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EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 12th 2017.

Friday, November 24, 2017

EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday November 12th 2017.

Ian Mann enjoys performances by Jim Rattigan's Pavillon and Matthew Stevens Trio plus the opening event of the 'Expect the Unexpected' series at Club Inegales.

Photograph of Jim Rattigan’s Pavillon sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website http://www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk


EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, SUNDAY NOVEMBER 12th 2017


JIM RATTIGAN’S PAVILLON, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO


This lunchtime performance in the famous Dean Street basement featured the twelve piece ensemble Pavillon, led by French horn virtuoso Jim Rattigan.


Rattigan is a busy musician who is the first call on his instrument across a variety of genres including jazz, folk, pop, classical and film and TV soundtracks. The latter include the James Bond and Lord of the Rings film series.

His list of credits is mind boggling, far too lengthy to list in full here, but includes six years with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and session work with some of the biggest names in rock and pop, among them Paul McCartney, George Michael and Adele. I know his playing best best from his work in jazz ensembles including bands led by Mike Gibbs, Hans Koller, Mark Lockheart, Carla Bley, Percy Pursglove and the late, great Charlie Haden. And as he proved with Pursglove’s “Far Reaching Dreams of Mortal Souls” ensemble he’s also a skilled accordionist.

In his capacity as a jazz musician Rattigan has released a number of albums under his own name including “Unfamiliar Guise” (2000), “Jazz French Horn” (2004), and“ Shuzzed” (2010).

In 2014 I reviewed his excellent trio set “Triplicity” which teamed him with the classical violinist Thomas Gould and the acclaimed jazz pianist Liam Noble. This was a chamber jazz recording that combined moments of pure beauty with an admirable improvisational rigour.  The full review can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-thomas-gould-liam-noble-triplicity/

It was his work with Mike Gibbs that inspired Rattigan to form his own twelve piece band, Pavillon. The group name comes from ‘pavillon’, the French word for the bell of the French horn.  The album “Strong Tea” was originally recorded in 2011 and was re-launched in 2016 to coincide with a national tour by Pavillon together with a London Jazz Festival appearance at The Vortex. My review of the “Strong Tea” album can be viewed here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/jim-rattigan-pavillon-strong-tea/

Rattigan has said of Pavillon and the “Strong Tea” album;
“ I formed Pavillon with these wonderful musicians to perform my music and recorded the album “Strong Tea” as a 50th birthday present to myself in 2011. The compositions are very much interwoven with the personalities of the band and their musical styles. As I write I hear them playing certain themes and solo sections. I incorporate as much freedom in the music as is possible, leaving them space to express themselves”.

The line-up that Rattigan brought to the Pizza differed slightly from the album personnel and comprised of;

Jim Rattigan – French horn
Martin Speake – alto sax
Andy Panayi – tenor sax
Mick Foster – baritone sax
Percy Pursglove – trumpet & flugel horn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet
Robbie Robson – trumpet
Trevor Mires – trombone
Sarah Williams – bass trombone
Hans Koller – piano
Dave Whitford – bass
Martin France – drums

The repertoire was mainly drawn from the “Strong Tea” album but the programme also included a number of newer pieces written specifically for the band plus new arrangements of a couple of tunes from the “Shuzzed” album.

The first item was unannounced but proved to be a punchy and rousing opener driven by France’s skittering drum grooves and the propulsive bass lines of Dave Whitford, almost hidden at the back of the stage among a veritable forest of musicians and instruments. The piece was a feature for the leader whose solo on the French horn, an instrument rarely heard in jazz circles was stunning. Rattigan is a supremely fluent soloist whose sound combines the agility of a jazz trumpet improviser with the pure technique of a classically trained musician. In Rattigan’s hands the instrument, with a tone pitched somewhere between a trumpet and a trombone, is utterly convincing as a jazz solo instrument.

