A solo theremin gig???

Yup, that was the first half of the gig I saw last night – Pamelia Kurstin’s gig at The Vortex was one I happened upon while looking at their website for something else entirely last week. When I saw that her two collaborators on the gig were Seb Rochford and A< HREF=http://www.liamnoble.co.uk/>Liam Noble, it was a sure thing – had to see that.

The first half of the gig was a solo looped Theremin set – Pamelia was using two DL4s and an EH Bass Microsynth – and the first 20 minutes of it was captivating. After that it was still good, it’s just tricky to sustain that level of interest without varying the arrangement ideas (would love to hear what she’d do with a Looperlative instead of the DL4s).

The second half was wonderful – lots of mad squeaky gate improv stuff with Seb on drums and Liam on piano. Both guys are such great and original improvisors, and worked really well with the theremin craziness coming from Pamelia, who veered from violin territory to clarinet tones to the sound of a pizzicato double bass. Fascinating stuff. All in all a top gig, and I’ll have to get her for the Recycle Collective next time she’s in London!

What was also most fun about the night was the number of other players that showed up – Julian Seigel, Estelle Kokot, Mandy Drummond, Phil Robson, Dylan Bates, Jason Broadbent – a most enjoyable jazz-hang! And what’s more, the Vortex are wanting to book the trio from August’s RC gig – me, seb and Andy Hamill – for a gig in Jan/Feb! Yay! And I got booked for a gig with Estelle in a couple of weeks time – more on that soon…

The disappearance of the best gig in the country…

Ronnie Scott’s is one of the most famous jazz clubs in the world. It’s legendary. The late saxophonist who gave his name to the club was clearly a tireless campaigner for jazz music in London, and for as long as most jazzers can remember, Ronnie’s was a place to go and hang, to meet other musicians, hear some great tunes.

They’ve always done really cheap tickets for MU members, and best of all, they always booked a local band to play opposite the big names. It was pretty much the only serious venue around that booked UK jazz acts for week-long residencies. the money wasn’t great, but it was fabulous exposure, a chance to shift a load of CDs, and a great one for the CV. Without doubt, one of the best gigs that any UK jazz band could get booked for. I’ve seen some great stuff there – Ben Castle’s quartet opposite The Yellowjackets, Christine Tobin opposite Gary Husband….

well now, they’ve refurbed the building, but made a right arse of the booking policy and now have a house band. The James Pearson trio play every night, with a different guest. Yup, just like a regular restaurant gig. There are lots of these kinds of gigs around – house trio, hired in front person, plodding through the Real Book, sometimes playing lovely versions of standards, often sounding a bit bored. It makes a really nice accompaniment to dinner and is a great way to spend £4 if your local pub has put a gig on like that in the back room.

But, it’s not what I’d expect if I’d just paid £45 (£45!!!!!!!!!!) to see Chick Corea or Wynton Marsalis or whoever.

I’ve not heard James Pearson play. This isn’t about him or his trio. It’s just that the format isn’t an art gig. It’s not fair on the front person to not have their own band there – Theo isn’t going to sound anything like his records with some generic trio behind him. You can’t turn up to a blowing gig and expect them to play Schizoid Man. Ben Castle couldn’t go in with the chart for Mousecatcher General. They’ll just end up playing Satin Doll and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, and it’ll be like any other restaurant gig in London.

So, if you feel moved by this, feel free to boycott Ronnie’s. email them and tell them why, if you like. I just think it’s sad, and will take my custom and my gig money to The Vortex, or the 606 or just about anywhere else instead.

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.

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

Petersfield gig

just back in from the gig in Petersfield with Theo – wow, what a great evening!

To start with, playing with Theo is about as easy as a gig can get – there’s no worrying that he’s ever going to play anything less than marvellous, he’s great fun, and we always have a great time on gigs. Add to that some fine Thai food (the venue doubles as a Thai restaurant), a nice big audience (full room), and some stellar improvs, and you’ve got yourself a damned fine night’s gigging.

We recorded it to minidisc, and the record quality is great except the points where it peaks. A few of the tracks will be editable to get rid of the peaks, a couple won’t be useable, but it does give us a reference point for the general sound quality coming off the desk, so if we drop the record level a bit, we’ll be fine.

Next stop, The Vortex tonight – don’t miss it!

Wireless and screenless

thanks to the house insurance company demanding that we get window locks fitted, I had to completely dismantle my office yesterday (those of you that have seen my office are currently receiving oxygen at the thought…). The lack of a desktop computer to hook my laptop up to, and the marvellous experiences I’d had with wireless in the US (wi-fi is the finest invention since the Ebow), I decided it was time to get a wireless hub.

