Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Podcast Yer Xmas

Inspired by guitarist Mike Outram's 'Electric Campfire' blogpost, '19 great books about music, musicians, artists and the creative process', I thought I'd share a couple of links to some great audio and video resources that I've been looking at recently:

There's the Georgia State University 'History of Jazz' podcast available via ITunes U. It's best to search for 'history of jazz' in ITunes for that one, but you can go to the RSS feed directly. I've listened to a few of these now and they're a great free resource.

There's also the Yale University 'Listening to Music' course that also available as a podcast via ITunes U or via the Yale website. It's a classical music course, so not a jazz thing, but very useful nonetheless.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Some Other Time

Some Other Country, Band on the Wall, Manchester, 17th December 2009

We were treated to a bit of a one-off at the recently re-opened Band on the Wall last week in the form of a re-grouping of 'Some Other Country', a Manchester fusion band from the 1990s. The band are the stuff of myth and legend for those who weren't around to see them back in the day, the only documented references being from a passing mention on guitarist Mike Walker's website and in a wikipedia piece.

Well, what a great start, for this listener at least. The band opened up with a loosely improvised version of Miles' 'Shh/Peaceful', Roy Powell on keys dropping the distinctive chord sequence in to hook the tune down. It's great to hear this kind of vibe. If only we got more of it. A lovely piece of echo loop backed Rhodes introspection from Powell seduced us into 'Heavy Bastard' before Steve Gilbert on drums and Gary Culshaw on electric bass nailed a thick and tasty deep groove tight to the floor. Walker skanked, scratched and shimmied before laying some thick and creamy Boogied Bergundy 335 guitar on us. Feedback sustain guitar was the order of the day, Walker coaxing and stroking the sympathetic overtones with great deftness.

The last tune of the first set was another chunk of fusion-tastic goodness. The smouldering groove supplied by Gilbert was pure delight, providing a counterfoil to Walker's gnarling knitted lines. The Metheny-like lightness of the melody section gave Culshaw a chance to add some period flanged bass.

The sonorities of the Eno-style ambient synthesiser and guitar feedback shots on 'Fortune Cookie' wouldn't have been amiss on a prog rock album, though the raw piquancy of a few sharp ll and major 7 notes from Walker reminded us of just where we were. The track then opened out, and Walker provided enough feedback sustain delights to keep a Hendrix fan going through the dark winter nights.

The fast groove of the Powell penned 'Mump Beak' closed the set, complete with its keyboard stabs and clipped guitar riffing. Once again Walker turned the thermostat up a few degrees with an intense angular overdriven sortie. Powell retorted with some caustic synth lines, Gilbert and Culshaw all the while keeping the fire stoked in the engine room. Some sustained applause brought the band back for a reprise to end a touching and really quite heart-warming evening. It's really great to see this truly historic Manchester venue open again. The sound tonight was bang on, and there was such a lovely vibe in the house. Hats off and lets have some more please.

A photo of Some Other Country from back in the day:

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Ecstatic Kaleidophone

Tortoise + Cluster, Royal Festival Hall, London Jazz Festival, Sunday 22nd November 2009

Well what a treat and a half this inspired bit of programming from the jazz festival looked to be, and sure enough it didn't disappoint. I've been a big fan of both of these bands for a good few years. I was a krautrocker in my teens (and still am), so I've been up for a bit of Cluster since then. I picked up on Tortoise from my London days and have seen them three or four times, but not for a few years. I was actually quite surprised to see them playing such a big venue as the Festival Hall.

Via the wonders of Spotify I'd been able to check out Cluster's first record in over a decade, 'Qua' before the gig. Whilst Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius aren't exactly breaking new ground here, it is a fine record. With a combined age of over 140, there's a certain regal charm to their presence on the stage, but somehow the music they produced tonight didn't quite seem to grab me. Given the sound Cluster make, I'm certain its lack of impact wasn't helped by the low volume and constant distraction of having people walking past going in and out. The Festival Hall wouldn't allow this for classical concerts and most of the other jazz concerts, and I think the same respect should have been given to Cluster. Tortoise shuffled onto the stage to join them for last ten minutes which was a nice respectful touch.

