2018: A Year In Food
In 2018, my gym coach assigned me to keep a food blog so he could track my meals. Through developing healthy eating habits to satisfy all of my nutritional needs and a rigorous exercise programme, I lost the 21 kg between January-August 2018 I'd gained on anti-depressants.
I wanted it to be somewhere more private rather than being shoved down people's throats (literally) through Instagram/WhatsApp. Hence I've posted my culinary creations here.
Being vegetarian and/or vegan always presents a challenge in terms of hitting the protein target so this was particularly the most interesting challenge for me.
I made a conscious decision to stop food blogging in 2019 (due to time restraints), but it's useful to have a year's diet documented as a reference and a source of inspiration!
When he started playing Jimmy Van Heusen’s ‘It Could Happen To You’, I was reminded of the wonderful recording by Keith Jarrett, which I embedded into a video “Drifting” that I put together some years ago, based on a poem about nature. It was a priceless experience to sit up there at the top of the Southbank Centre, and to gaze westwards over the morning sun beaming over Waterloo and Westminster. Tom Cawley has a delicate, light touch, sensitively working his ideas into his playing, without disrupting the rhythmic flow. His subtlety of harmonisation, and his depth of voicing, add class and style to his fluent improvisation. He references the melodic line of the standard, without being bound by it, amidst his own fluctuations and embellishments.
I felt that the open-ended format of the workshop was effective. Tom Cawley really worked with his students to get the best out of them, and he spoke some wise words of wisdom, which were both encouraging and inspiring. By the end of the workshop, I felt that each student had a real sense of where they were now, what they were aiming towards and their strengths and weaknesses. Altogether, a productive, fulfilling morning!
This band features some amazing instrumental arrangements, sensitively musical combinations, intriguing tonal qualities and a beautiful use of instrumental textures. The saxophone solo is incredible for someone of such a young age, exemplifying a wide range of dynamics. Their sound is very Gil Evans, and it transports you back through time and space, fifty years to the nineteen sixties, when Gil Evans and Miles Davies were all the rage in New York, bringing an autumnal sunshine into a dark night at the Barbican.
One audience member commented that he was lying down on a sofa, listening to this music, and that the distant applause of the audience combined with the closing notes, gave him a transcendental ‘out-of-body’ experience. Looking at the biographies and photographs of these classic musicians, their images mingled together in a montage, propelled by the energy of this band, and enabling him to visit those places that he had only visited in his mind.
Through this band, I experienced some fantastic flourishes and builds of kaleidoscopic colour and harmony, matched by a fervent, youthful dedication to jazz, and astounding talent.
London Jazz Festival was bracketed, Sunday to Sunday, by singing workshops given by two distinctly different artists.
Basement Jaxx singer Brendan Reilly (vocals) led this workshop, accompanied Tom Cawley (piano), at the Barbican. The workshop was accessible to all singers - regardless of age, ability or background - and empowering, because not only did he teach you how to improvise over twelve bar blues and ‘I Got Rhythm’ changes, but he also demonstrated techniques in interpretation, tone and inflection, imparting some valuable lessons concerning creativity, individuality and spontaneity. He addressed the issue of nerves, and stressed the importance of forcing yourself into these experiences to develop confidence.
His demonstrations were truly inspiring. He added a funky, contemporary touch to timeless classics, and showcased a flexible and vast range, fusing effortless falsettos (head voices) with gritty bass tones and soulful interludes. I was also impressed by the vibrancy and clarity of the accompanying pianist.
During the discussion at the end of the workshop, everyone got to know one another, and there was a real chemistry in the room. Everyone who had walked in the room now walked out equipped and ready to conquer the strange world of improvisation and interpretation.
Swedish songstress Emilia Mårtensson led a fun, intuitive workshop, enthusing singers of all backgrounds and abilities, accompanied by Sam Crowe (piano). I felt that Emilia selected a fun, interesting and hugely varied programme of music, each highlighting different challenges and pathways of exploration.
After taking us through some useful warming up exercises, Emilia first taught us a Swedish folk song ‘Vem Kan Segla Förutan Vind’ (‘Who Can Sail Without The Wind’), as an interlacing canon, and demonstrated how the melody could be inflected to add variety, and how re-harmonisation could add different colours to the music. She then taught us the jazz standard ‘Come Rain, Come Shine’ - firstly as a swing, and then as a Bossa Nova - demonstrating how the melody could be accentuated, depending on whether it is a swung (4/4) feel, or straight (2/4) feel. Lastly, she taught us a Jill Scott song ‘Golden’, further illustrating how melody could be elaborated and enhanced to adopt a ‘jazz’ approach.
