Input/Output – February Edition


We’re one month and 12 days into 2018 and it’s time to check in.

Input (What I’ve been putting into my eyes and ears this year…)


Podcasts now far outweigh TV shows and films as my medium of choice. I use Stitcher to listen and have a number of absolute core shows I listen to.

Hellbent – The tagline is ‘a feminist podcast for those who resist and persist’. the two hosts, Devon and Drexel are great and their remit covers all kinds of important topics – lots of current affairs and politics especially as it relates to equality, healthcare, family law etc. The tone is strong and honest and bold. This one is a new find but I love what I hear so far.

Inflection Point – Presented by Lauren Schiller and always with a fascinating roster of guests. The tagline is ‘how women rise up’ and there’s some great episodes like How to bring Joy into the Resistance and one about Alex Bernadotte’s Beyond 12 programme for underserved college students including first gen immigrants and low income families.

Slow Burn – This is an incredible series about Richard Nixon and Watergate made by Slate. The theme is fascinating enough but this podcast goes beyond the standard stuff we all know about the enormous garbage fire that was Watergate and goes deep with lots of interview content with those close to the various stages of the story.

The Gender Knot – Exploring the new masculinity and femininity is their remit and the topics are far-reaching and always interesting. It’s thought-provoking and contemplative with broad topics like Does Gender Shape Business? as well as topics that reflect the current climate such as How Will #Metoo Affect Dating?

Up and Vanished – Late to the party, I know but to the 7 of you that haven’t listened – DO IT NOW. I’m just glad I discovered it when all the episodes were available so I didn’t have to wait in between. It’s made by Payne Lindsey and focuses on a 12 year old cold case  – the disappearance of 30 year old Tara Grinstead in Ocilla, Georgia. It really is extraordinary to listen as it turns from a cold case to an active case during the course of, and as a direct result of, this podcast.

Last Podcast On The Left – I. LOVE. THIS. SHOW. Hosted by Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski. If you want in-depth investigations into true crime, cults and aliens, finding this will be like all your Christmasses come at once. This is the podcast that makes you snort with laughter on the Tube and wake up the snoozing commuter next to you. It’s really hard to pick a favourite episode but I will say I keep episode 81: Female Serial Killers on my downloaded list at all times because it is gold.


February’s turned into a lovely month for gigs so you can see me as part of a small, a medium AND a large ensemble setting across England –

19th – Calum Gourlay Big Band @ The Vortex, London

21st – What Love? @ The Lescar, Sheffield

22nd – Deep Tide Quartet @ Claptrap, Stourbridge

23rd – What Love? @ Listen, Cambridge

I did a pretty in-depth interview for LCoM which was published today as one of their Alumni profiles. Read it in full here.

Here’s a snippet…

 Some of your recent work has involved the use of graphic scores and the visualisation/sonification of data. How important to you think it is for jazz musicians to push the boundaries of musical notation?

I think it’s important for musicians to be true to themselves and that it’s ok if your voice as an artist sits outside of the mainstream. I’m at home in the world of improvised music and graphic scores because it feels very honest to me. Part of developing as an artist is about trying lots of things on for size and figuring out what fits and what doesn’t. Visualisation and sonification of data is something I’m really excited by at the moment. For example, I wrote a score for the Visualising Music event at the RA called Feeling Truth, which took data sets from the Earthquake Swarms in Oklahoma caused by the oil industry’s wastewater injection process. Through that performance, I’ve started working with an artist called Liz K Miller on a graphic scoring project and I’ve quite a few things in the works for this year in that field. I LOVE hearing people talk about their work and about artistic process, so I try to incorporate that into my work, too. I mainly use my website for that purpose.


Inside A Tune: Epitaph Part I – The Soul


Later this month, I’m playing with a new group that’s been put together by Seth Bennett, a wonderful warm human being who plays double bass and composes. The project’s called What Love and is an octet of improvisers re-imagining the work of the great Charles Mingus.

Seth asked each of us to contribute a tune and opened up the vast canon of Mingus music for us to choose from. I dithered around as one by one, the band picked their pieces. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel inspired, it was just that I’d had my head burrowed in other composing projects and it was difficult to shift focus. Which work of Mingus’ did I have an emotional attachment to? I realised on a London bus as I travelled to teach one Wednesday evening. Epitaph. Mingus’ huge, bizarre, ambitious monster of a work that spans over 2 hours and 4,000 bars. I performed it for a friend’s final recital. It was difficult to get together, by turns ugly and beautiful and impossible and sublime. It’s a fitting Epitaph to Mingus, I think. So I decided to pick eight sections from Epitaph and create 8 individual graphic scores, each written specifically for a particular musician.

