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EFG London Jazz Festival 2016, Day Four, Monday 14th November 2016.


by Ian Mann

November 28, 2016

Ian Mann on the fourth day of the Festival and performances by the Phil Meadows Project, Mark Lewandowski Trio's tribute to Fats Waller and the international sextet Bureau Of Atomic Tourism.

Photograph of Jon Irabagon (Bureau Of Atomic Tourism) by Martin Healey

EFG London Jazz Festival 2016

Day Four, Monday 14th November 2016


The programme of early evening Festival concerts in the new performance space at Foyle’s Bookshop on Charing Cross Road continues to go from strength to strength.

This year’s series commenced with a performance by a new quartet led by the young saxophonist and composer Phil Meadows. Born in Bolton Meadows attended the Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester then Leeds College of Music before moving south to complete his studies at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.

Settling in London Meadows swiftly became a regular presence on the capital’s jazz scene and formed a quintet featuring the talents of fellow rising stars Laura Jurd (trumpet), Elliot Galvin (keyboards), Conor Chaplin (basses) and Simon Roth (drums, percussion). This line up released the excellent album “Engines Of Creation” in 2013.

A frequent award winner Meadows has been been voted “best newcomer” at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and was also the winner of the 2013 Peter Whittingham Award which, along with support from Arts Council England, helped to finance the recording of “Lifecycles” (2014),  an ambitious and totally convincing suite/song cycle embracing both the jazz and classical traditions. The album featured Meadows’ core quintet alongside the twenty strong Engines Orchestra conducted by Matt Roberts. The 2014 EFG London Jazz Festival saw Meadows première the work at a sold out concert at Kings Place featuring both his quintet and the Engines Orchestra, a performance that I was fortunate enough to witness and review as part of my Festival coverage for that year. 

Tonight was the first appearance by Meadows’ latest Project, a quartet featuring Flo Moore on double bass, Alex Munk on guitar and Will Glaser at the drums. During the course of a remarkably assured début performance the new group played four new compositions written by Meadows specifically for this line up plus new arrangements of a couple of pieces from his earlier albums. It is intended that the new group will record an album and undertake a comprehensive UK tour during 2017.

This evening’s performance kicked off with Meadows’ traditional opener “Fin”, a dedication to Finley Panter, drummer with Beats & Pieces Big Band and the small group Let Spin who is now resident in Berlin. The tune moves through several distinct phases as it attempts to summarise Panter’s complex character and tonight’s performance was linked together by unaccompanied alto sax interludes from Meadows alongside more orthodox jazz solos from Moore, Munk and the composer.

The jagged, angular, occasionally abstract “Fin” contrasted well with the new piece “Five More Minutes”, a paean to the snooze button on the radio alarm. The tune began with the gentle chiming of Munk’s guitar allied to the delightfully delicate filigree of Glaser’s cymbal work. Meadows, now performing on soprano, began his solo in gently melodic fashion, his tone later becoming darker and almost Garbarek-like as the music gradually increased in intensity. Finally Munk’s guitar took flight, his soaring solo a welcome reminder of the talent behind the recent eponymous début album by the guitarist’s band Flying Machines.

Meadows was back on alto for “Thrower”, a composition written in praise of the work of the potter or ceramicist. An atmospheric intro featuring shadowy guitar plus mallet rumbles saw Meadows’ writing making effective use of space with solos coming from Munk on guitar and the composer on alto sax, the latter making judicious use of echo effects. A word too for Glaser’s contribution to the success of the piece with a highly sensitive performance behind the drum kit.

From the “Lifecycles” album “Twice The Man” featured Meadows’ folk inflected soprano plus a delightfully melodic solo from Moore on double bass, her feature accompanied by Munk’s sparse guitar chording and Glaser’s subtle and delicate brushwork. Munk’s subsequent solo saw the music develop in intensity on an arrangement that was, by necessity, substantially different from the recorded version.

A new tune currently named “Untitled No. 1” saw Meadows moving back to alto and enhancing his sound with a degree of subtle electronica courtesy of a floor mounted effects unit. Meanwhile Moore struck up an infectious, almost reggae like, bass groove as she continued to form an effective rhythmic unit with Glaser. Munk’s impressive solo revealed a strong rock influence and worked well but I found the electronic elements distracting when it came to Moore’s acoustic bass feature.

An all too brief set of around an hour concluded with the new tune “Trashlantis”, a title inspired by an art installation fabricated from reclaimed marine detritus on the harbour front in Helsinki, a city visited by Meadows on a recent European tour. This proved to a catchy, groove based piece featuring Meadows’ soprano dancing airily above Munk’s circling guitar motif and Glaser’s busily brushed drum grooves.