The mutual respect was returned after the break when Cluster joined Tortoise for a short ambient jam before the set started proper. With our ambience quotas boosted, it was time for a kick, and Tortoise did the job with an incendiary version of 'High Class Slim Came Floatin' In' from their new record, 'Beacons of Ancestorship'. It's all there in this track, the twin drum driving groove, the square-on-the-beat arpeggiations, all topped off with a gorgeously fat moog lead line. Two changes of tempo, and we're into a surging Stereolab metronomic powerhouse ending much reminiscent of the anthemic 'French Disco'.

The centre stage twin drumming is a key part of the Tortoise sound, and one they make work so well. Drum duties are shared more or less equally by John McEntire, Dan Bitney and John Herndon, with the deep groove pulse being at the heart of many of the tracks. It works brilliantly on everything from the packing case thrash of 'Northern Something' to the narcotic shambling haze of 'Monica', the latter tune being mesmerically phenomenal tonight. Doug McCombs keeps the bass backbone true and Jeff Parker fills in with guitar sheen, overdrive bite and metrical synth lines in varying mystical proportions. This is no fixed configuration however, with all players sharing rhythm, lead, harmony and textural tasks to cook up the timbral alchemy. They make the punk clatter of 'Yinxianghechengqi' sit side by side with the mournful latino twang reverb of 'The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One'. The cymbal splashy fast shuffle groove of 'TNT' was, as usual, messianic, and 'The Suspension Bridge At Iguazú Falls' a marimba-vibraphonic delight. At times this felt like an illicit kaleidophonic ecstasy.

They encored with a mature and graceful take on the majestic 'I Set My Face To The Hillside' that oozed pure solar coziness, following up with a punchy quarter/triplet fooling 'Charteroak Foundation' to conclude a dream-like evening. Quite brilliant stuff. Truly a dream come true.

'Monica' live in Barcelona:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Total Bollani

Stefano Bollani's 'I Visionari', Kings Place, London Jazz Festival, Saturday 21st November 2009

Pianist Stefano Bollani had a busy week at the London Jazz Festival, being in residence over four nights at King's Place with a different set of musicians each time. The I Visionari Sextet was the last of these on the final Saturday night. There's no doubting Bollani has considerable ability and technique, but I'm not sure things fell into place this evening. There was a sense that it wasn't gelling, and the players looked tired despite putting in a sterling effort. The ability of players to come together for an evening is one of the great things about jazz, but it can also be one of its frustrations, and sometimes there’s no beating a well rehearsed group. I don’t know how often these players get together, but it didn’t feel tight. One of the things I like about Polar Bear for example, is that they play together all the time, and the consequent rock solidity knocks you over the head from the first bar.

So to the music. Well of course there was some great stuff in here. The simple uplifting opening ditty based around a major to minor-major movement was pleasing enough. There was some great playing from Enrico Rava on the second tune, and a gripping dark double bass solo on the third. Other tracks paid their dues to requisite angular quirkiness, and a ‘Black Orpheus’ style latin groove track was one of the highlights of this second set. Bollani then introduced us to a soundtrack suite to close the evening, one that apparently has been rejected by the producers of the film it was intended for. The first section revolved around a rising bass line beneath a minory groove, appropriately portraying a late night jazz feel. The main section consisted of a two chord groove that didn’t quite happen and flagged from being over long. A highpoint was what seemed like an afterthought encore solo piece that did contain some very impressive playing. The final track demised into some awkward humour that seemed staged, and is probably best forgotten.

