Monday, 24 June 2013

Frank Harrison - Gilad Atzmon's Crown Jewel

Gilad Atzmon
Gilad Atzmon is a force of nature, a man that cannot be contained by international boundaries, nor by pen and paper, as I found out last Thursday (20/06/2013) at Twickenham Jazz Club. Although I had recently attempted to capture Atzmon and the Frank Harrison Trio in 2 dimensions at the launch of their new album, Songs of the Metropolis (Pizza Express, Soho), I couldn't refuse the opportunity to represent  their 3 dimensional personas in my sketchbook once again.

Frank Harrison -
Piano / organ
Atzmon is the undisputed Odysseus of the Jazz stage, a man worthy of myths and legends in the years to come. A man full of bristling humour. A man whose sexual pheromones are so powerful we forgive his indiscretions and wallow in his bawdy anecdotes.
I must have made 12 detailed sketches, none of which captures his prowess. Instead I present this stroke of movement. It is the only way I know how to convey the way he rocks from side to side, leaning back, arching his back. He breaks that imagined electric fence that guards many a stage, walking into the audience he squeezes every once of energy into his performance. There are no boundaries to his own body either, modesty is but a puny veil, and his 'genetalis', as he refers to them are in fact an excellent foil for more ribbing and humour. However good Atzmon is (and he has few equals/betters), it is his 3 musical crown jewels, Frank Harrison, Tim Thornton and Eddie Hick that deserve a huge pouch of credit.

Eddie Hick -
If Atzmon is a living Greek myth then Harrison is his Priapus. His skills stand proud despite his understated appearance, and he extols the adage 'Its not the size but what you do with it'. Musically he wouldn't need any such saying to support his work and on this night he stood defiantly like a rocky promontory overlooking the North Sea. Understandably he excelled on a grooving 'Scarborough Fair' and he had a sound throughout like an early Mike Ratledge toying with his genres.

Tim Thornton -
Eddie Hick was constantly confronted by Atzmon's alto playing, I'd like to say musically but I mean physically. The drums between them only saving Hick from hand to hand combat. How he retains his serene expression only a black belt zen master would know.

Kelvin Christiane -
Baritone Saxophone
This was my first close-up view of the rapidly rising Tim Thornton on bass. I had sketched him before during my Bull's Head residency but he hadn't shone then (admittedly neither had my drawing) and early signs didn't do him justice either. It might be his shear size that requires momentum but his sharpness of mind would more than account for that. I fear it is the popularity of Thornton that had worn him down a little, the late nights at Ronnie Scott's and relentless work load.
These sentences are unfair in many ways because by the second set he was excellent, the head bobbed, the jaw slackened and he grasped the nettle and we were stung by his dexterous solos.

A Twickenham Jazz Club night wouldn't be complete without Kelvin Christiane, and his baritone saxophone had the desired effect on the afore mentioned 'genetalis' of Gilad Atzmon. They faced each other, blowing hard and locking horns like two stags in nearby Bushy Park. Impressive in its spectacle and it caught the eye of the audience, but mine we're fixed on Frank Harrison and the gentle twinkle of his crown jewels in the background.


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Samuel Eagles - Summer Noir

Samuel Eagles -
Yesterday (19/06/2013) I was lucky enough to be at the point of creation when Samuel Eagles stepped into Clown's Pocket Studio in Kent to record his debut album. It's too easy to be over dramatic and of course these new tunes have been bubbling away in Eagles' life for sometime and hadn't just materialised as we would like to imagine in our romantic zeal

Ralph Wyld -
Most Jazz musicians balance a quiet studious demeanour and an on-stage persona. Quite often there is a downtime bon-viveur air about them too that is instantly affable. Samuel Eagles possesses the former attribute in spades, he most  definitely is a thinker and introvert. Whether due to his youthfulness or circumstance I do not know. He doesn't control the stage when leading his quartet and often steps aside to let others take the limelight.

Eric Ford -
The affection I have for Eagles is a British kind of affair, that of the underdog and unassuming flair but on first hearing the music I am transported to the Continent or at least that taste of Europe that once seemed so exotic to us. 50 Pound Friendship is a case in point, the hints of darkness rest like the deep shadows cast by a southern sun, punctuations. Eagles is conversational but as an eavesdropper in a French New Wave film. If he is going to be one of the autuers of this new romantic sound then it is the space he evokes that will be his signature.

