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January/February 2019 – upcoming classical gigs around Britain and Ireland – Nonclassical’s Battle of the Bands (23rd January); Scordatura’s Clara Schumann evening (3rd February); Gyða Valtýsdóttir’s ‘Epicycle’ tour (29th January to 3rd February)

18 Jan

Nonclassical open their year with their annual Battle of the Bands at their live homebase in Hackney’s Victoria performance pub. Six competitors will be duking it out for industry attention and more Nonclassical gig opportunities. As usual, they’ve been chosen from the permeable space where contemporary classical touches on other musical forms, on other arts and on current concerns.

Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands, 23rd January 2019

There will be two solo performers. Woodwind specialist James Hurst will be swapping between alto saxophone and alto recorder to perform his own ‘The Descent of Ishtar To The Underworld’, a guided, Bronze Age-inspired improvisation. Reylon Yount, a San Franciscan Chinese-American yangqin player and member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, will be performing the diasporan-influenced sound exploration ‘Rituals and Resonances for Solo Yangqin’ by Chinese-British composer Alex Ho, which “attempts to engage with the paradoxical sense of nostalgia one may feel for a place one did not grow up in” via “an exploration of the relationship between sound and its resonance.”



 
Three collectives are also competing. Chamber ensemble Scordatura Women’s Music Collective champion and perform the work of female composers, both living and dead: on this occasion, they’ll be performing ‘Las Sombras de los Apus’ by Gabriela Lena Frank, a cello quartet in which each instrument plays in a different tuning. The recently-formed New Music group 4|12 Collective will be playing James Saunders’ Instruments with Recordings (with a lineup of viola player Toby Cook, flautist Epsie Thompson, accordionist Giancarlo Palena, bassoonist Olivia Palmer-Baker, trombonist Benny Vernon and tuba player Stuart Beard).

Rita Says & The Jerico Orchestra (performing Paragraph 7 of ‘The Great Learning’ by Cornelius Cardew) have been around a little longer: over the past decade, they’ve been working at “defin(ing) a connection between fine art performance practise and the history of contemporary music”, exploring a spontaneous blend of physical action and visual interaction to create and conduct pieces.


 

Finally, there’s composer/performer and Filthy Lucre co-founder Joe Bates, who pitches his camp on the faultline between contemporary classical music and avant-rock, hip hop and electronics; and whose artistic interests include “desire at a remove” and “the decline of classical music’s social prestige and the possibilities for its future.” His music blends contemporary classical structures and instrumentation options with “intense, still, driven riffs” and harmonies from rock and other pop forms. On this occasion, he’ll be playing pieces from his microtonal synthesiser suite/EP ‘Flim Flam’.

 
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If you’re sympathetic to Scordatura’s role as feminist music historians and curators, you might like to know that they’re popping up again in Abingdon, Oxfordshire in early February – as part of the Abbey Chamber Concerts series.

Scordatura, 3rd February 2019

Their 3rd February gig, titled as “Celebrating Clara” (and utilising a shifting duo/trio/quartet formation of clarinettist Poppy Beddoe, violinist Claudia Fuller, cellist Rachel Watson and pianist Thomas Ang) ostensibly showcases Clara Schumann, the similarly talented but undervalued composer-pianist married to Robert Schumann. They’ll be playing one Schumann piece – the Piano Trio in G minor – and possibly some of her clarinet work, but the remaining programme slots are given over to the work of other female composers. Contemporary composer Cecilia McDowall’s chamber piece ‘Cavatina at Midnight’ is followed by the Victorian ‘Piano Suite in E major’ by Clara Schumann’s contemporary Ethel Smyth.

The last piece is by Fanny Hensel ( ‘Fantasia for Cello and Piano’) a.ka. Fanny Mendelssohn, whose life was a sometimes-uncomfortable reiterating mirror of Clara’s. Both were similarly talented intimates of established composers (one a wife, the other a sister); both had surprisingly encouraging husbands; both were also tutored and driven by demanding fathers who established excellence in them. Both, too, were ultimately constrained as composers by the discouragements and domestic responsibilities forced upon women of their times, with the men in their families often acting with a frustrating mixture of systematic positive pressure and patriarchal forbiddings. (Felix Mendelssohn, for instance, was a devoted, championing brother who found that he drew the line at Fanny entering the canon of published composers.)

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Gyða Valtýsdóttir 'Epicycle' tour (Britain/Ireland), January/February 2019Overlapping these two concerts is a British/Irish mini-tour by Gyða Valtýsdóttir – still known as the former cellist for Iceland experimental pop band Múm even though she only played on two of their albums and has been out of the band for sixteen years.

Having immediately returned, post-Múm, to her classical roots (formally studying, graduating and applying herself to classical cello) Gyða’s spent the time since then in the genre-stepping world of the modern post-classical musician. Outside of the classical gigs, rent-paying but artistically respectable engagements adding stringwork to records or tours by Sigur Ros’ Jónsi, Damien Rice and Colin Stetson have alternated with assorted film, dance, theatre and installation music around the world, as well as bouts of free improvisation gigs. Allied with her twin sister and ex-Múm bandmate Kristín Anna, Gyða also added a “reciprocal twin” component to Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s 2015 song cycle ‘Forever Love’, conceived and delivered with performance artists Ragnar Kjartansson.

Although Gyða’s latest personal release (last year’s ‘Evolution’) features her own compositions and a return to her Múm-era multi-instrumentalism – and although some of those songs will get an airing – this tour focusses mostly on her 2017 solo debut ‘Epicycle‘, a two-millennia-spanning exercise in musical commonality and reconfiguration originally intended as “a gift for friends” on which Schubert, Schumann and Messiaen rub shoulders with Harry Partsch, George Crumb, Hildegard von Bingen and the nineteen-hundred year old Seikilos Epitaph. The album was an Icelandic smash hit and a talking point elsewhere: a classical debut recorded with the immediacy of a jazz record and with a broad-minded disregard for purity, bringing in upfront studio processing techniques and stylings/instrumental responses from other traditions from jazz to ancient folk to experimental post-rock.

