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Caetano Veloso: an exile’s return

They were not, by a long way, the artistic highlights of the remarkable set with which Caetano Veloso enthralled a capacity house at the Barbican last night, but the two songs he wrote during his time in London 45 years ago had a special poignancy when performed in the city to which he and his pal Gilberto Gil were exiled in 1969, having been released from prison and deported by Brazil’s military government. He included them among his encores. In one, “Nine Out of Ten”, he sang about walking down Portobello Road, listening to reggae and feeling alive. The other, “London, London”, had a sweet final line about gazing at the sky, looking for flying saucers, with which the audience joined in, perhaps lost in their own memories.

For Veloso and Gil, London was a cold and not always welcoming place, although at least it offered them safety. No one took much notice of the presence of these two pioneers of the Tropicália movement, which infused traditional Brazilian sounds with the harsher modes of Anglo-American rock music and carried a political message. Veloso will have been all too familiar with last night’s rain and the dropping temperature, but the city is a different place in the 21st century. After a couple of songs he said that he was now going to make an introduction in English: “There must be two or three here, right?”

Indeed, the Barbican was packed with his compatriots, and on the day after the anti-immigration UKIP party’s success in the European elections, this was a good place to be. If Veloso really wanted to know how London has changed since his two-year exile, he could also take a drive through the north-western suburb of Harlesden, perhaps on his way to a football match at Wembley, and see the number of cafes and other businesses established by the Brazilian community, with names like O Estadio and O Jogo, their signs and frontages mostly painted in the green and gold of the bandeira.

A large proportion of Veloso’s set was devoted to songs from his most recent album, Um Abraçaço, delivered with the help of a skilled and sensitive three-piece band. I loved the gorgeous “Coração Vagabundo” (which you can hear here in a version with the great harmonica player Toots Thielemans) and his ardent acapella version of “Tonada de Luna Llena”, by the Venezuelan composer Simón Diaz, which Pedro Almodóvar used in his 1995 film The Flower of My Secret. Veloso’s seamless shifts from falsetto to his natural tenor register and back again were, with his lovely loose dancing and eloquent gestures, among the highlights of an enchanted evening. I hope he felt at home.

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Three of a kind x 5

"On Sacred Ground"  The Bad Plus perform Stravinsky's Rite of SpThe piano trio is the string quartet of jazz: a perfectly balanced structure, compact in scale but seemingly infinite in its possibilities. I’ve been mildly obsessed with it for the past few years, fascinated not just by its extraordinarily multifaceted history, from Teddy Wilson and Bud Powell via Herbie Nichols and Ramsey Lewis to the Necks and In the Country, but by the way it has so spectacularly mushroomed in popularity in recent years, resourcefully adapted by young musicians to express anything they feel like saying. The latest crop of piano-trio album releases is a good illustration of the scope the format offers, and the rewards it brings.

First among equals must be the interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by The Bad Plus, the American group known for bringing elements of classical technique and structure to the format of the jazz trio. Ethan Iverson, the pianist, Reid Anderson, the bassist, and David King, the drummer, began working on their arrangement of the piece, originally written in 1913 for a Diaghilev ballet, while engaged as artists in residence at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina four years ago, inspired by the composer’s own version for two pianos.

When I’ve seen The Bad Plus, I’ve been impressed by the vigorous muscularity of their collective attack. They don’t lack subtlety or a sense of intellectual inquiry, but the sheer force is what hits you first. That certainly suits The Rite of Spring, whose jaggedly emphatic, almost barbaric syncopations, echoed in Nijinsky’s choreography, were surely what aroused the anger of the first-night crowd at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées just over 100 years ago. And The Rite suits the musicians perfectly. Improvisation isn’t the point here: this isn’t Jacques Loussier doodling on a Bach prelude. What they bring to the piece is a jazz-derived working method and a set of instrumental timbres and techniques that enable us to look at it from another perspective. If the individual playing is magnificent, the totality — enhanced by Anderson’s sparing and always effective use of electronics — is superlative. Here’s an extract.

In a note accompanying the version conducted by the composer with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in 1962, Stravinsky described his reaction to that tumultuously historic first night but then added: “I remember with more pleasure the first concert performance… the following year, a triumph such as few composers can have known the like. Whether the acclaim of the young people who filled  the Casino de Paris was more than a mere reversal of the verdict of bad manners a year before is not for me to say, but it seemed to me much more.” Those young people, and Stravinsky himself, would surely have admired this latest interpretation, released by Sony Masterworks.

