by Ian Mann
December 17, 2019
"Super Saturday". Ian Mann visits five different venues for performances by Daylight Music, Gareth Lockrane Big Band, Jean Toussaint Sextet, Whirlwind Jazz Orchestra and Ben Williams & Sound Effect
Photograph of the Jean Toussaint Sextet by Tim Dickeson
EFG London Jazz Festival 2019,
Day Nine, Saturday 23rd November 2019
For me, the second Saturday of EFG LJF 2019 was “Super Saturday”, as I took in what must constitute a record number of performances in a single day, even for me, as I criss-crossed my way around London to take in shows at five different venues.
DAYLIGHT MUSIC, UNION CHAPEL
Festival Saturdays now traditionally start with a visit to the wonderful space that is Union Chapel to take in one of the regular Daylight Music events.
Now in its tenth season Daylight Music typically presents thirty concerts per year. These pay what you can events (suggested donation a mere fiver) present an eclectic mix of music across a range of genres ranging from jazz to folk to classical. Three different acts are normally presented with interim music also provided as customers avail themselves with tea and cake during the intervals. It really is a wall to wall listening experience.
Union Chapel is a terrific venue, beautiful, spacious, superb acoustics and incredibly warm and comfortable for a church in the middle of winter. It’s a huge building but with no pillars to spoil the sight lines, making it an ideal space in which to enjoy live music. The tea and cakes offered for sale by the Margins Foundation, a charity dedicated to helping the homeless and the isolated of London, represent a delicious bonus.
Today’s introductory and interval music was provided by Adrian Cowley, a great friend of the Daylight Music series who usually performs as a singer-songwriter.
Today he was wearing a different musical hat as he generated an evocative series of ambient electronic soundscapes. I rather enjoyed these, and like organist Matt Geer who had played a similar role last week at the console of the Chapel’s magnificent three manual Father Willis organ, his contribution added greatly to the success of the overall event.
ROSIE FRATER-TAYLOR BAND
The first act to take to the stage was the band led by the young singer, guitarist and songwriter Rosie Frater-Taylor. She is the daughter of jazz vocalist Josie Frater and big band drummer Steve Taylor, organisers of Ziggy’s World Jazz Club, now based at the Chickenshed Theatre in Southgate, London.
Music is obviously in the genes and Frater-Taylor has recently released her début album “On My Mind”, a collection of songs that has attracted a considerable degree of critical acclaim.
For this performance she was joined by two backing vocalists, Luca Manning and Elsa Hackett, her father Steve Taylor on cajon and percussion and Hugo Piper on electric bass. Frater-Taylor moved between ukulele and electric guitar as well as singing lead vocals.. Her voice combined well with those of Hackett and Manning, the latter a nominee in the “Newcomer of the Year” category in the recent Parliamentary Jazz Awards.
The opening “Umami” included features for Piper on liquid electric bass and Steve Taylor on percussion but, essentially the performance was all about the leader as the ensemble played a total of five songs, among them “On My Mind” and “In A Dream”.
To be honest there wasn’t really enough ‘proper’ jazz content in it to appeal to my ears, despite the occasional scat vocal episode and instrumental cameo. Frater-Taylor describes herself as a ‘singer-songwriter’, which is fair enough, and this was very much reflected in the music. She’s a skilled vocalist and a capable instrumentalist but none of her songs really grabbed me by the lapels. Overall I found it pleasant enough, but a bit twee and inconsequential.
I had no qualms about her involvement with Daylight Music, even though today’s event fell under the EFG LJF umbrella. Diversity is Daylight’s lifeblood and its strength, and some acts are inevitably going to appeal more than others. The format of these events ensures that nobody really outstays their welcome, and in any case Frater-Taylor’s music appeared to be greatly enjoyed by the majority of the audience.
