Skip to content

Re-reading Brian Eno’s diary

Many of these new words suggest the dissolution of a certain quality of public discourse that we have taken for granted since the Enlightenment, which hinged on the possibility of reaching evidence-based concensus — albeit even temporary — about what constitutes reality. The post-modern scepticism of any distinction between ideologically derived value systems and evidence-driven science is now grasped at gratefully by libertarians, populists, identitarians and tax evaders the world over: “Why shouldn’t there be a special reality just for me?” they demand. An early warning sign of this attitude creeping into politics was when a member of Dubya’s entourage, questioned about the veracity of some claims he’d made in support of the Iraq war, said: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

It’s interesting to watch that kind of hubris crash up against a little strand of RNA — and conspicuously lose the battle. As I write this, we’re five months into the Covid pandemic, and it turns out that even an empire can’t change biological reality. I wonder if it will make any difference to how we view the role of leadership in the future, when we evaluate the various national responses to Covid and notice that the people who dealt with it most successfully were not the macho braggarts, not the “we-make-our-own-reality” brigade, not the “man-up” populists, not the Panglossian libertarians, but the people who had the humility to listen to the science and the humanity to care enough to act upon it.

Those words are taken from the new introduction to a 25th anniversary edition of A Year with Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno’s diary of 1995, and form part of a commentary on a list of words and terms created since the original publication: AI, Airbnb, Alexa, algorithm, alt-right, alternative facts, Amazon and so on — several pages of them, fact, all the way to zero-hour contract, zero-tolerance, Zooming and zoonotic.

The original diary, written in a different world, records collaborations with David Byrne, Dave Stewart, U2 and the band James, conversations about drugs with an Eritrean taxi driver and presenting the Turner Prize with Nicholas Serota, outings to judge Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World competition and to lunch with Bono and Eve Hewson at the Colombe d’Or in the hills above Nice, digressions on stuff like the art market, the Bosnian conflict, the language of car horns and the three principal debts to African music (pushed rhythm, flattened scales and call-and-response), chat about buying a computer for his young daughters and looking at Dan Flavin’s neon tubes in the Guggenheim, repeating a very good Tommy Cooper joke, and then another.

He’s a serious thinker but his sense of humour is never far away, along with a gentle self-mockery (17 April: Lou Reed, Lenny Henry and David Bowie all called. Enjoying Tricky CD. He didn’t call21 December: At the party, Rob Partridge said to me: ‘You gave hope to other balding men.’ My new epitaph: ‘Co-wrote a couple of decent songs and went bald shamelessly’).

All this makes it well worth reading, or re-reading, today, for both entertainment on trivial matters and the application of critical thinking and common sense to some of the big problems of our time. And it prompts me to wonder how different our lives would be right now, had Brian Eno spent 2020 as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Failing that, I hope he’s at least been compiling another diary.

* The new edition of A Year with Swollen Appendices is published by Faber & Faber.

The sound of London 2020

Guitarist Shirley Tetteh at Church of Sound during the EFG London Jazz Festival

Half an hour into BBC4’s special Jazz 625 programme on Saturday night, the journalist Emma Warren remarked that everybody in London’s new jazz scene has their own role to play. You might be making your contribution as a musician, or taking the money on the door. Or, she suggested, your role might be as the first person on the dance floor that night, leading the way for the rest of the audience to join in. That sense of collective commitment was strong throughout the programme.

Timed to coincide with the 2020 London Jazz Festival, the 90-minute show featured many of the most prominent names of the current scene: the drummer Moses Boyd and his band Exodus, the tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s quartet, the trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey’s irresistible Kokoroko, the singer Poppy Ajudah with a searing Black Lives Matter song, the powerful Ezra Collective, the drummer Sarathy Korwar, the clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings with Sons of Kemet, the tuba-player Theon Cross with the rapper Consensus, and others. There were interludes exploring the work of Gary Crosby’s Tomorrow’s Warriors project in mentoring so many of the new generation, and a shift up to Manchester reflected the contributions of the trumpeter Matthew Halsall and the saxophonist Nat Birchall.

