Birmingham’s annual Jazz and Blues Festival, which focuses on traditional and mainstream styles, celebrates its 30th anniversary from 18-27 July with 185 performances across 10 days in 70 venues – and most of it is free entry. In what the organisers have described as a city ‘take over’, performances will take place at Victoria Square, The Red Lion, The Kings Head, Berkleys Lounge, Garden House, Blue Piano and many more venues throughout the city.

Highlights include: Bruce Williams Quartet (18 July, Barber Institute of Fine Arts); Simon Spillett Quartet (pictured left, 26 July, The Mailbox); Lady Sings The Blues with Val Wiseman, Roy Williams, Brian Dee, Len Skeat, Bob Sydor and Bobby Worth (19 July, StarCity); Art Themen Quartet (23 July, St Paul’s Churchyard); Derek Nash (25 July, Garden House); Mike Sanchez Band (24 July, The Jam House); Digby Fairweather (25 July, The Kings Head); The Bratislava Hot Serenaders (Slovakia) (21 July, Electric Cinema); Budapest Ragtime Orchestra (24 July, All Bar One); The Magnolia Sisters (Louisiana, U.S.A.) (26 July, Botanical Gardens); and University of Southern Florida Jazztet (19 July, Victoria Square).

– Tom Wright


For more info go to www.birminghamjazzfestival.com

 

Love-Supreme-aerial
With the Love Supreme Jazz Festival about to open its gates this Friday from 4-6 July at its spectacular location at Glynde Place, in the lee of the South Downs near Lewes in Sussex, the running order of performances has been announced, while a partnership with Ronnie Scott’s club has seen the main covered venue renamed the Ronnie Scott’s Big Top. The festival, presented by Jazz FM, has been extended to five stages with the addition of the Matua Sessions stage featuring rising new groups on Saturday and a blues programme on Sunday curated by Jazz FM’s David Freeman. The Bandstand Stage, like last year, will be programmed by Brighton’s Verdict jazz club with a newcomers line-up due to be announced shortly.

The running order is: Friday 4 July – Jazz FM’s Funky Sensation DJs. Saturday 5 July – Main Stage: Jamie Cullum, Incognito, Laura Mvula, Earth, Wind & Fire Experience featuring Al McKay, Snarky Puppy and Natalie Williams’ Soul Family. Ronnie Scott’s Big Top: John Scofield’s Überjam, Dave Holland’s Prism, Lalah Hathaway, Derrick Hodge, Jaimeo Brown, Nikki Yanofsky, Matthew Halsall. The Arena: Omar, Phronesis, Melt Yourself Down, Natalie Williams, The Computers and Ollie Howell Quintet. Matua Sessions stage daytime: Mimika (Discovery Competition winner), J-Sonics, Theo Jackson/Nathaniel Facey Quartet, Georgia Mancio Trio, Miss 600 and Chavo.

Sunday 6 July – Main Stage:
De La Soul, Imelda May, Soul II Soul, Courtney Pine, Alice Russell, José James. Ronnie Scott’s Big Top: Gregory Porter, Christian McBride Trio, Curtis Stigers, Kris Bowers, James Tormé and Slowly Rolling Camera. The Arena: Polar Bear, Hidden Orchestra, Takuya Kuroda, Cecilia Stalin, Mama’s Gun, Laura Jurd, Chloe Charles and Mammal Hands. Matua Sessions Stage: Peter Boss & The Bluehearts, Lily Grieve and Eliot Wenham, Michael Messer, Antonio Forcione, Paddy Milner, Marcus Bofanit, Jawbone, Mark Harrison and Brooks Williams. Jazzwise is media partner for Love Supreme.

– Jon Newey

Final tickets are now on sale and limited numbers of tickets will be on sale on the festival days. For info and tickets see www.lovesupremefestival.com
– see stage times below

 

Marcus-Miller-Maalem-Mustapha
There was jazz: Afro-Caribbean pianist Mario Canonge, in a trio mixing mazurka, zouk and salsa. Lebanese trumpet virtuoso Ibrahim Malouf and an orchestra on everything from electric guitars to Middle Eastern percussion, delivering a you-should-have-been-there set that combined visceral bombast with moments of quiet introspection, outdoors, under a full moon, before a rapt Moroccan crowd.

Marcus Miller – bassist, multi-instrumentalist, one-time Miles sideman – turned in a two-hour performance that variously involving phat acrobatic lines, musings on the likes of Davis’s Tutu and Amandla and thumb-slapping funk excursions marred only by a couple of screechy lead guitar wig-outs.

