by Ian Mann
December 17, 2019
Ian Mann enjoys performances from groups led by guitarist Nicolas Meier, vocalist Cherise and trumpeter Keyon Harrold.
Photograph of Keyon Harrold sourced from the EFG London Jazz Festival website;
EFG London Jazz Festival 2019
Day Eight, Friday 22nd November 2019
NICOLAS MEIER WORLD GROUP, CULFORD ROOM, CADOGAN HALL
Today was my first visit to the free “Out To Lunch” series of events held at midday on weekday lunchtimes during the Festival in the foyer at Cadogan Hall. These events had been particularly well attended with people queuing around the block on Monday for the performance by the celebrated drummer Clark Tracey and his current quintet of young jazz lions.
Things were scarcely less frantic for the visit of Swiss born, London based guitarist Nicolas Meier and his World Group, a quartet that also featured the talents of Richard Jones (violin), Kevin Glasgow (six string electric bass) and Spanish percussionist Demi Garcia. This line up appears on Meier’s latest album “Peaceful”, a recording recently reviewed on the Jazzmann.
Meier is something of a Jazzmann favourite and has appeared on these web pages many times, usually leading his own groups but also as part of a duo with fellow guitarist Pete Oxley. He has also worked with cellist Shirley Smart, bassist Nick Kacal’s Guerilla Sound group, drummer Robert Castelli’s Boom Quartet and the genre hopping quartet Eclectica! He also played on, and produced, the 2018 release “Across The Bridge”, the latest album by the Belgian born vocalist and songwriter Gabrielle Ducomble. Most famously he has been part of the band led by rock guitar great Jeff Beck.
Meier has long harboured a fascination for the music of the Middle East, inspired by his Turkish wife, Songul, who acts as his muse and also provides the distinctive artwork that has graced the covers of many of Meier’s recordings. His latest release expands upon this as he explores the music of the wider Mediterranean and beyond, including the sounds of Brazil.
Introducing today’s show, which was largely centred around the material from the “Peaceful” album, Meier promised to take us on a musical journey, and this was exactly what he and his colleagues delivered, with this colourful music taking on even greater vibrancy and vividness in the crucible of a live performance.
From the new album “Manzanita Samba” took us straight to Brazil in a lively performance that incorporated solos from Jones on violin, Glasgow on bass and Meier on guitar, with Garcia also blowing a whistle during his percussion feature, as if to emphasise the authenticity of the tune’s samba credentials. The writing was both episodic and highly melodic, perhaps influenced by fellow guitarist Pat Metheny’s experiments with Brazilian music.
Also from the “Peaceful” recording “Besiktas Café” now transported us to Turkey with a jazz waltz combining Middle Eastern and gypsy jazz influences and featuring a delightful guitar/violin duet and a typically agile six string electric bass solo from Glasgow.
Meier deploys a range of guitars, the majority of them made by the Swiss company Godin. On the beguiling “Caravan of Anatolia” his instrument approximated the sound of the oud, the lute like instrument found in many Mediterranean countries, from North Africa to Asia Minor to the Balkans. His playing was augmented by the atmospheric drone of Jones’ violin and the rustle of Garcia’s percussion. Solos here came from Jones on violin and Garcia with a vigorous percussion feature that showcased his powerful hand drumming in a series of vivacious exchanges with the leader.
“City of the Three Rivers” introduced an unexpected geographical location in the form of a tune inspired by the German city of Passau. Nevertheless the music still maintained something of a Middle Eastern feel, plus a dash of flamenco. Solos here came from Meier on guitar and Jones on violin, the latter combining pizzicato and arco techniques.
An excellent first set concluded with “Riversides”, a tune sourced from Meier’s 2016 album “Infinity”, recorded in the company of American jazz heavyweights Vinnie Colaiuta (drums) and Jimmy Haslip (bass). The album also includes contributions from a number of guest violinists, Jones among them. Today the tune featured Meier playing the eleven string, fretless glissentar, an instrument capable of creating an even more authentic oud like sound. Meier featured as a soloist here, combining the sounds of the Middle East and North Africa with the rock rhythms slammed out by Garcia, other featured soloist.
