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London Jazz Festival 2012. Part One; 12th,13th,14th,15th November 2012.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

London Jazz Festival 2012. Part One; 12th,13th,14th,15th November 2012.

Ian Mann enjoys the first four days of a week of excellent music at the 2012 London Jazz Festival.

LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2012

Just back from a hectic week in the capital taking in as much music as possible at the 2012 London Jazz Festival.

As ever the thank yous first, primarily to Paul and Richard for providing accommodation, the perfect hosts, I couldn’t even think of coming down to London for a week without their generosity (the hotel bills would be financially crippling and we get five star treatment anyway).

Another big thank you to Sally Reeves of Serious for organising the majority our concert tickets, greatly appreciated. Also to Lee Paterson and Dave Morecroft for putting us on the guest list for Friday’s event at The Vortex (of which more later).

Without further ado on to the music;

DAY ONE, MONDAY 12th NOVEMBER

NIKKI ILES TRIO, ST. JAMES’ CHURCH, PICCADILLY.

As well as the ticketed performances I always try to take in as many of the free events on the festival programme as possible. Monday lunchtime found me in the front pew at St. James Church, Piccadilly for this keenly anticipated performance by the Nikki Iles Trio. The performance was part of a week long series of events at the church organised by Christine Allen of Basho Music, some free some ticketed, with several of the events celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Munich based ACT record label.

Pianist and composer Nikki Iles is one of Basho’s own artists and today’s performance featured music from her recently released and very well received trio album “Hush” (reviewed elsewhere on this site). The album was recorded in New York with the American rhythm section of Rufus Reid (double bass) and Jeff Williams (drums). Williams divides his time between New York and London and appeared today alongside UK bassist Mick Hutton (the budget didn’t quite extend to flying Reid over !).

Iles’ delicate mastery of the piano was perfectly suited to the environs of St. James and she sounded particularly good on the beautiful Fazioli piano supplied to the venue. Jeff Williams is a masterful colourist at the drums, always listening and an asset to any piano trio. Hutton is one of the musical double bassists around and he slotted in perfectly to complete a supremely well balanced whole.

The trio commenced with a version of Kenny Wheeler’s evergreen modern classic “Everybody’s Song But My Own” introduced by a passage of lyrical solo piano from Iles with Hutton’s bass later assuming prominence as he stated the melody and improvised around it at length. Williams offered succinct comment and punctuation, switching from brushes to sticks at just the right moment as the tune gradually gathered momentum.

Iles’ own “Meditation” (an apt title giving the lovely surroundings in which the event took place)  was suitably serene with the pianist displaying an ECM style sense of space accompanied by the shimmer of Williams’ mallets upon cymbals and the almost subliminal rumble of Hutton’s bass. This piece, plus its companion “The Incense Of Colour”, was inspired by the light from the stained glass in Chartres Cathedral.

By comparison the trio’s version of Ralph Towner’s “The Glide” (one of the guitarist’s most accessible melodies) was positively joyous with expansive solos from Iles and Hutton following an absorbing brushed drum feature from Williams.

Next came a segue of “spring tunes” , Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe In Love” and Rogers & Hart’s “Spring Is Here”, the sequence introduced by a lovely passage of solo piano and containing further delightful contributions from Hutton and Williams. As a colourist Williams is right up there with the late, great Paul Motian. Having said that as Iles observed he can also be a “bit of an animal” when leading his own groups , notably the “American Quartet” that I was fortunate enough to see in Birmingham earlier in the year. In other words he’s a supremely versatile player who adapts and adds to any given musical situation.

The final item was unannounced but if memory serves it was a version of the Miles Davis classic “Nardis” which incorporated rather more vigorous interplay between the protagonists as they explored Iles’ various “twists” on the original tune with Williams deploying sticks throughout and Hutton adding counter melodies to the arrangement.

This absorbing fifty minutes set seemed to be over in the twinkling of an eye. This was a masterful piano trio performance that embraced both unabashed beauty and a quiet spirit of musical adventure. In a highly interactive group all three musicians deserve equal credit for the success of the performance.

Christine Allen explained that Basho had been given use of the church for free and encouraged audience members to donate £3.50 per head to the church. Many gave much more and given the quality of the music on offer the “official” donation looked like a bargain.


IVO NEAME / JEAN TOUSSAINT DUO, RAY’S JAZZ CAFE AT FOYLES.

We managed to arrive early to secure a table at the café and were awarded by an absorbing duo set by pianist Ivo Neame and tenor saxophonist Jean Toussaint. As far as I could deduce this was a one off pairing and the duo’s performance consisted of a couple of original tunes from each musician plus a smattering of jazz and bebop standards with the set bookended by a couple of pieces from the inspirational figure of Thelonious Monk.

With Neame hidden behind the venue’s upright piano the duo first tackled Monk’s “Well You Needn’t”, quickly establishing a pattern of solos and exchanges.

Neame’s ballad “Passing Point” offered harmonic adventure and a sometimes brooding quality as the pair exchanged solos with Toussaint adopting a warm, breathy tone on the tenor.

The standard “Old Country” was followed by Toussaint’s own ballad “Here”, a particularly beautiful and affecting tune.

Neame’s “Bird Brained” offered greater complexity, this leavened by a sense of humour, on a piece featuring inspired soloing by both musicians. Tadd Dameron’s “Butterfly” saw the pair reaching similar levels of inventiveness with Neame in particularly dazzling form.

The duo closed with Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning”, particularly apposite given that a picture of the great man hung behind the musicians on the café wall. This was a great way to close a spirited and engrossing duo performance with Rollins adopting a Rollins-ish sound on the tenor.

In closing Toussaint, who had handled the announcements throughout, informed listeners that they had a second chance to catch the duo later on when they were due to play just round the corner at Ronnie Scott’s as part of the Late Late Show (the Toussaint Quartet featuring Neame plus bass and drums).

I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this relaxed but wholly absorbing performance. Well done guys, and thanks to Ivo for taking time to chat afterwards.

