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Laurent Cugny & the Gil Evans Paris Workshop. Paris, October 2015.

I love the music of Gil Evans. It is a touchstone, it typifies how modern big band jazz can sound, full of texture and dynamics. I come back to it again and again.

Aside from his work with Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain and Miles Ahead – I didn’t know his music until after his death; I didn’t see the US-UK big band he lead that played in London in 1987. The only times I have heard his music played live have been when others have included his repertoire. Bands such as SNJO, Mike Gibbs big band and, recognising his father’s centenary a few years ago, a band put together by Miles Evans that played the Vortex. It is always a joy.

In Paris for a couple of days, I noticed that Laurent Cugny was directing an evening of Evans’ music. Cugny put together a European band that Evans toured with in the late 1980s. They recorded two albums, Golden Hair and Rhythm A Ning, the last big band music Evans recorded before his death in 1988.

Clearly, this was a gig I needed to go to. I ventured out to the Paris suburb of Jourdain, and found the club – Studio Ermitage, which I hadn’t heard of before. It turned out this was, I think, the first night of Cugny’s new Gil Evans project. It was wonderful, capturing the essence of Evans’ work – the dynamics, the energy even in the quietest pieces, the texture.

It was a young band, and they seemed completely at ease with the music. They were very tight. Cugny directed from the piano; he didn’t seem to play much – just two solos, I think – mostly he just added a touch more texture, small piano-figures at key moments to keep the momentum going, much as Evans did.

And they had a great deal of momentum. Whilst there were lots of quiet sections, handled with subtlety, when they got up a head of steam, they seemed unstoppable.

They played two sets full of Evans’ material with a couple of originals. The Evans’ arrangements included Time of the Barracudas, King Porter Stomp, Orange Was The Colour of Her Dress Then Blue Silk, Spoonful, Bud and Bird (a transcription of a Bud Powell solo combined with Charlie Parker’s Bird Feathers) and George Russell’s
Blues in Orbit.

They finished the second set with another Mingus piece, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Possibly my favourite arrangement of my favourite tune. It was glorious.

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Jazz Photos from my past: “Archive Photographs”.

I have been taking photographs at jazz gigs for nearly forty years: the first jazz photos I took were at the Nice Jazz Festival in 1977. I took a lot of photos at gigs between 1984 or 1985 and 1994 – on black and white film back then.

I have thousands of negatives, and I have an ongoing project to scan them. I have started with photos from gigs, and I’ll be uploading them over the next few weeks, and posting them to this blog.

I doubt that I shall write about these gigs, it being too long ago, though some of them I can remember clearly. Others I have no recollection of at all – it is only through seeing the photos that I know I was there.

So you may well notice pictures of thirty year old gigs being posted, with the tag archive photographs.

Konrad Wiszniewski Quartet. Edinburgh, June 2014.

To start with, this was a really enjoyable gig in an intimate venue where, for once, the band weren’t drowned out by chattering drinkers. Perhaps all the students had exams the next day.

Playing music from his new CD – though only a download was available at the gig! – Wiszniewski (or “Konrad… Konrad” as Courtney Pine called him at a recent SNJO gig) lead this new band through some muscular playing as if they’d been playing together for ages. Apparently the opposite was true – I was told drummer Alyn Cosker saw the music for the first time only hours before the gig.

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Whilst it was clearly Wiszniewski’s band, it was the contributions by Cosker and Wiszniewski’s regular pianist Euan Stevenson that really stood out. The two of them seemed to know exactly how to support each other, and Wiszniewski. This isn’t to diminish the input of bassist Mario Caribe, whom I’ve seen regularly recently in the “Playtime“sessions – this quartet felt very well balanced, Caribe bringing a deft, light touch and wonderful dose of swing.

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Together, they blew up a storm. Technically adept, Wiszniewski didn’t use technique for technique’s sake: he could match any saxophonist for speed, but never seemed to play notes just to fill the space. Playing more soprano than I’d expected, his tunes and solos on both tenor and soprano were lyrical and entertaining.

