Tag Archives: Jazz

Cygański: Transition

cyganski-transitionComing Soon!

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Duski

duski-cover-artDuski are a band from Cardiff playing music on the blurred boundary between contemporary jazz and the experimental fringe of progressive rock. Led by bassist Aiden Thorne, they’re a five piece featuring sax, guitar and electric piano who have been making an impression on the jazz scene in South Wales over the past couple of years.

Their self-titled début begins with and eerie discordant soundscapes before it morphs into “Spare Part” which gradually builds from a laid-back beginning through an extended solo from the band’s guitarist. The uptempo “Simple Song” is more rhythmic and melodic, with sax bought to the fore. Interlude sees the avant-garde noise make a brief return, leading into the mellow “Lakeside”, built up from a chordal bass figure, with haunting sax lead underlaid by guitar textures.

By the languid “Two Hours Long” with it’s serpentine sax solo, we’re into the late-night chill-out zone. Then “Another Simple Song” takes things in the opposite direction. It opens with a shimmering guitar figure before building into an jazz-rocker in a similar vein to its earlier namesake, with an incessant bass groove from Aiden Thorne himself, and an impressive jazz-fusion piano workout at one point. The brief “Outtro” ends the album as it begins, with avant-noise, playing out with the whole band on one single sustained abrasive chord.

If the band’s intention is to blend jazz with elements of progressive rock and ambient soundscapes, they have largely succeeded in their aim with this record. Much of the music is still recognisably jazz, especially when the saxophone is dominant. But there’s also much in the melodies and textures for a more adventurous rock fan to appreciate. It’s a very varied record, sometimes very mellow, sometimes times rocking out. Though there is still plenty of soloing, the emphasis is always on composition rather than numbers being vehicles for the solos. An impressive début.

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The Swansea Jazz Festival

Steven Lands of The Session at The Swansea Jazz Festival

As regular readers of this blog ought to know, I’m really more of a rock fan than a jazz expert. So this isn’t going to be an in-depth review, more a series of impressions.

The Swansea Jazz Festival takes place across multiple venues around the waterfront area area of the city, with the Dylan Thomas centre hosting the highest-profile events. Unlike a typical rock festival you buy tickets for individual events; headliners Monsters on a Leash and Hamish Stuart had already sold out well in advance, but there were still tickets available for many other bands.

Hot Club Gallois at the Swansea Jazz Festival FringeHot Club Gallois at the Swansea Jazz Festival fringe.

As well as the high-profile ticketed acts, there was an extensive fringe of free gigs, mostly in bars and cafés. Here’s the gypsy jazz of Hot Club Gallois playing outside Garbo’s Cafe Bar at lunchtime on Sunday.

Saturday saw virtuoso acoustic guitarist Garry Potter leading a quartet that also included Riverdance’s Noreen Cullen on violin, who rather stole the show when it came to stagecraft. They kept throwing in musical quotes, I’m sure there were a few bars of “Smoke on the Water” at one point, and the Postman Pat theme was unmistakable.

Later in the day was was another guitar-led quartet, Radio Londra, featuring guitarists Jim Mullen and Luca Boscagin. This was either a gig that got better as it went on after a slow start, or it was a case of appreciating it more once you’d got into the headspace of what they were doing.

But perhaps the most enjoyable set on the Saturday was the Jean-Paul Gard Trio playing in The Pump House. Consisting of organ, sax and drums, they played with enormous energy for a trio. John-Paul Gard was fascinating to watch, doing four different things with four limbs; bassline on pedals with one foot and the swell pedal with the other, complicated jazz chords with the left hand and a melody line with the right.

Duski at the Swansea Jazz Festival fringe

One of the most interesting fringe acts was Duski, enigmatically billed as “an eccentric mix of original and popular music”. A quartet consisting of sax, keys, bass and drums, they were one of the new generation of bands exploring the blurred boundary between jazz and the more experimental end of progressive rock, with a greater emphasis on composition and atmospherics than on individual soloing. Though there was one remarkable bass solo played though an echoplex and sounding like Hawkwind. Peforming in the unusual venue of Swansea Museum, they played to a disappointingly small crowd, several of whom were small children. But they were still one of the highlights of the weekend.