Four hours of tweaking and two calls to Onetel later, and I got it working. It’s worth noting that if you’re trying to configure a Zoom X6 5590 wireless modem and router that you can’t write to flash from Safari – I tried for ages and couldn’t get it to work. As soon as I switched to Firefox (which I didn’t even know I’d downloaded for mac!) it worked a treat and I was able to configure it. Well, configure everything except the password for the wireless network, so at the moment, anyone in my area can access my network, though not my computer, thankfully.

One of the methods I tried to get the router configured was to hook up my desktop computer and try that, but when I did it appeared the screen wasn’t working. I tried the screen with my laptop and that was fine, so it seems my video card has gone west. Need to get some advice today on fitting new video cards from either the Lovely G or The Captain…

But at least I now have WiFi in the house, the nicest upshot of which is that i’m sat here in total silence – no humming fans on my PC providing noise pollution. I can go and sit in front of the TV and do all my email things while watching family guy, and life is good.

Tonight I’m playing in Petersfield with Theo – first night of our tour, playing a whole load of new music, some favourites and some new versions of old tunes. I’m really looking forward to it, though I’m still feeling a little jetlagged. It’ll be my first theo gig with the Looperlative, which will be fun.

And tomorrow we’re at the Vortex in London – please come along!

end of year top 10s and general out-of-touchness…

Here are two end of year top 10s. Neither of them are mine – the first is the chart of the charts – a compilation of the best of the end of year critics polls. The second is the biggest selling albums of the year –


1 The Arcade Fire: Funeral
2 Gorillaz: Demon Days
3 Kanye West: Late Registration
4 Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise
5 Elbow: Leaders of the Free World
6 Antony & The Johnsons: I Am a Bird Now
7 The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan
8 Franz Ferdinand: You Could Have It So Much Better
9 Kaiser Chiefs: Employment
10 MIA: Arular


1 James Blunt: Back to Bedlam
2 Coldplay: X & Y
3 Robbie Williams: Intensive Care
4 Kaiser Chiefs: Employment
5 Westlife: Face to Face
6 Gorillaz: Demon Days
7 KT Tunstall: Eye to the Telescope
8 Eminem: Curtain Call – The Hits
9 Kelly Clarkson: Breakaway
10 Katie Melua: Piece by Piece

So, out of both charts I own one of the albums – KT Tunstall’s ‘Eye To The Telescope’. Rather fabulous it is too. I haven’t even heard any of the others. I’ve heard the singles from a few of them – the Coldplay tracks I’ve heard sound nice, and I’m going to get the Gorillaz album, for sure. Will probably get round to listening to Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire and Anthony And The Johnsons at some point (I’ve heard a track from the Anthony… album and quite liked that.)

I’m feeling marvellously out of touch, despite actually having bought two out of the current top 3 UK singles in the last week! Back in the days when I subscribed to Q, I used to tot up at the end of the year how many of their top 50 from the year I had – normally somewhere between 7-10. This year, it’s probably one – KT Tunstall. I don’t think I own another album that’s charted.

My own top 5 of the year is –

Michael Manring – Soliloquy
King’s X – Ogre Tones
Lleuwen Steffan/Huw Warren/Mark Lockheart – God Only Knows
Bill Frisell – East/West
Juliet Turner – Live

Bruce Cockburn – Speechless would be in there but I had all but two of the songs on it before, so it’s not really a ‘new’ album.

So not a particularly hip top 5, but a vibrant one for sure – Michael’s album is his first solo album for 7-8 years, and his first all-solo CD, the finest all solo bass CD ever released by anyone, if you ask me. Kings X’s album is a major return to form, their best for almost a decade. Lleuwen Steffan’s album was a real revelation – I heard it at the vortex being played before a gig, and bought it there and then, and love it to bits. Frisell’s album is him back doing what he does best – playing live with a trio. and Juliet’s live album is long overdue and captures much of the magic of seeing the the lovely Ms Turner live. 5 great albums, for sure, and all of them way better than some load of hackneyed old bollocks by Franz Ferdinand/White Stripes/Kanye West etc. etc. etc. – piss off you dull bastards, come back when you stop making records by comittee/have had drum lessons/write some tunes, respectively. (and no, The Cheat, claiming that you really dig the Kanye West album doesn’t make you seem cool and hip to the laydeez, so stop pretending that was your musical highlight, when really it was hanging out with Randy Stonehill).

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’.

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’.

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