Archive for Reviews

Four80East – Off Duty

Four80East - Off Duty Album CoverHot off the press and into my new albums playlist on spotify this week, Four80East’s latest offering, Off Duty. Frequently blasting out of my car speakers as I embark on another long trip somewhere, Four80East have once again made an easy home in my hi-fi. Their unmistakable style still shining strong and true but the fresh nature of the music on this pressing simply can’t be ignored.

After a few minutes on the turntable I can’t help but draw distinct parallels with Nocturnal, the sultry undertones and softer rhythm section lending its self strongly to that laid back, late night lounge listening with a long tall one and a summer breeze drifting across the terrace.

It’s not all mellow grooves though; the first track on the album, The Walker, brings in a distinct crisp modern edge on the lyrics side of things and Nothing is Written, a track around the mid section of the album, has a distinctly Eastern fusion flavour to it which I feel is certainly a new angle by the group but a foray which seems to have paid off.

It’s rare I find myself consistently impressed by a Jazz group’s offerings over a number of consecutive years but I do believe that Four80East are strongly bucking the trend. For fans who remember their sounds in the noughties I’d recommend checking out tracks from this album “Cashed Out” and “The Walker”, while those seeking something a little more up to date from the group will thoroughly enjoy “Sandbar” and “Gare Du Nord”.

A welcome addition to any jazz-head’s collection, a purchase of this album won’t disappoint.

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Cherie Gears

Cherie Gears play mineOn Tuesday evening last week Jazz and Blues Leeds played host to Cherie Gears and her band at the mine bar in Leeds Union. Support was provided by a recently formed student jazz band, Eat More Fruit. The event was most certainly a success and enjoyed by all who attended and being the first major event put on solely by my society I feel rather proud of our achievement.

The event started off fairly slowly with a few people arriving at a time but shortly before the support band started up a fair number were drawn in by the superb jazz being played out by the DJ and the club filled up somewhat. Eat More Fruit, despite being a newly formed student band with a minimal amount of practice under their belt, put on a most enjoyable performance. I was put completely in the mood for a good night of jazz by their introduction and in fact realised how long it was since I had seen some live jazz performed. Their display of various pieces of fruit on stage for each of their musical numbers was a nice and amusing touch to the proceedings. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate in getting them to come along and play at future Jazz and Blues events.

Cherie Gears didn’t disappoint either and after a brief break between the bands while the stage setup was changed we were instantly delighted by refreshing jazz vocals and superb accompaniment from Cherie’s jazz band. Despite her brief time in the music business Cherie’s vocal sound is already right up there with some of the other female jazz singers on the scene and her vocal range and conviction with which she sings her pieces are superb. Recommendations are certainly the order of the day here and if you have the chance to catch Cherie and her band live then I’d certainly recommend getting s ticket. Its refreshing to know that this is the kind of talent coming from graduates at the Leeds University School of Music and I certainly look forward to hearing other musicians that go into the music scene after graduation.

Our next event major event sees Danny Gough’s nu York State play the mine bar on 27th November with support from a fantastic funk/rock band, “ape”, so do remember to keep the date free, book your tickets and stay tuned to our website and mailing list for regular updates! If you want to read a review of nu York State you can read one I wrote a while back but they have most certainly got better since then.

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Duke Ellington Repertory Orchestra

On Thursday night I headed out to the Leeds College of Music with the Jazz and Blues society to see some fine traditional jazz from the Duke Ellington Repertory Orchestra. The orchestra played pieces composed and arranged by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington himself and was a truely wonderful performance.

The first set started off with some of the older and more unusual pieces with the second half of the proceedings livening things up a lot with some superb solo performances.

This big band is well worth seeing and certainly made me remember back to the North Sea Jazz Festival when I saw the Dizzy Gillespie big band play there. Big band jazz is still as amazing as it ever was and still has a place in the world of today; for where would we be without the sound of four trumpets, three trombones and a superb sax soloist up front with piano accompaniment? Significantly less jazzy and nowhere near as happy would be my answer!

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Heather is a fan of horror films so last night we decided to watch Hostel. Although IMDB didn’t have it rated very highly we weren’t looking for a masterpiece so figured it would be an OK way to spend the evening.

Sadly this was not the case. The plot was non-existent and what little of the film you could call a plot you could figure out in five minutes or less. The violence was senseless and irrelevant. It was supposed to be a horror film but instead it just presented its self as an opportunity to watch senseless violence. There was no horror in the violence, just disgust at how the film makers could ever have though people would enjoy this type of “horror” movie.

We didn’t even finish it. We reached about half way through and then looked at each other and said words to the effect of “Do we really want to watch this?” and with a resounding no we hit the eject button.

