by Ian Mann
November 26, 2013
Ian Mann enjoys a rich variety of music at the 2013 London Jazz Festival including performances by Arild Andersen, ACS, Samuel Blaser, Guillaume Perret, Luc Ex, Christian McBride and Jaimeo Brown.
Photograph of Arild Andersen by Tim Dickeson
EFG London Jazz Festival 2013
The curtain has just come down on the 2013 London Jazz Festival sponsored by the banking and finance group EFG. The consensus appears to be that the festival was a tremendous artistic and financial success with large audiences enjoying an impressively broad range of music gathered loosely together under the jazz umbrella. Indeed for me it’s the sheer variety of the festival that is its greatest strength, both in terms of the music itself and in the diversity of the locations in which it is presented, from the concert halls of the South Bank and the Barbican to tiny clubs spread across all four corners of the capital.
I’m just back from an exciting and enjoyable week in London taking in as much live music as possible and with my listening choices reflecting (I hope) some of the variety and diversity outlined above. As ever I’m indebted to my hosts Paul and Richard for the provision of free accommodation, without their generosity I could never consider staying in London for a week, and to Sally Reeves for providing me with press tickets for a broad range of events all over the city.
Thanks too to the team at Serious who ensured that the whole festival ran like clockwork and from my point of view ensured my easy passage into every single event and venue that I visited.
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 16th 2013
“WAY IN TO THE WAY OUT” ; CHRIS SHARKEY & ANDY CHAMPION PART 1
Arriving in London in mid afternoon my wife and I spent some quality time with our hosts before making our way down to the South Bank for our first evening at the festival. Arriving a little after 5.00 pm we managed to find seats in the Front Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first part of “Way In To The Way Out”, a highly personalised view of the history of jazz presented by the North East born duo of guitarist Chris Sharkey (trioVD) and bassist Andy Champion (ACV). This was essentially a talk, and a very entertaining one too, with occasional musical illustrations in the form of archive recordings or by the Geordie duo on their respective instruments.
Both Sharkey and Champion started off as rock musicians, with a particular love of heavy metal, and came to jazz from a peculiarly sideways projection, working their way backwards to jazz legends such as Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington. It’s a position I can relate too having made a very similar journey myself and I could relate to the duo’s gentle mocking of the “Jazz Tradition”. I particularly liked their argument that as metal musicians then by the same judgements that are habitually applied to jazz they should have a healthy respect for the music of Cliff Richard, this drew a laugh from the audience but was a cogent expression of the very serious point that jazz is too often too much in awe of its own illustrious past.
In the main the duo’s ramblings were very loosely scripted and pleasingly informal with several interesting and entertaining excursions off piste. Archive material included snippets of Ellington plus examples of the duo’s guitar and bass heroes including Charlie Christian, Jaco Pastorius and Charles Mingus plus a glorious final Sharkey mash up of Peter Brotzmann and Slayer, a timely reminder that the worlds of jazz and rock are not necessarily exclusive. If anything this talk was a plea to jazz fans to embrace the “now”, something I’d endorse as the quality of the music on offer at this festival and beyond suggests that we’re currently living in a new “golden age”, albeit one ignored by the mass media. The number of immensely talented young jazz musicians that have emerged, and are still emerging, in this country suggests that the future of British jazz is in good hands.
It was unfortunate that I had to miss the second half of this event which took place the following day as I already had other musical plans (but that’s festival life for you). Speaking to Sharkey after the talk I learned that trioVD is no more (shame) but that he has formed a new power trio with Champion and Leeds based drummer Joost Hendryx. Named Shiver the new band was due to play the following day as an adjunct to the second talk and reports suggest that the new trio’s performance was pretty awesome. Another time perhaps, this appears to be a new group that is on the rise.
REIJSEGER / FRAANJE / SYLLA
Into the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the main event of my evening, an appearance by Norwegian bass master Arild Andersen and his specially assembled International Quintet. Andersen’s performance was preceded by a set by another multi-national line up featuring the hugely experienced Dutch cello improviser Ernst Reijseger, his compatriot pianist Harmen Fraanje and a genuine wild card element in the form of Senegalese percussionist and vocalist Mola Sylla.
The presence of Reijseger and Fraanje reflected a strong “Noise from The Netherlands” theme which ran throughout the festival with Dutch musicians prominent right across the programme. The trio played a lengthy set, much longer than the normal “support slot” which ensured that tonight’s concert was a genuine “double bill”.
I first saw Reijseger play as a guest of Andy Sheppard’s Big Co-Motion band at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff many years ago, a highly distinctive musician he left a big impression which has been embedded in my mind ever since. I’ve heard Fraanje as part of a trio led by Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen but I must admit that the Amsterdam based Senegalese Sylla was a new name to me.
The music began with Reijseger and Fraanje in duet with an almost classical rigour imbuing the contrast between Fraanje’s mellifluous piano and Reijseger’s percussive cello bowing. Reijseger does things with a cello that most classical listeners wouldn’t believe and he quickly progressed into startlingly impassioned high register bowing before the performance was interrupted by a shout from the back of the hall. This wasn’t some enraged classical scholar but instead Mola Sylla who progressed down the aisle from the back of the auditorium to the stage all the while singing passionately in a manner that evoked the wailing of a muezzin. Sylla is an exotic figure and a born showman, an engaging personality who competed for attention with the charismatic Reijseger as Fraanje provided the harmonic glue to bind the music together and generally acted as the “quiet man” of this extraordinary trio.
The trio’s second piece featured Reijseger’s remarkable pizzicato cello playing and guitar style strumming, at times he holds the instrument like a guitar and his huge hands are an invaluable aid with regard to these “extended” techniques. It was left to Fraanje to provide a more lyrical interlude which acted as a bridge into a more formally structured song in the Senegalese style featuring Sylla’s beguiling vocals.
Sylla is also a skilled percussionist and the third piece saw him diving into his “bag of tricks” which included a variety of shakers and other small percussive devices plus a small ocarina like flute. Following a typically inventive and arresting Reijseger solo Sylla projected his voice into the raised lid of Fraanje’s piano for extra dramatic echoing effect.
Next up was more “guitar style” cello from Reijseger, first underpinning Fraanje’s piano melodies before striking out dramatically on his own and finally taking up the bow again which he deployed on both the strings and the body of the instrument. Reijseger is a true innovator on his instrument and I was reminded of Sharkey and Champion’s praise of such pioneers in their earlier talk.
