REVIEWED IN BRIEF: We also went to… at the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival

Liudas Mockunas of Heavy Beauty
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

With around forty single-gig reviews of the EFG London Jazz Festival this year, LondonJazz News will again have provided more coverage of the festival than any other outlet – by a considerable margin. And yet it is clear that the scale of the Festival is such that we miss far more than we cover. Therefore, we invited our writers and others close to the scene for to write mini-reviews of gigs we have not had the capacity to review fully.

Marius Neset Quintet, Ronnie Scott’s (9 November)

Why not start the festival a day early, with the incomparable sax man Marius Neset’s Quintet? When you have a line-up including Jim Hart on vibes, Dan Nicholls on piano/keyboards, Michael Janisch on bass and Anton Eger on drums, the party has officially started in my book. Neset covered his latest release, Chimes, and left the audience breathless. (Martin Hummel, director Ubuntu Management Group)

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Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra, 606 Club (12 November)

London saxophone giant Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra bridges the generations (literally in the case of Stan’s son Matthew) with young stars like Josh Arcoleo and James Allsopp (reeds), Tom Walsh and James Copus (trumpet), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Ralph Wyld (vibraphone) playing alongside village elders like Gordon Campbell, Henry Lowther and Stan himself. The crowd lapped up Stan’s playing and his own compositions and arrangements of great tunes by others, including the beautiful Westerly by Nikki Iles, with the composer herself at the piano. (Westerly (with David Ferris on piano) is one of three tracks by Stan leading a big band including Birmingham Conservatoire graduates on a compilation album Live At The Spotted Dog due out in January from Stoney Lane Records.) (Quentin Bryar)

Chris Potter Trio + 1, Pizza Express (12 November)

The Chris Potter Trio + 1 at Pizza Express provided a glimpse of the genius of one of the world’s leading saxophone players. While his recorded sounds provided mixed results, his compositions provided a platform for some intense performances, not least by virtuosic drummer Eric Harland. The standard I Fall In Love Too Easily, found him exploring every possible avenue on his favoured tenor whilst his version of The Police’s Synchronicity 1 gave Potter and pianist Dave Francies the chance to explore different registers. Potter’s Green Pastures saw him explore the flute giving bassist Reuben Rogers the chance to shine. (Charlie Anderson)

Pablo Held Trio + Elt, Vortex (12 November)

Cologne pianist Pablo Held’s trio is nominally in his name but is really a band of equals with bassist  Robert Landfermann and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel. The music evolves without a break where the set’s tunes are not chosen in advance. The momentum is breathtaking as the musicians forge parallel but wholly pertinent lines. Elt is a wholly unamplified trio. It was a close-knit set, as we were drawn into its filigree intricacy and hardly rising above pianissimo. Kit Downes himself played both harmonium and piano, while the range of sound produced by Loe Bjørnstad was breathtaking, and overlapping with the sonic textures from Tom Challenger. (Oliver Weindling, director, Vortex)

Matt Roberts Biggish Band, Spice of Life (13 November)

Trumpeter, composer and arranger Matt Roberts presented his all-star Biggish Band at Soho’s Spice of Life, a scaled-down version of his Big Band which is a vehicle for his original compositions. He presented a set of music themed around the compositions of Wayne Shorter, and his crafty and intelligent arrangements were expertly played by the ensemble, which is made up of some of the finest young players in London: trumpeter James Copus set the bar high with his first solo on Witch Hunt, and this was followed by impressive soloing across the board from the likes of Josh Arcoleo, Alex Garnett, Matt Robinson, George Millard and Conor Chaplin. The ever-enthusiastic introductions from the leader were also a highlight! (Matt Anderson)

Malija, Cadogan Hall (13 November)

