Jaimie Branch OTO18

The Vortex and Cafe OTO are separated by a few hundred yards in Dalston, but they felt very connected by way of two outstanding gigs at the EFG London Jazz Festival. Tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis appeared at the former on the penultimate night of the 10-day event, while trumpeter Jaimie Branch was at the latter just a few days before him, and it was interesting to see a crossover between the two audiences, as several listeners had clearly identified both artists, who have been steadily building impressive discographies, as real must-sees. They are deservedly hot tickets.

Last year Branch (pictured) released Fly Or Die to critical acclaim, and the buzz around that album crackles into excited expectation during her two nights at OTO, the first of which is sold out. Her quartet, with cello occupying the space other bands usually fill with piano, guitar or second horn, is superbly anchored by drummer Chad Taylor, one of the defining figures on Chicago’s creative music scene for the past few decades. The band proves an inspiring example of how skilled improvisers can work on a refreshingly broad stylistic palette, all the while retaining a strong sense of individuality. The seamless shifts from ricocheting dub to hearty Afro-Brazilian-New Orleans stomps to abstract electronica in which the lower range of the brass is manipulated to send tremors right across the floor, essentially serves the irreverent as well as focused nature of Branch’s character. That becomes explicit when she sings ‘Love Songs For Assholes And Clowns’, a staggering, almost punch-drunk blues-rocker that offers caustic comment on the powers that be the world over, and proves a suitably provocative prelude to the unsettling but rousing riffs of Monk’s ‘Brilliant Corners’, which is reprised in style.

A comparably inventive nod to traditions in black music is made by Brandon Lewis (whose trio released the superb No Filter last year) in the middle of an explosive set that raises the temperature of the room by way of the notable reaction of the audience. During a torrid alternation of free playing and slash'n’burn hip-hop-rock grooves, his quartet, featuring guitarist Anthoy Pirog, launches into the timeless gospel staples ‘Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child’ and ‘Wade In The Water’. The narrative logic is cast-iron given that the hard edge of the band stands on a historical foundation of which the black church is an integral part. To hear drummer Warren G. Crudup III and bass guitarist Luke Stewart stoke the kinetic fire of the music with such intensity, with their flurry of sub-divisions of the beat, gravelly chords, and stark leaps between low and higher range, is to hear musicians plug into numerous additional vocabularies, which often suggest metal and punk, without ever quite weakening such a building block. It is when Lewis pushes the tonal envelope of the horn to evoke the staccato backward scratch of a turntable that the cultural border crossing and, above all synthesis of acoustic and electric music, hits a head-turning creative peak. One surmises that the great Eddie Harris may well have approved.

Lewis clearly knows how to do tenderness as well as aggression, and the haunting ballad ‘Bittersweet’ brings a deeply meditative mood to the fore as a contrast to the adrenalin shot of many of the other songs. Next year the band will release Unruly Manifesto, which could well be an exquisite musical riot.

Kevin Le Gendre
Photo by Jim Aindow

 

What an unexpected pleasure to see Mike Stern exchanging guitar riffs with his wife Leni. This was just one surprise from a gig that also saw Stern share the stage with fellow Miles Davis bass alumni Darryl Jones.

Back in 1982 the BBC televised a live Miles gig from Hammersmith Odeon, a truly exciting event for any jazz fan – a chance to witness a real-life legend. We knew we were not going to be hearing ‘If I Were a Bell’ or ‘Freedie Freeloader’ – but the playing and sight of long-haired guitarist Mike Stern, alongside Marcus Miller and saxophonist Bill Evans, was still a surprise. He had a formidable technique but with more overt hard-rock references than many anticipated. Once again Miles had got ahead of the game.

Since those heady days, Stern has written so many exciting hard-bopping heads that it can be quite challenging to distinguish them all. Through his solos he delivers long skittering lines at an impossible speed, but also with surprising delicacy. At times on this gig it was like following the POV footage of a champion skier accelerating away down a vertiginous slope, flying over every bump and hollow, getting airborne, but then landing back with perfect grace. Bassist Jones, who played with Miles in the early 1980s (before joining Sting’s band), the man behind the deep grooves on albums like Decoy, gave brilliant, bouncy support with flamboyant flourishes. For quite a while Jones has been the Rolling Stones’ bassist, but he wasn’t alone in the super-group stakes. Drummer Keith Carlock is Steely Dan’s pick behind the kit, and his incredibly powerful yet precise playing brought to mind Steve Gadd’s killer solo on Aja.

