Sunday, September 30, 2007

Punk jazz

This weeks' Jazz on 3 had a feature about so-called "Punk Jazz" which is used to describe bands such as Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Fraud and Led Bib. In the end it highlighted that the phrase was a shorthand used to give it a bit of a boost for the confused public so as not to confuse it with more retro styles. Especially as each band has a different route through the music.
I am quite chuffed that such a feature takes place. Since two common elements are that they all have released their "seminal" albums on Babel and reached the public view from those releases. And the Vortex has been a key venue which has helped nurture them and bring them to a wider public. I am proud to be associated with both and to have invested quite substantially in this music.
It's all a bit surprising sometimes that it all picks up like that. Especially as I spend hours sitting in my little office wondering how anyone is going to buy this stuff and how I can get my investment back. (Latest example. When I did actually go into the new Alternative Music Distribution shop on Archway Road, Tony McLoughlin spent 5 minutes telling me that he is consciously trying to keep jazz in there to a minimum as it won't sell.)
They mention how these bands have got public attention and certainly it is great that people like Paul Morley have been behind these bands. He was suggesting that it is time for a "punk jazz" group to win the Mercury Prize. Well, at least Polar Bear got nominated.However, none of the other bands have, even though I have entered their albums. This year, with Led Bib and Fraud entered, the judges went for Basquiat Strings, certainly not from this style, though Ben Davis is part of the Fire Collective. Meanwhile, in the year that Polar Bear and Acoustic Ladyland were nominated for best album in the BBC Awards, the prize went to Jim Tomlinson and Stacy Kent, while with James Allsopp nominated for a BBC award for Rising Star, the prize went to the overtly backward looking Simon Spillett.
So there is still a fear of this music in the mainstream of jazz and music.
Also, don't forget the importance of the foundation on which the bands have built. The "Partisans generation" - members of Partisans itself, Christine Tobin, Liam Noble et al. who have slogged away for years when jazz was in a wilderness in this country. They still don't get the recognition they deserve. Partisans on Friday at the Vortex was killing, with Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum sitting open mouthed in the audience. (I'll be putting up a track of theirs from the gig soon.)
By the way you can still listen back to the programme till next Friday on the BBC web site. Go to it here and follow the links on the Listen Again button.
A live session by Phil Robson will prove on Jazz Line Up next week will no doubt show to the wide public that hasn't yet heard him or bought his albums on Babel (hint, hint) that he is an important link....

Friday, September 28, 2007

Archway Road - the new Charing Cross Road for jazz?

Archway Road seems to be where it's all at nowadays. Gone are the days when it was just getting ready to be widened into an 8 lane highway. And I only knew it as where I would go to the underground station, or for the public library on Shepherd's Hill.
First came Jacksons Lane Arts Centre. I remember seeing John Surman there around 1992 or so. Billy Jenkins also did a remarkable gig with a double big band from Middlesex University playing alternate notes.
The gigs died down there a bit. But then came Mark Wastell's Sound 323, where Babel releases are generally too mainstream. And now there's the Red Hedgehog for live music and the new Alternative Music Distribution shop. Since they follow on from the start of thejazz and a really successful Portico Quartet gig for Time Out yesterday, we could be on to something.
I'm going to check out the new shop tomorrow....

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Bailey Street" outside the Vortex

Hackney Council is to rename the street between Boleyn Road and Gillett Square, which passes in front of the Vortex, after iconic improvising guitar legend Derek Bailey. There is a wonderful job in the council that assesses this. Derek was a long-standing resident of Hackney Downs and performed regularly at the Vortex. It is great that the club remains aware of the history of the music in the UK.
I heard him a few times, both at Company Weeks that he organised at the Place, and at small venues such as the Vortex.
He has a reputation that extends way beyond our shores, with John Zorn and others being big fans.
There will be a naming ceremony at some stage soon, so keep your eyes peeled.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Phil Robson at the Vortex tonight

An exciting collaboration, commissioned for Derby Jazz Week 2007, featuring all new music by guitarist
PHIL ROBSON written for string quartet and jazz trio.With influences ranging from Ornette
to Oumou Sangare this is a heady cocktail with groove at the heart.
The band repeats their success ahead of going into the studio,
and a forthcoming performance at the London Jazz Festival. It includes
Austrian jazz musician of the year Peter Herbert, Jenny May-Logan and Emma Smith of
Mercury-nominatedBasquiat Strings and Partisans comrade Gene Calderazzo.
Phil Robson (guitar), Peter Herbert (double bass), Kate Shortt (cello), Naomi Fairhurst (viola), Jenny May-Logan and Emma Smith (violins) and Gene Calderazzo(drums).

‘This inspired crossover is a real achievement and should go down among the
year's jazz landmarks' (John Fordham – The Guardian).
'An auspicious evening. ****' (Jack Massarik - Evening Standard)
Vortex, Gillett Square, London N16
Doors 8 p.m. Performance 9 p.m.
 020 7254 4097
Book online at

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joe Zawinul

Sad to hear about the death of Joe Zawinul. I feel that he should also be marked as one of the great world musicians, how he managed to fuse African and jazz in one of the best ways of anyone. How he managed to harness the likes of Manolo Badrena, Richard Bona and of course Jaco Pastorius with the master of saxophone Wayne Shorter.