Cocktails with Rhythmica

Another superb gig from Rhythmica, this time in the Cafe of Foyle’s Bookshop in London.   After last weekend’s wake-up call in Southport, tonight’s gig was at a more civilized hour.   But the pace and the musical skill and the serious intent were just the same – anyone expecting easy-listening, cocktail-bar music was in for a shock!
With about 75 people present, it was standing room only.    Standing at the back, I found Peter Edwards’ piano hard to hear – maybe it was not amplified, or not sufficiently.   I enjoyed again bass Peter Randall’s solo in Parallel, a solo which seemed to have more coherence tonight, or perhaps I understood the motifs and their development better this time round.   Andy Chapman on drums provided solid support for the odd time signatures, and I noticed again the frequent rhythmic coupling and tripling he did with Randall’s bass and Edwards’ piano.
I was also impressed by Mark Crown’s superfast bop trumpet solo on Herbie Hancock’s The Sorcerer. But the man of the match tonight was undoubtedly stand-in tenor sax player, Binker Golding, whose blistering, vein-popping solo on the same number had the audience up in a standing ovation when he ended.    Even the two Dutch women near me who talked through the entire set were quiet for this, although they still didn’t look at the stage.
As best I recall, the order of songs was:

  • Time Machine (Audu)
  • Anthem (Edwards)
  • Parallel (Joe Harriott)
  • Turner’s Dream (Crown)
  • Triple Threat (Edwards)
  • The Sorcerer (Hancock)
  • Blind Man’s Stomp (Golding).

Can’t wait to hear these guys again!
UPDATE (2011-02-18): A video of Binker’s blistering solo is here, and photos of the gig here.

Breakfast with Rhythmica

Earlier today I caught a rainy, late morning gig by Rhythmica as part of the Southport Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend Festival.  The quintet comprises Mark Crown on trumpet, Peter Edwards piano, Peter Randall double bass, Andy Chapman drums, and Zem Audu on sax.  Audu was absent today, his place taken by Binker Golding on tenor sax.   There were perhaps 150 people in the audience, with only a handful looking younger than 50.   Maybe everyone younger was still asleep.
What a way to wake up!  From the first three bars of the first number – Time Machine – you knew these guys were serious – they were people to be reckoned with.  The piece was in 11/4 (or perhaps one bar in 3 beats to every two bars in 4), and they were extremely together!  Piano and bass were in close unison for an ostinato bass line, trumpet and tenor sax together in similar unison for the melody.    And everyone – all 5 – in very tight formation.    The close co-ordination was evident throughout the morning, with the players grouping mostly as for Time Machine.
The use of trumpet and sax together, sometimes in unison, sometimes playing seconds and thirds (especially at the ends of unison phrases), with the piano riffing between phrases,  as if commenting from the sidelines on the melody, is a feature of Wynton Marsalis’ compositions, and before him, of Wayne Shorter and others in the early 60s.   This produces what I find is a very attractive sound, and Rhythmica did it very well.  Anthem was in this vein.   Sometimes also the bass and drums would double (as in Mr JJ), and just once we also heard trumpet, sax and piano play unison/thirds choruses together, in the aptly named Triple Threat.   And for the final chorus of Solace, Crown’s trumpet played long-held falling fifths underneath everyone else’s bop gyrations; these were just sublime.
In a lineup of excellent performers, the standout for me was bass player Peter Randall – he was fast, agile, and with lots of interesting walking lines – and using all five fingers to stop strings in the high registers.   But we only heard him solo once (in Parallel) –  it would be good to hear more of him.

As best I recall, the order of songs was as follows:
Set 1:

  • Time Machine (written by Audu)
  • Anthem (Edwards)
  • Delfeayo’s Dilemma (Wynton Marsalis)
  • Turner’s Dream (Crown)
  • Mr JJ (Jeff “Tain” Watts)

Set 2:

  • Triple Threat – The Bridge (Edwards)
  • Parallel (Joe Harriott)
  • Solace (Edwards)
  • The Sorcerer (Herbie Hancock)
  • Blind Man Stomp (Golding).

The last number was a great New Orleans stomp written by Binker Golding, which the crowd loved – perhaps showing their real preference would have been for something more traditional.   Myself, I was happier with what came before.  Counting 11 to the bar certainly woke me up PDQ!

UPDATE (2011-02-06): I have now listened to their debut CD.  Confirms my view that these guys are not people you’d want to mess with.  They have some serious intent and the strong musical skills to achieve it.  This is great music.
UPDATE #2 (2011-02-08): The band’s next outing is in a bookshop!   First, pre-dawn Saturday morning gigs, then playing  in libraries!  What next?  An appearance on The Archers?  Or music to accompany a TV cooking program?

