Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Richard Bona Band at the Barbican, November 26th 2008

Left to right: Adam Stoler, Etienne Stadwijk, Ernesto Simpson, Richard Bona,
Robert Quintero, Taylor Haskins

I travelled up to London at the weekend with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was on my way to see a concert that I was greatly looking forward to. On the other hand, the last gig I had attended at the Barbican (Maria Rita) was ruined by appalling sound mixing. I need not have worried. The sound mix was spot-on for the whole show.

The evening's music was kicked off by the excellent Danilo Perez Trio. Under other circumstances I would have enjoyed their set considerably more, but it really did not fit the mood of the evening. Never-the-less, the musicianship was of a very high order and the other members of the trio - Ben Street (bass) and Adam Cruz (drums) - integrated perfectly with Perez's playing, complimenting every twist and turn within the music. Despite some light-hearted attempts at audience interaction by Perez, the trio never really took charge of the proceedings. However, I would not hesitate to go and see them perform in their own right. Here's a clip of them performing 'Alone Together' at Arturo Sandoval's club last year.

The problem was that most people were anticipating more of a party atmosphere - which was exactly what they got when Bona and his band took to the stage!

There was an immediate sense of - what I can only describe as - security as the band commenced to play. The audience knew that it was in safe hands for the rest of the evening, and the groove was so immediate and insistent that you could practically feel the Barbican resonating in sympathy. This was not achieved by volume but by the sheer infectious precision of the musicians. The programme notes included a quote from a Guardian review which sums it up beautifully -"...music that makes you smile, moves your feet and touches your heart in ways that more celebrated music personalities can only dream about."

Bona is a virtuoso electric bass player who has - as did the late Jaco Pastorius (the man that inspired him to take up the bass in the first place) - the ability to play exactly the note you want to hear at exactly the moment that you want to hear it, only you don't know that that's what you want to hear until you've heard it! He also has a beautiful voice and writes most of his own material which he sings in (I think) his native Douala language (he is from Cameroon). The songs utilise an eclectic selection of grooves, moving freely between Latin, jazz-funk and African beats. Bona's bass and voice were complemented by a superb band whose unbeleivable tightness kept a big grin plastered more or less permanently on my face. They were :- Adam Stoler - guitar; Taylor Haskins - trumpet; Etienne Stadwijk - keyboards; Roberto Quintero - percussion and Ernesto Simpson - drums. It is difficult choose a favourite moment from the evening but if pushed I would nominate the band's version of Jaco's 'Liberty City' (see the previous posting for a YouTube clip of an earlier line-up's performance of this tune) and the moment when the band left the stage and Bona transformed himself into a choir with the aid of 'sample and hold' technology. At the end of the evening the performers were thanked with a standing ovation which brought them back for an encore,provoking yet another standing ovation, but this time a -no doubt exhausted - band stayed in the dressing room. This, for me, was undoubtedly 'gig of the year'.
Here are another couple of clips. First, here's the 2006 line-up perforing one of Richard's songs at the Stockholm jazz festival -

and finally here's Richard performing another of his compositions -'Dina Lam' with Bobby McFerrin'

Roll on the new album!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Odds, sods and apologies

Dear loyal readers (all three of you), please accept my humble apologies for a somewhat lengthy break since the last posting. I plead pressure of work and the headaches, along with a singularly annoying Flash! Bang! Wallop! that was in fact my computer deciding to celebrate Guy Fawks Night in its own inimitable fashion ( for the benefit of my overseas reader - see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_Night )

There are, you will be depressed to find out, several postings in preparation at the moment, including a piece about Desert Island Discs as an occasional source of musical inspiration, and an interview with the greatly underrated British jazz guitarist, John Coverdale (He's so underrated that you'll have to scroll through this directory to find him). These will be proceeded by a review of the Richard Bona concert that takes place at The Barbican this coming Sunday and to which I am greatly looking forward (to boldly split an infinitive or two).

The Bona concert gives me the excuse to include another YouTube clip just to whet your appetites if you're not already familiar with his playing. Here's his band with a nod from Bona to one of his big influences as they play the Jaco Pastorius composition -'Liberty City'

And I really should mention the excellent Randy Newman concert aired on BBC4 last week. He gave a great performance of what ought to have been 'greatest hits' if there was any justice in this world, accompanied superbly by the BBC Concert Orchestra, who were clearly enjoying every minute of it. He also played a couple of songs from his new album, 'Harps and Angels', which are (and is, if you follow me) as good as ever. Here, however is an old favourite that is as pertinent as it was when he wrote it in 1972 or thereabouts - 'Political Science', performed by him back in 2004.