Set two also began with another excursion to Brazil in the form of “Samba Orfeu”, written by Luiz Bonfa. This commenced with a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Meier and also incorporated solos from Jones and Glasgow, plus a series of drum breaks from Garcia.
It was back to Turkey for Meier’s own “Prince’s Islands”, composed for the small archipelago in the Sea of Marmara, just South East of Istanbul. Again this featured a solo guitar introduction, but with Meier now affecting an oud like sound as he shared the solos with Jones’ soaring violin. Meier and Jones have played together in various ensembles and have established a highly effective musical rapport.
Garcia brings the influence of Spanish music to the group, a fact demonstrated by the flamenco flavourings of Meier’s composition “Water Lilies”. Something of a showcase for the percussionist this featured Garcia on cajon and hand-claps (palmas) and included a series of dazzling guitar/percussion exchanges, with further solos coming from Meier and Jones.
“Tales”, from the “Infinity” album slowed the pace a little and acted as something of a feature for the excellent Jones, who shared the solos with Meier and Glasgow.
A superb second set ended with “Adiguzel”, a tune from Meier’s 2006 album “Orient” that has remained a live favourite ever since, a fast and furious piece that Meier today described as a “Turkish dance”. The leader again adopted an oud like sound on his guitar and his solo also included the inventive use of electronic FX. Jones introduced Celtic folk elements to his violin solo while Glasgow soloed with his customary flair and dexterity. A terrific way to end two sets of excellent music with the band really building up a head of steam after the break.
This may have been a free performance in the less than ideal space of a theatre foyer but it was still one of the most enjoyable shows of the week. Dazzling individual playing was allied to a strong group identity to create a rich and colourful blend of music that skilfully blurred musical genres and geographical boundaries as Meier and his colleagues took us on an exhilarating global musical journey.
My thanks to Nicolas for speaking with me afterwards – and even posing for photographs!
CHERISE / KEYON HARROLD, RONNIE SCOTT’S
My first visit to Ronnie’s at the 2019 EFG LJF saw me checking out the music of the American trumpeter, and occasional vocalist, Keyon Harrold.
Again this was a gig that for me was again something of a shot in the dark. I’d heard a lot ABOUT Keyon Harrold but never really listened to his music. One of the beauties of being a reviewer is being able to check things out on spec, but always with a glimmer of an idea of what to expect. From what I’d read and heard I was expecting great things from Harrold and the man didn’t disappoint.
Harrold and his band were supported by vocalist and songwriter Cherise Adams-Burnett, currently trading under the truncated name Cherise, so I’ll use that as I take a look at her set.
Born in London of Jamaican heritage Cherise is an emerging vocalist, flautist and songwriter. She studied jazz at Birmingham Conservatoire and at Trinity Laban in London. She has appeared in musical theatre and wrote and performed the jazz children’s show “Evelyn and the Yellow Birds”, a popular event at this year’s EFG LJF, the story line inspired by the life of Cherise’s own grandmother.
Cherise has sung with the Birmingham bands Trope and Three Step Manoeuvre and has recently been collaborating with the Afro-Beat / Jazz ensemble Nubiyan Twist. She has been involved with the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme and studied at the Betty Carter Institute at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC.
Cherise is currently working as a solo artist, writing her own material and performing it in a style perhaps best categorised as ‘soul jazz’. Tonight she appeared fronting a band of Birmingham based musicians comprised of pianist Andy Bunting, double bassist Luis Van Westhuizen and drummer Jonathan Silk.
Cherise writes her own material and her lyrics are often confessional and highly personal, she is not afraid to express vulnerability through her songs, “Night” and “Breaking” tonight representing eloquent examples of this. Her voice is a flexible instrument and both of these songs incorporated scat vocal episodes, alongside instrumental soloing from pianist Bunting.
The cabaret style “Violet Nights” then demonstrated a more playful side of her musical persona.
