Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Release of No. 1 with special guest Steve Williamson by Black Top

 Black Top #1 With Special Guest Steve Williamson

Black Top's No. 1 with special guest Steve Williamson was offically released yesterday on Babel.The album which was recorded live is a genre-bending work leapfrogging generic concerns as it plays with elements of the avant-garde, free improvisation, Jamaican dub and electronica. Black Top brings the personal experiences and influences of the musicians into the Improv and  Free Jazz world - a 'black' perspective that is in flux while interacting all the time with the vibes around it. Forming a shape-shifting unit they are dedicated to exploring the intersection between live instruments and lo-fi technology.

Through regular live performances at North London’s Café Oto and elsewhere, Black Top have concentrated on developing working relationships with musicians from across the cultural and generational spectrum, who can match their own technical dexterity and handle the element of surprise that’s ever-present in their experiments. Collaborators have included saxophonists Steve Williamson, Shabaka Hutchens and Jason Yarde, vocalist Cleveland Watkiss, flugel horn player Claude Deppa and trumpeter Byron Wallen.

 Black Top is:

Orphy Robinson (trumpet, marimba, vibes, steel pan and various electronics)
has been a major figure in UK and international jazz since the 1980s,
releasing two critically acclaimed solo albums on the Blue Note label and
playing with a host of major artists including Don Cherry, David Murray,
Henry Threadgill, Courtney Pine, Jazz Warriors and Andy Shepherd.

 Pat Thomas (keyboards, piano, various electronics) is one of the most
challenging and audacious pianists currently operating in the UK, with a
unique style that embraces improvisation, jazz and new music. He has played
 with major figures in improvised music including Derek Bailey, Steve Noble,
Tony Oxley and Lol Coxhill.

Special Guest:

Steve Williamson (saxophones) has released three acclaimed solo albums,
 including 1990’s A Waltz for Grace, in collaboration with legendary vocalist
Abbey Lincoln. He has played in the renowned ensembles Jazz Warriors,
Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and Louis Moholo-Moholo’s Viva La
 Black, and worked with Courtney Pine, Iain Ballamy, Maceo Parker and others.

Financial Times (Mike Hobart) Black Top: #One – review
'...free jazz electronica with urban grit...'
Guardian  (John Fordham)  Black Top: #One review – edgy, uncompromising improv jazz
'edgy, uncompromising improv jazz'
Jazzwise (Kevin Le Gendre) Black Top New Forms
'...no rules is the only way to create a new jazz tradition today...'

                                                     BUY  /  LISTEN TO  Black Top #1


Friday, July 11, 2014

Saslonch Suite photos

To add to my review of the incredible gig "Saslonch Suite", reviewed on http://www.londonjazznews.com/2014/07/review-saslonch-suite-at-2014-suedtirol.html

Here are some photos are copyright of Bernd Zimmermann, nrwjazz.net (Please contact him for all further usage.)

Lucas Niggli, Kalle Kalima, Andreas Schaerer

Slacklining by the Favresse brothers

Matthias Schriefl, Cédric Favresse, Florian Trübsach (halfway up the mountain)

Bear in mind that there was also the effort taken by the musicians to get into place. They left at 7 a.m. and had to carry up their gear!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Vortex Real Ale Group trip to Vilnius

We are looking at the possibility of a visit of Vortex fans to the Vilnius Jazz Festival. 
Under the auspices of the Vortex Real Ale Group, so that a visit to a brewery will be included.

Here are some details:

The festival tales place from Thursday 16- Sunday 19 October 2014.

The line-up hasn't been published yet. The festival website is:

Return flights are likely to be between £50 and £100. Festival tickets are about €30 for entry to all events.

Accommodation costs will be reasonable.

Reports are that the beer in Vilnius is very good!

One idea might be to fly out on say, the Thursday afternoon and return on the Sunday.

Anyway, at this stage if anyone is interested let me know. You don't have to commit yet, but it would be good to get an idea of who would be keen to go so we have an idea of possible numbers.

Look forward to hearing from you.

If you are interested, contact me first on oliver@babellabel.co.uk

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Festival time

I am lucky enough to have been invited/motivated to go to a few festivals over recent weeks.

What is the rationale?
1. Busman's holiday.
2. To hear some different music live
3. To meet people in a different environment and promote Babel's musicians and the Vortex

I have posted the reviews on www.londonjazznews.com

Europa Jazz Le Mans


Schaffhausen Jazz Festival




Overall, it has to be admitted that I do not necessarily hear better things when away. It almost reassures me that our scene is as strong as it is, though it also disappoints me that it doesn't get better heard.

I get niggling feelings of sadness that I miss some very special gigs in London when I go off. For example, when at Jazzahead I missed Louis Moholo's special night; and when at Le Mans, I missed the launch of Jason Yarde/Andrew McCormack's duo with strings.

