by Ian Mann
December 12, 2016
Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by the JD Allen Trio, Triforce and Friends, Zenel, Kokoroko and the Liberation Music Orchestra directed by Carla Bley.
Photograph of Carla Bley by Tim Dickeson
EFG London Jazz Festival 2016
Day Ten, Sunday 20th November 2016
J D ALLEN TRIO, PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB, SOHO
The final day of the Festival found me at the Pizza for the last time this year for a ticketed event featuring the American tenor saxophonist J D Allen and his trio. I recalled seeing Allen at the 2013 Festival when he played at Xoyo as part of the electro-acoustic trio led by drummer and composer Jaimeo Brown, a very different kind of gig that featured the use of electronica and samples, these courtesy of Chris Sholar.
But there were many similarities too with both shows having their roots in the blues. Brown’s project, “Transcendence”, incorporated samples of female textile workers singing in Gee’s Bend Alabama, these skilfully woven into the electro-acoustic fabric of the music. Meanwhile Allen’s latest album, “Americana” (Savant Records), featuring today’s trio with Gregg August on double bass and Rudy Royston on drums, is subtitled “Musings on Jazz and Blues” as it, too, takes the blues as the root for the trio’s subsequent improvisations.
This lunchtime show saw Allen and his colleagues deliver an absolute fire-storm of a performance. An explosive opening featured Allen’s free-wheeling tenor sax improvisations fuelled by August’s busy bass and Royston’s turbo charged drumming. As the trio blazed away and showed no signs of letting up I thought we might be in for a single forty five minute improvisation but a fiery series of exchanges between Allen and Royston finally brought this first piece to a close.
The most obvious reference point for Allen’s playing was John Coltrane, a comparison that had already been made at that Xoyo show. The second piece (no tunes were announced) saw Allen playing in the meditative, spiritual style of the latter day Coltrane but the music was scarcely less intense and featured some dark, but impressive, arco work from August that was reminiscent of Jimmy Garrison.
The next two pieces upped the energy levels again with Allen continuing to channel the spirit of Coltrane. The first of these featured a pizzicato solo from the impressive August, the second a volcanic drum feature from the brilliant Royston. I’d been lucky enough to see Royston play live before in bands led by Bill Frisell and Michael Janisch / Aruan Ortiz, but never quite as hyper-actively as here. Keeping pace with the relentless Allen demanded an enormous degree of dexterity and stamina from his colleagues. Perhaps Royston was merely making up for lost time. He had missed the trio’s late night performance the day before as his flight had been delayed, his place being taken by the London based drummer Sebastiaan de Krom.
As the set progressed, rarely letting up in intensity and with Allen’s off mic wanderings lending a curiously human warmth to the proceedings, the music dug even deeper into the wellspring of the blues. There were further features for both August and Royston and the final piece even saw Allen injecting a little light relief in the form of a quote from “When The Saints Go Marching In”.
But overall this was far from cosy lunchtime jazz as Allen blew away any cobwebs with an uncompromising performance that acquired a sense of spirituality through it’s sheer dynamism. One could argue that it was a little derivative but nobody could deny its raw, elemental power. In his way Allen is the natural heir of John Coltrane, himself a musician steeped in the blues.
After the 75 minute performance I treated myself to a copy of “Americana”, the source of much of this material. The album performances are more considered but just as impressive in their own way with hidden subtleties that were not quite as apparent in the heat of the moment during the course of a truly blistering set.
Despite the intensity of the music the trio were very well received by a discerning crowd and as I left Allen was debating whether to call his bandmates back for a second set – Royston had already packed his cymbals away at this point. I did consider sticking around but had another event at 4.00pm and also doubted whether the trio could reach such incendiary heights again after such a lengthy break so I decided to move on. A galvanising start to the last day nevertheless.
TRIFORCE / ZENEL / KOKOROKO, IKLECTIK ART LAB, WATERLOO
My second visit to Iklectik was for this three band showcase presented by JazzNewBlood, an organisation who describe their mission as being “nurturing youth jazz talent”.
It would seem that they are doing a fine job as during EFG LJF they presented no fewer than ten bands and forty two musicians at Iklectik while making audio and visual recordings of all the performances.
The first band to appear were Triforce, a young group with an average age of nineteen featuring Dominic Canning (keyboards), Ricco Komolafe (electric bass) and Benjamin Appiah (drums). These three are students on the Jazz Course at Middlesex University, a hotbed of young jazz talent which has spawned Led Bib among others. These three are normally joined by guitarist Mansur Brown, who was unfortunately absent today but appears on the group’s début EP “Triforce 5ive”.
