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EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Six, 19/11/2014.

Friday, December 05, 2014

EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Six, 19/11/2014.

Ian Mann on the work of promising new bands Stoop Quintet and Native Dancer and the all round entertainment provided by Neal Richardson and Ibrahim Maalouf.

Photograph of Ibrahim maalouf “Illusions” album cover sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, DAY SIX, 19/11/2014


The sixth day of the 2014 EFG London Jazz festival and I’m back at the Pizza Express for the only lunchtime show in town. Today’s dish is pasta and today’s music is;


NEAL RICHARDSON QUARTET

Neal Richardson is a London based pianist, singer and songwriter and all round entertainer who presents his shows with a ready and sometimes gently barbed wit. He leads a quartet featuring guitarist Andy Drudy, bassist George Trebar and drummer Alex Eberhard. Sometimes the core group is augmented by a horn section (although sadly not today) featuring Dave Lewis (tenor sax), Mark White (trumpet) and Mark Bassey (trombone). Also active as a record producer he was worked with vocalists of the calibre of Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll.

Richardson mixes original songs with jazz and blues standards, alternating vocal numbers with instrumentals and has recorded one album to date, “Better Than The Blues” released on Splash Point Music, a sumptuously packaged collection made in collaboration with photographer Peter Prior. 

As a rule I’m not a great fan of male jazz vocalists, I don’t like crooners and I’m not overly enamoured with the likes of Jamie Cullum. I do rate Ian Shaw though.
So I’ll be honest, I was only here because there wasn’t any real alternative on offer. Nevertheless I found myself enjoying Richardson’s show, he brings enough proper jazz and blues into the equation to make it work for me, and as Sebastian Scotney has pointed out on London Jazz news there’s a fundamental honesty about what he does. His original songs are both perceptive and witty, he’s an accomplished singer and piano player and he fronts a highly competent band with Drudy’s incisive blues guitar adding some very welcome grit to the arrangements.

The majority of the material was sourced from “Better Than The Blues”, beginning with the authentically bluesy title track. Instrumental pieces such as “Nfunk”, “Scotch & Soda” and “Breathe” showcased Richardson’s ability as a jazz/blues pianist and also demonstrated the abilities of his admirably tight and cohesive backing band. Drudy’s powerful, authentically blues guitar solos were a constant source of delight and he impressed throughout, also enjoying some friendly banter with raconteur Richardson. The first set concluded with “The Soul Of New Orleans”, written by Richardson in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the writer’s voice and piano channelling the spirits of Allen Toussaint and Dr. John. 

Set two continued the mix of instrumental and vocal material beginning with Richardson demonstrating his jazz chops on an arrangement of Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy”. Songs like “This Ain’t The Life” and “U.X.B” found Richardson essaying his sharp lyrical wit via gritty jazz/blues arrangements. Occasionally Drudy would drop out leaving Richardson, Trebar and Eberhard to perform as a trio on relationship songs such as the original “February” and Ray Noble’s standard “The Very Thought Of You”. The afternoon concluded with an infectiously catchy samba with Richardson encouraging his audience to sing and clap along. Great fun.

All in all I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this show given that it was outside my usual listening zone. Richardson impressed not only with his playing and vocalising but also with the quality of his song writing plus his ready wit. Greying but handsome he seemed to have a bit of a female following, the audience included several tables full of “ladies who lunch” and the overall attendance was up on the number for Andre Canniere the previous day.
I was also very impressed by Drudy’s contribution. The guitarist leads his own blues outfit, the Andy Drudy Disorder whose album “The Blues Civilisation” is also released on Splash Point. I would imagine that it is an album well worth hearing.


STOOP QUINTET

The free early evening performance in the Front Room at QEH was by Stoop Quintet, a collection of young musicians who originally came together at the University of York in 2012. Programmed and produced by the Young & Serious scheme the group was led by pianist and composer Jonathan Brigg and also featured Sam Miles (tenor & soprano sax), Alex Munk (guitar), Flo Moore (double bass) and Dave Smyth at the drums. Previous members have included Roller Trio’s James Mainwaring (saxes) and Shatner’s Bassoon’s Mick Bardon (bass).

