Clark Tracey + four youngsters

The third Tuesday of every month is jazz night at Southampton Jazz Club and June’s event will certainly be one I shall remember for a long time: it was a superlative defying two sets of live jazz music.

The Clark Tracey Quintet

The Clark Tracey Quintet were in town and featured Alex Ridout on trumpet, Sean Payne was playing alto sax; Elliot Sansom was at the piano with James Owston on double bass and, of course, Clark Tracey was behind the drum kit. Once introductions had been made the tune “If I Were a Bell”, written by Frank Loesser for the musical Guys & Dolls, got the evening under way with each of the players taking a solo before the trumpet, sax, and piano played short bursts interspersed by drum vignettes from Clark – a terrific opening fifteen minutes of live jazz music.

The Kenny Wheeler tune “Foxy Trot”, from the new Album No Doubt, followed on and this was a very different style from the opener. Pianist Elliot Sansom played the opening bars before Sean Payne, on alto, brought a very atmospheric, ethereal quality to the tune. So what would be next?

The Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn number “The Star-Crossed Lovers” was said by Clark to be a sophisticated tune that eighteen year old Sean Payne would take the lead on.

This was, quite simply, one the most moving ballads I have heard played live. The control, pace and phrasing were beautiful to hear. If this is the future of jazz playing in this country then we are in very safe hands and I shall be very interested in seeing this guy leading his own band in a live setting.

“Seven Four Seven” was written by Clark and is a new tune to the band – the band have been together about eighteen months – and was the only time all the musicians read the music. The tune was great fun and is soon to be recorded, which will be great to hear again … and again. The first set finished with the Victor Feldman tune “Joshua”. Bassist James Owston led with a solo before Sean’s sax took off at a blistering pace and kept going to the end of the number and the first set.

The second set opened with the Alex Ridout penned “Top Dog”. Thirteen minutes of a new tune from the former BBC Young Musician Jazz award winner. I was very impressed when I first heard Alex, in this line-up, at the Swanage Jazz Festival, 2018, and hearing her again just confirms how good a player she is. She also turns out to be a very good tunesmith as well.

“Stars Fell on Alabama” gave us another chance to hear focus on Alex’s playing as she lead on this ballad written in 1934 by Frank Perkins. There were also solo’s from Elliot Sansom and James Owston.

It really was good to hear an extended bass solo from James and he is a player very much worth listening to, though I get the impression that he is very happy to be in the background and let Alex and Sean take the spotlight.

“Veracruz” was the penultimate tune of the evening that started out with a Latin vibe before becoming a mainstream tune that was a joy to hear. The evening finished with the Jimmy Deuchar tune “Suddenly Last Tuesday”. This was a great Be-bop tune to close the second set with all the players getting a final chance to show off their soloing skills and this included, for the first time all evening, drummer and band leader Clark Tracey.

This may go down as one of the best live jazz gigs I have seen at Southampton Jazz Club, I was still smiling the following morning as I remembered the night before. There are still some very good names yet to play this year at the club but it will be against this amazing quintet that their performances will be measured.

Tracks played 3 May, 2019

Small hospital radio station big on jazz every Friday 4 ’til 6pm (GMT)

Sounds Like Jazz is a Gosport Hospital Radio production and these are the tracks played on the above date:

  • Cittagazze by Portico Quartet from the album Knee Deep in the North Sea, 2007
  • Smaragd (Emerald) by Milan Svoboda from the album Solo Piano Recital, 1997
  • Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia) by Us3 from the album Hands on the Torch, 1993
  • Dance Me to the End of Love by Madeleine Peyroux from the album Careless Love, 2004
  • After Supper by John Horler from the album Free and Easy, 2018
  • E-Flat Triangle by Geoff Gascoyne from the album Keep it to Yourself, 2005
  • Sprezzatura by Freddie Gavita from the album Transient, 2017
  • Bullet Train by Wynton Marsalis from the album Big Train, 1998
  • Conga Total / El Cumbanchero by Harold Lopez-Nussa from the album Un Dia Cualquira, 2018

Tracks played 26 April, 2019

Small hospital radio station big on jazz every Friday 4 ’til 6pm (GMT)

