by Ian Mann
December 12, 2018
Ian Mann on a diverse day of musical performances including those of Ranjana Ghatak, Hilde Marie Holsen, Ivo Neame / Pete Wareham Duo, Trish Clowes' My Iris and the Avishai Cohen Trio.
Photograph of Avishai Cohen by Tim Dickeson
EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL,
Saturday 24th November 2018
DAYLIGHT MUSIC FEATURING ALBATROSS SAXOPHONE QUARTET, RANJANA GHATAK, HILDE MARIE HOLSEN and IVO NEAME / PETE WAREHAM DUO – UNION CHAPEL, ISLINGTON
For thirty Saturdays of the year the Daylight Music organisation stages lunchtime events at the Union Chapel in Islington. 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.
During the period of the EFG London Jazz Festival the events are presented under the Festival umbrella and take on a distinctive jazz tinge. I was sorry to miss the previous week’s event featuring the Norwegian keyboard player Sigbjorn Apeland (of the band 1982) playing the Chapel organ alongside other performers keyboard player Danalogue and baritone saxophonist Helen Papaionniou.
Usually presenting three ‘headline acts’ plus additional interval music Daylight Music is something like a live version of BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, such is the diversity and eclecticism of the programming, which is undertaken and presented by Ben Eshmade of the promoters Arctic Circle.
Today’s programme had a loose ‘drones’ theme and the first artist to be featured was the London based vocalist Ranjana Ghatak singing Indian devotional music and accompanying herself on the North Indian drone instrument the tanpura.
Born in London of Bengali heritage Ghatak has immersed herself in both Indian and Western music and has worked extensively with jazz musicians such as drummer Sebastian Rochford and bassist Liran Donin. She and Donin are due to release an album together in 2019.
However for today’s performance she concentrated firmly on the Indian classical repertoire and the mood of the music was meditative and devotional. Ghatak performed seated on the floor of the stage cradling her tanpura, the drone of which underscored her pure but emotive singing, the lyrics delivered in Sanskrit and other Indian languages. The repertoire included classical ragas plus one Ghatak original in the same vein, inspired by the writings of a 15th century Indian mystic.
The acoustics of the magnificent 19th century Union Chapel were particularly well suited to this devotional music of another religion and the performance was undeniably beautiful and strangely restful.
ALBATROSS SAXOPHONE QUARTET
It’s a Daylight tradition that the music never stops, even when the necessary changeovers are being executed on the main stage. Today the ‘background’ or ‘interval’ music came from the Albatross Saxophone Quartet, a group of young musicians from London’s Guildhall School of Music. All the main members of the saxophone family were represented – tenor, alto, soprano, baritone – with the quartet playing pieces from the classical saxophone repertoire. I did try to check out the personnel on line so I could give each of them due credit but the only name I could find was that of Sophie Burrows (baritone) who appears to be the group leader and doubles up on alto in other contexts. Like the rest of the audience I probably wasn’t listening to them as closely as I should have been, but still enjoyed what I heard.
HILDE MARIE HOLSEN
Next to take to the main stage was the young Norwegian trumpeter and electronic musician Hilde Marie Holsen. Signed to the Hubro record label Holsen has released two solo albums, 2015’s “Ask” and 2018’s “Lazuli”.
Holsen’s music, featuring the sound of her processed trumpet, was again well suited to the acoustics and atmosphere of Union Chapel. Utilising an array of foot pedals and a variety of table mounted electronic devices Holsen mutated the sound of her horn into something ethereal and beautiful, making extensive use of drones and glitches.
Inevitably I found myself making comparisons with her compatriot Arve Henriksen’s contribution to the performance by Supersilent at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the previous evening. It’s likely that Henriksen has been a profound influence on Holsen, as have Nils Petter Molvaer and Jon Hassell, one suspects.
