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June to November 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Greg Foat Band and Neue Grafik Ensemble at Church of Sound (20th June); Niechęć, High Definition Quartet, EABS and trios with Marcin Masecki and Kuba Więcek for the Polish Jazz London Series (4th July, 16th August, 19th September, 18th October, 21st November)

16 Jun

An imminent show at the Church of Sound in Clapton showcases British and French artists – the Greg Foat Band and the Neue Grafik Ensemble. Both play a contemporary take on ’70s soul jazz as it moved on a mystically airy arc away from earthiness and into the more fantastical zones of funk and psychedelia: in Greg’s case laced with tidal Radiophonic electronica via antique suitcase synth, and in NGE’s case celestial Rhodes keying.

Greg Foat Group + Neue Grafik Ensemble, 21st June 2019

More from the Church:

Greg Foat’s latest album ‘The Mage’ threads lineage between the past and future of British jazz, enlisting the talents of jazz/library/soundtrack legends Duncan Lamont, Art Themen, Ray Russell and Clark Tracey to collaborate with their modern contemporaries, Greg Foat, Moses Boyd and Heliocentric’s drummer Malcolm Catto. Something undeniably British but outward-looking and global has been created. Greg’s compositions and arrangements showcase the old and new, downtempo folkscapes, free jazz with notes of hip-hop and soul from the young team flavouring the mix. The album is a testament to the versatility and pure musicality of all those involved and Greg Foat’s ability to bring artists together to record beautiful, timeless music.

“Personnel on the night: Greg Foat (piano, EMS Synthi AKS), Clark Tracey (drums), Eric Young (congas), Phil Achille (bass), Trevor Walker (trumpet), Rob Mach (saxophones), Hugh Harris (guitar) with special guest Duncan Lamont (tenor saxophone).


 
“Parisian-born producer Fred “Neue Grafik” N’Thepe formed his Ensemble last year, consisting of trumpet player Emma-Jean Thackray, Vels Trio’s drummer Dougal Taylor, bassist Matt Gedrych and of course Fred himself on keyboards. Grafik’s sound is a hybrid of jazz, house and hip hop, all with his unique geographical tones of African ethnicity, Parisian roots and a love for London sounds (like broken beat and grime) thrown into the mix. For this session, they will be joined by rapper and poet Brother Portrait who is omnipresent on NGE’s forthcoming EP.”


 
Representing the Church of Sound DJ resources, half of the CoS diumvirate (and Total Refreshment Centre founder) Lex Blondin will be manning the decks, and there’ll be an aftershow party over at Tottenham’s Five Mile club.

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Polish Jazz London Series, July-November 2019

Further north-east, the Polish Jazz London Series is opening up in Waltham Forest. It’s a handshake between a borough celebrating its current status as London Borough of Culture (and pushing hard not to be overshadowed by the existing momentum of Hackney and Tottenham), the Polish Cultural Institute, B Side Events and the Music Halls Project which is opening up church spaces in Walthamstow and Leytonstone as high-quality music performance venues.

Poland isn’t the first place that springs to mind when jazz is mentioned. Cognoscenti, however, are aware of it as an incubator of high-end music with typical Polish determination. Five monthly concerts starting in the summer and leading into the autumn – each featuring some outstanding talent – demonstrate how productive this can be.

The first, on 4th July, features Warsaw avant-fusioneers Niechęć – saxophonist Maciej Zwierzchowski, drummer Michał Kaczorek, guitarist Rafal Błaszczak, keyboard player Michał Załęski and double bassist Maciej Szczepański stir ominous misty shifts of chord-tones and atmospherics into spinning jagged cyclones. Theirs is a frictional engagement with the air, although one which embraces a tight mothership of form rather than a straight free-jazz explosion.

Szczepański’s fondness for arco bowing, Zwierzchowski’s for caustic, cryptic Shorterish sax commentary and the band’s readiness to pursue whistling psychedelic rockscapes close to that of ‘Saucerful’-era Pink Floyd (as well as touching on the tweaked, ring-modulated open-ended fierceness of early electric Miles and the initially freeforming argumentation of Weather Report) pin them as spirit brothers to the permeable explorers of the ’70s cusp. Translated from the Polish, their name means “dislike”; and sometimes their music’s a growling frown, a diet of harsh and undying embers. Despite that, it’s never withdrawn or surly, never dull – it constantly takes you along with its dark and challenging moods.