Emilia has a pristine grasp of the English language, and her teaching style is thoughtfully structured, supportive and inspiring. By the end of the workshop, the participants were really getting into it! What struck me most of all, was the way that the workshop successfully united all age groups, 10 - 60, and brought everyone together on a common level of interconnection. There is nothing like a group of people, of all ages, singing together - it was magic!
London Jazz Orchestra, set up twenty years ago, initially as a rehearsal band, has developed to become one of London’s foremost creative jazz orchestras. Tonight, expounding the music of Gil Evans and Kenny Wheeler, alongside original compositions by John Warren, the band stirs up a thought-provoking pastiche of eloquent music.
Lines of bebop converge with the colours of classical music in ‘Isthmus’. Here, there is no strikingly apparent tonal focus; instead, rays of dissonant harmony spread outwards in an artfully cosmopolitan, forward-thinking arrangement, occasionally bound with sweeter, inward looking cornices. The soprano saxophone solo meshes through a buffet of differentiating rhythmic forms and feels, tightly coordinated and rehearsed. Pedal notes (anchored bass notes under modulating harmony) maintain the anticipation and drive, building up into smoothly bolstered cacophonies, harmonically rich and inspiring the listener with some highly developed, advanced improvisation.
‘My New Ship’, a Gil Evans-style ballad, written with Kurt Weill (‘My Ship’) in mind, counterpoises a tenor saxophone and trombone, with intertwining stems that reveal and more sentimental side to this band, flourishing in evanescent colours. The whispering, paper tone of the saxophone, and the shaped vibrato of the saxophone section, defines some meaningful, prospective insights. The ballad develops into a creeping swing, incorporating converging contours and some lovely examples of section writing - presenting different backing textures, in turn, over descending harmonic turnabouts. Romantic, without being overtly sappy, here is a contemporary big band showcasing a selection of truly gifted performers and writers.
This big band, emerging as the high flyers in young British jazz talent, could easily be mistaken for professionals. In reflection of this, Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room is the most packed I’ve seen all week. The band showcases some mature and meaningful improvisation and an ability to tackle complex arrangements, from players so young. Continuing the Kenny Wheeler theme of London Jazz Festival’s culminating evening, his Lost Scores are so compellingly engaging that it is hard to tear yourself away.
Director Nick Smart explains that Kenny Wheeler’s big band compositions prescribe different roles, and that it is nice for the young players to fit into these roles. So much of Kenny Wheeler’s music is determined by these roles and relationships between the musicians - socially and professionally.
Vocalist Emma Smith, seen previously performing with NYJO (National Youth Jazz Orchestra) last weekend, returns, with her smoky, developed voice, which lingers and curls through the sinuses of space, light and free floating, and wrapping itself around your soul. To this, she adds effortless suspended tensions, with a sensitive and refined touch.
In comparison to some of the other big bands that I have witnessed this week, this one has an air of sophistication about it - an essence of ‘cool’. These are the high flyers, the top of the top, the cream of the crop and the most fertile seeds for emerging jazz talent in the UK.
Moroccan singer-songwriter Noraay is living proof that if we are to change the outside world, then we must change that which is within. Combining neo-soul, R&B, hip hop, North African and Middle Eastern influences, her music explores the miracles of creation, of nature revealing the deeper complexities of order and the impact of man on the environment, through lyrics that emanate ‘peace love and positive thoughts’.
Casting her illustrious and minimalist charm over acoustic, soulful blends of soft piano and bluesy guitar, Noraay croons a song-like and soothing jazz reminiscent of Norah Jones, with a speculative character - forever searching for something. Her songs are very spiritually rooted - like a prayer or an elegy - telling tales of ‘walking through the valley of darkness and depth, looking within the self and evaluating the future’, strengthened by hope and optimism.
‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’ emits a powerful, ballad poetry. Her pure, wavering voice flirts delicately with the giddy, playful rhythms of the kora. The overall combination infuses Noraay’s own style with a myriad of different essences, such that the essences themselves become transparent, and the music’s message is transmitted on its own terms.
‘Flower of Life’ is a composition describing the effect that when cells divide, they create this shape. Pulsating with soft tabla tones, Noraay paints an oriental music village, casting a metropolitan mural of moving shapes, patterns and colours; spellbinding Arabic scales, shimmering through a forward-thinking groove; and flourishing with Middle Eastern mystique.
Legend of British jazz and big band writing, and trumpeter, Kenny Wheeler, appears with this all-star line-up at the culminating point, marking the closing night of London Jazz Festival. And what a perfect way to do it, through a world premier of their latest CD - and the first recording in twenty years - ‘The Long Waiting’. Originally written to commemorate Kenny Wheeler’s eightieth birthday, this music has never before been performed in the UK.