AMINA FIGAROVA SEXTET, RONNIE SCOTT’S JAZZ CLUB

Festival life is all about choices. Adam Fairhall’s Imaginary Delta project at The Vortex tempted as did Bill Frisell’s new suite “The Great Flood” at Queen Elizabeth Hall. In the end I opted for Ravi Coltrane at Ronnie Scott’s, I’d seen Coltrane perform with both Jack DeJohnette and Ralph Alessi at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and was keen to see him leading his own band, particularly in the wake of his widely acclaimed recent Blue Note album “Spirit Fiction”.

However the pre publicity for the Coltrane show also included details of the support act, pianist Amina Figarova and her sextet. Although hers was a new name to me the line up looked intriguing and highly promising and helped to sway the vote. Good call as it turned out, this was a superb band with a distinctive instrumental configuration and the leader proved to be an excellent composer as well as an accomplished piano soloist.

Originally from Azerbaijan Figarova is now based in New York along with her life partner the flautist Bart Platteau. Belgian born Platteau was one of several players from the Low Countries that featured in a line up also comprising of Ernie Hammes (trumpet & flugel), Johannes Mueller (tenor sax), Jerdan Vierdag (double bass) and Chris “Buckshot” Strik (drums). Much of the material was drawn from the sextet’s most recent album “Twelve” (incredibly Figarova’s twelfth album release).

The unusual front line of flute, trumpet and tenor made for rich, consistently interesting textures with each of the horn men proving to be a distinctive soloist. Figarova allowed them plenty of space, quite content to function as a member of the ensemble despite her own accomplishments. Sympathetic, supportive and often interactive bass and drums completed a fine band.

Not all the tunes were announced but I rather fancy that they opened with the title track of “Twelve”  with Figarova’s solo piano intro ushering in the rich timbres of the horns before subsequent solos from trumpet, flute and piano.

Other highlights included the stately flugel led ballad “Another Side Of The Ocean” with Hammes quoting “My Favourite Things” in his solo, particularly appropriate with the younger Coltrane also on the bill.

Hammes switched back to trumpet for “Sneaky Seagulls”, the busy bustling theme fuelling lively solos from Platteau, Mueller and Figarova with punchy unison horn interjections punctuating the solos.

“Leila” featured a flute led theme and subtle Latin rhythmic inflections with Mueller on tenor and Hammes on pure toned trumpet soloing above the patter of Strik’s hand drums. After a brief solo bass interlude Strik’s closing drum feature, again featuring his distinctive use of hand drumming techniques, was particularly compelling.

The sextet closed with “NYCST”, the opening track on the “Twelve” album and the message emblazoned on Platteau’s black T shirt. Apparently the acronym stands for New York City Subway Tango and although not a strict tango there was still a strong Latin element in Strik’s brush and hand driven grooves, these propelling solos from Platteau and Figarova.

The group’s music was extremely well received by a packed out Ronnie’s audience and I would imagine that subsequent CD sales were brisk. I even bought a copy of “Twelve” for myself, something I rarely do these days bearing in mind all the music I get sent. I can confirm that the album, which was recorded in New York, richly fulfils the promise inherent in the group’s live performance and is full of rich, colourful writing and fine playing. Meanwhile Jack Massarik writing in the Evening Standard was pleasantly bowled over by the band and initially thought he’d walked into a set by the headliners! Sebastian Scotney of the London Jazz Blog later told me that this was the first time that Figarova’s group had supported anybody for years. Festivals are all about making major new discoveries, for me Figarova’s music was the find of the festival. 

“Twelve” appears on the German In + Out record label. The sextet are still touring in mainland Europe, see http://www.aminafigarova.com for details.   


RAVI COLTRANE QUARTET, RONNIE SCOTT’S JAZZ CLUB

The Figarova sextet had set the bar high and tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane responded with two quartet sets that thrilled and absorbed in equal measure. His performance certainly exceeded my expectations and proved to be one of the highlights of the festival week.

I’d previously seen Coltrane at Cheltenham Jazz festival as part of an ultimately wearing drums/sax duo with Jack DeJohnette and as part of the worthy but overly intellectual and frankly rather dull This Against That combo led by trumpeter Ralph Alessi. Leading his own band Coltrane’s playing was far more wide ranging and fluent and he also proved to be a charming and witty interlocutor between tunes.

Coltrane’s recent “Spirit Fiction” features an all star cast including Alessi and Joe Lovano but none of tonight’s group appeared on that record. Not that this was a “second string” outfit by any means,  in fact anything but with the outstanding young pianist David Virelles, bassist Dezron Douglas and man mountain of a drummer Johnathan Blake on board. Largely the quartet ignored the album repertoire and stretched out on a variety of jazz standards and original pieces by Coltrane and Alessi.

Coltrane came roaring out of the blocks with a stunningly fluent, quote laden solo on the quartet’s version of “Skippy” which the saxophonist described as a “hard ass Monk tune”. Virelles’ harmonically adventurous solo exhibited plenty of Monkish invention as Blake’s supple and subtle polyrhythmic drumming really drove the band, culminating in a series of thrilling tenor sax and drum exchanges.

An astonishing solo sax cadenza introduced Alessi’s “Who Wants Ice Cream”, one of the few items drawn from the “Spirit Fiction” record. Subsequent solos came from Virelles, the young pianist proving to be another major new discovery, Coltrane himself and bassist Douglas. Blake added the distinctive sound of a sheet of metal (I believe it’s known as a thunder sheet in the trade).

Coltrane’s own “Thirteenth Floor” was ushered in by Douglas at the bass before Coltrane unleashed an astonishing marathon tenor solo above a mighty bass and drum groove.

Charlie Haden’s beautiful ballad “For Teria” holds a special significance for Coltrane. Bassist and composer Haden first recorded the piece on the 1976 album “Closeness”, a series of duo recordings featuring a cross section of musicians including Ravi’s mother Alice Coltrane. On record the piece featured Haden on bass and Alice on harp and Ravi himself recorded the tune in 2007. Tonight the tune was introduced by a passage of solo piano from the excellent Virelles before Coltrane took over soling sensuously above accompanying piano, bass and Blake’s atmospheric mallet rumbles. Douglas fulfilled the Charlie Haden role with a dexterous and lyrical solo bass feature.