Sounds Like Jazz is a Gosport Hospital Radio production and these are the tracks played on the above date:

  • Jupiter by the Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra from the album Jazz Planets, 2018
  • Giant Steps by John Coltrane from the album of the same title, 1959
  • No Stars (I’m Fancy Free) by Ella Fitzgerald from the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook, 1958
  • Oleo by Miles Davis from the album Miles Davis Live at Olympia, 1960
  • Catch and Release by Nick Hempton from the album of the same name, 2015
  • She Did it Again by Michel Petrucciani from the album The Blue Note Years, 1993
  • East of the Sun (And West of the Moon) by Jazzmeia Horn form the album Social Call, 2017
  • 317 East 32nd St. by Allison Neale from the album I wished on the Moon, 2015
  • Sonny’s Playground by George Coleman from the album A Master Speaks, 2016
  • Pussy Cat Dues by Chris Biscoe from the album Profiles of Mingus, 2010
  • I Won’t Dance by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong from the album Ella & Louis Again, 1959
  • Rest Easy by Chris Biscoe & Allison Neale from the album Now & Then, 2015
  • Frenesi by Charlie Sepulveda & The Turnaround from the album Songs For Nat, 2018
  • Leila’s Blues by Gigi Gryce from the album Saying Something, 1960
  • Social Call by Jazzmeia Horn from the album of the same name, 2017
  • Life’s A Ball by Andre Previn from the album 4 to Go!, 1963
  • Waitress Winking by the Andrew Linham Jazz Orchestra from the album Weapons of Mass Distraction, 2016
  • Claudeti by the Duduka Da Fonseca Trio from the album Duduka Da Fonseca Trio Plays Dom Salvador, 2018
  • I’m Going Down by Jazzmeia Horn from the album Social Call, 2017
  • Take Five by the Sachal Studio Orchestra from the album Sound of Asia

Two of a Mind Quartet

The Two of a Mind Quartet is co-lead by saxophonists Chris Biscoe and Allison Neale and I had the pleasure of hearing them live at Southampton Jazz Club on Tuesday, 16 April, 2019 – off the quartet only Chris Biscoe was an unknown quantity to me.

Chris Biscoe + Jeremy Brown + Matt Fishwick + Allison Neal = Two of a Mind

The evening was to be largely built around the band’s interpretations of the work of Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond and in particular the albums Blues in Time and Two of a Mind. The first set began with Allison Neale counting them in on “Standstill” with all players taking a solo at some point. What struck me immediately was the the wonderful musical interaction between Chris and Allison whether playing in unison, harmony or counterpoint.

The next tune was the title track from the 2016 album release Then and Now and this really did swing. There was a really nice extended solo from Allison before bass player Jeremy Brown showed us all what he was capable of. “Easy living” was next with a bowed bass opening. This is a blues number and Chris’ baritone sax really shone on this one, enhanced by the subtle playing of Allison on alto.

“Line for Lions” (a Mulligan and Getz number) was another swinger with alternating playing between the two saxophonists broken up by some fine drum work from Matt Fishwick. Matt’s drumming was brought to the fore on the closing number of the first set where he and Jeremy Brown got to play off each other to great effect.

“How Deep is the Ocean”, as arranged by Allison Neale, kicked off the second set with the Chris Biscoe penned “Rest Easy” following on – both these tracks can be found on the aforementioned album release. Next came the Hoagy Charmichael tune “Skylark”, which for me was the tune of the evening.

Chris had only been listed as playing the baritone and alto sax but for “Skylark” he used the alto clarinet. This is not a familiar instrument in this country and I really don’t understand why not – as I had not seen, or heard this instrument before I had to ask Chris what it was. The tone is beautiful, warm and rich and brought something different to this well known and well loved tune. Unfortunately the alto calrinet does not appear on the Then and Now album but can be heard on another of Chris’ albums Profiles of Mingus.

Victor Herbert’s “Indian Summer” followed with a very subtle Bossa Nova beat from Matt Fishwick. “The Way You Look Tonight” was the penultimate tune of the evening and this was where Matt was really allowed to let rip with an extended drum solo – such a lot of drumming with minimal movement. The second set, and the evening, ended with the Gerry Mulligan composition “Blight of the Fumble Bee” a great number that the band appeared to enjoy playing as much as the audience enjoyed hearing it.