Meanwhile Sylla was reminding me of a kind of African Nana Vasconcelos, equally skilled on voice and percussion and a commanding stage presence to boot. The next piece saw him deploying whirled percussion and blending his voice with those of Reijseger and Fraanje to almost spiritual effect, the pianist’s piping treble a good counterpoint to the earthier vocalisations of his colleagues.
The extraordinary range of sounds that Reijseger wrung from his cello in the next item had Fraanje convulsing in laughter. Reijseger deployed all manner of extended techniques among them using the body of his instrument as percussion and manipulating the tuning pegs. Everything’s fair game to Reijseger.
However given the cello’s propensity for melancholy it came as no surprise that Reijseger could produce moments of genuine beauty and solemnity too as the next piece demonstrated with the cellist’s vertical scrapings creating a loop like effect. Later he picked up the instrument to again pluck it in guitar like style as part of a delightful duet that also featured Sylla’s voice and an African stringed instrument that I took to be a doussn gouni (as played by Don Cherry) but may, in fact, have been something else.
The trio concluded their set by building from Fraanje’s solo piano intro (he sounded excellent throughout on the QEH’s splendid grand) into a joyous and uplifting song featuring more “guitar style” cello and Sylla’s ecstatically soaring vocals. On a cold November night this blend of Dutch and African exotica was gleefully received by the large London crowd and the ecstatic reaction was one rarely accorded to a “support act” as the audience called for more. It wasn’t to be but this was a great start to my festival and one that raised the bar for the Andersen quintet. They didn’t disappoint.
ARILD ANDERSEN QUINTET
I’ve been an admirer of the playing and composing of Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen for many years, beginning with the classic 1975 album “Clouds In My Head”. Andersen has had a long association with the prestigious ECM label appearing on literally dozens of albums as both leader and sideman.
Tonight’s performance came on the back of a short UK tour undertaken by his working trio featuring saxophonist Tommy Smith and drummer Paolo Vinaccia. However for this special festival performance the illustrious bassist had assembled an all-star international quintet featuring Scottish saxophonist Smith, Swiss trumpeter Matthieu Michel and Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski with French drummer Patrice Heral providing this group’s “wild card” element. This was a “supergroup” that lived up to it’s promise with each individual member in inspired form and with the whole also equalling the sum of its parts.
The programme consisted of a series of Andersen originals, not all them announced. Things began in archetypical Nordic fashion with Andersen playing a series of phrases with the bow, looping them to create a layered effect before soloing in pizzicato fashion over the self created backdrop. Smith’s tenor was appropriately Garbarek like as the other musicians gradually joined in to state the theme. The blend of Smith’s saxophone and Michel’s flugelhorn was particularly beguiling with the tenor man delivering a carefully paced solo.
Heral’s solo drum passage ushered in “The Fox” with it’s racing unison horn lines. It was here that things really started to take off with Wasilewski breaking cover to produce a mercurial solo propelled by Andersen’s super-fast bass walk and Heral’s sizzling cymbals. Smith’s declamatory tenor represented the first of several impassioned solos by the Scotsman, his outpourings lashed on by the dynamic drumming of Heral. Michel’s flugel solo cooled things down, albeit in highly absorbing fashion and the piece ended with a piece of inspired dialogue between Andersen and Heral, a genuine conversation between two old friends (Heral contributed to Andersen’s 2003 album “Elektra”).
Introducing the musicians Andersen described the quintet as his “dream band” and few present at the QEH would have disagreed with him. The following"Lucia” presented a more reflective side of the group with the rich blend of flugel and tenor again particularly appealing. Having kick-started “The Fox” we now heard Wasilewski in more lyrical mood, the delicacy of his playing later complemented by the fragile beauty of Michel’s flugel solo.
Wasilewski switched to Rhodes piano for the next item, a surprisingly funky offering introduced by Heral at the drums that saw the pianist grooving away behind the soulful unison horn lines of Smith and Michel. Smith took the first solo on gutsy, r’n'b flavoured tenor followed by Michel on flugel and Wasilewski on Rhodes. The piece ended with an inspired three way conversation between Andersen, Wasilewski and an increasingly theatrical Heral.
Smith began the next number on wood flute during a brief return to Nordic folk inspired mistiness, his subtle use of echo adding to the air of other worldliness. Michel’s velvety flugel and Wasilewski’s pellucid piano maintained the lyrical mood underscored by Heral’s sensitive brushed accompaniment and Andersen’s deeply resonant bass undertow.
The next piece began with further dialogue between Andersen and Heral, the latter playing his kit in the currently fashionable bare hands style and generating an astonishing degree of power in the process. Eventually things metamorphosed into something more conventionally jazzy with boppish twin horn lines, Andersen’s quasi scat vocal and Smith’s raucous tenor solo, the latter propelled by Heral’s volcanic drumming (he’d picked up his sticks by now). Wasilewski’s ruminative passage of solo piano slowed things down and added a pleasing degree of dynamic contrast as Heral towelled himself down. Michel offered further lyricism before the mood shifted again for a grandstand finish consisting of blistering, razor sharp ensemble passages. Great stuff.
Solo bass introduced another lyrical interlude and with piano and drums added things briefly moved into piano trio mode before the horns stated the theme and took appropriately contemplative solos.
The final piece upped the ante again with Andersen laying down a powerful rhythmic pulse with Wasilewski taking the first solo, hunched over the piano keyboard during an increasingly rumbustious feature. Smith’s tenor solo was similarly hard edged and Michel’s contribution began with a prodigiously sustained note before embarking on a series of rich and colourful inventions.The leader went next, subsequently entering into a final dialogue with Heral who climaxed the piece with an astonishing feature that mixed virtuoso drumming with beatboxing and electronics. The “wild card” had nearly stolen the show.
The crowd unsurprisingly shouted for more but Andersen announced that they were out of time (a note passed to him by a stage hand had suggested as much). Whilst this was disappointing it was also thoroughly understandable, the lengthy and enjoyable set played by Reijseger, Fraanje and Sylla was probably a factor, and overall nobody could complain about lack of value for money.
This had been a superb evening’s music making with the Andersen Quintet getting the nod for a well paced, well balanced set full of brilliant playing. The quality of Andersen’s writing was also a huge help although if one were being picky it could be argued that some of the pieces were basically strings of solos ? but what magnificent solos they were from some of the cream of European jazz. All in all a splendid start to my 2013 LJF experience.
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 17th 2013
LEO APPLEYARD QUINTET
MARK PERRY / DUNCAN EAGLES QUINTET
This lunchtime double bill took place at the famous Pizza Express Jazz Club in the heart of London’s Soho district with the two groups sharing some of the same personnel. The event acted as the launch for “Road Ahead”, the new album from the Perry/Eagles Quintet released on the F-ire Presents label and recently reviewed on The Jazzmann.
