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EFG London Jazz Festival - Day Six, Wednesday 20th November 2019.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

EFG London Jazz Festival - Day Six, Wednesday 20th November 2019.

Ian Mann on the melodic, contemporary sounds of the Aubin Vanns Quartet, the fiery free improv of the Binker Golding / Elliot Galvin Duo and joyous Township Jazz of Brotherhood Of Breath.

Photograph of Brotherhood Of Breath sourced from the EFG London Jazz festival website
http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk


EFG London Jazz Festival 2019

Day Six, Wednesday 20th November 2019


AUBIN VANNS QUARTET, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

Today’s free lunchtime performance at the Pizza featured a quartet led by the young guitarist and composer Aubin Vanns.

Born in Derbyshire Vanns studied at Leeds College of Music and is currently studying for a Masters in Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In addition to this he has been steadily establishing himself on the London music scene as a member of the bands They Will Flock and Lanterns. Vanns also spent some time living in Sweden and has been involved in a number of projects combining jazz and Scandinavian folk music. He has also maintained his links with the Leeds jazz scene and appeared on saxophonist Matt Anderson’s album “Rambling” (2018).

Earlier in 2019 Vanns released his own début as a leader, the self issued album “Opera”, a recording featuring seven original compositions by the guitarist. The album features Vanns leading a quartet comprised of Alberto Palau on piano, Will Harris on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums. Following Harris’ move back to Bristol he has since been replaced by the versatile and talented Conor Chaplin (Dinosaur etc.).

Vanns describes the music to be heard on “Opera” as “songs without words” and there is a strong emphasis on melody throughout. Many pieces are inspired by the composer’s travels and are rich in terms of texture and atmospherics, often evoking a strong sense of place.

Jazz listeners shouldn’t let the “O” word put them off, this is indisputably a jazz record, albeit one informed by song like structures and folk melodies. There’s no singing.
My antipathy towards “opera” as an art form stems from the disproportionate amount of money that it receives from the Arts establishment as compared to jazz, but this probably isn’t the time for a rant about that old chestnut.

Vanns and his colleagues opted to present their music in a single extended set that lasted for around seventy five minutes. All seven pieces from “Opera” were performed, albeit in a different running order, and these were augmented by a clutch of new originals plus an innovative arrangements of Radiohead’s “Nude” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark”.

The quartet began with the brief and gently atmospheric “Aldeburgh”, a piece sourced from the album.  This featured Davis on glockenspiel and Chaplin on bowed bass and, rather appropriately, acted as a kind of overture.

“Death-Devoted Heart”, which actually opens the recording, then introduced a more contemporary feel with its rolling grooves and inventive extended solos. The impressive Palau, born in Valencia but currently based in London, went first, followed by the leader. Vanns favours a clean guitar sound, deploying effects sparingly and moving between plectrum and finger picking techniques. His spiralling solo here exhibited considerable imagination and inventiveness.

The ballad “La Bondat” was dedicated to Vanns’ partner Nora Jorba Soler, Catalan born but now based in London and actively involved in the capital’s music scene in a variety of capacities ranging from performer to administrator. The song written for her was a delightful ballad that featured the melodic bass soloing of Chaplin alongside the leader’s crystalline guitar and Palau’s lyrical piano. In its latter stages the piece gathered momentum, taking on a more anthemic,  celebratory quality and culminated in a feature for Big Bad Wolf drummer Jay Davis.

The laid back mood continued with a second ballad, the wistful “Lonesome Again” with its Metheny-esque melody and effective use of space. Crystalline solos came from Vanns on guitar and Palau on piano.

The jazz standard “Skylark” was treated to an intriguing arrangement that was ushered in by a dialogue between Vanns on guitar and Chaplin on double bass. Following the addition of Davis the performance continued in trio mode with Vanns singing along to the melody as he soloed and Chaplin displaying a remarkable dexterity on his bass feature. Palau eventually joined the party to solo effectively on piano.

Vanns also performs as a solo guitarist and introduced the next piece unaccompanied, that pure, clean unadorned guitar sound still in evidence alongside an impressive technical facility. Although still studying he is himself a guitar tutor, and on this evidence it was easy to see why. I didn’t actually get the title to this piece (I think it may have been “Good and True”), which subsequently involved the whole band and which ultimately had something of a Keith Jarrett ‘country blues’ feel about it.

The continuing fascination with Radiohead’s music by jazz musicians found expression in the Vanns quartet’s atmospheric and evocative interpretation of the moody “Nude”, with Chaplin again featuring strongly as a soloist.

