Live reviews

MINI-REVIEWS: We also heard… at the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival

Anton Eger of Phronesis at Southbank Centre
Photo credit: John Watson/
The team of writers at LondonJazz News has produced over 50 full-length reviews of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. We are not aware of more extensive coverage of any music festival anywhere. And still we go further. As in previous years, we have given our writers and others involved in the scene the opportunity to fill out our coverage with short reviews: 

Abraham Brody & Wooden Elephant at Village Underground (18 November) PREVIEWED 

Innovative string quintet Wooden Elephant’s acoustic instrumental reworking of Radiohead’s Kid A recreates the album’s glacial electronic textures using extended techniques, objects and toy instruments. It might seem gimmicky to some but the concert was impressive and emotionally engaging even for those unfamiliar with the album. Encounters between electronic and acoustic elements also drive Lithuanian-American singer/violin player/composer Abraham Brody’s new album Crossings. He and the group performed its powerful songs with a thrilling theatrical impact. (AJ Dehany)

Adam Waldmann/Conor Chaplin/Corrie Dick at Cadogan Hall foyer (23 November)

Dinosaur bandmates Corrie Dick and Conor Chaplin are regularly-paired pals. Their melodic sense in rhythm made for an intuitive blend with soprano saxophonist Adam Waldmann, playing Kairos 4tet originals and jazz standards including I’ll Be Seeing You and Ask Me Now. Their command of the notorious ‘Coltrane changes’ of Giant Steps was pretty convincing. Hilariously, they made Corrie—ie. the drummer – take that onerous first solo. (AJ Dehany)

Al MacSween at Pizza Express (22 November)

Pianist Al MacSween’s esoteric trio set with Huw Bennett on bass and Joost Hendrickx on drums was tight and protean. Puriya Dhanashri is an attempt to combine Indian classical and Cuban rumba. The experiment worked wonderfully well: the rooty basslines allow space for the rich voicings of the Raag. In an untitled piece combining Cuban samba with Moroccan Gnawa the restrictive bass figure presented a challenge to invention. Fascinating and expansive music ignited by diverse passions. (AJ Dehany)

Amir al-Saffar and Rivers of Sound at Kings Place (16 November)

Amir al Safar is an American trumpeter born in Chicago, the son of an Iraqi scientist who had emigrated to the USA. His Rivers of Sound project brings together jazz musicians and musicians in the tradition of Arab music, and the resulting music is a wonderful mix of the two traditions. Amir is not concerned with ‘bridging the two musical cultures’, but with producing a distinct musical form in its own right. The concert was full of brilliant music from the 17-piece ensemble driven by Nasheet Waits on drums and featuring solos from all sections of the ensemble. It was especially good to hear Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Charukesi at Cadogan Hall foyer (19 November)

Martin Speake‘s rhythm-oriented quartet Charukesi, on a relaxed Monday afternoon in Cadogan Hall foyer. Fascinating, often Indian-leaning compositions, explored by Speake, Alyson Cawley on tenor, Will Glaser on drums and the man who can do absolutely anything with a guitar, Rob Luft. Great playing from all, and beguilingly grooving, tuneful music with real heart. (Jon Turney)

Empirical Residency at Old Street (19-22 November)

Empirical supplemented their appearance at the South Bank with their now traditional four-day ‘residency’ in a pop-up environment at Old Street Station. There is something quite surreal about taking the escalator from the Northern Line and emerging at the top to hear the strains of one of the best jazz bands around playing free for anybody who cares to stop and listen – and there were plenty who did stop and listen. They were treated to some fresh and imaginative modern jazz by this superb quartet, in which the vibraphone playing of Lewis Wright stood out for me; great stuff. (Graham Roberts)

Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die Quartet at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston.  © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Jaimie Branch at Cafe Oto (21 November 2018)