This is Part I: The Soul


I don’t want to reveal it all before it exists as sound with the band and I’d like them to be the first ones to fully understand the piece, but this score is the one I’ve written for myself so I can afford to elaborate a little on what you can see.

Each musician will be given three things – 1) a graphic score 2) fragments of notated music from the section of Epitaph the piece is based on and 3) information about the Epitaph is it inspired by.

In my case, the piece is The Soul which is the 6th part of Epitaph. There’s a video snippet of it being performed here on the mingusmingusmingus website.

The epitaph the score is inspired by is that of Chemist, writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi.  I would urge you to read the profoundly important If This Is A Man and The Truce.

Levi was held in Monowitz, also known as Auschwitz III, a labour camp which was one of three main sites at Auschwitz complex. Of the 650 Jews transported to the camps with Levi, he was one of the 20 who left alive.

174517 was Levi’s record number, branded on his arm and used to identify him during the 11 months he was held. During that time, it defined him. Afterwards, it remained on his skin as a symbol of his past, his experience and his resilience.

Along with his birth and death dates and his name, 174517 is engraved on Primo Levi’s headstone.

174517 is written in red and black ink across the score, in columns roughly reminiscent of the Periodic Table. Layered on top of the columns is the floor-plan of Monowitz.

The piece also draws on inspiration from a work by Jasper Johns, a piece he created in 1992 called Nothing At All Richard Dadd. The dark, pencil drawing has layers of content built upon the floor-plan of Johns’ childhood home.


I Am Happy When I Bask In Their Light (and some things I’ve been doing recently…)


Karine Polwart’s song The Good Years contains this line –

I am happy when I bask in your light…

What an absolutely beautiful statement. (Karine is a true artist, a gorgeous soul. I strongly recommend listening to any and all of her work. It’s what my heart sounds like.)

If I had one piece of advice for how to lead a fulfilling life it would be this –

Surround yourself with brilliant people. Seek out people that magnify your spirit and bask in their light. 

You do this and good things will happen, I promise. I listened to Sofie Hagen’s Made of Human podcast recently and she spoke with her guest about definitions of introvert and extrovert. One explanation was that extroverts find energy and life-force by being around others and introverts generate that energy within themselves. I like this a lot. It’s far more pleasing than the old ‘extroverts are loud, introverts are quiet’ description. (Also, don’t worry – you can be an ambivert as well as an extro- or intro-; it’s a spectrum and everybody loves a spectrum.)

With this definition in mind, I’d class myself as an extrovert. I find good company so exhilarating, so life-affirming and it really does feed into my creativity. I love to listen and I love to talk.

These past four weeks have been busy and varied; I feel alive and brimming with creativity.

Visualising Music

I’m having a wonderful time creating graphic scores for the Visualising Music gig at London Jazz festival on November 10th. I’ve jumped down a brilliant rabbit-hole of Jasper johns, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham; listening to them discuss life and the creative process, experiencing their art both as collaborators and separately. The warmth and serenity that emanates from Cage and Cunningham when they speak is a complete joy.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the works before they premiere in November, but here are a few sketches I made while developing a piece entitled Heap and Fiddle.

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More information about the performance here –

EJN in Ljubljana

I was fortunate to spend a few days in Slovenia last month, attending the European Jazz Conference held by Europe Jazz Network, in my capacity as Chair of Jazz From Scotland. I’ve written a report which will be published on the Jazz From Scotland soon so I won’t go into detail here but the two main things I took from the experience were –

  • The joys of exploring a new city alone, as I spent a day by myself in the city before flying back to the UK. Ljubljana is beautiful and I’d like to return.
  • The utter glory of spending time in the company of so many extraordinary women involved in jazz. Amy Pearce, Jill Rodger, Martel Ollerenshaw, Emily Jones, Eve Risser, Kaja Draksler…I basked and I basked and I basked in their light like a little cat in the sunshine.

Here are a few shots from the trip…

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Last week, we took a trip up North and spent two days in Malham to fill up with space (another Polwart turn of phrase that I love). Walking, seeing a lot of brilliant dogs and soothing our souls with the views before spending some time in Leeds, spending time with more fantastic humans.

