Lage Lund ‘Idlewild’ (Criss Cross Jazz) 5/5

lage-lundThis album reminds me of why I love listening to jazz. Ok, I’ll confess, I am something of a trioholic. The thing about a great trio is this; the instruments used are almost incidental, they all have their own place, it’s the spirit, understanding and togetherness with which they are played that makes the difference. Paul Motian trio with Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, Keith Jarrett with Jack Dejohnette and Gary Peacock; all prime examples of how a living, breathing, evolving trio work so well. I often find it taking me to places that little else can. It’s a trio thing, that’s all.
And so when a good one, a really good one comes along, it feels very special indeed. I take it to heart. And I feel the need to shout about it from the rooftops in the hope that someone shouts back “Yes!, I understand exactly what you mean!”
“Idlewild” is the latest album from Norwegian guitarist Lage Lund. Released on Criss Cross Jazz, Ben Street on bass and Bill Stewart on drums complete the trio. Before I talk about the music itself, I’d like to give a mention to Michael Marciano who engineered these sessions and mixed the recording for Criss Cross, along with producer Gerry Teekens. Put the headphones on and you’ll hear the bass just a little to the left, the drums a little to the right and the guitar up the middle. No swamping of sound or over clever mixing, you can picture the trio performing in front of you. Simplicity is sometimes the hardest thing to achieve. Quality of the highest order.

Lage Lund was born and raised in Skien, Norway, before relocating to Boston. Now living in New York he has quietly, yet relatively quickly, garnered an enviable reputation as a highly skilled, thoughtful and inventive guitarist, having performed with the likes of Seamus Blake, David Sanchez and Maria Schneider. As a leader he has released previous albums with Criss Cross, working with both Ben Street and Bill Stewart on various sessions. “I’ve worked with Ben for almost ten years now.” says Lund. “His control and creativity when it comes to harmony and voice leading, is absolute. He is a bit of a rogue element in any band, always up to something possibly dangerous, musically speaking. That gives the music a certain edge that can be very exciting and keeps you on your toes at all times.” To my mind this is very apparent throughout this recording, as is the incredibly natural and vibrant understanding between bassist Street and drummer Bill Stewart. As for Stewart, little introduction is needed. His work over the years with some of the Jazz greats have wowed the listener time and time again. For me, he is one of the few drummers who truly have their own sound and style. Lund himself picks up on this: “He comes up with these drum parts that sound so unmistakenly Stewartish in nature, yet so absolutely perfect. Nothing with Bill is ever contrived or forced.”

“Idlewild” is a stunning album. The trio’s performance here is cohesive, intuitive, bold, confident and exciting, with exceptional interplay between the musicians and a wonderful use of space and adventure that the trio platform provides. The album itself is a mix of Lund originals and well chosen standards. “Idlewild” the title track is a highly original piece, somewhat reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s “Story from a stranger” or an ECM era Bill Frisell composition. Lund cleverly uses an acoustic guitar to add some gorgeous textures and subtle colours that sit gently behind the main motif of the tune. As with many pieces on this release, the bass and drums provided by Street and Stewart are never quite what you might expect, always surprising you with a little unexpected twist and a bang on the money driving force. Another great example of this is heard on Bobby Hutcherson’s “Isn’t this my sound around me”, where Street and Stewart don’t just drive the tune, they practically reinvent it in their own style. Lund’s use of warm, chordal textures alongside some outstanding soloing is always well measured and thoughtful. His sound is so relaxed and at ease with what he’s doing it’s a joy to listen to. On “Mirrors”, a Joe Chambers composition, Lund serves up his melodic phrases and lush chords with a rare majestic beauty. This relaxed, lush feel is also prevalent on Lund’s intro pieces to “Chance” and “Rain” where he lets us hear the true clarity of his sound. “Rumspringa” reminds me of an old Marc Johnson tune in its easy-natured, sound of summer style. “Come rain or come shine” and “So in love” may be time-honoured tunes that any respectable jazz musician can recite by memory, but therein also lies the challenge; how to make something old new again. This trio have no problem with that, each bringing their own individual talents to the table and successfully combining them into a meeting of minds with a fresh and interesting take coming out the other side.

