This year's North Sea Jazz Festival, the world's largest indoor music festival, takes place in Rotterdam from 13-15 July with an impressive international line-up of jazz heavyweights, with Snarky Puppy bandleader and producer Michael League (above left) as its artist in residence. He appears with Snarky Puppy in a rare live hook-up with the Metropole Orkest (with whom they won a Grammy Award for 2016's Sylva), while also appearing with his Afrocentric new band, Bokanté. Singing sensation Gregory Porter (above centre) also links-up with the Metropole Orkest for a string-laden performance of his Nat King Cole & Me and Other Songs set, arranged and conducted by Vince Mendoza.

Rising British jazz stars are there en masse with Sons of Kemet, Moses Boyd's Exodus and Nubya Garcia (above right) all set to appear. The programme also includes US supergroup Hudson – Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, John Medeski and Scott Colley – Pat Metheny Quartet with Antonio Sanchez, Linda Oh and Gwilym Simcock; Billy Hart Quartet with Joshua Redman; Charles Lloyd and the Marvels; Vijay Iyer Sextet and Maria Schneider with Ensemble Denada. Also booked are R+R with Robert Glasper leading a killer crew of Terrace Martin, Christian Scott, Taylor McFerrin, Derrick Hodge and Justin Tyson.

Other top names in attendance include Cécile McLorin Salvant, Mingus Big Band, Pharoah Sanders, Marcus Miller and the Carla Bley Trio. The festival will also host acts from a wide selection of soul and world artists such as Khalid, The O'Jays, Earth Wind & Fire, Nile Rodgers & CHIC, Moses Sumney and Ibeyi.

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.northseajazz.com/en/tickets

Revered US guitarist Pat Metheny (pictured) has been confirmed as the recipient of the PRS for Music Gold Award at this year's Jazz FM Awards, which take place next Monday on 30 April at Shoreditch Town Hall, London. Widely acclaimed as one of the all-time jazz guitar greats, Metheny's extraordinary recording career began in 1974 on pianist Paul Bley's album Jaco, named after the iconic bassist Jaco Pastorius, who also appeared on the album and on Metheny's 1976 acclaimed debut on ECM, Bright Sized Life, which also featured drummer Bob Moses. The guitarist went on to win 20 Grammy Awards over a vast recording legacy that continues today with a new album scheduled for later this year. Metheny will be at the awards ceremony to present an award and collect the prestigious Gold Award. Previous recipients of this award include pianist Ramsey Lewis and The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

Also announced will be appearances two fellow Grammy winners – bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding and US vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant – who will join forces with fast rising British stars – saxophonist Nubya Garcia and pianist Ashley Henry – for a unique all-star performance. Spalding is nominated for the Jazz Innovation Award for her pioneering Facebook live streamed album recording session; Garcia is nominated for Breakthrough Act of the Year and Salvant is nominated in both International Artist of the Year and Album of the Year categories. This announcement follows the news that both George Benson and Dame Cleo Laine will be honoured with the PPL Lifetime Achievement Award and Impact Awards respectively.

The full list of nominees is as follows:
Breakthrough Act of the Year: Ezra Collective; Nubya Garcia; Rob Luft.
International Soul Artist of the Year: Jordan Rakei; Leroy Hutson; Moonchild.
UK Jazz Act of the Year (Public Vote): Dinosaur; Ezra Collective; Kansas Smitty's House Band.
Digital Initiative of the Year: Esperanza Spalding: Exposure; Jacob Collier: I Harm U; Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club: Live Streaming.
Instrumentalist of the Year: Evan Parker; Theon Cross; Yazz Ahmed.
International Blues Artist of the Year: Lucky Peterson; Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo; Robert Cray.
Jazz Innovation of the Year: Carleen Anderson: Cage Street Memorial; Joe Armon Jones and Maxwell Owin: Idiom; Shabaka Hutchings: multiple projects.
Vocalist of the Year: Alice Zawadzki; Liane Carroll; Zara McFarlane. International Jazz
Artist of the Year: Cécile McLorin Salvant; Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah; Thundercat.
Album of the Year (Public Vote): Blue Note All-Stars – Our Point of View; Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers; Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Diaspora; Denys Baptiste – The Late Trane; Phronesis – The Behemoth; Thundercat – Drunk.
Live Experience of the Year (Public Vote): An evening with Dave Holland – Ambleside Days Festival at Zephirellis Cinema (featuring Norma Winstone, Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker, Nikki Iles, Mark Lockheart, Stan Sulzmann, Tim Garland, John Helliwell, Nick Smart, James Maddren and Asif Sirkis); CHICAGOXLONDON – Makaya McCraven at Total Refreshment Centre – 18 October, featuring Theon Cross Trio and Jaimie Branch Fly Or Die Ensemble; Ronnie Scott's presents Ezra Collective – EFG London Jazz Festival at Islington Assembly Hall; Jazz Re:Fest at the Southbank Centre; Pharoah Sanders Quartet + Denys Baptiste + Alina Bzhezhinska: A Concert for Alice and John – EFG London Jazz Festival at The Barbican and Randolph Matthews – Jazz in the Round at Love Supreme Festival.
Mike Flynn
For more info visit www.jazzfmawards.com

MariaSchneiderOrchestra1

The middle period of the Savannah Music Festival featured most of its jazz shows, as the stylistic orientation shifted, throughout a 17-day run. This 29th edition celebrated the accustomed diverse blend of blues, country, classical, latin, cajun, flamenco, bluegrass and African musics. Down in Georgia, right on the Savannah river, the city's downtown historic center boasts a preserved criss-crossing of wooden-houses, only interrupted by numerous shaded squares, their droopy trees weeping moss. The pace is slower here, though doubtless much agitated from the norm by each day's prodigious flow of festival gigs, from midday to nearly midnight. The concept of the SMF can loosely be termed 'American roots music', although the classical concerts mostly featured old European music, and many of the traditional folkloric gigs included artists from Africa, Europe and Asia.

