Recycle Collective III

Another fun evening at Darbucka was had!

The line-up, as you know, was me and Patrick Wood followed by Orphy Robinson and Roger Goula.

The first problem was how to get it all on the stage! There was so much gear it was untrue – Patrick had a keyboard, a Rhodes and a guitar, all running through mixers and pedals and stuff. I had the usual leaning tower of stevie, Orphy had a steel pan, bass marimba box thing, snare drum, trumpet and a huge hold-all full of miscellaneous percussion. So we did the set-up in two halves. First for Patrick and I, then for Orphy and Roger.

The set with Patrick went really well (from where I was sat!) – an opening ambient excursion, followed by a more jazzy/dubby piece, into a sort of drum ‘n’ bass/IDM workout over a heavily filtered frantic slap-percussive thing, and finally a version of ‘A Kind Of Prayer’ from The Works album, ‘Beware Of The Dog’. All of which was lots of fun. Because of the stage set-up Patrick was behind me, which was a little disconcerting for him I think – I’m kind of used to looking at buttons and not neccesarily at the person I’m playing with, so it was less problematic for me, but he played beautifully anyway. Patrick’s a really interesting person to play with, as he has myriad ways of shifting harmony against a loop – at some point I need to sit him down and find out what he actually does! The hugeness of some of his synth sounds added a lot of depth to the transitions between sections within particular tunes, and each time I use it, the Looperlative makes more sense, so I felt like I was really on top of the loop side of what I was doing – nothing happened that I didn’t want to make happen!

Orphy and Roger’s set started out in a much more ‘out’ free improv direction, with a sparse 9/8 loop off Orphy’s bass marimba thing, and lots of chaotic sounds over the top. Both the main strength and weakness of looping is that it imposes a sense of form onto what’s going on, which is great if you’re doing free stuff as it gives the audience something to latch onto, but it can be a problem if you trap a sound that you don’t want there and aren’t using a looper with an undo function! Orphy uses the Roland RC-20, which just has start stop and layer (oh, and reverse if you bend down and change it by hand, which he did at points). So the constant nature of Orphy’s loops provided both a reference point in the maelstrom of the out sections, and something for him to wrestle with when he may have wanted a more subtle transition.

fortunately, Roger was using one of the most sophisticated processing/looping/cleverness music packages in the world – MAX/MSP, a software program running on a Mac, which meant he could do all kinds of crazy stuffs to his loops and his processing.

All in, I enjoyed their set – it was a lot more out and free than previous RC stuff, and more out and free than most future RC stuff, but it felt good to stretch things a little and try some things out, and there were some really lovely moments. The quartet piece at the end was kinda fun too, which for some reason sounded to me like a Dave Gruisin soundtrack piece after some seriously heavy narcotics. In a good way. :o) So another enjoyable evening at the collective.

The great news is I also managed to get the next Recycle Collective dates booked in, or at least, two of the next three…

March 16th is the next one – not that far away – and it’ll feature me, Thomas Leeb (a brilliant acoustic guitarist from Austria, living in California) and BJ Cole. Put it in your diaries!

And then tonight, theo and I are in Cambridge – see you there!

New Music/Recycle Collective tomorrow…

Went into town this morning (town=central London), ostensibly to pick up a copy of Sibelius G7 software. It’s a score-writing package, that I need to be able to a) do my column for Bass Guitar Magazine properly and b) get a load of PDF scores of my stuff up on the web-shop ASAP. I get emails every week from people requesting the sheet music or ‘TAB’ for my tunes. Rest assured, there’ll be precious little TAB going on. Reading music isn’t hard, and is a much more useful skill that interpreting numbers of frets on imaginary fingerboards so that you can learn lots of really simple songs badly.