The first group to appear was the five piece led by the young guitarist and composer Leo Appleyard, a graduate of the Jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire. Joining Appleyard were all three members of Partikel in the shape of Duncan Eagles (tenor sax), Max Luthert (double bass) and Eric Ford (drums), this core quartet supplemented by the trumpet of special guest Neil Yates.
The quartet began with “The Homeless Wizard”, a homage to a mysterious figure from Appleyard’s Birmingham days with Yates joining the group for a second Appleyard original entitled “Mass”.
The guitarist described his tune “The Cleaver” as “a bit of a swinger” and the piece provided a good frame work for the composer’s elegant guitar stylings. Appleyard prefers a traditional, clean, jazz guitar sound with little reliance on contemporary effects , for such a young player his sound is surprisingly retro, arguably refreshingly so. Yates meanwhile demonstrated his distinctive vocalised “whispering” technique on the trumpet, a style partly derived from his fascination with traditional Irish music and the techniques of flute and whistle players.
Both “The Cleaver” and the following “Mancha” offered glimpses of Eagles’ prowess on the tenor with Appleyard adding a little subtle and tasteful sustain on the latter.
Luthert’s solo bass introduced “Pembroke Road”, a composition recorded for Appleyard’s forthcoming d?but CD, a blowing tune that included solos from Eagles, Appleyard and Yates. Ford, meanwhile was playing in a far more straight forward fashion than he does with Partikel where his colourful use of additional percussion is an important component of the group sound. Nevertheless he still got the chance to cut loose with a closing drum feature.
Overall this was an enjoyable support set with the kind of quality playing one would expect from musicians of this calibre. However it all seemed a little formal and under rehearsed and didn’t possess the “played in” quality that distinguished the following set from the Perry/Eagles Quintet.
The music on “Road Ahead” made its d?but at the 2012 London Jazz festival with Perry and Eagles subsequently recording it in early 2013. It therefore seemed appropriate that the 2013 festival should see the launch of the finished project.
Eagles and Luthert returned to the stage in the company of trumpeter and co-leader Perry, pianist Sam Leak and drummer Chris Nickolls. There was a confidence and assurance about their playing from the start as they launched into the album opener “Flip Of A Coin” composed by Perry. Nickolls’ contemporary drum grooves fuelled excellent solos from the co-leaders with eagles going first as the quintet got off to a terrific start.
Eagles’ “Chord Game” followed, the second track on the album, with Leak taking the first solo. The impressive young pianist is a band-leader in his own right and fronts the impressive quartet Aquarium. Eagles followed him and there was also an impressive set of trumpet and tenor exchanges.
At this point the quintet departed from the album running order to play the spirited Eagles composition “Barters Band” which its composer described as “more straight ahead”. This playful piece included more incisive tenor and trumpet soloing plus a series of sparky drum breaks from groovemeister Nickolls.
The next item was “Prophecy”, a lovely ballad by Perry that has yet to be recorded. Unfortunately I had to leave at this point as I was due at the Barbican at 4.00 pm for the concert hall performance by ACS, the trio consisting of pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding. It was a shame as I was well into the music of the Perry/Eagles Quintet and would have liked to have heard more. The band were in excellent form and the quality of the playing was quite inspired. The whole event had started half an hour late but if it had run to time I’m sure I could have fitted it all in and still reached the Barbican in time for ACS. However this was the only real glitch of the festival as far as I was concerned and there’s still the prospect of a Perry/Eagles Quintet tour in 2014. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch them again at a venue more local to myself, Dempsey’s in Cardiff perhaps.
ACS : GERI ALLEN / TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON / ESPERANZA SPALDING
This all star aggregation grew out of Carrington’s Grammy Award winning “Mosaic” project, a celebration of the role of women in jazz. ACS comprises of three leading female instrumentalists, pianist Geri Allen, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding.
Today’s performance was part of of a day’s music at the Barbican celebrating the eightieth birthday of the venerable saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. Shorter himself was to appear later in the day not only with his regular working quartet but also with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The set by ACS therefore included a number of Shorter tunes alongside original compositions by the trio members.
ACS played very much in the style of the Shorter quartet, improvising freely around lengthy sequences incorporating several compositions. In a display of female solidarity they were introduced to the stage by British saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes who spoke of the trio as having been “sprinkled with the gold dust of Wayne Shorter”.
ACS came on to a tumultuous reception and bowed extravagantly to the crowd before the first note had even been played. It all seemed a bit pretentious to me and I couldn’t imagine any British jazz act doing that. “They’re a bit up themselves” my wife remarked perceptively.
An opening segue of Eric Dolphy and Wayne Shorter pieces plus the standard “This Is The End Of A Beautiful Friendship” lasted almost half an hour, shape shifting constantly in the style of Shorter’s current quartet. As with the Shorter group the solos were not clearly delineated but the leadership baton was passed around with all three members enjoying substantial features. Unfortunately both Allen’s piano and Spalding’s bass were too low in the mix and the subtlety of their contributions were too often drowned out by the sound of Carrington’s imposing drum kit which also included a substantial array of cymbals plus bell tree and thunder sheet.
The problem wasn’t addressed for the second sequence which included an impressive Spalding bass solo that deserved to be heard with greater clarity. Spalding has attracted considerable acclaim and is one of the jazz world’s hottest properties. However I’ve always found her “crossover” approach with its focus on her singing rather underwhelming and generally too “poppy” for my tastes. Today represented an opportunity to hear Spalding the jazz bassist, concentrating solely on the upright acoustic model and in this aspect she impressed ? when we could hear her.
Writing in the London Evening Standard Jack Massarick remarked on the poor quality of the sound early on and condemned the on stage sound engineer, also female, as “dozy”. Indeed it took a shout from an audience member of “more piano!” to improve things. The sound engineer did at least respond and rest of the set sounded so much better and I began to enjoy the music at last. To the “bloke behind me”, Sir I salute you! Memo to audiences and self, if something doesn’t sound right, it probably isn’t, have the courage of your convictions and say something!
With the sound balance redressed the next segue of Shorter tunes including “Virgo” and “Nefertiti” was much more enjoyable with Spalding’s whistling a distinctive element alongside Allen’s expansive and now audible soloing and Spalding’s own double bass feature.
Allen’s “Unconditional Love” , dedicated here to Shorter, was the only showcase for Spalding’s voice and her sumptuous wordless singing, whilst simultaneously playing double bass was one of the highlights of the set and earned a massive reception.
