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August 2016 – upcoming gigs – three-date British tour of saz balladry by Aşıq Nargile (plus choral fizz, oddrock and pedal steel strangeness from Tut Vu Vu, Muldoon’s Picnic and Heather Leigh – 2nd-4th); Hackney Colliery Band & Bring Your Own Brass kick off Borderless in London (2nd)

30 Jul

In between appearances at the WOMAD and Supernormal festivals, Georgian saz player and singer Aşıq Nargile is embarking on a three-date British microtour in August, calling in at points in Scotland, Yorkshire and London.

Aşıq Nargile

In case you’re looking at the picture and thinking (lazily) “another girl folk singer”, it’s worth noting that “Aşıq” is an honorific, not a forename. It denotes a particular type of traditional Georgian bard, multilingual and mobile, who travels through the country’s diverse regions as vessels for music, news, concepts and culture both old and new. (A little like a Caucasian version of a West African griot, although perhaps without the satirical upsetter elements).

Originally from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Nargile Mehtiyeva has carried the cosmopolitan traditions of her home town with her, but has chosen to base herself in the southern Borcali region. For the moment, she’s the only female aşıq at work there. A trilingual singer and player of the saz lute since her mid-teens, she’s now both a teacher of the traditional forms and (via the Sayat Nova initiative) an ambassador for Georgian culture. Her concerts involve interlocking musicality and literacy – a “vocal recital of epic folk poetry (in) Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Russian… by turns ecstatic and deeply expressive… interspersed with bursts of virtuosic, highly ornamented saz.” in the shape of “moving laments or upbeat folk dances.” For those who don’t speak any of those languages, the shows are still musically sensual experiences – propulsive and silvery cascades of wiry stringwork, accompanied by a vocal like an elastic lassoo and the stately assurance of someone backed up by a couple of thousand years of heritage.


 
Tour dates are as follows:

  • The Old Hairdressers, 23 Renfield Lane, Glasgow G2 6PH, Scotland, Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 7.30pm (supported by Tut Vu Vu + Muldoon’s Picnic) – information
  • Delius Arts & Cultural Centre, 29 Great Horton Road, Bradford, BD7 1AA, England, Wednesday 3rd August 2016…. (+ support act t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Thursday 4th August 2016, 7.30pm (with Heather Leigh) – information

While the Bradford gig is solo, the Glasgow show sees Nargile playing as part of a splendidly adventurous and diverse triple bill alongside two very different Glaswegian groups who have next to nothing in common bar their musicality.

Despite their cosy and informal appearance, a name that comes from drunken Irish misadventure, a repertoire reaching from “the sublime to the ridiculous” and their emphasis on fun and friendship in singing, acapella group Muldoon’s Picnic unites a number of very dedicated and talented Glasgow-based singer and scholars. Its six or seven regular members (not least in-house arranger Katy L. Cooper) have already made their mark in a brace of other vocal ensembles – Trembling Bells spin-off Crying Lion, Glasgow Madrigirls, The Four Hoarse Men, Voicebeat, Voicemale, Sang Scule, and “barbershop-prog” group Honey & The Herbs – plus more church, chapel, cathedral, workplace and community choirs than you could shake a stave at. As for that repertoire, it embraces gospel, shanties, Scots ballads, English carols, Afro-American spirituals, sacred harp songs, Victorian parlour music and music hall songs and assorted pieces cast up and circulated by the world music movement. Where other choral groups dabble, this one delves. The songs are sung not just in English but in other tongues of the British Isles (Scots Gaelic, Cornish, Manx and Welsh) and further afield: Breton, southern African Sotho, Ugandan Luganda and eastern European languages (Bulgarian, Croatian and Georgian – in the latter’s polyphonic music, they touch base with Nargile.)


 

The third act on the Glasgow bill, Tut Vu Vu, play their dark-browed and looming electrophonic instrumentals in a cloud of disinformation. When someone compares them to Anaïs Nin and David Lynch and they claim that it’s all a misunderstanding; someone else mentions musique concrète and they respond with askance, amused looks. When given the chances to set things straight, they deliver misleading mission statements filled with science fiction technogabble about phased plasma and hydrogen sulphide. What’s demonstrably true is that they’re an alliance of Glasgow art-punks who’ve already been around a decade’s cycle of experimental groups – Iban Perez in The Sparkling Shadazz, Rags & Feathers and A Rhythmtic) Raydale Dower, Matthew Black and Jamie Bolland in rattling theatricalists Uncle John & Whitelock.

Expect something of an oblique and inscrutable wall between the quartet’s current work and their previous brainy trash-lungings. A band apparently in search of a new dialect (while drawing on assorted shredded utterances from Krautrock, Beefheart, ‘90s rave or ‘80s arsequake) a typical TVV track can be a bizarre collage of muffled falsetto wails and feedback drones, of layered tribal toms and analogue-synth bass-farts, of approaching-horns guitar shapes; all of which is cunningly and immediately sculpted for maximum enigmatic impact, rather than being tossed out of the speakers for someone else to sweep up.




 

In London, Nargile is playing a double header gig with Heather Leigh. One of the most unconventional pedal steel guitarists in contemporary music, Heather belies her traditional country music heritage (a West Virginia birth, a descent from coal miners) and instead reinvents both her instrument and her voice as a conduit for strange and ghostly improvisations. Aided by cruel amplifier tones and strange, skittering, instinctive hand techniques, her compositions emerge like spectral possessions of strings, pedals, larynx and language. Often touching on themes of trauma, abuse and hidden, subjective experience, Heather’s eerie and disturbing work has already led her to collaborations with Peter Brötzmann, Jandek, Thurston Moore and plenty of others since her emergence in the 1990s.