The band picked the pace up again with the fast moving “Pomo Potpourri”, a tune from the album influenced by the style of Kurt Rosenwinkel that saw both Vanns and Palau stretching out above Davis’ skittering drum grooves.

Also from the recording “November” saw the quartet back in ballad mode on another piece that demonstrated Vanns’ gift for melody. A little sombre, but still beautiful, the song embodied the chilly beauty of an autumn day and incorporated gently eloquent solos from Palau on piano and the composer on guitar.

“Edinburgh” was another tune to be inspired by a location and included some of Vanns’ most agile soloing, the guitarist contorting his fingers into almost impossible chord shapes.

As befits a performance with the emphasis so much on melody Vanns and his quartet concluded their performance with “He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven”, the title taken from a poem by W.B. Yeats with the rhythms and cadences of the poet’s words set to music by Vanns. Also the concluding track of the “Opera” album this proved to be limpidly beautiful with guitar, piano, double bass and Davis’ mallet rumbles combining to make music that was both atmospheric and elegiac. Vanns described the piece as being “free folk”, combining the direct beauty of folk melody with the improvisatory inclinations of jazz.

This had been an excellent performance from Vanns and his quartet which combined some superb playing with intelligent, imaginative and often downright beautiful original writing from the leader. Vanns was suffering from the effects of a cold and was a little reticent between numbers, arguably needing to project himself a little more with regard to tune announcements. But this was a minor quibble and the music itself was superb, with the “Opera” album strongly recommended. Fans of Metheny, Rosenwinkel, Frisell etc. will find much to enjoy here.

My wife’s cousin, Carol, who had caught the train in from Essex to join us for lunch is a relative newcomer to jazz but was so impressed by the performance that she bought a CD. It was the beauty of the closing “Cloths” that really sealed the deal for her.

Thanks to Aubin and Nora for speaking with me afterwards. I suspect that the UK jazz audience will be hearing a lot more from this talented young guitarist and composer.


BINKER GOLDING / ELLIOT GALVIN DUO, RAY’S JAZZ at FOYLE’S

Still both young, but a little more established, both saxophonist Binker Golding and pianist Elliot Galvin are bandleaders in their own right as well as both being involved in a myriad of other projects – Galvin is currently a member of Dinosaur, Led Bib and much more besides.

They are are two of the most adventurous young musicians on the UK jazz scene and in recent years both have increasingly been drawn towards the art of free improvisation. Their work as a duo focusses on this area and in early 2019 they released the vinyl only album “EX Nihilo” (meaning “Out of Nothing”) on Byrd Out Records, the boutique label founded by Stephen Vitkovic.

“Ex Nihilo” was documented at London’s Vortex Jazz Club in April 2018 and released in early 2019. It contains six wholly improvised performances that successfully manage to absorb the listener, combining the visceral thrill of live performance with genuine improvisatory flair and intelligence. The pair have established a lively and boisterous rapport and this is a duo that looks to have plenty of improvisatory mileage in it.

Once again the audience were seated ‘in the round’ with Golding, who appeared on both tenor and soprano saxophones facing Galvin, who gave the venue’s resident Yamaha grand piano a thorough going over during the course of a vigorous hour long set that included five separate improvised episodes.

The first offering found Golding on tenor, his whinnying answered by Galvin’s low end rumblings and the sound of dampened strings. As Golding’s playing became more belligerent Galvin answered in kind, hammering at the piano and sometimes crashing his forearms down on the keys. But it wasn’t all sound and fury, this was a piece of dynamic contrasts that also embraced the fluttering of the saxophone keys from Golding and the further use of prepared piano techniques as Galvin coaxed ethereal shimmering sounds from the interior of the piano as he inserted various devices into the instrument’s innards. There’s something of the “mad scientist” about Galvin, a musician who undertakes his sonic experiments with a smile on his face, no matter what musical context he finds himself in. This twenty minute introductory salvo also incorporated passages of solo saxophone and solo piano as each protagonist afforded his counterpart the space to ‘do his own thing’.

Golding moved to soprano sax for the second improvisation, kicking off the proceedings with a passage of unaccompanied playing that encompassed over-blowing techniques and harsh multi-phonics. The watching Galvin, clearly feeling the heat from his earlier exertions removed his shirt, tossing it aside with the exclamation “Let’s get serious!”. Both musicians were now attired in plain white T shirts that seemed to emphasise the ‘blank canvas’ quality of the music they were creating. Golding’s garrulous soprano playing, with its squiggles, squeaks and squawks initially encouraged a Tyner-esque response from Galvin but as the saxophonist embarked on a bout of Evan Parker inspired circular breathing Galvin produced a roll of gaffer tape, tearing pieces off and plastering them over the strings of the piano to radically alter the sound.  All this was done in a highly theatrical manner that essentially became part of the show and which was incorporated into the music itself. His ‘piece de resistance’ was the violent slamming of the piano lid, again somehow incorporating the sound into the overall narrative of the music. It had been a pretty intense ten minutes or so.