Jaimie Branch, radical trumpeter extraordinaire, made an explosive impact with her Fly or Die quartet. Sweat-drenched Branch put herself on the line to deliver passionate, totally committed playing at the edge – in the footsteps of Wadada (would love to hear them play together) – along with uncannily inventive action from her tremendous collaborators, Chad Taylor (drums), Jason Ajemian (bass) and Lester St Louis (cello). Two long sets, including Lovesong For Assholes And Clowns (we know whom she meant!), plus encore. (Geoff Winston)

James Brandon Lewis Trio with Anthony Pirog at the Vortex (24 November)

James Brandon Lewis’s trio with Anthony Pirog on guitar was a high point. From the off, the band grabbed us with their uniformity of purpose and amazing layered approach, blending everything from gospel and prog jazz through to free improv. Lewis’s lines over the rumbling below exuded a special spirituality that sucked one in, showing him to be a true heir to David S Ware and Charles Lloyd. Don’t miss his return in a freer context in February with John Edwards and Mark Sanders at Cafe Oto. (Oliver Weindling, Vortex Jazz Club)

Jeff Williams Quartet  at Pizza Express (25 November)

Although billed as a trio, Jeff Williams actually fielded a quartet at the Pizza Express, with a front line of Josh Arcoleo and John O’Gallagher on tenor and alto saxophone respectively, fuelled by a tremendous rhythm section in which Jeff’s fine drumming is allied to the bass paying of one of the UK’s finest, Sam Lasserson. The group provided 90 minutes of excellent original music, most of it, I believe, composed by Jeff Williams, with plenty of room for all concerned to display the full range of their skills; a marvellous way to spend a Sunday afternoon. (Graham Roberts)

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger at Royal Festival Hall (21 November)

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger recorded a podcast with us back in 2013 at the time of their very first organ/saxophone project in Huddersfield. What came across strongly at the time was that this was an important  project for them, that they both wanted to pursue, with the idea of stretching out time into long cycles – and so they have. The assuredness with which they now present a programme and the way they held an audience’s attention for about an hour were remarkable. (Sebastian Scotney)

London Jazz Orchestra celebrating the 80th birthday of John Warren  at the Vortex (25 November)

The Vortex’s programme included no less than five big bands with musicians aged from eight (in NYJO London) to 80, in this case a very special show for John Warren. Warren’s music is more than just for a pure big band. The drums and bass are rarely a traditional rhythm section sharing the melodies contrapuntally as Paul Clarvis showed. But the whole band was on top form. Henry Lowther, having played with Warren for over 50 years, was also outstanding. (Oliver Weindling, Vortex)

Mo Foster & Friends at Lauderdale House (22 November)

Dream night for Lauderdale House’s EFG London Jazz Fest event last Thursday with early arrivals queuing to grab the good seats to hear Mo Foster & Friends – Foster, Ray Russell. Chris Biscoe, Jim Watson, Corinna Silvester and Nic France – a starry crew dedicated to re-creating the music of Gil Evans Carla Bley, Mike Gibbs, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorious. Also room for a little more ‘get down’ with Eddie Harris’s Freedom Jazz Dance and Alan Toussaint’s On Your Way Down, nevertheless the dynamic and balance of this electric heavy band was remarkable, projecting an almost acoustic blend in this extremely live room. (Brian Blain – Programmer, Lauderdale House)

Phil Robson at Pizza Express
Photo: © John Watson/
Phil Robson Quartet at Pizza Express (18 November)

Phil Robson’s new Anglo-US quartet delivered two cracking sets at Pizza Express, showcasing his and tenor man Jed Levy‘s rich backlog of tunes, buoyed by peerless drumming from Clarence Penn. Great to see Robson keeping company with some of New York’s finest following his move stateside last year. (Jon Turney)

Phronesis at Southbank Centre (23 November) 

The Usain Bolt of the drums, there’s a moment in every Phronesis gig when Anton goes mad. In the encore of a ridiculously accomplished 90-minute set performing material from the trio’s new album We Are All, he closed his eyes and attacked the kit, subverting and inventing rhythms with arms moving faster than the eye can see. Followers of Eger’s exuberant fashion-sense should note Jasper’s humorous injunction “Anton’s hair is bleached blond now. Deal with it.” (AJ Dehany)