ROBERT STILLMAN / ANDERS HOLST DUO
I had higher hopes for the instrumental duo of the American tenor saxophonist Robert Stillman and the Danish guitarist Anders Holst, who was playing the rarely seen electric twelve string.
Given the combination of instruments I was expecting something along the lines of Jan Garbarek and Ralph Towner, but fiery instrumental interplay was not to be the order of the day.
Instead the duo’s twenty minute single improvisation, inspired by the appearance of a rainbow over London, the beauty of which nobody but Stillman seemed to appreciate, reached deeply into ambient territory.
The soft tones of Stillman’s tenor were further cushioned by Holst’s shimmering guitar arpeggios and spacey, ambient textures. This was gently ethereal music, with traces of jazz and folk elements occasionally twinkling in the ambient haze.
There was genuine beauty in this music, and of course it was particularly well suited to the atmosphere and acoustics of Union Chapel. Nevertheless after a while I found myself craving greater emotional and dynamic variety, willing Stillman to blow some declamatory Garbarek like tenor, or Holst to crank up the volume or add a harder edge to his playing.
The appeal of the fragile beauty and the ambient texturing began to pall after a while and the improvisation as a whole began to feel a little directionless, the emphasis on prettiness and the meditative quality of the music ultimately rendering it passionless and bloodless. The word ‘stasis’ also found its way into my notebook.
Again the duo were well received by the audience as a whole, and there were elements here that I did enjoy, but ultimately I found myself expecting more from this duo than they actually delivered.
Headlining this week’s Daylight Music was the American composer and multi-instrumentalist Jherek Bischoff, a musician operating in the shadowy hinterland between contemporary classical music and avant pop.
He cut a distinctive on stage figure, his elaborate quiff and somewhat lupine features combining to make him look like an unlikely cross between Elvis Presley and Nick Cave.
He was joined today by a string quartet led by violinist Michael Jones and also featuring Claudia Fuller on second violin, Caleb Sibley on viola and Miriam Wakeling on cello. His first piece established a mysterious, eerie atmosphere as ambient sampled sounds were complemented by the drones of the string quartet.
Bischoff picked up a bass guitar for the next piece, a composition that he described as “a creepy song”. Bischoff used the bass to lay down a plodding rhythm that exuded a palpable air of menace, this enhanced by eerie string textures and drones. Bischoff famously recorded his album “Cistern” in a vast disused water tank somewhere in Washington state, the incredible forty five second reverb resulting in the music having to be radically slowed down, a process that still informs his writing, as demonstrated here.
Much of Bischoff’s early life was spent on his parents’ houseboat, on which many lengthy ocean voyages were undertaken. He remains a keen sailor and has crossed the Pacific. His composition “The Sea Sun” was inspired by an experience on this trip when his vessel became becalmed, the reflection of the stars in the still water making it feel as if he was lost in deep space. The piece was originally performed by an orchestra but was played here by the string quartet with Bishoff conducting, as well as providing delicate traceries of piano melody on the venue’s resident upright. The cadences of the strings seemed to approximate the swell of the ocean on this richly evocative item.
“A Homecoming” found Bischoff back on bass guitar and singing the single phrase “Celebration”, accompanied by the plucked sounds of pizzicato strings.
Bischoff had only met the members of the London based string quartet two days previously but had already established an excellent rapport for them. This was amply demonstrated on “From The Congo” where their aggressive bowing complemented the tribal rhythms of Bischoff’s bass guitar.
Next we heard the title track from the “Cistern” album with its sombre solo cello intro, the melancholy atmosphere enhanced by second violin, viola and electric bass, then offset by Jones’ rapid high register trills.
Bischoff has even released a Christmas album. “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire Walk With Me”. This features classic Christmas songs arranged in the style of the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack. To close Bischoff invested “Silent Night” with an air of real menace, playing the melody on bass guitar, his sound cushioned by suitably eerie string textures. Here the ensemble was extended with Terry Edwards soloing on tenor sax and Kym Musgrove adding the sound of Christmas bells. It was a suitably bizarre way to close an already idiosyncratic set.
