Saturday 31 May 2014

Maz O'Connnor at Twickfolk

Maz O'Connor with guitar
As you may know I spent a glorious 6 months as artist-in-residence at Twickfolk to help celebrate 30 years of live music at this popular venue. This was my first time back (25/05/2014), under the recommendation of  reliable talent spotter, Mike Watts, or Dr Fizzy as he is more popularly known. The talent in question was Maz O'Connor, a petite singer with both compositional and vocal skills that have been celebrated recently with a nomination for the Horizon Award in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2013.

Twickfolk is run by enthusiasts and volunteers so the welcome is always genuine and heartfelt upon arrival. I felt even more at home with the news that Sue Graves would be providing the support. An all too short brace of tunes gave us first Amos Lee's "Sweet Pea" and then 'A May carol'. She is both a real asset to Twickfolk and the folk scene itself with the clarity of her unfaltering voice.

Sue Graves
Whether it was the build up or exterior factors at play but the otherwise competent Maz O'Connor tripped over words frequently during introductions and in-between tunes. Strangely she felt exposed on stage and this was exaggerated in the dead silence of a folk club. The audience though didn't let her flounder. Of course music is their most common bond but such diverse subjects as Greek mythology and the Suffragettes movement were not beyond their oeuvre.

Maz O'Connor's most successful tune of the evening was "Greenwood side" that painted a rich picture in its combination of narrative and music. Based upon a heady mix of Pre-Raphaelites imagery and the subject matter of Lizzie Siddal, the song churned dark and rich like the Hogsmill River that runs just a few miles away. It was here that John Everett Millais painted his iconic version of Ophelia which now hangs in the Tate Gallery and remains one of our nation's favourite paintings. I hope this tune will find a place close to our hearts too.

Maz O'Connor - Shruti Box
O'Connor didn't dominate her appearance at Twickfolk but to her credit her demeanour was one of approachability over star quality. Her voice had a light purity that skated over the ice rather than cut into it with an ear-catching pirouette. Her song-writing by contrast had a strength which lasted throughout. The two songs that cut the deepest were "The Mississippi Woman" and "My Persephone", the latter had stretch and ambition that gave us a full view of our headliner's talents.


Friday 30 May 2014

Renato D'Aiello - The unexpected turn

Renato D'Aiello - Saxophone
With this blog being only 18 months old we have travelled a great distance, with new music and a myriad of characters in all shapes and sizes. It is inevitable that you will see the same faces again and again in London's tight Jazz circuit but the challenge is to keep the mind, heart and sketches buoyant. Renato D'Aiello it seems doesn't have this problem, although understated and gentle at times he retains the freshness and zest of his younger self. It might also be why he surrounds himself with a carousel of young and hungry musicians to bolster flagging energy levels.

Emiliano Caroselli -
Tonight at the Twickenham Jazz Club(15/05/2014) his quartet included local favourite Alex Hutton who's attire mingles a little of his Sheffield steel with his fellow Italian's flair. Resplendent in satin waistcoat and with his fair hair slicked back, it was though Little Lord Fauntleroy had taken a wrong turn and joined the heist in Reservoir Dogs.

Dario di Lecce - Bass
Hutton immediately made an impression in an otherwise gentle first set. The Bloomsbury's subtle darkness meant it took some time to familiarise ourselves with D'Aiello's newest recruits during this hour. Thrust back far into the dark was Emiliano Caroselli on drums and my drawings are a mere scribble of a man who played with great restraint. It always seems strange to comment on a drummers ability to play quietly and subtly but here it was an asset rather than an insult. There was another slender figure in the shadows, Dario di Lecce's (Bass) statuesque silhouette rose like a Brancusi bird with a Giacometti elegance and defied the gloom.

Kelvin Christiane -
Tenor Saxophone
I will skip straight to the second set which gave more to the audience. They in turn had warmed by now to Renato D'Aiello's charm which swells you with the slow upturn of his smile. A new self-penned tune epitomised this subtlety, 'The Angel' is a simple walk along what feels like a familiar path at first, a country stroll, neither too fast nor slow. Alex Hutton soon loses his way, and this is not a criticism, freed from the others he strides out scattering his notes as if they were hundreds of pine needles kicked from under his boot. Swept by Hutton's spiritual verve we no longer have our feet in London clay. Maybe because this tune is without a strong motif, you find yourself devoid of compass and happy to be led to pastures new. It is like taking that unexpected turn on a route that you have travelled all your life.

Alex Hutton - piano
'Portrait of Jenny' was painted with the thickest of impastos, and with its sweetness you could have swapped Naples Yellow for lemon curd. It had a rejuvenating effect on the main man and D'Aiello had the verve and spring of a pup. In fact his trademark flat cap now resembled that of a schoolboy's, and the tune spoke of a young man's unrequited love which swells his breast to bursting.

