordham, Val Wilmer and The Guardian.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Geoff Simkins with Terry Seabrook and Paul Whitten, The Snowdrop, Lewes, 11th July

Brighton-based alto saxophonist Geoff Simkins was in his element last night - a small venue, an attentive audience and sensitive musicians to support him. It was the perfect opportunity to enjoy Geoff's music and reflect on the approach to improvisation that informs his teaching (there were several of Geoff's students in the audience, myself included).

Geoff's approach to approach to improvisation is consistent and purposeful. I'll try and summarise it like so:
  • The foundation of his flowing line is a long, even exhalation of breath  - the breath vibrates the reed and the sax keys select the notes
  • Each breath lasts maybe 10 or so seconds, long enough to develop a melodic idea across quite a by number of bars (depending on the tempo of the tune) and across sections of the tune too
  • Each pause for breath is an opportunity to take stock, adapt the idea or perhaps change tack in response to what is going on around him or a new thought
The way Geoff develops musical ideas is significant to his style. Rather than following the chords changes and letting them dictate changes in ideas, he holds on to an idea (e.g. a short musical phrase) and adapts it to the new surroundings as the chords change. This might mean playing the same phrase but changing the pitch, sometimes fitting in with then new chord, sometimes deliberately at odds but ultimately seeking a resolution. The relationship between the notes is sometimes dictated by reason (actually, that idea will work in this context too) or art (if I play these notes against this chord it's going to sound quite unusual). Each breath is a thread that holds the ideas together.

It's clear that Geoff does not always know where a phrase it going to end up before he pauses for breath. Occasionally it sounds like he thinking his way out of the situation he finds himself in without losing the plot - solving a logic problem. Geoff rarely loses the plot in musical terms. He admitted to me that he occasionally runs out of ideas before he runs out of breath. This relationship between the length of the breath and the length of a line is an interesting one, worth investigating, even on guitar or piano.

This is pretty hard stuff and few people can do it like Geoff. It takes a lot of discipline to hang onto and develop those lines. It may be habit by now, but it takes a lot of practice too. I think it was Al Cohn who said: "If I don't practice for a day, I notice it; if I don't practice for two days, the other musicians notice it; if I don't practice for three days, the audience notices it." Geoff must be pretty disciplined in his practice regime. It's not just doing the things he does so well, it's all the bad habits he avoids - for example, using ideas sparingly and not wasting them by throwing them away too soon.

The vehicle for Geoff's improvisation is standard and modern jazz originals with interesting chord sequences - How Deep Is The Ocean, Donna Lee, Passport/Anthropology, Sophisticated Lady, Little, Willie Leaps, Cherokee, I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, Beija Flor a variation on All The Things You Are.

Some of these tunes force obvious comparisons with alto players who have shared his approach. I know Paul Desmond's version of I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face. Desmond has a beautiful tone and a rhapsodic quality to his lines. Geoff's tone is harsher and he often leans on the altered, non-diatonic notes which sometimes gives his playing a sardonic quality. He's perhaps closer to Lee Konitz but, to my ear, Konitz has a slightly mournful, elegiac quality. The truth is that it's unfair to label Geoff a "cool school" or Konitz/Desmond soundalike. Geoff's voice is is his own.

This was of course an ensemble performance and Terry Seabrook accompanied very sensitively and tastefully. The volume was just right and he kept to a path that complemented Geoff - mixing chords and lines, doing that six over four thing that pianists love. Likewise, Paul Whitten played very sensitively. His tone is sweet and woody - not too much bass or treble. I really like Paul's solo style. Unlike Geoff's, his lines are more like those you would want to sing. Where Geoff would quote a tune (Moondance for example), he will then play about with it. Paul just carries a nice melody without messing with it. I like that approach too.

I also liked the way they ended a few of the tunes. You could hear Geoff's final note dying away, Paul would bow a note in harmony, Geoff's note would reduce to a whisper then disappear.

Monday 11 July 2011

Smithville on The Brighton Bandstand

Thanks to the appreciative audience, photographers and passersby at The Brighton Bandstand yesterday. The weather was beautiful but it was unbelievable cold and windy for the musicians. Within minutes my fingers and strings seemed covered in a film of salt!  Eddie Myer did a great job depping for Keith and everybody said it sounded surprisingly good (surprising for us because it sounded as though the music was being blown all over the place).

Thanks to Brighton Council for organising. Hope we can play there again.

