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June/July 2019 – upcoming London gigs – Jewdas’ summer shindig with Geoff Berner, Fran & Flora and Rokhl Merlot at Balabam (20th June); Sefiroth at JW3 (4th July)

17 Jun

A couple of vibrantly Jewish gigs coming up in London…

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I mostly know about Jewdas thanks to them apparently being among Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite Jewish organisations, and hence having been dragged in the wretched palaver over where and how much anti-semitism might be marring British politics. A determined “radical Jewish voice for the alternative diaspora”, they could probably have done without the blowback; or perhaps they take it as a badge of pride; but they’ll wear and weather it regardless.

In Britain and elsewhere, the internet’s rotting under the feculent, polluted weight of this particular debate, and I’m not going to wrangle the point here (I’ll leave that to the single-issue soapboxers who love it so much) but it would plainly be nonsense to suggest either that Jewdas might not be deeply rooted in Jewish culture, or that they’re not deeply proud of it. If you want to know more of what they’re about (and don’t mind Jonathan Sacks being twitted a bit) you can read about that here: alternatively, you could consider their summer party show at Balabam this week. It’s Jewish to the core – bright and lively, opinionated and warm; pugnacious in intellect and politics and personal engagement; sometimes superbly vulgar; and loaded with music that weaves itself into a shawl of pain, laughter, chatter and living.

They’re hoping to offer “the best in radical Yiddish music” (trigger warning for the humph-y: they tend to favour Yiddish over Hebrew) and it’s certainly going to be left-wing, and anarchic. Headliner Geoff Berner is a Jewish-Canadian punk-klezmernik; a singer, songwriter, accordionist and sometime novelist who prides himself on “dragging klezmer kicking and screaming back to the bars where it belongs. For the past fifteen years or so, he’s travelled the world, garnering a sizable, passionate following of odd, bookish people who like to drink. Clever and literate, Berner’s songs can make you want to weep, laugh, grind your teeth, or kick out a window – often all at the same time. His writing can be overtly political, overtly left wing, leaning towards anarchy, but free of easy slogans or cliches.“ I couldn’t talk him up any better than that, so here he is in action in concert and on video:




 

I’m better acquainted with one of the other acts on the bill – Fran & Flora – the once-seen, immediately-loved cello-and-violin duo of Francesca Ter-Berg and Flora Curzon, who’ve been bringing string duets from eastern European folk and improvisatory traditions to events like Marchland for a few years now, and who’ve now documented it on record with their debut album ‘Unfurl’. Presumably they’re providing the more serious and sober core to the evening, though I doubt that it’ll dominate if someone called Rokhl Merlot is also providing “Yiddish cabaret on an out-of-tune piano”. I suspect there’s a pseudonym involved and that it’s probably going to be riotously funny. As for DJs, there’s a “tuchas-shaking selection of klezmer, Jewish jazz, kosher blues and circumcised soul” from the Kosher Nostra DJs, who are presumably turning nasty gags about “Jewish mafias” on their heads before spitting them back. (Either that, or it’s a nod to the ghost of Bugsy Siegel.) I can’t track down anything on Mr or Ms. Merlot, but here’s a dose of the other two.

 
My own favourite Jewish joke? You didn’t ask for it, but it’s from within the community; and it’s about how if you leave a Jewish guy alone in a room for long enough, he’ll start arguing with himself. That’s how it ought to be, and I’m guessing that it’s something Jewdas are more than happy to embrace.

Postscript – I’ve just found out that Jewdas’ response to some wretched fascist pledging to take Stamford Hill (a strongly Jewish area of north-east London, and the place where my own mother worked in Jewish youth organisations on her first arrival in this country, fifty-odd years ago, as a concerned and wandering New Jersey Gentile) and to liberate it from “Jewification” was to stage a ‘Jewification’ party; and to then invite everyone, including Muslims and “everyone who has ever been threatened for being different, everyone who has ever been othered and made to feel like an outsider…. We did not let them pass before (at Cable Street), and we will stop them again – this time with furious dancing.” Now that’s just treasurable.