Boyd co-hosted the show with Jamz Supernova, and something he said was also striking. Every young black jazz musician, he remarked, knows what it feels like to play to a room full of middle-aged white people. And that’s fine, he added. But sometimes you want to play to people like yourself. A sequence of clips from Steam Down in Deptford, the Fox & Firkin pub in Lewisham, Total Refreshment Centre in Hackney Downs and other London venues in pre-pandemic times showed what he meant.

This music restores a sense of jazz’s old physicality. While strong on a belief in the tradition, it blends in elements of the music absorbed by younger players: hip-hop and its offshoots, reggae, Afro-beat. In that way, too, it recalls jazz’s origins as a musical broth, a bouillabaisse, a gumbo, embracing influences rather than distilling the flavour out of them.

It believes in rhythm and it believes in warmth. Communication is the priority, but without compromise. Lessons from the more abstract directions of contemporary jazz are deployed as extra tools. There are rough edges and signs of what some older listeners might see as naivety. But to watch and listen to the development of these musicians, to hear them stretching their limbs and discovering their own potential, is a thing of wonder and infinite pleasure.

In Saturday’s show the various groups were playing without an audience and in a socially distanced format. The same was true of the livestreams of the festival gigs I was able to watch. What really impressed me was that a movement nourished by the spontaneity and feedback of an intimate live setting proved able to flourish in a completely different environment. If they were being set a test, they passed it en bloc, with distinction.

The BBC4 programme is available now on iPlayer. Some of the livestreams from the festival are also free to watch, like the Charlie Parker centenary tribute from Church of Sound in Hackney, featuring Gary Crosby’s Groundation, with Nathaniel Facey on alto, Shirley Tetteh on guitar, Hamish Moore on bass and Moses Boyd on drums: a quicksilver set of Bird tunes and originals. Facey’s own quartet, completed by two of his fellow members of Empirical, the drummer Shaney Forbes and the bassist Tom Farmer, and the guitarist Dave Preston, were captured at the Green Note in Camden Town, letting air and light into knotty themes by the leader and the guitarist. And at Total Refreshment Centre the impressive young trumpeter/singer Emma-Jean Thackray led her quintet — Lyle Barton on keyboards, Matt Gedrych on bass guitar, Dougal Taylor on drums and Crispin Robinson on percussion — through a wholly absorbing, convincing and thoroughly contemporary investigation of the moods suggested by Bitches Brew 50 years ago.

Tickets were £12.50 to livestream Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble and their guests performing an 80th birthday tribute to Pharoah Sanders at the Barbican, and that’s what it’ll cost you to catch up with it via the Barbican’s website. I can only urge everyone do make the investment, since Kinoshi presents an hour of music of the highest quality, carefully devised and packed with all the best qualities of the new London scene.

The core SEED line-up — Kinoshi (alto), Sheila Maurice-Grey and Jack Banjo-Courtney (trumpets), Joe Bristow (trombone), Hannah Mbuya (tuba), Chelsea Carmichael (tenor, flute), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Rio Kai (bass) and Patrick Boyle (drums) — kicked off with the ever-hypnotic riff of “Upper and Lower Egypt” before being joined by the clarinet of Shabaka Hutchings (on a beautifully flighted “Astral Travelling”), the pianist Ashley Henry (a heartfelt “Greeting to Saud”), the percussionist Yahael Camara-Onono (“Elevation”) and the singer Richie Seivwright (“Love Is Everywhere”). The horn arrangements were perfect, the rhythm section subtle and skilful, each of the soloists offering something of substance.

“Catch you soon, when life is normal again,” Kinoshi told her invisible audience at the end of the set. But if it was sad not to be able to witness this music in person, to share the experience with the players and to make them feel the listeners’ response, it was wonderful to be able to hear it all, staged and played and recorded so beautifully in all the venues.