On tour, she’s performing with her Epicycle trio, also featuring multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily (on guitar, synthesizer, percussion and anything else which needs playing) and drummer Julian Sartorius, both of whom played on the record.




 
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Dates:

Nonclassical presents:
Nonclassical: Battle of the Bands
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, E8 3AS London, United Kingdom
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Abbey Chamber Concerts present:
Scordatura: Women’s Music Collective: ‘Celebrating Clara’
St Nicolas’ Church, Market Place, Abingdon-on-Thames, Oxfordshire OX14 3HF
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 3.00pm
– information here, here and here

Gyða Valtýsdóttir – ‘Epicycle’ tour:

  • Norwich Arts Centre, 51 St. Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PG, England, Tuesday 29th January 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Wednesday 30th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Metropolitan Arts Centre, 10 Exchange St West, Belfast, BT1 2NJ, Northern Ireland, Thursday 31st January 2019 – no further information
  • Dublin Unitarian Church, 112 Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, D02 YP23, Ireland, Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Summerhall, 1 Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL, Scotland, Sunday 3rd February 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

January 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler in Kraków and London (19th and 26th January); Ruby Rushton and Emma-Jean Thackray at the Supreme Standards launch in London (31st January)

15 Jan

Since relocating to his ancestral Warsaw last summer, in search of greater connection with his Polish-Jewish roots, English jazz-plus guitarist Alex Roth has been busying himself with musical conceptual work around the concepts of “migration, identity and connection”. As you’d expect, it’s implicitly connected with his own personal mindset, as he lays out in his latest news update. “My great-great-grandfather Herschel Roth came to the UK around 1890 from Kalisz, an ancient town now in central Poland but then under Russian rule. Fleeing the pogroms against Jews that were sweeping across the region, Herschel ended up in London’s East End, adopting the Anglicised name Harris. Over a century later, I’m retracing a migratory path that he and many other Jewish families took; the difference (other than the direction of travel) is that they made the journey out of desperation and fear, whereas I came to Poland filled with curiosity and hope.”

Back home (if “home” really is England anymore) Alex is known for multiple projects. Perhaps the primary one is Blue-Eyed Hawk (the latterday Mancunian jazz quartet in which he rubs shoulders with Corrie Dick, Lauren Kinsella and Dinosaur leader Laura Jurd), but there’s also been his Future Currents avant-electric guitar trio (with Chris-es Montague and Sharkey) and the twenty-piece Chaos Orchestra supergroup (a kiln-and-delivery method for large-ensemble compositions from rising young British jazz composers). As a guitarist, he leans a little towards the methodology of Bill Frisell or David Torn, with a hint of John Scofield: he might be a master of general jazz technique and knowledge, but his personal musical voice pushes determinedly and painterly towards an urgent, individual electric sound (telling sustain-bolstered swellchime phrases, tearing minimal interjections or focussings on the single note or note-cluster considered, stretched and transformed by non-Western/non-Gentile perceptions of pitch and of meaning).

Roth/Zimpel/Zemler, 19th & 26th January 2019Having been steeping himself in Polish-Jewish life – both remembered and current – via personal research and a residency at Kraków’s Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja, Alex is about to reveal the fruits of his first efforts via imminent Kraków and London gigs for his new trio with two Polish avant-garde/experimental jazzers – clarinettist Wacław Zimpel and percussionist Hubert Zemler (both of whom have previously worked together in Wacław’s long-form improvising trio LAM, which covers broad terrain between drifting, ever-so-slightly apprehensive cloudwork to triumphal, pumping, upbeat locomotion).

In terms of musical breadth, Alex is more than matched by Wacław, a musician of lambent yet sturdily angelic tone who’s recently made a debut splash or two on the London experimental scene (via visits for gigs at the Rocket Recordings Twenty concert and at Café Oto) as half of Zimpel/Ziołek, in which he and singing guitarist Kuba Ziołek explore electronically-augmented folk-jazz and psychedelia. Folding American minimalism, jazz, contemporary classical and Indian music plus loop-pedal playing into his sheaf of influences, Wacław also has a Hildegard of Bingen project running, has worked as a fifth of Euro-Carnatic quintet Saagara, and has mastered a cross-continental array of reed instruments drawn from Laos and Latvia to Turkey and northern India. As for Hubert, beside the delicacy of his LAM work he’s drummed for prankish Polish alt/jazz/country rockers Mitch & Mitch (and their merry psychedelic/country/Krautrock spinoff Slalom). He’s established himself as one of Poland’s finest improvising percussionists, coming up with anything from precise avant-rock kit-hitting to shifting, galactic free playing with vibraphonists, harpsichordists and more.

Going on past work, this new trio should bundle together a promising mixture of ideas. It’s impossible to predict exactly what they’ll be doing, but it’s tempting to try anyway; evanescence and strength, diasporan motifs, attenuated notes and incidental discoveries along the way, a pick-up-and-make-work method reflecting the wanderings and resilence of Europe’s Jews. It’s not the first time Alex has worked with Jewish themes – they’ve always permeated his work, from the magical Sephardic folk-jazz ensemble Sefiroth (one of multiple Roth collaborations with Alice Zawadzski) to the Otriad project, which is in some ways a direct precursor to Alex’s current work (inspired, as it is, by three Jewish partisan brothers in World War 2 Poland). This is, however, perhaps the first time he’s gone so evidently to geographical source; to places of vivid historical memory.

