Live reviews

Heard in Brief at the EFG LJF 2023

LJN provides by far the deepest and most comprehensive coverage of the EFG London Jazz Festival. And yet we only cover about a tenth of what is on offer. So we asked writers and friends (*) to remember – in words and images – their favourite moments in the gigs we’ve not covered with full reviews.

Hiromi at the Barbican. Photo Emile Holba/ Serious

Rob Barron’s Leonard Bernstein project at Piano Smithfield. A tasty look into a lesser known composer. With a set of West Side Story first and some lesser known gems in the second half, Barron’s definitive trio, featuring Jeremy Brown on bass and Josh Morrison on drums also featured gifted newcomer Isobel Gathercole beautifully singing some challenging music. Worth hearing if it comes around again. (Lavender Sutton)

The Cookers at Cadogan Hall. A concert severely compromised by disgracefully bad sound (we certainly heard Billy Hart!) but not bad enough to obscure the quality of a remarkable band, particularly Cecil McBee, magisterial at 88, the still sparkling George Cables on piano and the great Eddie Henderson’s trumpet. (Jon Turney)

Roxy Coss. Photograph by Martin Hummel

Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw & Claire Martin – Benefit for Baby Robin at the 606 Club: Three of the UK’s finest jazz singers, Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw & Claire Martin joined together in a benefit show for 20-month-old Robin Samuel, who suffers from neuroblastoma. A masterclass in improvisation and vocal harmony, the programme ranged from standards to pop classics, reinvented as only these phenomenal performers can. Their heartfelt rapport and wit, with the audience as well as each other, makes if feel like being in the room with old friends. (Laura Thorne, Marketing Manager at the 606)

Josephine Davies. Photo credit Credit: August M.

Josephine Davies Ensō Ensemble at Milton Court. Josephine Davies’s large ensemble music always has meaning, dignity and a sense of direction about it that draws the listener in. We heard “The Celtic Wheel of the Year Suite”, described as ‘a celebration of the earth’s ever-changing beauty and natural cycles.’ A top London band in which the hero-of-the hour award goes to the unbelievable drummer Tim Giles, who apparently first saw 40+ minutes of complex music just 20 minutes before stepping out onstage to perform it. (Sebastian Scotney)

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L-R: Artie Zaitz, Ben Hazleton, Rachael Cohen, Kai MacRae. Photo by Noah Langford

Rachael Cohen Quartet at Cadogan Hall. Rachael Cohen delivered a fantastic matinee performance in Cadogan Hall’s foyer. Her saxophone playing is always lively, overflowing with ideas, and she was in great company with the accomplished Artie Zaitz on guitar, Ben Hazelton, bass and Kai MacRae, drums. Cohen contrasted classic ballads such as Jay Livingston’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ with high energy renditions of Wayne Shorter compositions, plus some brilliant originals. Great atmosphere. (Noah Langford)

Roxy Coss at Toulouse Lautrec. The Kennington venue took a novel and much appreciated decision to feature Women in Jazz as their platform for the festival. And New York’s sax sensation, Roxy Coss, was just what the doctor ordered. Backed by a stellar London rhythm section led by pianist Rob Barron, the Grammy award-winning Coss sold out all four shows, delivering a blistering cocktail of in-your-face bop which captivated the audience. (Martin Hummel)

Emily Francis Trio at the 606 Club. Keyboardist/composer Emily Francis & her Trio – bassist Trevor Boxall and drummer Jamie ‘Drumcat’ Murray – combine influences such as 60s & 70s-era electronic jazz, psychedelia and even prog rock into an Intensely groovy and riff laden set. Somehow modern yet retro at the same time, this tight musical unit is superb.  (Laura Thorne, Marketing Manager at the 606)

Glebe is a new project between Chris Bland on piano and Kieran Gunter that highlights their compositions inspired by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mayes. They played with such heart, thus while their compositions might be inspired by some of their idols, they also very much had a personal touch, enhanced by a terrific group of supporting musicians, including Dom Pusey on reeds, Filippo Galli on drums and Mark Fincham on double bass. (Lavender Sutton)

Kevin Hays at The Pheasantry. In one of the best kept secrets of this year’s London jazz Festival, what a pleasant surprise to discover that American pianist Kevin Hays would be playing two consecutive evenings at The Pheasantry in Chelsea. With a CV that reads like Who’s Who in jazz, the bar was set high and Kevin did not disappoint with two immaculate solo piano sets, along with his occasional vocal accompaniment. A true gift, to those in attendance. (Martin Hummel)

