London Jazz Festival Preview (15) Artists linked to the Babel Label

London Jazz Festival Preview (15) Babel artists by Oliver Weindling

Oliver Weindling’s Babel Label is now in its sixteenth year, and has produced nearly 90 albums. Oliver is a key figure on the London scene, and is as enthusiastic about the scene as ever. On the tenth anniversary of Babel, five years ago, the label had a showcase in the Royal Festival Hall ballroom as part of the London Jazz Festival. This year the honour of producing a free artist showcase falls to Edition (see our preview) but there is a substantial presence of artists associated with Babel.

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Here’s Oliver’s quick and quite personal guide to artists with links to the label being showcased during the festival (the true die-hard Babel fan – and indeed Oliver himself – will find that he or she will need to be in more than one place at the same time to catch all of these.)
Polar Bear, Westminster Reference Library, Saturday 13 and Sunday 14, 8pm

While Polar Bear has not put a foot wrong in terms of its album releases (the band now records for Leeds’ Leaf Label) , I am proud that Babel helped them on their way. The relative commercial success of Held On The Tips of Fingers shows that quality and sales are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and was one of the top 100 albums of all time in Jazzwise. Though I just discover that Dim Lit was picked as one of the 1001 selections of the Penguin Jazz Guide.

Royal Academy of Music Big Band with Julian Argelles – Royal Academy of Music, Thursday 18

Julian’s three albums on Babel were milestones for the label, but I think also rank among Julian’s best. Scapes is like a personal album of poetry, Home Truths is a masterful quartet with Mike Walker and Steve Swallow, and Skull View is an octet sounding like a big band. He has a spine-tingling sound. Having just heard him in the Frankfurt-based hr Big Band last week, he’s playing great!

Zed-U Vortex, Friday 19th

Zed-U, after a pause, is back together. Already a near supergroup of their era, with Tom Skinner on drums, Neil Charles on bass and newly-crowned BBC New Generation Artist Shabaka Hutchings on saxophones. Much of the time I can’t tell from whom the sounds emanate with electronics, melody and improvisation fusing. Let Zed-U be your guide. Night Time in The Middle Passage is one of my favourite albums on Babel of recent vintage.

They’re on a double bill with Oddjob from Sweden, on my own list of bands to book for years and at last we’ll get to hear Goran Kajfes’ trumpet at the Vortex.

TrioVD ICA, Friday 19th

While Billy had release number one on Babel, I am delighted by the extent to which the label works together with some of the newest and most exciting musicians. TrioVD is brilliant in this regard. Tight, intense, diverse, moving from melody to gamelan-style to punk in seconds. The buzz around them that sprang up over the past year is wholly justified.
Outhouse + Hilmar Jensson – Saturday 20, South Bank (4 p.m.
as part of Jazz Line-Up), Barbican Freestage (6 p.m.)

A celebration of the arrival of our newest album in two locations involving a chase across town.

It took a millisecond to agree to release a second Outhouse album on Babel when Robin Fincker approached me. And the ease with which they integrated in the gigs that I have seen and the interplay shows how good the link is. For those not aware, Hilmar is an essential guitarist in the Jim Black circle of musicians. Alasnoaxis, TYFT etc.

Decoy, MA, Big Cat Vortex, Saturday

A great night of alternative Hammond. While not directly some of the bands on Babel, nevertheless overlapping musicians, including James Allsopp, Kit Downes ( a leader this time), and Tim Giles. All in Golden Age Of Steam. But MA is great too (led by Tom Challenger of Outhouse) and Alex Hawkins is, I am glad to say, confirming the promise that made him my tip of 2010 in Jazzwise! And Outhouse themselves will be around in the audience to celebrate the end of their tour.

Billy Jenkins with the BBC Big Band Purcell Room, Sunday 21st

Genius, genius, GENIUS. And what’s more the arrangements are by Iain Ballamy whom Billy first recorded with in the mid 80s. Billy’s influence is vital to Babel’s existence and I love the albums he’s done on the label. If I could recommend one of them, though, it would be the one most different from the gig that you’ll see here. When The Crowds Have Gone. A very personal solo album, which makes you laugh and cry simultaneously.

Maybe Babel will get a single-location LJF showcase another year…..

Meanwhile Oliver says: “If you can’t find the albums, pop by the Vortex where I have my own little Babel shop and where I’ll be hanging out for much of the festival.”

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