Walking into the auditorium, I simply cannot believe the group of people sitting onstage, which includes not only Kenny Wheeler (trumpet, flugelhorn) but also Norma Winstone (vocals), Gwylm Simcock (piano), John Parricelli (guitar) Chris Laurence (bass), Martin France (drums), a saxophone section consisting of Evan Parker (baritone), Stan Sulzmann (tenor), Ray Warleigh (alto), Duncan Lamont (alto) and Julian Arguelles (tenor), not to mention Nick Smart (trumpet) and others too numerous to mention - all monumental figures of British Jazz who I have seen at various points throughout the week - directed under the hand of Pete Churchill.
Kenny Wheeler’s music symbolises the cutting edge in British big band composition and orchestration, and it is wonderful to here these creations unfolding, live to my ears. There are passages that create the sense of falling down an infinite chasm, surrounded by floating cities of brass and shafts of airy vocals. Amidst the thick butter of interlacing horns, dancing and wavering in a rhythmically polygonal patchwork of textures, the female vocals (Norma Winstone) radiate through, giving the music a hauntingly human quality, whilst still adhering to the abstract and the extremes of substance and development.
‘Counter Number Three’ is a modal waltz of sweet saxophones and vocals, while ‘Counter Number One’ hovers a dodecagonal metre, elegantly underpinned by the apocalyptic undertow of rising brass textures, mingling with the rush-of-consciousness effect of the vocals. This subsides into a militant swing, and the fiery lead trumpets take the forefront. The dialectic call-and-response structure takes control of this composition, which switches between two opposing sides, gradually building up, before finally collapsing back into the spindly clockwork of Afro twelve-eight rhythms.
The smooth transition into ‘Old Ballad’ fans out in a pristine, vibrato pool of languishing saxophone chorale. The trumpets swoon overhead, piercingly, in their altitudes, before succumbing to the gelatinous touch of Ray Warleigh (alto saxophone).
Indeed, it is all too easy to say that the big band writing has a distinctively British quality to it; one could liken it to overcast rainclouds of vocals and horns, occasionally subsiding for some radiant solo improvisations. Here, Stan Sulzmann (tenor saxophone) leaps and swings over straight quavers, his melodic outpourings swept up by the harmonic flow in some spectacular, kinetic formations and emotions, channelled with lighting-speed touch and response. Smooth mirrors of muted brass open disrupt the current, and the audience react at every twist and turn of the music, which, like film music, is cinematic and progressive.
These ‘weather’ analogies are meshed out through ‘Old Ballad’, which has some brand new lyrics added to it by Norma Winstone. The lyrics are startlingly beautiful: ‘haunting sounds that filled my life, and made their mark on me / can I rewind to what’s behind / to land in a world / where all the dreams are dust / some things remain, untouched by the rain’ drawing the music into a shimmering, mirage.
The closing number ‘Upwards’ once again introduces a swathing ballad of wordless vocals to a clammy guitar, which leads into a syncopated waltz, finished with a squirreling trumpet solo by none other than Kenny Wheeler. His all-star band, featuring the cream of British Jazz, propels you in a tour-de-force through clouds of buffeting brass and wind, exquisite vocals and a steaming rhythm section. A thrilling journey to the heart, and back again.
It is very rare to chance upon a band of musicians that are both phenomenally talented, yet extremely heart-warming and play music of such beauty that it melts your heart and leaves you soaking in the sun of their radiance. Appearing with top musicians from Greece, Sokratis Sinopoulos (lyra), Vangelis Karipis (percussion) and Yannis Kirimkiridis (piano and keyboards), Armenian-American oud player Ara Dinkjian organically fuses together intricate melodies, whirring rhythms and lush string harmonies.
Their opening number combines a sumptuously sampled bass purling under some lovely four-square grooves, that sit back on the groove, and coast out some undulating pastures of rhythmic resilience. The oud and lyra draw so much feeling and flavour out of one chord, and it is amazing to be so close to the musicians and watch the expressions on their faces. Soon, the audience is clapping along in time, entranced by these exotic beats.
Following this is a seductively stately, ceremonial waltz, transporting you back to sunnier climes, with its wistful, romantic and nostalgic tones, evoking long journeys and loved ones back home. With its stoic, almost stiff character, the music plays out a unique insight into the flavour, soul and temperament of these musicians - passionate yet with an indescribable dignity and honour. The sheathing syncopations of the keyboard, caught by the delicate, offbeat kick of the high accent, creates a flirtatious sonority. The hollowness of the oud notes, falling slightly outside the ‘Western’ tonal system, resonate with old world, almost alien, charm.