Anyway, long story short, no-one had G7 in stock. Shit! A wasted trip into town. Well, not entirely – I did get to call into Ray’s Jazz, and picked up a couple of very cheap CDs. One was Daby Toure’s album (something I’ve wanted since seeing him at Greenbelt last year), and the other is ‘Nordic Quartet’ by John Surman, Karin Krog, Terje Rypdal and Vigleik Storaas. It’s a fascinating album, featuring lots of classic Rypdal guitar loveliness, and inspired me to record another idea towards the new album. I don’t think it’ll make it on there, as it was just recorded to stereo, not on separate tracks, but it is a great idea that I’ll definitely revisit. Terje’s stuff always inspires me, please check out some of his CDs. {EDIT – I’ve just compared the recording of this new tune with ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’, and it’s SOOO much better – amazing how clean the sound of the Looperlative is!}

And recording that piece has got me all excited about tomorrow night’s Recycle Collective gig – I’m playing in a duo with Patrick Wood – Patrick and I have recorded together lots over the years, lots of lovely improv stuffs, some of which is in the street-team stash (or was – I’ve no idea what’s currently in the stash!). We’ve also played live together at Greenbelt, both in a duo, and he was a part of my Global Footprint huge improv thingie last year.

So we’re playing, followed by Orphy Robinson and Roger Goula – both of whom are fabulous players I’ve collaborated with in the past.

I really am like a kid in a toy shop with the Recycle Collective – I get to book all my favourite people to come and make lovely noises with me, in a gorgeous venue, to lovely audiences, which you’re more than welcome to come and be a part of. See the RC website for more details.

So that’s tomorrow. I’ve been doing LOADS of teaching of late – schedule is filling up, for sure, I’m almost maxxed out on evening teaching (if you’re wanting any lessons, best book a fair way in advance…) but I’m looking forward to my next lot of gigs – book shows in April with Muriel Anderson in the UK, and some solo stuff in April, as well as some clinics/masterclasses around… watch this space!

Soundtrack – right now, it’s my new tune, before that it was the Franks – Sinatra and Dunnery (not together!)

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’.

Dudley Philips at the Vortex last night

Yesterday day time was spent finishing off the mastering of Julie McKee’s live album from the Edinburgh Festival. Julie’s a fabulous singer – we’ve been working on some duet ideas between doing the mastering, the latest of which is to do the entire soundtrack to ‘Bugsy Malone’…! the mastering went pretty well, considering the source material. Sadly, the guy who recorded it didn’t send the multitrack sessions, just his own mixdown, so we were limited in terms of what we could do, but some compression, stereo expansion, judicious reverb and the tidying up of the bits where the recording had clipped have made it just fine. We compared it to a few other live recordings, from Donny Hathaway’s live album to my first album, and it stands up well, despite the odd pop ‘n’ crackle. Anyway, isn’t that what live albums are all about? There’s squealing feedback in the middle of Bob Marley’s live version of ‘No Woman No Cry’ and that was released as single!

Anyway, that was the daytime. Yesterday evening involved a trip down to The New Vortex in Stoke Newington to see Dudley Philips launch his album Life Without Trousers. I’ve had a copy of the album for a few weeks, and am loving it, so was excited to go and see the gig. The place was pleasingly full, lots of musicians in – Julie McKee, Orphy Robinson, Filomena Campus, John Parricelli and others, as well as friends of Dudley’s there to celebrate the album coming out.

The gig was marvellous – Nic France, Mark Lockheart and Carl Orr were the band, along with Dudley on 4/6 string electric and upright bass. great tunes, great playing, all in all a fab night out. The Vortex is such a great venue, and a vital part of the london jazz scene. I’ll be back down there next Thursday to see the Works – Patrick Wood’s band who played such a spellbinding set at Greenbelt in the summer. Please come down if you can! While you’re at it, check out the rest of the programme for December on the Vortex website, they’ve got so much great stuff on!

I also picked up a new CD while I was there, which was playing before the gig – it’s a collection of hymns sung in welsh, by LLeuwen Steffan, Huw Warren and Mark Lockheart. A truly beautiful album, on the oh-so-cool Babel Label – Babel are putting out so many great albums of late, go and check out their website and have a browse around. Marvellous stuff!

SoundtrackSteffan/Warren/Lockheart, ‘God Only Knows’.

A very fine Big Idea

never let it be said that Britain doesn’t have a vibrant and burgeoning jazz scene.

Mark Lockheart is one of the busiest and most respected sax players in the country, and for his current tour he’s assembled a fantastic group featuring four marvellous saxophonists with a killer rhythm section. It’s pretty rare to see four sax players in a contemporary jazz setting in the UK – it’s not often that anyone can afford to take that kind of project on the road, but Mark has managed it.

