by Ian Mann
November 21, 2017
Ian Mann enjoys performances by the Kadri Voorand / Mikhel Malgand Duo and the Andy Sheppard Quartet at Kings Place.
Photograph of Andy Sheppard by Tim Dickeson.
EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL, SATURDAY 11th NOVEMBER 2017.
My first full day at the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival began in (for me) a moderately quiet fashion. In the morning I viewed the superb Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition, “Boom for Real”, at the Barbican, not part of the Festival itself but closely linked thanks to the influence of jazz on Basquiat’s work. The artist numbered Louis Armstrong, Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk among his musical and cultural heroes.
KADRI VOORAND / MIKHEL MALGAND DUO / ANDY SHEPPARD QUARTET, KINGS PLACE
The 2017 EFG LJF included a series of events presenting the music of Estonian jazz musicians to British audiences. The Weekend Guitar Trio had played on the Freestage at the Barbican the previous evening as a prelude to the concert in the main hall by Pat Metheny.
Today it was the turn of the idiosyncratic duo of pianist/vocalist/violinist Kadri Voorand and bassist Mikhel Malgand who opened for the Andy Sheppard Quartet at Kings Place. The bald description hardly does the pair justice, particularly when Voorand manipulates her already distinctive voice with the aid of live looping and other electronic techniques. Meanwhile Malgand provides both rhythmic propulsion plus additional colour and texture as he deploys both pizzicato and arco techniques on his double bass.
The opening piece, “Circle Dance” commenced with the drone of Malgand’s bowed bass, the sound soon augmented by Voorand’s violin and vocals, the former played pizzicato and the latter electronically manipulated by live looping as Voorand sang in English with the pointed chorus “Where would you be without me?” lingering in the memory. Voorand then switched to piano and delivered an impressive passage of scat vocalising as Magland used the body of his double bass as a type of percussion.
Still at the piano Voorand sang the words of a poem in her native Estonian before standing to sing, in English, the words of the poet Emily Dickinson with Malgand’s double bass as the sole accompaniment. As the Dickinson piece developed Voorand struck out into more obviously improvised territory with another scat episode that also involved further electronic manipulation of her voice.
If the settings of poetry suggest that the duo were adopting an overly serious or intellectual approach nothing could have been further from the truth. Humour and theatricality were both essential components of the duo’s music as Voorand’s improvised singing, in English, proved at various points in the programme. The tongue twisting lyrics of “They Don’t Really Care About Us” delighted the audience on a piece that included elements of soul, r’n’b and hip hop.
“Divided Into Three” was a haunting Garden of Eden allegory for piano, voice and arco bass while a song with the chorus “I’m Not In Love With You” presented a kind of feminised 10 CC delivered via electronically treated voice and acoustic five string bass guitar, the latter played by Malgand.
The duo signed off in theatrical fashion with Voorand deploying two vocal mics to loop and layer her voice on a piece which saw her encouraging the audience to clap along, which they did enthusiastically as the singer worked the words “Thank you London” into this vocal extravaganza.
With their eclectic blend of poetry, cabaret, pop and electronica the duo of Voorand and Malgand clearly delighted the audience and , rare for a ‘support act’ , were even allowed back on stage to deliver a swift encore.
Online research reveals that Voorand is a highly accomplished straight ahead jazz singer but her interests clearly extend into other areas and she’s a highly adventurous and charismatic performer with a highly flexible voice which she pushes even further via the inventive use of real time electronics. Also the leader of her own trio and quartet Voorand is a name to watch out for.
I’ll admit that today’s performance wasn’t totally my cup of tea but Voorand’s talent was immediately apparent and I welcome the breadth and adventurousness of her music making. She is the kind of artist who attracts a cult following and today’s show will no doubt have attracted new followers to the fold. Voorand’s international reputation seems destined to grow, and stardom, of a sort, undoubtedly awaits.
