When Ethiopia’s Walias Band toured North America in 1981, most of the group jumped ship, eager to escape the “Red Terror” that ruled their homeland. Among them was keyboardist Hailu Mergia, who joined the Ethiopian expat population in Washington DC as a taxi driver, a job he still maintains between gigs. With the rediscovery of Addis Ababa’s 1970s “golden age”, for which the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 film Broken Flowers proved a major catalyst, musicians like Mergia and Mulatu Astatke have rebuilt their careers. Lala Belu is the former’s first album in 15 years, and proves worth the wait.
At one level it’s the record of a traditional jazz trio, with drummer Tony Buck and bassist Mike Majkowski backing Mergia’s keyboards, and at times Mergia’s swirling Hammond organ shows his debt to the jazz-funk of Jimmy Smith. Yet Mergia’s approach is often unorthodox. His melodies, snaking up and down the pentatonic scales of Ethio-jazz, are hypnotic and mysterious. His keyboards pit organ against electric piano, and switch to an accordion that shifts between the woozy opener Tizita, to the shrillness of Addis Nat, which arrives in a blitz of hard drumming. Exuberant or contemplative – the closing Yefikir Engurguro is solo piano – it’s a thrilling ride.
In Bath it is not just Airbnb that’s a problem (Letters, 15 February). A housing association is renting out former council homes as holiday lets. One is let to hen parties, leaving neighbours to explain to their children the inflatable penises in the back garden. David Carter Bath
• Never mind the pill (Letters, 16 February), which I got when I showed evidence of my wedding (one month ahead) in 1965. In 1972 I had to show written permission – from my husband – to have a coil fitted. Now, at almost 73, I am free to use whichever contraception I choose. Glenys Canham Crosby, Merseyside
There’s an exciting DIY mindset in the UK live scene that recalls the buzz around jazz when I DJed at Dingwalls in the 80s
It’s really exciting to see so much new, influential British music being made by jazz artists. As I write this, I’m listening to a white label of Matthew Bourne and Nightports: a solo jazz pianist reimagined by an experimental, Hull-based production group. Simply the fact that this could be released on vinyl in 2018 fills me with positivity about where the music scene is at.
For me as a DJ, it’s especially exciting to see the new connections being made between club culture and live jazz. It’s a link I’ve been trying to make, in one way or another, for the past 30 years. Now more than ever before, it feels as if that boundary is finally being broken down.
Lots of these artists don’t attach the same kind of baggage to the word 'jazz' as previous generations.
The British multi-instrumentalist’s new set features tightly wound postbop, pensive improv and more, along with Siegel’s sweeping authority on bass clarinet
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Jazz musicians are a famously itinerant bunch – as niche artists, economics obliges them to juggle the dreams they’d prefer to be focusing on with a pragmatic assortment of freelance gigs. But itinerant jazz-making has its own seductive creative attractions: players’ mix of formal technique and improv skills lets them perform almost anybody’s music in almost any kind of band, so they can relish the fun of spontaneous meetings with friends or strangers.
Julian Siegel, the British multi-instrumentalist, is a virtuoso of turning up and making a difference, but he’s good at sustaining regular bands, too. His skilful nine-year-old quartet with brilliant pianist Liam Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst, and expat American drummer Gene Calderazzo this month release their second album, Vista. As with its 2011 predecessor, Urban Theme Park, there’s plenty of tightly wound postbop in which pensive improvisations burst into double-time sprints or glimpses of Latin music (The Opener); smoky piano/tenor sax duets that become bass-driven swirls (I Want to Go to Brazil); a mischievous dance swapped between soprano sax and piano (Pastorale), and a snappy rhythm-bender with a rousingly stomping piano riff for the title track. Bebop piano legend Bud Powell’s Un Poco Loco is the only cover, a staccato 1951 theme that sounds as if it could have been written yesterday for this percussive quartet. But Vista has its reflective episodes, too (it’s more varied and spontaneously exploratory than their 2011 debut), such as the murmuring Song and free-floating Full Circle. And there’s the jigging Idea, spun out of a duet with Calderazzo’s drums, that showcases Siegel’s sweeping authority on the bass clarinet.
Ronnie Scott’s, London The classical star is a mesmerisingly musical jazz lover
This is far from the first time Nigel Kennedy has performed jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, but there was a big difference on this thrilling first night of a season of eight shows dedicated to the music of George Gershwin. This time there were no electric violins or drums, but only a cello, double bass, and the acoustic guitarists Rolf Bussalb and seven-string innovator Howard Alden.
Cracking gags, clutching a beer, punching fists with his band members, Kennedy was at his most engaging diamond-geezer ease – and the sold-out crowd was reverential when barely audible whistles from his violin’s upper register curled around the silent room, and rapturous when he turned up the heat. “Jewish community, New York energy, jazz, classical” was his crisp tribute to a personal hero as he began his set segueing Gershwin’s I Loves You, Porgy into Bess, You Is My Woman Now.