“Idlewild” is how a trio should sound… all three musicians contributing with sumptuous ease, sounding like they know each other well enough for insightful introspection, but still with an uncertain edge that sparks excitement and vitality. As with most great albums, repeated listening rewards the listener with even more delights than were evident on the first few plays. I’ve listened to Idlewild repeatedly for three weeks now, and it still keeps on giving. I so hope that this trio continue to develop and evolve and continue making music together for many years to come.

Mike Gates

Clark Terry – Obituary

Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry remembered – by Kevin G. Davy

clark-terry

The passing of the great jazz trumpeter Clark Terry marks the end of an era. He lived to the age of 94, and is perhaps the most recorded trumpeter in jazz history, having performed and recorded with all the jazz greats since before WWII. He was indeed the last major jazz figure of his generation.

Much has already been said about the stature of the man, as a leader, an artist, a consummate professional and master musician. Fellow trumpeters like myself, have followed jazz, and looked into the significance of the music and its African-American roots, and find a figure like Clark Terry, a benevolent and reassuring father-figure, who we have read, by all accounts, mentored other great musicians, including arguably the greatest jazz visionary of all, Miles Davis, both men coming from St Louis, Missouri, with Clark Terry being Miles Davis’ senior. His constancy over the decades and his discipline must have been so strong, and which he must have tried to instil in others, and also set such a high example.

His career spanned the various golden eras of jazz history, having worked with the greatest of jazz figures, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billy Holiday, and many more.

Clearly also Clark Terry’s force of personality and ebullient, irrepressibly positive attitude, acted to elevate and inspire the musicians around him. He did work during the years of segregation pre-civil rights legislation in America, and along with his contemporary black musicians, suffered many indignities. These obstacles strengthened their resolve to continue the work. In his life he will have seen incredible changes.

It is well-documented that he was one of the first trumpet virtuosos, with a flawless technique in the execution of trumpet playing. Also it is known that he was one of the musicians known for “wood-shedding”, which was the term used to describe, long hours of diligent practice on a musical instrument. By his own account, he studied seriously from étude books, and was thorough on the technical, theoretical, and harmonic aspects, sight-reading, and the art of improvisation.

From a trumpet standpoint, he had everything. A wide variety of articulations in the tonguing techniques, in particular, legato and “doodle-tonguing”, which is a highly developed legato tonguing used within swing and improvisation. He was a master and pioneer of this technique.

Like Miles Davis after him, he had a great embouchure, which is the formation of the lips or “chops” and how they apply to the trumpet mouthpiece. Again on observation, he was flawless. It has to be emphasised that these elements were products of hard work. The “shedding”, and also the environment he was in, at the time. He was also able to play the trumpet equally well with either hand. He was ambidextrous. So in the end, he made it look easy. But we trumpeters know that it isn’t easy at all.

Clark Terry admitted that he enjoyed practicing and studying and was genuinely curious, and also keen to pass on that knowledge. So he was heavily involved in jazz education, conducting master classes, and music clinics around the world, managing to combine discipline with a good-humoured approach. Like Louis Armstrong, Clark Terry had a brilliant singing voice, and a distinctive tone and scat singing technique, working with contemporaries, such as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.

So these are just a short few notes on the great Clark Terry. He was gentleman, an exemplar, to his African-American community, and his music transcended his own community as Jazz music gained respect around the world, and emerged as a force. He broke boundaries with working in television, and commercial music as well, and broke the colour bar in that regard, thus paving the way for others to follow.

I’ve just spent some time listening to Clark Terry with alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and co., at the 2002 St Lucia Jazz festival. Incredibly, Clark Terry is over 80 years old in this concert, and his trumpet chops are as strong as ever. It is a brilliant gig, and shows him at the top of his game. His influence will continue.