 
The August concert features a new trio led by pre-eminent young Polish polymath Marcin Masecki. Not new in that his keyboard playing is augmented by his regular project cohorts (Jerzy Rogiewicz on drums and Piotr Domagalski on double bass) but new in that he’s apparently not looked into the possibilities of a classic trio since his schooldays. Since then, he’s been busy mastering and promoting a dizzying variety of projects and musical applications (the program lists it all as “big bands, brass orchestras, classical symphony orchestras, choirs, alternative pop bands, electric quintets, acoustic duets, sextets and nonets, composing for film and theatre, giving masterclasses, classical chamber musicking, and a vast body of solo work”).

It took an extended moment alone to trigger this new project – a jogging session during which Marcin became fascinated by both the bodily mechanics of respiration, extension, heart-rate (and so forth) and the mental changes and separation of mind which occur during the strictures of exercise. He opted to translate this across into music. In this clip, you can see how the post-bop pulse motors away while Marcin plays a succession of complex, diversifying ideas on top of it, maintaining both independence and integration while also sustaining perfect stability and authority.


 
The September gig features the bony, peppery rhythmic work of the Kuba Więcek Trio, whose paradoxical music (authoratively skittish; cerebrally frenzied; making overpowering gestures within a small and disciplined space) has been noted by uber-critic and fellow countryman Piotr Metz for combining the Polish post-bop of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s with knowingly neurotic Manhattanisms. More specifically, “the melody, which seems straight from Komeda songs, also has the noise of the New York traffic.” Each member doubles, musically – bass player Michał Barański spits and mutters konnakol (Carnatic drum-talk vocals), drummer Łukasz Żyta rattles out additional melodies on glockenspiel, and Kuba himself swaps between saxophone and dropped-in synth or electronics.

Packed into the music are funk and marches, transposed tabla burrs, Birdland boptalk and strains of eastern European folk dance. The trio’s also capable of periods of delicate sweetness, but always with a febrile watchfulness and staccato undercurrent; as if they’re tiptoeing precisely over a tough streetscape of broken glass and stray syringes even as they chat or serenade.


 
The October gig features High Definition Quartet, who come with sky-high praise from Randy Brecker: but if, from that, you’re expecting them to fit into his American fusion tradition, you’d be surprised. While this collectively-run quartet are second-to-no-one in hoarding and firing out classic chops, they’re also continual polyreferential box-busters, moving through multiple styles . It’s not just a case of tricksy polystylism, though: not something carried out as a joke. Instead, Piotr Orzechowski (who also rejoices in the nickname of “Pianohooligan”) and his allies (double bassist Alan Wykpisz, saxophonist Mateusz Śliwa and drummer Grzegorz Pałka) come across more as people whose brains process at double-speed: simultaneously and voraciously riffing and developing from anything which flits across their attention or their synapses.

For their current project, Piotr and the quartet have created jazz rearrangements of ‘Bukoliki’, a set of short piano pieces (originally string duets) by Witold Lutosławski – which he, in turn, derived by old Polish folk songs from the distinct Kurpie forest culture of north-east Poland (whose music also inspired Górecki). A second-generation mutation, then; and one which the HDQ deliver with breathtaking speed, precision and invention, respecting the source material by stepping deeply into it and refusing to do anything less than give it and gift it every scrap of their own intuition.


 
The last show (as far as I know) is in November, in the grand Art Nouveau surroundings of Leyton’s Great Hall, sponsored by LVE Foundation. Signing us out is Wrocław septet Electro-Acoustic Beat Sessions, or EABS – a Polish answer to the current club-culture reinvigorations of jazz forms as demonstrated by Shabaka Hutchings, Kamasi Washington and others. Via their technological wildcard Spisek Jednego, EABS merge sampling and looping into their instrumentation in a “reconstruction from deconstruction” approach. The rest of the band consists of Marek Pędziwiatr (on piano, synths and voice), guitarist Vojto Monteur, drummer Marcin Rak, bass player Paweł Stachowiak and a doubled brass line of Jakub Kurek (trumpet) and Olaf Węgier (tenor sax); merging a profoundly lyrical sensibility and a taste for European conceptual landscapery, while pulling in and transforming strong strands of hip hop, jungle, funk, gospel and electronic music.

As with many jazz acts, EABS build into a developing future while looking deeply into a specific cultural past. Among their preoccupations are the ideas of “Slavic melancholy” and the culture’s tendency to have favoured oral transmission over literacy: something reflected in the examination of Polish demonology and general Slavic mythology in their most recent recording, ‘Slavic Spirits’, drawing on accounts from “musicians, historians, journalists, writers and even psychotherapists.”