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If this all sounds a little raucous, there’s also an upcoming chance to catch the (frankly magical) contemporary British Sephardic ensemble Sefiroth out at JW3 at the start of July.

Built up from some of the best young British jazz and folk musicians from the Sephardic Jewish community (the rundown being the Roth brothers – Alex, Simon and Nick – plus Alice Zawadzki, Olesya Zdorovetska, Ruth Goller, Shirley Smart, Alex Bonney and Francesco Turrisi) the band rearranges and revives Jewish songs and melodies from fifteenth-century Iberia where Moorish, Balkan, North African and Mediterranean ideas merged with the music brought out of Israel. The repertoire’s a mingling of ancient love songs, children’s rhymes, dances, songstories and yearning airs; bringing to mind warm winds, scintillating desert nights, homesickness, melodies hummed and murmured in kitchens and tented marketplaces… the entire musical texture of a community.

Sefiroth play all of this beautifully. Over the last few years, I’ve spent several evenings sitting spellbound at their feet as they spun these tunes out of brass, percussion, shofars, Alice and Olesya’s vocals (capturing ache, nurture, memory and desire), Alex’s slips, swells and ebbs of gorgeously understated electric guitar, and barely-perceptible laptop sound mutations. You could, too.



 
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Dates:

Jewdas presents:
Geoff Berner + Fran & Flora + Rokhl Merlot + The Kosher Nostra DJs
Balabam, 58-60 High Road, Tottenham, London, N15 6JU, England
Saturday 22nd June 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Sefiroth
JW3, 341-351 Finchley Road, West Hampstead, London, NW3 6ET, England
Thursday 4th July 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

September 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows, part 1 – Curly Strings and Fran & Flora (6th September); She’Koyokh and Owl Parliament Choir (7th September); Alasdair Roberts and Counter’s Creek (14th September)

30 Aug

Here’s the first half of September’s set of Nest Collective Campfire Club open air, communal spaces shows. Info on the second half to follow in a week or so…

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The first gig, on Thursday 6th , features Curly Strings and Fran & Flora.

Curly Strings is a four-piece band from Estonia which draws its inspiration from American bluegrass and their own personal heritage in the current Estonian cultural space. Intense and playful ensemble work, hauntingly beautiful melodies and sincere presentation of their music forms the main basis of the Curly Strings soundscape.


 
Fran & Flora – a collaboration between ninja violinist Flora Curzon and folk/experimental cellist Francesca Ter-Berg – combines aspects of traditional string music and song from Eastern Europe with original compositions and improvisation. Having travelled across Europe to study with many great masters of Eastern European Roma and Klezmer music Fran & Flora perform this repertoire incorporating their own unique arrangements creating a sound that is both timeless and contemporary. They captivate their audiences with soulful laments, exquisite songs, irresistible dance tunes, and tales of their musical adventures.”


 
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One day later, there’s a joint show for klezmer aces She’Koyokh and the Owl Parliament Choir

“Since bursting on to the kletzmer and Balkan music scene in the early noughties, busking at London’s East End markets, the outstanding She’Koyokh has been at the forefront of UK’s world music scene, releasing four critically acclaimed studio albums, bringing the stunning polyphonic melodies and intricate rhythms of Bulgaria and Macedonia, treasured songs and kolos from Serbian villages, exhilarating Gypsy dances from the Romanian mountains and the Jewish music of Eastern Europe to new stages, venues, radio stations and audiences.


 
Owl Parliament Choir are a south London community choir, a group of friends and misfits united by their gleeful spirits, love of singing and feverish pursuit of the natural high induced by making music together. Led by Greg Staw, the choir’s repertoire is as wide as the eyes of the owls therein: Bulgarian folk songs, classical and contemporary compositions, English madrigals and original arrangements of pop classics. Anything with a soul is carefully brought to life and imaginatively crafted into colourful performances.”


