Mike Fletcher Trio ‘Vuelta’ (Stoney Lane) 4/5

mike-fletcher-trioBirmingham born and raised, multi-instrumentalist/composer Mike Fletcher has established an impressive reputation since graduating from the city’s Conservatoire in 2005. He has led a number of ensembles, from trio to big band, quietly but steadfastly gaining respect and appreciation throughout Europe. For his trio on “Vuelta”, he brings together London born bassist Olie Brice and Ohio born drummer Jeff Williams. Brice and Williams each have a formidable CV, having worked with Paul Dunmall, Ken Vandermark, Mark Sanders and Dave Liebman, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, and Joe Lovano respectively. This trio has a distinctive earthy sound as they draw inspiration from combining the jazz tradition with a free, contemporary approach to improvisation. Fletcher plays a variety of reeds, but the prominent instrument employed on “Vuelta” is the rarely heard C melody saxophone. The resulting sound lies somewhere between an alto and a tenor sax, perhaps an alto with a deeper, more guttural sound would be more accurate. “Vuelta” – Spanish for “return”, explores themes of experience and emotion and there is a meditative, atmospheric feel throughout the recording. The trio combine with a natural ease as they improvise in and around Fletcher’s multi-faceted melodies. This is thoughtful jazz performed with a rare class and sincerity. The album opens with “Aire” which was composed by the sea in Spain. As with most of Fletcher’s compositions here, it is slightly introspective yet manages to give a freedom and space, allowing for a lightness of touch from all three musicians. “Her Grace”, an homage to the late Alice Coltrane, offers a gentle outpouring of imagination, with its cool, calm musings. “A Dino” was written as a tribute to Argentinian bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi. Fletcher switches to the flute for this tune and the resulting textures achieved by the trio are quite beautiful. The colourful, more upbeat “Fletcher’s Walk” lifts the tempo a few notches, giving the performers chance to shine as if answering a question to Fletcher’s enquiring lines. The vibrancy of the trio positively sparkles on “In Memorium”, and the quirkier, melodic “Perhaps Sing A Song” engages the threesome in full flow as Williams and Brice lay down the platform for Fletcher’s meandering sax. “Home” lets the musicians breath as they intertwine and weave around each other’s ideas with pleasurable skill. The album closes with “Savour”, a more reflective piece and a fitting end to the session.

Released on the innovative Birmingham label, Stoney Lane Records, “Vuelta” partly came to fruition thanks to Mike Fletcher’s involvement as part of the pan-European ECHO Rising Stars Programme. This includes the trio’s participation in touring and performing at some of the best concert halls throughout Europe. The tour has taken in venues across Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Hungary.

Here are the remaining dates/venues:
13th May 2015: Town Hall, Birmingham, UK.
16th May 2015: Gulbenkian Musica, Lisbon, Portugal.
30th May 2015: Kings Place, London, UK.

Mike Gates

Billie Holiday at 100

In A Different Mood
Billie Holiday at 100
An International Jazz Day Homage

billie-holiday

Billie Holiday Photo by William Gottlieb

A concert on International Jazz Day (Thursday 30 April) in the Edward Boyle Auditorium, Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St.Hilda’s College, Oxford, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of a true legend.

A Phenomenal Woman! Billie Holiday – born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 – is an outstanding, iconic figure in the history of Jazz! Coming just before Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne, and well before Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter et al, Lady Day evoked grace and a style with its own distinctive tone in the company of recognised virtuoso players who brought to the stage the very elements which we now use to describe the essence of memorable art – the honing of craft, truth, presence, intimacy and great innovation! Cool pre-dating the Birth of the Cool!

Lady Day defined the role of the singer in modern Jazz! And, as an African-American woman in apartheid America, confronted the indignities and injustices which she knew to be the constitutionally-sanctioned daily reality! The super-inflated egos of some of her successors who now step into the same spotlight to perform on stage would gain mightily by familiarising themselves with this historical epoch! They aim to stand on mighty shoulders.

