Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The great Geri Allen

I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the late Geri Allen just three times; the first was in Birmingham when she played with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.

It was a superb co-operative enterprise, the fact emphasised at the beginning of the second set when 'The Geri Allen Trio' was announced. Haden carefully set down his bass on the stage, walked slowly to the front. 'It's the Geri Allen, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian Trio.' The played Song for Che as an encore, after Haden told the sound engineer to turn the pa off.

Next was a Jazzmobile open-air gig at Grant's Tomb on the Upper West Side in New York where she played solo (on the back of a lorry) and accompanied tap dancer Maurice Chestnut.

And finally Sunday night at the Village Vanguard with a quartet and singer Lizz Wright; she played a Charlie Parker blues as her last number and as her solo ended a tenor player strode onto the stage and unleashed a blistering solo. She looked suprised but carried on. It was Azar Lawrence.

I've told these stories before- maybe even on this blog; my excuse is I wanted them to serve as an introduction to Ethan Iverson's excellent article on her work plus the WGBO obituary.



Wednesday, 8 June 2016

If only...the power of the press

I read old copies of Down Beat magazine during my lunch break; I thought this extract from a letter from John T Williams of Burlington, Vt was worth sharing.

Thanks to the host of ultra-liberals like (Nat) Hentoff and Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka) the Socialist revolution in this country is all but complete.
September 23, 1965

Bernie, you're too late!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A week in New York City June 2015

Tuesday 2nd: Not too tired to catch a set by Spike Wilner's Trio at Smalls. When I've heard Spike previously- either solo or with a Nat Cole- style trio (guitar and bass) he's treated us to an amiable ramble through standards and show tunes. This time with bass and drums he showed an altogether more dynamic side to his playing, still playing standards but less respectfully! A first night set at Smalls has become something of a ritual, replacing a pie at John's of Bleecker Street.

Wednesday June 3. My only previous outing to the Bronx was to visit the New York Botanical Gardens, but the NYC Jazz Record- by far the best guide to the scene as well as containing well-written articles and reviews- mentioned a gig in an Irish Cafe on 238th St- the Joe Farnsworth Quartet with Eric Alexander, Victor Gould and Bob Cranshaw. I'd heard Eric when he'd toured the UK with Dave O'Higgins and had enjoyed the muscularity of his playing, but I was most excited by the presence of the seemingly immortal Cranshaw (present of course on the recent issue of the 6cd set of Rollins and Cherry at the Village Gate in 1962 and so many more classic recordings). Finding the cafe involved climbing a long steep San Francisco-style stairway; when we arrived the tiny music room was jam-packed and Linda Manning broke the news that as we hadn't booked there was no room for us. After pleading that we  had come 3000 miles for the gig we were allowed to stand at the back. When the musicians assembled on the tiny stage it became clear that there were some deps in the band.  But what deps! Harold Mabern was on piano and Jimmy Cobb on drums. To have the opportunity to hear these masters at close quarters is my idea of jazz heaven, especially in a community setting run (like so many UK jazz venues) by an enthusiast. I'd wager we were the only audience members from outside the country, the state, the city, the borough even. Thanks Linda- we'll be back- it's a monthly series which deserves support.

Thursday June 4. The Stone- John Zorn's austere white box at the bottom of Avenue C at 2nd St runs on a curatorial residency basis- ie a chosen musician gets to organise a week of gigs- two bands a night. This was saxophonist Roy Nathanson's week, and this night he started with a duo with pianist Myra Melford, followed by a set by Russ Johnson's 'Still Out to Lunch' band which I'd heard last year at the Dolphyfest in Montclair NJ- Myra Melford (piano) Brad Jones (bass) George Schuller (drums) Russ Johnson (trumpet). Roy played baritone as well as alto in the duo and surprised us with a tender ballad. Myra Melford was  superb throughout the duo set whether playing inside or out. And the band?- I know that  Out to Lunch is regarded by some as a dead end or worse for Dolphy.  I still find those angular tunes endlessly fascinating and the band's interpretations original and dynamic.

Friday June 5. Smalls- After a disappointing set of soul-singer cliches and unnecessarily complicated arrangements of standards by the Swan Bean Quintet- despite some nice trumpet by Josh Evans- we caught a set by Dave Kikoski's Quartet with Seamus Blake, Boris Kozlov and Ari Hoenig, playing Kikoski originals which although complicated were entirely necessary! Kikoski's body language echoes the dynamism of his playing; Hoenig's grimaces do the same for his. Seamus Blake stands tall and blows forceful hard bop and Kozlov - see Monday- grounded the quartet beautifully. A great band.

Saturday June 6 Excellent food upstairs at the Cornelia St Cafe, then downstairs for the Kris Davis Quintet- Kris Davis (piano)  Ralph Alessi (trumpet)  Sylvaine Helary (flute)  Stephan Crump (bass)  Gerald Cleaver (drums). Quiet abstract music very much under Kris' direction; it was impossible to hear the joins between the composed and improvised- there were no music stands on the stage and this was a listening band. I was worried that a flautist might not provide a good foil for Alessi's round-toned trumpet but after a tentative start she asserted herself admirably; Gerald Cleaver could easily have dominated the music but played with a beautifully- judged light touch. An intriguing evening.