Holsen’s brief performance here was less varied than Supersilent’s and considerably less intense but one suspects that Holsen was restricted in terms of both time and location. Daylight Music is a relaxed, family friendly event and conjuring up music as scary and violently abrasive as Supersilent had done at some points in their performance probably wasn’t a good idea in this context. Instead Holsen intentionally sought to create a more relaxed atmosphere, one of tranquillity and quiet beauty. Her coolly elegant trumpet playing and subtle, nuanced soundscaping created an ambience that the audience could relax into and immerse themselves in.
Today’s performance was little more than a taster for Holsen’s art. I enjoyed what I heard but found her music a little tepid and one dimensional in comparison to Supersilent. That said I’d readily take the opportunity of hearing her albums or of taking in a full length live performance where the full range of her skills could be appreciated. One suspects that in less restricted circumstances she is capable of producing music with a broader sonic, dynamic and emotional range than we heard in this brief ‘taster’.
IVO NEAME / PETE WAREHAM DUO
Many of the people who were present today were here speccificallyto check out this intriguing duo performance by two of the most influential British jazz musicians of recent years.
Ivo Neame is best known as the pianist of the Anglo-Scandinavian trio Phronesis who had shared the bill with Supersilent at the Barbican the previous evening.
Saxophonist Pete Wareham made his name as the leader of the groups Acoustic Ladyland and Melt Yourself Down. He has also worked extensively with Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear and has recently been observed collaborating with the Mercury Music Prize nominated singer, guitarist and songwriter Nadine Shah.
2017’s EFG LJF / Daylight Music collaboration included an inspired duet between Kit Downes playing the Chapel organ and Matthew Bourne on grand piano. Downes has regularly played the Chapel’s splendid three manual ‘Father Willis’ organ but for Neame it was the first time behind the console of this magnificent instrument.
Church organ / saxophone duets are unusual but not unique. Precedents include Downes and Tom Challenger, Dave Stapleton and Deri Roberts and Jan Garbarek and Kjell Johnsen.
Understandably the opening exchanges here were a little tentative, particularly as the organ was hidden away behind the pulpit and Neame and Wareham, the latter specialising on tenor sax, were denied eye contact. But gradually the pair grew in confidence as Neame began to explore the full sonic and orchestral possibilities of the organ, creating appropriately church like sonorities and toying with elements of wilful dissonance.
Wareham is known as a powerful and aggressive saxophonist but today found him at his most quiet and subtle as he soloed softly against a backdrop of Neame’s organ generated bass lines.
Both musicians enjoyed unaccompanied solo sections but it was the moments in which they came together, instinctively finding the same wavelength, that were the most absorbing. At these moments the duo’s music seemed to fill this magnificent space and became truly immersive – definitely the word of the day.
Neame and Wareham were the undoubted highlight of today’s Daylight Music programme (incredibly the 295th) although it’s probably fair to say that they didn’t quite hit the heights that Downes and Bourne had done a year previously.
Nevertheless both had risen magnificently to the challenge, on what was probably their first collaboration together, certainly in this context and with Neame getting to grips with the ‘Father Willis’ for the first time. The success of today’s event suggested that this was an experiment that deserves to be repeated.
It marked the start of a busy day for Neame who was off to perform with Phronesis at Cambridge Jazz Festival that same evening.
Daylight Music is a great institution and one that I would attend on a regular basis if I actually lived in London. As it is my now annual visits to the wonderful space that is Union Chapel are becoming something of an EFG LJF highlight. Long may the collaborations between EFG LJF and Daylight Music continue.
I had planned to visit The Vortex for the afternoon performance by the National Youth Jazz Collective and decided to walk to the venue rather than taking the Overground. A brisk walk found me in Gillett Square at around 2.50 pm with the performance due to start at 3.00 pm.
I was extremely disappointed to find the Vortex closed and the performance apparently cancelled. It was unfortunate that I was not to be able to make my annual visit to my favourite London jazz club. If I had known about the cancellation I would have attended the Jazz New Blood event at Waterloo Creative Studios (Iklectik) instead.