 
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August also sees the start of Borderless, a delightfully rambling live music series at Battersea Arts Centre running roughly parallel to the Olympic Games in Rio. Run in collaboration with GOAT Music (set up last year by former Roundhouse music bosses David Gaydon and Lou Birkett) it aim to showcase “the UK’s best homegrown talent and unique artists from around the globe, in the intimate and beautiful setting of the Council Chamber… Borderless will provide an alternative cross-cultural celebration. Samba to tropical beats, dance to Afrobeat legends, skank to reggae and let the new generation of jazz take you to another place. Break down the borders and shuffle your feet to global rhythms to hear the biggest tunes from all over the planet. We’ll also provide a platform for the freshest artists and exciting talent currently taking the UK by storm. Hear the artists sound tracking the underground scene, dominating the airwaves and paving the way for the alternative UK music scene.”

Glad to hear it. Bring it on. What do you have?

GOAT Music and Battersea Arts Centre present:
Borderless: Hackney Colliery Band + Bring Your Own Brass
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN, England
Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 8.00pm
information

Hearing about Hackney Colliery Band initially caught me between hackles and chuckles. For a moment, I thought it was about taking the piss out of a great and still-living industrial British art form while cynically attempting to replace it. After all, when there are still genuine colliery bands maintaining the tradition across old mining heartlands from Tyneside to Derbyshire, Shropshire to Leicestershire and the Rhondda Valley (and dotted across the Yorkshire pitscape from Grimethorpe to Dinnington, Frickley to Queensbury) why would you want to substitute them with a slick London parody? On the other hand, my sense of the absurd soon kicked in – since Hackney’s been sprouting all kinds of cartoonish artisan features for the past decade (from craft beer to boutique muffins and shoes), why not an ersatz coal mine?

As it happens, HCB have got little to do with any of this. The name’s a little dab of post-modern British showbiz and the band (excellent, by the way) don’t stick to the grand dignity and mournfulness of colliery music, being more of an omnivorous brass beast immersed in and rejigging a variety of horn-party traditions from jazz, r&b, funk and others, including New Orleans tunes from both fun and funerals. Much the same can be said of the support act, Bring Your Own Brass – a band who, as “up-and-coming brass hip-hop ripsnorters”, have been known to parp out a Rakim cover or two. If this makes them sounds like a novelty act, they aren’t. Sound and vision reveal them to be well-scrubbed, well-studied white disciples of a wide span of styles, clambering over Afrobeat, rap, funk and marching-band ideas with head-bopping panache.

Recently, both bands seem to have cornered the market in boutique festivals and showbiz event (between them they’ve got Olympic Games and Brit/Mercury award appearances under their belts, as well as shows at Ally Pally, with slots at Wilderness, Stow and Meatopia to come later in August for BYOB and a hefty European tour for HCB). HCB’s previous set at the MOBO awards suggests that they can impress at a formal roots level as well, unless it was a case of contacts trumping authenticity. Just as long as bands like these aren’t crowding out bands like Kokoroko; although BYOB’s teamup with Bristolian rapper and slam poet Solomon O.B (see below) suggests that, as far as fellow musicians are concerned, there aren’t any practical or philosophical problems.



 

April 2016 – upcoming gigs – two for April 16th: the third Festival Ambient de Paris with Ujjaya, Asmorod and others; and roaring about in London with Godzilla Black plus cohorts.

15 Apr

Tomorrow – two cities, two gigs. In Paris, people will be filing into the mediaeval cellars, all serious and attentive, fascinated by texture and the warp and weft of sound. In London, it looks as if they’ll be torn between wanting to be handsome psychotic brutes in sharp suits or shabby, demented hermits in bird masks.

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3ieme Festival Ambient de Paris, 2016 3ieme Festival Ambient de Paris
Crypt du Martyrium de Saint-Denis, 11 rue Yvonne Le Tac, 75018 Paris, France
Saturday 16th April 2016, 4.00pm
– more information here and here

From the organisers…

”Crypt du Martyrium is the most mystic and secret of Paris crypts (the head of the first bishop Denis was found here in 300 AD, and it was also the birthplace of the Jesuit Society). For one night only, artists from Paris and its suburbs will enchant this unique historical place with the kind of music you will hardly hear anywhere else in France.

The festival welcomes :

Ujjaya – an French ethno-ambient veteran, deeply influenced by Robert Rich, Steve Roach, Jon Hassell and Jorge Reyes. With his new found interest in suspended gamelan (which he’ll be enchanting the crypt with tonight), Loren Nerell has become another point of reference for his ongoing work. (For more information, try one or both of his two free-to-download albums: ‘De Retour’ and ‘The Master of Crossroads’.)


 
Onde Poussière – an experimental duo specializing in hypnotic minimalism and controlled chaos, and featuring Doedelzak (synth) and Kecap Tuyul (table-top prepared guitar). Think an ambient version of Jim O’Rourke , Taku Sugimoto or even Autechre.


 
Patrick Wiklacz – also known as Prats – is influenced by Terry Riley, Klaus Schulze and Bernard Parmeggiani. He will unleash his own electronic universe on synth and MIDI controller – a mix of repetitive minimalism, ambient and electro-acoustic music.


