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 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

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.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Jazz has survived by keeping a foot in the camps of the commercial and also the sector supported by grants/patrons.
Contrast the clubs and venues, such as the Vortex or Ronnie Scott's, with the parts which have been supported by the Arts Council. The reach of the Arts Council into jazz has been relatively short-lived and never that huge, in comparison with the largesse required to keep opera, the orchestras or the big venues such as the South Bank running.
I remember organising my sole Contemporary Music Network tour for the wondrous Billy Jenkins (soon to turn 60, by the way) in 1996 and the relative luxury and support that was given at that time - guaranteed radio broadcast and half a dozen gigs which got organised with virtually no pleading.
The 'commercial' approach has really been imported from New York, while the other could be thought of as more 'European', picking up on the philosophical, aesthetic but also the classical roots of the music. Clubs closing have been mainly the result of commercial exigencies.
The country in which the supportive approach has been seen to best advantage is Germany. Struggles of festivals and venues are mainly the result of a decline/cut back/questioning of public funding. If public support is reduced this is problematic, while the chance of growing without is difficult.
A recent example of the former has been shown by the latest querying leading from the debt of €300,000 of the promoters of Moers Festival. When the programme was announced on 3 March, there was no guarantee that it would take place. A new hall was opened a couple of years ago, courtesy of North Rhine Westphalia and it seemed to lead to the festival's long-term security. Basically, the programme is, for jazz and Vortex lovers, near perfect - many of the artists perform at the club, but rarely in as large formations as Moers could afford. Rainer Michalke, one of the co-founders of the Stadtgarten in Cologne, has been running for a decade and built on its roots of high quality improvised music, from all points of the compass.
And a clear example of the latter is that, up in the North, in Hamburg, a tremendous wide-ranging jazz festival, Elbjazz, had grown dramatically over the past four years. Virtually unfunded by the city or state, the festival grew, courtesy of the support of leading shipyards and also the involvement of some of the main jazz promoters, such as Karsten Jahncke - in the year that I went, the range was from Jamie Cullum via Joshua Redman and Troyka to Schlippenbach Trio and Mary Halvorson. With inadequate income from the general public/ sponsors and only a belated offer of more-than-token public support, the festival has been put on hold. But it will be revived next year, we also have to hope.
The struggle of jazz as peripheral to the mainstream arts world is shown by the fact that the festival took place in the shadow of the new Philharmonie rising nearby. Total cost of that edifice, much underwritten by the city, is €750,000, up from an initial €200,000! So, here, an attempt at a true commercially-based festival in Germany has foundered with the public funding safeguarding its serious-minded roots.
At least Tina Heine, whose brainchild it was, now has the chance to run the autumn jazz festival in Salzburg. This was the second festival that Gerhard Eder had created, following on from Saalfelden. Unfortunately he died suddenly and suprisingly last Autumn. So she will be able to take her knowledge of the scene to the neighbouring country which already has a few fantastic festivals.

The Moers Festival is now safe for another year. As the press release on 10 March said:
'moers festival 2016 will take place as planned, just like we thought it would.
Concern about the festival’s financial situation arose after the new CEO reevaluated the figures. Last night, the city of Moers signed a guarantee agreement and thereby fulfilled the new CEO’s condition to go ahead with moers festival 2016. Time will show to what extent the CEO’s financial assessment was correct.
Unfortunately, we lost precious time to advertise for the festival due to the uncertainties in these past weeks. Therefore we now need your help with advertising for our festival! Please support us now by raising awareness of the festival.
The best proof that the world needs moers festival is a sold out house on all four days.'
Clearly it's a relatively expensive investment for a town of just over 100,000, but who would have heard of the town outside the Ruhr area, had it not been for this festival?
Programme on

Sunday, March 06, 2016

The great pianists of Europe - Pieranunzi, Stenson

In April, there are two particularly great pianists coming to the Vortex.


Pieranunzi has now played 3 times at the Vortex. He is a musician whose New York 'home' is the Village Vanguard. But his London one is the Vortex!
With an amazing classical clarity, it is a pleasure that he will be back.

28, 29 April BOBO STENSON playing with Martin Speake

Bobo Stenson is one of those who defined the European piano style a la ECM, along with, of course, Jarrett, but also our late great friend John Taylor (JT).
Bobo recorded a decade ago with Martin Speake. So Martin has invited him back for his first visit for several years. He will be playing with Martin, Steve Watts and Jeff Williams.