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

4 Apr

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

16 Mar

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


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

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

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

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




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


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



 
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Cavey + Moon Panda, 26th March 2018

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

February 2018 – upcoming London folk etc. gigs at the Magic Garden – Emma Lohan and Lánre (4th February); Echo Trails and Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet (8th February)

27 Jan

Riffling through the music schedules at Battersea’s Magic Garden pub reminds me of my incurable habits and hopes as regards raiding the CD racks in charity shops. Though it’s not the place for tribute bands, per se, there’s a lot of cover and tribute music being played there – straight evocations of New Orleans funk, Latin jazz, folk-blues or Celtic sessions – but picking out something I really personally want, something a little more original or eclectically fused, is more hit-and-miss.

Thankfully, the Magic Garden’s a place I keep checking back on, since a few of those more original gems tend to show up and flourish there.

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Emma Lohan, 4th February 2018

Sunday Folk: Emma Lohan + Lánre
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Sunday 4th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

February’s first Sunday sees the Magic Garden hosting the lovely bubbling folk-pop of Galway globetrotter Emma Lohan – her debut appearance at the venue, but one of an increasing number of recent wanders across the Irish Sea. Though she’s been billed variously as “Atlantic-folk meets ethno-pop” or “folk fusion that lies somewhere between sean nós and surf pop”, neither description quite does justice to what she creates: beautifully-constructed cloud-tossed songs imbued with the flicker of constant motion, which effortlessly blend together jigs, jazz, acoustic dreampop and palm-patter drawing on a palette of petal-skittering guitar, strings, kalimba, gently glowing hornwork and glockenspiel.

As to where it all comes from… well, there’s Irishness in the curve of her accent (and in some of the sessional lightness and fluidity to how everything fits together on the records), but in its wholeness her music embraces world funk, beach pop, psychedelic Balearic haze and uncoiling rhythms from South America, West Africa and Asia. Emma’s clearly the rolling stone which softly gathers everything.




 

In support is London-Afropean singer-songwriter Lánre, presenting an unplugged take on material from last year’s ‘Human’ EP and from nearly a decade of music making (including the band GK Real and songs which have seen her invited to perform in Paris). In the studio, she layers her simple, direct spiritual songs (many of them touching on the healing of black-girl wounds – beauty and worth, the straining for a sense of home) with rich blankets of ambient, post-gospel and choral-soul arrangement, sometimes stirring in a little country guitar or traditional Yoruba walking song. Live, whether playing solo or working with a band, African-American rootings show more clearly, seeming to touch on similar turf to Odetta or Erykah Badu, but also Toni Morrison and Arthur Lee.





 
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Echo Trails + Alba&Leo Elsewhere Quartet, 8th February 2018
Echo Trails + Alba&Leo’s Elsewhere Quartet
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Thursday 8th February 2018, 9.00pm
– free event – information here and here

Selling Echo Trails as being some kind of hopeful mashup of “epic groove and post-rock” is a massive undersell. Just because they’ve got a little Godspeed string thunder in them on occasion (and know a thing or two about old-school jazz’n’R&B propulsion) doesn’t mean that they’re one of those bands that milk the juice out of other genres and feed it into papery approximations.

A well-honed acoustic band is like a set of unhindered precision muscles, able to flex rhythms on the fly and dance in unexpected curves, and this is just such a band. Fronted by Dimitra Tzanakaki (a ballsy, smouldering Greek blend of Beth Gibbons, Tori Amos and Bette Midler) they’re a supple alliance of guitar, voluble double bass, viola and drumkit, the song undercarriage slipping easily from Mediterranean folk to psychobilly to a salsa set-to or to shedbashing Led Zeppelin thrills. Since their arrival in 2014 they’ve phased out keyboard and phased in pedalwork, enriching texture even as the instrumentation shrank: hence the post-rock tag, but there’s Schönberg, Piaf, Korn, Temper Trap, bebop and Hidden Orchestra tucked into their bag of influences along with Godspeed.