It wasn’t the biggest Foyle’s audience of the week but the hundred or so audience members gave the young quartet an excellent reception on what proved to be a very convincing first gig from them and an excellent start to the programme at this increasingly popular venue.

I was to see Meadows play again the following night with his trio Skint, a more rock and dance orientated trio outfit featuring the talents of Joe Downard on electric bass and Harry Pope at the drums. Another recently formed band these three supported the New York based Donny McCaslin Band at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. But more on that later.

In the meantime the Phil Meadows Project is a success in its own right and promises much for the future with a team of skilled players bringing the best out of Meadows’ consistently interesting and engaging compositions.


Bassist Mark Lewndowski was another musician that I was to see twice in very different contexts during the Festival. At the Iklectik Art Lab on Saturday afternoon he had led a stellar quartet featuring pianist Liam Noble, saxophonist Tom Challenger and drummer Jeff Williams through a challenging, but ultimately rewarding and highly enjoyable, series of explorations of tunes associated with the late Paul Bley.

Tonight Lewandowski was to pay homage to a very different type of piano legend, the celebrated pianist, composer, vocalist and all round entertainer Fats Waller. Noble remained from the previous group with the drum chair going to the versatile drummer and percussionist Paul Clarvis.

On the face of it a double bill featuring the music of Waller opposite the more experimental sounds of the international sextet Bureau Of Atomic Tourism (B.O.A.T), led by the Belgian drummer and composer Teun Verbruggen seemed like an odd pairing but in effect it worked very well with the contrasts in styles between the two bands having a positively therapeutic effect upon the listener. And if anything it was Lewandowski’s trio, appearing first and notionally the ‘support act’ who drew the largest audience.

Introducing the evening’s events Oliver Weindling of The Vortex informed us that the performance by the Lewnadowski trio was being recorded with the view to an album release, simply entitled “Waller”, on the Whirlwind Recordings label in 2017.

With the indefatigable Alex Bonney at the recording desk the trio commenced with their version of the Waller classic “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. I have to say that I was a little surprised by how reverently the trio treated Wallers’ music, especially bearing in mind that Noble is also a member of trumpeter Chris Batchelor’s quartet Pigfoot, a band that puts a decidedly different and often highly subversive slant on traditional jazz, although even here their genuine love and respect for their source material is never in question. Nevertheless Lewandowski’s trio played the music of Waller in a far more straight-ahead manner than I had anticipated.

Next up was an exploration of “Jitterbug Waltz”, one of Waller’s most interesting tunes, and one regularly explored by successive generations of jazz musicians. The highly developed interplay between the trio members was particularly well illustrated here and Lewandowski also impressed with one of his many excellent solos. The tune was introduced by a solo drum passage from Clarvis who interestingly deployed brushes almost exclusively throughout the entire set.

Clarvis again impressed with his lively brushed drum breaks on the lesser known Waller tune “Blue Because Of You” as he shared the spotlight with the leader’s bass.

The ballad “Fair And Square” was treated to a quiet, spacious interpretation that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an ECM recording. Even Clarvis’ eerie wordless singing of the melody enhanced rather than fractured the air of atmospheric fragility.  And credit to the clearly enraptured Vortex jazz public who maintained an immaculate silence throughout, proof if any were needed, that this is a club with a truly listening audience.

As others had pointed out to Lewandowski if he wished to perform a tribute to Waller it really had to include vocals, after all Fats was a wit, bon viveur and genuine all round entertainer. I don’t think Lewandowski will mind me saying that he’s a better bass player than he is a singer. Indeed he initially chose not to tackle a Waller song at all but “Why” by Jelly Roll Morton, a musician that Fats doubtless regarded as a kindred spirit and a key influence. It has to be said that once Lewandowski had manfully tackled the verses of Morton’s song he attacked his bass solo with the air of a man who was glad that his vocal contribution was over.

However he was game enough to have another go on the closing segue of “I’ll Be Glad You’re Dead You Rascal You” and “Susannah Dust Off your Piano” but here he was upstaged by Clarvis who tapped out a solo on the rim of his bass drum using the tap shoes he used to deploy in the pit band for “Riverdance”. At the other end of the musical scale Clarvis is also a trained orchestral percussionist, a brilliant and versatile performer who seems to be able to turn his hand to anything.
I suspect that Clarvis may also have played in the Orchestra on “Strictly” for present in the audience was Ed Balls, a personal friend of Clarvis apparently. I don’t know if Ed stuck around for B.O.A.T but his mere presence at The Vortex certainly put him up in my estimation.

