Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some Babel news

Babel Label at times gets forgotten in the hype of some of the new artists/labels on the scene. We've now been going for 22 years. But if you look it's been a good touchstone of some of the best of British jazz over this period. I am proud to see that, for one of the last Jazz on 3 programmes dedicated to British jazz, Babel-related stuff has a prominence. Check out the programme on and you'll hear Django, who nearly appears on a few Babel releases, but definitely as part of True Love Collection and Skull View, Big Air, which Babel proudly released in 2012, Acoustic Ladyland, whose first two albums were on Babel, TrioVD, and Steve Williamson, whose first recording for 20 years was with Black Top, released in 2014.
So, I would like to think that new Babel stuff is worth checking out - and owning.
Coming soon:
Michelson Morley - the band led by Jake McMurchie
Brass Mask Live - led by Tom Challenger and with a launch gig to come on 30 March at Rich Mix
The Saberton Album - a tribute to Pete Saberton, perhaps less known by the public but revered by musicians from all generations over here.
Elliot Galvin and Mark Sanders - one of the best young pianists teamed up with a great great drummer, who is a father figure to many.
In addition, the first two forays into bands who have no direct connection to these shores. Perhaps as the British seem to be bringing out their Europhobia, we are doing our bit for the opposite:
Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq - we know Sylvain D from his work with Kit Downes. Valentin Ceccaldi is one of the most dynamic cellists, belying his young age, and Manu Hermia has been ploughing a furrow acrosss the Belgian scene
Namby Pamby Boy - Fabian Rucker's Austrian posse. As with many of these groups, the name of the band is ironic. Their new album is launching on 8 April at Konzerthaus in Vienna.
You can buy them via

Monday, March 14, 2016

London Jazz Festival - how we try to deal with it

We have started putting together our programme for the EFG London Jazz Festival for 2016. Out in November.
At present, I am collating a whole range of proposals  because, of course, the Vortex has limited space. How best to balance things out between the sort of gigs supporting our scene here in London and musicians from elsewhere in the UK or overseas. (There will be, almost certainly, our regular Mopomoso and London Jazz Orchestra dates, by the way, as well as double bills involving Dice Factory and Benoit Delbecq/Petter Eldh/Jonas Burgwinkel.)
The London Jazz Festival is not a guaranteed money spinner for the Vortex. With 30+ gigs a night going on around town, we have to be careful. For example, one of the best gigs, creatively, last year was Orquestra Mahatma. And there were about 15 only in the audience.
Also, we ourselves receive no direct additional funding for our programming. Of course, sometimes the gigs that we want have support from elsewhere. We are reliant, as ever, therefore on musicians' own co-operation with the club and our own enthusiasms.
Meanwhile, the Festival itself has already announced some of its own headliners! Of course, one of the other problems for the audience is that this may be the only chance to hear these line-ups when they are in London. But a punter can only go to one gig a night. So this immediately precludes the chance that something even better turns up later.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Jazz has survived by keeping a foot in the camps of the commercial and also the sector supported by grants/patrons.
Contrast the clubs and venues, such as the Vortex or Ronnie Scott's, with the parts which have been supported by the Arts Council. The reach of the Arts Council into jazz has been relatively short-lived and never that huge, in comparison with the largesse required to keep opera, the orchestras or the big venues such as the South Bank running.
I remember organising my sole Contemporary Music Network tour for the wondrous Billy Jenkins (soon to turn 60, by the way) in 1996 and the relative luxury and support that was given at that time - guaranteed radio broadcast and half a dozen gigs which got organised with virtually no pleading.
The 'commercial' approach has really been imported from New York, while the other could be thought of as more 'European', picking up on the philosophical, aesthetic but also the classical roots of the music. Clubs closing have been mainly the result of commercial exigencies.
The country in which the supportive approach has been seen to best advantage is Germany. Struggles of festivals and venues are mainly the result of a decline/cut back/questioning of public funding. If public support is reduced this is problematic, while the chance of growing without is difficult.
A recent example of the former has been shown by the latest querying leading from the debt of €300,000 of the promoters of Moers Festival. When the programme was announced on 3 March, there was no guarantee that it would take place. A new hall was opened a couple of years ago, courtesy of North Rhine Westphalia and it seemed to lead to the festival's long-term security. Basically, the programme is, for jazz and Vortex lovers, near perfect - many of the artists perform at the club, but rarely in as large formations as Moers could afford. Rainer Michalke, one of the co-founders of the Stadtgarten in Cologne, has been running for a decade and built on its roots of high quality improvised music, from all points of the compass.
And a clear example of the latter is that, up in the North, in Hamburg, a tremendous wide-ranging jazz festival, Elbjazz, had grown dramatically over the past four years. Virtually unfunded by the city or state, the festival grew, courtesy of the support of leading shipyards and also the involvement of some of the main jazz promoters, such as Karsten Jahncke - in the year that I went, the range was from Jamie Cullum via Joshua Redman and Troyka to Schlippenbach Trio and Mary Halvorson. With inadequate income from the general public/ sponsors and only a belated offer of more-than-token public support, the festival has been put on hold. But it will be revived next year, we also have to hope.
The struggle of jazz as peripheral to the mainstream arts world is shown by the fact that the festival took place in the shadow of the new Philharmonie rising nearby. Total cost of that edifice, much underwritten by the city, is €750,000, up from an initial €200,000! So, here, an attempt at a true commercially-based festival in Germany has foundered with the public funding safeguarding its serious-minded roots.
At least Tina Heine, whose brainchild it was, now has the chance to run the autumn jazz festival in Salzburg. This was the second festival that Gerhard Eder had created, following on from Saalfelden. Unfortunately he died suddenly and suprisingly last Autumn. So she will be able to take her knowledge of the scene to the neighbouring country which already has a few fantastic festivals.

