Note from Geoff:
I have had an incredible life in music ( and the journey ain't over yet ! ). When I look back on my career I cannot help but smile as I recount the many strange and funny incidents that have happened along the way. Some of these stories you just couldn't make up ! However, not all these articles are meant to be humourous. A good proportion of them are reviews of the work of my wonderful fellow musicians
KATE WILLIAMS' FOUR PLUS THREE MEETS GEORGIA MANCIO (early show)
IAN SHAW and GEORGIA MANCIO (late show) @ PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB SOHO - Friday 6th October 2017
Georgia Mancio - vocals, Ian Shaw - vocals/piano, Kate Williams - piano, John Garner - violin, Marie Schreer - violin, Francis Gallagher - viola, Sergio Serra - cello, Oli Hayhurst - bass, David Ingamells - drums
It is three years since Georgia Mancio's iconic Revoice! Festival bit the dust. It expired not because of a lack of support from the powers that be. Far from it. It takes a massive of amount of time to direct and curate a festival of this kind (in the five years of its existence Revoice! hosted over 160 musicians from all over the globe in a series of exciting collaborations: Carmen Lundy, Gregory Porter, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, Lianne Carroll, Christine Tobin, Claire Martin and Ian Shaw to mention just a few). The decision to pull the plug was Mancio's alone. As she said: "I realised that due to my commitment to other writing and performing projects I no longer had enough time to do justice to running ReVoice! So for now there are no plans for future editions but I'm hoping that one day we will return".
And so the day has finally come. Three years after the demise of ReVoice! the phoenix has risen from the ashes and has been transformed into another collaborative beast - a "hang". "Hang" has many different meanings but to musicians it is used to describe the after show where people (especially musicians but sometimes punters join in the festivities too) gather to imbibe, tell stories and where all is fun. In my time I have indulged in countless "hangs", some lasting for hours on end. This is the time to unwind, to release the tension of perhaps a difficult gig, or to lighten the load of life's burden. Tonight's late show most definitely had the qualities of your typical "hang": light, informal, fun, but with serious messages bubbling just beneath the surface. Life is about the balance between light and dark, humour and tragedy. We need a little bit of fun to avoid going completely stark raving mad. We scream at our morally bankrupt politicians, the self-interest of our leaders, the lack of compassion that inhabits the souls of so many. But we laud the efforts of a Mancio or a Shaw to try, best they can, to alleviate the suffering. Their charitable work is very humbling and an inspiration for us all. It makes us think: "We should be more caring, do more to help the disenfranchised of the world". It's great to be a superb musician like Georgia and Ian but it's even greater to be a selfless, compassionate human-being, a philanthropist, an altruist. When great musicians and humanists conjoin then we have the perfect world.
The Early Show was entitled Finding Home and featured the immaculate Mancio in collaboration with the brilliant pianist, composer and arranger, Kate Williams. Four Plus Three refers to the heavenly marriage of the Guastalla String Quartet with her regular trio (her 2016 album Four Plus Three is an absolute delight). The two women presented an emotionally-charged set of originals with two standards thrown in by way of contrast, Jobim's "Chega de Saudade" (English title "No More Blues") which featured a stonking burning solo from Williams and a thrilling unison string bebop section, and the Johnny Green/Edward Heyman 1930s classic "I Cover the Waterfront" given a punchy 12/8 bluesy feel. Much of the material was specially composed for the event, Mancio mostly providing the lyrics, Williams the music, though as with many collaborations, there was a fair bit of cross-fertlisation too. The set also contained two pieces - "The Journey Home" and "The Last Goodbye" - from Mancio's Songbook album, a wondrous collaboration with American jazz pianist Alan Broadbent.
You could tell from the off that Williams has totally absorbed the music of Bill Evans (her Four Plus Three album features two Evans compositions alongside her own tunes and those of Kenny Kirkland, Cole Porter and Jobim). Her touch is exquisite and her ideas flow organically just like the American master. She is a wonderful story-teller, and her arrangements are sublime. Mancio could have asked for no better collaborator to realise her own vision. Her vision is for a better, kinder world, a vision very different from the sombre one often alluded to in this set. We are told of the horrors of the Calais "jungle" witnessed by Mancio during her humanitarian work there. "The Last Boy on Earth" was a reminder of man's inhumanity to man. And when it's children who suffer we cry even more. The piece was inspired by a 14- year old Afghan boy terrified by the fires that burned after the Calais camp was raised to the ground. The harmonies were stark and jarring, the string effects tragic and tortured. There was a more positive note in "Halfway" in honour of those brave refugees who managed to escape from their desperate plight, the music seething with energy as it danced between a three and a four metre. Yes there might be joy ahead. The children are half way there. We pray that one day they will be completely there.
The mood lightened in the late set with Shaw and Mancio treating the late revellers to a wide-ranging mix of material. Old chestnuts such as "A Beautiful Friendship", "I Thought About You" (this featured a charming whistling solo from Mancio conjuring up images of Toots Thielemans), "On the Sunny Side of the Street", "But Beautiful", Bob Dorough's "Devil May Care", "If I Were a Bell" (here Shaw encouraged the audience to participate, us punters rendering "ding dong, ding dong, ding rather pathetically I thought) were interlaced with superior singer-songwriter material. Shaw's dramatic reading of Bowie's "Life on Mars" included a soft and tender chorus from Mancio in Seu Jorge's Portugeuse adaption; Shaw truly knows how to get beneath a song's skin. He so understands the theatre of the song, the song's driving wheel. He is a master of political commentary and hard-hitting satire, so well demonstrated in Joni Mitchell's "Borderline", "I see a borderline, like a barbed wire fence, strung tight, strung tense, prickling with pretense, a borderline". Witnessing the "jungle" like Mancio, he knows all about fences, about the malevolence of man, about people prickling with pretense. A picture of little Kim Jong Un came flashing into view as he delivered the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic, "Rocket Man". Yes we are living in very strange and dangerous times. We were made well aware of life's transience and a world full of broken dreams in Mancio's groovy rendition of Paul Simon's "Slip Sliding Away". I kept thinking: "the world is on a kind of knife edge; if we don't all slip away we might be all blown to smithereens"... but there's always the hope that we'll end up on the sunny side of the street, but not all of us unfortunately.
