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Kings Place Festival Review

“What’s it like?” ask the people who haven’t been to Kings Place yet. “Go,” I say. “Amazing ride down the escalator. Nice bars. The canal-side view is lovely….” People gradually find there way there, but for many it’s somehow not yet a done deal, not part of their London cultural lives. (Are we a race of slow adopters?)

This weekend’s Kings Place Festival, 100 concerts in four days, a few weeks ahead of the first anniversary of opening, will have helped to change that. It certainly felt like that. It felt like a party. The halls and the big public areas were very busy indeed. Nevertheless, people behave well. They don’t jostle. They don’t leave litter.It feels like a civilized and civilizing place.

I went to hear three of the showcase sessions for producer Serious’s publishing joint venture with Big Life Music, entitled In All Seriousness- sets by Jason Yarde, Andy Sheppard and Seb Rochford.

I like saxophonist Jason Yarde best as improviser, either over short , repeated riffs or free. There’s an irresistible in-the-moment licence and sensuality and a looseness . Pleasure and oblivion are simultaneously and suddenly and appealingly close. He had the audience humming a concert F drone (it’s the best note to grip a soprano sax firmly with the left hand, leaving the right hand free to play with the electronics) and extemporized strongly over it.

But when I think about the Jason Yarde compositions I have heard – last night performed some in duo with Andrew McCormack – one word keeps coming back to me: floatiness. Yes, there is harmonic motion in Yarde’s compositions, there’s a shifting of secondary dominants, but at the same time I sense that he’s a bigger musician than this, that he’s one day going to want to hold the listener harmonically on the rails much more, give a stronger sense of the direction of travel. I suspect, deeply, that nobody else in the world will share or agree with this reaction of mine. There’s no reason they should. But I’m curious to find out… (?)

Andy Sheppard knows how to toy with the audience very well, with good humour and a knowing smile, and what matters: a superb melodic sense. He plays the soprano sax tight against the body, head forwards, his gaze straight down to the floor. He started the set with an extensive improvisation/ warm-up which seemed to drop by and pay visits to Vilia from the Merry Widow and Do You Know what it means to miss New Orleans. As Private Eye would ask…are they related?

But thereafter the improvisations got under way by hugging the shoreline of the tune quite close. He plays around with the melody, ironizes it, questions it, sometimes reads out the lyrics deadpan afterwards . Secret Love had some raspberry accidentals in the closing chorus, Nancy with the laughing face was rounded off with a knowing smile. And some real fun – partly at the expense of the Germans? – came with reed-kissing and heavy breathing in the encore, Falling in Love Again, joined onstage by Seb Rochford on drums. The enthusiastic rounds of applause from the full house were well earned.

Seb Rochford’s band Room of Katinas rounded off the evening, a late slot starting at 11pm. This band, with Rochford on vocals and left-handed guitar, Mandy Drummond excellent on electric bass, plucked acoustic viola and backing vocals, and crisp, clear John Bentley on drums and backing vocals, plays simple, plaintive, childlike melodies, presents them in a self-deprecating manner. Rochford sings ethereally. For a flavour of what this band is about, try the Room of Katinas website.

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1 reply »

  1. LondonJazz reader Geoff is telling me by email that I missed the best:

    Shame you didn’t catch the first concert by composer Max de Wardener – who wrote a lovely short piece for Andy and Jason and pianist Gennia – it was quite an unusual concert … And excellent.

    Anyone else wanna comment?

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