This was an evening of well written music played very well by musicians who engaged with the audience and each other. The MC for the evening commented that Allison Neale, when not playing, was smiling in appreciation throughout the gig and that was infectious. The following morning the first CD in to the player was Then and Now and while no studio album can match a good live performance it was still good to hear a number of the tunes again … and again.

“Whelmed” by Freestone

Saturday, 6 April, 2019 saw Tori Freestone appear live at the Ashcroft Arts Centre in Fareham. I had been looking forward to this event since the calendar was released. Sadly my anticipation of a good evening’s of live jazz was not met in full.

I purchased the last album released by the trio back in 2016. I like the album and agree with the album reviews like this from Jazzwise magazine:

Freestone’s hypnotically inventive improv is a deeply personal one and ‘El Barranco’ proves she’s a tenor saxophonist worthy of more recognition”  

The performance started with the title track from the 2016 album and was played well. The second track had a Cuban influence and was OK but I felt that drummer Tim Giles was a little self-indulgent on his drum solo, which did little to add to or enhance the music being played – I have to say that I am not a huge fan of the drum solo unless played with a subtlety befitting the tune.

“Oh Shenandoah” was the next tune to get an outing and I have to say that it was well played and quite clearly Tori has a genuine respect for folk music. Next was a jazz standard and while it was introduced I was unable to hear what was said due to poor diction and lack of effective microphone sound levels.

The set finished with “Crosswires”, I believe, which was an amalgamation of the opening tune of the evening with another. The tempo was slightly quicker, which I liked, and the bass playing of Dave Mannington was very enjoyable, as it was all evening. The break was interesting in that the audience was very quiet and I could hear little talk about the first act.

The second set started off with El Mar de Nubes, the title track from the forthcoming album release before moving on to tracks from the albums In The Chop House and El Barranco. Unfortunately the pattern of playing was already well established and there was little variation in what was heard. For me there was an over-reliance on repetitive riffs that did not lead anywhere.

After the performance I spoke to others who had attended the event and the general feeling about the performance was that it was lacklustre. There were signs that something was going to break out of the constant riffing but then it just faded away. I suppose that the best thing I can say about this particular gig is that I did not, as I have done in the past, walk out. I so wanted to enjoy the evening but the feeling of “whelmed” – neither over or under – was the abiding one.

N.B I am fully aware that “whelmed” is not a word that can be found in the dictionary but I hope that you catch my intended meaning.

Carlos at Dizzy’s

I first came across bass player Carlos Henriquez listening to his album Bronx Pyramid, which I had read about on the latinjazznet.com, which is where I also discovered the Rodrigues brother Michael and Robert. So when I read that Carlos had released an album centred on the music of Dizzy Gillespie that also featured Michael Rodriguez on trumpet I knew it would very quickly become a part of my jazz collection.

rodbromusic.com

The album kicks off with “A Night in Tunisia” and the Afro-Cuban beat is there right from the start. Soloists Melissa Aldana, on tenor sax, and Michael Rodriguez make for a formidable front line with solid, superb backing from the rhythm section.

The first track runs for a little under nine minutes and I, for one, would have been happy if it had been extended as I am sure the audience at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, where the album was recorded, would have been too.

Michael Rodriguez again takes the trumpet solo on the second track “Groovin High”, which mixes Salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz to great effect. Anthony Almonte throws in some great vocals before things really kick off with track three, Bebop. This time Terrel Stafford takes the trumpet solo alongside saxophonist Melissa Aldana. The tempo is brisk but the notes crisp and clear and that Latin beat that drives through the piece makes for very enjoyable listening.

Dizzy Gillespie

All but two of the tracks on the album were written by Gillespie, “Tin Tin Deo” and “Trinidad, Goodbye” being the two exceptions. “Tin Tin Deo” is a well known tune that sounds like its been given a fresh coat of paint by Henriquez’s arrangement. “Trindad, Goodbye” is not so familiar a track to me, written Kenny Barron, but the musicianship, vocals, tempo and overall feel of the piece makes it a very fitting end to a terrific album – and I shall certainly to looking to find out more about Mellissa Aldana.