The closing Shorter piece “Infant Eyes” returned Carrington to the fore with a solo drum introduction presaging a dialogue with Spalding and subsequent features for piano and bass with Allen’s percussive soloing another undoubted highlight.
It came as no surprise that the trio were rewarded with a second tumultuous ovation and they returned for a brief encore but overall I was a little disappointed and felt that the whole was rather less than the sum of the parts. The sound problems early on were the main culprit but also the general air of pretentiousness and preciousness didn’t sit well with me.
Maybe it’s because I’m British but I like my jazz heroes (and heroines) to be a little bit more self effacing.
RUBEN FOX & MARK KAVUMA QUINTET
On exiting the auditorium following the ACS performance we were greeted by the sounds of the Ruben Fox / Mark Kavuma Quintet playing on the Barbican Freestage. This London based band is co-led by tenor saxophonist Ruben Fox and trumpeter Mark Kavuma and also features pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandowski and Empirical drummer Shaney Forbes.
While they were playing I grabbed a coffee and a sandwich prior to moving on to my next ticketed gig at Caf? Oto and hence I didn’t bother taking any notes. However I was impressed with what I heard from a sharply dressed band playing in the punchy be-bop/hard bop style made famous by the Blue Note label. Fox and Kavuma proved to be bright, hard hitting soloists with plenty to say and pianist Simpson excelled as both soloist and accompanist. The music was propelled by the driving rhythms of Lewandowski and Forbes and proved to be extremely enjoyable. In keeping with the spirit of the day the quintet’s set included a number of Wayne Shorter compositions alongside pieces by Miles Davis and other jazz and bebop standards. I’d wager that this energetic and highly promising young quintet is a popular live draw in the jazz clubs of the capital.
SAMUEL BLASER TRIO / GUILLAUME PERET & THE ELECTRIC EPIC / LUC EX ASSEMBLEE
This exciting triple bill was held at Caf? Oto in Dalston, arguably now London’s leading bastion of freely improvised music. It’s a venue frequently patronised by Tim Owen of the Dalston Sound blog who is lucky enough to live nearby but it was my first visit to a performance at the venue. I liked the place and can see the appeal that it holds for Tim. Converted from a former industrial building it’s an intimate performance space with an authentically bohemian feel and with excellent acoustics, the latter coming as something of a surprise given that the venue has a bare flagstone floor. I very much enjoyed my evening here and would not hesitate to return at some point in the future.
All three of tonight’s bands could press their claims to be the night’s headliners and all offered much albeit in very different ways. The first group to perform was the trio led by Swiss born, Berlin based trombonist Samuel Blaser, a musician who has also spent a substantial period of his life living in New York where he collaborated with many of the leading figures on that city’s influential Downtown scene. Tonight’s trio included Blaser’s regular collaborator French born guitarist Marc Ducret, another musician who has spent time in New York and is perhaps best known for his work with saxophonist Tim Berne. An all European line up was completed by drummer Peter Bruun, a figure familiar to UK jazz audiences from his role in pianist and composer Django Bates’ Beloved Bird Trio.
Blaser is an intelligent and accomplished improviser and composer with a thorough grounding in classical, jazz and improvised music. In many ways he can be seen as the natural heir to the late, great Albert Mangelsdorff and is arguably now Europe’s leading exponent of experimental jazz trombone. His playing makes clever use of a range of mutes (bucket and plunger) as well as multiphonics and vocalised techniques and in Ducret he had the perfect foil.
It was the first time I’d seen the guitarist and for me he was one of the most outstanding instrumentalists of the entire festival week. The shaven headed Ducret is an imposing figure and a highly physical guitar player who makes innovative use of a wide range of effects and extended techniques, striking the strings, using a metal bar with his plucking hand and deploying an array of foot pedals. His sound ranges from delicate, spidery tracery to full on sonic brawling, an admirably wide dynamic range but not quite one that demands earplugs on behalf of the listener. His musical dialogue with Blaser was assured, natural, organic and distinctive with Bruun’s percussive commentary offering similar range and variety, the drummer carefully deploying sticks, brushes, mallets and bare hands in response to the musical conversation unfolding before him. In this tapestry of fluid, fluent and absorbing musical interplay solos were not clearly delineated or
signposted but both Blaser and Ducret took turns in assuming the lead with both delivering solos of a sort. Overall however the mood on a lengthy opening segue was one of group interaction and collaboration and the three-way musical conversation was one that drew its listeners into the heart of the debate and held them there. It may all have been a little too austere for some but I found it fascinating and absorbing.
Similar levels of absorption were to be found in Blaser’s arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s “Fanfare For Two Trumpets” for trombone and guitar, another indication of the trombonist’s fascination with classical music. This innovative adaptation drew forth brilliant solos from both Blaser and the consistently compelling Ducret before the music drifted into something more impressionistic characterised by Bruun’s cymbal scrapes, Blaser’s eerie bucket muted trombone and Ducret’s outer space style guitar effects, the segue finally resolving itself by drifting into a tune with a decidedly song like structure.
The final episode of three fairly lengthy pieces of music (each band was given approximately fifty minutes each) maintained the trio’s standards and was particularly notable for Ducret’s stunning slide guitar work. Blaser announced the piece as “Held” (the Danish word for luck) but unless my ears deceived me he’d already used that title when describing the first piece. Whatever, it was all thoroughly compelling stuff and on reflection probably the best set of the three.
GUILLAUME PERRE & ELECTRIC EPIC
French saxophonist Guillaume Perret performed with his band Electric Epic at the 2012 London Jazz Festival as part of a high volume triple bill at Bishopsgate Institute also featuring Norway’s Puma and Britain’s sadly now defunct trioVD.
I wasn’t totally convinced by Electric Epic either live or on CD but I found tonight’s performance rather more enjoyable, possibly because it was delivered at a more modest volume which allowed the subtleties of the music to come out more.
Electric Epic were substantially different to the two other bands on tonight’s bill. Both the Blaser and Ex ensembles relied heavily on free improvisation, the Electric Epic sound is more straight forward with song like structures and rock rhythms and sounds a little like the final edition of Pete Wareham’s Acoustic Ladyland.
The Electric Epic sound is still loud, punchy and in yer face with a variety of electronic effects enhancing their highly rhythmic attack. Perret favours short, staccato riffing sax phrasing but there were moments during tonight’s opening number when he demonstrated the much vaunted North African influences that I seem to recall being strangely absent during the Bishopsgate show. The second piece also included clipped reggae rhythms, another new addition to the band’s considerable arsenal. These sat well alongside the deep electric bass grooves of Phillip Bussonnet and the dynamic playing of new drummer Jon Grandcamp, presumably the brother of guitarist Jim.