Supplanting this is a frolicking folk tune, again setting the audience off to clap on every first beat. Here, I notice that the players are smiling at one another as they execute the native licks and loops at second nature - and I realise that they truly have these ancient melodies well and truly under their fingers. Like neo-classical choro or ragtime, the yarn modulates through minor and major keys, skipping with joy and youthfulness. The highlight of this piece is the improvised solo on the darbuka.
Never have I had the privilege to sit so close to a darbuka (goblet or chalice shaped drum, used in North Africa, Mediterranean and the Middle East) played so well. Never have I heard such rhythmic vibrations like this. Vangelis’ fingers are so strong, yet so relaxed and roll out these deliciously whirring tap rhythms, morphing through many different clusters and formations; ablaze with the fire of his own ferocity. I must admit that, sitting there, I could no longer write, but gaze helplessly, jaw wide open, lest anyone else guess how intimately I was experiencing this moving spectacle. The rest of the audience must have felt this too, for after a moment of suspended calm and disbelief, applause broke out - as it does - in the middle of his solo, and culminated with the rest of the band joining in perfectly.
Some pieces reveal a more sentimental side to the band. The crisp, feathery tone of the bowed lyra floats, like a vessel, over the tranquil waters of piano harmony, an ecstatic bliss suspended in gardens to your ears. This is complemented by the mellowness of the oud, twanging, thoughtfully, over this ‘Milky Way’ of piano and lush string samples - a music that glistens so pure and golden. During these meditative passages, Vangelis adds some tastefully percussive enhancements, sheathes of shaker, wriggling bells and twinkling chimes.
Some songs combine simple, electronic rock / pop ballads on synth, enriched by the Arabic stylings of the melodic instruments, adding a contemporary touch to a traditionally ancient folk repertoire. Languishing pools of beautiful sadness permeate these moments, tuned into the heartstrings of longing and despair welling up through the sensitive plucking of the oud, in a music that is at once passionate yet solemn - as if these musicians are mourning a timeless loss. This mood presides over the gentle, resonant clanging of the tambour. I love how, when the main theme returns, the keyboard harmonies thicken and intensify, altogether leaving you in a dream state, overwhelmed and overcome with their profound power.
The idea is taken further, as the same theme is replicated into a sensual, gyrating folk song, and the audience are again clapping along in time. Here, the lyra and the oud take turns at soloing, in a delightfully fluorescent, improvisational exchange - making it impossible not to nod your head, or sway your hips, along to the infectiously slinky leaning. Each time it comes around, the refrain returns, accompanied by the roll and slap of the darbuka, inciting more spontaneous clapping on the first beat.
During the encore, Ara Dinkjian explains how he is graced with the honour of having his wife and daughters over from America, and two very good friends from New Jersey: it is easy to understand how some people - relatives or not - travel the world to hear his music. We are fortunate enough that, through London Jazz Festival, these rare pleasures are sitting, waiting for us, on our doorstep. And we do not need to travel; simply discovering this music is enough to turn us into armchair travellers. The only person who is not present (studying hard) is the son of Ara Dinkjian, who decides to evoke his spirit in a composition dedicated to his son, ‘In Wolf’s Clothing’; a sweet, pop ballad, whisking you on a night flight of heady oud, like a lullaby, floating across a vista of sparkling piano, and leaving you at piece with the world, and at one with your soul.
The rest of the band return to the stage for one more round; a buzzing, flittering hive of complex Karsilama (9 / 8) rhythms, rattling and colliding with a satisfying slap on the first and final beats. The perfect culmination to a whirlwind musical odyssey.
I managed to catch the end of this performance, by jazz’s greatest living guitarist (Jazz Times) Jim Hall, who, through seven decades’ worth of playing, has worked with Art Farmer, Bill Evans, Paul Desmond and Ron Carter, and influenced the course of some of the world’s greatest guitarists including Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell.
His set includes unique arrangements and re-workings of timeless classics, such as ‘Chelsea Bridge’ (Duke Ellington), gloriously reproduced, in a whispering, creeping ballad, through the tangibly raw, natural sound of his guitar, over the acoustically projected ambience of Steve LaSpina (bass) and the smooth, rinsing underwire of of Anthony Pinciotti (percussion).
His finale, ‘St Thomas’ (Sonny Rollins - with whom he has collaborated, as he quips, “800 years ago”), is elaborated with a fragmentary interpretation, pulled along with the nimbleness of his fingers, gravelly and reverberant in the space, riding over swinging, Benny Goodman-style drumming. A fitting end to what has been a momentous Jazz Festival!
Rory spent the first few years of his life in an ice cave, carving out his palace of wonder. He's a bit of a love doll, but he who melts the ice shall have their reward.