by Ian Mann
November 27, 2018
Ian Mann enjoys the first day of the Festival and performances by Kinetika Bloco and Dave Douglas' Uplift sextet.
EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL 2018
Day One, Friday 16th November 2018
I have just returned from immersing myself in music for ten days at the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. During my time in the capital I witnessed many memorable musical performances, all of which will be reviewed on this site.
But before I get down to business some ‘thank yous’. First to our long suffering hosts Paul and Richard, who for several years now have generously provided us with accommodation for the duration of the Festival. I couldn’t even begin to contemplate covering EFG LJF without their help. Thanks guys, your kindness is greatly appreciated.
Thanks also to Sally Reeves of Serious for sorting out my ticketing requirements with her customary courtesy and efficiency.
I’m also grateful to those individual club owners and publicists that I approached directly. I’ll mention their names later in conjunction with the appropriate reviews.
Thanks to photographer Tim Dickeson for allowing me to use his images to illustrate my articles and to all my friends in the jazz community that I met along the way.
KINETICA BLOCO, CLORE BALLROOM, SOUTHBANK CENTRE
The first music that I heard at the 2018 EFG LJF came from Kinetika Bloco, a London based performance group featuring young musicians and dancers. Formed in 2000 by the late Mat Fox the project is community based and the emphasis is on musical education and performance. Bloco runs regular summer schools and many of the rising stars of British jazz have passed through their ranks, with several staying on as ‘Bloco Leaders’, among them trumpeters Sheila Maurice-Grey and Mark Kavuma. Other Bloco Leaders include experienced jazz educators such as trumpeter Claude Deppa, trombonist Andy Grappy and percussionist Sam Agard.
Today’s performance was billed as “First In Line” in honour of the New Orleans marching band tradition and commenced with a group of musicians emerging from the bowels of the Southbank Centre and parading around the venue playing “Down By The Riverside”, this quickly followed by “Caravan”. Led by Maurice-Grey, of Nerija fame, the ensemble included two trumpets, two trombones, one alto sax, two tenors, tuba and parade and snare drums. Having circumnavigated the room they took to the stage where they were joined by throngs of other musicians, many of them very young, filing in from other parts of the venue to create a giant New Orleans style band, all of them clad in colourful marching uniforms. There must have been around fifty musicians crammed onto the Clore Ballroom stage!
With all the members of Bloco now on stage the performance continued. The group’s message is one of unity and their music reached out to explore other elements of the African diaspora including the sounds of Cuba, the township style jazz of South Africa and contemporary funk and hip hop. The Bloco membership also included singers and dancers and the show was vibrant, energetic and colourful with some of the dazzling dance moves more akin to gymnastics. A narration explained something of the reasons behind the musical globe trotting and helped to spread the Bloco message but in the hubbub of the Clore the words were difficult to follow. Meanwhile the presence of a brightly coloured, ever twirling umbrella reminded us that this was a performance that remained deeply rooted in the music of New Orleans.
I didn’t witness the entire Bloco show as we headed off for something to eat at one of the nearby restaurants prior to the main concert event in the Queen Elizabeth Hall featuring Dave Douglas’ new Uplift project. Nevertheless I enjoyed what I heard, and indeed saw.
Bloco enjoy registered charity status and their educational and outreach work represents an important strand of the cultural life of an increasingly diverse London. As performers they have appeared at numerous jazz festivals and performed at Notting Hill Carnival, the London Marathon and at the 2012 Olympics. They even performed for the late Nelson Mandela, who described them as “charming”.
Others were charmed today as this colourful, energetic, good natured performance got the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival off to a vibrant start. Well done to all at Kinetika Bloco, keep up the good work.
DAVE DOUGLAS ‘UPLIFT’, QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL
New York based trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas has been at the forefront of the US jazz scene for the last twenty five years. A fiercely independent musician he established his own Greenleaf label in 2005 which now acts as the sole outlet for his music as well as providing a platform for other, similarly inclined, artists.
During the course of a prolific career Douglas has released over forty albums as a leader and has worked with all of the leading musicians on the contemporary New York jazz scene. Never a musician to dwell in one place for too long his projects have been consistently interesting and innovative and have incorporated elements of folk and classical music alongside various jazz styles.
The Uplift project began as a ‘subscription series’ with Douglas releasing one track per month throughout 2018 via his website. The twelve pieces have now been consolidated as a single CD, “Uplift”, on the Greenleaf label.
Douglas describes the music to be heard on “Uplift” as “twelve pieces for positive action” with the album liner notes stating;
“ All hands on deck. It’s imperative that all of us, together, work for positive change in this challenging moment. 2018 is a crucial year in the history of equality and democracy in our country and around the globe. It’s easy to be demoralized by the blizzard of news. UPLIFT began as a reminder - to myself - to stay positive, stay active, and stay engaged. I hope this message reaches others through this music. Each monthly release will be devoted to a major issue of concern for this world and its people: voting rights, racial equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, welcoming immigrants, wealth equality, diplomacy, science and education, humanities and culture, sensible gun laws, love of our environment and our culture, love for each other. Peace.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one engaged in this sort of outreach. Indeed, I hope that every artist, every individual, uses their work to shout out about positive change and activism during this year and beyond. This is my small contribution: to draw attention to the good people and organizations doing so much heavy lifting on these issues.
The players in this ensemble were chosen for their brilliance as improvisers, but also for their attention to community. Each of these musicians is devoted to playing a role in the music within the music, to being part of a social structure in creating a whole music. I’m grateful to each of them for lending their ears and their profound intuition for music.
