Category Archives: Music

GUY BARKER/KURT ELLING/JANIE DEE ON LISTEN AGAIN

That Obscure Hurt, which premiered at Snape Malting, on June 12  is on iPlayer, here:

http://tinyurl.com/pdv53e5

The programme notes are below this post.

And here is Kurt Elling in rehearsal at Maida Vale Studios:

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You can just make out the great Italian alto player Rosario Giuliani behind the pianist (that’s Jim Watson on the keys, who has been playing with Manu Katché) and to Rosario’s left is Benjamin Herman, also on alto, also a great sax man and winner of the Dutch GQ Best Dressed Man Award.

And at Snape Maltings the stage looked like this (again at rehearsal; photograph by Laura Mitchell). The BBC Concert Orchestra on the left, Guy Barker jazz Orchestra on the right.

GuyBarker12June (1) LMitchellWhat the radio couldn’t show you was the funky frugging of Janie Dee in her slinky backless dress during the Powder Monkey reprise. I think admissions spiked at the cardiac ward in
Ipswich afterwards, as pacemakers overloaded among the audience.

For Those Listening To Radio 3 @ 7.30pm Tonight

These are the notes the audience at Snape will have as a guide to the piece’s structure. It is based on The Jolly Corner by Henry James, but is set on a Transatlantic ship, New York in the late ’40s and Soho present day. Spot the Benjamin Britten references (because there’s none in the music).

THAT OBSCURE HURT.

Music by Guy Barker.

PART ONE.  Prologue: An Atlantic Overture.

Early 1950s. The English musicians of Geraldo’s Navy arrive at the docks in awe at the size of their ship, the SS Lucretia. As they board the ship, the captain and the crew bark at the disorientated new hands, sending them this way and that, looking for their cabins, their instruments, their gig and then, as they set sail into rough seas, the newcomers try unsuccessfully to find their sea legs. Eventually, they locate their berths and settle into work and, over the sounds of the ocean, we hear the strains of the dance band and we find ourselves momentarily in the Verandah Ballroom before the skyline of Manhattan makes in appearance. The excited musicians drop their instruments and scuttle ashore. They take in the sights, sounds and throbbing energy of the city – exciting and intimidating in equal measure. They find themselves on 52nd St.

PART TWO. Prince At the Pagoda.

Early 1950s. The jazz club on 52nd St where the musicians listen in rapture to host Harry Prince as the band plays a roaring be-bop piece that incorporates passages from the solos of the great modern jazz maters of that era: Bud Powell, Fats Navarro and even a four-bar quote from Dizzy Gillespie’s “Ow”.

PART THREE. In Darkness.

Present Day. Spencer Bryden is watching CCTV from a remote location and sees the ‘ghost’ haunting his club (Gordie’s or AMJG) in Soho, London. An account of the encounter is read out by Jennifer Muldoon, an investigator into psychic phenomena.

PART FOUR. Opus 50/ A Time There Is

Present Day. Spencer, still reeling from the images he saw on the CCTV, visits the Soho jazz club (Gordie’s, above) he inherited from his father, which is in its final week of operation before its proposed sale.  Harry Prince Jr – the son of the man Spencer’s father saw in NYC all those years ago – sings a song about the passage of time.

PART FIVE. Powder Monkey.

1960s flashback. Harry Prince Jr, with a little help from Alice Staverton, the club manager, evokes the sounds of the club in its sixties heyday.

PART SIX. Notturno.

Spencer is alone in the club after hours, the room silent and deserted, the tables with empty glasses, the walls slick with 60 years of smoke and sweat and the echo of all the music that has been played and is about to disappear forever.

PART SEVEN. A Kind of Ghost.

Spencer becomes aware he is not alone. He glimpses a figure. He chases him backstage, terrified but determined to confront the spectre. But the ghost doesn’t want to be caught – it is elusive and playful, giggling, darting and dancing (in one instance to a tango) through the club, shredding Spencer’s already taut nerves, until, finally, an exhausted Spencer manages to corner the phantom. When he finally does confront the ‘ghost’, he realises he is looking at a different version of himself. This was the terrifying image he saw on the CCTV.  This is the man he would have been, had he not left London for exile. But this ghost is suffering – he has cancer, is constantly chewing nicotine gum to suppress the urge for the cigarettes that have killed him. He has come to warn Spencer. And enlighten him.