 
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Dates:

Church of Sound presents:
Greg Foat Group + Neue Grafik Ensemble + Church of Sound DJ set
St James the Great, 188 Lower Clapton Road, Clapton, London, E5 8EG, England
Friday 21st Jun 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Polish Jazz London Series:

  • Niechęć – St Mary’s Music Hall, 8 Church End, Walthamstow, London, E17 9RL, England – Thursday 4th July 2019, 6.30pm – information here and here
  • Marcin Masecki’s Jazz Trio – St John’s Music Hall, High Road, Leytonstone, London, E11 1HH, England – Friday 16th August 2019, 6.30pm – information here
  • Kuba Więcek Trio – St Mary’s Music Hall, 8 Church End, Walthamstow, London, E17 9RL, England – Thursday 19th September 2019, 6.30pm – information here and here
  • High Definition Quartet – St John’s Music Hall, High Road, Leytonstone, London, E11 1HH, England – Friday 18th October 2018, 6.30pm – information here
  • EABS – Leyton Great Hall, 1 Adelaide Road, Leyton, London, E10 5NN – Thursday 21st November 2019, 6.30pm – information here

 

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…

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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.”

 

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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.”


 
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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:”


 
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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.”


 

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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…


 
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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
 

April/May 2019 – upcoming English gigs – soul, folk, hip hop, poetry, glimmer pop and more on Lilith Ai’s Bare Radical tour through Cambridge, Bradford, Nottingham, Bristol, Reading and London (9th/14th/19th April, 1st/3rd/9th May) with her assorted support club of singer-songwriters, performance poets, folksters and dream/garage rockers

8 Apr

If you just took Lilith Ai at her word as being the possessor of a “pretty mouth and a dirty tongue”, and you’d also heard that she rapped, you’d be expecting a London version of Nikki Minaj.


 
Not the case. A more accurate parallel would be a latterday Joan Armatrading, or perhaps a lower-key Lauryn Hill; Lilith’s an accomplished and intimate singer-songwriter drawing subtly on folk, soul, hip-hop and R&B and pulling them onwards. Comparisons will only get you so far, though, since Lilith bypasses Armatrading’s discreet ’70s reticence and instead owns a lippier and punkier streak; and although she shares Hill’s love of a street beat, a bent note and a woke stance, she lacks the latter’s self-righteous, self-sabotaging chippiness. Dirty tongue claims notwithstanding, she’s also less of an out’n’out cusser than she might suggest. The occasion f-bomb strike is part of the no-nonsense, “you-can-stop-right-there-boy” feminism which provides the steely core to what she does: offset by the engaging warmth of an artist who is as much interested in people as in stances.

The British music biz isn’t always kind to talented black girls with guitars – Joan might have done OK, but whatever happened to Peppercorn? – but Lilith isn’t the sort to be eaten alive. Untangling her past provides some interesting complexities and clashes. There’s some fine material for legend-building here – her mingled Afro, Chinese and Indian ancestry, and the fact that she spent part of her early twenties sleeping rough and near-penniless in both Tottenham and Queens (at one point in a wrecked car, later towed away in a scenario that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Tom Waits song). Set against that is her additional background as a music school grad who can hang with and work alongside a surprising breadth of allies, from fearsome bluespunknoise grrlforce Skinny Girl Diet to rising fashion aristocracy in the shape of Georgia May Jagger.



 
The key to understanding how this all fits together is in how Lilith structures her approach to art and community. With artistic roots in comic-writing geekery, she’s always had a strong sense of mood and detail. Later along the line, as a developing songwriter, she’s allied it to a fervent desire to create a mostly female (and queer-friendly) movement which rejects counterproductive competitive bitchery in favour of an ethic of sympathy and mutual support, stepping up to political solidarity. All of this also needs to be seen through the arty barrier-trashing lens of punk spirit, which explains her Fight Like A Girl crew. A loosely-defined friendship-in-art arrangement, F.L.A.G. is a feminist/LGBT+ art/music collective inspired equally by late ’70s summers of Britpunk, by the political ferment of ’90s Olympia and by latterday movements like #TimesUp. It involves zinework, recording and enthusiastic intimate gigs in makeshift scratch locations, all within a fearless female atmosphere allied to a sense that rigid genre (and rigid gender) boundaries are less important than constructive intent and political engagement.