Triforce may seem an inappropriate name for a four piece band but as Canning informed us the name comes not from the size of the line up but from the band’s shared goals of “creativity, innovation and empowerment” - all lofty and admirable ideals. The band cite the various influences of Thundercat, J Dilla, Austin Peralta and Funky Knuckles as inspirations, which may give you some idea of where they’re coming from.
In truth with Brown absent things didn’t start well as Triforce took to the stage as a trio. The first number, “Banta” was a bit of a mess with a muddy sound and a lack of focus, it felt like a rather lacklustre jam. The lads were clearly missing Brown and the absence of a centre stage presence was all too noticeable.
However salvation was at hand in the shape of guest trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi who gave the band a visual focus and expanded the sound, giving the music fresh colour and impetus. His initial solo began a little tentatively but he soon gained confidence, becoming more and more impressive as his solo evolved. The tune was “Elijah’s Remedy”, a tune from the EP that features a guest appearance by tenor saxophonist Kaidi Akinnibi.
Indeed Akinnibi himself joined the band for the next number, an infectious piece titled “Orion” with a rapid funk groove that saw band spokesman Canning encouraging the audience to clap along, which they did enthusiastically. The core trio had clearly gained confidence and inspiration from the presence of the two young horn men and now seemed to be really enjoying themselves. And they weren’t the only ones, I found myself responding more and more warmly to Triforce’s mix of jazz, funk, soul and hip hop.
Ogunjobi sat out the next piece which was a feature for Akinnibi and saw the talented young saxophonist soloing fluently accompanied by Appiah’s hip hop grooves. There was also a thrilling set of exchanges between the saxophonist and drummer that recalled those of Allen and Royston earlier in the day.
The final piece saw Ogunjobi returning to the stage and impressing with some brassy, high register trumpeting as he shared the solos with Akinnibi. Appiah also impressed with a series of fiery drum breaks and Komolafe laid down some thunderous bass grooves. And although he rarely featured as a soloist it was Canning’s keyboards that were at the heart of the band’s sound with an impressive, and always apposite, range of Rhodes and synth grooves and textures.
After a shaky start this gig turned out to be a triumph for “Triforce and Friends” as a beaming Canning described them. Triforce seem to be becoming an increasingly ubiquitous presence on the London jazz scene. I was impressed enough to invest in a copy of the EP and can report that it stands up very well in the home listening environment. Triforce and their friends should become increasingly important presences on the London and national music scenes in the years to come.
The next band proved to be even younger, all aged fifteen or sixteen. Zenel is one of those composite band names and the trio consists of Zoe Pascal (drums), Noah Stoneman (keyboards) and Laurence Wilkins (trumpet, electronics). Zoe is the son of Patricia Pascal of JazzNewBlood, the organiser of today’s and other Festival events.
Like Triforce before them they write all of their own material and also played a five song set beginning with “Ewok Dance” which introduced the evocative blend of Wilkins’ trumpet and Stoneman’s various keyboard sounds with Pascal’s neatly energetic drumming helping to drive the music. Stoneman was the one musician I’d seen before, he had been a finalist in the BBC Young Musician Of The Year, a competition won by trumpeter Alexandra Ridout who had earlier played at Iklectik under the JazzNewBlood scheme. I was particularly taken by Stoneman’s ability to play steady and sturdy bass lines with his left hand while soloing inventively on Rhodes with his right, an impressive feat of musicianship.
“You Could Like Me If You Tried”, with its clipped rhythms added an appealing Canterbury like quirkiness that suggested that these young musicians may have listened to the kind of old school prog that I grew up with. Wilkins impressed here with his authoritative trumpet playing as he shared the solos with Stoneman’s keyboards.
There was more decidedly British quirkiness on “Bubble Leaves” with its odd meter grooves allied to Stoneman’s Django Bates styled keyboard soloing.
The rapid synth pulses and drones of the next piece, allied to Pascal’s skittering drum grooves, suggested the influence of more contemporary electronica as Wilkins’ trumpet cut a swathe through the rhythmic forest created by his colleagues.
The closing piece included features for all three musicians with Pascal going first followed by Stoneman on Rhodes and Wilkins with a particularly powerful contribution on trumpet.