Cherise is set to release her début EP “Paradise” in January 2020, a recording that will feature the talents of trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael. As part of the burgeoning young London jazz scene Cherise has previously guested with Seed Ensemble, the band led by saxophonist and composer Cassie Kinoshi.
Sourced from the EP “Siren Song” featured Cherise on both vocals and flute, her lyrics again exploring the subjects of love, loss and personal vulnerability.
Cherise informed us that she had first been inspired by soul singers such as Anita Baker, Toni Braxton, Sam Cooke and even Barry White. This was illustrated by a cover of a song from the Baker album “Rapture”, which also gave Cherise the chance to demonstrate her whistling abilities.
The jazz standard “Skylark”, written by Hoagy Carmichael was impressively transformed by Cherise into the song “Felicity”, keeping the original melody more or less intact but featuring a brand new lyric, at one juncture sung with just bass accompaniment only.
A relatively short set concluded with the title track from the “Paradise” EP which also gave the instrumentalists a chance to stretch out, with Bunting and Van Westhuizen both enjoying extended solos while Silk relished the opportunity of a drum feature.
Although this was music that a little outside my usual listening zone I was still impressed. Cherise has a versatile and flexible voice and an impressive technical ability as a singer. It was good to see a young vocalist presenting her own material, and such intelligent and personal material at that, rather then relying on the same old jazz standards. One suspects that she is trying to reach out to a younger and different audience, one beyond the usual jazz demographic, and I wish her well with her efforts. There was considerable promise here and much for the discerning listener to appreciate.
My own enjoyment of this set was reduced by the presence of three noisy punters at the table behind me, often a problem at Ronnie’s I’m afraid. We told them to pipe down more than once, but sadly the relief was only temporary, they just couldn’t help themselves. They weren’t English, and I took some kind of morbid satisfaction in the fact that the British don’t seem to have a monopoly on bad manners. I’d have got a lot more out of Cherise’s performance, and particularly the lyrics, without those three rabbiting on, that’s for sure.
Mercifully a seat became available at the bar during the interval, which is normally where we journos are placed, and I was able to enjoy Keyon Harrold’s set uninterrupted. Just as well because it was an absolute stormer.
Harrold was born in the now infamous city of Ferguson, Missouri in 1980 and studied jazz at The New School in New York. He made his recording début in 2009 with “Introducing Keyon Harrold” on the Criss Cross record label.
Harrold has also worked intensively with rap, funk, and r’n’b artists and has performed with some of the biggest names in American music. As a result his jazz career was rather put on hold, until the release in 2017 of the acclaimed album “The Mugician”, a recording that combined Harrold’s various influences and included a broad range of guest musicians and vocalists.
“Mugician” is a portmanteau word incorporating the words “musician” and “magician” and was coined by the actor Don Cheadle. Harrold famously played the trumpet parts on the soundtrack to the film “Miles Ahead”, which starred Cheadle as Miles Davis.
The reach of “The Mugician” is so broad that it can’t really be classed as a jazz album as such. It’s also highly politicised, Harrold’s righteous anger fuelled by the senseless killing of Michael Brown by the Ferguson Police.
However tonight’s show, presumably tailored to the jazz club setting, was emphatically a jazz performance. The majority of the material was sourced from the “Mugician” album and the arrangements were primarily instrumental. Harrold isn’t really a singer, hence the presence of the guests on the recording, and his vocalising here was succinct, almost haiku like, his truncated versions of the lyrics still effectively conveying the sentiments of the songs. Despite the limitations of his voice this was a device that worked really well.
However there could be no reservations about the playing. Harrold had assembled an all star band featuring Shedrick Mitchell on piano and keyboards, Nir Felder on guitar, Dominique Sanders on electric bass and ‘Little’ John Roberts at the drums.
Mitchell introduced the proceedings with a passage of solo piano that became the backdrop for “Voicemail”, the opening track of the “Mugician” album, a piece featuring the sampled voice of Harrold’s mother, addressing her son with a message to “never give up, never give in”.