 
Back in their home country of Croatia, Alba Nacinovich and Leo Škec – trading as Alba&Leo – are already reknowned for being one of the best jazz-folk duos in the country. Having relocating to London last year from their hometown of Rijeka, they’re in with a good chance of getting the same reputation over here. Initially and deceptively a childlike presence, Alba turns out to have fiery focus, flexible tone, eclectic tastes and a laser-guided skill at everything from vocalise to pure pop; Leo is a dizzyingly skilled, mostly-acoustic-and-pedals guitarist with a mastery of percussive fingerstyle, quicksilver jazz runs and subtle electronic soundshaping. Tossing around terms like “augmented reality” like magicians’ scarves, they dip with equal verve into cover reinventions and original songs in both Croatian and English; while they’re still finding their feet with the latter, the music and the pattering, driving skills are already there. The quickest, laziest comparison is a junior, Slavic Tuck & Patti, minus the cheesecloth and cuddliness… but Alba&Leo won’t be junior for long.

For this gig, Alba&Leo are appearing in expanded and augmented form as The Elsewhere, a new quartet in which they’re bolstered by broad-based percussionist Sass Hoory (a specialist in Middle Eastern sounds) and polydisciplinary cellist Natalie Rozario (who’s drawing on a skillset that crosses theatre, jazz and opera). The show is part of an explosion of early-2018 Alba&Leo activity which includes a free evening with slow-jamming folk/R&B singer Breantonia and “love child of Sting and Edith Piaf” Miri at Borough’s Gladstone Arms on 3rd February, a duo gig upstairs at Ronnie Scott‘s on 30th January, and the actual debut of The Elsewhere at Harringay’s Jam In A Jar the following day on the 31st. I’ve got no Elsewhere clips, but here are some of Alba&Leo in assorted action…




 

January/February 2018 – upcoming London jazz gigs – Where Pathways Meet (17th January); Laura Jurd, KIM Trio and Têtes de Pois at a celebration of women in jazz (4th February)

9 Jan

Quick news on a couple more London jazz shows – a free-entry cosmic jazz performance in Peckham, and a woman-centric triple bill in Soho.

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Where Pathways Meet, 17th January 2018

Peckham Levels and Ghost Notes present:
Where Pathways Meet
Ghost Notes, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England
Wednesday 17th January 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here and here

“Ostensibly, a Where Pathways Meet performance serves as a latter-day tribute to the outergalactic sounds of Sun Ra. In actuality, the collective are as just as forward-facing as the great cosmonaut himself and, rather than revisiting the sounds of decades gone by, epitomise everything that’s exciting about the community of young South London musicians they call friends. As with immediate peers like Nubya Garcia, Moses Boyd and Ezra Collective, Where Pathways Meet draw as much from the contemporary sounds that surround them as they do from the art form’s traditional conventions; amid all the intricate arrangements and the cosmic interplay there are as many nods to West London’s Broken Beat scene and as anything attributable to the Arkestra.

“Headed up by trumpet player and bandleader Axel Kaner-Lidstrom, the double-drumming ensemble features an extensive cast of musicians who are each involved in their own South East London based projects. As such, Where Pathways Meet serves as what the band themselves describe as an open conduit to the area’s underground scene. Having recently smashed the stage at their Jazz Re:Freshed debut we’re delighted to welcome WPM for something of a homecoming show in Peckham this January.”

For the curious – the strongest of Where Pathways Meet’s links seem to be with Tomorrow’s Warriors and SE Dub Collective, with the group members apparently a nucleus of tenor saxophonist James Mollison (SEDC, Ezra Collective, Akua Naru), drummer Jake Long (another SEDC member and leader of Afro-spiritualists Maisha), trombonist Rosie Turton (SEDC, the TW-affiliated Nérija and her own quintet) and guitarist Mark Mollison, augmented by second drummer Sam Jones (Binker Golding Quartet) plus a shifting talent pool including bass players Mutale Chashi (Kokoroko, Idiom), Michael Shrimpling and Mick T Shirt and keyboard players Amané Suganami (Maisha, etc), Sara Tandy (Watertight Group etc) and Dominic Stephen Canning (Steam Down).


