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‘Goal by Garrincha’

Club Inégales

It’s hardly surprising, I suppose, that music in praise of football and footballers tends to concentrate on South Americans — I’m thinking of Jorge Ben’s “Filho Maravilha” and “Ponte de Lança Africano” and Manu Chao’s great song in celebration of Diego Maradona, “La Vida Tombola”. Alexander Hawkins’s “Unequal Baobabs (Goal by Garrincha)” is something different on the same subject.

The piece was given its debut in London last night as part of Expect the Unexpected, a two-night affair in which 25 composers were each invited to submit a one-page score to be performed, without rehearsal,  by the band of Club Inégales, led by Peter Wiegold. Part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, the second night in this basement bar off Euston Road featured pieces by Alice Zawadski, Orphy Robinson, Mark Sanders, Matthew Bourne, Pat Thomas and others, interpreted by a 13-piece ensemble of improvising musicians — an expanded version of Wiegold’s regular band, Notes Inégales.

I had a particular interest in Hawkins’s piece since its existence is the indirect result of a conversation we had a couple of years ago, on the subject of football, during which I recommended a book by the Uruguayan historian Eduardo Galeano called Football in Sun and Shadow, published in an English translation 20 years ago. Galeano’s brief chapters include one called “Goal by Garrincha”, in which he described the effect of a particularly dramatic strike by the great Brazilian winger during a World Cup warm-up match against Fiorentina in 1958.

Hawkins’s score consists of eight “cells” of note sequences, with written instructions such as “Proceed at own rate; no need to synchronise” and “Any cell may be transposed into any octave”. Galeano’s words were read by Zawadski, who was also playing violin and singing in the group, and by Notes Inégales’ regular percussionist, Simon Limbrick. The piece began with a drone on G and ended after about 20 minutes with all the instruments sustaining their highest possible pitch, at minimal volume. “Hold this final drone for as long as we dare,” Hawkins instructed, “and even then a little longer.”

I meant to ask the composer if he’d also read Ruy Castro’s classic biography of Garrincha, where the author describes the other Brazilian players’ reaction to the goal — in which the player dribbled past the entire Fiorentina side before making a fool of the goalkeeper as he scored. Garrincha’s team mates refused to celebrate with him and were bitterly critical afterwards, complaining that any attempt to repeat such an individualistic feat during the World Cup itself would risk damaging their chances of winning the trophy (which they did, of course).

Football and jazz: both are completely dependent on improvisation, individual and collective, on players with a sense of adventure and possibility but also with a sensitivity to the potential of their colleagues. The two hours of music I was able to hear last night, featuring pieces by Robinson, Sanders, Zawadski and Helen Pappaioannou as well as Hawkins’s contribution, was full of those qualities. I particularly enjoyed the playing of Hyelim Kim on the taegum (a Korean bamboo flute), Jackie Shave on violin, Ben Markland on bass guitar, Torbjörn Hultmark on trumpet and Chris Starkey, whose interventions on an orange plastic-bodied Airline electric guitar were often startling and always stimulating.

The moods ranged from the refined beauty of Zawadski’s “In an Old Theatre” through a strange almost-irony in Sanders’ variations on “What a Wonderful World” to the broad humour of Robinson’s piece, whose changes of direction were indicated by the composer via commands displayed on his iPad, the last of which instructed the musicians to blame each other. For once, post-match recriminations were not confined to the dressing room.

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‘Real Enemies’ in London

Darcy James Argue KPDarcy James Argue’s Real Enemies is a piece for our time, unfortunately. The Canadian composer’s 90-minute suite for his Secret Society big band is a reflection of the creeping paranoia that began in the post-war years of Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and Area 51, and is once again in full spate.

Appropriate voice samples are triggered throughout the piece, but the tone is really set by DJA’s orchestrations for the instrumentation of five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds/woodwinds and four rhythm: the ensemble sonorities are hard, bright, emphatic and precise. Only the fine soloists — I particularly noted David Smith and Jonathan Powell on trumpets, Ryan Keberle on trombone, the altoists Dave Pietro and Rob Wilkerson, and the tenorist Lucas Pino — introduce a note of human vulnerability in the face of the complex workings of the busy machine.

Apart from the two women musicians (trumpeter Naadje Noordhuis and bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton), the members of his New York band wear their own suits and ties. Their expressions throughout the performance are blank, perhaps indicating only a concentration on the demanding score (I caught just one fleeting exchange of grins in the saxophone section). Whether this is an intended effect or not, it certainly enhances the atmosphere: they look like an FBI induction class, circa 1970. The composer’s brisk conducting technique never suggests emotion; the notes do that job.

At the beginning and near the end, the five trumpeters rose from their chairs en masse and stood with their backs to the audience, clustered together around the 9ft Steinway and playing down into its raised lid. Their tightly muted scribbles of sound, and their physical clustering, suggested a discussion of dark secrets: an effect both visually and musically dramatic.

