HiRes, good price BritJazz downloads from Babel…

The Babel Label now have their own download store – Babel have been at the vanguard of what’s interesting and important in UK Jazz for many years, and have one hell of a catalogue – Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Partisans, Huw Warren, Ingrid Laubrock, Christine Tobin, Billy Jenkins… loads of really fantastic music.

The MP3s are 320kbps, DRM free, and the whole album price ranges from about a fiver to about seven quid. Not bad at all! head over there and have a browse!

Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican

So Catster and her ticket connections came up trumps again last night (yay Catster!), and we headed off to see Polar Bear and EST at the Barbican. Polar Bear is Seb Rochford’s band, Seb you’ll remember came and graced the Recycle Collective with his lovely presence back in August.

So following a drinks and nibbles corporate reception beforehand (including the surprise appearance of lots of lovely people – the Gay Gordons, Julie and Mark and assorted friends), we headed in to see Polar Bear. I’d never seen them live before, and was completely blown away. I’ve always loved Seb’s drumming since we first played together years ago, and am very familiar with Mark Lockheart’s great sax playing. But the whole band – rounded out by Pete Wareham on sax, Tom Herbert on bass and Leafcutter John on noises – were a revelation. Fresh, exciting, edgy, funny, chaotic, original music, with great tunes, fantastic spikey feels, and god-know-what weird noises from John, sampling bowed cymbals, balloons, the rest of the band and anything else. A really really great gig. Seb’s between song banter was on top form, and the audience were well and truly seduced.

And then EST – the poster boys of icy scandinavian cool. Like characters from a Nokia advert, or Bond villains. Not a note out of place. The sound, lights, staging, smoke – everything, perfect. Too perfect. After the danger and excitement of Polar Bear, it all felt like it was too good to be true. It wasn’t in any way a bad gig, far from it. A couple of the tunes were so impossibly beautiful they took your breath away. It just didn’t connect in the same way. I wonder if there’d been no opening act, if I’d have been deeper into it. I wasn’t NOT into it. At all. It was great. It just felt like an orchestral performance masquerading as improv. I’m really glad I saw them, and I may well even get the new album – on CD, that kind of perfection is welcome – but for me, the night belonged to Polar Bear.

Bumped into yet more very lovely people after the gig – my coat came in most useful again, as the sublime Zoe Rahman came up and said ‘you’re steve aren’t you? We’re myspace friends’, along with her squeeze, Patrick Illingworth. CDs were swapped, laughs were had, plans were hatched, and all was good. Also saw Julian Maynard-Smith – a fabulous jazz writer, who interviewed me for Unknown Public (I still haven’t seen the final article, but the transcript that he sent me was the most interesting interview I’ve ever done) – very nice to catch up.

And then late night, I headed down to The Vortex to hear Seb and John play AGAIN, this time playing a bunch of chaotic crazy improvs with Mandy Drummond on violin and piano, and a bloke who looked like he was in Franz Ferdinand on recorders and voice. Some of it was magic, some of it was nonsense, all of it was risky and fun. A lot of it was hilarious. It wasn’t even close to being safe. Yay for noisy squeaky improv!

And tonight, if I’m well enough, I’m off to see Estelle Kokot at the Octave, and then Huw Warren with Lleuwen Steffan at the Vortex. The London Jazz Festival is one seriously busy couple of weeks!

Two nights at the vortex.

Been to two gigs at The Vortex in the last week – last Monday, I went to see the launch of Ingrid Laubrock and Liam Noble’s album ‘Let’s Call This…’ – I’ve heard Ingrid play before, in a quartet, but wasn’t familiar with Liam’s playing other than through MySpace. The music was exquisite, whether improvising or playing Monk tunes, the interplay between the two was gorgeous, with Ingrid switching between squeally extended range techniques and lovely lush full melodic stuff, with Liam providing entirely unpredictable but completely logic accompaniment – a really really interesting piano player.

The album is released – like so many great UK jazz albums – on Oliver Weindling’s Babel Label, home to such artists as Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Christine Tobin, Huw Warren… definitely worth investigating.

Then this saturday, Lianne Carrol was booked to play but fell ill, so the lovely and ever-so-slightly mad Estelle Kokot was booked to fill in, and did a fab job. It was also a rather nice London jazz hang, with JazzShark over from NYC, Orphy Robinson calling in, Huw Warren visiting from north west Wales, Christine Tobin nursing a nasty cut in her leg from a bike accident, and the aforementioned Oliver Weindling from Babel Label.

The Vortex is a lovely place to hang out – if you see something on their Programme that you’re going to, drop me a line and I might meet you there if I’m not playing myself.

Dalston feels like it’s a bit out of the way, but if you’re driving from north london it’s really easy to get to, and it’s just round the corner from Dalston Kingsland BR station… Go on, go out and support some homegrown jazz instead of wasting your time and money on an overpriced trip to Ronnie Scott’s.

