Modern Jazz and Folk Ensemble
(Grand Junction, Paddington. 16 Nov 2023. EFG LJF. Review by Peter Slavid)
Back in the 1960s and 70s the boundaries between jazz and folk were much more blurred than they are today. Jazz, folk and blues acts appeared on the same bill, and the musicians often played in each other’s bands. Probably the best known of the folk bands that integrated the two genres was the band Pentangle – more of which later.
Since then there have been occasional attempts to mix the two genres, with mixed success. More recently a lot of jazz musicians have cropped up in folk/rock bands and occasionally in acoustic groups.
Which brings us to tonight’s concert in the magnificant surroundings of the Grand Junction church, put together by saxophonist Sean Khan.
This turned out to be an excellent concert although it may well have disappointed any folk music fans, given that it was fundamentally a jazz concert – and a very fine one.
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The concert started with what he described as a “warm-up act” from the Sean Khan quartet. Khan is a fine saxophonist on tenor and soprano in the John Coltrane mould, and this group was worthy of a gig in their own right. There were excellent contributions from Al Mcsween on keyboards and from the rhythm section of Filippo Galli on drums and Mirko Scarcia on bass. Their set finished with a powerful version of Coltrane’s “Naima”.
The second half was also a jazz concert but this time using some of the best folk tunes as the basis for improvisation. There were fine instrumental versions of the traditional Irish tune “She moved through the fair” and the Sandy Denny tune “Who knows where the time goes” featuring powerful solos from Khan and McSween. This was very much a continuation of the style shown in the first half.
There were also several folk songs given a jazz treatment. Young Yorkshire singer/songwriter Laura Kindelan has a fine voice, but on this occasion her words weren’t easily heard, and there was no announcement of the two songs which were “Parasite” by Nick Drake and the traditional song “Let no man steal your thyme” which Pentangle recorded in 1968.
Rosie Frater-Taylor then sang two classics from the 1960s, John Martyn’s “Solid Air”, and Nick Drake’s Things Behind The Sun, and she contributed some excellent guitar work to the quartet as well.
And so to the star of the show. Jacqui McShee will be 80 next month, but you would never have known that, as her stage presence and voice outshone everyone else. She was never just a folk singer, and her band Pentangle was, for a few years a popular mix of folk and jazz that was unique in the way it combined the two.
She sang two songs from that era. First came the Pentangle song “I’ve got a Feeling” which used the Miles Davis tune “All Blues”, from Kind of Blue, with Pentangle’s own lyrics. The programme then finished with Pentangle’s best known song “Light Flight” one of the iconic folk songs from that era which briefly entered the hit parade after being used as the theme tune to a TV programme.
The integration of folk and jazz has never been entirely comfortable since Pentangle’s success, and the way folks songs tell stories doesn’t always sit comfortably in a jazz idiom. On the other hand using folk tunes as the basis for jazz improvisation, as we saw here, is definitely worth the effort.
The band’s version of I’ve Got A Feeling is available now on bandcamp.
Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on mixcloud.com/ukjazz and various internet stations