Monday, December 13, 2010


Two new Babel albums are previewed at the Vortex tomorrow. Twelves - Riaan Vosloo, Tim Giles, Mark Hanslip and Rob Updegraff - and a duo of Mark Hanslip and Javier Carmona.
Come along. Please. It'll be great!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Acoustic Ladyland

Acoustic Ladyland is reaching the end of its life. Falling on its sword is a route chosen by Pete Wareham himself (above shown at Eastcote Studios during the recording of remarkable Last Chance Disco). Last night was an exceptional pleasure as the band returned to the Hendrix music of the first album Camouflage.

Hearing the band yesterday indicated how masterful they have become, since the band's first gig at Ronnie Scotts on 10th September 2001. Not just their consummate skills being once again focussed on the music,  with which they started but their imaginative reworking during their own solos, and their empathy. I can't guess how many gigs they have played together, and also that rhythm section of Tom H and Seb (also playing in Polar Bear of course).

A very moving week is evolving. Tonight is Last Chance Disco - actually the first music played properly in the current Vortex in early 2005. While tomorrow ends with the current band.

To have been involved during this early period by releasing Camouflage and Last Chance Disco on  Babel has been a privilege for me.

So it's great, and unsurprising, that the gigs are sold out.

But there is one thing that really indicates a certain state of the media world vis-a-vis jazz (or perhaps music in general) at present. There were previews, of course. But there has been NO press to write up and describe the importance of the evenings. And of course no radio or other similar media. Contrast if it were the last performances of many other rock bands, or the last performance by a diva at Covent Garden. Well, it's their loss and the world's loss. In the mean time, let's just go and enjoy the party.

Before they re-emerge as......???

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

London Jazz Festival preview

I did a London Jazz Festival preview of Babel artists on the Londonjazz blog. So check it all out.
Can't recommend too highly all of the bands. Great that trioVD particularly will be at ICA on 19th. This venue is in peril of closing. So support them in this iconic venue.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Three gigs to watch out for over the next week

Amit Chaudhuri - Vortex Saturday
Author and singer Amit Chaudhuri launches his new album Found Music (coming out on the Babel-Vortex label) this Saturday at the Vortex. Amit is known for his novels and cultural essays, but is equally a singer. This gig will show that to be the case.

Richard Faihurst Triptych, Sam Leak - Pizza Express. Monday
Richard's new album just got a 4 star review in the Guardian. He "reappraises the classic piano-trio approach with varied original material". Meanwhile Sam Leak will contrast with his new band. (Recording to come out on Babel soon.)

Carsten Daerr Trio, Tom Arthurs/Richard Fairhurst - Vortex Thursday
Carsten Daerr leads a great dynamic piano trio from Berlin. Highly rhythmic, highly charged. Playing opposite them are the duo of  Tom Arthurs and Richard Fairhurst. Their next album on Babel, first performed at the Proms last year, will be the second for this duo on Babel.

I started looking through the London Jazz Festival programme for Babel-oriented gigs. There are lots this year. Makes a change from a few years ago! Further information soon.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Where does the money come from?

According to today's FT, the main private sponsorship of the arts is to London and outside has suffered. Local corporate sponsorship is really difficult to get in the regions - there's less of it. So, for jazz and music, I can see that more of this sponsorship would be geared to festivals, because it makes a bigger splash in media terms than the "drip drip" of helping a smaller venue.
Similarly in London for a club like The Vortex. Dalston is in the regions as much as Dewsbury.
So two conclusions are reached in my view for now. First, public funding should be geared to helping the day-to-day. Second, the best way to fill the gap for a venue is to promote the voluntary activity and door money, i.e. lots of small amounts of money from individuals rather than large lumps. Much as the latter are desirable and not to be ignored, the work is harder to find it and grab hold of it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Brit jazz

What a horrid name! But it seems to have stuck. And by making a festival, Ronnie Scotts is to be applauded for focussing on this scene for the next weeks. It's the tip of a vibrant iceberg of jazz!
I hope that it is not forgotten that British jazz is not to be thought of as something that only emerges when it hits Ronnie's in this way, or for the 10 days of the London Jazz Festival.
 People need to be reminded that there is jazz year round at places like the Vortex, 606 and Bull's Head where, between them, the programmes cover the musicians featured at Ronnie's. Ronnie Scott's puts on many of them anyway as the year goes on. And then all the other venues, like The Hideaway.
Musicians in the scene run the risk of being relegated to a few festival gigs a year. We have fewer and fewer club venues or similar. Especially with knowledgeable part-timers like Leeds Jazz pulling out.  We need the chance for musicians to play all over the place all year round.
I have been hearing great reactions to the quality of the scene here from a few people abroad, such as from Skopje and Strasbourg. We don't - yet - have to travel that far to hear our own local guys.
(By the way, surprised that Christine Tobin hasn't been booked for it. Maybe put her at the top of the list for 2011, Simon and Paul?)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Well done, Kit