One of the small scattering of free gigs that weren’t in the big arts centres was an afternoon treat. Mark Lockheart, Liam Noble and Jasper HoibyMalija – drew a couple of hundred people to Cadogan Hall’s elegant foyer room for two sets at the unlikely time of 2pm on Monday. The music from their new CD seemed to have opened out since an earlier gig I caught on this tour, and the playing was delightfully relaxed and inventive. Beautifully made chamber jazz in gracious surroundings. (Jon Turney)

Résonances, Vortex (14 November)

Three abstract painters co-ordinated by Aurélie Freoua (with Ley Loosh and Katya Kan) interacted with musicians (Liran DoninSimon RothAlberto PalauChris Williams). After a short set to a video of Freoua which deconstructed some her original paintings, all three artists created new work. They actually painted on to perspex which allowed the audience to watch the artists’ faces as well as the art. It showed how the creation of abstract art is similar to improvised jazz. The individual results worked better than a climax of all three working on one sheet, but the audience was suitably engrossed. (Oliver Weindling, director, Vortex)

Jameo Brown’s Transcendence, Rich Mix (14 November)

Developing further on the theme introduced in previous release Worksongs, Transcendence showcased a series of hypnotic, circling melodies on alto, guitar, electronics and drums, using spiritual chants from a variety of cultures as their starting points. Played out against a projection of hauntingly beautiful sepia images of humans and animals with subtle references to faith, the apparent commentary is that whether covered in skin, fur or feathers, there are more similarities than differences between us, the desire for freedom our unifying driver. Perhaps tuning into the atmosphere created by this audio-visual feast is a first step to realising that unity. (Mel Grundy)

Julian Baggini’s The Tao of Jazz, Live at Zédel (15 November)

The world premiere of Julian Baggini’s philosophical cabaret show with Clive Dunstall on piano and Juliet Russell on vocals, entertainingly showing us what jazz as a form of philosophical way-seeking (Tao) can teach us about life. Wisely witty, with beautiful performances of standards like Lush Life and Love Is A Losing Game, we learn that jazz is a harmony of difference. Jazz is always changing but innovation and tradition need each other to thrive, just as the individual requires a group to bring out their individuality. Jazz is existential judo, bringing together mind, body, heart and soul. (AJ Dehany)

Phronesis & The Engines Orchestra, Barbican/Milton Court (15 November)

Right. This was a serious one for the jazz community. Phronesis, led by the trademark personality of Jasper Hoiby, burned through an exceptional first set, delivering their usual brilliance. After s short break, the band was united with Phil Meadow’s Engines Orchestra through composer David Maric’s maelstrom of musical gymnastics. A true original and undoubtedly a highlight of the festival. (Martin Hummel, director Ubuntu Management Group)

Sarah Tandy Trio, Pizza Express (16 November)

I doubt that there was better value on offer anywhere during the festival than the free show that Sarah Tandy‘s trio delivered at the Pizza Express on Thursday lunch time. Supported by fine drummer Alfonso Vitale and Daniel Casimir on bass, this was a wonderful demonstration of the art of the piano trio, based in large part on the standards repertoire but sounding as contemporary as tomorrow. Sarah can be heard in other bands, but this trio is where she really takes flight. (Graham Roberts)

“Passionate playing, delivered from the heart.”
Steve Williamson’s Trio at Foyle’s
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Steve Williamson Trio, Ray’s at Foyles (16 November)

Away from the prestige halls, one of the highlights of the festival was delivered to a small(ish) audience at Foyles by Steve Williamson‘s trio. After a hesitant start, Steve went through the gears and delivered a blistering 80-minute set; a saxophone master class. From classics such as the venerable Body and Soul and Sam Rivers’ gorgeous Beatrice, to Steve’s own freer pieces, the whole set was full of passionate playing, delivered from the heart. I haven’t heard better saxophone playing from anybody this year – a triumph. (Graham Roberts)

Bill Laurance, Kings Place (16 November)

