Tag Archives: Henry Lowther

Three Days at LJF Last November…

THree months on and I relaise I haven’t captured what I got up to in London last November…

Three days at the London Jazz Festival. Three gigs a day plus talks and other stuff. An intense weekend of jazz… When I lived in London, I was much more measured in my approach to LJF, but cramming it in like I did this year makes it a different experience – and it means I heard some wonderful music I would otherwise has missed.

My first performance was a project in improvisation with three schools and a trio of Corey Mwamba, Dave Kane, and Joshua Blackmore. Each musician worked with pupils from one school to create improvised music, and then played a trio set before leading everyone in a short improvised piece. I was there because I like Mwamba’s playing; but I was energised by the music the school pupils made. Intrinsically simple, but it really worked.

Back at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – jazz festival central – I saw a packed out set by Peter Edwards trio. It was a lively, assured performance. I love Edwards’ playing. Mostly originals, with a couple of standards like Monk’s I Mean You, the trio highlighted tracks from their new CD.

Over to Hammersmith for Way Out West. I was expecting a big band with lots of familiar names I hasn’t seen in a while. What I got were lots of people playing in a very large variety of ensembles in all sorts of combinations. The first half consisted of small and medium sized combos, from Kate Williams trio up to a nine piece. Williams had young bass player Flo Moore, who really impressed, and was joined by Nettie Robinson on vocals. Emily Saunders also sang, her wordless vocalese more akin to a solo horn than singing the standards. More interesting, too. (She proved she could sing words too when she sang Happy Birthday to one of the audience in the break!)

DSCF2299

DSCF2316

DSCF2336 v2

DSCF2321

The second half was almost entirely given over to Tim Whitehead’s Turner project, consisting of tunes that Whitehead had improvised at the sites of Turner’s paintings on the Thames in west London, which Whitehead had then expanded into full scale compositions. He started off with a quartet, but it proved to be an expanding band, players joining (and leaving – some had other gigs to go to!) throughout the set – I think it finished up as a twelve piece, bit I wasn’t counting. This was great music, lively, fun and exciting. Jonathon Gee was on piano, and Whitehead was joined by several horn players – the great Chris Biscoe on baritone, Henry Lowther excellent on trumpet, and Matt Waites, Pete Hurt and Jimmy Hastings on a variety of saxes. This was a wonderful evening of uplifting music, which finished off with just about everyone on stage jamming to a standard as an encore.

DSCF2345 DSCF2347

DSCF2364

DSCF2370

The next day’s jazz started with an afternoon set by the Dedication Orchestra. Playing the music of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and the Blue Notes, this was the gig that had actually got me down to London to are them: they don’t play often, and frankly they are not to be missed.

A star studded line up with sins of the best of British jazz (including a couple from the previous night’s gig) and headed by an ever ebullient Louis Moholo-Moholo, the only surviving member of the Blue Notes, they played a joyous set of arrangements familiar to fans of the Brotherhood of Breath, together with some new arrangements commissioned from Alexander Hawkins.

Personally, the band could do little wrong: I was bound to enjoy this no matter what, and I did. My only quibble would be that the music seemed so heavily arranged, lacking the spark of anarchy that seems to linger so close to the surface when listening to recordings of the Brotherhood of Breath, a spontaneity McGregor apparently worked hard to maintain. But that’s a minor gripe: I loved this set. It just made me smile.

This was followed by a discussion of music and influences by clarinetist Arun Ghosh and pianist Zoe Rahman. Over two afternoons, they sat and played some of their favorite tracks, and demonstrated how their own playing had been influenced. Despite a packed house, this felt really intimate: two people talking about music and what it meant to them. When they played, there was a real energy and excitement to their music. Really, really fun. More, please.

DSCF2393 DSCF2386

I then headed off to Kings Place to see John Surman and the Bergen Big Band, which I reviewed for the LondonJazzNews blog.

My plans for Sunday afternoon were changed at the last minute, and finding myself with a free afternoon I decided to check out Leo Appleyard, because I had his new CD. Only to find out his gig was sold out. Great for him, disappointing for me! Instead, I headed to the Spice of Life where I spent the afternoon drinking beer and listening to the very enjoyable London City Big Band.

Back to the South Bank for the second installment of Arun Ghosh and Zoe Rahman’s conversation about music, and then my LJF experience for 2014 finished off with a great gig, the Tori Freestone Trio – who were very good – followed by the Henri Texier Hope Quartet – who were astounding. I wrote about that for LondonJazzNews, too.

Louis Moholo-Moholo at LJF. November 2010.

Another double-bill followed: well, Louis Moholo-Moholo followed by Louis Moholo-Moholo… Actually a triple bill: first was Jez Nelson interviewing Moholo about his experiences as a black musician in apartheid South Africa (alternately surreal and harrowing) and then as an exile in Europe, playing with the Blue Notes, the Brotherhood of Breath and a wealth of free-jazz players. This was followed a duet set by Moholo and pianist Keith Tippett – half an hour or more of imaginative, inspiring improvisation. The second set was Moholo’s septet commemorating his birthday, “Seven for Seventy”. This band made a glorious sound, mixing township rhythms with improvisation. Featuring Jason Yarde and Ntshuks Bonga on saxes, Henry Lowther on trumpet, free-jazz firebrand John Edwards on bass, Alex Hawkins on piano and Francine Luce on vocals, this was a great band. Moholo was pushing them forward from the drum-stool, full of energy – quite how he can keep up that force and power at 70 is beyond me. This was definitely one of my favourite gigs of the festival, together with the John Etheridge Trio – gigs that I was really pleased to have seen!