Hiromi at the Barbican. When Hiromi’s in the house, there’s always something special to follow and this was no exception. The highly percussive pianist delivered two completely spellbinding sets. The first featured her string quartet, led by the mesmerising Thomas Gould on violin. Following a short break and before the audience could fully recover, Hiromi was back with her air tight Sonicwonder quartet. Following a special appearance of vocalist Oli Rockberger, both ensembles joined together for an appropriate finish to an exceptional evening. (Martin Hummel)

Jazz North’s Northern Line at the Barbican Freestage: Three bands from Jazz North’s exciting talent development programme ‘Northern Line’ braved the muddy sound of the Barbican free stage to a packed and enthusiastic audience.  From Sheffield, Sarah Heneghan on solo drums and electronics,   From Manchester Maruja on the borders of jazz and prog-rock, and from Liverpool Amique & The Ecstasy with a more conventional but innovative song-led set. (Peter Slavid)

Julian Joseph and Harriet McKenzie. Photo by Sahana Gero

Julian Joseph at World Heart Beat.  The first time in 20 years that Julian Joseph has performed in the London Jazz Festival this was truly an incredible treat ! Joseph, a supreme innovator with his formidable trio, Mark Hodgson on bass and Mark Mondesir on drums stunned the audience with his London Premiere of his new composed gorgeous Violin Concerto with the virtuosic violinist Harriet MacKenzie – and possibly the first time ever that a violin concerto has featured as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival! (Sahana Gero, Artistic Director, World Heart Beat)

James Brandon Lewis Quartet at Cafe Oto. Beautifully robust, melodic tenor sax from James Brandon Lewis with his stellar quartet of Chad Taylor (drums), Brad Jones (bass) and Aruán Ortiz (piano). Praised by Sonny Rollins and Marc Ribot, mentored by Matthew Shipp, he took cues from Ayler and Coltrane in powerful ensemble flights and his gorgeously soulful solo. Ortiz rose and rippled while Taylor’s extraordinarily inventive spot with Jones morphed in to a solo which Lewis exclaimed that he couldn’t follow as he was ‘mesmerised’! (Geoff Winston)

Long Tones For Peace at the Union Chapel started as an initiative of trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, in Germany. Following his inspiration, it was brought to London on Remembrance Sunday co-led by saxophonist Martin Speake and conductor and singer Scott Stroman. There were over 30 improvising instrumentalists and singers on stage including amateur singers and well known professionals. The extended improvised sound was a fitting spiritual hour for both the day and the space. (Peter Slavid)

Billy Marrows Big Band at the Vortex. It has been an amazement to me, in our straitened times, and a thrill as to how many big bands have performed, such as at Milton Court with the likes of NYJO/Nikki Yeoh and Josephine Davies, and especially during the final weekend. Guitarist Billy Marrows hosted some of London’s best talent at the Vortex on the final Sunday. It was an uplifting and heartwarming tribute to his late mother: clear interplay and interlocking lines with a great generosity of spirit to his members who in turn responded with some great soloing, from the likes of Alex Ridout, Alcyona Mick, Mike Chillingworth to name but three. (Oliver Weindling, Director of the Vortex)

Sergio Mendes and Scott Mayo. Photo by John Stevenson

Sergio Mendes at the Barbican. Fans braving the rainy weather on 15th November to catch Sergio Mendes at the Barbican came away richly rewarded. The infectious warmth of the tunes popularised by the Brazilian maestro during the 1960s and 70s such as Paul McCartney’s ‘Fool on the Hill’ and Jorge Ben’s ‘Mas Que Nada’ touched everybody in attendance. The slick professionalism of his outfit – notably percussionist Gibi Dos Santos and saxophonist-vocalist Scott Mayo – stood out. The still sprightly 82-year-old gave London a happy blast of Rio de Janeiro’s joie de vivre! (John Stevenson)

Evan Parker and John Coxon in conversation at Cafe Oto. Evan Parker and John Coxon teamed up for an illuminating and engagingly witty in-depth conversation to launch OTOROKU’s vinyl re-issues of Parker’s landmark albums, ‘collective calls (urban) (two microphones)’ with Paul Lytton (1972) and ‘from saxophone and trombone’ with George Lewis (1980).  All sorts of nuggets came out about process, events and personalities (incl. Derek Bailey, Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, John Stevens and AMM and the recordings’ producers and engineers). He told us he’d have liked to been an art student, and acknowledged his debt to Peter Brötzmann. And Coxon showed us the original Ampex cutting master tape in its box – what more could we have asked for? (Geoff Winston)

Shez Raja ft. Soweto Kinch at the 606. Bassist & bandleader Shez Raja is an impressive and engaging performer. The night, which also featured the great Birmingham-based saxophonist Soweto Kinch, included Shez’ signature high-energy jazz fusion set pieces as well as songs taken from his album ‘Journey to Shambala’ exploring his South Asian roots. The latter compositions, with just vocalist Japjit Kaur & Shez on bass, were achingly beautiful, a truly transcendent experience.   (Laura Thorne, Marketing Manager at the 606)