Will Vinson, Pizza Express Soho, 6 July

I was initially disappointed that Lage Lund was not able to make the Will Vinson gig last Wednesday. The brilliant young Norwegian guitarist was somehow indisposed (he went in a puff of on the verge of discovering a new close voice chord structure . . .). Still, we had Gwilym Simcock, brilliant young Welsh pianist, in his place.

Will Vinson is an English alto saxophonist who has been living in New York for over ten years, He's well respected, playing with Kurt Rosenwinkel and being a regular member of guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg's band. He's also one of the few young of alto saxophonists of note amongst the current crop - Perico Sambeat and Dave Binney are the only two other names that come to mind.

Form the first notes of I Am James Bond (hear it here), Will had a beautiful, clear tone. The intonation was spot on (sometimes alto players are a bit cavalier with their tuning). It had a direct, passionate quality to it. His soloing throughout was clear, intelligent and easy to follow. At times it reminded me of Seamus Blake (another passionate, clear communicator) and Mark Turner (physically and musically bobbing up and down the arpeggios). Though there are stylistic similarities, it's definitely an individual sound.

On a table a few inches from Gwilym Simcock, we could see him work his way into some very unfamiliar tunes. His playing was exciting, his fingers mesmerising, venturing into the unknown, finding plenty of interesting things to see. I liked the way he definitely plays lines, rather than textures. At times, Will looked on in awe, joking that the audience were showing a bit too much appreciation.

That said, Will was definitely centre of the band. I enjoyed his compositions and have bought his latest live CD The World (Through My Shoes) to get to know them better. The one familiar tone was Work by Thelonious Monk - a tune I like but not one I have ever heard live before. He also kept on top of everything. His playing was always thoughtful and expressive, if not as edgy as Gwilym's.

The rhythm section were a tight, singing unit. Jochen Rueckert (Drums) and Sean Fasciani (bass) were obviously familiar with the material and playing as one. Will is obviously a bit of a character - very sardonic: "I'd like now to welcome Gwilym Simcock back and as for the rhythm section - you're fired!"

The night was a really enjoyable introduction to WIll's music. I was very surprised that the Pizza Express was only half full ("We've just coming from playing in France - to audiences of 500 plus. Notice the heavy-handed reference to the size of the audience there . . ."). I hope that it doesn't put him off coming back. It was great having Gwilym but I would like to see him with Lage Lund, capturing the spirit found on his live album.

Sunday 3 July 2011

My Top 5 Organ Trios

According to Wikipedia:
"An organ trio, in a jazz context, is a group of three jazz musicians, typically consisting of a Hammond organ player, a drummer, and either a jazz guitarist or a saxophone player."
Organ trios are one of the best units for a guitarist to play in. The organ and guitar sound well together - peaches and cream a friend once called it. The single note lines of the guitarist sit very comfortably on the chords from the organ without clashing. It's difficult (though not impossible) for a guitarist to play runs and chords at the same time. The organ can supply the chords (as a piano would) but the organ has the addition of the bass too. It's like a quartet with three instruments. The organ trio was great for clubs, notably in Philadelphia - loud yet intimate and low cost (not sure what the bass players thought of this).

This list is of my Top 5 organ trio, in no particular order, based on the ones I have listened to and enjoyed most - either live, on record or both. There are notable exceptions - Wes and Kenny Burrell with Jimmy Smith. Unfortunately,  don't have any in my record collection, and perhaps I go for a slightly cooler sound . . .

Grant Green, J.C. Moses, Larry Young by georgeheid
Grant Green, J.C. Moses, Larry Young, a photo by georgeheid on Flickr.
Grant Green, Larry Young, Elvin Jones
These are Larry Young's first recordings and they show him applying the lessons of John Coltrane to the organ, notably on Talkin' about J.C. from Talkin' About. Grant is inspired by the young organist on some of the last recordings he made from Blue Note before returning with a new, funky style.

John Abercrombie, Dan Wall, Adan Nussbaum
I've been listening to these organ trio recordings (Tactics and Speak of the Devil) for about 15 years. They seem to be inexhaustibly interesting. I've always heard echoes of the Bill Evans Trio in them. They take the traditional organ line-up and update it. Some great interplay. Long flowing lines from Abercrombie. Plenty of listening going on.

Dr Lonnie Smith, Jonathan Kreisberg, Jamire Williams
Lonnie is a one-off. His sound has a broad appeal yet pushes the boundaries and he has a great choice in side men. I saw this band at Ronnie's a couple of years ago and then ago a couple of week ago. They've come a long way. They work brilliantly as a unit. Three very different personalities working as one. Plenty of spontaneity and very tight. It's a unique sound. 