The Moers Festival is now safe for another year. As the press release on 10 March said:
'moers festival 2016 will take place as planned, just like we thought it would.
Concern about the festival’s financial situation arose after the new CEO reevaluated the figures. Last night, the city of Moers signed a guarantee agreement and thereby fulfilled the new CEO’s condition to go ahead with moers festival 2016. Time will show to what extent the CEO’s financial assessment was correct.
Unfortunately, we lost precious time to advertise for the festival due to the uncertainties in these past weeks. Therefore we now need your help with advertising for our festival! Please support us now by raising awareness of the festival.
The best proof that the world needs moers festival is a sold out house on all four days.'
Clearly it's a relatively expensive investment for a town of just over 100,000, but who would have heard of the town outside the Ruhr area, had it not been for this festival?
Programme on

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The great pianists of Europe - Pieranunzi, Stenson

In April, there are two particularly great pianists coming to the Vortex.


Pieranunzi has now played 3 times at the Vortex. He is a musician whose New York 'home' is the Village Vanguard. But his London one is the Vortex!
With an amazing classical clarity, it is a pleasure that he will be back.

28, 29 April BOBO STENSON playing with Martin Speake

Bobo Stenson is one of those who defined the European piano style a la ECM, along with, of course, Jarrett, but also our late great friend John Taylor (JT).
Bobo recorded a decade ago with Martin Speake. So Martin has invited him back for his first visit for several years. He will be playing with Martin, Steve Watts and Jeff Williams.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

March at the Vortex

I try and keep up to date on some of the March highlights at the Vortex in a more quirky way than on the programme. But there's a lot on and I actually wouldn't really want to say that I prefer these to others.

