"Five disillusioned anti-Brexit punk soldiers...", is how Dave Morecroft, commander-in-chief of WorldService Project, portrays his troupe. Launching their fourth album, Serve, at a special edition of Jazz In The Round at the Cockpit Theatre, it's clear a lot has happened since their previous album For King and Country. At the Kings Place launch in 2016, just prior to the Brexit referendum, Dave Morecroft warmly encouraged us to vote. At the Cockpit in 2018, he and his musical soldiers sortied onto the stage, surrounded on all sides, still in their imperial military uniforms, this time bandaged and bruised with stage make-up, dripping with sticky blood.

While the letters pages of Jazzwise argue about whether politics belongs in jazz, the quintet has elected to "sharpen the sabre of our political wit," serving up a darker, more directly engaged vision of their characteristic mixture of prog-rock rhythms and jazz-fusion themes. It isn't really the 'punk jazz' they're calling it, except in the renewed intensity of its political disgust; musically, it's still their recognisable mixture of Cardiacs and Flat Earth Society, with knotty riffs and sequences of daringly-related chords dotted with 'Diablo en Musica'.

WSP-cockpit-1

Anger and frustration at the problems in our society and politics are central to their message, but the group's Python-esque sense of humour remains a key weapon in their arsenal. At gigs, Morecroft dons a terrifying mask with wild eyes and a shock of red hair, becoming Mr Giggles, the group's dark clown and manifestation of pure id, whose self-defeating narcissism makes him the Pound-shop-crowned man of the moment. 'The Tale of Mr Giggles' is a pedagogical fable in rhyming quatrains that might stray too far into preachiness, but 'Now This Means War' is a dark, committed musical-cum-spoken word piece in English, French, Italian and German that leaves no doubt about the height of the stakes at this time in our history.

Harry Pope's galvanising drumming and Arthur O'Hara's thick electric-bass drive the multiphonic sound of WorldService Project, but when combined with saxophonist Phil Meadows they form the "equal parts trio" Skint, who opened this evening's gig. Exploring the productive contemporary interspace between jazz, grime, Afro-beat and EDM genres, hits from a Roland SPD-X sampler pad give an out-of-a-box electro dressing with an inadvertently comic edge from some overfamiliar presets. But the group's playing is hard and heavy, and Meadows' soloing is serious jazz from the Rollins template. When they bust into a bashment rhythm and a single-note alto riff you can imagine Shabaka ringing the horn at the Steam Down club in Deptford, which is where the kids were dancing on the same night.

There is a zeitgeist connecting both bands here: WorldService Project speak to its politics, while Skint to its music.

– AJ Dehany

James Turner

It's 10 years since Esbjörn Svensson's death on 14 June, but EST's odd afterlife continues. Listen to their new archive album, EST Live in London, and their radicalism has gone, absorbed into the youthful appeal of GoGo Penguin and the rest. What's left is the lyrical beauty and propulsive energy of Svensson's music. April Jazz's opening night in the Finnish city of Espoo continues Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund's refusal to abandon that legacy, with their latest EST Symphony gig under conductor Hans Ek. The seasick lurch and swoon of the Tapiola Sinfonietta's strings on 'EST Prelude' soon gives way to Berglund's buzzing bass urgency on 'When God Created the Coffeebreak'. Svensson's own arrangement of 'Dodge the Dodo' is the most forceful, till Sinfonietta and soloists combine in a roar approximating an amped-up EST. Quiet smiles between Öström and Berglund show their bond with their late friend lives on.

Espoo is a new city, with flat, geometric lines which become beautiful in the borderless buildings, woods and water of Tapiola Garden City, the district where April Jazz is based. The sensation of light and space suits a festival coinciding with the end of Finland's long, bleak winter. Ambrose Akinmusire's night here also feels like a fresh start, as he plays music first heard by his quartet at soundcheck. His trumpet begins on an airy, sky-blue frequency of difficult strangeness, shared by pianist Sam Harris. He then becomes the strong, soft thread through varied sounds channelled towards a constant destination. A high-energy Justin Brown drum solo becomes the dense gravitational core of quartet music of pummelling speed, Akinmusire's hotwired New Orleans phrases fragmenting as if in a hall of mirrors. His progress conjures an eerily exact mental image of an intrepid traveller flanked by jagged, German Expressionist mountains, sometimes piercing and sometimes falling into the melee. During a long encore solo, the fragile human breath behind such magnificent, searching music is movingly clear.