Still every cloud has a silver lining and having walked up Upper Street I decided to ‘get my steps up’ and walk back to our Islington base via Essex Road. Thus I stumbled upon the second hand record shop Flashback, which includes an excellent jazz section. This is likely to become a place of regular pilgrimage in subsequent years. Flashback also has branches in Bethnal Green and Crouch Hill.
NEXT GENERATION TAKES OVER, BARBICAN FREESTAGE
The main event of the evening at the Barbican was in the main hall where bassist Avishai Cohen and his trio were due to revisit their 2008 breakthrough album “Gently Disturbed”.
More on that later as first we were to enjoy the sound of two young ensembles on the Barbican Freestage. The Jazzmann has always sought to encourage young, up and coming jazz musicians, hence today’s aborted trip to the Vortex and the coverage in previous years of the Jazz New Blood events at Iklectik and the NYJO Jazz Jam at Ray’s Jazz at Foyles.
The opening slot at today’s Next Generation Takes Over event featured the students of the Julian Joseph Jazz Academy, founded by the noted pianist, composer and radio presenter. Various bands from the Academy were presented playing a variety of music ranging from Latin jazz to standards such as Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”, Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Urge”.
The students of the JJJA are tutored by such respected musicians as Joseph himself plus saxophonist Tony Kofi, trumpeter Byron Wallen, trombonist Trevor Mires and vocalist Cleveland Watkiss. With mentors of this quality teaching them it should perhaps have come as no surprise to find that the ensemble playing was of the highest quality and the individual soloing consistently excellent. Young vocalist Harriet also impressed with her delivery of a number of Great American Songbook tunes.
The JJJA were followed by students of the Camden Jazz Hub who were accompanied by their tutors Claude Deppa (trumpet), Joy Ellis (piano) and Sam Agard (percussion), all of them acclaimed educators. The students here were younger than those of the JJJA and more obviously learning their instruments, hence the performance was less slick and polished than the JJJA’s had been.
Nevertheless it was still great fun with the irrepressible Deppa consistently encouraging his students and also coaxing a readily supportive audience into getting involved, clapping along with the music and generally giving these young musicians plenty of positive encouragement. The material included the joyous Township sounds of Deppa’s native South Africa plus an infectious, audience friendly version of Sonny Rollins’ jazz calypso “St. Thomas”.
It would perhaps have been better if the younger musicians of the Camden Jazz Hub had been allowed to play first with the more professional sounding JJJA going second. I did wonder if that was because some of the Academy students have already reached a professional standard and had gigs elsewhere during the evening.
Nevertheless I’m sure that all the young musicians from both institutions got a great deal out of this gig, as did the appreciative Barbican audience who got involved and who approached the music with great warmth and a real generosity of spirit.
TRISH CLOWES’ MY IRIS / AVISHAI COHEN TRIO, BARBICAN HALL
TRISH CLOWES’ MY IRIS
The ‘support slot’ in the main hall was filled by the British saxophonist and composer Trish Clowes with her My Iris quartet featuring Chris Montague on guitar, Ross Stanley on Hammond organ and piano and James Maddren at the drums.
The group takes its name from Clowes’ 2017 album “My Iris”, arguably her best recording to date, from which came that album’s opening track “One Hour”, a paean to “the extra hour of dreaming you get when the clocks go back”. The piece was introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar from Montague, this joined by the leader’s tenor sax, Stanley’s organ drones and the rumble of Maddren’s mallets. Stanley moved to piano as the main theme kicked in and Clowes soloed on tenor sax followed by Montague on guitar and Stanley at the keyboard. One of Clowes’ most accessible pieces, despite its considerable complexities, this was a piece that quickly got the near sell out crowd at the 1900 capacity Barbican onside. Playing to nearly 2000 people was a far cry from the last time that I saw these musicians playing to an audience of less then fifty at the Emulsion Festival at the tiny Hexagon Theatre at Birmingham’s Midlands Arts Centre.
Clowes has never been an artist to stand still and the next item was a segue of pieces from the group’s forthcoming album, due for release in 2019.
