Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all... will get back to some serious blogging... soon... (and the guy who wanted the Clusone Trio - will reup asap)...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas...

A merry christmas to all... I've been celebrating with family and friends so no music yet... later, perhaps...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Stop press - Pack Horse Redux...

As hinted at below, the phoenix has risen from the ashes of the now defunct Folk at the Pack. Cath Mackie has ridden in on another train (appalling folk music joke) and started the Loughborough Folk Club at the same venue. Starting on January 9, 2009 and afterwards every second friday of the month. More details as they appear - apparently she will be taking over the Folk at the Pack website after it finally expires, due to the generosity of Mr Marmion. Incidentally, the free cd that was handed out at the last gig will be available for a brief period as a download from this site and I might put a link up here as well. But Christmas approaches...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: Pete Morton's Magic Christmas Tree at the Pack Horse, Friday, December 19th 2008... Farewells...

It is in the nature of the game – the wear and tear of organising music venues down the years eventually induces fatigue. Frank Marmion has lasted longer than most, running the Pack Horse Folk club with support from Dave Morton and his wife Joan. As a weekly venture, a brave even foolhardy exercise. From my own experience, a couple of years is about the burn out point – running our Club Sporadic every couple of months was enough stress! Frank's involvement with the club stretches back a good many years, since he arrived in God's Little Acre, up to the point when he took on the mantle of chief organiser when it would have folded otherwise. A sage move – committees seem to work best with established clubs that go for a monthly policy – time to plan and discuss things without the weekly urgency. One person on their own can be much more efficient in their delivery of class music than a mélange of people who often have little wider vision beyond their own narrow purist/ideological patch – let alone the financial nous to get 'bums on seats.' Without which the venture at some predictable point folds anyway. But the time came for Frank to move on – retirement looming, new adventures beckoning, uncertainty over the future of the pub which made future booking policy too much of a gamble – effectively he was not going to be able to run the place in the manner of his choice for much longer.

The Pack was always a quirky, eccentric, scruffy place, scene of much great music down the years – and one of the musicians who has played there since he launched his own career back in the eighties has been Pete Morton, a performer who to my knowledge has always pulled a full house, not just because of the local connection but the plain fact that he is a superb artist. So: fitting that Frank chose to go out in a blaze of glory with Pete's special Magic Christmas Tree roadshow. Accompanied by Chris Parkinson on accordion, the surprise of the night was the other cohort – depping for Roger Wilson, a young – an extremely young – fiddle player called Tom Moore. (Certainly not from the bummer's shore: old Dylan reference/joke). Pete never fails to move me with the breadth of his humanity, passion and sheer sense of fun, always questing, never settling for playing safe. A lesson that many on the folk scene – and beyond – should heed. 'Make it new,' as Ezra said. 'Play what you don't know,' as Miles Davis said. Tonight: we had songs in Chaucerian English – 'Rock around the Clock' and 'Knocking on Heaven's Door' – which make you laugh out loud at the sheer zany chutzpah on display. Later, perhaps, when you consider the other songs in French and Platte Deutsch, you realise how much this man loves language – further evidenced by his moving tribute to the English poet John Clare, 'The Shepherd's Song.' (A song that kills me every time I hear it, as a lover of Clare's poetry.) Which works as a rough paradigm for part of what Pete is about. He somehow manages to pull off the trick of collapsing distance, which brings the past into a temporary contemporary focus. Writing in the 'tradition,' he extends it, rather than allowing himself to be subsumed by it, as so many other writers do. First world war, anybody? This song, about the peasant poet Clare, off to London to be briefly embraced by fashion, later to be dropped and end up in the madhouse, is a provincial's wry comment not just on a historical tragedy but more contemporary manners as well in an over-saturated media age. He also celebrates the humanity of the marginal – the clientele of a city centre pub in 'The Battle of Trafalgar,' family life – 'My Best Friend,' dedicated to his parents, the random encounters of 'Post Office Queue.' Via detours into such areas as Marc Bolan/T Rex, for the glam rockers (!) and some spontaneous Irish dancing and jiving in the audience by Cath M and her children, to close: after a soaring version of 'To be a farmer's boy,' buttressed by some mighty singers in the audience – what else? - 'Another Train,' tonight transformed by the backing of violin and accordion. An anthem of hope which means so much to so many – and if I am being corny here, so be it, hipsters, flipsters and finger-popping daddies...

The other two musicians: young Tom Moore displayed a ridiculous sense of cool for one so young, showing poise and no little elegance in his violin playing both on his solo pieces and as part of the ensemble. Chris Parkinson's mature skills on accordion widened the musical ground further, expanding Pete's performance in a fascinating way, providing underpinning and commentary that gave depth and a different array of colours from the usual guitar accompaniment.

A rambunctious, fun night, then, celebrating the end of this chapter in the Pack story. Glory be to Mr Marmion, especially in his choice of the Pete Morton Christmas extravaganza – a fitting way to go out to a packed house. There has been a club here on and off for over thirty years. But – there's another train, there always is... the stop press news is that it will continue in another form, on the second friday of every month. Some feverish work going on behind the scenes by Cath Mackie to make it happen. But for this incarnation – goodbye.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Davy Graham R.I.P.

Sad news. Davy Graham, one of the pre-eminent genre-crossing guitarists coming off the folk scene (and beyond) in the Sixties, has died after a brief battle with lung cancer. Maybe the pre-eminent guitarist of that generation, alongside Bert Jansch, John Renbourne and Dave Evans... The Les Cousins generation is slowly being whittled away...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Busy doing nothing (for a change)... Engine records...

Hoping to post some music at some point – but I've spent this week just coming down from recent exertions – including a great night at Mr Marmion's joint last friday with Gu4 doing their Xmas(or not – you had to be there to dig the bah humbug routines from half the band) gig – mucho fine harmony singing which hits me hard – a sucker for any vocal music of this calibre. Plus the reunion of Plexus – my cohorts in extremely free improvisation – at a rehearsal room in Leicester where we were intending to try out some quiet stuff. Until we realised that the band in the room next door were going to bleed loud young wannabe rock all over us. So: crank up the amplifiers and fire away. An exhilarating afternoon – hopefully, despite our far-flung geographies we can get out on the road next year. Added to other exertions – this week has been a much needed rest before my patriarchal/dynastic duties are required for Xmas...

But I intend to at least get a big Xmas mix up... tonight just listening to some cd's that have just arrived from the U.S. The first of which has just finished: the 'New Orleans Suite' by the Andrew Lamb Trio – wild and wonderfully heartwarming stuff, in tribute to the city devasted by Hurricane Katrina. Engine is a small label run by Steven Walcott, on the proverbial shoestring but the quality of music is superb. As a soon-to-be co-owner of a small label (January launch hopefully) I empathise with the problems you encounter – although our stuff is totally different, it shares some of the same improvisational ethic and musical commitment and I would love to have a stab at putting out some jazz – later maybe...

Diagonally... My policy on mp3s is quite simple – I put up a batch as and when I feel like it and write – what I feel about them. Fun for me, hopefully some small measure of fun for the folks out there. If you want album downloads – there are plenty of sites that cater for you. Myself – too much hassle and contemporary small labels I would avoid anyway, usually going for older stuff that hopefully does not financially affect musicians in any way by only giving a small snapshot and encouraging the people to buy the original. (Wherever possible). So: go out and buy some of Engine's output, why don't you? Absurdly cheap – and you are supporting the best cause of all. Creativity. In a mad world.

If time permits after Xmas – perhaps more detailed reviews of these cds may follow...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Mark Murphy... Anthony Braxton... Last Exit... Pee Wee Russell...

The recent house move has uncovered many a box of buried stuff – I just discovered this Mark Murphy album 'Midnight Mood,' from which I have selected the last track 'I get along without you very well.' Credit to whomever I downloaded this from as it is not one of my acquisitions. A curio – it was recorded in Europe in 1967, featuring a group underpinned by Kenny Clarke, alongside the co-leader of his big band,the French pianist Francy Boland. With just the trio backing him, Murphy starts over a sparse reiterated piano pedal tone that eventually moves to sketch the harmony. Bass and drums join the piano eventually – now elaborating more. Bittersweet musings from a great jazz singer.

