Archive | funk RSS feed for this section

July 2021- single & track reviews – 2 Lost Souls’ ‘Qanon’; E Rodes’ ‘Isolation’; Pearl & The Oysters’ ‘Soft Science’

7 Jul

Still rabbiting, joke-ranting and stretching his argumental monologues as if they were chewing gum stuck to his fingers, Ian Moss turns his attention to conspiracy theorising with ‘Qanon’.

Not backing them up, of course. His sense of the absurd is far too amiable, far too easily amused to inhabit those angry warrens. Instead, as 2 Lost Souls turn out a growling, churning, tooting synth-funk groove in the P-Funk tradition, Ian capers across the top like the kid’s-party clown version of Mark E. Smith, Manc-rapping sarcastically about shapeshifter lizards, melting ice-caps, Trump, moonshine and doomsday plots. “…’Ere’s armageddon, that’s a fact. / We deal in truth and won’t retract; / but the day, it gets pushed back, / falls off the edge of the earth, that is flat.” 

He sounds like he’s having a laugh, at least; a cackling veteran who hasn’t let age get the better of his critical faculties, or his mither-detector. It’s sometimes a little disappointing – conspiracists seen merely as a deluded flock, worth little more than a dusting of observational comedy and an eye-roll synced with a tongue-wobble, rather than a phenomenon to be taken apart properly; but if light-hearted fun is all we’re going to get, then so be it.

It’s not as if some of the lines aren’t enjoyable in their custard-pie fashion. Maybe we should be content, for the moment, to see some of these idiots off with a bit of screw-you, laugh-at-you dancing while Ian conducts the singing with a bog-brush. “The living Agent Orange is the golden one… / Is all that I believe a con / but your wisdom I can count upon?… / Are you part of that joyless throng, / or are you going to a fancy-dress party?”

It’s arrived a little later than planned, but here’s E Rodes‘ early-July offering. Over the past year, he’s proved himself to be one of the most reliable generators of psychedelic-tinged guitar pop in Britain. ‘Isolation’ continues to build on that. Built around a ravishing fingerpicked guitar part and a decidedly country-ish rhythm as it sprints down the road, it’s sweetly disrupted by pounces of mad panning and exultant sonic smearing. It’s also got one of his most winning melodies so far; beyond the country, there’s also tinges of classic Glaswegian literary indie (Lloyd Cole, Edwyn Collins, Postcard Records) and of Prefab Sprout. 

Musically, it’s delightful enough that you could just enjoy the play of sounds and ignore the lyrics, which would be a pity. Étienne’s worked out a little personal spiritual conundrum, but he wants to express it in Enlightenment terms: maths, geometry and the self. “Raise a finger, point it to the stars, / and the non-Euclidean plane of the night sky / show two lines meet always, not sometimes. / Show your working out, end it with a clear-eyed summation / so one knows it emerged in isolation. / I’ve found myself, I was right there all along, / just round the corner from a certain nowhere. / It has been years and miles / of near-misses and solitary trials in oscillations.” It’s an agile bit of wordery, smuggling its cerebral play across under the guise of tunefulness.

Call me a smartarse, call me effete, but I like it when that happens. I like it even more when that kind of cleverness merges seamlessly with emotion, with humanity; where there’s no awkward edge. That’s what Étienne manages here, skimming like a brinksman round the curb, choosing not to stay in the conundrum. “Just know it emerges in isolation. / We owe it all to chance and isolation, / orphan idioms and isolation. / And though I may have gone too far with isolation, / I’ve reasoned myself out from isolation. / So take me home.” While still keeping up that light-footed groove, the bridge falls deliberately out of time for a few measures, tossing up some turbulence, ripping some wild guitar fragments and pasting them into a swirl: a bit of welcome, manic joy to counter the reasoning. 

If you feel as if you’re being cheated of a carefree summer (whether its by fires, quarantines, or just holes in your wallet), the latest Pearl & The Oysters single might feel like some kind of compensation, possibly also involving a touch of time travel. Luscious and carefree, ‘Soft Science’ is a loving contemporary cop of any number of 1970s quiet storm sprinklings (think Minnie Riperton, Stuff, even the softer Flora Purim end of Return to Forever) and space age pop.

In essence, it’s three minutes of loving tug-of-war and soft banter, dusted with Rhodes pianos, Omnichord and little psychedelic meteorites. Juliette Pearl’s restless summer-baby coaxes a boyfriend (played with gently agreeable charm by Kuo-Hung Tseng from Taiwanese synth-poppers Sunset Rollercoaster) away from his studies and out to the beach. There’s not much more to it than that. Affectionate worrying from her (in both senses of the word), and polite reluctance from him (“I really should work” / “You’ve studied all night long”… / “Love…” / “I told you I can’t.” / “The sun is hot.” / “I don’t want to know.” / “You shouldn’t stay inside.” / “I’m not nearly done”) until he packs it in. (“Well, I guess I could / close my books for now.”)

The rest is drops of sunshine, all of it welcome.

2 Lost Souls: ‘Qanon’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
7th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Spotify

2 Lost Souls online:
Homepage, Bandcamp, Spotify   

 

E Rodes: ‘Isolation’
Don’t Tempt Me Frodddo (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
6th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify

E Rodes online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Instagram, Spotify

Pearl & The Oysters: ‘Soft Science’
Feeltrip Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
7th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Pearl & The Oysters online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music    

June 2021 – single & track reviews – Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas’ ‘Lost Coast III’; Hot Mustard’s ‘Jerkwater Strut; Ada Moreau’s ‘My Shadow Halts’

7 Jun

Following up on last month’s twirling ‘Bard of a Wilderness’ single, Gabriella Smith and Gabriel Cabezas continue to bring voice, cello and found percussion items to bear on the theme of human responses to the wild spaces, and to the destruction wrought on Gabriella’s California home by last year’s wildfires. While building on the pattering jazz and classical extended-playing techniques which threaded through ‘Bard…’, ‘Lost Coast III’ also sidesteps the former’s barely-restrained murmur and its mingled mourning/accusatory wordings. Skipping across a triple-beat, it’s more of a fiery Latinized waltz heading out on an angry roadtrip – its rage barely constrained, its grief turned into a wild chattering momentum veering all over the tarmac.

This time, Gabriella ignores texts in favour of dance chanting and thermal-tossed multi-tracked vocalese. She plays against herself in what sounds like a wordless, impressionistic vocal ballet of fire-panicked neighbours chattering and arguing, sharing fears and concerns as they try to save themselves what they can. Mingling with this is a sense of boiling injustice, a fury at the fact that this is actually happening. Hands and bow beat on cello case and cans, while Gabriel’s rapid string melodies squeal, strum and chop against the rhythms (and the viola of Bedroom Community labelmate Nadia Sirota adds more midrange sinew).

Round about the halfway point, the piece erupts into a frantically hummed-and-sung chorale of overdubbed Gabriellas, the cello casting disaster drones across the voices. Towards the end, everything disintegrates into a tangled mass of cello frenzy, alarms and firebell rattles before soaring out into a finale which combines everything that’s gone before into a thrillingly twisted-up whole. The more times that you listen to this, the more it seems to reveal; as if it’s not just dealing with the impact of the 2020 fires but mining deeper into Californian history for a catalogue of misfortunes, oppressions, mismanagements and outright fuck-ups, giving voice to all of the indignations that came with them but which were brushed under the forest floor. Rousing stuff, in every sense.

The remaining two singles (this time around) are much more relaxed.

Mixing rare groove with early hip hop/boom bap, the debut Hot Mustard single ‘Jerkwater Strut’ is a bit of idealised, retro-fitted funky-sidewalk strolling. At the group’s core, Jack Powell and Nick Carusos create a Chic-ish dynamic of guitar and bass co-leadership, although the group’s rural South Carolina location (and Jack’s taste for softly melting wah-wah trickles and behind-the-beat pacing) locate it in a much lazier groove. Brooklyn’s Big Brass Beats horn duo (with their Antibalas and TV on the Radio connections) phatten it out, but with the outcome being more New Orleans and Memphis than it is Big Apple (though they do cite a little bit of Wu-Tang Clan as an addition to the mixture). I guess Charleston (a boat ride and a bump away from Hot Mustard’s Johns Island hangout) also gets a look in.

Wordless, thoughtful and quietly happy, ‘Jerkwater Strut’ is more urban than island. Yet, if so, it’s a window onto a different kind of city life in which the tourists are gone, the guests no longer need to be impressed, and an early evening can be spent on the stoop and the street at your own, relaxed pace.

We might be being softened up here, or we might be being let in on an open secret. I can’t really tell yet. That title (like a bit of ancient jazz-age mockery) and Jack’s Gilliam-esque animated video (full of fish, cryptids and marine mythology) are laden with clues which don’t ultimately lead anywhere. Eventually, it’s just sunshine, personal contentment, and the subliminal beat of the far-off city as a comfort, all subsumed into a relaxed neighbourhood vibe.

The third in a monthly progression of singles by Stockholm-based semi-ambient composer Ada Moreau, ‘My Shadow Halts’ leaves behind the gorgeous European fogginess of its predecessors. With that former chilly brume replaced by a more evanescent sonic misting, its descending temple-bell arpeggios, distant piano and even more distant mother-of-pearl synth-sheening lead it more into Asian temple haunts.

These days, there’s more of a risk involved in attempting this kind of thing. Even as ‘My Shadow Halts’ nods to the 1980s traveller’s-ambience of Harold Budd or Roedelius, it also risks summoning up the same kind of atmosphere as many a touristy New Age salute to Bhutan or Kyoto (narrowly skirting Chinoiserie and faux-Gamelan as it does so). Fortunately, despite sounds and intimations, Ada’s actual intentions are less to do with evoking place than in fixing a position of grace.

According to her, ‘My Shadow Halts’ is about “the subjective experience of time. When the light is just right, and everything seems to slow down to that moment, frozen in time. A sudden sense of a more elevated and peaceful reality. Your stress and aggression momentarily forgotten and left behind.”

With that in mind, listening reveals something better. By avoiding direct geographical or cultural tags, Ada allows the crass, picture-postcard aspects which can taint this kind of project – that collecting, spiritually acquisitive side of things – to gently drop away from the music. While still a little second-hand, the Asiatic touches become more like a thoughtful, mood-evoking temple print hung on the opposite wall, rather than a wholesale theft of scenery. As with Hot Mustard, I think Ada’s successfully blended her inspirations into something fresh enough to work. I’m also feeling that she’s narrowly dodged a genre bullet.

Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas: ‘Lost Coast III
Bedroom Community Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 7th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriella Smith online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriel Cabezas online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

   

Hot Mustard: ‘Jerkwater Strut’
Color Red (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Color Red store, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Youtube, Spotify, Amazon Music

Hot Mustard online:
Homepage, Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

 

Ada Moreau: ‘My Shadow Halts’
ART:ERY Music Group, ART:ERY20210307
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, Youtube, Spotify, Tidal , Amazon Music, Qobuz

Ada Moreau online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, Qobuz

March 2021 – single & track reviews – Dope Sagittarius’ ‘Define Love’; Makandi’s ‘Dum Dum’; BassLord’s ‘Elephant Talk’

19 Mar

Dope Sagittarius: 'Define Love'Backed by cloudy saxophone and slow-jam beat, Dope Sagittarius – a.k.a. Luqman Brown and various New York cohorts – are meditating on meaning and commitment. Their previous fistful of punky Afro/electro/funk numbers hasn’t been noted for its love songs; and while ‘Define Love’ might indeed be a love jam, and an unexpected one, it’s also a subtly introverted one, a song of return and re-evaluation, a big change of course. Luqman himself was temporarily felled by a stroke in between recording this and bringing it to the world, and had to spend a year learning how to walk, talk and live again. That might not have anything to do with how the song came about, but it has a heck of lot to do with how we frame it now.

Timing provides a chance to make changes, and plenty about ‘Define Love’ places it as a way of adjusting matters of the heart, of focus. “How to define love? that moment? that flame?” muses Luqman, while making it clear (via plenty of gospel confessional) that defining it in the past was an unmet challenge. “I made many mistakes and done so many wrongs. / I beg you’ll forgive me for my ignorant shortfalls / and now I’m living anew, conscious of what came before. / Girl, I’m coming to you again, trying to stand tall.”) Classic prodigal smoochery aside, this is mostly about righteousness, doing the right thing, being courageous. “It seems I stealed away to safer harbours and safer lands. / Love is treacherous, so dangerous, unfair – / so ride with caution and try to play fair.”


The video revels in sinous jazz chiaruscuro; the song itself simmers delicately but decisively in a deep vat of sophisticated New York black broth, drawing not just on jazz and soul but also on the musculature of the Black Rock Collective and on Afro-American classical (the last via saxophonist Mica Gaugh). It peaks with a pealing, meditative slowhand solo from fusion guitar giant Ronny Drayton, a gift from his last years before lymphoma took him from us in 2020. As with so much black pop, there’s more than just the surface meaning here, and this is coming at us during a time when we’ve all been sorely tested by pandemic and bereavement; by questions about how we conduct our lives, unthinking, unquestioning, maybe unproductive and full of worthless, passive choices. Live and contribute while you can.

Makandi’s ‘Dum Dum’ lives very much for the moment, and its sincerity is of a much more clipped, matter-of-fact kind. Musically, this is deep house with a riffling blue-seas tropicalia tinge; fluttering synth melodies like inquisitive hummingbirds; a relaxed cool-mood/wise-child female vocal.

A flicker of lyric lets us know what’s going on. This is about a no-strings hook-up as natural as an incoming tide; a gentle warning-off; a temporary joining. She comes like a glamorous thief in the night. A hand softly, sensuously scratches your back. You collude without questioning. You gain from it.

Some of the fans tuning in to King Crimson’s 1981 resurrection had their cages thoroughly rattled to hear that the new, leaner version of the former grand English prog giants appeared to have gone urban New York and funky. There always was more than a touch of go-go dancing to ‘Elephant Talk’; its effervescent minimalist cyclings and Adrian Belew’s post-Talking Heads yelp given some more meat and waggle by Tony Levin’s monstrous itchy-rubbery Stick basslines. Forty years later, this BassLord cover (all layered bass guitars bar the drum track and voice) allows a fresh group of people to rediscover ‘Elephant Talk’ without the baggage.

As much YouTube video joker as he is virtuoso, Basslord waggles and glares at us, and lectures us like a neurotic affronted shock jock. Cameos from Ganesh, newscaster and op-ed loudmouths set against swirling squadrons of busily working hands, third eyes, skimpy shorts and a pair of giant tropical hardwood earrings prove that we’re in a different, fruitier and more indulgent world from the clipped post-punk era into which Belew and co. first brought the song; although BassLord’s linking of Belew’s whimsical yap about rhetoric and word babble to the current world of online news fakery, video hucksters and rabid opinionators reminds us of the turbulence and aggression that’s barely even hiding beneath the window-dressing.

Otherwise, it’s pretty true to the original version… and why shouldn’t it be? Those exorbitant multi-stopped bass riffs (simultaneously galumphingly funky and faux-prissy) are ageless and compelling, a grand applecart-kicking romp both then and now. Enjoy.

Dope Sagittarius: ‘Define Love’
Buddhabug Records (no catalogue number)
Download/streaming single
Released: 19th March 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Apple Music, Spotify Amazon Music

Dope Sagittarius online:
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

Makandi: ‘Dum Dum’
Epic Tones Records, ETR276S (no barcode)
download-only single
Released: 19th March 2021

Get/stream it from:
Epic Tones store, Soundcloud, ‎Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Beatport

Makandi online:
Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Beatport

BassLord: ‘Elephant Talk’
self-released (no catalogue number)
video/download single
Released: 19th March 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, Spotify

BassLord online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram

 

July 2020 – singles & track reviews – Colin Edwin’s ‘First Point of Origin’ & ‘Second Point of Origin’; Bloom’s Taxonomy’s ‘Mount Bromo/United Nations Bicycle Parking’

31 Jul

Colin Edwin: 'First Point of Origin'

Colin Edwin: ‘First Point of Origin’

Driven by the realities of covid isolation and a shortage of live and external inspirations, a couple of new solo standalone pieces by Colin Edwin explore various aspects of fretless bass guitar, percussion programming and sound design. He’s calling them “limited elements” tracks: limited initially by time, place and opportunity and later by choices, although in themselves they’re rich-sounding enough to gainsay the name.

If the ear hints are correct, ‘First Point of Origin’ starts in a sort of shunting yard before heading off somewhere Can-nish, though Colin claims Neu! as a more accurate accidental reference point for a piece made via “heavy use of bass guitar fed through a delay pedal, drones courtesy of SuperEgo and Ebow, and driven by minimalistic “You must play monotonous!”-type rhythmic backing augmented by sliced and processed pieces of the underlying drone.” Either way, the drive forward ends up in a kind of enjoyably dour Krautrock disco space, some of Colin’s basslines wah-ed up into clavinet-style perks.


 

Colin Edwin: 'Second Point of Origin'

Colin Edwin: ‘Second Point of Origin’

If ‘Second Point of Origin’ has a key marker, it’s probably the relentless space rock throb of Hawkwind rather than Neu!. However, that’ll be a Hawkwind stripped down to delay-darkened dub bass and a menacing, grinding ambient purr. There’s also touch of the Blue Mondays to the building kick drum (not that trademark jammed-key stutter, more the build itself). As the track goes on, there’s more of a shift from bass sounds to drum sounds; not a replacement as such, but more an altering of priorities, a shift of emphasis.

Colin calls it “an exploration of inner space conceived whilst outer space was completely inaccessible.” There’s certainly something in that. Echoes bounce around a murky tank; the drone is like a searchlight illuminating nothing; the percussion passing though like a continually-altering blind signal. As the percussion and blocky pulses take over, the bass guitar itself is freed up to do lethargic, lazy marine arcs through the piece’s volume, a whale exercising slow-motion loops.


 

Bloom's Taxonomy: 'Mount Bromo/United Nations Bicycle Parking'

Bloom’s Taxonomy: ‘Mount Bromo/United Nations Bicycle Parking’

The abiding impression which Bloom’s Taxonomy‘s ‘Mount Bromo’ leaves is one of a serene, near ecstatic happiness. The forthcoming Bloom’s album is called ‘Foley Age’, suggesting a trip around field recordings and sound-creating objects. There’s certainly one in ‘Mount Bromo’ – an Indonesian gamelan, which provides the track with its playout sound (as an undoctored field recording, complete with conversation, children and engineer indiscretions); and also, via sampling, rings out the riff that cascades through the main section like a spiritual ice-cream truck.

