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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.”


 
* * * * * * * *

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
 

February 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – LUME return for a Sloth Racket/Entropi double header (13th February); Jazz HerStory with Rosie Turton (21st February)

11 Feb

After a year away working on other things, the jazzwomen behind LUME are bringing it back to life. Hopping on board the fast-moving train of Kings Place’s ‘Venus Unwrapped‘ series (which I’ve really got to take a closer look at shortly), they’re presenting a double bill of two LUME spearhead acts: each led by one of the two LUME directors.

Baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts heads up and composes for Sloth Racket a scorching, heavy London-and-Manchester free jazz quintet in which she jousts and converses with Sam Andreae’s alto over a rhythm section of guitarist Anton Hunter, drummer Johnny Hunter and double bassist Seth Bennett (who aren’t actually that much bound by straight rhythm). Incorporating cells of conventionally-written material as well as graphic notation, Sloth Racket music is an aggregation of explosive rips, broken-up hums, forcefully lyrical micro-interjections and tense silences. They’re up to their third self-released album, ‘A Glorious Monster’.

 
Alto saxophonist Dee Byrne runs Entropi, in which she’s joined by trumpeter Andre Canniere, keyboardist Rebecca Nash, drummer Matt Fisher and bassist Olie Brice. Their music is built on discombobulated, mutually superimposed grooves and deconstructive/reconstructive melodic parts and harmonies, continually walking a wiggly line between falling apart and dancing together. Dee keeps everyone involved on supple, elastic musical leashes, letting them roam to the limits before gently reeling them back in.


* * * * * * * *

In a couple of weeks, the Jazz HerStory season out east at Poplar Union continues with a gig from Nerija trombonist Rosie Turton, now bandleading in her own right and with an EP, ‘Rosie’s 5ive’ out this year on Jazz Re:freshed Records. Following in the footsteps of two of Rosie’s biggest inspirations, Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, her 5ive band (in which she’s joined by Johanna Burnheart on violin, Maria Chiara Argirò on piano, Twm Dylan on bass and Jake Long on drums) works around a sensually airy intertwining of Indian violin, trombone and electric piano, in which adventurous tunes effloresce and sway around light-on-their-feet rhythm grooves: a clever, flowing, flowery architecture.
.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Venus Unwrapped: Entropi + Sloth Racket
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Wednesday 13th March 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Jazz HerStory presents:
Rosie Turton
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs in London and Cambridge – Seed Ensemble (1st February); Warmer Than Blood (2nd February); Irreversible Entanglements and Matana Roberts (2nd February)

28 Jan

Cassie Kinoshi & SEED Ensemble, 1st February 2019

Perhaps there’s not a great deal that I need to say about Cassie Kinoshi. The most visible of the current generation of jazzwomen from the Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Collective, she’s clearly on the ascendant, working extensively across the jazz, classical, dance and drama worlds, and with her two-year-old SEED Ensemble now getting high-profile gigs. One of these is at Kings Place this Friday, in which SEED unveil their debut album ‘Driftglass’, showing off the end product of the multicultural London influences which inspire them: groove-based British jazz with strong flavour of West African and Caribbean diasporan music.

If that sounds a bit cuddly, then check out the title – and the combative, sarcastic thump – of the second of the two clips below. It’s a parodic, pointed Mingus-worthy musical representation of white people’s fear-driven misconceptions about black people, drawing on the wildness, grief and defiance of New Orleans funeral music and underpinned by the double-low-end honk-n’razz attack of Theon Cross’ tuba and Rio Kai’s double bass.



 
* * * * * * * *

Up in Cambridge the following day, guitarist/composer Chris Montague (previously seen in here via his work with Alex Roth and Chris Sharkey in Future Currents) reveals his new project Warmer Than Blood. It’s a trio in which he combines with pianist Kit Downes (Troyka, F-IRE Collective) and bass guitarist Ruth Goller, whose pedigree takes in a host of projects from Acoustic Ladyland to Sephardim ballad revivers Sephiroth plus (amongst others) the manouche of Kamao Quintet, the punk jazz of Let Spin and rough-edged North African-influenced Melt Yourself Down, the Latin folk of Oriole and the up-in-the-air experimental indie-rock of Bug Prentice.

Warmer Than Blood, 2nd February 2019

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.”

Warmer Than Blood are a couple of months away from properly recording a debut album, but two live tracks on their homepage point the way in which they’re going. 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.