 
Archetype – an heir to Oöphoi, Alio Die and Mathias Grassow (and performing on guitar , synth, voice and table harp)Archetype makes deep listening music and also plays some ethno-ambient music not unlike Dead Can Dance.


 
Asmorod – the founder of the Snowblood label, synth/keyboard player Asmorod is both very discreet and very influential in the dark ambient scene (he’s an acknowleged influence on Kammarheit’s ‘Hysope’ album).


 

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Godzilla Black + Bobbie Peru + Punching Swans + Mashiro
The Hope & Anchor, 207 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RL, England
Saturday 16th April 2016, 7.00pm
more information

Godzilla Black + Bobbie Peru + Punching Swans + Mashiro, 16th April 2016Godzilla Black have been unsettling ears since 2006 with their own personal brand of depraved heaviness. This is the official launch party for their new album, ‘Press The Flesh’, which was released on 1st April through Quisling Records. ‘Press The Flesh’ is the most ‘normal’ Godzilla Black record to date, drawing on influences such as Cardiacs, Liars and The Jesus Lizard, underscored by feeling of sensuality in all the wrong places. ACCEPT NO IMITATIONS.”

I may have to revise that “James-Barry-in-a-sleetstorm” description with which I always saddle Godzilla Black. Listening through to ‘Press The Flesh’ reveals the band in all of their romping glory, sometimes sounding like gonzo-industrial hero Foetus hijacking a soul revue, sometimes like late Cardiacs channelling early Roxy. Glam-descends meet blaring beefhorns, with lyrics full of dark jokes and carnivorous, cannibalistic disassociation. They’re flowering into something sharky and vivid. Clips below for album opener ‘The Other Other White Meat’ and the first ‘Press The Flesh’ single, ‘First Class Flesh’ (note that there’s a theme developing here…)


In support are Bobbie Peru, whose music is heavily influenced by punk, post-punk, rockabilly and 60’s garage; and who offer “an abrasively grooving electric live show with a vibe somewhere between Sonic Youth, Nomeansno and Groop Dogdrill.” Currently recording their third full-length album in Manchester (and constantly playing live around the north-west of England), the band are something of a fixture in the world of indie and post-punk tours, having racked up road support slots with Black Francis, Buzzcocks, Spear Of Destiny, Killing Joke and The Fall since their own emergence in the mid-2000s.

Medway convulsers Punching Swans are self-described as “thrilling dischordance for fans of Future Of The Left and Fugazi”, although I can hear hints of The Residents lurking in their threshing pop-savvy upending of rituals, and when they’re not hammering alarmingly at a darker idea they’re out on the whoop chasing the spirit of ‘Song 2’. It’s the cryptic strangeness that makes them special, though – they’ve recently brought out a concept album about “a man cast out from society and taking on the habits and compulsions of a depraved bird, gone to seed,”, and are making the woodsbound videos to match. There’s a peek into this particular world below.

Oxford abstract mathcore metallists Masiro bring “heaviness, other-wordly atmosphere and headfuck grooves. Touching on Pelican, Isis and Battles. Don’t expect a singalong.” All right, then. Evidence of their jabbing attention-deficit methods is here:

 
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More shortly…
 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – Schnellertollermeier on tour in Ireland and England (with guest showings by ReDiviDEr, Taupe, Tasmin A, Lambhorn, Shatner’s Bassoon and Motherese); bassfest in Southampton (with Steve Lawson, BassDbler, Grant Sharkey, A Ninja Slob Drew Me); Steve Lawson and Poppy Porter’s synaesthesic show in Guildford.

6 Mar


 

In a few days time, Swiss avant-rock trio Schnellertollermeier begin a tour of Ireland and England. The group’s mellifluous name cutely overlaps and portmanteaus those of each of its members – bass guitarist Andi Schnellmann, guitar player Manuel Troller and drummer David Meier – but also mirrors their working method. Their music, too, is an overlap – a mosaic of small obsessive note-figures either written or improvised, which all three pick up on and play with almost neurologically tight collective timing. They’re also masters of dynamics, able to play each fragment at clean moth-wing softness or biting punk fuzz-roar at will and in sync as the moment demands.

They’re not quite rock, despite the electric power-team lineup and the locked, riffing minimalism. They’re not quite jazz, although they function on a similar level of technical assurance, small-group telepathy and potentially mutative rhythm. They describe themselves as “a little about quiet, and a lot about anger, silliness and precision,” which is one way of drawing a loose line around their bag of impetus.If they’re anything, Schnellertollermeir are an unconstrained cellular dance – fizzing on what’s initially a fixed grid of possibilities, then working around it at ever-smaller, ever-more-complex levels of detail and option; using slivers of math-rock, post-hardcore and free-jazz idiom to get themselves there.

The other quote they toss out is that the group “sounds like classic literature, where you have to keep on re-reading a sentence until you understand. But when you have finally understood, you understand a lot more.” Listening to them myself, they’re more like a tremendously extended Peter Blegvad palindrome – clever, obscurely arch, coasting on the brink of tumbledown nonsense but staying in place and in grace by a touch of sheer skill and a hinting at a good deep-level joke to share.

