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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2013: Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli

Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 19th ****

You had to feel sorry for Dutch jazz violinist Tim Kliphuis’s trio having to work hard and fast on fingerbusting solos in the sweltering heat of yesterday evening at the Spiegeltent. But right from the off, this impressive band was cooking (in more ways than one), lulling the audience into a false sense of laidback, playful security on an opening Honeysuckle Rose then driving the speed up into top gear and performing most of the old Waller warhorse at an exhaustingly fast pace.

What was obvious from the outset was what a tight unit Kliphuis, guitarist Nigel Clark and bassist Roy Percy are. Watching them communicate with eye contact, and – in the case of Kliphuis and Clark – play complicated passages in unison with the breeziest of casual elegance, it was clear that theirs is a relationship where familiarity and spontaneity happily co-exist.

Whereas many Hot Club-style bands may boast one top drawer guitarist or a fantastic instrumentalist out front, Kliphuis’s trio has twin virtuosi in the form of him and Clark, as was most perfectly showcased on the stunning Grappelli ballad Souvenir de Villengen, a musical dialogue between the two.

Other highlights of their one-set gig were a seductive take on The Nearness of You (which highlighted just how lovely the all-strings sound is, particularly on ballads), a lightning fast Shine and the finale, a whistlestop tour of genres of violin music in which Kliphuis (like the late Grappelli) plays – and another demonstration of his loose, lyrical and swinging style.

First published in The Scotsman, Saturday July 20th 2013

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Tim Kliphuis: Grappelli a Go-Go

TimKliphuisGuitarists inspired by the gypsy jazz playing of the legendary Django Reinhardt are ten-a-penny but violinists emulating the jaunty, joie-de-vivre-oozing, style of Stephane Grappelli, the other star of the iconic Quintet of the Hot Club of France, are much less common. Dutch virtuoso Tim Kliphuis is a rare example – and one who is bringing a new Grappelli tribute concert to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival next week.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that a Grappelli tribute concert means a concert of music played by Kliphuis – who counts the late French man as his prime violin inspiration, along with Jean-Luc Ponty – in the style of his hero. But, in fact, it’s more than that: the music which Kliphuis’s trio will play will mostly be numbers which Grappelli wrote, and which have seldom been performed, least of all by their composer.

Indeed, it may be news to most of us that the grand homme of jazz violin produced enough compositions to fill even half of a concert. However, Kliphuis says:  “We’ve unearthed compositions that people won’t have heard performed – certainly not by Grappelli, and not by anybody else as far as  I know. I want to show how lovely they are.”

But why is it that we don’t know about Grappelli as composer? “Well, it’s his own fault,” laughs Kliphuis. “It’s because he didn’t play his own tunes. He just wrote them, and he would record them on an album – that’s how we know them or they would have disappeared completely – maybe once, maybe twice and that was that.”

Like many jazz greats, Grappelli didn’t vary his concert repertoire too much as he grew older. Kliphuis says: “His original tunes were probably not as well known by his accompanists, and I think he was very happy just letting his accompanists play what they knew and what they were comfortable with – and not rehearsing too much. So he recorded the tunes – to get them on record, have a document of them – but in concerts, he’d play well-known tunes, hits like Sweet Georgia Brown and Crazy Rhythm. He wanted an easygoing approach which of course works, so the show would be fun because the musicians were enjoying themselves and not reading or thinking too much.”

We know that Grappelli co-wrote (with Reinhardt) many of the classic Hot Club tunes, but when did this solo composing take place – all the way through his career?  “It started in the 1940s, after the Hot Club. During the war years he was in London. His first composition is from 1942 – it’s called Jive Bomber – and there’s another called Piccadilly Stomp from the same year. Those are the first two I’ve found that are kind of suitable for playing by us.

“I’m sure he composed tunes between the 1940s and the 1970s but you don’t see them until the 1970s because then he would record a song on an album somewhere. With me being very much into Grappelli’s style as a fiddler, any record that I’d see that I didn’t know all the tunes on, I’d buy – so I ended up with a lot of different recordings of Sweet Georgia Brown but I also found some unfamiliar songs that I had to check out.”

It was a ballad called Souvenir de Villingen that first alerted Kliphuis to his hero’s composing skills. “It’s slightly unusual, quite modern and classical sounding. And of course he plays it very beautifully. It’s a melody you remember.” In all, Kliphuis reckons, Grappelli probably wrote between 20 and 30 compositions. “I know ten or 12 of them well, and I play eight of them that I think are great. So it’s like that – there’s a percentage that are not quite up to the standard of great songs but there are a few that are really good and so we’ve taken those and put them in the programme, which will also include his big hits and songs that he was fond of playing.”