Ravi is famously the son of John and Alice Coltrane and he updated the “spiritual jazz” tradition of his parents with a blistering version of his father’s tune “ Countdown”, itself an adaptation of the Miles Davis composition “Tune Up”. Coltrane opened with a buccaneering salvo of unaccompanied tenor sax before retiring to give himself an equally vigorous towelling down as Virelle’s took up the baton with a similarly dazzling piano solo. A closing drum feature from Blake demonstrated all aspects of the big man’s immense power and dexterity. I’d heard Blake on record before, including his contribution to Michael Janisch’s “Purpose Built” but nothing had prepared me for the both the visual and sonic impact of this giant of the drum kit. After this both the band and the audience needed a breather as an impressed Jack Massarik slipped away after the first set to declare “Genius in the genes” as the headline of his Evening Standard review. No arguments there. 

The second set proved to be just as fine as Douglas’ solo bass started “Transition”, a second Ralph Alessi tune. Coltrane stated the theme before solos from Virelles and himself but it was Douglas’ dramatic bass feature, including powerfully strummed chords that threatened to steal the show.

Coltrane’s own “Word Order” (from 1999’s “From The Round Box”)  was a quasi ballad with solos from Virelles and Coltrane. Overall the second set was less frenetic than the first with the next (unannounced) piece featuring Coltrane exploring his instrument’s altissimo register above shadowing bass, brushed drums and piano before Blake’s cymbal scrapes concluded proceedings.

From “Spirit Fiction” Coltrane’s “The Change, My Girl” was a tender ballad featuring breathy tenor sax plus equally lyrical solos from Virelles and Douglas above Blake’s delightfully delicate drum accompaniment.

Bob Dorough’s “Nothing Like”, recorded by Miles Davis on the “Sorcerer” album, began gently but soon developed a fierce swing that fuelled expansive solos from Coltrane, Virelles and Blake as the quartet recaptured something of the energy levels of the first set. Blake’s climactic closing drum feature ensured that an encore was totally inevitable with the quartet returning to romp through an unannounced item that sounded suspiciously like another Monk piece with Virelles and Coltrane soloing first before a thrilling set of exchanges between Blake and Virelles. 

So long in the shadow of his father tonight’s performance suggested that Ravi Coltrane has finally come of age. He may be a “chip off the old block” but he sounds less like his father than many other contemporary saxophonists and clearly has much to say on his own account. Tonight’s two thrilling and absorbing sets plus the earlier contribution from the Amina Figarova Sextet ensured that this was a night to remember.   


DAY TWO, TUESDAY, 13th NOVEMBER

HANNES RIEPLER QUARTET / ANDRE CANNIERE GROUP, CHARLIE WRIGHT’S INTERNATIONAL BAR, HOXTON. 

With no lunchtime concerts scheduled this was the quiet day of the festival. We spent the day eating and drinking with London based friends.

On my previous visits to the LJF I’ve mainly taken in ticketed events at the major concert halls at the Barbican and on the South Bank. In recent years the continued success of The JazzMann has found me listing events for a number of the capital’s jazz clubs and this time round I was determined to check out for myself some of the venues with whom I’ve had dealings, I’m always intrigued to see just what they’re like.

Thus it was that I found myself making my way to Charlie Wright’s in Hoxton for the double bill of the Hannes Riepler Quartet and the Andre Canniere Group. On the way I stopped off for a couple of pints in one of my favourite London pubs The Wenlock Arms (you can’t have too much Wenlock!).

Charlie Wright’s incorporates stylish red and black panelling and subdued lighting and has the potential to be a very good jazz venue despite the fact that some sight lines are blocked by supporting walls. Obviously the beer couldn’t compete with the Wenlock but I can live with that!

I’ve reviewed recent albums by Riepler (“The Brave”, Jellymould Records) and Canniere (“Forward Space” Whirlwind Recordings) and enjoyed them both so I was very much looking forward to tonight’s event. There was a good deal of cross fertilisation between the two groups with a number of musicians featuring in both line ups.

Riepler’s quartet went first, the Austrian guitarist is now resident in London and curates a weekly Tuesday night jam at Charlie Wright’s. Tonight’s event was an extension of this with a special festival double bill. Riepler’s quartet also included saxophonist Tom Challenger, bassist Ryan Trebilcock and drummer Jon Scott, the album line up also features the piano of Kit Downes who was playing tonight with his own quintet just up the road at The Vortex.

The quartet began with the mellifluous “Summer Song”, sourced from the album, with Riepler introducing the song with a passage of unaccompanied guitar and subsequently taking the first solo later followed by Challenger on tenor.

A more forceful new tune “Storm” was introduced by Scott at the drums and featured a meaty guitar/sax melody line with later solos from Riepler and Challenger plus a closing drum feature from Scott.

Also as yet unrecorded the tune “Nothing New, Just Beautiful” proved to be an angular ballad with Challenger soloing atmospherically above the low rumble of Scott’s mallets. 

From the album the close knit “Now Do It” featured glowering textures and rhythmic complexities with powerful solos by Riepler and Challenger (arguably the sax man’s finest of the night) and a further Scott drum feature.

New tune “Golden” offered further solos from Challenger and Riepler and also gave Trebilcock the opportunity to shine on the bass. The ever dependable Trebilcock was to pop up elsewhere at the festival in a variety of contexts.

The quartet rounded off their set with the title track from “The Brave”, introduced by Riepler at the guitar and with subsequent features from Challenger and Scott.

There was much to enjoy in this competently played set featuring Riepler’s thoughtful and melodic compositions. However there also seemed to be something missing, the club was fairly sparsely attended and that audience spark that helps to turn a gig into an EVENT was absent. Also I felt that there was a big Kit Downes shaped hole in the music, his contribution to the album is excellent and I couldn’t help but miss him here.

For me the performance by the Canniere group was rather more successful with the American born trumpeter and composer replicating his album line up (albeit with a few changes in personnel) by calling again upon Riepler, Trebilcock and Scott and adding Ivo Neame on piano (the latter replacing the album’s George Fogel). Given the presence of Neame in the building I was surprised that Riepler didn’t utilise the pianist’s undoubted talents with his own group but the quietly spoken guitarist felt that Neame’s inclusion would have meant that the two groups were too similar. His call obviously, but surely the varying writing styles of Canniere and himself would have ensured that any similarities of personnel were offset by the contrasting musical personalities of the composers.