Despite the success of the opening act I suspect that the majority of the audience at a sold out Kings Place were there to see saxophonist and composer Andy Sheppard, a British musician with a truly international reputation, thanks in no small part to his work with Carla Bley and his record deal with ECM.
The international quartet that Sheppard brought to Kings Place was the same band that appeared on his 2015 ECM release “Surrounded by Sea” and featured French bass player Michel Benita, British drummer Sebastian Rochford and Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset. Benita and Rochford had previously worked with Sheppard as Trio Libero, Aarset had been part of the all star Anglo/Norwegian quintet that recorded the 2008 ECM album “Movements In Colour”. The current quartet are currently in the process of recording a new album for ECM which is due for release in 2018.
Sheppard is a versatile saxophonist who is capable of playing very differently in other contexts but his music with this quartet is highly representative of what has come to be called ‘the ECM sound’ with a soft melodic focus and with great emphasis placed on ambience, colour and texture. These qualities were apparent on the opening piece with its soft, breathy tenor sax, melodic double bass, delicately brushed drums and ambient guitar washes. Sheppard then switched to soprano as the quartet adopted a fuller sound with Benita now playing with greater muscularity and Rochford offering occasional glimpses of his nascent power behind the kit as they supported Sheppard’s solo.
Folk elements have always been part of Sheppard’s repertoire as emphasised by the melody of “Forever And A Day” with the softly spoken, self deprecating Sheppard joking “it takes that long for a bar to go by”. This featured Sheppard’s plaintive sounding tenor and Benita’s melodic but resonant bass soloing as Rochford provided the subtlest of drum colourations, predominately deploying mallets.
Unaccompanied bass introduced the next piece with Aarset’s Frisell like guitar twang complemented by Sheppard’s keening tenor sax, the saxophonist sounding at his most Garbarek-like. Sheppard’s solo was underpinned by Benita’s melodic bass motif, with the latter eventually taking over for a solo of his own underpinned by the soft, subtle patter of Rochford’s hands on skins and cymbals.
An as yet untitled new piece based on the melody of a bird song commenced with Sheppard on tenor trading phrases with Aarset’s treated guitar. Subsequently the saxophonist soloed in more conventional fashion supported by Benita’s bass and the muted march of Rochford’s drums.
Besides his guitar Aarset’s set up included a lap top and a table full of electronic devices. The Norwegian introduced the next section unaccompanied, deploying his arsenal of equipment in a manner reminiscent of Robert Fripp as he sculpted and layered his sound in quasi-orchestral manner in conjunction with Sheppard’s soprano and the undulating grooves eventually laid down by Benita and Rochford.
As the piece developed Rochford delivered a brilliantly constructed drum solo that developed from quiet, almost subliminal beginnings via some exquisite cymbal work to a final explosion of almost elemental power. The famous barnet may have gone but the man is still the complete drummer and musician.
Moving on Sheppard reverted to tenor to deliver a majestic solo that again evoked the sound of Jan Garbarek before Aarset’s guitar soundscaping was featured once more, this time accompanied by the rustle of Rochford’s percussion, featuring shakers in addition to the conventional drum kit.
A final salvo from Sheppard featured his most full blooded and abrasive playing of the set before the quartet rounded off the performance in almost anthemic fashion with a lovely, flowing, soaring melody.
The crowd rose to their feet to applaud the band and were rewarded with an encore, Sheppard announcing the piece as being something “to make you feel eighteen again”. This proved to be a gorgeous, slowed down arrangement of the Lennon & McCartney song “And I Love Her” with Aarset laying down the familiar chord pattern as Sheppard soloed tenderly on smoky sounding tenor above Benita’s grounding bass and the patter of Rochford’s drums, played with a combination of mallets and bare hands. Aarset’s guitar then took The Beatles to outer space in an innovative interpretation of a much loved song that delighted the audience and sent everyone on their way feeling uplifted by the skill, grace and beauty of it all.
Sheppard remains one of the best loved and most consistently interesting of British jazz musicians. The impending album release by this quartet will be one of the most keenly awaited album releases of 2018.
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