The “we” that Kliphuis refers to throughout our chat is his regular trio, the other two thirds of which are Scottish. Since 2006, guitarist Nigel Clark and bassist Roy Percy have worked regularly with Kliphuis, both in the UK and abroad, and the unit is very much a working band – a rare species in this day and age.

One of the reasons it works, says Kliphuis, is because – like Grappelli – they all love classical music. “That’s probably the thing that binds us. The love of classical music translates itself in a wish to be kind of dynamic, to have really high points and low lows and to have a range of emotions in the music we’re playing– we don’t just play swingy stuff, where you do a set of swing and another set of swing. We are trying to go beyond that and to get more emotion in our concerts and they are both looking for that as much as I am.”

* Tim Kliphuis Tribute to Stephane Grappelli, Palazzo Spiegeltent, Edinburgh, Friday July 19 at 6.30pm. For info & tickets, visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

(First published in The Scotsman, July 15 2013)

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Review: Carol Kidd & Friends

Carol Kidd & Friends, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Wednesday June 26th ***

The peerless singer Carol Kidd, whose concert on Wednesday night kicked off the Fruitmarket strand of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, is a woman on a mission; possibly a kamikaze mission – if this week’s concert is anything to go by.

Having completely mesmerised the packed Fruitmarket audience with a gorgeous Skylark and a heartfelt Time After Time – and despite saying “I won’t talk; I’ve got so many songs to get through” – she abruptly broke the spell by announcing “I don’t give a monkey’s if you like these songs or not” . Well, that’s one way to alienate your audience; drawing attention to individual members for taking a toilet break is another – which she also deployed early on in the proceedings.

Still, once she’d got that out of her system, she (at least) seemed to relax. Despite having a top-notch, though slightly uncomfortable-looking, band onstage with her, only her longtime guitarist Nigel Clark was given much solo space. Indeed, his duets with Kidd were highlights of the evening. On Moon River, a song they have made their own, he dished up a solo of exquisite tenderness, while Songbird and their own original number Tell Me Once Again underlined what a wonderful musical couple they make.

Kidd, whose first major gig this was after being treated for breast cancer, may have sounded a bit bruised and the voice may not have soared with the trademark Kidd purity, but she put over those ballads as movingly as ever.

Other highlights included an appearance by a Spanish saxophonist friend, introduced simply as Santiago, who stole the show with his gorgeous take on the waltz Emily and singing the Antonio Carlos Jobim part on Corcovado.

First published in The Herald on Friday June 28th

I

Skylark

Time After Time

I’m Beginning to See the Light

Moon River

Young at Heart

I Got Plenty of Nothin’

Cheek to Cheek

How Do We Keep the Music Playing?

II

I Thought About You

By Myself

Tell Me Once Again

Embraceable You

Songbird

Emily (no CK)

Corcovado/Quiet Nights

Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man

T’Ain’t Necessarily So

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Review: Carol Kidd Quartet

Carol Kidd Quartet, Perth Theatre, Perth, Friday May 25 ***

Friday night’s concert at the Perth Festival was a bit of a nostalgia trip – for both Carol Kidd  and her near-capacity audience. The singer hadn’t performed in the town for years and was propelled down memory lane by old friends in the audience whose names she called out as if she was taking the school register. Not only that but the concert reunited pianist Brian Kellock and guitarist Nigel Clark who were both in her band in the 1990s – and now tend to be heard with her on an either/or basis.

Indeed, their contribution, along with that of bassist Kenny Ellis, was one of the delights of the concert; the combination of piano, guitar and bass producing on many numbers – notably Night and Day – a sultry, balmy sound which was entirely appropriate for a summer’s evening and the perfect setting for the Kidd vocals. The only drawback was that there was an imbalance of sound and Clark’s guitar was not always audible.

And as for the star of the evening? Well, it was obvious to Kidd aficionados that she must have been getting over some throat issues as she confined herself more than usual to the lower register of her range. Hopefully, these will be well in the past by Thursday when she duets with Kellock on a Gershwin programme at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh.

Review first published in The Herald, Monday May 28

I

Skylark

A Little Jazz Bird

Jeepers Creepers

Embraceable You

I Got Plenty of Nuttin’

Come Rain or Come Shine

Moon River

II

Time After Time

Georgia On My Mind

Night and Day

Bye Bye Blackbird

Why Did I Choose You?

You Don’t Know Me

When I Dream

encore: The Man That Got Away

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The Art of the Duo, Part 1

The following is an article I wrote in 2004 and have been meaning to post on the blog for a while because I still feel (in fact, I feel more strongly than ever) that one great duo is worth several good bands.  It’s timely because another potentially great duo – of singer Carol Kidd (featured in the above video with regular partner in duets, Nigel Clark) and pianist Brian Kellock – is appearing at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh on Thursday, May 31.

When it comes to good taste and elegance, it’s often said that less is more. It’s little wonder then, that some of the classiest jazz in Scotland in recent years has emerged from concerts featuring just two musicians.