Phronesis are one of Europe’s most stimulating young trios: the bassist Jesper Hoiby, the pianist Ivo Neame and the drummer Anton Eger gobble up time, changes and melody with a ferocious appetite for discovery. All three contribute pieces to Life to Everything (Edition Records), their fifth album, recorded at the Cockpit in London during last year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. In terms of awesome trickiness and unpredictability, this is the state of the art; only occasionally do I have the uneasy feeling that this music might, with the wrong kind of encouragement, head off in the direction of prog-rock. Here’s a two-minute film from that gig which perhaps shows what I mean. But they deserve the whoops they elicited from their audience last November.

Very different in tone is Le Vent, the second ECM album by the trio of the Swiss pianist Colin Vallon. Assisted by Patrice Moret on bass and Julian Sartorius on drums, Vallon explores a series of pieces notable chiefly for their pensive lyricism. It would be easy to dismiss this as superior mood music, the soundtrack to a day spent watching raindrops gather on the window of some European café, but Vallon is after something more profound, always calibrating the touch and weight of his phrases with great emotional precision, abetted by the sympathetic and imaginative work of his colleagues. Most of the dozen pieces were written by the leader, but here’s a track composed by Moret, called “Juuichi”.

GoGo Penguin are a young Manchester trio — Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (bass), Rob Turner (drums) — whose music would fit in just about anywhere. They enjoy finding a groove, and they adore a nice chord cycle. You can feel the enthusiasm and the sense of self-discovery. V2.0 is their second album, released on the Gondwana label, and it will make them more friends. There’s not much depth to the music yet, but it will be interesting to see where they go. Here’s their film of a track called “Hopopono” (and I can’t help being amused by Illingworth’s resemblance to the young Manfred Mann, who would probably be doing something very much like this if he were GoGo Penguin’s age today).

Not surprisingly, some of the most adventurous piano trio music is coming out of Norway, and Moskus follow the example of In the Country, whose albums on Rune Grammofon and ACT I love. Moskus are Anja Laudval (piano), Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson (bass) and Hans Hulbækmo (drums), and their new album, Mestertyven, is their second for the Hubro label. Like its predecessor, 2012’s Salmesykkel, it’s distinguished by a mixture of seriousness and humour. They enjoy undercutting a simple tune with the occasional strange noise from the percussion department, but they never let silliness take over and some of the more intense pieces are exceptional. In the clenching phrases of the brief “Yttersvigen”, for example, you can hear how far one line of this music has come in a more or less straight progression from Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian taking “Milestones” apart at the Village Vanguard back in 1961. You’ll find “Yttersvigen” among their Soundcloud tracks here.

So there we are: five very different ways of approaching a format that was once dismissed as fit for nothing but the cocktail lounge. The story of the piano trio goes on, seemingly without end.

* Darryl Pitt’s photograph of The Bad Plus performing The Rite of Spring for the first time at Duke University in March 2011 is taken from Do the Math, Ethan Iverson’s fine blog: http://www.dothemath.typepad.com

LA stories

Carol ConnorsMy Los Angeles is a place of myths and legends, all bathed in the glow of an endless neon sunset. It’s where the young trumpeter Dupree Bolton, barely into his teens in the early 1940s, secreted articles of his clothing night after night in a suitcase hidden backstage at a Central Avenue club so that when the right day presented itself he could leave home without telling his parents and go on the road with Jay McShann’s band. It’s the El Monte Legion Stadium, outside the city limits, where young blacks, whites and Latinos mingled, avoiding LA’s bylaws against mixed dances, to hear the DJ-turned-impresario Art Laboe presenting great doo-wop outfits like the Penguins and Don Julian and the Meadowlarks. It’s the image of Art Pepper, just out of jail, trudging up an Echo Park hillside in baking afternoon heat, wearing a check sports jacket and carrying his alto saxophone. It’s Richie Valens recording “Donna” at Gold Star Studios, with that perfect echo. It’s Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Paul Bley, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins inventing the future at the Hillcrest Club on Washington Blvd. It’s Brian Wilson, with the rest of the Beach Boys off on tour, concocting miracles of sound in a series of Hollywood studios. It’s photographs like the one above, which shows the young singer and songwriter Carol Connors, formerly known as Annette Kleinbard when she sang lead on the Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is to Love Him”, celebrating the gift of an AC Cobra from its inventor, the racing driver Carroll Shelby, whose jovial challenge — “If you write a song about my car and it goes to number one, I’ll give you one” — had sent her home to write “Hey Little Cobra” for the Rip Chords (she’s holding up the sheet music).

