Archive for Reviews

Polar Bear

Polar BearI first discovered the jazz band Polar Bear entirely by accident while purchasing music to play and review on my old radio show on URY. The album in question was their second release, Held on the tips of fingers, and as soon as I heard it I realised how good they are as a band. You can imagine then my joy when I heard that they would be playing at the Wardrobe here in Leeds.

I wasn’t at all disappointed by their performance, in fact it was really rather amazing to the extent that the CDs just don’t do Polar Bear justice. The way they play on stage is very special, and the passion expressed in the music is clear. The band members conduct themselves with great humility which isn’t common amongst bands, even the jazz groups. Their music is quite varied and although every jazz fan will find something very familiar to the jazz scene in their sound, some of their songs fly in the face of this and are considerably darker and more interesting.

Apart from the conventional playing of their instruments the band employed some very interesting techniques to create some amazing haunting sounds on top of their playing. Just the simple act of blowing into a saxophone without producing any sound creates a wind like sound that seems to float above everything else and it really makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It wasn’t just the special effects though but the sheer brilliance of the bands performance overall. Every piece from punchy jazz number to mysterious spooky melody was played wonderfully and really wowed the audience.

Without a doubt Polar Bear are a modern group, expressing jazz with a fair few modern techniques employed, but what is so startling is how well you feel connected to the roots of jazz while listening to their music. I feel it has a lot to do with the freedom of expression they demonstrate on stage coupled with the typically jazz sound on the sax and double bass.

Polar Bear have just recorded some new songs, some of which they had yet to name even when they played them at the gig, but it is hoped that a new album will be available in the new year. Until then though I still heartily recommend you go out in search of their music. My favorite album is Held on the tips of fingers but I also recently bought their first album, Dim Lit, which has some amazing music on it too. Polar Bear live are always worth going to see at a venue near you and from my perspective anyway you are sure to have a superb musical experience.

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Casino Royale

It’s been talked about a lot in the press and received a lot of criticism from die hard James Bond fans, but on Friday night I finally got my chance to view and in turn give my opinion on the latest James Bond film, Casino Royale.

At the start I was pleased. It had the characteristic beginnings of a bond film; an opening scene, colourful and well designed credits with animations and then a straight up start to the main feature. As the film went on I realised that despite my reservations about the slightly updated format and the new actor, Daniel Craig, in the staring role I was really enjoying it. Those mad crazy and yet still amusing moments remained and as ever the gadgets and high-tech stuff made many of the scenes that little bit cooler if I may be permitted to use such a word.

One slight disappointment was the notable absence of any character pertaining to be Q. A bond film just isn’t quite right without someone to dole out all the gadgets and such, not to mention the quips that always went along with the process. Without dwelling on this though there were some good character inclusions, the one most notable of which being Felix. A film isn’t the same without James’ CIA friend and it was great to see him in the movie playing the assisting role so well.

There was one point not too far from the end when I thought it was all going a little too close to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was getting rather close to the girl and for a bond film thats just not right. Luckily though (at least for Bond tradition, although it was a sad moment) she didn’t make it to the end of the movie, making way for Bond’s endless string of brief encounters with various women in future films which is always important.

The plot line was different enough to fit the slightly changed format but retained enough of the old style James Bond I have come to love to make me happy. While I don’t think Daniel Craig was the best choice for James Bond by a long chalk I think he carried off the role surprisingly well. It’s a difficult thing to do being Bond, and I think considering how favored the great Bond actors are amongst fans of the film I think Daniel made a valiant effort.

All in all Casino Royale exceeded my expectations and as such I’d recommend you see it. I don’t think anyone would be disappointed.

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Haggis Horns at Hi-Fi

Haggis Horns at Hi-FiLast night I had my first ever trip to the Hi-Fi club in Leeds to see the Haggis Horns play live. I went with Heather and a number of her friends from Dentistry for her 21st Birthday celebration. I managed to meet up with Sheena there as well which was good as we hadn’t spoken in quite a while! The band already had a good reputation from an appearance of theirs I had seen at the Wardrobe, but it was great to see them in a new venue.

Hi-Fi is a superb club. It starts off fairly empty and then fills up before the band comes on stage. The setting is just how a jazz club should be; the focus being on the stage and dancefloor with seating and a bar round the edge. Despite how full the club ended up being service at the bar was exemplary and there was always to odd stool to flop onto when you were tired of dancing. I can’t really believe that I hadn’t been to this great club before really – its was well worth checking it out. I won’t go as far as to say its better than the Wardrobe, but the two clubs are certianly on a par and I’ll be sure to frequent the Hi-Fi as often as I go to the Wardrobe. Like the wardrobe membership is also available at the Hi-Fi, I certainly think I’ll be applying.