Sunday June 7. The Megabus was late getting us back from Philadelphia so our planned trip to Brooklyn to hear Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet was out. An evening without music was unthinkable so we wandered down to the Vanguard to hear Terell Stafford's quintet playing the music of Lee Morgan. Terell had played our club in Leicester in 2009 and had impressed as a warm-toned hard bop trumpet- he came bearing high praise-"One of the great players of our time, a fabulous trumpet player" McCoy Tyner. The set was the great disappointment of the week- Stafford played flashy overblown trumpet, tenorist Tim Warfield had an unpleasant buzzy tone and crude phrasing- at one point I feared he might start bar-walking- and drummer Billy Williams was loud and insensitive. Nice piano from Bruce Barth and bass from Peter Washington compensated to a small degree, but we had no hesitation in refusing the invitation to stay for the second set. My first disappointing gig ever at the Vanguard- it was like being let down by an old friend.

Monday June 8. But the Mingus Big Band at Jazz Standard never disappoints- compositions from all stages of his career played (under the watchful eye of Sue Mingus) with obvious enjoyment, enthusiasm and joy by a protean but always first class group of musicians. It was great to see Jack Walrath again- the sole Mingus alumnus. Philip Harper and Tatum Greenblatt were also on trumpet,the latter playing rock-solid lead  and exciting solos, three excellent trombonists-
Coleman Hughes and two others whose name I didn't catch, Wayne Escoffery and Scott Robinson  on tenor, the wonderful Helen Sung on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass and Adam Cruz on drums. And in the absence of Ronnie Cuber Lauren Sevian played the intro to Moanin' with strength and a rich tone. I'd be happy hearing this band whatever they played but they always surprise-  highlights of their sets this night included a complicated arrangement by Jack Walrath of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Cumbia-Jazz fusion complete with rap- Mama's little baby doesn't love shortnin' bread, mama's little baby loves truffles, caviar, integrated schools. Having heard the MBB live a lot we were tempted to give it a miss this time- that would have been an egregious mistake- not even drizzle on the walk back to W 11th dampened our spirits.

Tuesday June 9. The last day in the city, with only a red-eye flight to look forward to  is usually a disappointment. Not this time. We'd agreed to spend some time in Harlem and the NYCJR alerted us to a lunchtime gig at Rendall Memorial Presbyterian Church, 59 West 137th Street, with the Ted Daniel's International Brass and Membrane Corps - on this occasion a quartet with Marvin Sewell on guitar, Michael Bisio on bass and Russell Carter, whose playing on a stripped-down kit was right on the money. Ted Daniel's been a favourite ever since I heard Andrew Cyrille's 'Metamusicians' Stomp'  with David S Ware and Nick di Geronimo, especially the beautiful version of Weill's 'My Ship.' A propos of nothing Tom Lord informs us there are 299 jazz versions of this great song. Playing to a depressingly-small audience Ted Daniel astonished us by playing (on cornet) some King Oliver numbers- Riverside Blues, Mabel's Dream, Zulu's Ball" and Working Man Blues as well as a freeish original,  Airegin and Don Cherry's Art Deco.It's obvious he's always had a regard for the jazz tradition,  but chatting to us afterwards he said he'd only just started to explore Oliver's music. The gig was hosted by Craig Harris and in conversation after the gig my friend Roger mentioned that Craig's cd Souls with the Veil had been on his wants list for a long time but seemed to be unavailable. 'We can make that happen' was the reply, and we were invited for a Harlem stroll back to his brownstone to get some copies. It's a double cd with a stellar band- Steve Coleman, Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Hugh Ragin and more, and Craig pointed out it's currently listed on Amazon for £59.95. Of course I bought some- copies available from JHR for considerably less. It's a richly orchestrated album- almost Ellingtonian in its voicings,  based on WEB DuBois' Soul of Black Folks.
Craig, his wife Diane and Carolyn from Welcome to Harlem made us very welcome- their  Harlem tour is a definite for my next trip.
After a quick turn around the Schomberg Centre  to see the timely exhibition 'Black Lives Matter' it was time to leave for JFK after a truly memorable day. And I managed to bring 120 lps home with me, leaving just 80 behind for another day.
Only in New York dept:
A conversation at the 34th St Post Office: Can I send this Media Mail please? What is it? It's a record. I know it's a record, what is it? Dexter Gordon. Ah Dexter, my man.

Thanks to Roger Gow for corrections, additions and insights and to Bob Steed for the photo.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015


The Music Matters 45rpm Blue Note 2-lp issues are justly famous for the quality of the pressings and their superb production values - gatefold sleeves containing session photographs by Francis Wolff.
Despite the high prices the records sell well, and I was disappointed when the series came to an end before they got round to Sheila Jordan's Portrait of Sheila.