In any event Canniere’s direct and forceful trumpet style added a distinctive voice to his own group, his sound influenced by electric era Miles Davis and to these ears by Michael Mantler’s “Movies” electric bands (with guitarist Larry Coryell). Canniere’s bright and punchy tunes are more obviously influenced by rock than Riepler’s more jazzy compositions and the guitarist tailors his approach accordingly as evidenced on the powerful first number “Crunch” (also the album opener) with hard hitting solos for both trumpet and guitar.

Canniere also chose to showcase a high percentage of new material. “Zuid” (named after a train station in Brussels) featured another strong melodic theme with an almost funk back beat. Ivo Neame, again playing an upright piano, threatened to steal the scene with a relentlessly inventive solo, all the while urged on by his Kairos 4tet colleague Jon Scott who rounded out the piece with a closing drum feature.

“Mansfield” (a working title) featured a typical Canniere riff based theme punctuated by a freer episode featuring piano and bass plus later solos from Canniere and Riepler.

Also new “Elk Run” demonstrated Canniere’s ability as a composer and performer of ballads with solos also coming from Neame and Trebilcock. 

“Sweden Hill”, another newie, exhibited a glowering intensity and featured barnstorming solos from Canniere and Neame, the latter again in show stealing mood, everything this guy plays these days is unfailingly interesting.

The Canniere group concluded their set with the title track from “Forward Space”, the stop start theme framing solos from Canniere and the always impressive Scott.

This had been an impressive set but it was all over far too soon. I was particularly miffed that the group didn’t take the opportunity to play the blistering, strongly rock influenced album track “Cure”, a piece Canniere, a one time New York resident, wrote to sum up the energy and buzz of living in the Big Apple.

I have to confess to being a little disappointed with the evening as a whole. Canniere’s group was the pick of the two but the double bill format seemed to entail that neither band really hit its stride.  However the real problem was basically the lack of people and any kind of real audience enthusiasm. Perhaps Hannes is just too much of a familiar figure at Charlie’s. I’m pleased to report that club events later in the week at The Green Note and The Vortex were much better supported, more on those later.

Whilst writing this I’ve revisited both albums and been thoroughly impressed again by both. If tonight didn’t quite catch fire then it’s a salutary lesson that records and live appearances are completely different entities, the latter sometimes dependent on circumstances beyond the musicians’ control. I’d certainly be more than happy to see either band again sometime. 

Thanks to Hannes, Andre, Ivo and Jon for taking the time to chat afterwards and I also enjoyed a rambling conversation with Tom Challenger that veered away from music to embrace real ale and cricket. Cheers guys.

DAY THREE, WEDNESDAY 14th NOVEMBER

EMMA SMITH GROUP, ST.JAMES’S CHURCH, PICCADILLY.

Today’s lunchtime event at St. James’s featured talented young vocalist Emma Smith leading a group comprised of star jazz pianist Andrew McCormack and a young string quartet featuring Dan Oates and Henry Bentley on violins, Asher Zaccardelli on viola and the slightly older Adam Spiers, a cross genre improvising cellist.

Still a student at the Royal Academy of Music Smith is a prodigious talent with a remarkably versatile voice capable of Norma Winstone style delicacy or of belting it out in front of a big band. She has already played many prestigious shows and featured on national radio.

However Smith is far more than an identikit standards singer. She is an adventurous and inquisitive musician with a real flair for jazz and today’s set featured unusual and adventurous settings of jazz and pop standards and the poetry of W.B. Yeats.

The set began with the duo of Smith and McCormack interpreting Yeats’ “The Stolen Child” with Smith putting a jazz inflection on Yeats’ words and displaying a real improviser’s instinct on a series of extended scat episodes. McCormack, who introduced the piece the piece with a passage of solo piano and later produced another expansive solo of his own proved to be the perfect foil, an imaginative and highly interactive accompanist.The piece compared well with fellow vocalist Christine Tobin’s settings of Yeats’ works on the album “Sailing To Byzantium”.

The pair’s take on Ray Henderson’s jazz standard “Bye Bye Blackbird” was highly imaginative as they took liberties with the tune, slowing the tempo and making other mutations. Again Smith and McCormack demonstrated their improvisational skills in a richly interactive performance. McCormack performs an equally adventurous instrumental version of the tune in the company of bassist Chris Hill and drummer Troy Miller on his forthcoming trio album “Live In London” shortly to be released on Edition Records. 

Cellist Adam Spiers was added to the group for the standard “I’ll Be Seeing You”, deploying both bowed and plucked techniques as he dovetailed perfectly with Smith in an arrangement that made maximum use of space and allowed the remarkably mature to Smith to wring every ounce of emotion and pathos from the lyrics.

McCormack sat out as Smith welcomed the rest of the string quartet on stage for a rendition of Bjork’s “Joga” with its “State of Emergency” refrain. Smith proposed that the song be adopted as an alternative Icelandic national anthem. My host Richard a tutor at the Royal College of Music and a highly accomplished classical conductor later observed that if young violinist Henry Bentley had studied at the Purcell Music School then he must be a very talented young musician indeed. No arguments there and much the same could be said for his equally talented colleagues.

Smith, who arranged all these pieces, is a great singer of “vocalese”. A superb group version of Wayne Shorter’s classic “Juju” incorporated new lyrics by American vocalist Gretchen Parlato that referenced both synaesthesia and another Shorter tune “Footprints”. The highly adventurous arrangement incorporated edgy wordless vocals, interior piano scrapings and harsh abrasive bowing. Although in some ways challenging this was one of the highlights of a consistently excellent set.

The all to brief performance concluded with a beautiful version of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” with Smith again investing the lyrics with an emotional maturity beyond her years alongside adventurous excursions of scat vocals and a final McCormack piano solo.