Finally a trip to 'Bolivia' rounded off the evening with host Kelvin Christiane flying shotgun on Tenor Saxophone. He was a coiled spring, dressed all in white, it was though he had stepped of the bus from a Kung Fu convention. Crouching solo hidden dragon tells you all you need to know. It was also an opportunity for everyone to let their hair down, those with the lushest of locks, Hutton and Caroselli benefitted the most. As did we the audience.


Friday 16 May 2014

Martin Alvarado - The Atlas of Tango

Martin Alvarado - Tango sensation
Catching Martin Alvarado in concert is like trying to snare a shark in jam jar. It is no surprise that this Tango heavyweight was awarded a coveted LUKAS (Latin UK Award) for best concert by an International Artist in 2013, for he is no minnow of his genre in either talent or appearance.

Last Thursday (18/05/2014) I visited the Colour House Theatre, Merton Abbey Mills to try and capture Martin Alvarado in my sketchbook at least. His appeal is a manly one, with hands and shoulders so broad you suspect he has cradled more celestial spheres than Atlas himself and perchance kissed a few lips too.

The man with the barrel chest was not just a brute but also playful too. His third song of the evening Fruta Amarga (Bitter Fruit) was sweeter than the name suggests, with a lilt that made one think of the seaside rather the cold churn of the nearby river Wandle.

Accompanying Alvarado throughout the evening was the dark and mysterious Claudio Constantini on bandoneon and latterly piano. For an artist it is a visual treat to see the bandoneon in full flow. Constantini often had his eyes cast down like a shy lover but it seems his attention was transfixed by the slinking instrument in his hands. It squirmed and wriggled like a child who was being chastised on the knee of a Victorian disciplinarian.

Claudio Constantini - bandoneon
Alvarado switched from comic to heartfelt troubadour in the blink of an eye. The end of the first set was particularly strong with a trio of 'The same sorrow', the rapid fire and up tempo milonga 'Campo Afuera' and Carlos Gardel's 'El día que me quieras'.

The last time I sketched Martin Alvarado was at Lauderdale House, London in 2013 alongside critic and mentor Rich Rainlore. I was captivated by Tango pianist and composer Juan Maria Solare who played an all too brief set. Since then I have been fortunate enough to create the artwork to his latest release which has introduced me to the magic of Gardel. He is back in London next week at Bolivar Hall if you want to experience Solare first hand (Friday 23rd May, Free Entry, 7pm).

The second set started in a purring atmosphere of intimacy, and it was easy to fall under the spell of Alvarado's  Cheshire Cat grin. I realised my hypnosis was complete when I found myself buying a drink for the likable Headteacher next to me in a fit of Tango hedonism.

Alvarado doesn't always talk of love and he was served well on more than one occasion by the sinister musical undertow of Claudio Constantini. Together their music spoke of the rituals associated with loneliness, the repetition and sparse beauty that can sometimes envelope you. The song which epitomised this decent would be Martin Alvarado's performance of 'Alfonsina y el Mar' (Ariel Ramirez/Félix Luna) which tells the tragic story of Alfonsina Storni (1892–1938) who tragically or bravely walked out to sea until she drowned. Luckily life didn't imitate art and the ample crowd at Colour House Theatre negotiated the treacherous river Wandle without any casualties. Although I suspect one or two of the audience fell for the charms of Mr Alvarado.


Friday 2 May 2014

Christine Tobin - Kiss and tell

Christine Tobin
Christine Tobin came to the Twickenham Jazz Club with only two sidemen to fight for her cause. There is a bravery and obvious purity in having so few instruments and personalities on stage. It was toward the end of the month (24/04/2014) and the crowd wasn't as plump in numbers, so it made for a close knit group with a singer who weaves a narrative with great skill and pathos.

The spine of the performance belonged to an 80 year old, well his songs anyway. The words of Leonard Cohen have given Tobin the inspiration for her latest album A Thousand Kisses Deep (2014 - Trail Belle Records) but visually she has very little in common with the Canadian wordsmith.

Dave Whitford - Bass

Christine Tobin was bathed in a spicy light that only exaggerated her already flame hair and exotic visage that challenged Cleopatra with its generous sweep of mascara. When her hips started to move and the gypsy hoops in her ears started to swing you couldn't help but imagine her as an Irish Esmerelda. Despite there being another poet's words in her mouth it is her ability as a storyteller that lived with us long after this performance.