Due to my having a gig on the same night, I won’t be able to make it to the London gig next thursday, so last night, Orphy and I headed out to Oxford to see ‘Mark Lockheart’s Big Idea’ play at The Spin, a weekly jazz gig at The Wheatsheaf in Oxford. I’d heard a lot about the gig from friends who’d played there, so was looking forward to checking out the venue too.

The gig was fantastic – playing mainly music from Mark’s latest album Moving Air, with Mark, Julian Siegel , Steve Buckley and Rob Townsend on saxes and bass clarinets, Martin France on drums John Parricelli on guitar and Dudley Phillips on bass.

Mark has a very distinctive writing style, that can be traced all the way back to the tunes he wrote for seminal british jazz outfit, Loose Tubes in the mid 80s. The horn arrangements are stunningly beautiful, and he made full use of the dynamic possibilities of having four horns on stage. Parricelli was on rare form, playing beautifully and blending with the sound of the horns magnificently.

Fortunately, the room was packed, and the audience were hugely appreciative. It’d be mad to suggest that Britain was in any way deficient in the jazz world – I guess the problem, as it is in most parts of the world, is a lack of places to play anything other than standards. The main jazz gigs in London are restaurant gigs, with venues like The New Vortex and Ronnie Scott’s doing their bit to promote interesting vibrant music. It’s still tough to find a gig, moreso now that the foyer gigs are the Festival Hall are on hold while the renovate the building.

So, in the spirit of last night’s gig, I’m going to offer you a beginner’s guide to the British Jazz scene – a handful of essential CDs that prove our place alongside the Americans and Scandinavians, while still all sounding uniquely British…

– The obvious place to start is with Theo Travis – his last two quartet CDs, Heart Of The Sun and Earth To Ether are both outstanding.
– Next up would be Ben Castle – his last album Blah Street is marvellous – clever, funny and intelligent in all the right ways.
– Of course Mark Lockheart who inspired this list in the first place – his latest, Moving Air is fabulous.
– And then there’s Mo Foster – any of his records are worth getting, but particularly Time To Think is gorgeous.
– Another one featuring Mark Lockheart, the Works is Patrick Wood’s amazing quartet – what Weather Report would have sounded like if they’d grown up in London. Beware Of The Dog is one of my favourite instrumental albums from any part of the world, not just the UK.

If you were to buy that lot (and I think you should), you’d have a pretty decent representation of why I’m excited about the future of British music, rather than wallowing in the despair that would ensue from burying yourself in the world of X-Factor, Pop Idol and the lame faecal mountain that is the pop charts.

Soundtrack – some tracks that I’ve been recording over the last three days with american fretless guitarist, Ned Evett – some really really cool stuff (to add to the stockpiles of other really really cool stuff that are sitting here waiting to be released!) – hopefully I’ll have an MP3 taster or two for you soon from this lot…

Another great Greenbelt Gig

Saturday at Greenbelt, and my plan was to avoid anything ‘work’ related for most of the day, and it mostly paid off. What I did do was to invite lots of special guests onto my show during the day in the hope that some of them would turn up!

So following a couple of seminars and a lot of sitting around chatting to lovely peoples, I headed up to my venue for the 7.30 start. just after 7.30, the band before started their last song – which then went on for 12 minutes. Always nice to be 15 minutes late getting on stage for a gig at a festival where audiences are on a tight schedule and probably have the gig bookended by other things they wanted to see…. if I’d been on sound, I’d have turned the power off.

Anyway, we got set up and I explained the premise of the gig – one piece of 50 minutes long (it was going to be 70, but the delay meant I cut it down), with a whole load of special guests, each one coming on stage one at a time, then playing, me looping them and then leaving while their contribution lives on for the next guest to interact with.

The four guests who ended up doing it were Jez Carr (obviously – Jez being a genius improvisor and perfect first contributor to anything like this in terms of letting the others who are less familiar with the form to hear roughly what’s going on.) So Jez played some piano, which got looped, then left, and after me layering a little more, guest number 2 was Andrea Hazell, (soprano from the Royal Opera House), who sang three of four beautiful layers of wordless vocals, harmonsing my ebow line.