Throughout the set Shaw drove the songs along with his powerful piano playing, his voice seething with passion, Mancio's more quietly contemplative but equally telling.It was a most memorable gig, at once thought-provoking and entertaining.
Review by Geoff Eales for Jazz Views (October, 2017)
Yazz Ahmed - trumpet, flugelhorn, quarter-tone flugelhorn, composer, producer; Lewis Wright - vibraphone; Shabaka Hutchings - bass clarinet; Samuel Halkvist - electric guitars; Naadia Sheriff - Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer; Dave Mannington - bass guitar (sponge bass on Bloom); Dudley Phillips - bass guitar; Martin France - drums; Corrina Silvester - bucket, bendir, darbuka, krakab, riqq, pins, gongs, waterphone, sagat, frame drum, ankle bells, drum kit; Noel Langley - producer (trumpets on Al Emadi); mixed by Tom Jenkins; mastered by Robin Morrison
Recorded at multiple locations between 2013 and 2016
Is there a more imaginative, inspirational and visionary musician working in the UK today than the British/Bahrani trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer, Yazz Ahmed? If there is, I'd be interested to know.
The 30-something Ahmed has been taking the world by storm in the last few years with her dynamic live performances fronting a variety of ensembles including the Hafla Band and Electric Dreams. On the recording front, this is only her second album as leader, but one has the sense that she does not venture into the studio unless she has done much soul-searching. Each album must be special; it has to say something new. There are those musicians who produce scores of albums by the time they reach their mid-30s. In many of these cases we are subjected to the same old same old: the same old licks, same old clichés, same old structures. We know what's coming and we yawn at the predictability of it all. This is not the Yazz way. Her way is the spiritual path, the struggle, the search, the journey, the long thought-process. This can never be achieved by the "let's record 13 tracks today and let's mix it all tomorrow" approach beloved of some artists I happen to know. La Saboteuse, recorded over a three-year period, represents the opposite side of the spectrum. You can't hurry things when perfection is the goal. And it really helps when you're not fighting the ticking clock. When you're allowed to take your time ideas can sit awhile, percolate, evolve, morph. Rome wasn't built in a day or two. It takes time for an acorn to grow into a great oak.
Ahmed's sleeve notes are extremely insightful and are symptomatic of her desire to communicate universal truths, and they offer us a little window into her soul. She says this: "in the last few years I have been on a spiritual journey. I've been looking within, trying to work out who I am, seeking a way to express myself by developing a musical language which resonates with my growing sense of identity". Clearly, Ahmed possesses a mind that is profound, thoughtful, open and sagacious and a soul that is intent on celebrating the glorious multiplicity of life with all its bounteous musics. Of course, jazz is very important to Yazz, but it is only one ingredient in a polymorphous stew that nourishes us, intoxicates us, delights us, challenges us. She goes on to say: "whilst La Saboteuse continues the exploration of the music of my Middle Eastern heritage, it also reflects the influences of recent collaborations with creative musicians from the fields of rock, ambient music and sound design. This includes the incorporation of live electronics and the digital manipulation of field recordings, including the voice of my Arabic teacher Fartun Tahir on the title track. I also use computer software, both to create new textures and as a compositional tool to restructure the source material".
Ahmed has selected a stellar line-up to help her realise her beautiful vision, all nine musicians (I include her partner and soul-mate Noel Langley in the list - he plays multi-tracked trumpets on "Al Emadi" along with Ahmed herself, and co-produced the album) playing crucial roles in the album's story. Ahmed is the most democratic and generous of leaders, always allowing her musicians the space to express themselves freely, to let their unbounded imaginations take flight. She is the first among equals, guiding the ship with love and grace as it sails through both calm and choppy waters, the song of her burnished trumpet or flugel inspiring everyone on board.
A master-stroke is the interlacing of expansive and complex multi-layered pieces with delicate miniatures of the utmost simplicity, five of the thirteen tracks magical spontaneously-composed flugel and vibraphone duets.
"Jamil Jamal" throbs with rhythmic energy from start to finish. Silvester's percussion sets up the groove before Sheriff's Rhodes and Phillips' bass lay down an infectious riff. It is the bed upon which Hutchings, Sheriff and Ahmed are able to smoulder, seethe and soar. "The Space Between the Fish and the Moon" begins with a soundscape of pulsating space-age electronics before Ahmed's flugelhorn and Wright's vibes sing a slow sad hypnotic waltz, the harmonies floating in a watery space, strange futuristic sounds never very far away. In the title track, Hutchings' quiet and seductive bass clarinet tells us that there is trouble ahead in the form of la sabotuese, that inner destroyer who can't wait to put a spanner in the works. In the gloom Fartun Tahir intones Langley's little poem in Arabic. In English the words read:
"She lives inside me She says she is my friend She is not to be trusted She wants to keep me small"
The track is unremittingly dark and mysterious, the blending of trumpet, bass clarinet and vibes a miracle of crepuscular sound and space.
"Al Emadi" is a cinematic tour-de-force. There is still intrigue and mystery (note the exotic quarter-tone flugel in the middle of the track) but the multi-tracked trumpets of Ahmed and Langley are bold and brash, the whole opus relentlessly driven forward by Silvester's "in the pocket" bendir and darbuka, as la saboteuse is silenced. "The Lost Pearl" is a wonder of polyrhythm, Wright scaling the peaks in a solo of immense power and passion. The two covers - Radiohead's "Bloom" from their album The King of Limbs (significantly both Ahmed and Langley are featured on that album) and These New Puritains' "Organ Eternal" (Ahmed has toured the world with this band) - sit very well alongside Ahmed's compositions, and they offer a new and exciting textural slant to the original versions. The celebratory minimalism of these tracks contrasts greatly with the maximalist approach of the breathtaking composition "Beleille". Here, we feel we are on a constant journey, never quite knowing what lies around the corner. The imagination is stirred, the soul fed as we feel the rhythm of life pulsating through our bodies. The harmonies are restless, the tonality forever shifting. It is a real roller-coaster of a ride. All the tracks on the album are jewels but this is a diamond that shines brightest of all.
