Abdullah Ibrahim Trio – Birmingham Symphony Hall – June 3rd 2005
One of the legends of African Jazz piano, Abdullah Ibrahim led his trio through an exultant, jubilant set when he played at Birmingham Symphony Hall.
The trio were supported by the duo of vocalist Cleveland Watkiss and Kora Virtuoso Tunde Jugede.
They played a set of their own music, with Watkiss double tracking his vocals against his own vocal effects, at times sounding like drums, bass, and at one point, almost like a one man Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Songs such as “Seven” and “Millenium Time” with their calls for social justice, and the interlocking rhythms of the Kora and Cleveland Watkiss’s vocal inventions were particularly effective.
Abdullah Ibrahim’s set was a continuous eighty minute set that covered many aspects of his recording and writing career. More than ably assisted by his rhythm section of double bassist Belden Bullock and drummer George Gray, the band played as a trio, rather than support section to a leader, which is sometimes the case with trios.
The concert, which ranged from wistful, minor key piano pieces, to exultant Gospel derived vamps, covered pieces such as “The Wedding” “Tintinyana” and “Mindif”. The smiles that were often exchanged between the dapper 70 year old Pianist, and his band were testament to the enjoyment and joy that they had with the music, and in each other’s company.
At times, the concert wandered through the extremes of minamilist tranquillity, to the upmost fiery dynamism. The influence of jazz music, was diluted with hymn like harmonies, township party music, and African rhythms and sonorities, often mimicked in the interplay of bass and piano vamps, and the rumbling drum kit.
After 80 minutes of music, the standing ovation that the trio won was more than deserved. They encored with another twenty minute suite that was more upbeat and precise in its performance.
Concert Review – Abram Wilson & The Delta Blues Project
Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta +
Support from Funktional
Lichfield Guildhall – 30th November
Two ensembles played for a rapt audience at Lichfield Arts latest Jazz night. One, a band of all star names, the other a five piece of talented players with an average age of 16.
Funktional opened the evening, with a set drawing on a number of influences, from the straight-ahead jazz funk of the Average White Band’s Pick up the Pieces, and Chameleon by Herbie Hancock, to the set closer of If by well known rock guitarist Joe Satriani. They played a few of their own pieces, the best of which was ‘Rain or Funk’ which started of with a slow soliloquy for Trumpet before becoming the piece that Miles Davis would have written with Massive Attack. The group, led by trumpet player Nick Dewhurst, consists of drums, bass, piano, and Alto Saxophone, and are a promising ensemble.
Ride, an ambitious concept Jazz album, featuring elements of many types of music, from straightforward Jazz, to acoustic Hip Hop, to a Delta Blues Trio, also featured a number of monologues in a sequence that told a story. It was the story of a young man moving from his home in the Delta, to the thrills of Jazz, and girls, and cars to be found in the big city, and the realization that roots are more important than the ephemeral commerce of big city life.
As well as Abram Wilson on Trumpet and Vocals, the rest of the line-up was the all star ensemble of Bassist Gary Crosby, drummer Rod Youngs, guitar player Giorgio Serci, harmonica player Errol Linton, Nathaniel Facey on Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophonist Denys Baptiste, pianist Ben Burrell, trombonist Ashley Howard and Tuba player Andy Grappy.
They played well as a unit, with tight playing, and unison riffs featuring, but also gave chance for solo from such names as Nathaniel Facey and Denys Baptiste, and Giorgio Serci, and Errol Linton although much of the soloing was left to the fiery vocal, Miles Davies like tone that Abram Wilson employed throughout much of the music.
As well as being a talented trumpeter, Wilson is also a very good soul vocalist, with the first three tracks I want More for Me than This, Albert Jenkins Story, and Life Ain’t so Bad telling much of the album’s concept and story, and featuring choral chants from the whole of the group.
Although the lessons in the pieces, such as Confrontation and Acceptance, Why you Guys Laughing? And You Already Home were hard learnt they were told with passion, and exemplary musicianship, and the standing Ovation from many within the audience showed that the project, which has won a number of awards was also a great live success.
All Rise -Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra –Birmingham Symphony Hall; 30th September 2005
The Jazz trumpeter and composer played his most ambitious piece to a standing ovation, when All Rise was performed at the Symphony Hall.
Accompanied by the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, the fifteen piece band, which comprised a pianist, drummer, bassist, 4 trumpet players, 3 trombonists and 5 saxophonists, played music that deftly combined first class ensemble playing with world class individual improvisations.
The piece was greatly aided by the addition of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kurt Masur, and the London Adventist Chorale.
