Thursday, September 08, 2016

Art and music

It’s not far from the parts of the brain stimulated by art and by music. Perhaps that's why artists and musicians seem so often to work hand in hand. Most obviously in the jazz scene here in London as an artist is Gina Southgate who has a regular display at the Vortex.
A third leg of this creative stool is maths/science. Eloquently put by the book “Gödel, Escher, Bach” by Douglas Hofstadter. And there is an evocative subtitle “An eternal golden braid”
Very rarely do all three come together. But very frequently there are two out of three, such as my own awareness of Escher and Bach, but not Gödel. Einstein was a violinist, as was Paul Klee and many artists passim who have become musicians, with two springing to mind being Terry Day and Leafcutter John. The art school movement of the 60s has a lot to answer for. Miles Davis could paint (of sorts). Evan Parker was originally a botanist, and Jake McMurchie (who leads Michelson Morley) studied maths.
My usual immediate reaction to the influence of science on art is that there is a strong precision involved, such as meticulous anatomical drawings by the like of Leonardo. Jazz musicians are usually logicians, solving problems of how to make music out of chord sequences, but also how to integrate with the musicians around them, as well as being able to assert their individuality.

My thoughts on this have been further influenced by my contact with mathematician turned artist Aurelie Fréoua. She uses terms and concepts such as ‘order’ and ‘chaos’, homing in on the spiral and on colour. But there is something which hooks up to jazz and even improvisation. Her work seems to have movement to it. Her spirals have intriguing ways of moving around colours, by the way that the paint is applied. While her abstracts start with her working from a wholly blank canvas, going with the flow, before actually recognising imagery which emerge from her subconscious. So there is an element of improvisation.
Like any good artist, she is fearless, though well aware that her work needs to communicate.
This was the case in a portrait of me that she has done. Completely transforming my complexion, clothing and hair but getting over her own vision of me!

She has been developing in a parallel way to many musicians whom I know and using the same attitude. I wonder if she will respond as much to the music as a stimulus to creativity, in the way that many musicians have responded to art?

The new Vienna School of Jazz: Namby Pamby Boy and Vienna Improvisers Orchestra 2016

The Viennese jazz scene is evolving. And, with the signing of Namby Pamby Boy on Babel, we are part of it. I went to Vienna for the launch of the new eponymous album at Konzerthaus. And enjoyed a great gig with over 250 there. How would I describe it? Bits of early Acoustic Ladyland, Led Bib, prog, New York downtown (reflecting Fab Rucker's work with Bobby Previte perhaps) and snatches of the approach of Weather Report (which of course was founded by an Austrian, Joe Zawinul). It has a lot of drive and positive enthusiasm, which could make it one of those bands that we dream of - which can, without compromise, perform also in 'non-jazz' environments. Of course, there was the Vienna Art Orchestra, which spawned a number of great musicians, such as Wolfgang Puschnig as well as leader Matthias Rüegg. Matthias, along with Christoph Huber, was one of the founders of Porgy & Bess, one of a handful of imaginative jazz clubs continuing in Europe today.  Another important 'link' in the Austrian chain is Peter Herbert, the bassist who is on a couple of albums with Huw Warren, as well as Christine Tobin's 'Deep Song'.

Now we are coming across a great new generation. Hannes Riepler brought over some about two years ago: the Pichler brothers and Maria Neckam. Mark Holub, of Led Bib, is now in Vienna too, and has come over with violinist Irene Kepl, on a couple of occasions. A trio involving Swiss singer Andreas Schaerer and two Austrians (Schaerer-Eberle-Rom) performs at Cheltenham. Pianist Elias Stemeseder is in Jim Black's present band

Meanwhile, Julian Argüelles is beginning to work teaching magic on the next generation as a professor in Graz, one of the longest-established conservatoires teaching jazz.

I got to hear some of the others also, when I went to the Zoom festival organised by Jazzwerkstatt. The Vienna Improvisers Orchestra was the final concert. It is always intriguing to differ the various Improvisers Orchestras around Europe, such as those in London, Glasgow, Amsterdam (the Royal IO). This one is very much the brainchild of Michael Fischer who really makes the group move like a single instrument. The VIO's texture seemed to be strongly influenced by strings accounting for nearly half the line-up and also a strong vocal duo. Fischer allows a lot of space to many of the instruments to solo extensively. Particularly noteworthy, to me, was that of Alex Kranabetter on trumpet who was able to take advantage of the many sonic capabilities of the instrument, sensitively sputtering as much as playing technically clearly.

As with many such improvised gigs, it was a mixture of getting involved in the process, and enjoying the elements in the middle of the set, but it led to a grand climax which was worth the wait. So, watch out! The Austrians are coming.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Jazzahead - some thoughts

