Magic Science Qt. + Black Top

Henry, Orphy, Marshall by Roger Thomas

Dissappointed at not being unable to reach the I’klektik ArtLab in South London to hear the MAGIC SCIENCE QUARTET conjure up a live score to a vintage silent film that reinterpreted the mythological tale of OEDIPUS I was much relieved to discover that the quartet was to join forces with the ever innovative Black Top duo for a late night benefit session for the Vortex in Dalston.

I arrived in the wake of Christian Muthspiel’s session to find legendary bassists Steve Swallow and Henry Grimes in conversation. A sight in itself. Following a feverish onstage swap over of kit and minimal sound check, 91 year old Marshall Allen, forsaking any formal introductions, stepped up to the mic to hush a room full of cosmic music devotees with a furious flurry of sound that couldn’t have come from any other horn player on the planet.

Marsall was out of the blocks quicker than Usain Bolt leaving his fellow musicians to simply follow in his wake. In his inherited role as skipper of Sun Ra’s Arkestra he is a natural leader and the fellow members of the Magic Science Quartet immediately locked in behind him. Tucked away behind Black Top’s Pat Thomas, who was already bouncing on his seat as he sought out a swirling myriad of sounds from that radical self programmed keyboard of his, was Swiss pianist and ‘spirit drummer’ Ka. Her playing demonstrated both grace and lyrical attack while the bass of the legendary Henry Grimes quietly but confidently shape shifted beneath the drums of Avreeayl Ra.

Henry Grimes by Fabio Lugaro

Henry Grimes by Fabio Lugaro

The art of improvisation lies in listening. Feeding on the powerful dynamics of the ensemble Orphy Robinson delivered cascading waves of sound and stark repetitive grooves on the xylosyth – the triggers and samples that normally characterise a Black Top performance were left for another day. Just when I thought it might just be all over, Henry Grimes laid down his bass but swapped it for a violin. An ethereal and memorable excursion punctuated by bamboo flute, ensued and offered refuge in another musical dimension. The avant garde meshed with the tradition to close the night and Marshall’s response to Grimes’ easy snappin’ bluesy bass lines was, as ever, sonically mesmerising. His right hand fluttered across the keys of his alto, the sound of which simply grew in power.Overall, it was a dazzling demonstration of purely improvised music where science and magic produced a profound and pure energy! The last bus had long gone but I was happy to walk home with the music, as Ornette once said, dancing in my head.

marshall A
Here’s hoping I’ve the energy & spirit that Marshall Allen’s got when I’m 91!

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SHEN GONG and NEI DAN in DA XUAN: An encounter with an Urban Daoist



SHEN GONG and NEI DAN in DA XUAN is the first book to be published in English by Paris based “urban daoist”, Serge Augier. This “manual for working with mind, emotion and internal energy” is a genuine opportunity for students of The Way to engage with the essential concepts of the rare Daoist tradition that the author has inherited – Ba Men Da Xuan (the Big Secret).

I first discovered Serge Augier in one Alex Kozma’s early books. He came across as a young, intriguing and mystical character, a spiritual adept with a deep knowledge of the Yi Jing, Chinese medicine, Feng Shui and array of devastating martial skills. Serge’s teacher was the lineage holder of the Ba Men Da Xuan tradition and along with being an early disciple of Ziranmen (Natural Boxing) Grandmaster Wan Lai Shang he had  also studied with Wan’s legendary teacher Du Xing Wu and with Zhang Zhao Dong who had skillfully, blended the Fa-Jins of Xing Yi with Ba Gua Zhang. Serge Augier has been practicing since his childhood, likes to share and teach, and has over 35 years experience

urb serge 3

It was on the basis of his reputation that, a few years ago, I signed up to do a weekend workshop with Serge in Gloucester. It was held in a cavernous sweaty gym and attracted practitioners from numerous styles. It was very practical and involved a lot of partner work. Serge would only demonstrate on his own students and I suspect they were the only people in the hall capable of taking the blows and strikes which he delivered with an ease that was totally deceptive. I came away from that workshop with little understanding of what the Da Xuan tradition is but felt exhilarated by the experience of the training.  In reality, I was more than a touch dismayed that, despite years of training taijiquan forms (Yang and Chen), there was a serious disconnection. My practical skills were painfully lacking.

