Tuesday 30 September 2014

Azizi Cole - The People's Drummer

Azizi Cole - The People's drummer
Today we paint a portrait of Azizi Cole, the aspiring drummer and percussionist from Handsworth, Birmingham, who plays with the fabulous People's Orchestra. Many of the musicians in the People’s Orchestra do not have not have resources to buy instruments but still have the burning passion for playing. Originally created by The Change Consortium, it is a membership orchestra for adults to give them a taste of orchestra life and inspire their creativity. This ensures that many talented people can continue to play out their musical dreams.

The People's Orchestra have just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for an original piece of music, which is to be composed by jazz saxophonist John Altman and will be performed for the first time in December 2014.

John Altman, a stalwart of the film and music industry, has agreed to compose this piece for The People's Orchestra. Understandably Azizi Cole and the other players are extremely excited about working with John, who will also rehearse and conduct the piece at the premiere!

Get involved with the project by joining their campaign. They have a range of rewards depending on how much one pledges to the project, including signed copies of the original score, a 1 hour webinar and a champagne reception with the composer himself.

Get involved by visiting their KICKSTARTER campaign here.


Thursday 25 September 2014

Ollie Howell - Sutures and Stitches - Album Art Inspiration

One of my biggest art jobs of 2013 was the debut album from drummer Ollie Howell. Along with the music came an impressive endorsement from Quincy Jones, "An unbelievable drummer. So creative I couldn’t believe it. This kid really is a 360-degree beautiful young cat that I believe has what it takes to make a life out of music".
Ollie Howell's 'Sutures and Stitches' album

He had also just been awarded the prestigious Peter Whittingham Development Award and went on soon after to win a Sky Academy Arts Scholarship. One of only 5 Arts Scholars (and the only musician chosen), Ollie became the first ever jazz recipient of any Sky award, and will now be working towards his second album, as well as having a documentary on him and his group on Sky Arts in 2015.

His debut, 'Sutures and Stitches' was released on Whirlwind Recordings in 2013 and I was luckily enough to be at Clown's Pocket Studio when he recorded the tracks. DAY 1 and DAY 2. I received all the music a few months later and started my process by taking written notes. These narrative clues were invaluable as I created the visual artwork.

Below I reproduce both the written content and the many covers we worked through.

19th Day
19th Day
I'm a barefoot daredevil whose motorbike has broken down and I'm going to run the 'wall of death' on my own two legs.


Breathe breathe again.

Its clogging and the smoke is penetrating my bones but I keep on running. Swirling and cascading like a soaring bird that's abandoned a thermal and whips into a tail spin.
Angry Skies
Angry Skies
Light on a garden path. Jumping over the pools of light, almost skipping.
The lightning cracks down like rhododendron branches. Ripping into the world.
We cold climb through the cracks that are left like a nursery rhyme.
My finger plays across the glass as I look out at inhospitable views, so many paths.
Skid and skate, scrabble and run.
Through bracken, what a beautiful thing. How can something remind you of life when it is so dead. Complexity of life is a reward.
A thousand bugs that make me up, clinging to me like moths.
Chin like a hammer.
Chewing Cracking.
Hammer head boy
Lemon boy
Great white boy
Tiger boy
Bull boy
Goblin boy
Blue boy
Megamouth boy
Basking boy.

For Anya
For Anya


Tracing my hands around a waist, circumnavigating an equatorial navel.

But flat.

Sometimes we still believe that the world is flat and that women are real.

I squeezed the water out like a sponge.

Drawing it up though like a magnet and with it came the tears too.

For Anya
Upravelling like a ball of string. Weaving it into clouds.

A knitted Wordsworth, stitches of colour.

I'm unravelling, i'm not scared.

Like a cartoon jumper, i'm unravelling to become you.
Later on
Later on
As an adult its more fun.
Just being happy alone.
You can be happy alone.
I dance in the front window.
I know everyone can see me, but who would be awake.
They're all asleep with books on their bellies or awash with the chill light from flickering boxes, but I'm dancing.
The music moves my body, the frame, I'm happy to be contained.
Fuck reaching the stars.
Dont reach out to me. I'm in this crowd and still surrounded by triple glazing.
Warmth like a happiness that escapes the body.

Some chaos.

Black piles with a gothic flavour, complicating the flow.

Bridges and rivers.

Small scurrying people, fast moving.

Black creatures, they are what we've made them. Hanging in windows on hooks, but there are pockets of safety. Boxes of safety, pegged together with ladder like spikes.

