Interviews

"As long as I'm breathing, I'll be making albums!" - Saxophone sensation David Murray talks to SJF

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 12:09 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"I'm definitely old school, man," confesses David Murray, though it's not an admission that you expect to hear coming from this particular saxophonist's lips, especially one who's been in the vanguard of the avant-garde jazz scene for over forty years. But then again, Murray, even during his most fiercely iconoclastic sonic experiments of the late '70s, never sought to distance himself from the jazz tradition. Indeed, his tremendously varied discography - where edgy free jazz projects sit comfortably alongside cooking straight ahead sessions as well as outpourings of funk, Latin, and blues - offers ample proof that the saxophonist with the blowtorch technique does not exist in isolation in a category of his own but rather, is firmly part of the cultural and musical heritage that produced  heavyweight horn blowers like his forbears Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane.

When Murray released his debut album, 'Flowers For Albert,' on the small India Navigation label in 1976, few could have predicted, perhaps, that this seemingly unassuming Oakland-born proponent of avant-garde jazz would rapidly rise to become the pre-eminent tenor saxophonist of his generation and go on to win a Grammy award and bag a Guggenheim fellowship as well as be the recipient of other notable accolades (including being named Village Voice's 'Musician of the Decade' in 1980).

One of the things that initially got Murray noticed was the sheer volume of work he was getting through back then - between 1976 and 1979, he released sixteen albums, and in the following decade he racked up a further twenty-six LPs in a frenzied flurry of recording activity for a variety of labels. But it wasn't a case of quantity triumphing over quality - Murray was a genuinely fecund fount of inspiration and creativity, who could play with anyone and in any format (be it duos, trios, quartets, quintets, octets or even big bands and string orchestras). His versatility and the sheer scope of his musical endeavours, as well as his prodigious technique, which incorporating circular breathing,  was breathtaking.

Stylistically, too, Murray resisted pigeonholing. Though he was categorised by some as a radical avant-gardist indebted to 60s icons, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp, Murray's music could be often be very accessible.  Though free jazz seemed his natural and preferred metier, he was also convincingly fluent in bop - he made some great straight ahead albums for CBS in the early '90s - and later, as his career blossomed, he explored the music of Africa and Cuba as well as funk and blues. His last studio outing, 2015's 'Be My Monster Love' was arguably Murray's most mainstream-friendly opus yet, featuring vocal cameos from Macy Gray and Gregory Porter, which helped to take the saxophonist's music to a new audience. 

Though he's not as prolific as he used to be, Murray is still releasing albums on a regular basis and the latest addition to his canon is 'Blues For Memo,' his third for Motema.  What's different this time around is that the saxophonist has teamed up with the wordsmith who is dubbed hip-hop's poet laureate, Saul Williams, for a unique fusion of jazz improv and the spoken word. It has resulted in a stunning twelve-song album whose high spots are plentiful. There's an almost palpable synergy created by the juxtaposition of Murray's probing saxophone with Williams' trenchant, staccato delivery.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 January 2018 15:56

 

Trusting her instincts - Canadian jazz sensation Laila Biali talks!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 07:58 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Canada's undisputed queen of jazz is the multi-Grammy-winning and multi-Platinum-selling Diana Krall but the 52-year-old singer from Nanaimo now has serious competition in her homeland in the shape of a young Vancouver-born female singer of whom a certain Gordon Sumner - that's Sting to you and me - described as "an exciting and unique talent," adding, "I admire her greatly." And Sting should know, as he's worked with the young woman in question.  Her name is LAILA BIALI and she sings and plays the piano. But that's where the comparisons with Diana Krall end. Unlike Krall, Laila doesn't sing standards and instead, prefers to write most of her own material. She does the occasional cover, but, as her new self-titled album  on ACT Records reveals, they're not what you'd expect from a singer who, for the sake of easy categorisation, is usually pigeonholed as jazz singer. But that description patently doesn't do her justice, especially after you've had a listen to her new album. It's a twelve-song set that reveals 37-year-old Laila Biali as a multi-faceted artist whose singular style defies neat classification and effortlessly straddles jazz and pop.

For Laila, the album is a culmination of what she's been doing during the last fifteen years. In that time she admits to having explored different roads and contrasting styles but now they've all led her to a point where she's finally discovered her real self in musical terms. "Basically over the course of ten-plus years, I've been exploring what my voice is as a musician," she says, explaining the back-story to her ACT debut. "I was raised a classical pianist but I've been singing all my life just for fun, the way that we all do. I started singing a little more seriously later on in my life when I'd injured my right arm. So voice, composition and arranging became really primary voices in terms of my artistic expression because I didn't have the full capacity of my arms. So that's how they got mixed in."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:00

 

SHE'S WORTH IT - UK-BASED US SINGER/SONGWRITER JUDI JACKSON TALKS

Wednesday, 06 December 2017 14:39 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

        altFrom the city of Roanoke in south west Virginia you can clearly see the smoky-hued Blue Ridge Mountains which encircle it, rising majestically in the distance. It provides a picturesque rural backcloth that contrasts with the high-rise urban structures and shimmering neon signs of a busy modern American metropolis that boasts one of the best concert halls in Virginia - the Jefferson Center, a former high school converted into a state of the art performance space that plays host to classical, jazz, and pop concerts. It was there in 2007 that a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl called Judi Jackson who dreamed of being a performer - herself a Roanoke native - had a serendipitous meeting with jazz trumpet maestro, Wynton Marsalis, after a show he did.  "I met him there and he sent me some music afterwards," recalls the young singer, now 24, who has since relocated to London, a mere 3,800 miles away from her hometown. Wishing to encourage young Judi's aspirations to be a singer, Marsalis mailed a collection of music to her as a Christmas gift and it transformed her life. "He really changed the way that I heard music and thought about music," she reveals. "I studied it academically and really intensely. I learned about Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Mahalia Jackson, and lots of lovely artists."

