"Are you all here because it's Christmas?" Evan Parker asked, peering out at the packed out Vortex, with attendees squeezed into every available space. "No!" was the hollered response. As if overwhelmed by the support the gig had attracted, he engaged in a spot of self-deprecating humour, drawing attention to one of the Gina Southgate pictures adorning the walls of the Vortex, and the resemblance of his likeness as sketched there to Santa. The presence on stage of Shabaka Hutchings, a brightly burning star in today's jazz firmament following the critical and popular acclaim garnered by his Sons of Kemet project, was doubtless a draw-card too.
The quartet embarked on a fiery first set, in which it swiftly became apparent that John Edwards on bass and Mark Sanders on drums were important voices in their own right in a set-up in which Parker could be described as "first among equals". Edwards in particular provided some quite astonishing pyrotechnics on his battered double bass. He bent strings, he strummed chords with the vigour of Stanley Clarke, he bowed above the bridge, he strove for maximum attack, he pounded the body of the bass flamenco-style to create percussion effects, he explored the outer edge of possibilities on his instrument in the way Fred Frith does on guitar, one of his lines seemed to be grounded in microtonalities, he was even observed to leap in the manner of a tennis player delivering a serve.
Despite its yuletide timing this was tough music making, not intended to sugar-coat anything, or to reassure. At times the music seemed to suggest a dystopian urban context, almost a Beckettian vision. Except that Beckett's most celebrated works don't always end; Godot never arrives, whereas one of the astonishing aspects of this improvised performance was that, despite the absence of any signalling between the participants, or of any conducting by Parker, they all seemed to be following the same narrative thread, united in their sense of how to draw the piece to a satisfying conclusion.
During the second set Parker's meaty tone was more burnished than that of Hutchings who at times achieved a hollow sound. Could this have been a subconscious reference to surprise 2016 Nobel laureate Bob Dylan's lines, "the fools gold mouthpiece/ the hollow horn"? We can all invoke contexts during 2016 in which this would have been an apposite observation. It was the interplay between the musicians, the hallmark of early Mahavishnu, with dueting saxes instead of guitar, violin and piano, that drew gasps of delight from the crowd. The quartet also managed to find some kinder, gentler moments, which provided welcome contrast to the hardboiled earlier themes. But there is kindness in Beckett too, if you look for it.
With unseasonably warm temperatures during this year's midwinter the world scarcely needs more heat, yet it is in need of this kind of honest, uncompromising music making as the enthusiastic response of those who were fortunate to witness the performance made clear.
– Graham Boyd
– Photos by Roger Thomas
An early highlight of Hull's 2017 tenure as City of Culture, will be a mind-expanding three-day event under the banner of Mind on the Run: The Basil Kirchin Story, which takes place from 17 to 19 February at Hull City Hall. This genre-splicing weekend spans jazz, improv, electronica, classical and art-rock to celebrate and reflect the diversity of work of experimental post-war drummer/composer Basil Kirchin.
Born in Blackpool, Lancashire, in 1927, Kirchin's early life included stints with his father's jazz orchestra but he soon moved into more experimental music-making when the rise of skiffle and rock 'n' roll ended the big-band era. Recognised by Brian Eno as a pioneer of ambient music thanks to his 1960s "soundtracks for unmade films", and his library music with the likes of Jimmy Page and Mick Ronson, the Mind on the Run concerts explore legacy in suitably diverse ways. Key concerts include the opening night's Sun Ra-meets-Stereolab inspired Sean O'Hagan & Friends, and a late night screening of cult British horror film The Abominable Dr Phibes with a live soundtrack played by organist/pianist Alexander Hawkins.
This is followed on 18 February by a night of electronica-meets-improv with a double bill Journey to the Unknown: Hidden Orchestra plus Spring Heel Jack with Evan Parker, the latter a former Kirchin collaborator. While Sunday 19 February features Specials/Spatial AKA founder Jerry Dammers performing a special afternoon library music DJ set, followed by Goldfrapp's Will Gregory with the BBC Concert Orchestra performing specially commissioned works by the likes of Jim O'Rourke and St Etienne's Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs, with an opening set from acclaimed pianist Matthew Bourne.
All events take place at Hull City Hall, with daytime talks held in the venue's Mortimer Suite and Victoria Bar.