I have been reviewing jazz concerts for 11 years, and although I’ve had my fair share of memorable musical experiences, I can safely say that almost all the times when I’ve noticed my spine tingling have been during duo sessions. This
is a format which reveals the greatness of great musicians, which lays bare the essence of their playing and offers you, the fan, the chance to hear them playing as true to themselves and their style as is possible. Other players just get in the way.

When the guitarist and singer Marty Grosz and the clarinettist/saxophonist Ken Peplowski get together they don’t need anyone else; they set each other off beautifuly without additional accompaniment. They are just frustrated that they don’t get the chance to work as a duo more often.

It’s the same with the cornettist Warren Vache and the guitarist Howard Alden. These American musicians are the very best on their instruments, and to hear them duet is the kind of treat for which some of us would forfeit a couple of jazz festivals.

“I love playing this kind of gig,” says Vache [who, since this article was written, has tingled my spine when playing duets with pianist Brian Kellock and guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli and Dave Cliff]. “Why? Because first of all, I know who I’m working with. Very often in my experience as a travelling soloist, I go over as the flyer in the trapeze act and I work with a different catcher every night – and sometimes they drop you. But when I work in a duo, it’s generally with someone I know very well. For me, improvised music should be like a conversation. The hardest thing is getting six musicians to think about the same thing in the same way for two point five minutes. With a duo, there’s less complication and there can be a deeper and more playful conversation.”

That’s a view shared by Alden. “The duo is one of my favourite settings,” he says. ” It’s the most intimate, most exposed and the most like chamber music. It’s different to other types of concert because it requires your full attention all the time. There’s no chance to relax – you have to take responsibility for every aspect of both the harmony and the time and try to make it a conversation between two instruments rather than a soloist playing with an accompanist.

“Playing in a duo keeps you on your toes and takes you in directions you wouldn’t necessarily go otherwise. When you have a bass player and a drummer, it tends to fall into a certain format. With a duo, you’re freer to do pretty much anything you want – and if you have someone like Warren who can think so fast on their feet, you can do almost anything and be assured that the other guy is going to be there with you or force you in a different direction.”

Warren Vache (cornet) with Dave Cliff (guitar), Nairn Jazz Festival, 2006

Vache also relishes the challenges which arise from the duo context. “You find yourself coming face to face with your own cliches by about the third song,” he explains. “We all have little tricks that identify us, and little ways of getting around the harmony that become patterns we often don’t recognise. If you’re playing in a duo, there’s nothing else to distract your attention from the mirror you’re holding up to your playing. You see those patterns and they being to bore you. So by about the fifth time one of those comes up, you say – ‘Damn, am I playing that again?’ And you have to force yourself to let go of the comfortable and look for something different. So it pushes you.”

Of course, as Vache points out, it’s equally difficult for the guitarist since the guitarist or pianist in a duo concert has to be both an accompanist and a soloist. “How they balance between those functions is a great deal of what intrigues me,” he says, “and Howard is one of the world’s best at it.”

And does he feel more vulnerable in a duo? “Oh, yes,” says Vache. “It takes balls to play the trumpet in a duo because all the pimples in the air in your sound will come out and the concentration is takes to make that part of the music is enormous. You have to make the imperfections part of the music. It’s pleasurable but it’s a lot harder work because there is nowhere to hide. Not only that, but you have to play more often: you can’t just sit there and smile while the drummer obligingly plays a ten-minute solo – there is no drummer.”

With his soft, seductive tone and lyrical style, Vache always seems especially at home in the duo setting.

“When I’m with a larger band I have to play in a way that directs the band – sometimes I feel like a guy in uniform standing in front of a circus band waving my arms trying to get everybody’s attention. Here, I can play in a much more intimate way which, frankly, I prefer. I think it’s closer to my personality.”

* Check out Vache in duo mode with pianist Brian Kellock on my YouTube channel, GirlfridayJazz – here’s a taster: 

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CD Recommendations – April 2012