So good that the Mercury Prize once again recognises a top quality musician like Kit Downes. However, it should not be regarded as the only style that Kit is involved with. He is such a perennially curious soul whos is fuelled by music. And the more he seems to experience, the better it becomes. So, neither is it the only side of Kit, and nor should it be viewed as the definitive. Take the work that he is doing with Golden Age of Steam (with a new album on Babel) and Barbacana.
Also we must not forget the record labels involved. All the jazz releases who have received recognition over the past decade or so have been on small UK labels. And certainly none have been dismissed by the Mercury Prize as "token" - that's something to be left to a few ignorant pop journalists. Jazz is an important element of the UK music scene which is in a very dynamic state. Many musicians elsewhere are using jazz musicians themselves or return to jazz as a way of developing new ideas. Examples include the likes of Fyfe Dangerfield who also is involved with The Gannets.

Monday, July 19, 2010

New York is where so much is at?

Going to North Sea Festival for the First time, what struck me was the focus given to much of the New York scene - or rather Brooklyn, as they want to call it at present. And how good much of it is. I already went with 2 nights of Vijay Iyer ringing in my ears from the Vortex so was already convinced.
Rudder, Darcy James Argue, John Escreet, Jason Lindner.....
Following in the steps of 2 key men, in my eyes. Steve Coleman and Tim Berne.
But what amazes me is the extent to which they haven't got through to audiences. Is it a Stuart Nicholson effect, who has been playing down New York for several years, or some other reason. We have tremendous trouble at the Vortex in selling gigs by Vijay, or Craig Taborn, to the extent that we should. If not at the Vortex, these musicians otherwise are tending not to be p,aying Ronnie Scott's or similar large spaces. But rather Charlie Wright's, or even small bars. Why?
It's not for lack of welcome exposure on Radio 3 or from jazz journalists, such as Kevin Le Gendre, or from other musicians, eg Phronesis working with Mark Giuiliana and Outhouse with Hilmar Jensson.
Thoughts please. Cos they should be being heard regularly, and selling out, in London.

Technology moves on - web sites and podcasts

There's the first Vortex podcast now available here. Not perfect yet, but a start indeed, especially as one can get music and information. With less and less time relatively available on traditional radio, podcasts (as well as internet radio) provide a way forward. Unfortunately, you have to look and find. So there's an element of luck in getting hold of many. But having a podcast around with a chance of it being found is better than nothing at all.
Downstairs at the Vortex - the bar and cafe owned by your truly as a tenant of the club upstairs btw-  has also come of age with its own web site ready (after a gestation period almost longer than for a human baby). Check it out here.
Web sites are important even for food. When my godson Tommy was looking for lists of good restaurants he eliminated some (even one run by a chef whose cookbook his father uses). Why? Because he didn't like the web site. So it's no longer just about the food.
But of course being a cafe that does more than food or a jazz club that does more than jazz are anyway the case with the Vortex and Downstairs. With more and more happening out in Gillett Square and our own events springing out organically from the position in the Vortex and also an enthusiastic staff. Such as the Portavilion on Saturday and the Sound Advice festival on Sunday.
Meanwhile we have some table tennis tables arriving next weekend as part of the Ping London event. However, due to Cyril, dj and barman (as well as rower and motivator in football academies), for us it's become Ping Brazil with capoeira and samba to accompany the tat  tat tat of the ball on table and bat.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Louisiana suffers

I love this track by Randy Newman. So appropriate again now with the Deepwater problem. How people take such little notice when they suffer.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Some musicians in their past lives

Steve Beresford

Chris Batchelor (but also Ben Mandelson and others)

Iain Ballamy, Django Bates, Tim Harries

Andy Sheppard, Soft on the Inside 1989. So name those musicians in one.

