‘Do not miss gigs’ – South West, Autumn Preview Pt 4

Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare.  Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene.  Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio.  Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss.  Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back  briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live.  Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio.  The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.

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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.

Blazing Saturday at Love Supreme

A sun drenched field in Sussex, Marquees, a big stage, funfair, camping grounds: It’s a real festival. A bit of cognitive dissonance with the programme billed as jazz, but the much trailed Love Supreme Festival experiment was beginning with a line up including some of the biggest, hippest names from the other side of the pond as well as what looked like the Brit Jazz tent.

I slipped into the field as the crowds were swelling, my first goal to catch a couple of gigs from British bands who’ve been on the festival circuit, Go Go Penguin, then Kairos 4tet. Hearing them back to back emphasised how much inspiration is drawn from the rhythms and beats of hip hop and the club scene as well as may be the rock minimalism of the Bad Plus, with both building tunes around loop like segments, bursts of frenetic drumming and dense riffs and hand break turns of mood and tempo. GoGo perhaps erred more to rocky climatic crescendos that really got the healthy early afternoon crowd going. Kairos left more space for overtly jazzy improvising with furious postbop soloing from leader Adam Waldeman and Jon Turville depping on piano. The vocal tunes with Emilia Martensson introduced an even richer harmonic palette and some gorgeous melody. Both bands had to sacrifice a bit of subtlety with the volume  cranked up to drown out the roaring soul band on the main stage.

I had a somewhat surreal moment, of this time cultural dissonance, when I dipped into Troyka‘s gig later in the afternoon. The trio, clustered in the centre of a dimly lit stage were working up a coruscating electronic scream from initial scattered squeaks and clatter before a rollicking groove emerged. Meanwhile in my other ear, as I was standing at the edge of the tent, Full on gospelly soul on the main stage from Charles Bradley. It wasn’t just the heat that was brain melting at that point.

It was fabulous, eclectic start. If it was all too much  lying down and snoozing in the sun was always an option. Snarky Puppy really lit the blue touch paper of my day. Was it the incredibly tight funky grooves, with exuberant bass and thunderous drums and percussion locked? The mazy arrangements with a sing-able hook never far away (and loudly encouraged)? The incendiary soloing all round with duties on the third…yes third… keyboard liberally shared (including by the drummer when Marcus Miller’s drummer couldn’t resist hopping up and sitting in.. Ah, festivals!) Well all of the above, and by the time of the keyboard soloing duel that whipped it up to close the set, the fading heat of the sun had been balanced by the heat on stage. What else to do after that but to go out and dance the early evening away to 70s disco soulsters Chic with most of the rest of the field?

By the time Robert Glasper disappeared in a cloud of dry ice sometime around midnight (the dense beats, effects and throbbing grooves of Experiment Robert Glasper of ‘Black Radio’ – not acoustic trio Robert Glasper) , you’d have to count the day as a roaring success. Something for everyone, and mostly whatever your taste, probably something you’d have enjoyed despite yourself. It’d be rude not to join in.

Robert Glasper, Terence Blanchard; London Jazz Festival, Barbican, Sunday 14th November

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.

What’s hip, what’s jazz? and a bit of listening

Another blog prompted in part by a gig I’m missing. This time its the Dale Hambridge Trio at the Be-Bop Club tonight. Dale cites american pianist Robert Glasper as a big influence and Mr. Glasper is definitely pretty hip. The idea of blending club/dance music/hip hop grooves and sounds with Jazz isn’t very new but Glasper seems to doing it the context of an acoustic piano trio. Anyway it did get me thinking.

The instinct to classify and categorise music I suppose is a way to try and understand and makes sense of what you are hearing. So I was struck by a trend John Fordham describes here in a article about the jazz of the last ten years, which is the trend to build compositions and improvisations around repetitive loops and patterns. He says ” Jazz themes today…. sound more like drum patterns than the standard songs I’d first known, or the bop-blues licks I’d tried to learn guitar to in the 60s.”

He’s definitely got a point – is that coming from club and dance music or classical? I suspect some music school graduates are quite self-consciously using contemporary classical minimalism as a starting point. But it doesn’t really matter. I still tend to apply a really simple test: has it got soul? Shorthand for does it move me?

John Fordham’s little insight has been on my mind for a while. Reinforced when we saw the Kairos 4tet a few weeks back at Future Inns. They were definitely in the ‘themes based on repeated phrases and loops ‘ category apart from some departures when they were joined by a singer.

I’ve been thinking yeah… but… because they are plenty of bands playing melody and harmony led themes and playing changes, and still sounding fresh and interesting.  And as I was in the jazz shop the other day, the owner John cunningly put something that mad me go ‘oh – what’s that’

Jazz anoraks will be surprised I’ve not listened to this guy – he had put on a trio recording by Kevin Hays. Next post is about that one because of course I had to buy it and I’ve been loving it – very ‘now’ jazz, melody led,  changes playing.

So what is hip then?

Not Rollins Week; the ones that got away

Were I to have been loaded (financially you understand), capable of zipping around London at speed (and possibly in two places at once), I might have got in to see Thomas Stanko  on Saturday, or Bobby Hutcherson at Ronnie’s. The one I really regret not seeing is Kurt Elling at pizza express. This is just too much. I’d have been broke by Sunday and not able to afford Chick Corea and his mates. Being quite hip and in the know, I’d have checked out Robert Glasper as well. That’s without trying to catch all our home grown stars scattered all around London – and there’s still a week of it to go. Just as well we are skulking at the other end of the M4. I’m glad that others made these gigs though. So if you want to know how it was; Chick here or here, Robert Glasper here or here, Bobby here and a Stanko review here (but not from London).