PART EIGHT. I Hid My Love.

Spencer reels yet again at the revelations from his other self (musically, the brass chorale in Opus 50 reappears, but this time played on the strings). The ghost departs and Spencer discovers cans of old film from the days when his father was alive. He plays the super-8 movies and sings a song about the love of his father (and Alice), and how he denied it. This piece is designed to echo ‘the sounds of the era of ‘The Great American Songbook’.

PART NINE. Alice’s Gift.

Alice finds Spencer passed out in the club. She wakes him. He reveals what the ghost told him- that Alice has paid off the gangsters who had been threatening him and that she has saved the club – if he wants to keep it, he can. Alice makes a speech explaining herself and finally declaring her love for Spencer. He realises he has been a fool – he can have the club, and Alice too. With thanks to Henry James and his friend Edith Wharton.

PART TEN. Floods of Noise.

The spirits of every musician who has ever played the club celebrates including a reprise of Powder Monkey.

MAN TURNS BASE METAL INTO GOLD

I just spent most of the day at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studio, where Guy Barker was rehearsing the BBC Concert Orchestra and his own big band. Kurt Elling joined for the afternoon, straight off the plane from Miami, with one and a half hours sleep under his belt, and began to sing the ballad from That Obscure Hurt, the piece being rehearsed. He was singing my words and I was reminded of a quote from maverick producer/writer Kip Hanrahan on his music : “Sometimes it doesn’t mean anything more than handing rolled steel to Jack Bruce and watching as he turns it into gold in front of thousands of people.”
Well there weren’t thousands there today, but you can catch Kurt do just that same alchemy by listening to That Obscure Hurt on Radio 3 on Wed. 12th June at 7.30pm or, better, seeing him do it live at Snape Maltings in Suffolk at the same time (see http://www.aldeburgh.co.uk).photo

KURT ELLING, BENJAMIN BRITTEN AND GERALDO’S NAVY

An extract from the programme notes for That Obscure Hurt, a new piece by Guy Barker:

“Guy Barker and Robert Ryan first came to Snape Maltings in 2008 for a performance of dZf, their reimagining of the story of The Magic Flute. As a result of that performance, the Aldeburgh Music Festival asked whether Guy would be interested in creating something similar to celebrate Benjamin Britten’s centenary. Guy accepted and then asked Ryan if he could again help. ‘I am a long term admirer of Benjamin Britten’s music,’ says Guy, ‘and I knew from the very beginning this had to be a very different approach from the one we used for dZf.’
In the end they went back to the title of the concert series ‘Inspired By Britten’ and decided to look at where Britten had turned to for inspiration of his own work and Ryan began to consider the two operas based on Henry James ghost stories – The Turn of the Screw and Owen Wingrave and discovered another of the tales, The Jolly Corner, which had all the elements they required to make a start. Although Britten never tackled a third James story, they felt as if they were tapping into the same source. However, the jazz element of the music had to grow organically from the setting of the story (Barker was insistent that none of Britten’s music be touched or referenced).

So, the story was relocated from an apartment block in New York to a jazz club in Soho. There is a prologue, about the dance bands who worked on the transatlantic liners, crossing to New York, which gave them a thematic link to Britten’s own crossing to America. The Cunard dance bands (“Geraldo’s Navy”) are legendary in the jazz world – musicians such as Ronnie Scott, John Dankworth and Stan Tracey would sign on with the sole intention of rushing ashore in NYC to hear the new music being played in the clubs of 52nd St and the Village by modern jazz giants such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell.

Unknown When originally conceived by Ryan, there was to be no spoken narration or songs in the piece. As things developed, Barker began hearing songs and while experimenting with an idea for the prologue set in NYC, all he could hear in his head was Kurt Elling’s voice. And so Kurt was approached to play Harry Prince, singer at The Pagoda nightclub, and agreed and the piece took another turn. It subsequently became apparent that a different form of narrative was required in addition to Kurt.

With dZf they had an American actor but the writers wanted to go a different way this time by using with an English actress. Barker had seen Janie Dee perform the works of Pinter and Ayckbourn and knew she had the voice they needed. The final piece features these two great performers plus the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra – a total of 77 individuals on stage.”