There was no let up on the next outing, a shorter five minute excursion that again saw Golding on soprano and once more demonstrating his circular breathing technique in a remarkable feat of physical resourcefulness that for the observer became ever more hypnotic and mesmeric. Galvin responded with some highly percussive playing that incorporated the use of doomy block chords as the music maintained its levels of intensity.

Golding switched back to tenor for the fourth piece as Galvin continued to demonstrate his mastery as a player of the piano as an entire instrument, his ‘under the lid’ excursions giving the music the eerie, spooky feel of a horror movie soundtrack. Subsequently he produced a kalimba, or African thumb piano, from his ‘box of tricks’ beside the piano and his playing of this device inside the piano delivered hypnotic, minimalist style patterns that evoked a response in kind from Golding on tenor. Golding subsequently embarked on a Coltrane-esque saxophone solo that recalled the ‘spiritual’ jazz of the 1960s, as Galvin responded with heavily treated low end patterns.

The last item commenced with a scarily intense squall of sound featuring Galvin’s banging of the piano lid, elbows on keys and the furious, apocalyptic honking and shrieking of Golding’s tenor sax barrage. Then followed a brief moment of reflection before a similarly impassioned joint onslaught brought the performance to a close. This final item lasted around ninety seconds but seared itself into the listener’s consciousness by dint of its sheer ferocity and intensity. There was to be no topping this. “We don’t do that, we’re done” said Golding as the adventurous audience hollered for an encore.

Nevertheless the pair were happy to hang around and talk about their music afterwards. The refusal of an encore had been no mere theatrical gesture, having reached such searing levels of intensity the duo quite rightly wanted to end having reached a dynamic and emotional peak.

Quite what Cousin Carol would have made of this as an introduction to jazz I hate to think. But those of us with a taste for musical white knuckle rides enjoyed it immensely, and for all the intensity and complexity there were plenty of moments of good humour too. There’s more to come from these two, that’s for sure.


BROTHERHOOD OF BREATH, 100 CLUB

Tonight was my first ever visit to the legendary 100 Club, located in a basement at 100 Oxford Street.

These days primarily a rock venue the 100 began in 1942 as a jazz club and hosted many leading British and American jazz musicians throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s, becoming a key venue in the trad boom of the early 60s.

In the 1970s the Club turned more towards rock music, including Northern Soul, and eventually became the home of British punk rock, hosting the Sex Pistols, The Clash and many more. It remains strongly associated with the punk movement to this day.

In 2010 it was rumoured that the venue would close due to continuing financial losses but a fund raising scheme, which included a live performance by Paul McCartney at the venue, helped to keep it open.

The 100 Club has never completely abandoned jazz and in the 60s and 70s the venue was also a home to the exiled South African musicians that made up the Blue Notes, among them the late pianist and composer Chris McGregor, founder of the Brotherhood of Breath, so named not only for the high proportion of brass and reed instruments in the band but also for the epithet “the only way to cheat death is to keep breathing”. 2019 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Brotherhood and tonight’s event represented a celebration of that remarkable milestone. The scene was set for a true celebration.

The Brotherhood, essentially an expanded big band version of the Blue Notes, was initially comprised of a mix of South African exiles and leading British jazz musicians. Many of the originals have left us but the band continues under the leadership of South African saxophonist Frank Williams, paying homage to the repertoire of compositions written by McGregor, Ernest Mothle, Dudu Pukwana, Harry Miller and others.

Tonight’s edition of the band featured;

Frank Williams – tenor sax

Steve Williamson – alto sax

Julian Nicholas – tenor sax, soprano sax

Robbie Juritz-  tenor sax, bassoon

Dave Bitelli – baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute

Dave DeFries – trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion

Claude Deppa, Chris Batchelor – trumpets & flugels

Annie Whitehead, Paul Taylor – trombones

Alastair Gavin – piano

Curtis Ruiz – electric bass

Steve Arguelles- drums

Kofi Basu – percussion

Following the conclusion of the Golding / Galvin gig I made the short walk to the 100 Club and found that it was already rammed, a sign of the affection and esteem in which the Brotherhood are still held within the British jazz community. I met up with several friends who were also in attendance and the scene was set for a night of excellent music celebrating the music of Chris McGregor and the other South African musicians who made their home in London.