Perret, Bussonnet and Jim Grandcamp all make use of floor mounted effects units festooned with foot pedals and Bussonnet’s bass showcase on the band’s third number was little short of stunning as his FX laden solo bass intro escalated into monstrous metallic band riffing via a duet with guitarist Grandcamp. All this despite the bassist’s bandaged finger and strapped up elbow, the latter probably the result of tendonitus, an occupational hazard for bassists of both the acoustic and electric persuasion.
Overall the band played with tremendous commitment and passion and seemed more together than a year ago displaying a remarkable level of tightness and precision with regard to their cross riffing, often rhythmically complex music. The blend of deep grooves, rich guitar sonics and Perret’s full on sax blasting was hard to resist and I found myself enjoying this a lot more than the band’s Bishopsgate set. For many audience members this was the highlight of the evening and as the time ticked on towards midnight several slipped away before the final set.
LUC EX ASSEMBLEE
The final act (headliners or not? Discuss.) was the Assemblee, an all star international line up convened by bassist Luc Ex, once of the cult Dutch punk improvisers The Ex. The group featured the twin reeds of fellow Dutchman Ab Baars (tenor sax, clarinet) and German born, UK nurtured, New York based Ingrid Laubrock ( tenor sax). Completing the line up was the highly experienced drummer Hamid Drake, a key figure on the Chicago jazz and experimental music scene.
The quartet’s set marked a return to more obviously improvised territory after the blistering rock infused excursions of Perret. It’s always a pleasure to see Laubrock return to these shores having charted her progress as a musician for the past decade or so. It’s been a process of continual development and she’s now recognised as one of the best improvising saxophonists in New York.
Laubrock and Drake started things off here immediately striking up an intriguing dialogue, the pair later joined later by Baars to create a twin tenor attack fired by Drake’s crisp and powerful drumming and the sheer physicality of Ex on his fretted semi acoustic bass guitar.
Ex started the next piece with a solo bass introduction incorporating full chording before handing over to the squalling tenors of Laubrock and Baars.
The studious looking Dutch reed man moved between tenor and clarinet on the next piece delivering a stunning solo on the smaller instrument that included dazzling high register trills, North African inflections and even something approaching the traditional role of the clarinet in jazz. He was supported by a splendidly propulsive bass and drum groove courtesy of Messrs Ex and Drake. The blend of clarinet and Laubrock’s tenor sax was particularly effective and was my preferred horn configuration .
Drake shone on the solo drum intro to the final piece of a slightly shortened set but by this time it was well after midnight. The event hadn’t commenced until 8.45 and in retrospect an 8.30 start time might have been more appropriate. Nevertheless the Assemblee’s set didn’t fall far short of the allocated fifty minutes and still contained some excellent music that struck a good balance between composition and improvisation. And short or not the quartet had certainly put a shift in with Ex, Laubrock and Drake all dripping with perspiration, Ingrid’s dark hair plastered to her head. Only the scholarly Baars seemed unruffled by the whole experience.
Overall an excellent evening of adventurous music making at one of London’s coolest venues.
MONDAY NOVEMBER 18th 2013
VERNERI POHJOLA QUARTET
Today was the quiet day of the festival with only two gigs for me. There was no free music during the daylight hours, mainly due to the fact that the much loved series of free lunchtime concerts at St. James Church, Piccadilly curated by Basho Records have been abandoned due to lack of funding. The church remains a festival venue but only for ticketed events.
Thus we spent a quiet day catching up with London based friends before travelling down to the South Bank to catch the free early show at the Front Room at QEH by Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and his quartet.
I was particularly keen to catch this performance by a young musician who also appeared at the 2012 festival garnering great reviews in the process. I couldn’t make it to that show but I have reviewed both of Pohjola’s album releases for the ACT label, “Aurora” (2011), a hugely ambitious and successful large ensemble recording and “Ancient History” (2012) which documents the music of Pohjola’s regular working quartet. I was hugely impressed by both records and today’s performance featured the same quartet as “Ancient History” with Pohjola joined by pianist Aki Rissanen , bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Joonas Riippa.
A well programmed set began with a typical slice of Nordic melancholy which I suspect to have been “Deism”, the opening track of the “Ancient History” album. Solos came from Pohjola on mournful open horned trumpet and from the versatile Rissanen who impressed with his expansive lyricism. The pianist’s excellent trio album “Aleatoric” (Eclipse Music, 2013) has recently been reviewed on The Jazzmann.
Pohjola described the next piece “Signs Of Madness” as being “a bit on the wild side” and the piece was certainly a good deal more vigorous with its tricky, boppish, Ornette-ish theme. Here Pohjola proved that he can blow hot as well as cool with his high energy trumpet squalls complementing Rissanen’s pounding Cecil Taylor styled piano.
Much of the material appeared to be new which raised hopes of an impending second album from this excellent quartet. The new tune “Wolf At The Door” maintained the standards set by “Signs Of Madness” and the material on “Ancient History”.
Pohjola has a knack of producing memorable cover versions of pop tunes and this set included two such. An arrangement of The Zombies’ “The Way I Feel Inside” featured Pohjola’s echoed trumpet and another fine solo from Rissanen.
The two covers were separated by a piece (I think it may have been an adaptation of “Cheap Taxi Adventure” from the “Ancient History” album) that acted as a feature for drummer Joonas Riippa who opened the piece with an impressive display of hand drumming. Following Pohjola’s trumpet solo Rissanen also came to prominence with a solo that incorporated percussive block chords, wilful dissonance and the use of a small electric keyboard mounted on top of the piano.
The quartet closed a well received set with their interpretation of Bjork’s “Hyperballad”, a tune that features on the “Ancient History” album. Riippa again opened the piece augmenting his sound by the use of small percussive instruments. Pohjola stated the melody with Lotjonen doubling the line on arco bass, the contemporary feel emphasised by Rissanen’s use of electric keyboard and Riippa’s continued idiosyncratic drumming.
This was an excellent set clocking in at just the under the hour and it received an enthusiastic reception from an attentive Front Room crowd. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I was sure I would, but felt that Pohjola might be better served by being on the concert programme, he’d sound absolutely terrific at The Vortex for example. However it might be that Pohjola actually prefers to be on the free programme as he was last year, the performance conditions might not be ideal but if you’re on top of your game as the quartet was here then these shows are a golden opportunity to get your music out to a hell of a lot of people.
Pohjola and his hugely accomplished quartet got Monday evening off to a brilliant start but, for me, there was even better to come.