Jazzahead is the big jazz trade fair that has developed over the past ten years. It is now pretty vast. Despite spending three days there, there were so many people I missed meeting and working out ideas with.
I spent most of it with my Babel hat on, as there are several new albums - not least Namby Pamby Boy and the new duo of Elliot Galvin and Mark Sanders. Indeed I sat mainly on the Austrian stand!
It is rather enjoyable to have a question and find the specific person who might have the answer face to face. If it be about a venue in Estonia or a festival in Poland, the people who know are there.
But there are some new trends that I feel are there. And particularly I am concerned about the changing balance of live music - moving more and more towards festivals and away from the regular venues.  I reckon, for example, that there are now not more than 10 venues in the whole of Europe putting on adventurous jazz with proper fees on a regular basis. The Vortex is a second tier, with much more limited resources. However, the number of festivals is growing and growing.
Festivals are a great way for audiences to experience new things intensely. But there are only 52 weeks in a year. What about the rest of the year?
Take London. A dense and intense festival for 10 days in November. But on 15 February? Or 18 June?
I noticed this for the number of great young bands who have played at the Match and Fuse festival last October (N.B. 28, 29 October this year.) Now they are asking when they can play the Vortex again. I wish we could oblige them all.
Other things I found out - many bands are able to get travel support from their home countries to perform overseas. Unfortunately not, in general, UK bands. How can we 'compete'?
I sorted out the basics of our festival with Intakt in 2017. There is already a bit of information on the Vortex web site.
Showcases are patchy in quality when delivered, if not on paper where most look pretty mouth watering. It's part the problem of selection by 'committee'. However hard they try, the results are not always as good as they should be. Some, indeed, are probably not necessary for a showcase, as they have a commercial quality already or the musicians are known already.
Another part of the problem is that the groups only have 30 minutes. That puts a pressure on the band that means that the gigs don't really allow the bands to open out.
And a third is the time slot. A clear example here was Bokani Dyer, whom we at the Vortex know and love dearly. He had travelled all the way from South Africa and the showcase was at 0030. So the venue was a bit sparsely attended.
And certainly we have booked a few bands off the back of Jazzahead, even if a couple of years later. Such as Kaja Draksler last year, or Julia Kadel (playing in June)
I realise that the organisers are really trying hard to balance things out.
And a final thought is about how the press are beginning to disappear a bit off covering the scene. Very few proper 'press' journalists there, though I did meet the main German magazines and Downbeat. Things are moving more towards blogs and DAB stations on radio. For example, I was happy to meet Jez Nelson and Chris Philips, now radio buddies again at Jazz FM. But I most notably see it at the Vortex. For the past two nights, we have been privileged by the company of Bobo Stenson; while on Sunday and Monday, we have Tim Berne's Snakeoil. In the past BBC would probably recorded at least one of these (or else Enrico Pieranunzi who appeared at the start of April). Not a single journalist has asked to attend, nor a radio person. Likewise, relatively little advance coverage in the nationals such as Guardian. We need to redress this balance. Thoughts please?

May at the Vortex

Some great highlights as ever at the Vortex in May.
It starts with Tim Berne's latest version  of Snakeoil, now up to a 5 piece for two nights on 1 and 2 May.
Elliot Galvin then previews the material from his upcoming trio album on 3 May. There will also be copies available of his new duo album with Mark Sanders, which won't be formally appearing on Babel till September.
More great pianists during the month. (I am a sucker for them!) Perhaps the one we see/least is Lucian Ban on 12th, in duo with Mat Maneri.
Barry Green (4th) John Law on 5th; Marco Marconi (11th) Tom Cawley with Trio Red (17th); Pat Thomas (19th); Sam Leak and Bruno Heinen both playing solo (22nd) and ending with more solo (and quartet) from the marvellous Huw Warren (27th). And not forgetting Alexander Hawkins playing with Evan Parker (26th).
Gilad Hekselman, who has become one of our favourites, is back with Petros Klampanis on 29th.
Last but certainly not least, do check out the stars of the future with the Royal Academy of Music finals students on 30th and 31st.
Meanwhile Christine Tobin is back for two nights on 23 and 24 May (along with another piano genius Steve Beresford) in Brian Eley's special show about Alzheimer's.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

April at the Vortex

While the programme of the club is ongoing, there are always a few highlights and connections that seem to spring out every month.
This month, the programme is topped and tailed by gigs involving two of the most influential European pianists in jazz.
Enrico Pieranunzi.  Comes in on 4-5 April. It's a privilege that Enrico's London base has become the Vortex. We have had a trio with Geoff Gascoyne and Enzo Zirilli as well his Racconti Mediterranei involving the gorgeous clarinet of Gabriele Mirabassi.
For his concerts this time, half will be with a trio involving Andrea di Biase and James Maddren (and adding Fulvio Sigurta on 5) and the other half will be him playing solo. His touch is very classic, so it's not surprising when I found an album that he has done of Scarlatti sonatas.
At the end of the month, we have Bobo Stenson, playing with Martin Speake. They recorded together for ECM about a decade ago. Bobo has, along with JT, defined European piano identity for Europeans. They last played together at the Vortex in 2009 and you can see the result here.
Put 28 and 29 in your diaries.
But it's a month with all sorts of other things that one can be excited by.
On 12th, the Deep Whole Trio's gig coincides with Paul Rogers' 60th. So come to the party!!!
We are lucky that a couple of specials are there to co-ordinate with Stewart Lee's curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival. Namely on 10th, Alan Wilkinson's trio will play early evening and on 24th, we'll have Tania Chen.
I look forward to the gig on 10th in the evening. Terry Day seems to be playing better than ever at present. And it'll be great to have Tom Challenger and Shabaka Hutchings sparring, along with Jonathan Impett on trumpet (who was on the Babel albums by Amit Chaudhuri) and Peter Urpeth coming down from the Hebrides.
21st - James Allsopp's Organ Trio. This guy is always a blast. And he now seems to be becoming a member of Pigfoot. Let's see for sure on 30th, when the band celebrates 1972, a year of good and bad no doubt.
But then I can't forget that Stan Sulzmann is back as is Carol Grimes and we can hope that Gilad Atzmon will be focussed on his horn playing, where he is uncontroversially top notch. Good to hear him taking on Coltrane. Denys Baptiste did this a few weeks ago and it led us into the stratosphere.
We, at the Vortex, also take certain young musicians to heart. One such is Camilla George, who is back on Wednesday. A lovely saxophonist in the making, with pianist Sarah Tandy firing things up behine.
Anyway, as I called the month 'topped and tailed by two great pianists', so too this blog post.