There’s a scatter of previous, separate work’s below to provide pointers, or perhaps mistaken clues. Also attached is one of Alex’s “słucham” field recordings of Warsaw sounds: not in itself Jewish, but an indication of other possible shapers of the project.



 
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Slicker and groovier – though no less impressive – music is to be heard in London the following week at the Supreme Standards debut evening at Ghost Notes in Peckham (the first in a monthly small-venue extension of the Love Supreme concert initiative).

Ruby Rushton + Emma-Jean Thackray, 31st January 2019

Led by saxophonist and flautist Edward “Tenderlonious” Cawthorne (the king in an already-winning pack containing keyboard player Aidan Shepherd, trumpeter Nick Walters, slinky bassist Fergus Ireland and the percussion duo of Eddie Hick and Joseph Deenmamode), Ruby Rushton are quiet-storming exemplars of taut but low-key jazz-funk grooves and spacious wind playing. Underneath the flowing, airy melodies, the sextet flick and phase between rhythms and style as if jumping between cousins. You’ll be looking for the gaps and joins, and finding none – Tenderlonious and co. not only make it sound natural, they make their grand plans simultaneously obvious and invisible.


 
As a group leader and composer, trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray has specialised in cheeky, rollicking, lightly disruptive band-writing which doesn’t interfere with her knack for grooves, which seem mostly to be inspired by galumphing aquatic mammals. Her music’s wonky club-music feel – that shimmying, slightly drunken marching-band wobble – disguises the sly precision of the mapping mind behind it. She couldn’t cover it up forever, though. More recently she’s been working solo, with last year’s ‘Ley Lines’ EP revealed as a full solo effort – every composition or bit of production, every instrument, every vocal track, indeed every note handled by Emma herself. (It helps when you’re literally ambidextrous, although possessing huge strategic talent is clearly another bonus).

For her next trick, she’s going to deliver the thing live and alone: presumably a high-wire loop and tape act supplemented by her own remarkable skills. Hints below:


 
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Dates:

  • Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler – Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja, ul. Dajwór 18, 31-052 Kraków, Poland, Saturday 19th January 2019, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler – Jazz Café POSK, 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0RF, England, Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Supreme Standards: Ruby Rushton + Emma-Jean Thackray – Ghost Notes, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England, Thursday 31st January 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

January 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – Marin Allsop and the LPO bring a batch of premieres to ‘Here and Now’ (16th January); Philip Thomas, Richard Craig and Damien Harron perform Morton Feldman’s ‘Crippled Symmetry’ (22nd January); Phaedra Ensemble and friends play Meredith Monk, Caroline Shaw, Jamie Hamilton and Fred Thomas (29th January)

11 Jan
Marin Allsop, 2018

Marin Allsop, 2018

As well as interlocking with the Southbank’s SoundState festival, next Thursday’s ‘Here and Now’ concert, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Marin Allsop, is part of the orchestra’s year-long ‘Isle of Noises’ series featuring three hundred and thirty years worth of “landmark classics inspired by the British Isles.”

While other concerts in the series are likely to feature Handel, Purcell, Vaughan Williams and other longstanding canon composers influenced (in some cases) by their migration to the islands or (in others) by their responses to its landscapes, this early-stages concert is packed with – read, entirely composed of – premieres of brand new pieces. On offer are the world premieres of Arne Gieshoff’s ‘Burr’, Helen Grime’s ‘Percussion Concerto’ (with Colin Currie as soloist) and Anders Hillborg’s new twenty-minute concerto-for-orchestra ‘Sound Atlas’ (also including a battery of percussion, from the more familiar timpani and tubular bells to Chinese opera gong, vibraslap and paint tin).

In addition, there’s the British premiere of Estonian composer Erkki-Sven Tüür’s ‘Solastalgia for piccolo and orchestra’ (featuring piccoloist Stewart McIlwham). There’s also the European premiere of Louis Andriessen’s ‘Agamemnon’, a kind of actorless, wordless instrumental opera composed by Andriessen for his own 80th birthday celebration concerts in New York last autumn, and described by him as “a war-like piece, full of fast music and nervous terror” constructed (as mythology usually is) by a babble of competing voices. Here’s a little snatch of it from the New York rehearsals…


 
Earlier in the evening, Marin Allsop will provide a free “Behind the Baton” discussion on the evening’s music and on her thoughts on classical music’s future.

Isle Of Noises, 2019

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Over the next couple of weeks, there are two interesting free concerts in the City, University of London Concert Series at the City campus in Finsbury.

Morton Feldman

Morton Feldman

The first, on the evening of the 22nd, is a performance of Morton Feldman’s ‘Crippled Symmetry’ by percussionist Damien Harron, flautist Richard Craig and Philip Thomas on piano and celesta. One of the composer’s late works (from 1983), it’s “a haunting exploration of stillness, tonal and temporal ambiguities, and musical patterning.” As presented to players, it’s a slightly disassociated triple-part score: each individual part fully notated but deliberately not synchronized with the others (leading to fascinating opportunities for uncertainty and chance).

As with many Feldman pieces, ‘Crippled Symmetry’ is also a long, attenuated listening challenge, lasting an entire hour-and-a-half. Here’s the 1991 version recorded by Eberhard Blum, Jan Williams and Nils Vigeland from Feldman’s original ensemble:


 
The second concert – a week later on the 29th – features string-quartet-plus-collaborators Phaedra Ensemble. In this case, they’re performing a programme of New York- or London-composed string-based pieces inspired by the human voice.

Phaedra Ensemble, 29th January 2019

From the American side, Roomful Of Teeth member, composer-violinist and sometime hip hop collaborator Caroline Shaw provides 2011’s ‘Entr’acte’: in part, a humorous deconstruction and reconstruction of Haydn in which his sublime classical-era tone shifts struggle to place and reassert themselves within the unruliness of twenty-first century music.

