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Ivo Neame

Looking Back From Moksha

by Howard Lawes




Ivo Neame



Ivo Neame graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 2003 having specialised in playing saxophone under the tutelage of Martin Speake, Steve Buckley and Barack Schmool.  In earlier years he had played percussion, sang as a chorister in Canterbury Cathedral and as a teenager was obsessed with Miles Davis and his contemporaries.  Latterly at RAM and increasingly after graduating, he chose the piano as when he accompanied Norwegian trumpeter Audan Waage at a gig in Hoxton, London in 2005.  Neame joined the Loop Collective, an organisation based at a pub called The Oxford in Kentish Town, London that was formed and still exists to support jazz musicians to collaborate, compose, perform and record. [The Oxford has recently changed ownership and re-opened as The Oxford Tavern].

In 2007, which must have been a very busy year, Ivo played saxophone with Jim Hart's band Gemini on the album Emergence, and piano on three other albums, Getting Giggy by the Andrew Davies Quartet; Different Smile by Kaz Simmons and Swirls And Eddies by his own trio. The BBC's Paul Sullivan described Emergence as a "sparkling foray into 21st century jazz" but unfortunately Swirls And Eddies received a rather less enthusiastic reaction from reviewers.  In the same year a band called Phronesis led by bassist, RAM graduate and Loop Collective member Jasper Høiby released an inventive, yet accessible album called Organic Warfare that had well-built melodies and strong grooves. By 2009 Høiby had joined Neame's band and Neame had joined Phronesis as the pianist and the rest as they say, is history.

The 2009 Phronesis release Green Delay received great reviews with the Guardian's John Fordham calling the music 'infectious' and Selwyn Harris in Jazzwise referring to them as 'a vigorous, rhythmic unit' and in a separate article, included the band as part of the 'burgeoning London jazz scene'.  In the same year Neame was still playing alto sax on the album Narrada by Jim Hart's band Gemini, but in his own band, now a quartet with a young James Maddren on drums, his piano playing was "blossoming" and "Herbie Hancockish" according to John Fordham in the Guardian reviewing the album Caught In The Light of Day.  In an article in Jazzwise (November 2009) by Andy Robson, Ivo Neame with a nod to his latest album compared jazz musicians to vampires - "they come out at night, sunshine scares them and they suck the life-blood from great jazz traditions", he also describes his approach to writing  - "I think it's fun if there is a bit of a scene set, a narrative. Jazz can be a bit abstract so that's why on each song there's a few differing elements. I go for different textures, differences, contrasts: I don't want to be stuck in the same atmosphere as you often are in a straight ahead instrumental. The 'head' form can be so predictable so I try to be different. It's one of my many preoccupations".  In the same interview Neame berates the London jazz scene and discusses the paradox that jazz musicians typically face which is to raise the profile of jazz without selling out.

The next few years continued Ivo Neame's rise in fame, recognition and technique. 2010 saw the release of the album Alive by Phronesis which was garlanded with awards from Jazzwise and MOJO magazines.


This video introduces the Alive album:





In the following year the band Kairos 4tet, with Neame playing Kairos 4tetpiano, won the MOBO award for Best Jazz Act. In early 2012 there came a fine album from the young saxophonist and RAM graduate, Josh Arcoleo, with Ivo Neame on piano and Neame's young ally James Maddren on drums and Calum Gourlay played double bass. Later that same year there were nominations for Best Album from the Parliamentary Jazz Awards for Walking Dark by Phronesis, UK jazz instrumentalist of the year from Jazz FM and the award of Best Jazz Act from the London Awards for Art and Performance for Phronesis.


Kairos 4tet - Jon Scott, Jasper Høiby, Ivo Neame, Adam Waldmann


Ivo Neame's own band expanded to an octet to produce an album called Yatra (meaning 'procession' or 'pilgrimage') with Tori Freestone playing flute and tenor saxophone, Jason Yarde on alto saxophone, Jon Shenoy and Shabaka Hutchins on clarinets and Dave Hamblett on drums joining the regulars, Jim Hart and Jasper Høiby while Neame plays accordion, alto saxophone and clarinet as well as piano. With so many great instrumentalists Yatra was clearly an ambitious project that must have required a huge amount of composing and arranging work on Neame's part, particularly as his style, as he mentioned in his 2009 interview, is to make the composition more interesting than the head followed by everyone doing a solo model. While he pretty much succeeded, some reviewers, given the quality of the musicians, probably hoped that the music might soar to even greater heights. 

