Friday 27 June 2014

Graeme Taylor - Fat Sax

Piers Green - Alto saxophone
Ahead of us are so many obvious pitfalls that I will endeavour not to afflict upon you too many cringeworthy metaphors, nor make this journey to odious. Despite having 9 musicians and an elephant in the room at Twickenham Jazz Club (19/06/2014) Graeme Taylor's Fat Sax still had room to swing the modest audience by their coat tails. The elephant in question shot himself in the foot midway through the performance with the aid of two goals from Luis Suarez. Yes, this was the night of England's game against Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup. I will not say anything more it, for all our sakes.

Damian Cook - Alto
Graeme Taylor's Fat Sax project tips its hat to the world's most classy tribute act of all time, Supersax. Created in 1972 to honour the iconic bebop music of saxophonist Charlie Parker. It went on to feature a ever changing role call of talented musicians, including a personal favourite, Blue Mitchell. Taylor has kept true to the original format of 2 alto saxes (Piers Green, Damian Cook), 2 tenor saxes (Sam Walker, Toby Stewart) and  baritone (Ollie Weston), trumpet (Sid Gauld) and a rhythm section of bass (Rob Hutchinson),  drums (Mike Bradley) and the man himself on piano.

Sid Gauld - trumpet
The early exchanges surprisingly weren't dominated by the saxophone, this was reserved for trumpeter Sid Gauld. He was the lone herald on a battlefield, playing with clarity while the cavalry's steeds pawed the ground behind him. Gauld certainly wasn't cannon fodder and his 'hammerhead' approach broke through our defences with power and grace. On the 3rd tune, John Coltrane's 'Moment's notice' he stood proud, but we were starting to feel charge of the saxophones.

Toby Stewart - Tenor Sax
It was a overwhelming sensation to be sat in front of the Fat Sax wall of sound. It was not only their broad shoulders that blocked out much of The Bloomsbury 'atmospheric' lighting but the rolling wave of music that dominated the rest of the night. Often playing as one organic force they resembled a manly waterfall. Bud Powell's 'Tempus Fugit' epitomised this fast and furious approach, where the saxophones seem to fire all together yet spray off in their own jets of pleasure. A little like 5 men synchronised at an urinal but with much sweeter consequences.

Graeme Taylor - piano
Graeme Taylor broke into the rush of joyous and swinging saxophones with his own up-tempo artistry. Taylor is hard to capture in the sketchbook, he looks both muscular and light of foot and his eyes seem to have the sort of permanent twinkle reserved for American sitcoms and Casanovas. He is one of the movers and shakers at The Gunnersbury, where Big Band's perform on Sunday lunchtimes including his very own the Hot Waffle Big Band. Modest as always he lurks in the background but let me shed just a little light on his talents as a composer and arranger. You can now gets your hand on his 'charts' at Big Jazz Face, which isn't a euphemism but an invitation to play White Sand, his fast, furious, fantastic Latin composition with your own big band.

Sam Walker - Tenor Sax
The second set was equally attack minded with Sam Walker's tenor proving a talking point amongst the modest, attentive and knowledgeable crowd. Attributes (I do not know about modesty) displayed by Walker himself, for no other performer listened more keenly at his comrades playing nor applauded more generously. 'Moose the Mooche' gave us the shot in the arm that is Rob Hutchinson on bass but also a vocalising scatting interlude by polymath and drummer Mike Bradley.

Mike Bradley - drums
The over-riding theme of the night was the interchange between the Brass' togetherness and each individual's skill. Dexter Gordon's 'Cheese Cake' was the manifestation of this theory, compositionally switch-hitting between pace and personnel. Continuity kept on taking a cigarette break while the aforementioned Hutchinson and Bradley decadently blew smoke rings in our direction.

Ollie Weston - Baritone Sax
It is hard to single out one performer from the united line of saxophones but Ollie Weston's baritone was at it's most lyrical during Fat Sax's rendition of Charlie Parker's 'Confirmation'. Weston was nimble and light footed whilst negotiating the tune's complex chord changes. He was the gate that let me enter Fat Sax's wall of sound and sit up in my ivory tower as I watched the desolate England football fans sadly trudge below.