IMG_20171017_161058_984   IMG_20171018_102319_096 (1)

(The feature image at the top of this piece was also taken while in Malham, at Janet’s Foss.)

Thank you to everyone who enriches my life, simply by being.

More soon.

EFG London Jazz Festival: Visualising Music, November 10th


This week, the full programme of the EFG London Jazz Festival was launched and I’m incredibly excited to be invited to take part in a collaboration between EFG LJF and the Royal Academy of Arts.

Something Resembling Truth is a major retrospective of the work of Jasper Johns which will feature over 150 paintings, drawings and sculptures that spans six decades.

Visualising Music is an event that will explore the graphic score, and the relationship Johns had with composer John Cage. I’m one of two improviser/composers taking part, the other being the gloriously talented Raymond MacDonald. We’ll be joined by a group of musicians from Club Inegales. There will be live music as well as discussion.

Next week is the private opening of the exhibition and it’s the first chance I’ll have to see all of the works. Then, I’ll start work on developing some new graphic scores in response to the works as well as footage, interviews and literature about Johns and Cage.

When something is new to us, we treat it as an experience. We feel that our senses are awake and clear. We are alive.

In addition to this, I’m also part of the 25 for 25 commissioning project, generating 25 new works in celebration of 25 years of the jazz festival.

I’ll be using this site to document the progress of the project so stay tuned…

EFG London Jazz Festival 2017

Something Resembling Truth: Jasper Johns at Royal Academy of Arts



Review: Story Tellers by Duncan Heining, All About Jazz


Last year, I made an album for Discus called Story Tellers. It’s a 6 piece ensemble that features such exciting musicians – Martin Archer, Anton Hunter, Mick Somerset Ward, Corey Mwamba and Pete Fairclough. We worked from graphic scores written by Martin, each of us given a ‘character’ and space to play completely solo.

This week, we got a great, insightful review by Duncan Heining on All About Jazz. 4 1/2 out of 5 stars! I’ve added the review below but do head over to AAJ and check it the enormous treasure trove of jazz writing.

So thanks to Duncan for the review and if you want to buy the album, check out the Discus website.


We used to call records like this ‘concept albums.’ The whole idea soon became a term of derision thanks to Rick Wakeman and others. Nevertheless, let’s stick with it for a moment. Martin Archer’s Story Tellers is constructed as a series of interlocking vignettes, linked both by certain recurring themes, narrative threads and the attribution of certain functional roles to each of these six musicians. In that sense, you have here what can usefully be seen and heard as a ‘concept album’ -and, incidentally, a remarkable musical achievement. 
Thematic development has frequently been the boneyard of many an aspiring jazz composer. Story Tellers is built from a number of themes. Some are attached to an individual musician and explored both as solo and group pieces. Others—”Story Tellers,” “Like It Is,” “Shaman Song” and “Dedication Coda”—are explored a number of variations on a theme. Taken as a whole, Story Tellers, is cyclical in form with each cycle returning to one of two possible end points. In these respects, Story Tellers scores strongly in terms of thematic development.
Story Tellers comprises two CDs, 31 tracks of varying lengths and a total of 150 minutes of music. It is impossible to do it adequate justice in a review, so what follows is more a series of reflections on the music as a whole. 
To begin, the influences (if that is not too strong a word) here comes from Archer’s affection for both Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and for the best of 70s prog and jazz rock. The names checked on the three “Dedication Coda” are Leo Smith, Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell but the music here also recalls for me the Art Ensemble of Chicago. One of the great joys on Story Tellers is the way these themes morph so easily from free, abstract structures into powerful, riff-based forms. Part of that is down to the musicians and the way they listen and communicate. Here, drummer Peter Fairclough is, as his name suggests, a rock. (Matthew Chapter 16, Verse 8) His ability to work across stylistic boundaries recalls others such Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette and John Marshall. 
The other aspect of the music that will strike the listener very forcefully is the use of coloration. Vibraphonist Corey Mwamba, arguably one of the most complete vibes player to emerge since Gary Burton, and guitarist Anton Hunter are especially important in this respect. Mwamba gives the music a lucid, liquid, almost mystical quality, a sense heightened by the use of additional percussion and by the amazing range of tones that Mick Somerset draws from his collection of flutes. The effects achieved by Hunter on his guitar are enhanced by both the drone and ostinato patterns he brings to bear but also by the spindly, raga-like melody lines he spins. There is a wonderful depth and richness to the sound Archer and his cohorts achieve that is more often found, if at all, in larger groups in jazz.
Archer himself is on tremendous form, energetic and ruthless on the band version of “Wayfarer’s Bastard,” appropriately querulous on the solo version of “The Casuist.” While I have often noted Archer’s abilities as a musical collagist (though here, he reveals also skills comparable to those of a landscape artist), the fact is that he is a fine instrumentalist and improviser across a range of woodwinds.
Perhaps, the revelation here is trumpeter Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan. I have heard her on other Archer recordings but, on Story Tellers, she seems to be reaching for something highly personal in her playing. Her playing on the band version of “The Barbarian” and on “Dedication Coda—Leo’s Dream” reveals that perfect combination in a brass player—excellent tone, exceptional control and articulation coupled with the ability to attack each note when required.  
The sheer range of music on Story Tellers is astonishing and stretches with ease from the more pastoral colours of “Story Tellers#2,” where the AACM comparison is at its sharpest, to the dark hues of “The Rain Maker—band version.” Such contrasts continue throughout. Listen to the polyrhythms that underpin “The Wounded Healer—band version” and compare this with the spacey psychedelia of “Like It Will Be” and the primal beats of “Shaman Song #3” (echoes of Rite of Spring?) This is music shaped built upon a grand vision of what jazz can be.