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In the intimate, and unusually quiet, surroundings of the JazzBar, this was an evening of exciting, recuperating music. The quartet seemed completely settled despite being new to the music, and I hope Wiszniewski can keep them together as a regular outfit – I’d love to see them play again!

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Phil Minton and Simon Fell. Edinburgh, February 2014.

Having moaned about the lack of improvised music in Edinburgh, along comes a gig that fits the bill completely: vocal improvisor Phil Minton and bassist Simon Fell, in duet and performing with a large local ensemble, EdImpro.

Both Minton and Fell have a long pedigree: I first saw Minton playing with Lol Coxhill in the late 1980s, and Fell is part of improvising trio Hession, Wilkinson and Fell. Together Minton and Feel created dune very interesting sounds. None of Minton’s vocalisations sound like words: he uses his voice as an instrument, producing a huge range of sounds, some humorous, some chilling; some guttural, some sweet.

Fell’s bass sometimes echoed Minton’s vocalisation, sometimes roamed the strings, and sometimes even swung, a walking bassline appearing seemingly at random. Together they made a lot of interesting sounds, playing a single, thirty minute piece.

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For the second set, Minton and Fell were joined by EdImpro, a large ensemble of reeds, percussion, guitar, violin, piano and a couple of guys on Macs. This time the electronic sounds were tuneful and added to the piece. There was some lovely playing – the two pianists working at a single piano made some lovely sounds, and the guitar and violin created texture.

There was a big sense of control; despite being a large group, there seemed to be little ensemble playing. Must of the musicians seemed not to be playing at any one time, perhaps necessary to avoid cacophony but then, for me, missing the main advantage of a larger ensemble.

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I found the first, duet set more rewarding than the second ensemble piece. I wanted more of everything – more piano, more guitar, more sax.

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.

Cover Versions. July 2013.

Frankie and I disagree about many things. But we have had one argument for as long as we have known each other, probably. It is as fundamental as “where the sun sets”; a difference which probably defines each of us: it makes me irredeemably shallow, and her delusional.

It hasn’t cropped up recently (one advantage of not-being-talked-to), but once again she raised it today, on Facebook. So I decided to set out my case here.

It revolves around books. And at its simplest, the impact that book covers can have. I accept that book covers can influence my choice of books; Frankie believes she is above and beyond the influence of designers, illustrators and publishers, and that their skillful manipulation of emotions and, particularly, purchasing behaviour have no effect on her. None whatsoever.

I think this is just bunkum. Even if she might choose to pretend otherwise, book covers must have some influence over her. It could be a negative one, determining her to ignore their impelling her to buy. But an effect they must have.

Worse, she is a psychologist. Her subject is about the working of the brain; and we know that the brain works in a very strange way indeed. Much of our decision making happens without us being aware of it; even when we think we make rational choices and decisions, we’re usually fooling ourselves and really just going along with what our reptile-brains want to do anyway.

It is her wilful ignorance of this – her assertion that book covers make no difference to her at all – that gets me.

I think book covers can make a huge difference. When I go into a book shop – not a rare occurrence, I must say – and I’m confronted by the choice of thousands upon thousands of different books, of course the covers matter. If a book cover fails to catch my eye, I won’t even be aware that I’ve not noticed it. If I like the illustration and the design, I might pick it up, look at the author, see what else they’ve written, and what the genre is (though I don’t really get the idea of genre in fiction: a story is a story is a story).

If I don’t pick up the book, I’m certainly not going to read the blurb on the back, the snippets of reviews (do I generally agree with the reviewer?) and the endorsements of fellow authors (do I like their work?).

It is particularly important for authors new to me. How else am I to judge whether I might like a book or not? I have nothing else to go on. The cover tells me a lot: it sends all sorts of signals. Even the publisher’s imprint tells me a lot about a book.

Put simply, the cover has to attract me – and there are a huge number of ways for it to do so; but that is its job, and to pretend that it is possible to ignore all those messages is pretence.

Frankie might want to believe that the art on a book jacket doesn’t tell her something, that she never reads the blurb, that she doesn’t look at the endorsements. Maybe she’d like to pretend she doesn’t even buy books.

But I don’t believe her.