Shockwaves, tremors in my feet, what is coming from below to meet me.

The floor is shifting yet it is hard.

I'm being pulverised, pushed like putty into a small round hole.
World Apart
This is the image that eventually made it onto the album cover for Ollie Howell's album 'Sutures and Stitches' and inspired by the track....
World Apart
Escalator and stairs.
Push dont push.
Ground under by shallow breath. Give me air. Again like vermin but comforted.
Crumpled linen. Stiff with sweat.
Straight down and up shafts and cuts.
Punched down electric tool and drills, all smooth.
Space is limited
Lash out and rise above.
Adverts of us – repeating us.
Self fulfilling.
The train keeps entering the tunnel.
They dont cling anymore. Cracking and spitting through the polished tubes.
Punchy and spewing.
Then they stop. Sometimes a random train contains a collection of disperate unconnected figures. Bouncing off the metal shell like a childs bagatelle.
Then they too are dumped into the mix and churned with us.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Maurizio Minardi - Blind Bee Jazz

Maurizio Minardi - Accordion
A second visit within a fortnight to Jazz at Blind Bee (1 CHANGE ALLEY, LONDON EC3V 3ND) saw this night start to evolve from chrysalis to butterfly with the performance of Maurizio Minardi's quartet (18/09/2014).

Shirley Smart - Cello
If you haven't visited the venue then give it a go, with free entry and a sophisticated ambience it has the wind behind it, but there are the twin issues of background noise and lighting still overcome. Despite all 4 musicians dwelling in the darkest corner you cannot ignore the figurehead of Maurizio Minardi and his accordion. A man who reveals so little through his persona yet lays a whole gamut of emotions at your feet through his music.

You never forget the first time that Michael Nyman's music cascades over you. Its unrelenting waves, the pulse, the queer emotions that release themselves. Minardi undoubtedly possesses this power of simplicity too. At first his accordion marched us along with wheeze and guff, but alongside Shirley Smart on cello this soon turned to drama. Our emotions squirming out of safe hands and physically it felt though they had spilled out onto the floor before us.

Milko Ambrogini - Bass
It was such a broad range of speeds, themes and colours from Maurizio Minardi, with joy and menace in tunes that spoke of Germanic deaths, darker corners and Grimm fairytales. Alongside Shirley Smart they painted the pastoral too, a slow hollow-hearted start led to a landscape at peace, with a fresh wetness to the grass and a vastness to the sky ranging above us.

Marco Quarantotto - bass
Marco Quarantotto is fast becoming a favourite of mine to draw, his mushroom cloud of hair always appears to have exploded after a particularly strenuous attack of the drums. He imbibes in quiet moments and I catch the thought of Henry Spencer of Eraserhead fame under the Blind Bee's electric blue light. Milko Ambrogini unfortunately languished (only pictorially) in the pit of the dark. I made a sketch of what I saw but it might have been Nosferatu playing the bass for all I knew, such was the cloak of blackness that surrounded him.

The music was so strong it transcended light and dark, it rose and fell, it sparked with emotive charge. We even had time for a chase sequence that propelled the quartet along the narrowed streets of ours mind. Though we ran and ran, throats burning and with oversized hearts bursting, it was joy we felt. Pure unadulterated joy.

You/we have the opportunity to hear both Maurizio Minardi and Shirley Smart with Melange tomorrow night September 24th at The Vortex.


Wednesday 17 September 2014

Arhai & Jon Sterckx Drumscapes

Jon Sterckx - drumscapes
Jon Sterckx added his drumscapes to Arhai's wandering vistas at RichMix this week (14/09/2014) in an expansive panorama that let the mind break free of its urban shackles. This was not my first visit to hear Arhai duo Jovana Backovic and Adrian Lever, the last proving a struggle for a man who felt completely out of his depth.

Alex Teymour Housego -
Jon Sterckx and flautist Alex Teymour Housego sat cross-legged between the standing Arhai pair. This was a relaxed and collaborative affair that projected ease and pleasure through its complex themes. Sterckx latter produced a second set solo performance that allowed the audience to experience these layered narratives without us being dab hands at the cryptic crossword.

Jovana Backovic - Arhai
Linchpin Jovana Backovic was the thread for the whole performance and as ever her vocals were possessing. Rarely did you, or could you, focus on the content of her lyrics. Changing between 6 languages is in itself disorientating. More than that the words become chants and motifs rather than hooks to hang meaning onto. To either side of Backovic were keyboards linked up to a computer full of earthy noises. The combination of traditional instruments and electronic gelled seamlessly which allowed Backovic's voice to float above in her trademark ethereal stream. She continuously caught the eye, with a presence more enchanting than Morgan Le Fay at her seductive best.

