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EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Three, 16/11/2014.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

EFG London Jazz Festival, Day Three, 16/11/2014.

Ian Mann on new music featuring Shakespeare Songs (Andy Sheppard, Guillaume de Chassy and Chrisophe Marguet ), Locus and the Sam Leak Big Band.

Photograph of Andy Sheppard by Tim Dickeson


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL


DAY THREE 16/11/2014


ANDY SHEPPARD /  GUILLAUME CHASSY / CHRISTOPHE MARGUET
SHAKESPEARE SONGS

If memory serves it was in 2005 that I attended an open air production of King Lear at the Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank, an interesting, and for me, still unique experience.
I was therefore intrigued to note that the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an indoor performance space recently developed at the Globe was to be used for the first time as a venue at the 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival.

It was a bonus that one of my favourite musicians, the Bristol born saxophonist Andy Sheppard, was due to appear there as part of a trio with French musicians Guillaume de Chassy (piano) and Christophe Marguet (drums). The threesome were scheduled to perform music inspired by characters appearing in Shakespeare’s plays, an interesting and tantalising prospect.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a faithful re-construction of a Jacobean playhouse, lit entirely by candlelight and featuring bench seating incorporating an audience pit and galleries surrounding the entire building. Thus Sheppard and his colleagues effectively played “in the round”.

Although the name of the British saxophonist had been used as the main selling point for this event the music itself had been composed by de Chassy and Marguet, each musician contributing a number of pieces to the repertoire. The trio were joined on stage by Shakespearian actress Emma Pallant,  a performer with a strong affiliation to the Globe who read transcripts from the plays as introductions to the musical compositions, her words sometimes incorporated into the music itself. 

The presence of Sheppard had ensured that this event was a near sell out and a hush fell over the packed house as the première of this new work began with “Perdita”, inspired by “A Winter’s Tale”.
Taking notes in the candlelit gloom was not easy so this will be no blow by blow account but I can tell you that the music was more than mere chamber jazz, although that was an important element. The full emotional range of Shakespeare’s characters was reflected in the composing and the playing with Marguet being capable of conjuring up a remarkable degree of power by the use of brushes alone.  “Vengeance Will Not Take Place” was inspired by the figure of Prospero in “The Tempest” while “Capulet And Montague Go Dancing” represented the final item of an opening three song segue. This sideways look at “Romeo and Juliet” was both dramatic and dynamic, full of contrasts and with Sheppard in typically peerless form on tenor sax, his playing ranging from the playful to the outright beautiful.

Sheppard switched to soprano for another piece inspired by “The Tempest”, soloing incisively above Marguet’s surprisingly hard driving drum grooves. The drummer also enjoyed a series of forceful breaks and overall I was highly impressed with his playing. This was the first time I’d seen him perform live but I remember enjoying his contribution to the album “Jaded Angels”, a 2007 ACT release by American born, France based pianist and composer Eric Watson.

Elsewhere we heard Sheppard on full blooded tenor and classically inspired passages of solo piano from de Chassy. The first set closed with a segue of “Othello’s Tears” and “Judith In The Mirror”, the former distinguished by Marguet’s military style drumming and a sparkling dialogue between Sheppard’s soprano sax and de Chassy’s piano.

The cramped bench style seating meant that the interval came as something of a relief in purely physical terms. It also provided the opportunity for the Playhouse staff to replenish the candles, something alluded to by de Chassy who handled the bulk of the announcements. However in the second half we did have the bonus of Sheppard speaking in what sounded to me almost perfect French.

Set two began with a segue of pieces inspired by Hamlet, MacBeth and Cordelia. Marguet’s opening tune featured Pallant speaking over the sound of dampened piano strings before opening out to feature Sheppard’s baleful sounding tenor,  de Chassy’s tumultuous piano and Marguet’s increasingly powerful drums as Sheppard probed deeply. Tenor also featured on de Chassy’s “Marching First”, another evocative piece inspired by “The Scottish Play”. “Cordelia” represented a rather gentler coda.

A second segue incorporated “The Wrath Of Telamon”, another Tempest inspired piece, and “During The Night” inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  The first piece included some appropriately apocalyptic low end piano rumblings and a dynamic and spectacular Marguet drum solo,  polite chamber jazz this was most emphatically not!
“During The Night” saw Sheppard switching to soprano, lightly dancing above Marguet’s colourful rhythmic undertow packed with delightful small percussive details. Together with de Chassy’s delightfully lyrical piano this performance closed the concert on an elegiac but uplifting note, with Pallant and the three musicians bowing extravagantly to the enthusiastic crowd.