Weirdly enough, I had a dream last night that I was playing a gig as a singer with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Francis Albert and myself were out front, chatting to the Count and for some surreal reason I had a big bag of apples in the pocket of my tuxedo which I proceeded to hand out to everyone. Ummm... any interesting interpretations?

I was going to post this some time ago but noticed in time that Destination Out had put it up the same week so didn't want to clash. Then it went into the box and has only just surfaced on the latest rotation... This is 'Track Three' from Anthony Braxton's 1976 album, 'Creative Orchestra Music.'. Starting off as a jaunty march(I kid you not – in Graham Lock's book about Braxton, he is quoted as saying how much he loved and respected John Philip Souza). But nothing is ever as it seems with AB – his music can twist and turn on a penny. Plus the multi-layering which is a great American musical tradition – as if the acoustic spaces are matching the physical scale of the country – a democracy of layers that you see in Charles Ives and onwards - and in Sousa according to Braxton. In my erratic canonical delineation that leads through Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys up to Ornette Coleman. And backwards – to Walt Whitman, piling long line on on top of long line as he tries to cram the whole experience of his country into long scrambles of words:

'Seasons pursuing each other, the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground;
Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface;
The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe;
Flatboatmen make fast, towards dusk, near the cottonwood or pekan-trees;
Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river, or through those drain’d
by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansaw;
Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahoochee or Altamahaw;
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grandsons around them;
In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day’s sport;
The city sleeps, and the country sleeps;
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time;
The old husband sleeps by his wife, and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these one and all tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them;
And such as it is to be of these, more or less, I am. ' (Walt Whitman: 'Leaves of Grass,' lines 309-320).

And onwards...

'Skippy' is one of those mad, skittery fast Monk tunes from his early days. Braxton again, exploring the tradition with a quartet on this track, taken from the 1987 album, 'Six Monk's Compositions.' Taken at a fair lick, Braxton flies over the manic remorseless march of chords. Piano takes a solo, hewing close to theme and structure – a difficult composition to step far out of. Neidlinger holds it all together – Bill Osborne's drums are back in the mix, making themselves known occasionally with a supple rip or two. Sounds like great fun was had – but everyone probably breathed a collective sigh of relief at the end... Monk's muse can often seem like an enormous, enigmatic wall of fortified glass that repels those who hurl themselves blindly at it. These guys find enough windows to enter...

Last Exit were a powerhouse band – electronic free jazz with a punk edge. Or something... The disparate gathering of musicians were Peter Brotzmann, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson and they played some wild stuff. Here is 'Panzer Bebop,' fittingly marshalled in by martial drums then Jackson spelling out some melodic figures before Sharrock throws jagged shards of electric guitar across the line and Brotzmann comes storming in. The backbeat surfaces, ridden by the guitar as the tenor howls and squeals in the wind. Storm subsiding over a repeated bass drum da dum. Into a swaying boogie... This is what jazz-rock should have been...

Jaunty bouncing piano leads in on 'Lulu's back in town,' followed by Buck Clayton who leads the theme in on muted trumpet, then the leader, Pee Wee Russell, and his more oblique clarinet, each taking 8 bars in turn. Clayton is straight out of Louis, of course, but a man who developed his own style in the various situations he played in – from a stint in Shanghai (!) in the thirties before he joined the mighty Basie Band. And onwards to a career as arranger, composer and bandleader, apart from his trumpet duties. Russell, clarinet player extraordinaire embedded for all those years on Condon's dixieland sessions, here showing his stuff with a tight mainstream band. Pee Wee takes the first solo, some warm and fuzzy low down contrasted with the higher register querularity. Clayton follows, mellow burnished trumpet. Piano next, some eloquent restatements and embellishments. Riding out old school with some drum breaks interspersed. Joyful stuff.

Mark Murphy
Mark Murphy (v) Francy Boland (p) Jimmy Woode (b) Kenny Clarke (d)
I get along without you very well


Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton (as, cl) Seldon Powell (as) Bruce Johnstone (bs) Ronald Bridgewater (ts) Roscoe Mitchell (bass-s) Kenny Wheeler, Cecil Bridgewater, Leo Smith, Jon Faddis (t) George Lewis, Garrett List (tr) Earl McIntyre, Jack Jeffers (b-tr) Jonathan (tuba) Muhal Richard Abrams (p) Dave Holland, (b) Warren Smith (d) Karl Berger (glock) Barry Atschul (sn-d) Frederick Rzewski (b-d) Phillip Wilson ( marching cymbals) Leo Smith (cond)
Piece Three


Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton (as) Mal Waldron (p) Buell Neidlinger (b) Bill Osborne (d)


Last Exit
Peter Brotzmann (ts) Sonny Sharrock (el-g) Bill Laswell (b) Ronald Shannon Jackson (d)
Panzer Bebop


Pee Wee Russell
Buck Clayton (tp) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Tommy Flanagan (p) Wendell Marshall (b)
Osie Johnson (d)
Lulu's Back in Town


Monday, December 01, 2008

Absence makes the heart grow fonder (?)

Somewhat light on the mp3 blogging front recently... this will change over the next week, hopefully - I have been tied up on other projects... Soon come...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: John Kelly at the Pack Horse, 21st November, 2008

Sometimes the best gigs are the ones you fall over in the dark, unexpected treats... I struggled out Friday night down to the Pack Horse because I had agreed to do the door for Mr Marmion – was feeling tired and a bit rough but did not want to let him down so duly reported for duty. After last weekend's concentrated blast of jazz- from fire musics and back via various ambles into the Asian sub continent – plus the great Roma buskers I heard - somehow folk music was not high on the acoustic agenda. So: it is good to have one's expectations wrenched sideways... To be fair, John Kelly had come with high recommendations from sources I respect, but my mood was not ready for the usual sad wander through the Arc of Loss that I perceive much contemporary English folk music to describe. In the event – the Harmonium Hero conquered all, despatching my misgivings immediately... Possessed of a light, lithe voice, more vocal technique than the average folkie but used expressively, for the benefit of the song, he accompanies on harmonium, backed up with cittern (I think) and guitar. All of which he plays masterfully. This is a man who has thought about his chosen music deep and long I suspect – there is a steely intellectual base to his performance, evidenced in the instrumental backings, (and discretely hidden under a quiet, dryly humourous demeanour) that lets his wonderful voice ride freely over. Use of the harmonium especially means he can match breath to air, as it were, in an organic flow, swaying and bending with the words. This gives the sea songs the movement of waves almost, the long ballads he likes, room for the narrative to flow. His playing on the stringed instruments was equally fluent, displaying technique enough to bend the songs into his use and avoiding the lockstep of orthodox folk clawhammer on his fingerstyle excursions. The material: intriguing... A couple of songs I did not know plus those I know well but haven't heard for a while, 'Polly on the shore,' ' Leazy Lindsay' (he bravely used the 'Lord Ronald McDonald' version and no one tittered!) 'Lakes of Pontchartrain,' 'Lord Gregory.' A nice surprise - 'Captain Kidd,' underpinned by fast, flatpicked cittern which echoed the first time I ever heard it, on a record of the late, wonderful Alex Campbell's back in the early sixties. (Which I found recently on the internet, a warm reminder of a great guy – 'Hell, yeah.'). John has been around, as they say, starting out back in Liverpool way back and retiring from the scene for a few years. Yet in his recent return he displays freshness of vision, rather than retreads of past glories. A rare talent – to be uncompromising musically yet be also accessible. Summed up, perhaps, by his encore: not a belter but a thoughtful meditation on 'The Plains of Waterloo.' A downbeat move – which gripped throughout. A special night... maybe there is something to this folk music lark after all... John gave a performance of grace and subtle power...