The title track of “Strong Tea” was introduced by Koller, Whitford and France in piano trio mode before the advent of the horns paired the clarion call of Rattigan’s French horn with the rasp of Foster’s baritone sax. Rattigan is a skilled composer and arranger and his deployment of the instruments available to him was consistently impressive; this was a rich blend of tea, full of interesting colours and textures. But for all the excellence of the ensemble passages Pavillon is also a hard swinging blowing band with plenty of opportunities for the excellent soloists within its ranks. Here we heard from Fishwick on trumpet, Speake on alto and the impressive Mires on trombone.

The ballad “Rose”, a comparatively new piece, featured the sounds of muted trumpets and included melodic, lyrical solos from Whitford on the bass and Koller at the piano, sensitively supported by France’s brushed accompaniment. Rattigan’s own solo combined his customary fluency and agility with an admirable expressiveness.

Whitford’s bass ushered in “Parkwood Fair”, another track from the “Strong Tea” album. Rattigan has also recorded in a quartet format and this piece featured his remarkable playing in conjunction with the piano trio, the other horns only being used to add colour and punctuation to the arrangement.

The new tune, “Henbo Waltz”, written as a paean to the London street where Rattigan resides, introduced a fresh crop of soloists with Mires’ opening trombone feature followed by solos from Foster on baritone sax and Robson on trumpet with France also featuring at the drums.

An excellent first set ended with the new tune “Blue”, a blues that managed to include some syncopated Loose Tubes style riffing in addition to solos from Pursglove on trumpet, Speake on alto and Williams on bass trombone. I’ve seen Williams perform many times on bass trombone with a variety of ensembles but I think this was the first time that I’ve ever seen her take a solo. Rattigan certainly likes to give the “minority” or “Cinderella” instruments a chance.

The second half opened in a similar manner to the first with the punchy but quirky big band swing of “Dulwich Park”, another piece from the “Strong Tea” recording that featured solos from Panayi on tenor sax and Pursglove on flugelhorn.

“Forever” included an extended unaccompanied piano introduction from Koller plus further solos from Foster on baritone and Robson on trumpet.

Based on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” the title track from “Shuzzed” was originally recorded by a quartet featuring guitarist Phil Robson, bassist Phil Donkin and regular Pavillon
drummer Gene Calderazzo. Scaled up for big band the first solo went to Sarah Williams on bass trombone who again impressed with the warmth, fluency and agility of her playing. Speake, Mires, Fishwick and Rattigan also featured as soloists, all delivering cogent statements of their own.

The performance was introduced by Rattigan with good humour and a ready and salty wit, the title of “The Freedom Of Movement” producing much ribaldry as the band bantered amongst themselves. The piece itself was notable for the intelligent dialogue between the leader’s French horn and France’s brushed drums.

“Ballad” featured lush, warm horn voicings with solos coming from Speake on alto, Koller at the piano and Robson on trumpet, the latter building up quite a head of steam despite the title of the tune. Having peaked the trumpeter eventually handed over to Rattigan whose feature helped to resolve the piece.

The afternoon ended with the exciting “24/7” from the “Strong Tea” album which was driven by the powerful combination of baritone sax and bass trombone in addition to bass and drums. The propulsive rhythms fuelled solos from Foster on baritone, Panayi on tenor and Robson on trumpet with drummer France also featuring.

The deserved encore found Rattigan returning to the “Shuzzed” album for an arrangement of the tune “Mung Beans” with trombonists Williams and Mires trading solos before handing over to Williams. Rattigan’s solo included a quote from Mozart’s horn concerto ( I think), but for me it just raised a smile and memories of Flanders & Swann.  Foster, Panayi and Speake enjoyed a series of sax exchanges with the three trumpeters eventually following suit on a barnstorming closer that featured virtually every member of the band.