Finland-Bobo-Stenson-Trio-dombr

Veteran Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson hits similar heights by stealth. There's a friendly yin-yang to the way his more youthful drummer Jon Fält's prowling challenge is absorbed by his meditative mastery. You could miss his undemonstrative presence in his own band at times, till he circles a phrase's implications, and mesmerises. Espoo Big Band symbolise the city's own jazz resources. Their last album, Lauma, was released by Blue Note, and a new jazz suite by conductor Marzi Nyman contains a capaciously unpredictable soundworld, from a heartbeat murmur of piano and trombone to antic, barroom raucousness in 'Espoo Blues'.

Saxophonist Mikko Innanen is similarly impish in a gig at a nature reserve, where back-projected Finnish landscapes accompany his trio's non-nationalist refashioning of regional anthems, as when a tuba combines North European and New Orleans syncopation. Espoo Museum of Modern Art is packed for Raoul Björkenheim's quintet, the audience rewarded for their stoicism by being subjected to assault by eyeball-painted ping-pong balls. Björkenheim's trumpeter Verneri Pohjola soon reappears leading Ilmiliekki Quartet, whose intricacy sustains controlled, aloof interest.

The highlight, Akinmusire apart, is though the jams at April Jazz Club, where bop ballads warmly soundtrack drunken conversation. Altoist Ari Jokelainen's pure-toned melodic directness and the watchful enthusiasm of guitarist Tuomo Dahlblom stand out. In the very small hours, even Akinmusire jumps up. Such unfussy potency characterises this festival's music.

– Nick Hasted
– Photos by Ralf Dombrowski

 

What better way to celebrate International Jazz Day than with a one-off multi-national quartet? Stretching a point maybe, for US tenor-saxophonist Ray Blue's quartet at Dean Street was three parts American, but completed by that estimable Brit, Steve Brown, on drums. As it happens, Brown was recommended to Blue, pianist Lenore Raphael and bassist Hilliard Greene by bebop guru Barry Harris in New York, a further illustration of the international fraternity that is jazz.

Blue is a busy presence in New York who works with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, runs an organ trio and tours regularly in and around Europe, giving workshops and playing clubs. Europe's gain has been our loss for too long. Still, last night's sterling performance in front of a full house should raise his profile here, that is if any smart promoters are reading these words. I heard Blue a couple of years ago in New York and knew right away that he was the real deal. He has the big sound and the improvisatory presence of someone who knows his way around the mainstream vernacular, unfurling long, broad-shouldered solos on standards and originals that may make you think of Houston Person or early Sonny Rollins, vigorous players who know how to hold a crowd. A burly figure, avuncular in style, Blue's playing is redolent of the man, as he showed on 'Softly As In A Morning Sunrise', up-tempo and resourceful, Brown up on his points and driving hard, with the veteran Raphael contrasting firmly-struck chords with delicate, filigree runs, Greene rocking to and fro as he built up swing.

A scratch group maybe, but quickly into their stride as their two packed sets continued to demonstrate. 'Our Day Will Come' at a medium lope, had Blue bearing down on the beat, the tone a touch grittier before his original 'Attitude', a jigsaw piece that seemed to go in two different directions at once. Then came a first-set highlight, a superb ballad reading of 'That's All', the tone softer, the phrasing more spacious, the ideas neatly resolved, Raphael more relaxed and at ease. Her solo piece, 'Blues for O.P.', reflected her liking for the great man, with more strong chords and virtuosic keyboard runs, the band rocking with her.

Brown's all-systems-go percussive introduction launched Blue and co into a searing version of 'Caravan' before another Raphael original, 'Miles Away', evoked a Kind of Blue vibe ahead of a 'bit of R&B' according to Blue on a stomping 'Teach Me Tonight'. Berklee-trained Greene (formerly a Jimmy Scott sideman and MD for 20 years) then embarked on a solo feature that combined soulful arco readings of 'Negro Spirituals' with some zingy pizzicato on his electric upright instrument. That said, the night truly belonged to Blue: imperious or relaxed, he's a front-rank player who should be more widely heard. This one-nighter done, he was off to Paris, Brussels and Rome. See what I mean? Their gain, for sure.

Peter Vacher

The doors are almost open for this year's edition of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, which runs from 2 to 7 May at venues around the picturesque Cotswold Spa town. With the full programme now confirmed, the line-up will see Los Angeles sax star Kamasi Washington play the final date of his UK tour, following his shows at Roundhouse, London (2 May), Albert Hall, Manchester (4 May), Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow (5 May). The tenor sax firebrand will be playing music from his eagerly anticipated new album Heaven And Earth, which is set for release on UK label Young Turks and follows his all-conquering 2015 triple LP, The Epic. Another first at the festival will be an appearance by 19-yearold French guitarist Tom Ibarra (above left), who is the first winner of the Letter One Rising Stars Award new talent prize. Already clocking-up stage time with Marcus Miller and Richard Bona, he'll perform an opening set supporting Courtney Pine at the Town Hall on Friday 4 May.