In short we both thought the movie was complete and utter crap and isn’t worth watching whatever the reason given. Personally I think watching paint dry would be more worthwhile use of your time.

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Tuesdays with Morrie

I was recommended a book to read by James a while ago called Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. I bought it on amazon shortly after the recommendation however I only just finished reading it. Its an account of an ex-student’s weekly meetings with his favorite professor from university, Morrie, who is dying of ALS. They talk about the meaning of life, friends, the world, a vast number of things, all recorded on a tape recorder and ending up in some form or other in the book.

This is the first book I have read in a long time that really touched me quite so much. Its the honesty of the whole book, the way every word you read seems to bring you closer to the reality of the account and how you start to feel so much more human somehow, simply by the act of reading it.

I’m not going to write here about every little thing the book as I would still be writing late into the night, but it suffices to say that you really should read this book. I’ll happily lend it to anyone who lives nearby. It might just change your life. I seriously think its changed mine.

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Gateshead Jazz Festival

Last Sunday I headed up to Gateshead with Dave Falcus to take in a couple of concerts and the Gateshead International Jazz Festival. It was a superb day and an action packed one at that.

We drove up to Newcastle and had lunch in a small but enjoyable pub on a road just off from the Tyne river and then did a bit of sight-seeing. I took the opportunity to take some photographs and enjoy some of the views from some of the vantage points around the city. For architecture Newcastle is an amazing city and an enjoyable one to walk through as you take in the sights of tall, well constructed Georgian buildings. There are lots of small and interesting places you can explore and having the company of Dave who used to live in Newcastle was very handy for this.

We went to two concerts at the sage concert venue; first off was Andy Sheppard and his wonderful skills as both a saxophonist and a composer. I’ve only recently gotten into his music in any serious way, but it was great to see him play live and has prompted me to go in search of more of his music. While I only own onw of his albums and haven’t many tracks from others the sound of his playing is unmistakable and gabbed me in the hall the moment he began his set on stage. It was a great concert and one I’m sure will leave a lasting impression in my mind.

The second concert was Branford Marsallis and was clearly a popular event simply based on the number of free seats in the hall (read none). I need not go into how superb Branford Marsallis is as a musician but what was particularly impressive was the band he had going for the concert. His quartet really is a musical feast and makes for the perfect evening of jazz. The set was just the right length (being at the end of the evening) but the quality of playing was quite simply stunning from everyone on stage, especially the pianist and drummer who both pulled off superb solo performances in true traditional jazz style.

After all the concerts we stayed behind to get some CDs signed and then drove back to Leeds. By the time we returned home it was gone midnight and we were pretty shattered after all the travelling and walking around but it was a trip well worth making.

For those interested I took some photos during the sight-seeing parts of the day.

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Crazy name but brilliant band. That is a one line summary of the gig at the Wardrobe last night that I caught the second half of. The Leeds Jazz and Blues society are going to see this group in a weeks time however I wanted to give a brief review of it now to give members a reason to come along and see the band for themselves.

We initially went to see another group, Kinch, but their gig turned out to be short and didn’t live up to what we had expected so we headed to the wardrobe at about 10:30 in the hope of getting a few more drinks and some good live jazz, and we weren’t disappointed. The band played two sets that were full of vibrant jazz sounds that really lifted the mood for the evening.

Its been happening quite a lot lately but Roughneck are yet another band who give each of their musicians a chance to strut their stuff in a near solo environment by tailoring different pieces of music that way. My favorites were the guitar and keyboard pieces, they sounded brilliant and while the small upstairs stage of the wardrobe doesn’t usually lend it’s self to a superb sound, it really filled the room delightfully and it was a pleasure to listen to.

No doubt due to the superb cocktail menu the evening was over far too quickly and despite calls for an encore the band had to leave. I’m just glad I’m going to be getting a second sitting for this group!

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Bones at Hi-Fi

Another great Sunday lunch at Hi-Fi and another superb band to go along with it. Last Sunday the Jazz and Blues society were once again at hi-fi and this time enjoyed the musical talents of the Bones band. The raport with the audience was brilliant, and we were soon foot-taping along with the rhythms, and enjoying the little jokes told by the band between songs.

What was so great about Bones was the way they kept bringing in guest musicians to play songs and the fact they swapped their own musicians around, it really made for a great atmosphere. They played traditional jazz which was great to hear. Not only was it suitable for the setting and in keeping with what the DJ had been playing before the band came on stage, but its not the kind of music you hear enough of on stage in Leeds these days.