 
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The 14th September gig features Alasdair Roberts and Counter’s Creek.

Alasdair Roberts is one of a rare breed of musicians whose work has found favour with aficionados of both experimental/avant-garde music and traditional/folk music – as such, he has been the cover star of both Wire Magazine and fRoots Magazine. He is primarily a songwriter/composer, singer and acoustic fingerstyle guitarist as well as an interpreter/arranger of traditional songs and ballads from Scotland and beyond.

“Originally performing and releasing as Appendix Out, Alasdair began a formal solo career under his own name in 2001, and in 2013 became a member of the Scottish/English folk group The Furrow Collective (who’ve released two albums on Hudson Records and won the accolade of Best Group in the 2017 BBC Radio Two Folk Awards). Over the years, Alasdair has collaborated with a wide variety of fellow musicians such as Will Oldham, Jason Molina, Josephine Foster, Mairi Morrison and Karine Polwart; as well as with other artists including poet Robin Robertson, puppeteer Shane Connolly of Sokobauno Puppet Theatre and film-maker Luke Fowler.


 
Counter’s Creek is an acoustic folk trio based in London who make original music inspired by the folk music of the British Isles and beyond. Jigs, reels, grooves from Eastern Europe and West Africa, catchy melodies with closely interwoven harmonies allied to a real sense of swing and dance energy.

“Fiddler Tom Newell is known for his work with Effra, The Ceilidh Liberation Front, Alex Mendham & His Orchestra and assorted pop acts, and also plays banjo and mandolin (not to mention charango and mouth harp). Guitarist Moss Freed plays with jazz/folk group Flekd, the Spike Orchestra, has recently recorded for John Zorn’s Tzadik label and is currently researching a PhD at Hull University. Whistle player Jonathan Taylor has worked in many different musical genres: best known as a jazz pianist who’s played with artists such as Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, Ruby Turner and various British jazz luminaries, he’s also co-founder of Tango Siempre, appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and arranged music for Robert Wyatt. Three musicians from very different backgrounds, united by a love of acoustic folk music, great tunes and earthy dance grooves.”


 
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Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Curly Strings + Fran & Flora – Kindred Studios, 18 Saltram Crescent, West Kilburn, London, W9 3HW, England, Thursday 6th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: She’Koyokh + Owl Parliament Choir – (secret location t.b.c.), London, England, Friday 7th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Alasdair Roberts + Counter’s Creek – Glengall Wharf Garden, 64 Glengall Road, Peckham, London, SE15 6NF, England, Friday 14th September 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

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

16 Jul

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


 

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

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

 

June 2017 – the month’s Daylight Music gigs in London – Jherek Bischoff, Emma Gatrill & Liam Byrne (June 3rd); Epic45, The Great Albatross, and BJ Cole & Emily Burridge (June 10th); Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter and Ben McManus & Clara Delfina (June 17th); Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay (June 24th)

25 May

The people behind eclectic, free, family-friendly London event (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Daylight Music are swirling back into action in June with four weekly gigs to start their summer season (even if two of them aren’t nominally DM events, the Daylight imprint shows clearly). Here’s me simply boosting the existing signal…

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Daylight Music 252, 3rd June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 252 – Jherek Bischoff + Emma Gatrill + Liam Byrne
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 3rd June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Only Jherek Bischoff would record an album in an empty, two-million-gallon underground water tank (with a reverb delay lasting forty-five seconds). A fabulously inventive and playful musician, Jherek is a mostly self-taught composer whose music dazzles, confounds and delights.

 
Liam Byrne divides his time between playing very old and very new music on the viol. ‘The Times’ praised his “nuanced and expressive, stylish virtuosity”. He’s worked with artists including Damon Albarn, Nils Frahm and Matthew Herbert, and the likes of Nico Muhly have written works for him.