While Lilith’s upcoming Bare Radical mini-tour isn’t explicitly a Fight Like A Girl event, it bears all of the hallmarks. It’s packed with other female artists (plus assorted sympathetic male players and a hefty proportion of non-binary artists) and takes place in a dissimilar scatter of formal venues and found spaces in bookshops, community centres, cafes and co-operatives up and down England. Lilith will also be laying off on her beats and concentrating on the acoustic/unplugged side of things as she performs and promotes her new ‘Bare Radical’ EP. She’s still budding, still climbing, poised on the lip of the excellence her early work promised. Now is a perfect time to join the event, while she’s still in venues close enough to share breath.



 
* * * * * * * *

Along for most of the dates is the delightfully energised craft-popper Myles McCabe (generally best known as guitarist for London pop punkers Fresh), who’s playing at Cambridge, Bradford and Nottingham with his Me Rex project. On the surface Myles has got a pretty high tweeness count. All of his Rex albums and EPs are named after prehistoric creatures from mammoths to stegosauri, most of his pet sounds are cheap ones (synth parps, guitar clunks, snatches of bedroom rave, a little piano), and his voice is sweetly vulnerable, bending under a little rhotacistic twist and folding like paper on the high notes.

On the other hand, there’s a blazing articulate passion to what he does, his songs volcanoing out of an initial small hotspot and expanding into broadening emotional tapestries in which simple ideas link inexorably to others like agitated mercury blobs, layering into a gorgeous pop outburst. He describes himself as “kind of like a cross between Art Brut and Kraftwerk. That started off as a pun about arts & crafts but then I really liked the way it sounded.” It’s a good gag, but self-deflating indie jokes aren’t really what he’s about.


 
At Cambridge, a couple of singer-songwriters are hoppping on board. There’s local girl Helen Robertson, an enthusiastic music homecrafter and constant collaborator who (although she seems to have been a bit quiet recently) released a twelve-month sprint of EPs across 2014. Hers is an unfussy, chameleonic, DIY hobby-table approach which embraces strummy-or-noisy kitchen-sink indie, blobby instrumental synth pop, pub gig comedy, and various overdubbed a cappella work from solo folk-pop chorales to patter songs. There’s also Sophie Foster, the self-professed teenaged “lever harp megababe” who usually lurks behind the name of The Sunday School. To be honest, I’m baffled about her: this brief appearance on YouTube and the couple of Soundcloud demos below suggests that rather than harping she blip-pongs away on a little keyboard and murmurs reflections on uncertainties and diary notes; while other Soundcloudings suggest a lo-fi guitar trudger, and there’s something else on Spotify which I don’t know about thanks to my still holding out on the platform. Her Twitter presence suggests someone fierce and grrly behind the whispering.

I’m guessing that Sophie’s someone whom you have to discover and to follow live for quite a while, picking up scraplings before you get the full story. As for Helen, attempting to pick a key track seems to be a waste of time, so I’m just throwing three together at random here.

 
It’s the same at Bradford, where self-propelled onetime busker-for-a-bet Liam Jarvis joins the bill, alongside gently punk-oustic Leeds folkie Sarah Carey (whose music is divided between disaffected urban acoustica and committed folk baroque instrumentals, groping between them for a doorway to somewhere better). I’ve got nothing for Liam, but here’s Sarah:


 
In Nottingham, Lilith’s supported by both Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something and Matt Abbott. Once the guitarist for heavy dream-rockers Landshapes, Jenna now offers up sardonic psychedelic glam-rocking with a band featuring Furniture/Transglobal Underground drummer Hamilton Lee, moonlighting producer/bassist Mark Estall, and Krupa on synth and backing vocals. Wakefield wordsmith Matt runs the spoken word label Nymphs & Thugs and both writes and performs poetry for kids and adults replete with “socio-political commentary, human struggle and kitchen sink realism” (plus, for the kids “playful rebellion (and the) challenging (of) societal stereotypes”).




 
Matt and Me Rex both resurface for the London date, which also features a pair of junior traditioneers in the shape of “teenage lo-fi soul singer” Charlie Mburaki (who sang with Lilith on the latter’s recent Warrior Queen) and drawling junior-Dylan-esque folk rocker Oliver Rodzianko

 
There are more fierce, plangent words at the Bristol gig. It’s a free event in a bookshop in which punk and slam poetry have an equal presence to musicin the shape of Bridget Hart (teller of tough, gritty tales and compiler of a poetic “love-letter to women and female solidarity”) and in the sliding, pulsing genderqueer cadences of Aiysha’s accounts and explorations of “mental illness, love, trauma and gender identity”.