If you browse the festival’s website, you’ll find other fine performances available: the trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, the guitarist Hedvig Mollestad and the poet Moor Mother with Irreversible Entanglements are some of them. But maybe watch Jazz 625 first, all the way through. At a time when the streets of the city are drained of life, it’s a reminder of what’s waiting around the corner. If it doesn’t fill you with the kind of optimism that’s been in short supply for the past nine months, I’ll be very surprised.

(Not quite) almost like being in love

One evening in the late ’70s I was at home watching The Shirley Bassey Show on BBC1 — not such a terrible idea, since she presented some interesting guests, from Mel Tormé and Janis Ian to Stan Getz and Johnny Nash — when something Bassey herself was singing stopped me in my tracks.

“Almost Like Being in Love” was written by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner for their musical Brigadoon in 1947. It was a hit for Frank Sinatra, and became a standard. Shirley Bassey has sung it throughout her career, and on YouTube you’ll find several versions in conventional upbeat, ring-a-ding-ding arrangements celebrating the singer’s delight at half-concealing the rapture of love.

On this occasion, however, she and her musical director, Arthur Greenslade, did something different. They recast the song in a minor key, with slightly modified melodic and harmonic contours, setting it to a languid, understated Latin rhythm. I hadn’t heard it from then until now, more than 40 years later, but it always stayed in my head as the way the song ought to be sung.

So here it is, miraculously preserved, with its chiming vibes and pattering congas, hovering strings and 12 bars of beautiful Getzian tenor saxophone (Tony Coe, maybe?), and a bitter-sweet vocal performance that hints at layers of emotional complexity beneath Mr Lerner’s words. It sounds just as exquisite and ambiguous as I remembered. Imagine how cool it would be if Sade, Tracey Thorn or Paula Morelenbaum took this arrangement and recorded it today. Cool, yes, but no cooler than Ms Bassey.

‘Ronnie’s’ on BBC4

Val Wilmer’s classic portrait of Ronnie Scott leaning against the entrance of his Frith Street club captures the man as most of us thought we knew him: the epitome of Soho cool. Ronnie’s, a new documentary written and directed by Oliver Murray, goes deeper to show us the man known to his intimates. Something that could easily have been banal and superficial becomes a sensitive and finely nuanced depiction of a life lived under pressures both external and internal.

The film is being shown on BBC4 this weekend and should be watched by everyone who ever set foot in the club, or even wished they had. It starts out conventionally enough, as if it is going be a straightforward celebration of the 60-year-old institution that has played host to Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, Buddy Rich, Count Basie, Roland Kirk, Bill Evans and so many other famous names. Before long, however, it is describing the relationship between Ronnie and Pete King, his business partner, the man who kept the wheels turning when times got tough, as they often did.

They’re both gone now, but Murray brings them back to life through their own words and those of others, building a picture of two men united by stoicism, sardonic wit, and a love of music and (mostly) musicians. Ronnie’s complex character is fully explored, including his near-ruinous gambling habit and the depression that afflicted him — which, combined his inability to play the saxophone following extensive dental treatment, probably led to his death from what the coroner described as “an incautious dose of sedatives”.

Clips of many great musicians at the club keep things swinging along, but darker undertones gather in the second half and the final section is elegiac and extremely affecting. By acknowledging the darker truths, this superlative film makes us cherish the continued existence of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club even more.

* Ronnie’s is transmitted on BBC4 this Sunday, November 15, at 9pm. Here’s the trailer. Val Wilmer’s photograph is used by her kind permission.

Sounds from the silence

The challenge of putting on a jazz festival in November 2020 would be hard to overestimate. But for four days last week the 57th edition of Jazzfest Berlin presented music to the world with imagination and ingenuity, making the most of the available technology to bring musicians and listeners together in the era of social distancing.

The event’s customary home, the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, is currently being refurbished, so the festival’s director, Nadin Deventer, built a digital bridge between her alternative choice of home venue, Silent Green (a repurposed crematorium in the Wedding district), and the Roulette club in Brooklyn. Bands played in both spaces, alternating sets. Forty separate performances totalled 1,500 minutes of music, all of it broadcast via the ARTE Concerts network (and available to view for the next 12 months).