Tucked away on a Sunday lunchtime this wasn’t one of the Festival’s most high profile gigs but for me it was undoubtedly one of the best.  I had enjoyed the “Strong Tea” album release and had been disappointed not to be able to catch Pavillon anywhere on their fairly recent tour. This more than made up for that and the long wait to see this stellar band was well worth it. Rattigan himself was brilliant and he was given superb support by a stellar band who brought the best out of his considerable compositional and arranging gifts. A low key performance then, but right up there as one of the highlights of the Festival.

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED – PART ONE – CLUB INEGALES, EUSTON

I moved on to a new venue for me, Club Inegales, another basement performance space, this time beneath an office block in the Euston area of London.

During the Festival the club was the venue for “Expect The Unexpected”, a series of events celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Festival. As part of the Serious Talent Development programme the Festival had commissioned 25 composers from different generations and different genres of music to submit pieces to be played by the resident house band, conducted by Peter Wiegold, and their guests. The only stipulation was that the piece had to fit onto one page of Manuscript paper, thereby by leaving plenty of room for interpretation and improvisation.

The performances were spread over both weekends of the Festival and I was to see the very first session which saw Wiegold conducting Notes Inegales, the house band that included Hyelim Kim on the Korean taegum flute, Christian Forshaw on alto and soprano saxes, Jon Banks on accordion, Joel Bell on guitar, Ben Markland on acoustic & electric bass, Simon Limbrick on percussion and Martin Butler on piano.

Guests at this first session included contributing composers and performers Cath Roberts (baritone sax), Olie Brice (double bass), Anton Hunter and Ant Law (guitars) who all formed part of the ensemble alongside the House Band.  The duo of vocalist Heidi Heidelberg and flautist Mauricio Velasierra also brought compositions to the table and performed with the ensemble.

With no prior rehearsals having taken place each new piece was seen for the first time on the day with the score being illuminated on overhead projectors for the benefit of the audience. First up was Roberts’ “Octopus”, the notated score little more than a sketch and with more than ample room allotted for improvisation. It’s a method that Roberts also deploys with her quintet Sloth Racket and large ensemble Favourite Animals. Introduced by the guitars of Hunter and Law, the latter playing acoustic 12 string , the music also featured the distinctive and haunting sounds of Kim’s Korean flute. Veering towards the freer end of the jazz spectrum the piece moved through a number of different phases with the composer soloing on baritone sax and also entering into a dialogue with Forshaw on alto. Roberts’ solo was underscored by a wall of sound including the drones of accordion, bowed cymbals and arco bass before Limbrick’s cymbal crashes ushered in a powerful closing written riff.

Following Rattigan’s rather more conventional performance at the Pizza it took my ears a little while to adjust to the less structured feel of the music at Inegales but gradually I became acclimatised and began to enjoy myself. Hunter’s “Bits Of A Piece” embraced elements of minimalism with its sussurating melodies, arpeggiated guitars and vibraphone embellishments. Solos came from Roberts on baritone and Forshaw on alto and Kim on flute, the three taking flight against a backdrop of chunky, angular riffing.

The first set closed with Law’s “Her Majesty”, written about “a freaky queen from another planet” according to its composer.  Electric bass and tuned percussion combined to state the melody with the vibraphone providing a constant thread throughout the piece, again suggesting a minimalist influence. Solos came from Roberts on baritone, Brice on muscular pizzicato double bass and finally Law on twelve string guitar.

It had been an intriguing first set of absorbing experimental music in a relaxed and informal setting with acclaimed composer and educator Wiegold conducting the ensemble with a practised ease.

During the interval Festival Director John Cumming of the Serious organisation spoke briefly to the audience detailing the growth of the event over the past twenty five years from its origins in the now defunct Camden Jazz Week. The 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival was to present 360 gigs in 60 different venues.