Mike Stern CH2

Bob Malach on tenor sax, complemented Stern’s exuberance by playing with space, digging into the rhythm section. He has an eloquent darker sound with sudden growls and screams of pure old time R&B amid more Brecker-esque modern influences. He again has a star-studded CV: Horace Silver, Stanley Clarke, Joe Zawinul, Stevie Wonder… He joined Stern in jazz-nerd solo-quote trading: ingenious insertions of fragments of ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ (Feldman/Davis), ‘Witch Hunt’ (Shorter) and a few show standards brought smiles of recognition from band members and audience.

There were plenty of other smiles too: this was a group that clearly gets on and overcomes a gruelling tour schedule with humour and camaraderie. And despite having to get an 8am flight to Paris, they were happy to talk to well-wishers long after the set was over.

Leni Stern, a superb guitarist and fine singer whose voice has been described as somehow “blending Marlene Dietrich and Billie Holiday” (!), was not billed to appear but made telling contributions. Her interest in the music of Mali was in evidence on the set’s opener; a simple, emotive tune featuring her on Ngoni, a Malian string-instrument, and lit up by a warm, unfussy vocal. She was to return later for a supremely funky guitar solo on Miles’s ‘Jean-Pierre’ (over a deliciously dirty Jones/Carlock groove) and a rocking rendition of Hendrix’s ‘Red House’, sung by Mike between blistering solo breaks.

Standout tracks from the rest of the set included a burning ‘Out of the Blue’ from 2012’s All Over the Place; and the darker, mid-tempo ‘You Never Know’ from 1996’s Between the Lines. There were also tunes from Stern’s most recent CD, Trip, recorded once he’d recovered from breaking both arms in an accident just two-and-a-half years ago. Recovery is not yet total… he has some tendon damage and still has to play with his plectrum glued to his finger. Not that you’d notice in his playing.

– Adam McCulloch

– Photos by Carl Hyde

Saxophonist Xhosa Cole has been announced as the winner of BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018, following the final held on Saturday night as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. The grand final featured a sixteen-minute set from each of the five finalists, which included 18-year-old pianist Reuben Goldmark, 21-year-old Fergus McCreadie, 22-year-old bassist James Oston, 20-year-old bassist Seth Tackaberry and 22-year-old saxophonist  Xhosa Cole, with each finalist playing standards and at least one piece they had written or arranged themselves.

Xhosa played his original piece ‘Moving Ladywood’ as well as ‘I Cover The Waterfront’ (Johnny Green) and ‘Moment’s Notice’ (John Coltrane). All contestants were backed by a top-notch jazz trio led by Gwilym Simcock (piano) alongside Paula Gardiner (bass) and Asaf Sirkis (drums).

Following his victory, Xhosa said: “It’s been amazing to represent and have been represented at this prestigious celebration of jazz music in the UK. The calibre of musicianship and passion for jazz music displayed on the stage today has been incredibly inspiring to be a part of.”

Xhosa1

Handsworth-born Xhosa has played saxophone in the Jazzlines Ensemble, Birmingham Schools Symphony Orchestra and Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra among others. While studying in sixth form, Xhosa attended courses with the National Youth Jazz Collective and National Youth Wind Orchestra. He performs and teaches regularly around Birmingham.

The judging panel consisting of leading jazz musicians Monty Alexander, Zoe Rahman, Gary Crosby, Zara McFarlane and Iain Ballamy. Of the winner, judge Iain Ballamy said: “Xhosa’s performance was so heartfelt, sincere and communicative. It’s easy to see he has such a deep and genuine love of the tradition that gave us such a convincing performance on the night. All five finalists were brilliant – I’d be happy to share the stage with any one of them – and hope to do so!”

Watch the ebtire final on the BBC website here www.bbc.co.uk

 

 Marclay

The UK premiere of Anthony Braxton's 'Composition No 103' (1983) and 'No 173' (1994) at this year's Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) was a reminder of his astute attitude toward the creative impulse. Standing in his own shoes as an African-American intellectual, Braxton reaches without prejudice toward the light, be it from Dolphy, Cage or medieval composer, Hildegard of Bingen.

