Steve Williamson Band: Live at Pizza Express, Soho 1st September 2014
Steve Williamson (tenor/soprano saxophone)
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde
Tenor/Soprano saxophonist, composer and band leader Steve Williamson has been stretching the boundaries of the Jazz music idiom ever since he exploded onto the UK and worldwide scene over twenty years ago with his groundbreaking debut album, ‘A Waltz With A Grace.’ Well, Mr Williamson is officially back having made a couple of rare appearances in 2014. However, the best is yet to come, Mr Williamson has announced that a hand-picked ‘Steve Williamson Band’ will be performing live at Pizza Express, Soho, London on Monday 1st September 2014. This will be Williamson’s first live outing and exposure of his new material in several years. To aid him in realising and relaying the vision and complexity of his new compositions Williamson has brought together an equally mercurial, talented, experienced and individualistic group of musicians. Acclaimed pianist Robert Mitchell answered the call from his good friend, in the drummer’s seat is beat-meister Seb Roachford and adding some educated bass-lines to the mix is Michael Mondesir . Finally, providing her unique voice projections is the free-spirited and free-flowing vocalist Filomena Campus who Williamson knew instantly he wanted as an integral part of his new band ever since witnessing her perform live at Nexus – One World Music earlier this year.
Band Leader Williamson himself has confessed to practising on his Tenor and Soprano horns long and hard in readiness for his much anticipated and much needed return to the live forum. To find out more of what Steve Williamson has to say, watch this space for Part One of an exclusive UK Vibe interview with the man himself. In the meantime, all roads lead to Pizza Express, 10 Dean Street, Soho, London for what promises to be the most enriching, enlightening and ear enhancing evening of Jazz music.
Michael J Edwards
Essential Gig Date:
Monday 1st September 2014, 7pm – Pizza Express, 10 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3RW
The Steve Williamson Band:
Steve Williamson – tenor/soprano sax
Robert Mitchell – piano
Michael Mondesir – bass
Filomena Campus – voice
Seb Roachford – drums
St. Peter’s Church, Bournemouth
Friday, 26 Sep 2014
Featuring Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Avonbourne College and Harewood College.
Invocation is a stunningly unique performance, which blends the traditions of jazz, choral, classical and improvised music, creating what Mitchell describes as “transcendental sound” achieved by the combined voices of over 100 choral performers. Bringing together Grammy winning Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, young music students from Avonbourne and Harewood Colleges and Mitchell’s jazz quartet, Panacea, Mitchell’s new composition is based upon the ever vital and under-celebrated role inspirational teaching plays on human development. This premiere is sure to be a formidable, potent and unmissable experience.
Texan Multi-reedist Jimmy Giuffre is that most rare of jazz musicians, with a foot in both the cool and avant-garde camps. He first made his reputation as a clarinettist in the Woody Herman orchestra where his ‘Four Brothers’ composition became a hit early on his career. However, by the mid-1950s he had left behind larger swing ensembles for small group modern jazz, sometimes referred to as chamber jazz. For Atlantic records Giuffre constantly experimented with unusual trio line-ups including guitar, reeds and trombone and most famously bass, guitar and reeds. Out of the latter came his most endearing piece, ‘The Moon and the River’, which became a hit in the mid-1950s and a live performance was seen on the seminal film, ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’ from 1958. By the early 1960s, however, Giuffre had left behind the cool school of the West coast for freer forms and his 1962 trio recording for Columbia, ‘Free for all’ was way ahead of its time and caught both his label and the jazz public in general off guard. It was a sensational line-up of musicians including pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow (the trio would also record ‘Thesis’ and ‘Fusion’ for Verve, both widely available on a superb ECM 2 CD re-issue), yet such was the conservative nature of the buying public at the time that the trio found it impossible to support themselves long-term and eventually were forced to split (though thankfully re-united once again in the 1990s and this time were extremely well received on a European tour and new York concerts). Even worse, Giuffre lost his major label deal when Columbia became disenchanted with his new style and between 1962 and 1971 Jimmy Giuffre did not record for any label.
