Partisans, James Farm, Vula Viel, Jarrod Lawson, Hans Petter Molvaer, Lionel Loueke
(Cadogan Hall and Ronnie Scott’s. 13th November. Opening Night of 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival. Round-up by Sebastian Scotney)
Once the news had broken, once I had been told what had happened, nothing was quite the same. The devastating, shocking fact of the matter was that among many the victims of the atrocities in Paris last night were a large number who were basically just people like us, an audience attending a gig, in the dark. And then wantonly gunned down. It is unimaginable and yet the context is so familiar. Other people, friends in an audience were thoughtful too, careful about allowing news to filter, not wanting to spoil the moment, reluctant to take it away from you; you can hardly blame them for that.
Perhaps a sudden jolt like that is necessary to remind us of the value of this music, this circuit-creating, people-connecting life-force. Whether they knew or not, every performer I heard last night – whether they had heard the news or not , and in the late show at Ronnie Scott’s I’m now guessing they mostly did – took the responsibility to communicate energy and life.
Joshua Redman (J) introducing the A (Aaron Parks) the M (Matt Penman) and the E (Eric Harland) of JAMEs Farm
The main act of the night – before discovering the awful truth, then – was the quartet of Joshua Redman, Aaron Parks, Matt Penman and Eric Harland, known by the name James Farm, a name which pointedly uses the first names of the four band members acronymically, in order to confer joint ownership, and deliberately for the band not to be read or understood as the Joshua Redman Quartet. And yet…. Joshua Redman’s star quality, presence, phrasing, understanding and musicianship hold the stage, even when, as last night, he is under-mic’ed in the balance. This is a band which settles and revels in lopsided grooves, which seems to move effortlessly from mood to mood and from pulse to pulse, manages collective intensity builds, accelerations and decelerations as one. A very fulfilling set, culminating in Matt Penman’s Aspirin and Eric Harland’s North Star. In addition to Redman’s persuasive fluence, to Penman’s infectious groove-setting, to Harland’s endless creativity, Parks shone with his hymnic lyricism and with his urge to pull away from the beat. A compelling set.
The first set was from Partisans, with some engaging fast sparring between the two band co-leaders Phil Robson and Julian Siegel, particularly as the set built to a strong close with Mickey from the new album Swamp. At Ronnie Scott’s the live quadruple bill BBC Jazz on 3 presented a contrasted quadruple bill. Bex Burch‘s band Vula Viel have continued to develop a long way in band feel since I first them in February (review), and are now completely ready for next year’s European festivals. There was a lot to enjoy in the playing, the tuneful audience call and response, and even a live demonstration of how to make part of a gyil.
Jarrod Lawson had hot-footed it over from Jazz Voice and gave a short soul-full set. Then Nils Petter Molvaer gave a glimpse of his atmospheric compositions infused with electronica, and another highlight came with Lionel Loueke (guitar – with a string missing – and vocals) in duets with Alan Hampton from the Becca Stevens Band (bass or ukelele and vocals). Loueke’s sliding-around virtuosics in the first number were astonishing.
The tragic circumstances, the unimaginable horror of yesterday evening suddenly set into relief the fleeting fragility of the joys of hearing this music in live performance; they also serve as a reminder of their value. These performances on the opening night of the EFG London Jazz Festival will be impossible to forget.