Monthly Archives: December 2013

Public Service Broadcasting. Edinburgh, November 2013.

I first saw PSB back in May; they were playing a small venue in Edinburgh and, having heard a couple of tracks on the radio, I went along to catch them live. I was totally blown away: that just two musicians could make so much sound (albeit helped by a hefty load of electronics). It was a superb gig, and the encore, “Everest”, had moments of beauty. All that, and they managed to make banjo trendy…

So when they were back in town in November, I was right up at the front. It was another great gig, marred only by knowing what to expect: the encore, for instance, lacked the chill because I was waiting for it to happen.

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But they still made one hell of a sound for just two guys. The two – who may or may not go by pseudonyms redolent of the mid-20th century vibe they mashup – consist of a drummer (“Wigglesworth”) and “J. Willgoose, Esq.” on, well as they say, “everything else”. That’s keyboards, guitars, bass, banjolele, samples – everything. That said, it is the drumming that keeps the music moving: Wigglesworth is a powerhouse.

Playing against a backdrop of old public information films, with samples from the films set to very modern tunes and rhythms, the duo are completely compelling.

Another great gig.

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SNJO and Branford Marsalis Play Wayne Shorter. Edinburgh, September 2013.

Back in September, Branford Marsalis joined SNJO to play the music of Wayne Shorter. It was a fascinating gig – it made me listen to Shorter’s music in a different way.

I have seen Shorter play many times, but I have been growing away from his music. The last time I saw him play with his quartet, maybe ten years ago, I left before the concert’s end: the music seemed so abstract that it didn’t say anything to me; it was as if it was always just about to get going, without actually making it. (I must say that I was in a very small minority: the rest of the audience clearly thought it was a superb gig, and it was very well reviewed.)

But I love the Shorter’s earlier music – such as the classic Blue Note albums from the early 1960s; and I love Marsalis’ playing too. And I was very curious to the how SNJO – or, more precisely, their arrangers – would approach tunes written for much smaller ensembles.

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Firstly, I was in luck: the bulk of the tunes which made up this concert stemmed from a short period in the early and mid-1960s – Shorter’s Blue Note recordings plus his time with Miles Davis and Art Blakey.

Secondly, the arrangements were excellent. This wasn’t a surprise – the SNJO commissions great musicians around the world to arrange for them, and they regularly use the same arrangers who know what works for the band.

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But thirdly… My favourite tune from the evening was the only tune that fell outside the 1960s, Geoff Keezer’s arrangement of “Virgo Rising”. I thought this was really beautiful. It might be because my familiarity with the older material meant that I thought I knew how the tunes should sound, and hearing them played differently was disorienting.

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The band did their usual great job with complex arrangements, and Branford was superlative: his empathy with the music was evident. He and Tommy Smith did some sax-jousting.

There is a lot of pleasure in hearing a full-on jazz orchestra playing music one loves: and this was very pleasurable indeed.

(Here are the SNJO’s programme notes.)

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Wayne Shorter, London c 1988.

Stan Tracey.

A day after the death of Nelson Mandela, and already feeling emotional because if the media onslaught that followed, I learned of the death of pianist Stan Tracey, the news of which made me even sadder.

Stan Tracey has been part of my aural world since I started listening to jazz as an adult. Whilst I certainly heard some of his records as a child – my father was a fan – listening to Tracey’s music helped this nascent jazz fan make sense of much of the music. He provided me with the missing link between the accessible sounds of mainstream jazz – particularly Ellington – and the burgeoning avant garde. At once, he sounded like Ellington and like Monk, and he created the context fit me to explore the links between them. (Through listening to Tracey, I realised that Monk sounded like Ellington, too – if you really listened!)

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The first time I’m aware of seeing Tracey live was at the Bracknell Jazz Festival in 1987. I can’t remember what band he had with him, although it featured Art Themen on tenor. Other the next twenty five years, I saw Stan Tracey play many, many times in his big bands, octets, quintets, quarters, trios – notably improvising with Evan Parker at the Vortex a couple of years ago – and, once, in a duo with fellow pianist Keith Tippett. Tracy’s bands always had the cream of the British jazz scene, and his big band was a melting pot of cross generational talent.

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Tracey was eminently adaptable, sounding suited to whatever situation he was in – and always sounding like himself. It might be this trait that lead to him being the house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s in the 1960s, where he was famously praised by Sonny Rollins.

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John Fordham’s obituary in the Guardian.

Alyn Shipton’s obituary in Jazzwise.

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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.