Vortex fund-raiser next week

I’ll be away, but some of you might want to go to this –

Internationally known and loved, the Vortex Jazz Club is holding its first benefit gig at the Hackney Empire on 12 July 2006 in aid of its education and community programme in Dalston, its new home.
It will be a night of stunning jazz, funk and fusion with the James Taylor Quintet and Julia Biel plus a special guest (to be announced).

Now the important bit- you need to actually book tickets!

There’s a few ways you can do this:
Call the vortex- 020 7254 4097
Call the Hackney Empire – 020 8985 2424
Or for the people who dislike talking to anyone- www.spicefestival.com

John Lester/Paul Tiernan gig

Headed up to Cambridge last night, to CB2, where I’ll be playing in just over a week with Ned Evett, to see John Lester and Paul Tiernan.

John’s new album, ‘So Many Reasons’ is fantastic, so I was really looking forward to seeing him live again. It’s been quite a while since I was last at one of his gigs, and he didn’t disappoint. He and Paul switched back and forth playing each other’s songs, playing some solo tunes, and a handful of covers, including the only acoustic version of ‘Play That Funky Music White Boy’ that I’ve ever heard.

Paul Tiernan was a revelation – not having heard him before, he’s got a gorgeous voice, like a more intelligible John Martyn. All in all a very enjoyable gig.

John’s album isn’t officially released yet, but I’m sure if you email him via his website, he’ll sort something out for you…

finally – new tunes!

…no MP3s for you, just yet though!

Been recording these last couple of days, the usual bought of improvs aimed at definining a vibe for the album. I don’t think, on the face of it, this one will be a huge departure from what’s gone before. Though, I am thinking about possibly getting some people in to do overdubs on some of the tracks when I’ve recorded my usual solo bass nonsense. And I am allowing myself some editing for brevity’s sake.

The vibe on the tunes so far is pretty downbeat (apologies to the peoples who’ve emailed saying ‘I really like Shizzle/Channel Surfing/MMFSOG*, which don’t you do a whole album of funky stuff?’ (* – delete as applicable) – sorry peoples, it’s not going to happen.) – I have got ideas for a couple of up-tempo things, but as usual they’ll be the exception rather than the rule. For now, I just have to deal with large scale melodic ambient melancholy tinged with a hopeful, redemptive edge being what I’m best at. And that’s no bad thing, methinks. Will get something up onto my MySpace Page as soon as I can. Suffice to say, the Looperlative is making itself very very useful is ways that won’t be immediately apparent – the three biggies are that all the looping is in stereo, there’s virtually no noise generated by the unit at all (less than most soundcards) and I can have multiple asychronous loops that I can mess with in any order… For the listener, it just means everything sounds a little less linear, and even the linear stuff ends in more interesting ways!

Watch this space…

FairTrade thoughts

The talk at St Lukes this morning was an introduction to FairTrade by Geoff Crawford – a fantastic photographer who has visited loads of fairtrade projects and co-operatives around the globe in his role as photomonkey for various aid agencies and fairtrade associations. He pitched the talk perfectly, and kept it to his central theme, which was about the difference that buying fairtrade produce makes to the people who make or grow it, how buying fairtrade coffee directly impacts the lives of coffee growers, and he gave some good pointers for people wanting to start thinking about such things, as well as lists of coffeeshops that stock fairtrade coffee and supermarkets that stock fairtrade produce.

It’s a discussion that could easily have been derailed by some very valid other discussions, about supermarket monopolies, fairtrade imported goods vs the food-miles argument of how far something has to travel to end up on your plate and the damage that transport process does, etc. Those are really important subjects, but a 20 minute talk in a church service wasn’t the place to have them.

What he also avoided was the notion of boycotts – with labeling it as such, he took the same path that I’ve been thinking about in regard to shopping of late – that of seeing everything you buy as an investment.

The problem with thinking of boycotts is that the surface value expressed in the action is that of damaging the profits of the company you’re boycotting. There have been notable examples of this working and starting to affect company policy… or at least marketing policy – Shell oil, Barclays bank and Nestle have all at times taken a major hit through boycotts, and have altered as a result. Not enough, but any stretch, but the change was noted.

The problem is, there are millions of companies who don’t behave the way we’d like them to – Naomi Klein’s vital and fantastic book No Logo highlighted corporate abuses around the world, and looked at the idea of using brand image as a weakspot in their armour. It works, she’s really onto something. But what she’s describing is activism – that’s something we all need to do, but it’s tough to fight every battle.