DSC_5944 DSC_5930 DSC_5925 bw

I caught a couple of numbers by Brass Jaw in a free set at the Royal Festival Hall, but I was a bit passed it by that time. They sounded good, and it’s great they are getting recognition – they are fine musicians – but I had had enough for a Saturday night.

DSC_5965

Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra. London, August 2010.

Over a month ago, I went to one of the best gigs of the year so far. I’ve been meaning to write about ever since, but other things seemed to get in the way…

The gig was Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra, the final night of Ronnie Scott’s celebration of British jazz. The Denys Baptiste Quartet were on first, and they played an excellent set of new tunes – some fine playing by all concerned, with great solos by pianist Andrew McCormack and Baptiste. They played some very enjoyable music. Baptiste has lots of ideas and an interest in science and complexity: one number was called Fractal Realms, another Quantum Sax. Schrodinger’s sax, perhaps…

In some ways, though, it was a shame that Baptiste was supporting Colin Towns: as far as I was concerned, it was very much Towns’ night. Towns’ 18 piece Mask Orchestra were crammed onto the stage, with Towns conducting from the front row of the audience together with some of the saxes.

It was an all-star band, featuring some of the best of British jazz, including Guy Barker and Henry Lowther on trumpets, and Alan Skidmore, Nigel Hitchcock and Julian Siegel on saxes. Siegel played a lot of baritone, producing a beautiful tone.

Towns writing and arranging is unique – the rich soundscapes he creates sound like no other composer: the standard yardsticks for big band writing don’t apply.

Much of the set was taken up with a suite based around themes from Kurt Weill – lots of “Mack the Knife” and “September Song”, but twisted and bent by Towns. He told a story about how he’d missed a call from his mentor, and by the time he could get back to him, Johnny Dankworth had died; he dedicated the suite to Dankworth.

The band made a glorious sound, lots of brass and saxes. On a hot summer’s evening, this was powerful music: the band gave it their all. Through it all, Stephan Maass’ energetic percussion powered away, bring a strand of continuity.

A rare outing for Towns’ orchestra, and a truly great gig.

Ian Carr Tribute. London, February 2010.

Tuesday saw the tribute to Ian Carr, who died last year. It gathered together musicians who had worked with Carr in various bands from the 1950s on, playing his music.

It was an eclectic evening, reflecting the depth of Carr’s interests and influence – he was an educator and writer as well as a player (he wrote one of the definitive biographies of Miles Davis, and I attended a big band workshop he ran once in Edinburgh about ten years ago).

Julian Joseph was the compere for the first half, and he spoke warmly of Carr’s influence on him through regular weekend music schools. Then Nikki Yeoh took to the satge and played a couple of pieces she dedicated to Carr. These pieces seemed a little knowing – deliberately complex in their form, lots of changes in tempo – but they held the audience’s attention.

Then came the Michael Garrick sextet, featuring musicians who had played with Carr in the 1950s and 1960s. Garrick was the pianist in the seminal Don Rendell/Ian Carr quintet, and Rendell himself came up for a few numbers at the end of the set. Rendell looked quite old (he must be in his seventies) as he walked on stage, but with his saxophone playing he could have been one of the young turks – the music sounded fresh and contemporary.

DSC_2041
Don Rendell

There was a clean simplicity to many of the numbers; at one point, Garrick accompanied a poet with a simple two chord backing, before the band came in to fill the sound out. Norma Winstone sang to several tunes; normally I don’t get jazz vocals, but here her words fitted perfectly. Dave Green on bass held it together really well: there was a solidity to his playing.

This was a great set, summing up the post-bop milieu of the band’s 1960s heyday. Henry Lowther took the trumpet chair, doing justice to Carr’s memory.

DSC_2033
Dave Green, Norma Winstone, Henry Lowther and Trevor Tomkins

After the interval, Kevin Whately – perhaps better known as Inspector Lewis – spoke about Carr’s connection to north east England, before Guy Barker on trumpet and Tim Whitehead on reeds were joine by a string orchestra to play Carr’s Northumbrian Sketches. This suite was superlative. Normally, I don’t like strings in jazz: too many syrupy, sentimental arrangements. This suite is one of the exceptions. There was nothing sentimental here: the arrangements merged the two disciplines of jazz and strings exceptionally. Barker’s playing was excellent, as was Whitehead. The suite seemed magnificent: the writing had depth and subtlety, creating a spiritual mood of remembrance. There is a real folk feel to some sections, the strings at times producing sounds reminiscent of the northumbrian pipes. It was a wonderful performance.

DSC_2047
Guy Barker, Tim Whitehead and strings

After the sketches, Nucleus seemed a little – well, ordinary. This was not what I had been expecting: I have several Nucleus disks, and ordinary isn’t the way I’d describe them. Carr was one of the innovators who created jazz-rock, but unlike any of the other music in the evening, this sounded rather dated. The performance was good – the playing seemed fine – but a bit of a let down after what had preceded.

Until, that is, John Marshall came on for the last half of the set. His playing seemed to energise the others in the band, and suddenly they were playing better: they all stepped up several gears. Nic France, who moved from drums to percussion when Marshall arrived, had been doing a great job – but Marshall just propelled the band into a different league. They seemed like a different band. The last few numbers powered along, pushed by Marshall’s excellent drumming. The evening ended on a yet another high.

DSC_2084
Rob Statham, John Marshall, Ray Russell and Chris Batchelor


Ian Carr
photo © Roger Farbey, from Ian Carr + Nucleus Website