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Welcome to my blog.

Welcome to the new home for my posts on jazz and other cultural things which interest me. I have been blogging on another platform, as well as doing occasional reviews for the LondonJazz blog for a while, and decided to gather things together on WordPress.

I have compiled an index of all musicians, artists and venues, though I can’t guarantee this will always be completely up to date.

Gig-less In Edinburgh.

Like most music fans, I have been missing live gigs more than anything. In more normal times, I’d probably go to a couple of gigs a week. And so I have been devouring streaming events in their place.

Steamed shows are just a simulacrum of a live show, but beggars can’t be choosers; and there can be advantages – you don’t have to leave home, you can see shows from around the world, and, for some shows, you can see them when you want rather having to stick to the musicians’ diary. And by buying tickets or making donations, it’s a way to help musicias make ends meet when their income dried up. (If you watch any of these, please donate if you can afford to.)

Personally I don’t like watching music on a screen (be it a computer or tv), and I have often found myself switching off the screen and listening to the music through the speakers, as if listening to the radio.

Despite the ability to travel the globe listening to livestreams, I’ve generally stuck with musicians I’d have gone to see anyway. Early in the lockdown, I watched several streams of solo pianists – probably because they were used to playing solo. I think Liam Noble was the fastest out of the blocks with a series of witty performances on Saturday lunchtimes where he took tunes from outside the usual jazz repertoire – Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath spring to mind – and these are still available on YouTube – as well as several other I haven’t seen: I hadn’t realised he’d kept up his shows!

Another pianist who took to the internet early was Fergus McCreadie who took the opportunity to stream some completely improvised sessions (the videos are still available on Fergus’s Facebook page): he did one a week for several weeks – there were some technology issues early on (the stream sticking occasionally) though after the first couple of weeks he got the tech sorted properly – and it felt a privilege to watch an artist in the act of spontaneously creating. In the darkest of times, Fergus’s Tuesday night sessions were like a beacon.

There were some recorded – not-live – events too: Tommy Smith put together a video of highlights from various bands he’d been part of, as a fundraiser for the RCS – typically I can’t find that video now; it feaured some specially recorded solo sax peieces, a clip from the SNJO, and concert excerpts from Smith’s quartet palying a tribute to Coltrane; one of the high points was an excerpt from this show featuring Smith with an all star band of Joe Lovano, John Scofield, John Taylor, John Patitucci and Bill Stewart – well worth a watch!

Smith’s regular bassist, Calum Gourlay, produced a recorded video to raise funds for the Vortex in London. This show has some beautiful bass playing as well as Gourlay experimenting with the percussive possiblities of various objects… It’s still up on the Vortex website.

The Edinburgh Jazz Festival went online in July, with some highlights from previous years, such as tremendous gigs by Strata [Expanded] from 2019 and the premiere of Martin Kershaw’s suite “Dreaming of Ourselves” from 2018. But they also had several live sets especially recorded for this years festival, like solo piano shows from Dave Milligan and Steve Hamilton (both of whom released new solo records during the summer).

But for me the hit of the festival was Playtime, with special guests Laura MacDonald and Gina Rae. The guys from Playtime had been streaming from quite early in the lockdown, trying various ways to connect through FaceTime and Zoom, but the technology was as much a barrier as a facilitator. Then as Scotland began to open up in July, they realised they could get together, socially distanced and complying with all the regulations and guidelines in a village hall, which culminated in their jazz festival gig. It was a real gig. The vision was good (when the musicians remembered to stand in the light…) and the sound was excellent – indeed, the sound was so good they uploaded the audio file to BandCamp (you can get a CD if you prefer). A huge amount of kudos for the success of this show must go to Matt Elliot, who looked after the technical side of things.

It worked so well that Playtime have been running a series of weekly gigs more or less since August, featuring guests playing with the core quartet, or presenting bands from in place of the quartet. There has been some tremendous music: the Fergus McCreadie Trio, Konrad Wizsniewski and Euan Stevenson, Aidan O’Rourke, recent Scottish Jazz Award winners Liam Shortall and Anousha Nanguy, Chris Grieve and Kevin McKenzie Trio have all made appearances and produced some wonderful live music. All the videos are still available on Tom Bancroft’s YouTube channel.

They’re great: excellent music from the luxury of one’s own desktop. Please give generously…

Scottish Jazz Weekend. Edinburgh, February 2020.

I reviewed several of the gigs in the Scottish Jazz Weekend for LondonJazzNews. Here are some pictures I took, too.

Norma Winstone Trio with Kit Downes and Mike Walker

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Louise Dodds

Louise was singing in a duo with Steve Hamilton, but I didn’t get any pictures of Steve.

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Trio TYR

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Joe Williamson’s Modulus

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Trio Magico

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Fraser Fifield and Graeme Stephen

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Some Recent AMP Releases – 2.