For all its strangeness – strangeness is good – this was the pick of today’s performances, easily the most varied and consequently the most interesting. Bischoff is a fascinating character and something of a polymath whose work has embraced experimental pop and rock, contemporary classical music, ballet and opera. Of today’s acts he’s the one whose the work I’d like to investigate further.
To be truthful I was a little disappointed with today’s Daylight Music, mainly because there wasn’t as much actual jazz content as there had been at the other show that came under the EFG LJF umbrella the previous Saturday.
But I still love Daylight Music as an institution, it’s unpredictable, which is good, and it introduces people to new music that may otherwise never discover - and does so at a very affordable price. It encourages listeners to take a chance and to explore the varied delights of its eclectic programme. It’s like a live version of the much missed Late Junction, you won’t like everything, but you’re still guaranteed to find something that you will absolutely love. It encourages listeners to take a risk, that’s what makes it so great. You might be disappointed today, but next week might blow you away. And of course there’s the tea and cake and the matchless beauty of the venue itself. If I lived in London on a permanent basis I’d probably be there every week.
GARETH LOCKRANE BIG BAND, THE OTHER PALACE, VICTORIA
A quick sojourn on the Victoria Line took me to the Studio Theatre at The Other Palace, the venue previously known as St. James’ Theatre.
I was attempting to squeeze another gig into an already busy schedule and didn’t want to miss a sighting of the current edition of the Gareth Lockrane Big Band. Today’s performance was one of a series curated by promoters JBGB Events at The Other Palace throughout the course of the Festival. I’m indebted to Denise McDonagh of Manila PR for providing my wife and I with press tickets for this event.
I recall enjoying a performance by the Lockrane Big Band at the Spice of Life at the 2012 Festival. Subsequently I reviewed “Fistfight At The Barndance”, their 2018 début release on Whirlwind Recordings.
Review here; http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/fistfight-at-the-barndance/
The line up of the Lockrane Big Band is fluid, but always includes a selection of some of London’s leading jazz musicians, their ages spanning the generations. Led from the front by Lockrane on a variety of flutes the ensemble boasts a classic big band line up of five reeds, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion.
Today’s repertoire was partly sourced from the début album but also included items from earlier small group recordings arranged for big band.
Things kicked off with the title track from “Fistfight At The Barndance”, a suitably rowdy opener featuring an authentically gigantic big band sound that incorporated solos from the young trombonist Harry Moore, Lockrane on flute and Tom Cawley at the piano.
The Clint Eastwood inspired “Do It” saw the music turning towards funk with the bassist moving from stand up to electric. Moore again impressed as a soloist alongside Nadim Teimoori on tenor sax. The piece culminated with a drum and percussion battle featuring the vastly experienced Ian Thomas behind the kit and (I think) Hugh Wilkinson on congas and percussion.
The ballad “Plan B” calmed things down, but only a little. There was still a gently smouldering intensity about the solos from Mike Outram on guitar and Michael Chillingworth on curved soprano sax.
“Lock Up” acted as something of a feature for baritone saxophonist Richard Sheppard who shared the solos with Lockrane on flute plus a member of the trumpet section, that I suspect may have been Robbie Robson. Thomas, also a leading rock and pop session musician was again featured at the drums.
The funky, Latin-esque “Groove Rider” brought an excellent first set to a close and included features for alto saxophonist Alexander Bone, guitarist Mike Outram and trumpeter Steve Fishwick.
Bone is a former BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year and was once a member of the band Jam Experiment, the group now known as Bonsai. His solo here combined fire and fluency and he was followed by an equally blistering trumpet solo from Fishwick. The soloists enjoyed the punchy backing of the rest of the ensemble and another drum feature from the irrepressible Thomas then paved the way for Outram’s powerful, rock influenced solo, the guitarist sounding truly turbo-charged.