In the liner notes Carlos Henriquez writes:

I have arranged the Octet with an authentic rhythmic approach that Dizzy would have loved. We brought the sounds of modern Latin Jazz to the history that was bequeathed us

Carlos Henriquez: Dizzy Con Clave 201

Well I don’t think that Dizzy, who did after all initiate the Cubop era, would have disagreed with Carlos and that blend of the modern with the historical certainly works for me. Oh, and by the way, if you want to find out more about the Rodriguez brothers then find time to listen to their album Impromptu on Criss Cross Jazz

Louis who?

I recently picked up the album Here Comes Louis Smith on the Blue Note label. I did not do my usual thing of checking the album out first before ordering. I also had no idea who Louis Smith was (he died in 2016) or how I even came to be looking at the album in the first place. Having heard the album through a couple of times I have to ask: why I have I not heard of this trumpet player from Tennessee before?

Blue Note 52438

Here Comes Louis Smith was his debut album recorded in 1957 – it had originally been recorded for the Transition label but the company went out of business shortly afterwards and before the recording could be released in the spring of ’58. The album masters were acquired by Blue Note producer Alfred Lion. Louis had a stellar supporting group alongside him with Buckshot La Funke (Cannonball Adderley was signed to the Mercury label at the time so used a pseudonym) on alto sax. Duke Jordan and Tommy Flanagan shared piano duties with Doug Watkins on bass and drummer Art Taylor completing the rhythm section.

The album features four Louis Smith compositions and one tune each from Duke Pearson and Hoagy Carmichael. The Duke Pearson number, “Tribute to Brownie, opens the album with the drums of Art Taylor before Louis Smith comes in with a beautiful clear bop sound. If the opener does not grab your attention then go no further but, in my opinion, the rest of the album does not disappoint and is worthy of a hearing.

Of the four original compositions two are very well executed blues numbers: track 2 – “Brill’s Blues” and track 6 “Val’s Blues”. In fact track 2 features some really nice alto playing from Cannonball Adderley. Tracks 3 (“Ande”) and 5 (“South Side”) are good but it is “South Side” that stands out for me for both the group playing and the solo playing from Smith and Adderley. That leaves just one track to talk about, Hoagy Carmichaels “Star Dust”.

Carmichael wrote “Star Dust” in 1927 and it when on to become a standard that would be recorded by so many of the great and good in jazz music. On this version it is Smith’s solo trumpet work that stands out. The playing has a “haunting” quality to it that just makes everything around the listener disappear leaving only the sound of the trumpet to focus on.

[Those around Smith] make for a potent supporting cast, but the focus is mostly on the criminally obscure Louis Smith. After cutting his second Blue Note set and switching to teaching, Smith would not record again as a leader until 1978. All bop and ’50s jazz fans are strongly advised to pick up this CD ….

AllMusic Review by Scott Yano

As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I have no idea how I came to be looking at this album in the first place but something must have prompted me to do so. I do have to agree with Mr Yano, Louis Smith is a “criminally obscure” artist whose music deserves to be played and heard.

Spanish hard bop anyone?

Oriol Vallès and Joan Casares appear to be the leaders of the quintet plus who produced an album in 2017 that goes by the title Smack 7 Dab, which can be found on the excellent Fresh Sound New Talent label. All the tracks on the album bar one are written by either Vallès or Casares, the final track is the exception with vocals written by Hugo Astudillo.

The group line up is: Oriol Vallès (trumpet), Joan Casares (drums), Lluc Casares (tenor sax), Joel González (piano), Pau Sala (bass). Guests: Perico Sambeat (alto sax on #3,4,6), Toni Belenguer (trombone on #3,4,6), Hugo Astudillo (vocals & alto sax on #9).