Here’s What I Read in August…


August was a month of some gigs, some meetings, a week of R+R in Ireland, piccolo trumpet shedding and reading. Here’s where I tell you about the reading bits…

Another Day In The Death Of America (Gary Younge)

This one came as a gift from my mother-in-law, one of the few special members of the trusted book recommenders/gifters club. She’d read it and highly recommended it and it’s one I’ve seen now and again on bookstore shelves and in reading lists. It arrived on a day where I’d just finished a book and had a craving for some non-fiction after reading solely fiction in July, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Gary Younge is a Black British journalist who lived in the US for a number of years. The book focuses on this rather sobering fact – every day in the US, an average of seven children and teens die from gunshot wounds. Younge selects a day, November 23rd 2013 and tells the stories of ten such deaths; black, latino and white people aged between 9 and 19 who were shot and killed that day. This is an attempt to humanise; to present without judgement the lives of ten young people that are frequently referred to as statistics by politicians, activists and the media. It’s an incredibly honest and respectful book that touches on the issues that surround these deaths – issues like gun control, the incredible sway of the NRA in legislation and the relationships between police, state and the black community. A sore book but a necessary one.

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)

This is a tricky one. The book centres on an American family, chronicling their flaws and desires, their complex relationships with each other and others. It’s a slice of middle America in the 20th century. But I have to say, I resisted reading it for quite a long time because, with no searching or provocation, negative comments about Franzen and the book snuck into my brain and coloured my opinion before I’d even started. This is why reviews are often garbage (she says writing one. But this is a journal of books, not a review. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I bought it on kindle because it popped up in a sale and although I own a kindle and definitely understand the benefits of such a device, my reading experience is always worse than if I hold the book in my hand. Focus and the ability to become immersed suffers on an e-reader, I think. I would say it’s the type of book I love, but I didn’t love this one in particular.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (David Foster Wallace)

Short stories are a particular creature. For me, three authors have really ripped my heart out with their short stories; Raymond Carver ,(What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) George Saunders (Tenth of December) and David Foster Wallace. To make a profound statement in a short story is something special. It’s like a glimpse into a world that leaves you wishing you knew more. Succinct and devastating. I loved every one of the pieces in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men but if you’re only going to read two, read The Soul Is Not A Smithy and Incarnations Of Burned Children.

The part of the featherfall into sleep in which whatever lines of thought you’ve been pursuing begin now to become surreal around the edges and then at some point the thoughts themselves are replaced by images and concrete pictures and scenes. You move gradually from merely thinking about something to experiencing it as really there, unfolding, a story or world you are part of. Although at the same time enough of you remains awake to be able to discern on some level that what you are experiencing does not quite make sense, that you are on some cusp of edge of true dreaming.