It’s also been a bonus to listen to the performances by Triforce and Zenel again via the JazzNewBlood website http://www.jazznewblood.org. Only the first three tunes of each set feature, hence the abandonment of titles half way through the reviews! But the music sounds great, and is even more impressive second time round, especially in Zenel’s case. Let’s hope they (Zenel) can get something out there on disc too. A bright future awaits these talented young musicians.
The final band to appear were Kokoroko, a seven piece London based Afrobeat Collective formed in 2014 and with a band name meaning “be strong” in the Urhobo language. The most senior of today’s groups their line up included Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet) and Cassie Kinoshi (alto sax), both of the band Nerija, plus Richie Seivwright (trombone), Oscar Laurence (guitar), Mutale Chashi (electric bass), Onome Edgeworth (percussion, congas) and Israel Shibani (kit drums).
In true festival fashion I had to leave just as they were starting to make my way over to Cadogan Hall for the early evening performance by the Liberation Music Orchestra. Thus I only caught a fraction of the first number, a piece that evidenced the obvious influences of Fela and Femi Kuti but also seemed to have something of a Sun Ra feel thanks to Laurence’s spacey guitar FX.
What I heard sounded very promising and I was hoping to catch a bit more of the show retrospectively via the JazzNewBlood website. Unfortunately at the time of writing there’s still no footage of the Kokoroko performance so I guess I’ll just have to catch them somewhere else at another time.
My thanks to Benjamin Appiah, Ife Ogunjobi, Kaidi Akinnibi and Patricia Pascal for speaking with me and congratulations to JazzNewBlood for the sterling work they are doing to promote and encourage emerging jazz talent.
I have to say that I very much enjoyed both my visits to Iklectik Art Lab. Despite its out of the way location behind Waterloo Station the venue itself is warm and welcoming and there’s a real community/family feel about the place and the sense that this is a space run by music lovers for music lovers. Hopefully Iklectik - and the institutions that use it such as JazzNewBlood, Jazz Nursery and LUME – will continue to thrive. It’s a venue that I would very much like to return to next year.
LIBERATION MUSIC ORCHESTRA directed by CARLA BLEY, CADOGAN HALL
The first incarnation of the Liberation Music Orchestra emerged in 1969 under the leadership of the late bassist and composer Charlie Haden (1937-2014). Conceived as a response to the then ongoing Vietnam War the eponymous début LMO album featured folk/protest songs from the Spanish Civil War and presented them to a new audience via a set of arrangements by the group’s pianist Carla Bley.
That first album was heavily influenced by the free jazz of the 1960s and is an often challenging listen with Bley’s arrangements punctuated by bouts of raucous free jazz improvising by, among others, trumpeter Don Cherry, trombonist Roswell Rudd and saxophonists Gato Barbieri and Dewey Redman, many of those names no longer with us. But there’s an energy, vibrancy and righteous anger about the music that renders the record both unmistakably of its time yet simultaneously timeless. Either way it remains essential listening.
Haden was a busy musician who performed in a variety of contexts and formats ranging from duo to big band. However the LMO name was never formally retired and further albums appeared periodically including “Ballad Of The Fallen” (1982), “Dream Keeper” (1990) and “Liberation Music Orchestra” (1999). In 2005 a new edition of the band recorded “Not In Our Name”, a protest about America’s involvement in the war in Iraq.
At the time of his death Haden had been working on an album addressing environmental concerns, a project he had been incubating for many years. Encouraged by Haden’s widow Ruth Cameron Bley continued Haden’s work, completing the project and releasing the album “Time/Life; Song For The Whales And Other Beings” under the LMO name in 2016.
“Song For The Whales” features performances by many of the musicians present in tonight’s line
up which was introduced with great dignity by Ruth Cameron.
For the record the roll call was;
Carla Bley – piano, director
Michael Rodriguez, Seneca Black – trumpets
Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby – tenor saxophones
Laurence Stillman – alto saxophone
Marshall Gilkes – trombone
Vincent Chancey – french horn
Earl McIntyre – tuba
Steve Cardenas – guitar
Darek Oles – double bass
Matt Wilson – drums
Many of these musicians were familiar faces and several had featured in Bley’s own bands over the years.
Under Bley’s leadership the music of the LMO is more considered and less abandoned than it was in 1969. But it is no less wonderful – or indeed relevant - for that, with Bley’s arrangements stunning in terms of both their inventiveness and their beauty.