Phil Robson - guitar
"Dance Me To The End Of Love", "A Thousand Kisses Deep", "Everybody Knows", "Take This Waltz" swept past before we saw the best of Dave Whitford on Bass. We familiarised ourselves with the stoop of Whitford recently when he performed with the excellent Alex Hutton at TJC in December 2013. Tonight and without charts to look at, he raised himself to his full height. Another two Cohen tunes "Story Of Isaac" and "Tower of Song" gave us a mere flavour of his talents and it was a regret we didn't taste more of his solo work in particular.

Joe the Hat
The third member of the trio was the consummate professional Phil Robson on guitar, with a dead pan demeanour that barely varied throughout the evening. Neither did his talents dwindle from start to finish. He laid down an early marker on "A Thousand Kisses Deep" where he was gentle and firm. As a kisser I imagine he would be smooth and easy, not a fast and furious fiddler.

Caroline Rock
Robson is going to be a busy man this year with his Organ Trio (Ross Stanley & Gene Calderazzo) coming to the capital on 13th May (S.E Collective) and further afield a North American tour with the Partisans.

Lister Park
With only the trio on stage for the majority of the night, it gave me a chance to turn my pen on some of the audience and of course the first person that catches your eye is legendary Jazz figure Joe the Hat who doesn't need any introductions. The music copyright expert Andy Rock was in attendance with his elegant wife and the TJC's website manager Lister Park brought a bit of muscle to proceedings.

Kelvin Christiane -
A Twickenham Jazz Club night wouldn't be the same without an entrance from host Kelvin Christiane, this time on soprano saxophone. He gave the swinging "Angel Eyes" the sass it needed and the lemony zest that perfectly balanced the buttery voice of Christine Tobin.


Thursday 1 May 2014

Elijah Ford and father Marc

Elijah Ford
You don't often get the chance to see a son challenge his father's reputation during a performance but that is what happened at London's Jazz Café last month (22/04/2014) as Marc Ford kicked off his 'Holy Ghost' tour. I am sure it was with the blessing and encouragement of his 'guvnor' that Elijah Ford emerged from the metaphorical shadows despite the family duo both lurking in the meagre lighting at the venue.

Stew Jackson
It is difficult to define a Marc Ford crowd, just as it is to sketch him in a room packed with bodies eager to see their hero. There were plenty of beards, some short, long and some thick, there was even one you could only categorise as Metro Hillbilly. There was tracksuited couple in matching outfits and a group of 7 or 8 Mods that looked like The Small Faces had just stepped out of a time machine.

Marc Ford
Elijah Ford opened in the support spot and was soon swallowed into the belly of his father's group, like Jonah in the whale. His voice rang true throughout the two hours and his vocal expression and lyrics were complex and mature. His is currently making an album with Stew Jackson who swelled the ranks alongside the other members of Phantom Limb for young Ford's final tune 'Blessing'.

Stew Jackson it seems has fingers in plenty of pies, as producer and musician but on this occasion they strayed from guitar to the more prone pedal steel. He was not the only one to change instruments and this was a constant theme throughout the evening with both Andy Lowe and Elijah Ford showing their versatility.

Matt Brown - drums
For the uninitiated it was hard to find the path that would reach Marc Ford's musical summit. So while I waited for my epiphany I concentrated on the man in the shadows. Ford Senior looks like he has seen some battles, with a manly check to his shirt and a face so rugged it looks like it could chop wood for the fire with a mere glance. During the early stages of his set his lyrics were too simplistic to gather me into his fold but there were strands of melancholy and narrative that piqued the mind.

Andy Lowe
"Dancing Shoes" was the turning point, it's slow drive and drawl could have ended with more frustration until I realised that it was speed that was my key, or rather the lack of it. Here were a set of tunes so easy and plumb you could chew on them like a sweet sticky pudding. The pace did pick up and there was even a soufflé bounce in the following "Blue Sky" which saw guitarist Luke Cawthra wipe the sweat of his bald pate with one big sweep of a forearm like a swipe of a monster truck's windscreen wiper.

Elijah Ford remained the most animated and interesting figure on stage, the others sported a deadpan demeanour that was Fargo-esque in its lack of emotion. "Turquoise Blue" brought out the best lyrically between the father and son combo, where their vocals rubbed against each other, sending out delicious splinters into the audience.

Luke Cawthra
I admit it took an age to cast off the hustle and bustle of a life lived in London's stressful flow. It was therefore symbolic that "I'm Free" was the moment when the weight lifted and at last I knew, that this music was less homogeneous than the plethora of checked shirts on stage would make you think. "Sometimes" brought a very healthy response from the London crowd that has propelled the tour through dates in Belgium, Holland and Germany.

In the following weeks Ford is destined to conquer a large part of Spain with dates in Madrid (10th May) and Pamplona (15th May) being standouts. It is a shame that he will be too early to lock horns with the famous Pamplona bulls, because even these ferocious beasts would mellow to the sound of Marc Ford and his talented offspring.