So what’s the alternative? When we realise that every single penny we spend is investing in something, we can start to think, on a day by day basic about what we’re investing in. I don’t have to see a change for it to have value. I don’t need to feel like everyone else is doing the same thing, I just need to know that the two pounds I spend on fairtrade Bananas is being divided up amongst people who are involved in the ongoing work of improving the world. The producers are improving their own world, providing better healthcare and schooling within their communities, the importers and distributors are people that have chosen to work within the rules of the fairtrade foundation, in order to further those aims. My money is being invested into the long term sustainability and growth of the fairtrade movement. The fact that Del Monte or Fyffes or whoever isn’t getting my money is an added bonus, the direct inspiration comes from that direct investment.

The next stage is thinking about where I buy them from – obviously part of the money goes to the retailer. Shopping in the UK without going to supermarkets is pretty tough in most places, and we go to Sainsbury’s for a fair bit of our grocery shopping – it’d be great if there was a branch of Fresh And Wild on southgate high street, but all we have is a tiny health food store – he’s great for herbal tea, muesli, cleaning products, tinned stuffs, etc. and we buy as much there as we can, but he doesn’t stock fruit and veg. So for now we go to Sainbury’s, but as much fair trade organic stuff as we can. But soon we’ll get our organic box scheme sorted out, then it’ll be organic, fair trade and v. low on food-miles. Yay – ecomonkeys are us.

So, try it – go for positive investment, not guilt-trip boycotts. Either way, it means you’ll never go to McDonalds again, which has to be a good thing.

Soundtrack – me and theo, live in Cambridge last week. sounding good!

the Vortex

Been spending far too much time at The New Vortex this last couple of weeks – last week I was there for Dudley Philips album launch gig, then Tuesday I went to see Lleuwen Steffan and her band. Last night was the Works.

Lleuwen is the singer on that welsh hymns album I was raving about last week – still getting lots of airplay here, definitely in my top 5 of the year. The gig on Tuesday was with her band, Acoustique, which featured, unbenownst to me until I got there, my buddy Owen Lloyd Evans on bass. Their set didn’t feature any of the hymn tunes, but did have a lot of originals, sung in Welsh that sounded a bit like a more funky, acoustic Bjork. Lovely stuff. They did a couple of standards, which were fine, but it was the welsh language stuff that really shone. Definitely one to look out for and see if you can.

the Works, formerly known as WoodWorks, is Patrick Wood’s marvellous band – Patrick is surprisingly little-known on the London jazz scene, despite his band acting as breeding ground for so many great musicians in the city – the list of who’s been in the band at one time or another is nuts, from John Etheridge to Andy Gangadeen, Cleveland Watkiss to Tony Remy.

The current line-up is Patrick on keys and guitar, Mark Lockheart on saxes and bass clarinet, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums. The tunes are lovely open forms that the band jam on and stretch out live – lots of eye contact and hardcore listening going on. The small audience were much appreciative, and hopefully they’ll be playing again soon so you can go see them too!

Both these gigs are yet more evidence that the London jazz scene is producing music of a quality to rival any jazz city on the planet. the Vortex is such a vital venue, and after the sadness of the original vortex closing, it’s great to have it back with the same eclectic booking policy in a great new venue in Stoke Newington. check out their online programme on the website and go see some stuff there!

I’ll almost certainly be back there tonight for Ingrid Laubrook’s quartet, featuring the marvellous Seb Rochford on drums.

And keep an eye out for Theo and I playing there in February.

Plan for today – some teaching this morning, Theo round this afternoon to plan our february tour promotion etc. Some bass practice/R&D for the album after that, and then to see Ingrid play tonight.

Soundtrack – The Pixies, ‘Bossanova’.

Eric Roche benefit gig…

Today, Eric Roche would have been 38. He already had Haverhill Arts Centre booked for a gig to celebrate. Sadly, he died too soon. So instead, the venue decided to put on a Tribute gig, which would act as a benefit gig for his family, and the bookings co-ordinater at the venue, Nick Kemble, set about booking lots of Eric’s friends to come and play, and ended up with a stellar line up – Max Gilkes, Ravi, Stuart Ryan, Steve Lockwood and Chris Newman, Boo Hewerdine and me.

Max kicked things off with a solo set, followed by me – I did Grace and Gratitude, which just before I went on I decided I’d segue into ‘Deep Deep Down’ by Eric, which is usually in G and had to be in Bb, to fit over the Gminor of Grace and Gratitude. I followed that with a version of ‘Lovely’ with Steve Lockwood on harmonica, and then did People Get Ready, started solo and was joined by Steve and Chris, which was great.