Also on hand is the slow, sad, beautiful “shimmer pop” and voiceloops of Georgie Biggins, a.k.a. GINS, who from one angle sounds like a lo-fi gender-swapped bedsit Blue Nile passed through an a capella dream-pop filter and from another like f.k.a. Twigs morphing into ’90s goth-wispers Cranes. Don’t be entirely misled by the soft and introverted textures, though. Underneath Georgie’s apparent mournfulness, the gossamer delicacy and the blurred, haunting visuals there’s both resistance and outright challenge, just framed in a different way; the secret thought that’s a couple of steps away from a marching flag.



 
GINS is also onboard for the Reading show, where Lilith is joined by the fluttering acoustic pop-soul singing of Amya-Ray; by the sometimes-psychedelic, sometimes-instrumental acoustic-indie-folk of Colours & Fires (who’ve placed themselves firmly on the gender-equality frontlines); and by the mysterious, frankly undocumented RIYA (who could be punk or poet, first-person singular or group, for all the info they’ve provided… but the open-ended mystery’s at least in keeping with the rest of the Bare Radical openness).

 

* * * * * * * *

Full Lilith Ai ‘Bare Radical’ tour dates:

  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, Cambridgeshire, England – Tuesday 9th April 2019, 9.00pm (with Me Rex + Sophie Foster + Helen Robertson) – information here and here
  • The 1 in 12 Club, 21-23 Albion Street, Bradford, BD1 2LY, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Sarah Carey + Liam Jarvis) – information here and here
  • City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 1FH, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Jemma Freeman & the Cosmic Something + Matt Abbott) – information here and here
  • Hydra Books, 34 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EZ, England – Wednesday 1st May 2019, 7.00pm (with GINS + Bridget Hart + Aiysha) – free event – information here and here
  • Reading University Students Union, Whiteknights Campus, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 6AZ, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.30pm (with GINS + RIYA + Amya-Ray + Colours & Fires) – information here and here
  • VFD, 66 Stoke Newington Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7XB, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 8.00pm (with Me Rex + Matt Abbott + Charlie Mburaki + Oliver Rodzianko) – information here, here and here

 

April/May 2019 – upcoming folk/experimental gigs – Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ season

30 Mar

Details on the upcoming season of Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ – slightly massaged press text follows…

'Singing With Nightingales', April/May 2019

“Join folk singer, song collector and nature lover Sam Lee in the forest, sit by the fireside and listen to intoxicating song, as some of the finest musicians in the land duet with the sweet sound of the nightingale. Immerse yourself in the folklore and ways of our native birds, savour the music of world-renowned guest artists from folk, classical, world music, and jazz arenas. Join us in a rare and thrilling journey as darkness falls upon the springtime woodlands of Kent, Sussex and Gloucestershire from 18th April to 26th May.

“Each year, for a few months from mid-April, a few thousand nightingales fly to the southern UK from Africa. They can be heard in just a small number of special locations, taking up songful residence after dusk. The territorial males serenade loyally each night for no more than six weeks among the blackthorn and forest margins, giving unbelievable privilege to those who know where to go. Inspired by infamous recordings of cellist Beatrice Harrison playing with nightingales as far back as 1924, Sam has been hosting reverent celebrations of this endangered bird each spring since 2014. These events have spanned multiple events at four different sites, a ‘Pick of The Year’ BBC Radio 4 documentary, a critically acclaimed adaptation for theatres and concert halls, and many broadcasts on BBC Radio 3.

“As well as the outdoor night shows, you can also enjoy the sound of the nightingales’ song in the comfort of concert halls across the UK from 14th April. After a hugely popular run in 2018, our ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ tour is back, bringing you diverse musicians in relaxed, low-lit settings improvising in collaboration with live birdsong via live broadcast feed from the countryside. Joining Sam on stage will be a duo (depending on the date) of either violin-playing jazz world/folk singer Alice Zawadzki plus kora-playing Senegalese Griot Kadialy Kouyate, or Welsh folk-singer/songwriter/harpist Georgia Ruth plus Bristolian post-jazz trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Pete Judge. In addition, an abridged version of ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ will feature at London’s South Bank as the late show in the ‘Absolute Bird’ concert (a night of classical music inspired by birdsong).


 
“Brand new for this year, we are launching a mini festival experience with the nightingales at Fingringhoe Wick , Essex, on 27th April. Hosted by Sam, the night will feature three performances from Irish 10-string drone fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh and from experimental songwriters and instrumentalists Serafina Steer and Cosmo Sheldrake, all joined in song with the nightingale.

