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EFG London Jazz Festival, Friday November 17th 2017.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Friday November 17th 2017.

Ian Mann enjoys performances by Trio Elf, Cassie Kinoshi's Seed Ensemble, Henri Texier's Hope Quartet and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society.

Photograph of Henri Texier by Tim Dickeson


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, FRIDAY NOVEMBER 17th 2017

TRIO ELF, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

The final free lunchtime showcase saw Trio Elf jetting in from Germany to perform. Although relatively little known in the UK this is an experienced group of ten years standing with an international reputation. They are signed to the prestigious German label ENJA for whom they have recorded four albums, the latest being “Music Box Music”, released in 2016

Best described as a “post E.S.T. piano trio” pianist Walter Lang, drummer Gerwin Eisenhauer and bassist Peter Cudek all contribute tunes to the group’s repertoire. The trio’s music is at times reminiscent of E.S.T., The Bad Plus, Neil Cowley Trio and all the usual reference points. Eisenhauer’s love and knowledge of contemporary electronic dance rhythms also informs the trio and parallels can also be drawn with the Swiss piano trio Plaistow, who played a successful lunchtime show at this venue back in 2014, plus the UK’s own GoGo Penguin, two other bands who incorporate contemporary beats and rhythms into their essentially acoustic performances. When I spoke to Lang after the show he acknowledged the influence of E.S.T., The Bad Plus and Cowley but suggested “I think GoGo Penguin probably listened to US”. From the stage Eisenhauer also revealed that the trio had worked with contemporary British acts such as London Electrical and MC Reck.

With this in mind it came as no surprise to find that Trio Elf’s music was both highly rhythmic and hugely exciting with Lang sometimes manipulating the sound of the piano electronically by means of a Kaoss pad hidden within the lid, the same device that Anglo-Bahrainian trumpeter Yazz Ahmed uses to treat the sound of her instrument.

They opened with “Arearea”, written by former bassist Sven Faller who appeared on the trio’s first three albums. Pieces such as this and Cudek’s “Danca Da Fita” found Eisenhauer replicating the sounds of electronic beats in highly convincing fashion, the latter exuding a Cowley-esque energy with the composer singing along to his bass solo.

Lang’s “Tripolis” commenced with a passage of unaccompanied drums and also featured Cudek flourishing his bow on a piece inspired by UK rap artist The Streets and the worlds of garage and dubstep.

Eisenhauer’s “Ocean 11” was inspired by the drummer’s love of Brazilian music and rhythms and saw Lang doubling on small percussion on a piece that was both highly rhythmic and highly melodic. There was humour too, as Cudek again sang along with his bass solo and Eisenhauer and Lang enjoyed a final percussion battle.

Lang’s “746”, the title track of the trio’s 2008 album was something of a feature for Cudek and also featured the composer playing “inside the lid” on a piece of wide ranging dynamic contrasts that again suggested the influence of Neil Cowley.

Meanwhile Hammer Baby Hammer” from the trio’s 2010 album “Elfland” was rather more subtle than its title might suggest with Lang processing the sound of his piano to create a kind of electronic echo while Cudek contributed arco bass that was vaguely reminiscent of E.S.T’s Dan Berglund. Again this was a piece that embraced sudden changes of dynamics and tempi; the main memory of this gig is of the trio really “going for it”, but as the Music Box Music” album reveals there’s also a high degree of subtlety about their writing and playing.

Like The Bad Plus Elf Trio are not afraid to throw a couple of inspired covers into their repertoire.  Eisenhauer’s choice was “Down”, a song by the Californian punk band Blink 182, that was introduced to him by his young son and which Trio Elf recorded on the “Elfland” album. Introduced by a passage of bowed bass and featuring the sounds of processed piano the trio brought their own energy to the pop/punk melody.

They closed with their interpretation of “The Man Machine” by Kraftwerk, arguably the most influential of all German bands. Trio Elf recorded the song for their “746” album and their performance again demonstrated Eisenhauer’s mastery of the humanised electronic rhythm. Naturally this proved to be a big crowd pleaser and the audience at a packed out Pizza gave the band a terrific reception. Like Plaistow and Girls In Airports, who both played this slot in 2014, Trio Elf had delivered a triumphant performance of contemporary European jazz. They’re another band that you can see being invited back in subsequent years.

This was one of the most viscerally exciting performances of the Festival period but the group’s albums reveal hidden depths and subtleties. Trio Elf are right up there with the best of the current crop of rock and electronica informed jazz piano trios. They’re a group that I’d relish the opportunity of seeing again.  With their substantial back catalogue one suspects that each individual performance will be significantly different. Definitely a band to look out for if they return to the UK.