This had been a lengthy set that lasted for well over an hour and which included colourful, vibrant big band arrangements and some truly inspired soloing. Although Lockrane allows himself plenty of soloing opportunities he also like to showcase the talents of the members of his band and all of the soloists in this first set stood up and delivered.
I knew I was tight for time with another performance at Cadogan Hall scheduled at 5.00 pm so I elected to leave at half time rather than sneaking out after just one number of the second set. Arriving late at the Cadogan is not advisable and I didn’t want to risk that.
My apologies to Gareth, and to Denise, for not being able to cover the second set but I was very grateful for this latest sighting of the GLBB, whose vivacious first half performance had represented great value and might have constituted a full Festival set in other circumstances.
My enforced early departure meant that I couldn’t get the full band line up, but I’ve name checked as many members as I can.
JEAN TOUSSAINT SEXTET, CADOGAN HALL
A quick dash to Cadogan Hall for the first of a themed evening of events celebrating the centenary of the birth of the great American drummer and bandleader Art Blakey. Toussaint’s sextet would be followed by a later, separately ticketed, event featuring The Messenger Legacy band, led by Blakey’s protégé, drummer Ralph Peterson and featuring other ex-Messengers, including saxophonist Bobby Watson and pianist Geoffrey Keezer.
Saxophonist Jean Toussaint was a member of one of the later editions of Blakey’s famous Jazz Messengers group, the long running jazz institution that helped to kick start the careers of of many of the jazz greats, among them saxophonists Hank Mobley and Wayne Shorter and trumpeters Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and Wynton Marsalis.
Toussaint was born on the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and studied at the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA before eventually joining the Messengers. He subsequently moved to the UK, becoming an inspirational and hugely popular figure on the British jazz scene as both a musician and an educator.
Toussaint was joined by his Allstar 6tet, an all British line up featuring the talents of trumpeter Byron Wallen, trombonist Dennis Rollins, pianist Andrew McCormack, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Shane Forbes. It’s the same band that appears on his latest release “Live at The Jazz Café” (Lyte Records), a two disc concert recording documented at London’s Jazz Café venue in late 2018. Some of the items had also appeared on the earlier studio album “Brother Raymond”
All of today’s material was sourced from the live album and comprised of compositions in a broadly hard bop, or Messengers, style written by various members of the band. The sextet were introduced by journalist and broadcaster Kevin Le Gendre, who wrote the liner notes for “Live at The Jazz Café”.
The sextet kicked off with Toussaint’s composition “Amabo”, dedicated to Barak Obama (it’s the ex -president’s surname backwards) and meaning “I Shall Love” in Latin.
Musically the piece embraced lively African rhythms, courtesy of Casimir and Forbes, who
kick- started it here, underpinning the rich blend of horns, whose free-ish early interplay eventually coalesced on the head before going their separate ways again in a series of lengthy but absorbing solos. It was actually pianist McCormack who ignited the spark in this regard, his fluent solo followed by expansive and powerful excursions from Toussaint, Rollins and Wallen. A rousing and uplifting start.
Wallen’s own “The Gatekeeper” followed, a more introspective piece but still featuring an infectious Afro-Cuban groove, the jumping off point for intelligent, probing solos from Wallen, Rollins and McCormack plus the leader on typically incisive tenor. Casimir, one of the rising stars of British jazz, also featured with an articulate double bass solo.
From the “Brother Raymond” album Toussaint’s composition “Doc” was dedicated to his cousin back in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. An introductory horn fanfare announced a dazzling drum salvo from Forbes before the music took a gentler, more ballad like approach with the beguiling blend of horns leading into a gorgeous Harmon muted trumpet solo from Wallen. Rollins adopted a mellow, rounded tone for his trombone feature, before gradually ramping up the tension prior to handing over to Wallen once more. Next we heard from Toussaint himself, his solo an appropriate tribute to “Doc”. Finally we heard the flowing lyricism of the excellent McCormack, who excelled as both soloist and accompanist over the course of the evening.
