LJN provides the most extensive review coverage of the EFG London Jazz Festival. By far. This year we will have done over thirty of them. We have also asked our writers and other friends (*) to comment in brief on gigs for which we have not done full reviews and/or to send us photographs:
The Bad Plus at Ronnie Scott’s : The Bad Plus returned to Ronnie Scott’s for 4 shows on Monday and Tuesday night – the first time in years. They’ve swapped around their line-up, replacing Ethan Iverson with guitarist Ben Monder and Tenor Saxophonist Chris Speed. Reid Anderson and David King have been lifelong friends and remain the backbone of this band. Their style is always evolving but are known for their avant-garde jazz soundscapes that evoke wild imagery. On this occasion, we only heard arrangements by both Anderson and King. Anderson’s dry, awkward humour punctuated the performance to share a title or two but overall the concert was through-sung. Compositions like Sick Fire felt like a chaotic disaster followed by a melancholy bass-led Giants to bring the audience back safely to the ground made for a thrilling musical journey. Monder and Speed were an equally tight team and arrangements were complex and inspiring. (Lavender Sutton).
Leon Foster-Thomas Quartet: Leon Foster-Thomas is one of the great soloists on steel pan. So it was a joy, having heard that he is to be in London for a while, to hear him at the Vortex with his new quartet including the imperious Sam Leak on piano, Mirko Scarcia on bass and Ebow Mensah on drums. His upbeat enthusiasm and imagination made the club into a party venue, with the music feeling like the best dark rum: the same deep lustre and an uncloying joy. Meanwhile we were also fortunate to have the appropriate sounds of DJ Paul Bradshaw, at the start to put us in the right mood and at the end to ensure that the positive vibe wasn’t lost too quickly. (Oliver Weindling/ Vortex)
Calum Gourlay Big Band at the The Vortex: The sixteen musicians overflowed the Vortex stage. In the first of two contrasting sets they played the bassist’s new arrangements of classic Mingus pieces. A set full of controlled chaos, raucous, passionate and energetic. Up-tempo numbers such as “Boogie Stop Shuffle” and “Fables of Faubus” were balanced by slower pieces like Canon and a beautiful, moving Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Olivia Murphy conducted the second set, and vocalist Becca Wilkins joined the band. We heard pieces from Murphy’s new recording, “Somewhere, Not So Far Away”, plus a new work, “Somewhere Seaside”, and one of her earliest arrangements, Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”. Despite the size of the band, there were intimate and personal references in the music, with references to Murphy’s family, teachers and memories. Rich and lush arrangements full of dynamic contrasts and fascinating textures. Hats off to a band playing this demanding music for the first time, yet proving completely on top of it. Musicianship of the highest quality. (Patrick Hadfield)
Guildhall Jazz Orchestra: Mingus Epitaph: A staggering three-hour dive into serious deep cuts and favourites from the published and unpublished oeuvre of Charles Mingus in the year of his centenary, conducted by charismatic director Scott Stroman and featuring almost every one of the young players of the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra plus Grammy Award-winning tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery. The original 500-page score to Epitaph was pieced together from hundreds of yellowing manuscripts found in a wooden trunk. In Stroman’s hands this sprawling suite was concise, direct, and loud—thoroughly in the raucous spirit of its maker. Out of many Mingus tributes I’ve enjoyed or endured, this was the biggest and best, a new benchmark for how to do Mingus. (AJ Dehany)
Abdullah Ibrahim solo, Barbican: Unamplified, understated, a freely flowing medley of the mind of a living legend, Abdullah Ibrahim’s solo piano concert conceived as extended études sparked from classics like Blue Bolero and For Coltrane, and suggestively tracing the widespread inspirations of his long career and the turbulent history and landscapes of his homeland South Africa. Richer than the pretty Solotude album, the reconciliatory sense of ‘late style’ brought a sense of profundity to his silences. The unforgettable close to the 80-minute concert saw the frail figure singing a cappella, weaving together Duke Ellington’s Jump For Joy, which he first recorded nearly 50 years ago, with fragments of indigenous song and poetic reflections. (AJ Dehany)
Gareth Lockrane Big Band at the Spice of Life: (Sebastian writes) Monika S. Jakubowska is a friend of LJN and I asked her to name a gig she had particularly enjoyed shooting. She said she was amazed to experience a full big band.. and an audience too.. all packed into the tiny space of the Spice of Life. With top-quality people too (eg see Paul Booth in this photo). Her cache of more photos is on Gareth Lockrane’s Facebook page. MSJ has captured Gareth Lockrane’s focus and energy so well here.