Recent Listening 5: Hungarian Modern Jazz

A quick mention of various Hungarian jazz CDs that I’ve been listening to this week, some of the music cool and some hot.  I have heard several of these performers live, and hope to do so again: pianist Szabo Daniel (whose hands are shown above), double bassist Olah Zoltan (playing on both the Toth Viktor and the Budapest Jazz Orchestra CDs), and the superb Trio Midnight.
Szabo Daniel [1998]: At the Moment. Hungary:  Magneoton/Germany: Warner Music.
Trio Midnight [1999]:  On Track. Featuring Lee Konitz. Budapest, Hungary: Well CD 2000.
Toth Viktor Trio [2000]: Toth Viktor Trio. Budapest, Hungary.
Budapest Jazz Orchestra [2000]: Budapest Jazz Orchestra. Budapest, Hungary.  Recorded at Aquarium Studio.
Note: Entries in this series here.

Caravan in Brisbane

While posting about great jazz gigs, I remembered one superb performance I’d forgotten to record.   On 27 November 2009, I heard a gypsy-style jazz group play at Brisbane Jazz Club.  The Club has a million-dollar location at Kangaroo Point on the Brisbane River, looking back towards the city. Watching performers against a large window showing a darkening city skyscape across the water was just magical. I hope that the club can recover from the recent floods and return to their home.

The audience that night was about 50, including tables of people speaking Japanese and Russian.  The band was advertised as Cam Ford’s Gypsy Swingers, but I’m not sure everyone was there.  The line-up included  Ian Date, leader, on acoustic guitar and trumpet, his brother Nigel Date on acoustic guitar, Daniel Weltlinger on violin, and two players whose names I failed to catch – an acoustic guitarist and an electric bass player.    Later in the evening, the five were joined by another acoustic guitarist and a clarinet player (Dan?).  The music included some flamenco (to be expected with all those guitars) and was mostly 1920s Hot Club de France-style arrangements.    Most pieces had a fast, 4/4 tradjazz beat, with the bass playing a walking bass part.    This is a style of jazz I am not fond of, since much of it sounds the same, but the players showed real skill.   The violin or the lead guitar usually played a solo over the top, or sometimes, the two – violin and lead guitar – played a call-and-response duet.    These tunes were all done with energy, enthusiasm and skill.
With the full line-up of seven, the group played an absolutely superb arrangement of Caravan, a song I have blogged about before.  The arrangement began with the violin playing the melody over guitar rhythms and an ostinato bass.    This first run through was then followed by several choruses where the melody was played  in unison first by the violin and one guitar, and then with a second guitar playing a 2nd or a 3rd higher than the unison part.  The effect of this was something like an Hawaiiwan guitar, and created a sound that was iridescent, shimmering like the flickering lights on the river in the window behind the musicians.
To me, the stand-out  performer on the night was the violinist, Daniel Weltlinger, whom nothing seemed to faze.  At one point, when the two additional players joined, he was shouting chord changes to the clarinetist while improvising his own solo at the same time.

Scottish Marley Chingus

A quick shout-out to Marley Chingus Jazz Explosion, who play at The Caledonia alternate Friday nights, to where a friend invited me last night.  In truth, I’ve seen their posters for a couple of years, but had avoided going to hear them.  Their twee name makes them sound like a tribute band, and who wants to listen to people with insufficient imagination to play their own music, or even to invent their own name?
But the loss was mine.  What a great performance!  The quartet comprises Colin Lamont on drums, Dave Spencer on e-double bass, Bob Whittaker on tenor, and long-fingered medic Misha Gray on e-piano.    Last night they also had guesting another tenor player, whose name I did not catch.  (And Principal Cellist of the RLPO, Jonathan Aasgaard, was also in the crowd.)  Mingus, Monk, and Shorter featured (eg, JuJu), as well as their own fine compositions in brazen, hard-driving, funky, modal post-bop – serious early-60s jazz, before the harmonic emptiness of fusion took prominence.   What I particularly liked was that their solos did not sound the same from song to song; quite a few jazz performers really play the same solos whatever the underlying tune.   Gray’s trills, two-finger glissandos, and left-hand ostinatos were a delight, recalling early piano styles, and I also liked his occasional Shearing-style block chords.  He could do more with those, I think.
Pity about the name, though.

Varese and Overton

Previously, I’ve mentioned jazz pianist, teacher and composer Hall Overton, here and here.  I’ve just come across non-released recordings of free-jazz workshops organized and conducted by pioneer classical composer Edgar Varese in New York in 1957, in which Overton plays piano (and a guy named Mingus plays bass).   Varese’s influence continues:  a few years ago a concert of some of his music along with contemporary and club-based electronica completely pre-sold-out the 2380-seat capacity of Liverpool’s Royal Philharmonic Hall.