Billie Holiday: The Complete Masters 1933-1959 (Universal)
As somebody who already owns everything by her favourite singer – but scattered across box sets, single CDs and LPs – I am thrilled with this exquisitely presented limited edition collection of all the master takes from her vast and varied career. It’s a shame not to have some of the best alternative takes, but great to not have two versions of the same tune back to back. And to be able to hear her go from radiant, ebullient, teens-to-twentysomething Billie on her joyful 1930s small group recordings, right through to her worn-out, but utterly compelling and sumptuous final (with strings) album, is a privilege and a treat.
Derek Nash Acoustic Quartet: Joyriding (Jazzizit Records)
British saxophonist Derek Nash’s first CD with his regular trio is a fresh, funky and engaging affair which features an imaginative selection of tunes, most of them originals by Nash himself but also such stand-outs as the Ennio Morricone’s unjustly neglected Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso and a Gerry Mulligan-inspired take on Jerome Kern’s All The Things You Are. Nash is a lovely, melodic player who has a terrific rapport with his trio, particularly with the ever-elegant pianist David Newton.
Ruby Braff: Three Classic Albums Plus (Avid Jazz)
Wow. This is one of the best of these Avid two-CD sets that I’ve heard. The great trumpeter Ruby Braff was in his early thirties when these four late-1950s LPs were recorded – and his playing is sensational, as is the company he keeps (Roy Eldridge, Bud Freeman, Freddie Green, Hank Jones – on vibes! – etc). In fact, it’s difficult to get past the first album, Hi-Fi Salute to Bunny, which finds him alongside the legendary clarinettist Pee Wee Russell and is an absolute gem, featuring a string of unforgettable, downright sexy takes on such evergreens as I’m Coming Virginia.
Bucky Pizzarelli: Challis in Wonderland (Arbors Records)
The octogenarian US guitarist Pizzarelli is still playing as superbly as ever. On this new CD, he pays homage to both the legendary Bix Beiderbecke and Bill Challis, the arranger who ensured that Beiderbecke’s masterful piano compositions were transcribed and saved for posterity. All four of those feature here (played on guitar, of course), alongside some other Bixian numbers and tunes of his era – plus Pizzarelli’s own title composition. He’s joined by his son and fellow guitarist John, and a string quartet featuring the violin whiz Aaron Weinstein. Delightful stuff.
Nigel Clark: Under the Stars (Circular Records)
While some solo guitar players seem to sap the life out of their material by picking it apart, stretching it out and extemporising ad infinitum, Glasgow-based guitar star Clark brings colour, energy and lyricism to whatever he plays – as effectively as if a whole band was performing. On the 16 eclectic tracks included on this, his first, solo album, his classy taste and love of (and respect for) a beautiful melody shine through – among the highlights are numbers by Jerome Kern, Carlos Santana, Antonio Carlos Jobim and a trio of original tunes.
Ella Fitzgerald: The Complete Masters 1935-1955 (Universal)
The Ella Fitzgerald set in this superb new series of limited edition box sets may not – as the Billie Holiday one did – cover her entire career, but it takes in some of her finest work, notably this reviewer’s favourite Fitzgerald recordings, the duos with elegant pianist Ellis Larkins in 1950 (her first Gershwin songbook) and 1954. The 14 discs span the dynamic singer’s output from her coquettish debut with Chick Webb through to the 1950s when she exuded a downright regal quality on her ballads.
Charlie Parker: The Complete Masters 1941-1954 (Universal)
As with the other box sets in this limited edition series, this 11-disc collection is a must-have for anyone interested in the subject; this time, the legendary bebop pioneer and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. It traces his evolution – and that of bop – from his Kansas City beginnings in the mid-1940s with Jay McShann’s blues ‘n’ boogie-style band through to his sporadic final recordings before his untimely 1954 death (aged 35). Highlights include his electrifying encounters with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and his masterful strings albums.
Sidney Bechet: The Complete American Masters 1931-1953 (Universal)
The legendary New Orleans-born clarinettist and soprano saxophonist is the subject of the fourth and final of the superb new limited edition box sets from Universal. This collection isn’t comprehensive –  the recordings he made after settling in France in June 1950 aren’t included (so Midnight in Paris fans won’t find Si Tu Vois Ma Mere) – but it is an impressive 14-disc set nevertheless and spans his career from 1923 (though he first recorded in 1921) to 1950, by which time he was being feted by the younger generation.

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Review: Carol Kidd & Nigel Clark

Carol Kidd & Nigel Clark, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, Monday October 3 *****

There’s something about the voice and guitar combination that’s special – and when it’s Carol Kidd’s voice and Nigel Clark’s guitar, the effect can be magical. That was certainly the case on Monday night when they paid a return visit to a venue which has already had the rare pleasure of hearing this duo play a whole concert.

It turned out to be a great evening – and the Brunton is a great place to hear this classy double-act. Although the auditorium was packed, the atmospheric lighting and clear views from all the seats (which look down on the stage) created an intimate mood. And, since the seating was arranged in a semi-circle around the stage, Kidd was able to draw everyone in and really connect with the full-house audience.

Clearly more at home in this setting than she was at her Edinburgh Jazz Festival gig earlier this year (in the less personal Hub venue), Kidd confined her patter to vivid tales of her childhood holidays down the road – and had the audience in fits of laughter. They were already on-side, though, having been won over by such gems as the raunchy blues You Don’t Know Me and the gorgeous ballads There Goes My Heart, Moon River and I Got Lost in His Arms, which underlined not only Kidd’s ability to invest every word with emotion but also the sensitivity of Clark’s accompaniment and responses.

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