Feature/Interview

Silje Nergaard/Espen Berg plus more at Crazy Coqs for EFG London Jazz Festival (15-23 Nov)

Crazy Coqs, the cabaret venue at Brasserie Zédel in Piccadilly, has a very strong programme as part of the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival. The accent is on distinctive singers of the highest quality from around the world with a couple of tasty instrumental nights rounding out the series. Peter Bacon previews what’s in store:

Let’s start at the end. The EFG London Jazz Festival programme at Crazy Coqs culminates in two nights with the best-selling Norwegian vocalist and songwriter Silje Nergaard. From jamming with Jaco Pastorius at the Molde International Jazz Festival at the age of 16 to building a strong career from the start – her 2001 album At First Light remains the best-selling jazz album in Norway – Nergaard has always followed her own individual path.

Silje Nergaard and Espen Berg (Publicity photo)

Her London performances find her in a duo setting with fellow Norwegian, pianist Espen Berg. I asked Silje how they had met and how their collaboration had developed.

“In fact Espen and I are from the same little town – Hamar – but the first time we met was in Japan! Espen invited me to go on a tour with him and his trio there in 2017. We immediately felt a magic/musical bond/connection and when we came home we started to meet and play, and we developed this beautiful duo concept. Espen in an amazing musician, he takes me flying every night and sometimes crying too… he sounds like a whole orchestra and every night is magic, different and unique.”

And what would the programme for Brasserie Zédel be like?

“I have chosen songs from my vast music catalogue, songs that my audience always come back to and have wished to hear, songs that suit our duo concept. Also we will play a few classics – don’t be surprised if you think you recognise a Queen song! I invite the audience behind the scenes and to share small personal stories behind the songs… we will travel the world together, to the beaches of Italy and the backstreets of Japan.”

The setting will be an intimate one. How did Silje feel about that?

“Big stages and vast audiences are great but I really love the intimate settings, they are so human, tiny clubs with the audience close to the stage… what can be more magical? We feel the energy of the people and we are all in it together.”

Silje Nergaard, like so many Norwegian musicians, brings a fresh attitude to jazz. Was there something in the air, perhaps?

“Norwegian musicians are stubborn people and they tend to search for their personal sound and originality. I don’t think we are very uptight about genres. And being  ‘on our own’ geographically up North… with long dark winters… I think nature inspires us. Musical legends and influencers like Jan Garbarek and Jon Christensen created a very personal sound; they opened the door into the international jazz scene and inspired us all. I am very proud to be part of the Norwegian jazz scene.”

Silje Nergaard and Espen Berg are on the Crazy Coqs stage at 7pm and 9.15pm on Friday 22 and 7pm on Saturday 23 November.

Opening the Brasserie’s LJF programme is Barb Jungr (7pm. Friday 15 and Saturday 16 Nov). She will  presenting her new show Bob, Brel and Me, which, as its title makes clear, will include some of Jungr’s favourite songs from the pens of Bob Dylan and Jacques Brel, but with the twist that these are songs she has hitherto sung neither on stage or in the studio. Expect the unexpected!

Susana Sheiman (Publicity photo)

Taking the late slot on the same two nights is Spanish jazz singer Susana Sheiman (9.15pm Friday 15 and Saturday 16 Nov) returning after two sell-outs in last year’s EFG London Jazz Festival. As adept at interpreting the classic melodies and lyrics of Brazil as she is bringing her European flair to the great American standards, she will also be adapting to the intimate setting with a stripped back band of just piano and double bass. Sheiman is a singer who will thrive in such exposed circumstances.

UK singer and pianist Liane Carroll is surely reaching national treasure status… and makes a most welcome appearance, courtesy of Crazy Coqs  and EFG LJF (9.15pm Thursday 21 Nov). She might perform songs from her last album The Right To Love, or from her 2015 one, Seaside, an homage to the coast where she now lives, but whatever songs Carroll chooses, she inhabits totally and makes them her own.

There is an accent on re-interpretations of parts of jazz history in much of the rest of the programme: pianist and singer Neal Richardson’s Quartet pays tribute to the marvellous Nat King Cole but without imitating the great musician, which is why the show is called Not King Cole (3pm and 7pm, Sunday 17 Nov); in a co-production between the New Generation Festival and Catskill Jazz Factory called Twenties on 20s, musicians in their 20s pay homage to the jazz of the 1920s (Big Easy to Broadway) with a sextet featuring the astonishingly accomplished vocalist Veronica Swift and trumpeter Alphonso Horne (9.15pm, Monday 18 Nov); UK singer Trudy Kerr reminds us all that behind the veneer of family-friendly Hollywood actress Doris Day there lived a great jazz singer (7pm, Wednesday 20 Nov); and Glaswegian chanteuse Christine Bovill looks back to the Jazz Age (Prohibition, Dorothy Parker, Bessie Smith, flappers, vamps, et al) in You Belong To Me  (9.15pm, Wednesday 20 Nov and 7pm, Thursday 21 Nov).

Partikel (Publicity photo)

There’s no looking back with the jazz instrumentalists but rather towards West Africa with Vula Viel (7pm, Monday, 18 Nov), led from the Gyil (a marimba-type instrument) of Bex Burch, and towards the future of the jazz trio with Partikel (Duncan Eagles, saxophone; Max Luthert, bass; Eric Ford, drums, 7pm, Tuesday 19 November).

The EFG LJF programme at Crazy Coqs is completed by a jazz penguin and a jazz foodie: Legend of the Jazz Penguin (11am and 1pm, Saturday 16 Nov) is aimed at children aged 2+ and promises puppets and trumpeting in the North Pole Jazz Lounge; while pianist and food critic Jay Rayner mixes anecdotes and music from his quartet (9.15pm, Tuesday 19 Nov). (pp)

LINKS: Crazy Coqs’ Live at Zédel programme 

Silje Nergaard’s website 

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