Expecting a spikier introspective sound I was totally switched 180 degrees upon first submersion in this music. It is that type of noir that isn't American in its violence nor Germanic in brooding dark percussion but a has a lightness with its devil may care of the French. Ralph Wyld epitomises this sound on vibraphone and it is easy to cast off your inhibitions and skinny dip in his melodies. Remembering Myself is an exponent of this serious happiness where Saxophone and Vibes ride the melodies together. They flirt in the dabbled shadows of the plane trees, perhaps Spanish this time, with a splash of Gaudi architecture peaking through the heat haze.

Fergus Ireland -
Ferg Ireland (bass) plays a strong swinging role on The Place I Live and Eric Ford (drums) calls a ripping 'Ferocious' once the track has been completed. He should have yelled 'Yabba Dabba Do' as the tune has more than a hint of 'The Flintstones' theme.

After casting off his trademark cowbell, Ford is the driving force on the Outsider and I get the chance to hear Smells Like Summer before I have to leave the session, apt subject matter as we feel the warmth on this June day. The doors to Derek Nash's studio are open and his wife, Beverley, tends to the their garden as I disappear into the Kent landscape.

What the rest of the session reveals I will have to wait to find out. I am a little tentative because Samuel Eagles is not a natural leader of men but maybe he might just be one of those inspirational figures that lets his creativity do the talking.
By the time this album sees the light of day, nights will be drawing in and Samuel Eagles' taste of Summer Noir will be only refuge for our blue sky optimism.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Bob Barter - The missing who's who

Bob Barter - piano
Barter's Band has an almost mythical status in South London Jazz circles. I'd heard the talk of course, although information always seemed a little hazy after a heavy night in a Jazz man's company, but sometimes fate deals you a handsome hand and you have to experience these things yourself. So last Sunday afternoon (09/06/2013) I was invited to The Berry, Berrylands by Dieter Kadan, to experience a modest incarnation of the legend itself.

Just two days earlier I had been watching Partikel at the Queen Elizabeth Foyer where they introduced one of their new tunes 'Barter's Band' , a brilliant composition with more swing than a cross-dressing Lancashire bowler. The writer of this said piece, saxophonist Duncan Eagles, asked the audience whether news of his muse had spread to their ears. Strangely there was a silence so as soon as I got home I checked out John Chilton's "Who's Who of British Jazz" but found nothing between the entries BARRITEAU, Carl Aldri Stanley and BARTON, John. I did find the briefest of references under the name JACKSON, Alan Richard, the talented drummer I'd had the fortune of sketching just a few weeks before at Croydon's Green Dragon.

Jimmy Hastings -
Saxophone & Flute
When you see Bob Barter for the first time you wonder why there isn't a whole damn book written about him. He is a rumble of disconnected energy, a man whose chaos is magnetic and like his audio equipment he looks as though he has experienced his fair share of frontline action. There is an unmistakable charm and it is obvious the modest audience are here because of Bob and his music. You can tell that music flows through his veins not just because he sports a piano tie or because he is still composing for Swiss Radio but because once the music starts the chaos ends.

Jenny Howe - Vocals
The man before me on Saxophone couldn't have been more  different in appearance. Jimmy Hastings has a precision and calmness about him, maybe to balance the energy of Barter and he was exemplary on the Nat Adderley/J.J Johnson tune 'Horace'. With pristine tie tucked into a fitted waistcoat he played lean and clean, and was the prow of Barter's Quartet until they adopted a figurehead to drive their vessel into fresh waters.

Paul Morgan -
Jenny Howe like all good figureheads is carved out of strong stuff. Clear of voice and spirit, the only disappointment was that her bows broke upon so few of us in The Berry's shallow waters. She is a fine vocalist, and I have not heard a better 'Close Your Eyes' in my time on the circuit.

Kevin Campbell -
Our succinct drummer was Kevin Campbell, an understated, tidy and handsome individual. He kept rhythmic house with remarkable efficiently and if this is a reflection of his attentiveness at his real abode I'd marry him in a shot.
Paul Morgan on bass wasn't at his most dynamic unfortunately. The last time I saw him with Dave O'Higgins he was on devastating form, wiping the floor in support and solo. That is not to say he wasn't entertaining, his facial expressions are worth the entrance fee. No other performer can switch from Winston Churchill to Georges Melies' Man with a Rubber Head with just a twitch of his cheek muscles.