So, for instance, from Berlin we got to hear two of the expatriate American drummer Jim Black’s groups, a trio and a sextet, and the saxophonist Silke Eberhard’s expanded Potsa Lotsa band playing pieces by Henry Threadgill, who was to have been the festival’s special guest until the pandemic made physical travel from the US impossible. From Brooklyn we heard the intense saxophone/piano duo of Ingrid Laubrock and Kris Davis, the drummer Thomas Fujiwara’s sextet, with Ralph Alessi on trumpet and Mary Halvorson on guitar, the altoist Lakecia Benjamin paying homage to Coltrane, and the pianist Craig Taborn’s new trio, with Halvorson and the drummer Ches Smith. And many others in both locations.

The set that nailed my attention was a 57-minute composition/performance by the British pianist Alexander Hawkins and the Berlin-based Lebanese poet, rapper and visual artist Siska, whose collaboration had to overcome the enforced inability of Hawkins and his two UK-based collaborators, Matt Wright (electronics) and Shabaka Hutchings (clarinet), to travel to Berlin. Instead they recorded their contributions to the piece, with Siska, the trumpeter Lina Allemano and the bassist Nick Dunston located in Silent Green and improvising on the template of Hawkins’s graphic and notated score, with the occasional appearance of film of First and Third World scenes and social rituals on a suspended screen sharing the space with the musicians and a large mirror ball used as a reflective light source.

The recent explosion in Beirut, Siska said, had inspired him to use Arabic lyrics he had written in the Lebanese capital between 2001 and 2008. Allemano contributed strikingly expressive interludes and accompaniments, while Dunston provided sonorous arco playing, a fluid drive when necessary and, to introduce the final section, a memorable solo of his own.

The composition began with plain electronic drones and overtones like something from a La Monte Young installation or a Necks studio album. Slowly unrolling through passages supported by prepared gamelan-like patterns, a clarinet ostinato and the whirring of a 16mm projector, it gradually gained emotional weight until achieving something very like catharsis in its closing passages: imagine, if you can, a fruitful meeting between the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Arthur Jafa, with a global perspective. If the meaning of Siska’s urgently whispered and muttered words was inscrutable to non-Arabic speakers, the accretional impact of the whole work was undeniable, at least in this corner of the digital auditorium. Here it is.

* To see recordings of all the livestreamed performances from Jazzfest Berlin 2020, go to https://www.arte.tv/de/videos/RC-020309/jazzfest-berlin/

Count Basie in his own write

Jeremy Marre made so many great documentaries about music and musicians that a full retrospective would probably fill a 24-hour TV channel for the rest of the year, from Roots Rock Reggae in 1977 and Rhythm of Resistance (which inspired Paul Simon to write and record Graceland) two years later to profiles of Roy Orbison, Otis Redding, the Grateful Dead, Youssou N’Dour and countless others, plus Soul Britannia, Reggae Britannia and episodes of the Classic Albums series, including the one dedicated to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black. When he died in March, aged 76, Marre left us a parting gift: a film on the life of the enigmatic Count Basie, shown on BBC4 last week and now available on iPlayer.

Bill Basie’s music was anything but enigmatic. Rooted in the cadences of the blues and the imperatives of 4/4 swing, it avoided the sophistication found in the work of Duke Ellington and Jimmie Lunceford and demanded nothing of those looking for straightforward enjoyment, as I found when I was lucky enough to see a late edition of the band at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City almost 50 years ago. Nevertheless it invited study that was always rewarded.

In 1930s recordings like “One O’Clock Jump” and “Taxi War Dance”, the Basie band brought the concept of riffing — as an armature for soloists and a lure for dancers — to a peak. And by pairing the contrasting elemental approaches of the tenor saxophonists Lester Young (air) and Herschel Evans (earth), the leader created one of the great stylistic juxtapositions. His own piano-playing, a minimalist reduction of his entire orchestral concept, epitomised the creative use of economy.