And then there was jazz: as deployed by Morocco’s Gnawa, the funky hosts of a festival that is now in its 17th year. Having overcome prejudice and terrorism (in 2003 and 2007 it went ahead despite the bombings in Casablanca that devastated the country) and weathered the vagaries of sponsorship (this year the World Cup saw many erstwhile sponsors look elsewhere), the Gnawa Festival is now widely considered the Maghreb’s most exciting and progressive musical celebration.

Back in the 80s and early 90s the likes of Don Cherry, Bill Laswell, Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders saw the crossover potential in the pentatonic music of these Sufi musicians and healers, whose behind-the-scenes lila ceremonies use ritual, trance and colours to cure maladies and bash down the doors of perception.

Such experimental journeys by Cherry et al went down in jazz annals, helping to spark the onstage fusions that have been pivotal to the festival’s success: Pat Metheny, Maceo Parker, Omar Sosa and late greats, conguero Anga Diaz and keyboardist (and another one-time Miles’ collaborator) Joe Zawinul among them.

The Gnawa Festival has embraced its status as a musical laboratory, proclaiming itself the ‘greatest jam session on the planet’. “It’s a great musical rendezvous,” says director Neila Tazi Abdi, a graceful Muslim woman who founded the festival with a far-sighted aim to create an event that would safeguard and promote the music of the Gnawa, which was then dismissed and endangered.

“The festival is unique,” she says. “The music and history of Gnawa gives it a very powerful African anchor that allows us to bring together Gnawa groups and talented musicians from all over the world. They all say it is an unforgettable experience.”

That the Gnawa are now included on the oral heritage list at UNESCO is down to the hard work of Tazi and her all-female team at the Casablanca-based A3 Communications: even if the artists onstage are largely male – and it would be good to see the Sufi sisterhoods better represented – the festival is driven by women. Their accomplishment was further exemplified this year by the release of a long-awaited 9CD anthology – an initiative hatched with the association Yerma Gnaoua that presents the Gnawa as both as an ancestral oral tradition and a mighty musical force.  

The descendants of traders, craftsmen and freed slaves from the Sahelian region of West and Central Africa, the Gnawa were once shamefully marginalised in the way that, say, Romany Gypsies continue to be today. This annual gathering on the Atlantic coast – the most famous of many annual Gnawa gatherings in the Maghreb – is a meeting of clans, an opportunity to perform before a sprawling tens-of-thousands strong Moroccan crowd. A free, freewheeling festival laced with respect for the Gnawa Maalems, the masters of the guimbri bass lute, who perform their stand-alone sets with groups of musicians who beat side drums, clack giant metal cymbal/castanets called krakeb, and dance and leap like martial artists.

This year local hero Maalem Mahmoud Gania played the beach stage, shifting sand dunes and changing ocean currents with his low-toned guimbri vibrations and undulating chants in Arabic and Bambara (check 1994’s Trance of Seven Colours featuring Pharoah Sanders for a taster). Older now, and slower on his feet, his unofficial mantle as the King of Gnawa was challenged by younger pretenders such as Casablanca’s Maalem Hassan Boussou, whose turn over at the Bastion venue at Bab Marrakech included, unusually, a horn section.  

As the son of (late great) Hmida Boussou and the co-founder of the group Gnawa Fusion, Hassan Boussou is used to travelling between pure, traditional ‘tagnawit’ Gnawa music and the modern forms that are helping ensure its longevity. Boussou’s fusion concert with French electro-violinist Didier Lockwood on the main Moulay Hassan stage opened the three-day event and while impressive, lacked the punch of the previous year’s stunning collaboration with Haiti’s Jazz Racines.

The festival’s music programmers – Paris-based Algerian drummer Karim Ziad, French multi-instrumentalist Loy Ehrlich and Essaouira-based Maalem Abdeslam Alikane – have been rigorous in choosing guest musicians and bands (Will Calhoun, Nguyen Le, Wayne Shorter) on the basis of their risk-taking and openness to other musics. But the festival tends to suffer from an overabundance of French jazzers with a fondness for noodling keyboards and overly slick production – why are there not more British artists? Trumpet-player Byron Wallen, say,and vibraphonist Orphy Robinson are no strangers to Gnawa music.

There were lightning bolts, however, when Marrakech-based Maalem Mustapha Baqbou met Marcus Miller (above) in an encounter that saw guimbri and bass guitar recognise and reconnect. Miller – who, like Ibrahim Maalouf is EFG London Jazz Festival-bound in November – replaced the cover pic on his Facebook page with a photo of Baqbou’s Gnawa brotherhood soon after.

