J to Z Late: Live…
(RIBA, EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday 16 November 2019. Review by AJ Dehany)
Accessibility is a big theme in the London Jazz Festival. A music that can popularly be assumed to be rarefied and mandarin art music has to continually try to prove that it can reach into your heart and soul and move your feet. Is it going to be worth parting with the price of a ticket? This is where the large number of free concerts step forward to open up new audiences, as well as the presence of the music in the media, especially for audiences away from the metropolitan hubs.
Sadly, creative music on the radio has suffered from the recent loss of BBC Radio 3’s flagship alternative jazz show Jazz Now (the successor to Jazz on 3) and the truncation of Late Junction. Corey Mwamba’s new show Freeness showcases superior selections along the keener cutting edge of the music, bit it’s a tougher sell for midnight on a Saturday. A rare treat then to be given eight hours of jazz radio programming on the opening night of the London Jazz Festival, starting with a two-hour live broadcast from the Art Deco headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Since Jazz Record Requests has moved to Sundays, J to Z is now your basic Saturday afternoon Beeb for a varied but accessible range of contemporary jazz. The late night live broadcast included four sets ranging from new generation artist Madison McFerrin to saxophone legend Gary Bartz, with accomplished contributions from groups led by Nigerian trumpeter Etuk Ubong and English trombonist Rosie Turton.
Jumoké Fashola introduced the acts in impressively smooth-running show orchestrated with verve by producer Dominic Tyerman. Members of Rosie Turton’s band, the collective Nérija, appeared in different configurations throughout the evening, displaying an impressive versatility and confidence. With Nigerian trumpeter Etuk Ubong they formed a loud and hardily funky setup confidently expansive on jazz standards and powerful in intense Afrobeatific grooves.
Madison McFerrin, ahead of supporting Christian Scott at EarTH, like her father Bobby, has a creative and impressive facility with solo a cappella vocals; she was more at home with this than introducing her new electronic direction, looped and layered R’n’B; she was nervous but it’s a good direction for her and should reach out to a diverse audience.
American saxophone great Gary Bartz is a hero for his presence in Miles Davis’s electric groups in the 1970s. He cut his teeth playing with Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Art Blakey, and has a sweet tone and precise phrasing that warms everything he plays. He joked that “This is an art solely for the ears,” but of course it’s physical and full of heart. The Song of Loving-Kindness was “written for everyone and everything that ever was” and its warm lyrical lilt recalls legends like Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders and Louis Moholo-Moholo, who manage to appeal to jazz atonalists and melodists alike.
UK trombonist’s Rosie Turton’s debut album on Jazz Re:freshed, 5ive, is easily one of my albums of the year. With a septet spearheaded featuring Johanna Burnheart on violin, the group’s command of a classic but contemporary sound is interfused with ragas, hiphop and ambient elements is a hugely rewarding and engaging experience, in both composition and exposition full of intelligent feeling.
The evening was at the seemingly unlikely location of RIBA because of an association with the Architects Underground, a weekly “live magazine” serving up guest performers and artists from varied spheres to generate ideas and new directions. If that doesn’t grab you, and if listening back to the RIBA broadcast isn’t enough, J to Z was also recording an afternoon show at the Close Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, with sets from Angel Bat Dawid, Terri Lyne Carrington, Julia Hülsmann, and Dave O’Higgins and Rob Luft playing Monk and Trane.
This will be broadcast on Saturday 23 November. You won’t be able to ‘hear’ Angel Bat Dawid making her way through the Close Ballroom then literally rolling sideways onto the stage to straddle the piano, but I’ll never forget seeing that. More than warm ups or warm downs for various concerts, these free stage live performances live and broadcasts have a special energy in themselves, as well as being crucial in maintaining audiences and finding new ones.
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
LINKS: J to Z Live at RIBA
J to Z Live at the Southbank will be broadcast on Saturday 23 November at 5pm
The Architects Underground
Jazz A to Z Live… (Collage of phone snaps by AJ Dehany)