A final thought. Mr Marmion told me over lemonade on Saturday afternoon that John had been travelling around the country doing spots in the local clubs in the old pre-internet/MySpace fashion of building a base of support – and had been camping in a van during this endeavour. Which in the weather we are experiencing at the moment shows some steel and dedication. Harmoniums were instruments that were exported to the colonies and beyond in the nineteenth century, because they were not too adversely affected by the climate and were reasonably portable. Missionaries especially would have used them. Fancifully, I see John Kelly as a kind of poetic musical missionary, the long beard giving images of Walt Whitman and the Old Testament in equal measure, taking his music to the heathen. (Walt's beard 'full of butterflies' perhaps, after Lorca... Leviticus 19:27 'Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.'). He converted me back, that's for sure...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


A couple of photos from the weekend... The first was taken in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern where there is currently an amazing installation - one of the very few that has ever managed successfully to engage with the size of the place... Dominic Gonzales Foerster's TH.2058

The next two are of a quartet of buskers just down the road - wonderful, driving music. The last, a bit fuzzy, is of another couple of buskers, in the subway leading down to Waterloo station.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Rudresh Mahanthappa Quartet plus Arun Ghosh, Purcell Room, Sunday 16th November, 2008...

To the final night of my attendance... Having spent the afternoon at the Tate I was already knackered so in need of an energy uplift. Which the support band duly gave... Ironically, I was sat next to a lady and her family who informed me that she was Arun Ghosh's aunt and that what we were about to receive we would truly dig. Well – she was right. I wasn't sure I would take to this band – especially after the previous night (and other previous nights down the years re support bands at the LJF). But Arun bounded onstage, an absurdly youthful dude, energy crackling from him – and enthusiasm. Seemingly unabashed by the audience, his patter alone would win him plaudits. Setting off the first number (and all subsequent ones) with a miked up drone box that gave the root note, the band stormed off in fine form. Fronting on clarinet, he displayed a powerful, warm tone and fluid technique. Yet: everything played from the heart. I've never been a fan of Indo-Jazz fusion stuff but his performance made me reconsider some of my prejudices. What further enhanced the performance was the inclusion of Corey Mwamba on vibes who covered a wide range of dynamics from hard mallet hitting to bowed metallic shivers and subtle striking of the keys with his fingertips, splashes of warm rain across a sultry lagoon, fancifully. He was obviously at home in Ghosh's music – where youthful contemporary sass and swagger is tempered by the organic links to Ghosh's Asian roots. One criticism – and a very minor one, because I enjoyed his performance very much – the setting of the drone for each piece was a little formulaic, perhaps. Yet: one has to enter this world with open ears – it partakes of both jazz and Indian musics and the latter's framing devices and cycling figures created - via electric bass, drums and tabla - a large enough space for the solo instruments to move through without constricting the flow. And: this guy is still young. I feel he can open up his unique fusions further yet... certain sections where the trap drums and the tabla emerged from lockstep into freer areas of interplay suggest the potential for that expansion.

In the ongoing sagas of the road and the nightmares encountered thereon, perhaps Rudresh Mahanthappa and his band's story of travel to the gig was not the worst of its kind – just a general reflection on what jazz musicians have to undergo. Apparently they had started from Germany at 5.30 that morning and had not long arrived, after several trains and planes etc. But it makes it more of a triumph to overcome that exhaustion, especially at the end of a tour, and to turn up and play at this level. I don't know his music at all, but I've heard his piano player on record – Vijay Iyer - and he did not disappoint. Again, jazz mixed with Indian influences – structured around various vamps, cycling rhythmic devices and modalities, but across a more complex range than the previous act. More consciously cerebral (and I don't use the word as an insult but as a description), much of his music is based on mathematical properties such as the Fibonacci sequence. Certainly, the use of piano puts the music into a different harmonic space – even though the music would often return to a base tonic, the chromatic flourishes of Vijay Ayer gave a denser feel to the melodic and harmonic interplay. Dan Weiss on drums and François Moutin on acoustic bass made up the quartet, the latter having a few problems with his amplification, an annoyance they dealt with in good humour. A very tight band, led firmly from the front by Mahanthappa's surging alto. In comparison to the support group, it seemed that the leader had added some further levels of complexity to the planting of his Asian cultural roots in the soil of jazz. Bass and drums also worked with more flexibility. I had a flash of Steve Coleman, oddly enough, (although there is a connection – Mahanthappa has worked with him in the past) then Anthony Braxton, who combine similar mixtures of intellectual rigour and free emotional fire. These two are also alto players and composers who, in their unique ways, bring a mélange of wider world culture and theoretical interests to the music. So: brain and heart on display here tonight and a great end to my weekend, an evening where youthful and more seasoned visions combined to pose some interesting questions with regard to the future of the music. Balances shifting?

Review: Peter Brötzmann Trio at the Purcell Room, Saturday, 15th November, 2008

As mentioned in a previous post – some pub band on for support. Then Brötzmann and his young cohorts Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller came roaring out of the gate from the start. This was like going from zero to a hundred in about two seconds! The leader started on alto, spurred on by brave electric bass – reduced to three strings, one snapped by the hard playing, he kept on going until he was able to retreat and change the broken one. Which gave a small indicator of the sheer physicality of this trio – Brötzmann at times struggling a little over the volume generated by the polyrhythmic fury of his drummer, which gave the performance some extra bite. This was exhilarating stuff, from one of the founders of the European free improvisors, an early admirer of Albert Ayler and in his lineage – but someone who carved out his own powerhouse style many years back. I've never seen Brötzmann live before so this was a rare treat. The audience were dragged along in their slipstream almost, the sort of performance that makes fire music so demanding of being experienced live. Brötzmann switched between his horns, two clarinets – one of which looked like a metal Albert - finally ending up on tenor. Each instrument providing a different sonic angle on his muse. Because it wasn't all incendiary – there were interesting moments of contrast where he displayed a more tender side to his playing, which gave some contrast and probably much-needed breathing space. The house loved it: they had come for this and demanded an encore – which was duly given. Brötzmann delivered a nice and somewhat wry speech at the end, thanking the crowd – and gently reminding us that he hasn't been asked over here much. Probably why I've never caught him? A man still on the top of his game, surrounding himself with younger musicians who, despite their obvious reverence ,pushed him all the way. No comfort zones here tonight. One question – again, to the powers that be. Why the pub band? This country is full of musicians who would have been more challenging and served as better foils to the main act. Still, worth the trip just for Herr Brötzmann... Everything I love about 'free jazz' - energy, complexity, emotion, all caught in the moment...

Review: Keith Tippett at the Purcell Room, Friday 14th November, 2008

A rare beauty... Keith Tippett, playing with a string quartet, in a duo with Stan Tracey and in the second half, his wife Julie.

Starters – the mainly written piece for piano and the Elysian Quartet, 'Linuckia.' Tippett joined the other musicians, looking absurdly young and still affecting the muttonchop whiskers which, with his incongruous outfit of smart jacket, ratty blue jeans and watch and chain attached to his waistcoat gave some bizarre rural image of yesteryear. Squire Tippett, perhaps... The piece opened on strident morse code string patterns to be suddenly swept along by a rolling keyboard figure that travelled from top to bottom, a repeated call and response gesture. The quartet were also required to use some extended techniques – plucking, glissando and assorted scrabbling at their instruments as the piano answered and commented in kind. Tippett was using woodblocks and various foreign objects to interfere with his piano sonorities and timbres – devices he used throughout the evening, producing a wide variety of sounds – from blunted, choked back harpsichord to some wild bass figures that sounded at one point as if Meade Lux Lewis had been fed through a sawmill while performing his old boogie woogie. Coming off the 'serious' art music tradition but bent to his own shapes. (Don't you just love that word 'serious' – as if 'jazz' and its related musics are not). Alongside the sharp, disjointed jags he positioned longer melodic lines that reminded me of some bebop legacy. An intriguing start.

Then another Steinway was hauled into place and Stan Tracy, the old guv'nor of the British modern jazz scene – a full head of greying hair swept back flamboyantly, joined Tippett for a fascinating journey. Tracy is not a Brit jazzer I have followed much, to be honest – a lot of his playing back in the old days seemed to be coming a little too much off Monk for me – although his peers have always rated him highly. Tonight, he joined Tippett's sound space in two improvised duets that referenced jazz occasionally but seemed to be moved by more English ambiances, somehow. Hard to place this music which made it more interesting perhaps – the interplay was fascinating as a figure or fragment of melody was picked up and played with in a seamless reel of notes and clusters, occassionally grounded on a march-like succession of chords. Tracey hit out some of his old dissonant harmonies but, placed in this context, they seemed very much of the moment and transcended the obvious jazz lineage. Stan is certainly ageing well and playing with fire and subtlety – and freshness.