In public, however, Basie wore a mask. A genial, gracious mask, but still a mask. His greatest contemporary wore one, too, but Ellington’s relative effusiveness conveyed the illusion of intimacy with his audience. Basie was never aloof, but he gave away nothing of his own feelings.

The masterstroke of Marre’s film is to give us an insight, through the use of letters, autobiographical notes and home movies, into Basie’s existence offstage, and in particular with his family. He was, of course, out on the road almost all his adult life, but the revelation of the close relationship he and his second wife, Catherine, shared with their daughter Diane, who was born severely handicapped by what would now be diagnosed as cerebral palsy, is extraordinarily moving.

Count Basie Through His Own Eyes concentrates on the man rather than the music, which is lightly sketched through an excellent selection of clips and interviews with associates, including the drummer Harold Jones and the arranger Quincy Jones, and the critics Gary Giddins and Will Friedwald. The man himself comes alive in his own words and in those of surviving relatives.

Ten months a year on the road for 30 years took the man once billed as the Sepia Swing Sensation from the grind of touring the kind of towns where hotels turned blacks away to the sort of acclaim that enabled him to buy a retirement home in the Bahamas. He died in 1984, almost exactly a year after Catherine, whom he had met soon after his arrival in New York in the late ’30s, when she was a 15-year-old exotic dancer (her active involvement in the civil rights movement led her to take part in the March on Washington in 1963).

Marre takes us behind the imperturbable half-smile Basie wore while sharing the stage with Frank Sinatra or becoming the first African American to receive a Grammy (for The Atomic Mr Basie in 1958), showing us a man whose 42-year marriage had its ups and downs and who, as Jones puts it, “loved anything he could gamble with.” If I don’t quite buy Friedwald’s claim that Basie’s band was the favourite of the Luftwaffe’s wartime fighter aces, that’s a small hiccup in a valuable piece of work.

* Jeremy Marre’s Count Basie Through His Own Eyes can be seen until late December on BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000nnyq/count-basie-through-his-own-eyes

Before he was famous

Fifty years ago Keith Jarrett wandered into the Fleet Street office of the Melody Maker, unannounced. He’d stayed on in London after playing with Miles Davis at the Isle of Wight and now he was looking for someone to interview him. I’d seen that performance from close quarters, and I was familiar with his work as the pianist in the Charles Lloyd Quartet — a band famous for taking jazz to the hippie audience — between 1966-68. So I told him that although it was a Monday morning and we were all busy chasing up news stories, I was happy to talk. I sat him down and took out my notebook and pen.

That interview came to mind the other day while I was writing about the revelation that health problems may have ended his performing career. So I searched for the cutting and found that — although it wasn’t what you’d call an in-depth piece — his words captured the thoughts of a man who was clearly ambitious but at that stage had no idea of what would begin happening to him a couple of years later. And what he said about his attitude to live performance is interesting in the light of his subsequent reputation for demanding the highest standards of audience etiquette.

That morning in London, his immediate priority was to let it be known that he was looking for work. He had his own European trio, and so far they’d played in Scandinavia, Belgium and Ireland. In the UK, however, no luck so far. “I’ve always found it difficult to get work in this country,” he told me. “Ronnie Scott’s expressed some interest, but they told me they’re booked up until March and I’ll probably be going home to the States for the winter.”

His European trio, he said, featured the bassist Gus Nemeth, formerly with Bernard Peiffer, and the drummer Bob Ventrelo. In America his trio was completed by Charlie Haden and Paul Motian. “Charlie’s working with Ornette Coleman and Paul’s gone with Arlo Guthrie, so I couldn’t bring them over.”

The lukewarm response from Ronnie’s reflected the fact that none of Jarrett’s three albums for the Vortex label, an Atlantic subsidiary, had been released in Britain. “They tell me that my albums don’t sell,” he said, “but how do they expect them to sell if people can’t buy them?”

