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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…


 
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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.”


 
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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…

 
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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
 

February 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Gemini Trio (12th, 21st, 23rd, 28th February); Adam Ben Ezra with Joseph Tawadros plus Uniting Of Opposites (22nd February); Nick Walters & The Paradox Ensemble (22nd February)

3 Feb

Having taken some first steps in public at the Putney Half Moon and Folklore Hoxton over the last few months, London-based Italian jazz-rockers Gemini Trio will be embarking on a five-gig journey around London from mid-February (with more to follow in March and April).

Formed at BIMM by three young Milanese players (guitarist Adriano Balducci Moncada, bass guitarist Edoardo Marcarini and drummer Alessandro Iannicelli, they’re a mellow, airy, accessible alliance. In terms of their jazz and rock roots, they cite some fairly predictable roots (John Coltrane and Pat Metheny at one end, Radiohead, Tool and Led Zeppelin at the other) but they also apparently harbour inspirations from African music and from progressive and indie rock and which they’re less specific about (bar a friendly name-drop for Milanese Zappa torch-bearers Elio e Le Storie Tese). It’ll probably unfold over time: it’s early days for them yet, and their stew’s still in the early stages of brewing.

Right now they’re fluent, agreeable flashboys with a likeable lightness of touch and a debut single called Vivacissimo. With a title like that you’d expect a helping of ELO or disco cheese to be stirred into their music, but instead they seem happy to win you over with something breezy and sunny to overcome English winter gloom… and here it is. I’m enjoying putting it on loop, perhaps because I still miss What?!


 
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Surfing a substantial career wave at the moment (partly thanks to his canny understanding of the entertainment potential of YouTube clips) is Israeli solo double bassist and master showman Adam Ben Ezra, who’s back headlining the Jazz Café on the 22nd. Bold, humorous and technically dazzling, Adam covers a spectrum of music from serious swing to percussive melodious modern jazz tunes to flurrying flamencoid spasms to popcorn pop-culture gags (he’s enticed in a lot of jazz-wary fans thanks to the bait of his virtuosic, web-viral renditions of TV themes).

Although he’s cited Eddie Gomez and fellow performance monster Jaco Pastorius as main bass influences, Adam’s forceful flexibility, punchy tone, swinging rhythmicality and wit also happily channels the ghost of Bob Haggart. His knack for live-looping tricks’n’textures and electronic media savvy, meanwhile, echo Steve Lawson; and his tendency to temporarily set aside his bass and burst out with other instruments over the course of an evening or an album recall another heavy-acoustic virtuoso, Michael Hedges.


 
Adam’s guest for the show will be progressive cross-genre oud player Joseph Tawadros. An adopted Aussie with Egyptian Coptic roots (though he’s also been a Londoner for a couple of years now), Joseph has released sixteen albums over fourteen years of career. Musically, he’s a friendly rebel and natural showman who (like Khyam Allami) pulls oud music out of its Middle Eastern classical niche and introduces it to jazz, Western classical and any other cross-pollination he can get hold of.

He’s also a scarily talented bastard who took on fifty-two different instruments on a recent album. While I’ve heard that that was more spur-of-the-moment one-man-band than fully-polished ensemble, his oud playing is internationally reknowned and has won him collaborations with Béla Fleck, John Abercrombie, The Academy of Ancient Music and plenty more.


 
Getting things moving are show openers Uniting Of Opposites, a cross-generational contemporary Indo-jazz project allied to and releasing on Brighton label Tru Thoughts. With a past as UK dance DJ/producer Tim Deluxe, (and for 2002 house hit It Just Won’t Do) Tim Liken had long since supplemented his original career with an expanding self-education on jazz piano by the time he hooked up with the existing duo of Ben Hazleton and Clem Allford. Sitarist Clem was already a musical veteran (with five decades of work behind him including a sitar toting pilgrimage to India in order to learn from the source, plus film and session work and membership of pioneering early ‘70s Indo-psyche folkers Magic Carpet. Double bassist Ben was a former Young Jazz Musician of the Year who’d notched up time with Jonathan Gee and Tony Kofi.

