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.


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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b072hwj8 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 www.babellabel.co.uk

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.