In parallel, NYC loft music veteran and intuitive voice music doyen Meredith Monk contributes her 2005 piece String Songs. Originally premiered in London by the Kronos Quartet almost exactly thirteen years ago, it’s the piece which she transposed and translated her idiosyncratic and individual vocal ideas into string quartet context for the first time. Examples below:



 
The first of the pieces from the British side – the crinkling, conversational ‘Taking a nap, I pound the rice’ (with its quinpartite nods to the compositions and thoughts of composers from the aforementioned Feldman and John Cage to Anton Webern and Thelonious Monk, and of transformative British nature writer/‘Peregrine’ author J.A. Baker – comes from Fred Thomas, one of F-IRE Collective’s multi-instrumentalist composers. Fred himself joins Phaedra for the piece on prepared piano, accompanied by percussionist Maurizio Ravalico. As with the previous performance of the piece – listen below – narration is provided on tape by rising black British actress Ronke Adekoleujo.

 
The last piece, ‘Remainder for vocalising string quartet’ is a world premiere from composer/mixed-media artist/Phaedra co-director Jamie Hamilton. It explores “the many techniques that were developed with him incorporating speech, singing and vocalisations with instrumental playing” and continues to pursue his interest in how humans use sound as a measuring medium.

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Dates:

London Philharmonic Orchestra presents:
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop: ‘Here and Now: Isle of Noises’
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 16th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here (‘Behind the Baton’ talk info here)

City, University of London Concert Series presents:
Philip Thomas + Richard Craig + Damien Harron perform Morton Feldman: Crippled Symmetry
Performance Space @ City, University of London, College Building, St John Street, Finsbury, London, EC1V 4PB, England
Tuesday 22nd January 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

City, University of London Concert Series presents:
Phaedra Ensemble: Monk, Shaw, Hamilton, Thomas
Performance Space @ City, University of London, College Building, St John Street, Finsbury, London, EC1V 4PB, England
Tuesday 29th January 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London eclectic gigs – Chlöe Herington curates ‘Overlaps’ with members of Knifeworld, Prescott, Two Pale Boys etc (15th January); No One’s Watching #4 featuring Ale Hop, Jylda, flies+flies and Famous Eno (19th January); a side-date with Dowry and Participant (23rd January)

9 Jan

While she’s been active for much of the past two decades as an ubiquitous reed-blowing sidewoman, 2018 was something of a breakout year for Chlöe Herington in that she became more ubiquitous in her own right. Last year, her V A L V E project seemed to be popping up everywhere. Originally a solo effort (in which she worked her bassoons and saxophones around peculiar avant-garde musical concepts, and orchestrated by building Heath Robinson-meets-Hugh-Davies instruments out of tobacco tins, transistors and bits of shelving), it’s now an all-female singing/multi-instrumental trio with a post-punk/immediate-music ethos. Sporting concert harps, bass guitars and microsynths, it happily dances up what initially look like musical cul-de-sacs only to raucously redecorate them.

'Overlaps', 15th January 2019

On top of that there’s been the regular work – helping to keep Lindsay Cooper’s music alive and performed; adding horn and woodwind razz (and a touch of glamour) to Knifeworld; and (most recently) joining brass-dappled techno outfit Hirvikolari to fatten up the hornwork. Meanwhile, Chlöe’s also been working behind the scenes as promoter and realiser for Westking Music, setting up assorted concerts and musical outlets at the Harrison in Kings Cross covering avant-pop, folk and more. The latest burst of the latter comes in the shape of the new ‘Overlaps’ evening she’s put together for the 17th this month with fellow Westminster Kingsway tutor and current Pere Ubu/Prescott guitarist Keith Moliné (whose own music sounds like a restless cross between a swamp musician, a distant train horn and a 1960s telephone exchange, when it’s not running off into morphing MIDI).

Apparently inspired by a circle of chairs they noticed in the Harrison one college lunchtime, ‘Overlaps’ is intended to be a dedicated experimental tag-team workout involving six different musicians joining up for improvisation, collaboration and the overlapping of work. For the first of these sessions, Chlöe and Keith themselves will be taking part.

 
Of the other players signed up for the launch gig, art-improv drummer Frank Byng usually works with Snorkel (both the band and the recording studio) and plays with Keith in Prescott. For two decades he’s driven, adjusted, pounced around and subverted the beat behind a host of playing projects from This Is Not This Heat to Crackle. Chlöe’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi has spent the same two decades overturning rock applecarts as guitarist with Knifeworld, Guapo, Cardiacs and others. Depending on mood, he can sound like Fred Frith throwing it all up one illuminated lysergic evening to go hillbilly, or like a coffin-dragging psych-folk Django staggering home under a black sun.



 
The remaining two contributors are less well-known. Singer/ranter/sound manipulator/explorer Merlin Nova came into music-making via spoken word and radio soundcaping. Last year’s ‘Protect Your Flame’ EP is a happily unsettled beast which sees her travelling between batsqueak acapella songs, fractured megaphone poetics, experimental pop-bounce and strange devotional noise abstractions. Earlier work is a mixture of unsettling sonics and persona-shifting performance art.

Even less is known about the sixth musician, Farz, other than that he’s another shadowy figure from the Westgate Kingsway staff who released a debut EP on drum-and-bass label Peer Pressure last September. Whoever’s lurking behind the mononym, his music’s a dankly ornamental take on the d&b idea. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the oft-overlooked ventures into art-dance by ex-Japan refugees Jansen Barbieri Karn from the tail end of the ’90s – deracinated from its direct origins (and losing a little of the context and directness), but gaining other context from its expansion elsewhere; carefully textured; occasionally yarping into digressions of curving, cirrus-tailed jazz-fusion synths.



 

If this evening works out then it’ll apparently develop into a gig series with a constantly shifting roster of players. I hope so.