“Major Changes” represented Toussaint’s response to the result of the EU referendum and the fractious politics of the current era. The music represents an attempt to adopt a positive attitude in the face of all the hatred, recalling Blakey’s famous quote “music washes away the dust of everyday life”. Afro-Caribbean rhythms were again apparent with Forbes demonstrating his versatility and virtuosity as a drummer as his colourful beats helped to fuel expansive solos from Rollins, Toussaint, Wallen and McCormack, plus a stunning solo bass feature from Casimir.
It was to be the bassist’s own composition “The Missing of Sleep” that was to prove to be one of the highlights of the entire set. Written for his one year old daughter the piece brought a more contemporary feel to the music, but there was to be something of a hiatus before we actually got to hear it. Wallen found that he had left his chart backstage and there was a delay as he ducked behind the curtain to retrieve it, eventually returning to a round of good natured applause.
McCormack introduced the piece with a passage of unaccompanied piano, this followed by a horn chorale underpinned by Forbes’ mallet rumbles. As the piece unfolded it evolved into a beautiful ballad that saw the soloists demonstrating a gentler side of their playing and emphasising their skills as balladeers. Toussaint went first, followed by Rollins on trombone, Wallen on trumpet and McCormack. Finally we heard a delightfully melodic bass solo from the composer, accompanied by the patter of hand drumming then the gentle rumble of mallets. Compositionally this was arguably the most interesting item in the set as Casimir impressed with his writing skills, suggesting a long and distinguished career ahead.
Finally Toussaint paid tribute to the island of his birth with “Mandingo Brass”, a tune co-written with the pianist Jason Rebello, the title taken from the name of the first band the saxophonist ever played in. This was a genuine celebration with its joyous calypso rhythms, effervescent triple horn theme and effusive solos, with Wallen and Rollins going first. Almost inevitably Toussaint’s solo contained a quote from Sonny Rollins’ famous composition “St. Thomas” and he was followed by a similarly spirited solo from pianist McCormack.
Toussaint and his colleagues had effectively played the whole of the “Live at the Jazz Café” album, the only omission being the old Messengers favourite “Moanin’”, written by the group’s pianist of the time, the late Bobby Timmons. Given that this show was billed as a Blakey tribute I’m surprised it wasn’t performed, but possibly this was due to time constraints, the sextet had certainly stretched out extensively on the earlier material. It’s also possible that people had tickets for both of this evening’s Blakey themed shows and that “Moanin’” was left for the Ralph Peterson group.
I’ve seen Toussaint on a number of occasions and his penchant for playing in the classic hard bop head/solos/head format can sometimes become a little formulaic. That said I thoroughly enjoyed today’s show. This current sextet has been together a long time and must rank as one of the best bands that Toussaint has ever had. At a packed Cadogan Hall in front of a highly supportive audience there was a real spirit and energy about the performances and the lengthy solos rarely felt self indulgent. The standard of the playing was exceptional with three highly talented soloists backed by a Rolls Royce of a rhythm section, all of whom grabbed their own moments in the spotlight with both hands.
INGRID & CHRISTINE JENSEN + THE WHIRLWIND JAZZ ORCHESTRA, PURCELL ROOM
In this year of anniversaries (Blakey, Blue Note, ECM) it might have been easy to overlook the tenth birthday of the innovative Whirlwind Recordings label founded by bassist and composer Michael Janisch.
Born in the US but resident in the UK for over a decade the indefatigable Janisch is a musician, composer and entrepreneur. He has always pursued a policy of bringing British, North American and European musicians together and the Whirlwind label is the embodiment of that spirit of international co-operation with a highly impressive catalogue of around one hundred and thirty recordings. Like Blue Note and ECM an album on the Whirlwind label is a guarantee of quality. Janisch’s own 2009 début “Purpose Built” started it all off, one of the most important and influential British jazz releases of the 21st century. I’ve since covered many other excellent albums issued under the Whirlwind banner and feel proud to have been associated with the label since its inception.