Life Between the Exit Signs and Somewhere Before were trio sessions with Haden and Motian, while Restoration Ruin struck out in a different direction, featuring him singing and playing a variety of instruments, including guitar, harmonica and tambourine, sometimes with a string quartet. He was also now playing soprano saxophone and flute with his groups.

“I don’t think I’m getting away from jazz,” he said, “but I’m not as narrow. I don’t think about it, but if I believed I was playing jazz all the time, half my repertoire wouldn’t exist. There are a lot of variables in the group. Sometimes we play free for a whole set, and then sometimes we’ll play nothing but tunes. When I sing, it’s not like ordinary singing. It’s more like chanting, I guess.

“I haven’t been successful in getting people to let me record on soprano or flute. They say the audience thinks of me as a pianist, and they don’t want to hear me playing a horn. In fact I feel more like a drummer, although I don’t play drums with the group. I can really lose myself on drums, and my playing on other instruments relates either to my singing or my drumming — for instance, I try to make the piano sing, although it’s really a percussion instrument. I get a great feeling when I use it as percussion, but it’s too easy.

“I’m trying to make the soprano sound like a voice. That’s a big challenge, to push yourself through that little reed. I have no formal training on soprano, and that’s why I enjoy it so much. I’m not glued to making voicings by putting notes together like I am on the piano.”

Returning to the theme of getting work, he observed that although Europe was better than the scene at home, he could see it deteriorating. “Most of the places, even the Golden Circle in Stockholm, are turning into discotheques. The people sit there, half-listening to you and waiting for the records to come on. People still come up to me and ask me to play ‘Sombrero Sam’ and some of the other things I did with Charles (Lloyd), but I tell them that’s part of another era. The music we play is much more elusive than Charles’s, but people come in expecting to hear me play the old things. Audiences haven’t heard me properly until now because I’ve always been trying to escape from the groups I’ve been in. That made me play well, just to escape, and it’s much harder now I’m on my own.

“Wherever we go, the audiences have a need. If they’re talking, they may have to be shocked out of it, or caressed out of it, if they’re listening and expecting to be given something else, That’s what I’m struggling with, and it should make the music good.

“If everything is perfect, if the piano is in tune, if everyone is sitting quiet and expectant and all the audience are Keith Jarrett fans, then I don’t feel the need to play. It’s the worst possible situation. If the audience know that they like the group, it doesn’t matter what you play. It’s like someone giving a lecture when the audience knows what he’s going to say. That’s why I don’t play piano when I’m by myself. I couldn’t tell myself anything I don’t already know. So when I’m alone I play soprano or guitar, and I can still surprise myself on those instruments.”

As I started to close my notebook, he said that if he’d followed everybody’s suggestions, he would probably have achieved commercial success already. “But I’d be in a situation that would be too perfect, and when you’ve got nothing to bother about, you don’t say anything.” And off he went into the London streets, 25 years old and looking for work, with million-selling albums and packed concert halls still the faintest of lights behind a far horizon.

Dyan Birch 1949-2020

Dyan Birch was something special. Her presence on a stage drew the eye and the ear. And now she’s gone, leaving the memory of a soulful essence that was hers alone, however big or small the stage.

She was a teenager working in Brian Epstein’s NEMS record shop in Liverpool when she met the people who shared her love of soul music and with whom she would form the group Arrival: her fellow singers Frank Collins, Paddie McHugh and Carroll Carter. In 1969 they went to London, where they were signed by the Gunnell agency, who put them together with a keyboard player and singer called Tony O’Malley. They were managed by the savvy hipster Tony Hall, and they had chart hits with “Friends”, a Terry Reid song, and “I Will Survive”, written by Collins and arranged by Paul Buckmaster.

I met them en route to the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, in a helicopter chartered by Hall. They played on the Friday bill, which also included Taste, Tony Joe White, Chicago, Family, Procol Harum and the Voices of East Harlem. Curiously, although the festival was being filmed, no footage of their set survives.

