Saturday 28 December 2013

Simon Spillett - Bear Grills

Simon Spillett - Saxophone

Striding into the arena of the Twickenham Jazz Club last week (19/12/2014) was the handsome and manly Simon Spillett. It was the final bout for both the TJC and myself in 2013, a Christmas party of sorts that was mercifully short of festive melodies but full of good cheer.

Colin Kyte -
 TJC designer
It has been a healthy first year on the Art Of Jazz site, with plenty of variety from within and outside the Jazz fraternity. In fact the most popular entries have been those about my time on a Simulated Mental Health Ward at Kingston University. Fine Art exhibitions and album design work still occupy most of my time so it is always a balancing act. The body is weak sometimes after a night sketching followed by family duties and a day in the studio. Nevertheless the site has been visited 20,000 times in 2013, with the Whirlwind Jazz Festival in October the pinnacle of the year.

Roger Beaujolais - Vibes
It was a fittingly breath taking night to bow out. Simon Spillet resplendent in a black winter beard looked more like a suited gladiator than a jazz frontman. With an air of Crixus about him he was combative in both technique and speed. His microphonic patter has a dark humour that matched his hirsute appearance. The opener for the quartet was 'The night has a thousand eyes' and our gazes were indeed trained on heartthrob Mr Spillett who roamed the stage like the love child of Grizzly Adams and one of his bears.

Alec Dankworth - Bass
The man who always attracts our attention and a favourite amongst the TJC crowd is Roger Beaujolais. Despite the tenderness of the second tune 'My Funny Valentine' Beaujolais extended a high whip, really putting his shoulder into the thrashing of his vibraphone. He exploded from the gates on 'A Night in Tunisia' (from Simon Spillett's most recent release Square One). It was the cue for a Spillett attack, his delivery as quick as a jelly sliding off a plate. You caught a handful of notes in you mitts before it slid through your fingers, he was so rapid, but it was Beaujolais who broke the mould. On Clifford Brown's 'Sandu' he slid off his glasses and let down his hair for this meaty groover. When at full tilt Beaujolais has a tendency to part the mouth like a Page 3 model and moistens his lips in the most alluring of poses. An unlikely flaxen haired sex symbol.

Alec Dankworth on bass made his mark later in the second set. His playing on 'But Beautiful' (Jimmy Van Heusen) was more satisfying than taking a rich long draw on an illicit cigarette. With his unflappable persona and those happy/sad eyes he remained somewhat of an enigma.

Kelvin Christiane - Sax

Trevor Tomkins brought in his own fan club to swell the already bursting audience numbers. Despite a couple of visits to see him at his Red Lion residency in nearby Isleworth, he has been an absentee in my sketchbook all year. Even though he was bathed in a deathly ghoulish light his performance was anything but undead. If the lights had been dimmed any further you could still have identified Tomkins' silhouette. With a head that often lists to the left and a shoulder that kicks like a mule trying to dislodge a troublesome fly he has a Zen aura that radiated to the back rows of the Twickenham Jazz Club. I wish that he could have been my Mr Miyagi when I was bullied at school for being a teenage Acker Bilk lover.

Mike - New Face

We all had an early Christmas present when Kelvin Christiane came back to join us after his enforced substitution due to Mallet Finger. He is the Club's Spartacus and with Lesley alongside him they once again packed The Bloomsbury pub. It has not always been this way and the TJC has seen ebbs and flows this year. What is encouraging is the new faces amongst the regulars and I sketched a bestubbled Mike who was accompanied by a bevvy of beautiful women.

Andy Rock -
TJC Regular
I will leave the final word to Twickenham Jazz Club double act, Andy Rock & Colin Kyte. Sitting on the front row like iconic Muppets Statler & Waldorf, the aforementioned Rock turned to Kyte and said
"Spillett and Beaujolais are so fast and furious they're bucking the trend and shedding a few pounds before Christmas".

Like the rest of us I've started the slimline regime after the festivities and I'll be ready for action in the New Year.

See you then.