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'No-One's Watching #4', 19th January 2019The people behind another semi-experimental music evening, No-One’s Watching, have already managed to get to their fourth night before I got around to noticing them. Par for the course with me, unfortunately, but I think I’ll be keeping an eye on them in future. Tagging their latest event on 19th January as “three wonderfully surreal live acts topped off with a serious session of leftfield dancehall heaters”, they’re aiming for some kind of umami spot between basic pop appeal, beat impulse and avant-garde perspectives, happily seizing on the backdrop of new-ish Dalston art house SET with its mingled milieu of “the Twin Peaks Red Lodge (sic) and a northern working man’s club.”

Despite a name which reads like a Sussex pub folk session, headliner Ale Hop is Peruvian, currently working in Berlin after a spell in New York. Her early work was a strange wedding of discombobulated synthpop, psychedelic guitar sludge and vocal murmurs clinging together in fall-apart structures: sprawling, untethered songs moving sluggishly in drugged amber. Since then she’s been moving even further from formal areas, mostly using her effects-mangled guitar and voice as sonic sources. The results have a strange, off-the-wall drama to them: subterranean tunnelscape walkarounds in which ringing tones, distant treated guitars and scratchy rat-choir vocals are heard around corners and in which surprises lurk (synth-organ steamclouds, club kickdrums, computer register bleeps and sudden bursts of beat program). Her cover of the old black spiritual Sinnerman incarcerates it in a confounding, refracting trapfold of echoing guitar and voice (given additional heft by Caroline Araoz’ huge shofar-ish saxophone parts which rage in the background like natural disasters).




 
The other two live acts are gentle in comparison, but have their own charm and ambition. A recent transferee from Berlin to London, Gianna Gehlhar – or Jylda – strays along the line between a fairly conventional dreamy pop trip and more avant-garde distractions. Not much has been recorded/released beyond The Body, a slightly slurred, distractedly eroticised slice of distraction, with a narcotised drag weaving itself into a gloriously woozy climax of glockenspiel rainfall and synth tingles. Apparently the live show is where it’s at, with Jylda giving full reign to her vocals “constantly drift(ing) between extremes, from sounding high and soft, sometimes operatic and siren-like on the one hand, and keen and metallic on the other.” She won over a Paper Dress Vintage audience a while back, and now it’s Dalston’s turn.


 
No-One’s Watching house band Flies + Flies create their own unsettling pop that hovers that crucial two or three degrees of the normal. Admittedly it’s taken them a while to get there. Early material was bogged down in lead-footedness, but over four years though, they’ve evolved to the point where the interaction of Dan Griffis’ mellifluous vocal and Pet Rok’s subtly tussling instrumentation sounds like Jeff Buckley taking a wrong turn into a Mute-flavoured analogue-electrophonic dystopia. Chilly electronic skybuzzes and analogue bass, along with the clicks and clacks of old school drumboxes, frame a vocal sounding like a balladeer wrenched out of romantic simplicities and forced to navigate stranger dream-logic terrains. There’s a welcome hint of Robert Smith here too, albeit a Smith shorn of The Cure’s rolling, roiling rock traditions and given a tent, an incomplete map and some more interesting books.

 
Bringing some DJ culture to the night, Pet Rok will also be showing up on the decks in tandem with DJ PLS in order to play “weird bangers from across the globe”; while Swing Ting label DJ/producer Famous Eno brings a set of his own, touching on his work in grime, bashment, Afro-house and a host of other overlapping dance genres.


 
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On the 23rd, Éna Brennan is quietly slipping away from the ongoing Bell X-1 tour, on which she’s providing the Irish indie-rockers with violin parts at the helm of her Dowry Strings quartet, and spending an evening simply as Dowry. As part of this, she’s hooking up again with Stephen Tiernan, a.k.a pop soloist Participant, with whom she went out on a successful double-header tour in Ireland last year. This month, London gets its own taste of this down in the basement at Servant Jazz Quarters, now well established as one of the best rough’n’ready showcase venues in town.

Dowry + Participant, 23rd January 2019

Dowry is Éna’s loop-fiddle project. While drawing on her experience as multi-instrumentalist, broadcaster and composer, it sits off on its own as a
kind of unification of Terry Riley systems music with the oft-sidelined traditions of Irish classical (generally overshadowed by the more readily exportable folk tradition, but offering its own Eirean essence of rainsoaked strings and staunch intransigent romance). In a typical piece, overlaid violin parts will pile up like slowing lava flows, increasingly hallucinatory and vertiginous. They’re like a growing conflation of idiosyncratic conversational voices; mutters both gentle and harsh, running increasingly out-of-sync and punctuated by actual subvocalisations and breath punctuations from Éna as she plays.

 
In comparison to Dowry’s heady confusions, Participant could hardly be clearer or sharper. A Dubliner, Stephen Tiernan’s been releasing assorted singles and EPs for four years now. A gawkily handsome presence, he’s an unlikely baby-voiced literalist who rides his intricately-worked-out songs from folk-cellar plucking to enormous, romantic Disney orchestral arrangements. Presumably he’s brought his arrangement dynamics along with him in a black box: otherwise, expect an unplugged hearthside show with trace-elements of other Irish songwriters in there (I can hear the ghostly solo work of Martin Furey, as well as a touch of Damien Rice) but Stephen’s understated precision is all his own.



