RIP Tony Levin, Jazz Drumming Legend and Inspiration, aged 71 (1940-2011)

There is a formal obituary written over at JazzWise, but I thought I’d also share my own thoughts on Tony Levin. I knew jazz drumming hero Tony Levin through my playing with Shropshire Youth Jazz Ensemble (SYJE) which was run by his wife, Chris Bolton, and I was instantly drawn to his phenomenal talent and gentle character. Our families became good friends during that time and I was lucky enough to watch him play on numerous occasions (especially at Leasowe’s Bank), play alongside him during SYJE rehearsals at Church Stretton, and he also offered me some golden nuggets of advice about drumming generally, including an absolute masterclass on the six stroke role. His graceful, effortless style was as fascinating to watch as it was beautiful to listen to, and he really loved the music.

Tony Levin had been battling illness for years and years before succumbing on February 3rd 2011. During all of that time he was still playing, still gigging in his Birmingham Jazz Club, and he even toured the UK recently with Mujician, a free jazz band including fellow jazz greats and his good friends, Keith Tippett on piano, Paul Dunmall on saxophones and Paul Rogers on double bass.

I counted Tony Levin as one of my key inspirations as a musician and as a drummer. Although I feel sure his influence will live on through his music and the passion for jazz he sparked in younger players, he will be sorely missed.

Tony’s wife Chris left this note online at The London Drum Jazz Cafe:

“Thank you to you all for giving Tony so many happy times on the bandstand through music. Tony lived for his music and his family and has inspired so many people including myself in his lifetime in so many ways. He loved teaching at the conservertoire, it meant a lot to him. He would have said just keep on doing it! His motto in life was just make every note count on or off the bandstand.

I will love him always. x x”

If you’re on facebook, be sure to visit The Tony Levin Memorial Page, where there are some great videos and memories being shared. You may also like to explore his website tonylevin.org In the meantime, here’s a video of Tony playing with Mujician last year:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ob9suVsHGCY[/youtube]

Whatever happened to The Similou?

I was enjoying some post gig euphoria the other day with a flat mate, and we trawled through my extensive iTunes library to find some dance classics that we hadn’t heard for a while. To save listing each and every bopping tune we raved to, I’ll cut to the chase. Some of the best dance music I have in my collection is by The Similou, an electronic music duo from Gothenburg, Sweden.

I first heard The Similou about four years ago, when I was working a brief stint on the production line on a factory floor. My colleagues were avid listeners to Radio One, a station I despised then as I do now, but it meant I was exposed to tunes I might not have heard otherwise, The Similou being a classic example. All This Love played only a few times back in 2006, but it was definitely a much cooler track than the majority on the radio, so it drew my attention and I bought it. And then proceeded to track down everything else The Similou had ever done. Which is to say, not much.

As far as I can tell, and I would very much love to be corrected, The Similou released only one album of eight tunes (remixes not included). Thankfully, I finally tracked down the full album today, after much searching – it’s not on iTunes. So I did have to settle with a somewhat dubious download, but that’s not my bad, why the terrible distribution?

Anyway, eight tracks, and the sad thing is, they’re all brilliant. Upbeat, optimistic, bright and original. So where did they go?

According to Wikipedia, All This Love was The Similou‘s latest release, and that was over four years ago. Their MySpace was last accessed in 2008 and their official website, www.thesimilou.com no longer exists. So the question remains…whatever happened to The Similou?

Quote of the Day from Jesca Hoop

Jesca Hoop is at the top of my list of musical inspirations, idols and influences – I think the only artist to have moved me to tears through the power of song. Anyway, here’s a quote which she cites under her ‘influences’ on her MySpace page, it struck a chord with me because I feel exactly the same way. And the influence is:

Any music that is good…and may the lord help you if you can’t tell the difference. – Jesca Hoop

Hodgeheg take on Cardiff

I’m fortunate enough to drum alongside two phenomenal musicians (and friends), Ceri Simms and Darshan Gordon. Together we are Hodgeheg. We’ve been on the Cardiff ‘scene’ for some time now, but we’ve a fantastic new singer, Shamaine Egal, and we’re having a second wind.