The second half was another duo – Keith joined by his wife, Julie. Who famously took a sideways step off the mainstream some time after her hit records with Brain Auger all those years ago. An old story – but I mention it to praise the integrity of someone who felt moved by other forces to dedicate their lives to the remorselessly thankless genre (in dear old Blighty, anyway) of free improvisation. I'm not a fan of vocalists – improv vocalists even less. But I was hauled out of my prejudice by her performance. Standing tall and elegant in front of what looked like a stall at a craft fair – exotic bowls and odd little instruments – she channelled her wide range of voices – from art music pointillistic stabs and intervallic leaps to stranger spaces, occasionally selecting a device for additional delicate sonorities. Accompanied by Tippett's piano, from his surging stormwind basses to filgree strands of sound produced again by objects placed and manipulated within the piano, this was a magical performance that held the audience tight in a warm embrace. A rare beauty was given... The compere at the beginning of the performance mentioned the spiritual aspect of Tippett's improvisatory muse. The journey we had been collectively offered to take surely and subtly demonstrated that premise. ALong with some subtle wit - did I imagine the tinkly music box effect playing the theme from 'The Godfather' at one point?

Walking out into the mild night and across the bridge over the Thames, I stopped to look at the familiar London skyline and a street musician started playing – alto sax, some nice lines that echoed out into the evening, free music, oddly continuing the inspired performance I had just witnessed...

Belated reviews to follow...

Just getting my reviews of the weekend sorted... commencing very soon...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

In Town... London Jazz Festival...

Two down, one to go... Keith Tippett's friday night gig was superb... last night - some pub band on first whose name I have forgotten. Seb Rochford depped on drums - good, on dull material. Guitar player interesting when he got away from his rock fret moves. Then: Peter Brotzmann and his bass and drummer, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller - fire music of the highest quality. On a different level entirely... Reviews to follow when notes have been deciphered and if I find a cheaper connection! Otherwise - will do the three together when I get back home tomorrow. Off to the Rothko exhibition now - afterwards, a pint in the Hole in the Wall at Waterloo then the last gig - Rudresh Mahanthappa. Hope the support is more interesting... But worth it all so far for Keith Tippett and his wife Julie plus Herr Brotzmann blowing up a storm...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Review: Howard Coleman's Acoustic Session at the Doghouse...Tuesday 4th November, 2008...

I haven't been down to Howard Coleman's session at the Doghouse for a long time – my loss, if last night was anything to go by. He fronts a mainly acoustic night with a broad range of musics and performers – from the old to the young and back again. Always a lot of energy here – a place where you will experience youthful verve and headlong rush alongside more maturely honed performances. Which is as it should be – one of the reasons I avoid many a so-called 'folk' night is because of the age ghettoisation - safe musics by old people are just not interesting (with the occasional honourable exception). A place where the dynamic bounces between generations and styles - not all one way, either - is much more satisfying...

Starting with a young guy, James Lewis – at the beginning of his musical road. Breathy, sensitive, angst-y, yes, but he gets away with it because of his honesty. You get the feeling he is communicating something you should know about. Raw – and none the worse for that. Polish is overrated... (that's not a reference to a European language, by the way).

A duo – Becky Syson, accompanied by Rebecca Dawson on bass – which gave a fluid underpinning to Becky's reedy, assured vocals and songs that looked at family from various angles and generations – grandparents to brother to boyfriend. She seemed comfortable on stage... as Howard introduced her: 'sublime folk rock.'

Steve Stapley - for a generational shift. Clean picked open-tuned guitar and a husky voice that has the grit of experience rubbed in it. Steve has been around – in fact I had a strong feeling I had encountered him somewhere back down the road - his songs reflecting some low-life times in the States, spinning off Bukowksi, as it were, whom he name-checks. Joined by Linda Hayes for a couple of numbers, one an impassioned outburst against capital punishment. Skillful stuff...

Another jump cut – which is why I love this gig... Two young students, Ryan Meeks and Mikey, guitars, the singer equipped with a soaring falsetto that was stunning placed. They were good time energy, on a variety of songs by artists that ranged from Nina Simone to the appalling Oasis, their version of 'Wonderwall' actually very good, stripped of the neo-con bombast of the original.

Gren Bartley, tonight playing with Robin Melville on harmonica. It was good to see Mr B again – caught him in a very short set a couple of weeks back with his duo sidekick Tom Kitching down at Mr Marmion's (very good couple of tracks from their forthcoming album) but tonight gave him a chance to stretch out into different areas. Gren gets better by the month, his voice toughening (but not coarsening) over fast picking on guitar and banjo. His forays into blues and gospel (Leadbelly, Skip James etc) are fascinating because he does not go in for over-homage but comes at these problematic musics (for europeans) from a fresh direction. His own songs just get better, by the way... Robin backed him with subtlety and bluesy skill.

Tich Vango
to go out on... some minor key hard bluesy stories here, raw slices of life that finished off the night in downtown style. Sung with honest endeavour over minimal but effective guitar - someone who has lived the life he sings about, one suspects.

Another good and fascinatingly varied gig on Nottingham Road... thanks, Howard - and all who sailed with you...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Label news...

The label is almost upon us... after long months, the Lows and the Highs is about to launch with physical product and mp3 downloads... watch this and other spaces... Hope to get everything done before the London Jazz Festival next week, which I will be attending for three days. Plus that Rothko exhibition...

After an exhausting Sunday, culminating in a superb Pete Morton gig at the Swan, (reviewed before see here, for example) just re-charging the batteries - although I might make it down to road to see Gren Bartley and others later... Folk/acoustic this week - next week - Keith Tippett, Brotzmann and co - the wahoo goes on...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mal Waldron... Albert Ayler... Thelonious Monk...

Mal Waldron, playing 'Minor Pulsation.' Opening on almost parade ground drums, then some demented piano, something relentless and eery about this theme, like a rat running round a maze... The A sections based on the drums and the piano hammering out in minor key, the bridge (B) a swift swing in contrast. The exhilaration is found in the manner by which Waldron opens it up, breaking out of the box of the repeated rhythm figures. Some hard-hitting piano, going into a brief bass solo, then the drummer comes up front before they power back into the theme. The dark mood may be attributable to the date of the recording February 24th, 1959 – not long before Billie Holiday died. The album title track is 'Left Alone,' co-composed by Holliday and Waldron. Waldron, of course, was working as her accompanist from 1957 up to the year of her death. (Although their last recording date was in October, 1958). Immortalised in the oft-quoted Frank O' Hara poem (oft-quoted by me, anyway!) 'The day Lady died:'

'... and a NEW YORK POST with

her face on it

and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everybody and I stopped breathing.'

An image which conjures perfectly the sad and fragile – yet compelling - intimacy of Holiday in her late years.

Albert Ayler – 'this is 'Ghosts, First Variation,' with Gary Peacock on bass, Sunny Murray on drums. Ayler is still a controversial figure, bizarrely enough. In counterbalance, Gary Peacock makes some interesting points about his oft-disputed musicianship:

'FJ: Do you find it pleasing that young musicians find Ayler more interesting posthumously?

GARY PEACOCK: Yeah, Fred, and I think there is two aspects to that. One is just the raw emotionality of it and if someone focuses on that, they are going to miss ninety percent of what he was really about.

FJ: What was Ayler really about?

GARY PEACOCK: He was about music, really, really about music and about continual development with the instrument, with technique, with all of that. So when he played it wasn't just squawks and beeps and honks and that kind of thing. He was really, he was coming from a real place. It was authentic. It was really him. A similar kind of thing that I've noticed, not infrequently, among some of the young avant-garde players as it were. They heard Ornette Coleman and thought that, "Oh, I don't have to understand anything about harmony or melody and I can't play changes anyway and so I'm going to be a free player." Well, that is exactly wrong. That's completely backwards. In fact, Fred, that isn't even true. Ornette could play changes. Albert Ayler could play changes. It is almost a prerequisite. So if someone already has that ability and has gone through that, they have developed their ear to the point where they intuitively know what harmonic order and what melody is. Then they are at a place where they can simply let it go. Paul Bley is that way. Paul Bley can play the changes to anything. But without earning that, without going through the necessary disciplines musically of recognizing that the music is fairly deep and if you are going to be an improviser, there is a pretty rigorous pathway. If you come up short, not being able to hear harmony or finding it difficult as it were to play changes, that should indicate something, then you need to stay there for a while until you can become fluid in that. There is a kind of tendency for musicians who recognize that they can't really hear harmony that well or play something with changes that they still want to play that they can forget about that hurdle. I think that is a musical error.' (From here...)