This is not just my Los Angeles. It’s Harvey Kubernik’s, too. The difference is that Harvey’s LA is real. It’s where he was born, and where he grew up in the 1960s. He attended Fairfax High, listened to Hunter Hancock on KGFJ, B. Mitchel Reed on KFWB and Wolfman Jack on XERB, and saw the Beach Boys at a record store appearance in Culver City in 1962 and the Seeds at the Valley Music Center in 1967. He even danced, so he says, on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. He watched the whole parade pass by: the Byrds, Love, the Doors, Johnny Rivers, Sonny and Cher, the Wall of Sound, the Monkees, Buffalo Springfield, and on and on. He’s been writing about it for 40-odd years. And, best of all, he’s retained every drop of enthusiasm for the place and its history, much of which is to be found between the covers of his latest book: Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll in Los Angeles 1956-1972, published by Santa Monica Books.

It’s a large-format book and the photographic content is extremely rich (those familiar with Harvey’s earlier volume, Canyon of Dreams, will know what to expect). But the oral history is the point, and there is no one better to convey it than an indefatigable interviewer with an enviable contacts book. “I conducted over 200 interviews for this book over 38 years,” he writes, and although there are big names here, such as Johnny Otis, Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, some of the most fascinating testimony comes from session musicians like Hal Blaine, Julius Wechter, Jim Keltner and Joe Osborn, producers like Russ Titelman, Jim Dickson and Bones Howe, industry figures like Russ Regan and Lester Sill, and scenemakers like Henry Diltz and Rodney Bingenheimer.

Maybe you don’t want a book containing Titelman’s story about how he was studying sitar at the Kinnara School of Music when he met Lowell George, who was then playing shakuhachi. Or the view — shared by Phil Spector and Andrew Loog Oldham — that “Good Vibrations” represented not a liberation but a trap for Brian Wilson. Or the guitarist Elliot Ingber (who became Winged Eel Fingerling of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band) talking about how he felt like he was “landing on another planet” when, as a teenager, he made the bus journey from Hollywood to John Dolphin’s record shop in Watts, where he was able to discover the playing of Lowman Pauling with the “5” Royales and Hubert Sumlin with Howlin’ Wolf. But if you do, this is it. Because there’s one of those on almost every page.

* The photograph appears in Turn Up the Radio! and is from the collection of Carol Connors.

Blown away in Dalston

Louis Moholo 1Listen to them play their hymn-like ballads, township dances, venerable standards, riff tunes, pop songs. Hear them move from one to the other in seamless but brilliantly negotiated transition, sometimes splintering the elements of one before introducing and blending in pre-echoes of the next. Experience the sensation of being blown away by the waves of emotion, whether overwhelmingly ecstatic or exquisitely refined. And most of all, perhaps, listen to the Louis Moholo Moholo Quartet to understand how, in this music, the individual and the collective can simultaneously attain equal importance: a most elevated state of being.

They returned to Café Oto in Dalston this week and once again there were long stretches of time during the evening when I found myself wondering why I would ever bother to listen to anything else. That’s not a response that withstands interrogation, but you probably know what I mean: on a really great live music occasion, that’s how it gets you. In this case it was justified by the sheer inclusiveness of the music made by Louis and his colleagues: Jason Yarde (saxophones), John Edwards (double bass) and Alexander Hawkins (piano). It seemed to contain just about everything you could ever want to hear. Again, a sort of illusion; but what a noble and magnificent one.

This is a band that forces you to drop whatever guard you had up when you arrived, and almost everything they played in their course of two long sets was a highlight. The bits I particularly remember included a surging version of Pule Pheto’s “Dikeledi Tsa Phelo”; a wonderful deconstruction of “If I Should Lose You”, composed by Ralph Rainger for the 1936 remake of Cecil B. DeMille’s Rose of the Rancho; a gorgeous irony-free version of “What a Wonderful World”; and one of the greatest of all modern jazz ballads, Dudu Pukwana’s “B My Dear”. The audience’s response was as wholehearted as the music.

All four musicians seemed to be operating at a level where personal freedom and group interdependence achieve a perfect unity. The way they negotiated the transitions made it very hard indeed to believe that they have played only a handful of gigs as a unit, with Moholo and Hawkins keeping a particularly sharp eye on each other as visual and verbal cues were exchanged. Yarde, who started both sets on a black-lacquered baritone saxophone before moving up the registers to alto and soprano, was consistently impressive, channelling the spirits of Bird and Dudu through his broad-grained sound. And what a treat it was to hear the mighty Edwards slip into passages of driving, huge-toned 4/4, walking his lines like Paul Chambers or Leroy Vinnegar.