However, the more keen-eyed of you will notice a glaring omission from my set list… who was the gig in honour of?: Who have I written a tune for that I’ve played at every solo gig I’ve done in the last 5 months? How on earth did I forget to play my tune for Eric???? what on earth was going on in my head when I was thinking back stage ‘hmmm, what shall I play?’ – sometimes, I amaze myself with my own sieve-brain-ness.

Anyway, I came back on during Steve and Chris’ set to play a funky blues with them, and again during Stuart Ryan’s set to play an uptempo blues with him and Steve. And then finally at the end, I sat in on the last of Boo’s tunes, and we all finished together with a version of ‘The Water Is Wide’ – a folk song that Eric played regularly, and recorded a lovely version of.

All it all, it was a magic night – everyone played well, the venue was packed, the sound was great, and they sold tonnes of Eric merch, meaning a healthy chunk of cash goes to his family.

Don’t forget to go and buy his CDs, especially ‘With These Hands’ – it’s amazing. I’ve had a few people mention with some surprise that they’d bought things on my recommendation from the blog that turned out to be amazing. Believe me, i ONLY recommend things here that I think are genuinely marvellous. I’ve got lots of lovely friends who make CDS and write books and stuff that are fine, but aren’t world-beating, so I save my recommendations here for things that are magical. Eric’s CDs are just that – magical. Do yourself a favour and get one.

It was a real privilege and an honour to be a part of the gig, to help support his family, to play with such great musicians, and to contribute my noises to a celebration of a life well lived. If you were there, thanks for coming – all of us who performed had a fantastic time.

(oh, and Nick did a great job of the compering… ;o) )

too much bass?

Is there such a thing as too much bass? Let’s explore…

Sunday started at 6am – get up, load the car, get on the road. If you’re thinking of driving to Manchester, I highly recommend 6am on a Sunday as a time to go – v. easy drive, no traffic, bit frosty and a frozen window washer, but a breeze.

Trip and I arrived at the Life Cafe, unloaded our gear into the venue which was already full of lovely bassists and big PA stuffs. Park car, come back, chill out.

The running order was marvellous – started with John Lester (saving the best ’til first?), who won over the entire crowd within about 5 minutes, as he always does. Marvellous start to the day.
the breakdown – Bass solos? Yes, lots. slapping and tapping? yes but minimal and tasteful. Great tunes? oh yes. vocals/other instruments? All vocal tunes.

next up, Trip Wamsley – Trip and I have been playing together for the last week, so I caught the beginning of his set then headed off to have a shave and a wash so as not to go on stage looking like a slightly camp homeless dude. But anyway, Trip did his thing, sang a couple of things, played some lovely fretless.
the breakdown – Bass solos? Yes, all bass solos! slapping and tapping? mucho both. Great tunes? again, in abundance. vocals/other instruments? All solo bass, but a couple of vocal tunes.

and after Trip, Jon Reshard – Jon’s a phenomenally gifted player for his slender age – at just 20, he’s already playing beautifully and writing some fabulous compositions. There’s more than a small amount of Victor Wooten in his playing, but each time I hear him play he’s adding more of his own sound to the mix, and is on his way to being a truly outstanding musician.
the breakdown – Bass solos? all bass solo! slapping and tapping? yes, and just about every other imaginable technique. great tunes? some v. cool tunes, and some other more groove-oriented rhythm experiments. vocals/other instruments? no, except a little bit of audience sing along which worked beautifully.

Then me – my set was the usual affair, set list was Grace And Gratitude, Kindness Of Strangers, MMFSOG, Despite My Worst Intentions, Shizzle, then a bit of a Q&A before finishing with People Get Ready. Response seemed to be great (CD and t-shirt sales were amazing, so clearly lots of people were digging it), audience very attentive and supportive. All in all v. happy with my set.

After me was Stevie Williams – fantastic Manchester local, highly respected jazzer and occasional solo bassist, this time Stevie was playing with a quintet, playing some exceedingly funky stuff – the perfect balance to all the solo bass stuff that had opened the show. At this point I realised that I’d been treating the day more like a proper gig than any bass-day i’d been to before – lots of great music, an audience that really seemed to be listening, it all added up to being a fine day thus far…
the breakdown – Bass solos? a few, but shorter and tasteful. slapping and tapping? Some slap, I think, but didn’t see any tapping at all. Mainly solid fingerstyle grooving. great tunes? yup, lots. vocals/other instruments? yup, full band, drums/keys/guitar/trumpet/bass.