Fortunately they had prepared an encore, a performance of “Queen’s Flowers”  a traditional French tune written during the reign of Henry V. “In the lyrics the story ends really badly”  de Chassy informed us but the tune itself was simply beautiful, a solo piano introduction evolving into a groove above which Sheppard’s soprano floated lightly. It was perhaps the most accessible piece of the whole afternoon and ensured that the audience went home very happy.

It had certainly been very different to the last time I’d seen Andy Sheppard, playing for free in a pub (The Queens Head in Monmouth) with his Pushy Doctors band. This consisted of his old muckers from Bristol, Dan Moore on Hammond, Denny Ilett on guitar and Tony Orrell at the drums stretching out and having a good old blow on a mixture of jazz and bop standards and unlikely pop covers. It was good to see Andy letting his hair down in an informal setting and made a nice contrast to the kind of disciplined performances of the type he gave today, or with his Movements In Colour Band, Trio Libero or Carla Bley. The price was very different too, the face value of tickets for the Shakespeare Songs performance was an eye watering £45.00 and I was very grateful to have been admitted for nothing on a press pass.

I enjoyed both the performance and the whole Playhouse experience but I can’t help feeling that if I had parted with forty five quid I’d have felt a bit short changed. Impressive as the playing was I felt that the writing of de Chassy and Marguet could have been stronger and the themes more memorable . I didn’t feel that this configuration was as convincing as Trio Libero, Sheppard’s collaboration with British drummer Sebastian Rochford and French bassist Michel Bonita, I’ve seen that line up a couple of times and feel that it has the edge, something no doubt helped by the fact that this is more of a regular working ensemble. However everything Sheppard does has a touch of class about it, even a gig in a pub, and this afternoon was no exception. 

I believe that the Shakespeare’s Songs project has been on tour elsewhere in the UK. Despite some reservations I’d very much like to hear this music again should it ever be recorded for either radio broadcast or CD release.


LOCUS

The early evening free performance at the QEH Front Room was by Locus, a young sextet co-led by alto saxophonist Leah Gough-Cooper and trumpeter Kim Macari. The pair were joined by Riley Stone-Lonergan on tenor sax, Sam Leak on piano, Tom Wheatley on double bass and Jay Davis at the drums.

I think I’m write in believing that most of the members of Locus are alumni of Leeds College of Music. Scottish born Gough-Cooper also studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA where she recorded the album “Future Pop” released in 2010 and reviewed elsewhere on this site.
She and Macari first played together as members of the Scottish National Youth Jazz Orchestra some ten years ago. Leak is leader of the band Aquarium and is also a member of the Duncan Eagles / Mark Perry Quintet. Stone-Lonergan was one of NYJO’s star soloists when the band appeared at the 2014 Titley Jazz Festival.

Today’s performance was the final date of a short UK tour undertaken by Locus and it was obvious from the start that this was a band in top form with the three horn front line combining effectively with an accomplished rhythm section. The focus was on the writing of Macari and Gough-Cooper, their brand of contemporary post bop compositions leaving plenty of room for fluent solos by all three horn players plus Leak on the venue’s handsome grand piano.

Macari’s opener “Glass In Hand” featured solos from both co-leaders plus an effective duet between the composer and Leak at the piano.  This formed a link into the insistent and hard hitting “Hive Mind”, an appropriately busy composition featuring some sparkling trumpet and tenor exchanges plus the garrulous buzzing of the three horns as they approximated the kind of sounds suggested by the title.

Also by Macari “The Eternal Child” was more reflective and ballad like with the composer dedicating the piece to her friend the actress and dancer Judith Williams. The normally forceful Stone-Lonergan revealed his gentler side on tenor with Leak showing similar lyricism at the piano.

The final two tunes, presumably by Gough-Cooper went unannounced but featured more fine playing from this talented young band, the first piece featuring a major tenor solo from the talented Stone-Lonergan.

Overall I was very impressed with Locus. I don’t think they’ve had the opportunity to document this music as yet but any subsequent recording should be well worth hearing.

SAM LEAK BAND

After the Locus show I followed Leak and Macari up the Charing Cross Road to The Spice Of Life in Soho where the pianist was due to première a new suite written specifically for the festival in a performance by his Big Band, an aggregation of some of London’s finest young jazz musicians.

Macari’s role was as conductor of an ensemble which comprised of five reeds, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, double bass and drums. The basic configuration of the reeds was two tenor saxes,  two altos and one baritone but there was also a lot of doubling up going on with the musicians also contributing, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet.

The new suite formed the second half of the show with the shorter first set given over to the music of other jazz composers, most notably Duke Ellington. The Duke’s “Sunset And The Mockingbird” and “Le Sucrier Velours” , both from the “Queen’s Suite” bookended the set, distinguished by their lush horn voicings and the beguiling blend of brass and reeds.