* * * * * * * *

Back in London, and also on the Saturday, the Barbican’s Milton Court hosts Brooklyn-based “liberation-minded free jazz collective” Irreversible Entanglements. If you’re after a jazz band to represent and reflect these increasingly ugly, stormy, oppressive times from the bottom up, you couldn’t find a better one – but be careful what you wish for. They aren’t an easy listen, and they’ve got no intention of being so.

Irreversible Entanglements, 2nd February 2019

Free jazz (especially, though not always, when it becomes a hand-me-down in the hands of white musicians) can often be a fussy, elitist abstraction. Irreversible Entanglements uncompromisingly return it to its roots in black radicalism and to an absolute connection to the injustices of society. In doing that, they’re stepping into the first-generation protest-jazz shoes of Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman, Max Roach, Albert Ayler.

If you’ve been reading ‘Misfit City’ over the last couple of months, you may remember Elaine Mitchener reviving this tradition with her Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde project last month. While operating in a similar field, Irreversible Entanglements have no interest in curating those impetus and protests as museum pieces. Instead, they create their own protest. It should go without saying that they’re tied deeply into the #BlackLivesMatter initiative. Originally forming the band four years ago to play at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, saxophonist Keir Neuringer, bassist Luke Stewart and poet/proclaimer Camae Ayewa subsequently added trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes for more rhythm and flammability.

The resulting quintet sounds far bigger, far angrier and far more righteous than seems possible, jetting out sheets of rattling, scouring brass over gargantuan shifting rhythms like wrenched building piles. Key to it all is the fierce female voice at the core. Camae’s better known for her Moor Mother solo project, in which she declaims jarring, terrifying accounts of personal and cultural pain over a barrage of hip-hop/slamtronic sound. I’ve written previously about the way in which her deep drilling of psychic scar-tissue within the African-American experience turns her into time-traveller, authorative witness-bearer and angry documentarian. With Irreversible Entanglements, she taps into another heady well of black American cultural memory, this one passed down via saxophones, bop and overblown sheets of sound. It’s not the first time that a jazz band has been centred on a woman’s voice, but you’ll rarely, if ever, have heard it done this way, in which the texts and the delivery not only match the hurricane of music, but simultaneously drive and ride them. This is serious schooling.



 

In support at Milton Court is Chicago-born, New York-based saxophonist and sound experimentalist Matana Roberts. While it’s not unusual for a jazz player to appear on a record on post-rock spearhead label Constellation, it is unusual for one to be signed to the label. Matana, however, is not a standard jazzer (she prefers the term “sound adventurer”, considering herself to be a hybrid connected to multiple sonic approaches), and she was probably signed more because of her general experimental tendencies than because of her past collaborations with Silver Mt. Zion and with Tortoise members.

An orchestral clarinettist with a politicized background, Matana journeyed through punk, Riot Grrl and avant-garde music to where she is now. Though she seems quite capable of punching out Chicago post-bop/free sax on the stand, she doesn’t restrict herself to standard (though demanding) jazz forms. Instead, she treats music as a prime artistic unifier crossing over into dance, theatre, poetry…. not in itself unusual, but rather than just strapping standard music tropes onto other forms she allows those forms to wash in, dissolving and reforming her approach to her music.

Matana’s best known for her ongoing ‘Coin, Coin’ series, a projected twelve-album project started in 2005 and still in its relatively early stages (it’s about a third done). In this, whether working on her own or with others, she utilises a technique she originally dubbed “panoramic sound quilting”, joining together blocks of noise and scoring from a variety of sources but with an assemblage idea borrowed from rag-bag folk art. In particular when she’s recording alone, her pieces feature multiple Matanas – some rolling out saxophone lines, but many engaged in vocal chants or drones, or layered swatches of conversation. Some sing or scream, or hurtle along the arresting bloodied ribbon that separates the two: like Moor Mother, Matana takes pride in black history and resistance while establishing that it has to be represented via a certain sound of historical pain. The rawness there goes beyond filters of culture and into filters of humanness.”