 
Emma Gatrill is a multi-instrumentalist based in Brighton. Playing live, she augments her harp and vocal with ambient analogue synths and drums machines, layered with guitar atmospherics from Marcus Hamblett.”


 
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Daylight Music 253, 10th June 2017
Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 253 – Epic45 + The Great Albatross + BJ Cole & Emily Burridge
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 10th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“The much-loved epic45 — championed by the much-missed John Peel — have been making music for over twenty years. Their celebrated EPs and albums are inspired by the ever-changing English landscapes.


 
The Great Albatross tug gently on the heartstrings with their sweetly shimmering indie songs. Formed in Glasgow by A. Wesley Chung (formerly of Boris Smile), the group has an expansive, international list of contributors and collaborators.


 
“If you had to combine any two instruments, you might not immediately think of putting cello and steel guitar together, but BJ Cole and Emily Burridge confound expectations with their dynamic, sophisticated music. Hailed as “languorous, sensuous, moving music…amazing!” by ‘Art Nouveau’, these fine musicians weave around each other, mixing their intuitive improvisations with inspired, moving interpretations of classic pieces.”


 
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Louis Barabbas, Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina, 17th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Louis Barabbas + Melissa Parmenter + Ben McManus & Clara Delfina
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 17th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

Louis Barabbas is a Daylight Music favourite, thrilling the audience and tearing up the stage with his caustic love songs and energetic show. A writer, performer and label director, he’s performed all over the world and shared stages with acts including Motörhead, Supergrass and The Blockheads.


 
Melissa Parmenter is a well-respected film producer, who’s collaborated closely with director Michael Winterbottom over the last fifteen years, including producing all three series of ‘The Trip’ trilogy. She’s also an accomplished composer and pianist, having scored a number of films including ‘Genova’, ‘The Killer Inside Me’ and ‘Comes A Bright Day’.


 
“After repeatedly meeting at various festivals last year, Ben McManus & Clara Delfina decided to join forces to sing American old-time and bluegrass music, blending banjo, fiddle and guitar with their beautiful harmonies.”


 

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Trans-Siberian March Band, Antony Elvin & His Men and Toby Hay, 24th June 2017

Arctic Circle presents:
Trans-Siberian March Band + Antony Elvin & His Men (with Nina Miranda) + Toby Hay
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 24th June 2017, 12.00pm
– free event (recommended donation: £5.00) – information

“Summer Solstice edition…

“It’s always a party when the Trans-Siberian March Band are around! A riotous jumble of cabaret, carnival and overwhelming joy, this 13-piece Balkan brass band have delighted audiences at Glastonbury, Woman and the Royal Albert Hall. The Times called them “hugely entertaining… perfect festival crowd-pleasures.” They’ll be playing their winning mix of traditional Turkish and gypsy tunes, Russian sing-alongs and swinging klezmer.


 
Antony Elvin (“a Noel Coward for the Noel Fielding generation!’, according to Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh!) is a singer/songwriter from London. His songs take the listener out on a ridiculous spree, in ‘Perfect London’ – a London of your dreams, gaslit yet modern,­ pastoral yet subliminally violent. In a strong English accent, he sings about the characters he meets and the romances of the day without the vulgar baggage of angst. Special guest for this concert is Nina Miranda of Smoke City, Shrift and Zeep – she of ‘Underwater Love’ fame.

Toby Hay makes instrumental music inspired by the landscape, people and history of Mid Wales. A guitarist and composer, ‘Folkroom‘ claim that “he’s one of the finest storytellers… and he’s never sung a word.”


 

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As ever, there are likely to be interstitial musical acts filling in the gaps between acts (via loops, atmospheres or turns on the venue’s grand piano or massive church organ), plus late in-the-day extra recruitments. These will be announced closer to the time.

Good to see Toby Hay on one of the bills – his debut EP featured in ‘Misfit City’ several years ago, and since then he’s become a mainstay of the Lamplight acoustic nights up at Regather in Sheffield…

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – kletzmer in New York, Southampton, Liverpool and London, from Geoff Berner/Luisa Muhr and She’Koyokh (7th, 9th, 10th, 17th)

27 Feb

Some news on some upcoming kletzmer-related gigs in New York and across England during the first couple of weeks in March.

