Photo Kasia Rose Hrybowicz
‘Now The Hour’ Grimes/Mason
Vortex Foundation Big Band
John Fordham, Friday September 19, 2003, The Guardian
You often find musicians trying, in myriad small ways, to change the world at the Vortex. But these highly skilled players are always fully committed to having a ball doing it. This combination of good causes and good fun, in the club’s liberal-bohemian ambiance, is what makes the place special. On this occasion, the 11-piece, all-female Foundation Big Band was launching the Vortex’s latest campaign: to raise £250,000 to fit out its new premises in east London.
Since it came to life during the London jazz festival last year, the Foundation Band has grown from tentative beginnings into a charismatic bravura. The band has been touring lately, and the members’ growing mutual sensitivity to one another’sstrengths and idiosyncrasies was evident from this show. Though there were plenty of punchy solos – notably from the notional musical director, trombonist Annie Whitehead – the variety and richness of the compositions provided the biggest surprises. On this showing, the band is building a distinctive repertoire of its own, with connections to quite unexpected big-band jazz landmarks such as Oliver Nelson’s glossy sophistication and Don Ellis’s leftfield funk.
This liberation wasn’t apparent, at first, from Kim Burton’s tautly interlocking but faintly static Latin opener Pigeon Post. But Diane McLoughlin’s New Day was an ebullient tussle of glowing melody lines, with Andrea Vicari injecting a vivid postbop piano solo over Josefina Cupido’s snare-drum crackle. The pianist then added understated, Bill Evans-like chording under McLoughlin’s soaring alto solo, which vibrated with echoes of the late Cannonball Adderley.
Carol Grimes’s restrained power and Whitehead’s warm lyricism intertwined on the ethereal Now the Hour, with Grimes boldly veering into a kind of north African-inflected scat at the close. The eccentric Don Ellis element came from baritonist Izzy Barrett’s Showtime, with its trombone solo of exuberant percussiveness from Gail Brand and a vivid, bluesy guitar break from Deirdre Cartwright. Much more than a right-on gesture, this is a new British big band with a future.
Twelve Women Good and Strong make the Vortex Foundation Band
BY PHILIPPA JONES
Annie Whitehead’s big band of women musicians put in a stellar performance at the Vortex as part of the London Jazz Festival. By turns rambunctious, subtle, humorous, and always earnest, the band coalesced in a remarkably organic manner. Embracing lyricism, contemporary jazz forms, and Latin rhythms, their compositions enabled the band to explore the lighter emotional textures of the music within a very female circle of mutual respect.
The seven-strong brass section produced driving blasts but also fractured naturally, allowing each player her own space. Angèle Veltmeijer’s tenor sax solos were received joyously. Annie Whitehead, elegant as always on the trombone, provided a contrast with her fellow trombonist Gail Brand’s more intense and edgier style. Whilst maintaining focus, the rhythm section was relaxed and collaborative – Andrea Vicari pre-eminent on piano, Josephina Cupido an engagingly supportive drummer, and Alison Rayner reliably groovy on bass.
Carol Grimes came on stage to sing and to make the band twelve. Elfin-like in appearance, she could have shattered glass bricks at a distance. It’s hard to account for such grace and volume emerging from so small a frame. Gently raunchy with her opening number, then later mischievous with the encore Little Red Top, hers is a miracle of charm and vocal control. Another class act came from the wonderful guitarist Deirdre Cartwright who with Got my Modem Working showed how she can set the groove for everyone on the planet.
Launched by the Vortex Jazz Foundation in order to save the club, Annie Whitehead’s band is the Vortex Foundation Band. If their contribution is anything to go by, the long-term artistic future of the enterprise is guaranteed. More, more, more.
Jazzwomen cut loose under a full moon
Jack Massarik, Thursday, 21 November 2002, Evening Standard
Vortex Foundation Big Band
EVERY jazz festival has its fringe, and where better than the Vortex, London’s cosiest neighbourhood club, to hear it. Add a touch of pathos (a show sponsored by the save-our-club fund) and liberation (an all-woman big band) and you have a fringe event with tassels on. It’s not often one finds a band exchanging air-kisses with ringsiders before the opening number, but it was all business after that. Crisply played originals like Pigeon Post. Three Views of a Secret and News To Me were rich in melody and short on bombast, a feature of the band, with confident solos by guitarist Deirdre Cartwright, pianist Andrea Vicari and bandleading trombonist Annie Whitehead.
“There’s 11 of us, but I thought a good name would be The Dirty Dozen,” quipped Whitehead before allowing the Vortex’s favourite singer, Carol Grimes, to make up the numbers with a romping Never Say Never, powered by the drum ‘n’ bass team of Josefina Cupido and Alison Rayner.
This was more like it: 11 jazzwomen cutting loose and a full moon waxing outside. Trumpeter Kay Charlton and tenorist Anjéle Veltmeijer had good solo moments later though Anjéle appeared uncomfortable when double-timing, which is just as it ought to be.