I was highly impressed with Emma Smith, a mature and confident performer who led her group with considerable assuredness and even panache. She seems born to the music and earlier in the set informed us that her grandfather had been a jazz trombonist who had also played in the bands of Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey. If she ever decides to abandon the adventurous approach she displayed today Emma Smith has the potential to be a mainstream star. In any event she is surely destined to become one of the UK’s premier jazz vocalists and already has one highly acclaimed album, “The Huntress”, under her belt. It’s not surprising that after this performance the album was selling briskly. Definitely a name to watch in the future. 


JAZZ RECORD REQUESTS, HALL TWO, KINGS PLACE.

As well as visiting a variety of the capital’s jazz clubs I was also eager to see a performance at London’s newest concert venue Kings Place. I was delighted to attend a performance by veteran French bassist and composer Henri Texier in Hall One but this was presaged by a recording of the popular BBC Radio 3 programme Jazz Record Requests hosted by the always urbane and consummately professional Alyn Shipton.

This special LJF edition featured the bonus of live music from the Kings Place LJF artist in residence pianist Marcus Roberts and from Norwegian singer Karin Krog. Shipton interviewed both these artists plus others appearing at the festival and asked them to request a recording for transmission on the programme. The results were aired on Saturday November 17th so I won’t go into any great detail as most readers will already have heard it.

The event began with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Honeysuckle Rose”, artfully interpreted by Roberts on solo piano. After talking with Shipton Roberts picked Ahmad Jamal’s version of “Moonlight In Vermont” sourced from the live album “At The Pershing” as his requests.

Shipton also spoke to Roberts’ trio members Jason Marsalis (drums) and Rodney Jordan (bass). Marsalis selected Louis Armstrong’s “Mack The Knife” as a celebration of his New Orleans roots while Jordan chose trumpeter Lee Morgan’s beautiful ballad performance of “You Go To My Head” from the Blue Note album “The Gigolo”.

A listener’s request saw Shipton airing festival artist Sheila Jordan’s remarkable version of “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” accompanied only by bassist Cameron Brown. Now an astonishing eight four years of age Jordan was appearing that same evening as part of a sold out double bill at the Queen Elizabeth Hall opposite fellow vocalist Kurt Elling.

The next guest was the larger than life figure of poet Michael Horovitz who selected festival artist Sonny Rollins’ version of Frank Loesser’s “Slow Boat To China”. Meanwhile singer Gwyneth Herbert selected festival artist Mara Carlyle’s astonishing version of medieval composer John Dowland’s “Away With Those Self Loving Lads”, a mix of jazz, folk and pop influences that reflected Herbert’s own eclectic and wide ranging musical tastes.

The venerable Norwegian singer Karin Krog once worked with legendary tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and selected his beautiful ballad “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out To Dry” from the album “Go” as her request. She then performed her own song “Who Knows” in the company of British pianist Ross Stanley. Krog’s singing and appropriately Autumn themed lyrics spoke of the wisdom of experience yet her voice remained strangely vulnerable. Stanley also acquitted himself superbly, still young enough to be regarded as up and coming this wonderfully versatile musician also has the experience to be simultaneously regarded as one of the stalwarts of the UK jazz scene. He’s adaptable enough to have just come back from a stint on the road playing Hammond for funk legend Maceo Parker. Krog was appearing with another pianist, the Swede Bengt Hallberg in two nights of duo performances at The Forge in Camden.

Another guest, record reviewer Tony Augarde chose “Petunia”, a recorded performance by the Marcus Roberts Trio augmented by banjo innovator Bela Fleck, another remarkable performance, this one sourced from the album “Across The Imaginary Divide”. Roberts himself brought the programme to a close with a second solo piano performance, this time exploring the standard “What Is This Thing Called Love”.

I’ve listened to JRR on and off years and it was fascinating to get an insight into the making of the programme. I’d not been sure quite what to expect and the live performances from Roberts and Krog were an unexpected and very welcome bonus. This was a delightful curtain raiser to the Texier event and an hour well spent.

Finally thanks to Sebastian Scotney, who was also present at the recording, for a whistle stop tour of The London Jazz Blog office located within the realms of Kings Place.


HENRI TEXIER, TRIO and OCTET, 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 and such is his standing in his native country that he has been made a Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur.

Tonight’s performance at the impressive, comfortable and acoustically excellent Hall One comprised of two sets, the first by Texier’s regular trio featuring his son Sebastien Texier on alto sax, clarinet and bass clarinet together with Louis Moutin on drums. The trio then formed the core of a specially assembled octet playing music commissioned by LJF under the festival’s Jazz in the New Europe strand. Unfortunately the splendid new hall was far from full but this did not prevent Texier and his colleagues delivering two sets of absorbing and intelligent music in the characteristic Henri Texier house style.

Henri Texier started things off with a characteristically supple bass groove supported by Moutin’s subtly polyrhytmic drum groove above which Sebastien Texier blew sinuous bass clarinet. Like much of Texier’s music the piece had a distinct North African feel, the result of Texier’s multi cultural upbringing in the suburbs of Paris. Henri’s huge bass sound was at the heart of the music as Sebastien extemporised on bass clarinet and Moutin enjoyed a closing drum feature.

The next item saw Sebastien switching to alto saxophone for a more freely structured item that featured the clatter of Moutin’s sticks on rims and a passage of dark, rich, cello like solo arco bass from Henri Texier. Sebastien then moved back to bass clarinet to solo above the patter of Moutin’s hand drums, the reed man stalking the stage and playing off mic. This was more challenging than the first piece but no less impressive.

Sebastien returned to the alto for the next piece, playing the theme above Moutin’s brushed grooves prior to features for alto, bass and drums.

Henri’s pizzicato bass introduced the one standard of the set, an imaginative and lyrical arrangement of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”. Henri’s feature was breathtakingly resonant and dexterous with the bassist making frequent use of strumming techniques to produce chord like structures on the bass. Sebastien’s delicately brooding alto and Moutin’s subtle drum accompaniment were the perfect foils for Henri’s unfussy virtuosity.