Sir Gwilym and the Gorgeous Freedom

Gwilym Simcock & The Voice Project, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, Saturday 21st November 2009

From the off this was a spine tingling performance. The opening quartet based track, 'Longing to Be', was a thing of beauty, its solo piano introduction creating a delicate and subtle balance of the best of contemporary jazz with touches of classical tonalities. The drumming from the continually surprising James Maddren was also quite phenomenal here.

Simcock then introduced the singers from the Norwich based Voice Project for the London premiere of 'I Prefer the Gorgeous Freedom', a full-length work for choir and jazz quartet, which premiered in May in Norwich as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival. The second piece of this, 'Homeward Bound', was really something special, being inspired by a poem written by a Guantanamo Bay detainee. The track began with some free and fragmented playing abound with saxophone squeals conveying a real sense of foreboding. The track mutated through a number of moods, the sound containing an almost overwhelming wealth of riches. Following a kind of operatic section with some great singing from the soloists, the space opened out for another exquisite solo piano section of dark and profound beauty.

The third piece started with a distinctly celtic sounding whistle melody, expertly played by reeds player Klaus Gesing, accompanying a vulnerable single voice part. When the piano joined in, the familiar melody was set against some classic jazz harmony to shift the context, giving the line a very different mood. It was moving stuff that produced some genuine tears from this listener.

A straight soul snare drum backed a slow steady drone from double bass player Yuri Goloubev and Simcock to open the concluding piece. A mighty storm was kicked up, with some great liquid improvising from Gesing, perfectly enhanced by the interplay from Maddren and Goloubev. Simcock was also at his fearsome best with a blistering fast note attack leaving the audience breathless. A really top concert. Chick Corea describes Simcock as a "creative genius". Who am I to disagree?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Overtone Patterns

Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Jason Moran & Eric Harland Overtone Quartet, London Jazz Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Friday 20th November 2009

One can be forgiven for being a little awed by the sense of presence when the stately Dave Holland takes to the stage. This man is ex-Bitches Brew era Miles after all. He introduces the band in such a relaxed and self assured manner, you know this guy knows what he’s doing. Holland then headed us straight for saxophonist Potter’s composition ‘Outsiders’. A great start too, loosely hinting at the lilt and circular lifting sequence of Corea’s ‘500 Miles High’. There was some lovely lyrical playing from pianist Moran, and an immediately seductive deep fine groove from drummer Harland. The bass and drum introduction to Holland’s ‘Walking the Walk’ was a gorgeous treat with some fine sprinkle washes of Fender Rhodes keyboard setting up a bluesmeister bass solo. Holland combines a strong weighty pulse with a precise articulation that ensures every note counts.

The Harland composed ‘Patterns’ hosted the first appearance of some metrical trickery, albeit being well disguised by the loose grooved drumming. The intensity slowly upped and upped, giving Moran and Potter the opportunity for some fearsome trading spurred on by the rhythmic surge. A track from the classic ‘Conference of the Birds’ album, ‘Interception’, took us into hardcore fast manic angular territory, Potter at times squawking through both soprano and tenor sax simultaneously. It takes quite some listening to this, but respite occurred with a two-note groove lockdown giving us a temporary breather. Some fluid side stick drumming accompanied by a quite overwhelmingly fast and precise bass section was a marvel. The aural space then opened out to expose a rumbling low kick drum thud, this clearing the path for a relentless and highly percussive drum solo from Harland.

We were eased down gently with the introspective encore track, ‘Sky’. Some gentle bowed double bass, decorated by sympathetic brush and bell strokes from Harland calmed our neural firestorms, and readied us for the journey home. Exhausting at times, but well worth it. You know your world is better for it.

This Is The Sound Of America

Bill Frisell, Mike Gibbs & The BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Jazz Festival, Barbican, Thursday 19th November 2009

This gig had all the hallmarks of being a really special evening, but somehow it didn’t quite happen.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra set the evening in motion with Copland’s grandiose ‘Appalachian Spring’. Images of great American landscapes and windblown plains were divvied up aplenty, and it was all very epic. Perhaps it was never going to do it for me, but it set an appropriate tone for an evening of classic American sounds. The piece had some interesting dark flourishes, but was too twee on the whole.