Rob Hutchinson - bass

Thursday 19 June 2014

Clement Regert - Wild Card

Clement Regert - guitar
Being embedded in London's Jazz circuit you get to hear about many of the musicians way before you ever get a chance to listen to them live. One such name is Clement Regert who has forged ahead with his Wild Card trio alongside Andy Noble (organ) and Sophie Alloway (drums). Since arriving in England in 2005 he has steadily made a name for himself amongst our Jazz elite and it is no surprise that he called upon such talented musicians as Dennis Rollins, Graeme Flowers and Pedro Segundo for this gig at Soho's Pizza Express (12/06/2014).

The usual balance of young professionals and adventurous tourists had been upset by the first night of the World Cup finals. Many of London's white collar community had fled to the suburbs and we were left with a smattering of couples with eyes only for one another and a melting pot of nationalities hell bent on boosting the trade in union jack hats and Oxford Street bargains.

Andy Noble - organ
Those that chose to stay at home and be dazzled by Brazil's yellow strip soon realised that all that glitters is not gold. Clement Regert's Wild Card kicked off with the finest of Brazilian exports by comparision. 'Canto de Xango' by Baden Powell de Aquino gives you not only compassion, but dexterity and most of all intellect, a quality not always associated with his fellow footballing countrymen. Regert gave us his own brand of Baden Powell, one which was brassy, turning Powell's usually dainty footsteps into deep and confident grooves.

Pedro Segundo - Percussion
'Sweet Smoke' choked off any more thoughts of round balls full of hot air. It was an early view of tonight's most impressive performers, Andy Noble and Pedro Segundo (percussion). Noble is another import to London's jazz family, from Australian stock originally. Our statuesque man on keys climbed even higher with his deep pulsing work on 'Place du Tertre', which is the square on Montmatre and the home to a small army of caricaturists. I do not need to exaggerate any of Noble's vital statistics in picture nor words.

Lowly Worm
Both artist and audience alike needed their night vision goggles to spot the olive skinned dreamboat Pedro Segundo in the Pizza Express' darkest recesses. Compositionally he was perfectly balanced by the fair complexion and white shirt of Sophie Alloway to his right. Together they looked like the King and Queen of a jumbled up chess set. Segundo provided much of the night's texture and his subtle solos were worth pricking up the ears for, especially on Kenny Barron's 'Sunshower'.

Sophie Alloway - Drums
The Latin themes that were carried so successfully by Noble and Segundo brought out the best in Clement Regert too. His lithe sleek frame wiggled and swayed to the infectious rhythms. With his trademark hat atop his head and hips swaying he resembled the iconic Lowly Worm of Richard Scarry fame. It wasn't all upbeat finger popping and Regert's intelligence came to the fore on his version of 'Feelin' Good'. He has a tendency to chew the melody with a dancing jaw and here because of the tune's slow pace he resembled a Spaghetti Western villain not unlike a French Lee Van Cleef.

Dennis Rollins - Trombone
Much of the evening's joy was reserved for the twin barrels of brass from Graeme Flowers (trumpet) and Dennis Rollins (Trombone). 'You are Amazing", a Regert penned tune, rubbed both organ and guitar together with a verve like two ancient Greeks oiling themselves. The tune's hero was Graeme Flowers, who gave us the glory. A real modern day Achilles. Sophie Alloway was above such manly macho camaraderie being the "Goddess of Groove" as Jazzwise's Jon Newey describes her.

Graeme Flowers - Trumpet
I hate to break the bad news that Alloway and the rest of Wild Card are indeed mortals. On the upside it means they are easier to track down. See them next week, Thursday 26th June at The Plough, not the big dipping variety but the pub in Ealing, which is much easier to get too.


Tuesday 17 June 2014

Electro Deluxe - London optimism

James Copley
The first thing that slaps you in the face is the sheer charisma of Electro Deluxe's frontman James Copley. His clean lines and true voice make it almost impossible to look the other way. That is how I spent most of last Tuesday (10/06/2014), rubber necking at the Camden Barfly, as this 7-piece French import crash landed upon London's shores.

Thomas Faure - sax
Electro Deluxe are more than one man, with an impressive range of up-tempo dancefloor swingers that use both lyrical and instrumental hooks to pulse a crowd to life. This was a modest affair for their first visit to the UK and one that without doubt will spurn a longer and more ambitious run of gigs in the future. You could fill a venue 5 times the size just with the eager Francophiles who inhabit London's bedsits and house-shares.