Since it was announced that Whirlwind would celebrate its tenth birthday by assembling a big band comprised of artists associated with the label for a short UK tour I just knew that I had to be a part of it somehow. As the other dates all took place during the week of EFG LJF I had no alternative but to opt for the London show. There was no way I was going to miss this band!
The Whirlwind Jazz Orchestra was assembled around the playing and compositional talents of the Jensen sisters, Ingrid (trumpet) and Christine (alto & soprano saxes). Originally from Nanaimo, Vancouver Island the sisters have established themselves a major figures on the North American jazz scene and have collaborated with trumpeter Clark Terry, drummer Terri Lyne Carrington and composer Maria Schneider among others.
Each of the Jensen sisters has established a successful solo career but they also work together and this current collaboration has its Roots in “Infinitude”, their 2016 album for Whirlwind recorded with a quintet featuring guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Jon Wikan (Ingrid’s husband). A number of pieces from this recording were to be performed this evening, re-arranged for big band.
Christine Jensen also runs her own jazz orchestra, comprised mainly of Canadian musicians, as well as leading smaller groups. Tonight’s programme also included items from “Habitat”, a 2013 Canadian release by the Christine Jensen Jazz Orchestra.
This evenings stellar line up of Whirlwind artists comprised of;
Ingrid Jensen – trumpet, electronics
Christine Jensen – alto & soprano saxes
Andre Canniere, Ryan Quigley, Nick Smart – trumpets & flugels
Rory Ingham, Jacob Cooper – trombones
Richard Henry – bass trombone
Rachael Cohen – alto sax
Josephine Davies – tenor sax, clarinet
Tori Freestone – tenor sax, flute
Alex Garnett – baritone sax
Alcyona Mick – piano
David Preston – guitar
Michael Janisch- acoustic & electric bass
Klemens Marktl – drums
The performance commenced with Christine’s composition “Blue Yonder”, a piece that appears on both the “Habitat” and “Infinitude” recordings. The arrangement was similar to the “Habitat” version and commenced with chorale of trombones, to which were added reeds and trumpets with Ingrid treating her sound via a range of FX pedals. An ensemble passage featuring the sounds of muted trumpets paved the way for powerful solos from Alex Garnett on baritone sax, Ingrid on trumpet and Christine on alto sax. The piece was inspired by the Afro-Peruvian rhythms that Jensen heard in Lima while touring South America with her quartet. These were to find an outlet during the course of a drum feature from the excellent Marktl.
Also by Christine “Starbright” was dedicated to the memory of the late, great trumpeter and composer Kenny Wheeler, a source of great inspiration to both of the Jensen sisters. Wheeler lived in the UK for so long and became so closely with the British jazz scene that it’s easy to forget the fact that he was actually born in Canada. An atmospheric introduction featuring the sounds of trumpet FX, piano innards and bowed bass led to a multi-faceted composition embracing a wide range of dynamics and which saw the composer moving to soprano sax. Solos came from Ingrid on high register trumpet, Alcyona Mick on piano and Marktl, a veritable ball of energy, behind the drum kit. A quieter, more impressionistic coda then provided the link into Ingrid’s “Hope’s Trail”, a composition included on the “Infinitude” recording. The sound here was at first softer and gentler, with Freestone doubling on flute and Davies on clarinet. A more abrasive element was then introduced via the solos of guitarist David Preston, stepping into Monder’s shoes, and Ingrid on trumpet, her solo developing out of atmospheric, muted FX to blazing, full on magnificence.