The twelve moments of the piece owed greatly to a wide range of musical genres, with the blues and jazz performing much of the foundation. Although gospel music, in the form and contribution of the choir was also a defininig factor, as was classical music and atonal forms, in the contribution of the orchestra.
The first four movements of the piece were joyous, but the second part of the first half saw much of the music take on a more subtle, bluer hue, while the four pieces that comprised the second half were based on dance forms, with the final piece I am (Don’t you run from me) had a gospel feel that was greatly enhanced by the lyrics, and the soulful singing of the choir.
The two largely improvised pieces that the band finished with were also good, and allowed the individual members of the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra to show what they could do.
The Angelo DeBarre Quartet
Fans of the Gypsy Jazz Tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli were out in force when the highly rated Angelo DeBarre Quartet played at Lichfield’s Guildhall.
The four piece ensemble of rising jazz violinist Christian Garrick, rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie, double bass player Andy Crowdy and guitar virtuoso Angelo Debarre are well known for their lively interpretations of Reinhardt’s later period compositions.
The lively playing of Garrick matched the more refined playing of Debarre, who did not really get into his stride as a player until the second set of the concert. The bass playing and rhythm guitar playing was perfectly suited to the playing of the two frontmen, and has been honed during the eight years of the bands existence.
The concert started with Fantasie, a melodius burst of violin soon gave way to a performance from all of the players. Lesser known Django Reinhardt compositions played a major role in the performance, with pieces such as Feerie, Vamp, Artillerie Lourde and Impromptu which closed the first half.
The second half of the concert featured much more animated playing, showing the full range of the ensembles abilities, with a version of Tears being amongst the highlights of the set.
Concert Review – Empirical – Lichfield Guildhall – May 14th 2011
A select audience of Jazz fans saw the acclaimed four piece ensemble Empirical play when the group appeared at Lichfield Guildhall.
The four musicians, Alto Saxophonist Nathanial Facey, Drummer Shane Forbes, Vibraphone player Lewis Wright, and double bassist Tom Farmer played pieces from their most recent album, ‘Out ‘n’ In’ an album featuring music by and inspired by the life of Eric Dolphy.
A number of the pieces lasted for a long time, and required a lot of thought, such as opener ‘Hat and Beard’ with its complicated time signatures and unusual sounds. A number of ballads also featured, such as ‘A Bitter End for a Tender Giant’ while the long form piece ‘Dolphyus Morphyus’ required dextrous playing from all four members.
The unusual instrumentation of the group led to unusual arrangement ideas, while the lack of a piano added a lightness of touch to the music. It is a shame that the concert had such a small audience. Music of this nature deserves to be heard by more people.
Funktional/The John Richard’s Band – Lichfield Guildhall
The small crowd who braved a cold November evening were well rewarded by two bands who played at Lichfield Guildhall.
Local band Funktional began the evening with their impressively high level of musicianship. They started their set with Pick up the Pieces by the Average White Band, unison lines on Tenor Sax and Trumpet were more than ably supported by a rhythm section of keyboard, bass and drums.
Leader, Nickk Dewhurst also played a number of his own compositions, such as Five past Eleven blues, which allowed for soloing by all members of the band, and new drummer Dave Seller, who managed all of the time signatures the band threw at him with aplomb.
Herbie Hancock’s Canteloupe Island was the group’s last piece of the evening. They are well worth seeing.
After a short break, the 5 piece John Richard’s band took to the stage. The group, led by singer songwriter and guitar/bouzouki player John Richards consisted of Chris Drinian on whistles, banjo and flute, Allie Fellows on keyboards and accordian, Jim Sutton on bass and keyboards, and John’s eldest daughter Emma on harmony vocals and penny whistle.
Their set ranged from the political to love ballads, with the African sounding ‘If you can talk, you can sing’ being the liveliest song they played. They also played a number of instrumental jigs and reels which showed of the flutes, whistles and accordian to best effect.
A version of Shine On, which was a largely accappella piece was their encore.
Concert Review – Lianne Carroll
Lichfield Guildhall – October 11th 2009
The Jazz pianist and Singer Lianne Carroll played a set of high quality Jazz when she appeared at the Guildhall.
The well regarded musician has released a number of albums, as well as working alongside some of the best known musicians working in Jazz. With a free flowing Piano sound, and technique in abundance, and a voice that sits somewhere between the much missed Kirsty McColl and Annie Lennox, she was accompanied by her bass playing husband Roger Carey and drummer Mark Fletcher.
The music was chosen from a wide expanse of both songs from the Jazz and blues spectrum, as well as songs from Billie Holiday, Steely Dan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. Although Lianne was the centre of attention, her hard working rhythm section were also given plenty of chances to shine, with solos and complex ensemble playing from all three of the musicians.