Dates:


 

While most of the tour appears to be one-act concerts for Schnellertollermeir alone, at points it sweeps up interesting local bands as well. Unfortunately I can’t find out much about the Darwen support act Tasmin A – apart from the fact that she’s a tourmate and backing singer for JD Meatyard (a.k.a. John Donaldson of Levellers 5) – but the Dublin gig features ReDiviDeR, an anagram-fixated two-horns-no-chords quartet led by drummer/composer Matt Jacobson with Derek Whyte (bass) and Nick Roth (alto sax) and Colm O’Hara (trombone), playing “downtown grooves , catchy melodies and collective improves” and taking inspiration from Charles Mingus, Steve Coleman, Deerhoof and Phil Ivey. In support at the Bristol gig are the “instrumental surf prog” band Lambhorn, while the London gig features Taupe (the hip hop and heavy metal-quoting “power-jazz commando team” who first showed up on my radar at last year’s Manchester Jazz Festival).


Surprisingly for a Manchester show, the gig at the Dulcimer Bar doesn’t feature any of the masses of experimental projects which throng the city. Instead, “six-piece madcap surrealists” Shatner’s Bassoon (a double-drum pile-on of jazz and wayward electronics barely containing Michael Bardon, Ollie Dover, Joost Hendrickx, Andrew Lisle, Johnny Richards and Craig Scott) hop across the Pennines from Leeds. The Leeds gig itself features Motherese – a teamup of vocalist/violist Aby Vulliamy, pianist/singer Laura Cole (of Metamorphic) and improvising singer Maria Jardardottir. Motherese aren’t even playing their first gig for a couple of days yet, so I’ll feature more about them in the next post.


 
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Steve Lawson (bass guitar virtuoso, loop musician, occasional avant-garde teddy bear and unstoppable Twittergob) can generally be relied upon to conceive, or latch onto, interesting gigs. With his own work spanning from textural ambience and tasteful but outgoing songwriter accompaniment to New Age, multi-collaborator jazz fusion and even political death metal (and since he’s a man who’s perpetually enthused by new contexts to explore) he’s naturally going to be drawn to more unorthodox events… and, generally speaking, not the standard type of unorthodox events either. This month he has two of them in southern England.

Innovate Guildford Festival of Science and the Arts presents:
Poppy Porter & Steve Lawson
G Live, London Road, Guildford, GU1 2AA, England,
Saturday 12th March 2016, at some point between 10.00am and 4.00pm
– free event – more information

“As a synaesthetic, abstract artist/jeweller Poppy Porter has a visual response to sound – she specialises in making jewellery inspired by the abstract shapes and colours of her synaesthetic inner landscape, and her art is mostly object-centred (as she puts it, “sound goes into my ears and art comes out of my hands”). Steve Lawson is a solo bassist who is best known for his improvised music and whose art is almost solely performed.

The duo perform in a collaboration that follows the evolving process of the work between them. Steve plays, building a layered, improvised sonic landscape to which Poppy responds by drawing what she “sees” synaesthesically (shape, colour, movement). Steve then reacts to what has been drawn, using the fresh drawings as a visual score and improvises further. A feedback loop is created between them. Although Poppy and Steve’s individual art forms are different, there is a meeting of minds that pushes beyond the physical object or sonic creation giving rise to a visual, musical, aural and performance element in the work.

Following the performance, the audience will have an opportunity to have a go at drawing the music themselves. The idea of this workshop is to get the audience to try looking at the world in a different way. Rather than drawing an object, Poppy and Steve ask the audience to have a go at expressing how the music affects them. Paper and pencils will be provided and the audience can then listen to Steve play and express what the music is telling them in whatever way they choose with the art materials. We hope that the audience will be inspired to look at creating art in unusual ways and become aware of how we all think and express ourselves differently.”

For the precise performance time, it’s probably best to check on Steve’s Facebook or Twitter accounts closer to the time. This event is part of a larger one-day festival of imagination and practical application taking place in Guildford over the course of a day. Further details and a promo video are below:

“Innovate Guildford will ignite the imaginations of young and old through a stunning showcase of innovation taking place in Guildford – from cutting-edge research to a sneak preview into the future. Our free festival is for everyone and will particularly appeal to young people – to inspire and nurture the scientists, engineers, artists and innovators of tomorrow.”


 

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Steve’s second March event is more familiar territory for him, since it’s what’s described as “a night of genre-defying solo bass performances from some of the most innovative bass players around.” Pretty much a plural version of the day-job, then.

'Sorry To Hear You're A Bass Player', 17th March 2016

Gigs In The Gallery presents:
“Sorry To Hear You’re a Bassist!” – Steve Lawson + BassDbler + Grant Sharkey + A Ninja Slob Drew Me + Greyum May (DJ sets)
The Art House, 178 Above Bar Street, Southampton, SO14 7DW, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

J.D. Short, a.k.a. BassDbler, grew up playing alternative rock and hardcore in Chicago, Nashville, Indianapolis, and Louisville before studying music formally and moving on to build guitars for Rickenbacker. It was only on his relocation to New Zealand that he developed an affinity for electronic music and realised that it held a similar DIY ethic to the music of his youth. The resulting approach also partially inspired by science fiction (specifically Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ saga) described by Aquarius Records as “bass-heavy dubstep electro-prog ambience” has been revealed on a pair of albums: ‘Slow Blade Penetrates The Shield’ and its slightly-more-acoustic follow-up ‘Machine & Ghola’. When not working on BassDbler projects J.D. creates film scores and works as music director for the Giant Fire Breathing Robot website and podcasts.