Recent listening 4: Caravan

One of life’s pleasures is listening to John Schaefer’s superb radio program on WNYC, New Sounds from New York.  I have just heard his recent program presenting different versions of the jazz standard, Caravan. The song is associated with Duke Ellington, although it was composed by trombonist Juan Tizol (pictured playing a valve trombone), and the words were by Irving Mills.   Some of these versions I knew and like, particularly the ambient versions of trumpeter John Hassell:

  • Jon Hassell:  Fascinoma. Water Lily Acoustics, 1999.

The program also included a superb ska version which I did not know before, by the band Hepcat:

  • Hepcat:  Out of Nowhere. Hellcat, 2004.   (Reissue of Moon Ska Records, 1983).

One great version not on the program is an arrangement by Gordon Jenkins. This has a fast-moving orchestral accompaniment (sounding like a walking treble), and was included in Season 1 of Mad Men.  Someone has posted a recording on Youtube here.

  • Mad Men:  Music from the Series, volume 1. Lionsgate, 2008.

A superb live version I once heard by a violin-and-guitar band in Brisbane I have written about here.
Two other great ambient albums are:

  • Bill Laswell and Remix Productions:  Bob Marley Dreams of Freedom. Ambient Translations of Bob Marley in Dub. Island Records, 1997.
  • Ethiopiques, Volume 4.  Ethio Jazz and Musique Instrumental 1969-1974. Buda Musique.  This volume comprises performances and arrangements by Ethiopian jazz keyboardist, Mulatu Astatke, on albums first issued in Ethiopia in 1972 and 1974.

Posts in this series are here.

Vale: Mike Zwerin

This is a belated farewell to Mike Zwerin (1930-2010), jazz trombonist and jazz correspondent for the International Herald Tribune.   An American in Paris, he was open in his musical tastes and usually generous in his criticisms; his IHT writings personally sustained many a long journey across far meridians, and helped reinforce the urbane, cosmopolitan, expatriate feel that the IHT had last century (now sadly lost, since the NYT bought out the Washington Post and brought it home to Manhattan).  Obits:  London Times and The Guardian.

Learning jazz improvisation

A few days ago, writing about bank bonuses, I talked about the skills needed to get-things-done, a form of intelligence I believe is distinct (and rarer than) other, better-known forms — mathematical, linguistic, emotional, etc. There are in fact many skill sets and forms of intelligence which don’t feature prominently in our text-biased culture. One of these is musical intelligence, and I have come across a fascinating description of taking jazz improvisation and composition lessons from pianist and composer Hall Overton (1920-1972), written by Jack Reilly (1932-2018):

The cigarette dangled out the right side of his mouth, the smoke rising causing his left eye to squint, the ashes from the burning bush got longer and longer, poised precipitously to fall at any moment on the keyboard. Hall always sat at the upright piano smoking, all the while playing, correcting, and making comments on my new assighment, exercises in two-part modern counterpoint. I was perched on a rickety chair to his left, listening intensely to his brilliant exegesis, waiting in vain for the inch-long+ cigarette ash to fall. The ashes never fell! Hall instinctively knew the precise moment to stop playing , take the butt out of his mouth and flick the ashes in the tray on the upright piano to his left. He would then throw the butt in the ash tray and immediately light another cigarette. His concentration and attention to every detail of my assighment made him unaware that he never took a serious puff on the bloody cigarette. I think the cigarette was his “prop” so to speak, his way of creating obstacles that tested my concentration on what he was saying. In other words, Hall was indirectly teaching me to block out any external distractions when doing my music, even when faced with a comedic situation like wondering when the cigarette ashhes would fall on the upright keyboard or even on his tie. Yes, Hall wore a tie, and a shirt and a jacket. All memories of Hall Overton by his former students 9 times out ot 10 begin with the Ashes to Ashes situation. A champion chain smoker and indeed, a master ash flickerer, never once dirtying the floor, piano or his professorial attire.

Hall Overton, composer, jazz pianist, advocate/activist for the New Music of his time and a lover of Theolonius Monk’s music, was my teacher for one year beginning in 1957. I first heard about him from a fellow classmate at the Manhattan School of Music, which at that time was located on East 103rd street, between 2nd and 3rd avenue, an area then known as Spanish Harlem. This chap was playing in one of the basement practice rooms where I heard him playing Duke Jordan’s “Jordu”. I liked what I heard so much so I asked him where he learned to play that way. Hall Overton, was his reply. I took down Hall’s number, called him and said I wanted to take jazz piano lessons. He sounded warm and gracious over the phone which made me feel relaxed because I was nervous about playing for him. I had been playing jazz gigs and casuals since my teens but still felt light years away from my vision of myself as a complete jazz pianist. Hall was going to push the envelope. We set up weekly lessons.
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