Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Robert Mitchell's Panacea - Friday Tonic

Robert Mitchell - Piano

It is hard to believe that this was the first visit to the Mastercard's Friday Tonic on the Southbank for Robert Mitchell's Panacea (13/02/2015). Such is the timing and rejuvenating qualities of this weekly dose of quality jazz that it is the very definition of a Panacea itself. Although lets not get swept away by hyperbole, both the Friday and Mitchell's tonic do have the ability to relieve the weekly stress and burden but unfortunately not to cure a multitude of diseases.
Tom Mason - Bass

The 4 piece Panacea ensemble featured the vocals of Deborah Jordan, Tom Mason on bass, and Laurie Lowe on drums alongside Robert Mitchell's piano artistry. It was the latter that brought me to the London's Southbank to right a personal wrong. In 2013 I sketched the Whirlwind Festival (Kings Place) from beginning to end but had to make difficult choices when more than one band was playing. Mitchell was one of the spaces left unfilled in my sketchbook, although he'd been on my hitlist since playing a sensational session for Gilles Peterson in 2006.

Without beating about the bush, Robert Mitchell was impressive from the very start and never faltered in quality. The two opening tunes were new in the Panacea repertoire, the first immediately drew my pen toward Tom Mason on electric guitar, by the second he had caught the ear too. Switching to double bass his bowing was gentle and arching, his sound reached over a spreading expanse. It was music that was hard to grip, a clawing remembrance of something significant in the mind.

Laurie Lowe - Drums
The Spirit Line was another gentle start, as if we were opening the pages of a book. The first lines of this novel were ambiguous and let us contribute to the narrative ourselves . Throughout we learnt only a small percentage of the character's back stories but we still identified with each of them. By the final chapters the piano of Robert Mitchell was raking us over the coals of denouement. A false finish gave the packed crowd an unexpected epilogue. Yet is was less of a conclusion, more of a nod to a future that held multiple possibilities.

Deborah Jordan - Vocals
If the definition of tribute is "an act, statement, or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration." then Robert Mitchell's eulogy to Debbie Purdy was given with openness. It was though we tiptoed through a darkened room, navigating the blackness with our hands held out in front of us. Blindfold or lights out, willing or forced, we walked with a steady pace even though we were apprehensive. Despite the lightness of instrumentation the composition sat heavy on us, like the lingering oppression of a humid sky.


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Troyka - Transient lists

Joshua Blackmore - drums
Troyka launched their 3rd album, Ornithophobia, on Naim Records last Thursday (12/02/15) at Rich Mix in London. It was a night like no other. For good or bad it was a night you couldn't keep pace with. It was not a festival of speed nor one for showboating either. This description is about as useless as we sometimes felt in the audience. Troyka cannot be contained within the usual paragraphs.

Troyka were ambitious.
Troyka were adventurous.
Troyka's music is as slippery as an eel.

Troyka were sometimes like the static energy that won't leave you.
Troyka were sometimes soft and sometimes abrasive. This made you alternate between feeling close-to and far away.
Troyka like changing pace, sometimes many times in a short space of time.

The ripping supremacy of Troyka made you admire them with a cinematic glow.
The tune 'Tax Return' was broken into hundreds of shards. It tightened and unwound like a volatile clock.
When Troyka were slow you imagined you were Orson Welles in The Third Man.

Kit Downes - Keys
Kit Downes bends in the middle.
Kit Downes can transform himself onstage.
Kit Downes makes his keyboard sound like it is hyperventilating, like it was gulping mash potato, sucking it up through a straw.

Chris Montague
Chris Montague had the ability to crush us with his guitar.
Chris Montague squeezed us emotionally, spread us thin.
Chris Montague's music and sound was Hope itself.

Joshua Blackmore was always at the centre.
Joshua Blackmore rattles the panes that stand between audience and performer.
Joshua Blackmore is the hardest member of Troyka to keep up with.

Petter Eldh

Petter Eldh produced and mixed Ornithophobia.
Petter Eldh joined Troyka onstage.
Petter Eldh's music has a beastlike resonance.