Charles Ives' ‘Three Places in New England’ was a definite improvement. The first movement was melancholy, mysterious and pensive in all the right ways. The second movement clattered a pastiche of musicals over a chromatic underlay, the melody lines delighting in leading you in predictable ways, but then twisting away at the most unlikely times and places. Some fearsome cacophonous climaxes were crashed over some cross cutting familiar themes.

After the break the paternal presence of a cosy checkered Bill Frisell joined the orchestra along with composer/conductor/arranger Mike Gibbs, and drummer Joey Baron for the premier of ‘Collage for a Day’ commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the festival. The piece had an over-arching classic country blues tone that was set right from the off, Frisell coming in over a suspenseful opening section with characteristic twangy tremeloed swampy blues lines. There were some tasty deep resonant cello parts in a waltzy section that followed, and Frisell decorated these by digging out some pinched harmonics with a grittier guitar sound. Some aspects echoed 1970s John Barry film scores despite the general American tone. A stark strident crash chord then set up a reversed loop backdrop which Frisell used to scatter more overdriven grit liberally across the chugging bolero rhythm.

The second movement opened with a promising Hitchcock-like short intro, this being followed by a biting rock blues riff accompanied by some great percussive finger drumming from Joey Baron. The strings then picked up the line and Frisell hit the echo reverse overdrive. It was gripping stuff, but could have done with a change of direction a little sooner, as it did start to flag. The heart rendering pathos of the next section invited us to fall into the warmth of its open voiced wide intervallic abstractions.

Frisell’s improvising was especially exploratory tonight, and just a shade on the wrong side of ponderous. A tad more commitment to the ideas would have gone a long way, though the approach maybe suited some of the more playful references. The romantic slow waltz of the next movement had some nice minor-major chord side kicks embellished with a thick Fripp-like tone, it all ending in a satisfying modal wash.

The encore tune was the finest of the evening, shades of sadness being contrasted and counter posed with dark ominous harmonies. A poignant and pensive end to an evening of mixed emotions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Blue Monks

Mass in Blue, St George's Singers with Tina May, and the RNCM Jazz Collective, RNCM, Sunday 8th November 2009

A slightly different outing for me this one, Will Todd's 'Mass in Blue' being "an exuberant jazz setting of the latin mass for choir and twelve piece band". The evening kicked off with a selection of standards from the youthful RNCM Jazz Collective led up by the spirited and somewhat feverish conducting of Mike Hall. The group's improvising did exhibit some scruffiness at the edges, and perhaps a degree of youthful naiveity, but nontheless there were some great sections here. I especially liked the contemporary sounding 'Beneath the Underdog', a piece by Dean Sorenson which contained some sweet spacious modern harmonies and voicings.

After the break we were back for 'Mass in Blue' complete with the St George's Singers and jazz vocalist Tina May. It was immediately quite strange to hear the latin words in 'Kyrie' over a very strong and classic bluesy setting. Tina May's vocal inflections were well delivered, and as classic as they come. A rousing 'Gloria' took us into fast swing territory, and was followed by the laid back Summertime-like shuffle blues of 'Credo', rounded off with some call and response between May and the choir towards the end of the piece. The tempo was back up to fast swing for 'Sanctus', the pace of which gave the St George's choir a good workout. The overall effect of this and the previous pieces was inevitably reminiscent of American gospel choirs, and the effect was as warm and uplifting as you would expect. 'Benedictus' was the first significant shift from the definitive blues harmonies of the previous movements, being something closer to a ballad. This gave the choir the first opportunity to really shine with some rich deep resonant harmonies and contrasting lines that really showed what they could do. 'Agnus Dei' was May's show piece, starting with touching piano accompaniment that followed through into a show closing rousing fast shuffle.