In summary, La Saboteuse is a fantastic album on so many levels. It is subtle, nuanced, balanced, graceful, mystical, passionate and heartfelt. The playing is faultless from beginning to end and it is sonically perfect. There is something seriously wrong with the music business if it doesn't win an award. In fact it should win many.
La Saboteuse is available on CD, LP or digital download from Bandcamp
Review by Geoff Eales for Jazz Views (October, 2017)
Sometime in 1993 I was booked to work with Michael Ball at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena with the National Symphony Orchestra of Wales. Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was Michael's special guest, the concert conducted by his musical director, Callum McCleod. It was quite a prestigious affair. 15,000 people were very much looking forward to the performance, including many distinguished guests including the prime minister at the time, Sir John Major, and the Lord and Lady Mayor of Brum.
I drove to the gig in the morning and arrived well in time for the 2pm rehearsal. I duly parked my car in the car park in front of the main entrance to the arena as I was advised to do by one of the venue's lackeys. So far, so good. After the rehearsal the band repaired to the pub where I relaxed with a couple of glasses of scotch and ginger which washed down my tuna salad very nicely.
On my return, I went to my car to retrieve my black shoes which I had forgotten to put in my bag. To my horror, the car had disappeared. I was in a state of utter panic. Where could it have gone? I quizzed the guy on the gate. He was totally unsympathetic. "Don't you know you weren't allowed to park where you did?" he bellowed. I quietly replied: "Sorry, but I was told that it was fine to park here. I'm the piano player for tonight's concert and I'll be going on stage in twenty minutes". "I don't care if you're Jesus Christ - you had no right to park there - don't you know that It's more than my JOB'S WORTH to be allowing upstarts like you to park wherever you like?" he argued, his voice getting louder and louder, laying huge emphasis on the words "job's worth" "Where is my car now?" I said. "Oh it's in the car pound a couple of miles away" he replied gleefully. I was not amused. "I'm not going on until someone gets my car back and parks it in the very spot that it was taken from" I insisted. "You can do what you like. I don't care a flying fig about you and your car, you tosser, you're not getting your car back" he shouted. I was enraged. I was determined not to go onstage until said car was duly returned to its original spot. I was not going to scour the streets of Birmingham for hours on end in search of my lost car when all I wanted to do was jump in it as soon as possible and head back to London.
I went backstage and told various people about my situation including Callum and Kiri. They were both sympathetic but pleaded that I didn't hold up the concert. Actually, Kiri called ne into the rehearsal room as she wanted me to remind her of her notes in one of the duets. I obliged but my mind was elsewhere. I didn't give in. I don't how it happened but eventually my car was returned to the car park, but the kerfuffle meant the concert had to be delayed for 25 minutes.
Another thing that really irked me was the state of the piano. It was truly awful. It was 10 times as bad as the piano that Keith Jarrett bitterly complained about at his Koln Concert. It was a tiny boudoir grand, terribly out of tune. To make matters worse the stool was non-adjustable, its default position being six inches off the ground. Now anyone who knows me knows I am vertically challenged at the best of times. I always have to adjust the piano stool to give me more elevation so that when I put pink to ivory a nice a sound as possible is produced. This is impossible if your arms are positioned way under the level of the keyboard. For important bits of the music I had to stand up and play. Oh, and yes, the sustain pedal wasn't working properly, not to mention a few notes that didn't speak. Argh!!!!
A very memorable concert then, but not for the right reasons. I am very pleased to say that my playing career was not ended as a result of my behaviour that night. But, looking back, I often think to myself: "did I do that? Did I risk my career through being so stubborn? It could have been more than my job was worth to have behaved in that manner.
Geoff Eales (January 4, 2017)
In the summer of 2002 I happened to be doing a corporate gig at London's National Portrait Gallery. In the interval, an oriental gentleman came running up to me as I was supping a glass of Pinot Grigio. Smiling and bowing profusely, he enthused about the quality of the musicians and our choice of tunes. However, he was a little concerned that we hadn't played his favourite number yet.
The story goes like this : "I rove the music but wi you prease pray The Shack Ass whe you pray nex?". "I don't think I know that particular tune" I explain. "Bu you muss do", Seiji persists. "No, I'm pretty sure that I don't know The Shack Ass, but maybe you can hum a little bit of it just in case I might know it after all", I tell my Japanese friend. A few seconds pause is followed by these words sang in a very unpleasant and strangulated tenor voice to the tune of Mack the Knife : "oh, the shack ass pir-ee tee, dee, ah ee sho there purry why". "Ah, I do know the song after all", I say with some relief. "How could I have forgotten?". Ten minutes later, the trio returned to the bandstand, opening with the Brecht/Weill classic cabaret song. As my eyes searched the room for Seiji, he suddenly leapt into view. Running towards the band screaming "Ah so, ah so", his face was a yellow glow of pure ecstasy.
Postscript: on the subject of "getting the title wrong", a bizarre incident happened some months back at a private function. I was part of a small combo which included Andy Mackintosh and Ralph Salmins. Just before we were about to begin, Andy turned quietly to the rhythm section to call "Just The Way You Are" by Billy Joel, one finger in the air to signal the key of G. Before Andy had time to count 4 in, the host came running to the stand like a man possessed screaming at the band to play "Don't Go Changing", the opening words of the tune - quite uncanny ! Andy swears that this was pure coincidence and that this was the first time that the host had mentioned the tune to him. This was obviously a case of divine synchronicity.
( NB since this article was penned Andy Mackintosh has sadly left us )
The fourth night of celebratory concerts to mark Jazzwise's 20th Birthday took the form of an exciting double header featuring the absolute cream of British Jazz.