Clark Terry – 14 December 1920 – 21 February 2015

Kevin G. Davy

Essential Websites:
http://clarkterry.com/

About Kevin G. Davy:
http://www.kevindavy.co.uk/
http://www.richmix.org.uk/whats-on/event/kevin-davys-monster-jam/

Charles McPherson ‘The Journey’ (Capri) 3/5

charles-mcphersonIt is incredible to think that it was over fifty years ago that Charles McPherson was performing with Charles Mingus. Throughout the last few decades McPherson has been wielding his horn at concerts and recordings with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Jay McShann, Tom Harrell, Pat Martino, Wynton Marsallis and of course, enjoyed a long association with the aforementioned Mingus. Fast forward a generation or two and here we are, in the year of 2015, listening once again to the bebop alto of Mr McPherson. “The Journey” came about following a fortuitous meeting at the Colarado jazz club “Drizzle” in 2014. It was there that McPherson met saxophonist Keith Oxman. This musical encounter with Oxman led to the sessions we have here and with pianist Chip Stephens, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Tod Reid, the quintet is complete. One thing is for sure, McPherson has not lost his touch. Sharp, lyrical solos from both saxophonists are a feature of the album, especially on the swinging “Bud Like” and the opening track, a Chip Stephens composition; “Decathexis from Youth (For Cole)”. McPherson is keen to point out how the presence of another saxophonist adds tone and colour and of Oxman he says; “he is extremely creative and has a spirituality in his playing with a depth of feeling that is rare”. A more subtle side to the quintet can be heard on some of the slower numbers, including the ballads “I should care” – a standard favoured by Charlie Parker, and “Manhattan Nocturne”, expertly performed here with a warm maturity and a free-flowing elegance. It’s great to hear McPherson – now in his mid 70’s – still performing and giving it his all. “The Journey” may lack some of the fire and intensity of yester-year; it doesn’t have those heart stopping moments associated with some of the great bebop performances of our time, but none the less it still makes for a very enjoyable listen.

Mike Gates

Stephanie Nicole ‘Soulutionary One’ (BBE) 4/5

stephanie-nicoleSoulutionary One opens with a hypnotic track: “Diligence”. I find myself drifting. The voice on this song reminds me of someone… tones reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux, but then they evaporate, Stephanie Nicole’s voice emerges triumphantly smooth, sweet and captivating. Soulutionary One is the new album by California-based singer-songwriter Stephanie Nicole. It is simply revolutionary. It awakens the soul, it speaks in a universal language. Stephanie’s “About” page on her website quotes: “All art is but imitation of nature” – Lucius Seneca. We have to bear this in mind, it is an important message and it is clear within the album. Listening not just hearing. Encompassing all levels, Ms Nicole manages to offer the listener an incredibly innovative album. Oustanding tracks, like the title track and “Be Strong” are only a few examples. It is beautiful to hear those soft notes, mellow and yet decisive, sink into one’s head and heart. Soulutionary One is too intoxicating and needs to be played over and over. Be Strong is moving and tender. And then “Maha Meditation” follows, 3 minutes and 41 seconds of pure bliss and intriguing sound. One is left wanting more.

Stephanie Nicole’s collaboration with producer and writer Craig Perkins, aka Classroom Craig, needs re-emphasizing. The perfect combination, it needs to stay and be taken forward so we will all be getting incredible works from Ms Nicole, always, like this very last album. One can perceive several influences in her music, rock, classical, jazz, and the always present message of the spiritual: never to be forgotten. Love, another universal theme present on the album, never to be taken for granted. “Vow of nevers” – a poem in itself, reduces one to tears. “Soulutionary One” deserves the listener’s complete attention. One will find delving into Ms Nicole’s world over and over. Play it in full and until it wears out. Absolute gem.