The festival also features an extensive participation and family strand via the Yamaha Discovery Space with weekend events including Sound and Songs of Latin America with award-winning singer/guitarist Camilo Menjura (12.15pm, 5 May); the popular Family Sing with Grammy-nominated saxophonist/singer Becki Biggins (above right, 2pm, 5 May); a chance to explore percussion instruments and global jazz sounds with Adriano Adawele's Jazz & Percussion from Brazil workshop (3.15pm, 6 May), while the Bank Holiday Monday blasts off an all-ages concert from Bostin' Brass & Young Pilgrims (11am, 7 May).

This month's Jazzwise features a fantastic cover-mounted CD from Birmingham-based Stoney Lane Records who will once more be running the festival's on-site record store, where the May issue of Jazzwise will be on-sale complete with the free CD. The record store tent will also be the place where many of this year's artists will be signing copies of their latest album and or merchandise. The staggering list of artist signings so far includes Jazzmeia Horn, Eric Gales, Jay Rayner, Lucia Cadotsch, ENEMY, Rob Luft, Dinosaur, Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, Becki Biggins, Portico Quartet, Roller Trio, Clare Teal, Sarah Munro, Zara McFarlane, Hansu Tori, Issie Barratt, Hannah Grace & Josh Barry, Tim Hopgood (illustrator), Donny McCaslin, Christian McBride, Alexander Hawkins / Elaine Mitchener Quartet, Kamasi Washington, Arun Ghosh, PP Arnold, Tower of Power, Vein, Riot Jazz, Empirical and Caro Emerald.

With around 90 jazz fringe gigs at participating venues and live spaces around the town, the main festival site's Free Stage also hosts its usual selection of impressive local jazz bands. The site features a wide-range of international food stalls and bars. With Jazzwise as media partners, key headliners appearing include Randy Crawford (Big Top, 2 May); Van Morrison (Big Top, 3 May); Nigel Kennedy (Town Hall, 3 May); Courtney Pine featuring Omar (Town Hall, 4 May); Lucia Cadotoch/ENEMY, Dinosaur (PAC, 4 May); Rob Luft (The Daffodil, 4 May); Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 (Big Top, 5 May); Portico Quartet (Jazz Arena, 5 May); Zara McFarlane (Jazz Arena, 5 May); Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan (Town Hall, 5 May); Roller Trio (PAC, 5 May); Jim Black's Malamute (PAC, 5 May); Beth Hart (Big Top, 5 May); Jason Moran Bandwagon Trio (Town Hall, 5 May); Evan Parker and Trance Map+ (PAC, 5 May); Jordan Rakei (Town Hall, 5 May); Issie Barratt's Interchange, Alexander Hawkins/Elaine Mitchener Quartet, Arun Ghosh, VEIN featuring Stan Sulzmann (all at PAC, 6 May); China Moses (Jazz Arena, 6 May), Tower Of Power (Town Hall, 6 May); Andy Sheppard Quartet (Town Hall, 6 May); Christian McBride Big Band (Town Hall, 6 May); Kamasi Washington (Big Top, 6 May); Donny McCaslin Band (Jazz Arena, 6 May) and Empirical (Jazz Arena, 7 May).

Mike Flynn

Full details and tickets at www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz

 

 RY JazzFM117

Last year's Jazz FM awards was a memorable occasion, with both glamour and controversy being provided by those perpetual kings of louche Mick Jagger, Ron Woods and Charlie Watts, the former two as elegantly wrinkled as their expensive suits, Mr Watts as well-pressed and inscrutable as ever. The controversy arose due to the magnetic effect their presence had on the attendant press – to the detriment, some felt, of the actual musicians who were ostensibly being honoured.