Five years later Arrival were no more. Dyan, Frank, Paddie and Tony had been joined by the guitarists Neil Hubbard and Jim Mullen, the saxophonist Mel Collins, the bassist Alan Spenner, the drummer Terry Stannard and the percussionist Jody Linscott. Now they were known as Kokomo, and they became fixtures in London pubs and clubs from the Hope & Anchor in Islington to the Half Moon in Putney and Dingwalls in Camden. Their management was in the hands of Steve O’Rourke, who signed them to CBS.

Sadly, the reaction to their records never lived up to the promise of their live appearances. Here’s a beauty from Rise and Shine, their second album: “Without Me”, written by Dyan, Tony and Frank and produced by Brad Shapiro. Many, including me, believed them to be the best of all the British club and pub bands of the 1970s.

They were much in demand by other artists; you could hear the whole band, half-submerged among a couple of dozen musicians on Bob Dylan’s “Romance in Durango”, from Desire, and on Bryan Ferry’s In Your Mind. Here they are, minus only Hubbard, backing the singer and guitarist Bryn Haworth in 1975, on a track from his second Island album, Sunny Side of the Street; it’s always been a favourite of mine for the way it highlights the special vocal blend that Dyan, Frank and Paddie conjured with so little apparent effort.

Dyan was never a diva, but always a member of the band. There were serious health problems later in her life, affecting her ability to take a full part in the very welcome Kokomo reunions; the last time I saw her, at Richmond Athletic Club four or five years ago, she couldn’t complete the set, greatly to her distress. She always seemed like a lovely person. “Spread your wings,” she and the others sang with Bryn Haworth, “and fly right out of here.” And now she has.

* The photograph of Dyan Birch on stage with Kokomo at the 100 Club in 2014 was taken by Neil Holmes and is used by his kind permission.

The news from Keith Jarrett

Many people around the world will be profoundly saddened by the announcement, made today in an interview with the New York Times, that a pair of strokes in the early months of 2018 are likely to have ended Keith Jarrett’s career as a public performer. The journalist Nate Chinen elicited the information that, after the second of those attacks, Jarrett spent the period from July 2018 to May this year in a nursing facility.

The pianist is back home now but the use of his left arm and hand have been lost, perhaps permanently. Just learning to pick up a cup again is a challenge. There have been memory issues, too: while trying to play long-familiar bebop tunes with his right hand, he finds he has forgotten them. It seems likely that his solo concert at Carnegie Hall in February 2017, during which he spoke out against a newly elected US president, will turn out to have been his last.

This is not the first time Jarrett’s career has been interrupted by a serious health problem: a long bout of chronic fatigue syndrome put him out of action for much of the second half of the 1990s. Its effects were apparent in The Melody at Night, with You, a home-recorded solo recital of restrained and quietly luminous versions of familiar tunes that constitutes one of the most cherished items in his extensive discography. He told me about the illness and his return to activity in a Guardian interview preceding a London concert 20 years ago. From what he says now, his recent problems are unlikely to reach such a welcome resolution.

The famous Köln Concert of 1975 doesn’t have the place in my heart that it occupies in those of many others, and I’ve sometimes grown exasperated with his solo recordings (two listens to the 10 LPs of the Sun Bear Concerts, recorded in Tokyo in 1976 and released a couple of years later, felt like more than enough). His self-belief has sometimes felt overpowering. But I loved Facing You, the first of his solo albums, on its appearance in 1972, and the Standards Trio (as the group with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette became known) could perform miracles.

Coinciding with this week’s announcement is the release of a recording of the first date from his last European tour in the summer of 2016. The two-CD Budapest Concert presents 90 minutes of free improvisation (divided into 12 units) ranging from high-tension explorations of contemporary-classical techniques, pounding grooves, elegant extemporised balladry, refined but exuberant gospel-inflected outbursts, an astonishing two-part invention (Part VI) and, in the form of encores, romantic variations on two standards, “It’s A Lonesome Old Town” and “Answer Me, My Love”.