In 2013 singing/songwriting/double-bass-playing Grant Sharkey (previously a member of Southampton drum-and-two-basses absurdists Toupé) pledged to independently record and release an album every six months over a period of twenty years. Now it’s 2016 and he’s up to six albums – one of which is a single forty-five-minute song (dealing with “how amazing live music is compared to a life of television”), while another he wrote while recovering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome surgery on both wrists.Usually the albums are recorded around Grant’s bass and voice with drums and assorted guest vocals added later, although ukelele and other sounds aren’t unknown.

Grant’s most recent effort is the combined album/political concept ‘Ignoramus’, which was released into the wild last November and which is (depending on how you look at it) either a set of double-bass-plus-voice songs or a philosophical/political manifesto for a new nation based on questioning our current course as a species, or probably both. It follows up and inverts some of the portrayals in his previous, nationalism-inspired album ‘Goon’ – “the five-part life-cycle of someone that doesn’t ask any questions about their situation.”


Another Southampton act – A Ninja Slob Drew Me – is extended-range seven-string bass player Daniel James, who since 2007 has created “moody, mostly instrumental albums” of finger-tapped ambience and distortion, citing post-rock, film soundtracks and trip hop as influences. After four albums as a solo act, Daniel introduced violinist and vocalist Jo Stevens into the project last year as a full partner, with their first album as a duo due to arrive later this year.

Former Ozric Tentacles/Firebird bass player Greyum May (more recently occupied with his own psychedelic/progressive project Keepers Brew) will be playing host but (as far as I know) will be staying off the bass himself in favour of playing a DJ set of “the best in bass-heavy tunes.”

Headlining, Steve Lawson will presumably be offering what he usually offers – deftly melodic bass playing which he’ll simultaneously loop, layer, warp, e-bow and KAOSS-Pad into semi-improvised minimal-maximal solo orchestrations which mingle jazz tunefulness, crowd-pleasing rock directness, and the textured rhythmic detail of prime electronica. Half of the time it won’t sound like a bass, and a third of the time it’ll sound like nothing on earth; with the added bonus being that you won’t necessarily need to be a hardened avant-gardener to appreciate it.

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More gig news shortly…
 

The Manchester Jazz Festival (31st July to 9th August)

31 Jul

One of the reasons that I’ve been posting so many concert previews recently is simply that (being mostly homebound at the moment) I miss going to gigs. Looking at the lineup and scope of the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival (which starts today and runs rampant for ten days through until 9th August) reminds me that not only do I regret not attending the wealth of music that takes place here in London, but that I miss more freewheeling days of music elsewhere. Discovering unexpected, treasurable bands at random while on holiday in Brugge, for instance; or immersing myself in a week of concerts and more in Edinburgh or Leeds (such as the one I reviewed here, over a decade ago.)

We know that, as a British pop and dance city, Manchester punches well above its weight. Despite a bubbling undercurrent of improvised music, its reputation as a jazz town is hazier…. or, more probably, I’m just ignorant. The Festival’s been going for twenty years, long enough to gain enough gravity to generate its own traditions. (One such is ‘Surroundings’,  a longer-form ensemble piece by Salford composer Neil Yates. Commissioned for the festival in 2010, it seems to have become the event’s unofficial signature – this year, it’s being revisited as a quartet performance in the Central Library Reading Room.)

Even a quick sift through this year’s programme reveals a jazz party that any city would be proud of – diverse, inclusive, inviting and multi-levelled, an exciting noise ranging from the stately to the vividly scraggled and all the better for it.  With many tickets going at only four pounds, (with a ten-pound all-events daily ticket and free-entry deals if you stump up as a low-level event sponsor), they could hardly have made it any more inviting to the casual walker-upper. Excuse me for a moment while I strip-mine press releases and YouTube, and check Soundcloud pages and Bandcamp links.

Starting with the higher-end, bigger name events…  Acclaimed Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper slips away from his experimentations with latterday R’n’B to get back to basics with an acoustic trio;  John Surman re-teams with the Trans4mation String Quartet to revive the thoughtful, tidally-deep music from his ‘Coruscating’ and ‘The Spaces in Between’ albums. Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier bring along their trans-European project DistancesPartisans bring their transatlantic swing storm; Christine Tobin  her ‘Thousand Kisses Deep’ jazzification of Leonard Cohen songs. French Jazz Musician of the Year Airelle Besson makes an appearance with her Quartet for a set of “gently experimental songs animated by heartfelt lyrics, plaintive melodies and rolling harmonies.” backed with pinballing rhythms and punchy countersyncopations.

There are heavyweight two-headed summit performances by acclaimed British jazz talents – one by frequent quartet buddies Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock, another by the more recent pairing of Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick.  Two further British scene fast risers – Stuart McCallum and Alice Zawadzki – bring string-enhanced performances of ongoing projects (the former offering contemporary soul jazz and bass-heavy electronica with surprise guest singers, the latter a fantastical Mancunian song cycle influenced by various shades of love and fairytale).

There are also several of those gentler, more literate projects which seem to blossom best in a festival atmosphere away from a hot core of gutsy brass.  Andrew Woodhead and Holly Thomas’ Snapdragon trio specialize in chilled, ethereal song-settings of literature and poetry (Larkin and Bukowski-inspired) and bursts of vocalese. Mark Pringle‘s A Moveable Feast mates orchestral strings with a bold horn and rhythm section to explore “themes of wildlife, literature and city chaos.”  The “fractured Anglicana” of Hugh Nankivell’s multi-instrumental/four-part vocal quartet Natural Causes means that they perform “curious compositions with  improbable but poignant texts” including “psychedelic lullabies, pinprick-precise ballads, unpredictable group improvisation and brotherly harmony across the board”, and music which draws on classic and contemporary art pop (Robert Wyatt, XTC and Björk) as much as it does on jazz sources.