Makaya McCraven, Islington Assembly Hall: Drummer and “beat scientist” Makaya McCraven’s modus operandi is crowd-pleasing self-indulgence. Overimagination is the draw and curse of his sprawling albums stretching in deluxe editions to six sides. Whether live or studio cuts or remixes and hybrid forms, they benefit from canny editing and an endless pool of collaborators. In London toward the end of a European tour with a tight band of brothers in Julius Paul, Matt Gold, and Marquis Hill the long set dragged through a set of smooth grooves taken from the new and more concise album In These Times, which proves the paradox that it’s his eclectic abundance that’s his strength. It took a forever to find real excitement, but that’s beat science. (AJ Dehany)
Nduduzo Makathini at the Barbican: Opening the BBC 3 Jazz J to Z concert and recording for broadcast on Saturday 26th November on the Barbican Freestage pianist Nduduzo Makhathini fitted the spiritual theme perfectly in his solo set. His piano style is clearly influenced by that of mentor Bheki Mseleku, as well as by Abdullah Ibrahim; it has that South African warmth and openness. His set also included a significant number of vocals sung in his native language Zulu including the clicks that are a feature of the language. (Tony Dudley-Evans)
Ivo Neame’s Dodeka at Ronnie Scott’s: Pianist/composer Ivo Neame’s new big band, Dodeka has its name because there are twelve musicians on the stage, with the Neame/James Maddren/ Tom Farmer rhythm team up front and centre. The band gradually settled into this new and complex music. Neame’s arrangements range from the sparse to the full on; the band’s name alone invited comparison to Mike Gibbs “Plus Twelve”, and there were some lovely Gibbs-like phrasings in the interplay between the saxes, trumpets, trombone and tuba. And the mere presence of the tuba itself brought to mind Gil Evans’ classic arrangements. The quality of these musicians made one want more solos…from all of them. (Patrick Hadfield)
O’Higgins & Luft/Pizza Express Soho: A breath-taking line-up guaranteed to deliver a top-drawer performance, coming together for the celebration of their second album, ‘Pluto’, at a sold-out show. O’Higgins & Luft are back with a vengeance, following their highly successful +40 date UK tour last time around. Tenor sax man Dave O’Higgins, whose playing continues to age like the finest of red wines, went toe-to-toe with guitarist Rob Luft, who consistently brings a youthful fearlessness to his playing. Combine this with a rhythm section of pianist Ross Stanley, double-bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and the unswerving steadiness of Rod Youngs at the drums, and you have an intoxicating cocktail of straight-ahead modern jazz super-bop of the highest order. The evening’s entertainment was a melange of Monk and Trane savouries, peppered with originals throughout, which blended together comfortably and naturally. This is a group of real-deal jazz musicians who are all at the top of their respective games. (Martin Hummel / Ubuntu Music/ representing O’Higgins & Luft.)
