A cold November night, the the Barbican main hall is packed and on the menu some of the hottest names in the jazz of now from over the Atlantic – it must be the London Jazz Festival. This gig has been much reviewed enthusiastically and insightfully by London Jazz and John Fordham in the Guardian to name but two; the stylistic and influence references are well flagged there. So here’s a focus on my thoughts and impressions. As the skittering broken rhythms from the drums of Mark Colenburg and bass of Derrick Hodge locked and danced around the vamp that emerged from Robert Glasper’s opening flurry of notes, it was clear this was going to be a bit special. There was plenty of abstraction and challenge in this set; it was no easy listening jazz meets street groove fest (although that would have been fun). The first half of the set passed through various episodes as different melodies emerged and dissolved. A vamp led into an extended piano improvisation and then a bass solo; another strong theme and this time the rhythmic interplay built up to a drum solo (first applause of the evening) and then it all ended as it begun with a softly stated chordal vamp from the piano this time becoming Nirvana’s ‘smells like teen spirit’. Yes all the hip hop beats, skids and rattles were there, but then so were gospelly riffs and more flowing Jarrett like lines. Dissecting the building blocks like this somehow loses the overall effect though – this felt like a journey we were taking with surprising turns for the musicians as well as us. It all went up a gear when Terence Blanchard joined for a number with Mark Day taking over on drums – the sound of burning 21st century Jazz on the Barbican stage.
Terence Blanchard’s Quintet certainly had some of the same rhythmic elements, but there were definitely a few swung quavers I spotted and some exquisite small band compostions (two versions of Choice) and music with a message, interspersed with readings from writer Cornell West (present in recorded message only!) Blanchard is a fabulous trumpet player. He can sustain that fragile thoughtful tone even when blazing away on a post-post- bop burner. What an evening.
Should I go on about how this was only the first weekend of the Festival and they’d already had Herbie the night before over at South Bank and Brad Meheldau at the Barbican the night before? What an extraordinary festival it’s become with community participation events, dozens of venues with an incredible programme of local and international talent from the most adventurous music to the the good-est of good times. Sadly can only cast envious eyes down the Motorway from the West – but delighted its happening.