The man behind Bloom’s Taxonomy, W.B Fraser, usually uses the project to explore urban desolation and science fiction pessimism. For this track, though, he seems to have embraced something more outrightly positive, bouncing it across a bed of unhurried breakbeats and a slow-tide swell of string synths.


 
‘United Nations Bicycle Parking’ is a little closer to standard Bloom’s practise. A little chillier and ambient in its electronica sway, its bass and beats virtually subliminal under its sky-buzz, its orchestrated sirens, its swerves of crowd-chatter. It has the pitch of a great city, one not defined by any imperial form but by the life that swirls through it, and by its optimism. At times this tune is up amongst the heights of the skyscrapers; at others, it’s dipping into the street markets. It sounds hopeful, it sounds accepting. It sounds as if Mr Fraser’s broadening his horizons in more ways than one.


 
Colin Edwin: ‘First Point of Origin’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
6th August 2020
Get it from: Bandcamp
Colin Edwin online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Colin Edwin: ‘Second Point of Origin’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
31st July 2020
Get it from: Bandcamp
Colin Edwin online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Bloom’s Taxonomy: ‘Mount Bromo/United Nations Bicycle Parking’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
31st July 2020
Get it from: download via Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Bloom’s Taxonomy online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube Instagram Amazon Music
 

January/February 2020 – showcases in London with Ragga Gröndal in Earls Court (19th January) and Velveteen Orkestra, Ben Eaton, Hattie Erawan and Matt Ryan in Soho (21st January); plus Blair Coron’s ‘On The Nature Of Things’ quiet evening in London and Glasgow (21st January, 7th February) with Zoë Bestel, Anin Rose, Tom Blankenberg, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach

14 Jan

A set of upcoming showcases happening at opposite corners of the country.

 
Ragga Gröndal’s currently a little-known name over here. In Iceland, though, she’s a much bigger deal – hailed as one of the country’s most remarkable singers. Performing in both Icelandic and English, she spans folk, pop and classical elements: less of an upsetter and groundbreaker, perhaps, than most of the Icelandic musicians who make the crossing over to Britain, but as the expounder of a kind of refined pop purity that’s actually a broad umbrella for a rich blend of other musical aspects, she does well. Here’s the blurb:

“The sound of Ragga Gröndal’s music is warm, adventurous and modern, yet accessible for curious music-lovers. (She) has worked with the same musicians for a decade and together they have toured all over Europe and created many beautiful and unforgettable moments. The band consists of musicians who are all independent artists in their own right; Guðmundur Pétursson (guitar), her brother Haukur Gröndal (woodwind player) and Claudio Spieler (percussion)… Each and every concert becomes a unique journey between the musicians, the audience and the performance space.”

For this special one-off show in London on the 19th, Ragga’s just bringing Guðmundur Pétursson: a musician whose work stretches from pop to his own classical guitar concertos, he’s an ideal and flexible foil.



 
* * * * * * * *

There’s a Success Express quadruple bill at Zebranos in Soho on the 21st, part of a new fortnightly showcase scheme. It’s all free to get in, but you pay Soho prices for your drinks and they suggest you book ahead for a table if you want to get in and sit down.

The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Easton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan, 21st January 2020As leader of The Velveteen Orkestra, Dan Shears dresses his dramatic sky-high vocals and rockabilly guitar in a wagon circle of string trio, piano and drums; sometimes evoking the country pop of Del Shannon or Dion, sometimes a Russian tundra shimmer, sometimes Muse-ian histrionics. Seasoned Aussie guitarist-singer-songwriter Ben Eaton is as smooth and gritty and no-nonsense as a well-maintained backroad: he’s a constantly busy professional with weddings, corporate events and similar cover-fests under his belt along with the gigs stuffed with originals, but don’t let that put you off too much. He’s a witty performance livewire who’s more than capable of transcending any workaday made-to-measure gig as well as pulling off blues-funk shows of his own.



 

Two more singer-songwriters are on the bill. Hattie Erawan – until recently known as Hattie Marsh – is Norfolk-born, has mingled Thai and English heritage and a forbidding expression, and also has about five years of playing London acoustica mainstays like the Bedford and St Pancras Old Church. She’s got Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, and Sheila Chandra down as influences: the outcome is bare, clear modern songs with a hard electric edge, sung with a hint of storms and in a tone like a steel statue. Sessioneer/producer Matt Ryan is embarking, or perhaps reembarking, on a solo career. His lone available track, a demo for The Last Time, is a polished bit of white R’n’B: while it’s a tad conservative and stripped-back in its current state, emotionally it’s a good deal more convincing than much of what reaches the charts. Worth keeping an eye on.

 

* * * * * * * *

'On The Nature Of Things' - 21st January and 7th February 2020Although it does have a lower-income ticket option, another upcoming showcase – ‘On The Nature Of Things’ – isn’t free; but, to be fair, it’s less likely to cover its expenses with beer money and upmarket bar food. Its aims are to be “quiet… introspective… an intimate evening of music. Immerse yourself as we relish in the more subdued side of music for one night through folk song, piano music, ambience/electronic and some modern classical. It is a space to listen. Expect fairy lights, darkness, and music to make you sit in awe, cry or sleep.

“‘On The Nature Of Things’, which this event is named after, is the debut album by Glasgow based musician and composer Blair Coron, who shall be hosting this event and is currently touring the UK with it. His intention is to create enchanting atmospheres allows for the audience to listen to the performers and to set course for introspection and meditation.”

Blair’s own work blurs around classical and near-ambient ideas for piano, acoustic guitar and string ensemble. He describes the album as “a delicate exploration of the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world. It is love…mortality…the sublime…a personal mantra…every thing.” So far, on spec, typically New Age-y and easily consumable; but he also mixes in poetry, chamber chorale, mandolins, birdsong and folksongs and (somewhere) a Nintendo handheld games console. If you’re worried that his deliberate gentleness places him on the wrong side of tentative, don’t. The results are edgeless and delicate, deliberately softened and frangible; but they have their own dainty logic and an openness which is rare. Streets away from the guarded blandness of much of the post-classical wash.




 
He’s been doing these shows for about a year now (from Edinburgh to Yorkshire to Inverness and Manchester) and I’ve not heard about them before this; but there are currently two OTNOT shows happening soon, both featuring Blair and ukulele-folkster Zoë Bestel. If you read that last phrase and thought cutesy versions of old pop and indie hits, think again. Zoë’s of that small number of people who turn the uke into a kind of perpendicular harp, using it to underpin a gorgeous art-pop folk soprano and a series of bewitching small-place songs. The kind of song and delivery that kills casual chat and has a roomful of people rapt and focussed entirely on what they’re seeing and hearing.

 
The London show – on the same night as Success Express – also features a couple of German musicians. Pianist, composer and sound designer Tom Blankenberg (who runs the Convoi Studios in Düsseldorf) works in a similar post-classical vein to Blair, although a more austere one. In recent years, he became interested in writing for solo piano: the result was his debut album ‘Atermus’, released last year and containing thirteen tracks in which strangely tender romantic melodies are concealed in minimalist sparseness, as if Bill Evans were communing with Arvo Pärt. In contrast, Anin Rose creates gospel-infused piano pop – not at the brassy end of either, but at the silky reverberant intersection of both. On record, a subtle reverb skitters almost imperceptibly around her songs and harmonies chase the main vocal like kissing clouds: live, I’m guessing that she does it all by presence.

 
The Glasgow show – in early February – features a pair of Scottish folk musicians, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. A fiddler and pianist respectively, they’re rooted in tradition but immersed in present impression, “interested in making music filled with spontaneity, sensitivity and freedom. Inspiration comes from their pasts and surroundings, feeding music that’s rooted in tradition, whilst stretching it’s possibilities through improvisation and imagination.” Their latest release, last summer’s ‘Air Iomall’, was inspired by a trip around the currently uninhabited Shiant Isles off Scotland’s west coast, and their instrumental responses to the history that hangs around the places.


 
I’m hoping that Blair continues with these shows: they have a potential for some serious beauty. Previous evenings have included appearances by fellow Glaswegian post-chamber composer Richard Luke, piano improviser Carla Sayer and harpist Esther Smith; jazz/soul/gospel harmony duo Canter Semper; The Silver Reserve (a.k.a classical guitarist/looper Matthew Sturgess, who “plays delicate, sparse music (and) songs about out-of-body experiences, monogamy, small-town community Facebook pages and much more”; alt.folker Thomas Matthew Bower as Thomas & The Empty Orchestra; Jamie Rob’s post-everything project Poür Me, ambient song trio Luthia and drift band Neuro Trash; plus a further spray of diverse singer-songwriters in the shape of Simon Herron, Leanne Smith, Kate Dempsey, Mathilde Fongen, Hollie “Haes” Arnold, Leanne Body and Megan Dixon Hood. There’s a whole softened and glorious world opening up here.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Sunday Hive Sessions with Buzz Music Group presents:
Ragga Gröndal
The Troubadour, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9JA, England
Sunday 19th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Success Express Music presents:
The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Eaton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan
Zebrano Bars, 18 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DS, England
Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm
– free event – information here and here

‘On The Nature Of Things’:

  • SET (SET Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England – Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Anin Rose + Zoë Bestel + Tom Blankenberg) – information here, here and here
  • Old Trinity College, 35 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow, G3 6AA, Scotland – Friday 7th February 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Zoë Bestel + Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach ) – information here and here

 

October 2019 (and onwards) – various upcoming jazz gigs – Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dreams, Rosie Turton Quintet, Alina Bzhezhinska in London (3rd October); Electric Dreams in Newcastle (4th October); Forq and SEN3 in London (30th October); SEN3 in London and Brighton (1st & 8th October); Jim Rattigan’s October-to-January Pavillon tour of England (6th October onwards)

29 Sep

At the start of the month, a Women In Jazz summit in London brings Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dreams, the Rosie Turton Quintet and Alina Bzhezhinska to the Jazz Café.

Trumpeter/flugelhorn player Yazz Ahmed has been covered in here before (thanks to Polar Union’s Jazz Herstory series) – a young British-Bahraini already being dubbed “the high priestess of psychedelic Arabic jazz” thanks to her exploration (across two previous albums) of her mixed cultural heritage, and via the use of a custom quarter-tone flugelhorn which enables her to explore the microtonal pitching within Arabic music. Electric Dreams is her electrophonic/acoustic multi-textural tie-up with drummer Rod Youngs, guitarist Samuel Hällkvist and “vocal sculptor” Jason Singh. Emerging from Yazz’ interest in spontaneous composition, “these free-flowing and conversational improvisations make use of electronic effects, sound design, live looping and sampling, in an exploration of contemporary jazz from a different angle.”

Trombonist Rosie Turton is usually to be found as part of all-female Tomorrow’s Warriors-linked octet Nérija alongside other expanding-profile bandmates including Nubya Garcia, Cassie Kinoshi, Zoe Rahman and Shirley Tetteh (the latter of whom, not content with being a jazz guitar name to watch, also operates as one-woman pop project Nardeydey). As I’ve noted before, Rosie’s own leanings are towards Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, with digressions via hip hop and Himalayan ragas; and her quintet (sometimes known as 5ive) “works around a sensually airy intertwining of Indian violin (played by Johanna Burnheart), trombone and electric piano (from Maria Chiara Argirò), in which adventurous tunes effloresce and sway around light-on-their-feet rhythm grooves: a clever, flowing, flowery architecture.” The quintet’s completed by drummer Jake Long and bassist Twm Dylan.


 
The orchestral harp is always a potentially explosive instrument. Particularly so when it’s under the fingers of Alina Bzhezhinska – a soulful beast of a player who steps easily between classical demands and jazz immediacy. She’ll be playing a solo jazz set to open the evening.

 
Yazz and Electric Dreams will also be playing – on their own, this time – up in Newcastle the day after the London gig.

* * * * * * * *

At the end of the month, New York new-school jazz rock quartet Forq also play the Jazz Café. Fluid, grooving and highly accessible improvisers, they’re strongly Snarky Puppy-affiliated. Two of the current Forq-ers, plus the band’s departed co-leader Michael League, also play in the celebrated Brooklyn jam family, while keyboard-playing Forq leader Henry Hey is even something of a Big Apple mentor to League, having first convinced the Snarky Puppy leader to move and set up shop there.

As originally conceived by Hey and League, Forq’s music doesn’t stray too far from the Snarky blueprint (dextrous young super-sidemen put together a fizzy stew of everything they’ve learned from playing jazz, blues, rock, funk, etc), but according to League “we had the idea to start a band that was bi-i-i-i-i-ig on groove and sonic exploration, without getting caught in the snags of the modern jazz world. We want to play shit with personality, character, and not nerdy, brainy stuff. Also, we want people to shake their asses. I think the band has a very hard, NYC-style sound that is industrial but also innovative, but also has some serious Texas flavour…” League moved on a couple of years ago, replaced on bass by Kevin Scott, but the band, currently completed by Snarky guitarist Chris McQueen and drummer JT Thomas, continue the initial work.


 
In support is London trio SEN3: in some respects, a transatlantic Forq mirror image. They’re another grouping of top-notch overtrained pop and rock sidemen who fancied doing something fun, immersive and different. Citing “Pink Floyd’s ethereal epic-ness, Thundercat’s psychedelic soul-funk, a touch of J-Dilla/Madlib beat conducting with a twist of Led Zeppelin riffs” as inspiration and aims. Max O’Donnell (on guitars, synths and assorted tuned percussives), Dan Gulino (on bass guitar and synths) and Saleem Raman (on drums) put together something jazzy, dubby, reverb-y and floaty: very much a product of the London melting pot they’re proud of.


 
SEN3 are also playing two dates of their own earlier in the month – at Kansas Smitty’s in London on 1st October, and at The Mesmerist in Brighton on 8th October.

* * * * * * * *

French horn virtuoso and bandleader Jim Rattigan continues to step up activity with his Pavillon twelvetet, currently featuring Martin Speake, Andy Panayi and Mick Foster on saxophones, Percy Pursglove, Steve Fishwick and Robbie Robson on trumpets, Mark Nightingale and Sarah Williams on trombones, and a rhythm section of Hans Koller (piano), Dave Whitford (double bass) and Martin France (drums).

Pavillon’s new album ‘The Freedom Of Movement’ comes out in mid-October, featuring more of Jim’s original tunes (which have been compared to Charles Mingus, Gil Evans and Duke Ellington). To help it on its way, he’s taking Pavillon out extensively (around southern England and the Midlands) on assorted dates over the next four months, between early October and mid-January.

Previous Pavillon commentary from me – “confident, breezy, swing-happy music seamlessly blending inspirations from different times and places; beery, wise and cosmopolitan but also very English. It’s the sort of sound you’d expect to hear currently curving its way around London’s seawall, if such a thing existed.”



 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Women In Jazz presents:
Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dream + Rosie Turton Quintet + Alina Bzhezhinska
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Thursday 3rd October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jazz North East presents:
Yazz Ahmed’s Electric Dreams
Gosforth Civic Theatre, 125 Regent Farm Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE3 3HD, England
Friday 4th October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

SEN3:

  • Kansas Smitty’s, 63-65 Broadway Market, Dalston, London, E8 4PH, England – Monday 1st October 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • The Mesmerist, 1-3 Prince Albert Street, Brighton, West Sussex, BN1 1HE, England – Monday 8th October 2019, 8.00pm – information here and here

Forq + SEN3
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Wednesday 30th October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon:

 

June 2019 – more Woodburner soul, jazz, folk, hip hop, acoustica sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – The Dylema Collective, Alxndr London, Boadi and Lex Amor (4th June); Dizraeli, Intaya and Charlotte Algar (11th June); PYJÆN, Brothers Testament, Jelly Cleaver and DJ Stephen Vitkovitch (18th June); The Breath, Alice Zawadzki and Lunatraktors (25th June)

1 Jun

Outdoor summer gigs from Woodburner are resuming at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden – as usual, I’m passing on the message…

* * * * * * * *

The 4th June launch event features Dylema Amadi’s Dylema Collective, Alxndr London, Boadi and Lex Amor.

The Dylema Collective is a poetry-music project with sounds combining neo-soul, contemporary jazz and floaty R&B carefully blended with a cross-over of funk, latin and poly-rhythmic grooves and spoken-word poetry. Thematically, Dylema’s feminist poetry addresses head on matters of race, gender and individuality, values reiterated by the hidden message within their lead vocalist’s name’s acronym: “Do You. Let Every Man Adapt”. In short, they love sharing music and poetry that shakes the mind, soul and body.


 

“Effortlessly blending lyrical soul, R&B and electronic music whilst subverting it into something completely his own, the enigmatic and intriguing “Afro-Ronin” Alxndr London has returned with his new EP ‘2023’. Inspired by the sounds of UK Funky, London’s Garage sound, Yoruba spirituals and electronic soul, it’s an experimental project rooted in a genre-less space that balances spiritual conflict and Afrocentric themes, with unconstrained fantasy and spectacular science-fiction.


 

Boadi is a twenty-three-year old soul/R&B singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist originating from South London, with a jazz-influenced sound combined with a dash of hip-hop for authenticity. Growing up his musical influences were legendary artists such as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Marvin Gaye. His mother migrated from Ghana and he spent a year living there when he was a child: when he was younger, he listened to a lot of traditional Ghanaian music which taught him about different rhythms and harmonies. Coming from a family of instrumentalists and singers, Boadi was instantly surrounded by music and developed his musical talents further when attending church, and perhaps this is where his heavy use of gospel-inspired backing vocals and harmonies stemmed from.


 

“London-based lyricist Lex Amor’s monthly dip into musical spices for Reprezent Radio’s addictive Mellowdic Show champions vibes upon vibes, from artists near and far. Consistently a treat for the soul; and the same can be said for the blissed-out hip hop of Lex’s own musical output. Such is the ease and natural cadence of her delivery, you find yourself hanging off her every word. Lex has the effortless ability to translate her full self in her music, with beats and rhymes you won’t be able to keep off repeat.”