CHRISTIAN McBRIDE TRIO / RONNIE SCOTT’S ALL STARS
It was way back in 2001 that I saw last saw master bassist Christian McBride playing live. It was at the ill fated branch of Ronnie Scott’s in Birmingham and featured a quartet playing music from McBride’s then current album the fusion-esque “Sci-Fi”. I remember enjoying the event a lot and recall McBride as being a hugely charismatic stage presence as well as a highly accomplished bass player, composer and arranger.
Fast forward twelve and a half years and McBride has made the transition from promising up and comer to comparative elder statesman. We’re back at Ronnie’s, this time the iconic Frith Street venue, and McBride is leading a trio featuring two prodigiously gifted twenty somethings in the shape of pianist Christian Sands and the marvellously named drummer Ulysees Owens Jr.
Before the McBride Trio hit the stage we enjoyed a brief support set from the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars led on this occasion by tenor saxophonist Alex Garnett and featuring pianist Tim Lapthorn, bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Pedro Segundo. Garnett’s announcing style had something of the dry wit of Guvnor Ronnie and the short standards set included some great playing from all concerned with Garnett and Lapthorn the principal soloists.
They started with a lively “Tea For Two” before slowing things down with the ballad “Tenderly”. An inventive arrangement of “All The Things You Are” was something of a feature for the excellent Burgess, once of pianist Tom Cawley’s trio Curios. The closing “Portrait Of Jenny” combined bebop phrasing with a Latin lilt and contained a brilliant Jarrett inspired solo from the hugely talented Lapthorn. All in all a tasty little hors d’oeuvres.
McBride’s performance included a couple of the bassist’s originals but mainly concentrated on imaginative arrangements of standard material with the trio members given plenty of room to stretch out and interact. Comparatively few of the tunes were drawn from the trio’s latest album “Out Here” but the performance was none the worse for that. In fact this was a very special event, Ronnie’s was completely sold out and this was a totally listening crowd with a good deal of goodwill flowing between the audience and the band.
It was appropriate that the evening commenced with the unaccompanied sound of McBride’s double bass (he stuck to the stand up acoustic model all night, the Birmingham performance had also included electric bass) on the opening track of the album “Ham Hocks and Cabbage”, a soul food celebration that included dazzlingly precise unison passages for bass and piano, crisp stick work from Owens and brilliant solos from Sands and McBride. The pianist has been described as “a young Oscar Peterson” and his prodigious technique was apparent from the very beginning. McBride revealed that the opening piece had grown out of a jam, something that didn’t come as too much of a surprise as it was immediately obvious just how much this trio enjoy playing music together.
Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You” was delivered at an almost impossibly fast tempo with a torrential solo from the precocious twenty four yard old Sands. The young pianist studied under Dr. Billy Taylor and Hank Jones and was mentored by the late Marion McPartland who first introduced him to McBride. The bassist took the next solo himself before the piece was climaxed by a series of fiery drum breaks from Owens, originally from Jacksonville, Florida.
The McBride ballad “I Guess I’ll Have To Forget” originally appeared on “Sci-Fi” but has since been re-recorded by the current trio. Sands’ solo showed great maturity as did Owens’ sensitive brushed drum accompaniment. McBride’s feature above Owens’ hand drums demonstrated similar emotional depth and proved that there’s more to this trio than sheer speed and instrumental bravado.
McBride promised that the final number of the first set would be “swingin’” and the trio were true to his word on “Who’s Got You” written by veteran vibes legend Bobby Hutcherson and a piece that the composer recorded with McBride. Sands took the first solo followed by an astonishingly virtuosic pizzicato bass solo from McBride that included a quote from Miles Davis’ “Milestones”. Finally came a barnstorming solo from Owens that had the crowd baying for more. This young man has it all as a drummer, a dynamic player who exhibits both power and musicality and is capable of swinging ferociously. As he soaked up the applause he towelled himself down vigorously before exiting the stage for a well earned rest.
If anything the second set was even more impressive. Once again things commenced with McBride’s unaccompanied bass with the leader producing some dazzling finger work close to the bridge of his instrument. The opening solo developed into Freddie Hubbard’s infectious tune “Povo”, based around a subtly funky bass motif and with a song like structure that framed further superb solos from sands and McBride, the leader breaking a finger nail in the process. Who’d be a bassist?
The Broadway standard “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” saw the trio making great jazz out of relatively unpromising material with Sands’ teeming piano solo accompanied by Owens’ fizzing cymbal work before the latter unleashed a second thunderous drum solo with McBride shouting verbal encouragement to his young colleague.
Wayne Shorter’s perennially popular “Footprints” began quietly with Owen’ hand drums and gentle mallet rumbles complementing sands’ interior piano scrapings. Eventually McBride’s bass picked out the melody and his muscular but highly musical playing allied to Owens’ increasingly dynamic drumming underpinned another mercurial Sands solo.
Anthony Newley’s ballad “Who Can I Turn To When Nobody Needs Me” represented another excursion into the world of the Broadway standard. The piece was also recorded by Sammy Davis Jr. but McBride informed us that his arrangement was inspired by the Temptations version. This proved to be a showcase for McBride’s superb arco playing, his two features with the bow punctuated by Sands’ expansive, rhapsodic piano solo.
An expert at pacing a show McBride ended on a high with a funky version of the soul classic “Who’s Making Love”, originally recorded by Johnny Taylor for the iconic Stax label. This crowd pleasing version saw McBride tossing in bass lines from disco hits by Chic and Michael Jackson. There’s nothing like a bit of popular appeal and the audience absolutely loved it.
Although the number of tunes played was relatively modest the trio had really gone to town on them and both sets were longer than the above review might suggest. Certainly nobody could complain that the trio hadn’t delivered and time constraints prevented a well deserved encore. I though that this was a terrific show, just edging the performance of the Arild Andersen Quintet, another bass led band, as gig of the festival. The fun, down to earth approach of McBride and his colleagues made a welcome change from the rather po faced demeanour of ACS.
In general The Jazzmann likes to champion British and European jazz but there are times when you just have to acknowledge the fact that the top flight Americans still have that little bit extra. This trio was genuinely world class and had the assurance of a regular working band. Indeed they are still touring in mainland Europe as I write. See http://www.christianmcbride.com for forthcoming dates.
TUESDAY 19th NOVEMBER 2013
ADRIANO ADEWALE: CATAPLUF’S MUSICAL JOURNEY
2013 represented the 21st birthday of the London Jazz Festival and twenty one artists were commissioned to write new music for the Festival. Brazil born, London based percussionist and vocalist Adriano Adewale’s commission was written with children in mind but the finished product offered plenty for adults to enjoy too.