Grant Green Jr, Bernard Purdie, Reuben Wilson
It's a few years since I saw this band. Bernard Purdie is the one of the funkiest drummers in the world and this band captured the spirit of the early Sixties' chitlins circuit with the  grooviness of the Motown and Atlantic soul recordings. Grant Green Jr can't help but sound like his father and they they had a contagious sense of fun.

Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart
This has got to be one of the greatest organ trios of all time. These three do justice to the tradition and deliver the highest levels of inspired, emotive improvisation. I haven't seen the three play together but I have seen the DVD Peter Bernstein Trio: Live At Smoke. It's worth watching just to see Peter screwing up his face and squeezing out the notes from his guitar.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Smithville - more gigs!

Following our debut at The Basement last month, Smithville have some more gigs. The first of these is at Brighton's beautiful bandstand on Sunday 10th July from 2:00 to 4:00 pm where we will be joined by guest bass player Eddie Myer. It may depend on the weather, so fingers crossed. Unlike Eastbourne bandstand where I did a season of gigs a few years ago, there is very little shelter from the elements.

Expect plenty of finger poppin' fun, funky grooves and organ-led mayhem.

Here's some more information on Brighton Bandstand along with a beautiful picture.

Brighton Bandstand

Monday 27 June 2011

Kineojazz presents Dr Lonnie Smith Trio featuring Jonathan Kreisberg and Jamire Williams, The Basement, 18th June

18th of June was a day to remember - for quite a few reasons.
  • Discovering we had been previewed by John Fordham in The Guardian Guide that morning and tickets were selling well
  • Arriving in the afternoon to discover that Dr Lonnie Smith's B3 had not been set up and setting up the B3 only to discover that it had no foot pedals and being told that we hadn't asked for pedals
  • Confirming with Dr Smith's agent in New York and drummer Jamire Williams that "Dr Smith needs pedals" (obviously!)
  • Ordering a Hammond C3 (with pedals) down from London at 4:00 in the afternoon for a 6:30 soundcheck
  • Discovering that we had been sent a piano stool instead of an an organ bench and Dr Smith patiently explaining the need for a bench (so his feet can hover above the pedals)
  • Dr Smith saying, "Don't worry, we'll find a way - we can make something!" And make it we did - the front of a drawer from an old chest of drawers, two high stools and a role of gaffer tape
  • Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg saying, "We need to talk about that bench you made. I seriously think Lonnie is going to kill himself."
  • The C3 arriving just before the doors were due to open
  • Drawing a line under all of the above and just enjoying the gig
And what a gig. When you hear Dr Smith play the organ you are hearing an extension of himself. It's a beautiful sound and he tells his own story - with drama and intensity. He can played very, very quietly and suddenly play so loudly that you almost fall off your seat. Jonathan played brilliantly, virtuosically even. He brings brightness and colour to the sound. On the other side of the stage drummer Jamire Williams brings energy and fire. The audience listened closely to everything, the band received a well-deserved standing ovation and left The Basement in a state of near bliss.

There are various videos around on Youtube. I won't link to them hear as they don't really do the night justice. However, here are some great photos from the official kineojazz photographer.

Click here for John Fordham's "proper" review of Dr Lonnie Smith Trio at Ronnie Scott's two nights later.

Thursday 9 June 2011

The Roadrunners: The Never-ending Tour (continued . . .)

11/06/2011 - The Master Mariner, Brighton Marina, 8:30 pm
17/06/2011 - The Duke of Wellington, Shoreham, 8:30 pm
24/06/2011 - The Ranelagh, 8:30 pm
01/07/2011 - White Hart, West Hoathley, 8:30 pm
21/08/2011 - Standup Inn, Lindfield, 8:30 pm
24/09/2011 - The Master Mariner, Brighton Marina, 8:30 pm
30/09/2011 - The Ranelagh, 8:30 pm
23/10/2011 - Standup Inn, Lindfield, 8:30 pm
26/11/2011 - The Master Mariner, Brighton Marina, 8:30 pm

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Thoughts on Wes Montgomery

There there are a couple of reasons why, as a jazz guitarist, I have mixed feelings about Wes Montgomery. Don't get me wrong, Wes was a genius. His reputation is well deserved and he set a benchmark for high standards in improvisation, not just on guitar but on any instrument. The Incredible Jazz Guitar is one of my favourite jazz guitar albums of all time. So what are my reservations and why.