 

* * * * * * * *

The 11th June gig features resurgent rapper Dizraeli, Latin psychedelic group Intaya and jazz-soul singer Charlotte Algar.

“Poet, producer, MC and multi-instrumentalist Dizraeli is a genre all of his own, building himself a cult following around Europe and playing to audiences of thousands around the world. Now, after three years studying percussion in Senegal, immersing himself in the world of London grime and bass music, working with refugees in Calais and finally, living through a mental breakdown, he’s back with ‘The Unmaster’, his first self-produced album and an electrifying new sound. ‘The Unmaster’ speaks of madness and collapse, struggle and redemption with searing honesty, surreal humour and a soundtrack unlike anything you’ve heard. A dark, fierce hybrid of hip hop, grime and West African percussion, it is music to make sense of an insane world.


 
Intaya‘s sound is a combination of electronic music, jazz, hip-hop, future soul, Afro-Latin influences and psychedelic elements – electronic ethereal groove music. Formed by singer/producer Pao Pestana and multi-instrumentalist/producer Dom Martin, the band is half Venezuelan (singer and drummer) and half Londoner (guitarist and keyboardist) and the music reflects this combination. Expect Latin roots, electronic groove and space-age sonic lushness.

 
Charlotte Algar is a twenty-three-year-old singer-songwriter from north-east London (and the assistant editor of ‘Songlines’). Charlotte draws on her classical training to create undulating, delicate guitar accompaniments. Paired with soulful vocals and pensive, poetic lyrics, this makes for a unique and compelling style.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The 18th June event mines the fervent south London jazz scene with sets from PYJÆN, Brothers Testament and Jelly Cleaver, and DJ work from Stephen Vitkovitch.

“Described by ‘Jazz Wise Review’ as having “a groove propelled with dynamism and formidable technique”, the PYJÆN quintet seamlessly melds funk, afro-beat and contemporary sounds with nods to hip-hop and disco, whilst acknowledging the traditional era of 1920s jazz and dance music. Having met at Trinity Laban, they aspire to create a culture that others can relate to and feel represented, and to help other young musicians carve out their own space. Self- motivated and driven by a DIY ethos and interdisciplinary approach, PYJÆN believe in building connections, supporting and collaborating with other artists to build communities and create culture in which everyone feels represented. Coming from diverse backgrounds, but united over a shared aim to connect with each other and their audiences, PYJÆN are burgeoning onto the London jazz scene.

 
Brother’s Testament are a groove-based jazz fusion band from London. Consisting of Munashe-Caleb Manyumbu, Mark Mollison, Hugo Piper and Jack Robson, their sound amalgamates powerful grooves and stirring melodies whilst also rooted in the jazz tradition. Brother’s Testament perform from the heart and emphasise and embrace improvisation so that the set manifests organically on stage, differently each time. Last year saw the release of ‘Ascent’, their debut EP, which slowly gained traction and garnered acclaim from the wider jazz community in London.


 
Jelly Cleaver is a guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer based in South London. With an eclectic taste in music, Jelly is heavily involved in both the jazz and DIY scenes in London. She’s also an activist, and a strain of political dissent runs through her music.

 
Byrd Out label head Stephen Vitkovitch (who’s supervised releases from Andrew Weatherall, Evan Parker, Philou Louzolo and more, and is the brains behind the Walthamstow Jazz Festival) will play some tracks between the acts. Check one of his Netil shows here:”


 
* * * * * * * *

The final June show, on the 25th, takes a folkier turn with The Breath, Alice Zawadzki and Lunatraktors.

The Breath is guitarist Stuart McCallum and singer Ríoghnach Connolly. Based in Manchester, their unique take on alt-folk journeys from lush, beguiling storytelling to uplifting punch-the-air anthems. For The Breath, it’s all about the song. Connolly writes the only way she knows how; a stream of poetic consciousness giving rise to honest, personal, heartfelt songs as likely to touch on childhood summers and first love as cultural dislocation, post-colonial injustices and grief. But it’s her deeply soulful, utterly engaging, stop-you-in-your-tracks voice – whether delicate and hushed or powerful and gutsy – coupled with Stuart’s understated brilliance and their exquisitely crafted, personal songs, that give The Breath such emotional depth. The duo share a remarkable connection on stage which make The Breath’s live performances utterly compelling.


 
“Vocalist, violinist, and composer Alice Zawadzki is a distinctive presence on the European creative scene. Her rich musical background and “whimsical hyper-creativity” (‘MOJO’) draw upon her early exposure to New Orleans jazz and gospel after years on the road as a teenager with the legendary Lillian Boutte, an extensive classical training as a violinist, and a continuous exploration of improvisation, poetry, and folk music from diverse traditions, “all propelled in a voice of velvet suppleness and gutsy emotional power” (‘The Arts Desk’). As an interpreter of new and unusual works, she has premiered several large-scale works both in the UK and abroad. Alice brings a stripped back and intimate performance to Woodburner, weaving ancient, modern, and invented folklore into a set of delicious pieces to share.


 
“What’s left when everything is taken away from us – our tools, technology and libraries, even our homes, communities and citizenship? What’s left is what we have learned by heart and we can do with our bodies: our voices, hands and feet. Using techniques from body percussion, tap dance, overtone singing and physical theatre, performance duo Lunatraktors explore a set of British, Irish and Australian ballads to rediscover folk music as a queer space of personal and political transformation. Weaving the tragedy and comedy of these traditional tales with hypnotic acoustic percussion and harmonies, Lunatraktors create a genre-defying, “spellbinding” performance on the borders of music, theatre and live art.

“Combining the percussive and choreographic talents of ex-Stomp member Carli Jefferson with the four-octave range and haunting overtones of trans folk singer Clair Le Couteur, Lunatraktors use the basic ingredients of body and voice to conjure up expansive, unexpected spaces. The duo are equally at home improvising with hands, feet and voices on a station platform, or electrifying a festival stage with custom drum kit, live loops and analogue synth. Lunatraktors strip folk down and rebuild it with influences from clowning, cabaret, art punk, flamenco and trip-hop. The tales they unearth of bravery in the face of forced migration, political unrest, and abuse of authority find particular resonances today.”


 

* * * * * * * *

All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England on Tuesday evenings. Dates below:

  • The Dylema Collective + Alxndr London + Boadi + Lex Amor – Tuesday 4th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • Dizraeli + Intaya + Charlotte Algar – Tuesday 11th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • PYJÆN + Brothers Testament + Jelly Cleaver + Stephen Vitkovitch – Tuesday 18th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • The Breath + Alice Zawadzki + Lunatraktors – Tuesday 25th June 2019, 7.00pm -information here and here

 

April/May 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – a massive Barbican celebration of London jazz from the Total Refreshment Centre (13th April); the Steam Down collective hit Shoreditch (24th April); Warmer Than Blood in London and Cardiff (22nd April, 21st May)

10 Apr

When landlords and developers mark a city building for extra, blander profit – and when they put the squeeze on an existing tenant – they don’t only change and narrow the future, they can also asphyxiate the past. I don’t mean that they somehow delete what’s come before, it’s more that they pinch it off and remove its potential for continuance. The meaning that’s associated with a building and what goes on inside it, its history, becomes obscured to people who’ve not had the chance to discover it yet; or to people who might, in the future, grow up nearby never knowing what used to take place there.

For myself, I feel pretty damn ignorant for not having known about Hackney music space Total Refreshment Centre until, ooh, last year. It seems that, in various forms, it harboured and encouraged music for at least half of my lifetime, curating the historical while encouraging the current and never losing touch of the ethos that music should be inherent to and conversant with its community rather than being a little rarified enclave. The fact that sometime, quietly, last summer, the TRC was forced to shut down (presumably to make way for luxury flats or something which can generate a greater ground rent) makes me angry. Fortunately, the place is resilient enough as an idea – effectively, as a movement – not to rely entirely on bricks and mortar. Scheduled gigs have continued (still run by the existing team but moved to other venues), the programs still run; the concept of the place still has legs.

In some respects the people involved with the TRC are making a virtue of their new and more itinerant existence, using it to spread the word a little wider; extending their ongoing work in what ‘Clash Music’ has called “a means of pursing social engineering, a way to build communities up at a time when the political establishment seem content to break communities apart… Music can be used to re-imagine your surroundings, to transform concrete, glass, and brick into something magical.” Still, it must make life a little tougher, a little more challenging, that much more of a forced hack at a time when it’s already pretty exhausting.

With that in mind, it’s good to see that the TRC gets its own jazz tribute – more accurately, its own self-propelled celebratory showcase – this coming weekend at one of London’s more inviolable culture fortresses, the Barbican. There’s an opportunity here to carp about centralization, or about how certain establishments are protected while others are not (and for distasteful reasons – race and class also have a role to play here), but let’s just sound the obvious note here and move on. Better to bounce back and roll on as the TRC are doing; better to celebrate the recognition and cooperation which such a show also represents.

There are still a few tickets available for what’s promising to be one of the events of the London jazz year. Blurb follows:

“Total Refreshment Centre is part and parcel of east London’s recent music history. The building’s musical journey started as a Caribbean social club and studio and evolved into the musical hub that it is today. On April 13th, the Barbican Centre will host Dreaming The City, celebrating a previously untold story in east London’s music history. To mark nearly thirty years of influential music in the building, TRC has teamed up with Boiler Room – the revered global music broadcasting platform – who will broadcast the gig live.

“The concept of the show is a live mixtape exploring three decades of musical excellence that took place inside an Edwardian warehouse in Hackney. The building began life as a confectionary factory and by the 1990s had become Mellow Mix, a Caribbean social club and rehearsal space. In 2012 it began running as Total Refreshment Centre, an influential studio and venue that has played an integral role in the upsurge of new London jazz, which is now gathering worldwide attention. The narrative of ‘Dreaming The City’ is inspired by the history of this building, made special by the communities that inhabited it over the years. This story, researched by writer Emma Warren, is explored fully in her new book, ‘Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (And All Places Like It)‘.

“Over thirty musicians from the thriving jazz scene (including Cassie Kinoshi and her Seed Ensemble, drummer-producer Kwake Bass, Jazz Warrior Orphy Robinson, Tom Skinner’s Wildflower, folk-crossover artists Rozi Plain, Alabaster DePlume and Joshua Idehen) will team up to perform. Also on the bill – Chelsea Carmichael, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Crispin Spry Robinson, Deschanel Gordon, Donna Thompson, Dylema Amadie, Emma-Jean Thackray, Idris Rahman, James Howard, Joe Bristow, Leon Brichard, Maria Osuchowska, Miguel Gorodi, Mutale Chashi, Noriko Okaku, Oscar Jerome, Patrick Boyle, Rai Wong, Rio Kai, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Shirley Tetteh, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, Yael Camara Onono, Yohan Kebede and more special secret guests to come. This milestone event will unfold over five chapters, blurring the lines of what jazz is and creating new, exclusive and unexpected collaborations.

“There’s a strong link between club culture and live music in today’s vibrant music scene – what some have called ‘jazz-rave’ – and Dreaming The City will offer an energetic journey through time, space and London’s rich culture. The evening will start with a celebration of Caribbean sounds, recognising the community that first established the space as a musical hub. Following this, we trace the contemporary lineage of jazz music between inner-city London, West Africa, the Caribbean and continental Europe. Expect a session showcasing household names premiering new outfits, dropping old classics and brand new tunes. The music will reflect the diversity of sounds that have been danced to at TRC, from reggae and dub, to Krautrock via jazz and West African grooves.”

Some glimpses…

 
…and here’s a short film about the state of London jazz (with plenty of TRC-ing) which was released into the wild a few months ago in January…


 
* * * * * * * *

Back in January I did some praise singing for Steam Down, the south London jazz collective who bring regular African-inspired but London-cooked communal music events to Deptford. For the benefit of those north and east Londoners who for some reason never cross the river, they’re playing Shoreditch’s Village Underground towards the end of the month.

Steam Down, 24th April 2019“Join Steam Down as they take over Village Underground, with members on the decks and some very special guests joining them on stage. Jumping off from the sonic springboard of Afrofuturism, grime and future soul, all fused together with the fearless spontaneity of jazz, Steam Down is an arts collective comprised of Ahnanse, Alex Rita, Brother Portrait, Sawa-Manga, Theon Cross, Nadeem Din-Gabisi, Benjamin Appiah, Dominic Canning and “Nache. The collective congregates mid-weekly for a live performance where healing vibes and compulsive dancing are just as important as the music. Previous sessions have included guest appearances from Kamasi Washington, Sampa The Great, Nubya Garcia, members of Ezra Collective, SEED Ensemble and Sons of Kemet. Every week proves to be a co-creative piece of magic where everyone’s participation matters.”


 
There’s a new Village Underground interview with Steam Down here, but below is part of what I wrote about them three months ago:

“(An) African-inspired collective ethos… a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose… 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.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Also this spring, guitarist/composer Chris Montague revs up his jazz trio Warmer Than Blood (with bass guitarist Ruth Goller and pianist Kit Downes) for a couple of month-apart gigs in London and Cardiff. As I noted when I wrote about them in February, between them they can draw on a massive range of potential influences (including Sephardic music, manouche, punk jazz, Latin folk and Maghrebian sounds, the bouncing imagined world-jazz of the F-IRE Collective, Chris’ six-string avant-mapping in Future Currents) but in practise tend to go somewhere else – somewhere more uprooted and peril-flecked. Compared to the broad communality of Steam Down or the TRC community, they’re coming from a different place – tenser, more abstract and (if we’re being honest) whiter – but it’s still a collective communal effort, just shrunk down to a smaller chamber and a slender triangular format.

Warmer Than Blood, 22nd April/21st May 2019

As I wrote last time, “all three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time…” Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.”

Here’s a rare recent live recording and an album taster for their imminent debut…

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Boiler Room and Total Refreshment Centre present:
BR x Total Refreshment Centre: ‘Dreaming The City’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Warmer Than Blood:

Steam Down
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Wednesday 24th April 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

April 2019 – upcoming English experimental/pop gigs – Joe Snape on tour in Birmingham, Brighton, London, Bristol and Newcastle with Laurie & Suze, plus guest spots from Maya Verlaak, Blood Stereo, O Yama O, Orxid, Competition and Gwilly Edmondez (11th, 13th, 17th, 18th and 19th April)

9 Apr

Usually busy in New York or Berlin, multimedia musician and performer Joe Snape drops back into England this week and next week for a five-date tour of his ‘Joyrobix’ project – “a suite of nimble, polychrome post-pop songs” which “(pay) weird homage to a musical America that doesn’t quite exist. Part soft-rock guitars, part gospel grooves, part Broadway aria, this is music that’s resolutely strange and oddly familiar at once.”

 
Amen to that. I might not hear much Hall & Oates or Mahalia Jackson in what he does, but ‘Joyrobix’ is an enchanting experience – pitch-bent fragmentary experimental pop arranged in a jaunty shatter. Joe sings wordlessly in a gentle, sensual welter of jazzy, Autotuned melisma amidst a cavalcade of perky noises and thumbed guitar, echoes of doo-wop and looming noise clouds, kinked brass and woodwind and broken-beat invention. Stemming from “a danceable refix of pieces for chamber ensemble”, its final form is apparently inspired by how his move to America went wrong: a crisped-up experience of “dislocation and burnout… dejection and displacement” which resulted in a sheaf of pieces which are as uplifting as their inspirations were sad.

Consequently, ‘Joyrobix’ is part musical diary, part therapeutic bounceback and part meander: too elusive to pin down easily, but a kaleidoscopic tapestry of complicated feelings expressed through pop tunes which wink and beckon at you around extra-dimensional twists. You’ll find yourself humming along even as you get lost. Live, the music’s being performed by a trio of Joe plus Jethro Cooke (electric guitar, electronics) and Louise Snape (trumpet and vocals), and Joe has collaborated with witty Swiss video absurdist Leonie Brandner to provide a set of ten short films as backdrops.


 
On all five dates Joe is headlining an evening of mingled multi-media music and performance art. At each gig, he’s joined by Laurie Tompkins and Suze Whaites – a.k.a. simply Laurie & Suze, two of the three co-directors of Newcastle’s hybrid electronic/improvised music label Slip (which is both promoting the tour and releasing much of the music involved in it). As a performing duo, they’re presenting their ‘Coop’ project, a first substantial step into collaboration (though I’m not sure whether that should be ‘Coop’ as in “co-operative” or as in “chicken”). Laurie deals with the music, Suze the visuals, with ‘Coop’ offing “a meshing of Tompkins’ sonic negotiations of pop cultural trauma, ritual self-abasement, and gunky funk, with Whaites’ illusive video renderings of the alien, microscopic, and fleshy.”.

The third act on the bill varies from city to city. In Birmingham, it’s Belgian experimental composer and former Acid Police Noise Ensemble member Maya Verlaak. I’ve heard nothing about what (or how) she’s going to perform, but previous live outings have had her picking and choosing from an arsenal of voice, melodica, keyboards, recorder, light sources, self-built electronics, cow horns, nail violin and bicycle. This – plus her preference for creating contextual compositions around factors of “place, musician, instrument, etiquette, conventions, history” – suggest that she’ll have scoped out the venue (Digbeth’s Vivid Projects space) and created something enigmatically appropriate.

In Brighton, battle is joined by local dark-space “electro-acoustic muck” noiseniks Blood Stereo, who base their disturbing atmospherics around “feral hissing and rumbling tape loops” including field recordings and home conjurings, plus electronics and objects. The object is to voice – or suggest – deep disturbances and anxieties seeping to the surface of the psyche and from there out into the broader world. Should rattle and chip a few teacups over in Hove.



 
In London it’s performance duo O Yama O, within which a “micro-orchestra” of small domestic objects, toys and mechanisms manipulated by Rie Nakajima ally with the body and voice performance of Keiko Yamamoto. They probe and map a (very) Japanese landscape of everyday life and noises, underlaid and informed by myth, tradition and national folk music, attempting a philosophical marriage of “the non-spectacular and the sublime”; a soundtrack for friendly or indifferent spirits floating across the tatami in a danchi apartment.