Overall this was good stuff and came across well. I had presumed the composition would be more of a fusion of jazz/blues harmony with classical harmony, and this would have been really interesting to hear. However that's clearly not what Will Todd had in mind with his actually quite reverential composition. Appropriately reverential for what is after all a Mass one might think.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Little Ray of Charles

A Tribute To The Music Of Ray Charles: Sassoon, Bentley And Friends, Cinnamon Club, Bowden, Manchester, 30th November 2009

I couldn't make it to this one, so here's a guest blog post from the lovely Mrs Ring Modulator:

The Cinnamon Club provides a rather unlikely location for catching up with some of the local jazz talent. The large hall often echoes to the sounds of cha cha chas or waltzes, with the ever-popular ballroom dancing classes. But it was recently turned over to an evening paying tribute to the legendary Ray Charles. For those who attended the Manchester Jazz Festival, there was a similar event in St Ann's Square, which went down a storm. This was essentially a repetition, but being covered, there was no change of any other kind of storm dampening the scene.

The evening commenced with a set by Jem Sassoon and Paul Bentley, long-time collaborators. They have an album coming out and they ran through some of the classic tunes that they have recorded, including 'Amazing Grace' and 'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel (To Be Free)', which is the TV theme tune for the Film programme lately hosted by Barry Norman. This was fairly standard fayre. It got the evening going nicely, but was a little tame for me. However, the highlight was our first taste of the full compliment of musicians on a rockin' version of the 1970s Spiderman cartoon theme tune. I used to watch the cartoon when I was young, and the theme tune was really the best thing about it.

My biggest gripe about the evening was the very long interval. We started thinking we might give up and go home when the band eventually appeared at about 10.30. It was worth staying for. The arrangements by Iain Dixon were really superb, sometimes giving the impression of a much larger horn section that the two saxophones, trombone and trumpet and achieving a fine balance between all of the component parts of the band. I particularly enjoyed 'Let the Good Times Roll' and the whole thing stepped up a gear when the backing singers came on to give a particularly fine performance on 'Hit The Road Jack'. One of the highlights for me was Mike Walker's guitar solo on 'Heat of the Night'. The sound was beautifully sweet and immense and the playing was, as usual, awesome. But all of the musicians really gave it some and their enjoyment of the music really came across to a very receptive audience.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mind the Gap (or the Sea of Subjectivity)

Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, RNCM, 21st October 2009

Concert going is a funny thing. You bring yourself to it, you the subject. It's swimming in a sea of subjectivity. It's part where you're at, the day you've had, your specific brain chemistry at this moment that is you. So relating meaningful expression is probably somewhat futile.

... but still we try. If there's any hope of sense and meaning, it's lost in the deferring / differing context [différance even]. We fall through the cracks.

And then there's the gap to mind. The physical gap, phenomena versus the ever elusive, always shirking away, end of the rainbow noumena. We never get there. The mental gap, the psychological gap, the sensual gap...

So what of the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble? Well, you know, I don't know if I know. I was lost in all the above. The first twenty seconds were suitably delicate. But the gap was wide tonight, and I fell down much of the time. Gustavsen's thing is languid and diffuse. It's his thing, it's part of the appeal. The breathy song introductions stage an unconvincing reverence. Much of it is good I think. 'Being There' was there, but the piano needs much more space in this sound, as so much effect is in subtle specific nuances. The meanderings of sax player Tore Brunberg sadly rode roughshod over these, masking and obliterating the fragile piano textures and harmony. There was an interesting solo from double player Mats Eilertsen with some nice fast argeggiated plucked chords resonanting with distinctly folk tones.

At some points the TG Ensemble visibly kicked, Gustavsen swaying and sliding across the piano stool in seeming abandonment, but the aural effect was, even then, surprisingly restrained. There was just about enough energy to rouse a few genuine post solo rounds of applause here and there. Drummer Jarle Vespestad played his part, tinkling, tapping and scratching in all the usual places. It adds to the overall wash, but doesn't engage much despite a tasteful, if reserved, solo.