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Dates:

‘Overlaps’ (featuring Chlöe Herington + Keith Moliné + Frank Byng + Kavus Torabi + Merlin Nova + Farz)
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Tuesday 15th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

No One’s Watching presents:
No One’s Watching #4: Ale Hop + Jylda + flies+flies + Famous Eno
SET (Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Saturday 19th January 2019, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Dowry + Participant
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Wednesday 23rd January 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – the Sound of 2019 with Chelsea Carmichael, Nihilism and Vertaal (9th January); Alexandra Ridout in the first part of the next installment of Jazz Herstory (17th January); Steam Down invite you to be on their debut album (26th January)

6 Jan

Jazz Refreshed: Chelsea Carmichael + Vertaal + Nihilism, 9th January 2019

On 9th January, tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael (from SEED Ensemble/NYJO Jazz Messengers) jumps into a bigger spotlight at the Jazz Cafe, as part of Tastemakers Jazz’s ‘Sound of 2019’ evening. At twenty-five, the time’s right for her to step out; with recent apprenticeships with Terence Blanchard, Courtney Pine, and Etienne Charles (as well as work with Indo-jazz fusioneer Arun Ghosh and as right-hand reedswoman for SEED’s Cassie Kinoshi) helping to shape whatever she does now. This will apparently be the debut of her first project under her own name: so new that I don’t know who else is in it yet, nor anything bar the fact that it’ll be influenced by Chelsea’s “love of groove and intricate rhythms”, and probably isn’t the Mingus-flavoured quintet she brought to the City Beerfest last summer.

Meanwhile, here’s Chelsea blowing tenor with SEED…


 
In the middle of the bill is electro-acoustic quintet Nihilism – a tuneful cluster of post-bop hip hop, Grapelli hot jazz, funk, grime and Mahavishnu fusion flickering around a median age of twenty. At the core of it (but not restricting it) is a classic acoustic sound revitalised by latterday British dance music, bedrocked by soprano saxophonist Shango Ijishakin, Berklee-trained pianist Lorenz Okello-Osengor and drummer Benjamin Appiah. Lorenz also dabbles in synths, while bassist Christopher Luu juggles his time between acoustic upright and a batch of electronic devices. Their debut EP ‘Exposition’ surfaced in November 2018, a couple of years after they’d formed and honed themselves with frequent gigging.

Despite Lorenz’ Berklee crown, Nihilism’s true secret weapon appears to be their electric violinist and occasional singer/rapper Saskia Horton, a twenty-one-year-old ball of energy and onetime fiddler for FKA Twigs. With an extra double life in theatre and dance, she choreographs and performs in a variety of street and dance-club styles (including krumping and waacking), and brings an assertive physicality to the band’s music every time she bows a string.


 
Toting a “spiritual jazz-funk” tag, Vertaal are an open-socketed duo (keyboard player Theo Howarth and drummer Ajit Gill) perpetually plugging in a rich turnover of guest players. Here’s a taste of them, with the core duo augmented on that occasion by bassist Warren Woodcraft, saxophonist Loren Hignell and percussionist Simon Todd. Who knows who’ll be joining Ajit and Theo on the night?


 
* * * * * * * *

On 17th January, Jazz Herstory resume their staging of female-led jazz concerts over at Poplar Union. It kicks off this year with a performance by trumpeter and bandleader Alexandra Ridout – still only nineteen, but already packing awards for BBC Young Musician of the Year (in 2016) and as 2017 runner-up rising star in the Jazz Awards, as well as hirings by Clarke Tracy and Dave Holland and time spent with her two-generation family jazz band The Ridouts.

Jazz Herstory presents: Alexandra Ridout, 17th January 2019

She’s bringing along a quintet of fellow teenagers. Pianist Noah Stoneman and guitarist Miles Mindlin are each a fresh-faced seventeen, while bassist Freddie Jensen and drummer Luca Caruso are both nineteen: fresh-faced they may be, but they have equal facility in classic swing, contemporary post-bop, funk and balladry. (Expect an audience with its fair share of middle-aged jazzers with mingled expressions of inspiration, chagrin and vague – or in some case, actual – parental pride.)

Here’s the quintet at work – admittedly with a Stoneman original rather than the sheaf of Ridout tunes which will be played on the night. Also attached is Alexandra’s Young Musician performance from three years ago.



 
Jazz HerStory continues over the next couple of months with performances by Rosie Turton and Ms. Maurice, but more on that nearer to February…

* * * * * * * *

On the 26th, interactively-minded Deptford crew Steam Down have invited everyone down to the Albany to help them record their first album. It’s going to be a live one, caught in full audio-visual with attendees and responders on an equal footing to the band. “There is no audience, we are all the music, everyone’s participation matters. The collective’s sessions are a co-creative experience between the audience and musicians. A mutual exchange of energy and vibes between the groovers and movers, the band and the crowd.”

Steam Down, 26th January 2019All of this is in keeping with Steam Down’s African-inspired collective ethos. One-and-a-half years old now, the project was founded by saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Ahnanse and they’ve already reached out beyond their south London base to light up gigs in Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Oslo. They’re a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz.

That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity. Occasionally the words “church” and “spiritual warfare” are used.

Steam Down’s shifting but family-loyal cloud of membership has included tuba boss Theon Cross, Maisha/Nérija saxophonist Nubya Garcia and keyboard player Dominic Canning (the latter also contributing at ‘Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant-Garde‘ on the 7th). In the rhythmatist corner are Sons Of Kemet/Nok Cultural Ensemble’s young drum-sage Edward Wakili “Nache” Hick and beatmaker Tilé “D’Vo” Gichigi-Lipere. There’s also a bevy of integral singer-poet-rappers in the shape of CarLi Adams, Norwegian-Philipino And Is Phi, Brother Portrait, sometime DJ/illustrator/maker Alex Rita, and the Afro-liminally-minded polymath Nadeem Din-Gabisi (DJ, artist, poet and broadcaster). Multiple talents are at play, with many members teaching and plenty of them producing. They’re a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose, and there are sub-groups, independent familial endeavours and more (for instance, And Is Phi and D’vo work together as Sawa-Manga in a lineup including Saskia Horton from Nihilism).