I returned to training Chen taijiquan, in the hope of going deeper, while personally exploring foundation skills and the nei gong practices that connected other arts like xing yi, bagua and yi quan. If you are a regular reader of this on-line journal you’ll know that I do like to read the odd book (ha!) and the publication of  this book – Serge Augier’s Shen Gong and Nei Dan in Da Xuan – was filled with promise as the author declared,

“Be not fooled by nebulous writings.

It should be simple, because this practice has been developed by very practical people.

It should be usable and easy to understand.

You will discover through this tradition, as it is presented here, the infinite possibilities are within your reach.”

urb grandsecret-webIt seemed to provide a way to understand the interconnected nature of the Da Xuan tradition. It was clear from the off that the reader was required to go deeper into himself or herself, and the Shen Gong / pure mind training – demands daily practice accumulative practice which is not easy.

“Dissociating the mind means no longer existing the way that the mind has established itself and this implies dying. that is what we fear most and this is why the mind defends itself in so many elaborate ways.”

Serge readily outlines the principles and exercises in the Shen Gong Training that are to be followed if we are achieve happiness by calming the mind. He then progresses to the Nei Dan –  inner alchemy / the way of transformation – aspect of his tradition which focusses on breath and internal energy. He outlines numerous practical  breathing techniques and exercises before  introducing us to The Eighteeen Methods Leading To The Gates Of Madness – a deepening of the practice where one’s work on the mind is based on three stages:  1. Calming the mind 2. Dissociating 3. Uniting. Yes, it’s deep stuff and though it is rooted in ancient meditation practices it’s also what underpins the modern practice of mindfulness.  However, after reading the chapter The Nine Words Of Guidance it was back to Basic Principles and Theory – I needed to learn to walk before I can start running.

My initial enthusiastic attempts to follow the manual kept falling by the wayside despite the dire warnings that if you keep taking the kettle off the hear it will never boil. I intuitively felt, “I need to make this journey!” but also felt I needed guidance. I saw from his website that Serge offered distance learning and was seriously considering it when I experienced a most fortunate episode of synchronicity. One day I’d turned up to do some training in my local park and as my regular spot was occupied headed off to an alternative place. Upon arrival there was a guy chatting on his mobile. I just got on with practicing my Chen taiji forms. He finished his call and went through some bagua and xing yi practice. Once he’d finished I immediately introduced myself. It turned out that his name was Darren Rose. He has studied with Serge Augier for 14 years, s a formal disciple and is the Da Xuan school representative in London.

Initially, this encounter presented me with a small dilemma. Having read the chapter on Serge in Alex Kozma’s book Warrior Guards The Mountain I knew the martial practice within the Da Xuan tradition unites Ziranmen with the General Li’s taijiquan,  Zhang Zao Dong’s bagua and Li Cun Yi’s xing yi. I wasn’t sure how this would work for me. I’m no spring chicken – should I be concentrating on my precarious health or fighting or both. Would I have to abandon what I was already practicing? Or maybe I should just be more disciplined? That said, I am a sucker for synchronicity and, in that sense, there was no option but to ask to join his training group.