The repertoire strongly resembles that of Munich 2016, the set released last year, taken from the tour’s last concert. His devotees will want to explore the contrasts between the two, recorded a fortnight apart; for me, it’s a wholly satisfying summary of all the finest aspects of his playing.

Once can only wish Jarrett, who is now 75, the best of luck with his health, in the hope that his powers return — for his own sake, rather than for the benefit of an audience to whom he has already given the fruit of a lifetime’s work, and then some.

* Keith Jarrett’s Budapest Concert is released on the ECM label. The photograph, from the sleeve, is by Daniela Yohannes.

The First Daughter

Even after she stopped singing duets with her dad and began sharing a studio microphone instead with a man of her own age, Carla Thomas somehow remained the First Daughter of Soul. Maybe it was something to do with the lingering echoes of her first big hit, “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)”, in which she was cast as the sort of perky ingenue to be found in the pop charts in 1961 rather than the mature soul singer she would eventually become.

As the offspring of Rufus Thomas, whose roles as club MC and radio DJ and recording artist made him an important figure on the Memphis music scene in the post-war decades, Carla was born to the calling. Perhaps that, too, was why she was always a little bit taken for granted, even when she and Otis Redding had a hit with Lowell Fulson and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Tramp” in 1967, a few months after her second big solo success with Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “B-A-B-Y”.

She had written “Gee Whiz” when she was 15 and recorded it, under her father’s supervision, two years later. Released on the Satellite label, the precursor of Stax, it was noticed by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, who picked it up for national distribution and saw it become a top 10 pop hit. Not even “B-A-B-Y” or “Tramp” could quite match that success.

She made many good records in Memphis during her brief heyday, however, and her story is well told in Let Me Be Good to You, a four-CD box subtitled “The Atlantic & Stax Recordings 1960-68”. Apart from anything else, it functions as a chronicle of a record company’s attempt to find a niche for a talent artist, their solutions ranging from slightly disengaged treatments of country songs like “I Fall to Pieces” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to solid blues performances of “Red Rooster” and “Baby What You Want Me to Do” and covers of current pop-soul hits like “Yes I’m Ready” and “Any Day Now”, girl-group tunes such as “A Lover’s Concerto” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and standards like “The Masquerade Is Over”. The set also features five tracks from the 1967 Stax/Volt European tour, three from the Olympia in Paris, including a driving “Got My Mojo Workin'”, and two from the Astoria in London, including a version of “Yesterday” which, with the aid of Booker T Jones’s Hammond organ, takes Paul McCartney to church.

Three of my favourites can be found in the anthology. One is “Something Good (Is Going to Happen to You”, a Hayes/Porter stomper from 1967 with a Motown-influenced 12-bar bridge. Another, from the same year, is the medium-tempo “When Tomorrow Comes”, which evokes her enduring ability to conjure a special pop-soul charm. Third, and best of all, is “I’m For You”, a 1965 Hayes/Porter ballad of spellbinding poise and quiet intensity. More than half a century later, it may be hard to defend a lyric that begins “My job is to please my man / To make him happy, any way I can.” Despite that, it’s a glorious record, summoning the ambiance of old Stax studio down to the vibrato from Steve Cropper’s Fender Esquire/Vibralux combo, the always-slightly-out-of-tune piano and the beautifully economical horn arrangement.

Throughout her career, Carla Thomas succeeded in projecting an engaging vocal personality that perhaps lacked only the tragic dimension lurking just below the surface in such contemporaries as Candi Staton, Dee Dee Warwick and Irma Thomas. Possibly, too, she lacked the hard edge of real ambition: once Stax had gone down the tubes in the mid-’70s, she did not do what others might have done and seek a home elsewhere. Now aged 77, she lives in retirement. Let Me Be Good to You, compiled by David Nathan and scrupulously annotated by Charles Waring, is a fine and warmly recommended tribute to a singer who was always true to herself.

* Let Me Be Good to You is released on October 23 on the SoulMusic label, via Cherry Red.