Add your voice. Engage in your local community and in local sources of information and news. I will be making personal contributions to all of the organizations mentioned each month. I hope you will, too. Call your representatives. Run for office. Speak up. All hands on deck.”
Some of the proceeds from the sales of “Uplift” will be donated by Douglas to a variety of left leaning US charities.
The personnel on the “Uplift” album features Joe Lovano (reeds), Mary Halvorson and Julian Lage (guitars) Bill Laswell (electric bass) and Ian Chang (drums, electronics).
The line up that Douglas brought to London to play this music was hardly any less stellar with Douglas, Halvorson and Laswell joined by Jon Irabagon on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Rafiq Bhatia on guitar and Ches Smith on drums and percussion.
The programme was sourced entirely from the “Uplift” recording and although not every track was represented the group presented the music in approximately the album running order, beginning with the opening cut “The Power Of The Vote”. Introduced by Smith at the drums the piece had something of an electric era Miles Davis feel about it and included a compelling guitar solo from the ever distinctive Halvorson, afforded more space here than with the excellent Illegal Crowns quartet at the Vortex at the 2017 EFG LJF. Stretched out well beyond the parameters of the album recording the piece also included a series of fiery exchanges between the leader’s trumpet and Irabagon’s tenor, the latter then stretching out with a tumultuous solo of his own. Bhatia’s solo introduced a rock influenced sense of heaviness as he and Halvorson traded contrasting phrases, their fiery six string dialogue fuelled by the thunderous rhythms generated by Laswell and Smith. Mixing elements of jazz and avant rock this was an attention grabbing start, a real ‘call to arms’.
“Lift All Boats” was to prove less frenetic as Douglas’ muted trumpet shared whispered exchanges with Irabagon’s bass clarinet as Smith added subtle cymbal shimmers and percussion shadings. The drummer confined himself to brushes as Irabagon and Halvorson now entered into dialogue, only picking the sticks again to provide the hypnotic rhythms behind the leader’s muted trumpet solo.
This wasn’t obviously ‘political’ music despite the urgency of the opening piece. Overt political commentary only surfaced when Douglas picked up the mic to explain something of the concept behind the “Uplift” project and lambasting Donald Trump in the process, to a predictable chorus of cheers. I’ve yet to meet a musician who is either pro-Trump or pro-Brexit, and don’t expect to do so any time soon.
Back to the music and “Truly The Sun” with its bass and drum introduction and features for bass clarinet and muted trumpet in a scaled down group with the two guitarists sitting out.
“Love Is A Battle” incorporated suitably martial drumming allied to the leader’s stentorian trumpeting and Irabagon’s powerful tenor sax soloing.
Halvorson’s guitar picking introduced “Shine Like The Dawn”, dovetailing effectively with Douglas’ muted trumpet, Bhatia’s guitar soundscaping and Smith’s almost subliminal mallet rumbles. Despite being one of the quietest moments of the set this was also one of the most effective, the valedictory tone a reminder that Armistice Day had fallen just a few days earlier.
“Every Town” was announced by the sound of Irabagon’s unaccompanied tenor sax, the solo intro longer and more forceful than Lovano’s recorded version and with Irabagon deploying slap tongue techniques and multiphonics. He was subsequently joined in duet by the leader’s trumpet and subsequently by the shadings of the twin guitarists. As the music gathered momentum it became less atmospheric and more anthemic in tone, thanks to a rousing theme statement from the two horns and a soaring guitar solo from Bhatia. Uplifting, indeed.
Introduced by the two guitars and featuring muted trumpet and bass clarinet “Trail Of Dreams” had something of a ‘chamber jazz’ feel about it with Halvorson the featured soloist, shadowed by Bhatia’s subtle FX and Smith’s discrete percussive commentary.
“Sharing A Small Planet” saw the group returning to the brasher sound of the opener and “Love Is A Battle” with Laswell’s electric bass rumble and Smith’s dynamic drumming establishing a celebratory, hard driving groove that fuelled declamatory solos from Douglas’ stentorian trumpet and Irabagon’s muscular tenor sax. Bhatia again demonstrated his rock chops with a powerful guitar solo and the piece was crowned by a volcanic, virtuoso drum solo from the impressive Smith that elicited the loudest cheer of the night.
Summoned back for a deserved encore the sextet delivered “The Garden” with its odd meter grooves, textured guitars and Miles-ian feel prompting an absorbing trumpet/bass clarinet dialogue underscored by Laswell’s liquid electric bass lines. Douglas’ last solo of the night featured some of his most strident trumpeting while Bhatia’s guitar solo incorporated keyboard like sounds and hinted at the influence of minimalism.
This was an enjoyable and thought provoking concert that featured some excellent playing from all the musicians concerned. The use of two guitars was particularly unusual and the contrast in styles of Halvorson and Bhatia was highly effective and distinctive. Afterwards I treated myself to a copy of the “Uplift” CD, which sounds thoroughly convincing in the home listening environment.
The performance was introduced by Soweto Kinch and was recorded by the BBC for Radio 3’s Jazz Now programme. The concert was broadcast on Monday 19th November but at the time of writing can still be heard on BBC iPlayer.
All in all an excellent start to the 2018 EFG LJF, my only complaint being that the air conditioning was full on in the QEH and the room was bloody freezing, which did reduce my appreciation of the music somewhat. This and the fact that the hall wasn’t entirely full did place a bit of a damper on the atmosphere. I was to visit the QEH three more times during the Festival and happily this mistake wasn’t made again. I’m sure comments must have been made by others at the time, so thanks for listening.blog comments powered by Disqus