Life is Transient is on the album and was played at Rich Mix.
Life is Transient feels like a fairground ride in the hands of Kit Downes.
Life is Transient is hopeful.

For a moment none of us were transient,
we were listening to Troyka.

But in truth, life is transient, and so are we.


Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Dan Nicholls - Esoterica

Dan Nicholls
The music streamed off into the audience like the continuous roll of paper in Jack Kerouac's typewriter. Some was incoherent, much was about the journey from A to B, but all of it came from the hand tectonics of Dan Nicholls. It was a short half hour set at Rich Mix (12/02/2015) that unwound in one electronic reel of music.

Nicholls played both laptop and small keyboard often with head bent over always with intensity.
His set was a seeping cinematic creep like the slow-motion lava that edges towards the expendable villagers in a Technicolor epic. In the dark belly of Rich Mix's crowd I could not see my sketchpad so I wrote blind, the words tumbling out with Kerouac rapidity.
Dan Nicholls

Phase 1 - Metallic hyenas and Spirographs spheres. The dusty smudges of a hand leave imperceptible layers of graded grease as it works back and forth. Momentary flashes on the retina, the memories of a dazzling light. The memories of a day in the park, the dancing drops of light. The sound is the body and the body is all. It is all of me. Kickback.

Phase 2 - Blip. Makes the mouth form a silent vowel. A silent movie plays as actors loop on screen, they pronounce their a's, e's, i's, o's and u's. Zero in on just the lips.

Phase 3 - Rumble. Polyp. The sudden disturbance of a fish on the silty bottom and then the resettling. The first spoken word of a man, the sound of his voice on an empty telephone line. Echoing chambers of communication.

Phase 4 - Industrial. Punching engines, daily punishment and crazed enjoyments. We are complicit in being chewed up. The dull turning of my neighbour in bed during the night, he turns, again and again. Does he ever stop turning?

Phase 5 - Metallic. Wood against wood. Clogged ball-bearing, marble hunter. Fingers reaching into pipes. Wind whistles through small holes. Pushing plasticine into my mouth. It comes out of my nostrils, my ears, my belly button, nipples and follicles. Rising higher and higher, this mass of pink cushioned worms.

Phase 6 - Big round laundrette circle. Mini washers rinsing the ears, filling your mind with suds. I am mentally seasick. They stick my head on rinse and the ideas wash out in tiny baubles.

Phase 7 - Nazi salutes, men marching in reverse, swallowing bile. Hard shoes scraping shins, one overlapping the other, frog marching, goose stepping on top of one another. Tanks crushing tree. Plural squashing the singular.

As you can see Dan Nicholl's music is worth squeezing the inspirational juices from, even if the residue is only imbibed by the esoteric few.


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Kelvin Christiane Big Band - The Cabbage Patch

Ian Smith - trumpet
We were pressed in tighter than a sardine sandwich last week (02/02/2015) at the Cabbage Patch Pub to launch the first Big Band night at Twickenham Jazz Club's new home. Not only was it rammed full of keen audience members but a 16 strong Big Band to boot.

Bob McKay -
With its warm and welcoming ambience I think the word 'cosy' might be an understatement to describe this night but don't think this was pipe and slippers fare in the Patchworks bar. The heat comes from those manly perspiring musos and the red hot tunes fired relentlessly into eager jazz lovers.

Noel Joyce - drums
If you have never been before, then a Big Band night comes with a heavy recommendation, if not for the music then for the interaction and dynamism of the band. Four banks of musicians line up before you. Piano, bass and drums are relegated to the back, carolled behind the standing trumpeters who teeter above them. In front of the trumpets sat four trombones and the those in the vanguard were the saxophones.

Chris Lowe - Trombone
Benny Golson's 'Whisper Not' was certainly an understatement as the front row of the audience felt the full blast of the saxophones, who sat just inches away. The equally apt 'Nutville' (Horace Silver) was next and if you hadn't already guessed it there is a dark and infectious humour that rolls around a Big Band. Kelvin Christiane's band is no exception, and where there is humour they'll be a few headcases too. Against the grain was Chris Lowe who is composure and elegance personified. His trombone solo was as neat and debonair as his attire.