On album, O Yama O tend to incorporate more instrumentation and melody in a kind of skittering avant-garde Noh-dub. Live, it’s a strangely matter-of-fact immersive affair, domestic, dramatic and keyed to the performance space, with Keiki alternately tiptoeing, romping and stamping around using a full range of vocalisations (“chanting, incanting, thundering, whispering”).

 
In Bristol, it’s Orxid, a spinoff of visually-triggered, immediate-response Glaswegian rhythmic randomists Still House Plants, who finesse garage rock and Fine Art influences into something which sounds like neither (and who were once cheeky enough to release a live album consisting solely of them being introduced onstage before a cut to the aftershow chatter: check here for a long breakdown of their complex ethos).

Orxid is a solo project for SHP singer Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach, who adds the tattered fragments of song expression to their clangs, hisses and staggers. What she does on her own is less clear, but you could glean some clues from her general art-mission statement of “being concerned with value in the immaterial and everyday… the translation of experience” and by her summary of the project as “Orxid is, Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach is, triumphant when barking, flirting with misdirection, with weak knees, malfunctioning. All brushed up when just-heard through bedroom doors.”

Update, 11th April – I’ve just noticed that there’s a fifth date, in Newcastle, so am adding it in a hurry while I’m supposed to be doing something else… and it looks as if I missed two earlier Bradford and Manchester dates as well… Nuts.. oh well, here’s what’s left. Ripping the Newcastle support acts’ blurbs here…

Competition (a.k.a. Craig Pollard) makes (mild) pop music and performs live with a sampler and voice. The songs think about smallness and vulnerability, and build hooks from within their own limited means. Most recent tape ‘You Turned Into A Painting’ was released by Slip in November 2018.”

 
Gwilly Edmondez is a person-project forced into a pop packaging that inevitably gets mangled up by person-to-person cataclysmics. Because Gwilly is influenced by anybody you can possible think of (Billy Joel, Coil, Lucinda Williams, Laurie Anderson, AIDS Wolf…) there’s no point trying to categorise… Abstract Exhibitionism? Troubled Intimacy? Wild Pop… Gwilly Edmondez represents a coagulation of multiple character strands derived out of one private/public individual whose corporeal manifestation carries it through live shows, albums, videos and numerous collaborations in improvised music. Born in Lake Fear, Pen-Y-Bont, Gwilly has returned. Other incarnations include Radioactive Sparrow co-founder Bill Bargefoot, JRMY PAXMN out of YEAH YOU and the writer/composer/artist Gustav Thomas which is probably his real name. In all guises he is a purveyor of reaLFake Wild Pop, tearing open the terrified quotidian regimes of colonized consciousness (through, and in, his own brain) in order to plunge intensities between the cracks exposed. This doesn’t actually, necessarily, work – per se – but it’s the in engagement of attempts where the drama takes place.”

 
Finally, Mariam Rezaei is a turntablist and vocalist with a yen for making electronic theatre soundtracks: she’s part of Gateshead DJ-haunt turned mixed-arts incubator TOPH (or The Old Police House). Below is a taste of her esoteric clubtronica, although on this occasion I think she’s just playing other people’s music…


 
And while I’m making additions, here’s a Snape video from ‘Joyrobix’…


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Joe Snape’s Joyrobix + Laurie & Suze’s ‘Coop’:

  • Vivid Projects, 16 Minerva Works, Eastside, Birmingham, B5 5RS, England – Thursday 11th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Maya Verlaak) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill, 70-71 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton, BN1 4JL, England – Saturday 13th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Blood Stereo) – information here and here
  • Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, Fish Island, Bow, London, E3 2PA, England – Wednesday 17th April 2019, 7.30pm (with O Yama O) – information here, here and here
  • Café Kino, 108 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU – Thursday 18th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Orxid) – information here and here
  • Star & Shadow Cinema, Warwick Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1BB, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Competition + Gwilly Edmondez + DJ Mariam Rezaei) – information here, 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.



 
* * * * * * * *
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:


 
* * * * * * * *

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 English rock gigs – Francis Dunnery’s ‘Big Lad In The Windmill’ mini-tour (18th to 20th January)

12 Jan

Next week, gloriously wayward singer-songwriter Francis Dunnery revisits his past with It Bites – in solo format – as he takes music from their 1986 debut album ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ out on an English micro-tour.

Francis Dunnery, 11th and 18th to 20th January 2019

When pompous would-be music tastemakers like myself roll out their list of great pop and rock albums of the 1980s, ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ generally isn’t on there. That’s unsurprising. As a decade, the ‘80s sprawled into outspoken ideological polarisation, during which it sometimes seemed as if everyone in popular music was a purist poseur of some kind or other; whether they were swanning about on yachts sporting terrifying ozone-threatening hairstyles, acting out grimly righteous/reductionist salt-of-the-earth positionings, haute-couture megaphoning about The Future or (rather more constructively) hurtling around America in vans trying to build an alternative economy. Perhaps that’s over-simplifying, but it’s certainly true that it was an age of vivid stances, and that some terrible and reductive snobberies developed as a side-effect of said stances and manifestos. In such a time and in such a milieu, ‘The Big Lad’ was the kind of album that wasn’t supposed to happen… and many people seemed (and still seem) to think it shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.

It Bites: 'The Big Lad In The Windmill'

It Bites: ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’

Admittedly on spec it was also a little preposterous. A shotgun marriage of glutinous, glittery ‘80s pop with hard rock snorts and cartwheeling prog stunts, it was recorded by four self-confessed working-class hicks from England’s gorgeous, isolated Lake District, who also happened to be unfashionably virtuosic as musicians. Possessing a keen ear for pastiche and adaptation, they’d had a prehistory back home as a badly-behaved covers band. Plying the tough Cumbrian circuit of nightclubs and working men’s clubs, they’d mastered reams of contemporary pop hits (Level 42, Police, Haircut 100 and so on) while simultanously nursing a profound love for the 70’s complexity and flourishes of Genesis and Yes, UK and Weather Report. All of which showed by the time they came to write their own stuff. By the mid-‘80s (abetted by resident keyboard popinjay and arrangements genius John Beck), Dunnery was putting together original songs which played on both sets of preoccupations.

Some smartarse once tagged It Bites as “bubblegum prog”, which isn’t too bad a label. It encapsulates the band’s mastery of the kind of throwaway immediate pop tunes which prove to have a tenacious, sticky life of their own: it also takes into account their taste for florid illustrative musical passages. In addition, their playing had a layer of fantasy-funk and soul itch (due to admixtures of Steve Arrington and Prince, plus Dick Nolan’s stalking, slippery bass grooves), and some hard rock crunch (staunch, sturdy drummer Bob Dalton was a Led Zeppelin guy at heart). Collectively, It Bites aspired to the well-drilled, muscular “follow-this” ethic of a black showband; which seemed to be judged as less of a virtue when coming from a white British rock band of the times, where restrictive amateurism or beefy stiffness was the order of the day.

Bear in mind that this was years before white-boy eclecticism inveigled its way back into mainstream rock and pop. Ween were still only releasing home-made cassettes; Jellyfish wouldn’t show up for another three years, and while Frank Zappa stubbornly flew the flag for stylistic fluidity, he was an elder statesman turned cult artiste in a niche of his own. Even Queen had calmed down a bit. Had they slipped into a more parodic approach lyrical approach, It Bites might have suddenly woken up to find that their nearest British equivalents were The Barron Knights. Fortunately, they took themselves a little more seriously: there was silliness in their playful approach, but it was matched by an earnest bravado which won them affection from audiences even as it drew critical disdain.


 
Once signed by Virgin and given a shot at making a record, It Bites treated it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to throw everything they had into the effort and stir it up like crazy. Throughout ‘The Big Lad’ they’re coltish and restless, latching onto impeccable mainstream pop-rock stylings only to suddenly career off into wildly played, cunningly constructed breaks. Turn Me Loose and I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand mercilessly run straightforward pop songs through a mill of transformational time and mood changes. Almost anything goes – heavy metal, jazz-fusion arrhythmia, Al di Meola flamenco, even the drum machine and Bontempi drone of a narcotized lounge act – although the band backtrack and flawlessly reconstruct the songs at the end.

Producer Alan Shacklock entered into the spirit of things with a vengeance. He kept a “riot track” free in the mix to capture the band’s raucous in-studio jabbering; he delivered a gleefully glittering plastic sound which revelled in every Japanese-digital synth chime, every start/stop noise-gate interruption and every over-exaggerated bit of sound-panning. He also accidentally sped up the master tape, resulting in the band sounding (according to Francis) “like Pinky and Perky.” The result was – and is – a record which feels like a sudden soda pop binge after months away from the stuff.

‘The Big Lad’ is generally remembered for a surprise Top Ten single. Cantering toytown hit Calling All The Heroes married the band’s musical deftness to old Republic serials, rocking cradles and boyhood cowboy games, fuelled by an earworm chorus and some sneaky false endings. (Presumably the Wild West schtick struck a chord with Shacklock – his own early ‘70s prog band Babe Ruth had recorded The Mexican, an Alamo-themed story with which Calling All The Heroes shares a number of passing musical similarities). For many people, this song is where It Bites have been permanently stuck: pegged to a couple of fanfaring pop hooks remembered by almost every Briton who lived through mid-‘80s chart pop. In the video a bleached’n’styled, cutesied-up Dunnery and co. bob nervously, like a loopier Go West, presaging the marketing problems which would plague them for the rest of their existence. Live, they’d pull out the full prog trickbag.


 
It’s a shame that the album’s glossy, hyperactive surfaces and loop-the-loop stunting make it easy to ignore the substance beneath. Fair enough: something like Wanna Shout mostly exists in order to run demented macho-guitar heroics over stuttering go-go synths, and All In Red does little more than throb like a fourteen-year-old boy’s heat dream of Zeppelin colliding with Level 42. This isn’t the kind of record you put on to remember angry alienation in pre-punk-era Manchester, or to recapture political struggles, or even to remember belonging to anything much (unless it was being part of the crowd which understood the band’s straightforward musical verve and the down-to-earth Cumbrian personalities which bedrocked it).

Yet elsewhere on ‘The Big Lad’, genuine stories about real people emerge from beneath Beck’s thunderous keyboard chimes and Dunnery’s barrel-roll guitar playing. The band’s follow-up single Whole New World is mostly forgotten. It’s actually a fine, agonised pop song, whose horn-assisted contortions marry dashes of dumped-bloke Motown and Memphis under the Christmas-tree synths. On first impressions, Cold Tired And Hungry might be a screamingly uncool rock-snortin’ melodrama, but on a second look its histrionics run parallel to the naked, hurt-boy stances Prince was trying on at the time (although it sounds more like Steve Marriott locked into a sobbing death spiral with Brian May).

Best, though, are a couple of tracks which embrace genuine personal memories rather than generic pop tropes. Under the bravado, Screaming On The Beaches is a flipside take on Calling All The Heroes’ daydream battles. Based on Dunnery’s teasing-out of traumatic wartime memories from his dad (who’d served as a soldier in the Burma Campaign), it’s tech-laden and roaring, screwing its disorientating picture of ordinary men coming apart under fire into a party mixture of twisted pop-metal riffing, jazz-funk cat pounces and Beck’s wailing keytar. Over the next few years, the band would polish it up into a stompingly danceable live highlight, demonstrating that they had almost as much in common with Trouble Funk as they did with Genesis. Conversely, You’ll Never Go To Heaven is one of the 1980s’ great lost lighters-aloft anthems. A heart-wringing Catholic-guilt ballad (capped with Philip Glass pulse-synths and angel choirs), it features a desperate, spiralling outro solo from Dunnery that sounds like Allan Holdsworth giving vent to a primal scream.



 
* * * * * * * *

Francis Dunnery’s come a long way from the nervous, bullish twenty-three-year-old he was when he recorded ‘The Big Lad’. Four years and two albums after its release, his restless nature (plus a much-confessed dip into a serious drink problem) split him away from his more stolid bandmates. While It Bites have gone on to have a belated second life without him, he’s spent the intervening time following a solo career demonstrating that he’s a rough diamond who decided that he prefers to stay a little rough.

At the time, the necessary polish and consistency required to play the pop game wasn’t right for him. It still isn’t, but he’s managed to turn it to his advantage. Now entirely independent, he follows his own particular muse, popping out records as and when it suits him, and building a relationship with his listeners which has the same mixture of generosity, conversationality and occasional cantankerousness as a genuine friendship. At fifty-six, Francis resembles that old lag with delightful hidden depths whom you might meet during stints on a building site: the one who retains his working-class saltiness, cracks wicked jokes and is still handy in a fist-fight, but likes to sit you down during lunchbreaks and talk about Jung, history and esoterica.

His records have run a similar lane-swapping gamut – the kind of tasteful fingerpicked adult pop which gives the genre a good name; acoustic meditations on life and wounds and healing; fanbase-bewildering dips into laptop R&B; reconstructive tributes to the gothic Cumbrian jazz-metal written by his late brother Barry, and so on. Psychology, astronomy, metaphysics, bite-backs and broad jokes litter his songs. Freed from the standard album-tour-album treadmill, a typical Dunnery gig is now a mixture of friendly encounter group and surreal pub talent night. As well as playing songs, he’ll be telling his audience stories, teasing them about prog cliches or dwarf porn, gleefully upending a performance with comedy and spontaneous competitions, or spicing things up with unexpected guest appearances from his capacious address book (could be a musical friend like Robert Plant, Theo Travis or Steve Hackett; could be an actual fucking pantomime horse…)

While they’ve kept much of the musicality, recent Francis reworkings of the ‘Big Lad’ songs (on his ‘Vampires‘ album) are a touch more sedate and patient – breezier, and partially shorn of their pyrotechnic plastic-synth fizz. In truth, while he’s still more than capable of wringing out the dazzling guitar flash and the singing, the years do make something of a difference: mostly because when set against later Dunnery work (with its accounts of mid-life bereavement, parenthood and the battles fought between a person’s ever-resistant roots and the idea of who they’re trying to be) ‘The Big Lad’ is a bit too callow and fizzy. It’ll always be a young man’s album – drunk on possibilities and grappling with the spirit of discovery while working out some of that immediate post-childhood angst; over-aware of its own muscles and energy; distractedly trying to jigsaw together a sense of history, background and its own place within it via song and allusion. Perhaps that’s part of the thinking behind retaining Francis’ onetime protégé Luke Machin (a former teen guitar prodigy-turned-twentysomething jazz/prog/metal ace) in a crack, hand-picked live band also including Tiger Moth Tales’ Peter Jones and Freak Kitchen drummer Björn Fryklund (plus fretless bassist Paul Brown, holding down the ever-underrated Dick Nolan role).

Regardless of this, even if ‘The Big Lad In The Windmill’ is two parts kiddie sherbet to one part brilliance – and even if you want to clobber it over the head as an example of undeniable ’80s excess – it still stands up. Looking back, it’s still recognisably Dunnery music, a handful of rough adolescent prisms through which his younger, fearful self blinks from underneath the dazzle. Catholic-rooted, disaster-prone but unstoppable; heartfelt and playful; naïve and wise; soft and noisy, driven and impulsive. The man Francis would become – the man he is now – is still waiting in those songs; waiting to be knocked into shape via further adventures, further bumps and arguments along the way. I bet that there are plenty of ’80s pop refugees who wish they’d written juvenilia like this: songs with heart, flash and legs.

Dates:

  • The Slade Rooms, 32-40 Broad Street, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, WV1 1HP, England, Friday 18th January 2019, 7. 00pm – information here, here and here
  • Manchester Academy, University Of Manchester Students’ Union, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PR, England, Saturday 19th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Bush Hall, 310 Uxbridge Road, Shepherds Bush, London, W12 7LJ, England, Sunday 20th January 2019, 7.00pm – information here, here and here

 

August 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – a few young women’s shows – Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Frontline (29th August); Romarna Campbell Trio (29th August); B L A N (C) A N V A S (30th August)

23 Aug

Following up the Jazz Herstory post last month, here’s a little more brief word-spreading about young female jazz action in the capital:

Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Frontline developed out of the award-winning Tomorrow’s Warriors Emerging Artist Development Programme based at the Southbank Centre. This youthful all-women ten-piece jazz ensemble embodies the Warrior spirit in more than just serious musical talent. Playing a selection of upbeat jazz standards, funk and contemporary versions of some well-known classics from the likes of Kenny Garrett, Roy Hargrove and Freddie Hubbard, the Female Frontline is led by saxophonist Aleksandra Topczewska under the tutelage of Gary Crosby OBE.

“The rest of the Frontline is Loucin Moskofian (vocals), Kasia Kawalek (vocals/flute), Lettie Leyland (trumpet), Beth Hopkins (alto saxophone), Jelly Cleaver (guitar), Roella Oloro (keyboards), Izzy Burnham (bass guitar and double bass), Caroline Scott (drums) and Alana Curtis (percussion). For this evening they will be joined by special guest vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett, who also went through the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme.”

TWLive presents:
Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Frontline
The Spice Of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, W1D 5NA, England
Wednesday 29th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here



 
* * * * * * * *
With that crucial first year of study at jazz hothouse Berklee College of Music now under her belt, emerging young Birmingham-born drummer, composer and bandleader Romarna Campbell is home for a while, but isn’t resting. Instead, she’s taking out two different ensembles (both led from the drum set, and drawing strongly on the Birmingham jazz talent base) to pursue her own current musical vision of “explosive moments, combined with quiet thoughtfulness inspired by a deep-rooted influence of bebop, hip-hop and neo-soul.”

Of these, her Romarna Campbell Trio also includes Ed Riches on guitar and Kokoroko bassist Mutale Chashi, and provides compositional space for all three. Her larger quintet B L A N (C) A N V A S features two tenor saxophonists (Xhosa Cole and Scottish sometime-looper Harry Weir), pianist David Austin Grey and bass guitarist Wayne Matthews.

Dates:

  • The Romarna Campbell Trio – Ghost Notes, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England, Wednesday 29th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Live at Jazz re:freshed: B L A N (C) A N V A S – Mau Mau Bar, 265 Portobello Road, Notting Hill, London W11 1LR, England, Thursday 30th August 2018, 7.45pm – information here and here

Sorry that I’m short on much in the way of musical examples, since Romarna hasn’t recorded much on or off camera (though, if you like, you can take a listen to the tribal-house-influenced dance music which she records away from her main jazz work); but I do have this footage of a previous version of the Trio taking on a Miles Davis tune, and a few very murky videos of B L A N (C) A N V A S at work.