The first set concluded with Christine’s composition “Intersection”, another arrangement of a piece from the “Habitat” recording. Announcing the tune the composer dedicated it to the Wheeler family and to vocalist Norma Winstone, all of whom were apparently in the audience. I looked for Norma but couldn’t see her. This typically wide ranging and colourful piece featured the sisters on muted trumpet and soprano sax and provided the opportunity for a series of solos from musicians that in the main we hadn’t heard from in this capacity thus far. Josephine Davies set the ball rolling on tenor, followed by Richard Henry on bass trombone and Nick Smart on flugelhorn. Rachael Cohen followed on alto and then Alcyona Mick on piano, demonstrating another side of her playing with some Melford-esque outpourings that included a series of vigorous exchanges with Janisch and Marktl. This led to a further drum feature from the Austrian, the only mainland European in the line up. Finally we heard from Ingrid with a trumpet solo that twisted and turned, drawing the listener along in its wake.
Set two began with a composition by Josephine Davies that saw the saxophonist coming to the front of the stage to conduct the ensemble in a performance of her piece “Eos”. Atmospheric and skilfully orchestrated the arrangement framed solos for Ingrid on trumpet and Christine on alto.
Christine’s composition “Swirlaround” was sourced from the “Infinitude” album and included the sounds of Ingrid on plunger muted, vocalised trumpet and the composer on soprano sax. Preston’s powerful solo exhibited a strong rock influence as his guitar wailed and soared, eventually giving way to Ingrid’s trumpet once more.
Ingrid’s composition “South East Alaska” featured an orchestration by the late Fred Sturm and saw the trumpeter deploying live looping techniques as she approximated the sound of whale song. The piece also incorporated more conventional big band textures and more orthodox jazz soloing from Ingrid, Michael Janisch on double bass and Christine on biting soprano sax. The piece was distinguished by its dynamic contrasts, perhaps intended to reflect the vagaries of the Alaskan climate, with Marktl’s closing drum feature featuring some truly thunderous playing.
The set concluded with Christine’s composition “Wink”, which saw trombonist Rory Ingham as the featured soloist, using a plunger mute to generate vocalised New Orleans style sounds before soloing more expansively on the open horn. We also heard from more musicians that had previously not featured as soloists as Andre Canniere came to the front of the stage to enjoy a good natured trumpet stand off with Ingrid Jensen. Jacob Cooper was also featured on trombone and lead trumpeter Ryan Quigley delivered some dynamic, high register soloing.
Janisch introduced the band members to rapturous applause and the ensemble returned to play an encore of Carla Bley’s “Lost” in an arrangement by Christine Jensen. The anthemic arrangement of Bley’s memorable tune included features for Ingrid on trumpet and Christine on alto, the pair then trading phrases at the close.
This ended an impressive evening of music making and a real celebration of the Whirlwind label. The writing was rich, colourful and multi-faceted and the playing universally excellent. Naturally the Jensen sisters dominated proceedings, but so many of these musicians are bandleaders in their own right and I’d urge readers to check out their individual projects.
In the comparatively small space of the primarily classical venue that is the Purcell Room the Whirlwind Jazz Orchestra sounded pretty darn loud and it took my ears a while to adjust to the volume and intensity of the music, but once I’d done that I was OK. There was even a light show of sorts too. As a champion of the label it was great to be there and to make the acquaintance of label manager Elaine Crouch.
Thanks to the Whirlwind ‘family’ for a great evening of music.
BEN WILLIAMS & SOUND EFFECT, RONNIE SCOTT’S
And still I wasn’t finished as I made the short hop up the Northern Line to this late night performance at Ronnie Scott’s by bassist, vocalist, composer, songwriter and bandleader Ben Williams and his all star quintet Sound Effect.
I first noticed Williams’ playing when he was the bassist in guitarist Pat Metheny’s Unity Band, another stellar aggregation that also featured the talents of saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Antonio Sanchez. Williams has also played with saxophonist David Sanborn’s ‘Acoustic’ band as well as pursuing a successful solo career with the albums “State of Art” (2011) and “Coming of Age” (2015) to his credit. He is currently working on his third album, a recording that will feature his lyrics and singing for the first time. Items from the forthcoming recording were to feature tonight, with Williams telling us more about the new recording as the performance progressed.