Meanwhile Phronesis released Walking Dark, an album of great personal significance to Jaspar Høiby as the title refers to the blindness that has afflicted his sister, and to share some sort of impression of blindness the music was initially performed in the dark. While in previous Phronesis albums Høiby had done all the composition, in this case duties were shared and while this might have led to a lack of consistency, in fact the members of the band know each other and their music so well that the same high quality just kepts on coming. 


Phronesis - Walking Dark




In 2013, Ivo Neame became an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, an honour given to alumni who make a significant contribution to the music profession.  The year also brought another collaboration between Neame and the outstanding Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset in the form of the album Birds; other members of the band are, perhaps unsurprisingly in the interwoven world of jazz, Jim Hart on vibraphone, Jasper Høiby on double bass and Anton Eger on drums. Neame had actually been touring with Neset to play music from Neset's previous album, Golden Xplosion, although the pianist on the original recording was the renowned Django Bates. Both of these albums received great acclaim with 5 star reviews in the Guardian newspaper. Kairos 4tet also released Everything We Hold, a beautiful album featuring Neame not just on piano but also harmonium, accordion and bass clarinet, Phronesistogether with a large and eclectic group of musicians and vocalists while fellow Loop Collective member and double bassist Dave Manington with the band Riff Raff released Hullabaloo, a collection of polyphonic jazz with Neame once again revelling in the opportunity to play a variety of instruments with contributions on piano, keyboards, Fender Rhodes and accordion.

The following year saw Ivo Neame collaborate with another young band led by US trumpeter Andre Canniere to produce the album Coalescence and in his review John Fordham describes Neame's piano as 'some of the most confidently imaginative playing he has recorded'. Phronesis, having been nominated for the MOBO Best Jazz Act went on to record Life To Everything at the aptly named Cockpit Theatre, an amphitheatre that was crammed with hugely excited fans during the London Jazz Festival. Having successfully toured in Europe, Japan and the USA and been described as 'one of the most exciting bands on the planet' by Jazzwise editor Jon Newey, Phronesis seemed to be on a mission to fulfil the ambitions talked about in interviews - to engage with the audience, to undermine those naysayers who claim jazz is over-intellectual or cacophanous and to provide great entertainment. Popular and critical reaction was overwhelmingly positive with the album being placed 2nd in the Jazzwise Albums of the Year 2014 Critics Poll. As well as all this excitement, Ivo Neame was appointed principal lecturer in jazz piano at Leeds College of Music, perhaps just as exciting in a different way.







A video of a live performance by Phronesis of Abraham's New Gift from Life To Everything.




In 2015 there was a new collaboration with guitarist Ant Law on the album Zero Sum World; another amazing album from Marius Neset called Pinball and a fourth album called Strata from Neame's own band, now reduced to a quintet with Tori Freestone, Jim Hart, Tom Farmer on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums. The musicians on Strata are all well known to each other and the artistic empathy is apparent from the confidence with which composition and improvisation are joined. In Adrian Pallant's review, Neame describes the developmental unpredictability: 'We interpret these pieces as we play them, so that the music is a dynamic, evolving entity. Once the rug has been pulled away, the tune might take on a new identity, ending up with a different feel, mood or tempo… The contributions of the band members are vital, as they all help shape the character of the music.'


Here is a video featuring the title track of Strata.




The last few years have seen no let-up in Neame's frenetic activity, 2016 brought a new album from Phronesis called Parallax recorded at the iconic Abbey Road studios. In an article in Jazzwise in 2011 Neame expressed his admiration for the Steinway 'D' piano at Abbey Road studios so he must have been in seventh heaven to finally have the opportunity to use it. Once again the album had critics marvelling at the bands inventiveness, skill and technique and noting the witty titles such as Neame's OK Chorale. Marius Neset's Snowmelt is played by a quartet with Neame on piano, Petter Eldh on bass and Anton Eger on drums supplemented with the London Sinfonietta conducted by Geoffrey Paterson and is a hugely ambitious project that succeeds magnificently. The pairing of a jazz band with jazz orchestra had provided one of the stand-out events of the 2015 London Jazz Festival when Phronesis with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band played arrangements by Julian Arguelles, and then Arguelles on saxophones joined Neame with Andrea Di Biase on bass and Dave Hamblett on drums to form a band called Escape Hatch to release an album called Roots Of Unity. Neame also played on Andre Canniere's album, The Darkening Blue.  The recording of Julian Arguelles's arrangements of Phronesis music with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band was released as an album called The Behemoth, the name highlighting the irony of a band which had always been a compact piano trio expanding into something a great deal larger. Phronesis undertook a highly successful tour of North America culminating with a highly acclaimed performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival.  This was followed by a performance of The Behemoth with the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra at the North Sea Jazz Festival.  A further project in 2017 featuring Ivo Neame was the latest Marius Neset album, Circle Of Chimes, described as his darkest, most melancholic composition yet.