Darren was openly encouraging of my pursuing both distance learning with Serge and training with him as well. And so, I happily embarked on a new stage of the journey, which is currently focussed on Chapter 13 of the manual and deals with Wai Dan and “how to train the qualities developed through physical training”. For me, martial arts practices are about personal cultivation and by unifying, in a very organised and systematic way, the following five aspects of practice we will deal with the interaction between the Three Treasures of mind, body, and energy.

urban daoist logo -jpegWai Gong ( external training)

Nei Gong (internal training)

Nei Dan (inner alchemy)

Shen Gong (mind training)

Xin Yi Dao Yin Fa (emotion training)


Serge Augier maintains we don’t retreat to the mountain. Through practice we build that mountain in our daily lives. As I said earlier, Serge makes no bones about the need to go deeper into oneself and I sense that this book is going to be well thumbed and a valuable reference, consistently referred to, in the years to come.

urb serge 2jpg

SERGE AUGIER’S SHEN GONG and NEI DAN in DA XUAN is published by Singing Dragon –

His web site is:


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One would hope by now, that everyone reading this will know about JAZZ RE:FEST and that this year’s event is happening at the Royal Festival Hall (The Clore Ballroom), Southbank on Sunday September 20th 2015. But for those of you who don’t know, here’s the rundown.

When they did the first JAZZ RE:FEST the Jazz Re: Freshed crew quickly realised that this was the beginning of something BIG and 2015 sees JAZZ RE:FEST take another step forward with a change of venue – the world renowned Clore Ballroom in the Royal Festival Hall. Once they secured the venue, they made the massive decision make this year’s event free entry… YES, FREE ENTRY! 

They also wanted to make JAZZ RE:FEST family friendly and accessible to all age-groups, so they’ve switched from a night-time event to a daytime format – although, there will be an after-party for those of you that want to continue the party into the night, hosted at Bar Topolski’s literally 30 seconds from RFH.

Even though this year’s JAZZ RE:FEST is free to enter, it goes without saying that they haven’t on the quality of the line-up. This year, as with every year and with every event that they put their name to, Jazz Re: Freshed have put together a sterling collection of artists, musicians and deejays.


Ty & Ezra Collective / Richard Spaven / Soweto Kinch / Carmen Souza & Theo Pascal / Yussef Kamaal (Yussef Dayes & Henry Wu) / Peter Edwards Trio / Nerija / Myriad Forest


Mikey Futuristic / E Double D / Man vs Wife / Eric Lau /Patrick Forge / Sarah Love / Hosted by Motet

PLUS, as always Jazz Re: Freshed have music, art and fashion for sale courtesy of UNITED 80.

Here’s the key info… JAZZ RE:FEST – Sunday 20th September 2015,  The Clore Ballroom – Royal Festival Hall London SE1 1  –  2PM – 7PM   FREE ENTRY


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BRAND NEW! INTO FOREVER with Matt Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra

INTO FOREVER is Matt Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra’s second album and it’s been rotation on my CD player since it dropped through the door. 

Mathew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra

Mathew Halsall & some of the The Gondwana Orchestra

There’s  a real confidence about this latest record. ‘Into Forever’ continues Matt Halsall’s “spiritual jazz” trajectory and extends his already radical Gondwana Orchestra to embrace some lush string arrangements while maintaining a surprisingly strong song-based feel.

The rhythm section of bassist Gavin Barras and drummer Luke Flowers underpin these thoughtful compositions with gently rolling grooves while Rachel Gladwin delivers rippling waves of sound via her harp that are fluidly matched by Taz Modi’s piano. Keiko Kitamura is present on koto and it’s a joy to hear Lisa Mallet’s flute take flight on a spacey drum’n’bass-ish ‘The land Of’ and on the evocative composition dedicated to Taiwan’s ‘Longshan Temple’ and, in turn, the bodhisattva of mercy, Guanyin.

As the ensemble leader he focusses on the arrangements, creating space for all involved and allowing the music to breathe. It almost a surprise when Matt’s horn actually makes an appearance. on the title track of ‘Into Forever’ He shares shares writing credits on the vocal cuts with vocalist Josephine Oniyama who delivers her compositions with soulful panache. On the penultimate track of ‘Dean Park’ Matt’s horn line echoes a spaced out ‘Take 5’ meets Don Cherry while final track , ‘Jamais Vu’, introduces Bryony Jarman-Pinto who adds a different vocal dimension and explores the phenomenon of experiencing a situation that one recognizes in some fashion, but that nonetheless seems very unfamiliar.

gond lp‘Into Forever’ – Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra is on Gondwana Records and is out on 2nd October. Pre-order today!