Finally, here's another look at the problems expressed above - 'A Few Words in Defence of Our Country' which is on the latest album.

That's it for now. Enjoy! I'm off to see Richard Bona...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Further tales of Berkhamsted...

This was not what I had intended to be posting next but life often throws stuff at you that you weren't expecting...

During the course of writing my last posting (See Emily play) I made contact with Al Merritt (the drummer on the gig that I had described there) and sent him a link to the page. I soon received a reply from him which said (amongst other things)-

"...I read some of your blog this evening and I need to take you to task concerning the night at Berkhamstead Town Hall. You are quite wrong in your interpretation of the sequence that lead to Monty playing the bass. The unnamed bass player and I had played quite a few times with Monty and if anything he was impressed with this unmentioned player. Can I ask you not to go any further with that particular reminiscence until I have had a chance to talk to others who attended the concert. I will deal with this subject as quickly as possible and come back to you with further comments.

I replied as follows-

"re the blog:

I may well be wrong in my interpretation of events but I have carried that as an extremely strong memory for a long time. That's certainly the way things seemed to happen - so much so that I did not put in the usual caveats of - "it looked as if..." or "it seemed like...". However, I know from personal experience that truth can be a subjective thing that is often a matter of perceptions, so I welcome your version of events - you were, after all, a lot closer to the action than I was - and will happily post it on the blog. That, after all, is why the 'comment' box is a part of my blog. It is to allow people a place to state their own opinions, or, where necessary, correct me. Incidentally, if I'm not mistaken, the bass player was Alan Simmons,for whom I had considerable respect. I personally could not see what Monty was apparently complaining about and left Alan's name out of the recollection for that reason..."

A week went by and then Al sent me this -

"Here's the answer from 'the horse's mouth' via Mike Hennessey.

Hope that now clears up the matter.

Attached was this email from Mike Hennessey -

Dear Al:
I just had a call from Monty who says that (Votarol)'s blog is rubbish. What I did, says Monty, was just a gag. Alan Simmons is a very fine bass player and there is no way in which I would do what (Voltarol) says. If I had seriously thought that Alan wasn't measuring up, then the last thing I would do would be to deal with the matter onstage. But the fact is, Alan's playing was fine and what I did was just a joke.
And he sends his best regards to you, Alan and Brian.


This was my reply -

Dear Mike Hennessey,

Al Merritt has just forwarded your email to me and I have noted its contents and will of course post it on my blog. There was, I assure you, never any malicious intention in telling that story. I reported what I thought I had seen in all good faith, and I was not the only person in the audience to walk away from that evening with the same impression. In fact, hearing from 'the horse's mouth' that it was a gag makes me feel like a bit of a horse's arse, but a rather relieved one because I had thought less of Monty because of it. Please offer him my unreserved apologies and explain that his acting was as convincing as his piano playing! I genuinely believed that I had seen an altercation.



...and that was that, I thought. I'll eat my humble pie and move on. But never underestimate a nice bloke. By return I received the following -

Dear (Voltarol):
Many thanks for your message. I appreciate your response and I am quite sure that there was no malicious intent on your part. It is easy to understand how such an incident could be misinterpreted.
I will pass on your apology to Monty.
With best regards,


All this left me with rather mixed feelings. Should I have reported what I thought I saw without checking with someone first? Well - yes and no. If I had had any doubts about what I had seen then - no. But I didn't have any doubts at all so - if you are trying to be an honest reporter then you have to call it as you see it. And yet I had totally misinterpreted what I had seen. It just makes one wonder how many other 'truths' are out there that could be nothing more than a joke taken at face value. I'll just wipe the remains of the egg off my face whilst saying once again "Sorry, Monty".

Just as a reminder of what a fine musician he is, here are a couple of clips. First, here he is duetting with fellow pianist Billy Taylor on 'Joy Spring'

and here he breathes new life into Bob Marley's 'No Woman, No Cry' -

For further information about Monty Alexander, here's his website