I’m just going to take a minute to re-live a few of the moments from the past year of listening to jazz which have brought that unique variety of joy and completeness which only live music can bring. We all keep going to hear live music because we know that when the transformative power, the alchemy in the room works, you’re going to remember it. Maybe forever.
No, these are emphatically not LondonJazz’s “top gigs.” The gaps may be bigger than the wall. This is just a few of the moments which still remain in this listener’s heart and mind.
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January had a Jazzon3 celebration at Ronnie Scott’s where the sheer energy and verve of Django Bates’ Human Chain blew away all before it. Django’s 50th birthday year has had other great events in it. He’s also written for us.
In February the Storms/Nocturnes Trio had as their last number Tim Garland’s “Blues for Little Joe” at Ronnie Scott’s. Little Joe is Tim Garland’s son, who had come through very serious illness in the time since the tune was written (as against big Joe – Joe Locke). I don’t think I’ve heard playing come from anywhere as powerfully deep this year as that particular celebration. All of which bodes well for a new album which will be launched at Ronnie Scott’s next April.
From March the memories are tinged with sadness. Trevor Tomkins paid a moving tribute in words at the Guildhall School tribute to Jeff Clyne. Steve Watts then honoured Clyne wordlessly through sheer bass sound and bass presence. Also unforgettable was Jacqui Dankworth and Chris Allard’s duo gig at Blackheath Hall. Just a few weeks after her father’s death, Jacqui sang Sweet Devotion. It’s a very fine song which demands to be heard again. She sang it with a depth, intensity, beauty. And courage.
From May, I remember three experiences. Fly (Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade) played the acoustic of Kings Place Hall One like the truly fine instrument it is. Then the jaw dropped on hearing Mike Walker, Gwilym Simcock, Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum, a band now calling itself The Impossible Gentlemen. But Mike Walker’s compositions touched the emotional bits too.
And then there was Jamie Cullum at Cheltenham Town Hall applying the extreme defrost setting to an audience as only he knows how. Cautious Gloucestersire folk found themselves pogo-ing by the end. How does he do it?
From June I treasure the memory of Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and plunger mute, and Abram Wilson (suffering a terrible flu, I learnt later) getting a crowd of uninhibited primary school children swaying in front of me like a field of corn. That was the Barbican’s Anna Rice’s education project – nice one!
From July there was a band which MUST come to London. I heard Joshua Redman’s double trio in the Jazzhus in Copenhagen. Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers provided an astonishingly powerful eight string bass engine, and the two drummers Gregory Hutchinson and Bill Stewart were positioned like a pair of lions guarding a gate.
From the hugely successful Britjazz Festival at Ronnie’s August I treasure the Colin Towns Mask Orchestra, giving the Kurt Weill Suite light, dark and yet more dark. That was an exhilarating edge-of-the seat performance.
(Stepping out of sequence I’m going to leave October till last)
From the London Jazz Festival in November I was mesmerized by the combination of Gary Burton’s quartet- leading and Scott Colley’s bass-playing; but also by Darcy James Argue’s ultra-vivid orchestration of the experience of acute pain, as played by his Secret Society big band at Café Oto. Robbie Robson’s arrangement of Bloodcount from the Strayhorn celebration needs another outing too.
And here are just three from many moments from December which stay fixed in the mind. At the Yamaha Jazz Scholars gig at the 606 I was completely transfixed by the freedom around/across the beat of Ivo Neame both accompanying and soloing. And then there was Alcyona Mick and Rachel Musson’s musical conversations in Rachel’s band “Skein” at the Vortex. And from this week I can still hear Yuri Goloubev’s astonishing bass playing at a private party ringing in my ears.
But there is a possibility, a danger, that one memory can eclipse much else. The world premieres of several new pieces from Kenny Wheeler (photo above: Pip Eastop)took place in Basingstoke in October, at the start of a national touur. I believe strongly that this music will still be getting played in 100 years’ time. In the classical world they are resorting to gimmicks at premieres to disguise how thin and disposable a lot of the music is. This outpouring of melody, a series of new compositions from Wheeler’s 80th year is one of the durable musical miracles of our time.
Wheeler’s 80th birthday concert in January (Music for Large and Small Ensembles at the Royal Academy was a very special occasion. But a performance of Long Suite 2005 the London Jazz Orchestra in November was also significant. It shows that his music is starting confidently to make its way in the hands of other performers. Henry Lowther, that supreme first take, first call trumpeter, and vocalist Brigitte Beraha demonstrated that this music has the presence and the depth and the interest to last.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to remember a few of the extraordinary people we’ve lost this year. Like musicians Martin Drew, Jack Parnell, Harry Beckett and Chris Dagley. But also people who made indispensable contributions to the jazz scene like Maureen Sexton and Helen Maleed. And I have to thank the people who have written and sent in images to the site. (And thank you readers, particularly if you have read this to the end!)
HAPPY CHRISTMAS. And feel free to add the things which are missing….