Matthew Halsall & The Gondwana Orchestra’s perform at Union Chapel in London on Thursday 29th October.

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Always loved this photo of Rico Rodriguez and his daughters by my bredren Jean Bernard Sohiez.

Veteran of the legendary Alpha Boys School band
and further educated in the camp of Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari in Wareika Hills in East Kingston, Rico Rodriguez brought the distinctive and often melancholy sound of the ska trombone, as defined by the legendary Don Drummond, to these shores in 1961. He worked nights in the Ford car plant in Dagenham, did a portion of painting and decorating but had a long standing working relationship with hands-on, Island record boss, Chris Blackwell. Though well known on the underground UK reggae scene, it was Rico’s seminal mid-Seventies ‘Man From Wareika’ LP and it’s dub version, recorded for Blackwell, that remains for me the creative peak of his long career. Rico’s trombone was further immortalised on the Specials’ magnificent ‘Ghost Town’ single and it was always brilliant to see him in the ranks of Jools Holland’s Big Band or Gary Crosby’s Jazz Jamaica. One of my best friends named her son after him. Rico passed away aged 80 and as I pack a box of tunes for the FREEDOM! session this evening I’ll make sure the Man From Wareika is in the mix.

In the mix:

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BLACK PANTHER PARTY: Vanguard Of The Revolution

Black Panther Party: Vanguard Of The Revolution hit the big screen at Hackney’s Rio Cinema during the East London Film Festival and was joy to behold. It is now poised for nationwide release. In the shadow of on-going institutionalised police brutality and the Black Lives Matter campaigns across America the legacy of the Panthers remains both inspirational and deeply relevant.

Co founders of the Black Panther Party - national chairman Bobby Seale, left, wearing a Colt .45, and Huey Newton, right, defense minister with a bandoleer and shotgun are shown in Oakland, Calif. - Photograohy: AP Photo/San Francisco Examiner

Co founders of the Black Panther Party – national chairman Bobby Seale, left, wearing a Colt .45, and Huey Newton, right, defense minister with a bandoleer and shotgun are shown in Oakland, Calif. – Photograohy: AP Photo/San Francisco Examiner

Back in 1969 I picked a copy of Bobby Seale’s book Seize The Time. The cover had a clenched fist inside a black leather glove, a sartorial style that the Twisted Wheel generation of soul devotees had adopted post Tommy Smith and John Carlos’ Black Power salutes at the 1968 Mexico Olympics.

Bobby Seale and Huey Newton had founded the Black Panther Party for Self Defence in Oakland California in October of 1966 in response to ongoing police violence against the black community and Seize The Time told the story of the impact that their stand off with the US power structure had. I wanted to know more and upon moving to Cheltenham I discovered a small shop at the back of Cavendish House (the town’s equivalent of Harrods) run by an African who sold the cane chairs like the one Huey Newton was photographed in brandishing a spear and rifle. He also sold literature by Eldridge Cleaver (Soul On Ice), Angela Davis (If The Come In The Morning) and Franz Fanon (Wretched Of The Earth). My education continued.

Black Panther breakfast programme

Black Panther breakfast programme

As now, the world was in a turbulent state at the end of the Sixties. The Peace & Love generation of American youth were confronted with the draft to fight in Vietnam. The dream of Civil Rights ended in Memphis in 1968 with the assassination of Dr.Martin Luther King and the baton was passed a new generation who that responded to America’s endemic violence against its black citizens with a call for revolution. The vanguard of that movement became the Black Panther Party.