 
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Celebrating Women In Jazz (Laura Jurd + KIM Trio + Têtes de Pois), 4th February 2018

Independent Venue Week and Help Musicians UK present:
Celebrating Women in Jazz: IVW18 – Laura Jurd + KIM Trio + Têtes de Pois
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 4th February 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Independent Venue Week in partnership with Help Musicians UK, present a special event celebrating women in jazz at the 100 Club London, featuring some of the UK Jazz scene’s most dazzling artists.

“Internationally-acclaimed Mercury-Prize-nominated trumpeter Laura Jurd headlines with a formidable new quartet. This is an unmissable opportunity to witness a stellar group of players improvising together.” (NOTE – the quartet is probably Laura, regular drummer Corrie Dick, bassist Tom Herbert (Acoustic Ladyland, Polar Bear, The Invisible) and her fellow trumpeter and Trinity Laban mentor Chris Batchelor of Loose Tubes, Big Air and many more. Laura will also playing a longer evening set at Poplar Union’s Jazz Herstory season on 15th February, leading a trio completed by Corrie and Tom.)


 
KIM Trio is led by tenor saxophonist and Peter Whittingham Jazz Award 2017 winner Helena Kay, and features Misha Mullov-Abbado on double bass and David Ingamells on drums. Inspired by greats such as Sonny Rollins and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and by contemporary names like Melissa Aldana and Larry Goldings, the trio enjoy performing a varied mixture of Helena’s originals and tunes from the jazz canon.


 
Têtes de Pois (a tight genre-bending seven-piece ensemble fresh out of Leeds College of Music) fuse jazz, hip-hop and neo-soul. Featuring alto/baritone saxophonist Jasmine Whalley, tenor saxophonist/singer Harry Fowler, , guitarist Ben Haskins, keyboard player George McDonald, bass guitarist Owen Burns, drummer George Hall and percussionist Josh Ketch (plus, until recently, Eloise Oates Lidar on trumpet), they’ve recently been awarded an additional development fund as part of the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award.”


 

August/September 2016 – upcoming gigs – an English tour for Sage Francis & B. Dolan’s ‘Strange Speech, Famous Development” (Aug 29th-Sep 3rd); The Four Owls, Virus Syndicate, Mr Woodnote and Lil Rhys, Bellatrix, Divinity Roxx and Steve Lawson variously mix it up in London (17th, 29th).

26 Aug

Here’s some info on various upcoming shows from London to Leeds, with hip hop as the binding element in common. (Though what you’ll actually get stretches as far as ambient bass guitar soundscapes, spoken word and – on one occasion – some suspect sweary bird impressions.)

* * * * * * * *


 
Following a stint at the Edinburgh fringe, left-field rapper-poets Sage Francis and B. Dolan start to take their ‘Strange Speech, Famous Development’ spoken-word show on tour around selected venues in England. Roll the blurb:

“Sage Francis and B. Dolan are two internationally renowned hip-hop lyricists & spoken word poets – dynamos touted for their lyricism, activism, humour & performance art – with oddly parallel stories. Without prior knowledge of each other, both were born & raised in Rhode Island, where they developed an unlikely love of hip hop music. Although they grew up only one town apart from each other, they didn’t cross paths until 2002 via the Providence Poetry Slam. Each moved to New York City in search of the art-form, stumbled into the spoken word scene and developed a knack for razor sharp lyricism and stagecraft.


 
“Noted as one of the most articulate and broad-focussed of underground MCs, Sage came to widespread media attention in 2001 after his song ‘Makeshift Patriot’(which critiqued the behaviour and language of American media during, and immediately following, the September 11 attacks) became an internet hit. Though he’s released records on labels including Epitaph and Anti, he’s also seen his own Strange Famous Records grow from a late-’90s tape label releasing his own less obviously commercial material to a full-fledged fifteen artist independent.