As a successful pianist and composer of film music, Mark Cherrie has nothing to prove. Neither is there any doubt about his mastery of the steel pan, which he has played since childhood. Nevertheless, he has a point to make here, which is to present the pan as a serious instrument, capable of greater things than enlivening school fetes and summer barbecues. This is a full-on jazz production with some of the best British musicians around. The 14 tracks include pieces by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis and others, as well as several originals. It’s a selection clearly chosen to show off the pan’s versatility and how unexpectedly at home it sounds in the company of conventional instruments.
The opening track, Morse Code (one of Cherrie’s own), achieves this quite spectacularly, with John Donaldson’s piano and Dave O’Higgins’s tenor saxophone blending seamlessly with the pan in a most unusual combination of sounds. Other ear-catchers are a burst of classic bebop performed in immaculate unison by Cherrie and guitarist Nigel Price, and a version of Stan Tracey’s Starless and Bible Black, sounding quite spooky in the pan’s plangent tones.
This rising young star of the London jazz scene is blazing a trail for the sax sisterhood
If scenes are supposed to thrive only on SoundCloud nowadays, then no one’s been checking the pulse of London’s free-spirited young jazz stable lately. Over the past few years, a network of forward-thinking musicians has assembled to foster a varied sound that belongs on sweaty dancefloors instead of expensive dinner clubs. Like jazzers Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra before them, they start supergroups, collaborate and cross-pollinate influences from the African and Caribbean diaspora, such as Afrobeat and neo-soul, with an energy that is refreshing to taste but impossible to bottle.
Many of its players appear on the new compilation We Out Here, masterminded by scene linchpin Shabaka Hutchings for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label. And a standout is Camden-born tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia, whose compositions glow with Afro-futurist touches, chill Baduizm and self-assurance. Garcia is also one of the few twentysomething women breaking through as a sax-wielder. “I still get asked all the time if I’m the singer, as if I’m not valued as an instrumentalist,” she has said.
Ronnie Scott’s, London George’s bittersweet sax and McCormack’s muscular piano set up this vibrant double bill of players nurtured by Tomorrow’s Warriors
This rousing double bill at Ronnie Scott’s, featuring the young Nigeria-born saxophonist Camilla George and the British pianist/composer Andrew McCormack, was ostensibly a showcase for two of the brightest talents on the books of the enterprising new UK jazz promoter Ubuntu. But the backstory was that of Tomorrow’s Warriors, the UK jazz-education organisation founded by Gary Crosby and Janine Irons in 1991. That inspirational venture nurtured the now spiralling jazz careers of McCormack and George, as well as a raft of local heroes including Jason Yarde and Soweto Kinch before them. The Tomorrow’s Warriors vision of a jazz party anyone can join, regardless of background, culture, gender or education, and making music anyone can tune into, glowed all around this gig.
George’s regular band, including the ever-inventive pianist Sarah Tandy, was augmented by young Warriors alumni including guitarist Shirley Tetteh and the variously intimate and neo-soulfully searing vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett. The leader’s bittersweet saxophone improv and songlike melodic turns curled around Adams-Burnett’s eloquence on a dark lullaby, and cut through the funky snap of a jazz makeover of Curtis Mayfield’s New World Order. The culminating soul-jazz feature, punctuated by Tandy’s crisp Fender Rhodes chords and Quentin Collins’s trumpet hooks, featured a vividly skimming guitar break from the intriguing Tetteh.
Jazz musician forced to play the guitar in Auschwitz as victims were selected for the gas chamber
Coco Schumann, who has died aged 93, was always at pains to stress that he was, as he put it, “a musician who spent time in a concentration camp, not a concentration camp prisoner who made music”. He said that music had defined his life, and he was convinced it was music that had been responsible for his survival.
Partly out of a wish not to allow the Nazis a prominent place in his biography, and because he thought no one would believe his story, and partly because of the horrors he had witnessed during the more than two years he spent incarcerated, it took him more than half a century to talk about the experience. “For years I didn’t speak about it, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Dachau, I thought no one would believe I had been in those places,” he said in 2014.
The composer’s song cycle on the 2015 storm that devastated New York has the power to make us shiver with empathy.
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‘Don’t you hate it when people tell you their dreams?” says Laurie Anderson. She then, throughout the course of Landfall, recounts several of her own, alongside one real-life nightmare. Ironically, her meditative, quizzical voice is quite hypnotic, and the experience is all rather compelling.
Premiered live in 2015, Landfall is Laurie Anderson’s electro-acoustic song cycle on Hurricane Sandy, the October 2012 storm that devastated huge parts of North America – including Anderson’s New York apartment. As she narrates her nightmare, the arrangements of David Harrington’s Kronos Quartet tell the story sonically. Ominous, discordant voicings prefigure the looming tempest; flautando bowing techniques suggest the burbling of water as the storm pulsates through Manhattan; extended passages of saltando strokes have us shivering in empathy. Strings creak and rumble and scrape to invoke a sense of panic; violins start to freak out, heavy metal guitar-style. By the end, the violins are playing an almost Yiddish-sounding lament.
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