Nevertheless, you also get feelings of great positive energy about what is happening in jazz. You can't quite work out when something more might transpire, but you just have to stay flexible.

I certainly prefer the festivals as a way to "network" because they are based around the music. Jazzahead seems to let alcohol overpower that. However, one major positive of Jazzahead is about musicians meetings. Kit Downes told me that he met Sylvain Darrifourcq and Adrien Dennefeld there for the first time (with the result of Barbacana!). Julia Hülsmann, in today's interview in Londonjazznews, says that she met Tom Arthurs there (with the result of Tom playing on her last ECM album). Hannes Riepler, when there now, reconnected with his Dutch friends (with whom he studied) and the Austrians of his homeland.

As more come along, I shall continue to do the linking up. More fully-fledged reviews on Londonjazz, and more oblique thoughts here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jazz Matters: International Jazz Day 2014

International Jazz Day 2014

For those who didn't know April 30th was declared International Jazz Day by UNESCO in 2011. So
what is International Jazz Day and what are we celebrating? The music? Or a form of cultural diplomacy that pays lip service to the role that jazz has played in soft diplomacy - beyond which usually lie social, economic and political influence? Not wanting to sound completely cynical, though I can help, when confronted with the 'sugarcoated' messages. On the  International Jazz Day website  there's a nice quote from jazz ambassador Herbie Hancock,

"Jazz is really about the human experience. It’s about the ability of human beings to take
the worst of circumstances and struggles and turn it into something creative and constructive.
That’s something that’s built into the fiber of every human being. And I think that’s why people
can respond to it. They feel the freedom in it. And the attributes of jazz are also admirable. It’s
about dialogue. It’s about sharing. And teamwork. It’s in the moment, and it's nonjudgmental."

Of course these noble sentiments aren't offensive as such. How could any reasonably- minded person be against mutual tolerance, unity and peace, equality, etc. My unease is about the way jazz has been co-opted as a soft power tool. Jazz's role in cultural diplomacy paved the way for America to dominate popular music globally, which presented an interesting paradox in 1950s and 60s. As the music that originated with an oppressed minority struggling against racism and inequality, jazz was used to represent American culture abroad by the US State Department - although racial segregation existed in some states in America. Jazz royalty / heroes were appointed jazz ambassadors to carry the message of 'freedom' that jazz symbolized, which became attached to American propaganda about  the 'American way of life' and the value of democracy during the cold war period. The contradiction did not escape the musicians - Charles Mingus, commented that if jazz was good enough for the overseas audiences of the state department then why wasn't it good enough for young people at home. Back then cultural diplomacy was clearly about the American experience of freedom with its modernity idealized. It wasn't just Jazz musicians but also Basket ball players, and other entertainers whose auras were exploited in this way.

Is the creation of International Jazz Day a revival of the jazz ambassadors of the 50s and 60s? Jazz and 'freedom' go together like a horse and carriage. But it gets tricky because 'freedom' was shaped by particular ideological forces and the US State Department that made the American way of life and 'democracy' appear interchangeable. Looking at the current language used to talk about 'jazz': 'jazz is a democratic music'; 'jazz allow people to express their individuality; 'jazz is a vector of freedom of expression', are these sentiments that different? Weren't these also the symbolic messages jazz musicians carried with them behind the iron curtain? Perhaps the really interesting part is what has happened to the American dream and America's 'moral' authority in the world today. Wasn't this enduring sense of 'freedom' - the freedom to make money, which accommodated the rise of rapacious bankers? For me engendering an appreciation of the music art form sometimes seems to be a footnote by comparison.

Herbie, tells us,"We all want to live in a jazz world where we all work together, improvise together, are not afraid of taking chances and expressing ourselves." I'm not knocking Herbie because he's right about one thing which is jazz is about the human experience and to put it in a less sugary way, that experience was / is about hope, possibility and at times losing oneself. So what should one do on International Jazz Day? Listen to Jazz; buy some jazz, play some jazz; engage in dialogue about jazz; find something jazzy to do...

Here are my quick and very random picks for International Jazz Day 2014 and Happy International Jazz Day!

Ted Gioia's The Imperfect Art: Reflections On Jazz and Modern Culture - a really excellent and enjoyable read.

Herbie Hancock: The Norton Lecturer in 2014'The Ethics of Jazz'  - in 6 parts. Vijay Iyer and Homi Bhabba make an appearance.

 The History Of Jazz Piano In 11 Minutes
by Patrick Jarenwattananon

Liam Noble's Brother Face

Graham Scrambler  Emeritus Professor of Sociology UCL
Jazz and Sociology Revisited (Feb 11 2014)
Jazz and Sociology (Mar 27  2014)

Check out Babel Label on Bandcamp