The night began with Black Eyed Dog, the first time the music had been performed by Nick Smart and the band since his national tour a decade ago. Nick Drake's words and music have provided inspiration for many jazz vocalists and instrumentalists including Andy Bey, Brad Mehldau, Norma Winstone and Claire Martin. And of course Nick Smart is no exception. Drake was one of those terribly sad souls who suffered from acute depression for most of his life, the Tamworth-born singer/songwriter meeting an untimely end through an overdose of the prescription drug amitriptyline in 1974 at the tragically young age of 26. He didn't even make it into the 27 Club, that band of super-talented misfortunates that had all life extinguished from them at the age of 27, mainly due to the ravages of alcohol and hard drugs. Think Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse to name but a few. However, Drake was never the wild man of music like the others. He was incredibly shy, introverted and withdrawn, a lonely tragic figure who never achieved real recognition in his lifetime. It is only since his death that he has become famous, the subtle power of both his words and music brought to life again by Smart and the like.
In this project Nick Smart pays homage to Nick Drake by deconstructing his music and re-imagining it in a more upbeat, buoyant and jazzy way. Drake's work is painfully beautiful and sad, the themes of life and death, loneliness and loss his default position. In the hands of Smart the darkness of Drake's message is given a little shaft of light.
In the song "Black Eyed Dog", with its premonition of death, the music takes on a yeah to life feel rather than a lament about the coming of the end, Claire Martin singing joyously and jazzily along to the grooving band after the initial quiet and folky beginning. "River Man", one of Drake's most exquisite creations, lends itself perfectly for a jazz treatment. Harmonically it constantly veers between major which symbolises light and minor, the bringer of darkness, and the Lydian twist at the end is pure magic - an improviser's dream, Martin intoning the words beautifully, the piece fading into nothingness through a series of hypnotically repeated phrases. "One Of These First" was originally a breezy country-feel waltz but Smart transforms this into a throbbing South African township-like celebration of life, the rhythm fluctuating between 11/8 and the more symmetrical 12/8. Once again, we evanesce into oblivion at the very end.
Julian Siegel's Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Nick Smart, featured brand new music by Julian, including re-imaginings and expansions of his music for small bands, but the centre-piece of the set was the magnificent new work entitled "Tales from the Jacquard" which draws its inspiration from the lacemaking process and the Jacquard cards which controlled the lace knitting machines. (Julian's parents and family ran a lace manufacturing business in Nottingham's lace market for 50 years) . The work was commissioned by Derby Jazz for his current UK tour to celebrate its 35th anniversary. Touring a 19-piece big band is not cheap and Julian was absolutely over the moon about the support he has been given for the project by, not only Derby Jazz, but also Arts Council England, EMJAZZ and Anne Rigg's Right Tempo Music.
Before we entered into the world of those Nottingham machines the band roared ferociously in the high-octane opener, "Mama Badgers", a life-enhancing gloriously funky opus. What a brilliant way to begin their set! The world premiere of "Tales of the Jacquard" was an absolute tour-de-force. The first things we heard were the sounds of the knitting machines themselves. This gave way to a spacious and reflective piano solo from Liam Noble before the big guns arrived. The music was always on the move. Sometimes it was a samba. Then it was free improv. At the climax there was a fast swinging 12-bar blues full of incendiary solos, the piece finally calming into peaceful abstraction. Three more Siegel mini-masterpieces followed. The capacity audience bayed for more. This time it wan't a Siegel original but Fantasy in D by Cedar Walton, a fantastic work-out for two battling tenors-Siegel and Sulzmann. Everyone at Ronnie's felt good to be alive.
It wasn't the end though. After a breather, the room jumped with life again when Mike Flynn's J-Sonics (Andy Davies - trumpet; Matt Telfer-sax; Clement Regert-guitar; Mike Flynn-electric bass; Gabor Dornyei-drums, Jon Newey-percussion; Grace Rodson-vocals) took the stage for the Late Late Set, a set blazing with funk, Latin and Afro-Cuban grooves to send everyone away from Ronnie's with Spring in their hearts.
Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra: Julian Siegel (saxes, clarinets, arrangements, compositions), Nick Smart (conductor), Tom Walsh, Percy Pursglove, Henry Lowther, Claus Stoetter (trumpets), Mark Nightingale, Trevor Mires, Harry Brown (trombones), Richard Henry (bass trombone and tuba), Mike Chillingworth (alto saxophone), Jason Yarde (soprano and alto saxophone), Stan Sulzmann (tenor saxophone), Tori Freestone (tenor saxophone and flute), Gemma Moore (bass clarinet and baritone saxophone), Mike Outram (guitar), Liam Noble (piano), Oli Hayhurst (double and electric bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums)
Nick Smart's Black Eyed Dog: Nick Smart (trumpet/flugel), Matthew Herd (alto saxophone), James Allsopp (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), Kit Downes (piano), John Parricelli (guitar), Will Harris (double bass), Tim Giles (drums), Claire Martin (vocals), Nick Mailing (vocals)
Review by Geoff Eales for Jazz FM (March 18th, 2017)
The weeklong Jazzwise 20th anniversary celebrations kicked off in spectacular style last night. The word genius is bandied about far too often these days, but in the case of John McLaughlin, the epithet is undisputedly warranted for one of the world's most influential and inspirational guitarists/composers.
The two-night stint at Ronnie's comes at the end of an intense 10-date European tour. McLaughlin wanted the Ronnie's gigs to be the climax of the tour since the club is so very dear to his heart. As he explained in his interview in Jazzwise: "Ronnie and Ronnie Scott's-where would I be without them?... it's thanks to Ronnie personally that when I got the invite from Tony Williams in 1968, it was thanks to Ronnie that I was able to get the visa". The rest, as they say, is history. From being a member of Ronnie Scott's house band in the late 1960s McLaughlin's rise to world stardom was truly meteoric. He's travelled along many different paths during his amazing 50-year career but whatever course he has chosen to take, his music always seethes with passion, humanity and spirituality. His music is yin and yang, fire and grace.