The performance began with an arrangement of “Blue In Green” the Miles Davis / Bill Evans classic. Bley’s lush, colourful arrangement included solos for Rodriguez and Cheek plus a melodic bass feature for Oles, a former Haden protege now stepping into the shoes of his mentor. The sound was a little indistinct to start but improved considerably as the concert progressed.
Bley’s unaccompanied piano introduced “Not In Our Name” which included further features for Stillman, Cardenas and Bley in an arrangement that managed to sound both angry and uplifting.
The lengthy “Time/Life”, written by Bley, began with the band pared down to a nonet with the temporary withdrawal of Cheek, Stillman and Cardenas. When Malaby commenced his brilliantly fluent and emotive solo the group was reduced even further, operating in quartet mode for a while. Wilson’s brushed drums then introduced the second half of the piece as the LMO returned to full strength with Cheek, Rodriguez, Black and Malaby making pithy solo statements amid a rousing horn arrangement.
The Bley composition “Silent Spring” also addresses environmental concerns and was inspired by Rachel Carson’s book of the same name. It’s one of Bley’s most enduring compositions and has been recorded by several editions of her band and also by vibraphonist Gary Burton on his 1974 quintet album “Ring”. The stark beauty of the piece was epitomised by an ethereal introduction featuring Oles and Cardenas with the anger coming later via a powerful collective groove and the incisive soloing of Cheek and Rodriguez.
Bley’s arrangement of “America The Beautiful” came closest to the spirit of the original LMO as it mixed solemnity and humour in a free-wheeling arrangement jam packed with brilliant individual solos with Rodriguez, Stillman, McIntyre, Cheek and Wilson all featuring. The final pastiche like section was climaxed by a piercing high register trumpet note from Black as the piece drew the loudest applause of the night.
The momentum was maintained through a similarly rousing, gospel tinged arrangement of “Amazing Grace” with the spirit of the American marching band tradition never far away. Soloists here included Gilkes, Malaby, Oles and a bluesy Cardenas.
The performance concluded with Haden’s “Song For The Whales” with the sound of arco bass, cymbal scrapes and guitar scratchings approximating the sound of whale-song on the intro. Malaby, alongside Rodriguez arguably the night’s most impressive soloist, blew passionately, underscored by Wilson’s relentless drum barrage, on the only true solo in the most open and freely structured arrangement of the evening. The piece ended as it began with bowed bass, guitar and drums as the disembodied voice of Ruth Cameron introduced the band for a final time.
This was a superb performance from a stellar band and a capacity audience at Cadogan Hall were clearly delighted with what they’d heard. The concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 and broadcast on the Jazz Now programme on the night of 5th December 2016 and sounded just as good second time around. At the time of writing it is still available to hear at;
For me, the most outstanding performer was Bley herself. Now approaching eighty she’s arguably playing better then ever and her composing and arranging gifts remained undimmed. Intelligence, imagination and integrity remain at the heart of everything she does. Let us hope that she can continue to make music for many more years to come.
The EFG LJF continues to be a highlight of my personal musical calendar. For me it’s like Christmas come early.
It’s also a hugely significant cultural event that raises the profile of jazz in the city and demonstrates just how vibrant the music can be as it reaches out to an increasingly broad listenership.
The sheer variety of the festival is impressive, both in terms of the musical styles on offer and the venues in which it is played, from imposing concert halls to tiny clubs to suburban high streets.
I saw around forty different performances in a broad range of venues and enjoyed almost all of them, from jazz legends like Carla Bley to emerging talents such as Triforce, Zenel and Kokoroko.
2016 saw me expanding my horizons and visiting new venues around the city. Jazz Cafe POSK, Iklectik Art Lab and the 606 Club all became instant favourites, great places to listen to music that I hope to return to again next year, along with all the other wonderful jazz venues that London has to offer of course.
The EFG LJF is an enormous operation and despite a couple of minor organisational glitches it all ran remarkably smoothly and I was very well looked after everywhere I went. My thanks to Sally Reeves and the rest of the Serious team and also to the owners and promoters at the individual club venues.
Thanks also to photographer Tim Dickeson for allowing me to use his wonderful images to illustrate my Festival coverage.
Finally in this year of Brexit it was heartening to see the spirit of international co-operation within the music. I estimated that I witnessed performers from at least eighteen different countries during the course of the Festival, proof that music, and jazz in particular, is a truly international language.
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