Friday 13 December 2013

Alex Hutton Trio - Dark Fables

Alex Hutton - Keys
Alex Hutton does not perform his own compositions enough and it is mystery to us why not. The crowd at Twickenham Jazz Club would welcome him back week after week, for they listened with intense delight and finished the evening by leaping to their feet in praise.

A standing ovation was not on the cards considering the start to the evening (28/11/2013) which spluttered to life with a clashing of melodies and volumes. 'Crying Wolf' nearly brought us to tears, partly because of a new synth riding on Hutton's usual keyboard arrangement, whose temperamental volume control jumped and dipped with alarming regularity. It also took some time to digest Stu Ritchie, his drumming and all of his noise toys which he produced from his magician's bag. Here's a man who juxtaposes his diminutive appearance with a larger than life sound and persona.

Dave Whitford - Bass
Both the first and second tune 'Clouds' were from Alex Hutton's most recent album Legentis. The Trio now restored some serenity with this tender tune and the warm front of Dave Whitford rolled in with a subtle rumble. Whitford often gets so low whilst playing you would think he was competing in a limbo competition rather than a concert. He is a thoughtful player who I have sketched in a clutch of gigs recently, here he was the nimbus nexus.

No Alex Hutton gig could be without his signature tune  'JJ' and Ritchie's drive on drums supported Hutton as he played with intensity and commitment. As an audience you get caught in the drama of the tune, it is a hurtling nose dive you just cannot pull away from. This wasn't the show stopper though. 'Shenandoah' created such a hush in the ample audience that we heard the footsteps of Dave Whitford in Alex Hutton's snowfall of notes. Hutton usually plays with an intense bow but here he leaned back and with mouth open unshackled his wrists.

Stu Ritchie - Drums
If our ears were tuned to bass and piano then our eyes were fixed on Stu Ritchie and his drums. His versatility is so impressive you feel you are experiencing more than just one man. Here with drumstick in mouth he gave us the drummer's equivalent of a Jew's harp. It fitted perfectly with his wily coyote image, Ritchie is wonderful to draw as he looks like one of those gnarled compact Gauls from an Asterix book.

The synth which housed Alex Hutton's 'Flute in a box' was a hit and miss affair, but it set the mood on the atmospheric 'Robin Hood's Cave'. Its hollow call combined with Ritchie's bowing, and created a growling smear of retro emotion. It reminded us of those dark fables so keenly animated in the 1970's where children's tales weren't spoiled by a sugary coating. I am full of admiration for the Twickenham Jazz Club audience who digested both Hutton's sweet frosting and his bitter laments with equal relish.


ps. After this gig I tracked down the music for Noggin the Nog which you can download here.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Sons of Kemet - Barbican Charmers

Oren Marshall - Tuba
 Where the previous occupants of the Barbican stage (21/11/2013) enticed us into their void of Rorschach jazz, Sons of Kemet did quite the opposite. The rampant quartet of Shabaka Hutchings, Oren Marshall, Tom Skinner and Seb Rochford burst their banks like the rolling dry ice that signalled their exuberant arrival. This was the end of my EFG London Jazz Festival experience and I saw a few familiar faces lurking after Mehliana's first set. Jamie Skey of the Quietus looked even more jaded than myself while legendary Jazz-Face Steve Marchant was spritely, despite having stayed up late to watch his beloved cricket the night before.

Seb Rochford - Drums
This concert was as much about performance as it was the music. Firstly there is Hollow Auditorium Affliction to overcome, a disease which can render the most jazz loving audience seat bound and many an experienced musician floundering in the footlights. A full Barbican is very different to playing in Oliver's Bar in Greenwich for instance. Then there is the Second Set Malaise, that can arise after your Headliners have exited stage right.

Shabaka Hutchings -
Tenor Saxophone
Sons of Kemet turned the tables. If you didn't know who was the King and who were the pretenders, then you would have assumed that SOK were the incumbents.

Luckily Oren Marshall's Tuba is pinned upon a tripod support because his presence seemed to roam throughout hall. It is indeed fortunate that the huge instrument is shackled as his mesmeric hip action flows right down to his feet. He resembles a keep fit Lovely, marching on the spot but never moving, and yes I think this could be the next Keep Fit craze. The Tumba could rival the mighty Zumba.