 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

July/October/November 2018 – upcoming jazz gigs – Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored Ensemble make their live debut in Cheltenham (13th July) and play York, Bristol and London in the autumn (24th & 26th October, 20th November); Algerian-influenced world shapes from the Seddik Zebiri Trio in London (13th July); Tori Handsley’s ‘Afro-Harping with Dorothy Ashby & Alice Coltrane’ in London (28th July)

5 Jul

Quick news on three upcoming jazz gigs… well, three gigs and a tour. An impressionist jazz ensemble takes its first assured steps around the country, an Algerian/Parisian veteran brings his trio to the deep East End, and there’s a jazz tribute gig that’s unusual enough for me to drop my usual reluctance to cover such things.

* * * * * * * *

“Former Loose Tubes flautist and composer Eddie Parker and his Debussy Mirrored Ensemble take cues from the important French composer Claude Debussy in a new show.

“2018 is the centenary of the death of Debussy. Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored Ensemble is both a celebration of and a creative response to the composer. Famously, Debussy never wanted followers or imitators, and yet his music is enormously influential and has gone deep into our sensibilities.

“Eddie Parker has spent his life immersed in music – absorbing, creating , teaching, inspiring, and building trust and respect in a wide range of musical genres as a musician and composer. He also has a life-long passion for Debussy’s music. Building on previous Debussy transformations(2013’s ‘Windgames’ for solo piano and 2015’s ‘Snowsteps’, written for the Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, Eddie has now handpicked a unique new twelve-piece ensemble to turn his creative vision into reality.

“These musicians, from classical, jazz and improvisation disciplines, collaborate to transform a dozen of Debussy’s pieces into something incredibly unique, powerful and contemporary whilst capturing the composer’s revolutionary spirit – leading our ears on a fascinating journey while showing how important this influence is, not only for composers but for improvisers too.

“The high-order ensemble features Rowland Sutherland, Gareth Lockrane and Eddie himself on flutes, Jan Hendrickse on vocals and Turkish ney flute, James Allsopp on clarinet and bass clarinet, Alcyona Mick on piano
Imogen Ridge on harp, percussionist/vibraphonist Simon Limbrick and Loose Tubes drum-and-bass team Steve Watts and Martin France, with vocals by classical tenor James Gilchrist and jazz singer Brigitte Beraha.”


 
When presenting ‘Windgames’ four years ago, Eddie reflected as follows:

“My dad, Frank Parker, concert pianist manqué – whose professional career consisted of performing music for variety theatre, musicals and ice skating shows – used to play Debussy on the piano to me when I was a child… then as a teenager my school music teacher Len Sartin would hold one spellbound not only with his prodigious pianistic abilities (he performed ‘Feux D’Artifice’, the notoriously difficult final Prelude of Book 2, in a school speech night, to the utter bewilderment of assembled parents), but his comprehensive knowledge of the art, poetry and literature that each Prelude was alluding to: Baudelaire, Mallarme, chinoiserie, Arthur Rackham, etc. This in a comprehensive school for boys in Liverpool.

“Debussy’s music for piano, especially from the two books of Preludes, went in deep for me and stayed there. The feeling of a kind of kinetic sculpture in sound, involving a synthesis of harmony and sonority, a precise choreography of pianistic gesture, all bound together by an amniotic envelope created by the subtle use of the pedals – “like a kind of breathing”, as Debussy himself described it – these are the alchemical elements that have been infusing in my mind over the decades… One could foresee a series of Debussy transformations (or ‘Busygames’!): ‘Snowgames’, based on ‘The Snow Is Dancing’ from ‘Children’s Corner’; ‘Raingames’, based on ‘Jardins Sous La Pluie’; ‘Soundgames’, based on ‘Les Sons Et Les Parfumes…’ from ‘Preludes Book 1’; ‘Chordgames’, based on ‘Pour Les Chordes’ from ‘Pour Le Piano’… It may take me a while.”

Sounds as if he’s got there.

The Debussy Mirrored Ensemble project debuts at the Cheltenham Festival next week, with further dates in York, Bristol and London in the autumn. Details below:

* * * * * * * *

This in from Poplar Union in the east of London…

“You’re in for a treat this month! We have the brilliant Seddik Zebiri Trio with us for Live in the Library – Seddik Zebiri on vocals and Algerian mandole, Oli Arlotto on saxophone and Paolo Forcellati on percussion.

“Seddik Zebiri defines himself as a “music activist.” He’s a seasoned and experienced musician – a pioneer and a trailblazer. Since beginning his musical journey in the Parisian scene of the ‘60s, the cultural scenario has deeply changed. But, as he likes to affirm, he is “always the same: for me music is always the same thing, there is no difference between the one which I played during the ‘70s, the ‘80s or the one I’m playing today”.


 
“His sound is closely related to his Algerian roots, fused with modern influences. Seddik continues, “When you listen to my music you can initially define it as traditional, Algerian or Berber, but is has also some classic Middle Eastern elements. Then, when you listen further you can also identify other ingredients coming from rock, reggae, Latin or funk.” The trio will offer a distinctive take on jazz, drawing on Arabic and Afro-blues influences, and creating an absorbing, compulsively danceable sound: a fusion of traditional North African combined with funk, reggae and beyond.”…”

Poplar Union presents:
Live In The Library: Seddik Zebiri Trio
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 13 July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

“The sound of the harp has always held a special place in the world of jazz, and that’s down to the work of two artists alone; Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. Despite both using the same instrument, their music could have hardly been more different. Ashby’s sound ranged from the trad to the plaintive, with standout albums ‘Hip Harp’, ‘Afro Harping’ (celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year) and ‘Django/Misty’ across her oeuvre showcasing the harp’s versatility. By contrast, the harp for Coltrane worked as an extension of her profound spirituality whilst also indulging her avant-garde tendencies (as heard on her magnum opus, ‘Journey In Satchidananda’).



 
“Putting together the bespoke show will be London based harpist Tori Handsley, who has played with everyone from Nigel Kennedy and Orphy Robinson to Shabaka Hutchings and Moses Boyd and who’s been called “an essential music force that needs to be experienced by as many thinking musicians and audiences as possible” by Orphy Robinson, who’s also noted that she is “without doubt steadily becoming one of the most exciting and original musicians on the UK scene.”

Tori Handsley: Afro-Harping with Dorothy Ashby & Alice Coltrane
The Jazz Cafe, 5 Parkway, Camden, NW1 7PG London, United Kingdom
Saturday 28th July 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here


 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

* * * * * * * *

From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.”


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

* * * * * * * *

Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

June 2018 – the first of the year’s Woodburner world-acoustica sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – Faith Mussa and Jally Kebba Susso (5th June); Blue Lab Beats, The Dylema Collective and DemiMa (12th June); K.O.G, Bamako Overground and Eckoes (19th June); Meadowlark, Only Girl and Amy & The Calamities (26th June)

1 Jun

Adding to the long list of London things I’ve previously missed…

For five years, acoustic music promoters Woodburner have been regularly hosting a summertime session in the Dalston Eastern Curve Garden. Each year they strive to “(capture) the essence of a weekend rural festival in the centre of Dalston… The phenomenal surrounds of the garden combine with delicious pizzas from David Latto, and a supreme and ever-evolving roster of acts, to create a magical atmosphere which brings people together in a friendly and welcoming space. It’s a community of music-lovers, summer-lovers and life-lovers, brought together to celebrate the warm months in a carefree and supportive atmosphere, with a compelling live soundtrack.”


 
This happens every Tuesday evening between June and September – here’s details on the June shows. All blurb is from Woodburner and the artists themselves; all inevitable judicious and finicky edits are mine. If you sometimes tire of the art-rock cubbyholes, peculiar modern classical or experimental sounds covered in here, or just find the entire damn blog too white (I feel that way sometimes myself), some of these gigs might appeal to you a little more.

* * * * * * * *

“The 5th June launch show features Malawian superstar Faith Mussa, and London-based kora master Jally Kebba Susso.

Faith Mussa is an Afro-soul singer, songwriter and guitarist, currently Malawi’s first and only “electronic one-man band” combining traditional African vibes with modern sounds. He is an energetic music performer and excellent music writer who has performed at some of the world most respected festivals, earned several awards (including the prestigious Malawi Special Achievers Award in the UK) worked with a variety of charity initiatives and is currently an ambassador for Oxfam and music writer for Girl Effect Malawi. His second album is set to be released early this year, and will contain music recorded from all over the world with some of the best talent he has collaborated with along the way.


 
“Gambian kora master Jally Kebba Susso expands on West African griot musical tradition, whether solo or with his band Manding Sabu. Jally comes from a very long line of Manding griots from the Gambia. He started playing the kora, the emblematic instrument of the griots at the age of seven, learning its delicate flowing intricacies from his father and older brothers. By the age of thirteen, Susso was touring Europe with a number of Gambian stars including Baatou Askan Wi, Maslabii and his sister Sambou Susso’s group. Over recent years Susso has been experimenting with blends of traditional griot music mixing hip hop, jazz, blues and now funk.”


 
* * * * * * * *

“The 12th June concert features London-based production duo Blue Lab Beats, love-jazz sensation The Dylema Collective and spoken word songstress DemiMa.

Blue Lab Beats is the brainchild of NK-OK and Mr D.M, who met at the WAC weekend arts club in Belsize Park and began making music in the now Infamous Blue Lab Studios. Many production rooms that produce a lot of good music historically are tiny – Motown in Detroit was one, Sun Studios was another such studio and Blue Lab boasts a shortage of space that would leave scratch marks on many an elbow. Still the music is hot – and that’s what counts. It’s the musical mishmash of Mr DM’s instrumental wizardry and a whole lotta NK-OK bottom end and programming knowhow (from a production journey which started with grime) that gives Blue Lab Beats the edge and takes it out of straight jazz format, whilst paying full respect to the art form (with influences including Mad Lib, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Knxwledge, J. Dilla, Milt Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson and A Tribe Called Quest).

Blue Lab Beats are now the engine room behind many of the freshest new acts (Age Of Luna, Ruby Francis, Louis VI) and also remixers for Jodie Abacus, Dua Lipa, Rag’n’Bone man to name a few. Their production style is raw but also sophisticated – musical but not introvert. Their recent ‘Blue Skies’ EP intro video caught the attention of ‘Dazed and Confused’ and has been clocking up views ever since. They’re currently in the process of making their own album.


 
“Sweet spoken neo-soul. Dope-ass funk. Multi-sensory killa jazz. The kinda music that makes your brain and booty dance. This is the infectious blend of groove, swag and often disarming fragility that confronts you as The Dylema Collective oozes their way through their young yet hypnotic set. Drawing on a smorgasbord of musical influences (inevitable, considering the diverse backgrounds of its members) you find Russian classicism and Nigerian Afrobeat meeting Latin-American rhythms and old-school soul, all woven into London’s contemporary jazz sound. The inspiring, empowering poetry that flows from Dylema’s lips and effortlessly between these poly-rhythms and sounds makes for an overall magnetic experience: one full of trembling crescendos, tingling intimacy and simpering sexuality.”


 

(Um… “simpering”? Anyway…)

“Demi “DemiMa” Mseleku is an Anglo-Zulu word and sound artist from south-west London – a singer, songwriter and poet – who creates soulful multi-sensorial performances to provoke conscious dialogue. Inspired by themes of identity, spirituality, social dynamics, divine femininity and Afrofuturism, DemiMa’s passion for improvisation enables her to freely channel sounds as a canvas for her poetry.She is the co-creator of A L C H E M Y (a monthly event honouring the art of word, sound, soul).


 
* * * * * * * *

“The 19th June concert features spoken word dynamo K.O.G, Afro-folk from Bamako Overground, and electronic songstress Eckoes.

“Born in Ghana, resident in Sheffield, K.O.G. (Kweku of Ghana) is a prolific writer and virtuosic performer, comfortable across a wide range of styles from house and Afrobeats to Afro-funk, dancehall and jungle, electrifying live audiences with his wildly energetic stage presence. Though known for his incredible vocal performances, K.O.G is also a talented arranger and percussionist, from balafon and djembe to his trademark dinner tray!

“As well as being the frontman for much-loved eight-piece Afro-funk outfit K.O.G & The Zongo Brigade, Kweku is the front man for the new Onipa project (with Nubiyan Twist MD Tom Excell) and is working on collaborations with Afriquoi, Congo Natty, Umoja, iZem, Jus Now and The Busy Twist. On the night, he will be joined by Tom Excell himself for a very special duo performance.


 
“Born in the inspired mind of London’s own Malian rhythm buff Hans Sutton, Bamako Overground have been busy forging a new sound. The trio are irresistibly seduced by the music of West Africa, blending its influences overtly and covertly with their own carefully-selected flavours to settle into mystical dance grooves and desert blues. Deep and soulful rhythms meet soaring melodies, while smooth three-part vocal harmonies spin allegories in Bamanakan and English to complete a brew that’s compelling and utterly unique. Hans plays his distinctive hybrid drum kit (which has previously brought Mandé styles to artists such as Nick Mulvey and Cocos Lovers), while at his flanks are the sparkling guitar of Yaaba Funk co-founder Tobias Sturmer and the hypnotic, heavy bass of folk maestro and Woodburner impresario Theo Bard.


 
“British musician Eckoes merges cutting-edge textures with soulful hooks to entice you into her sublime and unmistakeable sonic world. Possessed of a voice that will “make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up” (according to BBC Radio) she’s one of the most intriguing and emotive new outpourings to emerge from the London circuit. Naturally, tastemakers’ praise has come in thick and fast from BBC 6 Music, Clash Magazine, Q, Wonderland, BBC Introducing, Indie Shuffle, Afropunk, and the MOBO Awards amongst others. A prolific songwriter outside of her solo project, she has penned songs for many other artists, hitting #13 in the UK Club Charts last summer with Deeper (a track she co wrote and featured on, produced by Le Visiteur). At the helm of her project she stands, a six-foot statuesque weaver of hypnotic sounds taking the industry by storm.


 
* * * * * * * *

“The 26th June show features “viral songwriters” Meadowlark, rising star Only Girl, and blues champions Amy & The Calamities.

“Delicate, emotional, yet current and powerful songs, delivered beautifully from the minds of two extraordinary musicians, Meadowlark are nothing short of incredible. Their debut single ‘Eyes Wide’ in 2015 was added to BBC Radio 1’s Introducing playlist, XFM’s evening playlist and featured on Hype Machine’s Top 20. This led to sessions on Dermot O’Leary’s BBC Radio 2 show, playing Glastonbury’s Introducing stage as well as the Alt Escape, the MAMA festival in Paris, and Dot to Dot. The song also appeared on episodes of ‘Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Made in Chelsea’.

“In 2016 Meadowlark were embraced into the UK touring circuit to support the release of their second EP ‘Paraffin’ and the incredibly well received most recent single Headlights. Their summer Bushstock performance in 2016 received a glowing review from ‘Popped Music’ who said “their vocals never ever miss a note and you could hear a pin drop.” The band’s debut album was released this year through Believe Records and their recent tour across the UK sold incredibly well, with sellouts in Bristol and London.


 
Only Girl is the pseudonym of Ellen Murphy, a soulful young artist emerging from the DIY music scene of south-east London. To date she has released several independent singles, gaining widespread support across BBC Introducing, Spotify, BBC Radio 1 and 2, BBC6 Music and online tastemakers including ‘The Fader’, ‘Notion’, ‘Clash’, ‘Mahogany’ and Red Bull Music.
The past eighteen months have seen her feature on releases with Zero 7, Kultur, Kitty Cash’s ‘Love The Free’ mixtape, her debut performance on UK TV on ‘The Nightly Show’ (ITV), and playing sold-out headline shows in London at the Courtyard Theatre and The Borderline.

“Her debut EP ‘Bittersweet’ (produced by long term collaborator Henry Binns of Zero 7) was released in early April – a swirl of soulful R&B harmonies with heart-aching lyrics set over a warm bed of rich organ sounds and bassy beats. She’s currently working on new music for release later on in the year.



 
Amy & The Calamities is the vehicle for Amy Wawn, a musician and singer-songwriter from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. As a solo performer, Amy’s style ranges from lively foot-stomping folk rhythms to the dirty-delicious sounds of delta blues on the slide guitar, accompanied by a dark, brooding vocal range, lilting melodies and thoughtful lyrics. Amy studied piano from a young age, and began learning guitar and violin in her teens. After being accepted to the University of Cape Town for a music degree, she decided to take a break from classical training and instead studied a degree in languages and translation whilst focusing more on the guitar and songwriting. She began performing in her hometown of Bulawayo after a brief stint of travelling on her own and working her way around Europe in 2014.

“Over the last three years, Amy has performed at several major festivals and events around Zimbabwe and is now living and performing full time as a solo artist in Camden Town, London. She released her debut EP ‘The Suspects’ in February 2018, in collaboration with exquisitely talented violinist, Georgina Leach.”


 
* * * * * * * *

All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England. Dates below:

  • Faith Mussa + Jally Kebba Susso, Tuesday 5th June 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Blue Lab Beats + The Dylema Collective + DemiMa, Tuesday 12th June 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • K.O.G + Bamako Overground + Eckoes, Tuesday 19th June 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Meadowlark + Only Girl + Amy Wawn, Tuesday 26th June 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

May 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Squelch at Total Refreshment Centre (6th May); ILL Considered, PYJÆN and WondRWomN at DIY Space (10th May)

2 May

Roundup for a couple of imminent jazz gigs…

Squelch, 6th May 2018

Squelch
Total Refreshment Centre, 2a Foulden Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7UR, London, England
Sunday 6th May 2018, 6.30pm
– information here and here

Inspired in more or less equal measure by “Arctic landscapes, reindeer herding and certain stations on the Piccadilly Line”, Squelch Quartet are the family team of saxophonist Colin Izod and drummer Liam Izod (also the men behind arts education team Big Heart Media), plus pianist Emilio Salice and double bass player Hector Page. Claiming the ECM sound as their prime influence (Esbjorn Svensson, Jan Garbarek and Keith Jarrett in particular, though they’ll also admit to a liking for Wayne Shorter, Joshua Redman and for zippy electric fusion-popsters Snarky Puppy) they play an unsurprisingly Nordic-toned jazz: easygoing, open-sounding and straying subtly into folk and free improvisation. Fairly recent emergers, they’ve played around London and succeeded in pursuing their inspirations up to Norway (where they landed a slot at the Varanger Jazz Festival and tried out a collaboration with Sam yoik-pop artist Elle Márjá Eira.