Her own song Dublin Morning featured a Bruce Hornsby style Piano opening, and a celtic jazz theme throughout, before morphing into a much changed reading of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, and then became a version of Gershwin’s Summertime, which fused its well known vocal part with Saint-Saens like complex Piano. Two Tom Waits songs Picture in a Frame and Take it with me were sung solo, and although lacking the vocal grit of the originals, revealed their delicate beauty in this new setting.
Jazz songs featured throughout the set,with ‘They Can’t take that away from me’ featuring dextrous Piano and Bass. A version of ‘My Favourite Things’ featured vocals, but in terms of its structure owed a lot to John Coltrane’s famous modal version of the song.
The warmth of Lianne Carroll’s voice, and her piano playing should see her playing gigs like this for many years to come.
Concert Review – Tom Cawley’s Curios – Lichfield Guildhall – April 18th 2010
After being picked to play on Peter Gabriel’s latest album the pianist Tom Cawley returned to his day job as leader of one of the country’s foremost Piano trios when his group performed at Lichfield Guildhall.
With assistance from drummer Joshua Blackmore and double bassist Sam Burgess, they played a set of inventive jazz, mostly taken from their most recent, critically acclaimed release, ‘The Other Place’.
Although elements of other piano players, such as Bill Evans in some of the slower pieces, or Ramsey Lewis in the faster pieces, or the ensemble playing of units such as EST, showed through, the group had a distinctive sound all of their own. They started with the piano piece ‘Bradford’ all clipped chords and rimshot rhythms, whilst other pieces such as ‘Roadster’ veered from one idiom to another. The support from the rhythm section was of a high quality throughout, whilst pieces such as ‘Pure’ or ‘Plea’ were more restful tone poems, they never failed to surprise the attentive audience.
Dave Brubeck – Birmingham Symphony Hall – 12th May 2003
A sold-out audience was witness to one of the finest Jazz Quartets when Piano legend and composer Dave Brubeck bought his American Quartet to Birmingham Symphony Hall.
The sprightly and dapper 82 year old had the enthusiastic crowd applauding from the first note he played, until the last note, nearly two hours later. In a career spanning nearly 5 decades at the top of his profession, the group had much music to choose from, but mostly stuck to dazzling displays of virtuoso performances.
A startling version of George Gershwin’s ‘I got Rhythm’ was really only recognisable from Brubeck’s piano chords, the bass and the drums taking the tune in completely unexpected directions. The saying that in Jazz the tune is only a suggestion certainly applied here.
Dave took a back-seat during the slower episode of ‘Elegy’ allowing a flute solo by Bobby Militello and a bass solo of startling invention and originality played by Michael Moore.
In the last number of their first set, ‘Blue Rondo a la turk’ one of his more famous themes, the tune and the dynamics gave way to a fiery drum solo by Randy Jones.
During the second half, the audience response was far more lively. Each solo by the quartet was received by rhapsodic applause.
The solo piano introduction of ‘Saint Louise Blues’ was exquisitely played by Brubeck, with each of the star players in his band taking solos that were full of invention and technical brilliance.
By the time Dave struck up the familiar chordal introduction and 5/4 theme of ‘Take Five’ the audience was ready for anything. The audience was demographically wide ranging, with many people remembering him from years ago, but also many more newer converts were also present within the audience.
Dave Brubeck has lost none of the power and invention of his youth, but what he may have lost in terms of technical prowess, has been replaced by a warm and immediately recognisable piano technique and compositional style. In a world where plastic manufactured pop seems to hold a strong fascination, it is rewarding to know that people who had some influence in music over fifty years ago are still playing.
Denys Baptiste – Let Freedom Ring – Birmingham CBSO Centre – March 12th 2004
Denys Baptiste bought the full scope of his ambitious four-piece suite ‘Let Freedom Ring’ when he and his 11 piece band performed the piece for a live audience at Birmingham’s CBSO Centre.
The ambitious piece contained elements of free atonal Jazz, as well as spoken dialogue, and orchestral colours and jazz music flourishes. All of these elements were combined to create a suite of elemental power. The piece worked on record, but it gained even more power and swing on the live platform.
The suite benefited particularly from the performance being at the CBSO. Like the nearby Symphony Hall, this is a venue designed for live music, and this design showed in the colours of the pieces, and in how well they sat together.
The suite was inspired by the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech of Martin Luther King. As well as this, it also featured the celebrated poet, Ben Okri reading from his own poem ‘Mental Fight’. The sympathetic intonation of the orchestra bought an entirely suitable and appropriate backing to these words, who’s meaning was not lost on the audience.
Although much of the music was serious, and the poetry was also serious, there were elements and passeages within the piece which echoed with a barely contained joy and vitality.