Unsurprisingly, her performances have a reputation for being immersive experiences. Sounds like she’ll make the perfect gigmate for Irreversible Entanglements.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Jazz re:freshed present:
SEED Ensemble
Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Listen! presents
Warmer Than Blood
Unitarian Church, 5 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge, CB1 1JW, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Irreversible Entanglements + Matana Roberts
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

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

6 Jan

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

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

Meanwhile, here’s Chelsea blowing tenor with SEED…


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

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


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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

Jazz Herstory presents: Alexandra Ridout, 17th January 2019

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

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



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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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


 
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Dates:

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

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


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

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

3 Jan

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

Joseph Jarman

Joseph Jarman

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

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

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





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

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

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


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

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

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



 

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


 
Dates:

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

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

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.




 

July-September 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – part three of the Jazz Herstory series at Poplar Union with Shirley Smart (22nd July), Francesca Ter-Berg (16th August, with Poppy Edwards, Ashley Paul and Simon Roth) and Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble 5tet (20th September)

16 Jul

More shows for jazzwomen as the third set of gigs for Jazz Herstory come up at east London’s Poplar Union (following the Nerija, Laura Jurd and Yazz Ahmed gigs at the start of the year, and the Ruth Goller, Cath Roberts and Alison Rayner shows during spring and early summer).

* * * * * * * *

“The July gig is provided by Shirley Smart, one of the UK’s most versatile and creative cellists, and a rare exponent of jazz cello. She draws on a unique background that incorporates classical music, jazz and world music from North Africa, the Middle East, Balkans, and South America. As well as original compositions, she presents a fresh, new approach to the cello. Originally trained in classical cello Shirley subsequently moved to Jerusalem, where she stayed for ten years, studying and performing a wide variety of world music from the Mediterranean and Middle East, as well as being highly involved with the jazz and improvised music scene. Since returning to the UK, she has quickly become known as one of the most creative cellists on the music scene and has worked with many leading jazz and world music groups, including Antonio Forcione, Gilad Atzmon, Neil Cowley, Julian Ferraretto, Robert Mitchell, Kosmos Ensemble, Shekoyokh, Maciek Pysz, Maurizio Minardi, and Alice Zawadski, as well as leading her own projects.

For this concert (a late afternoon performance), Shirley’s bringing her own trio with pianist John Crawford and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums and percussion.


 
“For the August gig, cellist Francesca Ter-Berg (one half of Fran & Flora) takes influences from Eastern Europe (including Klezmer, Transylvanian and Romanian music) and blends them with experimentation in order to explore a world of sound, improvisation and live electronics. Her collaborative experience and diverse musical background has led Francesca to be one of the most versatile and in demand session and studio musicians in the UK. She has collaborated and performed with artists including Sam Lee, Talvin Singh, Floating Points, Portico, Sophie Solomon, Cosmo Sheldrake, Tanita Tikaram, Roger O’Donnell, Riz Ahmed, Hejira, Katy Carr, Lisa Knapp, Gerry Diver, The Unthanks, Kate Young, Bombay Dub Orchestra, Frank London, London Klezmer Quartet, Soumik Datta, Jyotsna Srikanth, Ahmed Mukhtar, Maverick Sabre and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

“Francesca will be inviting some musical friends on to the stage to perform two sets for this Jazz Herstory special. For the first set, she’ll meld her cello, voice and electronics in an improvisation with London-based songwriter, sound designer and Poppy Edwards on electronics, voice and keyboard (Poppy’s own main project, CRØM/LUS, should be releasing its own debut EP ‘Altered States’ shortly). For the second set, Francesca will be joined by jazz drummer Simon Roth (Sephiroth, Land Of If) and by American émigré and free-form wildcard Ashley Paul on saxophone, guitar and vocals.


 
“For September’s Jazz Herstory performance, Cassie Kinoshi brings the quintet version of her SEED Ensemble to Polar Union. A London-based composer, arranger and alto saxophonist also known for her work with all-female jazz septet Nérija and Afrobeat band Kokoroko, Cassie uses SEED to combine jazz with inner-city London, West African and Caribbean-influenced groove, exploring a blend of genres through both original compositions and arrangements.

“Usually performing as a ten-piece, SEED Ensemble presents a stellar line-up featuring some of London’s most up-and-coming young jazz musicians and has been making waves in the contemporary British jazz scene. The quintet lineup is Cassie on alto saxophone, Sheila Maurice Grey on trumpet, Shirley Tetteh on guitar, Rio Kai on bass and Patrick Boyle on drums.”


 

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

  • Shirley Smart – Sunday 22nd July 2018, 4.30pm – information here and here
  • Francesca Ter-Berg – Thursday 16th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • SEED Ensemble 5tet, Thursday 20th September 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

 

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