London Jazz Festival Recollections – Part 2: Pianists, Blue Notes and all-star bands

Musical stimulation overload is an occupational hazard if you choose to dive into a festival as all encompassing as the London Jazz epic. Just hanging out at the South Bank Centre or Barbican guarantees exposure to jaw slackening variety and quality. And that’s without parting with a penny for tickets. Find some cash and even more possibilities are opened up. There’s a guide to be written there (Working title: Festival for a fiver a day?).  Now the dust has settled, a couple of threads are still glowing in my memory. Jason Moran and Robert Glasper‘sIMG_1289 two piano work out in the first half of the The Blue Note 75th anniversary celebration was a slightly unanticipated stand-out.  Two pianos can make a lot of noise and fill up a lot of space but these two modern masters were out to make music, not indulge in a four fisted cutting contest.  In an unbroken hour’s music they started with a gritty blues, accompanying each other and leaving plenty of space,  moved through all sorts of  moods, an electrifying percussive episode with all manner of junk thrown in the pianos to create rattles and crashes and solos spots that accentuated their different muscial identities. Glasper veered more to expressive touches, rich harmony and soulful grooves, Moran was more acerbic, with jagged lines, spiralling boppish lines and dissonant abstractions. It was a magical hour.

The next day,  in the middle of the Chaos Collective’s takeover of the Barbican free stage, Elliot Galvin‘s trio showed why they won a European prize earlier this year – the connected thread with the previous evening was that he was matching Moran and Glasper in the amount of junk hurled into the piano to whip up more percussive storms. The trio’s set was a standout of the weekend  veering between wild reveries and furious storms of notes and moments of exquisite tenderness.

The Blue Note celebrations were ubiquitous and having seen the all-star band with Glasper, Marcus Strickland, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lionel Loueke, Derrick Hodge and Kendrick Scott on Saturday followed by Soundprints, the Dave IMG_1292Douglas, Joe Lovano Quintet with Linda Oh, Joey Barron and Lawrence Fields it was hard not to feel we should have seen the best of modern jazz.  There’s a heavy weight of expectation however. The Blue Note all-stars delivered a roaring set starting with a comprehensive deconstruction of Witchunt and plenty of of catch the breath moments.  Akinmusire’s Henya was pure distilled beauty although Loueke conspired to disrupt with some oddly jarring guitar synth sounds. He redeemed himself with an astonishing solo display sounding like two guitarists, drums and vocal chorus all in one. Soundprints’ music is Shorter inspired and their already electric set really took off with two Shorter originals written for the band.  It might have been showstopping except Charles Lloyd was still to come.

The annual ten day festival is now bewildering in its variety and scope but its almost impossible not to be uplifted, enriched and caught unawares by moments of magic. Ticket price is a poor guide, open ears and heart an essential.   London Jazz News managed to co-ordinate reviewing 34 of the 250+ gigs a with a round up of another 20 or so a perusal of those offers a good insight into some of what went on.

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