Nick Mills - Trombone
It was the Christiane penned 'Spring Lullaby' next, if you were expecting to be rocked asleep then hold onto your gunnels because night time in Kelvin Christiane's mind is both dark and turbulent. Nick Mills (trombone), Pete Hurt (sax) and KC himself all featured. Despite the tune appearing on Christiane's Parisian Summer album this feels and smells strongly of mid-century USA. The Continental Op chewing gum, a long night, perhaps a killer in the shadows but most certainly there's a deliberate and powerful punch to conclude this pulp fiction yarn.

Damian Cook -
Damian Cook (soprano saxophone) and Pete Hurt (flute) featured proudly on the Stevie Wonder tune 'You've got it bad girl' before we indulged ourselves in another Twickenham Jazz Club favourite, 'Joy Spring'. It was here that I spied one of a series of new faces to me. Pianist Jim Treweek started this Clifford Brown tune with fluidity and dexterity, one might even say playful.

Jim Treweek - piano
Jim Treweek shone again on 'Toothless Grin' (John LaBarbera), his pearly whites radiated from the rear of the Cabbage Patch stage. This was an on-your-toes performance, started by Bob McKay on flute, which then pulsed into a rolling mass, happily careering under its own momentum. The Kelvin Christiane Big Band were a carnival float cascading down a San Francisco descent, and we were more than happy to hitch a lift.

Jonathan Lewis - Trumpet
The second set was opened by hostess Lesley Christiane with Gershwin's ''S Wonderful' and Bart Horward's 'Fly me to the moon'. It was a time to sit back and take in the full impact of the Big Band that rose up behind Madame Christiane. Ian Smith with his 'Milk Tray Man' turtleneck and Charles Dance visage caught the discerning eye.

Stuart Brooks - Trumpet
It is often the trumpeters who end up in my sketchbook, two with contrasting styles are Stuart Brooks whose trumpet projects out to the audience at right angles to the stage, while Jonathan Lewis' has a severe case of Brewers Droop. Do not doubt his virility though, he has enough punch in that trumpet to take you to heaven and back. Matt Yardley amply completed the quartet with equal force and power.

Richard Sadler
The penultimate tune of the night was Buddy Rich's Groovin' Hard, it strutted and skipped straight into it's stride like a Man-about-town. It was dapper. It had a purpose, a mission, a raison d'etre even, but lets not sound too pretentious. The man about Twickenham is of course local bassist Richard Sadler, who has, with one slice of his razor relinquished his Lord Lucan looks in favour of a clean cut approach.

Martin Nickless
Sax & Clarinet
It is a failing of mine to be too light hearted with the talents of these accomplished musicians but sometimes they add the grist to the mill themselves. Tonight though the Kelvin Christiane's Big Band were the essence of focussed zeal, Brotherhood and togetherness. There was not a breath of hot air in their final tune "Wind Machine". It was as punchy as anything rumbling off the Siberian steppes. Which prepared everyone nicely for their walk home.

Chris Gower - Trombone

Dave Eaglestone - Trombone

Matt Yardley - trumpet

Pete Hurt - flute & sax

Stuart Green
Cabbage Patch landlord
and sound engineer.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Monday Hideaway Jazz Jam

Saint Duncan Eagles
This is just a short piece in recognition of Duncan Eagles and Max Luthert who have run the Jazz Jam at the Hideaway in Streatham since it opened in 2010. Before this they cranked the handle on the infamous Grey Horse Jam in Kingston-upon-Thames and it was here I first starting sketching jazz musicians. The rest is history as they say.

Max Luthert
The evening starts with a jazz workshop and this is where Eagles, Luthert, Eric Ford (drums) and Ralph Lewars (piano) share their knowledge of music and performance with a broad range of students. Many players have passed through their hands and most behave themselves but occasionally there are those who would test the patience of a saint. Despite some fraying times Eagles always keeps his cool and has earned many a musician's respect due to his cucumber cool demeanour.