Kings Place was brimming with exceptional music for this year’s London Jazz Festival, including Bill Laurance‘s solo piano concert on Thursday 16 November. Bill seemed relaxed and at home in Hall 1, enthralling a full house with not just his mix of piano and ‘electronic toys’, but with his story telling and heartfelt audience interaction. From dedications to family and old friends, to recounting Mindfulness discussions with Herbie Hancock, to how planetary space probes inspired what was possibly my favourite piece that evening. Conjuring up imagary of a space journey and placing me rather wonderfully on another planet – just for a while at least. (Amy Sibley-Allen, Programme Director, Kings Place Music Foundation)

Kneebody, Rich Mix, (16 November)

This five-piece phenomenon delivered a killer show. Featuring material from latest release Anti-Hero, their performance was as full of the dynamic energy and sheer enjoyment of playing together as ever, despite this being the last date of a three-week European tour. An increasing use of electronics sees chaos board and loop adding new textures to the groups’ distinctive trumpet and tenor fronted sound, some solos morphing sax into axe with Hendrix-like distort. Uprising a response to the current political climate Stateside, raised cheers of audience agreement, whilst a memorial composition to a lost friend brought proceedings to a rousing close. (Mel Grundy)

Illegal Crowns, Vortex (16 November)

A one-off show of a stellar quartet, with French pianist Benoît Delbecq and three innovators of the New York Downtown scene: guitarist Mary Halvorson, trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum and drummer Tomas Fujiwara played a selection of pieces by all the band members, the material to appear on a new Roguart album next year. These masterful players started quietly but, by the end of the set, had us involved in the swirls of sound and interaction. Pianist Sam Leak’s trio provided the opening. Leak’s lyricism helped to give the momentum to this trio, ably helped by Dave Storrie and Simon Reed. (Oliver Weindling, director, Vortex)

Yazz Ahmed – La Saboteuse, Kings Place (17 November)

The passion and commitment that Yazz Ahmed has poured into her La Saboteuse project is self-evident, but is worn lightly in live performance. I have seen Yazz’s band perform this ravishing blend of Arabic and western influences a few times now but it just seems to get better. Friday’s show at Kings Place was marvelous. As well as the La Sabotuese project, a new commission from the festival was given its debut, and was wonderful. Yazz on trumpet and flugel horn and her band were great, but her splendid Swedish-based guitarist in particular deserves special credit. (Graham Roberts)

Hyelim Kim
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Alice Zawadzki, Pizza Express Jazz Club (17 November)

Alice Zawadzki has such a compelling stage presence and total command of a melodic line, her newest projects always sound completely and convincingly ready. This early outing for some very strong new album material was no exception. A great new band includes Rob Luft guitar and Misha Mullov-Abbado bass, with guest Hyelim Kim on the beguiling Korean Taegŭm flute. (Sebastian Scotney)

Namby Pamby Boy sound-checking at the Vortex
Photo credit: Harry Wilssen

Mario Rom’s Interzone and Namby Pamby Boy, The Vortex (17 November)

The Austrian night at The Vortex featured two trios: Namby Pamby Boy, an alto saxophone, keys and drums trio, and Mario Rom’s Interzone, a trumpet, bass, drums trio led by Rom on trumpet. Both trios played very strong sets similar in their overall concept, that is hard-hitting jazz full of energy and variety with interaction between three equal members of the trio the key to their music. It’s difficult to pin down influences; there’s a hint of Tim Berne in Fabian Rucker‘s sax solos and both drummers take elements of sophisticated rock in their playing, but this is just to touch the surface. Certainly both trios provide evidence of a strong scene in Vienna. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

The Ballad of Fred Hersch, Kings Place (18 November)

In addition to seeing (and reviewing) the Fred Hersch gig, attending the showing of the documentary film The Ballad of Fred Hersch, and the interview that followed, was moving and inspirational. I love the thread through the festival of talks and discussions, films and other events that colour in some of the context in which the music is made. (Mike Collins)

Tessa Souter and Winston Clifford
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Tessa Souter, Pizza Express Jazz Club (18 November)