 
“B. Dolan has made his own name via more than a decade’s worth of continually shapeshifting presentation, outsider perspective, and masterful execution. He enjoyed wide-spread attention for his activism in addressing homophobia in hip hop, and notably for his video single/campaign ‘Film The Police’ (which Russell Brand explored in a highly entertaining episode of ‘The Trews’.


 
“Although B. has been releasing records on Strange Famous since 2008 – when he made his career breakthough with the lo-fi, apocalyptic concept record ‘The Failure’ – he and Sage were working on music together as early as 2005. Several world tours later, their platonic life partnership was made official by forging a rap group called Epic Beard Men. ‘Strange Speech/Famous Development’ is the debut show that brings two legends of underground rap together on a very intimate stage. They’ll trade poems, songs, vivid stories and their now signature blend of offensive and insightful content. From personal to political and back again, the duo promise an inspiring performance.”


 

And here they are, drumming up business in Edinburgh…


 
Dates below:

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Mid-month, various spurs and outcrops of British hip hop make a showing in London at the Underworld for a night of rhymes, beats, and gimmicks-turned-triumphs.

Four Owls, 2016

Nightshift Promotions presents:
The Four Owls vs Virus Syndicate + Mr Woodnote & Lil Rhys + Bellatrix
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England Saturday 17 September 2016, 5.30pm
information

Headlining London crew The Four Owls might look like trim, slightly self-conscious lucha libre wrestlers lurking behind bird masks, but come out bating and striking. More lairy, scruffy hawk than owl, they certainly make a racket. A supergroup of High Focus Records solo rappers Leaf Dog, Fliptrix, BVA & Verb T, they specialise in souped-up, combative, old-school-cum-gang-surreal battle flow, echoing tumbling Wu-Tang semi-sequiturs and arcane/profane Kool Keith gabble, with additional British street lip and humour.


 
For the Owls, a shot of bad taste just adds to the juiciness of a spit. If you’ve got the stomach for the occasional nasty switchback, check out the outrageous braggy stack-ups and lyrical misbehaviour on ‘Much Too Much’ from back in 2011 (though its dips into shockery and the tacky sex-horror-in-the-woodz video ain’t for all tastes, to put it mildly.) But if it gets you riled up about hip hop misogyny squashing or sidelining women, the presence of Bellatrix on the bill provides a fine corrective. A onetime Boxette and award-winning world-champion beatboxer, she’s since been revealing multiple further talents – fine, jazz-inspired double bass playing; off-the-wall singer-songwriter tactics which make her sound like a West Country Björk; a knack for burbling textural synth loops and choral layering. All done live and solo, interwoven in real time, without a net. And she’s still talking about it as if it’s baby steps. What’ll she have proved herself capable of once she feels she’s fully up to speed?



 

Elsewhere on the bill, Manchester provides the dubstep/grime collective Virus Syndicate, who deliver claustrophobic, compelling narratives across chilly isolationist beats. In turn, Bristol offers the irresistibly peppy partnership of Lil Rhys and Mr Woodnote (the former a freestyle rapper who chatters like an engaging dancehall singer; the latter a saxophonist, EWI player and beatboxer who creates a smart-stepping one-man-band via loops and timing).



 

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A few weeks later, just down the road from the Underworld, Divinity Roxx will be slamming it out at the Jazz Café.

Divinity Roxx + Steve Lawson
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Tuesday 27th September 2016, 7.00pm
information
 


 

If I were to say that Divinity was Beyoncé’s bassist and musical director for two world tours, some might think that was the most interesting thing about her. I think that it isn’t. Being taken seriously as a player is good; for a female player, even more so. Being handed the MD-ship on one of the biggest shows in the business is even more of an honour – but there are plenty of yo-cat session players around who can handle that kind of thing, including plenty of female ones. Biz-wise, Divinity might be a bass player’s bass player, but there’s more to her than that, and it rolls out best in her solo work.