Gwilym Simcock and Emma Rawicz. Photo by David Forman

Emma Rawicz and Gwilym Simcock at Pizza Express Soho. The remarkable pairing of piano maestro Gwilym Simcock and the sensational young British saxophonist Emma Rawicz at Soho’s Pizza Express on Friday produced some outstanding compositions from each musician on their first outing together. An enthusiastic audience appreciated improvisations of the highest order. (David Forman)

Andrew Wood, Simon Paterson, Tony Kofi, Paul Deats (Photo by Martin Hummel)

Sharp Little Bones ft. Tony Kofi at The Crypt. In their debut London show, Nottingham based Sharp Little Bones let it rip with a solid dose of tight, energetic bebop at The Crypt to an appreciative full house. Tony Kofi was the icing on the cake. Led by bassist Simon Paterson, the trio shared its repertoire from their debut album on Ubuntu Music, Vols I & II, with expectations that they would be welcomed back, soon. (Martin Hummel, Ubuntu Music)

Ferenc Snétberger, Liszt Institute, Hungarian Cultural Centre. Solo performance in an intimate setting from Ferenc Snétberger, Hungarian maestro of classical guitar, who wove a spellbinding filigree that glistened with strands of classical, jazz, samba, flamenco, Romani music, and more. (Julian Maynard-Smith)

Tyshawn Sorey at the piano, Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

Tyshawn Sorey solo piano set (afternoon) and duo with Pat Thomas (evening) at Cafe Oto. Tyshawn Sorey wove his magic with a deeply meditative solo piano performance in the afternoon, played in total darkness, in the spirit of Pauline Oliveros. The grand piano, with lid removed, was positioned ship-like so that Sorey directly faced the audience as he wove his spontaneous keyboard spell. The evening’s spellbinding improvised set had Sorey as percussionist with pianist Pat Thomas, covering so much ground and space that they imbued it with a transcendental aspect. The creativity from both was unbounded and saw Thomas confronting the keys and delving in to the piano’s workings while Sorey delighted with his unique interpretative and technical versatility. Magical! (Geoff Winston)

Tyshawn Sorey Trio, King’s Place. Aaron Diehl, Matt Brewer and Tyshawn Sorey took us all on a journey through their albums Mesmerism and Continuing – exploring jazz repertoire in ways that make it feel as fresh as if it were written yesterday. From opening with a wholly transformed rendition of “Autumn Leaves”, to returning to an encore of “In What Direction Are You Headed?”, the band enthralled the audience with virtuosity, with space, with propulsive feels and with true musical conversation. Standing ovation was much deserved. (Becky Alice)

Sultan Stevenson Trio. Photo by Janice Stevenson

Sultan Stevenson at the Vortex. The Vortex was completely, deservedly rammed for pianist Sultan Stevenson, whose reputation is growing and who is performing with more heft and authority every time I hear him. Great work from Jakob Gryn (bass) Michael Wang (drums) and  Josh Short (trumpet) too. (Sebastian Scotney)

London Jazz Orchestra plays music of John Warren at the Vortex. After that we were able to hear the majestic London Jazz Orchestra (many of whom had been in Billy’s band) playing the music of John Warren, one of our most venerable arrangers. The music too had a tightness and communicated his originality of composition and arranging. Still hard at it, at the age of 85, his music was able to express the frustrations of Brexit and our government’s losing awareness of the importance of the arts more clearly and succinctly than many commentators! (Oliver Weindling, Director of the Vortex)

Val Wilmer photography in Queens Park. Not heard but seen: just under 50 of Val Wilmer’s magnificent and historically important photos, in a tiny gallery in Queens Park. I could look at them all day. Good news is LJF is over but this exhibition runs to end November. LINK (Jon Turney)

Julian Woods/Ben Sandler Quintet, Jen Palen at the Guildhall Jazz Festival. The Guildhall Jazz Festival is one of the great ‘mini festivals’ that take place within the overall festival, with a carefully curated imaginative programme up to and including Nikki Yeoh’s NYJO stunner. The first day included the quintet of Julian Woods and Ben Sandler, building on the line up of Henry Threadgill’s Zooid, and with a stellar membership including Oren Marshall and Corrie Dick. Mesmerising and thought-provoking. Violinist Jen Palen then took advantage of loops and effects to build on her stunning imagination and technique. Drawing influences from classical, jazz, world and folk, she led us, with joy, on an intriguing journey. (Oliver Weindling)

(*) where a writer has an involvement in a band or a venue, it is disclosed

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