Guest no.3 was Duncan Senyatso, who contributed some beautiful guitar, and a vocal line that meshed so marvellously with Andrea’s voice that it sounded composed, though far to intricate to have been composed by me!

Last guest was Patrick Wood, keyboardist and composer with The Works – I’ve collaborated with Patrick on a lot of improv things before, and once again he played some gorgeous fender rhodes sounds to the loops. To finish things off, Jez came up and played some bass – Jez is a great bassist and plays very differently to me, so it was lovely to have him take the low end somewhere else…

And in between and through it all I was mixing and adding and fading and chopping and multiplying and post-processing and keeping it all interesting for 50 minutes.

and the end result was without a doubt the best gig I’ve ever done at Greenbelt, and one of my favourite ever, I think. Some really really beautiful music – I’m gutted that I didn’t record it, but I’m sure we’ll get to do something similar again – time to contact the British Council in Botswana and see if we can get them to fly us over there!

So after the show, I was compering in Centaur – the huge indoor venue here at GB – where The Works were playing, followed by Aradhna – both played fantastic sets and went down a storm.

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Beware Of The Dog

No, we haven’t just got a Dog (the fairly aged felines are particularly glad about that) – it’s the title of the new album from The Works, who used to be known as Woodworks, and are the brainchild of keyboard/guitar genius, Patrick Wood. Pat and I have played together a fair bit – it was fun getting him into my method of ‘spontaneous composition’ and we ended up with some fab stuff recorded, that still needs to be mixed and edited properly.

Anyway, this is his quartet, with Mark Lockheart on sax, Neville Malcom on bass and Nic France on drums – all major players on the London jazz scene – and it is, almost without doubt, the best album I’ve heard come out of that scene for ages. Actually, it’s on a par with Theo’s last couple of albums – which are equally amazing.

The compositions are quite Zawinul/Shorter-ish in places, but with a really strong singer/songwriter sensibility to them, which obviously connects well with me. It’s beautifully recorded, perfectly crafted, and has all four players playing right at the top of their game.

If anyone ever suggests that BritJazz is somehow inferior to US jazz, this is the album to play them to prove them wrong. If Patrick was from New York, this’d be selling tens of thousands of copies.

It’s fab, and you really need to get it. I’m going to talk to Pat about stocking it in my online shop.

Talking of which, I’ll have John Lester’s CD up there before too long.

SoundtrackThe Works, ‘Beware Of The Dog’.

Blogs to make you think

There are a whole host of blogs that I read on a weekly basis – many of them are linked to at the bottom of the right hand column on this page.

The great thing about blogs is that you find bits of news, information and thoughts that you would almost certainly never have come across any other way.

Today, I was browsing a load of friends’ blogs, trying to catch up on their lives of the last couple of weeks while I’ve been away, and Jonny Baker’s blog was flagging up a load of stuff on the adbusters website – a site I used to visit regularly, but haven’t been to in a while.

In amongst the great stuff he was writing about, was a link to a fabulous article headed DIVINITY FOR THE REALITY-BASED COMMUNITY – an article exploring the unique spiritual role that artists can play in the modern world. I would quote a chunk of it, but the whole thing is so good, I don’t think I’ll bother.

Soundtrack – Mark Isham, ‘Blue Sun’ (featuring the masterful Doug Lunn on bass); The Works, ‘Beware Of The Dog’ (soon-to-be-released album by Patrick Wood’s quartet, formerly known as Woodworks. Fantastic stuff.)

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Happy New Year!

Oh yes, it’s 2004. Another year over a new one just begun, as a songwriter no longer at the top of his game and desparately in need of his old writing partner once wrote.

So out with the old and in the new, hopefully. Or maybe it’ll just be ‘what goes around comes around’. Who knows.

I’m hoping for the usual crap – more time to read, more gigs, more CD sales, less big countries blowing up small countries, less reality TV, more properly researched documentaries, more decent comedies on TV, more going to the cinema, more exercise (!!), more journies on public transport, less using the car, more bass practice, less time wasted online… yeah yeah, right.