Previous efforts to document the story of Black Panther Party have all too often been concocted from scattered repackaged parts, often depicting tragic, mythic accounts of violence and criminal activity. That’s not the case with documentarian Stanley Nelson. The man goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it.

Black Panther: Wmen Activists

Black Panther: Women Activists

BP lifetime_revolution_l Black Panther Party: Vanguard Of The Revolution is not intended to be definitive but what we do get is an essential history. The bold arrival of the heavily armed Panthers at the California senate and the response then governor Ronald Reagan is classic. We get to witness Bobby Seale standing for mayor of Oakland and the impact of the breakfast programmes in the ghetto. They were masters of getting their own publicity and the Panther newspaper with the explosive graphics of Emory Douglas made a huge impact. The FBI had already initiated a covert action program – Cointelpro – against Martin Luther King Jnr, Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael and in 1969 Hoover moved against the Panthers. While toll of arrests and deaths rose it was left to women activists like Kathleen Cleaver, Ericka Huggins and Elaine Brown to lead the struggle and provide inspiration for a whole generation of women to get involved..

The assassination of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party is thoroughly documented in the film. It was clear that the charismatic Hampton, a born leader who had cut his organisational teeth with the NAACP, was perceived as major threat by the FBI. Word is that Hampton was on the verge of a merger between The Panthers and a 1000+ strong gang on the Southside of the Chicago. He was murdered while sleeping in his apartment during a joint police/FBI raid.

Fred-Hampton at Dirksen-Federal Building-

Fred-Hampton at Dirksen-Federal Building-

Through J Edgar Hoover and the FBI, the weight of the American “justice” system was directed against the Panthers. It was a protracted war aimed at destroying their infrastructure with arrests and killings that eventually succeeded. Though Huey Newton was eventually freed from prison after a long campaign it appeared from the film that the brothers who surrounded him on his release were not from the daily struggle but associates from his jail time. In Eighties Newton studied at the University of California where earned a PHD for ‘War Against the Panthers: A Study of Repression in America’ – it was eventually published by Harlem River Press. He reputedly succumbed to cocaine addition and died in a confrontation with a local drug dealer and member of the Black Guerilla Front in 1989. Eldridge Cleaver, proved himself an politically corrupt opportunist but Bobby Seale, Emory Douglas, Ericka Huggins and Elaine Brown, among others, carried on their work in the community. They left a lifeline of activism to those today who choose to campaign for change and to resist police forces across America, that equip themselves with the second hand armaments from failed US wars in Afganistan and the Middle East.

Black Panther DVD - Sept 2015

Black Panther DVD – Sept 2015

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, is a vibrant, human, living and breathing chronicle of a pivotal movement in global history. If you get the chance to see on a big screen, don’t sleep on it.

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RUBBLE KINGS: NYC’s gang wars

RUBBLE KINGS is an illuminating and poignant the documentary by Shan Nicholson that boldly documents NYC’s gang wars and the truce that led to the birth of b-boying and hip hop.

rubble posterjpgYesterday afternoon, we slipped into the Curzon Soho to checkout a showing of Rubble Kings – a documentary that revealed the real story behind one of my all time fave films ‘Warriors’. From 1968 to 1975, gangs ruled New York City and the focus of Shan Nicholson’s documentary is the Bronx – “home to 101 gangs… take your pick.”

When images of the Bronx surface here in the early Seventies it was shocking. With its burnt out shells of buildings it looked like bombed-out Beirut had been transported to New York City. The Bronx was once a thriving community and Rubble Kings points an accusing finger at Robert Moses’ urban renewal project for New York City and the Cross Bronx Expressway, completed in 1963, as the decisive factor in the physical demise of the borough.

