Archive for November 2016

Gig review – London Jazz Festival

Since seeing The Bad Plus, I’ve been busy checking out other acts under the banner of the London Jazz Festival.

Donny McCaslin quartet

Donny McCaslin’s quartet has become well known as the band that David Bowie hand-picked for his Blackstar album, having seen the band perform in his Greenwich Village neighborhood.  The band, led by McCaslin on tenor sax also features Jason Lindner on keyboards, Mark Guiliana on drums, and Tim Lefebvre on bass.  For McCaslin’s gig at Rich Mix he was without Lefebvre, with Jonathon Maron stepping in.  The gig featured a number of tunes off McCaslin’s latest album, Beyond Now.  I hadn’t especially enjoyed the album on the first couple of listens so I wasn’t entirely sure what the gig would be like.  I needn’t have worried.  The gig was outstanding: McCaslin himself was inspired and Jason Lindner was a revelation, creating an array of soundscapes from scratch.  One of the evening’s numerous highlights was the band’s soulful rendition of Lazarus, a track off Blackstar and the name of Bowie’s musical.  Other highlights included Fast Future, Shake Loose and Beyond Now, the last two off the new album, compelling me to reappraise the album.  The band’s cover version of Bowie’s Warszawa, also on the new album, has similarly compelled me to revisit Bowie’s 1977 album Low.  If you ever get the opportunity to see this band, seize it.

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One of my favourite tracks of 2016 is Barbara Allen, a version of the well known folk song by Geri Allen (piano), David Murray (tenor sax) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums) on their fine 2016 album Perfection.  The track features an absolutely sublime solo by Allen, whose mother was called Barbara Allen.  It was with high expectations, therefore, that I went to the trio’s gig at Cadogan Hall.  My expectations, regrettably, weren’t met, the reverse of my experience with Donny McCaslin’s band.  Some fine performances were delivered, including D-Special (which featured Murray on bass clarinet), For Fr. Peter O’brien, and The David, Geri & Terri Show.  However, for my taste Carrington’s drums were far too intrusive, and Murray’s solos too far out, which as I now understand it is par for the course, given his free jazz and avant-garde leanings.

The surprise of the evening was the support act, an all-female septet called Nérija.  The London-based band played a number of memorable, self-penned tunes, with each band member and soloist rising to the occasion, especially the trumpet player, Sheila Maurice-Grey.  Surely a band to keep an eye on.

Gig review – The Bad Plus, London Jazz Festival

Friday, 11 November saw London Jazz Festival kick-off for another year.  The 10-day festival sees the world’s greatest jazz musicians descend on the capital.

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My first gig of the festival was The Bad Plus at Scala (on Sunday 13th). The New York-based piano trio is well known for its eclectic cover versions including Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Aphex Twin’s Flim and even Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  TBP has steered away from covers in recent years but their latest album, It’s Hard, features nothing but covers.  Barry Manilow’s Mandy, Cyndi Lauper’s Time after Time, Crowded House’s Don’t Dream it’s Over, and Johnny Cash’s I Walk the Line all received TBP treatment, twisting these songs to their upper limit whilst not losing the essence of the tune.  A tricky balancing act which TBP accomplish with ease.  TBP also played their own tunes including crowd favourite Big Eater.  The encore featured a personal favourite Seven Minute Mind, which occupies a space somewhere between the jazz and classical realms.  TBP are a class act and always worth seeing if you get the chance.

Special mention goes to the support act, Binker & Moses.  The duo of tenor saxophone (Binker Golding) and drums (Moses Boyd) is a rare sight.  Nevertheless, they’ve been picking up awards left, right and centre and it wasn’t hard to see why.  They moved from calypso to straight-ahead jazz in a diverse and energetic set.  I was glad I got the opportunity to see them.

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Watch this space for more…

Gig review – The Cinematic Orchestra, Hammersmith Apollo, 11 November 2016

If you haven’t heard of The Cinematic Orchestra, you’ve probably heard their music.  Their song, To Build a Home has unsurprisingly appeared in countless movie adverts, etc.  ‘Unsurprisingly’, because it’s a fantastic tune, which, once heard, will stay with you forever.