I’d surmise that the members of Stoop Quintet are now probably post grads. Smyth leads his own band Timeline and Munk has also cropped up in a number of other situations as both leader and sideman. Some of the music heard today heard today had already been recorded by Brigg with the Threads Orchestra, an innovative seven piece jazz/classical hybrid featuring Francis Pye (violin), Adam Robinson (viola) and Semay Wu (cello) plus well known jazz names Rus Pearson (bass), Chris Montague (guitar), Kit Downes (piano), Kristoffer Wright (drums) and Dai Pritchard (reeds).

Stoop Quintet take their name from Stoop Kid, a character in the US animated series Hey Arnold!
Hence the tune “Stoop Kid” which kicked off today’s proceedings, introduced by Munk’s rock influenced guitar and with odd meter grooves forming the backdrop for further soloing by Munk plus some sharp guitar/tenor sax interplay.

“Fable” opened the Threads Orchestra release but sounded substantially different in a quintet arrangement. More lyrical than “Stoop Kid” this piece also featured Miles and Munk (where have I heard those names before?! ), the guitarist playing with a reined in intensity.

“Ranch” is the title track of the Threads Orchestra release and is one of Brigg’s most ambitious compositions, building from Brigg’s opening piano arpeggios to embrace a variety of styles and time signatures with solos from Munk on guitar and Miles on soprano sax. 

“Spring Song” opened with the guitar/soprano configuration but in a more reflective mood, the duo of Munk and Miles accompanied by delicately brushed drums. Moore’s melodic bass solo featured some impressive high regiter work around the bridge before Munk steered the music in the direction of rock once more.

We had seen relatively little of leader Brigg thus far but “Turn” began with a passage of solo piano followed by a lengthy section in classic piano trio mould. Eventually Munk and Miles were given their heads, the saxophonist impressing with a lengthy and increasingly impassioned tenor solo.

Brigg ushered in “Confessions” with a count of seven, shades here of Django Bates. The composer took the first solo at the piano, Munk following on guitar above solid rock based drumming. Things then mutated into a free jazz squall from which Miles emerged to deliver an angry and garrulous tenor solo. This was the sound of a man getting something off his chest and embodying the spirit of the title.

Following the belligerence of “Confessions” the set ended with the elegiac and hymn like “Soldier On”, also the piece that ends the Threads Orchestra release. Piano combined with Moore’s rich arco bass and Miles’ feathery, flute like soprano in a beautifully controlled ensemble performance.

I was impressed with Stoop Quintet, clearly a young band with a lot of potential both collectively and individually. Today’s line up is as yet unrecorded although I believe there is a Crowdfunding campaign under way to finance an album. Let’s hope this is successful, on the evidence of today’s performance the results should be well worth hearing.

In the meantime the prolific Brigg has a number of other musical irons in the fire. Check out the other projects he is involved with at http://www.jonathanbrigg.co.uk 


NATIVE DANCER / IBRAHIM MAALOUF - ILLUSIONS

The Queen Elizabeth Hall hosted Lebanese born, France based trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf and his band supported by the new British group Native Dancer.


NATIVE DANCER

I was looking forward to hearing Native Dancer given that their line up included Sam Crowe on keyboards and Josh Arcoleo on tenor sax, both of whom have had albums under their own names reviewed and recommended elsewhere on this site. I was aware that the group featured a singer, Frida Touray and was expecting some kind of breezy Brazilian jazz (I’d assumed that the group name was inspired by Wayne Shorter’s album of the same title featuring Milton Nascimento).

Instead Native Dancer, the group, proved to be a soul jazz outfit with Crowe, Arcoleo and Touray joined by Jon Harvey on electric bass and Davide De Rose at the drums plus two backing vocalists whose names were not listed in the festival programme.

They played a short support set of just four songs but overall I was rather disappointed with what I heard. The group were not helped by an unsympathetic PA that had clearly been set up with the headliners in mind, Harvey’s bass was so loud that it could be felt (and not in a good way) and the vocals, sax and keyboards were also offered no favours by the muddy mix. Crowe played electric keyboards throughout (a pity because I really like him on acoustic piano) and Arcoloeo also added some occasional synthesiser. Nonetheless it was these two who provided the instrumental highlights, Arcoleo delivering the occasional powerful tenor solo.

Given that Crowe has featured Kairos 4tet’s Adam Waldmann in his groups it’s perhaps not altogether surprising that he has decided to attempt something song based. The most obvious parallel to Native Dancer is Dave Stapleton’s Slowly Rolling Camera who attempt a similar synthesis of jazz and soul but with an element of trip hop thrown in. However in their different ways SRC, Kairos and Blue-Eyed Hawk all deliver a more convincing take on vocal based contemporary jazz than Native Dancer do at this stage of their career.