Onto the gig then. The music took a little longer to start than was publicised with the band not getting on stage until just gone midnight, but it was well worth the wait as the sound was vibrant and funky and the crowd were very fired up. It wasn’t long before we were all on the dance floor. The style of the Haggis Horns is not really unique, its heard in quite a few jazz clubs around the country in various forms, but certainly makes for a good night of wholesome jazz entertainment. The clear influences from traditional big band jazz make the experience a memorable one, and the way in which every musician is seemingly given a chance to do their own thing (most notable being the bongo and drum solos) is very refreshing.

I’d definitely reconmmend trying to catch the Haggis Horns live if you fancy a vibrant jazz night out. They play a number of good venues in Leeds so its not usually hard to track them down.

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Soweto Kinch

Soweto KinchOn Wednesday night I went to the Wardrobe with some friends from the Jazz and Blues society to see Soweto Kinch play live. He’s a sax player, but one of the few to have successfully integrated rap and hip-hop with jazz. His style is unique and almost totally incomparable with any other jazz artist. His music is widely appreciated and his gig was recommended to me by a friend as a must see. He plays regularly at the wardrobe and entrance prices are very reasonable for all who want to check it out.

Normally when the wardrobe is setup table style (with tables and chairs on the dancefloor instead of it being empty and all the seats around the edge) you can expect a smaller crowd however by the time Soweto and his band took to the stage the club was absolutely packed. We had secured seats near the stage and it was a good job too as I swear some people ended up beng to far back they wouldn’t have seen very much.

The set started with a really funky bit of jazz with Soweto’s skill on the saxaphone shining through immediately. As part of the first number we were also treated to a taste of his mc’ing talents. It’s amazing how well this stuff goes with jazz. Die hard fans would never have thought it, but Soweto on the mic with a bit of jazz backing really makes you form a new opinion of the hip-hop style of music. It’s both rhythmic and musical, and soon has you feeling the music from the ground up.

I first got my taste of what hip-hop and jazz is like when I saw Us3 play at the jazz cafe. I’t hard to say who’s better than who, but there is certainly a lot of good comparisons to be made. Whats so refreshing about Soweto Kinch is how he focuses on the importance of the music the whole time with two of his live pieces actively taking the piss out of the money orientated conventional hip-hop scene and how it really doesn’t matter because its making the music feel alive and in touch with the audience that counts – Soweto did this perfectly

The first half of his set was very much getting the audience used to the musical style and the second half is where it all really kicked off as he told us the story behind his album, the area he lives in Birmingham and the people he knows on a day to day basis that each have a story to tell through his music. I love music that tells stories and with Soweto’s music it’s amazing how you can really feel the story when you hear the music. Without a doubt the best jazz orientated track of the night was “The house that love built”. Both the story behind the song and the music it’s self has to be heard to be belived. If you need just one reason to buy his album then this song is it.

To finish his set (amid huge cheers, its the encore by this stage!) he did a freestyle piece. Throughout the night he had people send pictures they’d taken on their phones to a pc and then for the freestyle piece he put them up on the screen and did a personalised rap piece just for us at the wardrobe. It was a brilliant bit of mc’ing and something that had the whole group of us cheering.

Quite simply you don’t know you’ve been born until you see Soweto Kinch live.

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John Mayall & Stan Webb

On Wednesday evening I took a jaunt off to Manchester to see John Mayall and The Blues Breakers play live at the Bridgewater hall. Before John and his band came on stage we were also treated to another awesome blues band, Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack. Basically it was a very bluesy night! A number of jazz and blues society members were supposed to be going but in the end only myself and Heather could make it. It didn’t spoil the enjoyment of it though and on the way there we tried to contain the excitement of seeing such an amazing act by recounting tales of our respective cat’s antics back home – its amazing how much mischief a cat can get up to in its lifetime! Anyway I digress, back to the blues 😉

First onto the stage was Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack. The great blues name had great promise and we weren’t disappointed. They opened their set with a lively blues number and then Stan Webb chatted to the audience. Turns out he’s quite the comedian as well as a blues artist and soon had us all chuckling with comments about political issues and having been in the pub all day. His band was what I call guitar heavy, with a large amount of guitar work going on, but after the first few songs it was easy to tune into and pick up the sheer range of guitar work going on – a truely great sound. Stan’s vocals were also superb and really made the whole experience very enjoyable. I was soon foot-tapping my way through the set and applauding loudly at the end of each piece. This all really came together when he played Sweetest Little Thing, a Jonny Cash influenced tune, and his singing really did sound like Jonny Cash in many places. The song literally blew myself and Heather away and at the end of the set when we went out for the interval we both unanimously agreed that it had been the best song out of the whole set by a mile. If you’re thinking about going out to get a CD or to try and see Stan and the band live then this song should be the reason you actually do it.