Set two saw Heidelberg and Velasierra joining the ensemble to present their piece. Although more obviously structured and through composed than the items in the first half the piece still adhered to the ‘one page’ rule. “Raven King” was inspired by the tapping of ravens’ beaks on the guttering of the couple’s house. Heidelberg’s wordless vocals proved to be a supremely flexible instrument and the piece was also distinguished by a mesmerising duet between the different flutes of Velesierra and Kim.  Guitarists Hunter and Bell then combined to create a bridge into a section that combined suitably bird like flute sounds with percussive noises depicting the tapping of the ravens, these including pecked saxes in addition to Limbrick’s percussion and Heidelberg’s repeated vocal refrain “out of rain”. A final passage of ensemble playing included a powerful alto solo from Forshaw.

Heidelberg and Velasierra stuck around for Brice’s piece, named for the event for which it was composed. “Expect The Unexpected” included snippets of Jewish liturgical tunes, the music of Brice’s childhood. The graphic notation encouraged the improvisatory process with the composer’s double bass,  Banks’ accordion and Heidelberg’s voice all playing key roles with the singer sounding authentically Yiddish. Hunter’s scabrous guitar and Roberts’ towering baritone added depth and power to the music.

This had been an absorbing afternoon of adventurous and experimental music making, spontaneous and inevitably a little ragged at times but ultimately both interesting and satisfying. In many ways I was reluctant to move on to my next planned event.

Following Brice’s piece there was an extended interval which saw the local curry house Taste of India supplying food, a regular occurrence at Inegales it seems. It looked and smelt good but we’d already eaten at the Pizza before the Rattigan performance.

After the break a different series of guests joined Notes Inegales including percussionist Kuljit Bhamra, guitarist Rob Luft, trumpeter Kim Macari and alto saxophonist Raymond MacDonald.

The following week the line up was set to include Byron Wallen (trumpet), Alexander Hawkins (piano), Jaak Sooäär (guitar), Chris Sharkey (guitar), Alice Zawadzki (voice/violin), Matthew Bourne, (piano),  Mark Sanders (drums), Orphy Robinson (steel pans), Pat Thomas(keys) and James Mainwaring (sax).

The shows were also due to feature new scores by Hermeto Pascoal (Hermatoids), Alex Roth, Helen Papaioannou, and Corrie Dick.

I enjoyed my first visit to the friendly and welcoming Club Inegales and approved of the club’s adventurous music policy, masterminded by Peter Wiegold. My thanks to Peter, Cath Roberts, Olie Brice, Anton Hunter and members of the Inegales staff for speaking with me afterwards and I hope the rest of the Expect The Unexpected programme went well. This is a venue I’d like to return to at the 2018 Festival.

MATTHEW STEVENS TRIO, RONNIE SCOTT’S JAZZ CLUB, SOHO

I first encountered the playing of Canadian born guitarist Matthew Stevens in 2010 when he appeared on trumpeter Christian Scott’s album “Yesterday You Said Tomorrow”. Then a regular member of Scott’s band the guitarist appeared at that year’s London Jazz Festival when Scott, then an emerging talent, supported Courtney Pine at the Royal Festival Hall. Scott has come along way since those days, but more on that in a later article.

Stevens went on to perform with saxophonist Walter Smith III, pianist Jacky Terrasson and drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Harvey Mason among others. In 2015 he recorded his début album as a leader, the excellent “Woodwork” which appeared on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind Recordings imprint and featured a line up of bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Eric Doob, pianist Gerald Clayton and percussionist Paulo Stagnaro. My review of that album can be read here;
http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/matthew-stevens-woodwork/

However Stevens is probably best known for his role as guitarist and producer for the American bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding, notably on her album “Emily’s D + Evolution”. He subsequently toured the world as part of Spalding’s trio.

Stevens has also recorded a second album, “Preverbal”, which was released in March 2017 on the Ropeadope imprint. The album features a pared down power trio including Archer and Doob and with a guest vocal by Spalding on the final track “Our Reunion”.