The Sound Effect band featured some of America’s leading contemporary jazz musicians with Williams joined by Marcus Strickland (reeds), Julius Rodriguez (piano, keyboards), David Rosenthal (guitar) and Justin Brown (drums) – quite a line up.
The performance began with the sounds of sampled voices, Williams on six string electric bass, Rodriguez on electric keyboards and Strickland on bass clarinet. A hip hop style groove bolstered Williams vocals (“You paid the cost of being the boss”) and Strickland’s bass clarinet solo.
Williams’ first vocal album is to be called “I’m A Man”, a title loaded with a political significance dating back to the Civil Rights era, but one that was lost on some of the members of a rowdy late night crowd at Ronnie’s. The title track included samples of speeches from the time, certainly Martin Luther King, maybe Malcolm X too. The music brought the struggle right up to date, expressing a very current anger via hard hitting double bass and drum grooves and Strickland’s piercing soprano sax attack. Brown’s dynamic drumming helped to fuel an incendiary guitar solo from Rosenthal, while Rodriguez also blazed on acoustic piano. There could be no doubting the sentiments behind this music.
Williams described “If You Hear Me” as “a letter to God from a Man”, the song serving to showcase the quality of his vocals, he’s actually a highly accomplished singer. Elsewhere we heard from Rodriguez on Korg and full length solos from Strickland on soprano sax and the leader on dexterous double bass.
The third different Radiohead cover I’d heard from jazz acts during the Festival was the little known “Fast Track”, which featured Williams on electric bass and vocals and Rodriguez on synth, with the main instrumental solos coming from Strickland on tenor and Rosenthal on guitar.
A second cover saw the quintet tackling the Liane La Havas ballad “Lost and Found”, introduced by Rodriguez on acoustic piano and featuring an increasingly anthemic solo from Strickland on bass clarinet.
A remarkable extended dialogue between Williams on double bass and the brilliant Brown on drums ushered in the quintet’s celebrated cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, a real show stealing moment that was only topped by Williams inviting the previous night’s headliner, trumpeter Keyon Harrold to guest with the band on their final number.
Again this took us all the way back to the Civil Rights era and Williams’ impassioned singing of the story of Emmett Till, the fourteen year old black youth from Chicago who was brutally murdered when visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955 and whose white killers were subsequently acquitted. Musically this was effectively a folk ballad set in a jazz framework, with Harrold’s declamatory soloing matching the intensity of anything he had done the night before as he shared the solos with Rodriguez on piano and Strickland on soprano sax. Williams’ singing of the line “His name was Emmett Till” seared itself into the soul of the listener, the effect heightened by sampled voices declaring “Mercy, Mercy Me”. This was dramatic and important stuff, a story that has regrettably acquired a new relevance in the fractured political landscapes of the US and the UK in 2019.
Following this vocal and instrumental tour-de-force it was inevitable that the band, with Harrold still in tow, would return for an encore. This sent the audience home happy as Williams laid down a buoyant funk groove that helped to fuel an r’n’b style tenor solo from Strickland and an answering trumpet statement from Harrold. Williams then switched to electric bass to add even greater momentum to the dynamic trumpet and tenor exchanges.
Like Harrold’s own show the previous night this had been another Festival highlight. The quality of the playing had again been exceptional and the overall attitude sharp, confident, focussed and politically relevant. But the biggest surprise was the strength, expressiveness and sheer quality of Williams’ singing. I already knew he was a monster bass player but I hadn’t been expecting this. The “I’m A Man” album looks to be ONE of the releases to look out for in 2020.
It was well worth missing the Night Tube for.blog comments powered by Disqus