A really beautiful, surprise a cappella duet from Tessa Souter and her drummer Winston Clifford at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Saturday night. Tessa’s version of Wayne Shorter’s Ana Maria (with her own lyrics) was also very moving. (John Watson)

Yilian Canizares, Zedel (18 November)

A real, refreshing surprise. Yilian Canizares is a Cuban-born vocalist and violinist, backed by a predominantly Spanish quartet. She shared a mix of deeply personal experiences from her origin, mixed with South American flare and pulsating African rhythm patterns. Keep your eye on this one. (Martin Hummel, director Ubuntu Management Group)

#jazznewblood, IKLECTIK (18 November)

With almost 40 shows this year, I only managed to get to one show in 2018 that wasn’t at a PizzaExpress Live venue. This was an inspiring #jazznewblood show at IKLECTIK – three upbeat and varied sets by young artists – Kasia Kawalek 5tet , Romarna Campbell’s Blan(c)anvas and the impressive jazz-grime collective, Nihilism. All three bands were led (or co-led in the case of Nihilism) by women – another sign, if one was needed, that jazz is no longer the male dominated music form it has often been. (Joe Paice, PizzaExpress Live)

The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitanandra, LSO St Luke’s (18 November)

The San Anantham Ashram Singers are students from the Ashram that Alice Coltrane founded in California in 1983, performing Alice Coltrane’s devotional music to secular audiences ten years after her spirit left the physical plane. The songs and mantras are catchy, the choral harmony is plain and unaffected. Having been prepped with a songbook and guidelines about removing shoes and joining in, I was expecting yoga mats and a whiff of incense. The conventional concert seating format slightly discouraged immersion but we sang the bhajans and clapped a bit, and afterwards enjoyed a pot of veggie curry. (AJ Dehany)

Monk Misterioso, Kings Place (18 November)

This concert formed part of the celebrations of Thelonious Monk’s centenary and featured arrangements of Monk’s music for a sextet with two vocalists, Filomena Campus, director of the project, Cleveland WatkissPat Thomas, piano, Rowland Sutherland, flute and musical director, Orphy Robinson, vibes, Dudley Phillips, bass and Mark Mondesir, drums. The music weaved in between a narrative about Monk, in particular the final seven years of his life when he retreated into seclusion and silence. The music was most enjoyable with Cleveland playing the role of Monk, the man, and interpreting his music through his very special vocal techniques, and with Pat Thomas playing the role of Monk, the pianist, interpreting Monk’s piano style with elements of his own style. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Expect the Unexpected, Part 2, Club Inegales (19 November)

This was an experimental marathon, running over two five-hour nights. Twenty-five guest composers each contributed a single page score which was performed without rehearsal. Matthew Bourne contributed a single chord to be played 40 times, Orphy Robinson contributed pictures, others put in words, some provided a tune or a rhythm. The music was played by the Inegales house band, led, improvisationally, by Peter Weigold whose signals decided the direction of each piece. We heard a mixture of the bizarre and the brilliant and it was all great fun. (Peter Slavid)

Heavy Beauty, Barbican (19 November)

Wild saxes met heavy metal guitar thrashes, from Lithuanian reedman Liudas Mockunas and Estonian guitarist Jaak Sooaar with their Heavy Beauty band at the Barbican on Sunday. Mockunas played soprano and sopranino horns together, and also rocked on the bass sax. (John Watson- photo at top of piece)

Royal Academy of Music Big Band, dir.  Pete Churchill, Duke’s Hall, RAM (19 November)

Pete Churchill presented a very personal set of big band music representative of his varied output and activities as a performer, composer and educator, such as an early piece in the mould of Sammy Nestico’s work for Count Basie, an arrangement of a John Bennet madrigal which saw Pete’s London Vocal Project joining the big band, settings of verses from Shakespeare and a new original piece ‘Bantry Bay’ commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music for the occasion. The concert featured two of the current leading lights of the scene as soloists, Mark Lockheart on soprano and Nikki Iles on accordion, with the band of current RAM students. An enjoyable evening which was a testament to the RAM and their extraordinary professor of jazz composition, Pete Churchill. (Matt Anderson)