Roella Oloro/Ronnie Scott’s Late Late Show: Pianist Roella Oloro, a British-born composer/multi-instrumentalist who is currently studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston (USA), graced the stage of Ronnie Scott’s on late Saturday evening with two classmates (Ciara Moser/electric bass, Ande Liu/drums) to a sold-out show and enthusiastic audience of all ages. The former Trinity student delivered a broad repertoire of music, which ranged from original compositions to demonstrable appreciation for Nubya Garcia and Wayne Shorter. The trio’s performance was intricate, energised and of the highest order, which gives us something to look forward to with Roella’s next visit back to London, the sooner the better. (Martin Hummel)
Paul Pace writes: The festival produced a bewildering plethora of delights across the capital. However, three shows brought immense joy to this listener. At Ronnie Scott’s, ‘The Bad Plus’ sporting the current quartet line up of bassist Reid Anderson, drummer Dave King, guitarist Ben Monder and saxophonist Chris Speed held a rapt audience with an exquisite musical conversation underlaid with the shimmering metallic timbre of Monder’s guitar. Legendary Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek at the RFH, seemingly at the height of his powers, steamed through a high energy set, peppered with calming ballad interludes. Incredible Afro-beat singer/keyboardist Dele Sosimi and Friends purveyed infectious rhythms and poignant political messages, thus filling the dancefloor on a heady Saturday night at the Spice of Life, Soho. (Paul Pace / Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club/ SpiceJazz at the Spice of Life, Soho)
Julie Sassoon. Theatro Technis: It was a great opportunity to hear how Julie Sassoon has moved in her musical interpretation and approach over the past decade since she left London for Berlin. Performing a solo piano set at Theatro Technis in Mornington Crescent, a new venue for jazz, her rippling clear sounds and strong technique made the piano sound like a top Steinway and transported us to another level. Much of the music reflected her journey into her own personality, music written during lockdown and released on “If You Can’t Go Outside….Go Inside”. It’s an ultimately rewarding journey for us to join her on. Comparisons have been made between Sassoon and Jarrett as well as several others. But the only pianist to whom she should be compared is herself! (Oliver Weindling)
Shirley Smart Sextet at Milton Court: I loved Shirley Smart’s exciting fusion of Arabic forms and rhythms in her richly melodic original compositions. The cellist’s sextet with John Crawford on piano, Mikele Montolli on bass, Demi Garcia Sabat on drums, Tim Quicke on trumpet, and James Arben on sax and flute, has come along way in making light work of some heady time signatures and dizzying shifts in register. The rhythms really get under your skin and into your bones like a mad marrow of maqams, and she has a true melodic gift up there with such as Arun Ghosh. The group is recording next year and it’ll be one of the records of the year. (AJ Dehany)
Stan Sulzmann at the Assembly Rooms in Kentish Town. I was moved by the way Stan Sulzmann‘s quartet set in Kentish Town mirrored his life. Improvising at this level converges with autobiography. A substantial review of this gig leads off my Festival Round-Up for The Arts Desk. (LINK HERE) Surely, for his 75th next November Stan Sulzmann deserves to be placed in a more central venue, and, by God, Will Barry deserves a decent piano. (Sebastian Scotney)
Photographer John Watson writes: One of the joys of the EFG London Jazz Festival is to be able to roam with my cameras around the free stages, and grab shots of young – or old – musicians who might have been making their first major festival appearances. It’s great to hear so much talent out there. This shot is of One Drum in the Africa ManiFest: Sounds of West Africa afternoon at the Southbank Centre’s Clore Ballroom, This was an afternoon with children bopping around at the front of the stage and fans both young and old swaying or dancing, captured by the spell of the music. I photographed alto saxophonist Laura Misch (TOP PICTURE) in an extraordinarily atmospheric concert in Hall Two at Kings Place – a show held mostly in near-darkness, and I caught a moment where projected woodland shone on her face. Magical. (John Watson).
Norma Winstone, Nikki Iles, Mark Lockheart (Small Print). The Vortex: The Vortex has been proud to have been an intimate London musical home for Norma Winstone for over 30 years. We were all made to feel in a front room together, as we could all wallow in the ageless beauty of her voice and interpretation. Performing as a trio Small Print, with Nikki Iles on piano and Mark Lockheart on sax, all were actually equal partners throughout. So one was drawn into interpretations of standards, material by Nikki, where she showed a still faultless technique and, inevitably, songs to compositions by the likes of Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Steve Swallow, often with her own ironic lyrics where the shine of her singing was accompanied by a glint in her eye. (Oliver Weindling/ Vortex)
(*) Some of these pieces are written, admittedly in a personal capacity, by people with a specific related interest. Where relevant this has been disclosed in their by-lines.