It goes without saying that Seb Rochford follicly catches the eye but it was the skipping dancing Shabaka Hutchings that grabbed the crowd's attention. After Oren Marshall's swelling chuckle on the second tune it was Hutchings who musically danced around him, sending out shafts of sunlight from his clarinet. These hollow rays burst into a swarm of fire flies that ultimately dispersed amongst the enthusiastic crowd. We were entranced equally by the range of the Tuba in Marshall's hands. He started the subsequent tune with a cloying rumble as if the Jaberwocky itself were waking from its slumber and then he slipped us into the wandering Yorkshire Dales where our sodden boots stuck in its rich earth.

Tom Skinner - Drums
When your eyes wandered from the Shabaka snake and his charmer Marshall it was to the drumming twins stage centre. Tom Skinner sexed it up with his thigh slapping raps and we all wondered what goes on in the head of cool cucumber Seb Rochford.

Before the standing ovation we had one last chance to see Oren Marshall fire a volley of shots with his swivelling Tuba at Shabaka Hutchings while his buttocks clenched and unclenched in time with the latter's slithering melodies.

I met the aforementioned Jamie Skey on my way out and he looked a different man. He had been revived and was animatedly full of energy for more London Jazz Festival outings. For me it was the end, the perfect way to go out on a high.


Monday 9 December 2013

Brad Mehldau / Mehliana - Rorschach Jazz

Brad Mehldau - Keys
 This isn't my usual style but neither was it your usual jazz concert. An expectant audience packed the Barbican (19/11/2013) to see / hear Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana perform as electric duo Mehliana. The auditorium was pitch black but lit my a sickly pink light and an illuminated splattered backdrop high above the heads of both musicians.

Mark Guilana
Keyboardist Brad Mehldau with back to the audience didn't acknowledge us once, in fact because of his deep concentration he deliberated thrust his face in the opposite direction. At the height of his musical passion he would rub his cheek against his shoulder like a needy animal that needs comforting.

Tune 1
Drummer Mark Guiliana was the juxtapoint to Mehldau's deep introverted behaviour, his demeanour was exaggerated, he was often screwed tight in a ball and then thrust himself out over his kit. Guiliana faced the ample No Man's Land between himself and his co-conspirator. In fact there was a tension and energy that floated in between the two of them, a crackling electricity that sucked us in like a shadowy magnetic pole.

Tune 2
The room was so dark and with the skittish Mehldau hiding in his warren of piano, synths and Fender Rhodes it could of been a very frustrating night. So lifting the cartridge out of one of my pens, I started to empty the contents onto the page, letting intuition be moulded by the music. What materialised were a set of ink blots, five are reproduced here and another 3 ended in an undefined mess. It seemed a perfect solution, with no other pointers to direct the audience, no titles to the tunes, no chat from Mehldau and this gaping symmetric splurge of the backdrop hanging above us all. This was a cross between a relaxing dream and a therapy session.

Tune 4
Tune 1 and the afore mentioned energy between the Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana became the two plasma spheres as they sparked with electrical surges, but it was a crackle and spit in slow motion. Mehldau hands scissored, his left going right and vice-versa, it was like he was playing Twister and Guiliana was spinning the wheel. Tune 2 reminded me of a fictional Berlin, it is night time, and there are bright glowing toy automatons dancing in a shop window. They are not totally innocent children's playthings though, with their sinister creeping you fear they may break through the glass.

Tune 5
Tune 4 was a lunar leap in slow motion, with its wide arms outstretched it welcomed us. Here Mehldau started his cheek rubbing with fervour. Tune 5 had a heavy ringing soul, it reminded me of a gym addicted Tin-Man from the Wizard of Oz whacking a punch bag in frustration. A mixture of exploding screws and the dull thump as the daggling leather sausage is compacted. Here in the Barbican audience there was little disquiet, the woman sitting next to me fell asleep and a man heckled Mehldau, airing his frustration with the lack of piano action.