The Jacqueline du Pré Music Building acknowledges the supreme achievement of another world-class artiste who did not live to see her talent fully realised. It happens to be sited in the first university to be established in the British Isles specifically for female scholars. It is therefore of great significance to the ethos – expressed by UNESCO and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz to describe International Jazz Day – that such an iconic presence as that of the music of Lady Day will feature within the walls of this prestigious institution.

Carroll Thompson has established herself as the quintessential singer of Lovers Rock, but for this special occasion, alongside Jean Toussaint, tenor and soprano saxophonist and former Musical Director of the late Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, she has chosen to present the songs of Billie Holiday which best evoke the spirit of Lady Day! Kate Williams on piano, Neville Malcolm on double bass and Winston Clifford on drums complete the line-up of the UK’s finest. To open the evening, the Liberty Gospel Ensemble will introduce their beautiful vocal harmonies to a fine setting!

*Admission: £22.50 (Concessions: £10.00 – Limited availability to Students with valid NUS ID!)

Tickets: Buy Online www.accessuktickets.co.uk
(Subject to Booking Fee!)

@ Edward Boyle Auditorium
Jacqueline du Pré Music Building
St. Hilda’s College
Cowley Place
Oxford OX4 1DY

Taste of the Tropics will have delicious Caribbean Cuisine on Sale!
Roots ‘n’ Culture will have Books and Cultural Gifts on Sale!

There is a special expression of gratitude to our Title Sponsors

KWABENA OWUSU
PAUL STREET BARRISTERS CHAMBERS LONDON
and
KWASI A. ASIEDU, SCHWARTZ & ASIEDU
LAWYERS LOS ANGELES CA

whose support has been critical to realising the enterprise.

Contact: Ra Hendricks – Jazzmo’thology
Mobile: 07931 263 617

Billie Holiday Website: http://www.billieholiday.com/
International Jazz Day Website: http://jazzday.com/
Jacqueline du Pré Music Building: http://www.st-hildas.ox.ac.uk/jdp-music-building

African Odysseys @ British Film Institute will be showing the live stream of the UNESCO IJD concert taking place at 6.30p.m. on the 30th in Paris and headlined by Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves et al! Admission is Free

jazz-day

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth ‘Epicenter’ (Clean Feed) 4/5

chris-lightcapOver ten years ago Chris Lightcap assembled together a group of musicians that developed into “Bigmouth”, a somewhat raucous, jazz-rock inflected group with avant-garde tendencies and more than a touch of the unexpected. Lightcap recollects, “I just put us all together to amuse myself and see what would happen”. What did happen was a creative powerhouse in the making. “Epicenter” is the band’s much-anticipated follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2010 release “Deluxe”. Featuring two profoundly original tenor saxophonists, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek, keyboardist/organist/pianist Craig Taborn and drummer/percussionist Gerald Cleaver, together they join leader/bassist/guitarist/organist Lightcap to create an album filled to the brim with musical originality and personality. Chris Lightcap is a celebrated composer and bassist who has worked with a wide-ranging array of artists including Marc Ribot, Regina Carter, Tomasz Stanko and Matt Wilson. His obvious appreciation for something slightly off the wall shows here; the music on “Epicenter” draws influences from many musical corners, always edgy, often harmonious, sometimes discordant (in a beautiful way) and occasionally nonsensically brilliant. This is a big sound, the two tenors flexing their musical muscles as they create daring, yearning, tensely wound melodies that are underpinned by the propulsive, driving force of the rhythm section. Taborn features prominently throughout, his bold illuminating sounds weaving a trail of light and dark in equal measure. Lightcap was recently awarded a prestigious Chamber Music America New Jazz Works grant, which commissioned the original compositions featured on “Epicenter”. He wrote pieces inspired by various touchstones and cultural landmarks of his adopted home, New York City.

