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Brick Lane Jazz Festival, London, 26-28 April 2024.

by Colin May

May 20, 2024

Guest contributor Colin May dips into three days of live music performances at London's Brick Lane Jazz Festival.

26-28 April
Various Venues, London

Billed as “Showcasing the artists making the biggest waves on London’s vibrant jazz scene today, Jazz // Hip Hop // Latin // Neo Soul // Rnb // Reggae // Broken Beat // Electronic” the Brick Lane Jazz Festival also had at least two Manchester based acts, one from Switzerland, one from France and also American trumpeter Theo Croker who arguably was the festival’s headliner.

As well as Theo Croker, also there was a smattering other of established names rubbing shoulders with the emerging talent with sets from guitarist Rob Luft, trumpeter Byron Wallen, sax and flute player Chip Wickham, keyboardist Greg Foat, and star of the London scene keys player David Mrakpor.

But essentially going to the Brick Lane Jazz Festival is about the emerging talent on the current London jazz scene.

I went there not as a reviewer but as a punter, and what follows are some general impressions,  rather than a review, aiming to cover to some extent all the different music styles and features. For instance while quite legitimately given London’s urban jazz scene’s strong links with club culture, DJ sets featured in the festival and three of the stages were devoted entirely to them, because my interest was live music I did not go to a single one.

As I did not know anything about most of the bands and never having seen any of them live, not being a Londoner, except a couple of the more established ones, who I did see was a bit of a lucky dip. My choices were shaped a very rapid glance at the info in the on-line programme, how quickly I could walk between venues and whether I could get in. A punter’s wrist band wasn’t a guarantee of entry if the venue already was full, and I was shut out from seeing my first choice band on more than one occasion, and so went to see the next one on my wish list.

Most of the venues in fact were no more than an easy five minute walk apart. The majority were in the former Truman Brewery complex on narrow bustling Brick Lane or very close by. Getting to the biggest venue though, the cavernous Village Underground took about a 12 to 15 minute walk which having almost run out of energy, I chose not to do on Sunday night. Thus I missed seeing Theo Croker. However Ian Mann saw him a week later later at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival

So what were my key impressions? Number one highlight was the energy, the enthusiasm, the buzz of the festival itself, which in a large part stemmed from the festival goers the majority of whom were much younger than the usual jazz audience. This was particularly so on the Saturday which was very busy. It was exciting to be surrounded by this atmosphere, though in one respect the audience failed as however insistently they demanded,” One more song” they never succeeded as the bands had to keep to the organisers’ tight schedule.

The festival confirmed that the pipeline of talent that fuels the current jazz scene continues to flow. The perfect example of this was The Tomorrow’s Warriors stage which ran over the whole festival. The bands ranged from their Junior Band, the almost all female Frontline eight piece to musicians already establishing jazz careers in a collaboration with young players from Brussels in what was a new sextet that performed a very enjoyable and sophisticated set.

The impression there is a seemingly never ending talent pipeline was underlined the following Sunday on the free stage of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival when I enjoyed another of Tomorrow’s Warriors flagship groups, their Youth Ensemble with a 15 year old improvising bassoon player in their line up.

At the end of Friday I wondered whether the influence of neo soul and broken beat might be leading to the double-bass becoming an endangered musical instrument. I realised of the 9 bands I had seen something all had used bass guitars and only one, a Tomorrow’s Warriors band a double bass. Being a fan of the double bass the next two days were a little more reassuring as the split was almost fifty- fifty. In fact the final group I heard on Sunday night led by the very accomplished Greg Foat had a brilliant double bass player, possibly Daniel Casimir, who to my ears stole the set.

I came away with a short list of names to try and keep track off. Three are pianist/keyboard players.

On Saturday Sultan Stevenson, who won ‘Best Newcomer’ at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards of 2023, led a very cohesive and impressive classic piano trio playing what I would call contemporary mainstream jazz, rich in ideas. Six days later his trio was at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and this performance is included in Ian Mann’s review of Friday here., jazz-festival-03-05-2024

A finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition in 2022, Luke Bachus brings the Caribbean into his jazz. He has a steel pan player in the front line of his group, and they explore possibilities of this instrument as a jazz instrument. While Bachus’ own playing is often percussive, this did not overwhelm or unbalance his group’s music which overall is sunny and joyful. He certainly was in demand as on the same day he played in three other groups.

Dominic J Marshall who counts Debussy and Bill Evans among his influences lived up to his billing as a virtuosic pianist. The drums and bass guitar in his trio mainly had the old style role of accompanying him rather than being part of a more collective endeavour. Marshall to my surprise also sang his own songs, his somewhat monotone voice being most effective in a song about hidden or suppressed love. His set ended on an upbeat note with an instrumental in which the drums and bass had a more prominent role, called ‘Vampire Farm’ that went from chilled to frenetic and had me wondering what it was the vampires were up to.

Born in Zimbabwe and raised in England, singer Zola Marcelle led a group with two bass guitars. She has used a line-up that’s probably unique with three bass guitars and a double bass with herself on vocals. She has an appealing voice and not only sang in English but also briefly in the Shona language. Both bass guitarists impressed when soloing. Maybe the jazz element was borderline but her’s was a charismatic and compelling performance with Zola smiling often and interacting with the audience in a non cliched way, which made them support her ever more enthusiastically.

Amy Gadiaga is a vocalist, bassist, composer and dancer from Paris now based in London. She taught herself bass guitar but now has switched to the double bass. She has an impressively wide vocal range (from Louis Armstrong to Blossom Dearie), and bravely she starts by singing accompanied only by rhythmic clapping. She displays her vocal chops particularly in a version of ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’. Not only does she sing in French and English but in a patois which might be from one of the French Caribbean islands, With Luke Bachus on piano there was a touch of French Caribbean in her sound.

I only caught a couple of numbers from dancer and spoken word artist tyroneissacstuart but the little I heard was impressive. He has a powerful presence and fronted a powerhouse of a band who nonetheless were very capable of, to quote him, “taking it down”. By his performance and his presence he reminded me very much of award winning Trinidadian born poet / musician Anthony Joseph which is a compliment.

Zola Marcelle, Amy Gadiaga and tyroneissacstuart were among the artists appearing on the stage run by jazz re:freshed. This organisation has been going since 2003 and was founded, their website says “to serve the under-represented musicians on the jazz scene by offering them more performance opportunities.” This then later became “ specific focus on female, Black British, and young talent”.
So one of the things from the festival I came away with was that jazz re:freshed could be a portal for learning about some of the young talent on London’s jazz scene:

The third Brick Lane Jazz Festival was a highly successful showcase and advert for the current jazz scene’s , especially London’s, diversity of musics, fusions and talented performers, ( a diversity which is not fully captured in this report). All the music I heard was accessible and often joyful. The audiences contributed enormously to the buzzing atmosphere by their enthusiastic support for the artists, and together audience and artists created some exhilarating moments. For the festival goer wanting to hear as many groups as possible between the Friday evening start and the Sunday night finish the pace was relentless, but the effort was well worth it.

For information about the line-up and information about the artists please see:



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