The poor sound didn’t help but Native Dancer still went down well with the QEH crowd with Touray’s soulful vocals particularly well received so maybe it’s me that’s out of step. I’m sure there is considerable potential here but for now I couldn’t help wondering if this was the most appropriate outlet for the undoubted creative talents of Messrs. Crowe and Arcoleo – even though it’s probably just one of many.

IBRAHIM MAALOUF

Ibrahim Maalouf first came to my attention with his 2012 album “The Wind”, a magnificently brooding film soundtrack album featuring a US dream team of saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Clarence Penn that evoked comparisons with Miles Davis’ “Lift to the Scaffold”. The only reason it didn’t find it’s way onto the Jazzmann web pages in a review was the need to prioritise and a decision to concentrate on mainly British talent.

For all that I thoroughly enjoyed “The Wind” and in particular Maalouf’s majestic trumpeting. The magnificence of his playing convinced me that I should check out this London date but his performance here was very different from the introspective musings of “The Wind”.

“Illusions”, Maalouf’s latest album is a very different beast, a loud, brash collection that celebrates “a world of paradox, contradictions and magic”. It would appear that, rather like drummer Manu Katche, Maalouf is a big star in France where jazz is less marginalised .and there were many French speakers present in a near sell out QEH crowd.

Thirty three year old Maalouf is a fascinating figure. Born into a family of Lebanese musicians and intellectuals his family fled the civil war in Beirut when Ibrahim was aged seven and settled in Paris. Maalouf has studied both classical and jazz trumpet but has also thoroughly explored his Arabic roots. All these elements are present in the music of “Illusions”, an album that also serves up a sizeable dollop of rock.

And make no mistake, this performance was essentially a rock gig with a light show, rock style instrumental set pieces and a good deal of theatricality and showmanship from the charismatic Maalouf. His superbly drilled eight piece band included three other trumpeters (Youenn Le Cam, Yann Martin and Martin Saccardy), their relationship to Maalouf’s playing often reminiscent of a lead singer and backing vocalist as Maalouf would play a melodic phrase which the other would bounce back at him in triplicate. Guitarist Francois Delporte brought rock power and swagger to the proceedings while Laurent David on electric bass and Stephane Galland on drums provided the grooves. Keyboard player Frank Woeste provided depth and texture but was also an accomplished soloist drawing from both the jazz and rock traditions.

At first I was somewhat perturbed by all the rock style bombast when I’d been expecting something rather more introspective but it was impossible not to enjoy this show. The sound had been cleaned up and the standard of musicianship was excellent throughout, although genuine improvisation was probably not high on the agenda. Most of the material was presumably sourced from “Illusions” but Maalouf dipped into his back catalogue for “Beirut”, a “greatest hit” that saw him bravely encouraging the audience to sing along with its less than simple melody. Maalouf speaks excellent English, has an infectious sense of humour and is keen on audience participation so clapping along was also actively encouraged.

In between the light show and the showmanship there was terrific playing with trumpet solos from Maalouf that ranged from a whisper to a scream and loud, rocky guitar solos with Delporte making intelligent use of his range of effects. David impressed with his set piece bass feature and kept the grooves bubbling all night. Galland scored highly for his power and precision but his rock styled drum set piece rather outstayed its welcome.

Maalouf’s Arabic heritage wasn’t forgotten in this shape shifting music, his vocalised trumpet and use of Arabic scales conjuring up a Middle Eastern exoticism. But there were also unusual sounds from closer to home as Le Cam switched from trumpet to the Breton bagpipes (or biniou) on the stunning, high energy encore. 

This show left in no doubt that Maalouf is a huge talent. In purely jazz terms it was all perhaps a little shallow and bombastic but there was still much to enjoy, it was bright, it was brash, it was loud and at times it was funny – and yes the playing was terrific, this was a tight, well oiled unit fronted by a man who was both a superb technician and a charismatic entertainer. For me Maalouf “paid his jazz dues” with “The Wind” and although this was very different it was still all highly enjoyable, particularly in a highly charged live environment. Perhaps not the most satisfying show of the week, but nevertheless one of the most entertaining and memorable. 

     

   


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