Geoff Berner & Lisa Muhr, 7th & 9th March 2017

In New York, as part of the Jalopy Theatre’s ongoing NY Klezmer Series in Brooklyn, there’s a newly created, first-collaboration show from two Vancouver-based musicians – singer-songwriter-accordionist Geoff Berner and singer Luisa Muhr (both of whom can collectively muster up talents across novel-writing, theatre directing, community activism and movement art, but that’s several other stories…)

“Being part of the Klezmer and Yiddish music and performance scene in the US, Canada and Europe, Geoff and Luisa first met at the renowned KlezKanada music camp where they spent many hours singing together. ‘Songs of People Other People Don’t Like So Much’ has been created out of the necessity of producing political work in times that need it. Geoff and Luisa will sing you stories of the underdogs (and unpopular overdogs) of our society: some in Yiddish, some with quite some Klezmer, some in their own words, some in someone else’s. Join us, listen, engage, and enjoy!”

The project’s too new for soundclips or videos: but here’s Geoff performing a solo song from 2013 (tearing with righteous venom into Vancouver’s rotten civic developments), and Luisa fronting a Yidishe Lider concert about a year ago.



 
In addition to the Jalopy show, Geoff and Luisa are presenting another Brooklyn performance, in the shape of a preview version a couple of days earlier at Freddy’s Bar & Backroom. This is a pay-what-you-like event (though they suggest a ten bucks minimum and you’re also tied to a minimum-of-two-drinks rule). This particular evening is for twenty-one year olds or over: not because of any added salty adult content, but purely because of licencing laws for the bar.

Dates:

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She'Koyokh, 2017

Meanwhile, back here in England, She’Koyokh – who have been hailed as “one of London’s musical treasures” (‘Evening Standard’) and “one of the finest kletzmer ensembles on the planet” (‘The Australian’) – are out on the road launching their fourth studio album, ‘First Dance On Second Avenue’.

“With a name roughly translated from the original Yiddish as “nice one”, She’Koyokh have spent over a decade absorbing the rich folk music traditions of Jewish Eastern Europe, Turkey and the Balkans. Their evolution spans the origins of busking at East London’s Columbia Road flower market to performing in the famous concert halls of Europe including Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the Gasteig in Munich and London’s Southbank Centre. She’koyokh’s members hail from the UK, USA, Serbia, Sweden and Turkey, forging a unique sound that is traditional yet original.

“Their live shows are an expertly crafted, multi-lingual exploration from the Baltic to the Black Sea virtuosic, toe-tapping klezmer instrumentals, Gypsy music, soulful songs and the best Balkan dance tunes from Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia. They’ll take you on a journey sampling polyphonic singing from Bulgaria, a Serbian song about a pigeon on the raspberries, a steamy quarrel between mother-in-laws in a Turkish sauna, a duet between a father and daughter about who she’s going to marry – in the end she chooses the drunken one! – and a love song for a Gypsy girl with penetrating green eyes.”


 
Dates:

 

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…

More upcoming London gigs in early June – prog rock/math rock/post-hardcore @ The Facemelter; electro-pop/drum’n’brass/loops/experimental ambience @ Tuesdays Post; eclectic classical/experimental chamber music/kletzmer & Bulgarian voices @ The Forge

31 May

Some more early June gig previews for London – these would have been in the previous post if I’d picked up on them earlier.

Firstly, a Facemelter promotion (from the experimental rock/post-hardcore wing of the Chaos Theory organisation whose jazz gigs I’ve also enjoyed)…

Facemelter, 5th June 2015

Alright The Captain + Iran Iran + Porshyne @  The Facemelter (The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden, London, NW1 0AP, Friday 5th June , 7.30pm

Three heroes of math rock, alternative and post-rock travel from different corners of the UK to unite and form this amazing lineup.