To close the trio half of the programme Henri set up a propulsive bass groove above which Sebastien blew up a storm on alto adopting a highly vocalised tone that sometimes morphed into a shriek. Henri’s bass solo was embellished by further dramatic flamenco style strumming before Moutin again demonstrated his highly accomplished hand drumming techniques on his feature. A further episode of solo bass acted as a kind of bridge as Sebastien switched to clarinet, his tone first soft and breathy before mutating into a drone above which his father soloed, theolder man’s sound now highly melodic as he played close to the bridge. This tour de force earned the trio a generous reception from the appreciative, but too small, Kings Place audience.

The second set saw the trio augmented by five players from various European countries including the UK’s own Julian Arguelles on tenor saxophone. The others were David Kweksilber (reeds), Alain Vankenhove (trumpet), Oene Van Geel (viola) and the young French vibraphonist Benjamin Flament. This unusual line up afforded Texier a rich sound palette to work from with plenty of scope for colour and texture and the overall ensemble sound was commendably full. 

The first of the commissioned pieces opened with the sound of Henri’s bowed bass and Ven Geel’s pizzicato viola and offered other set piece opportunities such as Arguelles tenor solo and engaging dialogues between Kweksilber’s clarinet and Flament’s vibes and between the core partnership of Henri Texier and Moutin.

The second item was more energetic and incorporated urgent staccato phrases that proved the jumping off point for solos from Van Geel, here incorporating marked folk influences, and Kweksilber on bass clarinet.

Vankenhove’s trumpet featured extensively on the next piece as he soloed above a backdrop of bass, drums and vibes, the trumpeter incorporating slurs and smears and the use of a mute to create a vocalised wah wah sound. An unaccompanied section for the three reed players on alto, tenor and clarinet provided an intriguing interlude before the quartet of viola, vibes, bass and drums provided some edgy textures distinguished by Henri’s bowed bass and Van Geel’s guitar like plucking and strumming. Moutin’s hand drumming feature was backed by the ethereal shimmer of bowed vibes before the whole ensemble took the piece storming out in Mingus like fashion.

After this sometimes bruising tour de force the octet calmed things down with a ballad with the pairing of flugel horn and bass clarinet giving the opening exchanges a lush, song like quality. Arguelles tenor solo was a reminder of what a superb player he is, both lyrical and inventive.  We also heard from Flament on four mallet vibes and Van Geel on viola, the latter again adding a folk element to the proceedings on this most accessible of pieces.

Henri set the tone for the next piece by laying down one of his trademark propulsive bass figures which powered solos from Kweksilber on clarinet, Arguelles on tenor and Vankenhove on blazing trumpet, these three followed by Sebastien on alto and the young, black clad Flament on vibes. Henri rounded off the piece and indeed the suite with a typically mesmeric solo bass feature, a timely reminder that the heart of the band was at the back of the stage.

Henri is a man of few words but he leads with a quiet authority, subtly dictating things from the bass. Only now did he really talk, introducing the band and announcing a little “au revoir” by way of an encore. This was quite lovely, structured like a New Orleans funeral with military drums underscoring a solemn march featuring clarinet (Sebastien), bass clarinet (Kweksilber) and viola before a passage of solo bass ushered in a passage of playful vibes.Texier Sr. then set up a bass walk over which Kweksilber, Sebastien, Arguelles and Vankenhove all soloed pithily before the piece came full circle and returned again to a march. This was a charming way to finish an excellent evening of music led by one of the most significant figures in European jazz.

Texier’s music was well received by the audience and earned glowing reviews from Ivan Hewitt writing in the Telegraph and Chris Parker for the London Jazz Blog. I sat next to Ivan and it was good to make his acquaintance. It was however unfortunate that there weren’t a few more “bums on seats” to make the evening even more of an event.

Although I don’t own any recordings I’ve always admired Texier’s music when I’ve heard it broadcast on Jazz on 3. Indeed tonight’s performance is scheduled to be transmitted on Jazz on 3 on Monday 10th December. Jez Nelson has already played a taster from the trio part of the programme (on the programme broadcast 19th November) and it sounded as good as I remembered it on the night. The transmission in December will make for essential listening.


DAY FOUR, THURSDAY 15th NOVEMBER

GEORGIA MANCIO QUARTET, CAFE CONSORT, ROYAL ALBERT HALL.

Today’s free lunchtime event was at a busy Café Consort with singer Georgia Mancio leading her quartet through two enjoyable sets of jazz standards and original songs. Mancio has established herself as a respected vocalist with the release of three albums “Peaceful Place” (2003), “Trapeze” (2007) and “Silhouette” (2010) all of which include imaginative covers of jazz standards and contemporary pop songs alongside examples of “vocalese” and original songs. Mancio is also the curator of the successful Revoice vocal jazz festival held each October at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club. 

Today’s quartet featured some of the mainstays from Mancio’s recordings with the singer accompanied by Tim Lapthorn (piano), Julie Walkington (double bass) and Dave Ohm (drums).These trusted colleagues provided sympathetic accompaniment with the always impressive Lapthorn allotted plenty of space to turn in some characteristically passionate and inventive solos on the venue’s upright. Julie Walkington also provided some superb cameos on the bass as well as keeping immaculate time alongside Ohm’s economical drums.

Mancio’s swinging, unpretentious approach was just right for a laid back but attentive lunchtime audience. The quartet began by visiting familiar territory in the shape of Duke Ellington’s “Prelude To A Kiss” with Lapthorn and Walkington establishing their abilities as soloists early on.

However there’s a spirit of quiet adventurousness about Mancio’s approach and the following Chick Corea penned tribute to Bud Powell involved a tricky bebop theme and some tongue twisting lyrics with Lapthorn supplying the instrumental coup de grace with a barnstorming piano solo.

Lapthorn also shone on “Solace”, a Brazilian flavoured piece co-written by him and Mancio for the “Silhouette” album.

The Brazilian theme continued with a segue of Antonio Carlos Jobim ballads with Mancio moving between Portugese and English lyrics and culminating with the familiar words of “A House Is Not A Home”.

Ohm’s drums then introduced yet another Brazilian item with Portugese lyrics, a Lapthorn piano solo and a an imaginative closing drum feature (I’d hazard a guess that this was “Morro Nao Tem Vez” from “Trapeze”).