1. Guitarists influenced by Wes often end us sounding more like Wes than they do themselves (if that makes sense). I loved the work of Emily Remler, and her original material in particular (the album Catwalk). On standards territory she gets a bit too close to Wes and perhaps away from her own approach. From Wikipedia, this quote from People magazine in 1982 sums up her dilemma:
"I may look like a nice Jewish girl from New Jersey, but inside I’m a 50-year-old, heavyset black man with a big thumb, like Wes Montgomery." 
It can be really dangerous taking your influences too far. Much as many an alto sax player has never got beyond the influence of Charlie Parker, the danger with Wes is that once you're into him, you just can't get away from him. I think that George Benson took what Wes did and developed his own style but I've heard quite a few guitarists over the years who I think haven't managed to do this.

2. Wes's soloing is almost too exciting sometimes. What do I mean this? He plays really fast, he crams in a lot of ideas, you don't have a chance to absorb one before you're flying onto to the next one. This quote from Wikipedia just about sums it up:
"Listening to [Wes Montgomery's] solos is like teetering at the edge of a brink," composer-conductor Gunther Schuller asserted, as quoted by Jazz & Pop critic Will Smith. "His playing at its peak becomes unbearably exciting, to the point where one feels unable to muster sufficient physical endurance to outlast it."
I have to admit that, in part, this suspicion of Wes is partly envy. I'm not the only one. I remember reading a funny Jim Hall story about how he spent a day with Wes in San Francisco trying to get his thumb caught in taxi cab doors. Wouldn't it be nice to have his style down off pat? Wouldn't it impress other guitarists? That said, we're all individuals and following the muse means going where the music takes you. I often feel a stronger affinity to Grant Green. He digs into fewer ideas, leaves more space, constantly interacts with the rhythm section and, for me, has a stronger emotional punch (I'm thinking here of Idle Moments, one of my favourite jazz albums of all time). And he's a very exciting player without being overwhelming.

In recent years my own playing has moved more and more away from diatonic harmony as I stretch things further and further. In fact I've been going back to Wes and understanding more and more where his own harmonic sense comes from. In my last post I quoted Lee Konitz talking about slowing solos down. I've been doing this with Wes solos recently. Listening to them over and over on half speed before transcribing them. This gets around the Gunther Schuller problem of the solos being unbearably exciting because you can really listen to and absorb the idea. The solos sound brilliant at any speed, just a more manageable at a slower speed, giving you plenty to savour.

I can already feel the fear of Wes abating. It's just important that I steer away from his octave playing - that's his signature and his alone. Discuss!

Friday 20 May 2011

Interview with Lee Konitz in JazzTimes

Interesting interview of Lee Konitz by Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus in JazzTimes. Lee is promoting the new recording with Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. I'll be looking out for it. Here are a few extracts.
Ethan on how Brad Mehldau levitates above the harmony
Ethan: I’ve heard a lot of Brad over the years, so I know what he is capable of. On this record he’s levitating above the harmony almost constantly and in a fascinating way. 
Lee: Can I interview you? How would you describe that?
Ethan: I think that Brad is very comfortable with the original harmony so that he can overlay, not just one degree away from the harmony and form, but two or three degrees away from the form. For example, suppose you’re playing in D-minor. Brad is comfortable not just playing in E-minor, but perhaps in F-sharp-minor and perhaps both at the same time, even though it’s still really D-minor. That may be b.s. though.
Lee: I’m sure it’s one of the possibilities. I just wonder how many of these possibilities are clearly outlined as possibilities or if he’s intuiting into that so ingeniously. It’s a combination of both, of course.
How Lee warms up the band before a gig
Ethan: I was really impressed when we played a gig together in Pori [Finland] last year. Before the gig you invited the band to your hotel room to sing and tap together. I’ve seldom been with other musicians who took warming up for the gig that seriously. 
What's the intention of Lee's soloing?
Ethan: Is it a conscious decision for you how much abstraction or newness you’re going to put into an interpretation when you start? It’s very different to play the melody of a ballad or play very out on it, as you know.
Lee: I usually start out with the hope that it will go in a new direction. When it doesn’t, I try to make the notes as meaningful as possible. That means for me playing less to start out with. That has proven very effective for me.
On slowing down great solos
Lee: I have one of these little dictation machines, a $49 machine with digital pitch control and a bunch of tracks. I have Lester Young solos, Wayne Shorter solos from Live at the Plugged Nickel, some Jamey Aebersold records, some Warne Marsh. I can listen to it at the different speeds. I haven’t had that facility because I don’t use a computer. 
Ethan: It’s fun to hear those solos slowed down, isn’t it? You can hear what the notes are, finally. What I find amazing with people like Lester Young or Warne Marsh, is that even when you take their fast lines and slow them down, it sounds swinging—it’s still so rhythmically accurate.
Lee: They somehow slowed it down in their learning of the lines, and they’ve gradually sped it up as they felt each note. I think that’s the process. 