As her voice faded away the charismatic, shades wearing Harrold made his entrance, his first trumpet notes a searing clarion call, a call to action. This marked the transition into the title track of “The Mugician” with its mix of reggae and funk grooves and powerful solos from Mitchell on electric keyboard (a Nord Stage 3) and Felder on guitar, the pair whipped forwards by the dynamic drumming of the brilliant Roberts. Harrold’s own solo was similarly scorching, before he eventually cradled his horn to sing the chorus of the song “Mugicians are the healers, your number one top feelers, We are the Healers”. The recorded version has many more words, but this distilled its message to its essence.
“Love In Tragedy” saw the quintet moving away from the album repertoire but the intensity of the performance remained undimmed. Roberts was featured on both electric percussion and kit drums as he again provided the rhythmic platform for dazzling solos from Harrold on trumpet, Mitchell on acoustic piano and Felder on guitar, the latter a celebrated bandleader in his own right.
From the album came “Her Beauty Through My Eyes”, introduced her by a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Felder. Roberts’ syncopated but funky grooves helped to fuel solos from Mitchell on piano and Harrold on trumpet, the latter squeezing in a quote from “My Favourite Things”, following an earlier allusion to “A Love Supreme” during “The Mugician”. Again we heard a brief vocal summation of the song’s chorus, which again proved to be highly effective.
The instrumental “Ethereal Souls”, an anthemic ballad, also appears on the album although tonight Harrold seemed to favour the alternative title of “Spill”. This was ushered in by Mitchell at the piano, accompanied by Roberts’ mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers. Felder subsequently took up the melody on guitar as this slow burner of a composition gradually began to grown intensity, building via solos from Felder on guitar, Mitchell on piano and Harrold with some bravura trumpeting that culminated in a solo trumpet cadenza.
To close we heard a radical re-invention of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home” featured sampled beats and typically powerful soloing from Harrold on trumpet and Mitchell on piano, before eventually seguing into “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.
A mere half a dozen tunes may seem like a scant programme for a headlining set but these were lengthy performances that included some truly epic soloing from the trio of Harrold, Mitchell and Felder. All played with a combination of power and intelligence, always finding something interesting to say. Sanders was basically happy to keep the groove, a vital but often overlooked presence in the ensemble. His selfless work gave the dynamic Roberts a degree of freedom. ‘Little John’ was actually a giant behind the kit, his playing busy and inventive, but simultaneously supple and adaptable. I was hugely impressed and would relish the opportunity of hearing him in other contexts, as I would Felder and Mitchell.
I was glad I chose to see Harrold, as this show turned out to be one of the highlights of the Festival. It actually reminded me of the excellent performance given by his fellow US trumpeter Marquis Hill and his Blacktet band in this same room last year. Hill also commenced his set with a recording featuring sampled voices and his music also included elements of rap, soul, funk, r’n’b and other strands of Afro-American music. Both acts also include a strong political message in their music, which in the case of Harrold tonight was expressed in the power of his playing and general attitude rather through lyrical or verbal comment. Even now there’s still a unique element of swagger and attitude about the best American jazz that sets it apart from its British and European counterparts, a quality forged in the uniqueness of the Afro-American experience.
Tonight it was tough call to choose between seeing Harrold or Jaimie Branch, another American trumpeter with a hard hitting playing style and a strong political stance. Her Fly or Die band was at the Church of Sound venue in Clapton and following the recent release of her second Fly or Die album “Bird Dogs of Paradise” I’d have loved to have seen her too. Branch’s music mixes political polemic and an uncompromising attitude with composition and elements of free jazz to create a heady and powerful brew. One time Jazzmann contributor Tim Owen attended her packed out show in Clapton and was hugely impressed, as he had been when she played her first EFG LJF show in 2018. Branch seems to be building something of a following in the UK and Europe and will hopefully return in 2020. With luck I will get the chance to see her then.
Meanwhile I’m pleased that Harrold and his band more than justified my selection.blog comments powered by Disqus