MOBO ditches Jazz

Just got this message from the lovely people at Dune records – apparently the organisers of the MOBO awards claim they can’t find four names to nominate for a Jazz category!!! are they mental?? Jazz in the UK is currently stronger creatively than it’s ever been – we’ve had UK independent jazz artists like Zoe Rahman and Polar Bear getting national recognition via the Mercury Music Prize, and some outstanding music coming from the Dune/Tomorrow’s Warriors stable. Musicians like Jason Yarde, Denis Baptiste, Dennis Rollins, Cleveland Watkiss, Soweto Kinch, Byron Wallen, Gary Crosby, Jazz Jamaica… there are LOADS of great black british jazz artists. Loads and Loads. And given that the MOBOs are about music of black origin, not even just black artists, there are even more to choose from.

I have no idea what the MOBOs are about these days – maybe it’s just about getting corporate sponsorship, and no-one was willing to sponsor the Jazz award.

Anyway, here’s the message from the people at Dune Records – have a read, and send an email…
The people behind the MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) Awards have scrapped the award for Best Jazz Act.

Their excuse? They cannot find 4 names to put up for nomination! This is an outrage and serves to support the widespread view in the jazz community that the MOBO organisation – an organisation purporting to promote black music – is actively marginalising jazz and jazz artists. We have a hard enough job as it is reminding people that jazz IS black music so MOBO’s action is incredibly unhelpful to the jazz sector, and to the industry as a whole.

There are few enough opportunities for jazz artists to attract the limelight so we can well do without MOBO dropping this award.

Also, in light of new education initiatives to bring jazz into the national curriculum, their action is particularly counterproductive. Not sure why MOBO feel that our young people shouldn’t be exposed/have access to jazz – it is black music after all and an incredibly creative form of black music. They tried the same thing with the Gospel prize (last year?), leading many of us to believe that MOBO is seeking to disenfranchise the very people who created black music.

According to the MOBO Organisation Mission Statement, MOBO:

– identifies, showcases and celebrates music derived from black heritage
– is RnB, Reggae, Hip-Hop, Jazz….
– seeks to promote the history of music of black origin

MOBO’s action would suggest that it’s high time their Board of Directors were reminded of their remit and take remedial action to avoid a great deal of negative publicity surrounding this decision.

Everyone interested in getting jazz and jazz artists due recognition should complain bitterly to MOBO about this utterly nonsensical move.

Tel: +44 (0)20 7419 1800 or info@mobo.com

More recycle bookings…

Been busy over the last couple of weeks lining up the musicians for the new few RC gigs – lots of the people have had on my wish-list for ages are now booked! Yay!

August 23rdSebastian Rochford, Andy Hamill and me. This is a bit of a dream line-up. Seb’s one of my favourite drummers I’ve ever played with. We did one gig together in Brighton a couple of years ago, and he listened so well to the loop stuff, and played beautifully. An immensely creative chap, and Mercury Prize nominee last year, no less! He’s in Polar Bear and Acoustic LadyLand and plays with lots of people in the F-IRE collective.

And Andy Hamill. As well as officially being of the nicest people in jazz ever, Andy’s also one of my favourite double bassists anywhere. If you’ve heard either of Theo’s last couple of albums, he’s the low end on there, but has also played with 4 Hero, Carleen Anderson, Shea Seger, Theo Travis, Mark Murphy, Nitin Sawhney, Chris Bowden, Boris Grebenshikov, Cara Dillon, Tracey Thorn, Kylie Minogue, Ben Castle, Ursula Rucker and Harry Hill!

I’ve been wanting to try a trio with drums and double bass for ages, and feel so lucky that the first time I get to try it is with two musicians of this kind of quality. Wow.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, on Sept 20th, we’ve got saxophonist Jason Yarde, one of the most celebrated young british jazzers of recent times. An outstanding performer, composer, improvisor – a really really interesting musician, who will add something completely new to the RC vibe, for sure. Another huge talent.

And with Jason and I, making a very welcome return, Leo Abrahams – currently out on the road playing guitar for Roxy Music, is also Brian Eno’s guitar monkey, and has worked with Imogen Heap, Nik Kershaw, Ed Harcourt, Paul Simon and a host of other great people. He was excellent last time, he’ll be just as great this time.

And at the moment, it looks like October is going to be BJ Cole and Ingrid Laubrock joining me. How lucky am I? Yay!

Ingrid Laubrock at the Vortex

Last night was my third time at the Vortex in a week – fourth time in two weeks – this time to see Ingrid Laubrock, who was there with her quartet – Seb Rochford on drums, larry bartley on bass and Barry Green on piano.

It was a much more ‘jazz’ gig than anything I’ve been to for a while, a ‘ting ting t-ting’ gig, but with plenty of interesting moments and some really interesting compositions. It’s really nice to hear a tenor player who’s not gone the Coltrane/Brecker route – Ingrid’s sound seems closer to a Dexter Gordon/Joe Henderson sound, which her compositions are more like 70s-miles mixed with 60s Wayne Shorter and a fair dose of avante garde weirdness. All good stuff.