We were called back to the concert hall rather swiftly after the interval to see the start of John Mayall’s set. As is often the case with blues bands the band came onto the stage before John Mayall and played a couple of numbers. You always know when you’re seeing a band that is both amazing and one of your favorites because each song is unmistakably the band in question. This is how it is with the Blues Breakers. You’re sitting there and even if you’ve never heard the song before you immediately recognise it. The sound was very reminiscent of some the groups more recent releases and most enjoyable.

When John came on stage a large amount of people around us went crazy with whoops and cheers. I then realised we were seated amongst some seriously hard-core John Mayall fans and that was sure to make the experience a whole lot better. As John started to play I realised why I like him and the band so much, his talents are so wide ranging, sounding great on the keyboards, harmonica and guitar, not to mention vocals. I recognised a vast number of the tracks that the band played and it was great to be able to hear them all live. Theres something that just doesn’t get accross on the CD – the atmosphere of hearing live blues. It just fills you up untill all you can percieve is the sound in your mins, its a truely amazing feeling. Without a doubt the best track of the evening was John’s final song, Room to Move off the album Turning Point. This was one of his earlier pieces and the harmonica and vocals in this track are simply outstanding. The song got the biggest cheer of the night when it was done and John and the band got a standing ovation afterwards. In fact we refused to shut up or sit down till himself and the band came back on stage to play a couple more songs. When they tried to leave the stage we got them back again for another superb keyboard piece with vocals, a great way to finish a gig – two encores, you don’t see that very often.

All in all this was a truely amazing gig, and one I’m so glad I didn’t have to miss out on. It was a bit of a trek into manchester but I don’t think I’ve ever heard live blues quite as good as this. My enjoyment of John Mayall’s music will no doubt continue with even more enthusiasm from now on 🙂

John Mayall plays harmonica live

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Troy Andrews & Dennis Rollins

Being back in Leeds for the rest of the year almost can only mean one thing for me; its time to get back to the Wardrobe jazz club! I went along with Dave Falcus on Monday night to catch a load of some great Trombone playing from Troy and his band with special guest Dennis Rollins.

Their style was wonderfully funky with a really deep jazz feel to it all. From the first note you really felt involved in the music. Troy and his band played a few opening numbers to get the crowd in the mood and did a superb trumpet solo that had everyone cheering afterwards. Dennis joined the group on the stage and they both played “against each other” each coming up with a more amazing set of notes than the last, a thrill to watch (see photo below).

I first saw Dennis Rollings with his own band, Bad Bone and Co and it was a great experience to see him this time with another band. Not having to lead the group almost seem to make him relax more which really brought out a superb performance on stage although his playing was excellent as ever.

What was most interesting about the gig was to watch two trombone players together. Its fairly rare in the jazz scene to have a trombonist lead the band, but to have two playing together is a rare thing indeed, but most certainly sounds superb. One of the highlights of the evening was near the end where the band got together in the middle of the stage in what I can only describe as a huddle and when they went back to their positions they each had each others instruments. Amazingly it would have been difficult to tell they had done this if you had just walked in for the first time; clearly all are very tallented musicians with an ability to lend their hand to almost any instrument.

As usual when it gets a bit funky at the wardrobe, the dancfloor was full for most of the night and all in all it was a great way for me to get reaquainted with my favorite club in Leeds! Unfortunately, being from New orleans, Troy and his band don’t often play in the UK but if you do get a chance to see him live I would most certainly recommend it, especially if you already enjoy listening to Dennis Rollins and Bad Bone and Co. You can find a biography of Troy Andrews, links to buy his cds and samples of his music on his website. A rarity for me, I also took some viewable photos at this gig, you can check them out here.

Dennis Rollins and Troy Andrews live at the wardrobe

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest

I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Mans Chest last night as I hadn’t been to the cinema in a while so thought it would be a good laugh. I don’t want to write an in depth review about it but thought I would pop a few words onto the blog.

Firstly it was a great film, the hillarious scenes from the first one are not lost in this installment and Kiera Knightley was hot as ever (sorry, couldn’t resist that comment). As ever with the second film in a series of 3 it got a bit darker in places. While the first film was far from a joke, the theme was very much out for having a laugh with a bit of plot to hold it all together. This didn’t seem to be true for Dead Mans Chest; the plot was most of it with a bit of humour thrown in. All the characters were that little more selfish I think is the best way of desribing it.