Sunday 1 May 2011

Smithville debut at The Basement supporting Sue Richardson, 30th August

We all had  great time playing a varied set of memorable tunes:
  • Jeannine (Duke Pearson)
  • Joel's Domain (David 'Fathead' Newman)
  • Eternally (George Benson)
  • Mr Kenyatta (Lee Morgan)
  • 502 Blues/Drinkin' & Drivin' (Jimmy Rowles)
  • Full House (Wes Montgomery)
People thought the band sounded great, particularly the combination of instruments - baritone, flute, organ & guitar. Hopefully a few more gigs on the horizon.

Thanks to Emily for the photos. Here's a video of Andy playing Eternally.

Really enjoyed Sue Richardson's set too. I particularly liked her flugelhorn playing. The band sounded great too - Andy William's long, flowing guitar lines, George Trebar's bass soloing, Sam Glasson's drumming and the very swinging piano style of Humphrey Lyttelton's pianist. Now what was his name?

Thursday 28 April 2011

Ascenseur pour l'échafaud - Louis Malle - (Elevator to the Gallows)

I'd like to be in London for this:
Music from Ascenseur pour l'échafaud and Orfeu Negro

4th May 2011
7pm for 8:30 pm
The 606 Club
90 Lots Road
London SW10 0QD
020 7352 5953
Miles Davis’ film music and improvisations for "Ascenseur pour l'échafaud"
Here's the beautiful Jeanne Moreau looking distracted while Miles' trumpet conjures up the mood of Fifties' Paris. It's a while since any of us had to pop into the local bar to see if anyone has called (25 years in my case!).

Thanks to the London Jazz Blog for highlighting this clip.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet, Ronnie Scott's, 18 April 2011

Photo from Kurt's website - http://www.kurtrosenwinkel.com/
The last time I saw Kurt he was with his standards trio, focusing on in depth interpretations of classic jazz tunes with a focus on chordal improvisation. This larger format (Aaron Parks on piano, Eric Revis on bass and Justin Faulkner on drums) showcased Kurt's compositions, his virtuosity and expressiveness as a melodic improviser and his ability to lead a band from the front. If the trio is at the George van Eps end of Kurt's spectrum (virtuosic chordal soloing, minimal effects), this quartet is at the Allan Holdsworth end (virtuosic single note soloing, an array of pedals).

From the drum intro to Our Secret World we could tell the this was going to be an evening of focused, energetic and intense music. I love the way that Kurt reinterprest and reinvents his compositions. Our Secret World is one of the intriguing tunes that made its debut on Heatcore. Comparing it to the version that Kurt played on Monday and the recent big band recording, it has matured considerably. Kurt's soloing had a deep yearning quality and within a few choruses he was really soaring, lines just flowing out of him. It lifted the music and, even though the material was probably unfamilar to most, it took the audience with him.

Kurt followed this with Deja vu, Safe Corners, A Shifting Design (and then I lost track). With each tune you could tell that Kurt was clearly aiming at something that he head in his head. By the the communication with the rest of the band and his comments about the (seemingly minor) inadequacies of the sound, he has the ears of a bat and just completey inhabits his world of sound. I like the way each band member has clearly defined roles (not always the case). Eric Revis take care of the bottom end with his bass. He doesn't try to play the bass like a guitar player (he didn't spend a lot of time at the dusty end) and he has a great groove. The young drummer Justin Faulker brought a lot of energy to the music and made sure that the collective sense of direction had some power behind it. Aaron Parks on piano never tried to compete with Kurt. He provided a lot of harmonic interest when comping and he solos had lots of space in them and interesting intervals (I made a mental note to check out some of his recordings).

Arrayed on the floor in from of Kurt were about 20 pedals and from where I sat it was really interesting to see how he userd them. He mixes the effects with a clean signal and is able to do things like hitting a volume-type pedal to sustain a particular note or chord, taking his foot off and them playing lines over the chord. Its totally built into his playing, as naturally as McCoy Tyner might use a piano sustain pedal. Seeing Kurt with his foot on the pedal reminded my at times of Jimi Hendrix - not just in terms of the effects but also in terms of the use of the band. Jimi usually told Noel Redding what to play (a lot of Eric's bass lines were composed) and Mitch Mitchell had the freedom to provide a lot of energy and interest (as Justin did).