Paul Dunmall

John Etheridge (soft Machine) + John Marshall etc

John Eacott

Steve Williamson

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gaume festival

When I was away in Coutances last weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of one of my favourite annual festivals - in Gaume in Belgium (not far from Luxembourg and even closer to the trappist brewery at the monastery of Orval). Run for the past 25 years by Jean-Pierre Bissot, he has consistently had many great names of jazz but before they had been recognised elsewhere.
So he explained that Esbjorn Svensson played at his festival as early as 1992 (!), nearly a decade before his trio became famous. Over the past 6 years that I have been going there, I have been particularly impressed by his choices of pianist, including Simon Nabatov, Stefano Bollani (again well before his ECM fame). So it is to the pianists that I often look first. (By the way, Colin Vallon from Switzerland is on that wish list. He is about to record for ECM. I heard him in Gaume 2 years ago. Another is Eve Beuvens, whom I heard last year.) We'll book them at the Vortex when we know that a few more people will show up to agree with this judgment.
So this year's tip for the top is Omri Mor from Israel, playing Andalujazz, which is based around the sephardi music in Algeria.
Also there will be many of the Belgian favourites including Philip Catherine and Greg Houben.
Overall it's 24 concerts over 3 days. The admission price will be around €80. What a bargain.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

New on Babel for part of the rest of 2010

Some of our newest releases include:
Triptych (Richard Fairhurst, Jasper Hoiby, Chris Vatalaro)
Golden Age of Steam (James Allsopp, Kit Downes, Tim Giles)

With copies ready soon of:
Twelves (Riaan Vosloo, Rob Updegraff, Mark Hanslip, Tim Giles)

And for the autumn:
Outhouse with Hilmar Jensson

With whatever else is blown from the volcanoes.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

And now some more of the jazz

Even with no Cheltenham, there's lots of Babel-ish jazz to enjoy over the weekend. TrioVD at the Garage tonight. And Outhouse get ready for their recording with Hilmar Jensson by performing together at the Vortex on Monday. Golden Age of Steam was as monumental as usual last night.

A political bit, and a financial bit

I realise a couple of things recently which frustrate me. (And I'm going back to my roots of studying PPE and being an economist.)
1. About this election. I never realised the extent to which Labour has gerrymandered over the past decade. They can get the smallest number of votes, but still be the largest party. The strength of the Lib Dems has shown this up.

2. The banks clearly want something new to have to trade. No more CDOs, corporate shares to bankrupt. So they try it out on Greece. It has an implicit possibility that I'm sure they'd love. If the Euro collapsed they can get back to the game of currency dealing with all the arcane ones which they can use of carry trades, such as drachma, peseta etc. At present, the existence of the euro means 16 less that they can play around with. Yet they have the traders - ranging from MIT Ph.Ds to Essex traders - needing something to do to make money. A few guys sit in Goldman Sachs creating some off balance sheet deals for Greece. Do they link that to the photo on the front page of the FT yesterday of riot police?
Probably not. Yet they should.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oriole at the Vortex tonight!!

A last minute change in the programme, as Oddjob couldn't be there. Jonny's in London, so we've taken advantage of it.

8.30 till 9.00 - Julia Biel - Piano and Vocals

9.30 till 11.30 - Oriole

Jonny Phillips - Guitar
Idris Rahman - Saxophone/Clarinet
Ben Davis - Cello
Nick Ramm - Keys
Paul Clarvis - Drums
Ruth Goller - Bass

Plus Special Guest
Julia Biel - Vocals

Tickets £8

Call 020 7254 4097

"music that is quietly intense, beguilingly beautiful and full of pleasingly robust tunes that stay with you long after you hear them. Expect waltzes, gentle samba, persuasive grooves, poignant themes and uplifting melodies that'll make you smile, think and want to dance.” - Timeout

Friday, April 16, 2010

Django Bates

Great to have Django at the Vortex and such a packed house. Deservedly garnering 5 star reviews such as John Fordham in the Guardian. I was especially pleased by his playing of This World by Iain Ballamy. First because I love his ballad playing most and his focus on the piano.
But also because the recording of All Men Amen, where this was performed, was a turning point in my move to have a record label. I prodded Iain to take advantage of Peter Schulze's kind offer of recording at Radio Bremen and then recall how I did the classic jazz record label producer thing. The band flew out leisurelly on the day before, while I had to schlepp all the gear, from a Human Chain gig in Southend, by van. Arriving knackered (albeit after breakfast in Bruges and lunch in Amsterdam), having just had 3 hours sleep on the ferry, the band dragged me off to dinner. And then it was off to the studio to record what, for me, is Iain's magnum opus. So sad that it isn't more widely available, having come out on the B&W Label.
(It only goes to prove that there are certain rights that musicians need to have over their music that labels greedily retain.) Though I notice that you can buy it from Jazzcds here. So do it if you have a chance.
So hearing that gig on Tuesday, along with the others recently - and being reminded by Tom Cawley that Curios wouldn't exist were it not for the encouragement of the Vortex - is what makes me proud to have a part in this scene.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What if the government cut funding for jazz?

If the government cut funding for jazz, what would it do for jazz gigs in London?