In Pursuit Of Silence (George Prochnik)

If we’ve hung out in the last month or so, we’ve probably talked about silence and quiet and noise because it’s a major focus in my creative practice at the moment. I’m fascinated by society’s relationship with sound and silence. This book is wonderful and I’d highly recommend it (and probably have done already) to everyone I know. Prochnik explores our relationship with sound and silence in a range of different settings; trappist monks, astronauts, the links between noise and our health, technological advances designed to address an increasingly loud world to name but a few. It shines a light on an issue that many of us take for granted but is omnipresent. Like, did you know that the number of reported cases of mental ill-health rose significantly around the area of Heathrow airport following their expansion? And did you know about Audiac, a sonic analgesic developed by a dentist that was used sound as the sole painkiller for dental work and reduced the pain of a cavity treatment down to the level of a mosquito bite according to the majority of patients? OK, I’ll stop now. Go read it.

Down And Out In Paris And London (George Orwell)

Orwell was a visionary, a truly great mind. My mind was utterly boggled after I read 1984 for the first time. And it was written in 1948?! Extraordinary foresight in his social commentary that resonates as strongly as ever. I read Down And Out…last week while we spent the week in Ireland, another from my mother-in-law’s home library and I absolutely loved it. Profound words on the human condition, shocking insights into poverty and Orwell’s beautiful prose meets Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I’m drawn to books that deal with non-romantic relationships and this one does it so well, dealing with friendships and companionship borne out of circumstance.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)

My first Carson McCullers novel (though that’s probably the case for everyone…) which I finished this morning. It centres on a deaf-mute named John Singer and the people drawn to him as he lives in a quiet American town. Singer is like the sun in a solar system full of oddball planets, all of whom have created their own mythologies about the sun’s origin and purpose and spirit. It’s a beautiful illustration on the way people are drawn to stillness and quiet, all of the characters feeling a strong sense of calm and belonging while visiting Singer’s room in a boarding house. It reminded me of something Anne Truitt says in her journal, Daybook, about the importance in loving people for who they are rather than the idea of them that exists in you.

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves…The opposite to this inattention is love, is the honouring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

Now I’m onto Delusions of Gender but that can wait until September’s round-up…


Thinking about podcasts…


Last week I took my first steps into the world of audio production and editing, working on a podcast for Sebastian at London Jazz News. I don’t think the flood of job offers from podcast companies, the BBC, Channel 4 etc will start just yet but I did enjoy myself and managed to get to grips with the basics.

See the brilliant London Jazz News to hear the Essiet Essiet podcast I edited, plus a whole host of other articles, features and reviews.

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting up a podcast myself for a while now and what this job proved was how far you can get with a piece of free software like Audacity. It also got me thinking about what I look for in a podcast and which are my favourites…

Reply All – My all-time favourite podcast. It’s the only one where I’ll check pretty much daily to see whether a new episode is up. It’s about the internet, broadly speaking, but the scope is massive. What ties it together is that the two presenters, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, have strong chemistry and are great storytellers. Each episode will be focused on one topic with a couple of themed segments popping up regularly – Yes Yes No, where their boss brings to them a tweet he doesn’t understand and they decipher it and Super Tech Support where listeners essentially get in touch to propose stories for them to look into. Very well produced and I haven’t come across a bad episode yet.

Episode to check out: #81 – In The Tall Grass

Intercepted – This is the podcast version of online news publication, The Intercept_ and is focused on following the often surreal and terrifying activities of the US government since Trump became president. Presenter Jeremy Scahill, a well-respected political journalist and award-winning author, deals with one main issue per episode including an interview with someone connected to the issue. His conversation style when interviewing is strong and direct but not bull-headed and he presents facts and figures in a way that makes you come away feeling like you’ve learned something vital.

Episode to check out: Wikileaks vs. the CIA 

WTF with Marc Maron – I’m pretty sure if you’ve ever listened to podcasts, you’ll have at the very least heard of Marc Maron’s one. This podcast perfectly sums up what podcasting is about for me; conversations and honesty.  The traditional interviewer/interviewee set-up can often end up being a little stiff and reverential. It’s an artificial social situation and it feels that way. With WTF, it’s more like you’re a fly on the wall during a conversation. There are over 800 episodes and the guest list is amazing – from Edie Falco to Al Gore.

Episode to check out: 794 – Louis Theroux

I’ve searched a little for podcasts on music and books, two of my life’s great loves. But every one that I’ve found has fallen short; so many are dry or fawning. No personality.

I’m always on the look out for more to listen to, so drop me a line if you’ve any suggestions!

PS – I find my podcasts on Stitcher and Spotify.