Derby-based trio Alright The Captain masterfully combine virtuosic instrumentalism with unabashed musical experimentation and have effortlessly established themselves as a sonic force to be reckoned with, thanks to their increasingly inimitable, uniquely imaginative brand of math-rock. Their sprawling and varied career has seen them sharing stages with post-rock luminaries including Mono, toe, 65daysofstatic, Pelican, Tera Melos, ASIWYFA, Maybeshewill, Adebisi Shank (RIP), This Will Destroy You, ZU and many more. Their new album ‘Contact Fix’ (which ‘Musical Mathematics’ describes as “div(ing)  in and out of math rock, prog and post rock – but, at its heart, it’s different”) has gone down a storm.

Iran Iran are another supremely talented bunch of musicians who stunned and impressed all who saw them at ArcTanGent last year. With insanely complex rhythms and thunderously heavy riffs, the four-piece from Bristol have evolved since their excellent first EP ‘Crystal Math’ and are packing a punch. They’ve played with Future Of The Left, Cleft, Alright The Captain, This Town Needs Guns, You Slut!, Alpha Male Tea Party, Death Pedals and many others. Fans of complex musical wizardry or heavy riffs will love their new EP ‘Milk Time For Spiders’.

Brightoners Porshyne dance between ambient intervals and melodic vocals to intensely intricate, fantastically crunchy  prog rock riffs. With just a few single releases and a session filmed by Small Pond Recordings, they already sold out their first headline show in Brighton. This is your chance to catch the band before their career takes off.

More info here and here, and tickets here (£5.00 advance, £7.00 on the door).

At the end of the same week, Georgina Brett’s Tuesdays Post event returns to Stoke Newington with another evening of ambient/progressive live music, including ‘Misfit City’ favourites Darkroom

event-20150607tuesdayspost

Minny Pops/Spaceheads/Darkroom/Georgina Brett & Hems @ Tuesdays Post, (The Others, 6 Manor Rd, London, N16 5SA, Friday 7th June, 7.00pm)

Formed by vocalist/band leader Wally van Middendorp in Amsterdam in 1978, Dutch electro pioneers Minny Pops took their name from a primitive Korg drum machine. The band released several singles and a debut album, Drastic Measures, Drastic Movement, on independent Dutch label Plurex before joining the legendary Manchester label Factory Records in 1980 (which resulted in them being produced by Martin Hannett, touring with both Joy Division and New Order, and becoming the first Dutch group to record a Peel Session). Singles including Dolphin’s Spurt, Secret Story and Time were followed by the acclaimed album ‘Sparks In A Dark Room’ in 1982. The band released two further albums (‘Poste Restante’ and ‘Fourth Floor’) before splitting in 1985. In 2012, the band reunited for a series of gigs in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium and recorded a 7-inch single for Tim Burgess’ O Genesis label. After a pause to draw breath, 2014 has seen Minny Pops performing live once again.

Spaceheads are a cosmic duo of trumpet electronics and drums. Formed in 1990, they have developed a blend of electronics and sunshine fanfares over the course of ten albums, three EPs and much touring across Europe and the USA. Andy Diagram (also of James) plays trumpet with a mobile phone stuck to the top with a fish slice and Richard Harrison plays drums with big bendy metal sheets stuck to the top. They create live looped layers of brass driven by flurries of free flowing funky drums. Andy and Richard have achieved an intuition of what each is about to do next which makes their semi-improvised gigs a joy to behold. They release their first studio album in ten years – ‘A Short Ride On The Arrow of Time’ – this Autumn.

Darkroom – the UK-based duo of Michael Bearpark (guitars) and Andrew Ostler (synths)- expertly ride the line between luscious, old-school progressive rock and modern ambient electronics. At times reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream with hints of Fripp and Eno, they create clouds of sequenced synths, chewy grooves, and looped phrases to support a variety of acoustic and electric guitar melodies that twist and turn in surprising, occasionally aggressive, ways.