McLaughlin and his regular band, the 4th Dimension, of Gary Husband (keyboards and drums), Étienne Mbappé (electric bass) and Ranjit Barot (drums), were on fire as they took the sell-out audience on a breath-taking musical journey that lasted over two hours without a break. McLaughlin's guitar technique at 75 is just as terrifyingly mesmerising as it was all those years ago when he took the world by storm with those Mahavishnu masterpieces of the early 1970s.
It was fantastic to hear the band revisiting the incendiary Mahavishnu material, the band erupting with two classics: "Meeting of the Spirits" from The Inner Mounting Flame of 71 and 'Miles Beyond' from Birds of Fire from 1973. From then on the set was a gloriously potent mix of old and new material. It wasn't all fast and furious fusion. 'Gaza City' from his Backlight album of 2015 had me in tears. A quiet prayer for those who suffered intolerably in the Gaza bombardment in 2014, it reminds us that this was just one example of man's obscene inhumanity to man. Indeed, the horrors go on unabated.
We need "love and understanding" to repair our screwed-up world as Rangit pleads in Abbaji, the melody simple, anthemic and immensely powerful. The band were in joyous flamenco mood in 'El Hombre que Sabia'. This tune was to be recorded with Paco de Lucia but sadly the virtuoso flamenco guitar legend left us three years ago. Here, the duet between McLaughlin and Husband on keys was awesome. In fact, Husband was incredible throughout the entire evening, whether he was behind the drums or at the keyboard. I don't think it's an over-statement to call Gary a genius as well as John. Mbappé and Barot were stunning too. What a band! I felt honoured to have been there.
We mustn't forget clarinettist Arun Ghosh and his band for their wonderful contribution at the beginning of the evening. They put the audience in a joyous mood before the main event, and Alex Garnett and the guys who bopped away until the early hours to send everyone home in a swinging mood.
Review by Geoff Eales for Jazzwise Magazine (March 14th, 2017)
Headliner: Dinosaur - Laura Jurd (trumpet/keyboard), Elliot Galvin (keyboards), Conor Chapman (electric bass), Corrie Dick (drums)
Solo: Jasper Høiby (bass)
Opening Duo: Elliot Galvin (piano), Mark Sanders (drums)
I always love attending Jazz in the Round but tonight's performance was extra- special. In addition to celebrating the fifth anniversary of this iconic and unique series, the show served to mark the tenth birthday of one of Europe's most pioneering jazz and contemporary music labels - Edition Records, headed by the enterprising and extremely hard-working proprietor, bandleader, pianist, keyboardist and composer, Dave Stapleton.
It was the first gig of the year for Jazz in the Round and I've never seen the Cockpit so packed. The bar was heaving at 7.30pm and there was still half-an-hour to go before kick-off. The atmosphere was electric, and this was before the music even started. I shuffled into the auditorium with ten minutes to go but could hardly find a vacant seat. However, I did manage to squeeze into a small space near the top of the raked seating at the back of the room. It's an area I always head for since it gives me a great view of the keys of the cottage upright and where I can observe the moving hands, facial expressions and body movements of the pianist. Tonight I was in for an absolute treat.
Elliot Galvin is one of the most talented, inspiring, creative pianists/keyboard players to have emerged on the British jazz and improvised scene in the last few years and this evening he was featured in two very different contexts. His opening set, a duo project with drummer Mark Sanders, was mesmerising, riveting and invigorating. Completely improvised from beginning to end, it was music of the here and now, music of the fleeting moment, music without bars, boundaries, walls, fences, rules. Spontaneous and free-wheeling, the rapt audience were taken on wondrous sonic adventures, Galvin using every muscle of his being to convey his musical message, to preach his sermon about freedom and passionate abandonment. Fingers scurried delicately, back of the hands attacked the keys with force or glissed gracefully, elbows delivered sledge-hammer blows, huge tonal clusters danced from one end of the piano to the other. Sometimes it was quiet. Other times, massive volcanoes of sound suddenly erupted out of nowhere, keys shaking, trembling, cascading. The keyboard's innards were investigated carefully, lovingly as the music became more spacious, uncluttered, atmospheric, magical, spiritual. The space in between the notes became as important as the notes themselves. Then, it was beautiful chaos again, furious Bach-like melodies coalescing in a collage of polytonal and sometimes atonal counterpoint, avant-fugues created on the hoof. Think Cecil Taylor meets an abstract Keith Jarrett with a fair dose of Keith Tippett thrown in for good measure. Except Galvin is no clone of anyone. Like a magpie he thieves from many others but has the ability and imagination to convert his rich pickings into his own unique and potent brew.
In waxing lyrical about Galvin it is very easy to overlook the crucial part Sanders plays in the musical equation. Two musicians improvising from a totally blank canvas demands incredible empathy, intuition, and aural power. Their set illustrated unequivocably that pianist and drummer have these qualities in droves, the two of them speaking with one voice throughout the whole performance.
The award-winning Danish bass player Jasper Høiby of Phronesis power trio fame has been taking the jazz world by storm since moving to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music at the beginning of the new millennium. Tonight he was thrown out of his comfort zone to play completely solo for the very first time in public. But no one would have guessed that this was his maiden voyage as he cruised through three exquisite originals. He used pedals and loops to marvellous effect as he told stories of suffering and joy within a multi-layered mesh of sound. The beautifully sad opening tune, "Solace" with its bowed-bass lament, had the audience spell-bound, the other pieces, "Expansive" and "Crystal", turning up the heat with life-affirming dancing pizzicato and looping contrapuntal grooves.
Like Galvin and Høiby, Laura Jurd has galvanized the jazz world in the last few years with her stupendous playing and genre-busting eclecticism. A BBC Young Generation Artist, her work continues to go from strength to strength since she co-founded the ground-breaking Chaos Collective in September 2011. Her new album, Together, As One, is the third with her regular quartet but the first to bear the new name, Dinosaur. Galvin, Chaplin and Dick have been with Jurd since the very start of her amazing journey and the chemistry between the four musicians is palpable. Together, as one, these soul-mates work tirelessly and selflessly for each other as they pursue a common goal.