Still, this slight change of heart didn’t detract from the film as a whole, and I was still laughing just as hard throughout most of it. Incidents like when Jack Sparrow shoots his way out of a casket he has escaped in blowing away a crow with it and the sword fight in/on a water wheel as it careered down the hill making its occupants ever more dizzy by the minute. Truely priceless moments they really were.

Then of course we come to the ending. Now I’m not going to blow it for those folk who haven’t seen it, but not because I don’t want to, because its impossible to do so. The ending I’m afraid was exactly what happened at the end of Matrix : Reloaded. They simply set the scene for the 3rd film, there wasn’t really an ending in its own right. It was wishy-washy at best and left a lot of things unfinished and the audience feeling as if they had missed out on something even though they had been glued to the screen the whole time. I don’t doubt that with the 3rd film it will pick up and we will all praise the series, but I think that like many others that have come before it the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy will be one best watched back to back on DVD round your friends house with a large keg of beer and some microwave popcorn.

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Capri

Capri BackstageIt’s not often I go to a plain funk night, I’m a jazz funk person really, usually prefering a bit more of the jazz and a little less of the funk, something to add an edge to the jazz if you like. But, I spotted that Capri were playing at the wardrobe and liking the description of their act and the amount of realism provided by such a large band (11 piece), I decided to go along. I tried to get a few others to come along too but it would appear the funk hadn’t got them as much as it had got me, so I went alone. This is actually a surprisingly good way to enjoy a gig; more time to listen and really feel the music than if you are just sat chatting.

I arrived about 30 minutes after the doors opened. This turned out to be a mistake for me and a boon for the bar. After I had been there an hour the band hadn’t started, although there were a fair few people there, and I’d got through 3 G&T’s at £2.80 a time. It was cool though because I met this girl who had also come practically on her own (with just a couple of friends instead of originally planned larger numbers because people had cried off). Jessica was obviously a bit Capri fan and was quite impressed I’d come down to see them play live on my own. Still we got chatting and she came up with this phrase that really sums how I feel about music and making sure I see it, hear it and make the most of it “Well you can’t enjoy it when you’re dead can you?” And how very right she is. If you’re thinking of missing something, just think about that phrase, I guarantee it will make you change your mind.

On to the music then. The band came on stage at about midnight. Most people were really in the mood by then as the DJ had been spinning some funky vinyl for a good hour. We all moved right up to the stage and as it turns out it was the best time to have done so as within 5 minutes the dancefloor was packed. This was funk like I’d never heard it before, really powerful, vibrant and deep. There was something about the live performance that made you just want to start moving and grooving. Everyone seemed to feel it and we started to get lost in it all.

First up were a few what I’d term straight up funky grooves, few subtlties, just something to get the party started. The album from which a fair few of the tracks came was pretty diverse, and is well worth a look. Its called Boogie Man and is available from the Capri website – see the link at the end.

Once people were really into it the band started to experiment. We heard a lot more from the brass section, and some very interesting backing Rhythms. Vocals were typical funk style but allowed plenty of room for the instruments to get a look in which I really liked. The guitarist was particularly good, and while I’m sure the sound was tempered by special effects you could almost taste the funk style in his playing. Riffs that seemed to continue to echo in your mind well into the next few. Really awesome stuff. Normally the precussion gets overlooked in any given set, but the drummer was truely amazing with Capri. I’ve never seen a 5 minute drum solo that sounded so great and kept my attention so well as this one, along with a superb bass guitar line every so often, this was almost the highlight of the night. The drummer certainly got the biggest cheer at the encore. This was simply a superb night and one that saw me get more dancing in than I’ve had since seeing Incognito.

All in all I highly recommend Capri as a great band to go and see for a night out of fun and frolics, even if funk isn’t your first love in the music scene! Find out all about capri on their website.

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The Attic Project

Attic ProjectAs a pre-bondi event last night I went along with some friends to see Matt’s cousin’s band, The Attic Project. As someone who normally frequents the jazz scene and just takes other things on board as and when, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was pleasently surprised. On their website the band describe themselves as punk, rock & reggae and this is definitely the case, this mix in fact enhancing the sound beyond expectation and drawing in the unsuspecting.

I especially enjoyed the reggae influences present in the music, and it soon proved to be a sound that was successful at sucking you in. You can always tell a good sound when songs finish a little too soon, and the last song of the set arrives too quickly. In places the sound is clearly rock through and through, but because of the diverse range of influences the music draws on the overall sound is far from generic, in fact positively unique would be a more appropriate description.