Theres nothing nicer than to hear a big band strike up a tune you know from an old 1950s CD, its like a little light bulb of enjoyment pings on in the back of your head, its fantastic. I’m not sure when Bones are playing next or where, but they are certainly a great group for playing traditional jazz and thrilling an audience. If you see they are playing somewhere near you, don’t miss out!

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Acoustic Alchemy

Acoustic Alchemy at Pizza ExpressOn Thursday 14th December I went to see Acoustic Alchemy play at the Pizza Express jazz club, Dean Street, Soho. It was two firsts for me – both the visit to the venue its self and seeing Acoustic Alchemy live – I’d done neither previously. I can now say however that doing both are most certainly worthwhile.

The Pizza Express club in Soho is really unique in its setup. All the tables are small, the ceiling is low and the stage is almost on top of the area where the tables are positioned. This provides a very close and intimate atmosphere in which you can almost reach out and touch the performers in the majority of seating positions. The food and drink of course is up to usual Pizza Express standards.

Acoustic Alchemy are made famous by their smooth jazz style that draws influence from a huge spectrum of jazz and blues music. On CD it is a very pleasent listening experience, one that complements any quiet evening in by the fire or conversation with good friends and the inevitable bottle of wine. Live however the music takes on a new lease of life, vibrant, exciting and captivating.

What really amazed me about their live performance was the depth to the music and how, even in songs I knew well, I could hear so much more there. I was insipired to buy their new album almost immediately after the start of the gig because of the way they played one of the tracks that features on it, The Crossing. The night was made even more special by the special guest appearance of Jeff Kashiwa, a superb jazz saxophonist who has released many a superb smooth jazz album in his own right. Hearing Jeff jam with members of Acoustic Alchemy was really cool and something I was so glad I got the chance to enjoy.

Another fascinating thing about Acoustic Alchemy that I learnt while at the venue was the colourful past of each of its members and indeed the band its self. The group have seen a fair bit of flux with the artists that compose it, and yet have managed to hold on to their unique jazz style – no mean feat. As for individual members, many have played in up to 3 or 4 groups before joining Acoustic Alchemy and it made me proud that I recognised nearly all the group names mentioned, in fact at one point when a name was mentioned only myself and 3 others let out the customary cheer of appretiation that always occurs when a crowd hear the name of a band they know and respect being mentioned by the band they are currently watching.

We left the venue feeling very much elated by the good music we had heard and by the fact we got to speak to each of the band members and Jeff Kashiwa. I came away with both Acoustic Alchemy and Jeff Kashiwa’s latest albums, both of which are nicely signed. Its always the sign of a gig thats gone down well.

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Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux LiveOn Friday night I was in York with James seeing Madeleine Peyroux play live at the Royal Opera house. Aside from the debacle that was not knowing exactly where the beautiful but tiny venue was situated it was an amazing evening. Madeleine has recently become quite popular and ever since she appeared at the North Sea Jazz festival her music has been getting more and more good reviews. In fact shes now so popular that her gigs sell out over a month in advance. This was the first concert I’ve had to get tickets from ebay for! It was worth it though because I missed her performance at North Sea and so was dying to see what her music was like in a live and vibrant setting such as York.

At the start of the concert we were treated to a very enjoyable support act, a jazz vocalist and pianist who I’m ashamed to say their names escape me. If anyone was there or knows who the support act was, please get in touch in comments because her music was very similar to that from Diana Krall – an artist I admire very much.

So after a short interval (during which we passed comment on how impossible it was sitting where we were with people getting up and down all the time like yo-yos) Madeleine Peyroux graced the stage with her presence causing a large round of applause from the crowd.

Her style is wonderfully varied, interspersing her songs with just the right amount of chit-chat to keep you informed but not bore you with details. Shes a great all round jazz singer with the ability to stir your soul with the softest and most inspiring melody and yet 5 minutes later have you tapping your foot to a rock influenced number straight off the electric guitar.

Her band are exteremly talented also, complementing her vocals and guitar work perfectly. I paid particular attention to the pianist who in addition to being an amazing musician at the grand was also a superb keyboard player and a dab hand on the hammond organ. As we all know, you can’t beat a bit of organ vibes to punctuate that typically blues piece.

As I’ve already said her sheer variety was very enjoyable to listen to, but she managed to top it all off in the encore by performing a perfect piece in French which I felt was one of the best songs of the night – clear, crisp, melodic and deeply beautiful it was the end to a perfect jazz concert.

All I can say really in conclusion is that the critics are not wrong when they say Madeleine has a beautiful voice, they’re not wrong when they say she sings with an awesome band and I’ve never felt more certain about a review conclusion when I say you certainly cannot afford to miss her live if you are a fan of vocal jazz.

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