The evening was all originals, I think, with the exception of one Mark Turner tune. It's difficult to say what his compositions are like. The majority of them I know through repeated listening. One point of comparison are the Wayne Shorter & Miles Davis tunes of the mid-Sixties. At times, I also thought of some of Led Zeppelin's more esoteric outings (e.g. Kashmir from Physical Graffiti). Obviously they are not easy to classify but they certainly acknowledge the jazz tradition in terms of their conception (heads, solos, the roles of the instruments).

A fantastic gig and great to see Kurt having an impact in the UK. He always seems to have had much wider acceptance in mainland Europe and had just come from 5 nights in Paris. Hearing this great New York band in Ronnie's made it feel like the Village Vanguard and, hopefully, it provided some influence and direction to some of the British musicians in attendance. This music is fresh, exciting and deep too. It's music I love.

Here is a review of the same gig from today's Financial Times.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Ronnie Singer

I'm a big fan of René Thomas and in particular his later work from the Sixites and Seventies. In his early career he pretty much adopted the style of Jimmy Raney wholesale. Jimmy was a very cool guitarist who improvised brilliant melodic lines. He was a big influence on the the post-Django guitarists in France, notably René and Sacha Distel. An American with a style very like Jimmy was Jimmy Gourley, a who settled and made a career in France (there are plenty of videos on YouTube from French TV). In the Forties, the two Jimmys hung out in Chicago with another guitarist, Ronnie Singer, who was apparently the most gifted of the three.

Ronnie was never officially recorded and he died tragically young - just 24, he (a heroin addict) and and his wife committed suicide by asphixia in a gas oven. The three tracks here were recorded live c. 1950 and they show a confident and inspired soloist.

Note that the two Jimmys, René and Ronnie all played the Gibson ES-150 that Charlie Christian made famous with the Christian pickup.

I'd love to transcribe a few of Ronnie's choruses - in fact, I'll put that on the To Do list!

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Melvin Sparks RIP (March 22, 1946 - March 13, 2011)

That great, funky guitarist died on Sunday due to complications associated with diabetes. This is a recent video of Melvin doing what he was famous for. There's also lots of great recordings to check our with Lou Donaldson, Lonnie Smith, Hank Crawford, Houston Person, Idris Mahammad, Bernard Purdie . . .

Link to Nate Chinen's New York Times obituary.

Monday 7 March 2011

Jakob Bro: Weightless Film Trailer

I"ve just been listening to Danish guitarist Jakob Bro's last CD, Balladeering. It's very much in the vein of Paul Motian's recent recordings (Jakob plays in Paul's electric band sometimes). The musicianship and musicality is of the highest order, as it should be with Paul Motian (drums), Lee Konitz (alto) and Bill Frisell (guitar) on the session.

The music is very laid back indeed. As Lee says at the recording session featured in the film, "I think it's established a very specific mood". There's lots of space with some lovely, light guitar twanging from Jakob and Bill, Paul's delicate drumming and Lee's alto sounding heartfelt.

The trailer (Part 1 of 3) gives a taster of the album. I particularly like the dialogue between mild-mannered Jakob and New Yorker Lee:

JB: Bill and I play the melody so you just . . .
LK: Fuck around
JB: Yeah . . .

Jakob seems to be an untutored musician but the following line from the Wikipedia entry rather gives the game away:
Bro has never received any musical training besides short periods spent at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus, the Berklee College of Music in Boston and New School University in New York.
Well I wish that was the musical training I hadn't received!

BTW My daughter thinks one of the tunes sounds like this: Sufjan Stevens - Decatur

Sunday 27 February 2011

René Thomas with Eddie Louiss and Kenny Clarke

Another great find, René playing his composition Meeting with some wonderful drumming from the great Kenny Clarke and great, single chorus of fours traded between all three. The band is on fire - about half way through traces of smoke appear from nowhere . . .

René Thomas - guitar
Eddie Louiss - organ
Kenny Clarke - drums

René Thomas - All Morning Long (Red Garland)

Nice live recording of Rene on this blues from 1961. Gives me confidence that you don't have to play chord harmony in a trio format. Single notes played like this are just fine.