Following this prolonged sojourn to South America the quartet rounded out the first set with Walkington’s solo bass ushering in the jazz standard “Falling In Love”. Walkington maintained a prominent role throughout as Mancio imaginatively stretched out lines and phrases in true jazz fashion.

The second set began with one of the highlights of the entire performance, a superb vocal and bass duet on “Lover Man” which seemed to hang in the air and was wonderfully effective.
This eventually segued into “Sugar”, a vocalese version of the popular Stanley Turrentine tune featuring an authentically bluesy piano solo from the excellent Lapthorn plus features for Walkington and Ohm with Mancio rounding things off by demonstrating her whistling skills.

The Café Consort is a lunchtime variant of the jazz supper club and you’re pretty much obliged to eat. At this point the food arrived (nice, but by the standards of this hick from the sticks rather expensive) and understandably my concentration wavered and I stopped taking notes. I can however tell you that a couple of numbers passed me by before the trio closed with a boppish Mancio/Ohm arrangement of “Just In Time” which incorporated an expansive Lapthorn piano solo and an imaginative brushed drum feature from the co-arranger..

The quartet’s performance was extremely well received by the audience, the music being extremely accessible yet imaginative enough to reward the more attentive listener. Mancio is a skilled and versatile vocalist who fronts a highly competent quartet with Lapthorn the instrumental jewel in the crown. The pianist has just released a new album under his own name, “Transport”, which I hope to be taking a look at in the near future.


AQUARIUM, THE FRONT ROOM, QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL.

The early evening free event was an understated but engaging set by Aquarium, the quartet led by pianist and composer Sam Leak and featuring some of the UK’s leading young jazz musicians in the shapes of James Allsopp (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Calum Gourlay (double bass) and Joshua Blackmore (drums).

The quartet feature Leak’s compositions exclusively and released their well received eponymous debut album on the Babel label back in 2009. Today’s programme featured items from that recording alongside newer material and the music was typical of Leak’s thoughtful, undemonstrative writing style. Most pieces found Allsopp sketching the theme with the saxophonist later stretching out alongside pianist and leader Leak in an Anglicised post bop style that also finds room for modern classical influences.

Leak informed us that Aquarium are set to record their second album in January 2013. Opener “Places” is due to be included on the new record and was an archetypal Leak piece with features for Allsopp on tenor sax, Leak at the piano and Gourlay at the bass. 

From the group’s first album “The Treasure Chest” was a gently brooding modal piece introduced by Leak’s meditative solo piano and which later featured the powerful tenor sax of Allsopp as the piece slowly gathered in momentum and intensity. Inspired by the “spiritual” jazz of John Coltrane, Albert Ayler and others this is one of Aquarium’s most effective numbers.

“Strangers”, from the first album, began with a catchy piano ostinato and a hooky tenor sax theme before embracing a gentler middle section featuring altissimo register tenor and Leak’s atmospheric solo piano. The piece has evoked comparisons with the cyclical music of Steve Reich and today even seemed to offer something of a folkish tinge.

New tune “Marrakesh” found Leak on piano, Allsopp on tenor and Gourlay on bass soloing brightly above Blackmore’s neatly detailed brushed drum grooves. It was interesting to watch Blackmore in this context having recently seen him performing in a very different setting as part of Hazel O’ Connor’s band at a thoroughly entertaining show at Brecon’s Theatr Brycheiniog. It was a sobering thought to contemplate that young Josh probably wasn’t even born when Hazel was having her greatest chart successes! It has to be said that O’Connor had a cracking band which also included saxophonist Clare Hirst.

Next from Aquarium was the lovely minor key ballad “February”, another tune likely to be included on the new album. Allsopp’s ruminative solo was tailed by Gourlay’s bass coda.

Finally came one of the cornerstones of the first album “Shades Of Grey” (a title presumably coined long before the success of THAT book). Blackmore’s delicate hand drums ushered in the delicately lilting theme, lightly sketched by Allsopp in a keening altissimo with subsequent solos coming from Gourlay, resonant and lyrical, and the mellifluous Leak at the piano.

Aquarium’s music continues to display an intelligent, low key charm. Leak’s writing is absorbing and imaginative but could perhaps do with a little more passion and dynamic range. However his undemonstrative approach is distinctive and offers its own rewards, perhaps the grand gesture and the stating of the obvious is just not Leak’s way. He may be a self effacing character but in his own quiet way he has much to say. The forthcoming album will be awaited with much interest.


ALICE ZAWADZKI BAND / LET SPIN, THE GREEN NOTE, CAMDEN.

ALICE ZAWADZKI BAND

When I mentioned my intention to check out some of London’s smaller jazz venues to Sebastian Scotney of the London Jazz Blog he recommended the Green Note in Camden as a particularly nice space to listen to music. I was surprised to discover just how tiny the place is but found it to have a pleasantly bohemian atmosphere and I was also impressed with the quality of the food on the mainly vegetarian menu. We arrived early enough to finish eating before the music started which ensured that I was able to give both bands on this double bill my undivided attention.

Tonight’s event celebrated the links between the London and Manchester jazz scenes. Zawadzki studied classical violin at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester before moving to London to study jazz singing and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. Zawadzki’s classical and jazz backgrounds are certainly explored in her music but her highly personalised music also adds liberal elements of folk and world music strains. Alice Zawadzki is already an accomplished performer with the potential to achieve mainstream recognition, it’s perfectly possible that she could go on to enjoy the kind of large scale yet still defiantly left field success of performers like Bjork, Kate Bush, Tory Amos and Florence Welch.

The success of tonight’s performance was also helped by the presence of an exceptional band featuring Kit Downes on keyboards, Alex Roth on guitar and another London via Manchester musician in the form of Jon Scott at the drums. They form Zawadzki’s regular group and will feature on her soon to be recorded début album. Incidentally it was my second sighting of the busy Scott during festival week, he’d already drummed with both the Hannes Riepler and Andre Canniere groups on Tuesday at Charlie Wright’s and was also due to turn out for Kairos 4tet later in the week.