The four tunes which Dinosaur presented this evening (all from the new album) gave us a snapshot of the band's modus operandi: the absorption of a myriad influences and their conversion into a new and vibrant musical language, a language without borders. Electric Miles, Hancock Headhunters, Weather Report (Chaplin's stunning electric bass solo on "Living, Breathing" was worthy of the great Jaco Pastorius himself), punk rock, Deerhoof, the minimalism of Steve Reich, classical homophony, Celtic modalism and free jazz are just some of the many musics that impinge on Dinosaur's collective mind, all these disparate elements unified by a truly open, democratic and holistic approach to music. What Jurd wrote about the Chaos Collective equally applies to Dinosaur: "Chaos provides a platform for new collaborative music that draws from a wealth of traditions, focusing on raw, honest music-making that avoids being weighed down by any kind of stylistic prejudice. It's all about that special moment when Thomas Tallis might meet the second Viennese school which, in turn, might meet eightees electro-pop. There are so many sound worlds out there... the future of music is so exciting". The miracle of Jurd's music is the unity that is ultimately achieved within its plethora of diversity.
The future of music is indeed exciting and, with musicians like Jurd, Galvin, Chaplin, Dick, Høiby and Sanders at the helm, the future of jazz and improvised music in particular is guaranteed - that's assuming the world has much future left of course. We are living in very troubled times where soundbites, rhetoric, post truth and alternative facts are replacing healthy, well-reasoned, civilised debate, real truth and hard facts, the Trump/Bannon dystopian vision of a disunited world of fences, borders and walls a threat to all mankind. Isn't it great then that on a dull and drizzly London night at the end of January two hundred people can escape this frightening reality for a few hours and find sanctuary in a place which upholds utopian values in a parallel and much greater reality. In Jazz in the Round unity, fraternity and liberty always prevail and long may it continue to do so.
Finally, we should all thank Jez Nelson for having the courage to get off the fence. Before we made our way home and into an uncertain future he urged us all to sign the petition against the proposed state visit of the current president of the United States.
Review by Geoff Eales for Jazz FM (February 13th, 2017)
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A SERVICE OF THANKSGIVING FOR THE LIFE OF KENNY WHEELER
St. James's Church, Sussex Gardens, Paddington
31st October 2014
Kenny Wheeler was unique. He was without peer in three musical departments: trumpet/flugel horn, improviser, composer. He was a quiet, modest, self-effacing man but his music had an inner power that could transport the listener into another space - a most heavenly, mystical, spiritual place.
St.James's Church was the perfect setting for this memorial to one of the greatest musicians of our time. Churches can be cold, stony places at this time of year but London's warmest Halloween in living memory proved to be the perfect counterpoint to the musical feast that was about to unfold. Kenny is a master of counterpoint. He is also an amazing harmonist and his melodic lines always have an inner logic ( I write in the present as the music will always be there in the here and now, long after we have all departed ). But these are technical points. The point of Kenny's music is its ability to touch people. It is deep, intense and spiritual.
The service had been meticulously prepared by Nick Smart, director of jazz at The Royal Academy of Music. It had been very well publicised, Sebastian Scotney of London Jazz News playing a big part in disseminating information about the event. This ensured that both musicians and the general public would turn out in big numbers. In fact the church was full to the rafters.
The service began with the first two movements from Wheeler's Trumpet Quartet, the brass sounds reverberating majestically around the ancient holy walls. The rest of the programme featured excerpts from Wheeler's big band works interspersed with compositions for smaller ensembles. This included Vital Spark, performed by an international quartet: our own very special Norma Winstone, Italian pianist Glauco Venier, German saxophonist Klaus Gesing and Canadian bassist Jim Vivian.
Each musical item was juxtaposed by tributes to Kenny by four musicians closely associated with his work and all masters of jazz in their own right: Stan Sulzmann, Evan Parker, Dave Horler and John Taylor. Taylor was particularly emotional in his address. He had collaborated with the trumpeter for over forty years and was clearly overwhelmed by the occasion. Fighting back the tears, he said it all with these most fitting words: "He inspired us all. He was the greatest."
Every musician who participated was a star in his or her own right. However, the biggest star was Kenny. We left the church with the sounds of his horn ringing in our ears, Solo One plumbing the depths before soaring into the stratosphere. It was truly awesome and touched the audience to the core. It was Ken who had the last word just after the vicar's final address from the 15th Chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Paul the Apostle: "the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
I, for one, feel changed forever by what happened on the last day of October 2014 and I am sure that I am not the only one in the audience that feels this way.
Article by Geoff Eales for Jazz Views (November 9th, 2014)
On the subject of misprinting, I was referred to as Geoff Gales in a recent issue of Jazz UK. The slip seemed a little Freudian since I had just been involved in some stormy blowing sessions at various jazz joints in the San Fernando Valley.
To be mis-spelt can be irritating, though not as irritating as not being spelt at all. At the Edinburgh Festival a few years back, I was relegated to complete obscurity. "The magnificent Larry Adler was accompanied by a pianist" spouted the local rag. All I can say is that the reviewer deserves top marks for observation.
Such perspicacity is noticeably lacking in a certain Jazz FM presenter ( who shall remain nameless for fear of possible litigation ). Some gems include : "That was a little piece entitled 'Embraceable You' written by the incomparable George Gershwin and his lovely wife Ira" and "That last track featured the great John Horler on trombone and none other than the mighty Dave Horler on piano". The same presenter would have us "dancing on the ceiling and swinging from the chandeliers to the sound of the Basie Band". He also urges us to "lie back and relax to the mellifluous mutterings of Miles' muted horn".
Thankfully Campbell Burnap's excellent "Mainstem" doesn't suffer from this kind of verbal diarrhoea and, unlike many Jazz FM programmes, is, strangely enough, exclusively devoted to jazz.