South Bronx 70s

Charlotte Street, South Bronx 1970s

Cutting through the heart of the South Bronx, the highway displaced thousands of residents from their homes and the Bronx’s poor, working-class neighborhoods were hit by the decreasing property value leaving ruthless landlords to torch their buildings for the insurance. Urban decay combined with racially charged tension and a flood of heroin led to middle class and white flight from the Bronx leaving its street corners and rooftops to the gangs. As one former member recalls, “It wasn’t like you had a choice. You were either part of it, or you were a victim.”

July 1972, The Bronx, New York City, New York State, USA --- Members of the New York street gang Savage Skulls. The trademark of the, primarily Puerto Rican, gang was a sleeveless denim jacket with a skull and crossbones design on the back. Based around Fox Street, in the popular South Bronx neighbourhood, the gang declared war on the drug dealers that operated in the area. Running battles were frequent with rival gangs Seven Immortals, and Savage Nomads. Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis

July 1972, The Bronx, New York City, New York State, USA. Members of the Savage Skulls. The trademark of the, primarily Puerto Rican, gang was a sleeveless denim jacket with a skull and crossbones design on the back. Based around Fox Street, in the popular South Bronx neighbourhood, the gang declared war on the drug dealers that operated in the area. Running battles were frequent with rival gangs Seven Immortals, and Savage Nomads. — Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis

The Sixties gave birth to Peace & Love alongside the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam. Meanwhile the inner cities gave birth the radicalism and militancy of Black Panthers and the Puerto Rican Young Lords but in the Bronx and the other 4 boroughs of New York City simmered an unfocused rage. Neither law enforcement nor social agencies could end the escalating bloodshed between gangs like the Black Spades, Bachelors, Savage Skulls, Javelins, Reapers, Turbans, the Roman Kings et al.

However, a peace truce came about after the 1971 killing of Cornell Benjamin, a widely respected “peace counselor” from the more community conscious Ghetto Brothers which was led by the charismatic Benji ‘Yellow Benjy’ Melendez and Carlos ‘Karate Charlie’ Suarez. Both of whom are interviewed in the film and remain quietly distressed at the events of that fateful day. It was following a visit to the mother of Cornell Benjamin that led the Ghetto Brothers, who were initially bent on revenge, to organise a city wide peace truce, an serious event would change life for generations to come.
When it held, gang life shifted from turf wars to the block parties, hosted by the likes of Kool Herc and Afrika Bammbaata, that incubated the wild style of breaking, rapping and turntablism.

Benji Melendez addresses the Truce Meeting .

Benji Melendez addresses the Truce Meeting. Can you dig it!

Rubble Kings chronicles life during this era of gang rule and in one moment of clarity upon signingthat truce their leaders saw that when they stopped killing each other the medea weren’t interested in the real issues facing the youth in the city. The film tells the story of how a few extraordinary, forgotten people did the impossible, and how their actions impacted New York City and the world over. This what the director, Shan Nicholson, had to say about his documentary.

ghettobrothersalbum“I was instantly drawn to the story behind Rubble Kings. It was the backdrop to all I knew as a kid growing up in New York City during the 1980s. Hip-hop was my world- it was a movement growing on every stoop in every borough throughout the city. As kids, we would hear the echoes of generations past and the stories of the outlaw gangs that ruled the streets. Looking back, the tales seemed almost folkloric in nature filled with names like the Savage Skulls, Seven Immortals, and the Black Spades. We had no idea that these gangs played such an integral part in the birth of our generation’s song. Later in life, I started producing music and DJ’ing throughout the city. Record collecting became a daily ritual and on one of these missions, I ran into one of the holy grails of record collecting – a Latin funk album called “Power Fuerza” by the GhettoBrothers. Not only was the music amazing, their story would haunt me for months to come. The fact that The Ghetto Brothers chose peace over violence after the death of one of their own brother’s resonated with me deeply. I too had lost my best friend to an act of senseless violence. It shattered my world and here I was faced with this story of extraordinary courage in the face of adversity. I knew I had to tell this story.”

Enough said! Check it out. You can view it by pay to view or download online via Vimeo, amazon, itunes etc.

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