I’m familiar with TCO’s 2007 album Ma Fleur, which features this great tune, but other than that I didn’t know much about the band or what to expect.

Before TCO appeared on stage at London’s Hammersmith Apollo (it’ll always be the Hammersmith Odeon in my heart!), the crowd was treated to Stephen Bruner, a.k.a. Thundercat.   I know Thundercat through his own work as well as his work with Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar.  To be honest, I prefer his collaborations than his own stuff.  However, I was deeply unimpressed with what I heard on the stage of the Apollo.  While his bass playing is virtuosic, the band (a trio additionally featuring a drummer and keyboard player) seemed over-indulgent in their playing.  This was exacerbated by what appeared to be a poor sound system.  The band was cut short after about 20 mins much to the annoyance of a lot of the crowd.  20 minutes too late in my opinion, though I’ll give Thundercat the benefit of the doubt on this occasion.

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The Cinematic Orchestra thankfully met my high expectations, despite a poor sound system (which is why I’m giving Thundercat a second chance!).  With a rhythm section including drums, percussion, bass, keyboards and guitar, complemented by a string quartet, a saxophonist and singers, who joined the band for various songs, it was clear why ‘Orchestra’ featured in the name.  Cinematic explains a lot also but the band played an eclectic set, which encompassed trip-hop, jazz and soul.

The encore had to be and was To Build a Home.  Regrettably, it was a different version than the one I’ve become used to.  Despite this, TCO delivered the goods and I’d recommend them as a class live act to go and see.

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On a final and perhaps sentimental note, after what has been a tumultuous week in world politics, with the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, following a bitter and hate-fuelled campaign, it dawned on me during a particularly moving song the importance of individuals coming together to both create and listen to music.  So long as people continue to do this, then there will always be hope in the world.

Book review

I mentioned in a previous post, on readable doorstep-sized books, that I’d started reading Don Quixote.  I’m not any more.  Not because I finished it.  Having read about 200 or so pages I decided to give up and read something more enjoyable.  A lot of people love DQ and it’s regarded as a classic.  I got quite bored with what appeared to be an endless cycle of events in which:

  1.  Don Quixote identifies an opportunity to demonstrate his chivalry as a self-appointed knight errant;
  2. His squire, Sancho Panza, recognises that the ‘opportunity’ is best left alone because it will end in tears;
  3. The opportunity is seized and it ends in tears, e.g. DQ and SP being beaten to a pulp, etc.;
  4. Go to 1 and repeat.

Perhaps it got a lot better after 200 pages but I’d had enough. I’ll probably go back to it at some point but starting on page 200!

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I jumped right into A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan and which won her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  The novel explores the lives of Benny, an ageing record executive, and Sasha, his PA, either directly or indirectly, e.g. through the lives of mutual acquaintances.  The map below, produced by a fan, shows what you’d be getting into.  Though it’s not as complicated as all that.  It’s really quite a simple book, well written, with good characters.  In fact it feels like a book of short stories.  It’s not the strongest of plots but that’s not really the point of the book.  It’s a book about time and relationships and I think it’s worth a read.

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There’s a sentence in Robert Harris’ Imperium (2006), which I’ve just finished, which reads:

‘I sense that I am dawdling in this narrative, having already reached my eighth roll of Hieratica and need to speed it up a little, else either I shall die on the job, or you will be worn out reading.’

If Cervantes had taken a leaf out of Tiro’s (the narrator of the story) book then perhaps I could have finished Don Quixote.  Anyway, Imperium is the first of a trilogy of novels about Cicero.  Based on real events in Rome in the period 70 BC, the novel is written from the perspective of Cicero’s secretary, Tiro, and follows the former’s rise up the greasy political pole.

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I’d previously read Harris’ Fatherland (1993) and The Ghost (2007) and enjoyed them.  Harris writes gripping, plot-driven books – perhaps at the expense of strong characterisation.  Imperium is no exception and is far more exciting than you might think.  It’s a real page-turner, full of political intrigue and suspense and I’m looking forwards to reading the other two books in the trilogy.  Highly recommended.