“A beautiful musical conversation”
Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita, Milton Court (19 November)

Cuban keys, Senegalese kora and Venezuelan percussion meet in a beautiful musical conversation inspired by the scarcity and value of a resource we take for granted in Transparent Water. The compositional texture speaks of this element in all its forms with droplet-like melodic lines, rising in repeated phrases to crescendos that break like rivers tumbling over waterfalls. Indeed, dripping water is literally used as one of twenty or so different forms of percussion during this joyful performance, which has band members and audience on its feet, clapping and whooping with elation; truly an aurally cleansing and uplifting experience. (Mel Grundy)

Estonia 100, Barbican Free Stage (19 November)

Heralding the 100th anniversary of the Estonian Republic coming up in February 2018, the Barbican FreeStage entertained a varied programme of Estonian artists. My attention nodded through Efterglow’s pleasantly chiming indie guitar bath, but was awakened with a thwack by Heavy Beauty (also mentioned above by John Watson): skronky stomping rock with a blistering impact. Bassist-led piano trio Peedu Kass’ Momentum brought solid and sparky jazzer’s jazz: a vivid demonstration of how in technology and music, Estonia punches above its weight. (AJ Dehany)

Harold Mabern
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Bernd Reiter New York All-Stars with Harold Mabern. Pizza Express. 19 and 20 November

Harold Mabern playing his last gig of the festival at Pizza Express – the pianist was reminiscing on his day of playing at his home town of Memphis with Phineas Newborn, on his friendship with singer Dee Dee Bridgewater – from Memphis too,his teaching at Stanford Jazz workshop-all in all Mr Mabern proved to be very amiable person. (Paul Wood)

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3 replies »

  1. Reading all this did anyone actually go to a concert that wasn't any good? Maybe we're all in too much of a jazz bubble to really react critically to what we're hearing, or just too kind not to mention when things go horribly awry or simply fail to ignite.

  2. Thanks anonymous and sure, it's a fair point.

    The brief we gave contributors was to single out things they had enjoyed that hadn't had much attention / could be overlooked, so that's what we got here.

    Our full review of Abdullah Ibrahim had some genuine misgivings, and my review about the Pat Metheny gig (actually written for The Arts Desk) has a moan / rant about one section of the audience.

    Seb (editor)

  3. Ohoho! Are we going there? Thing is negging isn't sexy. You feel grubby doing it, and why bother? Well…

    At one free concert I saw a proper cruise ship jazz singer. Sang like Sinatra, chatted like Del Boy, but with this odd gum-chewing cynicism (he wasn't chewing gum but you know what I mean). Among the familiar standards he actually had some great unlikely swing settings of some modern pop songs. People love this, right? One punter told his mate he thought this guy was better than Sinatra. But it was really the humorous asides that made the ancient material look like the crucible of modernity. The singer wasn't an especially old fella but this was one joke he told us: I read in the newspapers you can buy trips to Mars now. So I bought one for my wife as a present. Course at the moment you can only go one way…

    Honestly most of the festival was brilliant. I went to thirty-four events, and only really the above could have been seen as out-of-sync with the progressive outlook of the festival and, indeed, of the music.


    Postscript: I had a qualified appreciation for a concert-length setting of James Baldwin's poem Staggerlee Wonders which had some nice (semi-)free playing but suffered from Cleveland Watkiss's reading being unclear both sonically and in articulation. I was amused that Robert Mitchell, who I'd never seen do free-playing before (he was brilliant as ever) nipped off half-way through to be replaced by Steve Beresford, who's also great but a very different kind of artist. I wonder where Mitchell was going? 😉

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