Tom Marlow - piano

The workshop (7-8.30pm) is sponsored by the Dordogne Jazz Summer School and its main focus is learning how to play and phrase the melodies and how to tackle improvising over the changes. Vocalists are welcome and for tunes with lyrics please bring them with you. For tunes without lyrics, charts will be made for vocalists with vocal parts to sing along with. Time is spent at getting each song up to “gigging standard”. Eagles and Co show you how to perform the tunes, counting in the band, where and in what order solos are attempted and how to start/end the pieces.

Dave Storey - drums

After a light supper the Jam starts (9pm) and it's time for a bit more expression. Entry is free to this session and its a great way to experience jazz for both audience and players alike. It is informal and friendly, with the standard of playing unimpeachable. You couldn't find a better venue this side of the Thames for a night to ease yourself into the week ahead.

I visited the Jazz Jam last week (02/02/2015) so that I could be captured on camera by filmmaker Dan Redding for a documentary he's just made about the 'Art Jazzed Up' project. This features the talents of Duncan Eagles, Max Luthert and this night's drummer, Dave Storey. Watch the film for some atmospheric shots of the Hideaway as well as the musicians themselves.

It goes without saying you'll see some well known faces from London's Jazz circuit but they'll always be a few surprises too. I added pianist Tom Marlow and guitarist David Warren to my portfolio of sketches. I will be keeping an eye out for both in the months ahead.

David Warren - guitar

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Ant Law & Iza Turska - Zero Sum World

Front cover - Zero Sum World, Ant Law
Whether we look into a dystopian future or it's past, you can't help but teeter on the verge of discovery when you experience Ant Law's imminent release (16th Feb 2015) on Whirlwind Recordings. As ever here at AOJ we like to delve into both the music and the art that represents it visually. The artist who has drawn her inspiration from Law's new album, Zero Sum World, is the multi-talented Iza Turska. She has form with Law for it is she who created the artwork for Entanglement, his debut album in 2013.

Iza Turska
It is unsurprisingly that Iza Turska has handled Zero Sum World with such skill, she originally trained in both Product Design (BA) and Graphic Design, Painting, Drawing, Ceramics (MA) at the Wroclaw Academy of Fine Arts in Poland. The buildings we see before us on the album cover have withstood a blast that has raised the surrounding landscape to mere scattered particles. An underground world is revealed and Man metaphorically stands above the abyss. Yet there is hope, for where there is a ladder, there is the opportunity to climb up as well as down. The choice is ours.

Initial idea for Zero Sum World
copyright of Iza Turska/Ant Law
The image was developed gradually, starting off with a portfolio of ideas and styles. Iza Turska was inspired by the music itself and the title/concept behind it.  Then it was a matter of honing what they liked with a few chosen ideas being fleshed out into more powerful statements. Eventually it was the combination of shadows against the stony backdrop and warm earthy buildings that caught the discerning eye.

Ant Law explains, "We wanted the concept to come across as far as is possible without it being too obvious. I was toying with much more apocalyptic ideas too. If you listen to the title track (track one) it builds from very very sparse to total chaos and then disintegrates, which has an apocalyptic vibe. I actually was influenced heavily by Vijay Iyer's “Because Of Guns” piece."

2nd phase idea for Zero Sum World
copyright of Iza Turska/Ant Law
The title comes from the “Zero Sum Game” in mathematics (Law himself was a scholar in Physics at Edinburgh University): when the total number of points belonging to the winner added to that of the loser equals zero. As such in a zero sum world no one can profit without someone else's loss.

The music on his new release was recorded immediately after an extensive 29 date UK tour and a brief sojourn to Brazil. His band features four guiding lights in British contemporary music: Ivo Neame (piano), James Maddren (drums), Michael Chillingworth (​multiple reeds​) and Tom Farmer (bass).
Check out the official promo video for Zero Sum World -
The album already has a 4 star recommendation from Marlbank.

The album's 7th track, “Triviophobia” is about not taking things too seriously, in particular the arts, and especially music. It is therefore admirable that Ant Law has chosen the artwork of Iza Turska to represent his music. She treads a tightrope with his concepts, quite possibly with the serious battles we face ahead, but it is done with a simplicity in mind. It is an idea. Just one simple idea to start the thinking process.