There is very little that makes their brand of Beat, Brass and Class exclusive to Gaulish music lovers but there is a devil-may-care attitude that refreshingly makes our stiff upper lip feel like an irritation in such a buoyant atmosphere as this.
Bertrand Luzignant - Trombone

Mathieu Gramoli - drums
James Copley wore a healthy sheen of sweat within seconds of Electro Deluxe's first tune along with a bow tie and blue silver 'Gump' suit that like it's most famous exponent, Norman Wisdom, was held together by one solitary button that strained under it's owner's excesses. It was the instrumental 'Ground' that was an early 'tour de force', horn led, with Bertrand Luzignant's trombone pumping in the verve. It epitomised the group's high energy brand of authentic bone-shaking funk.

Gael Cadoux - Keys
Going against the grain with the gentle and soulful 'Comin Home' James Copley illustrated why he is worth his weight in blue-eyed twinkles. Amongst the more high octane tunes in their repertoire you would imagine this tune would be a damp squib, but in Copley's hands it is an opportunity for interaction with his audience. His voice was gentle and soft like the fur on a peach but as you bit deeper into Copley's richness you couldn't help but feel his sweet juice roll down your chin.

Vincent Payen - Trumpet
Not all that Electro Deluxe served us was as well balanced, there were moments of pastiche that caught in the throat but they served their purpose amongst more complex dishes. 'Play' gave us a high moment in both fluidity and intelligence. Led by the horn section that included both Vincent Payen (trumpet) and Thomas Faure (Saxophone). It soon showcased the dexterity of Gael Cadoux on keys and it was a welcome diversion, a melodic voyage and at its peak the tune was a runaway train.

The engine of Electro Deluxe's locomotive is powered by the bass of Jeremie Coke and evident in 'Showdown', another cut from their 4th studio album 'HOME' that was released at the end of last year. Coke is one of the original pioneers of the Deluxe sound and a qualified engineer in his own right so it is no surprise he lays the foundation for the group as a whole.

Jeremie Coke - Bass
With a healthy tour ahead of them it will not be long before their infectious beats spread further than the French motherland and into the European continent. It doesn't take a genius either to examine the evidence from this night's performance. They are an upbeat and talented group that rouse the crowd and appeal to their optimistic inclinations. This sentiment as you might know can sometimes be slow to rise in the heart of London's metropolitan set, but now their cups runneth over.


Wednesday 11 June 2014

Jane Badler - Serpentine desires

Jane Badler
With the attitude and charisma you would expect, Jane Badler showcased her talents at Soho's Groucho Club last week (03/06/2014). Her double A-side single 'Losing You/Volcano Boy' will be released on 7th July and the album, 'Opus', not too far behind. Many of you will know her in one of her guises as leading lady, B-movie femme-fatale and Sci-fi legend over the past 30 years but here she was a singer and more impressively a live performer.

Jeff Bova
Jane Badler announced herself in the Groucho Club's panelled room in typically dramatically fashion. With chiffon headscarf draped over dark curls her 'bad nun' persona piqued many a fantasy in the crowd. Badler knew how to charm a crowd with just her physical presence. Dressed from head to foot in black she swayed her body as the first notes of 'Addicted' unfurled into the audience. It was a lure. You felt the danger as her Pseudechis slink gripped your desires more powerfully than any Constrictor. She is a Viper and she knows it.

Jonathan Noyce - bass
Tipping a nod to her roots 'Addicted' has a Bond-esque fullness that has as much to do with Jane Badler's past as it does to Jeff Bova who performed alongside her on keyboards. Stepping out from the shadows as producer, Bova was clearly enjoying himself, his jovial smile not waning once during the 45 minute set.

Greg Bone - guitar
Early apologies for not sketching the fiery Lily Gonzalez on bongos/percussion and grabbing just a quick impression of Jonathan Noyce on bass. I was awarded a clear view of guitarist Greg Bone but in all honesty the eyes always rested back on our Serpentine seductress.

Jane Badler is at her best when her lyrics scream of bad behaviour and subversive intent. Her magnetic pull was at its weakest when she played her compositions straight and loving. She is more than one-dimensional though and both the grittiness of guitar led filth and synth dominated kitsch suit her ample skills. The opposing influences of disco and punk that must have influenced Badler's teen years in New York were comfortable bedfellows for once.