We’re offering return travel from London for selected events; and we’re very happy to say that we have received some funding from Arts Council England which means we’re able to put a number of concessions tickets on sale for selected events. These are strictly for people on low income. We also have a number of concession tickets available for our Singing With Nightingales Festival event at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve, Essex on April 27th.”

Other musicians involved in the open air concerts come from a variety of different genres. There are classical and jazz flautists (Paul Cheneour; and Marsyas Trio‘s Helen Vidovich) and assorted polygenre players (eclectic South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, post-classical/post-folk chamberist Kate St John, Globe Theatre music director Bill Barclay, multi-instrumental composer Christo Squier). There are singers from various strands of contemporary folk (Lisa Knapp, Furrow Collective’s Lucy Farrell, ESKA) and soul-jazz singer-cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. There’s the choral work of vocal trio Blood Moon Project (featuring Heloise Tunstall Behrens, Tanya Auclair and Luisa Gerstein). There are also representatives of music from further afield (Zimbabwean singer/mbira master Chartwell Dutiro, travelling shakuhachi-ist Adrian Freedman, Afghan music specialists John Baily & Veronica Doubleday and Dublin vocalist Fergus “Faró” Cahillane, the latter known for Irish and Irish/Viking acappella folk work with Anúna and M’anam).


 
Update, 13th April – in the latest development, ‘Singing With Nightingales’ is linking up in London with the Extinction Rebellion movement, on 29th April, for a “peaceful sit down intervention” in central London, called ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square‘:

“In the midst of the heightened attention to climate change and environmental catastrophe we want to bring people together in celebration of the musical beauty of the natural world. Poets, musicians and nature lovers will join together to perform the most romantic rebellion.

“Written in 1939, the renowned ballad tells of the impossible moment when a now critically endangered nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) sings in Mayfair’s famous garden square. Nightingales have not been heard in Central London, let alone Mayfair, for several hundred years. However, through the magical power of people and technology this April 29th, XR, Sam Lee, The Nest Collective and a pop-up flash mob of nature enthusiasts, musicians and supporters will gather to rewild nightingale song back into Berkeley Square.

“Through synchronised streaming of the nightingale’s mesmeric yet seldom heard courtship song via mobile phones and mobile speakers, our pop-up action will fill the park and surrounding streets with the song of a creature nearing extinction on this island. The birdsong will be accompanied by offerings from musicians, singers, poets and anyone who wants to collaborate with the finest singer in the world. This central London rewilding action aims to bring poetic focus to the shocking demise of our own native species and give Londoners the opportunity to hear a once ubiquitous songbird, now near extinct in the UK, in its mythic notional home.”

* * * * * * * *

Full dates for everything:

Open-air shows at Green Farm Kent, Church Lane, Shadoxhurst, Kent, TN26 1LS, England

  • Friday 19th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Bill Barclay) – information here and here
  • Saturday 20th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Paul Cheneour) – information here and here
  • Sunday 21st April 2019 (featuring Sam Lee & Christo Squier) – information here and here
  • Friday 17th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Helen Vidovich) – information here and here
  • Saturday 18th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Abel Selaocoe) – information here and here
  • Sunday 19th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Blood Moon Project) – information here and here

Open-air shows at a secret location near Spithurst, Lewes, Sussex, BN8 5EF, England

  • Thursday 25th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 26th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 3rd May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lisa Knapp) – information here and here
  • Saturday 4th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Kate St John) – information here and here
  • Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Ayanna Witter-Johnson) – information here and here
  • Monday 6th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lucy Farrell) – information here and here
  • Saturday 25th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee + ESKA + John Baily & Veronica Doubleday) – information here and here
  • Sunday 26th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Fergus Cahillane) – information here and here

Open-air shows at Highnam Woods, Highnam, Gloucestershire, GL2 8AA, England

  • Thursday 9th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Pete Judge) – information here and here
  • Friday 10th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Chartwell Dutiro) – information here and here
  • Saturday 11th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Adrian Freedman) – information here and here

‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ (indoor concerts)

  • Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5EG, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AQ, England – Tuesday 23rd April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Warwick Arts Centre, University Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England – Wednesday 24th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EL, Tuesday 30th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Wyeside Arts Centre, Castle Street, Builth Wells, LD2 3BN, Wales – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • St Laurence’s Church, Church Street, Stroud, GL5 1JL, England – Wednesday 15th May 2019, … (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here.
  • Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NB, England – Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • Junction II @ Cambridge Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge, CB1 7GX, England – Thursday 23rd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • ’Absolute Bird: Translating Nature’ Queen Elizabeth Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England – Friday 24th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee, Alice Zawadzki plus selected members of City of London Sinfonia) – information here and here.