To expand the music, they’ve added drummer Eddie Hick (who’s been all over ‘Misfit City’ recently thanks to gigs with Steam Down and Ruby Rushton), tabla player Manjeet Singh Rasiya, clarinettist Idris Rahman, and singer/F’ire Collective graduate Marcina Arnold. Last summer’s debut album ‘Ancient Lights‘ (arriving with a twist of psychedelic sonic illumination and dance-culture bliss, plus a pinch of surrealist flavour) reveals a band whose propulsive energy, enthusiasm, agelessness and hopefulness look set to give Adam a run for his money.



 
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Playing on the same day as Adam, Joseph and Uniting of Opposites is Nick Walters, known in British jazz circles as a trumpeter’s trumpeter, and on this occasion leading his thirteen-piece Paradox Ensemble big band – a thirteentet? – through a set of part-composed, part-improvised pieces mingling Mingus with Western Africa, and Woody Shaw with Eastern mysticism.

Like Eddie Hick, Nick’s known for his playing with Ruby Rushton, and at least two RR compadres show up in this group – saxophonist/flautist Tenderlonious and keyboard player Aidan Shepherd on synth and accordion. The group’s four-track mini-album ‘Awakening’ showed up at the end of last month, featuring music which runs from assured playing-around with Togo rhythms to tributes to cricket commentator Henry Blofeld (as well as employing less common jazz instrumentation such as sousaphone and harp).



 
Paradox Ensemble are playing as guests of the Church of Sound promotional project, which brings brings beautiful music to holy places – mostly, as in this case, the Victorian church of St James the Great in Lower Clapton, which has already seen them host shows by Kokoroko, Mansur Brown, Nubya Garcia and many others.

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Dates:

Gemini Trio:

  • Babel Café 86 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington, London N16 7PA, England – Tuesday 12th February 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Grow, 98c Main Yard, Wallis Road, Hackney Wick, London, E9 5LN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 8:00 PM – free event – information here and here
  • Bar Lorca, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 0LH, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 11:59 pm – information here
  • MAP Studio Café, 46 Grafton Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3DU, England – Saturday 23rd February 2019, 5.00pm – information here and here
  • Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England – Thursday 28th February 2019, 8.00pm – information here

Adam Ben Ezra (with Joseph Tawadros) + Uniting Of Opposites
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Church of Sound presents:
Nick Walters & The Paradox Ensemble: Blowing Gold
St James the Great, 188 Lower Clapton Road, Clapton, London, E5 8EG, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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

15 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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


 
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Dates:

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

 

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

6 Jan

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

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

Meanwhile, here’s Chelsea blowing tenor with SEED…


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

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


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


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

Jazz Herstory presents: Alexandra Ridout, 17th January 2019

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

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


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

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Phaze Theory blends occult Blake-and-Yeats visions with brooding jazz rock (28th August)

25 Aug

Phaze Theory, 28th August 2018

When I think of musicians citing the mystical, revolutionary poetry of Yeats or Blake, I’m likely to think of assorted classic rock fops; or young white literate/ dissolute pretenders fitting the pair in between their Rimbaud and Verlaine namedrops. The Libertines loved Blake; as have a swathe of musicans ranging from stadium botherers Robert Plant, Richard Ashcroft and U2 to dedicated underground upsetters like The Fugs, Duglen and Coil. Further delving turns up quotings and reverent steals by Pet Shop Boys and Bloc Party, plus the fact that Blake himself was a songwriter. As for Yeats, Joni Mitchell has set him to music, as has Van Morrison: the Hold Steady met him at a party in Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night, Bright Eyes quotes him in Four Winds; and from her debut album, Sinead O’Connor’s devastating Troy reshapes and reclaims his ‘No Second Troy’.