This particular gig features a Steam Down line-up of Ahnanse, Alex, Dominic, Portrait, Theon, Nadeem, Nache and Sawa Manga plus Nihilism drummer Benjamin Appiah, singer Naima Adams and crunktronic Leeds beatmaker Wonky Logic. Also in the frame are a ton of integrated name guests from up and down the UK jazz scene – no details yet on who they’ll be, but rest assured they’ll be committed to their seat at the table..


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Jazz re:freshed & Jazz Cafe present:
The Sounds of 2019 featuring Chelsea Carmichael + Nihilism + Vertaal
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Wednesday 9th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jazz Herstory presents:
Alexandra Ridout
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Thursday 17th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here


Steam Down: ‘The Live Album’
The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, London, SE8 4AG, England
Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

January 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Marianne Schuppe’s ‘slow songs, nosongs’ (9th January)

5 Jan

I’ve got to admit, I like a complicated song. Blame all of that prog I grew up listening to; blame my interest in Sondheim and Flanders & Swann; or my time in choirs singing extended classical pieces… but whether it’s a case of stretching the lyrical format with streams of words or internal rhymes or of massing the music with variations, countermelodies or sundry intrusions, I like songs which develop quickly and boldly into something more extensive than a couple of riffs, a chorus and a bit of moon-in-june.

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Marianne Schuppe, 2018

Encountering the kind of song which works at the other extreme, though, can be a real head-turner… and if it’s done right, it takes my breath away. The Swiss singer-composer Marianne Schuppe has been making a name for herself with this kind of song, this kind of singing, for about two decades now. It’s not the only thing she does (she’s a member of the Wandelweiser group of avant-garde composers, contributing instrumental and noise work, and she improvises with a variety of other musicians including Alfred Zimmerlin), but this particular aspect of her work stands out in its uncluttered boldness, its Zenlike simplicity and focus on only the necessary elements.

If you’re approaching this from a pop or avant-pop context, you could draw some comparisons with the more hovering, trepidatious interludes in modern-day Scott Walker, with Nico’s work on ‘The Marble Index’, or with the song whispers of Anja Garbarek’s ‘Smiling & Waving’. Aficionados of classical music could probably pick closer analogies – I could cite some aspects of Eleanor Armer‘s songcraft, for example – and a significant part of Marianne’s reputation comes from her dips into the indeterminate end of contemporary classical, making interpretations of the elusive, protracted song-murmurs of Morton Feldman and Giacinto Scelsi (with their minimal pitching, silences and opportunity to make every pared phrase count).

Yet for the most part Marianne’s own songs seem to bud out of the air spontaneously, any motivations or influences hidden within the moment. She’s stated that her prime interest as a composer-performer is “the voice’s ability to move between pure sound and words”; and while for many experimental vocalisers this is an excuse for splurging, showy explosions of babbling glossolalia, for her it’s an opportunity to slow liminal skating, shading almost imperceptibly between a lone, literally meaningful word and a lacuna of non-literal meaningful noise-tone, all within a low, minimal enclosure of soprano range like a deliquescing icicle. Marianne accompanies herself by placing an acoustic lute flat on a table top (a la Keith Rowe) and extracting notes from it via “uber-bows” – homemade bastard cousins of EBows, those hand-held electro-magnetic note inducers which add those sustained whooping tones to certain spacier rock songs (from Fade Away And Radiate, The Unforgettable Fire and Don’t Fear The Reaper to… oh, yes, R.E.M.’s Ebow The Letter) or the bookending humming halos to John Cage’s harp work ‘Postcard From Heaven’.

The sparse tonal wellings which result sound nothing like string plucks, and nothing like the accompaniments to a John Dowland lute lay. They’re amorphous bodies of tone, forced up like the first emergence of spring-waters, or the work of sine-tone generators. It’s a peculiar, unexpected use of an instrument with such an extensive body of associated work and history: like a kind of musical exorcism or automatic writing exercise, dipping below the surface of how the instrument functions in order to access a different expectation-disrupting voice. As for the songwords, they’re strange passes at impressions and impulses which might, if looked at too closely, disappear under the weight of logic. As text, they’re almost white-on-white – fragments of stories and encounters involving sunhats and deer, or studies of fingers – minimal anchors to latch onto slivers of ideas which Marianne can follow uninterrupted and undistracted, and let go whenever she sees fit.

 
Marianne’s slot next week at Café Oto showcases – or, more accurately, liberates – songs of these kind from two of her recent albums: 2015’s ‘slow songs’ and its 2018 cousin ‘nosongs’. In terms of vision and artistic platforming it ought to be very much an Oto show, although perhaps the venue’s friendly, expansive, post-industrial intellectual feel isn’t the perfect match. Ideally, these songs belong in the smallest, quietest space possible. A welcoming cellar somewhere, accessed by a winding symbolic stair; and with a silent, attentive, deep-listening audience hand-cupping songs and singer in a cell of absolute attention.

Marianne Schuppe: ‘slow songs, nosongs’
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 9 January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – memories of black resistance and striving in Elaine Mitchener’s ‘Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde’ (7th January) and Rufus Reid’s ‘Quiet Pride’ (29th January)

3 Jan

This month, there are two very different opportunities to immerse yourself in historical music stemming from black resistance and the American civil rights struggle; the conflation of brutual oppression, storms, suffering and self-assertion which inform today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement.

One of these events is an edgy art-scream of vintage fighting classics, happening inside a rough-walled underground music stronghold. The other features music that’s barely seven years old, takes place in a lofty varnished orchestral concert hall at the heart of the British classical music world, comes varnished by a couple of Grammy nominations and represents the other end of the struggle: more well-spoken, staunchly dignified, talking back at the oppressor in something closer to his own language on his own terrain.

Would each of these efforts give the other house room? I’d like to think that they would.

