Review: Human Revolution Orchestra’s Ode to the Human Spirit at Kings Place

Ode to the Human Spirit – viewed from Tamas Sebestyen’s sound desk

Human Revolution Orchestra – Ode to the Human Spirit
(London Celebration of Internatioal Jazz Day at Kings Place Hall One, 30th April 2014. Review by Rob Edgar)

Yesterday was the UNESCO International Jazz Day (celebrated in 195 countries): a day to celebrate the egalitarianism of jazz music and its ability to break down ethnic, cultural, and gender barriers. It was a collaboration between SGI-UK, and The Human Revolution Orchestra, directed by Sean Corby. This venture has come a long way in one year: last year the celebration was at the small SGI-UK centre in Brixton; this year, it completely packed out Kings Place Hall One.

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Before the concert there was a real buzz of excitement: when the audience was let in to the hall, the musicians were already on the stage. There was no pomp: before ‘lights down’ members of the group were waving to and greeting individual audience members, Our host – Fayon Cottrell expressed hope that this would be a night we could “take away and hold in your hearts for the rest of your lives”

It really was a celebration of different cultures’ musical idiosyncracies: Obatala opened, tribal primitivism mixed with infectious rhythm before a chorale like theme entered in the brass which quickly morphed into a laid-back groove based on clave rhythm. Gemma Moore took the first solo on baritone saxophone, and trumpeter Noel Langley gave us a few loud, exuberant lines, full of verve. Michaelmas was the name of pianist Simon Purcell’s compositional contribution, it had a warm, comforting theme with some quick moving playing from Martin Speake and crunchy, richly dynamic strumming from guitarist Carl Orr

The highlight of the first set was a piece by Yazz Ahmed (who couldn’t be there unfortunately) called El Emadi which took its cue from the Arabic tradition. It alternated between 5 and 6 time, and used Maqams for the melody, sometimes in that heterophonic manner common to music of that region. The thematic material informed Byron Wallen’s spotlight, trombonist Ed Rieband provided a contrasting, more traditional but equally sharp performance.

This was a busy evening on which some of the special guests would ideally have been given more time to make an individual mark, but there simply wasn’t time: Lianne Carroll was only on for one piece but has astonishing presence. She stepped on from out of the audience, sang mostly quietly, allowing her voice to become another texture in the milieu, but her performance definitely stays in the mind. Marc Cary also made a big impact. His piece – Runnin’ Outa Time – had a stop and start opening before angular motifs based on minor thirds emerged. Toni Kofi led the group with some quick-moving, close, legato lines and a slow, aching, chromatic glissando. Cary’s solo was like a speedy modernist Scott Joplin rag.

People were above all looking forward to hearing a rare London appearance by Bennie Maupin (he had previewed the show for us) and the master saxophonist didn’t disappoint: Transitions had a certain lavishness with harmonies which gently collided with each other before giving way, there was a version of his and Hancock’s Butterfly and the night ended with a pointillistic version of Ellington’s C Jam Blues. Maupin’s playing these days playing reflects his age: he dwells on long, contemplatively held notes, subtle lines and the odd well-judged multiphonic. Sublime, and completely unforgettable.

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  1. I was there for first half of concert, as sadly I had to leave at the interval to catch my train to Cornwall – I was blown away by the stunning, moving and exciting variety of musicianship – I'm already planning to get tickets for next years not to be missed event. Congratulations to the organizers and the musicians

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