Overall I enjoyed this interesting and entertaining contemporary examination of the Fats Waller songbook and it’s always a pleasure to see the relentlessly inventive Liam Noble play. However if pushed I probably preferred the knottier Paul Bley set on the Saturday, but, as they say, variety is the spice of life.

Whether there was quite enough material in this relatively short set for a full length album is probably debatable. Perhaps Lewandowski and his colleagues will augment it with some studio recordings, perhaps featuring a guest vocalist or two (sorry Mark). I’m certain that despite one or two reservations the finished album will be well worth hearing. 

Bureau Of Atomic Tourism is a sextet led by the Belgian drummer, composer and bandleader Teun Verbruggen, a musician perhaps best known to UK audiences as the leader of the Zappa-esque large ensemble Flat Earth Society. He has also worked extensively with the Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila, both in Tuomarila’s trio and as member of the collaborative quartet Flow.

A visit to Verbruggen’s website will also reveal that he has a whole plethora of other projects on the go including the bands Chaos Of The Haunted Spire and Too Noisy Fish.  He also runs his own record label Rat Records as an outlet for his material.

Both Flow and the Tuomarila trio have released albums of melodic contemporary jazz on the UK based Edition label. However B.O.A.T, another international collaboration, sees Verbruggen pushing more firmly into avant garde territory. B.O.A.T’s latest album “Hapax Legomena” was recorded in New York and features Verbruggen and his compatriot Jozef Demoulin alongside New York based musicians Hilmar Jensson (guitar), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Andrew d’Angelo (reeds) and Tim Dahl (bass). Featuring seven compositions sourced from within the group the record is an uncompromising, high energy meld of jazz, improvisation and avant rock. 

For this London appearance Verbruggen, Dumoulin and the Icelandic born Jensson were joined by the Scandinavian pairing of Magnus Broo ( Sweden, trumpet) and Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (Norway, electric bass) plus the American Jon Irabagon, here specialising on tenor sax.

Many of these musicians have graced the Vortex stage before whether with previous editions of B.O.A.T or with other bands e.g Irabagon with Mostly Other People Do The Killing, Haker Flaten with The Thing and Scorch Trio and both Haker Flaten and Broo with Atomic. Jensson meanwhile has performed with US drummer Jim Black’s quartet AlasNoAxis and guested with the British quartet Outhouse, led by drummer/percussionist Dave Smith. 

This latest edition of B.O.A.T didn’t pull any punches with the incendiary front line of Broo and Irabagon periodically augmented by Jensson’s guitar and Dumoulin’s keyboards as Verbruggen and Haker Flaten toiled in the engine room churning out an unstoppable rhythmic flow of pounding polyrhymic drums and grinding electric bass. Electronics are also a vital part of the Bureau’s sonic arsenal with Dumoulin’s keyboard set up augmented by a variety of electronic devices in addition to Jensson’s array of guitar effects. The harsh electronic textures that augmented the clangorous guitar and hyperactive rhythms of the opening number were proof enough of this. Indeed, in many ways Dumoulin proved to be the group’s most distinctive instrumental component.

Not that the horn men were going to be upstaged, Broo’s trumpet solo on the Jensson composition “Hilsnur” culminated in an ear splitting climax in the instrument’s upper register.

Complex written sections, including some ferocious, turn on a dime, unison avant rock riffing alternated with free wheeling fully improvised sections. Much of the material seemed to be new including an Irabagon composition that saw him take off on a raucous, exploratory solo before reeling the band back in with a shout of “1, 2, 3, 4”, this signalling a shift into a rock influenced Jensson solo over odd meter prog rock grooves culminating in a squall of electronics and the squeal of duelling horns.

Elsewhere Dumoulin’s scheming, textured keyboards provided more impressionistic moments but essentially this was a high octane performance with the interplay between Irabagon and Broo scarcely any less incandescent than the saxophonist’s fiery exchanges with the brilliant Peter Evans at a memorable MOPDTK show at The Vortex some five years back, a performance reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The last piece featured some furious unison horn riffs and a sustain heavy Jensson solo as B.O.A.T made one final frenzied investigation of the hinterland where composition and improvisation and jazz and math rock meet.

I rather enjoyed this relatively short but blisteringly intense set and the album “Hapax Legomena” also stands up well to home listening. On this evidence the current crew of B.O.A.T have much to offer and with a wealth of new material already in the live set a new album is surely set to follow in the not too distant future.




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