As a renowned reeds player, Braxton effortlessly turns ideas sharply on their heels, or melts soft notes, mature in their humility, into marching band brass, squeals, bebop, hoarse abstract blows or bitter blasts. Brought here by the Monochrome Project, these works for seven trumpets are at base a tribute to the simple idea of in-breath and release. The choreography, absurd Star Trek-ish costume and instructions spoken at the audience through a loudhailer originated in the context of working with Living Theatre actors at New York's The Kitchen. They seem distracting and dated, but these Brecht-ian comments on performance and breaking down the 'fourth wall' gave the hcmf// audience a rare chance to consider Braxton's history and dedication to 'informance' and education.

Hudd

Also hydrated by New York and its scenes is Christian Marclay (pictured top). Experienced in working with sound, he doesn't write music in the traditional sense; his residency at hcmf// this year confirms a growing disregard of definitions that are past their sell-by date. While his installation 'The Clock' is currently housed at the Tate Modern, the world premiere of 'Investigations' had 20 pianos set out at Huddersfield Town Hall, each with a pianist including improvisers Steve Beresford and Liam Noble. In advance they had all been in receipt of the same 100 cropped photographs of a piano being played in a multitude of ways: with one elbow, reaching up to the keys from below, in a regular way or with four hands. These black-and-white images, often from some past time, rippled with story and each pianist had to write a few notes or chords they imagined came just before, during or after this shot.

The performers replicated the poses, played their notes and quietly asked others to join them for the pictures with four and six hands. There was control and risk, everything seemed still and yet people moved continuously, it was robotic and alert. I noticed Dan Nicholls await a noisy chord to die away before hitting his single note. Yet this landscape was strangely free of dynamics or drama. It was a meditation. Space and silences gave focus to the restricted notes and chords; sudden silvery shimmers or brooding blots. What stayed in mind as the hall cleared was the divine, elegant and emotive vibration; a deep sense of piano.

Marclay's work can appear as media archeology: old film clips precisely sewn together (Bette Davis being hugged, a swimming pool dive, comedy teeth chattering), or cuts out from magazines and comic books with their captioned 'Splat-Blams!'. But these are 'visual scores' for musicians and by having so many performed, hcmf// has blown the dust clean away to reveal the pumping heart. Steve Beresford had a ball playing the organ based on Marclay's pictures of found musical notes from adverts, logos, even a tie, while EnsemBle baBel interpreted 'The Bell and the Glass' with such skill that a spoken word recording of Marcel Duchamp seemed to sing. Improvising musicians are intent on 'reading' and responding to these images so they forget themselves, forget performing, they 'do' less and 'are' more. The result is explosive, continually morphing and wildly-fresh music.

 MG 1924-Reinier van Houdt performance

Another standout performance at this year's hcmf// was a beguiling take on Marclay's 'Ephemera 2', performed by Reinier van Houdt (pictured above) This man was born in a piano and there is no sound or impulse he could or would not convey. His late-night appearance was fierce; immersive, spirited and strange, it will echo in my mind for years to come.

Debra Richards
– Photos by Ivan Rérat (Christian Marclay) and Graham Hardy (Reiner van Houdt)

Bill Frisell isn't much of a talker. The music is the message – a sweet synthesis of country, blues and jazz coaxed from his single guitar and a selection of sound-shifting pedals. At times, such is his lack of showmanship, his concentration on the music alone, it seems as if the people behind the EFG London Jazz Festival have airlifted him, mid-home studio noodling session, and dropped him in the middle of Sloane Square without him realising entirely what's happened.

Often, Frisell appears to be playing his delay pedal as much as he is his guitar, an art he has mastered. Half-forgotten motifs ghost gracefully back into the present at the tap of a foot, sometimes transformed and dissonant, sometimes merging sweetly with the moment. It's an undeniably impressive skill, and one which helps to broaden the range of sounds beyond what a solo guitarist is usually capable of.

Even so, solo guitar can perhaps be of the more esoteric forms of jazz music, and the average punter may at times find Frisell's playing slightly abstruse. Indeed, it's likely that the most rapturous applause emanated from those in the room who were themselves guitarists. Then again, there were also clear moments when the entire room was collectively hooked on the mellifluous ordered chaos produced by Frisell's six strings.

As he left the stage, there was a sense that something more was in store, a tell-tale acoustic guitar lying as yet untouched on the stage. Sure enough, the American master re-emerged to whoops and cheers, addressing a few brief words of thanks to the audience before producing his delightful version of The Beatles' 'In My Life'.

It may not be the soaring, 'let's put on a show' jazz on offer in other parts of the festival, but it's thoughtful, big-hearted and, for just one man and a guitar, beguilingly multifaceted.

James Rybacki

Page 4 of 258

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