Jasen Weaver of The SessionNew Orleans-based The Session had to be the best of the ticketed gigs. A modern jazz quintet of trumpet, sax, piano, upright bass and drums, they played with a tremendous amount of energy. Unlike some other bands over the weekend, their numbers came over as compositions rather than vehicles for soloing, with good use of harmonies between the trumpet and sax lines.

When they did solo, the virtuosity could be jaw-dropping, and trumpeter Steven Land’s playing in particular was exceptional. His solo in the opening number made a very strong early impression, and one later solo showed just what could be done using just one note.

As well as a virtuoso frontline, they gained their energy from a very strong rhythm section, with bassist Jasen Weaver particularly impressive. This was a band for whom the whole was far more than the sum of the parts; they’ve played together for quite a few years, and it shows.

Alun Vaughan

The old joke goes “.. and when the drumming stops, the bass solo“. The bass solo has been largely banished from the world of rock nowadays, but some jazz acts still have room for many, many bass solos. Here’s former Panic Room bassist Alun Vaughan playing as part of a quartet starring trumpeter Steve Waterman.

There was one a time when I found jazz almost unlistenable, because I couldn’t get past the scratchy recordings from the genre’s early years. More recently I’ve listened to more contemporary artists like Polar Bear, Gilad Atzmon and Troika, which is another thing altogether. But seeing jazz performed live is a very different experience. One thing I found was having spent years listening to many of the greats of rock guitar was that jazz guitar doesn’t do it for me; saxophone and trumpet (or indeed violin!) are more powerful in a jazz context.

As a rock fan, sometimes it’s good to get out of you comfort zone and explore something different, and a festival such as this makes a good opportunity to do just that. Jazz is every bit as broad a genre as rock, and for everything that might not be for you there may be something else that hits the spot.

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Polar Bear, XOYO London

Polar Bear at XOYOPolar Bear have garnered a lot of critical acclaim over the past decade with their distinctly 21st century take on jazz with considerable crossover appeal. Their appearance at XOYO in north London on April 2nd attracted a big and varied crowd, with older bearded real ale drinkers rubbing shoulders with the younger and more fashionable.

Support act Shiver were an electric power-trio, with an energetic rhythm section and effects-laden guitar. There was even a guitar passage recalling Rush’s “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” at one point. There was a moment where the whole thing sounded like electronic dance music; the drummer playing electronic drums, the bassist using effects that made his playing sound like an electronic rhythms, and the guitar swamped in effects. They are a band wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a more experimental progressive rock bill, but nevertheless made an interesting and entertaining sound.

Polar Bear aren’t quite your traditional jazz combo either. They have a frontline of two tenor saxes, and a rhythm section that includes not just bandleader Sebastian Roachford’s drums and Tom Herbert’s upright double bass, but the fifth member of the band, Leafcutter John, producing beats and effects from a laptop and an array of electronics. Not only that, Tom Herbert played his acoustic bass through the sort of pedal board you normally associate with prog-rock guitarists, and saxophonist Pete Wareham also treated his sound with a battery of electronic effects.

Polar Bear at XOYOThe bulk of the set came from their new album “In Each And Every One”, the opening number with its mournful sax melody set against a synthesiser backwash recalled none other than the opening section of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”. From then on things built in intensity. The blending of electronic beats and live percussion worked remarkably well, and the Latin rhythms late in the set got parts of the audience dancing.

Their kaleidoscopic set shifted through many musical moods. There were moments where the combination of abrasive saxophone and electronic effects recalled early Hawkwind. There were eerie sonic soundscapes with bowed bass through lots of effects producing sounds that resembled whale songs. There were classical sounding melodic sections with intertwining sax lines, where the contrasting styles of Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart’s tenor saxes complemented one another in the same manner as the twin guitars of a classic rock band. Then there were passages of atonal avant-garde noise with squalling sax and storms of percussion, the whole thing finally ending with howls of feedback from a sax against the monitor.

Polar Bear are billed as a crossover act with rock and electronic dance influences rather than a traditional jazz band, and what the packed XOYO saw was a performance that lived up to that billing. This was jazz, but it was jazz with the raw energy and ferocious intensity of a rock show.

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Four Days, Four Gigs

It’s been one of those bank holiday weekends – four gigs in four days, which I think is the greatest amount of music in the shortest time I’ve ever done outside of a festival!

Thursday was The Reasoning ably supported by Morpheus Rising at Bury Met. Morpheus Rising are a five piece band shamelessly citing the 1980s NWOBHM as a principle influence, now reclassified as hard rock following boundary changes. Entertaining high energy stuff, and I’m sure I’ve seen their bass player before somewhere – he looked naggingly familiar!