Saxophones played unison lines with violins and cellos, and although this combination of instruments is not really explored or used to its fullest extent, they worked well in this context. Indeed, the low melodic notes of the cello added darker colours and textures to the piece.
As the leader and composer Denys Baptiste was on top form on Tenor Sax, although the piece as a whole contained no fiery solos or improvisation, as is usually the case. Having said this, though, the keening, atonal violin part during ‘I have a Dream’ and the joyful gospel inspired piano of ‘With this Faith’ were particular highlights.
The ensemble playing of the whole group was a particular highlight, and just shows why the album and the project ‘Let Freedom Ring’ has been particularly and widely acclaimed by record buyers and critics alike.
Concert Review – Gwyneth Herbert – Lichfield Guildhall – October 9th 2009
The fast-rising jazz singer songwriter Gwyneth Herbert played to a large audience when she appeared at Lichfield Guildhall. The gig was part of the tour to promote her newest release, the warmly received album ‘All the Ghosts’, and accompanied by a three piece band of keyboards/piano, guitar and drums Herbert’s remarkable and fluid voice was allowed to shine.
The group started with one of their rare cover versions Portishead’s ‘Glory-box’ with the stripped down sound of the band perfectly complementing the dynamic of the original version, whilst taking it in new directions. A vastly re-arranged version of Dolly Parton’s‘Jolene’ was a duet for guitar and vocal, whilst the piano playing of Steve Holness was allowed full rein on ‘The Woman Meets the Wiseman’ with its complex changes and time signature, whilst the pop leanings of the group were shown on ‘The Morning After’. The ballad songs that featured in this set ‘Bittersweet and Blue’ and ‘Whisper Low’ were also very well received.
The second set of the concert consisted of a full run through of the new album, showing the songs in their best light. A number of genres were tackled, as well as narrative devices in the songs to tell stories. ‘Lorelei’ and ‘Natalia’ had the singer sounding like a young Joni Mitchell, whilst ‘My Mini and Me’ featuring slide guitar from Al Cherry and Hammond Organ from Steve Holness showed the band almost channelling the musicianship of Led Zeppelin.
An encore of ‘My Lonely Farewell’ found the singer walking around the Guildhall without a microphone, and the dynamism of her singer showed a perfect vocal technique. For a singer still on the right side of 30, with 4 albums to her name, and an ever increasing reputation and fan-base shows that Gwyneth Herbert’s name should be one that will be remembered.
John Etheridge and Sweet Chorus – Lichfield Guildhall – 17th October 2003
Jazz Guitarist John Etheridge and his band, Sweet Chorus bought the music and passion of Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt to a small but enthusiastic audience when they played at the Guildhall. The late change in venue to the Guildhall didn’t seem to deter the audience, with John Etheridge even going so far as to say how well the guildhall was suited to acoustic music.
The ex soft machine guitarist toured with the great gypsy violinist Grappelli during the seventiues, and his love of the music shone through in the performance.
The band, which included young violin sensation Christian Garrick, rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie and double bassist Pete Kubryk-Townsend played in a variety of style and moods throughout the evening.
The first set started with ‘When you Smile’ and the gently swinging ensemble were rewarded with warm applause from the audience. They played other jazz standards, and the interplay between Christian Garrick and John Etheridge during ‘Tiger Rag’ was astonishing, with the lack of drums and percussion being covered up by the hard swinging rhythm of double bass and rhythm guitar.
The gentle ballad ‘Sweet Chorus’ was very well played, with Christian Garrick ringing emotional notes out of his instrument. The backing and arrangements of all of the music was very well weighted. Although the band played much music from the Hot Club days of Reinhardt and Grappelli, this was no tribute to a by-gone era. By injecting their own personality , and experience the group was able to produce new readings of old music.
The first set ended with a musically surreal reading of Dave Grolnick’s ‘Nothing Personal’. High violin notes, and guitar clusters and a slightly lopsided rhythm gave the music a slightly strange effect, and this was only added to by the red lighting that was employed during this point in the set.
The second half started out with just John Etheridge on guitar, playing a well-received medley of ‘The Nearness of you’, ‘Summertime’ ‘Bless the Child’ and John Coltrane’s ‘Moment’s Notice’. These performances showed the depth and breadth of John Etheridge’s learning and knowledge, as he was able to play the melody, chords and bass lines simultaneously.
The rest of the band returned for the rest of the set, with the highlights being the Etheridge/Garrick duet ‘Gentle Rain’ and the bass and rhythm guitar duet that was played towards the end of the set. The group encored with an emotional reading of the classic guitar/violin duet of ‘Nuages’.