Face in the Crowd
Bob Barter was not as his best in the early numbers too and it seems he needs some momentum behind him. An early indication of his excellent skills was the arrangement/interpretation of 'Joy Spring' and there was a sudden realisation of what had inspired Duncan Eagles to write his 'Barter's Band' tribute. By the end of the second set Barter was absolutely grooving with his quartet, and with a finale of 'Route 66' left us all wondering what would happen if we kept on going down Route 67 and into Latin climes.

The crowd amongst me were informative and friendly, I had fascinating conversations with Malcolm Ludlum and the original bongo player from 'The Diminished Fifth Five', John May. Both regaled me with anecdotes and slices of Jazz history I had never heard before, let alone tasted. Malcolm and John's stories only whetted my appetite for what must also be locked in Bob Barter's memory. It would be a great honour to hear some more and publish them here.

As you may know in one of my other guises I am a director at publishers Sampson Low Ltd, and this encounter with Bob Barter has spurred me on to update the Who's Who of British Jazz with a healthy entry for the man and musician himself. It would be a heroic task but I think fitting for a Jazz scene that has both vibrant young flair and an experienced core that continues to inspire.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Partikel - Max Luthert's new hues

Max Luthert - Bass
The ever emerging pimped-up Robin Reliant of Jazz, Partikel, are adding a touch of class to their repertoire this year. The previous six years have seen this trio tighten the nuts on their lean machine, taking no prisoners in what continues to be a vibrant London Jazz scene. At its centre, on the banks of the River Thames last Friday (7/6/2013), we saw Partikel take to the Southbank's Foyer stage with new material and a special guest to boot.

Duncan Eagles -
With a second album 'Cohesion' well under their belts and with a new recording on the horizon, the trio are starting to play around with more ideas, sounds and evocative imagery. Led as always by their charismatic front man Duncan Eagles, this group have always been comfortable with and within each others company. Now it seems they are breaking through this comfort zone and treading on each other's musical toes. Eagles continues to be the driving force though, he is a man that exhibits a steely ambition and bravery in composition and performance.

Eric Ford - Drums
Max Luthert on Bass has arrived at the metaphoric party at last. Although his playing has never hidden in the shadows, you now begin to feel his influence more and more, through his writing (Assam) and his superb playing on tunes like 'Market Place'. It is no surprise that he is back on form since the cast on his left wrist (that plagued him for the past year) has now been jettisoned. The afore mentioned 'Market Place' gives Luthert the space to express himself and he has never sounded better, his satisfying bass lines were deeply rich and true. The last tune of the evening, 'The Optimist' allowed Luthert to take control and the discerning audience were swept up in the summer breeze of this floating composition.

We felt breathless.

New compositions rang true too. 'Midnight Mass' created a hollow yet strangely tangible sense of space. Eagles cast out his melodies against distant shores and they rebounded with eerie sentiment. Here was a dark beauty that was totally at odds with this lazy summer evening.

Shirley Smart - Cello
Eric Ford was unleashed on 'Clash of the Clans', a tune that accelerated, then slammed its foot on the break in quick succession. You felt as though your safety was being challenged by Ford, like you were only a wheel's width from dropping into the precipice on a winding cliff top drive.

The addition of Shirley Smart on cello created a stir amongst Partikel devotees as she took to the stage at the start of the second set. With Smart they performed with a new voice on 'Shimmer', with a lightness, a playfulness that Eagles, Luthert and Ford have never had when playing alone. The cello gives the melodies of Eagles saxophone an ally and together they swell to greater heights. The quartet followed up with a version of 'Body and Soul' that had an almost Parisienne flavour.

Max Luthert by
Peter S Smith
The collaboration with Shirley Smart has made me look at Partikel in a new light and it was only fitting that I was joined by artist Peter S Smith this evening. He had invited me to the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition where he has had two prints accepted (and a healthy number of red dots on his work). It is always fascinating to have another artist draw alongside you, as they see the same scene differently (He has kindly let me reproduce his sketch here).