These include
5 Phil Robson Organ Trio - With Phil now living in New York, his visits are to be treasured. Here with Ross Stanley (who was mind blowing last week on piano with James Allsopp and Ed Jones) and NY-meets-London drummer Gene Calderazzo.
7 Lume. Lume nights are always special, though not enough audience. Totally undeservedly really. Adam Fairhall has always sparkled when we've had him here. He'll be well prodded by Tom Ward and Olie Brice, no doubt.
10 Vein The previous gigs by this Swiss band (With Greg Osby and Dave Liebman). Now we have the chance to hear them alone. I heard some of this last year in Schaffhausen and can't wait to hear more.
11 John O'Gallagher/Hans Koller A thoughtful saxophonist is Mr O'Gallagher. Not many musicians can translate Webern for grooving jazz. John can. Glad to have him back with Hans Koller
13 Emilia Martensson with all star guests. Worth it for a great series of vocalists.
15 Sacha Rattle/Zeynep Ozsuca  + Bruno Heinen. A slightly broader variety of music. As James Allsopp pointed out to me, music by Berg and Lutoslawski are almost 100 years old. So not that 'contemporary' or 'avant garde' to our ears.
18 Alice Zawadzki and Box String Quartet.  We all love Alice. Box String Quartet could develop with a little help from our friends, into a new Kronos Quartet. Help them on their way!
19, 20 Festival of the Between. Alya has put together a mouth-watering combination of musicians fusing Europe and the Middle East.
25 Penny Rimbaud presents the complete war poems of Wilfred Owen.  Has the founder of Crass mellowed? He was always thoughtful, but here he brings out his strong views by focussing on a great poet. He's done it here before and I was very moved.
31 The Enemy Well not really.Kit Downes, Petter Eldh and James Maddren are great guys, when you get them away from the stage, at least. Back on 1 April with a double bill of Tom Harrison Sextet. 

Programming and more

For the past year, I have been as busy on programming the music at the Vortex in Dalston, as releasing on Babel.
It has helped focus my mind on the changing nature of getting to hear  this innovative music, especially live but also recorded - who is playing, where do you find it, what does it take to best hear it. Many of these questions move into more general ones about where we have time to get to experience culture, how it can be created - the problems of time, location and value - and more.
So, for now, here are a few initial thoughts on how the Vortex is placing itself.
The first thing to notice is the increasing difficulty of existing in the expensive environment that we are in. Rents are rising, as are all running costs in London, but income isn't! The chance of getting public funding, such as from the Arts Council, is getting harder; the number of venues is on the decline, according to a recent report commissioned by Boris Johnson by around 30% since 2008; yet the number of really good musicians who want the chance to play is rising. Jazz courses are doing a great job in nurturing some fabulous young musicians, even though they have to get smarter to work out how to survive. There used to be big record labels willing to help too.
Luckily, we have a sympathetic landlord in Hackney Co-operative Developments who has been able to keep the rent relatively steady. The changing nature of the area where the club is, in Dalston, and its accessibility by public transport (especially the Overground) has also been helpful.
Next then is to consider how to balance out the need for the music to be experienced and selecting what might be right for us. It's about finding the right audiences for the music and a steady income without compromising on quality.
The various solutions that the Vortex has been going for, over the past year in particular, include: moving towards more gigs per month (in February alone 46); encouraging more volunteers to do functions both in the office and in the evenings; and keeping a good relationship with the musicians. While the marketing has suffered a bit in terms of the spend, the club has nevertheless been able to increase turnover and numbers coming in through the door. Meanwhile, we have tried to balance out the music that is performed at the club. A whole range in terms of the styles which one can look at when considering the words 'jazz' and 'improvised'.
This weekend is a good case in point. On Friday, Ian Shaw delivering his customary balance of entertainment and musicianship, followed late by Wolf Off, a blend of electronica, grooves and improvisation from Loop Collective members; on Saturday, Julian Siegel Quartet (the highest quality original contemporary jazz) followed late by a jazz-rocksteady-ska band late, then on Sunday, two doses of free improvisation (Mopomoso and a night curated by Loz Speyer) and our Downstairs session led by Hannes Riepler. The busier more mainstream gigs help fund the less busy free improv.
As the number of musicians passing through the club rises, so the amount of interest in performing also increases. Both from the scene in London, but also from elsewhere in the UK and overseas.
There is partly a degree of self-selection in who is asking and who we interact with. We can't put on gigs with too little audience indefinitely.
So we have to keep looking, The club is hovering just above the levels to survive but it needs to strengthen.
But more on different elements of these anon.