Review by Geoff Eales (January 2002)
( NB this article later appeared in Allegedly Hot News International Spring 2002 )
Postscript: Since I wrote this piece I have also been described in Jazz UK as Geoff Eagles and Geoff Neales, and by one TV/Radio presenter as Geoff Beales ; in the case of the latter, I was being interviewed about my 25-date UK tour in 2005 to mark the passing of the great Bill Evans 25 years earlier. When I was introduced as Geoff Beales, I'm ashamed to say I retorted with "surely you mean Bill Bevans ?!"It was a rather silly and impulsive response. I mean what's in a name anyway ?! .
I was recently working with that excellent jazz vocalist, Lee Gibson, at The Lawns in Lincoln in her Magic of Gershwin show. I can never understand why some punters seem to think they have to arrive a couple of hours before the start of the performance in order to secure their seats despite the fact that they already have a ticket in their possession. When an old dear hobbled into The Lawns at about 6pm, she was not at all pleased by what she saw. The sight of Paul Morgan on bass, Gerry Boyce on drums and yours truly on keys appeared to cause her considerable consternation. "Scruffy lot", she moaned to the affable promoter, Peter Lobley. "I beg your pardon?" replied Peter. "I said : Scruffy lot", the lady continued, her voice gaining noticeably in both volume and exasperation. "You're a bit early, the concert doesn't start for another couple of hours - it's the Gershwin show you see and the turns are rehearsing at the moment - they'll be all smart in their blacks come 8pm", Peter explained. "Gershwin ? - never 'eard of 'im ... ( pause ) ... Scruffy lot", she continued, by now her voice a full-throated fortissimo. Unfortunately, the poor wretch did not stay to see the untidy jazzers transform themselves as if by magic ( well it was the Magic of Gershwin after all ) into musos of the utmost sartorial elegance. She shuffled out of the building with an air of absolute disgust, all the while intoning the mantra "Scruffy lot", sometimes in the form of an eerie whisper, other times in the guise of a ghastly howl.
Postscript: The Lawns used to be an asylum. I am wondering whether this mysterious lady was an ex-patient revisiting her past. The Lawns has a ghost too. Maybe the lady was an apparition. I suppose we'll never know the answer. But one thing one can say with absolute certainty is that "they're a scruffy lot in Lincoln".
Exact date not documented but sometime during the Noughties ( of course ! )
I was recently engaged, along with Matt Wates and Jeff Clyne, to play "dinner jazz" at the Tate Gallery. For the event, the fixer had invented a name for the trio. Tonight we were "The Jazz Dynamics".
Within seconds of me entering the main door, a blue-rinsed old bat greeted me with "Who told you to come in that way ?" - don't you know that you should have entered via the back passage ? Now, I know that I can be a bit of a bugger when I want to, but the thought of any bodily contact with this obese and ignorant creature really turned my stomach. Our stomachs were turned even more when we were thrown a few packets of curly sandwiches in the interval. With little chance of any bribe resulting in the acquisition of caviar and champagne, we resigned ourselves to our measly lot. Further indignity was heaped upon us when the maitre d' ordered us to eat our food out of the sight of the diners, but not before we had suddenly developed a fit of deafness.
Though we were advertised as "The Jazz Dynamics", it appeared that a few of the diners wanted their jazz to be anything but dynamic. On at least three occasions, a prickly lady came stomping up to the bandstand, demanding that the music be more mellow - she had a particular aversion to our rendition of "Stella by Starlight". Somehow I don't think swing was her thing. From now on, ballads and bossa novas were de rigeur. We played a quiet Latin version of "In a Mellow Tone" but, not surprisingly, the joke was lost on her.
Postscript: Spielberg - Subhuman too?
Film directors can suffer indignities too, especially when posing as musicians.
I vividly recall an incident at Elstree Film Studios during the shooting of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" - I think it was in 1984. The story goes like this :
The band is warming up on stage when Steven leaps onto the stage brandishing a clarinet. He proceeds to burble away a la Woody Allen ( what is it about clarinets and film directors ?! ). The gong strikes 11 which is the cue for the film crew to repair to the canteen, members of the subhuman species in hot pursuit. However, when the band attempts to gain access to the hallowed sanctum of the crew mess, entry is barred with the following words from the head dinner-lady : "You're musicians aren't you ? Don't you know that you're not entitled to any refreshments ?", particular admonishment reserved for the bearded clarinet player.
( NB this article later appeared in Allegedly Hot News International Autumn 2002 )
I am thrilled to be launching my new solo piano album at The Forge in Camden on October 8th.
This was the venue where virtuoso flautist / ethnic instrumentalist Andy Findon launched The Dancing Flute last year, a duo CD with the two of us as equal soloists. Andy joins me once more, but this time he plays a more supportive role. I decided to break up the solo improvisations with a few flute/piano items here and there.
Invocation is subtitled "Twelve Improvisations for Solo Piano" and on the sleeve notes I write the following : "One of the biggest challenges facing an improvising musician is to deliver a performance that holds the attention of the listener when playing completely solo. To achieve success, one must dig deep into one's musical psyche in order to invoke the muse within. The improvisations on the album are all unedited single-takes. I was helped enormously in my task by having such a wonderful instrument at my disposal. This, combined with the benevolent acoustic of Wyastone's magnificent concert hall, ensured that I was given the very best chance to succeed."
The "unedited single-take" idea was deliberate. I wanted to document exactly what happened at a certain moment in time as opposed to spending time tweaking this and that in post-production. After all, in a concert situation there are no second takes or edits.
For me, Invocation seems to sum up what the album is all about. The spirits of Messiaen, Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky are invoked in some of the improvisations whilst other tracks would not have been possible without me absorbing the music of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Egberto Gismonti, Cecil Taylor and so on. However, blindly copying others is a pointless exercise. The trick is to assimilate everything before transcending one's influences. That is the aim at least. One must try and speak with one's own unique voice. It is a huge ask but it is a challenge that every creative artist must ultimately face.
Some of the pieces on the album were created from a totally blank canvas. Here, you pray that inspiration will come and that you don't fall flat on your face. However, it isn't quite as daunting as a trapeze artist without a safety net as the consequences of failure in the case of the improviser are never actually life-threatening ; at other times I was armed with the briefest of sketches. This might be a simple melodic idea, a tiny rhythmic motif or riff, or perhaps a series of pre-chosen tonal areas. These raw materials formed the basis for spontaneous exploration, the full arc of the improvisation only revealed once the piece had ended.