I’d seen The Reasoning a week earlier in London, where a very poor sound mix really hadn’t done the music justice, and the performance suffered badly as a result. Tonight was far, far better. Bury Met is always a great gig whoever is playing, and The Reasoning I know and love were back with a vengeance, now expanded to a seven-piece with new members Jake Bradford-Sharp on drums, ex-Fish keyboard player Tony Turrell and vocalist Maria Owen. The new album “Adverse Camber” features heavily, which takes a slight step back from prog-metal in favour of some elements of the atmospheric melodic music that Rachel did with Karnataka. Not that the twin guitar attack of Dylan Thompson and Owain Roberts doesn’t still rock hard plenty of times, but the overall effect is to make their live set a lot more varied and multi-dimensional, which cannot be anything other than a good thing.

On Friday I travelled down to Cardiff to see Hawkwind supported by Panic Room at St David’s Hall. I’ve seen Panic Room many times before at their own shows, here they made the most of their five-song 30 minute slot, naturally including a great version of “Apocalypstick”. Blessed with a good sound mix for a support, they seemed to go down well with Hawkwind’s audience, and told me they sold a lot of albums after the gig.

Hawkwind themselves I hadn’t seen since 1980, and had lost track of what they’ve been doing since the mid-80s, so I really didn’t know what to expect. They turned out to be amazingly good – they played a great mix of 70s classics like “Lord of Light”, “Magnu” and “Lighthouse” with more recent material. And there plenty of Theramin courtesy of Tim Blake. Nowadays they seem to be the missing link between metal, prog and rave/techno culture – Their music ranges from heavier songs atmospheric floydian bits, and several moments where they all started playing laptops and looked and sounded like Orbital. On quite a few songs they had two bass players, with guitarist Niall Hone playing ‘lead bass’ and Mr Dibs playing ‘rhythm bass’, strumming chords like Lemmy used to do, producing a sound with an awful lot of bottom-end. And hats off to drummer Richard Chadwick for getting Simon King’s very distinctive drumming style off to a tee. Amazingly Dave Brock looks no different from how he looked 30 years ago. The first encore of Hasan-I-Sabah with a lengthy techno middle section was amazing, and I really wasn’t expecting them to finish with Silver Machine.

Saturday was Veteran Welsh proggers Man at The Garage in Swansea. There were two supports ,the first being a bluesy-rock trio who all looked about 15, some meaty riffs and good songwriting let down by poor vocals, but their youth must show long term promise. Next up was a truly dire landfill indie band. There might have been a few flourishes from the guitarist, clearly a frustrated rocker, but the tuneless songs did nothing for me at all, not helped by the fact they were louder than Hawkwind.

Man themselves were great, even if, like so many veteran bands, they only had a couple of original members left, Martin Ace on vocals and bass, and Phil Ryan on keys. Without knowing any of their songs, I found the most enjoyable moments were when when they went off into extended jams, with the rhythm section saying down a solid groove with Hammond organ soloing over the top. Proof that grey-haired wrinkly rockers can still do it.

As for Sunday, I’ve always meant to step out of my comfort zone of prog, metal and classic rock and investigate genres like jazz and folk, so spending a weekend in Swansea at the same time as The Mumbles Jazz festival seemed like a opportunity not to be missed. From the programme, the most attractive sounding one seemed to be Sunday night’s double bill, even though I’d never heard of either act. First on was the Mark Nightingale All Star British Jazz Quintet. With trombone, sax, electric piano, bass and drums, it was pretty muso stuff, with 13/8 time signatures (7/8 and 9/8 favoured by prog is for wimps!) and many, many bass solos. Still very entertaining even if they occasionally strayed into easy listening territory.

The second act, Protect The Beat, were billed as “seriously funky jazz/groove from five top UK session musicians”. Their session credit CV read like a who’s who of rock and pop with artists like Massive Attack, Sting, Chaka Khan and, er, take that. Led by sax player Derek Nash they were both awesomely tight and completely on fire, and clearly enjoying every minute of their two hours on stage. One of those nights when you realise that recorded music on CD is just a pale imitation of live music; there really is nothing like being in the same room as a bunch of great musicians giving it all they’ve got. Not that anyone reading this needs to be reminded.

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