SEED ENSEMBLE, RAY’S JAZZ AT FOYLE’S

Commitments later in the evening meant that I could only pay a flying visit to Foyle’s to catch something of this performance by Seed Ensemble in the daily six o’clock slot. I was determined to check out this ten piece band led by alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, best known as a member of the all female septet Nerija and of the Afro-beat outfit Kokoroko . 

Seed Ensemble have worked with poets, cinematographers and choreographers and Kinoshi’s writing is informed by her experiences growing up as an English born woman of African origins..

The line up featured the leader’s alto plus tenor sax, two trumpets, trombone, tuba, piano, guitar, double bass and drums. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to hang around long enough for the musicians to be introduced but as Kinoshi seems to deploy a pool of musicians for this project I’m not going to speculate about the exact personnel.

However I did learn that the band are due to release their début album, which will be produced by Jason Yarde on the Jazz Refreshed imprint in 2018. On the brief evidence of what I heard today it’s a release that should be well worth waiting for.

With the performance starting around ten minutes late I was only able to stick around for the first two numbers of Seed Ensemble’s set, What immediately became apparent was that this band are capable of generating a highly convincing big band sound.

The opening piece, “Griot’s Dance” included solos for tuba and trombone plus a closing drum feature.

“The Darkies”, written about Kinoshi’s experiences of racism growing up in rural Hertfordshire commenced with a solo bass introduction and included a trumpet solo, which may well have been by Kinoshi’s Nerija bandmate Sheila Maurice-Grey. Tuba, possibly played by Theon Cross, also featured prominently with another solo while the guitarist and the dynamic drummer also made significant contributions.

I had to slip away at this point but look forward to the release of Seed Ensemble’s début album in 2018.

HENRI TEXIER HOPE QUARTET, HALL ONE, KINGS PLACE

Bassist and composer Henri Texier is one of the most significant and respected musicians to have emerged from the jazz scene in France. He has played and recorded with a string of famous Americans going back to Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon and also including Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, John Abercrombie and many more. Yet Texier’s music remains intrinsically French and intrinsically his own.

At the 2012 EFG LJF he performed in this same hall, leading his trio in the first set and an international octet, assembled specially for the Festival and including the UK’s own Julian Arguelles in the second. That event delivered some excellent music but was sparsely attended, the lack of audience numbers leading to a disappointing lack of atmosphere with the performance not really taking off as an EVENT.

Fast forward to 2017 and this time round Hall One was jam packed, the sold out status of the concert signifying Texier’s continuing growth in status as a true legend  of French jazz. There was large Gallic presence in the audience which helped to create a much better atmosphere this time round.

Texier’s quartet included the two musicians who accompanied him in his trio of 2012, his son Sebastien on alto sax and clarinets and Louis Moutin at the drums. The addition of Francois Courneloup on baritone sax has seen Texier’s group re-launched as the Hope Quartet.

Much of this evening’s music was inspired by the names of native tribes from both North and South America. “Jazz men are like Indians” explained Texier enigmatically, I assume he was referring to jazz’s outsider status, the idea of the music existing outside the usual musical and societal rules and boundaries.

Opener “Mic Mac” was ushered in by the leader’s bass, his huge tone guiding the unison horn lines of Courneloup and Texier Jr. in a piece with an almost boppish feel. Solos followed from Courneloup on baritone and Texier Jr. on alto, sounding almost Coleman-esque, and the leader on bass with Moutin enjoying a series of brushed drum breaks.

Texier dedicated “He Was Just Shining” to the memory of Paul Motian, the piece again introduced by the leader’s bass, his languorous grooves underpinning solos from the younger Texier on alto and Courneloup on baritone, the latter demonstrating a remarkable fluency and lyricism on the larger horn. The leader also impressed with his bass solo on this heartfelt homage to a highly influential musician and composer.

“Dakota Mab” was driven by the combination of a double bass and brushed drum groove with Sebastien taking the first solo followed by an altogether raunchier contribution from Courneloup on baritone as he demonstrated his versatility on the instrument. A bass and drum dialogue, followed by a further passage of unaccompanied bass, formed a bridge as the piece segued into “Hopi” with Sebastien Texier moving to clarinet and sharing the solos with Courneloup and Texier Sr. on a softer, more melodic piece that also included a subtly constructed brushed drum feature from Moutin.