For this show in the rough-and-ready environment of the Total Refreshment Centre, perennial guest-star (and effective fifth member) Ben Allum will be joining in again on viola. Meanwhile, see below for performances of their own Emilio-written Jericho plus their arrangements of Joni Mitchell’s I Had A King and of Elle Márjá Eira’s Russojievja, some of which feature Ben.




 
* * * * * * * *

Jazz@DIY: Ill Considered + PYJÆN, 10th May 2018

Real Oddity presents:
Jazz @ DIY: Ill Considered + PYJÆN + WondRWomN & The Band
DIY Space For London, 96-108 Ormside Street, South Bermondsey, London, SE15 1TF, England
Thursday 10th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bassist Leon Brichard and saxophonist Idris Rahman previously came together in spiritual world-jazz trio Wildflower (taking imprints from Bengali folk music to North African Gnawa, and inspiration from Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Yusuf Lateef and the Coltranes). For ILL Considered they join up with drummer Emre Ramazanoglu and percussionist Satin Singh for their own free-jazz take on jam-banding. Usually working from Leon’s insistent whale-hook bass motifs, or sometimes from simple pre-written themes, they create music on the spot, preferably with no discussion.

Here’s what they sounded at Total Refreshment Centre back in March (in a live album released about a week ago), while their debut album-track Dawn Lit Metropolis (recorded with original percussionist Yahael Camara-Onono) sets their central elements into play. Steamy but danceable: the bass statement, the pacey club-inspired carpet of drumming and percussion, the flowing commentary of quizzical, discursive sax.



 
A product of Trinity Laban’s music department, jazz-fusion quintet PYJÆN feature the rhythm team of guitarist Dani Diodato, drummer Charlie Hutchinson and bass guitarist Ben Crane with a brass frontline of saxophonist Ben Vize and trumpeter Dylan Jones. As evidenced on their debut mini-album ‘Prologue’ (which emerged in November last year) they treat pacey cool jazz, African funk and yaketting R’n’B as close-knit blocks in the same small lively self-assured neighbourhood: working with busy rhythmic assurance and a variety of brass voices. Dani is also a master of guitar tones from choppy earthy funk mutters to spatial, silvery ringing post-punk space chords, from joyfully clucking Afro pick-pops to strange MIDI-pedal patches like fluting backwards organs.



 
I’ve only previously heard about Mary Otumahana – a.k.a. Tottenham R&B singer WondRWomN, a.k.a. “the girl next door, that raps” -through her appearance at a SOIF Soiree last autumn. It seems I’ve been asleep on the job, since she’s been in action for over a decade now; first as teenaged rapper KidWondR and then, since 2014, under her current moniker.

With a debut album behind her, she’s been performing around London and Bristol for the past three years. A follow-up EP is due shortly on the Prodigies Of Nature label/lifestyle brand she set up in 2017 alongside her free-access Tottenham recording studio programme The RecordShop. Her DIY Space performance will feature backing from a full band brewing up grooves from psychedelic soul, funk, rap and “grit pop”. Many emerging British jazz acts are making deep inroads into hip hop for their influences: it’s good to see some pushback.

As with all DIY Space gigs, this is a members-only occasion, so it’s no good just rocking up at the door – get annual membership in advance for only two quid, and go on from there.
 

April 2018 – upcoming London gigs – the BABY clubnight launches in Walthamstow with Warm Brains, David Callahan and ex-Evans The Death member’s Clingfilm project (18th April); 3Peace, Gentle Stranger, Great Dad and Suitman Jungle at DIY Space (26th April)

14 Apr

Warm Brains + David Callahan + Clingfilm  @ BABY #01. 16th April 2018

Eleanor Payne used to run the ‘Candyskin’ art/indie zine and its corresponding music night in Walthamstow – she’s now taken both of them away, shaken them out and restored them with a new name. This coming week’s debut BABY music night will also launch the brand-new ‘BABY’ zine (“featuring writing and art on culture from all kinds of cool people”) and carry old ‘Candyskin’ issues for those who want to catch up on the past. Eleanor and others – including Liberty Hodes from ‘A Comedy Night That Passes the Bechdel Test’ – will be DJ-ing with an inclination toward “the best of indie pop, disco, post-punk, pop and girl groups (and) the best songs for dancing”. The live acts, meanwhile, have a pleasing feel of reviving that envelope-pushing Too Pure ethos from the more wide-thinking end of 1990s British indie: the samplers, the wrenched guitars, the sharp non-conforming anti-complacent lyrics and the broad bench of snatched and recombined elements.

Top of the bill is the urban-psychedelic post-punk of Warm Brains, a.k.a. Rory Atwell from Test Icicles, KASMs and Die! Die! Die! We hadn’t heard much from the Brains since 2015’s ‘Big Wow’ album, but last month’s new Circles Of The Scythe single (Rory’s first Brains material for several years, following his relocation to current London creative hotspot South Tottenham) – really ups their game. It’s a sardonic study of cultural and personal immolation: Rory whistling as he walks into the darkness, kicking a sardonic rolling can across a pile of gasping, trash-spawning consumerism and asocial/dysfunctional personality disorders, while marshalling a washing-machine judder of half-hinged guitars and rhythm pulses.


 
Although indie pop heroes Evans The Death called it a day last autumn, former guitarist Dan Moss has quickly whirred back into action with Clingfilm, who make their live debut here. Over the course of their three albums, his old band weren’t short of ambition and seemed increasingly eager to evolve and to unglue themselves; but they could never quite wriggle more than an arm and a shoulder out of the indie straitjacket. That said, the increasingly belligerent, beautiful, noisy gesturing they managed with that one free limb suggest that anything which sprouts from an ex-Evans will be worth paying attention to.

Dan isn’t the first to surface – that’d be his brother Olly, who started his work as Smiling Disease while still in the band – but the debut Clingfilm EP (which popped up at the beginning of the month on Bandcamp) is a fascinating thing. Collisions of Motown, pitchbend My Bloody Valentine wail and experimental noise planecrash; industrial broadsides and glocktinkles, electro-noise shotgun pop and dry sneers. At points a pocket Foetus dancing with Pere Ubu, at other times sounding like a more meticulous-aimed junior PiL, Dan’s subject matter includes nightmares, secrets, and friends with misogyny problems.


 
At points, Clingfilm sound like nothing so much as the early ‘Eva Luna’-period Moonshake; so it’s appropriate that Moonshake’s own David Callahan is also on hand, representing the older guard and providing a link with the original Too Pure attitude. Coming fresh from a support slot with The Mekons last week, David’s historically a ludicrously undersung hero of that brief phase when British post-rock meant more than endless, blanked-out repetitions of FX aurorae and crashing guitar cadences; when it focussed instead on powerful welds of motivating force, a revolving palette of jabbing noise, and lyrics which locked and engaged with complicated inner and outer worlds. Not that he sits and mopes about that. While he may be gradually incubating a fresh batch of post-Moonshake sampler-churn on the quiet, David’s solo sets are currently acoustic or near-as-dammit; focussing more on the bristlingly intelligent, if more conventional, breed of art-pop which he continues to hone with his other band, the revived Wolfhounds.

Here are some songs from a Callahan appearance at The Hangover Lounge a few years back. They’re brisk acoustic skeletons compared to his bandwork and his past recordings, but they reveal an artist who’s not hung up on either style or reputation, and who still steers his exploring curiosity through whichever mood and influence inspires him. In this case, the piquant satire of Thanks; the surprising journey into ancient-sounding dronefolk on She Passes Through The Night.



 
Whatever David’s got in mind for the BABY evening, he’s promising plenty of new material… plus appearances by assorted and unspecified special guests. One advantage for people with impeccable work behind them, who were active at pivotal times, is that they tend to have interesting contacts lists. Start speculating now.

If you want an even fuller evening, Eleanor and co. have timed the BABY gig to fit around Walthamstow Rock n Roll Book Club’s event, earlier on the same evening at the Walthamstow Waterstone’s. Journalist and cultural commentator Jeff Evans will be reading from and discussing his book ‘The Story Of Rock & Pop On British TV’, a study of the blossoming and withering of pop music programmes which offers “some warm memories and some surprises” from a time when culture was about deferred anticipation and the thrill of events fixed in time, rather than a vast body of instant downloadables. Jeff starts at six, the BABY live sets at nine.

BABY presents:
BABY #01 – Warm Brains + David Callahan + Clingfilm
The Victoria, 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 4QH, England
Wednesday 18th April 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

* * * * * * * *

3Peace + Gentle Stranger + Great Dad + Suitman Jungle, 26th April 2018Assuming that you don’t already have a date with the industrial dub techno world of Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin by treating yourself to the Zonal and Moor Mother gig in Elephant and Castle on 26th April, it might well be worth your while casting a little further south-east to the Bermondsey/Peckham borders and the DIY Space. Two sets of promoters (Parallel Lines and GLOWS) are pooling gig resources on the same night: the first of two “Middle of the Room” shows blending all manner of musicians and art sparks…

Saxophonist Nat Phillips, drummer Pike Ogilvy and synthman Sam Bates make up the jazztronic trio 3Peace, merging semi-minimal pop electronica and jungle/techno/ambient club beats with jazz ideas. So far they’re just scratching in the sandbox of their potential talent: on their demos, they sometimes sound like bedroom dreamers on grey English days, dreaming of sunswept bay beaches and trying to conjure them up by making downtempo grooves on a phone.

Live – when they have space and time to work their way out of the cramping effects of budget recording – it’s a different story. Perhaps it takes a while to build (and perhaps there’s still a little too much chill-station reticence to their current chemistry), but whenever Nat’s saxophone kicks in with its cryptic Wayne Shorter commentaries, 3Peace take a step towards becoming a squat-scene Weather Report, with rolling grooves in the vein of a MIDI-ed-up ‘Sweetnighter’. Someone needs to tell them to cut loose from the easiness: to start scaring a few horses, start jousting each other, allow themselves to burn a little. There’s the option for so much more here.

 
Enigmatic, extrovert and deep underground, Dada jam band Gentle Stranger don’t give out much in terms of information bar their gig dates, their deliberately ludicrous attempts to tag themselves as “post clown”, and a succession of bungled, enigmatic, absurdist haikus about television, teething or caterpillars. I’ve not seen any of their gigs yet, but ‘Subculture‘ webzine – quicker off the mark than me, or just, with its Fred Perry tie-ins, better connected) tells me they’re dressed all in white… the Gods’ jam group, the Mount Olympus house band. Sprawling prog riffs meet footloose brass motifs and contrapuntal vocals from each heavily made-up member. A spectacle, to say the least”, while UCL’s ‘Savage’ reports back with “brash brass shenanigans coupled with shout-pop spleen“, and ‘Gigsoup‘ has them down as a performance-art blend of megaphone chanting, furious singing, folkiness, free jazz, no wave and funky noise”.

Billed like this, they could be a jazz-rock Fischerspooner, a post-Gentle Giant/Zappa/Zorn cataclysm, or a London take on – say – the art-prankery of a.P.a.T.t. I’ve seen photos of them gallivanting about in white burnouses and giant dunce caps; they’ve sometimes been part of the wave of cunning bacchanalian art-gigs hosted by the shapeshifting HMLTD… and here’s the video evidence. A trio (or trio-plus – it’s difficult to tell who’s in the band simply from who’s onstage) with a Jesus-robed drummer and a pair of ADHD multi-instrumentalists continually swapping between saxophones, trombone, flutes, guitar and bass. One of them regularly grabs an accordion, to wander the venue like an amnesiac busker. There are frocks and yelps and tinkling bells; there’s what looks like a stage invasion by a Riverdancer; and the music itself follows a curving, crazed path like a growing flood in a gutter, catching up little singalongs, burst of death metal and Balkan folk, nursery ditties and hornpipes along the way. They may well do everything differently next month.


 

Two-thirds of promising genderqueer alt.punk band Worm Hears also operate as Great Dad. It’s an excuse for the former band’s drummer and their singing guitarist (both currently broadening their horizons on the Popular Music course at Goldsmith’s) to set guitar-rock approaches aside in order to investigate a subtly disorientating slew of experimental pop. They played support to Charles Hayward last year; this year ought to see them getting recognition in their own right.

For my money, their electronic bricolage and sparse bleat-burrs of guitar make for a far more interesting, far more transformative project than does Worm Hears. It frees up singer Charlie, in particular, to apply those plaintive epicene Belfast-punk tones (a transitioning choirboy enraged by a broader world) across a variety of pedal-assisted pitches and registers including R&B queen, lonely Autotuned cyborg and cynical grouch-rock baritone. The songs, meanwhile, phase through walls and frameworks in a series of weird, wide-awake narrative arabesques – the glitchdream of Spanish pop in Wasp Honey; the seasick blippery, ringing organ shadows and voice-tweaking of Walk Around are free-associating mashups of love, political paranoia, consumer anomie, salty language and an ever-strange out-of-step physicality half-trapped between distress and wonder.



 
Suitman Jungle’s particular schtick is that he’s a humble financial-sector worker consumed by a rabid love of jungle/drum and bass beats. In character, decorously sheathed in formal jacket and tie, he’s meek and sweet-natured; eager to make a connection with his audience but just as eager to let rip on a set of stand-up drums and a sampling pad. Suitman sets are semi-theatrical performance pieces, crossing gently satirical spoken word with hammertastic live-beat mash-ups and a rave aesthetic. Through all of this, he threads sound pictures of London life – the rituals and private rebellions of commuting, the bearpit bellicosity of the Houses of Parliament, and so on.

He’s an oddly-positioned character: a kind of pre-escape, post-millennial Peter Pan, musing quietly on the absurdity of adult life and office etiquette, one ear constantly cocked to the utopian call to fly away into the heart of the drumming. I’m not sure how far all of this develops, or if (like 3Peace) Suitman’s being held back by format; but on spec he’s worth checking out to see how far he’ll go, and to see just how those frictions are going to play out.




 
As with the BABY night, there’s more here to make it more of an event – an in-the-round setting, DJ sets from organisers GLOWS and from electronic musician Lucaufer, plus presence of various kinds from zine/radio/gigzone gender-egalitarians The Femme Collective, haunted electronicist GG Skips, design company Spit Tease and Slow Dance, Autre Half and Grandma (the last three of whom operate in the blurred imprint area between, and encompassing, gigwork and record release). There’ll also be “a continuous circulation” of art – films, objects and images – curated by Felix Bayley-Higgins and finding room for material by Luis Jacobs, playful designer/repurposer Harry Grundy, irreverent sculptor/former ‘Spitting Image’ headbuilder Wilfrid Wood, and theatrical designer Willa Hilditch among others. And if you like the sound of all of this, it seems as if they’re repeating it a month later on 24th May; but for now, see below…

Parallel Lines & GLOWS presents
3Peace + Gentle Stranger + Great Dad + Suitman Jungle
DIY Space For London, 96-108 Ormside Street, South Bermondsey, London, SE15 1TF, England
Thursday 26th April 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

April-June 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Patchwork Jazz Orchestra and Pillow & Kase (7th April); part two of the Jazz Herstory season at Poplar Union with Ruth Goller (19th April), Cath Roberts (17th May) and the Alison Rayner Quintet (28th June)

4 Apr

Briefly boosting the signal for some of the season’s jazz shows…

* * * * * * * *

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra + Pillow & Kase, 7th April 2018

Balabam & Woodburner presents:
Patchwork Jazz Orchestra + Pillow & Kase + DJ Hot Bread
Balabam, 58-60 High Road, South Tottenham, London, N15 6JU, England
Saturday 7th April 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra are a London-based millennial big band that has no leader but a variety of composers using the ensemble as a platform for fresh sounds and ideas. A factory of sound, materialising the musical fantasies of a new generation of jazz musicians. With such a melting pot of influences and characters, the music ranges from luscious and sweet melodies to broad walls of sound, from drum and bass to funeral marches, from fairytale ballads to calypso. The musical glue binding it together are the seventeen musicians that power the vibrations and their universal passion for improvisation. Drawing on the wealth of history of the big band format, PJO have revamped it into a well-oiled machine that embraces a modern day philosophy of music making.

“Having already met through other smaller ensembles and subgroups, many members of the band had a desire not only to play more large ensemble music, but to have the opportunity and environment to write for it. Ideas for the band began forming in early 2014, and in November that year the seventeen-piece group made its debut to a sell out audience at the London Jazz Festival. After winning the Peter Whittingham Award in 2015, the band have hosted their own “Patchwork” nights, engaging new audiences at unusual spaces in London and turning heads with the sound of fresh original compositions written exclusively by its members. They have just finished recording their first album at AIR Studios, scheduled for release in early 2019.


 
Pillow & Kase are a London based duo born out of the not-so-usual yet distinctive combination of a singer and an electric bass player. Creating a variety of textures using the delicate paring of these instruments with electronic effects, loops and percussion, this duo (featuring Clara Serra Lopez on vocals, electronics and hand percussion and Matt Gedrych on electric bass and electronics) plays original music and improvisations based on the sounds, rhythms and expressive nature of jazz, hip-hop, neo-soul, Latin and African music.”

 
Despite the early start, the live music itself kicks off at nine o’clock with DJ Hot Bread filling all of the gaps before, in between and after.

* * * * * * * *

Just north of Docklands, the impeccable feminist jazz initiative Jazz Herstory continues its rolling series of gigs at Poplar Union featuring top female jazz talents. For information on the previous set of shows, click here; for news on who’s going to see us through spring and into summer, read on…

“In a sudden change of plan, Ruth Goller will be fronting the fourth episode of Jazz Herstory Presents (replacing the originally scheduled Emma-Jean Thackray). Grooving through so many of the greatest bands in London (including this one and Vula Viel), Ruth Goller is one of London’s best bass players.