Hems Aka Henrique Matias will be playing live with Georgina Brett. Henrique is a multi-talented composer, programmer and DJ. He specialises in Multimedia programming (from internet things to Max/MSP and similars), although not all his live music and performances sounds like computer music (sometimes he takes his drum machines and crazy things out of the house). Georgina Brett’s music is created using her voice and effects pedals, creating instant choirs of sound, often in an hypnotic style. The point of this music is not only to captivate with extraordinary timing and melodic style but also to help the listener to relax in our ever-increasingly fast world.

Interactive visuals and multimedia projections are by Hanzo and Rucksack Cinema.

More information here – tickets £7.00 on the door.

By all accounts The Forge (in Camden Town) has spent the last few years becoming one of north London’s most interesting small venues for mixed music. I’ve yet to go there and see for myself: but in its full June calendar (also featuring funk, jazz, classical and Cuban music as well as assorted poetry) the following four concerts caught my interest:

Notus Winds & Eliza McCarthy (Wednesday 3nd June, 7.30pm)

Part of the classical monthly series Wednesdays at The Forge, this time featuring award-winning chamber ensemble Notus Winds and solo pianist Eliza McCarthy with a program of contemporary compositions (more information here). Tickets £10.00 to £12.00.

Programme:

Harrison Birtwistle – 5 Distances
György Ligeti – Ten Pieces
Arvo Pärt – Quintettino
Anders Hillborg – Six Pieces for Wind Quintet

Fenella Humphreys: Bach to the Future Part 1 (Tuesday 9th June, 7.30pm)

The first of three concerts presented by violinist Fenella Humphreys, featuring commissions of six new works by six of Britain’s leading composers to accompany Bach’s glorious 6 Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin. This first concert includes new works by Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Gordon Crosse alongside extraordinary music by Bach, Scott, Westhoff, Hindemith. Tickets £10.00 to £12.00.

Programme:

Cyril Scott – Bumble-Bees (1928)
Johann Paul von Westhoff – Suite no. 5 in D minor (1682)
Gordon Crosse – Orkney Dreaming (2014)
Fritz Kreisler – Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice op. 6 (1911)
Paul Hindemith – Sonata op. 31 no. 2 ‘Es ist so schönes Wetter draussen’ (1924)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Partita no. 3 in E major BWV 1006 (c. 1720)
Cheryl Frances-Hoad – Suite no. 1 (2014)
Eugene Ysaye – 2nd Sonata op. 27 (1923)

Reciprocity: a new work by Daniel Patrick Cohen (Wednesday 10th June, 7.00pm)

Reciprocity is a 28 minute work for voice, taped narration, eight celli, piano, and percussion. The piece was composed by Daniel Patrick Cohen from six poems by the late Darya Farha, a Canadian poet, therapist, filmmaker and clothing designer. Darya was an extraordinary woman whose sharp intelligence, dry wit, distaste for orthodoxies and boundless empathy fuelled restless journey through her unfinished life. Darya died of breast cancer in 2011 when she was 46, and Reciprocity was commissioned by her sister Juliana Farha, who lives in London. Reciprocity is not about cancer, however. Instead, its human and universal themes of joy, pleasure, fear and anger, along with its intriguing instrumentation are sure to engage a broad audience. You can read more on the project here, and here. Tickets £6.00.

She’Koyokh & Veda Slovena Bulgarian Choir (Thursday 11th June, 8.00pm)

In a unique collaboration, She’Koyokh & Veda Slovena Bulgarian Choir combine the fiery panache of klezmer and Balkan music with the timeless beauty of Bulgarian voices, weaving Jewish, Turkish and Balkan music into the rich tapestry of the Bulgarian choral tradition. Read She’Koyokh’s piece on their Veda Slovena collaboration here. Tickets £10.00 to £12.00.

(All events taking place at The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, London, NW1 7NL)

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