In the recording studio for Smack 7 Dab

Now to the album itself. For those who like to categorize their music I would put this album in the “contemporary mainstream” bracket. By that I mean that this album is, stylistically, firmly rooted in the bop, hard bop era of the forties and fifties but is by no means a modern copy of went before. The best example of what I am trying to say can be found on track three, “Raval Hip Attitude”, which has some fantastic trumpet playing on it, swings, introduces the alto sax of Perico Sambeat and the trombone of Toni Belenguer all underpinned by a good rhythm section.

Another great album from the Fresh Sound label

This is an album where all the musicians get a chance to shine without overstaying their welcome on any particular track. This album has barely left my CD player since getting it. It is writing and playing like this that gives me the pleasure that I only really find in jazz music. Even the final track, “Por Mi Fe Los Cuentos” (By My Faith the Tales), which features rap with a hip hop beat does not detract from the overall effect of the album due to the use of the trumpet, sax and keyboard supporting the drums of Joan Casares.

Fresh Sound New Talent does a terrific job of bringing new jazz talent to the fore (this is the label that gave us the superb saxophonist Sam Braysher) and the album Smack 7 Dab can be found at https://www.freshsoundrecords.com

Tracks played 25 January 2019

Small hospital radio station big on jazz every Friday 4 ’til 6pm (GMT)

Sounds Like Jazz is a Gosport Hospital Radio production and these are the tracks played on the above date:

  • That Da Da Strain by Jim Beaty from the album The West Coast Years, 1993
  • Some Other Spring from the album of the same name by Karin Krog & Dexter Gordon, 1970
  • Hot Mallets by The Lionel Hampton Orchestra featuring Dizzy Gillespie from the album Dizzy Gillespie The Complete RCA Victor Recordings, 1995
  • Pan Croque by the Polish Jazz Quartet from the album Polish Jazz Quartet, 2017
  • The Clan by Curtis Fuller & The Jazz Clan from the album Soul Jazz, 1961
  • Do Your Duty by Humphrey Lyttelton & Elkie Brooks from the album Trouble in Mind, 2005
  • The Adventure of Little Peepsie by Dave O’Higgins from the album It’s Always 9.30 in Zog, 2017
  • City Home by Mose Allison from the album I’ve Been Doin’ Some Thinkin’, 1968
  • Smoke Screen by Eddie Henderson from the album Be Cool, 2018

Long Tall Dexter

Described by Leonard Feather as “one of the most influential saxophonists of the bop era,” Dexter Gordon has been a recognized master for over four decades. This new biography traces his career from his early stints with Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong, through his time with the bop big band of Billy Eckstine and his sparring partnership with fellow tenor-player Wardell Gray in Los Angeles, to his self-exile in Denmark, and his triumphant return to New York in 1976, an event that decisively shaped the still strong bebop revival. Stan Britt devotes chapters to Gordon’s acclaimed performance in the movie ‘Round Midnight, for which he received an Academy Award nomination, along with extended discussions of his recording legacy and an analysis of his unmistakable tenor sound and style. With a notated discography and a keen appreciation of Dexter’s warm, ironic personality, this biography adds another dimension to our understanding of one of the coolest, and tallest, figures of jazz.

Long Tall Dexter by Stan Britt, Quartet Books, London, 1989

The quote above is taken from the inside cover to the book Long Tall Dexter by Stan Britt. I am currently part way way through its twelve chapters and have to say that I am enjoying it. I have been an admirer of Dexter’s playing for some time and enjoyed seeing him in the film Round Midnight (Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, 1986).

The book has an easy going, light but factual style about it. As one would expect there are references to numerous jazz players who had an impact on Dexter’s playing: Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. Two players who were to have a significant impact in Dexter’s early days were Wardell Gray and Illinois Jacquet.

Illinois Jacquet I am familiar with but not so Wardell Gray and one of the real joys of this book for me so far is the introduction of players like these whom I now want to investigate further through their music. The chapter on Billy Eckstine has also encouraged me to re-evaluate him as a band leader rather than a crooner. Considering that I am only part way through the book I may end up having a list of a lot of music to listen to and people to read about further by time I get to the end.

This book is available online in paperback though I was fortunate enough to pick up a hardback copy in my local Oxfam Books & Music shop. What will be interesting at some stage is to compare this biography of Dexter Gordon to the recently released Sophisticated Giant By Maxine Gordon.