“I have been deeply affected by the healing of the arts” – Stephanie Nicole

Erminia Yardley

Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm ‘Robin Goodie’ (Whirlwind) 4/5

zhenya-strigalevReturning with his second album for Whirlwind Recordings, alto saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev has served up one of the year’s most interesting releases to date. According to Strigalev, “Robin Goodie” is dedicated to the Russian’s time spent in England and is loosely based around the adventures of Robin Hood. “I haven’t read the adventures of Robin Hood,” muses Strigalev, “but I’ve seen the film! There’s a lot of nature, humour, heroism, strong personalities, love, rebelliousness and of course some stupidity…” And that could well sum up “Robin Goodie” too. Strigalev’s band of Merry Men (aka Smiling Organizm) do an awesome job of bringing his quirky, slightly eccentric music to life. No b-list actors here, the album features Strigalev on alto sax, Ambrose Akinmusire; trumpet, Taylor Eigsti; piano, Tim LeFebvre; bass guitar, Larry Grenadier; double bass and Eric Harland; drums.

A concept album of sorts, “Robin Goodie” is a highly original blend of straight-ahead jazz, grooves and beats. Rooted in bebop with a very modern twist, Strigalev’s compositions shine brightly. Joyfully imaginative with an edge to them that seems to border on insanity before pulling back from the outer limits to calmly sit down and have a quiet cup of tea; the tunes twist and turn, barely allowing us time to think. The rhythm section nail things down throughout, with the gifted and sought-after double bass of Larry Grenadier, fusing well with the electric bass and subtle electronics of Tim Lefebvre. Eric Harland’s performance here cannot be underestimated as he seamlessly slips from simple grooves into hard swinging, multi layered rich landscapes of sound. Meanwhile, Eigsti’s lush piano harmonies allow for some eclectic and dazzling soloing from both Strigalev on alto and Akinmusire on trumpet.

If the individual tracks show some excellent variation, with wonderful changes of pace and plenty of surprises along the way, then I would have to say that as a whole, the album has a wilful eccentricity to it that genuinely makes me smile. It leaves me wanting more. In Strigalev I think we have a musician that could potentially be writing and performing innovative, exciting jazz for many years to come. UK Vibe will be interviewing Zhenya Strigalev tonight and reviewing his gig at Ronnie Scott’s – Watch this space… we look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Mike Gates

Alex Sipiagin ‘Balance 38-58’ (Criss Cross Jazz) 4/5

alex-sipiagin“Balance 38-58” just oozes class. And so it should one might say, but that’s not always the case when a group of stellar musicians such as we have here, get together to record. There has to be direction, unity and balance to go alongside any individual talent. We have it here, in spades. Trumpeter Alex Sipiagin’s 11th outing as band leader for Criss Cross Jazz is a well constructed affair, with excellent performances all round. Sipiagin is joined by David Binney (alto and soprano sax), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Escreet (piano), Matt Brewer (bass) and Eric Harland (drums). Together the sextet weave their majic through five Sipiagin and two Binney compositions. The opener and title track refers to Sipiagin’s recent travels in Asia and more specifically Taiwan. There are two Taiwanese drinks, one is 38 percent and the other 58 percent. As with life in general, according to Sipiagin, the important thing is finding a balance – couldn’t agree more. Sipiagin excels throughout, on both trumpet and flugelhorn, exhibiting skilful solos, subtle and energetic. The band works well as a unit, with some superb performances and harmonious playing. I particularly enjoyed the tracks “Echoes of thought” and “Yragon”; wonderful pieces brilliantly executed. My only small gripe from a cohesive album point of view is track five; “Balance”. Although the (almost rock) driven guitar-led track is excellent in itself, for me it doesn’t sit at all comfortably with the rest of the album.

There are times on this studio recording when Sipiagin is on fire. To this end I for one would love to see him perform live. Those of you in London on Wednesday night (18th Feb) will be fortunate enough to get the chance to do so. Ronnie Scott’s hosts a great line-up for this gig, led by Sipiagin’s fellow compatriot, saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev. Exciting London label Whirlwind Records present a mouth-watering evening’s entertainment. Performing with Alex Sipiagin and Zhenya Strigalev are Liam Noble, Eric Harland, Linley Marthe and Matt Penman. Collectively they are Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm, and they will be celebrating the release of their second album “Robin Goodie”. St Petersburg born Stregalev is rapidly becoming known for his high-octane, hard swinging post bop playing. So with Alex Sipiagin alongside him, it should be a killer of a gig. Check out Ronnie Scott’s on-line for more info.