Where my drawings explore line and movement, Peter's create depth and emotion and we have learnt from one another over years just like the musicians we saw before us, though unlike them we shall never paint on the same canvas. I can foresee that Partikel and Smart have a bright future ahead of them with new hues and broad brushstrokes to add to their already impressive triptych.


See them next at the TW12 Jazz Festival in Hampton Hill on July 21st.
Link here.

Moses Boyd rides the Charlie Parker express

Moses Boyd - drums
This is the sort of history lesson you longed for at school, heroine addicted musicians and spontaneous recordings, rehabilitation and creative discoveries. Under the guidance of Alex Webb (piano) and in the shadow of Charlie Parker we had a journey through Bird's flirtation with Dial Records (1946-48) at Twickenham Jazz Club last Thursday (6/6/2013).

Nathaniel Facey -
Neither a rehearsal nor an unabated ripper, this young group of musicians will be stepping out at The London Jazz Festival 2013 to perform the same monologue. Conducted in chronological order, this night represented  Parker's spirit like the swifts that dive bombed us in Twickenham's twilight sky. It was a steady night with an understated air and perfectly represented by the quintet's leading light, Nathaniel Facey. An unflustered customer by outward experiences. I had drawn him before at Oliver's Bar in Greenwich in 2012, where he turned up an hour late. Facey was not fazed and with a beautiful young lady in arm, unpacked, set up, bought the lady a drink, and played most succinctly. Multi tasking at its best!

Freddie Gavita -Trumpet
That was then, this is now and Nathaniel Facey was every inch the professional at the TJC, playing strong and skilfully. Where Facey was hard to read, his partner on the front line, Freddie Gavita (trumpet) was the opposite, with a quick smile and open face. He immediately welcomes the audience into his musical embrace and we progressed through Parker's 'Ornithology', 'Night in Tunisia' to 'Moose the Mooche'.

Neil Charles -
The first musician to really break sweat was bassist Neil Charles whose mutton chopped beard was dripping with tearful perspiration by the time he roamed free on 'The Gypsy'. Pursing his lips he was more than proficient but it was hard to single out one performer in this tight unit. Impossible too to gage their velocity until a passenger tried to get on this speeding train. I have never seen Kelvin Christiane falter but this was a first. As Charlie Parker's locomotive swept through the club, Christiane tried to board the 'Cheers' express. I'm pleased to say by the second half he was happily ensconced in the lead carriage and playing with his usual dexterity.

Alex Webb -
The Driver's Cab was occupied by Alex Webb of course who was comfortably steering us on our journey through the Parker's rolling landscape, stopping off at 'Dewey Square' and then back to New York for 'Scrapple from the Apple'.

As you know I am always wrapped in my own cocoon of drawing and rely heavily on the audiences reactions and observations. So I made my way into Max Macson's lions den and whilst drawing the beautiful Michele asked his opinion on the night. "The kid on the drums is going to a big thing" he whispered in my ear, "He's really something!".
Yes maybe he was.

Here was Moses Boyd, a young man I had drawn in a Samuel Eagles line-up at least 2 years before, but not seen since. Boyd is unbelievably still at college with a year still to run at Trinity. Working with Zara McFarlane, Soweto Kinch, Tony Kofi and Gary Crosby can't of done him any harm in these formative years.
Joe the Hat
A relaxed player and personality who explained to me that he is loving living the life! In the future he would like to wander Stateside and expand his self-penned repertoire with his own quartet.

My eyes wandered over the crowd as the band started to 'Bongo Beep' and I saw local celebrity Joe the Hat in pensive mood. A student of the game, and even though he is way out of short trousers (stylishly dressed all in white) he pays his respects through avid listening. You can always learn it seems, whether that be from the old guard like Charlie Parker or the new talents laid before us.

Lister Park
We all raised a glass to Lister Park who is the lifeblood of Twickenham Jazz Club and was celebrating a significant birthday. The last tune, a fast and furious 'Donna Lee' was particularly apt as another jazz dude spilt a glass of wine into Lister's lap, which he swiftly avoided. Despite this calamity all eyes were on Kelvin Christiane's first class solo on the night's finale and an equally precise one from Moses Boyd who got the biggest cheer from all the passengers on the Charlie Parker express.