A live recording – Peacock's bass opens over chatter, then Ayler comes in for the theme, joined by the drums. There is an endearing and subtle simplicity to Ayler's compositions – deriving from folk figures, they stick in your mind. He launches out fairly quickly – elastic swirls of elaboration, the fast runs of bebop still there but dancing in a different space now, underpinned by the freeing up of Murray's drums and Peacock's bass. Sound balance isn't great – the tenor is right up front, the drums more felt than heard sometimes in their spattering punctuations, bass also somewhat shadowy. When the tenor drops out, they are more audible – formidable bass soloing over Murray's interweaving rhythms. Seminal music. And to take Peacock's point above - yes, this is raw emotional stuff - but there are many other musical levels here to be considered. Seminal.

Monk in 1948. Milt Jackson leads in on a medium paced swing. Then the lugubrious (out of Billy Eckstine) vocals of Kenny 'Pancho' Hagood on 'All the things you are.' Monk drops oblique accents behind – sharp lemon on the honey. Jackson takes a half chorus solo, rippling smoothly – followed by Monk, a contrast in sharp angles. Anorak note: Hagood also contributed a track to the Miles Davis 'Birth of the Cool' sessions in 1949 – 'Darn that Dream.'

Without the singer: 'I mean you,' a Monk theme. At this distance, one can hear how the pianist abstracted out from the blues and earlier piano styles and the distance this created from more 'conventional' bop strategies. Jackson again is marvellous – his solo ending on a swirling line that Monk picks up in his turn. On the outchorus, listen to the interplay between vibes and piano. Condensed brilliance.

Mal Waldron
Mal Waldron (p) Julien Euell (b) Al Dreares (d)
Minor Pulsation


Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler (ts) Gary Peacock (b) Sunny Murray (d)
Ghosts (First variation)


Thelonious Monk
Milt Jackson (vib) Thelonious Monk (p) John Simmons (b) Shadow Wilson (d) Kenny Pancho Hagood (v)
All the things you are

I mean you


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review: Steve Parry at the Pack Horse, Friday October 24th, 2008

A late decision to go out into the demi-monde of God's Little Acre, to the edge of the Artist's Quarter and Mr Marmion's Friday night acoustic extravaganza at the Pack. Tonight featuring an old buddy, Steve Parry, a solo singer whom I have not heard for some time. With the audience he seemed to have brought en masse from another watering hole we frequent to give him a cushion of support, this proved to be a very good night. Steve was always a distinctive singer with a very pure tone warmed with a slight vibrato that would indicate some voice training back when – certainly he has no problems negotiating his material without accompaniment, holding the keys and the individual forms of the songs with ease. Interestingly, his voice has roughened slightly, a huskier edge which transmits the emotional content well and balances off the purer side of his timbre. Some singers over-emote and try to push the song along too far – Steve avoids this by keeping a certain distance yet does not allow his technical skill to overwhelm his evident love for the range of material he performs. A tricky dance to negotiate – but he is fleet of foot, as it were, and has that rare ability to get inside his music... An interesting selection: from old bangers like 'Lord Franklyn' and less well known songs (to me) 'The Jolly Butcher' and Childe Ballad 'Young Allen.' To more contemporary stuff – a Roy Harper song, 'Every Day.' Climaxing on the only encore possible, the song he is probably best known for locally, a stirring version of 'The King of Rome,' Dave Sudbury's epic celebration of working class life in Derby just before the Great War, made famous by June Tabor way back. Criticism? He maybe rushes the odd song, which is probably a sign of nerves as Steve does not perform nearly as much as he should. But that's my opinion, no more, no less... The other interesting point I noticed was that, given that majority of the crowd were probably not devotees of traditional music – or solo singing – Steve gripped his audience throughout and not just for partisan reasons. Certainly, from where I was positioned I would have noticed the odd surreptitious roll of the eyeballs or attention dropping. Of which there was none. Food for thought – maybe the old stuff is not so esoteric when given a fair chance of display? But there again – the message depends on the messenger. Tonight delivered with skill – and grace...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross... John Zorn/Masada... Kelly Joe Phelps... Milt Jackson... Kenny Dorham...

Slowly cycling back through my stash of music – extensive but not infinite, although sometimes when I survey the accumulated cds, tapes and digital formats, I wonder... I used to travel light...

I saw Lambert, Hendricks and Ross in the UK, back in the old days, hip, finger-snapping stuff, cleverly self-referential – what could be more self-reflexive than putting words to improvised jazz solos? The vocalese sub-genre of Eddie Jefferson, Babs Gonzales and King Pleasure taken to new heights. Here is a track from 'Sing a song of Basie,' where this conception is extended further: the material is based on the Count's tunes, the band sections were recreated by vocal over-dubs ( new technology at the time – for jazz, at least, although Lennie Tristano had done some multitracking in 1955) as the original idea of using a group of backing singers did not work in practice. It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing, etc. And the rhythm section came from the Basie band, minus the boss with Nat Pierce in the piano chair. 'One O' Clock Jump,' perfect swinging music for a sunny Sunday morning. The gig I went to, they were on tour with the Basie Ork and to hear them riffing off the source was a blast indeed...

Update: just found this memento - L, H and R with Basie and Ocie Smith on vocals, from the Juan Les Pins jazz festival in 1961. Go here...

A ten o' clock jump, as it were – to John Zorn's Masada. Mysterious bass over drums lead in on 'Hadasha.' Joined by the trumpet and alto, long notes on a sad theme cutting into each other. Zorn opens a slow spiral over deep trumpet that progresses into more enervated keening and high register squalls before dropping into an Ornettish line. Baron disrupts the background vamp with sudden surges. Dave Douglas solos, some gentle bluesy figures before he opens it out – yet keeping on a conversational level – vocalised tone and inflections. Zorn returns to parry lines as the trumpet drops back themewards. A sudden fast flourish and then wending onwards into a double improvisation. Free-ish and also operating within a fairly restricted area – an interesting paradox...

More singing – one of my favourite folk/blues/acoustic performers, Kelly Joe Phelps. Who came from a jazz background before he started to explore a mixture of slide and finger-picking styles to accompany his vocals and oblique songs. This is 'Wandering Away,' yet another song of the restless on the road, but a good few notches above the usual banalities we have become used to. Slide shadows voice, the vocalised guitar that came out the country blues call and response. Channelled, not 'tribute.'

A Milt Jackson date for Blue Note, featuring what would become the first incarnation of the Modern Jazz Quartet (Conny Kay replaced Kenny Clarke in 1955), with Lou Donaldson added for his first recording session. A sprightly jog through 'Don't get around much anymore.' Donaldson is usually figured under the sign of Parker but here he gives echoes of an older tradition, a shadow of Johnny Hodges, perhaps, in the fractional slides into notes of the theme statement.
Did Milt Jackson ever take an uninteresting solo?

Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke again in the engine room for an oddity – Kenny Dorham, one of the great bop trumpeters – also singing here: 'Lonesome Lover Blues.' Showing that perhaps the rhythm and blues roots weren't so far away from modern jazz. Dorham sings, plays some fiery trumpet, followed by a snatch of Jimmy Heath (Percy's brother) on tenor... Recorded in New York, 1953. Dorham was always somewhat overshadowed by Diz, Clifford Brown and Fats Navarro perhaps, but could hold his own in any company. He also recorded with Donaldson and Milt Jackson on some seminal Monk sessions round this time – must dig them out...

To go out: a different 'Lonesome Lover Blues' done by Billy Eckstine, fronting his kicking big band in 1946-ish. Playing some neat valve trombone as well... Here... Come to think of it, Kenny Dorham was in the band round that time, replacing Fats Navarro in the trumpet section...