 

Playing flexible and diverse basslines, leading bands, delivering complex and confident live raps on top of her grooves, and possessing generous star quality of her own, Divinity can own a stage every bit as well as her erstwhile employer. With a repertoire already mining jazz, R&B, fusion, rock and hip hop, she can even deliver potential hits. In 2012’s ‘Get Here’, she swung old-school MC braggadocio around funk rock and a raw look-at-me stance; in last year’s ‘We Are’ she changed tack to wrap some flower-child hippy optism and civil-rights march vibes up with slick CCM-friendly gospel pop. Live, however, is where to catch her; and this month you can see her up-close before more people really start to cotton on to her. It’s only going to be a matter of time now.



 

For the Jazz Café show, Divinity will be joined by her musical buddy and fellow bass ace Steve Lawson. Steve’s otherworldly cinematic soundscapes, improvised live with nothing but a bass guitar, a MIDI controller and a bewildering array of pedals, have helped make him the most celebrated solo bassist in the UK. Since he’s also willing and eager to chat the legs of a fieldful of donkeys, it’ll be interesting to see what his daffy, teasing wit (and glammy dress sense) bring to the occasion. It’ll probably be like Ross Noble crashing a Neneh Cherry gig… assuming that Ross then went on to treat you to a set of tunes like Bootsy Collins, Pat Metheny and Boards of Canada all playing a convivial pass-the-parcel with Robert Fripp’s stage rig.



 

Steve has another couple of British gigs earlier in the month, which I’ll plug during the next jazz gig update in a few days’ time. If you can’t wait until then, click here to get the info direct from the source, and click here to read more about Steve from what’s been splashed across this blog over the years. Meanwhile, here he is busking in Frankfurt – in a jazzy mood, and without his usual wall of effects.


 

Tonight in Brooklyn – Michael Chinworth & The Rudder Group perform Trevor Wilson (with Will Stratton and Jonah Parzen-Johnson)

21 Aug

I’m sorry that this is another last-minute posting, but if you’re reading this in or around New York, there might be some tickets left for this concert.

Michael Chinworth, 2015

Michael Chinworth & The Rudder Band + Will Stratton + Jonah Parzen-Johnson (Union Hall, 702 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York, NY, USA, Friday August 21st 2015, 7.30pm) – $10.00

Part of the generation from the liberal arts Bennington College which also fostered Trevor Wilson (Anawan, Vocal Ensemble), Tavo Carbone (Horse’s Mouth) and J.J. Beck, Michael Chinworth maintains that group’s indifference to musical boundaries, keeping up a New York tradition of playing (like latterday Arthur Russells) across genres. Exploring his Bandcamp page throws up assorted experiments in cut’n’paste electro-acoustic collages and vocalese plus assorted various college-classical chamber pieces in various contemporary Romantic, minimalist or post-Ligeti forms. On this occasion, he’s following his well-established alternative pop side, performing his own lustrously tuneful take on a Trevor Wilson song cycle – 2013’s ‘Rudder Songs’ – which he’s due to release on album the following day.

‘Rudder Songs’ is in keeping with much of Trevor’s work – simultaneously vague and pointed, obscure and lovely, and often subtly provocative. While never being so obvious as to make a straightforward point, it suggests a unsettled fluidity of sexual identity and choices of vision; providing off-kilter, stream-of-consciousness hymns to unorthodox friendships and the possibilities of city life that nonetheless wilfully and regularly flees to open countryside or the solitary road life. Familiar elements from folk, torch song, soul jazz and psychedelia float alongside each other, recombining at odd intoxicated angles; or explode from straightforward beginnings into thought patterns too complicated for a simple frame to contain.