The main attraction for me was seeing Seb Rochford play – I did a gig with Seb a while ago ( thought it was three years ago, he says less than two years… will have to check back into my old blog…) down in Brighton, with Tess Garroway, which was a fantastic experience. He was clearly a remarkable player then, and it’s been in my mind to get him involved in something every since (I haven’t worked with a drummer on a me-project since, so it still hasn’t happened…). Since then, he’s gone on to come one of the emerging stars of the British jazz scene, with his bands Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland – Polar Bear having been nominated for the Mercury Music Award this year, and Acoustic Ladyland having been on Jools Holland’s show.

His play with Ingrid was fabulously inventive, deconstructing the implied rhythm of the tune into shards of time that bore little metric relation to the initial pulse but carried the intention of the tune forward in a way that ‘normal’ jazz drumming just wouldn’t have done. Really inspiring playing.

Both Polar Bear and Ingrid’s band are playing a Christmas party on 15th december at “The Others”, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington. Sounds like it could be an amazing night.

[edit – the gig with Seb was Sept 17th 2003…]

Soundtrack – Peter Gabriel, ‘Up’.

Jazz is dead?

Spent a wonderful evening yesterday with Orphy Robinson – just called round to drop off a CD of the tracks for the gig with Rise on Oct 13th, but as is always the case with Orphy, ended up spending hours putting the world to rights, and listening to some great stories.

Orphy and I have some very similar thoughts on music, and while our own music sounds quite different (he can actually be bothered to write lovely complex through composed music as well as doing the more free improv/spontaneous composition stuff), the genesis of it is similar – both of us have spent a lot of time around people who play ‘proper’ jazz, who studied Bird, learned the omni-book and did what you’re supposed to do – transcribed thousands of licks by your favourite artists. But both of us were turned off by that in favour of looking to the narrative aspects of music, drawn to musicians like Coltrane and Monk who told stories within a jazz framework, rather than just looking to burn their ‘opponents’ in a jam.

Both of us had a fear of screwing up when playing ‘real’ jazz, but when it came to soloing wanting something of ourselves to come out, and so looked to freer improv as inspiration for self expression. I learn so much whenever I chat to Orphy about where his music comes from – he’s been pro for at least 10 years more than me, and having been signed to Blue Note and played with loadsa big names, has a heck of a lot more experience than I.

But we both see our role as story-tellers, and as such are willing to take from any musical tradition that works for us. Our origins are different – Orphy’s background is Caribbean and its musical heritage. Mine is prog-rock and 80s art-rock/pop. So both of us bring that to the table when we play, and both had a rude awakening into the world of free improv (the first free record I ever bought was ‘Montreaux Suisse’ by Air (not the french pop band), and Orphy had gigged alongside members of the band…!)

And it seems like our journeys are becoming to norm for ‘instrumental improvising’ musicians – that all the interesting stuff is ‘jazz plus’ – taking a jazz framework and dropping loads of other influences in. Whether it’s players like Theo Travis and Ben Castle who bring prog elements to their writing and improvising, or the current golden boys of the brit-jazz scene Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland who bring elements of classic rock, electronica and hardcore to their music, it’s the everything else that is keeping jazz vibrant, vital and renders moot the bollocks talked about Jazz being dead. Wynton has done his best to turn Jazz into a museum piece, and the rest of the world has ignored him, thank God.

And coincidentally, there’s an interesting interview with Brad Mehldau in the Guardian talking about this very thing.

Soundtrack – King Crimson, ‘Discipline’.

Mercury Music prize…

This year’s nominees –

· Antony and the Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now
· Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
· Coldplay – X&Y
· The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike
· Hard-Fi – Stars of CCTV
· KT Tunstall – Eye to the Telescope
· Kaiser Chiefs – Employment
· The Magic Numbers – The Magic Numbers
· Maximo Park – A Certain Trigger
· M.I.A. – Arular
· Polar Bear – Held on the Tips of Fingers
· Seth Lakeman – Kitty Jay

according to The Guardian, the Kaiser Chiefs are the bookie’s favourite, but it’d be fantastic to see either Polar Bear or Seth Lakeman win. Seth’s album is fantastic – I bought it when he played at The Bedford about a year ago – a lovely acoustic folk record, in the same tradition as Eliza Carthy, Cara Dillon etc. Polar Bear are one of the crazy jazz outfits featuring drummer extraordinaire, Seb Rochford, an amazing drummer that I did a gig in Brighton with once – he’s the only drummer I’ve ever met who could follow my glitchy everso-slightly-out-of-time loopage without any kind of sync or click – a great player, with fantastic hair, and a couple of marvellous bands (the other being Acoustic Ladyland).

I have to confess to having no idea who most of the bands are on the list – I’ve never heard Maximo Park or The Go Team or MIA or Hard Fi, or Bloc Party, or Anthony and ‘The Johnsons’ (that’s really the band name??) – I’ve got the KT Tunstall album, which is cool, and I like what I’ve heard of The Magic Numbers, though was totally underwhelmed by what I heard of The Kaiser Chiefs. So I think Seth would get my vote, if I were on the panel (though, if I was on the panel, I think I’d probably have heard all the other albums by now too…)

Soundtrack – Janis Joplin, ‘I Got Dem Ole Kosmic Blues Again, Mama’ (you, you can keep Joss Stone, I’ll stick with Janis.)

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