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So just to reiterate – we have managed to get the great Kurt Elling, who recently sold out Ronnie Scott’s for eight consecutive shows, to come to the concert hall at Snape Maltings deep in rural Suffolk and sing my “lyrics” and the equally wonderful Janie Dee to do the narration. As I said to Guy: ‘You always said Kurt could sing the phonebook and make it entertaining.. we’re about to find out if that’s true.’

* That Obscure Hurt premieres as part of Aldeburgh Festival at Snape Maltings on Wednesday June 12th. Further details: 01728-68710, http://www.aldeburgh.co.uk/events/guy-barker-obscure-hurt. It will also be broadcast live on Radio 3.

 

A MODAL CITIZEN

It was broadcaster Robert Elms who first told me about Matthew Halsall’s music. ‘Mancunian Modal’ he called it and it was a fair description – on Colour Me Yes, the first album I picked up (and have hardly put down since), the young trumpeter channels the sounds and ethos of Kind of Blue and late John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane. Last year, live at Ronnie Scott’s, in the midst of a power cut, he even did Alice’s Journey in Satchidananda (featuring Rachael Gladwin’s harp and the great Coltrane-esque Nat Birchall’s sax). If there was a slight unease about the whole project, it was that although he captured the mood and spirit of those Miles and Trane  albums perfectly, was there a danger of it becoming a retro dead end? The feeling at the end of the evening was: brilliant gig, but where does Halsall go from here? The answer is, all over the place. As well a gigging as a DJ, helming Gondwana Records and remixing, he is now running not one but two working groups (the regular band, usually a sextet, that plays Ronnie Scott’s on the 24th of this month and a bold new trio with beats and electronics; not to mention the occasional 12-piece Gondwana Orchestra), as well as performing with those cutting-edge hipsters, the Brighouse & Rastrick Band.

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Plus his new album, Fletcher Moss Park, shows a marked shift in direction, with various changes in personnel and a string section. Although recorded over a number of years, it has a genuine coherence, even when Halsall himself sits out for two numbers and lets the strings take the melodic weight.

Fletcher Moss Park, which is an actual green space on the fringes of Manchester, is elegant, reflective, tinged with melancholy at times, but like all Halsall’s albums, very life-affirming. I’ll be watching him at Ronnie’s, but down the line I also can’t wait to see his synth- and effects-laden trio with either the Cinematic Orchestra’s Luke Flowers or GoGo Penguin’s Rob Turner on drums, both hypnotic players to listen to and watch, and Taz Modi on squelchy bass lines.

www.matthewhalsall.com

www.gondwanarecords.com

www.ronniescotts.co.uk

THE ASCENT OF MOUNT ANALOGUE

Well it has been a long wait and many a day I have almost weakened and thought: sod it, I’ll just buy the CD. But, finally, the vinyl version of The Face of Mount Molehill by the Neil Cowley Trio popped through the door, several months after the release of the CD. Well, it didn’t really pop through the door. Long Players, as we used to call them, are too big for that. A man had to knock and I had to sign for it. Anyway, it was worth the wait, as it sees the usual percussive piano of Cowley (who has more hooks in him than Robson Green’s tackle box) paired with skillfully deployed strings and electronica. Strings, yes. No, he hasn’t gone soft – listen to the pounding Rooster Was A Witness or Fable, which are as infectious and inventive as ever, with incisive support from new bassist Rex Horan and Evan Jenkins on drums. The problem with a vinyl album, of course, is that you have to turn it over half way through. But, like most modern LPs, FOMM comes with a code that enables a one-off download of the MP3 version. So you get the best of both worlds – the warmth and transparency of vinyl and the convenience of digital. The former still sounds better, though, even if it does cost almost twice the price of the CD. The new trio-with-strings format gets an unusual afternoon airing on Saturday 18th November at 2pm at the Barbican, when Cowley and cohorts team up with the Goldsmiths (Big) Strings as part of the London Jazz Festival. Old favourites, new material and collective improvisation is promised. And, much as I like the new album, the band is absolutely best appreciated live.

See http://www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk.

* The Face of Mount Molehill is available as a 180gm vinyl disc plus download code on the Naim label (www.naimlabel.com) for £17.99