Mike Gates

Donnie Ray ‘She’s My Honey Bee’ (Ecko) 3/5

donnie-rayI have said it numerous time before that I love this guy’s voice. Not withstanding the production issues raised (also many times before), his voice still carries most of his songs on this new release. This album is the usual southern soul fare, most of the uptempo tracks I can leave, but there are two killers on here, once he drops the tempo that’s when he comes into his own, with “I’m still waiting on you” and “I knew it was you” proving now to be constant plays here at home. Having given us the best part of ten albums, I think it’s time he went into a proper studio with a real band and give us the soul album we know he is capable of producing. With that, I think it fair to say the release does merit five stars for his voice, but a mere three for the album’s content.

Brian Goucher

Chris McNulty ‘Eternal’ (Palmetto) 4/5

chris-mcnulty“Eternal” is the seventh release by acclaimed vocalist Chris McNulty. A deeply personal album, it celebrates the life of her son Sam, who passed away in 2011. Such a beautifully crafted and heartfelt performance throughout the album leaves you feeling the bond she must have had with her son, through the music chosen and the sensitive approach taken from all the musicians involved. A large part of Eternal’s success as an album is due in no small part to the wonderful orchestrations of Steve Newcomb, who created the string arrangements for chamber ensemble, made up of 4 woodwind players (playing multi instruments) and 4 string players.
One important thing that has to be said is that the strings are both well crafted and sympathetic without ever drifting into a slushy sentimentality. Pianist John Di Martino plays with a thoughtful subtle style and beauty throughout. They are ably joined by bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Gregory Hutchinson.
The song choices for the album were made by McNulty – obviously with her son Sam very much in mind, but also with an understanding that she did not want Eternal to become a morose or simply sad story. McNulty herself says; “I think the music has lots of brightness and joy in it too,. I am a musician first, so the songs have to speak to me musically, melodically, emotionally and lyrically as they always would. I just chose the songs that made the most sense for telling Sam’s story.” From the opening notes of Steve Khun’s “The Saga of Harrison Crabfeathers” the listener is drawn in. And from the very first minute we hear McNulty’s eloquent, exquisite vocals, we know this is an album we are going to be listening to time and time again; to catch those rare moments of beauty a release such as this delivers. Throughout, McNulty uses her emotion in a peerless, mature and confident way, never falling into the trap of allowing understandable sentimentality to get in the way of a consummate performance. The song choices themselves make for a wonderful songbook, where the music effortlessly flows through us, and the poignant lyrics envelop us – none truer than on Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy”: “The greatest thing you will ever learn, is just to love, and be loved in return.” Along with the eleven standards comes one McNulty original, “You are there” – a heartfelt impassioned piece, sung directly to her son. As she explains: “I’m speaking to Sam and I’m also reflecting on different memories: being on subways with him as a little boy, seeing him with his friends as a young man growing up.”

This must have been a difficult, yet ultimately rewarding album for McNulty to make. It is brave, warm, and touching. One thing’s for sure – her son would have been very proud.

Mike Gates

Alice Babs – One year has passed

“Alice Babs is a performer beyond measure. She can sing anything she sees or hears — opera, Bach, or jazz.”
Duke Ellington

Peacefully from her home, surrounded by family, Alice Babs left our world one year today in her home town of Stockholm, Sweden.