Certainly next to nothing for the venues such as Vortex, 606, Ronnies, Pizza Express. As we are all unfunded! Of course it might limit the chances for the Vortex to upgrade its facilities. But we all work on the system that it's a permanent recession for jazz (Thanks for Billy Jenkins for pointing that out to me very soon after starting Babel.) Similarly for the record labels, who are more limited by the music industry situation than the official funding.

By contrast, it could easily affect bigger gigs at the major venues, and the core of the London Jazz Festival.

But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating after the election.

Someone should be asking the parties for their jazz policy. They did this in Germany and got a commitment from all of them that jazz support would not be reduced. When I've asked journalists, mags and blogs to ask them, they laugh at the thought of even posing the question because they don't expect an answer.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Stuart Nicholson has a go at blogs

In the latest Jazzwise, Stuart Nicholson has a go at blogs, generally regarding them as amateur and not properly "peer reviewed". So does that mean that I shouldn't take any notice of the erudite blogs of Ethan Iversen and other musicians, or the journalists here in UK, such as Peter Bacon's Jazzbreakfast, Mike Butler, Londonjazz? Not least the writing of Chris Parker on the Vortex web site.
Of course there are some bad blogs out there. But also some good ones too. And with the reduced opportunities to find out about jazz in the mainstream media, and the changing face of information dissemination it's essential.
I can't be bothered replying in the form of a letter.
I prefer to answer in the form of my blog. Much more appropriate.
Now. Much more intriguing is how things are moving in regard to Myspace (which I hardly look at nowadays apart from a few specific bits of music to hear), Facebook and Twitter.As well as where it's going to be able to hear so much jazz via the shops.

Monday, March 15, 2010

From global to local

Part of the joy of jazz is that it mixes all sort of creative influences. From whatever standpoint one starts, the extent of the mix differs: sometimes more folky, sometimes more African. It is a thrill that musicians can get together from different places and create something unified. A positive view of globalisation. Except....
The authorities are making it harder to get the visas and work permits required to encourage this interconnection.
The Vortex, for example, is registered with the Border Agency for issuing work permits.  They can be issued in minutes nowadays. Except that it is getting harder overall. Because there are fewer venues registered. (No suprise, as once the application  is in, there then follows a 90 minutes interview with 3 officials.)
It's the same for musicians wanting to go to the US. I know of several who now can't be bothered, because of the paperwork, or don't meet the criteria. All that work that Pete King undertook to at least creative exchanges, now undone.

Friday, February 26, 2010


At last it's out on CD. This is a legendary gig of Evan, Dave and Tony at the Vortex in 2008. the first time that they played together - and the only time till now.

Available on Red Toucan records, you can buy it online.

I was there. BUY IT HERE

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The announcement of John D's death

There seems to have been shock and consternation about how Cleo Laine could have performed a concert knowing of her husband's death. (One person whom I have spoke to thinks that this is due to Cleo's selfishness and desire for limelight. Mistaken of course. But this is a person with whom I understand there was no love lost between him, Cleo and JD.)
Surely music is one of the best means of outpouring of grief?
We had a similar situation at the Vortex recently, after Jackie Tracey's death. Devoted wife and manager of Stan - and of course mother of the band's drummer, Clark. Stan played the Vortex 2 days later.
Truly professional, truly emotional.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

John Dankworth

A few random jottings about things that impressed me about John Dankworth, in random order:

His commitment to furthering jazz, not just through education but through advocacy, e.g. Jazz Development Trust.
His awareness of all generations of musicians, to the extent that he replaced Allan Ganley with the young tyro Jim Hart
His encouragement of musicians, such as getting the Wavendon Allmusic scheme started. Being a major figure in bringing bebop to Britain through Club 11.
The enthusiasm to play. When he and Cleo did a gig at the Vortex, he played with his quintet for an hhour before she joined in for a further 90 minutes. And this was just 4 years ago.
A selflessness to Cleo. In the Vortex autograph book, he filled it in and signed it. However leaving the space above his own signature for Cleo!!
Telling me that he had to bring his saxophone into the Royal Academy of Music in a violin case if he had a gig that night, because of the antagonism of the RAM at that time to jazz. I gather that later he offered only to teach saxophone if they set up a big band. A good quid pro quo.
His generosity in giving away the Stables as a theatre and allowing people to wander around his garden every year for a festival.

No doubt more will come to me. But that's a nice little selection....

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Predictions for 2010 -

What chance HMV buying Ronnie Scotts in 2010? As they are now buying the Mama Group, which includes Jazz Cafe and Apollo, to get involved at Ronnie's would have sense.
Or the Arts Council selling some of its property portfolio, e.g. AEG buying South Bank; or privatising some of its functions, e.g. a trust taking over Royal Opera House? Here it is because it becomes a way for the government to raise some money to reduce its deficit.