René Thomas (g); Benoît Quersin (b); José Bourguignon (d)
Recorded June 30, 1961, Comblain-La-Tour, Belgium

Thursday 24 February 2011

Jazz Guitar Celebration with Andy Williams in Hastings

Tuesday night's gig in Hastings was fun. Roger Carey (bass) and Dave Trigwell (drums) were very accommodating and I particularly enjoyed listening to, and duetting with, Andy Williams. Andy is a fine, accomplished guitarist and his set nodded to such great guitarists as Django (a lovely solo arrangement of Nuages), Jack Wilkins (his arrangement of Chick Corea's Windows) and John Scofield (his composition Still Warm). The highlight for me was playing with Andy on the last two numbers - Skylark and Blues in the Closet. I didn't manage to record them, but I did manage to get the first set - Soul Eyes with Roger and Dave, then joined by Andy for How Insensitive (with a nod to Emily Remler and Larry Coryell) and a duet version of My Funny Valentine (Jim Hall and Bill Evans).

Friday 18 February 2011

Recent gigs: Tony Kofi, Tractor Factor, Julian Nicholas

It must be daunting playing with a pick-up rhythm section. Tony Kofi's band for Sunday night (13th Feb) at The Bruswick was Spike Wells  (drums), Nigel Thomas (Bass) and Mark Edwards (piano). With Tony exclusively on tenor everyone was playing on top form but it was several numbers in, when they launched into Miles' Milestones (the older tune of that name) that the band really gelled. It's an interesting, intricate set of changes that Tony weaved in and out of with energy and grace. This was followed by a very funky version of Freedom Jazz Dance with some fine playing from Mark Edwards. Spike Wells was enjoying himself, chuckling as he played and Nigel Thomas laid down a very strong groove throughout, interacting beautifully with Spike and Mark. The second set kept the standard high with tunes such as Sometime Ago and Relaxin at Camerillo. Tony peppers his playing with quotes - Can't Buy Me Love cropped up several times - and a highlight was a favourite tune of mine at the moment, Jimmy Rowles' The Peacocks. A great gig overall and a really good turnout for a Sunday night. Worth looking out for his gig at the Brighton Jazz Club later in the year when he will be performing the music of Eric Dolphy with his own band.

The previous Thursday (10th Feb) I saw Tractor Factor at the tiny Bees Mouth on Western Road. The band is Luke Rattenbury (guitar), Tristan Banks (drums) and Andre Fry (drums). This was the band that appeared at the kineojazz event last year with Liane Carroll. They locked together into a very tight groove. Tristan laying down the foundations, Andre glueing the changes together with a very tasteful choice of notes and Luke bubbling away on top, providing the heads, funky rhythm guitar and some very percussive soloing. The band focused on getting stuck right into the guts of the rhythm. Of the material I recognised, there was one (possibly two) Ernest Ranglin tune, a Charlie Hunter tune and their take on Nardis. The fact that there were so many musicians in the audience, shows that the band is already highly respected by their peers locally. They deserve to be playing a lot more gigs.

The week before that (3rd Feb) I was amongst the well-heeled residents of Rottingdean for a Rottingdean Jazz Club gig with guest Julian Nicholas. The monthly gig is run by singer Imogen Ryall and pianist Rod Hart in a room above The Plough Inn. It's a fairly polite affair but some great playing from the whole band. Dave Trigwell played beautifully - his approach is almost balletic as it's graceful and refined - and Nigel Thomas played some very melodic bass solos. It was the first time I had heard Rod Hart and I enjoyed his playing a lot  - reminding me at times of the West Coast bebop classicists like Hampton Hawes and the young Andre Previn. Imogen has the ability to make the words of a song matter, particularly on Kenny Wheeler's Everybody's Song But My Own. Julian Nicholas played tastefully throughout, although at times it felt as though he could have pushed it a bit further and broken through the atmosphere of polite dining. Imogen and Rod have done a great job of selling out the venue and it's worth checking out what else is coming up soon on their website: http://rottingdeanjazzclub.blogspot.com/

Friday 21 January 2011

Kenny Burrell Trio - Jeannine

Great version of the Duke Pearson classic by Kenny Burrell on a 1980s club date. Kenny's playing is distinctive and inimitable - downhome blues, bebop harmony, nice choice of chords to punctuate the soloing and that overdriven archtop guitar sound.

With Bob Magnusson on bass and the late Sherman Ferguson on drums.