What we want we got. Jane Badler completed her London sojourn by washing her dirty linen in public. Her final moments on stage were spent sniffing a pair of black silk stockings. It was the best of her. Afterwards we fittingly walked out into London's oozing Soho for some more degenerate behaviour, although for once my dirty linen remained firmly hidden from view.


Monday 2 June 2014

Toy Rokit - Immersive and experimental

Mark Rose
The first rule of Toy Rokit don't talk about Toy Rokit.

Well, I'm going to take my life in my hands and write about this unusual trio of musicians. I have sketched all three before as individuals but not in their current manifestation as an improvising unit new to London's scene. Formed in 2013 by Bill Mudge, Chris Nickolls and Mark Rose their musical patter has developed in this last year with 4 Missions (recorded gigs) and 6 Test Flights (closed door recording sessions).

Each session is meticulously recorded because of the organic nature of their music, its 'Carpe Diem' ethos means that what isn't captured then and there is lost to future generations and quite possibly the musicians themselves. Such was the levels of concentration and plundering of inner reserves that the 3 musicians are unaware of their surroundings whilst playing. I by contrast was very conscious of where I was, and that was at the Troyganic Cafe on the 28th May 2014.

Chris Nickolls
Toy Rokit played two 1 hour sets at this charming venue in downtown Hoxton, it was a sparse but loyal following that witnessed the event. Before playing no one talks of what they will be doing, no one hatches a plan and there is little interaction between the trio whilst in mid flight. There is a touch, a sense of the music shifting and spinning, often within their control but sometimes cascading away from them. Each set consisted of just one tune, yet the chapters within evoked a rich emotive response. In fact it was easier to let the mind wander, turning your back on the trio and watch life outside develop on the streets of London at 10pm on a Wednesday night.

Thodoris Ziarkis
This session is a regular from the Contrapunto Collective who present a night of emerging young artists from the field of jazz and improvised music on the last Wednesday of every month at the Troyganic CafĂ©. Tonight the man in charge of the door and overseeing proceedings was Thodoris Ziarkis, who is an impressive bass player in his own right.

Although all three players had conventional instruments at their disposal (Mudge/keyboard, Nicholls/drums, Rose/bass) they also had an array of circuit boards, pedals and technological breakthroughs I was not familiar with. Below I have written a brief impression of the first and most successful set but first let me say how impressive and enveloping it was. It was meandering and inspirational, they unearthed long forgotten sentiments and made you want to come back for more. It was as close to gambling as you can get musically and Toy Rokit's live performances could become equally addictive.

Bill Mudge - Keys
Set 1
Mark Rose digs in, you become aware immediately of your surroundings, the lights spilling in from the roads that line two sides of Troyganic. A late night train rumbles over the bridge from the nearby Hoxton overground. Chris Nicholls punches in his co-ordinates and words tumble out. Snatches of mission control patter is almost tangible and we can distinguish just two brief words "line up". As the monologue pulses and vibrates you cannot avoid comparisons with obscure B-Movies from faraway planets. Nickolls gives our feeble minds something to cling onto with the conventional drums, his head often in his chest, eyes closed, he looks more at peace than I have ever seen him before. Bill Mudge slips in just moments of ragtime motifs like a lone merry-go-round. The music creeps up on you like a Rothko painting, it becomes overwhelming as they reach a total assault after 45 minutes of continuous playing. You think it is coming to a close but Rose flips open his lap-top and he squeezes out a pulsating, groping green ooze which snares us before the final descent.

NB. The whole set was recorded, so follow this link to Bandcamp to check it out.

Still from Ping Pong Paranoia
It is with pleasure I have to lay some of my cards onto the table here. Although this was my first live experience of Toy Rokit it isn't my first encounter with them. On the 13th February 2014 they improvised to the film, 'Ping Pong Paranoia' whilst it was projected onto a screen at the Survival Studios in Acton. The film was made during my Art residency at the simulated mental health ward at Kingston University and St George's University London and uses the voice of Lindsay Shepherd as well as Toy Rokit's propelling music.

The film will be receiving its first outing at the MORPHOS Immersive Video Dome Art festival, Los Angeles, California on the 27th June 2014. MORPHOS is a one night immersive video experience featuring the world premiere of new experimental immersive and interactive video art in the Vortex LA Dome.

If you can't make it to LA then catch Toy Rokit somewhere more local and let yourself be enveloped by the ebb and flow of their improvised music.