The opening piece typified Zawadzki’s approach, a tale of obsessive love with very contemporary lyrics (sample “I don’t fucking care”) which Zawadzki described as being about “young people drinking cider in a park”. However the structure of the tune was like an old English folk song with the sweet tone of Zawadzki’s voice at odds with the bitterness expressed in some of the lyrics. This was a piece that dealt in paradoxes, the simple, traditional folk structure contrasting with the contemporary concerns of the lyric and punctuated by jazz improvising and soloing with Downes stretching out on synth. The mix of song structures and long form improvisations sometimes reminded me of the approach of Eugene Chadbourne but with the bonus of Alice being much better looking! 

Zawadzki dipped into the world music well for a Ladino (Judo-Spanish) song “Dicho Me Habian Dicho” with a Yiddish lyric that evolved tentatively before growing in intensity via an improvised section featuring Hammond organ and and hand drums.

Nest came an original song, “You As A Man And I As A Woman” with a sensual lyric sung above the drone of the Hammond and Scott’s brushed commentary before Roth, hitherto a shadowy figure in an essentially textural role came into his own with a taut solo incorporating a marked rock influence and with bass lines played on the top strings of the instrument.

Zawadzki’s considerable violin skills were given full rein on the next item as she accompanied her virtuoso bowing with her own wordless vocals on the wholly solo intro. Later Zawadzki’s strings soared above Scott’s atmospheric mallet rumbles and brushed grooves and Roth’s chiming, Pink Floyd style guitar.

The final item saw Zawadzki adopting the persona of a cat above Downes’ jazzy, growling Hammond and Scott’s solid groove. The singer’s soulful vocals demonstrated the versatility of her voice.

Alice Zawadzki is a huge vocal and instrumental talent with an engagingly eccentric, sensual and feminine writing style that promises much for the future. This was an impressive show from a confident performer who was well supported by an excellent band with Downes and Scott particularly impressive. The audience at an agreeably packed Green Note gave them a tremendous reception. As others have intimated Zawadzki may not be playing venues as intimate as this for much longer. I expect her début album to make considerable waves both in the jazz pond and beyond in 2013.

LET SPIN

Formed only in June 2012 Let Spin is a new band with members drawn from some of the UK’s premier “punk jazz” outfits of recent years. Thus Led Bib’s Chris Williams on alto sax joins forces with Acoustic Ladyland’s Ruth Goller on electric bass, Moss Freed (of Moss Project) on guitar and, fulfilling the Manchester connection, Fin Panter of Beats & Pieces Big Band at the drums.

For me their performance represented the first of three forays into the skronky, rocky, punky side of the jazz spectrum (more on the others later). However despite their pedigrees Let Spin’s music offered an admirable degree of subtlety alongside the bluster. All four members of the band write and the band came across as a democratic, highly interactive unit with no one member overly dominating. Freed appeared to be the de facto leader but only in as much as he handled the announcements.

Panter’s “Awowawa” got things off to an energetic start with the blend of alto and guitar skronk driven by the powerful rhythms of Goller and Panter with Williams eventually cutting loose with a blistering solo. I always find something viscerally thrilling about somebody blasting away on essentially electric saxophone, I reckon it’s something that goes back to my prog rock days and David Jackson of Van Der Graaf and Andy MacKay in early Roxy.

The band often began things quietly before gradually ramping up the volume and the tension. Fluid solo bass opened Freed’s “A Change Is Coming”  before Williams long sax melody lines and Freed’s “Echoes” like guitar (another Floyd reference) invested the tune with a drifting, spacey quality. Eventually Freed began to stoke the fires with a guitar solo that moved up through the gears via vaguely Indian tunings and later an unabashed rock influence as he coalesced with Williams to bring a Led Bib like intensity and urgency to the proceedings. 

Williams returned to the repertoire of his parent group with his tune “Shapes And Sizes”, a piece recorded on the most recent Led Bib album “Bring Your Own”. Here a solo sax intro and Freed’s wah wah guitar gave the piece an impressionistic quality that built steadily to embrace rock fury and sonic overload.

Goller’s “Castle Sea Ferry” was a set highlight with its whimsical almost folky theme with Williams playing right at the top of his alto’s range, providing the jumping off point for a series of improvisations centred around Goller’s chordal bass guitar playing.

The next piece was unannounced but followed the familiar pattern of a quiet intro that later exploded into killer riffage with both Freed and Williams delivering powerful and mesmerising solos. Freed’s set up included a variety of foot pedals and he utilised his various effects with skill and conviction.

Goller’s “The Piper” was the most purely atmospheric piece of the set, another example of the growing maturity of her writing with Williams and Freed the featured soloists.

The set closed with Williams’ appositely titled “Up And At Them” which took it’s cue from Goller’s grinding bass riff and included searing rock influenced solos for saxophone and guitar on a piece that was reminiscent of Goller’s old group Acoustic Ladyland. The audience absolutely loved this and hollered for an encore with an animated Alice Zawadzki leading the cheering.

The encore proved to be Panter’s “102 Hill Street”, another piece packing a mighty bass and drum groove and with final blistering solos from Freed and Williams. The audience was packed with musos, most of Beats ‘n’ Pieces (including leader Ben Cottrell)  were there to support both Panter and Zawadzki who has strong links to the band and the Efpi record label.

Let Spin are also due to release an album next year. On this evidence this is another recording that is going to make a considerable impact. In its short existence this is a band that has taken on a strong group identity and although its members are all involved in other projects I expect to hear a lot more from Let Spin.

Thanks to Chris Williams for a long and illuminating chat afterwards. Apparently Led Bib drummer and leader Mark Holub has moved to Vienna and there will thus be a temporary hiatus for Led Bib although a new album is mooted for 2014. In the meantime Williams is likely to concentrate on his work with Let Spin and with pianist Laura Cole’s group Metamorphic who will be releasing their second album in 2013.
Thanks also to Moss Freed for getting in touch post gig and making friends on Facebook and all that stuff.It turns out that he’s originally from Manchester.

An excellent evening of music then from two bands to really look out for next year. This proved to be one of the festival’s unexpected highlights.

As I intimated earlier I was also highly impressed with The Green Note. The venue hosts events most nights of the week including jazz, blues, folk, world and regular poetry slams. The folk programme is particularly strong with some major names playing the venue. Check out http://www.greennote.co.uk for listings.             

 


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