“Agile Experiments is a project curated by Dave De Rose (Jazz Herstory’s favourite drummer), based around – but not limited by – eight combinations of fourteen musicians based in London, which come together in a genre-defying free improv setting. Initially formed from one-hour concerts in Brixton Village courtesy of The Agile Rabbit Pizzeria (from where the project got its name), the group have just released Volume One of their collective efforts on 12″ vinyl.

“For this concert Agile Experiments presents Ruth Goller (bass guitar), George Crowley (Can Of Worms, Corrie Dick’s Band of Joy, Vula Viel) on saxophone and Dave De Rose himself on drums.



 
Cath Roberts is a saxophonist, jazz promoter, record label manager, producer and composer. She has toured across the UK and Europe, contributing a huge amount to the production of music in and around London. Her music is very spontaneous, drawing on repeated phrases, pulled in all directions by various members of the band at different times, shared and passed around and developed. The music seems to grow out of nowhere and submerges you in a musical journey.

“Her bands (as leader or contributor) include Sloth Racket, Ripsaw Catfish, Favourite Animals and Madwort Sax Quartet; and she’s half of the LUME project (with Dee Byrne) championing fresh improv in a series of gutsy dates and all-dayers. For her Jazz Herstory concert, Cath will be leading a drumless trio completed by double bass player Otto Willberg and trombonist Tullis Rennie (one of Cath’s Favourite Animals collaborators).

 
“Double bass player and composer Alison Rayner has been on the British jazz scene for many years and is well known for being a proactive member of the jazz community, running gigs and touring internationally with the band Guest Stars, as well as being known for Blow The Fuse. As a leader, Alison ties together many of the strands of her numerous musical influences: a long-time Charlie Haden admirer (as well as being a Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke fan), Alison is supported by some of the most accomplished musicians in the UK today.

“Alison’s Quintet (her Blow The Fuse partner Deirdre Cartwright on guitar, The Casimir Connection/Giant Steppes’ saxophonist Diane McLoughlin, Steve Lodder on piano and Buster Birch on drums and percussion) is “purposeful, full-toned and melodic, a beautifully integrated band”. The influences are diverse, with traits of funk, folk and Afro-Cuban dance music. Expect terrific grooves, poignant melodies and fluid improvisation.”


 
All concerts are at Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England. Dates as follows:

  • Ruth Goller/Agile Experiments – Thursday 19th April 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Cath Roberts – Thursday 17th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Alison Rayner Quintet – Thursday 28th June 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 
As I did last time around, I’d recommend the burgeoning Jazz Herstory Facebook page as a great place for finding out more – much more – about undersung and/or unfairly neglected female jazz artists in history.
 

April 2018 – upcoming London jazz/world/folk/classical gigs – Fast Fusion pop-up session at Poplar Union (1st April); Erik Rydvall, Olav Mjelva and Max Baillie’s ‘Nordic Folk Meets Baroque’ (4th April)

24 Mar

News on an interesting jazz/world concert series kicking off at the ever-promising Poplar Union, plus a Scandinavian-tinged classical/folk/fusion event in Stoke Newington…

* * * * * * * *

Fast Fusion #02, 1st April 2018

Help Musicians UK Jazz Promoter Fellowship & Birikiti Pegram presents:
‘Fast Fusion’:Yaw Asumadu/Louisa Jones/Mulele Matondo/Shirley Smart
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Sunday 1st April 2018 – creating: 12pm-5pm / performance: 5.15pm
– information here and here

Fast Fusion is a live pop-up music installation bringing artists from jazz and world music genres together to write ten minutes of new work in just five hours. You get to witness the magic of art being made live in public before artists formally perform their final piece(s) at the end of the afternoon. The live audio is recorded to produce the Fast Fusion Takeaway Track(s), which you can then stream or download free. Sessions are also filmed and edited down to a short documentary-style video of the speed composition process.

“The second session (and first public session) brings together a dynamic group of musicians – singer/multi-instrumentalist Louisa Jones (who plays double bass, accordion and clarinet, and brings the swinging sounds of early jazz styles), Shirley Smart (a versatile, inventive cellist, and rare exponent of jazz cello), Mulele Matondo (a visionary bassist and guitarist from the Democratic Republic of Congo) and Yaw Asumadu (a master drummer, xylophone player and flautist from Ghana).”

The first session (a private jam in Studio Lumumba in East London to test the waters) featured Mulele Matondo plus London jazz trumpeter Mike Soper, Eliane Correa (a prolific Latin/jazz/fusion pianist, composer and arranger) and Lizy Exell (leader of the Old Hat Jazz Band and drummer for some of London’s other finest rising jazz groups, including Nerija). Here’s what they came up with:



 
Further sessions will follow – some of them at Poplar Union, although the idea is to bring the pop-up Fast Fusion format to many different performance spaces around London.

* * * * * * * *

Woodburner presents:
‘Nordic Folk Meets Baroque’: Erik Rydvall, Olav Mjelva & Max Baillie
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England
Wednesday 4th April 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Nordic Folk Meets Baroque, 4th April 2018“Two award-winningstars of Scandinavian folk music – nyckelharpa player Erik Rydvall and Hardanger fiddle player Olav Mjelva – team up with violin and viola virtuoso Max Baillie for their debut concert here in London at the gorgeous Old Church in Stoke Newington.

“Having met in the snowy north of Norway in February, they posted some videos of their unique renditions of Bach; a few days and over sixty thousand views later they were quickly picked up by Classic FM online, Norwegian Radio, and were invited to perform live on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune program on April 2nd.

This is their special debut concert in London together. They will present a brand new concert of music including Bach, Merula, and Couperin played in a unique way that brings together string traditions from Norway, Sweden and the Baroque period alongside both traditional and original music from Scandinavia.”

 
(I’m sure I’ve come across something like this before… ah, yes, here it was…)
 

March 2018 – upcoming London gigs of various kinds – folk-jazz and loop-tinted songcraft from Gabriela Eva and Yasmyn Hendrix (20th March); post-blues and wakeful dream-pop from Cavey and Moon Panda (26th March)

16 Mar

Woodburner presents:
Gabriela Eva + Yasmyn Hendrix
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 20th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here


 
On video, Gabriela Eva is a colourful explosion of appropriated and deftly spun images. In many respects she’s a tourist, but the kind who pulls off her acquisitive magpie business to perfection – a keen eye for the fabric she can repurpose, the hairstyle she can adapt, the body-paint or tattoo that can be repositioned. A globetrotter and a photographer’s darling even before she dropped her debut EP last month, she’s a natural at the subtly chameleonic star act; the dance of other people’s veils illuminated, assimilated and penetrated by her own charisma.

Gabriela Eva + Yazmyn Hendrix, 20th March 2018I’m hoping that this translates well to the stage once Gabriela’s tucked under the stairs at Servant Jazz Quarters – belatedly launching that selfsame EP, trapped behind her guitar without access to the self-edit suite, the quick-change boudoir screen and the magical boxes for makeup and jewels. That’s when it’ll either all fall apart or show its core roots. She doesn’t lack courage: previously part of Colchester duo Passive Passengers, she’s busked alone, braved the stage at Ronnie Scott’s and she’s certainly thrown her meme-anchors down (while “future organic” could mean bloody anything from cottage-industry world-changers to rich hippies with busy self-aggrandising Snapchat accounts, “driven, dyslexic, dreadlocked” is as good a packed’n’loaded personal tag as I’ve heard recently).

As for the music, there’s skipping rhythmic and harmonic footwork from jazz, some rhythmic echoes from hip hop, some party looseness from the breezier end of soul and R&B. You can trace your fingers through Gabriela’s songs and tease out strands from clear forebears – Erykah Badu, Astrid Gilberto, Van Morrison, Minnie Riperton (for her part, she claims Nina Simone, Little Dragon, Alanis Morrisette and Incubus) – yet her prime musical descent (probably through accidental parallels) seems to be Eva Abraham, the acoustic London jazzfolksoul luminary who, despite having boiled up cauldron after cauldron of superb transfigured rootsiness for twenty years now, seems doomed to remain a perpetual (though beloved) secret.

Setting aside the quick visual fix of a memorable video, though, that’s not a bad place to be, musically. Close your eyes and you’re still left with Gabriela’s rolling carpet of songcraft: just picking three, there’s her conversational, hip-hop storytelling cover of Estelle and Kanye’s American Boy, the airborne soul-jazz of Sailing Over The City and the twinkling Rise Up (heading that first EP – a light-touch groove salute to advance-and-reclaim, flickering through a clutch of delicate psychedelic changes and nodding to the short-lived but renewable hopes of the Arab spring).




 
In support is Yazmyn Hendrix, whom I last saw four-and-a-half years ago providing guest-vocal accompaniment to What?! (a long-dispersed jazz-rock trio). Nowaday’s she’s still most visible for further collaborations (with Euro-soul act Retrospective For Love and with jazz-rapper Mrisi) plus a smattering of Soundcloud cover versions (including Laura Mvula’s Green Gardens, John Legend’s All Of Me, Adele’s Chasing Pavements and Massive Attack’s Teardrop). By herself – armed with a microphone, a loop station, and assorted live percussion and beatboxing – she creates layered a capella choirs and vocal ensembles out of herself: either simple classic sounding pop songs, the cover versions mentioned above, or assorted vocalese experiments.


 
So far there’s not much direct evidence of the harnessed synaesthesia which Yazmyn claims shapes her music-making (and which means that she “associates each song, each word and each instrument with colours and textures”). Let’s assume that the full breakthrough in that direction is still working its way through development and caution, and that one day she’ll be giving us her own ear-boggling parallel to ‘Medúlla’ or ‘Starsailor’ or Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Capella’. Given her tunes-over-weirdness tastes, I’m guessing that we can rule out a head-to-head with Mike Patton in more tangled territory. For now, she stands as a capable one-woman Manhattan Transfer (or a sleepier, slowed-paced Grace McLean) for contemporary pop songs; and that’ll do in the short run.



 
* * * * * * * *

Cavey + Moon Panda, 26th March 2018

Decave Discovers presents:
Cavey + Moon Panda
The Waiting Room, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoek Newington, London, N16 0LH, England
Monday 26th March 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Young post-blues singer-guitarist Luke Cave – a.k.a. Cavey – is already known as half of stoner-fuzz rock duo Rad Frü. He’s already engaging in some solo wing-stretching, parking the Zep-happy Rad in favour of collaborating with Blaenavon bassist/producer Frank Wright, laying down songs with junior Wrecking Crews full of heavy-duty young session dudes. Not far out of his teens, it’s as if he’s trying to echo Robert Plant’s career development, while simultaneously crushing it down from fifty years to a mere decade.

Perhaps that’s a bit glib of me, as well as overstating the classic rock thing. Similarly, I’m not sure if he’s the same Luke Cave as the one who sprang (literally) from Nick Cave’s loins back in 1991, but even if he is, there’s not much trace of Cave the Elder here. Cavey himself cites Jim O’Rourke, T-Bone Walker, Hamilton Leithauser and Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen as influences; and in his light-touch songs I can also hear a dash of Gomez. Here’s a live performance of his recent Living Room Parade single, plus the studio take of its predecessor Day And Night.



 
Born in Boston but currently London-based (and sporting members coming in from Denmark, Sweden and Scotland), dream pop band Moon Panda will inevitably always ring Californian, not least because of the sheer sun-kissed San Diegan beauty of frontwoman Maddy Myers. A blonde, delicately-freckled photographer’s dream on honeyslide vocals and soft dots of bass guitar, she probably finds this kind of objectivifying attention a damn nuisance. For one thing, it distracts from the thoughtful, intricate details of the songs she writes: just as there was always more to Stevie Nicks than posturing and chiffon, there’s more to Maddy than blank-canvas prettiness or swoony lashes.

Let’s be honest – most dream pop bands think it’s enough to deliver blank blocks of navel-gazing noise and dirty snowplough billows: retrodden, remasticated sub-Lushness. Moon Panda don’t. Their songs are constantly, carefully changing beasts: encapsulated within their yearning melodies and taffy-stretched hooks, they have finely honed choral a capella parts, strange and revelatory key changes, sudden pauses and unorthodox shifts of time and dynamic. As with Gustav Moltke’s carefully-placed, only-there-when-you-need-them tidal smooshes of guitar, Maddy’s keen awareness of structure – of spectral drama, of just how softly and subtly you can make a jump-cut work – has a tendency to shatter the mood from within with a hard-hook shift in rhythm and intensity.



 
The lyrics too, eschew the cough-syrup blankness and drunken, dissolved sensual dazes of the genre; in effect, avoiding its copouts. Instead, Moon Panda are dream pop on the verge of waking up, or of piecing together the dreamwork. Shades of vulnerability, disquiet and suspicion run through these words: I’m still processing them, in the way that one works over the puzzling gristle of a dream, but I’m suspecting that these are songs for the gaslit, the fearful, the unwittingly immured: that they’re the etchings of the beginnings of an escape kit. Their videos, too, have an awareness to them – the disassociative motion, fall and sleep-roll of severed doll parts, ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Todd Haynes’ ‘Superstar’ and its Barbie-puppet retelling of the Karen Carpenter story; the road trip photography with its trapped, continuous-loop feel; Maddy’s own blank-faced ballet moves in which limbs stretch or a back twitches into restless determination.

It’s a shame that ‘Twin Peaks’ appears to be over and done now, and that Moon Panda are a year or two behind its production curve. In some respects they’d have made an ideal Roadhouse band. On the other hand, perhaps I’ve missed the point. Perhaps they wouldn’t have fitted the bill: not quite suited to the seamless and ominous cool, nor enigmatic enough for us to project our hungers, our apprehensions and confusions onto. From here, Moon Panda seem more like a measured curious hand rippling the waters or testing the surface of the mirror, fingertips uncovering and assessing what would otherwise been smoothed away. A band and a songwriter to keep a woken eye on, I think.
 

February 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Christine Tobin’s PELT (3rd February); Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! plus JAE (11th February); Adam Ben Ezra plus the Dan Casimir Quintet (16th February)

28 Jan

A quick whistle-stop, cut’n’paste rush through some of early February’s interesting jazz gigs… not much from me this time, so you’ll just have to trust the press releases…

* * * * * * * *

Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin, 2014

Christine Tobin: ‘PELT’
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Saturday 3rd February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Having been an integral part of the UK music scene for many years, Christine Tobin is now based between NYC and London. The Irish-born vocalist and composer is renowned for her unique rich voice and original compositional style. With eleven highly acclaimed albums under her own name and four major awards under her belt, Christine is treasured in the UK and far beyond as one of the leading lights on the contemporary scene. MOJO described her as an artist who “really transcends glib genre-fication. Her expressive range acknowledges finely acquired folk, jazz and 20th-century classical influences, which already sets her apart. And everything is shot through with an unmistakable refinement, free-spirited earthiness and giddy romanticism… this singer-songwriter is in a field of one.”

“Christine’s most recent album – 2016’s ‘PELT’ – is her settings of poems and lyrics by contemporary Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon. Although a continuation of her alchemy with fine words and music and her exploration of the chemistry between the two, ‘PELT’ marks a new direction and a new musical soundscape… both daring and dreamlike, passionate and playful. Tobin leads her musicians across a kaleidoscopic panorama, sometimes as junkyard blues philosopher, or snappy beat seductress, sometimes as a conduit for exquisite zen-like harmonies, or reflective Americana.


 
“The seed of the idea for setting Paul Muldoon’s poems came when the pair were invited to collaborate and perform a piece at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2011. Christine had long admired Muldoon’s work and he was greatly impressed by her British Composer Award-winning settings of W.B. Yeats. When they discussed setting his poems, Paul gave Christine a copy of his collection ‘Paul Muldoon Poems 1968 – 1998’ and gave her carte blanche to choose the poems she wished to work with. He also sent her new lyrics and as the project unfolded, the texts chosen ended up a being mix of poems and lyrics. The result is a rich and engaging collection with Tobin’s trademark originality.”

(Meanwhile, I’ve been slack enough to miss the fact that this is just part of an ongoing British tour which, by the time it hits London, will already have been through Bridport, Calstock, Torrington, Exeter, Southampton and Derby and is going on to Gateshead, Cardiff, Bristol and Nottingham before winding up at Birmingham on 10th February. For the full dates and details, check here: more on the personnel below.

“For this tour, Tobin has assembled a stellar band which includes seminal figures on the jazz scene Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Phil Robson (guitar/electronics), Steve Hamilton (piano/keyboard/laptop), Kate Shortt (cello/vocals/deaf signing), Richard Jones (violin), Dave Whitford (upright/electric bass) and Simon Lea (drums). In ‘Jazzwise’ magazine, Peter Quinn described them as “a cast of players who are all perfectly attuned to Tobin’s vision and artistry.” The London concert will feature a guest reading by the acclaimed multi-award winning Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman, who has also collaborated with Christine on past projects.”

* * * * * * * *

Jason Yarde's TRiO !WAH! + JAE, 11th February 2018

Tom Skinner presents
Jason Yarde’s TRiO !Wah! + JAE
The Pickle Factory, 13-14 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DU, England
Sunday 11th February 2018, 6.00pm
– information here, here and here

“On 11th February, revered jazz drummer Tom Skinner returns for a Sunday evening residency at The Pickle Factory, curating a forward-thinking evening of jazz music every other month. Over the past year Tom has hosted some true jazz greats – Ezra Collective, Shabaka Hutchings – and has some special evenings planned for 2018.

“This time, Tom Skinner invites monster ex-Jazz Warrior multi-reedist Jason Yarde – famed for his work as an arranger with the sadly departed Hugh Masekela – who presents his lauded jazz ensemble TRiO !WAH!, featuring Yarde on saxes, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Mike Pickering. In contrast to playing in the big bands of Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Hermeto Pascoal, Roy Ayers, Manu Dibango and his own Acoutastic Bombastic, Trio WAH! is a chance to hear Yarde’s playing and compositions in an intimate and stripped-down setting. Jason and Larry (Courtney Pine, Byron Wallen, etc) forged their musical relationship through playing in the original Jazz Warriors; and Mike (Billy Jenkins, Christine Tobin, etc) and Jason through the London based twelve-piece Rare Mix. Over the fifteen-plus years since, they have developed a fluid trio connection covering greatly varied musical terrain.