alice-babsFirst appearing in public at the age of twelve, she broke into Swedish movies as a teenage star and proceeded to amass a wealth of experience, through cinema – lapsing sixteen movies with most notably ‘Swing it, magistern!’ in 1940, through jazz – with a huge catalogue from as early as 1939, and even through a spell with the Eurovision song contest in 1958. When the war ended she was the first Swede to go to Finland with a programme for the soldiers, saying “They found it not too unpalatable, I think. It was there in a form they could digest — and less uncomfortably than might someday be the case.” This selflessness culminated with Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil von Mannerheim presenting her with the distinguished Pro Benignitate Humana award for her contributions.
During 1962 Alice had toured the States with a trio consisting of violinist Svend Asmussen and guitarist Ulrik Neumann under the banner ‘Swe-Danes’, appearing on both the Ed Sullivan Show and at Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. Hop, skip and jump ten years where in 1972 she was honoured with the title ‘Court Singer’ by King Gustaf VI Adolf. A most diverse musical path indeed with due recognition.
Alice Babs, the Swedish soprano, was a remarkable singer of jazz whom first credits her father with introducing her to jazz with ‘gaiety’ and ‘enthusiasm’ part of her noted personality. Appearing alongside Sammy Davis at one point, it wasn’t until she was asked about her connection with jazz did the world begin to understand this side of her “I am naturally gay and happy. Perhaps that is why jazz has always exercised a great attraction for me. I heard Louis Armstrong, whom I loved, when I was only eleven.” which is perhaps why she went on to work with such jazz luminaries as Shelly Manne and Ed Thigpen and so many others during her life time.
Where we join Alice Babs along this long creative path is with her collaboration with Duke Ellington (she sang for at his 40th birthday party). Duke took her aboard his stage-coach and toured the world under the ‘Sacred Concerts’ banner well into the 70s, with the premier at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1965 called ‘A Concert of Sacred Music’, appearing in both Connecticut and New Canaan, although problems arose with their application to perform in Washington where Rev. John D. Bussey, a spokesperson for the Baptist Ministers Conference of Washington, D.C., refused to endorse the concerts.
There was a brief visit to the UK in 1966 where Duke performed in Coventry Cathedral (minus Alice), but it wasn’t until a little later, undeterred by Baptist Ministers, simply asking “Doesn’t God accept sinners anymore?”, and supported by the Interdenominational Church Ushers Association, Duke was to relaunch the series on January 19, 1968 calling it now ‘The Second Sacred Concert’. The first being held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York with 7,000 attending. There was to be a further performance 29 January in Philadelphia (with an off-shoot Mass performance at Minneapolis during February which required them to perform twice on the same day to satisfy demands), before moving on to the Bronx on 16 February and concluding their tour in Long Island 1st March. April was set to be a whole different discussion with Carnegie Hall… Critics in the press were quick to comment on this ‘second’ series saying it was “superior to the first in nearly every respect.” Due perhaps to Billy Strayhorn’s bout of sickness during the first (he passed away May 31, 1967) [Melody Maker, at the time, were vilified for exaggerating reports of sickness amongst the performers in general], although they were quick with high praise for Alice in their review of March that year with “she seemed most valid, worthy and important contribution Europe had made to the music since Django Reinhardt. Although entirely different, which could add to the whole a useful dimension of its own.” The ‘second’ series was embellished with dancers from two companies with a solo performance too by Geoffrey Holder. [Research shows a concert at Yale University 26 January 1968 was recorded and a further concert in the Summer/Autumn of 1968 was performed with Alice absent. The singers for the latter event were Tony Bennett, Peggy Blake, Trish Turner and Tony Watkins]

alice-babs-albumAfterwards, during a visit to Paris, Duke called and had asked Alice to do an album with him, insisting three weeks later she came to France. Her reaction was to allow herself four days to study his recordings and pick from them what she felt most comfortable with – sixteen songs under the album title `Serenade To Sweden’, with arrangements by Billy Strayhorn, was the beautiful outcome, featuring such songs as ‘Come Sunday’, ‘Azure’, and ‘C Jam Blues’. As the recording session progressed, Duke Ellington’s musicians were quick to praise her with:
“For me, she’s the most.” – Cootie Williams
“She has a fantastic ear, and what may be perfect pitch.” – Harry Carney
“It’s a marvel she remains the way she is. As pretty inside as out.” – Paul Gonsalves

 