Thanks in part to the Spalding connection a large crowd turned out at Ronnie’s on a Sunday night to witness Stevens’ first performance as a headliner at EFG LJF. Doob was present and correct but Archer was replaced on electric bass by Zach Brown, a musician who receives an engineering credit on the “Preverbal” album. Of Spalding there was, unsurprisingly, no sign.

A man of few words Stevens, modishly sporting a baseball cap, preferred to let his music do the talking. This was a power trio that combined the virtues of old fashioned jazz rock fusion with a more contemporary approach with both Stevens and Doob, the latter credited as co-producer on the “Preverbal” album, both mutating the sound of the trio via the use of electronics.

With no support act the trio hit the stage at around the scheduled 8.15 start time and played straight through an eight tune set that comprised of most of the new album plus the occasional selection from “Woodwork”.

Few of the tunes were announced and the trio began with a piece that commenced with an ambient wash of looped and layered guitars before striking out with a muscular but melodic groove embracing a strong rock influence. Brown’s role was strictly rhythmic, he didn’t take a solo all night, so the emphasis was very much on Stevens, a player with technique to burn and a fluent improviser’s instinct.

The second piece saw Doob combining electronic beats with real time drum rhythms as Brown laid down a fat, meaty electric bass groove. Stevens soloed powerfully above this propulsive backdrop, his playing referencing the fusion heroes of the past. However the music then took an unexpected turn into more ambient and minimalistic territory.

Stevens remained the focus of attention, soloing over a busy bass and hi-hat groove on the next
item.

The fourth piece then opened with an engaging dialogue between Steven and the impressive Doob, the pair creating mesmeric rhythmic patterns that later opened out to embrace some chunky, hooky riffing and more virtuoso guitar soloing. This, in turn, led to a slowed down groove with the music taking on more of a spacious, impressionistic feel before gathering momentum once more to peak with a drum and electronics feature from Doob underscored by Stevens’ chiming guitar. A further ambient passage then concluded the lengthiest item of the evening thus far, possibly a segue of two different pieces.

Stevens now spoke for the first time, informing the audience that his father had been born in Liverpool before emigrating to Toronto, Stevens’ home town although the guitarist is now based in New York. There was a sizeable Canadian presence in the audience at Ronnie’s with Stevens name-checking one Ross Porter.

“Reservoir” was one piece that Stevens did introduce by name, another piece to include both real time and pre-programmed drums plus the now familiar chunky and angular guitar riffing.

A solo guitar excursion into Bill Frisell territory was hampered by a temporary electronic problem but Stevens and the trio quickly recovered their poise.

Brown briefly came to the fore as he and Stevens duetted on the opening to the penultimate piece before stepping back into the shadows as Stevens soloed.

The performance concluded with the song “Our Reunion”, a piece inspired by David Bowie and written by Stevens and Spalding. Performed here as an instrumental it sounded very different to the recording but was undeniably melodic in a rock influenced way and ended the evening on a positive, anthemic note. 

I was intrigued enough to invest in a copy of the “Preverbal” recording but ultimately felt a little bit underwhelmed by the evening as an ‘event’. Without the presence of Clayton’s piano the music felt a little one dimensional after “Woodwork” despite the presence of the electronic components, There was insufficient variation and a distinct lack of light and shade. I’d like to have heard something from Brown as a soloist, although it has to be said that Archer is not widely featured on the album. Maybe that’s the way Stevens likes it but there did seem to be too much of a disproportionate emphasis on his own playing, impressive as it undoubtedly was.

Writing for London Jazz News my fellow scribe Rob Mallows (good to meet you Rob) obviously enjoyed this performance rather more than I did. Maybe Stevens just suffered in comparison with Pat Metheny whose performance I’d witnessed (strictly as a ‘punter’) at the Barbican a couple of nights previously.

Having put a 21st century twist on the concept of the jazz power trio it will be interesting to see which direction Stevens’ solo career takes next. He’s obviously a highly accomplished and versatile musician with the ability to explore other musical areas.

 

 

 


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