Who was next? Er, ah, yes, Jan-Olof Strandberg, a Finnish bassist that I’ve known for quite a few years. Lovely guy, and fantastic bassist. Started out with some solo stuff on acoustic bass guitar which was beautifully played, but sounded a bit harsh through the PA to really do it justice. Having heard Jan play solo ABG before, I know how good he can sound, so it was a shame that it wasn’t quite what it could have been, but still very good, and very well received. He then assembled a scratch band, his band not having been able to get there, including Dave Marks on guitar. Dave’s usually a bassist, but is clearly also a very fine guitarist. The bastard.
the breakdown – Bass solos? lots, but some grooving as well. slapping and tapping? plenty. great tunes? some cool tunes, some more meandering technical things. vocals/other instruments? quartet stuff was very good.

Then British-born-of-Polish-descent-New-York-residen Janek Gwizdala was on. Another player stricken by fallen band members, Janek’s guitar player is currently in hospital in London with unknown scary ailments. So Janek and his drummer improvised a set, starting out playing to a drum ‘n’ bass thing Janek had programmed in Ableton Live, which sounded great, lots of v. creative bassing and drumming. They played a few more improv things, Janek looping on a DL4, and shredding over the top in a jazz stylee. I’d have really liked to heard the trio, having heard the CD, but the duet set was still good, especially for an impromptu thang (even most improv gigs are planned as improv gigs, so this was double-improv!), Janek’s another player who is developing his own thing away from a strong Matthew Garrison influence. He’s already great, and could well end up world-beating…

The last two acts of the day switched order due to travel problems. So second last on was Lorenzo Feliciati, a good friend and very fine bassist from Italy. He had his band with him, and they played incredibly tight, funky and beautifully arranged fusion. Great compositions, fantastic playing, great sounds. By this time my ears were beginning to fatigue from bass overload, but Lorenzo was just marvellous. Great stuff.

And last up, Linley Marthe – bassist with the Zawinul Syndicate, fantastic player, some killer ideas, and an amazing array of sounds from a really simple set-up (about four stomp boxes and a wah pedal). His improvised set was a bit meandering in places, but contained enough moments of brilliance to keep me interested. Just the range of sounds he was squeezing from the bass was amazing enough, and add to that some great musical ideas, and I was with him most of the way (though he did slip into ‘Tears In Heaven’ which seems to have become something of a solo bass staple… I dunno, I’m not sure about performing songs that someone else wrote about their child dying… but maybe that’s just me.)

Anyway, that was the music – except Linley, I’d met all these guys before, and it was great to catch up with so many old friends, to make some news ones, meet people from my street team that I’d emailed a lot and who’d been so supportive for years without us ever having met, and just to get a chance to chat with lots of people who were into what I was doing. We like that a lot.

A great day all round, the best lineup I’ve heard at a bass day, a very cool venue, well organised, great audience. What’s not to love?

And now I’m knackered, having done nearly 500 miles in two days, had v. little sleep the last two nights, and needing some rest. g’night.

SoundtrackCathy Burton, ‘Speed Your Love’ (I love this album more every time I listen to it).

Great bassist with a great bass resource…

Stefan Redtenbacher is a bass-buddy who’s head of bass at the ACM in Guildford, fronts his own kick-ass funk band, and does lots of sessions. He’s also a very funny man indeed.

He’s just redesigned his website, and included as part of it loads of great funk transcriptions downloadable as PDFs for free! Seriously, this is about the most useful resource online for bassists that I’ve come across in years. Loads of fantastic classic lines for free. If you’re a bassist you need to check it out – funkbassonline.com will also redirect to the same page.

And while you’re there, check out his last album, ‘Falling From Insanity’. It’s great, and exceedingly funky.

Soundtrack – Ralph Towner, ‘Ana’.

A Saturday doing not much

I so rarely get a saturday off! I’m really relishing this one – it’s nearly 3pm and I’m still not dressed, just sat here faffing about online in my dressing gown. Actually, does uploading gig dates to MySpace.com count as work? If it does, i’ve been working, but it certainly doesn’t feel like work compared to my usual 5/6/7 hours of teaching.

The reason for the day off was that there was a possibility that I was going to be flying out to Verona to play at a bass-day gig there, but it didn’t come off, so I’m here and happy and mellow and enjoying the rest.

Especially as yesterday was a bit of a frantic day flyering (echoes of Edinburgh in that sentence). Headed into town late morning to meet Dweez from the forum for lunch and to give him a big pile of flyers to dish out (gotta love them street-team lovelies!), and then off up Upper Street in Islington putting flyers and posters in all the little cafes along there that have flyer racks and walls devoted to posters for local events. The split between the corporate and the family-run couldn’t be more stark. All those places where decisions are purely made on their financial efficacy wouldn’t be seen dead allowing flyers for events not associated with the brand to be put in them. All the little funky family-owned cafes/bars/restaurants etc. are more than happy to help promote events in their local community. Good peoples, one and all.