A not unpleasant evening but as I say, lost in the gaps.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

September in October

MusicMusicMusic, Nefertiti Jazz Club, Gothenburg, Sweden. 16th October 2009

In another one of my occasional reports from further afield, I caught the really rather fine MusicMusicMusic last night at the splendid Nefertiti club in Gothenburg, Sweden. This piano led trio is headed up by the suitably quirky looking Fabian Kallerdahl on the grand piano and Zawinul style mono synth. He looks a little like a cross between Monk and Bugge Wesseltoft, and that’s not a half bad pass at describing the music neither.

The group have a fine sense of swing when the mood takes them, and there’s plenty of satisfyingly chop and change metrical trickery in just the right amounts. I particularly loved drummer Michael Edlund’s groove, especially on the last track that reminded me of the grace of later Talk Talk (soz dunno what the song was called, my Swedish isn’t up to it). Double bass player Josef Kallerdahl was bang on too, favouring the use of a bow for many of his high register solos which worked a treat. The last song before the encore was a real nice n’ tasty rework of the funk soul classic ‘September’ that went down famously with the packed Nefertiti. The club has a great vibe too. Well worth a visit if you’re in this neck of the woods.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Madhouse Back in the House

Mike Walker Sextet, Band on the Wall, Thursday 8th October 2009

The occurrence of a welcome return to the newly reopened and refurbished Band on the Wall happened last night for an initially somewhat phased looking Mike Walker with his Sextet. The place doubtless now has a different atmosphere, one which Mike admitted threw him for a song or two, with him having many strong memories of the place in its previous less reverent guise.

Mike showcased much of the material from the 'Madhouse and the Whole Thing There' album, as well as material from last year's Manchester Jazz Festival commission, 'Ropes' and a couple of new tunes. The set opened with a familiar cover of Steve Swallow's 'Ladies in Mercedes'. Keyboard player Malcolm Edmonson's synth was a bit plinky for my taste on this whilst the overall sound was bedding down. A fast angular take on 'Solar' followed to warm things up. Mike announced that the next song, 'A Real Embrace' was for Annie, his mum, the solo guitar introduction of which was really quite familially moving. A gorgeous duo version of 'Clockmaker' from Mike and Les Chisnall on the grand piano was wistful and reflective in a suitably autumnal way. The pace and fire then upped for a complex new song, 'Laugh Lines'. Some fast bop playing from Iain and Mike hit the sweet spot, and the closing unison head was delivered with satisfying precision.

The expansive 'Madhouse and the Whole Thing There' track opened the second set. This is a personal fave of mine, and it gives Mike a great opportunity to stretch out and blow with real force. Others at the Band on the Wall last night clearly agreed, as this track was the best received track of the night. The time signature metrical tricks of 'EAminG' gave drummer Pat Illingworth a chance to earn his money and kept double bass player Steve Watts honest to boot. I wasn't entirely convinced by this track so I will reserve judgement for another hearing. The unison horn and guitar line did have a certain digital pitch shift quality not unlike our blessed ring modulator. The keyboard strings worked best on a charming version of 'Wallenda's Last Stand', the parts sounding convincing capturing the wind gust effect that knocked poor Wallenda off his rope for the last time. Les Chisnall was once again a delight on this one. Some more bristling fire storm guitar from Mike finished a fine evening on the, once again, wrong footing meter of 'Dad Logic', and the encore sweetness of 'Safe Home' sent us home with smiles on our faces.