You need big chops and big ears to play like this, and an even bigger heart.

The soul of the disco machine

Eveelyn %22Champagne%22 KingA certain machine-like quality was one of the things that people liked about some of the best records of the disco era. Exemplified by Giorgio Moroder’s Munich-manufactured four-on-the-floor, it gave you a beat that was never going to quit. But the release of Action: The Evelyn “Champagne” King Anthology 1977-1986 provides me with an excuse to listen to the record I treasure most from that period, one most notable for its human qualities.

“Shame”, King’s first big hit, was a great dance record to which you could — and can — sit down and listen for hours. It’s one of those records whose inner construction is endlessly fascinating. There’s the subtle contrast between touches of acoustic and Rhodes piano, the way the mobile bass line pushes against the almost laconic feeling of the drums (with a “wet” tom-tom backbeat on the bridge, à la Willie Mitchell), the extra urgency provided by the congas, the keening, raw-toned alto saxophone — and most of all the two rhythm guitars, their insistent background flickering and chattering behind Ms King’s assured vocal.

She was 14 years old when the producer Theodore “T.” Life heard her singing while she was helping her mother clean the restrooms at the Philadelphia International studios. Two years later, signed to RCA, she had her hit. The song was written by John Fitch and Reuben Cross, and it tapped into a combination of sadness and defiance in the teenager’s voice.

I’ve been listening to it regularly for the best part of 40 years without knowing the identity of the musicians responsible for that wonderful rhythm track. Reading the anthology’s excellent sleeve notes, I started to do a bit of research. The producer Theodore “T.” Life used the New Jersey band Instant Funk, who had been discovered by Bunny Sigler and would have their own hit a couple of years later with “I Got My Mind Made Up (You Can Get It Girl)”. As far as I can work it out, at the time they recorded “Shame” they were Dennis Richardson (keyboards), Kim Miller and possibly George Bell (guitars), Raymond Earl (bass guitar), Scotty Miller (drums) and Charles Williams (congas), with Johnny Onderlinde on alto saxophone. Let’s give them some.

King had a few more hits during her decade with RCA, but there would never be anything else quite like “Shame”. The anthology contains the 6:33 12-inch mix, which is how this classic is best appreciated. Here it is. Clear the floor and clear your mind.

* The uncredited photograph of Evelyn “Champagne” King is from the booklet accompanying Action, which is released on Big Break Records.

Joe Wilder 1922-2014

Joe WilderJoe Wilder, who died today at the age of 92, possessed one of the loveliest trumpet tones in the whole of jazz. His name cropped up quite frequently as a member of the trumpet section on other people’s albums in the 1950s and ’60s, but the handful of records he made under his own name displayed a talent that deserved far greater renown.

The son of a Philadelphia bandleader, he studied music at college but decided that classical music offered no future to an African American musician and turned to jazz and popular music instead. At 19 he joined the band of Les Hite; subsequent employers included Jimmie Lunceford, Lucky Millinder, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. Later on in his career his flawless technique would make him an in-demand session, TV studio and Broadway pit band man.

I remember Whitney Balliett writing a long profile of Wilder in the New Yorker 20 years or so ago, a typical Balliett choice, given that Wilder was an intelligent, thoughtful man who played intelligent, thoughtful music that paid attention to quality above fashion. He had a good story to tell, and Balliett helped him tell it very memorably.

I’m particularly fond of his 1959 quartet album, recorded for Columbia, of Henry Mancini’s music for the TV cop series Peter Gunn, which Shelly Manne also explored to good effect at around the same time. But it was the recent release of Such a Beautiful Sound, a compilation of two albums released by the invaluable Spanish label Fresh Sound a few months ago, that made me think it was time to write something about him.

The first of the albums in question is Wilder ‘n’ Wilder, a 1956 quartet session with the dream rhythm section of Hank Jones (piano), who also appears on the Peter Gunn album; Wendell Marshall (bass); and Kenny Clarke (drums), recorded by Rudy Van Gelder for Savoy. The second is Peter the Great, by the sextet of the altoist Pete Brown, with Wilder, Wally Richardson (guitar), Wade Legge (piano), Gene Ramey (bass) and Rudy Collins (drums), recorded two years earlier and originally released as a 10-inch album on Bethlehem. Two extra tracks from Savoy’s vaults, “How High the Moon” and “I Think of You With Every Breath I Take”, both recorded in 1955 with the Jones-Marshall-Clarke unit, previously saw the light of day only on a Jones album titled Bluebird and a various-artists disc called Night People respectively.