So this afternoon, I had a listen to an album I’ve not heard for a while – ‘Beyond These Shores’ by Iona. This is an album that when I first got it blew my mind, but as I’ve only got it on tape, and the tape is just about worn out, I hadn’t listened to it in ages. However, the small person has got it on CD, I remembered this afternoon. So put it on. and. wow. Unbelievable. Still as good if not better than I remember it. Great songs, amazing playing, fantastic production, moving lyrics (it’s a sort of concept album on the legend of St Brendan sailing from Ireland to America a few hundred years before Columbus…) – truly wonderful. Seriously, it’s great, get it.

It’s kind of apt at the start of a new year to be listening to an album about a journey into the unknown – not that stepping over into 2004 is like sailing the atlantic in medieval times – after all it’s just another day in ‘actual’ terms – but new year is a rite of passage, giving us a chance to pause, take stock, rethink, set some goals, change the way we do things, and also chops the past into convenient chunks for us to assess whether they were good or bad.

2003 was very different for me musically than 2002 – ’02 was the year I did the two big tours with Level 42 and The Schizoid Band, but ’03 was a year of fewer gigs but a lot of musical experimenting – loads of new improv settings, gigs with Orphy Robinson, Tess Garraway, Corey Mwamba, Filomena Campus, Josh Peach, Seb Rochford, Theo Travis, Mano Ventura, Michael Manring, Jez Carr, Harvey Jessop; I’ve also recorded loads of improv stuff this year – most importantly the new album with Theo Travis, but also material with quartets in France and Spain, duets with Matthias Grob, Luca Formentini, BJ Cole and Patrick Wood. Loads of space to develop new ideas, much of which will be launched on anyone who wants to hear it in 2004.

So, here’s to the new year – may all your gigs be well paid and your audiences attentive.

Soundtrack – The Smiths; ‘Louder Than Bombs’; Bill Frisell, ‘The Willies’; Rob Jackson, ‘Wire Wood and Magnets’; Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’;

end of year roundup top 5s

So we’re rapidly approaching the exit of 2003 and the entrance of 2004, to take up the batton of time for it’s year in the spotlight. It can’t really be much worse than its younger sibling on a world scale (well, I guess it could, if the bush/blair axis of evil decide to invade more countries, and don’t realise that they really have no place being in Iraq… but I digress…)

Anyway, there have been some cool things this year, so here’s a series of top 5s to sum up my year (each of them is in no particular order…) –

top 5 albums from this year –

Athlete – Vehicles and Animals
Bill Frisell – The Interncontinentals
John Lester – Big Dreams And The Bottom Line
Bruce Cockburn – You’ve Never Seen Everything
Kelly Joe Phelps – Slingshot Professionals

Top 5 albums I got this year but were released ages ago –

Theo Travis – Heart Of The Sun
Rob Jackson – Wire, Wood and Magnets
Denison Witmer – Philadelphia Songs
David Torn – Tripping Over God
Medeski Martin And Wood – The Dropper

Top 5 musical collaborators this year –

Theo Travis
Orphy Robinson
Patrick Wood
Luca Formentini
BJ Cole

Top 5 fave gigs I went to –

Athlete – The Astoria
Bill Frisell – The Barbican
King’s X – The Mean Fiddler
Kelly Joe Phelps – The Stables
Bruce Cockburn – The Stables

Top 5 fave gigs played –

National Theatre Foyer (with Theo Travis)
Greenbelt (with Patrick Wood)
Derby Dance Centre (with Orphy Robinson and Corey Mwamba)
Constable Jacks (California – with Michael Manring)
Anaheim Bass Bash (with Michael Manring)

Top 5 International Destinations –

California (USA)
Garda Lake (Italy)
Le Monstastier (France)
Amsterdam (Holland)
Copenhagen (Denmark)

Heroes –

Tony Benn
John Pilger
Michael Moore
Michael Franti
Scott Peck

Villains –

Bush
Blair
Blunkett
Richard Desmond
Max Clifford

would’ve done top books and top films, but haven’t seen enough of either to
come up with a convincing list of good ones.

I’ll add more as I think of them, but that’s it for now…

Soundtrack – yesterday I downloaded the new version of WinAmp – WinAmp 5, and have been listening to various Shoutcast radio stations ever since!