P.S. Despite a bust amp requiring a loan replacement from a local mate, last night's gig at The Continental in Preston (Sat 10th October) was phenomenal. Mike was a good as you'll ever hear him, particularly on the 'Madhouse and the Whole Thing There' track. Really glad I made the effort to go. The Continental's a great venue as well.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Die Manchester-Maschine

Kraftwerk & special guest Steve Reich, Manchester Velodrome, 2nd July 2009

I couldn't let machine-metronomic-electronic masters, Kraftwerk pass through this city of the industrial revolution without a visit and review, especially given this blog is named after a vintage electronic instrument after all. I've been a big fan of this lot for more years than I'd care to mention now, although in many ways, more the very early stuff from Kraftwerk I and II. I've also got a lot of time for Steve Reich, especially the Kronos Quartet and Metheny's 'Different Trains' album which gets a regular outing on my iPod.

There's been a great sense of excitement around the Manchester International Festival this year, building up a head of steam going into last night's gig at the unusual and highly appropriate Manchester Velodrome cycling centre. Kraftwerk are big cycling fans, and the Tour de France starts tomorrow, so it all makes perfect sense. The excitement is palpable on twitter #mif09.

On walking into the velodrome I was immediately impressed with the setting, but did wonder how Reich's minimalism would come across. What we actually got was 'Bang on A Can All-Stars' performing a new Reich piece, '2x5'. Anyone hoping to see Mr Reich would have been disappointed, but the music was undoubtably excellent being some of the best of his stuff I've heard. The delivery in rock convention mode of two electric guitars, electric bass, piano and drums worked extremely well. It was obvious that many at the gig were really there for the main course, but it made a decent impact even so.

After a short break and with 3D glasses at the ready (given to us when we arrived), a deep bass synth throb and red man-machine screen projection got us lined up. The curtain pulled back to the opening bleeps of 'The Man Machine' and so there they were in classic Kraftwerk straight line podium configuration. Germanic black attire and russian constructivism aesthetic projections made for a quite overwhelmingly impressive effect, Kraftwerk no mistaking. Onwards we were taken on a no nonsense tour de la Kraftwerk classics, all accompanied with sartorially and visually authentic accoutrements. On 'Tour de France' we got an extra treat with the olympic gold cycling team appearing onto the velodrome circuit and giving us a few laps.

'The Model', as always, was charming. After a short curtain call, the skinny robots appeared for a great version of 'The Robots'. It was then 3D glasses on so we could take in the numeric eins-zwei-drei projections of 'Computer World'. The 3D effect didn't always quite work where I was stood at least, but on many tracks it was quite amazing. 'Computer Love' was endearing and 'Trans-Europe Express' was suitably cruising. The sound overall was spot on, with the pin-point precise arpeggiated lines all coming across cleanly. The 3D projections on 'Vitamin' were especially impressive. Some of the latter tracks off 'Electic Cafe' weren't quite so effective perhaps, but it was still quite an incredible concert. The efficient one-by-one exits by the group to 'Musique Non Stop' was fitting. You know these fellas don't do encores.


'The Model' (thanks to @eldamo)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Strathclyde University Big Band featuring Mike Walker

The Cinnamon Club Lounge, Bowdon, Friday 13th March 2009

I was a little on the late side making it down to the The Cinnamon Club to be met by a packed house for the Strathclyde University Big Band featuring guest star Mike Walker. Very glad I did too, as it was a fab night with a great buzz.

The second set kicked off with a personal fave, the perennial classic 'Maiden Voyage'. I thought the horn arrangements on this one slightly odd, but it featured a kicking solo from the ever reliable Mr Walker, and got the set off to a driving start. The funky 'Chameleon' was delivered with panache, the dual guitar attack of guitarist Nigel Chadwick and Mike Walker giving the tune a swaggering kick. Nigel treated us to a tasty overdriven solo that Mike picked up and rounded off with gusto. 'Work song' was another hard swinging treat, the rich and punchy horn lines hitting the spot nicely. The dusky tones of vocalist Stephanie Lawrence were a great addition to some vocal led tracks that went down especially well with the club lounge audience I felt.