Elsewhere, much of the polyglot diversity of jazz today is celebrated. The Cuban tradition is represented by the Pepe Rivero Trio and Orquesta Timbala; the Congolese by Eddy Tshepe Tshepela‘s Afrika Jazz. Central and South American ideas are brought along by Agua Pasa (who, with  Dudley Nesbit’s steel pan project Pan Jumby,  also touch on the Caribbean).  The Quarry Hillbillies (a teaming of Ulrich Elbracht, Ed Jones, Jamil Sheriff) from European contemporary jazz, while the frenetic whirl of Eastern European folk elements are covered by Makanitza.  The Gorka Benítez Trio move between Basque-flavoured small group jazz and compelling free-form impressionism. David Austin Grey’s Hansu-Tori ensemble is inspired by natural, elemental and cinematic” ideas, as well as a fascination with Eastern world culture.  Percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s Hans Prya  provides genre-hopping jazz-dance and Jim Molyneux’s Glowrogues favour funk and hip-hop flavoured pieces. Trumpeter Lily Carassik‘s fusion group Yesa Sikyi take ideas from the ’50s and blend them with popular standards and soul arrangements; while The Stretch Trio include glossier elements from ’70s jazz rock, progressive rock and ’80s pop along with sinuous gusts of wind synth.

Those who prefer classic jazz – more traditional by-the-book American styles – might prefer Russell Henderson and Jamie Taylor’s Ellington-and-Strayhorn tribute ‘The Intimacy Of The Blues’, or the Dan Whieldon Trio‘s salute to Gershwin. The Dave Kane Quartet take inspiration from the knottier ambitions of Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Eric Dolphy. Two groups of students from the Royal Northern College of Music provide live celebrations of the history which they’ve been learning – the James Girling Quintet  spans jazz, blues and funk from New Orleans roots through to the 1960s, while the Nick Conn Octet (a self-described “trombone choir”) interweaves re-arranged jazz classics with original material.

Fans of New Orleans jazz can check out genuine New Orleaners The Session (who offer a past-present take on their hometown’s music), or look out for the street sounds of the New York Brass Band (actually from old York, the cheeky buggers) or see how the Riot Jazz Brass Band dust up old New Orleans sounds with dancefloor, dubstep and drum-and-bass incursions. Hot jazz/Gypsy/jazz manouche aficionados can go for the loving recreations of 52 Skidoo (who promise you prohibition speakeasies, rent parties and Tin Pan Alley) or for Gypsies Of Bohemia, who manouche-ify latterday pop songs such as Heart Of Glass, Toxic and Hot In Herre. (Being Mancunian, they also do This Charming Man – I’ll bet that that high-life opening riff translates pretty well).

Of course, much of the fun of a jazz festival involves catching a lesser-known, or even unknown, band carving away at the edge, furiously discovering – and there are plenty of those here. Since they drew me into covering the festival in the first place, I’m going to put a particular word in for Jon Thorne’s Sunshine Brothers (playing at Matt & Phreds on 4th August) in which the double bass/laptop-wielding Jon teams up with drummer Rob Turner (of Blue Note-signed breakbeat jazz electronicists GoGo Penguin) and looping poly-genre bass guitarist Steve Lawson (a ‘Misfit City’ regular) for “a cutting-edge trio of genre-defying musicians mixing jazz, improvisation, electronic and filmic soundscapes to euphoric effect, evoking sounds far removed from their bass origins.”

However, you could just as easily catch a full performance by GoGo Penguin themselves; or by Lauren Kinsella’s Blue-Eyed Hawk, who offer “art-rock, jazz and electronic soundworlds: imaginative and emotive, from pindrop to powerhouse.” The Madwort Saxophone Quartet play intricate four-part math-jazz. “Power-jazz commando team” Taupe (a triple-city trio from Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh) punch around themes from jazz, hip hop and heavy metal. Craig Scott’s Lobotomy seem determined to take the cake for upfront experimental exhilaration this time around, delivering shout-outs to John Cage, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, proclaiming a performance in which “experimental jazz rubs shoulders with electronica and DIY alternative rock in a bubbling cauldron of live and recorded sounds” and promising to sample and reconstruction their own improvisations live on stage.  There’ll also be a improvised summit involving bands associated with Manchester’s Efpi Records and Paris’ Onze Heures Onze collective.

One way into discovery is to take advantage of the free showcases for emerging bands. Care of the BBC’s ‘Jazz On 3’, London offers three bands – Nérija ( the all-female creative septet from the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz school), the award-winning piano jazz of the Ashley Henry Trio and the decidedly psychedelic Phaze Theory (a quartet of drums, tuba, voice and guitar dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos”).