Lambert Hendrick and Ross
Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross (v) Nat Pierce (p) Freddie Greene (g) Eddie Jones (b) Sonny Payne (d)
One O' Clock Jump


John Zorn/Masada
John Zorn (as) Dave Douglas (t) Greg Cohen (b) Joey Baron (d)


Kelly Joe Phelps (v, g)
Wandering Away


Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson (vib) Lou Donaldson (as) John Lewis (p) Percy Heath (b) Kenny Clarke (d)
Don't get around much anymore


Kenny Dorham (t, v) Jimmy Heath (ts, bars) Walter Bishop Jr. (p) Percy Heath (b) Kenny Clarke (d)
Lost lover blues


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Review: An Exhibition of Great London Street Entertainers at the New Players Theatre, Thursday October 9th, 2008... and a Reunion...

Up to town for An Exhibition of Great
London Street Entertainers
at the New Players Theatre in Villiers Street, researched and organised by John Kelly. I had also arranged to meet up with a group of street musicians at the Porcupine on Charing Cross Road, where my involvement with busking started in the sixties... Alan, Patrick, Don, Phil and Roger, along with John Kelly, the curator of the show. We sat outside to accommodate the smokers on one of the few decent days we have had recently, as the sun shone down on this motley crew. A funny, moving experience... Many ghosts wandering round – and further summoned by anecdote... Some of us have not met for many years, so there was much catching up to be done, over liquid refreshment. I retired from playing on the streets some years back now (go in different musical directions these days although hopefully with the same questing spirit) but a couple of these guys are still active – Roger/Chucklefoot and Don Partridge. Alan is still playing regularly and I'm sure that Pat drags his guitar down to a few sessions in the West Country. Great to be part of the old verbal cut and thrust again as egos collided in good-natured banter. Luckily the beer fights that used to part of the old Porcupine gatherings were not resurrected...

Don, as 'The King of the Buskers,' was apparently opening the exhibition, which was situated in the bar of the New Players theatre – underneath the Arches, an historic place as a pitch back in the old days. This was the first place I ever played in the West End, accompanying the old street singer, Megan Aitken, the Piccadilly Nightingale. Almost unrecognisable now, with shops, bars and the early evening bustle, from the grim brick tunnel of bygone years which had also traditionally been a place where the homeless found a kip for the night. We wandered in to the theatre bar, a plush joint, and checked out John Kelly's handiwork - a selection of photos, drawings and engravings with brief descriptions of London street performers from Shakespearean times – Marocco and Banks – to those I knew when I was involved in the game – Ronnie Ross, The Earl of Mustard and Don Partridge. Also: Jim 'Tiger' Norman, the Road Stars, William Reed with his broom, among others – a small group of snapshots into the underground /outlaw world of street entertainment down the centuries. And a measure perhaps of the distance busking has travelled, from wilder times to the almost respectable contemporary scene where permits are applied for, demarcation lines drawn, the whole no doubt monitored on the ever-present cctv cameras of Brown's Britain. Although – given the way the economic crash is progressing, maybe we will soon be back to a rerun of those depression days in the 1930s when many of the old guys I knew in the sixties had started out, when performing on the streets was perhaps born of financial desperation more than an outlaw choice. The whole event was very informal – which suited the subject matter and its characters, some (all?) of whom would have found it amusing to be enshrined in such a setting – and would have worked out ways to 'bottle' (collect money from) the punters, no doubt... The evening morphed into an impromptu session as Don's guitar was passed among us, which the gathering theatre crowd wandering through seemed to enjoy. Alan Young ended on the old standard 'Gypsy in my soul,' a fitting climax to this celebration of anarchic spirits past and present. The tradition scattered out from London in the fifties and sixties as travel became cheaper and easier and we have all at various times busked our ways round many countries in Europe and beyond. Yet I am sure that we are all conscious of the heritage and the lines that lead from these earlier pioneers. In understated rather than self-consciously pretentious ways - the street would soon smack down any pomposity.

So, if you are in the area of Villiers Street/Charing Cross in the next few weeks (it runs from now to December), it's well worth a look. Free entrance but contributions go to St Mungos. Good stuff, John – more, please...

There's something calling me, from way out yonder...

Thelonious Monk... Mal Waldron/Marion Brown... Evan Parker/Eddie Prévost... Donald Byrd...

'Monk plays Ellington' was never rated as one of Thelonious's great albums. Yet I have always had a fancy for it, if only for the fascination of hearing one great pianist/composer take on another's work. This is 'I got it bad and that ain't good.' Monk leads in solo, stretching phrases to their breaking point, using almost unbearable periods of silence with the placement of a master. Suddenly bouncing off in a jaunty ride, joined by bass and the subtle tick of Kenny Clarke's drums. Pettiford solos, showing his class. Monk again, staying close to the melody – then suddenly dropping off into another space with an oblique turn, a rush of notes, a crunching chord. Thelonious in his heyday, sounding as if he was enjoying himself.

Mal Waldron is of the line of Monk – a minimalist vision at times, using space to great effect. Here, he is joined by Marion Brown for a slow, elegaic version of 'My Funny Valentine.' Piano starts off, allowing the air to blow through both melody and chords, holding back the beat, using repeated figures for emphasis. Late night feel, perhaps, but thoughtful rather than brooding, Just over three minutes in, Brown enters, holding the mood with keening long notes, harking back to an older tradition, saxophonic pyrotechnics stripped right back. At the end, Waldron rips out chords for the alto to pirouette through in an elegant coda.

Evan Parker and Eddie Prévost duet on 'Knowledge is power,' from a 1997 session. A long track that uncurls at its own speed, lazily snake-like with the occasional lash of the tail to snap the dynamics up a few notches. Opening on mysterious sonorities and scrapings, a fluttery sax like an early morning bird call. Prevost moves into more conventional percussive territory with some hammered toms. Parker worries a phrase across the registers. Moving from busy back into freer space, utilising a wide range of sounds between them, Parker getting so much out of his saxophone in between the usual long lines of circular breathing, at one point approximating a muted trumpet. They go into a more jazzy feel as the track progresses – at its back I hear Coltrane's sax/drums workouts, but Parker always acknowledged the influence – and proceeded over the years to fully work out his unique strategies rather than remain a copyist. This goes long because it has to...

Donald Byrd and band play 'Beale Street,' not the W.C. Handy piece but a choppy funky composition of its time – out of 'Sidewinder' etc. Hank Mobley blows a couple of choruses then Sonny Red takes some – playing with texture and sonorities, sounding bluesy. Byrd next, high up the range, spurred on by front line riffs. Cedar Walton comes in for a brief piano interlude. An odd mix of funk and bop, nothing particularly earth-moving, perhaps, but a snapshot of the trumpeter's working band from 1967, under the stamp of Blue Note...

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk (p) Oscar Pettiford (b) Kenny Clarke (d)
I got it bad and that ain't good


Mal Waldron (p) Marion Brown (as)
My Funny Valentine


Evan Parker (ss) Eddie Prévost (d, perc)
Knowledge is power


Donald Byrd (tp) Sonny Red (as) Hank Mobley (ts) Cedar Walton (p) Walter Booker (b) Billy Higgins (d)
Beale Street


Friday, September 26, 2008

Easing back in...

Just bought netbook for mobility and trying it out now - live blogging from the pub... well - I missed Bartley and Kitching last night - buried in wires/cables trying to get my networks up and running at the new house... And I was going to see Sonny Simmons tonight in Sheffield - alas, that's gone down as well... Never mind - looking forward to the London Jazz Festival - most of it of no interest to me but managed to book three nights in succession - Keith Tippett, Peter Brotzmann and Rudresh Mahanthappa... may try some live blogging during the sessions if I can find wifi points adjacent... Some music back up here asap... watch this space etc...

Just realised that the landlord of this establishment bears a resemblance to Thurston Moore... Increasing I've been feeling like Old Tom Moore (from the bummer's shore)... But the worst of the move is now over...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Almost there... and a birthday...