Adrian Lever - Arhai
Amongst the gypsy spells and Balkan beats the cross-legged Alex Teymour Housego rotated his collection of Bansuri. His grey socked toes peeped out from under his black robes. The dancing beats bobbing them back and forth as though they were little mice eager to escape from their holes.

If Jovana Backovic was our Le Fay then Adrian Lever was our Merlin. Possessing rapid dexterity his willowy figure towered over us on Medieval dulcimer and tambura. After several aborted attempts I captured broadcaster and turntablist DJ Ritu in my sketchbook. She not only provided us with tunes before and between performances but also interviewed the musicians post performance.

DJ Ritu

It was night of layered sounds and textures that transported the mind and imagination. Jon Sterckx's drumscapes were the pinnacle of this sentiment. A revolving door of percussion instruments were played into his computer and spat out with an energising fruitfulness. The permutation seemed endless, the avenues that lay before us boundless and his performance understandably spoke of freedom. With a drum as big as the moon sitting on his knee he conjured up the image of a storyteller. While his sound spoke in a tribal voice that swelled in the pit of our stomachs.


Monday 8 September 2014

Will Butterworth Quartet at Blind Bee Jazz

Nick Pini - Bass
It was a descent into London's subterranean vaults to realise that Will Butterworth and his quartet need more air to breathe and more people to hear their story. It was a first visit (04/09/2014) to a new night at the exclusive Eight Members Club, near Bank station and in the dark heart of the city.

The night, Jazz at the Blind Bee, is currently being established by Middle East music specialist Shirley Smart. The inaugural gig in August was reserved for the talents of Alex Hutton and he was followed by Will Butterworth, a new visitor to the Art of Jazz sketchbook. All the nights start at 8pm, but you'll have to be on the list to get in! Negotiating stubborn bouncers will not be a problem just email jazz@eightmemberclub.co.uk or join the next gig at www.facebook.com/blindbeejazz

You would imagine, a descent into the city's heart of darkness would be as disorientating as Joseph Conrad's novel itself and you would be right. Several flights of stairs flush you out into a plush interior that is less Congo than opulent urban cool. Jazz it seems would be a perfect bedfellow for this world but it will need Shirley Smart and a few more gigs to make sure that Jazz at Blind Bee doesn't die horribly like Kurtz himself. It will need the jazz crowd to match the city workers in numbers and make them take notice.

Marco Quarantotto - drums
This was not a night for authors to set their scenes with lengthy prologues despite Will Butterworth's current muse being Oscar Wilde. It was the time to grasp the fleeting moment, to capture the ephemeral in your mind before the thudding bass of nearby establishments drove Butterworth's music from your heart.

The first tune 'Cage' gave me a mere glance at the assembled musicians, Seb Pipe immediately drawing the attention on alto saxophone. It was the second, 'The Nightingale', that let the pencil and mind roam with freedom. Nick Pini (Bass) was both dark in timbre as well as in light and I could just see his silhouette and few wisps of ruddy hair in the gloom. The opening third was slow and easy, pedestrian, not in insult but in appreciation. It made you want to strut with latent power rather than frivolity. With the kind of walk that makes people take notice, whether you prowl a New York Avenue or Bromley High Street.

Will Butterwoth - piano
The middle third of 'The Nightingale' danced with the rapidity of ideas. This was a conversation, one in tone and pace that was quicker than the brain can compute. An enigma machine would have been needed to dissect it's full meanings. There was beauty too, especially when Will Butterworth (piano) was all alone. He was a pensive runaway and there was joy in his escape and flight.

The final third gave us notes to question, a mystery, a conundrum. The mullet and brush, one held in either hand of Marco Quarantotto set the theme. There was a choking swirl from Seb Pipe's saxophone lifting us out of the depths of London. We rose into an in-between world, one very much like the city after the Footsie has shut down for night.

Seb Pipe - saxophone
'Lizard Blues' gave us a quick palate cleanser. The Rhythm section of Pini and Quarantotto were the belt that keep the rolling sax of Pipe from flopping over it's waistband. It was as though he was gorging himself on an abundance of fingers foods, quick bites that slid down our throats without even a hint of a chew.


Jazz night's at the Blind Bee is worth supporting and exploring more, coming up is Maurizio Minardi  (Sept 18th) and Al Scott (Oct 2nd). Don't forget it's Free Entry.