Jason Rebello



Held bursts into life with Pearl, and Rebello starts as he means to go, flooding the eleven mostly original tracks – there is an eclectic but sumptuous take of Paul McCartney’s Blackbird – with illumination and verve.

He can drop gear with equal dexterity, such as with Tokyo Dream, which is superlative playing from one of jazz’s most impressionistic pianists, whose playing, when it is delicate, is subcutaneous in its reach.

Throughout, Thanks John and Polzeath, for example, there is the interpretative insight of a meticulous musician whose  pianistic pedigree is deeply felt.

What segues Held, specifically from Thanks John to Dissolve, besides the brief tenure of the compositions, ranging from 2.02 to 1.55 or thereabouts in length, is Rebello’s recurring motifs of introspection and the same patchwork of emotional patterns.

In this sense Blackbird risked being a jolt, because the opening chords are so familiar, but one is always curious, especially after Brad Meldahu’s adaptations of Radiohead, to see how musicians put their own spin on something that is perfect to start out with.

Remarkably, Rebello melds the Beatles track into the continuum of Held’s intimate tone, and the colourful tapestry from Pearl to Dissolve is not once disjointed, a tribute to Rebello’s firmness of tone, which never succumbs to laden melancholy.

Rebello, better known for playing electronic keyboards with his own groups and with Sting and Jeff Beck, approached Held as an opportunity to immerse himself fully in the piano.

And so, consolidating all his musical experiences into a single instrument, with compositions inspired by people and places, Rebello unveils a chilled versatility in his playing, completely devoid of visceral stunts, and has produced a beautifully recorded experience.

New recordings come and go, but there is a hypnotic magic in Held’s reverie which captivates from beginning to end, with beguilingly seductive lines from Rebello.

Thomas Bell



So inimitable is Thomas Bell’s style and his unerring eye for the type of detail other writers might ignore, for fear their narrative might lead to stagnation, that Kathmandu is truly a one off, for I doubt if anybody else is capable of the writer’s bloody minded persistence and his facility for telling it as it.

It soon becomes evident that the extraordinary in the greatest city of the Himalaya may nonetheless be common place, such as the myriad traditions which govern the intricate and – to the Western world – unfathomably cruel caste system, or the very real presence of gods and goddesses, whose expositions by Bell are the equal of the superb The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple.

I flew into Calcutta reading The Age of Kali, a bunch of essays distilling a decade’s travel in India, and whose title is a reference to the Hindu concept of time being quartered into four epochs: the continent is now in the age of Kali, an age – in Dalrymple’s words – of corruption and disintegration, and his book, beginning with the slaughter by untouchables of high caste villagers in the village of Barra, is bookended by bloodshed. Or, at the very least, that is my memory of it.

There is, too, much blood in Bell’s city, described as a carnival of hypocrisy and sexual license and a paradigm of failed democracy.

In Calcutta, I was distracted by a local newspaper report of how a middle aged man in the Hatapara village of Malda, was drugged and tied up to be sacrificed at the altar of the Goddess Kali, but was rescued by neighbours before “the swing of the chopper.” Here was on-the-spot validation of Dalrymple’s accounts in his book, which I had dismissed as far fetched.

The would-be sacrificial victim was lured to a puja by neighbours, drugged with a plate of prasad, his face covered in vermilion and his neck placed on a block by a tantrik. This was four years ago, and it is this bizarre but ancient civilization near the top of the world, where hundreds of castes and ethnic groups are thrown together in Kathmandu, regarding each other with indifference and occasionally contempt, which is unearthed and illuminated by Bell’s no nonsense reportage.

He does not seek to emulate the prosaic peaks of Dalrymple, but his sentences, short snapshots of Kathmandu’s moveable feast, memorably and clearly explicate how the locals propitiate either omnipresent gods or flesh and blood political rulers with sacrifices or zealous devotion.

Bell’s writing is precise and lucid: not all good English is good journalism, but all good journalism is good English.

He is brilliant on the idiosyncrasies which are part and parcel of Kathmandu’s fixation with black magic and political intrigue, from the spirit infested season in the month of Chaitra when kitchkandi under bridges threatened the unwary, to the dancing priests of the Harisiddhi goddess temple, recognised by their women’s clothes and grotesque masks, from the early nineteenth century tyranny of Bhimsen Thapa to Nepal’s Maoist revolution of the mid-1990s.

Thomas Bell is impelled by curiosity and an old fashioned, almost naïve spirit of adventure, but Kathmandu, because of his resourcefulness and bravado, deserves its place alongside Richard Burton’s Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al Madinah and Meccah. I shall dip into it for years to come.











Jean-Philippe Toussaint



Like Albert Camus, Jean-Philippe Toussaint, is a philosopher and a novelist, and also like Camus, Toussaint shares a life long love of soccer.

Football should not be mistaken has a high brow equivalent of Fever Pitch: Toussaint is no Nicky Hornby. The author of Fever Pitch, a love letter to Arsenal and particularly Highbury, wouldn’t dream of lending his name to the following sentence by Toussaint describing the World Cup in Japan, at which Ireland were famously eclipsed by an emerging Spain from the penalty spot.

“I had a feeling that football and Japan, even though they are contradictory – tumult and tranquillity, fire and water –were merging together to give birth to a new element, an unknown and delicious alliance that as yet had no name.”

And yet we expect nothing less from a French intellectual (born in Belgium) for whom soccer, like painting according to Leonardo da Vinci, is a cosa mentale, and for whom the frisson of excitement of a live match is to be found either before or after the actual game, occasionally during.

Observing the countdown to the Belgium-Brazil match in Kobe, Toussaint, with a charming and infectious joie de vivre, spots with the eyes of a marvelling child, how “a sea breeze gently rippled the flags of the corner posts in the tepid night, then at last it was autumn, or perhaps it was already winter, the deluge and desolation of the sad, big stadium.”

But if you are expecting an analysis of why the architects of total football, Holland, behaved so loutishly in the World Cup final in South Africa against Spain, or why his beloved Brazil were humiliated by Germany in 2014, look elsewhere.

This short treatise is bookended by the World Cups in France and Brazil, but Toussaint’s powers of description are deployed memorably not by a feint by Zidane or a pass by Xavi, but by his computer crashing during an Argentina-Holland penalty shoot out. ‘I was in complete darkness,’ he laments, perhaps a metaphor from one reared in the last century at the state of the modern game, increasingly balletic and effete by the day.

Toussaint has been accused of rambling and occasional banality in Football, but his prose sparkles more often than not, and his passion for soccer, like Camus, is best seen as an antidote to the strenuous business of writing novels: Nue, a sequence of ten books, took him ten years to finish. His afterword, Zidane’s Melancholy(a reflection on international soccer’s most infamous act of thuggery since Schumacher took out Battison in 1982) when the French captain head-butted an Italian defender, who is not name checked by Toussaint, in the World Cup final in 2006, reads like the game’s obituary, as if Pagasus had been shot between the eyes.

Football’s publication in English coincides with the death of Johann Cruyff, who brought soccer to its aesthetic summit in 1974, and I suspect that the chess-like interplay between Germany and Holland was more to Toussaint’s liking than the fare on offer today.