We're in the new house - but internet will not be arriving until next thursday when hopefully things will be back to normal. But I could not let the day pass without a mention that it is my daughter's 21st birthday today. Many happy returns - from your proud parents...

Saturday, September 13, 2008


We are moving house (again!) today - which is why posting has been non-existent since I got back from the Brighton festival... more to come when the dust has settled (literally).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Review; Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Sunday 7th September, 2008...

Sunday. Unfortunately I missed the films at midday due to a prior gig and wasn't grabbed by the afternoon talk/panel (my loss I'm sure) so just came down for the last evening. Again, I was a little selective – stayed in the main hall throughout so didn't get to everything – but that's the nature of festivals... By the way - the first image is from a boozer over the road from the festival - the jakes in Hector's House... very anarcho-punk, dudes... but the booze was cheap and it was good to hear Kraftwerk again...

Black to Comm: Quite delicate traceries building into a solid drone that developed intriguingly. Flecked with 'small instruments' and violin.

Muscletusk: Again, great programming as they were a complete contrast to the previous act. Noise rock meets freejazz drumming shot through with electronics and good use of dynamics. I thought they were great!

Graham Phillips/G Park: Another programmatic contrast. These two take a much more theatrical performative stance. The lights were taken right down, the curtains pulled over the doors. Out of the ensuing pitch blackness two lights appeared on stage – like miners' helmets – necessary for the duo to see the sound sources on their respective tables. But also: acting as minute focal points if somewhat eery. A clangour – bell sounds moving into darker noise. Creaking doors – we are in the haunted house, made more atmospheric by the darkness. Then what seemed to be a scrawling veering dizzying ride on an aeroplane, spinning out of control, accompanied by shouts, cries, screams of scared passengers. This became quite unsettling – close to the bone for many? Some people did leave, too disturbing? In my mind I would like to think the plane righted its course - but more was to come. Slaughterhouse dance macabre – sharp shocks of sound interweaving with the plaintive baas of sheep. Human and animal mortality at stake here? My private movies, anyway – a genuinely harrowing experience... even in the realisation that this was clever manipulation. Edgy brilliance...

Pigs in the Ground: 'Inspired by the work of Necrosearch Society of Colorado – forensic pathologists who bury swine corpses and study the results to discern the whereabouts of clandestine graves...' When you have read this description of their music in the program notes, it colours your perception – certainly the deep bass and scuttling rattles give an air of the subterranean, dark condensed spaces and movements of earth. Shifting into a more defined beat with a jerky one two march figure – the troll two step? Bass melody moves in and out... spartan vocal gestures. As colour.. wafts of more defined rhythms. Another great set – this weekend has given out some good music...

Lionel Marchetti/Yoko Higashi: Marchetti has been a wheel in musique concrete for some time, moving into more improvised strategies in the nineties. Hagashi came from the dance world in Tokyo before developing her vocal projects. Collectively they provided another highlight of the weekend – moving across from the more academic to the poppier ends of the spectrum with ease, in the main. A striking couple, one can see/hear the disparate worlds they inhabit mesh into the performance – not always an easy fit, perhaps, but that gives the occasional misstep that is picked up quickly an added piquancy, a lift of spontaneity, the fun of a chance taken...

To the end of the night: Corsano/Moore/Nace. The drummer – a revelation. I know his recorded work pretty well, but have missed him all over the UK these last couple of years. My loss. Live, he is just plain awesome. It's not just the flawless technique, but the FEEL... He is a striking figure, looking very young, the shaven head gives him a monk-like appearance and that re-inforces, perhaps, the purity of vision that seems to be at work here. The two guitarists, Thurston Moore, a co-founder of Sonic Youth, of course, who has developed his career into the free improv arena (and beyond) in recent years with many collaborations and solo projects, Bill Nace a new name to me, from Northampton, Mass, smash and burn across the truly mind-rattling percussive storm behind them. Hi-octave stuff... This was about smears of sound, guitars battered and pummeled to yield loud emotional ecstasies. Corsano carries the whole shebang, pausing occasionally, to give space to his cohorts – and no doubt to catch his breath. One small example of his technique – during a fast-spattering passage, he kept the rhythms going with one hand while he changed sticks with the other – and it sounded just as complex... A demonstration of how free jazz and avant-rock/noise can coexist and feed each other – which was one of the underlying theme of the festival, come to think of it...

So, a wild end to a great weekend. Salutations to the Brighton crew who put all this together with skill and good humour. Given the logistics of swapping so many diverse acts about and sound-checking etc, the musicians wheeled themselves on and off in good order, a truly collaborative effort on their part as well – no prima donnas spotted (doesn't mean there weren't any but it wasn't obvious). The relatively short sets helped, I think, concentrated bursts in the main of great, thoughtful, innovative, epiphanic wahoo... etc... Plus imaginative programming, contrasting the varieties of conception on display to good advantage. Everything I heard I liked, so I left happy. And it is rare to be able to say that... The packed crowd enjoyed it in good order throughout– even the drunks were in the main amusing – apart from the young gobshite behind me on Saturday off whose head I was tempted to whang a half-full can of Red Stripe at one point. But: that would have soured the evening, probably got me thrown out – and would have been a waste of expensive booze. I'm too old for that malarkey, anyway...

Hope to be back next year... My first time in Brighton, as well. Great town...

Posted from The Ranelagh, up on St James Street - on tap country/blues - an interesting contrast...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sunday - Brighton...

The last night of the festival was a blast - no time yet to up review - hopefully tomorrow - and more crappy photos - too lazy to leave the back of the room...

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Saturday, 6th September, 2008...



Made it to the Bruce McLure show... Two pieces, introduced by the man himself – again, that American communication with the audience, this time to briefly explain his strategies. Hallucinatory mix of image and music – blips of scruffy white light flashing with the rhythms, occasional blurred images appearing and disappearing as if buried by the visual static. McLure sets loops running and blends/rams them into each other setting up cross-rhythms that collide and fall into step and separate again. The second piece introduced more syncopation in a jazzy way, moving across a strong three beat rhythm that changed to four and back, some fast ticking eighth notes giving a feel of 6/8 at one point. Usually falling back into a heavy pounding that echoed for me the Velvet Underground – a conscious New York influence? Hallucinatory flickers...


Fewer acts seen – got there a little later than planned due to apocalyptic downpour that had me pinned for shelter in the dooway of Safeways for ages! First up:

Charles Draheim. One man and his electronics table... but something different going on here. Draheim started innocently enough in the usual sonic territory but proceeded to go further and further away from the centre until he was banging mightily against the walls – and perhaps breaching them – of what an ear can tolerate. Not just the volume, particularly, but the high screeling, finger down the blackboard, dentist's drill nightmare granularities that did provoke a few to leave. Later he explored the deeper territories where bass gets very physical indeed and you feel that your heart beat is being interfered with... Transgressive stuff that posed many a question – which is what experimental music is supposed to do... This I dug...

Skullflower came straight out of the traps and held a climax for the whole of their segment. Tantric, what? Violin, guitars, blending into one roaring tangle of sound, powered on by the drums. Violin dropped out before the end – something to do with a dead lead? Or choice? Interesting, that sawed-out string sound out of the Velvets (back via John Cale to Tony Conrad/Dream Dyndicate and earlier minimalism) still rings on through the underground... A favourite band, encountered live for the first time.

Paul Hession and his two saxophonist cohorts, Biggi Vinkeloe (alto, doubling flute) and Sami Pekkola, tenor saxophone come straight out of free jazz. A purely acoustic lineup in such a predominantly electronic festival may have posed a few problems. Which were ridden over immediately. As they sound-checked and proceeded to play what turned into a taster for their main set people were drifting in and getting straight into their music. When they stopped, there were shouts for more! The hall filled up and they played a great set, coming off the polyrhythmic fire and skill of Hession, a master drummer who has been around in heavy company down the years. I hadn't heard his two bandmembers before and they were intriguing. Pekkola can go from what now has become straight ahead free playing across all the registers to the more conceptual interrogations of the the physicality of his instrument, in one sequence removing the mouthpiece, then later part of the neck to produce a variety of swooshing, farty sounds. Vinkeloe's flute was fascinating – plenty of orthodox technique again but she pushed into further territory, heavily breathing/speaking through it to produce other levels of sound – in Roland Kirk mode, certainly, but with her own spin. Overall, they gave a superb demonstration of dynamics, going from full-bore blowing to a quieter section that explored small nuances, bowed cymbals and brushes from the drummer and pointillism from the horns, bouncing ideas of each other all the way as Hession constantly varied his timbres and attack. Usually you see/hear this stuff in smaller venues, where the audience can get a bit precious, to be honest. I enjoyed the rowdier atmosphere as the saturday night fandango cranked up and the booze and whatever else flowed – many shouts and hoots of encouragement to the band that contributed to my thinking that this music benefits from being thrown out of the usual performance space into a more public arena. Hession and co looked as if they enjoyed themselves... one of my highspots of the weekend...