The opening track “Nine South” features Craig Taborn on Wurlitzer, and the landscape for the album is set. “White Horse”, one of the gentler tracks of the session, gradually winds up the tension before the big horns kick in on the intricate title track. The tenor sax duo are creative and edgy, never holding back. “Arthur Avenue” is more conversational and quite the New York slow jazz groove that has a lighter touch to it than most of the other tracks. Never dwelling for too long on one vibe, “Down East” is a thunderous ass-kicking beast that allows the whole band to throw off any remaining shackles. “Stillwell” is a slow burner with its off-kilter, infectious groove. It builds to a horn driven crescendo, taking in some inventive soloing along the way. There is a warm, comforting, breathy feel to “Stone by Stone” as the circular repeating horn melody develops into a tight groove that gradually lets the music around it unfold. The album closes with an incredible version of Lou Reed’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. The Velvet Underground classic hits the bohemian spot as it unwinds with discordant energy. Lou Reed would have loved this.

“Epicenter” was released earlier this year and has now been remastered specifically for iTunes and will be available for download from April 7th.

Mike Gates

Floyd Harvey Robinson ‘From Out of the Blue’ (CD Baby) 5/5

floyd-harvey-robinson“The Floyd Harvey Robinson Project is the name that represents the vocalist and musician Floyd Harvey Robinson, and the many partners that assist to bring his music to life. The Floyd Harvey Robinson Project pursues a soulful blend of classic Motown soul sound, smooth, adult, and a touch of pop embedded in the modern music of today. Floyd Harvey Robinson attempts to evoke in the listener a feeling of remembering the past as he is influenced by the soul greats like Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Luther Vandross, and David Ruffin…”
Well that’s the release blurb and you know what, this new name to me has excited me immensely; from the opening chords of the stunning dancer “Love at First Sight” I was hooked. This will be a huge tune, so long as the jocks out there try thinking outside of the box. This is only a six tracker and I want more, much more. “Make it With You” is an excellent down-tempo tune; his voice is unique, strong impassioned and travels up and down the range with consummate ease. “Can’t Get Enough” is another cracker – very modern, in fact the opening bars sound like I’m in a call queue for the tax man, but it quickly evolves into another top tune. The title track is more down low, the opening piano chords give the impression that this may be a demo but it soon picks up and the quality shines through. Next up… the monster “Alright” – a sumptuous mid-paced head-nodder that fits hand in glove with last year’s Ursula Ricks “Sweet Tenderness”. This is a serious OMG moment when this fractures the silence for the first time, and a serious contender for track of 2015 for sure. Ending then with another very individual percussion driven mid-tempo dancer with the now trademark effortless vocals. This was a genuine WOW moment for me. So we can only hope that there is more from this talented singer/writer/producer.

Brian Goucher

Wolfgang Haffner ‘Kind of Cool’ (ACT) 4/5

Layout 1“Kind of Cool”, the latest release from Wolfgang Haffner, one of Germany’s most celebrated and respected jazz musicians, is a joy to behold. Far from falling into the potential trap of trying to emulate obvious classics such as Miles Davis’ seminal albums “Kind of Blue” and “Birth of the Cool”, it gives a knowing wink and a smile to such revered recordings, before moving on full steam ahead with its own interpretations of “cool” jazz. Haffner’s band are instrumental in helping the leader produce an album of old and new tunes, combining to create a formidable release. Pianist Jan Lundgren, bassist Dan Berglund, and the incredible 83 year old trumpeter Dusko Goykovich are integral to the relaxed, chilled sound throughout “Kind of Cool”, whilst among others, Jukka Perko on saxophone and Christopher Dell on vibes add their consummate skills to the tunes presented here. The album is made up of a mix of the band leader’s originals and several classics that all work well together as a project.
On first sight of the track listing, I have to admit the thought crossed my mind: Surely not Autumn Leaves again… So the pleasure and surprise was all mine as I fast forwarded to this track to satisfy my curiosity- more out of hope than expectation. Dusko Goykovich gives one of the outstanding performances of the album with his muted trumpet hitting the perfect notes with the perfect tone. A gorgeous version of this classic, if at times over-played tune. EST bassist Dan Berglund leads the way on the iconic Miles Davis number “So What”, which features a groovy feel-good vibes solo from Christopher Dell. Other covers include Gershwin’s “Summertime”, with the breathy alto sax of Jukka Perko adding a lush sincerity as it does throughout the whole album, John Lewis’ “Django”, performed with a bright, effervescent, youthful spirit, and the Rogers and Hart classic “My Funny Valentine” which is performed with an almost melancholic exuberance if ever there were such a thing. Max Mutzke adds his soulful vocal talents on the blues number “Piano Man” and trombonist Nils Landgren features on Nat Adderley’s “One for Daddy O”. There are also three Wolfgang Haffner compositions on the recording, all of which blend in perfectly with the aforementioned classics. “Hippie” is indeed a hip little number, reminiscent of the 50’s cool that this album personifies. “Tantricity” is more modern in outlook, whilst “Remembrance” is a thoughtful introspective tune that closes the album.