We also heard a Matt Roberts arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s “S’Matter”, a piece first heard on the classic “Gnu High” album with Leak dedicating the performance to Kenny’s memory. 

Best of all was a big band arrangement of “Phaedrus”, the title track of Julian Arguelles’ début solo album from 1990. The album features the sublime pianism of John Taylor and has long been a personal favourite, especially the title track. I’ve seen the piece performed by Arguelles and Taylor as a duo but I loved this big band version with Leak taking the Taylor role on the Spice’s upright piano as tenor saxophonist Alec Harper announced himself as one of the Big Band’s most important soloists.

After the break we heard the suite, seventy minutes of new music that still remains untitled. Leak explained that the work had taken four months of extensive writing which had left him feeling rather pressurised but to these ears it was well worth it, the suite was an impressively mature piece of work that some other audience members compared to Duke Ellington, obviously a key influence. I thought I detected more than a hint of Gil Evans in there too.

Leak’s distinctive writing and arranging made frequent use of unusual instrumental configurations, for example the opening movement began by deploying two clarinets, two bass clarinets and flute plus four flugel horns. The resultant textures were warm, rich and sonorous with solos coming from Leak at the piano and Simon Marsh on flute.

A passage of solo piano acted as the link into the next movement, this time featuring a more orthodox reed section plus four trumpets. Harper again emerged as a powerful tenor soloist while the elements of wilful dissonance that characterised the piece spoke of the influence of modern classical composers such as Messiaen as well as jazz figures such as Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden, particularly the latter’s Liberation Music Orchestra. 

A further solo piano interlude provided the link into the third movement which featured solos from Sam Mayne on alto sax and Trevor Mires on trombone.

Percy Purslove’s flugel horn improvisation then ushered in movement four with Jon Scott’s tribal style drumming fuelling solos from Lluis Mather on tenor sax, Sam Rapley on bass clarinet and Pursglove again on flugel. More dissonance crept in plus further instrument swappage as the woodwind section ended up featuring two bass clarinets, clarinet, soprano sax and flute.

A further passage of solo piano was followed by a dialogue between piano and alto sax (Marsh, as I recall) before Scott’s drums set up the final movement, a glorious piece of authentic big band swing with solos from Leak at the piano, Tom White on trombone and Louis Dowdeswell on high register trumpet. Squalling horns and a Scott drum feature appeared to bring the new work to a rousing climax but it was a final passage of solo piano that ensured the suite ended on a more elegiac note.

Leak and his colleagues were accorded a rapturous reception by a knowledgeable audience that included many other musicians, among them guitarist Leo Appleyard.

The leader introduced the band, a lengthy process and also thanked John Warren, Matt Roberts and Pete Churchill for their help and advice with the writing and arranging process. The well deserved encore was an arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s “Nonetheless”, introduced by Leak at the piano and with solos coming from Mayne on alto and Miguel Gorodi on flugel horn, part of a two flugel, two trumpet brass section.

I thought Leak’s suite was superb and represented a considerable artistic achievement. The band had only had one rehearsal but they absolutely nailed it, very together as a collective unit but with the brilliance of the individuals coming out in some quite inspired solos. Ironically it was the first set of more familiar material that sounded rather tentative and under prepared, I guess they were just easing themselves into the performance.

Again this is music that deserves to be documented on disc. I believe tonight’s performance may have been recorded it would be nice to see it appearing as al ive album at some point in the future.

Praise is also due to Paul Pace of the Spice of Life for helping to instigate the project and for
MC-ing the evening. The only downside to the proceedings was the cold wind that whistled down the stairs and into the performance space in the Spice’s basement bar. We had a great view of the musicians but it was like sitting in a force nine gale. Fortunately the band was also blowing up a storm.

An interview with Sam Leak on the Big Band project can be found on Sebastian Scotney’s London Jazz News website http://www.londonjazznews.com

For the record the Sam Leak Big Band lined up as follows;


Sam Mayne - Alto Saxophone/Clarinet
Simon Marsh - Alto Saxophone/Clarinet/Alto Flute
Alec Harper - Tenor Saxophone/Clarinet/Soprano Saxophone
Lluis Mather - Tenor Saxophone/Bass Clarinet
Sam Rapley - Baritone Saxophone/Bass Clarinet

Louis Dowdeswell - Lead Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Percy Pursglove - Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Robbie Robson - Trumpet/Flugelhorn
Miguel Gorodi - Trumpet/Flugelhorn


Trevor Mires - Lead Trombone
Tom White - Trombone
Patrick Hayes - Trombone
Simon Minshall - Bass Trombone

Sam Leak - Piano
Oli Hayhurst - Double Bass
Jon Scott - Drums


Kim Macari - Conductor
   

 

 


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