Chicago X London — Jeff Parker, Ben LaMar Gay, Angel Bat Dawid, Alabaster DePlume
(Barbican. 13 November 2022. Live review by AJ Dehany)
You could call 2022 the “Chicago Edition” of the London Jazz Festival, a celebration of the creative relationship between Chicago and London, a longstanding exchange that has enriched each side. Headline concerts from Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Matana Roberts, Makaya McCraven are unmissable programming.
The Barbican’s Chicago X London concert was a substantial check-in to check out with sets from Chicagoans Jeff Parker , Ben Lamar Gay, and Angel Bat Dawid, whose band included the UK’s Cassie Kinoshi and Theon Cross, and a set from UK saxophonist and poet Alabaster DePlume, whose album Gold scintillates among the jewels of the International Anthem label, home to Makaya McCraven, Emma-Jean Thackray, Ben Lamar Gay, Irreversible Entanglements, and the late lamented trumpeter Jaimie Branch.
Between sets the concert screened footage of Jaimie Branch’s 2017 visit to the Total Refreshment Centre in Dalston, a venue and label that has been pivotal in fostering the Chicago-London dialogue and directing the taste of the new British jazz sound. Her death this year was a shock and the wound is still very fresh. Alabaster DePlume talked of working with Jaimie Branch and asked if we’d like to hear something we hadn’t heard. It sounded a bit like marching band music to me but you must assume that there are unheard riches to look forward to somewhere. The strongest element of the 32-minute set was the group harmonies, which were beautiful but also unsettlingly reminiscent of the Manson Family. Alabaster DePlume himself unsettles; he proclaims unifying universalising sentiments about going forward in the courage of our love, but his manner is acerbic and aggressive. It doesn’t sit well with me, though I think the music is a terrific synthesis of influences and energies.
Ben Lamar Gay possesses an easier charm, and his album Open Arms to Open Us is a similarly eclectic working through of disparate energies, a vision of musical “Pan-Americana.” His set at Berlin Jazzfest the week before really made me sit up and listen. He lamented that whenever he’s invited to London it’s for short sets, but this set packed a lot in, from skronky avant blowing to rhythmic chanting and a hard-hitting but tender and atmospheric sense with Edhino Gerber on guitar, Matthew Davis on sousaphone, and Tommaso Moretti on drums. Hopefully next time he’s invited to London it will be for a longer set! He paid tribute to the people in both the Chicago and London communities, stating simply “all we gotta do is share, and build up on it.”
Jeff Parker was highly anticipated but his set of solo guitar might have felt too intimate and personal for the large space of the Barbican hall – see by contrast this review from Montreal in the summer (LINK). This was individual expression, but it went against the grain of an evening celebrating communal dialogues.
One of the truest expression of the Chicago X London conception was the fusion of Chicagoan soothsayer Angel Bat Dawid’s band with Cassie Kinoshi on sax, Theon Cross on tuba, and Asher Simiso Gamedze on percussion. Her solo sets can turn into something akin to musical group therapy sessions, and even here she joked “I’m here to hypnotise you. I am here to change your thoughts, to brainwash you!” and exhorting us to “Learn the real history. It’s sad that I have to say this.” An Angel Bat Dawid gig is never normal, and this one was a riot, with everyone standing up and hooting. “What in the world is happening here?” she asked. “We have stepped into a portal into another world!” It’s a world familiar from Archie Shepp’s intellectual-spirital art music, but while she switches rapidly between reeds there’s also newer vocoder stuff that sounded more convincing here realized with the young players, and a weird woozy f’kd-up Für Elise that certainly did sound otherworldly.
It was Angel Bat Dawid, with Ben Lamar Gay, who went furthest to bring interest to the coda of the evening’s events, a well-meaning but listless assembly of every player from all of the previous four sets, for a meandering diddle through Jaimie Branch’s Love Song For Assholes. It was a moment in a long evening of moments that we loved and loathed in equal measure, but an evening that for the most part vividly showcased the enduring energy and vitality of the Chicago-London dialogue.
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Categories: Live review