Afterwards you wanted to go home and watch The Parallax View, Executive Action or Three Days of the Condor. DJA would have made a great job of scoring any of those films, which explored the subterfuges of the deep state in the early 1970s. Next, if he’s not sick of conspiracy theories, perhaps he could turn his attention to the Trump/Farage era and the influence of the Koch brothers, Steve Bannon and Breitbart, and Robert Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica.

As John Lewis pointed out in the Guardian the other day, this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival contains an unusual amount of political content, explicit and implicit. Real Enemies is one of the strongest of those statements; its specifics may be date-stamped, but its message is timeless and disturbing.

* The 2016 studio recording of Real Enemies by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society is available on the New Amsterdam label.

Petula Clark, 85

Petula ClarkPetula Clark turns 85 today. When I saw that information in the Birthdays column of the Guardian this morning, I thought immediately of an album called …in other words, recorded in 1962. That record, not her No 1 hit with “Downtown” two years later, is the reason I think fondly of her.

It’s Petula Clark’s jazz album, recorded over three nights at Olympic Studios in Barnes. She’s accompanied by the Kenny Powell on piano, Brian Brocklehurst  on double bass and Art Morgan on drums, plus Ray Davies on trumpet and Bill Le Sage on vibes. The album was probably intended to have a late-night vibe, although the freshness of Clark’s tone and the vivacity of her delivery remove it from that stereotype.

Her story is an extraordinary one, although probably taken for granted today. She began her performing career in 1942, a month before her tenth birthday, entertaining the overseas troops via BBC radio broadcasts. She sang for King George VI and Winston Churchill, and soon became a juvenile star of wartime films. In peacetime she became a recording artist, under the aegis of Joe “Mr Piano” Henderson, her mentor.

So far, so middle-of-the-road. But then, in late 1962, I heard …in other words; a neighbour’s son, a few years older than me, occasionally let me listen to his jazz albums, and this was a new acquisition, nestling among Dizzy Gillespie’s Greatest Trumpet of Them All, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers at the Olympia in Paris (still my favourite live album of all time), and the first volume of Jacques Loussier’s Play Bach series.

Petula Clark was never going to be Billie Holiday or Betty Carter. But when you listen to her sing “Just You, Just Me” or “When Lights Are Low”, you hear someone who swings easily and naturally, who phrases beautifully, who controls her vibrato carefully, and who makes up in directness what she lacks in emotional profundity. I suppose there’s not much more depth here than there was in, say, Julie London, but she delivers ballads like Irving Gordon’s “Be Anything” or “There’s Nothing More to Say” (written by Henderson to mark the end of their relationship) with poise and an affecting simplicity.

Her accompanists are terrific. Powell gets in some cryptic bebop licks fore and aft of “Just You”, Brocklehurst swings hard, Morgan shows his hard-bop chops on Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin’s “Gotta Have Me With You When You Go”, the great Le Sage excels on “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes”, and Davies — who later became the leader of the Button-Down Brass, and is the father of the producer Rhett Davies — pops up with solos of an excellence that would do credit to a Ruby Braff or a Joe Newman.

There’s humour, too, in perky versions of “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” and “Mademoiselle de Paris”, and most of all in Robert Maxwell’s “George”, a ballad-tempo fragment that might have fallen from the worktable of Dorothy Parker, its entire lyric consisting of these lines: “You and I and George / Were walking through the park one day / And you held my hand / As if to say, ‘I love you.’ / Soon we reached a brook / And George fell in and drowned himself / And floated out to sea / Leaving you alone with me.” It has to be sung straight, without comic inflection, and Clark just about brings it off.

But the track that’s stayed with me most vividly over five and a half decades is Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Can Get Along Without You Very Well”. For this forerunner of 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love”, Bob Dylan’s “Most of the Time” and Donald Fagen’s “I’m Not the Same Without You”, Clark camouflages heartbreak with exactly the right air of Hepburn-like insouciance.

She was 29 when she recorded the 15 tracks that made up …in other words. Now she’s 85, and still singing. Many happy returns, Miss Clark.

It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful

Paolo Conte ticketIf the EFG London Jazz Festival were ever required to stand up in a court of law and produce a convincing justification for its existence, it could point to its habit of bringing Paolo Conte to the South Bank on a regular basis. Last night the 80-year-old former lawyer from Asti was greeted with applause so warm and prolonged that it practically stopped the show on several occasions and was brought to an end only when the singer drew a forefinger across his throat to indicate that there was no more to give.

While this most Italian of performers was doing his stuff, his footballing compatriots were failing to qualify for next summer’s World Cup finals for the first time in 60 years. For two hours, at least, the many Italians in the audience at the Festival Hall were spared that pain, and the lasting glow probably eased the subsequent anguish.