Vibracathedral Orchestra I have seen before and heard a lot of on cd , another favourite UK band. I remember first encountering them on a radio show ('Mixing It') about the music scene oop north and being blown away by the purity of their music and the way they build a set. No great surprises tonight perhaps – except maybe in the mellower sounds they produce compared to many other acts. Dissonance there is, cutting across the tonalities rising up from the drone base, but they tend to resolve rather than hang bleeding on the sonic wires. Not a criticism, rather the opposite in that they created their own space within the jostling sound worlds of the weekend – still widening the wide field they have fine-ploughed these last years. Rare beauty...

To the last act: Reines D'Angleterre. Ho ho... God save them... The enigmatic Frenchman Ghedalia Tazartes, flanked by Jo Tanz and él-g on electronics and 'vocals,' produced a barnstormer – something completely different. Singing in his own polyglot of fractured English, French and whatever else flits through his perception, moaning and hollering in cadences that seem to move from French chanson through minor key Jewish and Arab wail and beyond, he stands on the babel tower of his culture, producing a small accordion occasionally to blat out a fractured accompaniment and blowing and whirling a length of rubber pipe which is a secret signifier of Parisian street culture which I am sure he must be aware of. He's the same age as I am, and I remember the character who used to busk on the cinema queues on the Left bank, a clochard who blew a wild sound out of a length of garden hose looped round his neck. Whom we dubbed 'Hosepipe Feliciano,' circa 1970. Wish I could have asked him... (Wonder what happened to the Ratman? But that's for another day...).

The crowd loved him, as I did – I'd like to hear more. His accompanists gave out a sympathetic aural carpet of matching vocalisms and minimal but sufficient – and witty - background sounds from the kit on their respective tables.

There is a big article on him in this month's 'Wire' mag, worth checking out...

Apologies for the photos - I couldn't be bothered to jostle down to the front as I am just recovering from a broken toe... and no links either, as fast blogging off wifi and with duff battery...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Review: Colour out of Space Festival, Brighton, Friday 5th September, 2008

The balance had to be rectified... I don't have anything against folk music (well, not much) and have been to some great acoustic gigs recently. However – they have been the only gigs I've been to, for a variety of reasons. Just haven't made it to any jazz, improv, skronk/wahoo whatever gig away from the hey-nonny for too long. I had to travel to the south coast anyway to meet up with a friend for a project we are involved in, checked the dates and information – and found that the Brighton Colour out of Space Festival at the Sallis-Binney Theatre was on round about the same time. So: booked tickets and a cheap hotel – and here I am. Sitting writing this Saturday morning looking out across a storm-tossed sea with the wind rising – rehearsals for Armageddon again in this star-crossed country, economics and weather wise... At some point will find a wifi node to put it up...

Friday night.

Arrived a little late as needed a quick kip when I got to the hotel – not much sleep the last few days.

So: first set:

Core of the Coalman. Opening electronics hissing as an aircraft revs up... Your man proceeded to build an imposing, ever-spinning vortex of sound via his viola hooked up to a battery of loop/delay pedals. Simple long bowed notes with fragments of occasional melody overlaid to rise into mighty thunder. This cleared the acoustic cobwebs out... And a reasonable crowd (that would build to impressive proportions – these people know how to get the vote out) intent on digging the proceedings.

Red Stripe/sandwich interval then:

UK group Helhesten – a four-piece, clarinet, single drum and cymbal (floor tom), violin and vocal. Producing an almost ur-music of hollers, grunts and shattered syllables with high streaks of clarinet, low thumps of primal drum and sawed violin continuum. Clustered facing each other, it was if they were gathered round some primeval campfire, coming fresh at the world. A thought accentuated by the numbers sat in the main part of the hall, cross-legged and intensely listening. I don't do cross-legged these days (especially recovering from all my various wounds to feet and legs etc) but had a reasonable view of the ongoing eistedfordd from the sidelines where i found a seat that I managed to hold throughout various beer, sandwich and pissbreaks. Enjoyed these guys... cosmic Kumbaya...

HRT were out in a marquee in the garden area adjoining the Sallis-Binney theatre. Dressed in black cowled robes, spooky electronics – seemed like fun but I couldn't be bothered to stand in mud and needed a break anyway...

Gastric Female Refles, next up. Two fine young Canadians, providing some humour in their presentation – I noticed that the North Americans were the only ones (I saw) to address the audience direct which was an interesting point overall. A table full of electronics to wow and dazzle with ultra-fast jumpcutting across a massive range of samples and sounds in a hectic but good natured two-way call and response. Country guitar picking emerging a couple of times to be thrown down back into the slash and burn – FUN!

Rat Bastard came on resplendent in wooly black hat , big black shades and just a guitar plugged into an amp – with which he proceeded to fast strum and flat pick a gathering wild dissonance that was held together by open strings ringing throughout. Sort of drone crossed with metal replete with many of the stage gestures of that genre thrown in. Guy has a sense of humour. Joined by two young women with hand-held gizmos to throw electronic splatter across like acid, bumping and grinding in a stage mashup complete with hair-flailing which was extremely funny. Mock the rock, hey geezers?

Then: Peeeseye. Stripped down drum kit, guitar and electronics, the drummer doubling on vocals - talking in tongues jive esperanto. Led in by the electronics man producing a drone from what looked like a shoe-shine box with a flap that he manipulated to produce the sounds throughout – must have been hell on his arm muscles. An instrument seen in Indian music, I think – I was somewhat unsited by the crowd down front. An object lesson in how to build and sustain a set, rising from the drone to produce a three-way ever moving vector of powerful musics. The drummer led at first on voice , building it up and easing it down when he stepped out from the kit and went to the front stage mike to keep the vocal voodoo moving as the background settled back and the rhythm was kept just on a cowbell or some similar small metallic ringing intrument he was hitting. Back behind the kit, then the guitar rose up to spit swoosh and roar, then the electronics took front focus. Not solos as such, rather like a triangular movement where the three corners rotate in turn to hold the emphasis. Wild - and thoughtful... great attention to structure here...

To the final act – Aaron Dilloway. I'm a big fan but have never seen him live – and I suspect this really is the best way to experience his full-tilt electronic firestorm. He sat at his table of electronics, looking calm – that state which comes before the storm. Commencing on distant deep muffled dustbins kicked around some dark cellar in a ricocheting clatter. Slowly building, riff upon riff, call and response, as the lights hit him and he moved now to the cross-rhythms of the music. Chomping down on his contact miked mouth to produce howls and cries and squeals, lurching in his seated position into a desperate dance. The music enfolds and overwhelms like a thick rising tide – this is such physical music, coming from the body to hit the collective body of the audience. Truly a PERFORMANCE. As the old MGM trailer went for that compilation of Hollywood musical/movie clips some years back. 'THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT. AND BOY DO WE NEED IT NOW.'

Awesome... and again, a free-flowing structure born of experience and skill – and of course, imagination. A great end to a great night.

I missed some acts which was unfortunate – came back in late to Leslie Keffer's set as the stage was being loaded with invitees – this looked fun – but ya can't have everything? (Why not? I hear you cry – well... stamina these days, folks...). A great combo overall of youth and established musicians with nothing that I saw going by the numbers. Interesting dichotomy between the Canadians/US performers and the Europeans...

And apologies for the few photos – forgot to buy fresh batteries for my camera. So amateur...
No time to check links - will do that tomorrow as I have to grab a quick wifi window.

More to come... on the run...