Seven years after that - on January 31st 2014 to be precise - Judi, then 19, actually got to perform at the Jefferson Center in the Shaftman Performance Hall alongside US jazz/funk/soul aggregation Snarky Puppy. She performed who own song, 'Only You,'  accompanied by the band's leader, Michael League, on acoustic guitar, and keyboardist, Bill Laurance. But being something of a restless soul, eventually Judi's trajectory took her to the United Kingdom, where she now lives. She's about to launch her career as a recording artist with a classy 7-track EP called 'Blame It On My Youth.' It's been causing quite a stir in soul music circles thanks to the killer track, 'Worth It,' which has already notched up 40,000 hits on Spotify. It's a real earworm and features Judi's beguiling ethereal vocal floating on an irresistible, Maxwell-like groove driven by a sinuous bass line.

'Worth It' is a song written from personal experience and whose theme is perseverance and hope triumphing over despair - ultimately, a case of love conquering all. Explaining her song's message, she says: "I struggle with social anxiety sometimes and it's something that people don't always want to talk about, because they're ashamed. They think they're alone and they're the only ones that feel that way but I know that there are other people that are dealing with it as well, so I'm curious to just put this song out there to support each other and say love will keep us hopeful so keep going, it's worth it; you're not alone and you can make it."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 December 2017 16:14

 

A BRAND NEW ARETHA: The interview….

Monday, 13 November 2017 14:23 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altThroughout the year, there have been all kinds of rumours about ARETHA FRANKLIN. First, we heard she was set to retire; next we learned she was working on a new album with people like Elton John, Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder. Who konws? Anyway, in the meantime, we were told that the curators of her classic Atlantic back catalogue decided it was time to revisit some of her very best recordings as a way of celebrating the 50th anniversary of her Majesty joining the famous old label. Atlantic/Rhino execs, it's said, decided that it would be a "good idea" to create new musical settings for 14 of Aretha's best loved recordings and to help them flesh out the idea they drafted in top music producers NICK PATRICK and DON REEDMAN (pictured above) who'd done something similar with a batch of Elvis Presley classics. So, once again - as with the Elvis project - Nick and Don called in London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and over a sixth month period, ensconced in the legendary Abbey Road studios, they created lush and lavish new backing tracks over which they grafted The Queen Of Soul's celebrated original vocals. The result is the just released 'A Brand New Me' album (see our review section) and since the soul community has generally been impressed by the project, we decided to discover how it all came about. So, hooking up with producers Nick Patrick and Don Reedman we started to dig. First though we needed to know a little about their music credentials....

NICK PATRICK

Well, I started my production career producing world music artists in Paris with artists such as Mory Kante, Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita and The Gypsy Kings. I then produced many classical crossover artists including Russell Watson, Katherine Jenkins, Amici Forever and Il Divo. Recent projects have included the Elvis Presley Symphonic albums, 'If I Can Dream' and ‚'The Wonder of You' and I've also worked on material from Roy Orbison, Marvin Gaye , Tina Turner , Seal, Michael Buble, Ball and Boe, and Placido Domingo.

DON REEDMAN

I started my career in music in publishing and moved on into record companies – in particular, K-Tel, where I started my production career producing the 'Classic Rock' series with the London Symphony Orchestra and the 'Hooked On Classics' series with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. I produced four albums with Michael Crawford and a duet with Michael and Barbra Streisand. Albums by Jane McDonald and Tom Jones followed, and more recently the Elvis Presley albums which Nick mentioned.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 November 2017 15:16

 

DEEP THOUGHTS FROM A JAZZ WARRIOR - COURTNEY PINE TALKS

Wednesday, 25 October 2017 12:31 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"I've been trying, haven't I?" laughs COURTNEY PINE, when I remark that he's enjoyed a long and varied career. "There were a few doubts when I started but I was determined then and I'm still determined now," declares the OBE- and CBE-decorated multi-reed player and radio broadcaster, whom many regard as a British national treasure. "Luckily for me, jazz is not about two singles, a ballad, and then the album, or even chart positions - jazz is about going to play the Montreux Jazz Festival and going to places like São Paulo to play ...and the next thing you know, it's almost 30 years later."

Indeed, it's 31 years since a 22-year-old Pine exploded on the British music scene like a supernova with his debut album, 'Journey To The Urge Within,' which dented the UK Top 40 albums chart and made the Paddington-reared musician an overnight sensation. Now 53, the short hair and cool, sharp-suited jazz image of his youth has long been replaced by dreads and a more Bohemian look, which also reflects the more exploratory nature of his music, and its multifarious influences and inspirations. His latest opus, 'Black Notes From The Deep,' released this week by Freestyle, is his sixteenth long player and is significant in that it marks his return to the tenor saxophone, the instrument he began with back in the day.

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 October 2017 16:31

 

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