But perhaps it’s Jazz North’s Northern Line series that you should be checking out, showcasing bands from the north and the Midlands. Manchester offers the Iain Dixon/Les Chisnall Duo (whose repertoire of self-defined standards stretches from Messaien to Gracie Fields) and the John Bailey Quintet  (guitar-led, and similarly inspired by twentieth century classical music). Newcastle provides barrel-house blues and ballads from The Lindsay Hannon Plus and the tricky free jazz/folk/rock/dancefloor entwinings of the Graeme Wilson Quartet. Lancaster and Liverpool provide one act apiece – Andrew Grew’s “total improvisers” The Grew Quartet and the “gothic bebop” of Blind Monk Trio, who claim to fuse the spirit of Thelonius Monk with Persian traditional music and the heavy-rock attitude of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana’s heavy-rock attitude.

However, it’s Leeds (still underrated as a musical powerhouse despite the world-class output of its music college and the vigorous inventiveness of its bands) which dominates the Northern Line. As well as providing the previously-mentioned Pan Jumby, Leeds brings the Portuguese/African/Latin  and Indian song-fusions of Manjula, the Django Reinhardt swing of the Matt Holborn Quartet, Cameron Vale‘s ferociously energetic melange of jazz, metal, electronica, Afrobeat and Klezmer and the semi-electric “extreme, eerie to comic” improvisations of Tipping Point (featuring perpetual bad-boy pianist Matthew Bourne).  Friendly rivalry aside, there’s also co-operation: Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool all join forces in The Bugalu Foundation for a Latin barrio take on northern soul.

Around all of this jazz there’s the usual happy agglomeration of related music – not quite jazz in itself, but possibly sharing a drink or a roll-up somewhere along the way. The festival covers various popular outcropping such as soul (in assorted Northern, jazz and diva forms courtesy of The Juggernaut Love Band, Terry Shaltiel & The Soultroopers, Charlie Cooper & The CCs) but also ’60s/‘70s funk (Buffalo Brothers), ’70s Afrobeat and Ethiopian pop (Kalakuta), ska (Baked à la Ska) and mbalax (Mamadou & The Super Libidor Band). There’s even an alt-country act (Stevie Williams & The Most Wanted Band) sneaking in at the back door. As for rock’n’roll/folk/reggae/swing scavengers The Flat Cap 3… well, for starters, there’s only two of them, so you can be dubious about anything else you might read, but don’t let that put you off.

Three female songwriters are also bringing their bands, coming from a folk or world music zone and overlapping into jazz. Kirsty McGee leads her Hobopop Collective through a “joyful, dirty” sound drawing from gospel, blues and a collection of found instruments (including musical saw, waterphone, Humber hubcaps and metal buckets). The constantly shifting song landscapes of the Zoe Kyoti Trio draw from their leader’s Armenian and Greek heritage (as well as Cajun, European and Indian ideas). Saluting home-brewed British polyculture, Shama Rahman‘s ensemble explore her London home, her Bangladeshi roots, and her childhood memories of Middle Eastern desert landscapes in a “sitar,stories and song” melange of  jazz-inspired improvisation, classically-inspired melodies and folk-inspired storytelling accompanied by energetic rhythms of swing, funk, hip hop, bossa nova and drum’n’bass.

For parents of very young children, needing to balance a jazz fix with family responsibilities, there are a couple of fully interactive kids’ events with activities, storytelling and improvisations.  The Living Story Music Ensemble and illustrator Ann Gilligan collaborate on ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’; the blues-and-roots-tinged Hillary Step Quartet work with storyteller Ursula Holden Gill and dancers from The Dalcroze Society for ‘How Monkey Found His Swing’. Once the kids are attended to, there are still interactive events for the grown-ups, whether you’re talking about the all-in jazz vinyl night, the mixed-genre dj sets by Mr Scruff, Franny Eubanks‘ open-door blues jam or (for the more technologically inquisitive)  Rodrigo Constanzo‘s showcasing of his dfscore software. The latter’s a creative music tool, cueing improvisers via graphical, visual and written clues: on this occasion, anyone with an instrument and a connectible smartphone/tablet/pad should be able to roll up and join in with the roar, joining some leading improvisers in performing music in tandem with the system.

For those remaining soundclips which I’ve not already snatched and pasted, visit the MJF Soundcloud page here … but better yet, if you’re anywhere near Manchester over the next few weeks, drop in at the festival (it’s hard to miss, considering that it’s not just hiding behind club doors but has effectively taken over the town’s main square for a fortnight). Seeing something this impressive light up and roll on fills me with delight – even if on this occasion I’m also filled with rue at not being able to go myself.  But never mind me…

Upcoming live events – Steve Lawson plays in Poole, Birmingham & London; the Ian Smith 50th birthday event at the Vortex

24 Jun

Gregarious loop bassist Steve Lawson has announced (at pretty short notice) three gigs in England over the coming week. As ever, they’ll be a tuneful/melodic/noisy hybrid of jazz, pop, electronic and ambient influences squeezed through Steve’s battery of sound treatments, and salted by the usual mixture of stand-up comedy, general gabby friendliness and opinionation; the last of which isn’t a word, but is a pretty good definition of what Steve does when he’s not playing, and sometimes when he is playing. At a Lawson gig you get the whole brand, and then some. You can take your family; you can take your friends; you can take a donkey whose legs are in need of a bit of honing…

Steve Lawson live

Steve Lawson + Echo Engine + others (SoundCellar @ The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Poole, Dorset, BH15 1NE, UK, Thursday June 25th – 8.30pm, £8.50 )

This is the one which counts as a full gig – a solo Steve Lawson set, after which he’ll be joined by the Echo Engine trio (Daniel Biro on keyboards, ) plus ex Bjork/D’Influence drummer Pascal Consoli and the ECM-inspired saxophonist Jon Lloyd. Up-to-date info is here and here, and you can reserve your ticket via email here.