– Mike Flynn
For full details visit www.hull2017.co.uk/mindontherun
Guitarist Nigel Price's epic national tour – 56 dates in all – came to its final stop at Lauderdale House in Highgate, London, last Thursday. Long established as an amenable venue for jazz, the house has recently undergone a major lottery-funded face-lift and Price's climactic gig coincided with the opening of its new bar and café, thus giving everyone, musicians and audience alike, ample further cause for celebration.
Price, whose travels have taken him and his loyal sidemen some 7,000 road miles around the UK, confessed to being exhausted: if so, it scarcely showed for this was a bravura performance by him and all concerned. Honed on the road, tight and crisp, the dynamics as natural as breathing, theirs was music that touched all the emotions: excitement, bliss, awe, even exultation, as they collectively pulled off yet more intricacies or found new ways to build and flourish. They being Price's accomplished supporters, his equal partners really, organist Ross Stanley, all deep-seated chords and spiky right-hand passages, and drummer Matt Home, agile and purposeful, his drum sound quite perfect – in other words, a fusion of talents that could have hardly been bettered. Add in the twin tenors of Vasilis Xenopoulos and Alex Garnett, head-to-head and swinging and you had a definition of zest and joy in jazz.
Opening with 'This Could Be The Start of Something Big' seemed strangely contrary – surely this was the end of something big? No matter and quite erroneous, as Home's brushes laid down a pitter-patter beat and Price began his Wes-like extended exploration of the theme and its underlying harmonic structure. He likes to approach a song as if seeking to shake all the fruit from the tree, here aided and abetted by the tenors of course (they had only played together once previously on the tour) each having augmented the group separately but, my, how well they combined. Vasilis is a linear player, who knows how to shape a solo in what we might call Stanley Turrentine's fashion, with a fine, strong tone and an elegant, centred command, whereas Garnett is a mischief-maker, his playing often oblique, the entry points mostly unexpected, the phrasing sometimes sly, the support from Stanley, Price and Home, giving them both the kind of prompting that must have seemed like wish-fulfilment personified.
Inspired by the organ combos of the Blue Note-era, and thus marked by some as retro, this to me was music of the moment, gloriously creative, ebullient and at times downright funky. How can you beat Wes Montgomery's 'Four and Six', but here played in 12? Price introduced many of the songs as contrafacts of popular themes, mostly taken from his current album, none better than the sign-off piece 'Blue Genes'. Quick-fire yet engaging, the tenors roaring through the chart, this avowedly was a tour-de-force for them all. Quite a night.
– Peter Vacher
The 2017 Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs from 30 June to 2 July, marks its milestone fifth edition in style with two of jazz's biggest living legends set to appear in the form of iconic keyboardist Herbie Hancock and revered guitarist/singer George Benson. Hancock's appearance will be his only UK festival date next year, when he is also due to return with his first full album since his 2010 collaborative vocal-led recording, The Imagine Project, the new music rumoured to be produced by Robert Glasper and feature collaborations with electronica guru Flying Lotus and bassist Thundercat. Set to bring his full electric band to the festival, Hancock commented: "I'm looking forward to playing at Love Supreme Festival in Sussex next year with some new music that I'm working on and a new approach on some of my older tunes."
Meanwhile, 73-year-old, 10-time Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuoso Benson's recent albums Guitar Man and Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole have seen once more favour his formidable guitar work more prominently alongside his rich-toned vocals. Love Supreme has grown steadily each year, with the 2016 event seeing some 22,000 people attend the festival across the weekend, it's now the focal point of the UK summer jazz calendar with its strong mix of new jazz talent, credible crossover artists, jazz legends and soul-funk headliners.
Set in the idyllic, picturesque location of the South Downs, the festival site features a wide selection of bars, international food stalls, jazz record and merchandise stands, children's play area and fun fair. Day passes and weekend tickets, including on-site camping and luxury glamping options, are available now from www.lovesupremefestival.com
– Mike Flynn
Cosmic capers come to Sussex between 29-30 March thanks to a righteous collaboration between the bods at Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival and Dictionary Pudding Promotions.
Yup, that's right, the mighty Sun Ra Arkestra, led by it's esteemed Musical Director Marshall Allen, beams down for a soon-to-be legendary stint at the intimate Lewes Con Club, marking the ensemble's first foray to the county town in their 60 year-long mission of spiritual salvation. But you better be quick or be ready for disappointment, tickets are selling quicker than spicy chicken wings on the school-run home.
– Spencer Grady
For more info visit www.brightonalternativejazzfestival.com