Sunday 9 January 2011

NY Times article on Lennie Tristano's influence on musicians today

Interesting article in the New York Times this week on the Lennie Tristano School and his influence on players like Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel. It's interesting how the issue of race is addressed (most of the Tristano school of players were white) and rhythm (he favoured a very staid rhythm section, despite the harmonic and rhythmic complexity of the written and improvised lines). This hasn't stopped Mark Turner taking the music as a starting point and addressing these perceived weaknesses:
“People thought it was cold,” Mr. Turner said.“The African diasporic rhythmic element was not there, not strong enough.” In his own music — notably with Fly, a leaderless trio that will appear at the Jazz Gallery on Tuesday — Mr. Turner set out to make an adjustment. “That’s something that I wanted to do, was bring that into the fold,” he said. “The harmonic information, the melodic information, all of that is so interesting, so why can’t it be brought into a warmer place rhythmically?” (He has a tune called “Lennie's Groove.”)
Growing up in Southern California, Mr. Turner discovered Warne Marsh and responded to the style. “It was almost like a no-no,” he said of his interest in the Tristano School. “No one was doing it, no one in the quote-unquote modern mainstream jazz world.” He responded to the articulate force of the music, but it was more than that: “Something about it spoke to my own personal life and upbringing, being a person of African descent brought up primarily in Caucasian neighborhoods. I felt I was going out on a limb, kind of like when I started listening to rock music and new wave and ska.”
It's great to see musicians like Mark Turner seeing how Tristano's approach can be made relevant to the 21st Century.

Here's Mark playing Lennie's Groove with Fly featuring Jeff Ballard on drums.

NY Times writer Nate Chinen continues his thoughts on his blog The Gig.

Friday 7 January 2011

George Van Eps - I've Got a Crush on You

This beautifully illustrates the approach described by Kurt Rosenwinkel in the quote below. This is real "lap piano" stuff. Literally "marvellous"!

Kurt Rosenwinkel, George Van Eps and Bach's fugues

An interesting interview Kurt Rosenwinkel in the April 2010 edition of Downbeat. I am very intrigued by his playing of standards - both on the Reflections recording and having seen him live. He has a very dynamic approach to chord voicings, which he elaborates on in this extract:
Johann Sebastian Bach
Ask Rosenwinkel about his formative influences, and he’ll mention Kevin Eubanks, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Tal Farlow and rockers Alex Lifeson and Jimmy Page. But his first-among-equals role model seems to be seven-string guitarist George Van Eps, whom he cites, along with the “Lute Suites” of Bach, as his source for creating multiple independent lines. “The possibilities that Bach’s music contains for the left hand are astounding—how it’s possible to play a fugue with three lines going in different directions at the same time, all contained within the finger mechanics of the left hand. George Van Eps was also dealing with moving lines inside of chords and cadences within a voice through left-hand finger mechanics. What he and Bud Powell have in common is a thorough and deep knowledge of the way that harmony connects in terms of the inner voices.”

Monday 3 January 2011

Lennie Tristano: C Minor Complex

Marvellous solo counterpoint from Lennie Tristano in his take on Pennies from Heaven.

2010/2011 - looking backwards, looking forwards

2010 was a year of change for me, with major events in the areas of listening, learning and playing live jazz. It was quite a feat posting to the blog more than occasionally and highlights included:
  • Playing with Joe Lee Wilson and, in particular, the first kineojazz gig sharing the stage with Martin France, Steve Watts and Terry Seabrook. Playing with Joe Lee inspired me and helped me play above myself.
  • The few days I spent in New York visiting jazz haunts (Smoke, The Village Vanguard, Arturo's) and art galleries and, in particular, hanging out and playing with Joshua Breakstone - another great inspiration.
  • Brad Mehldau playing solo piano at The Wigmore Hall was intimate and intense and the moment when he played Waterloo Sunset towards the end of the encores at sunset on a Friday night was magical.
  • The organ trio gig at The Snowdrop with Terry Seabrook and Dom O'Meehgan was the point in which I started applying some of the new compositional approach I have been working on in a live context.
  • All of the kineojazz gigs but the last one of the year in particular because it felt as though we knew what we were doing and there was a great atmosphere.
    I also really enjoyed the jam on my birthday the other day, Geoff Simkins' Saturday classes at Sussex Uni, listening to Brad's Highway Rider on CD and live, the Tuesday jams at The Brunswick, Martial Solal, LIam Noble . . .  The list goes on. Interestingly I did fewer gigs that in the previous eight years, but seemed to enjoy the ones I did more.

    Jam Session
    I hear that gigs are currently thin on the ground, although I have a new regular Sunday afternoon gig at The Master Mariner with Jeff Howlett. It's good to see that lack of gigs is not putting people off playing. Hopefully, The Brunswick and Bees Mouth sessions will continue to thrive and shortly will be joined by The Jazz Store on a Wednesday night.

    For 2011 I predict much more jamming and a rise in old-fashioned patronage to keep jazz musicians going during these austere times. And by the end of the year, I anticipate pub landlords, concert promoters and club owners falling over themselves to book jazz musicians to play to packed houses . . .