I meant to write about the next batch of AMP releases before Christmas, but life got in the way. And I’ve loads more to listen to as well, so this will part part of a series…

Anyway, I really like these.

Frederik Villmow Quartet with Tomas Franck – Live in Copenhagen.

This is lively straight ahead jazz from this drummer-led quartet, expanded to a quintet with Franck’s tenor joining the saxes of Marc Doffey. It is an exciting debut, full of life and energy. Mostly upbeat and high powered, there is an exquisite ballad duo between Doffey and bass player Julian Haugland on Skylark, and a lovely version of A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.

Paul Jones Quartet – The Process.

This record is quieter, maybe more thoughtful. It has a sparse, gentle feeling – introspective but optimistic. There’s a lot of space in the music, but it is also lively. There is some lovely music here.

Gianni Gagliardi Quartet – Bikram.

Another quartet expanded to a quintet, this time by the addition of saxophonist Chris Cheek, Gagliardi’s record contains thoughtful music with emotional depth. Some tunes swing beautifully, others have a smooth quality that if full of warmth.

Holum Trio – Borte.

This trio comprises trumpet, bass and drums. The music they make is open and sparse. The haunting trumpet brought to mind Verneri Pohjola. There’s some use of samples and multi tracking to fill out the sound on a couple of tracks, and a couple of tracks include wordless vocals. Mostly though it is just the three instruments, and barely those – the drums for one pricing that less really can be more. Just beautiful.

Sondre Ferstad Ensemble – Minimal.

This octet is formed from a jazz quartet and a string quartet. And the music they play understandably fuses the two genres. The jazz element includes Sondre Ferstad’s harmonica playing, indicating that this is a very different kind of a band. Minimal is just that – it might be an octet, but few of the musicians play at any one time. More introspective, thoughtful music.

Tommy Smith Solo and the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra All Stars. Edinburgh, December 2019.

I reviewed this show for LJN: a solo performance by Tommy Smith followed by a one-off show by alumni of the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra, the TSYJO All Stars. And all stars they were: it was a really exciting performance.

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Tim Garland Quartet. London Jazz Festival, November 2019.

I wasn’t reviewing this one, which was a shame because it was a cracker. Gwilym Simcock was guesting on piano, and his playing was great – better than the last couple of times I’d seen him, and that’s saying something. Conor Chaplin and Ernesto Simpson were both good. And Garland was excellent. This swas a really enjoyable show!

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Some Recent Releases on AMP Records – 1.

The nice people at the Norwegian AMP label have been sending me CDs for a while, one or two a month, and I keep putting them to one side to listen to later. A couple of weeks ago I realised that I hadn’t listened to them, and so I made a concerted effort to work my way through the pile. There were a few that weren’t to my taste, and I shan’t mention those further, but several of them are very good records indeed, and I shall post about them over the next few weeks. They’re almost entirely by musicians I’ve not heard before (though there is the occasional guest with whom I’m familiar); many of the musicians scarily young to be so good. Jazz education in Scandinavia seems to be doing a very good job.

Here is the first batch.

Rastko Obradovic Quartet – The-Northern Experience.

This record seems “typically European”: there’s lots of space and emotion in the playing. Obradovic plays tenor, his solos building in intensity. The quartet are joined by Arkady Shilkoper whose French horn brings a mellow but clear and evocative voice. There are classical elements, particular in some of the minimalist piano riffs. A lovely record.

Nikola Bankov – Bright Future.

This sextet features Seamus Blake of tenor, joining Bankov on alto and four other musicians playing Bankov’s compositions. Last time I saw Blake play he was experimenting with electronics and a wind-synthesizer, and frankly I didn’t get it. Perhaps Bankov read my mind, because the first track is called “Hope You Get It”, and this time I seem to.

There are a fair few effects used, and the music falls somewhere between jazz and electric rock, with a few folk themes thrown in, too. The whole is lively and exciting, powerful, energetic fusion with the electronics and effects adding to the music rather than covering things up. There are several fast tunes, quite a few beats, and some great music.

Bankov is only twenty. Bright future indeed!

Gagliardi / Albrightsen / Thornton / Thorén – The Trip

A multinational quartet with musicians from Spain (Gagliardi), UK (Thornton) and Norway (Albrightsen and Thorén) recorded in Rome, this record is straight ahead swinging post bop modern jazz. Full of melody and rhythm and lots of improvisation, this is compelling music. There are a couple of ballads, a couple of faster sprints, but most of the tunes fall comfortably between the two. It is strange that an album that has one track called “The Old Piano and the Sea” and another called “McCoy” has a guitar as its chordal root rather than a piano, but it all hangs together really well.

Emil Brattested

This is a CD of solo acoustic and pedal guitar, not something I would normally go for. I don’t have a great deal to say except that I really enjoyed it. It just felt good.