Singing With Nightingales: Festival (with Sam Lee + Serafina Steer + Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh + Cosmo Sheldrake)
Visitor Centre @ Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, South Green Road, Colchester, Essex, CO5 7DN, England
Saturday 27th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Extinction Rebellion: ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’
Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J, England
Monday 29th April 2019, 6.00pm
– information here
 

February 2019 – upcoming gigs in London and Sunderland (folk, country, etc.) – Mally Harpaz and Valeria Pozzo in London (12th); a resurgent Bill Jones in London and Sunderland (16th & 20th February); Sarah Jane Scouten in London (18th February)

4 Feb

Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo, 12th February 2019

On Tuesday next week, there’s yet another chance to see sometime Anna Calvi drummer/harmoniumist Mally Harpaz present her solo composer side, via live performances of her soundtracks for Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s video-art extrapolations from classic paintings. Debuted a little over a year ago (and revisited a couple of times since then, they’re post-classical piano-centric mood pieces. Various guests will be joining Mally as part of her ensemble – in the past, these have included Mark Neary, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford, Jessica Lauren, Eran Karniel and, indeed, Anna Calvi (a close friend rather than an employer, and one who repays loyalty).

 
As for the future, Mally is still incubating her intended debut album, with two brooding instrumentals having broken cover on Soundcloud two years ago – glowering Gothic impressionism for piano, drum and ghost guitar, dabbed with synth strings and wordless soprano wails. You can hear the imprint of mediaeval-toned cinema epics, Dead Can Dance, some of the foggier Braonáin-isms… but someone really needs to let this woman loose on a New Weird Britain film about a haunted pantry somewhere in the New Forest. Something nasty, with a scary cutlery drawer.


 
As she usually does, Mally is presenting this as part of one of her “off-the-beaten-track” Blind Dog Studio evenings, which also showcase other performers. In the past these events have often favoured under-the-radar female singer-songwriters with impressive multi-instrumental abilities. This month’s show is no exception, featuring Valeria Pozzo.

Originally from Italy, Valeria currently floats in that strangely nationless zone of acoustic jazz pop, where it’d be difficult to tell where she was from unless you asked. She’s the possessor of handy guitar and violin skills as well as being the owner of a supple voice; and from what I’ve heard of her so far she’s hovering on a cusp where she could either carve out a comfortable career supplying smooth, edgeless jazz-folk entertainment at upscale pizza restaurants or take a couple of small, delicate gambles and persistently deliver songs which could turn heads and stop jaws champing.

I much prefer it when she does the latter: easing subtly strange chordings and tunings into her work, adding an extra dimension. Not necessarily unsettling, let alone perverse, but providing a deepening, an extra quality of storytelling undercurrent. What would be, if she dealt in written stories, the story beyond the words: the bit that crept up on you.


 
Valeria’s also making another appearance later in the month, this time at Rami Radi’s Laid Bare At the Ritzy acoustic night in Brixton; where she’ll be appearing with assorted other south London singer-songwriters including post-Damien Rice caroller Archie Langley, Berlin-born acoustic soulster Adwoa Hackman and her white-soul-boy-next-door counterpart Josh Collins. As a bill it’s got its moments, but it’s a little too generic for me to say much here, to be honest; although George Pelham’s buttery lite-soul voice and apparently effortless shuffling of McCartney, Prince and Elton John songwriting sounds pretty good. I’m also going to go back sometime and have a closer listen to the coastal autoharp folk of Olive Haigh – the deliverer of a cute, winsome sound with a garnish of eerie weirdness which becomes more apparent the more you listen (slightly magical/slightly sinister fairytale undertones, and a subtle use of sound embellishments from fiddle slides to pebble rattles).

* * * * * * * *

Bill Jones, 16th February 2019

There was a time in the early 200s when Bill Jones looked set to be a British folk star with the profile of someone like Kate Rusby – upfront, nicely turned out, fairly straightforward and with her folk scholarship gently on display. (These days it seems to matter less whether you gained it at lockins or at university, though plenty seem to study at both of these schools. Bill was one of those who did both.)