The show wasn’t very different in substance from the one I wrote about on his last visit, four years ago. Most of the favourites were there, including “Max”, “Sotto le Stelle del Jazz”, “Gli Impermeabili”, “Come Di”, a hurtling “Diabolo Rosso” and a wonderfully restrained “Alla Presa di Una Verde Milonga”. And, of course, “Via Con Me”, with which even the monoglot English could sing along — “It’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, I dream of you…  Chips! Chips! Chips!” — and which reappeared as a coda to the evening.

The arrangements made full use of the versatility of his 10 musicians, switching constantly between a full range of saxophones (sopranino to baritone), clarinet and bassoon, accordion and bandoneon, violin, piano, marimba, drums, hand percussion, all resting on the base provided by three acoustic guitars and Jini Touche’s double bass. The short improvised solos were beautifully positioned, and the endings invariably cunning. The stage lighting, which cast equal illumination on all those playing at any given moment while leaving the rest in shadow, was brilliant.

Conte gave us his irresistible sandpapered croon, his brief vocal imitation of a trombone (his first instrument in childhood), and a snatch of kazoo. I don’t know anyone else who can do what he does, blending archaic forms and sounds — hints of Ellington’s Cotton Club band, chanson, Palm Court glide, tango, Hot Club of France swing, dolce vita and spaghetti western — into a genuinely modern music with such originality, such grace, such dignity.

The uncommon tenor

Lou GareLou Gare held his tenor saxophone aslant, like Lester Young, whose light-fingered articulation and disdain for the obvious he shared. Gare was born in Rugby but it was in Plymouth in the early 1960s that he first played with the band of the young Mike Westbrook, alongside the even younger John Surman. In London in 1965 he became a founder member, with Eddie Prévost, Cornelius Cardew and Keith Rowe, of AMM, one of the seminal groups of the first generation of British free improvisers. Lou was on their debut album, AMMMusic, recorded at Sound Techniques in Chelsea and released by Elektra Records in 1966. Six years later, with the group reduced to a Gare-Prévost duo, they performed at Harvey Matusow’s International Carnival of Experimental Sound event in London, their set released initially in part on an Incus EP as AMM at the Roundhouse and then in full on a Matchless CD under the same title.

In the 1970s Gare moved to Devon, where he worked as a teacher of Aikido, a modern Japanese martial art. There he played with the pianist Sam Richards in the band Synchronicity; he was also reunited with Westbrook, joining the latter’s locally based Uncommon Orchestra. This piece of film is from their performance at the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter in December 2014. Gare is featured throughout a 12-minute piece called “D.T.T.M.”, adapted from a section of Westbrook’s suite On Duke’s Birthday and dedicated to the trombonist Danilo Terenzi and the drummer Tony Marsh. It’s a quietly phenomenal performance, devoid of rhetoric but bursting with invention, the soloist’s thoughts unfurling at his own pace and expressed with a lovely laconic warmth. I don’t think I’ve heard a more subtly dramatic example of a tenorist working with a big band since Wayne Shorter emerged from the swirling mists of Gil Evans’ “The Barbara Song” in 1964.

Perhaps inspired by the example of Sonny Rollins, Gare was also a wonderful unaccompanied improviser, as he demonstrated on a Matchless album titled No Strings Attached in 2005 and in this clip from 2013. When he died on October 6, aged 78, British jazz lost a voice of quiet but resolute originality.

On a Monday night in Berlin

Andreas Schmidt bwIf you’re ever at a loose end in Berlin on a Monday night, my advice would be to head for A-Trane, the jazz club in Charlottenburg, where Andreas Schmidt, a pianist, composer and teacher at the city’s Jazz Institut, holds a weekly free-admission session featuring a changing cast of friends and students.

Last night he began his set with a quintet featuring two young tenor saxophonists, Nicholas Biello and Marc Doffey, the bassist Oliver Potratz and the drummer Ivars Aratyunun, playing a deceptive simply Schmidt original, “Closing Partners”, on which the instrumental combination and the all-round deftness and intelligence brought to mind Tony Williams’s first two Blue Note albums, Life Time and Spring, which teamed the tenors of Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers.

Of the two saxophonists at A-Trane, Doffey had the lighter sound while Biello’s tone was darker and his delivery more intense. It was a lovely combination, and it worked equally well on the other number they played together, an abstraction of “All the Things You Are”, quite exquisitely supported by the rhythm section, before leaving the stage to other combinations for the rest of the evening.

Schmidt is a fine pianist, the salient features of his playing located somewhere between the Paul Bley of the mid-’60s and the Chick Corea of Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. You might get an idea of his approach if I say that his first album was made (in 1995) with Lee Konitz, and a later one comprised a duo with Gary Peacock. His music is cerebral, but on the evidence I’ve heard it never lacks wit and humanity.

Just two tunes by this ad hoc quintet, then, and a barely half an hour of music, but this was the sort of serendipitous encounter that, however much you loved jazz before, makes you love it even more.