At the start of 2014 Music Matters announced a single lp 33rpm series- still expensive but not so much!- and Jazz House Records of course subscribed immediately. The first two titles arrived with some copies having small splits at the top edge- whether this was an production problem or bad treatment by HMRC I'm not sure. They certainly sat around (or were thrown around) for two weeks in the Customs warehouse while they decided how much to charge me for the privilege of collecting the boxes from Parcelforce.

Then...nothing. When I enquired why more issues had not arrived MM told me that they had been reminded by Universal (who now own Blue Note & have their own vinyl series to celebrate the label's 75th anniversary) that their agreement forbade them supplying distributors outside the USA. So globalisation is not yet complete it seems. Happily a few months later MM told me that the problem seemed to have been resolved and they could now supply JHR. Occasionally we get good news. And no more cover splits.

And so it remains; I have the repressed 2014 titles and the first six of the twenty titles they plan to issue this year. The April titles will be on their way soon. Customer reaction has been uniformly good, with some subscribing through Jazz House Records to the whole series. MM hasn't announced Portrait of Sheila yet, but I'm still hoping. There's a good pressing from Heavenly Sweetness to keep me going.

This little puff piece cum rant has been prompted by the arrival of the 2014 represses and by the news that Music Matters have received an award from Audio Beat- see
You need to scroll down past the unaffordable equipment!

My friend Glenn Armstrong would not forgive me if I didn't also point out his award is noted just below the MM one. Coup Perdu lps (and cds) are available from JHR of course.

You can see the available Music Matters 33rpm and 45rpm albums here:

To finish, here's a few things that have come to my attention recently:
Clifford Allen's interview with ESP's founder Bernard Stollman :


and this 2009 piece by Ted Gioa about  Dupree Bolton deserves wide circulation:

Don't forget to read the comments- there's a link to a YouTube Bolton performance.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Wise Words 2

Danilo Perez interviewed in Jazz Inside magazine March 2014

Wayne Shorter called me to go to Los Angeles
and I went. So we went to the studio and he was
playing a piece that had this little vamp. And I
started playing the chords. And he stopped. He
said, “Danilo, can you just throw some water on
that chord?” And I was like, “Oh, my god! What
is this?” So I thought about it and of course I
couldn’t do it, because I didn’t really get it. So I
went to the room that night and thought about
the many combinations of voicings and thought
about water and all that stuff. So I came back the
next day. And he called the same tune, and we
played it again. And he said, “Yeah, but the water
 has to be clean all the way to the bottom.”

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Wise words

'Playing jazz is a bad way to try to earn a living, but it's a great way to live your life'- Tim Armacost interviewed by Julian Joseph for Radio 3 Jazz Lineup at the Southport Jazz on a Winter Weekend festival- February 1st 2014.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Howard Riley in Leicester

One great pianist we had failed to book for the Leicester Jazz House solo season at Embrace Arts was Howard Riley. In fact scanning the pages of the jazz press we could find no sign of any recent gigs by Howard at all. Was he still playing? There was one easy way to find out, and a quick search in the excellent Jazz Services directory gave us his phone number. We spoke, agreed a date and a fee, and started (with some excitement- he's been a musical hero of mine for a long time) to publicise the season.

Then the problems started; Howard was unwell and perhaps could not make the gig. Or maybe he would do one set and fill the rest of the time with a Q&A session. As the date approached even my normally optimistic spirit became a little anxious. We assured him that he would be among friends, with a sympathetic and attentive audience at what is a small arts centre with an excellent Bosendorffer. When I picked him up from the station the day before the gig it was an enormous relief when he told me: The gig's on- two sets!

We had a meal in a sombre mood- Gordon Beck's death had recently been announced, and Howard talked about the circumstances of his old sparring partner Jaki Byard's tragic end. We were not to know, of course, that Michael Garrick was to die suddenly and unexpectedly the day of the gig. Michael had charmed us with a duo gig a short while before, so the news was a great shock

The concert was a triumph. Howard played mostly standards and Monk tunes; the lightning virtuosity and extravagant technique of his 70's solo playing replaced by what Duncan Heining in his review of Howard's Monk/Ellington cd called 'careful, thoughtful and respectful' interpretations; no lack of technical expertise, but coming at the listener obliquely rather than full on. Several numbers began with improvisation, the theme emerging only at the end. Lots of knowing smiles from audience members at the point of recognition.

It was not the sell-out it deserved to be but the respectably-sized and enthusiastic audience included one guy who'd driven 80+ miles to attend. And I'm happy to say this is one gig that's not 'Gone...in the air.'  Howard asked us to arrange to have the concert recorded, just for his own use in reviewing his playing, so we asked our friend Chris Trent to set up his equipment at the side of what would be the stage if we had one. Both sets were recorded and Howard was kind enough to let me have a copy.

A week later he phoned to tell  he liked the recording so much he was going to get it released commercially by NoBusiness records who are based in Vilnius, and had released a series of Riley cds, including a 6cd box.

So at last we come to the reason for this post; today a small packet arrived with copies of the cd- Live with Repertoire. I'm delighted that the mixing was done by Alex Hawkins, who is about to do a duo concert for us at Embrace Arts with the great Louis Moholo-Moholo.

If you want a copy of  the cd you can contact me here