After the big band set, Nige Chadwick invited us local jazzers to an after hours jam, so I joined in along with Jamie Saffers, Frank Le Bass, Bennet Longman and a few of the horn players fom the big band. It was a tad rough at the edges, a beer or two having dimmed the brain cells somewhat, but I think we knocked out a half decent version of 'All The Things You Are'. All in all it was a great night and I'm sure owner Neil Hughes will have been well chuffed with how it went.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Little Ray and Soy Un Caballo at Hedge Folk

I spent a most pleasant evening over at the Carlton Club at one of the sweet little Hedge Folk sessions last Friday. I know it's not jazz, but this blog does say ".. or anything else that feels right at the time". It's fair to say I do like lots of other music despite the fact that this has ended up being mainly a jazzy affair.

The first thing you notice is how nicely those lovely Hedge people lay the place out with flowers on the table and such. The general ambiance was very warm, easy and welcoming. First up were the really quite charming Little Ray. They opened with a touching version of the song 'Little Ray', the vulnerable voice of singer and guitar player Louise Shiels immediately capturing the rooms attention. The songs were generally quiet and minimal pieces graced by some sweet harmony vocals from Danielle Galway and Nigel Bunner. The thoughtful and simple lines from guitarist Matt Kelly, and the straight n'steady drumming from Dan Best complimented the wistful textures perfectly.

The decidedly more quirky Soy Un Caballo followed with a sort of easy listening electro-pop amalgam. There were some quite sophisticated arrangments from the pair of Aurélie Muller on vocals, vibes and bass, and Thomas Van Cottom on vocals, guitar and electronics. It was another really charming set consisting of unusual and catchy-in-a-good-way tunes. The songs are well put together and backed by some great playing from these two. A high point was 'Robin', its metronomic vibes introduction seducing us into its irresistably melodic and groovy heart.

I couldn't stick around for the final set from John Fairhurst so that'll have to wait for another time. A fab evening even so.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jim Faulkner Quartet featuring Steve Berry

I made it down to the Sand Bar last night to catch the 'Jim Faulkner Quartet featuring Steve Berry' at one of the Sand Bar Jazz evenings. It was good catch Jim properly for the first time in some ways, as I've only actually seen him play twice before, both at the Manchester Jazz Festival with Mrs Columbo. Last year's said gig was a little tentative, but last night's was a much stronger performance.

There were more well worn standards than I was expecting, but they were delivered with enough force and freshness to give the tunes life. Steve Berry was ace on the double bass as expected. Ed Kainyek on sax was more upbeat than he can sometimes be, and Rob Turner on drums responded to the energy levels well. Jim goes for quite a classic forties/fifties'ish clean guitar sound (tonight at least), and is great at interspersing his lines with chord fragment comps that sound quite Joe Pass inspired. There's not much in the way of milking the single notes with string bending or overdrive, but that's all fine with me. Probably the best performance came on the self-penned 'Stuck in a Lift', with Jim really kicking in and pushing the solo's momentum sweetly. He didn't exactly sell the tune to us, describing it as 'MOR' if I recall, but it had far more grace and power than that.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Jazzwise 'Write Stuff' Winning Entry Announced

Blimey, where I've been? Neglecting this blog again it seems yes. Coming off the back of the ace London Jazz Festival and doing the Write Stuff jazz journo mentoring scheme, it feels like I've been ill ever since. Well so has everyone else in the UK it seems, so no sympathy deserved I know. Anyways, I think I'm more or less back on track and figured it's time to get this thing going again. Not easy, as I've not really been out and about that much due to aforementioned bug. I shall be endeavouring to in good time.

I can at least report that the best review winner of the 'Write Stuff' was announced earlier this year. Sadly for me, it's not me. However the very worthy winner is Howard Caine from Manx Radio. All us Write Stuffers reviewed the same Roy Hargrove gig during the festival and submitted it a few weeks later. It was then judged by Jazzwise magazine's editor Jon Newey and journalist Kevin LeGendre. I can't point you to the review as it's not online yet, but it is in this month's Jazzwise magazine (Feb 09). Nice one Howard.