“From tight and constantly shifting rhythmic patterns to free flowing rhapsodic episodes, Trio !WAH! can cover the calm and the storm within a few bars, never losing the important elements of rhythm, melody and even harmony in this exposed format. ‘Jazzwise’ noted that the group “modulates easily from spacious post-bop to dirty grooves via Ornette-ish noise, showing a creative approach to form”, while ‘The Guardian’ said “it’s fascinating to witness how seamlessly Yarde’s writing and improvising intertwine… Swing, hip-hop, improv, you name it, he can make it all sound as if it was meant to live together, and he’s getting better at it all the time…”


 
“They’re joined by JAE, a mysterious keyboard and drums duo playing music influenced by King Tubby, Madlib and Larry Levan…”

(I found a little more on JAE, to render them less annoyingly anonymous. It turns out that it’s a team-up of longterm south London jazz buddies Joe Armon Jones (keyboard player with Ezra Collective, Sumo Chief, Nubya Garcia band and others) and drummer Jake Long (drummer with Maisha, SE Dub Collective and Where Pathways Meet).

Also, here’s eighty easygoing seconds of JAE doodle…

 

* * * * * * * *

Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet, 16th February 2018

Adam Ben Ezra + Dan Casimir Quintet
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Friday 16th February 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

“Double bass phenomenon, multi-instrumentalist and online sensation Adam Ben Ezra; a man seemingly on a mission to bring his instrument from its status as a background note to the dominant front-presence it deserves. For the past few years Adam has been pushing his craft in new, exciting directions and carving out a unique spot for himself in today’s international musical landscape, with both his virtuosity and musicianship earning him great success along the way.

“With more than ten million hits on YouTube and a strong following on all social media platforms, it is clear Adam is a bonafide star in the internet world. However, his success is certainly not limited to the web, having performed around the globe in major international music festivals and shared stages with some of the world’s fusion giants – including Pat Metheny, Victor Wooten and Richard Bona – over the last few years.


 
“Support comes from award winning bassist and composer Dan Casimir. Having made a name for himself with his EP ‘Escapee’, released on Jazz re:freshed in 2016, Dan has also lent his bass skills to the likes of Julian Joseph, Jason Rebello, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ashley Henry, Camilla George and Nubya Garcia to name a few.”


 
(As far as I know, the Dan Casimir Quintet is Dan plus pianist Sarah Tandy, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, singer Tess Hirst and drummer Olly Sarkar…)
 

January 2018 – upcoming London rock and folk gigs – twists and weaves with Prescott, Lost Crowns and Kavus Torabi (11th January); a carpet of acid-folk/chanson dreams with Alison O’Donnell & Firefay (18th January); a lysergic lattice with a Knifeworld double-set (20th January)

6 Jan

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 11th January 2018

Prescott + Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 11th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Reunited with guitarist Keith Moliné (who had to sit out some of their engagements last year), instrumental avant-rockers Prescott bring their springy barrage of warm, bouncy tune-mozaics back to London at Servant Jazz Quarters. On the evidence of last year’s ‘Thing Or Two’ album, the band (completed by spacey fretless bassist/composer Kev Hopper, keyboard quibbler Rhodri Marsden and swap’n’go drummer Frank Byng) is growing like a tricksy hedgerow. New layers, extensions and scrabbling digressions continue to bud out of their riotous cellular approach; and out of the games of post-minimalist chicken which they use to hold and release each other from their stack of cunning microloops.

It’s still fair to say that Prescott’s relationship with their own instrumental cleverness is an edgy and oblique one. Fine and rebellious players all, they’re too suspicious of straight prog, jazz or lofty experimentalism to have a straight relationship with any of them. Consequently they come across on record as jitterbug countercultural eggheads – ones who play obstinate, transfigured parallels to clavinet jazz-funk (post-Miles, post-Headhunters) or twinkly-marimba’d Zappa passages, but who nail it all down to a precise post-punk, post-virtuoso sensibility. Still, this only sketches part of the Prescott picture while missing the heart of it. Despite the band’s tendencies towards deadpan stage presence (and the eschewment of anything even vaguely wacky), each and every Prescott gig ends up as a generous, audience-delighting puzzle of pulses, traps and tickles on the funny bone.

Maybe if they’ve got anything as corny as a raison d’être (that is, beyond executing Kev’s pieces with deftness, style and pleasure) it might be about evaporating the frequently frustrating and gummed-up relationship between musicality, suffocating ideology and good humour. For all of their self-imposed restrictions, Prescott are in some senses a freer band than almost anyone else in their field: an expansive Lego set of musical options concealed in a deceptively small box.


 
Thanks to both the burgeoning stature of Knifeworld and his helming of the post-Daevid Allen Gong (plus entanglements with Guapo and Cardiacs, and his garrulous showings on radio and in print), Kavus Torabi is rapidly becoming a senior figure at the culty end of psychedelic art-rock. Even his rough-and-ready solo acoustic performances are becoming a draw in their own right, although he’s mostly (and modestly) restraining them to support slots, presenting gravelly-voiced house-party strumalongs rather than electric-genius showcases. Such is the case with his opening slot for Prescott, which also sees him broaden his guitar playing with trips to the harmonium.

On previous form, expect established songs, songs-in-progress and song unveilings from Kavus’ Knifeworld catalogue (plus visits to his old work with The Monsoon Bassoon and possibly a bit of latterday Gong-ing if any of it translates away from the group’s electric Om). If you’re hoping for Guapo stuff, you’d better wait for one of his gigs with them. If you want him to rip into a Cardiac song, you’re best off catching him guesting at one of the growing number of Spratleys Japs shows (increasingly become rolling parties celebrating the Cardiacs spirit, pulling in hit-and-run appearances from the band’s alumni and songbook).


 
Invigorating as a Prescott/Torabi summit might be, the night’s real draw is Lost Crowns: only the third live venture for this carefully-concealed solo project from Richard Larcombe. You might have seen the Crowns step out at either one of a culty pair of Alphabet Business Concern shows in 2013 and 2017: otherwise, you’ve not seen or heard them at all. If you’ve followed Richard’s on/off work singing and guitaring for fraternal duo Stars In Battledress (alongside his brother James), you’ll have some idea of the rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection to expect. Complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.

Reared on English folk and art-rock but steeped in both Chicago math-rock and (via radio, television and film) in sophisticated comic absurdity from the likes of the Marx Brothers, Spike Milligan and Vivian Stanshall, Richard is in fact one of the most aggravatingly unknown, self-effacing, even self-concealing talents of his generation. In the fifteen years since his last, short-lived solo foray Defeat The Young he’s kept his own work closely hidden, apparently preferring the shared burden and brotherly warmth of occasional shows with the similarly-obscure Battledress, or to play supporting roles with William D. Drake or sea-shanty-ers Admirals Hard. Were he not so damn elusive, he’d be regularly cited alongside the likes of Colin Meloy or Neil Hannon as an exemplar of bookish art-pop wit. For the most part, though, Richard seems happiest with his other career (in children’s theatre, an area in which, incidentally, he’s equally talented) although I suspect that the truth is that his perfectionist’s need for control gets a little on top of him, though never enough to ruffle his brow. According to Richard, this particular live surfacing’s going to be a “limited-capacity probably-not-to-be-repeated-often event”, but he clearly means business, having armed himself with the kind of musical crack squad that can do his work justice – London art-rock go-to-guy Charlie Cawood on bass, Drake band regular Nicky Baigent on clarinet, the enigmatic “Keepsie” on drums and a doubled-up keyboard arrangement of Rhodri Marsden (hopping over from Prescott) and Josh Perl (coming in from Knifeworld and The Display Team).

As regards firmer, more specific details on what Lost Crowns will be like, Richard himself will only murmur that the songs are “quite long, with a lot of notes.” Rhodri Marsden (a man more given to gags than gush) has chipped in with a wide-eyed “utterly mindbending and completely beautiful”; rumours abound re ditties about synthesia and/or the quirks of historical figures; and what’s filtered through from attendees at those previous ABC shows is that the Larcombe boy has seriously outdone himself with this project. The rest of us will have to wait and see. Meanwhile, in the absence of any available Lost Crown-ings to link to or embed, here are a couple of live examples of Richard’s artistry with Stars In Battledress.



 
* * * * * * * *

Alison O’Donnell + Firefay
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 18th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Same time, same place, but one week later – another rare treat in the shape of a London appearance from “fairy queen of acid folk” Alison O’Donnell, allied with Anglo-French folk-noirists Firefay.

Alison O'Donnell & Firefay, 18th January 2018The possessor of a warm declamatory folk voice (one well suited to storytelling), Alison began her musical journey at convent school in 1960s Dublin with childhood friend Clodagh Simonds. Writing and singing folk songs together, the two became the core of mystical folk-rockers Mellow Candle: scoring a faintly lysergic orchestral-pop single before either girl had turned seventeen, Clodagh and Alison then spent five years exploring and finessing the baroque/progressive folk sounds eventually captured on Mellow Candle’s one-and-only album ‘Swaddling Songs’.

Ahead of its time (and mishandled by the record company), it followed the example of other recent genre-stretching folk albums by Trees and Nick Drake and sold poorly. By the time that the disillusioned band disintegrated in 1973, Alison was still only twenty. She spent the next three decades travelling in a slow arc across the world and across music: spending long stretches of time in South Africa, London, and Brussels before returning to Dublin in 2001, she passed – en route – through traditional English, Irish and Flemish folk bands (including Flibbertigibbet, Éishtlinn and Oeda) as well as stints in theatre and satire, and in contemporary jazz band Earthling. As she entered her mid-fifties, though, Alison’s career entered a surprising and fruitful second stage. She finally began releasing material under her own name – initially with multi-instrumentalist Isabel Ní Chuireáin (for the part-trad/part-original ‘Mise Agus Ise’ in 2006), and then alone or with her band Bajik from 2009’s ‘Hey Hey Hippy Witch’ onward.

Meanwhile, the slow transition of ‘Swaddling Songs” from forgotten ’70s flop to early Noughties word-of-mouth lost classic brought Alison into active collaboration with a fresh generation of musicians who’d been captivated by the record. Agitated Radio Pilot’s Dave Colohan came in for on 2007’s ‘World Winding Down’, Steven Collins of The Owl Service for 2008’s ‘The Fabric of Folk’ EP, and Graham Lockett of Head South By Weaving for 2012’s ‘The Execution Of Frederick Baker’. Colohan in particular has become a regular ally and co-writer, playing a big part in Alison’s 2017’s ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’ album and inviting her into his Irish psych-folk collective United Bible Studies. There have also been teamups with metal bands Cathedral and Moonroot, with folktronicists Big Dwarf, and with Michael Tyack of psych-folkers Circulus.

Among the most promising of these latterday collaborations has been her 2012 teaming with Firefay (fronted by the trilingual Carole Bulewski) for the much-admired ‘Anointed Queen’ album. This month’s concert revisits that project and beyond, Alison and Firefay performing in a meticulously interwoven partnership which will dip into songs from ‘Anointed Queen’ in addition to Firefay material and songs from Alison’s own back catalogue, from Mellow Candle through to ‘Climb Sheer The Fields Of Peace’. Come expecting a world/wyrd-folk wealth of keyboard drones, strings, bells, reeds and ouds, all mingled in a lysergia-flecked folk-rooted song continuum stretching from Ireland to Brittany and Flanders (across the British Isles and London, with look-ins from Gallic chanson, kletzmer, urban baroque, boozy sea songs, tints of Canterbury art-prog and even hints of the Sudan and Middle East.)


 
* * * * * * * *

Knifeworld, 20th January 2018Guided Missile presents:
Knifeworld (double set)
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 20th January 2018, 7:30pm
– information here , here and here

Just over a week after their leader disports himself (mostly) unplugged and exposed in Dalston, Knifeworld themselves burst back into action in Islington, getting a whole show to themselves at the Lexington. Currently revelling in the flexibility and range of tones available to their eight-piece lineup, they’ll be drawing on their last couple of years of songwriting and performance by playing a full acoustic set followed by a full electric set.

If you’re not yet familiar with Knifeworld’s work, you’re probably new to the blog – ‘Misfit City’ has been saturated with it ever since the band first emerged eight years ago – look back over past posts to acclimatise yourself to their dancing, springy, psychedelic mix of oboes, guitars, saxophones, drums and warm, wood-rough head-next-door vocals. It’s a skewed but precise brew of pointillistic acid-patter pulling in sounds, tones and attitude from five decades of music – you can spot ’50s rockabilly, late ’60s lysergic swirl, full on ’70s prog/soul complexity, ’80s and ’90s art pop noise and suss and beyond – all topped off by Kavus’ particular wide-eyed worldview. Eccentric and garbled on the surface, his songs still couch pungently honest depths of feelings, fears and hope if you’re prepared to push past the distraction of tatters and gags – as with two of his mentors, Tim Smith and Daevid Allen, Kavus treats psychedelia as a tool to explore, question and deepen the subject of human existence rather than trance it away in a blur.

Exceptionally excited by what’s coming up, the band are promising “a gig like no other…. your chance to hear many rarely- or never-played songs before. A whole night of delirious, mindbending and beautifully strange music.” Below is forty-one minutes of slightly shaky, slightly scratchy Knifeworld footage from the Supernormal 2016 festival, in order to light the fuse…


 

November 2017 – upcoming free rock gigs – Tonochrome back in action in London (25th November); All Hail Hyena host a quadruple-headed evening in Preston with Dirty Bare Feet and Soldato plus the return of Sleepy People for their first gig in sixteen years (11th November)

2 Nov

Tonochrome, 25th November 2017

Tonochrome
The Spice of Life, 6 Moor Street, Soho, London, W1D 5NA, England
Saturday 25th November 2017, 7.30pm
– free entry – information

London progressive pop band Tonochrome have been away for a while – they were last onstage towards the end of 2013. This new gig towards the end of the month is something of a return and reshuffle – it’s their first with the newest in a run of bass players (Andres Castellanos), and an opportunity for singer Andres Razzini and his other cohorts (keyboard player Steve Holmes, drummer Jack Painting and, on guitar, transdisciplinary musical wanderer Charlie Cawood) to show us the latest developments for a promising band. Over an increasingly interesting pair of EPs, Tonochrome have explored glam pop, aspirational indie and a touch of expansive prog, building towards a definitive, textured statement. I don’t know if they’ve got there yet, but this show is free, so get in and see what they have to offer.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato, 11th November 2017Hyena Inc. presents:
Dirty Bare Feet + All Hail Hyena + Sleepy People + Soldato
Ships And Giggles, 3 Fylde Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ, England
Saturday 11th November 2017, 7.00pm
– free entry – information here and here

Meanwhile, up in Preston, herky-jerky odd-rock band All Hail Hyena (who’ve made an initial name for themselves by storming and/or organising assorted Tim Smith benefit gigs) continue their work as promoters Hyena Inc. via a free DIY gig celebrating “one night of pop-punk-rap-reggae-soul-psychedelic space ska nursery-rhymes rock lo-fi metal bossa-nova prog tri-fi music from four diverse and very different brilliant northern bands”. As well as putting on the night and providing the lollipops, they’re performing themselves, bringing new songs of “neon lipstick, the thrill of a stolen kiss, and powerful pop ballads infused with filthy guitars and hot sex”. The gig will be closed by another growing Preston institution, Dirty Bare Feet, playing an audience pleasing “myriad of rap, soul, reggae, dance, pop, disco and jazz”; and opened by Chorley hard rockers Soldato (“four hairy northerners making noise with wood and wire”).




 
Of most interest to me, however, is that this gig marks a long-overdue return to live action by Tyneside underground heroes Sleepy People. Teasers and tinkerers at the coalface of psychedelic pop, they’ve always been a wilfully eccentric bunch; mingling the countercultural clowning and cosmic glissandi of Gong with bursts of twinkling synth melody, pulses of ska and post-punk guitar chug, set off by moonstruck flute and held together by Paul Hope’s odd yet jaunty songs (which chunter along like sugar-frosted tank engines). The last time they trod the boards was back in 2001: reunited with original singer Tiny Wood (better known as the frontman for ongoing cult-glamsters Ultrasound) they’re seeing what the contemporary world offers them, and vice versa.

Sleepy People, 11th November 2017Despite a strong work ethic Sleepy People never got as far as they should have done during their first lease of life; partly thanks to a constant stop-start of personnel turnover (with Paul and Rachel Hope the only consistent members) but also due to their continual goofiness and repeated nose-thumbing at any conception of cool. Daevid Allen might well have applauded, but the insouciant clowning tended to obscure surprisingly thoughtful songwriting which – while it happily dipped into a soup of esoterica from Gurdjieff to Freemasonry – frequently raised an arch, quizzical eyebrow at contemporary concerns. Among the tales of the frieze of myth and of men turning themselves into birds, the Sleepies also sang about the encroachment of shopping malls, about futile attempts at freezing yourself into immortality, or about modern-day nightmares in orphanages and retirement homes. At other times they’d cast numinous halos of wonder around everyday occurrences (a winter walk home which slowly becomes freighted with significance; the joy of a child running across a beach; or, perhaps on the same beach, the uncomprehending travails of a newly-hatched turtle perilously navigating by the moon).

Things can only be improved by the ongoing reunion with Tiny (who actually rejoined for part of the band’s final stint as Blue Apple Boy around 2002 before they called it a day). Striving to be Wakefield’s own David Bowie and its David Thomas; possessed of a hulking, dramatic stage presence; singing in foreboding and flinty tones like a pop crooner reincarnated as a battlefield crow… he’s always been the best, and the edgiest, foil for Paul’s songwriting. The tail end of the Blue Apple Boy period saw them writing together, Tiny’s more personalised art-punk anguish proving the perfect sour complement to Paul’s sweet, playful tunefulness: let’s hope that they’ve kept that up for the revival.

As for Sleepy People on the web, they’ve still got much to improve on their Facebook page (you’re better off checking them out on Wikipedia) and embeddable delights are few and scattered. Here’s what I could come up with, though – a twirl through Halfway World (with Tiny’s original replacement Phil Sears); recent rough’n’ready rehearsal footage of Every Wave Is Higher On The Beach and Nicky’s Little Army; and half an hour of grainy, raucous footage of a Tiny-fronted band lineup in 1993 (complete with three-fifths of the original Ultrasound).