Even more powerful was the official closing concert, which brought together Hamid El Kasri, the country’s Maalem du jour, with the Grammy-nominated ngoni–lute player Bassekou Kouyate, over from Bamako in Mali with a band that included his singer wife Amy Sacko and their two sons, Madou and Moustafa.

Urged on by krakeb castanets, the frenetic cries of the tama talking drum and Sacko’s soaring, soul-griot voice (not for nothing has she been called the ‘Tina Tuner of Africa’), the instruments of both men meshed and duelled as if connected by an invisible silver thread. Spontaneous and spiritual, experimental and groove-laden, this was jazz returned to the source, to Africa, via a festival with peace and unity at its core.

Jane Cornwell

www.festival-gnaoua.net/en/ 

 


The choice of the Ace hotel in the fashionista’s paradise that is Shoreditch in east London for the launch of a key ‘breakout’ artist of the year may have raised one or two eyebrows. But the venue was actually spot-on. The low lighting, clear acoustics and intimate atmosphere greatly served Somi’s meaningful anecdotes as well as the songs themselves, and the American singer proved quite emphatically that she has the kind of talent that warrants her graduation from an indie [Obliq] to a major label [Sony/OKeh].

All of which should provide the profile and PR muscle to enlarge her fanbase. In any case, Somi’s The Lagos Music Salon has the standard of writing – above all the lyrics as well as melodies – and vocal performance that make it clear the loudening buzz around the singer is anything but hollow. Furthermore, the presence of a backing band that includes current or former members of ensembles led by Henry Threadgill, Joe Lovano, Soweto Kinch and Sylvain Luc – guitarist Liberty Ellman, drummer Otis Brown III, bassist Michael Olatuja and keyboardist Jerri Leonide – says much about Somi’s deep engagement with jazz and the substantial place of improvisation in her aesthetic. Yet Africa, and more precisely Nigeria, is the conceptual foundation for this latest project, and the songs essentially act as ‘reality poems’ that reflect the close observations that Somi made during an extended sojourn in Lagos.

Alternatively, the music can be seen as a kind of audio diary of her experiences, and more importantly, conversations with the locals, all of whom are vividly depicted in thought-provoking texts. That said, all of the players, particularly Ellman, are given a wide berth for soloing that enhances the tonal lustre and phrasal richness of Somi’s voice. In fact, the electro-acoustic resonance of the guitar matches her sharpness and precision to a tee, slightly recalling the alliance of Romero Lubambo and Dianne Reeves, surely one of Somi’s key role models. Then again Nina Simone looms large on Four African Women, a kind of ‘motherland’ adaptation of the legend’s signature piece. Artful in her use of African rhythms and Fela references, Somi has managed to capture the suffering and smiling of Lagos in her original writing, and if there are two pieces that cover that spectrum they are ‘Two Dollar Day’ and ‘Ginger Me Slowly.’        

They are delivered with an authenticity and attention to detail that mark out the singer as an artist intent on questioning as much as creating. Bigger venues and greater recognition beckon aplenty.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo by Roger Thomas

 

Misha-Mullov-AbbadoThis year’s Kenny Wheeler Music Prize has been awarded to London-based composer and bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado. The prize is open to graduating musicians at the Royal Academy of Music and was judged by Edition Records label boss Dave Stapleton, trumpeter and RAM Head of Jazz Nick Smart and leading UK saxophonist Evan Parker, with the prize including the release of an album on Edition. Now in its fourth year the prize aims to highlight ‘a young artist who demonstrates excellence in both performance and composition’, with previous recipients including saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, trumpeter Ruben Fowler and singer Lauren Kinsella, with the latter set to release her debut for Edition later this year with her group Blue-Eyed Hawk.

Bassist Mullov-Abbado is the son of the revered Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, who sadly died in January this year, and internationally acclaimed violinist Viktoria Mullova. He has studied with the likes of Jasper Høiby, Michael Janisch and Tom Herbert as well as being a busy performer as a bandleader and sideman in and around the capital’s jazz venues and international tours.

Mullov-Abbado is also the winner of the 2014 Dankworth prize for jazz composition and his music is heavily Influenced by Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny as well as the likes of Bach, Stravinsky and Bartok and it was his strength as a writer that was a deciding factor in his winning the prize. Evan Parker commented: “Misha's writing and playing, along with his sense of overall form meant that there was a maturity that communicated very powerfully. His range of musical reference points means that he can go anywhere from here and it will be exciting to follow what is clearly the beginning of a journey of an outstanding individual.”

At present Misha Mullov-Abbado's debut on Edition is slated for autumn 2015.

– Mike Flynn

 

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