If you want to compare the Chinworth versions to the Wilson originals (sung and recorded solo at Meredith Monk’s piano, no less) you can find the latter above. Michael’s smooth, Wurlitzer-tickled blue-eyed soul approach might initially seem miles away from Trevor’s wayward and uninhibited performances and whisper-to-caterwaul vocalising (in some respects, it’s like Frank Ocean covering Kevin Coyne or John Cale at their most frothing). Still, if you’re familiar with Michael’s work on Trevor’s songs elsewhere, both the link and the sympathy are clearly intact; and it’s clear that their work together in Anawan (in which both Michael’s voice and Wurlitzer play a key role) paves a way towards Michael’s slant on the Rudder material. Check out his performance in the video for Anawan’s ‘Breaded Me’, below, and then compare it to his versions of a pair of Rudder Songs underneath (one exploring an unusual fissile threesome, the other obliquely fishing in a friend’s thoughts).

In addition to Michael the Rudder Band lineup includes guitar visionary Ben Seretan and fellow Benningtonians J.J. Beck and Matt Scott, plus Trevor Wilson himself on additional keyboards. Re the collaboration, Trevor comments “In many more ways than one, this is a repeat of a much-admired album from 1970, ‘Nilsson Sings Newman’. Harry Nilsson, inspired by the odd, rude composition style of Randy Newman, wanted to take the songs and re-imagine them with his signature vocal layering and general studio beautifying. These two songwriters, equal but so different in their contribution to musical history, united to create this album together without ego, without agenda. (Maybe. I hope.) As I will do (at the concert), Newman plays and sings on Nilsson’s adaptation of his own songs… with another bandleader.

“I think everyone should have the opportunity to do this with their form of expression. Not to get too 3rd-grade-after-school-assignment-y, but seriously, try it out. Ask one of your contemporaries, friends, colleagues if you can ‘cover’ their thing, and have them sit in the passenger seat somewhere during the process. Or the other way around. You’ll both learn a thousand things. Michael has a rare gift of seeing music on its own terms- terms that don’t exist within human realities- and he has certainly shown me things about my compositions that has changed my whole process. The band is sounding great, and I am so happy to be a part of it.”

There are two support acts. Folk songwriter Will Stratton will be playing songs drawn from his five full-length albums; while Jonah Parzen-Johnson (frequently seen as part of New York afrobeat ensemble Zongo Junction) will be bringing his lo-fi music for solo circular-breathing saxophone and analogue synthesizer, described as follows – “Imagine the raw energy of an Appalachian Folk choir, tempered by a lofi, minimal aesthetic inspired by the music of Bill Callahan… (Jonah) has meticulously constructed a world of warm memories remembered in a cold present, as he melds the evocative nature of folk music with the chilling power of experimentalism.” Judge for yourselves at the gig, or via the previews below.


Up-to-date information and tickets for the gig are available here – and if you can’t make it, you can view in on video stream here.

REVIEW – Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’ remix mini-album, 2013 (“unstitched, re-embroidered, re-folded”)

17 Mar
Lee Fletcher: 'The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes'

Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’

‘Faith In Worthless Things’ was one of 2012’s surprise pleasures. Lee Fletcher’s debut album was the late-blossoming distillation of years of work as engineer and confidant to assorted art-rock musicians, and of even more years absorbing influences and refining them in a budding songwriter’s heart.

What emerged was a sleek, assured and finely-honed planned-patchwork of an album. It pulled in sounds from touch guitars, Uillean pipes, crunchy rhythm loops, ukeleles, powdered trumpets and silky synthesizers; it mused on betrayals, work, bewitchment and people in general; and it drew on a wide but surprising coherent blend of string-quartet chamber pop, soul and trip hop, 1970s Scott Walker, King Crimson-flavoured progressive rock, electronica and Anglo-folk.

While Lee’s firm and expansive vision gave the album both shape and finish, it was also very much a group effort, achieved hand in hand with his singer wife Lisa plus the chameleonic touch guitarist/soundscaper Markus Reuter and a small battalion of interested musicians from around the world. This short album of follow-up remixes keeps that spirit, with a couple of returning collaborators and new reinventors let loose on the tracks.