“Kind of Cool” proves that jazz can be just as cool today as it was back then. Wolfgang Haffner has drawn on his vast experience and with the help of a great cosmopolitan band of musicians has clearly found the essence of what is, cool jazz.

Mike Gates

Chazz MC ‘Two Wrongs Don’t Make it Right’ (Bootchee Music) 4/5

chazz-mcThis arrived on the tale end of 2014, to which, has garnered some serious time here at home. I’m a sucker for the falsetto vocal and on this album I really am spoilt with some great vocals and over sympathetic arrangements, kicking off with the title track, which sets up the album nicely – a nice down-low start before moving into the more urgent “Baby Come To Me”, which is in fact an excellent dancer drawing on echoes of the wonderful Phil Perry. Dropping the pace slightly for the 80’s tinged “Love Crazy” where we get to here a deeper range to his voice then “Lovin’ You”, which has been getting plays on radio shows with its radio friendly stepper tempo. Now then, to the track that’s been causing the biggest stir, the dance-floor anthem “Baby” – a bustling insidious rhythm that takes over your body and makes you move, nice harmonies and a lead that just fits perfectly. Next up is a dreamy down-tempo offering with percussion, straight out of the Sir Charles Jones camp, then its back to the falsetto and it all works so very well to these ears. I love it!
I think you’ve got the idea now. The rest of the January 2015 release is also very worthy, if you like Eddie Holman of “Hey There Lonely Girl” fame then this modern day opus is surely for you.

Brian Goucher

Stephan Abel ‘The Windmills Of Your Mind’ (Agogo) 3/5

AR_047_CD_digipak_lay18.fh11Stephan Abel’s “The Windmills of your Mind” pays homage to the beauty and enduring charm of the jazz ballad. Covering eleven tunes carefully chosen by Abel himself, it includes standards written by Billy Strayhorn, Rogers and Hart, Carla Bley, Mal Waldron, and of course Michel Legrand who composed the well-known title track. Abel’s aim for this recording was to capture that eponymous late night jazz feel. He certainly succeeds.
Picture the scene: a small-town bar, 2am, most of the audience have found their way home and the remnants of the evening’s cigarettes and alcohol rest shamelessly on a few old tables. The smoke in the air drifts aimlessly across the room and the clink of whisky glasses can be heard coming from the bar. The last few remaining people look up as the band amble back on to the stage for just a few more numbers before calling it a night. The piano leads and the sax follows. The music is cool, smouldering, effortless. This is the jazz music of the night, the calm, sophisticated ballads that strike a chord in all of us; an echo or a memory of love won and lost, a distant yearning for the soul to shine brightly in melancholic beauty. This is the sound that “Windmills” captures.
Recorded over three nights in an intimate setting, the mood is consistent throughout the session. Abel is joined by his compatriots Buggy Braune, Olaf Casimir, Heinz Lichlus and special guest Ken Norris. Together they perform for us their slow, meandering, thoughtful music with aplomb.

The album opens with “Chelsea Bridge”, a lovely Billy Strayhorn tune, and this sets the tone for the whole session. Jimmy Rowles’ “Peacocks” provides some nice interplay and the title track itself includes a gorgeous sax solo that lifts the tune to a higher place. Ken Norris guests on three songs, his smooth, unforced vocals adding some variety to the proceedings. “Soul Eyes” is nicely paced and the mellow “The Party’s Over” brings the album to a close.
If the listener is looking for variation they will be disappointed, but if it’s a late night, mellow as mellow can be, easy listening chill-out that’s needed, then look no further.

Mike Gates