Tag Archives: Nigel Clark

Review: Nigel Clark & Tom MacNiven Quintet Celebrate Bobby Wellins, Glasgow Jazz Festival

Nigel Clark & Tom MacNiven Quintet Celebrate Bobby Wellins, Drygate, Glasgow, Saturday June 23rd ****

Saturday night at the Glasgow Jazz Festival was all about one of the city’s greatest musical exports – the tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins, who died in November 2016 at the age of 80.

The esteem in which he’s held by successive generations of players and the fondness with which he’s remembered radiated through the three-part tribute which featured musicians he worked with in Scotland – notably trumpeter MacNiven and pianist Brian Kellock – and those, such as guitarist Nigel Clark and tenor saxophonist Helena Kay, whom he encouraged when they were starting out in jazz.

Kicking off the proceedings was a compelling documentary, Dreams Are Free, which was not only a lovely portrait of Wellins but also a reminder of how much films can bring to a music festival; for one hour, Wellins himself regaled the audience with his star-studded stories, and spoke extremely frankly about the struggle with heroin which kept him away from playing for a decade and nearly cost him his family.

Gary Barber’s film was followed by an exquisite solo set by Nigel Clark who was mentored by Wellins when they were both working down south in the 1980s and is, like Wellins, a master of ballad. Highlights included Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s O Grande Amor.

Jobim also provided a highlight of the closing set – by an all-star Scottish quintet playing the tracks recorded 20 years previously on Tom MacNiven’s album Guess What?, which had featured Wellins. O Morro/Favela was one of the calmer numbers in an exuberant set which culminated in something of a party atmosphere with MacNiven’s Disciples of the Art of the Off Beat and an unexpectedly rousing take on Blue Monk.

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique

Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique, George Square Spiegeltent ****

In recent years, gypsy jazz bands with a Hot Club-inspired line-up have become as much a feature of jazz festivals as trad and Dixieland jazz groups and the most exciting ones are those in which the violinist and the lead guitarist are on equal musical footing (the Tim Kliphuis Trio, with Nigel Clark on guitar, springs to mind), or the band is doing something a bit different with the classic gypsy sound (Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole, for example). 
 
Rose Room, the Glasgow-based quartet which boasts violinist extraordinaire Seonaid Aitken as its star, ticks neither of the above boxes on its own – but, on Friday, it brought in special guests to turn what could have been an enjoyable but unremarkable gig into something more becoming of a jazz festival opening night. Saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski injected a welcome dose of edginess to proceedings which, thanks to the jaunty, cheery tunes and Aitken’s 1930s BBC radio dance band singing style, often sound cosily retro, while the addition of The Capella Quartet to a series of tunes from Rose Room’s regular repertoire put a different spin on the music, and added depth and class.
 
Indeed, The Capella Quartet provided one of the highlights of the evening – a beautiful, unusual arrangement of Moonlight in Vermont which managed to just about block out the thumping, pumping beat emanating from the tent-next-door’s soundcheck. Blues in My Heart – possibly the jolliest blues I’ve ever heard – also stood out because it featured Aitken’s lovely vocals with a funky accompaniment from guitarist Tom Watson, playing chunky chords, and Wiszniewski at his downright raunchiest.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 17th

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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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