PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Alex Wilson (London Latin Jazz Festival Sep 29 – Oct 3)

The London Latin Jazz Festival is in its third year, and will be taking over Pizza Express for five nights at the end of September and the beginning of October. Alex Wilson is Curator. The programme which he and promoter Peter Conway put together will show a cross-section of the Latin jazz scene in the capital. His own project emerges from a Cheltenham Jazz Festival event in 2009 (video above), about which he explains the background. Sebastian interviewed him: 

 LondonJazz News: What current music trends in Latin Jazz in London do you think that this festival might demonstrate?

Alex Wilson: It will be fairly clear first of all that Latin Jazz from London is a broad church. And certainly one of the motivations for doing this festival is that all of it can slip through the net: I know from when I lived in London that if you played salsa, or Cuban music you would get gigs but once you got to the larger level, the promoters would prefer to book people straight out of Havana, or straight out of New York, or wherever. I found there was – maybe this has changed, I don’t know. So let’s celebrate what we have, put it on in a nice venue, a high status setting where these great artists can show their works. I wouldn’t tend to compare, I wouldn’t want to say that the London scene is better than the New York scene or the Havana scene, but we are aming to give it its identity,

LJN: What’s the final night?

AW: Omar Puente has stellar band for the Saturday – he really has brought in some stars, this is a coup , Felipe Cabrera – bass, then there is Isaac Delgado’s pianist Ivan “Melon” Lewis. They all graduated from same class  at the same university, so this gig will be a reunion for them.

LJN: What is the project you are bringing?

AW: It’s the Afro Cuban Gospel Project. The idea stemmed from a one-off show that I did at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2009. I was invited to join Ruach Gospel Choir from Brixton. On the festival website there’s a video (posted above). It was filmed by a member of the audience, I’m so glad someone documented it.

The background is that I went to church in Brixton – it’s a strong community, they they have a 5000 congregation. We rehearsed and did the one off gig at Cheltenham. But I always wanted to work again, and with their director Nicky Brown . We won’t be able to fit an 80-piece choir into the Pizza, so this time it’s a miniature version just four singers, one per part, SATB, with and Afro-Cuban rhythm section. And it won’t all be singing because Nicky Brown is also a wonderful solo pianist.

Contemporary gospel embraces all styles : Bach . Other classical harmonies. They’ve taken Herbie Hancock in too, and there’s the traditional gospel route…it’s fascinating music, I have to say, and this is a project I have wanted to do for a long time.

LJN: And Dorance Lorza? 

AW: He is a Colombian and has a band called Sexteto Cafe. He came over to London 20 years ago . He  came in an Afro-Columbian folkloric group called Grupo Bahia. There was a problem, the pianist didn’t come and I stepped in.  Colombian  6 /8 is very different from any other, so it was definitely a learning experience for me!  Since then he has established his Latin combo. They’ve been just going at it for two decades now. To describe it think of  Cal Tjader, it is in that zone, vibraphone-led salsa and latin jazz something we have never had in the festival before.

LJN: And the other nights? 

AW: Eliane Correa is the bright light driving the London latin jazz scene forward, she  has a new album that she will be launching at the festival.  Trail-blazing, young, full of energy, going for it! And we also have J-Sonics who bring vocalist  Grace Rodson to the festival and represent the funkier / jazzier side of the music, nicely balancing out the mix.

LJN: What projects do you have after the festival?

AW: I have just been made musical director and arranger of the show “Do You Speak Djembe.” (video above)  which will be touring France. The tour starts in Marseille and culminates with ten  shows at La Cigale in Paris. We play halls up to 2000 people. It has people like Seckou Keita, Marque Gilmore and Davide Mantovani and African Master Drummers such as Fatouma Dembele and Adama Dembele.However the difference is that on every seat of the hall there is a djembe and people in the audience join in.

As a producer, I have just finished producing a record with Peruvian singer/songwriter Raul Huerta . He’s a troubadour – he wanted to add Latin jazz element.

The next major album to be released that I’m on is for the artist Malia – she and I go back a long way and we’ve just written and recorded songs for her Malawi Blues CD. Acoustic jazz with an African jazz and electronic elements to boot – really interesting stuff.

Plus I’ve just been at Canary Wharf Jazz Fest with Edwin Sanz.

I occasionally meet up with Rodrigo y Gabriela, just as friends, and we jam. We talk about things but nothing specific yet…all in good time!


 Tuesday 29 September:           Eliane Correa & En El Aire Project  (album launch)

 Wednesday 30 September:      J Sonics (album launch)  

Thursday 1 October:                 Alex Wilson Afro-Cuban Gospel Project (premiere)

Friday 2 October:                     Dorance Lorza & Sexteto Cafe

Saturday 3 October:                 Omar Puente’s Havana Class 88   
                                                    Oriente Lopez (piano) /                                                                                                                           Felipe Cabrera (bass)


Categories: miscellaneous

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