This is where the newly unearthed set of recordings come in. Despite the lack of interest from record companies, Giuffre still managed to tour and thanks to a sound engineer and young jazz DJ George Klabin, was able to secure a recording date, one a free Sunday afternoon in the empty and intimate setting of New York’s Judson Hall, and the other a live date in front of an audience at the much larger Wollman Hall with a multi-purpose stage. Ironically Klabin had then only recently been appointed head of jazz at the Columbia radio station, the very label that had let Giuffre go in the first place! The two separate set of recordings both date from 1965 and yet vary significantly in terms of line-up and instrumentation. The second is the more conventional of the two with Don Friedman on piano. Bassist Richard Davis and regular Blue Note drummer Joe Chambers provide the thrilling rhythm section on the first date and there is an idiosyncratic take on Ornette Colemans’ ‘Crossroads’ (the only non-original and Giuffre was an admirer of his fellow Texan tenorist) while on the blues-inflected ‘Cry, Want’ Giuffre’s plaintive clarinet offers a wonderful contrast to the rest of the group. Barre Philips takes over bass duties on the second date with Friedman providing atonal support on piano. There is some overlap between the pieces performed with three titles, but even then it is fascinating to compare and contrast versions with the varying formations and Giuffre’s use of folk melodies means that the music never really sounds dated and has a true timeless quality to it. A highly informative booklet rounds matters off with an excellent insight from former French Jazz Magazine journalist Philippe Carles, personal recollections by musicians Jim Hall and Steve Swallow. In short, Jimmy Giuffre is an innovative musician demanding of your attention and these excellent quality live recordings demonstrate precisely why.
If the name is at first unfamiliar, his influence will rapidly become apparent. The most recent Coen Brothers film, ‘Inside Llewlyn Davis’, was very loosely based on Dave Van Ronk’s excellent autobiography, ‘The mayor of MacDougal Street’ (Da Capo, 2005), and Van Ronk was a key individual in the early years of the folk revival in New York’s Greenwich Village, from the mid-late 1950s and into the 1960s when a then young musician called Bob Dylan was just starting out. Van Ronk served as both a teacher and guru to musicians such as Dylan and others (later a debutant Joni Mitchell). In terms of his own musical influences, Van Ronk listened to early jazz, blues and contemporary folk singers (Rambling Jack Elliot, Pete Seeger and including Woody Guthrie) and learnt the fingering-picking guitar style from older musicians and performed the jug band style which was a precursor to skiffle music innovations in England from the likes of Lonnie Donegan. An indication of the sheer variety of styles that Van Ronk would listen to and soak up (he was not averse to western classic either) is exemplified in the following quote from his autobiography:
“When I listen to my recordings, I hear an obvious debt to Louis, and on those early records to Bessie Smith, as well as Jelly Roll Morton, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and [Reverend] Gary Davis”.
A major impetus to Van Ronk’s own appreciation of roots music came with the release in 1952 of Harry Smith’s ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’ that was in fact a new Folkways recording at the time. This anthology introduced the world to then relatively unknown musicians of the calibre of Mississippi John Hurt and Dock Boggs among many others featured. What Smithsonian Folkways have done is to compile a triple CD offering of the classic 1958-1960 recordings of Dave Van Ronk when the singer was in his prime plus some later live recordings from the 1980s, early-mid 1990s and even as late as 2001 to provide a fine overview of Van Ronk’s career. Unsurprisingly the strongest songs date from the earlier period and Van Ronk provides fine interpretations of ‘God bless the child’ from 1963, the classic blues numbers ‘St. James Infirmary’ and ‘Backwater Blues’. The two albums, ‘Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual’ (1959) and its follow up, ‘Dave Van Ronk Sings’ (1960) are both heard here in their entirety and rightly so since they cover the singer at the peak of his powers and both would later be re-issued by Folkways and Verve. Some of the later Prestige recordings from the mid-1960s are not included, but these can now be easily obtained on CD (‘In the Tradition’ and ‘Inside Dave Van Ronk’). Of note are the complete studio dates of Van Ronk’s last ever session. While not the complete picture, at three CDs this is pretty much definitive, and even completists will be impressed at the attention to detail and depth of the recorded legacy on offer.The gatefold sleeve is typically supplemented by a lavish forty page booklet and extensive essay plus photos that portray him as every bit the outsider his reputation makes him out to be.