After that, it was up to the Gallery in Camden to deliver more posters and flyers, and to see Alex who works there. A fun visit, for sure.

Where else for flyers? Ah, there’s Mole Jazz in King’s Cross. Back on the tube (via my lovely new Oyster Card) and head off to King’s Cross. Who’s this coming towards me carrying more camera equipment than your average hollywood film set? Why, it’s Steve Brown, photographer extraordinaire, and carrier of much photo-gear. Serendipity like this definitely calls for a coffee break. So we head off in search of Mole Jazz, which no long exists and is now a ‘Subway’ sandwich shop, so we find nearby little cafe and stop for lovely chat. It’s coincidences like this that make London special – bumping into your friends when you all live in a village of 30 people isn’t a surprise, it’s just called ‘going outdoors’. In a city of 11 million people, it’s a bit less likely, and therefor to be treasured.

It occurs to me while chatting to Steve that the commuter jazz series at the QEH (where it has transplanted from the RFH while the renovations are taking place) would be a great place to hand out some flyers, as well as to see some of the old RFH commuter jazz peoples. So i head down there, only to discover that it’s not every week, and this is an off-week. Ah well, at least I got to see the new shops ‘n’ cafes development on the Riverside bit of the RFH – it’s lovely, and I’ll have to investigate there further.

So, where next with flyers? Darbucka, of course! Posters and flyers delivered, time to head home. A knackering day, and one that earns me a mellow Saturday, fo shizzle.

Soundtrack – Sam Phillips, ‘Fan Dance’; Renaud Garcia-Fons, ‘Entremundo’; Prefab Sprout, ‘Steve McQueen’.

Anti-terror laws or the repression of dissent?

George Monbiot, on the implementation of new anti-terror laws, referencing the arrest of Walter Wolfgang –
Had Mr Wolfgang said “nonsense” twice during the foreign secretary’s speech, the police could have charged him under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Harassment, the act says, “must involve conduct on at least two occasions … conduct includes speech.”(5) Parliament was told that its purpose was to protect women from stalkers, but the first people to be arrested were three peaceful protesters.(6) Since then it has been used by the arms manufacturer EDO to keep demonstrators away from its factory gates,(7) and by Kent police to arrest a woman who sent an executive at a drugs company two polite emails, begging him not to test his products on animals.(8) In 2001 the peace campaigners Lindis Percy and Anni Rainbow were prosecuted for causing “harassment, alarm or distress” to American servicemen at the Menwith Hill military intelligence base in Yorkshire, by standing at the gate holding the stars and stripes and a placard reading “George W Bush? Oh dear!”.(9) In Hull a protester was arrested under the act for “staring at a building”.(10)

Read the whole article – the number of laws enacted and misused since the much-maligned ‘Criminal Justice Act’ of the early 90s is staggering. The suppression of dissent is surely one of the hallmarks of a repressive regime – just the kind of behaviour that Tony and his buddy Dubya are always telling us is threatening democracy in all them foreign lands where bad people threaten our ‘freedoms’. Just in the paragraph above, the catalogue of misapplication of laws supposedly enacted to prevent terrorism should be enough to get any self-respecting supporter of the democratic right to disagree with your leaders up in arms. How any labour or lib-dem MP can possibly be silent in the light of such behaviour is mind-boggling. As George points out, it’s taken the aggressive man-handling of an octogenarian at the party conference for most of us to wake up to just how pernicious the outworking of these laws is, supposedly in the name of protecting liberty.

I don’t know about you, but I’m less worried right now about bombers than I am about the enactment of these crazy laws. Parliament can do what it wants, without anyone having the right to respond with even their presence outside the building. No placards, no massed gatherings, all in the cause of getting rid of Brian Haw.

Time to start making some noise about it methinks. Perhaps a letter to your MP might be in order?

Soundtrack – Charlie Peacock, ‘Love Press Ex-Curio’ (I’ve had this for a few weeks now, and I think it’s actually released now as well – it’s a fantastic change of direction for Charlie, whose previous work was kind of funky singer/songwriter stuff, fairly heavily Prince-influenced in places and very soulful. This is a contemporary jazz record, featuring lots of the biggest names in the field – Ravi Coltrane, Jeff Coffin, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Joey Baron, James Genus, Victor Wooten, Kirk Whalum etc. etc. The sound is sort of Avishai Cohen/Dave Douglas/lots of other new york electric jazz peoples ball-park, and the writing and play are top notch. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s a must, especially as all the ‘in the know’ types that you hang out with won’t have heard of it, and will be very jealous that you got there first when you play it to them.)

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