Pigfoot  at Green Note, (24 November)

The Green Note provided a superb small room environment in which to hear the estimable Pigfoot, with Chris Batchelor on trumpet, Liam Noble on piano and Paul Clarvis on drums, joined for one night by the great Steve Buckley on various reed instruments (including very fine penny whistle). The band’s take on Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin has to be heard to be believed, and is a joy to listen to. They also get 10 out of 10 for their unflappable response to the unwelcome intervention early in their set of a couple of members of the audience who had clearly been drinking too much on empty heads! Great evening, top venue. (Graham Roberts)

Ronan Perrett’s TwoSpeak at Green Note (21 November)

Upbeat tunes and infectious energy were on display with Ronan Perrett’s TwoSpeak, his Cornish ancestry evident in a tune about a Cornish queen, Gytha, a catchy hit if ever there was one. And Joseph Costi on keys never stopped smiling. (Mary James)

The Edge of the Abyss at Royal Academy of Arts (16 November) PREVIEWED

Part concert, part lecture, this tribute to fin de siècle Vienna presented by Club Inégales and inspired by the RA’s Klimt/Schiele exhibition accessibly traced the birth of atonality and rhythm-based music. “Following Schoenberg through to the early stages of jazz”, the quartet of pianists Peter Wiegold and Martin Butler, saxophonist Diane McLoughlin and singer/violinist Alice Zawadzki improvised from recordings of Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinsky’s Ragtime, illustrating the motto “To the age its art, to art its freedom.” (AJ Dehany)

Supersilent at Southbank Centre (23 November)

The Norwegian electro-acoustic noise-jazz trio pulled no punches with a one-hour wall of driving synths, icy trumpet and white noise reminiscent of Nurse With Wound or Cabaret Voltaire. Their intense electronic scarescape had the bruising physicality of musique concrete – but not without some sparkling moments of reflection. It was a brainbath. (AJ Dehany)

Thomas Backman at Pizza Express (23 November)

The Swedish quartet’s mixture of slow-burn yearning widescreen chamber pop with elements of jazz and electronica deserves wider attention. They played from their debut album Did You Have A Good Day, David? in a sadly under-attended lunchtime show. Sparkling synths and haunting hocketing vocals with beautiful lyrics in Swedish and English charting icy topographies reminiscent at times of Björk. (AJ Dehany)

Tom Barford Group.
L-R: Rupert Cox, Dave Storey, Tom Barford, Billy Marrows
Photo by Mary James
Tom Barford Group at Green Note (21 November)

Tom Barford allowed plenty of space for his quintet to flourish with excellent performances all round, and especially beautiful solos from Tom and delicate ensemble work in Space To Dream, a work inspired by some advice from Iain Ballamy who counselled Tom to write pieces to which all band members could bring their personalities. (Mary James)

Trish Clowes’ My Iris at Barbican Hall (24 November)

It has been exciting to watch Trish Clowes‘ My Iris project grow into an empathetic and creative ensemble and take on bigger performance opportunities. Taking to the Barbican stage (opening for Avishai Cohen), Trish and the band combined earthiness and transcendence (with great sound from Alex Fiennes) by segueing together three atmospheric and groovy compositions into one seamless, compelling suite of music that promised even brighter prospects for 2019. (Dan Paton, Basho Music)

Velvet Revolution (double bill with Vula Viel) at the Vortex (18 November)

To get in Velvet Revolution was, for the Vortex, a coup. The Anglo-German-French trio (Theo Ceccaldi on violin and viola, Daniel Erdmann on saxophone and Jim Hart on vibes) proved why their last release was the German critics’ album of the year. Technical brilliance (especially from Ceccaldi), great interplay, and subtle humour. Genius. (Oliver Weindling, Vortex Jazz Club)

Categories: Live reviews

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