“Lightning Les”, named for the Leslie cabinet accompanying Stanley’s Hammond B3, again began impressionistic ally with the sound of spacey organ and shimmering cymbals but Maddren’s drum groove soon moved the music somewhere else as Clowes dug in, soloing in forthright manner on tenor sax. Stanley then unleashed that beast of a Hammond with a soulful organ solo before handing back to Clowes’ tenor.
Montague’s guitar solo drew on elements ranging from the jazz avant garde to prog rock and provided the link into the song “Free To Fall” which featured Clowes’ vocalising. Poetry and literature have always been a source of inspiration for Clowes with words have increasingly finding their way into her compositions. Here semi-sung, semi-spoken lyrics extolling the virtues of honesty and humility were intoned against a backdrop of church like Hammond prior to instrumental solos from Clowes on tenor, Stanley on piano and Montague on guitar.
This intriguing preview of Clowes’ next recording was well received by the enormous crowd, but unfortunately this signalled the end of an all too short set.
Despite its brevity the show had been a triumph for Clowes and her colleagues and the sales of “My Iris” and other recordings were correspondingly brisk during the break. I eventually got the chance to congratulate Trish and Chris on their performances in front of the largest audience they’d ever played to. The guitarist admitted that he hadn’t actually felt nervous until they had come off stage and he suddenly realised the enormity of what they had just accomplished.
Trish Clowes remains one of the most inquisitive musicians in British jazz, consistently moving across musical genres and introducing the influence of other artistic disciplines to her sound. She and her band won many new fans tonight thanks to the quality of their brief performance and the release of her new album will be awaited with much interest.
AVISHAI COHEN TRIO
Tonight’s performance by the Avishai Cohen Trio was something of a late addition to my Festival wish list, but it’s an addition that I’m very glad I made.
I’ll admit to not knowing a great deal about Cohen’s music prior to tonight’s gig. I remember him making something of a breakthrough as a member of pianist Chick Corea’s Origins band but was largely ignorant of his solo career. However I’d heard a lot of good things about the man and his music and the presence of the great Mark Guiliana on drums pretty much swung the deal for me.
Born in Israel in 1970 Cohen moved to New York in the early 1990s, making his leadership début in 1998 and establishing his own Razdaz record label in 2003, around the time he finally left Corea’s employment. He has since established a successful solo career, earning something of a cult following in the process. Tonight’s gig got the same sort of enthusiastic reaction (there was plenty of whooping) as those by jazz superstars such as Pat Metheny. Cohen is something of a showman and is evidently a musician with a huge following.
Tonight’s concert was a celebration of one of Cohen’s most acclaimed recordings, the 2008 release “Gently Disturbed” featuring the trio of Cohen, Guiliana and pianist Shai Maestro. The original trio reconvened tonight to re-interpret this milestone recording, an album that has been acclaimed as a profound influence on the bass led Anglo-Scandinavian trio Phronesis.
The show wasn’t quite a straight run through of the celebrated album but the evening did commence with the solo piano introduction of opening track “Seattle”, Maestro subsequently being joined by Cohen and Guiliana with the leader rapidly embarking on his first solo of the night, an immediate demonstration of his status as a virtuoso double bass soloist.
The album’s second track, “Chutzpan”, saw the trio moving up the gears with a busy, energetic display of tightly interactive music making featuring dazzlingly executed unison passages and virtuoso solos from Maestro and Cohen with the bassist also making use of the body of his instrument as a form of percussion, augmenting Guiliana’s already hyper-active drumming.
In a variation to the album running order “Umray” was less frenetic with an extended solo piano intro and with Guiliana favouring the patter of hand drums and the swish of brushes as he offered sympathetic support to the lyrical, melodic solos of Cohen and Maestro. The pianist, who has recently issued his own trio album “The Dream Thief” on ECM Records, had taken his own three piece group into Ronnie Scott’s earlier in the Festival.
The catchy hook of the collaboratively written “Eleven Wives” was recognised by the crowd and cheered loudly as the hard driving rhythms of the piece encouraged a forceful bass solo from the leader and a dynamic drumming display from Guiliana. The influence of e.s.t could be heard here on one of the trio’s most accessible and popular pieces.