Personally I gave myself over to the music and let my emotions fester like they were the black fungus of a Rorschach ink blot. The encore was the watershed for a few more who departed the auditorium, while for the majority who stayed it seemed they had been infected beyond sanity itself. The final tune started as if Ray Manzarek had just rolled in on his bulldozer and then broke into a subtle dance between spindly insects. Nature's disturbing macabre delicacy obviously crept into my last blot of the night.

You've got a chance to hear for yourself, because it was recorded by Radio 3 for Jez Nelson's London Jazz Festival programme, but you've only got 14 hours left to see what imagery you can conjure from the inkblot of your subconscious.


Friday 6 December 2013

Peter Lee / Narcissus - The Bold, Beautiful, Young and Serious

Peter Lee - Piano
The bristling jazz organisers, Young & Serious, hosted a suitably edgy concert at the EFG London Jazz festival this year (19/11/2013). Providing a platform for the exciting 5 piece Narcissus, under the leadership of Peter Lee.  Pitt the Younger would have been proud of Lee's assured performance in the Front Room of Queens Elizabeth Hall before an overflowing audience and a selection of older jazz glitterati. As I stood there sketching I noticed amongst others Gareth Lockrane, Eric Ford and Geoff Gascoyne come in to check-out jazz's new breed.

Huw Foster - Bass
With a nod between Peter Lee and Ali Thynne on drums we ran into the opening tunes' flip flopping tempos. Huw Foster's bass drove his deep tyre tracks all over it and again on second composition 'Mirror Stage' he was the pathfinder, navigating with a slow power. His deep grooves kicked sand in our faces, creating a thirst that needed to be sated by Josh Arcoleo. Even though we gorged on his saxophone we wanted more and splutteringly we gulped it in.

Josh Arcoleo - Saxophone
Arcoleo rode the waves while Tom Varrall skimmed his short hard slingshots across the third tune 'Dependency'. The next, 'Criss Cross' brought Peter Lee to the fore and it was a standout in this succinct 6 tune set. Lee cuts a frail and languid figure, dark and attractive like Lucky Luke in appearance. His rising stance announced the composition's 'prog jazz' spring and Lee enticed us with a light and fumbling happiness. The tune darted into the audience like a rolling coin, balancing on its edge, people rose in their seats to see where the nugget's journey would end.

Tom Varrall - Guitar
The Christian Hymn 'How Great Thou Art' combined Synth and Bass in a pulsating performance that sucked our meandering feet into its sludge yet we stood looking up into the light.

Ali Thynne - Drums
Finally as the QEH filled to bursting, Narcissus signed off with 'Writer's Block' and its upbeat punch, like walking down a NYC sidewalk. The crowd swelled with coffee swiggers and baguette wolfers who crammed every available floor space as though we had in reality found ourselves in the city's rush-hour traffic. We fell back into the shards of the metropolis and the saxophone's sirens hit hard.


Wednesday 4 December 2013

Duncan Eagles Quartet - Spicing Life

Duncan Eagles - Tenor Saxophone
From a cursory glance at Facebook it is clear that some jazz musicians spend days sitting in their pants with Playstations in hand. Even though I have sketched Duncan Eagles more than any other muso in my brief tenure on this blog I do not know whether he embraces the tracksuit pose or a full Y-frontal exposé in his spare time. On this day (17/11/2013) of the EFG London Jazz Festival he had absolutely no time to put his feet up. Earlier he had performed with Mark Perry and then Leo Appleyard's Quartet at Pizza Express. Despite this heavy workload he saved the best to last and flourished at a boisterous Spice of  Life in Soho.
Benet Mclean

The opening set by Duncan Eagles' younger brother, Samuel, had got us in the mood but it was Eagles Senior who now commanded the stage with a relaxed repertoire from his various projects. The wild card in the quartet's pack was the mercurial Benet Mclean who I had sketched the day before at The Southbank Centre. Despite being in a laidback mood Mclean laid down a lyrical palette with a pointillist's verve. Although he is more of the Hieronymus Bosch and Richard Dadd persuasion his colourful dabs transformed the opener 'Shawty' into a dreamy interlude that left us in a state of hypnotic wonderment.