2018 heralded the 10th anniversary of Edition Records who have released many of the albums by Phronesis, Kairos 4tet, Marius Neset and Ivo Neame's own bands. In celebration of this, Phronesis played all five of their trio albums at Pizza Express, Soho over the period 14th -17th June.  I was able to meet Ivo Neame just prior to the performance of Organic Warfare, Phronesis's first album on which the piano was played by Magnus Hjorth. As Phronesis have a policy of not reading music during performances, Neame had to learn all eleven tracks of the album Ivo Neame Mokshafor the first time and as he ruefully observed it is the pianist who has the most notes to learn.  As well as preparing for this mammoth performance, called Deja Vu, Neame has released his fifth album, Moksha. The band, now a quartet, has Neame playing acoustic piano, fender rhodes, mellotron, hammond organ and nord lead synthesiser; George Crowley on tenor saxophone; Tom Farmer on double bass and James Maddren on drums. 

Taking its title, Moksha, from Hindu philosophy, the Sanskrit Moksha refers to salvation and liberation of the soul through music. The word was also used as the title of a book by Aldous Huxley that Neame encountered. Neame's interest in Carnatic music - an Indian musical system defining melody and rhythm in a different way to traditional western music, inspired compositions over more than 10 years and which have now been brought together into the one album.  In combination with the songs Neame has also employed a wider range of instruments than usual, including electronic, to generate a different sound. Neame stressed that it is very important to him that his music should continually develop using new ideas and exploring new techniques. 

Listeners familiar with Ivo Neame's earlier work will notice immediately that the first track, Vegetarians, has both a solid groove and synthesiser setting the scene for music which is great to listen to and retains all the essential elements of contemporary jazz. 


The band plays Vegetarians.




The second track Moksha Music, is a name shared with a UK organisation that promotes the art and culture of the Indian subcontinent. However, the style of the track is by no means recognisably Indian, but Neame's exciting piano solo and subsequent conversation with Crowley's saxophone is wonderful in any language. The introduction to the track Laika has an ethereal quality leading to a challenging staccato passage which is a little reminiscent of Marius Neset's Birds before James Maddren on drums seems to take charge, sparring alternately with Crowley and Neame on a variety of keyboard instruments, a really interesting track.


Here is a brief video taster of the band playing Laika.




The slow tempo Outsider effectively evokes a feeling of melancholy with the double bass of Tom Farmer taking a major role, while the final track Blimp begins with reflective piano from Neame that becomes increasingly jagged and powerful, Crowley supplies a persistent and seemingly quarrelsome motif while Maddren adopts a moderating influence.

Moksha is a really enjoyable album with lots of new ideas that will keep the listener entertained even after several repeats. Ivo Neame provides George Crowley with an excellent vehicle with which to demonstrate his tenor sax expertise, while Neame's old bandmates Tom Farmer and James Maddren are the ideal rhythm section to complement Neame's always inventive piano and keyboards.  In the 2011 Jazzwise interview Ivo Neame said "I see music as a language and I’ve always been fascinated by languages and the way people express themselves. For me, improvising feels very similar to speaking French or Italian. I think about music a lot, or I’m usually singing something or other inside my head. It expresses emotions so purely – and there’s no room for bullshitters! I love it when music moves me to tears, when the musician is able to cast his or her spell over the listener.” 


Moksha Music.



It goes without saying that Ivo Neame is a remarkable musician at the top of his game,  he is certainly casting a spell over jazz lovers throughout the world and will undoubtedly have moved many to tears of joy.  

Ivo Neame Moksha band


James Maddren, Tom Farmer, Ivo Neame, George Crowley


Finally, a piano solo from 2016 with Ivo Neame playing El Mar after a poem of the same name by Pablo Neruda.



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Philip Larkin's Jazz
Free Improvisation - Pyne and Grew
Video Juke Box
Jazz As Art

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