* * * * * * * *

'Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde', 7th January 2019

Tireless vocal/physical-movement improviser and conceptual explorer Elaine Mitchener returns to Café Oto with a revival of her ‘Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde’ project (originally compiled and performed for the London Festival of Contemporary Music at the end of 2017). Re-examining 1960s and 1970s works composed by Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman and Jeanne Lee, it studies and recreates “the overflow of experiment that occurred within improvised music, often springing directly from lived experiences of racial injustice… combin(ing) vocals and text with experimental jazz forms.”

Musical direction for the evening will come from reknowned saxophonist Jason Yarde – an improviser-composer who steps confidently between jazz and conservatoire culture. He’ll be at the head of a band consisting of pianist Dominic Canning, Elaine’s regular bassist Neil Charles, trumpeter and flautist Byron Wallen and the consistently staggering drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders. It’s a little unclear as to whether Elaine’s regular sparring partner Alexander Hawkins will be joining in on keyboards this time, but expat American poet Dante Micheaux is down to join Elaine on spoken/sung word.

Joseph Jarman

Joseph Jarman

It’s safe to say that while this music’s around fifty years old now, the content’s not going to be cosy. Expect some old wounds, some revolutionaries’ pride and some old fire to be raked over and rekindled. As Elaine writes, “these works illuminate an occluded moment in American cultural history, when the avant-garde aesthetics of new jazz doubled as a metaphor for the imminent politics of civil rights.

“Composed in very specific response to the perilous condition of black people in America, the works’ synthesis of experimental sensibilities, radical political sentiment, and gutbucket expression cuts across boundaries of time and space to resonate universally in the here and now. In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, these works speak powerfully of the need for resistance and resilience, sound stark and original, their hypermodernism firmly rooted in vernacular tradition.”

It doesn’t seem that anything of the previous show’s been recorded (or if it has been, it’s not been released), so here’s a little from one of Elaine’s previous projects as an indicator; plus a little Shepp, Lee and Jarman.





 
* * * * * * * *

Reminding us that the politics of dignity and survival (and the business of conveying an urgent message) comes in many different forms and tones, African-American double bassist Rufus Reid is reviving his 2012 jazz orchestra suite ‘Quiet Pride’ in London later in January. A limber, elegant musician and composer with profound roots in classical trumpet and bass, Rufus (like Jason Yarde) also straddles the worlds of jazz and music education with equal enthusiasm, grace and fervour. He has been playing in both small and sizeable jazz groups since the late ‘60s and composing for about the same length of time, moving into the world of large-scale compositions in 2011 with his symphonic orchestral work ‘Mass Transit’.

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

‘Quiet Pride’ was written to honour and illustrate the work of late African–American sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, and Rufus has taken it around the universities and culture halls of the USA whenever possible. This particular performance of the suite will be rendered by the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra under the direction of London jazz composer and educator Scott Stroman (with, I think, Rufus as conductor). While Rufus prefers to play alongside or surrounded by actual Catlett prints and sculptures for honour, reflection and continuity, there aren’t any to hand at the Guildhall and so the performance will be accompanied by projected Catlett images.


 
Set against the Oto show, it could be tempting to decry this as bourgeois slickness, a birch-and-beech art gallery indulgence co-opting jazz into the spaces of white power structures or celebrating some kind of house-Negro ethic. That would be unfair, shallow and revolting. To dispel that kind of wretched political preciousness, consider Elizabeth Catlett’s actual life; the source of her art and the ultimate inspiration for Rufus’ humming, quick-footed, assertive music in which (according to ‘All About Jazz’s Dan Bilawsky) “chamber-esque civility can give way to a feeling of uncertainty which, in turn, can morph into swing. Focus shifts from the textural to the rhythmic, the background to the foreground, and the subtle to the obvious. The music is mutable and multifaceted but that’s not really surprising; sculptures can take on different meaning when viewed from different angles so the music should certainly do the same.”

A pioneering presence as both a black and a female sculptor in America (at a time when few of either were to be found – or, more pertinently, allowed) Elizabeth perpetually fused art and activism, mostly through effort and moral choices. Flat-out rejected as a scholar by the Carnegie Institute of Technology due to her skin colour; struggling against direct, demoralising racist university policies while studying for a Masters in Iowa (and, later on, being stripped of her American citizenship as a result of her Communist associations and her gestures of solidarity with striking Mexican railway workers), hers is a story of personal industry, profound ethical responsibility, and effort against the odds.

Her time in Mexico (where she settled for much of her life, first learning and subsequently teaching) was also the catalyst for the crystallizing of her artistic vision, uniting her early influences of Henry Moore, Diego Rivera and pre-Columbian American sculpture with a commitment to combining aspirational concepts of strength and fierce dignity with representative figure forms. “I learned how you use your art for the service of people, struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful” she’d assert, later. “I have always wanted my art to service my people — to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.”



 

Elizabeth’s figures and prints survive her and bear witness to her particular vision. Emblematic of black dignity, of powerful maternal femininity, of a refusal to be chained down by prejudices and programmes, they cradle their children; staunchly assert their curves; stand straight-backed, defiant and admirable; reveal the hidden or overlooked complexities of the black mind and sense of self; or punch the air as a simple, stark and meaningful mark of resistance. They’re already, in their way, as direct and as intricate as jazz: something which Rufus clearly understood from the start and has strived himself to bring across in music.


 
Dates:

Elaine Mitchener Projects presents:
Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde: Jason Yarde + Elaine Mitchener + Mark Sanders + Neil Charles + Dante Micheaux + Byron Wallen + Alexander Hawkins
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Monday 7th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Guildhall Jazz Orchestra/Rufus Reid/Scott Stroman: ‘Quiet Pride – The Elizabeth Catlett Project’
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Tuesday 29th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

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