A lengthy segue of “Navajo Dream” and “Sacrifice” commenced with a passage of solo bass from Texier, the expressiveness and virtuosity of his playing sometimes reminiscent of the great Eberhard Weber – but without recourse to electricity. Eventually Moutin’s drums crashed in, prompting an urgent, whinnying solo from Sebastien Texier in a free-wheeling saxophone trio episode that recalled the recent live recording by John O’Gallagher’s trio. Texier briefly added a wordless vocal to the proceedings before a passage of unaccompanied baritone sax seemed to act as the bridge into the second half of the “Sacrifice Suite” with Sebastien Texier now soloing on alto clarinet. An epic group performance was crowned by a stunning drum feature from the excellent Moutin that began with delicate hand drumming before building up to a furious, polyrhythmic, stick driven climax as Courneloup and Texier Jr. delivered a final double sax blast.

The capacity audience loved this and the quartet returned to play a brief “Encore” introduced by the leader’s solo bass glissandi and the seductive combination of clarinet and baritone sax with Moutin’s subtle hand drumming under pinning the piece. Fittingly the last word went to Texier Sr. with a final passage of unaccompanied bass, a last reminder of his distinctive tone and improvisational fluency.

This concert was both filmed and recorded and the music has subsequently been broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme, transmitted on Monday 27th November 2017 and sounding just as good second time around.

This concert featured some excellent music with the supportive crowd helping to turn it into a more satisfying EVENT than Texier’s previous visit. And it was good to relive the experience via the medium of radio.

DARCY JAMES ARGUE’S SECRET SOCIETY, HALL ONE, KINGS PLACE

Following Texier in Hall One was this late night performance by Secret Society, the jazz orchestra led by Vancouver born, Brooklyn based composer and conductor Darcy James Argue. Thanks to the support of the Canadian Embassy and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Argue was able to bring his full band, he refers to them as his “co-conspirators”, over to the UK to perform music from his most recent album, the thirteen piece suite “Real Enemies”.

Argue is an artist with something of a cult following and I was excited at the prospect of this performance after previously hearing the music of Secret Society on Radio 3. It was his first performance in the UK for seven years.

Argue is a politically aware artist and as a Canadian citizen living the US he feels something of a disconnect from both countries, feeling that he doesn’t truly belong in either. It’s a status that informs his music making, “Real Enemies” explores the worlds of conspiracy theories and paranoia. Originally conceived and performed as a multi-media work with visuals (Argue collaborated on the project with writer Isaac Butler and film maker Peter Nigrini) it’s nevertheless a compelling piece of music in its own right.  Although it received its première in 2015, pre Trump, its themes of paranoia and alienation now seem even more relevant in this era of ‘fake news’.

At Kings Place the music was punctuated by snippets of sampled speech from politicians ranging from JFK to Dick Cheyney and also included narrative passages from the 1964 work “The Paranoid style in American Politics” by Richard Hofstadter.

The music itself was often dark and threatening but was full of sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic ideas and was richly nuanced and textured. Darker in tone than the music of Maria Schneider, with whom Argue is sometimes compared, I also detected elements of Carla Bley, Mike Gibbs, Gil Evans and even Frank Zappa in Argue’s writing but ultimately the sound of Secret Society is very much its leaders own.

The Society boasts a huge line up, and on this occasion, as far as I could ascertain, the personnel comprised of;

COMPOSER / CONDUCTOR
Darcy James Argue

REEDS
Dave Pietro
Rob Wilkerson
Sam Sadigursky
John Ellis
Carl Maraghi

TRUMPETS
Seneca Black
Josh Deutsch
Matt Holman
Nadje Noordhuis
Sam Hoyt

TROMBONES
Mike Fahie
Ryan Keberle
Jacob Garchik
Jennifer Wharton

RHYTHM
Sebastian Noelle, guitar
Adam Birnbaum, piano
Matt Clohesy, bass
Jon Wikan, drums

Like Argue himself the musicians were clad in uniform dark suits and ties, their appearance suitably sinister and totally in accord with both the band name and the dark emotional content of the music. Even without Nigrini’s film images this was still a visual show with the trumpet section periodically turning their backs on the audience to blow their horns into the open lid of the grand piano. Meanwhile at one juncture Argue turned his back on the orchestra and stood stock still on the podium and fixed the crowd with a chilling, glass eyed stare, again totally in keeping with the unsettling themes explored in the music.

Although subdivided into thirteen sections the music of “Real Enemies” was performed as a single entity in a performance lasting almost an hour and a half. At times it represented hard going but the many rewards were well worth it and at the end the band received a standing ovation. The late start meant that the attendance was well down on that of the Texier gig but those that were there loved it – that cult status again.

Solos came and went with the featured players coming to the front of the stage but in this consummate ensemble performance it seems a little invidious to single out individual performers. Musical styles ranged from jazz to rock to the twelve tone methods of the serialists, themselves once the subject of a conspiracy theory. Not always an easy listen then, but ultimately a very rewarding one.

As an album “Real Enemies” holds up well in the home listening environment but seeing the music performed live took it into a whole other dimension.

 


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