A few nights ago saw us play A Shot In The Dark, a gig described by both management and the resident sound technician as, “the best Shot of Jazz there’s ever been”. If only we’d recorded it. Literally everyone on their feet by the end of the night. Wicked fun. Anyway, here’s a little clip of the boys playing about with Man In The Mirror. Not sure why I’m in the clip, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Enjoy (and add us on Facebook!)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dHtO82JKiIs[/youtube]

Jangle support United Vibrations

I have previously mentioned my work alongside Cardiff beat-matrix wizard, Marky ‘Jangle’ Thompson, and his live group, for the moment also titled, Jangle. We’ve another gig coming up on 10th December, here’s the poster and write up:

Jangle are a jumble of instruments and instrumentalists from across the country; a six piece live band comprised of drums, bass and guitar with a clarinet, trumpet and vocal frontline. Theirs is an altogether original sound: subtle but epic, modest yet dramatic – above all, powerfully moving. Through a tangle of rhythm, hypnotic themes, delicate improvisation and soaring melodies, Jangle paints a musical panoramic, a scene not to be missed.


Quote of the Day

“It should never be what other people think about [a performance], it should be how you feel about it,” Jesse Eisenberg.

Is The Empire crumbling?

I had the pleasure of a trip in to Oxford on the weekend to see one of my all time favourite bands, The Cat Empire. It was the sixth time I’ve seen them, so admittedly, they had quite a lot to live up to and if I’m honest, I was a teensy bit disappointed. That’s not to say they weren’t good. They were great. There are very few bands these days with their popularity and their line up that are touring so successfully. As Felix declared, last night was their 799th gig. That’s a lot of tickets sold.

The problem is, they can’t play their old tunes forever. Yeah, yeah, I know, the Chili Peppers do, but they’re a case in point. A phenomenal band that deteriorated. And The Empire’s new content just isn’t as interesting or enjoyable to listen to as their original couple of albums. Each album is less enticing than the last.

After much anticipation, the Empire minus their funky Empire tune, aped on to the stage like six hairy hobos and a horn section, exhausted at the no doubt repetitive tedium of playing the same old tunes on yet another UK tour (I missed one gig, so this is their seventh). Felix grows more and more alike Robbie Williams every gig, he’d be perfectly at home with his hyperbolic gestures on the stage of a west end musical, while Olly sits bored behind the keys.

On the other hand, Ross Irwin fronting the Empire horns is evidently incredibly talented and always a pleasure to watch and listen to, while Harry also remains the modest key prospect of better music ahead.

I bopped about, waved my arms, sung at the top of my voice like an idiot (and like all the other idiots), and had a genuinely fun time. But I can’t erase the memories of much better times dancing the same routine to the same band. My alliance is waning. In the timeless words of Galadriel, “the fellowship is breaking”.

Ah well, maybe there’s hope for the future in the form of Jackson Jackson, Harry Angus’ other (much more intriguing and compelling) outfit. They’ve just got to take that somewhat gigantic step across the world and I’ll be waiting, even queuing for my ticket. In the meantime, enjoy a classic:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uI_4Uc-XKY[/youtube]

Jangle on MySpace

Hi all,

If you’ve not heard the work I’ve been doing with the super cool Marky ‘Jangle’ Thompson, there is now a little more info over on our MySpace.

http://www.myspace.com/janglemusic

I hope you enjoy it, become a friend and find us on Facebook too.

Finally, and totally off-topic, in case you haven’t seen the latest Coen brothers movie trailer, here it is – TRUE GRIT.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yVi5J8Vzk5g[/youtube]

Big Chill Highlights

Here are some highlights from my Big Chill 2010. Best of the fest for me was definitely Roy Ayers. Here’s him relatively recently live, although the gig I saw had Troy Miller on drums – he blew my mind.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QD-a1ariUo[/youtube]

Thom Yorke was also terrific. Totally solo set, I was expecting Johnny Greenwood as well, but it was just Thom and a loop pedal. I won’t say he doesn’t need Radiohead backing him, but he was fantastic all the same. Plus he looks sexy as hell. This is Harrowdown Hill, the exact version I watched at Big Chill – thanks uploader.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_M1Ety2SpX8[/youtube]

A tonne of his other vids from the festival are online too, so grab them now in case they are removed. Also loved Morcheeba and Massive Attack. Bonobo were good but not as wicked as I anticipated – a little disappointed about that.

Hodgeheg bustin’ out!

Can’t think why I haven’t mentioned it before, but one of my projects is with two great friends (and flat mates from July), Ceri Simms and Darshan Gordon. You might have heard Ceri and I rocking out some free improvisation with The Jabberwocky Throes. Anyway, as a trio, we call ourselves Hodgeheg. We play a lot of funky stuff, a lot of jazz/ funk fusion and some standards, with particular influence derived from John Scofield, John Mayer and Chris Potter. I say influence, we imperfectly rip a fair few of their songs – hell, they’re fantastic tunes, it would be a pity not to subject them to further interpretation and variation!

Anyway, follow us on myspace and facebook. Thanks!