No one could reasonably make the same complaint this year, as music, and the new wave of UK Jazz in particular, was firmly at the centre of proceedings from the get-go. Once safely inside Shoreditch Town Hall, past Phronesis waiting on the obligatory red carpet for the obligatory press shots from the photographers mesmerised by Anton Eger's haute couture jacket, and past the eminently bonhomous spectacle of Jay Rayner and Liane Carroll hob-nobbing at the bar, we were called to order by hosts Jez Nelson and Chris Phillips to witness tributes to what Nelson declared unequivocally to be "the most exciting time for jazz". To demonstrate his assertion, he introduced the evening's house band, led by pianist Ashley Henry. Together with the mercurial bassist Fergus Ireland and the explosive and suitably monikered Dexter Hercules on drums, they launched into Henry's trademark mash-up of 'The World Is Yours' by 1990s rap superstar Nas and 'I Love Music' by Ahmad Jamal – a compelling template for the link between contemporary and classic sources of inspiration.

BBC news reader Clive Myrie was on hand to present the Vocalist Of The Year award to Zara McFarlane – pausing to express his relief at not having to report on the travails of Amber Rudd any more. "Message to the home office – my passport has been checked", he commented wryly. Omar presented the Best Soul Act to Moonchild, and Soweto Kinch handed the international artist award to Cécile McLorin Salvant, who then struck silence into the crowded room with one of her remarkable histrionic musical psychodramas, featuring a dazzling display of vocal techniques and oblique melodies. Jazz Innovation went to the ubiquitous Shabaka Hutchings, presented by Esperanza Spalding, from one innovator to another.

Instrumentalist Of The Year was presented by a rumpled Stewart Lee to an even more rumpled Evan Parker, who quipped "I'm truly astonished... that any of you even know who I am!" He must surely find himself casting around for new ways of expressing astonishment, as his stature continues to grow among the younger generation of musicians and he edges ever closer to mainstream respectability. In light of her recent Observer front page, it was no surprise when Breakthrough Act went to Nubya Garcia – her remarkable rise made more remarkable still by her choosing the self-release path for her latest recording.

But there was a palpable sense of surprise when Pat Metheny was announced winner of the PRS Award by Nitin Sawhney and took to the stage in person to collect it. From under his trademark thatch of hair he expressed himself with seriousness and humility. Musicians and listeners alike are united in a kinship of creativity, he declared – he resists thinking in terms of genre, but finds some of the freest creativity within the type of music represented here tonight – such is the privilege he feels at being able to live inside this music, that his one sincerest wish is to go home and practice some more. In one of the evening's more bizarre turns – still totally in keeping with the spirit of diverse inclusiveness – Goldie appeared via videolink to tell us how Metheny has always been a massive influence on Metalheadz – who knew?

Elsewhere, Thundercat appeared via videolink, accompanied by his actual cat Tron, to thank Anoushka Shankar for his Album Of The Year trophy, George Benson did the same to a derby-hatted Tito Jackson for the Impact Award, and Paul Jones treated us to a harmonica jam before handing Blues Act to a virtual Robert Cray, and man of the moment Kamasi Washington watched from the sidelines from beneath his striking tea-cosy style headgear. Digital Initiative Award was presented by Corinne Bailey Rae to Spalding for her innovative use of the impressively unpronounceable 'oiid' platform for her Exposure album release; she graced us with a typically uncategoriseable performance, with Henry & co following the many twists and turns of her composition with panache, and Soweto Kinch adding his commanding musical and physical presence to proceedings.

Perhaps the emblematic awards of the evening were those at the end of the ceremony. Ezra Collective picked up two trophies, for Jazz Act Of The Year and Live Performance Of The Year. Femi Koloeso and crew crowded onto the stage to thank the far-sighted booker who took the risk to put them on at Ronnie's in April, and then on to a triumphantly sold-out show at Islington Assembly Halls in November. "Shout out to everyone supporting the movement", declared the immaculately suited Koleoso in the broadest of South London accents. There was a real feeling of a movement coming to fruition, a vindication of the hard work and belief put in by Tomorrow's Warriors and the many other supporters of the emerging scene.

The climax of the evening was yet to come. After an event that had predominantly celebrated youth and innovation, the final triumph belonged to the stately figure who, unable to ascend the stage, took to the microphone ensconced in a throne-like chair on the floor. Dame Cleo Laine, accompanied by her long-standing pianist John Horler, conjured a timeless magic with her performance of 'I've Got A Crush On You' – at 90-years-old, her voice is worn and shaped by the passage of time, but still rings clear and pure on the high notes, resonant and thrilling in the lower register, her phrasing and delivery impeccable, every line imbued with the authority of a lifetime's dedication to her art and the cargo of sincerity and conviction that cannot be bought or bestowed, but must be earned. Let's hope that today's rising stars are equally able to sustain their careers, and the music they bring, to ensure the continuity for subsequent generations.

Eddie Myer

Page 3 of 233

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