Wilder’s gloriously burnished tone, easy swing, impeccable poise and flawless discretion are evident throughout, particularly in the intimate, almost candle-lit environment of the quartet dates, where ballads dominate. But even when things get livelier on the session led by Brown, a now-forgotten jump-blues player of considerable distinction, he more than holds his own. Joe Wilder was part of a jazz trumpet tradition that goes all the way up to today’s Ambrose Akinmusire: he knew how to be hot and cool at the same time.

* The uncredited photograph of Joe Wilder is from the insert accompany the Fresh Sound CD.

Before and after Loose Tubes

Graham CollierJazz continues to evolve, as it always has, through a process of emulation and transformation, whether gradual or radical. Take Loose Tubes, the British big band whose youthful spirit and eclectic wit caused a stir almost 30 years ago, and whose successful reunion at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and Ronnie Scott’s in the last few days has been widely celebrated (here’s John Fordham’s review of the festival gig). Their origins go back to a rehearsal band formed in the early ’80s by the composer Graham Collier, whose generosity in allowing his protégés to bring in their own compositions eventually led to the decision to strike out as a co-operative venture. Since then the members of the band have become mentors and exemplars in their own right. Django Bates, to name the most obvious, has spent much of the last decade teaching at a conservatory in Copenhagen.

Collier died in 2011, aged 74, having played a key role in the phase of British jazz that followed the bebop era. He and Mike Westbrook were the two young composer-leaders who, in the 1960s, nurtured a generation of fine improvisers, including Harry Beckett and John Surman. Now his memory is well served by a 2CD set of two extended pieces that he left behind, now recorded by a fine 15-piece band and issued as Luminosity: The Last Suites on the Jazz Continuum label.

The first piece, The Blue Suite, is explicitly inspired by Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue: the titles of the individual movements include “Kind of So What”, “Kind of Freddie”, “Kind of Sketchy”… you get the idea. But these are impressions, not borrowings. The writing is spare, reflective, full of life and light, free of bombast, offering extensive opportunities to a group of fine soloists, including the tenorist Art Themen, the guitarist Ed Speight and the trumpeter Steve Waterman, urged on by the bassist Roy Babbington and the drummer John Marshall, both once regular Collier sidemen. If I don’t find the second work, Luminosity, quite so invigorating, then that’s because its companion piece sets such a high standard. But the set as a whole makes a good bookend to a Collier collection that starts with his recording debut, the classic Deep Dark Blue Centre album from 1967.

Django Bates’s students in Copenhagen have included Marius Neset, the brilliant young saxophonist whose new album with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Lion (ACT), shows us another aspect of his musical character. These medium-length pieces are written for a 12-piece ensemble, including accordion and tuba, and demonstrate a wide range of resource and an avoidance of anything resembling big-band clichés. Even when the writing is at its most detailed and demanding, there’s never a sense of showing-off. Individually, the inventiveness of Neset’s own playing is matched by that of his colleagues, particularly the bassist Peter Eldh and whichever of the two trumpeters, Eivind Lonning and Erik Eilertsen, takes the solos (unfortunately they aren’t identified). This is music whose innate discipline never conflicts with its powerful sense of exhilaration.

I’m sure Collier would have been thrilled to see the progress made by the members of his old workshop band. And I’ll bet he’d have been equally proud of his role, albeit at one step removed, in Neset’s burgeoning career. In jazz, that’s how it’s supposed to happen. And it still does.

* The photograph of Graham Collier is from the Luminosity package and was taken by Karlijne Pietersma.

Humph and Coe

Humph : John DeakinThis picture of Humphrey Lyttelton rehearsing with his band some time in the 1960s is currently to be seen in a show of the work of John Deakin on the northern fringe of Soho, amid the portraits of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, the Bernard brothers and other notable figures of post-war London’s bohemian society. Next to the trumpeter, unidentified, is a young alto saxophonist: none other than the phenomenally gifted Tony Coe, on his way to becoming one of the distinguished musicians ever produced by the British jazz world, although no one seems to talk about him much now.

Three other musicians are visible, and I would guess — although someone will probably put me straight — that they’re the trombonist John Picard, the drummer Eddie Taylor and the bassist Pete Blannin. Humph began his musical life as a New Orleans revivalist, but his approach broadened to encompass mainstream jazz and he employed many excellent musicians who were sympathetic to more modern styles. I’d love to have been present to hear how this line-up sounded the day Deakin, a former Vogue photographer who lived the Soho life to the full, took his camera to record them.

* Under the Influence: John Deakin and the Lure of Soho is at the Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW, until July 11.