I’d been warned that the 100 Club was a standing only venue and advised not to get stuck behind one of the pillars. In deference to the Brotherhood’s ageing audience a number of chairs and tables had been arranged in cabaret style but by the time I arrived there was precious little space and I was obliged to stand. Given the joyous nature of the music this didn’t represent any great hardship and from my vantage point I could see every musician except Annie Whitehead, but even she emerged occasionally from behind the offending (but very necessary pillar).

This wasn’t a night for taking notes, and in any case the South African titles of many of these tunes frankly eluded me. Instead I absorbed myself in the joyousness of the music, a joyousness borne out of struggle. The opening tune, written by McGregor featured a scorching high register trumpet solo from the irrepressible Claude Deppa, a giant on stage personality and one of the ensemble’s leading lights. He was followed on baritone sax by the versatile Dave Bitelli, who doubled on bass clarinet and flute and was also a key part of the band. The presence in the ranks of Steve Williamson represented a considerable bonus and he weighed in with an incisive contribution on alto sax. Finally we heard from the keeper of the groove, electric bass specialist Curtis Ruiz.

Deppa also featured strongly on the next number, McGregor’s “Davashe’s Dream”, his muted trumpet solo full of growling vocalisations as he shared the solos with tenor saxophonist Robert Juritz, who had been on bassoon during the opener.

“Sweet as Harry” was dedicated to the memory of the Barbados born trumpeter Harry Beckett (1935-2010), whose talents once graced the Brotherhood’s ranks. This was a spirited and joyous tribute that included solos from Paul Taylor on trombone, Williamson on alto and Alastair Gavin at the piano.

The next piece was composed by the late Brotherhood bassist Ernest Mothle and saw Bitelli switching to flute with solos coming from Julian Nicholas on tenor and Gavin at the piano, these bisected by an extended outing from DeFries on flugel that was positively dazzling, arguably the best solo of the night.

Ruiz’s propulsive bass groove helped to fuel the final number of an energetic first set with trombonist Annie Whitehead and leader Frank Williams on tenor the featured horn soloists.
The performance concluded with a high spirited drums and percussion feature between Arguelles and Basu, with the seated DeFries also weighing in.

The percussion department also featured on the opening number of the second set as Juritz again started out on bassoon.

McGregor’s “Bakwetha” also saw the percussion section heavily involved and also included impressive solos from Gavin at the piano and Nicholas on soprano sax. Williams acknowledged Nicholas as one of the prime movers of the current edition of the Brotherhood, responsible for much of the ‘donkey work’ of keeping the ensemble together.

“Big G”, written by the Ghanaian born tenor saxophonist George Lee, who moved to South Africa and then to the UK, was a showcase for saxophonists Williamson (alto) and Nicholas (tenor) as the pair thrillingly traded phrases and solos.

A ballad written by McGregor to honour Nelson Mandela brought a welcome change of mood and pace, slowing things down temporarily. The arrangement was notable for an expansive, blues tinged flugel solo from the excellent DeFries.

This represented the calm before a storming finale that featured Williams soloing on tenor alongside section features for the trumpets and trombones, the two ‘departments’ trading phrases before Deppa eventually emerged as a featured soloist. We also heard from Batchelor on trumpet and Bitelli on baritone,  the latter a real cornerstone of the band.

I’m perhaps not the best qualified member of the audience to write about the music of Brotherhood Of Breath. I’ve heard the band on record of course and previously seen its close relative Dedication Orchestra. Nevertheless I know that there are errors and omissions in the above account and will gratefully receive any additions or corrections should somebody be moved to comment.

As I’ve said note taking was difficult at this predominately standing gig. Instead I concentrated on enjoying the music, which featured Township jazz as its most infectious and joyous. Many of the members of this sell out crowd would have been in the audience when the original Brotherhood, led by McGregor, played this room in their 70s heyday. The combination of lilting rhythms and catchy melodies saw scattered outbreaks of dancing around the venue, a rarity at jazz gigs nowadays.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the 100 Club, The atmosphere inside this historic venue was terrific and the affection with which the institution that is Brotherhood Of Breath continues to be held was apparent throughout.

The band played with great verve and enthusiasm and a good humoured sense of celebration prevailed throughout, although the jollity did seem a little forced at times. In truth some of the ensemble playing was a little ragged on occasion, but given that there was probably very little rehearsal time this was probably to be expected. In the circumstances this was easily forgiven and in a band packed with outstanding individuals there was plenty of outstanding soloing to compensate. It was interesting to note how many one time members of Loose Tubes were in the band’s ranks, a reminder of the strong influence the Brotherhood had on the African elements of the Tubes’ richly diverse and highly inspirational music.

 


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