Adewale has been a regular presence at LJF in recent years and I’ve seen him performing with his band at free shows at the Caf? Consort at the Royal Albert Hall and at the Clore Ballroom at the South Bank Centre. His shows for adults are never less than entertaining and I’ve always loved his 2008 album “Sementes”, the keenly anticipated follow up is long overdue.
Today’s concert was aimed at Key Stage One children and the pupils of Hanover Primary School in Islington and Latchmere Primary School in Kingston, together with their teachers packed the Purcell Room for this lunchtime performance, Adewale’s second of the day. The Kingston school was late getting there due to traffic problems but once the children arrived they threw themselves into the proceedings with gusto.
I was a little wary about attending a gig where the audience was comprised mainly of young children but this was the only lunchtime show on offer and besides I am an admirer of Adewale’s playing. One or two other curious adults had paid the modest admission fee of ?5.00 but 90% of the audience was under ten. My thanks to Katy from Serious for kindly and thoughtfully issuing us with two sets of tickets so that we could choose where we sat, either in the midst of the young audience or at the very back of the hall as detached observers. We chose the latter, wisely I feel, but that didn’t prevent us getting caught up in the magic of the moment and singing and clapping along with the kids.
And how the children loved Adewale in his role as the musical naif Catapluf, lost in a musical jungle and embarking on a voyage of musical and rhythmic discovery. There was virtually no spoken dialogue, almost all of Adewale’s comedy was visual and musical as the lost Catapluf stumbled across caches of percussion instruments scattered around the musical jungle, picking them up, staring at them quizzically and tentatively trying them out. After exploring several possibilities he suddenly seemed to master them and erupted into virtuoso rhythmic excursions that adults could also appreciate. As well as being a born entertainer Adewale is a brilliant percussive technician with dozens of sideman recording credits to his name. In this way Adewale variously “discovered” the tambourine and triangle as well as more exotic items including the timbale, djembe, tam tam, udu and berimbau on a truly world wide musical journey. He brilliantly coaxed out the quasi vocal comedy possibilities from the Brazilian cuica. Then there were shakers, bird callers and squeaky toys, even the simple hand clap and foot stomp.
There was an exciting section with Adewale producing a surprisingly wide array of sounds from an array of upturned saucepans. He also explored the possibilities of water to vary the pitch of musical instruments and I particularly enjoyed a feature that demonstrated the possibilities of an instrument I know as the “batphone”, pipes of plastic tubing of various length arranged vertically and played across the open holes by the use of table tennis bats, something I first heard deployed by the group Echo City, a collective featuring Van Der Graaf Generator drummer Guy Evans who also worked extensively with children and designed “sonic playgrounds” and other large scale installations. On “Sementes” Adewale refers to the instrument simply as “pipes”.
With each percussive voyage of discovery Adewale ensured that the music always came back to a simple repeated motif that engendered a call and response reaction and there was plenty of this throughout the entire set with Adewale encouraging his young audience to sing and clap along, bringing them to their feet on several occasions. A Cab Calloway “hi de hi” styled section drew a particularly shrill and enthusiastic response
However this wasn’t just a one man show, Adewale had recruited an impressive band of helpers who were introduced to the stage in turn, “Talking Heads” style. These included cellist Jenny Adejayan. multi instrumentalists Marcelo Andrade and Giuliano Pereira who doubled up on flutes, soprano sax and guitar, fellow percussionist Andres Ticino who played drum kit, cajon, bell tree and other percussion. The quintet members entered totally into the spirit of the occasion with Ticini bantering with Adewale, engaging in a bout of pantomime style visual comedy (he’s behind you!) and featuring in a highly visual and entertaining tambourine duet with Adewale which saw the protagonists exchanging their instruments in the style of jugglers, the tambourines flying through the air, great fun.
Pereira and long term Adewale associate Andrade swapped instruments with alacrity, sometimes combining forces on flutes and saxes for a tin pronged attack. Adejayan deployed similar technical prowess as well as exploiting the comic possibilities of the cello. Her duet with Adewale’s “batphones” was particularly impressive. The moments of full on band playing were also extremely effective and acted as welcome reminders of Adewale’s previous festival appearances.
Although the performance hadn’t been quite what I had anticipated (I was expecting Adewale to demonstrate his instruments and invite children up on to the stage to join in) I found that I enjoyed it immensely. The humour didn’t play down to the children but they instinctively seemed to “get it” and there were many moments of excellent music for the adults to enjoy, both Adewale’s virtuoso solo performances on his various instruments but also the band set pieces from duo exchanges to the full quintet.
The phrase “entertainment for all the family” is too easily bandied around these days, but this was genuinely just that. I enjoyed this lunchtime show immensely and got just as much pleasure from it as the children did, albeit in a more adult and calculating way. Well done to Adewale and his colleagues for a family show that really did entertain everybody.
Later that evening Adewale played percussion with Christine Tobin’s group as the singer explored the repertoire of Leonard Cohen, a very different kind of performance. The hard working and irrepressible Adewale was at the South Bank literally all day, working his proverbial socks off. Sir, I salute you!
The nurturing of young jazz talent has always been important to Serious with the Take Five and Young & Serious schemes fulfilling an important role in the group’s activities and an important strand of the festival programme.
Tuesday evening’s free early evening event at the Front Room featured Narcissus, a quintet led by pianist and composer Pete Lee, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, and featuring guitarist Tom Varrall, bassist Huw Foster and drummer Ali Thynne plus rising star saxophonist Josh Arcoleo.
In front of a large and appreciative audience the band delivered an impressive set of intelligent fusion mixing jazz harmonies with pop hooks and with intricate time signature changes and complex odd meter grooves being delivered with rock like immediacy. It was an approach that reminded me variously of both the more established WorldService Project and the fondly remembered Porpoise Corpus. I thought Narcissus were terrific.
The first number featured the quartet of Lee, Varrall, Thynne and Foster, the latter playing the electric bass he favoured throughout the set. Lee’s tune, as yet unnamed, invoked variously Pat Metheny and Canterbury style prog, music full of twists and turns which the group delivered on the proverbial sixpence. Varrall and Lee emerged as convincing soloists as Thynne and Foster negotiated the rhythmic complexities of Lee’s writing.
A confident Arcoloeo took his place at the front of the stage for Lee’s “Mirror Stage” soloing powerfully alongside Lee and Varrall as the group again executed a dazzling series of turn on a dime tempo changes.
“Dependency”, introduced by Foster’s coolly liquid electric bass was more reflective with Arcoleo showing his sensitive side above Thynne’s brushed grooves.