Only two songs from ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ make it to this particular phase. There’s the title track – originally a humble state-of-the-world address sung by Lisa but dispatched by Lee, people-watching at the railway station in his Devon hometown, and sampling a picture of humanity from its wandering fragments on an ordinary morning. There’s also The Inner Voice, in which Lisa soars on a rich carpet of soul-inspired smoothness; delicately and beadily picking apart matters of confidence and collaboration, while unhitching – scuffed, but quietly determined – from a dragging entanglement. The latter was the album’s obvious single, so it’s interesting to see three different remixers work three different shades of pop out of it.

Of these, Brazilian proggers-turned-clubbers Worldengine offer perhaps the most satisfying reinvention – a slink-and-roll electronica take full of whispering creep, voice fuzz and closed-eye pulse beats. The smooth soul of the original is pared back in favour of odd, gently challenging chording and textures: as if Lisa’s vocal line has been gently unwound from its original branch and wrapped carefully around a new one. Imagine what might happen if David Torn had as much pop clout as Madonna does, and you’ll have some idea of where Worldengine take this.

Two other remixers take The Inner Voice further out, but perhaps with less originality. The mix from German DJ Ingo Vogelmann battles and switches restlessly between its whispering electronic-ambient chamber intro, heavily synthesized cyberpop and a naked acoustic strum. The onetime 4hero cohort Branwen Somatik offers a similarly morphing dance switchback – initially a slightly dubby hip-hop take with an eerie twist, then a transformation to minimally-sheathed soul-pop, finally melting away in a dubby whisper of liquefying beats.

There are no fewer than six versions of Faith In Worthless Things, including a return for Ingo Vogelmann who offers a mix replete with Orb/Jean Michel Jarre-flavoured electronica (strong on the breezy minimalism, and dappled with bits of dub and techno). Adrian Benavides has honed himself an industrial pop version full of collapsing sheet metal and drill bits. Fabio Trentini provides an ambient pop take with an art-pop tweak – part Japan (if the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ era took precedence) and part Crafty Guitarist. Lee’s words and Lisa’s sweet-but-stately vocals sit, unfazed, in these new cradles.

Having said that, this particular song is less suited to being strapped into dance, and other approaches are preferable. Under his Hollowcreature alias, David Picking seems to realise this; he keeps and highlights the train-swish from the intro, brings Lee’s own warm and pleasant guide vocals to the forefront for half of the time, and comes up with a subtly dubby version of the song’s English pastoral feel. The latter quality is something which Tim Motzer appears to have picked up on too, as he moves Faith In Worthless Things into a more British progressive rock area. This he does via a number of changes – jazz vibraphone, the ghost of a hard-rock riff and eventually a build up into a Pink Floyd blaze replete with Gilmourian guitar. It seems obvious, but there’s some clever sleight-of-hand here: Lisa is metamorphosed cunningly by the new arrangement into a leathered-up rock goddess, all without a change to her vocal part.

Tobias Reber, on the other hand, manages to be both daring and successful in his own mix, taking an unexpected creative risk and pulling it off. He contributes the best of the remixes on offer, as well as the most original. His reconstructive take on the songs sees it unstitched and re-embroidered, re-folded. The song is re-imagined over an uneasy sea-roll of structure. New chording, constructed from the components of the original piece, produces a striking new perspective; a different place from which Lee, through Lisa, can watch the world and see its unsettling currents ripple past and under him.

Each remix, though, gently unbuttons ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ again and reminds us of that collaborative feeling which suffused it. The rolling and friction between Lee’s ideas and where his accomplished collaborators took them – a journey in motion.

Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’
Unsung Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only mini-album
Released: 5th February 2013

Get it from:
Bandcamp

Lee Fletcher online:
Homepage Facebook TwitterBandcamp

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