Both approaches will be manifest at the concert, though on the flute/piano interludes it will be composition rather than improvisation that has the upper hand. But, even here, there will be moments where the two of us are unleashed from the constraints of the written music.
The performance will run without a break with an album signing in the bar afterwards.
Preview by Geoff Eales for London Jazz News (September 25th, 2014)
One of my favourite venues in the whole of London is The Forge in Camden Town and I'm delighted to be performing there with flautist Andy Findon on April 18th.
I'd like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about Andy Findon and the project, 'The Dancing Flute'.
Andy is one of the UK's most talented multi-instrumentalists. He plays clarinet and all the instruments of the saxophone family but his greatest passion is the flute. When I say "flute" I don't just mean the classic flute since Andy also happens to be one of the world's leading exponents of its many ethnic varieties. His expertise on all things flute will be plain for all to see at this forthcoming event. Andy has been playing baritone sax and flutes in The Michael Nyman Band since 1980 and is a member of the award-winning folk band, The Home Service. On top of this, he is in huge demand as a London session musician.
So how did this flute/piano collaboration come about ? - well it happened like this :
Between 2009 and 2011 I was working extensively with Andy on various studio projects. During this period, we got to know each other very well, often swapping notes as to where we were in our respective musical journeys. He told me that he was planning to record an album of unaccompanied flute music which was to be interlaced with a few pieces for baritone saxophone. I was thrilled when he commissioned me to compose a work for him. The album became 'Density 21.5' for which I contributed 'The 11th Commandment'. Andy's performance of the piece is stunning and I relished the thought of him bringing more of my compositions to life. It was soon decided that I should write an entire album of flute and piano for Andy and myself - and here it is!
'The Dancing Flute' features 13 of my compositions and is, above all, a celebration of the life-enhancing qualities of the dance. It is also a kind of musical travelogue as we savour the flavours and rhythms of Latin America, North America, Iberia, Eastern Europe, the Middle-East, the Orient and other places. I like to think of the music as a fusion of ideas, colours and sounds. Some people might ask the question "is it classical, jazz, Latin, folk or world?" - in a way the question is the wrong one. The question, I believe, should be a much broader one: does the music speak to people ? Does it make you want to cry, laugh, sing and dance ? I sincerely hope that the music will touch the listener in some profound way. If it doesn't, then it would have failed its purpose.
Preview by Geoff Eales for London Jazz News (April 2nd, 2013)
I am eagerly awaiting my return to The Forge on April 18th for the album launch of "The Dancing Flute", a collaboration between myself and the great flautist, Andy Findon.
What I love about The Forge is its completely democratic approach to music. Jazz, classical, folk, world, Latin and many other genres are all given equal status - and this is exactly how it should be. I believe that, of all the arts, it is music that has the greatest potential to touch people on the deepest emotional level and I like to think that my own music can, in some small way, play a part in this process.
I have been incredibly blessed throughout my life and my biggest blessing has been music. I see music as a marvellous melting-pot of ideas, sounds, colours, rhythms, melodies and harmonies. Many critics have described my music as "eclectic" and I suppose I do draw my inspiration from a multitude of sources: Bach, Stravinsky, Bartok, Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Esbjorn Svensson, John McLaughlin and many many others have had a tremendous impact on both me and my music. However, it is vitally important that one's music doesn't slavishly copy others. What one must do is to listen, absorb and then transcend one's influences. It's not a case of trying to better one's peers and predecessors. This would be impossible and arrogant in the extreme. It's a case of finding one's own voice and offering a new slant on proceedings.
I have always loved improvising. One of my earliest musical memories is of me spinning out variations on the 12-bar Blues at the age of eight. The spirit of blues and jazz has remained with me ever since but I have also been enriched enormously by classical music down the years. It is my hope that the music on display in mid-April (it's almost 4 years to the day that I first performed at the venue and it's amazing how The Forge has developed and blossomed throughout this period) will demonstrate the full extent of my musical experience.
I'd now like to tell you a little about the nuts and bolts of the music specific to "The Dancing Flute": there will be a few passages of improvisation from both Andy and myself. Sometimes this means improvising from a totally blank canvas, as in the opening of "Force 11". On other occasions, we improvise on just one chord or mode, as in the case of the middle Spanish-sounding section of "Eternal Dance". Elsewhere, I might play an improvised solo based on a whole series of chords, the flute sticking strictly to the written part (e.g. "Remembrance, Song for my Mother", Ice Maiden). However, many of the pieces will have no passages of improvisation, though some of these may sound as if they are being improvised (I'm thinking particularly of "In the Pocket" with its emphasis on jazz rhythm and syncopation).
I hope this blog has given you some insight into my musical mind and very much look forward to seeing some of you at the concert.
Article by Geoff Eales for The Forge (April 3, 2013)
Since the late nineties, Gary Husband has been on a fantastic creative journey, a journey that has culminated in his latest project - Force Majeure.
Anyone lucky enough to be present at the QEH on March 5th was treated to the total Husband experience. Force Majeure is an awesome conglomeration of genre-busting improvisers including Randy Brecker ( trumpet ), Jerry Goodman ( violin ) and Elliot Mason ( trombone/bass trumpet ), this unorthodox front-line combination bringing a huge range of textural and dynamic possibilities to Husband's score.
In the first half ( Evocations ), Husband pays tribute to the pioneering spirits of Bacharach, Bjork and John McLaughlin, the second half ( Stone Souls ) inspired by his love of architecture.
Whether propelling the ensemble to flights of rhythmic and harmonic ecstasy from his drumkit, touching us with some searching chords from his beloved piano, or directing events from the front of the stage, Husband is always at the very heart of the music.
It was a powerful and passionate performance from one of the major forces in contemporary music today.
Review by Geoff Eales for Jazz UK (April/May 2004 Edition)
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