Foster’s bass also ushered in “Criss Cross”, another excellent example of the episodic nature of Lee’s writing with solos from the composer on piano and Arcoleo on tenor sax.
Lee dedicated the only cover of the set, the hymn tune “How Great Thou Art”, to his late uncle explaining that it was his uncle’s legacy that had allowed him to purchase the synthesiser mounted on top of the piano that he had deployed intermittently throughout the set. He used the synth more extensively here, creating organ like resonances that were given additional emphasis by being underscored by Foster’s electric bass on this brief but emotional and effective duo performance.
The band returned for a final unannounced number which saw them going hell for leather with solos from Lee at the piano, Varrall on soaring and searing rock influenced guitar, Arcoleo on punchy tenor and Foster on funky electric bass. It was a pulsating end to a short but often wildly exciting set, the young lions getting a terrific reception from a large and often partisan crowd. This is a group that already seems to have accrued a young cult following.
I was impressed both by the quality of Lee’s writing and the assurance of the group’s playing. Narcissus is a band with enormous potential, let’s hope a d?but album is scheduled for release sometime during 2014.
GOGO PENGUIN / JAIMEO BROWN
This intriguing bill featuring the Mancunian contemporary piano trio GoGo Penguin and the trio led by American drummer and composer Jaimeo Brown took place at Xoyo, a venue better known for catering to club audiences in the hip environment of Hoxton. A standing only venue it was particularly well suited to the music of these two young trios and the turn out was re-assuringly large with both groups enjoying favourable receptions. My thanks once again to Katy who had travelled up from the Southbank to attend to the guest list and who assured my smooth passage into the venue.
On arrival I found the surroundings of the underground performance space surprisingly familiar. It then occurred to me that the venue used to be known as CAMP (City Arts and Music Project) and that this was where I’d enjoyed a performance by former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom’s band at the 2011 LJF. Since becoming Xoyo the venue has become more commercialised with an enlarged bar and an additional upstairs drinking area. However it still retains an authentic subterranean club vibe that these two bands, much like Ostrom’s, seemed to enjoy.
The Ostrom/E.S.T connection was perhaps appropriate given the enormous influence E.S.T’s sound has had on GoGo Penguin. However the young trio of pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner is arguably more hard driving and groove oriented. They also cite rock and electronic artists such as Radiohead, Aphex Twin and Fourtet as inspirations alongside contemporary classical composers Gyorgy Ligeti and the little known Finn Einojuhani Rautavaara.
I saw the trio give an excellent performance at the Parabola Arts Centre as part of the 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. With Illingworth playing grand piano this was a high energy set that nevertheless still catered for a listening, arts centre audience. Tonight in a club environment the trio’s set was even more unashamedly about the groove with Illingworth playing electric piano and with the volume turned up. If a little subtlety was lost the set was just as impressive in its own way and bodes well for the group’s future.
Tonight’s relatively short support set included a number of new tunes scheduled to appear on a new album which will be released in 2014. These included the opening “Garden Dot Barbecue” which featured Turner’s hard driving drum grooves and Blacka’s sorties on Dan Berglund style arco bass. I also recognised the title track from the group’s d?but album “Fanfares”, released in 2012 on Mancunian trumpeter/composer/DJ Matthew Halsall’s Gondawana label but really tonight’s club set was about getting down with the band and in this setting I just soaked up the grooves and didn’t bother making detailed notes. Illingworth, Blacka and Turner went about their work with gusto and although Blacka was keen to focus on news of the forthcoming album (plus a plug for the existing one) not every tune was announced in any case. The trio got a very generous reception from the predominately young audience and there were several shouts for an encore that sadly didn’t materialise. However I’ve no doubt that after a very successful summer on the festival circuit GoGo Penguin made a lot more new friends tonight.The new recording will be very keenly anticipated.
Similarly the extended set by drummer Jaimeo Brown and his trio colleagues Chris Sholar on guitar, keyboards and samples and veteran tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen was another one in which to simply immerse oneself and enjoy.
Once the drummer with the Mingus Big Band Brown has appeared with some of the USA’s leading jazz musicians including saxophonists Pharaoh Sanders and Kenny Garrett, vibraphonists Joe Locke and Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Geri Allen and has also worked with pop and rock artists among them Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana. He has achieved considerable critical acclaim for his album “Transcendence”, an album that grew out his research for a thesis entitled “How the Black Church Affected Jazz” and was inspired by his discovery of the community of Gee’s Band, Alabama, an isolated community that has remained remarkably unchanged and unaffected by the modern world since the abolition of slavery. Spiritual music has always been an essential part of the fabric of the Gee’s Bend community particularly the Gee’s Bend Quilters, women who weave intricate quilts and sing as they work.
“Transcendence” includes original music by Brown interspersed with samples of the Gee’s Bend spirituals culled from the double album “How We Got Over; Sacred Songs Of Gee’s Bend” recorded by Matt Arnett for Tinwood Music. Recorded with a core trio of Sholar and Allen and with a guest appearance by Geri Allen the album can almost be regarded as a kind of “musical quilt” and is stitched together with the same kind of skill and attention to detail as the Gee’s Bend quilts themselves.
Tonight Brown, Sholar and Allen played the album in its entirety with Sholar triggering the samples of the Gee’s Band singers from his bank of keyboards and electronica. It’s rare to see the art of sampling being used so creatively and Sholar’s presence was key to the success of the evening with his guitar parts also meshing well with Brown’s dynamic drumming. Allen’s tenor was used more sparingly but his contributions were highly effective and lent a genuinely spiritual air to the proceedings, his lines often simple but packed with a Coltrane-esque gravitas. “Yo, Coltrane!” came the shout from an audience member at one point.
Presented as a single piece of music albeit with clearly delineated sections “Transcendence” represented something of a tour de force and was accorded an excellent reception from the Hoxton crowd. Brown gave his speech explaining the concept behind the album at the end of the performance, which seemed counter intuitive but maybe it’s the best approach at club venues, win them over before you start explaining or preaching. Arts centre shows may be different.
The Brown set was very well received and was transmitted by Jazz On 3 on 25th November 2013, sounding good again second time around. The album, with an extended instrumental and vocal line up sounds even better still
For me there are similarities between “Transcendence” and Manchester based pianist and composer Adam Fairhall’s suite “The Imaginary Delta” which also utilises electronics and sampled sounds of early music from the Deep South. Fairhall performed his album at the 2012 London Jazz Festival but speaking to Brown and Sholar afterwards (thanks, guys) it seemed as if they’d never of Fairhall and that these artists from either side of the Atlantic had discovered similar musical territory completely independently of one another.
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