My own initial memories of Bill are wilder, woollier and from a bit further back: from when she was singing loud, pure backing vocals from behind an accordion as an anchoring part of The Wise Wound, who have generally been snootily dismissed as “an indie band” in accounts of Bill’s prehistory but whose absorbing, sometimes frustrating work was more like a remarkable psychedelic quilt being disgorged through a chamber folk-funnel. Back then (still going through formative years) she was something of a band secret weapon: a dark horse who stood apart from the friendly-frictional mental wrestling and gag-cracking that made up much of the Wise Wound’s offstage behaviour, while secretly fostering a great deal of the charm that served her well when she eventually found her own voice and went solo.

It was interesting seeing Bill afterwards, since she was still something of a dark horse: managing to pull off (possibly unwittingly) the trick of being entirely open while remaining entirely enigmatic. Even when revealing something personal in song (such as her family’s Anglo-Indian Darjeeling heritage, as laid out a capella in the title track of 2001’s ‘Panchpuran’) she sometimes seemed less of a conversationalist in what she sang than a conduit, like the flute she also plays. Her sleekly-groomed picture-book folk sometimes made use of the varnished production of pop, but without any concessions or vulgarities; and there was certainly always a sense that while Bill was friendly and loved her craft, she was also keeping a careful reign on the interplay of life and music.

Bill Jones, 20th February 2019At any rate, after three increasingly well-received albums (plus a live record, an odds-and-sods collection and a trinational collaborative project and tour with Anne Hills and Aoife Clancy), Bill turned away from the road and the spotlight; taking the option of stepping back, while still in her twenties, in favour of home-life in Sunderland, teaching and raising a family. She hasn’t been completely absent from the stage since. Folk-music teaching has less differentiation between instruction and performance; plus there were a couple of 2016 support slots in Tokyo for Flook and a number of low-key charity gigs for Antenatal Results & Choices (a cause close to Bill’s heart).

Now, however, she’s mounting a more substantial comeback, with a new album – ‘Wonderful Fairytale’ – finally arriving this coming May and various folk festival appearances scheduled for England and the United States later in the year. The first sightings are a new song, My Elfin Knight, and a pair of February dates accompanied by violinist/viola player and album buddy Jean-Pierre Garde. Between them, incidentally, the gigs indicate the affable but borderline incompatible polarities of British folk music. The London show in the churchy environs of The Gresham Centre can’t help but come with a bit of lofty gloss (canonicity, scholarliness, high-culture), while the Sunderland hometown gig is much more down-to-earth (a Whitburn Village Heritage Society do at a cricket club which also features floor spots from local singers).

I don’t know whether Bill makes much of these differentiations, or whether the contrast makes her laugh. As far as I can see, she’s just getting on with the music. Here’s the video for My Elfin Knight, which shows that she’s lost nothing in the intervening time: musically, still as sleek as a seal and cool as an early autumn evening. If anything’s changed, it’s the emotional freighting: the passing years seem to have laid an extra presence on her, with the sense of unspoken things lurking closer behind the song.


 
* * * * * * * *

Among the Nest Collective events popping up for early 2019 is a show by Canadian country folker Sarah Jane Scouten – another artist with firm groundings in tradition plus the willpower to bring it to a fresh new audience. As with the spill of characters around the Laid Bare evening, I can’t say much for Sarah in terms of originality, or in terms of her bringing much that’s new to the table, but with her neither of these things need to matter.

Sarah Jane Souten, 18th February 2019

What does matter is how she takes her chosen song-form back into her corner (a genre that’s still too young to be ossified but is still too easy to render cheesy) and how she refreshes it. Rather than a young revolutionary, Sarah’s a restorer and a reconfigurer: someone who can already turn out classic-sounding songs to fit the canon, and who can personify its ongoing traditions in a way that looks forced and creaky on a rock performer but sits surprisingly well on a country figure. Maybe it’s the storytelling side of things – as with traditional folk, stories get picked up, dusted off and recast in country, rolling on like a wheel. At any rate, Sarah’s consistently impressive, whether she’s turning out honky-tonk or delivering typically countryesque tales of rural life, bereavement and memory with songs such as the recent single Show Pony. She might not be showing you where country is going, but she’ll certainly show you where it will always be coming from.

 
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Dates:

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo + guests
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Tuesday 12th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The Nest Collective presents:
Sarah Jane Scouten
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Monday 18th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bill Jones:

  • Gresham Centre, St Anne And St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Whitburn Cricket Club, The Village Ground, Sunderland, South Tyneside, SR6 7BZ, England – Wednesday 20th February 2019 – information here and here

Laid Bare At the Ritzy presents:
George Pelham + Adwoa Hackman + Olive Haigh + Josh Collins + Valeria Pozzo Trio + Archie Langley
Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG, England
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information 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

 

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