While in a few places the performance could have done with a little more polish, the thought that had gone into the music shone through quite clearly. The group certainly have promise and musical style that has potential which will no doubt be realised in the future. Even if you don’t think it will be your thing, give the Attic Project a try – you may be pleasently surprised.

For more information about the group you can visit their website.

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Marlena Shaw

Marlena Shaw LiveOn Saturday 22nd April I was lucky enough to be able to continue my good fortune of seeing great acts live by catching Marlena Shaw, soul legend, live at the Wardrobe jazz club in Leeds. As part of the Fuse Leeds gig series, it was a one night only affair, and she only had a few gigs left before leaving the UK.

For those of you who don’t know, Marlena Shaw has long been labeled as the defninition of a soul diva, and after hearing her live I wouldn’t hesitate to agree. Her most famous songs include California Soul (used in the remake of the Italian Job movie), Woman of the Ghetto (a 10 minute long stunner, that grips you with both musical talent and potent lyrics) and Mercy Mercy Me, covered by Simply Red.

As ever with a long awaited live at like Marlena Shaw, the atmosphere was built up in the club by a funky/soulful DJ set, including some tracks by Otis Reading who I hadn’t listened to in a while so that made a nice trip down memory lane while we were waiting for the show to start. Coupled with a round of drinks costing £10.40, I was all ready for some serious soul by the time Marlena came on stage.

As soon as the band started to come on stage and set up their instruments, there was a rush for the dancefloor. What had previously been a collection of a few keen people suddenly became a mass mob wanting to be as close the action as possible. I already had a vantage point though so it was all good – thats why arriving at a gig early and getting a few drinks in is the best plan; you get the best spot in the club.

Marlena’s first number was a get you in the mood type of track, a real foot tapping song that needed no introduction. Her voice is one of those silky types, that is easy and enjoyable to listen to almost no matter what the song is about. She has this wonderful habit of “filling in the gaps” in songs that have a story line by simply talking over the top of the bands solo parts. While this might sound rude, it is very much in-place at one of her gigs, and really sounded great. Her first introduced track was feel like making love, and what really grabbed me was the way she included everyone. I normally hate live love songs because you often feel like there’s a big party and you weren’t invited, but she approached a great song from so many different angles and had the band to back her up.

The musicians she had along with her were quite simply superb, in particular the saxophonist who not only played the sax to a standard I hadn’t previously thought possible, but was also very talented on the flute. The lead guitarist joined Marlena for the introduction to a blues song, and it really brought out some hidden qualities in Marlena Shaw’s music; that many of her soulful songs can be listened to on two levels, and if you take the underlying one, many of her songs can be listened to as a blues.

As the evening progressed on and the crowd got more into the music, she started to play some of her more well known tracks, at and it really started to bring people together. You suddenly got this feeling that it didn’t matter who was from where in the room, or what they did outside of coming to live music, what mattered was the fact we all stood together in enjoying and savouring the superb sound of Marlena Shaw’s vocals. An artist who picks up on this feeling is something special, and to be told at this precise moment “I want you to get together!”, made it all feel that much more special.

Then came what I must confess I had been waiting for the whole night, the first few bars of Woman of the Ghetto. We all went crazy, surging forward towards the stage to get that much closer to what we knew would be an amazing 10 minutes or so. For me, this song has always epitimised Marlena Shaw, her music and the way she expresses her feelings about the world around her, not only that but it has always rung true with me. She started slow, but soon picked up the pace and we were all singing along with the music, I can only describe it as being on another level. I have played this song before in the studios of URY, and never thought it could possibly sound so many orders of magnitude better on a live stage, but it did.

At the end of the song, the band started leaving the stage! We just weren’t ready to be cut off from such a superb performance and we all started screaming for more. I didn’t think many of the people there had much voice left considering the cheers from the rest of the night, but we found them, and found them some more when the band came back onto the stage followed by Marlena Shaw; she picked up the microphone and then I knew what she was going to play, I just knew it, and we all went mad some more as the first words and superb backing music to California Soul washed off the edge of the stage and into the crowd “Like a sound you hear that lingers in your ear, that you can’t forget from sunrise to sunset, YEAH! California Soul!”

As we all left the club after that amazing number finished, those were the words I had in my head, in fact, I still have them there now, and I think it will take quite a few sunrises and sunsets before they even start to dwindle, then there is always my CD collection.

Rating the gig is impossible. Marlena Shaw is a living legend, and one that is not to be missed. If you even *think* you like soul, you’ll love seeing Marlena Shaw live. The feel-good factor during and afterwards is worth every penny of your money and every second of your time that you spend in order to go.

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