Chris Nickolls - Drums
Two new tunes warmed the belly of the set, both of which I had heard recently at the Jazzed Up Exhibition. Both Chris Nickolls and the aforementioned Mclean drunk deeply from Max Luthert's new composition 'Banrock Station' while Eagles was at his most direct, with that overblowing style and rising left shoulder illuminating his own 'Folk Song'.

Max Luthert - Bass
Luthert's composition skills were again called to the fore in the form of 'Quiet December' which is soon to be released on his debut album. It has a pedestrian opening and a lulling effect that always makes me feel like smoking again, just to complete the reflective vibe. There were a few yawns in the audience but this shouldn't reflect badly on Luthert or the quartet because it was the cold reality of Monday morning that had started to dawn on us. Similar to that cold sweat when January peeks its icy head under our Christmas duvet. Benet Mclean added the tinsel once again to the Duncan Eagles Quartet's Douglas Fir.

Paul Pace - Mr Spice
The finale was a family affair with a powerful tenor and alto combo from Eagles senior and junior. It was a challenge of dexterity over conflict even though Duncan watched Samuel like a hawk. It was not clear whether this was in admiration or with a sibling's protective arm around his younger brother. The family theme was complete when I accosted the Eagles' parents on the escalator which descended into the dungeons of Tottenham Court Road and I embarrassed them with my tipsy praise, but we must acknowledge Paul Pace's nurturing involvement too. This is the third year in a row that he has hosted Duncan Eagles at the London Jazz Festival and from his balconied perch he must look down with pride at how this protégé continues to artistically develop and grow.


Tuesday 3 December 2013

Frolicking with the Samuel Eagles Quartet

Samuel Eagles - Alto Saxophone
On Sunday 17th November 2013 the Samuel Eagles Quartet presented us with a superb performance that announced his and their arrival upon London's burgeoning Jazz stage. This was the first half of an Eagles double bill, with older brother Duncan also trotting out for the EFG London Jazz Festival. The Spice of Life and Paul Pace deserve the credit for these progressive bookings. On the first Sunday of the LJF I always bring a band of jazz lovers and newbies out with me, make a party of it, and we had a ball!

Ralph Wyld - Vibes
To many this was new material from fresh faces but I had been lucky enough to hear these tunes before in the comfort of Clown's Pocket Studio as they recorded their debut album. Eagles had grown a mane since then, which was firmly swept back and with leather padded elbows he looked the studious type. He is a quiet man who you imagine could bend in even the most feeble breeze but he is so firmly grounded, both in his music and temperament.

Fergus Ireland - Bass
Opener "Remembering Myself" moved to "The Place I Live" and we had an early glimpse of what make the SEQ such a breath of fresh air. Amidst Eagles' frenetic composition there was an explosion of calm from the vibes of Ralph Wyld, though not without some tension. It seems you can't keep drummer Eric Ford under wraps for long, for it was he who played the role of sadistic P.E. teacher to the youngsters around him, zipping up the pace with an ever increasing zeal.

Fergus Ireland ran the bass line on "We Were meant to be", which resulted in an exciting tumble as we roly polied with Eagles' hedgehog delivery. "My Instigation" was captivating because of its precise changes in pace and epitomised what is so exhilarating about this set. The music represents a joyous balance between light and dark. This is not a Ying-Yang kind of checkerboard light, more of a dabbled variety like a frolic in and out of a tree lined avenue. You long for the crisp sunlight of Wyld and Eagles when the canopy's chill seeps into you and then the calm of Ireland's Bass when you need that time to dwell.

Eric Ford - Drums

My favourite was the penultimate "Outsider", once again a tune defined by the pooling eddies of Ralph Wyld but expertly set up by Samuel Eagles and Eric Ford whose sluice gates accelerated and guided the currents of the composition. The final offering was "Next Beginning" which ended perfectly on a carefree note, with a promise of a bright future. This includes the release of their debut album and a tour that will be worth experiencing.