As for those who take on both, there’s North Sea Radio Orchestra with their sweet folk-toned chamber music settings. More prominently, there’s Patti Smith, who shook Blake-and-Yeats vision out into her early punk poetry and has kept it up ever since. Then there’s Patti’s ardent acolyte, Mike Scott of The Waterboys, who’s kept both by him on his travels: snarling about Blakean tigers and savage earth hearts on his debut album, capping ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ by fusing Yeats fairy tales with New York minimalism and Irish chamber-folk, and devoting a whole album to Yeats-isms twenty-three years after that.


 
What I’m getting at is that Blake-and-Yeats setters and expressers, in music, tend to be storm-tossed white romantics… with the music to match. Bar guesting singers here and there (including some formidable soul wailers), Phaze Theory are certainly white, are probably romantics, and may well be storm-tossed, but it’s initially a surprise to encounter their own take on this particular poetry; working it as a collective muse for a band that, while it calls its music art rock, has more in common with reggae, dub and the glowering Dark Magus electric wrack of Miles Davis in the early ‘70s.

Around in various forms since 2014, they’re led by a questing mystic of a tuba player, Christopher Barrett. Their conservatoire backgrounds and well-schooled chops belie their strange geological ferocity, stemming from an interest in Britain’s occult traditions and how these break through into sounds and words. Dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos” they lay claim to “roots in the deep grooves of the earth and the city and our branches reaching to the stars… we seek to free your feet, open your heart and liberate your spirit.”

In tone and intent, and at full heat, they’re an unexpected outpost of New Weird Britain, set in a jazzier wilderness in which Marco Quarantotto’s echoed drums, Tal Janes’ gnarled heavy guitar and in particular Barrett’s rumbling, adroit, effects-burnished electric tuba (which shifts seamlessly from bass to horn parts, sometimes with no immediate break) probe and scald across a foreboding, eerie terrain of post-industrial brambles, Tannoy vocals and perhaps a little Hendrix crunch. Compare and contrast their troubling, hallucinatory take on The Song of Wandering Aengus (recorded with Manchester singer Rae Jones) with the polished, melodious elegance of the Waterboys version above.



 
Currently collaborating with London rhythm-&-blues/Southern soul singer Arthur Lea, this imminent end-of-the-month gig at the Vortex is part of their ongoing process of bringing their music back to London and England after a brief Californian shift. Back to the grime but also back to the original fertility, I guess.

Phaze Theory
The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, Dalston, London, N16 8AZ, England
Tuesday 28th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

June 2018 – upcoming gigs – üF-Beat spontaneous experimental night in Crouch End, London on 14th June – walk up and join in…

9 Jun

A passing note that this is happening in Crouch End this coming Thursday, and that if you’re a listener or player of a progressive/experimental instrumental tinge in or around London that night who isn’t already headed to the Lost Crowns or Friends Serene events, this might be for you.

üF-Beat, 14th June 2018“An open mic with a difference. We are inviting musicians (and sound sculptors) to play but not the usual blues and classics you get in pubs but to experiment and explore. It’s a journey. Without judgement. All styles – jazz, prog-rock, fusion, folk, classical, avant-garde, electronic, sounds, welcome.

“üF-Beat is inspired by the German underground clubs that gave birth to the Krautrock music scene (Kraftwerk, Faust, Can, Tangerine Dream and inspired many British bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, Henry Cow, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, etc). As part of the Crouch End Festival Fringe (the more experimental part of the Festival), we are setting up an interesting musical adventure in the Committee Room in the Hornsey Town Hall with grand piano plus PA, mics, amps and psychedelic lighting. And a bar. It’s free too.

“Bring your instrument and an open mind.”

And that’s it. All else will depend on what you yourself bring to it either as audient or player, and on who else turns up…

üF-Beat
Hornsey Town Hall, The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9JJ, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 8.30pm
– information here
 

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