By way of contrast the traditional “Lo Baiom Velo Balyla” was positively tender, almost hymnal, as Guiliana deployed brushes and Cohen and Maestro soloed with great sensitivity.
“Structure In Emotion” was another piece to demonstrate the subtle side of Guiliana as he provided the most delicate of drum shadings to Maestro’s introductory pianistics before moving rapidly up through the gears during the complex but hard grooving second section with the trio fully in sync, like a well oiled machine. Cohen has worked with a number of trio line ups over the years but aficionados of the bassist’s work generally seem to consider that this version is the best of all of them.
The traditional tune “Puncha Puncha” was given a substantial re-working. Originally recorded as an instrumental piece tonight’s version saw Cohen singing its lyrics in the Judeo-Spanish language Ladino and doing so soulfully and effectively. Instrumental solos came from bass and piano with Guiliana’s economical brushwork only added in the closing stages of the piece.
The introduction to “The Ever Evolving Etude” saw Cohen demonstrating his considerable skills with the bow before the trio established a fast moving, almost Latin-esque groove that acted as the spur for virtuoso solos from Cohen and Guiliana. The bassist used the body of his instrument as percussion and engaged in an element of showmanship. Guiliana’s virtuoso circumnavigation of his kit was evidence of the kind of ability that has made him a sideman of choice for saxophonist Donny McCaslin, and by extension David Bowie. It should also be remembered that Guiliana appeared on the breakthrough Phronesis album “Alive”, deputising for the unavailable Anton Eger.
Guiliana’s epic kit hammering signalled the end of the performance, but the ecstatic reaction of a near capacity crowd ensured that an encore was inevitable. Cohen returned alone to sing a soulful, moving and convincing version of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”, accompanying himself with a display of virtuoso bowed bass.
Maestro and Guiliana returned to the stage for a trio encore that featured more jaw-dropping soloing from Cohen, both with and without the bow, plus a torrential piano solo from Maestro, a seemingly unstoppable outpouring of notes. By a process of elimination I’d surmise that this was “Variations In G Minor”, one of two album tracks not already played.
Such was the reaction to this that the trio were accorded a second encore, this a feature for the leader’s virtuoso plucking and huge bass sound. This I took to be the title track “Gently Disturbed” itself, a final celebration of an album that is clearly revered by Cohen’s legion of adoring fans.
I have to say that this set was probably THE highlight of the Festival, surpassing even Phronesis the previous evening. Jasper Hoiby has acknowledged the influence of Cohen’s trio on his own band, and tonight I could see why.
The Cohen trio played with an irresistible mix of virtuosity and showmanship, but crucially had the tunes to back up their undoubted chops. Mixing jazz with Jewish and other Middle Eastern music allied to a dose of Western classical Cohen is a composer of considerable ability. The traditional items in the repertoire were also highly effective making for a complete package.
Tonight’s performance was also enhanced by a perfect sound balance. I know from previous experience that the Barbican space can represent a considerable challenge for sound engineers – the mix for the female supergroup ACS (Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding) a few years ago was appalling and featured the same instrumental configuration as the Cohen trio. We were seated near the mixing desk so I made a point of personally thanking the sound engineer who told me that he travels with the band and handles the sound at all their gigs. It certainly makes one appreciate why so many bands take their own sound people on the road with them, provided they can afford it. It makes such a difference.
After the show I treated myself to a copy of the superb “Gently Disturbed” and also two of Cohen’s other Razdaz releases 2004’s “At Home” and 2006’s “Continuo”. Both feature Guiliana and pianist Sam Barsh with oud player Amos Hoffman adding an extra dimension to “Continuo”. “At Home” features various guests on horns and percussion. Both are of a similar standard to “Gently Disturbed” and feature excellent writing and playing, consequently they are also highly recommended.
For me this performance represented both the gig of, and the discovery of, the Festival. It has subsequently been broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme and sounded just as good second time round. At the time of writing it can still be enjoyed on BBC iplayer.
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