Tag Archives: Neil Charles

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

3 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Jarman

Joseph Jarman

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

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

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





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

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

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


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

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

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



 

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


 
Dates:

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

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

November 2016 – upcoming London jazz gigs (28th) – Alexander Hawkins-Elaine Mitchener Quartet, Michael Janisch and The James Beckwith Trio at the Cockpit; Ping Machine Quartet at the Sitara

26 Nov

Two London jazz-hops for Monday…

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Cockpit Productions present:
Jazz In The Round: Alexander Hawkins/Elaine Mitchener Quartet + Michael Janisch + The James Beckwith Trio
The Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, Lisson Grove, London, NW8 8EH, England
Monday 28th November 2016, 7.00pm
information

According to their own description, the Alexander Hawkins/Elaine Mitchener Quartet work with “repertoire (which)“fuses Mitchener’s unique way with both melody and abstraction, with Hawkins’ idiosyncratic compositional and pianistic world; as well as spotlighting re-imaginings of a small number of non-original songs which reveal the influence of precursors such as Jeanne Lee and Linda Sharrock.” The project’s still young enough not to have spawned either recordings or video clips, so you’ll have to imagine it from the existing pedigree of its players and movers.

Pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins (a onetime renegade lawyer and youthful church organist who evolved into a jazz keyboard explorer of rare brilliance) has already made marks as a noted collaborator with Louis Moholo, Shabaka Hutchings and plenty of others, plus previous leader/co-leader work with Convergence Quartet, Hammond organ funk-improv trio Decoy and his own de-/free-constructive Trio and Ensemble. He’s been hailed as an exceptional talent within his generation.


 
Vocalist Elaine Mitchener, though she’s been following a decidedly more outre path, is also exceptional: twisting and fusing (or placing in parallel) vocal approaches from jazz, gospel, sound poetry, free improvisations and contemporary classical, and where possible blending it with performance aspects of movement theatre. A collaborator with the likes of Phil Minton and Evan Parker (music), Deborah Warner (theatre) and Christian Marclay (both and neither), she’s as happy with pre-linguistic gabble and the esoteric libretti of David Toop operas as she is with a standard. At least as likely to be found performing in a gallery space as in a jazz club, she’s one of Britain’s most daring singers; balanced conceptually (though not necessarily tonally) between Lauren Newton, Abbey Lincoln, Dagmar Krause and the latterday Scott Walker (as well as the aforementioned avant-jazz vocal trailblazers Lee and Sharrock), but carving out a highly individual expressive space of her own. Below is just one example of what she does.


 
The quartet is completed by double bass player Neil Charles (from Alexander’s existing Trio) and by drummer Steve Davis, who appear to be considerably more than sidemen: “structurally, the group function as complete equals, veering radically from the traditional norm of ‘singer plus rhythm section’, instead treating this as only one possible dynamic amongst many.”

Reknowned émigré-American bass player Michael Janisch (once of TransAtlantic Collective, more recently a member of City of Poets, leader of Paradigm Shift and prime mover of both Whirlwind Recordings and the Whirlwind Festival) is playing a solo set as the middle act. Outside of master classes, this is an unusual scenario for Michael: he’s generally to be found at the hearts of ensembles, pushing them on with inspired work whether on double bass or electric bass guitar. There’s no details on which of these he’s using this time (it might be both).

As opener, pianist James Beckwith brings the trio of himself, rising jazz-pop drummer Harry Pope and bass guitarist Joe Downard (a protégé of the great Herbie Flowers, now one of London’s busiest cross-disciplinary bass players in jazz, blues, country, soul and hip hop). Together they present a London spin on “New York contemporary jazz harmonies, the piano trio lineage, Middle Eastern and Asian folk, to mould strong rhythmic tunes delivered with driving energy”, working from fragmented syncopation to tight funky knots.


 

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Ping Machine Quartet, 28th November 2016Some time ago, I was bemoaning the loss of Archway scratch-deli Forks & Corks (an up-and-coming London jazz venue) to buildings works and gentrification. While I’ve been grumbling, Archway local (and cheerily formidable double bass hero) Jonny Gee, who had some responsibility for the music there) has picked himself up undaunted, and moved proceedings a minute or so’s walk south to the Sitara restaurant. There he’s continued to build plans for an Archway jazz scene with an unfolding series of surprising blink-and-you’ll-miss-them meal-plus-music gigs, of which this is the latest.

Jonny Gee presents:
Ping Machine Quartet
The Sitara, 784 Holloway Road, Archway, London, N19 3JH, England
Monday 28th November 2016, 6.00pm
information

There’s not too much information on this one besides from the words “improv, bebop, jazz” tossed onto the poster like hasty clip-art, so (as with the Hawkins/Mitchener Quartet) you’ll just have to go by the reputations of the people in the band. Nothing to do with the similarly-named polystylistic French ensemble, they’re a more recent alliance of Jonny, Orphy Robinson and two other impressive London musicians.

Jonny’s sideman and MD work for King Salsa, Antonio Forcione, Ravi Shankar and Cleo Laine only scratches the surfaces of a thrillingly animated career on bass, which has stretched from jazz to Latin dance to baroque classical and back again in a ongoing arc of possibilities. Orphy, meanwhile, is a beloved veteran of the ‘90s British jazz boom. Once a Jazz Warrior, subsequently a Blue Note-signed vibraphonist, he’s now firmly fixed at jazz statesman status thanks to diverse work within education and curation as well as his host of ongoing projects as a player (including Nubian Vibes, Bruise, Codefive, Clear Frame and his Black Top duo with pianist Pat Thomas).

Regarding the remaining half of the quartet – drummer Andrea Trillo has played with both Herbie Hancock and Jerry Dammers, as well as with Dave O’Higgins, Jon Toussaint, Simon Purcell and Tim Richards. Long steeped in jazz and Latin music, Shanti Paul Jayasinha’s played trumpet for Brand New Heavies, Jason Yarde, Tim Garland and Buena Vista Social Club as well as leading his own ShantiJazzWorld ensemble. He also plays flugelhorn and, for this gig, might be toting the Slumpet (his custom valve/slide trumpet). In case he doesn’t, this is what it sounds like.


 

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