(left to right) Devene Gardner, Roscoe Gill, Trish Turner, Tony Watkins and Alice Babs
(left to right) Devene Gardner, Roscoe Gill, Trish Turner, Tony Watkins and Alice Babs

A notable reappearance by way of a third ‘Sacred Concerts’ took place on May 27, 1974 with Lawrence Brown, where there was much excitement. When interviewed to discuss the tour, Ellington said of Alice, “That when she was not available to sing the parts that he had written for her, he had to use three different singers.” The concert’s review by The New York Times wrote afterwards “Her voice proved to be a magnificent Ellington instrument — pure, full-bodied, amazingly lithe . . . with warmth and strength at both ends of a broad range.” Testament to both Ms Babs ability and selection by Mr Ellington.

A particular favourite with the ‘Sacred Concerts’ repertoire was ‘Praise God And Dance’, noting “It is great. It has a gravity that conveys the deepest message. And the melody line is so pure. Like Bach. I can give it the same power I give to Bach. In churches at home, his are the songs I sing. The ‘Sacred Concert’ is truly marvellous, a real peak. The greatest writing, I feel, that Duke has ever done. It is so big, and yet consistent. All highs, no lows. Something about believing is memorable, and will live, I am sure. But the Supreme Being is the most fantastic of all. I think Europeans, the conductors, people in the symphony orchestras, will greatly admire this work. It belongs in the world of serious classical music.” She recalled “There were times during the performances, when I had difficulty controlling my emotions. In the Cathedral it was very beautiful – the lighting – the massive congregation. I had to remind myself I was not the one to be moved, that the message was designed for the listeners, and that anything can await me which will surpass the excitement we have experienced here.”

“She doesn’t differentiate between amateurs and professionals. With the choir, for instance, if she sees they’re nervous, she’ll move alongside and start singing from there.” Said Ellington, who had surely found his sacred voice in Alice Babs

From its first notable reference of jazz meets church back in 1959 with Ed Summerlin there have been significant collaborations leading to Billy Harper’s 2007 masterpiece alongside Poland’s Szczein Technical University Choir ranking high on the list. With this transformation now resting in the lap of Robert Mitchell’s recently formed ‘Invocation’, we turned to vocalist Deborah Jordan, herself inspired by the work of the ‘Sacred Concerts’, to ask how Alice had impacted on her own music:

“Alice Babs is one of those rare creatures in terms of singers. She not only has the most impeccable technique, range and fluidity but an abundance of soulfulness. One of the things I love most about her is that you can see her, for example when watching her sing with Ellington on the Sacred Concerts, listening intently to everything that is going on around her musically so that she can become one with the instrumental musicians meaning that she doesn’t dominate the music as the vocal soloist but rather weaves herself into the whole landscape. Even when another musician is soloing and she is adding improvised adlibs she is completely ‘within’ the context, sensitive to her musical environment and yet delivers the most phenomenal phrases you’ve ever heard! Not only that, but in such an effortless way…there’s no tension, only joy and excitement brimming in her eyes when she’s performing, and that’s how she can perform so effortlessly despite singing complex melodies and melisma across 3 octaves. She has become someone I have studied a lot recently as I try to embody the same ethos, especially when singing with Robert Mitchell’s Panacea where we all have to inhabit the same space without ego to be able to interpret Robert’s music as best as possible. It was sad to hear of her passing so recently but her legacy definitely lives on in her recordings and through inspiring singers like myself.” Deborah Jordan (February 2015)

In more recent times there was a period in Alice’s life where she shared her valuable time with friends and family in Sweden, singing only occasionally, and when she wanted to sing. She loved to sing songs she liked, and would often sing during the summer months, in Stockholm’s open-air theatre.

In conclusion, let us celebrate Alice a little today, for God sure does have another of those Angels with Him, but behind her she left memories and music for us to cherish, for the words of Duke Ellington, when asked by a reporter “What has Alice Babs got that other singers lack?” should be sufficient for the rest of us to recognise her memory – “Everything!” was his reply.

Steve Williams

alice-duke