Scott Pellegrom + Andy Edwards + Adam Gammage (Birmingham Dream Cymbals Day @ Glee Club, Birmingham, B5 4TD, UK – Sunday June 28th, 6.00pm – £10.00/£15.00)

This is actually a drum clinic appearance, at which Steve will be playing with drummer and regular collaborator Andy Edwards. Up-to-date info is here and tickets are here. Also performing are Adam Gammage (Baxter Dury band) and Scott Pellegrom.

Ian Smith’s 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday June 29th, 6.00pm – £13.20

Steve will be performing at this expansive celebratory gig for London Improvisers Orchestra founder Ian Smith – an event so substantial that it needs its own section further down this post. Steve will be playing in the 10pm slot alongside drummer Jason Cooper and guitarist Reeves Gabrels (both currently members of The Cure). Tickets here: more on the event in a moment.

As usual, Steve has plenty of other things going on, not least an appearance at The One Dayer: Independent Music, Money & Tech conference at Cecil Sharp House in London on July 1st, where (as a longstanding advocate of independent artist-run music careers) he’ll be one of the speakers. He’s also planning further collaborations with loop vocalist/beatboxer Beardyman (having previously played with him in a “dream team” improvising quartet alongside drummer Andy Gangadeen and guitar journeyman Gary Lucas), with fellow bass guitarists Divinity Roxx and Jonas Hellborg (the latter for an October tour) and with Jon Thorne’s semi-experimental Sunshine Brothers trio (for an August appearance at the Manchester Jazz Festival. If you want to read about what he did earlier in his career, here are links to the ‘Misfit City’ archive reviews of ‘And Nothing But The Bass‘, ‘Not Dancing For Chicken‘, ‘Conversations‘ and the first in the ‘Lessons Learned From An Ancient Feline‘ series, early steps on a path of explorations and musical hook-ups.

*****

And now, some more on the Ian Smith birthday event at the Vortex at the end of the month, which sees a remarkable lineup of British jazz players and other improvisers swarm into Dalston to pay tribute to one of their own living heroes. (Hopefully the timings I’ve cited here are right, as the layouts in the original postings are a little confusing…)

Ian Smith 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex

Ian Smith’s 50th Birthday Event @ The Vortex Jazz Club, 11 Gillett Square, London, N16 8AZ, UK, Monday June 29th, 6.00pm – £13.20

Ian MacGowan (aka Smith) arrived in London in 1990 from Dublin with two phone numbers in his hand: John Stevens and Derek Bailey. Those were the only two numbers he wanted at the time, but as the months went on he got to know and play with many amazing musicians – he founded The Gathering with Maggie Nichols, and the London Improvisers Orchestra with Steve Beresford and Evan Parker. He ended up playing and recording with John and Derek, and plays with anybody who wants to start from nothing. Most of tonight’s cast are old friends; some new; all are beautifully personal voices. He’ll be playing with most of them.

In the Square, 6.00pm:
Henry Lowther, Byron Wallen – trumpets
Julian Faultless – french horn
Alan Tomlinson, Sarah Gail Brand, Ed Lucas – trombones
Oren Marshall, Dave Powell – tubas
Steve Beresford – occasional conductor

In the Vortex downstairs, 7.00pm:
Pete McPhail – alto sax
Tom Wheatley – bass
Steve Noble – drums

In the Vortex upstairs, 8.00pm
BJ Cole – pedal steel
Ansuman Biswas – percussion

In the Vortex upstairs, 9.00pm:
Rowland Sutherland – flutes
Marcio Mattos – bass

In the Vortex upstairs, 9.30pm:
Sibyl Madrigal – poetry

In the Vortex upstairs, 10.00pm:
Reeves Gabrels – guitar
Steve Lawson – bass guitar
Jason Cooper – drums

and more special guests to be confirmed.

Tickets here.

Jim Lampi plays in London: Balham tonight, Putney at the end of the month

15 Jun

A quick note, since this is at very short notice. Jim Lampi, singer-songwriter and arguably the world’s best Chapman Stick player, is surfacing for two rare gigs in London this month… one of them tonight. Jim Lampi The Chapman Stick is often known as a technician’s instrument – studied polyphony, smooth jazz, fingertapping extravaganzas. While Jim’s more than capable of all that there’s also a rootsy joy to his musicality, born from curiosity, a subtle musical restlessness and a diverse if low-key career. He’s played with people as diverse as Michael Manring, Courtney Pine and in particular the late John Martyn, for whom he was an occasional bandmember. The latter looms large in Jim’s own recent songwriting, which is full of dreamy slurs and elastic timing and sung in a weathered voice that’s part Martyn and part Leon Redbone. Watching him play, even in short bursts, is a joyous experience.

Live @ The Bedford, The Bedford, 77 Bedford Hill, Balham, SW12 9HD – Monday 15th June – 8.00pm, free event.

Jim plays at the resident singer-songwriter night, alongside three other singer-songwriters: Brendan Cleary, Josh McCartney and Robert Kennedy – full details here.

The Half Moon, 93 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, London, SW15 1EU, UK, Monday 29th June – 8.00pm, £8.00-£10.00.

Jim plays a support slot for the acclaimed John Martyn tribute band The Glorious Fools. More details here, and get tickets here.

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