The Maria Schneider Orchestra appeared at the splendidly retro-preserved Lucas Theatre For The Arts, opened way back in 1921. The composer's anticipated regulars were lined up, including Scott Robinson, Donny McCaslin (reeds), Ryan Keberle (trombone), Ben Monder (guitar), Frank Kimbrough (piano), Gary Versace (accordion) and Johnathan Blake (drums), all of them on fine soloing form. Schneider displayed her distinctive conducting style, both in its physical language, and in the resultant sonic colourations. While still selecting a few old favourites, the leader was intent on highlighting newer works, often with a topical edge. Her older chestnuts frequently celebrate nature, but 'Data Lords', for instance, is more concerned with criticising the social media beast, cannily anticipating recent developments. A bristling beginning featured a muted Mike Rodriguez trumpet, heavily reverbed as swirling dark clouds gathered for this foreboding AI warning. This is a much darker Schneider universe. Steve Wilson took an alto solo, then both of these soloists responded, as their leader's signals became increasingly agitated and insistent, prompting a free-form strengthening. George Flynn's gruff bass trombone provided a deep undercurrent throughout. Robinson and McCaslin soloed vigorously during 'Arbiters Of Evolution', exchanging repeated blasts as this leviathan trucked along, the latter saxophonist reaching a monumental climax, Robinson then quite wisely taking it way down to a serene level.

TrumpetMasters FrankStewart

The festival's core venue was the Charles H. Morris Center, where three shows were presented on most days. This was the location for Trumpet Masters, a double-bill that looked back at the repertoires of Louis Armstrong and Lee Morgan. For the first set, the unfamiliar Alphonso Horne took the Satchmo role, hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, but currently residing in NYC. His octet made their entrance from the rear of the venue, New Orleans style, hopping onto the stage for 'Dippermouth Blues', getting into the vintage spirit. King Oliver's 'Weather Bird' followed, with a trumpet and piano dialogue, after Earl Hines. The set featured Louis-links with Sidney Bechet and Jack Teagarden, trombonist Corey Wilcox revealing a fine sideline in virtuoso whistling, then singer Brianna Thomas came on to invoke the spirit of Ella Fitzgerald, a part of the show that despite providing a climactic energy, concentrated too much on a specific part of the Armstrong story. The Terell Stafford Quintet moved on a few decades, investigating the starker, moodier realm of Lee Morgan. Saxophonist Tim Warfield Jr issued a robust solo on 'Stop Start', spilling guts at length, chased by the leader's sparky riposte. Morgan customarily closed out the night with 'Speedball', a blues with peppery parts. This was gifted with another verbose tenor solo, urging Stafford on to greater heights, with a cracked, slurred solo of his own, sledding along on the driving tempo.

Back in the Lucas, pianist Marcus Roberts (the festival's resident jazz music director) presented Stomping The Blues (titled after Albert Murray's 1976 book), a celebration of tunes from the early days of the music. Another all-star cast was assembled, sometimes working in smaller group permutations, rising up to virtual big band level. The garrulous Wycliffe Gordon made a significant impact, his rasping trombone sometimes being swapped for a slide trumpet. A returning Terell Stafford's solos were short and spunky, consequently packed with barely contained vim, a kind of micro-excitement. A bebop combo resided within the large ranks, and we don't often get the opportunity to witness a sousaphone in such a setting, as Gordon won our attention once again with a dribbling huff.

– Martin Longley
Photos by Frank Stewart

Lonnie-Smith

Improvising musicians have been at the forefront of technology for many years. Dr. Lonnie Smith's memorable declaration that the Hammond B-3 organ is 'the first synthesiser' proves more topical than ever in this mesmerising performance, as his use of the instrument's two keyboards, numerous drawbars and bass pedals produces a polychrome wall of sound that has lost none of the futurism it sported back in the 1930s when the likes of Fats Waller and Count Basie were letting rip with the 'church pianna'. However, few could have foreseen how ahead of the game remains the 75-year-old, whose latest album All In My Mind is a welcome addition to his 1960s and 1970s classics such as Move Your Hand, Turning Point and Afrodesia, works that saw him make soul-jazz wade in thrillingly pyschedelic water. After flooring the faithful with a consummate display of the art of the organ trio, in which Smith, guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Xavier Breaker create an enticing blend of burning high notes, gospelised themes, choppy, distorted riffs and ricochet snare shots, Smith pulls the rug from under the audience's feet. With the cute, jaunty bossa nova take on Paul Simon's '50 Ways To Leave Your Lover' still reverberating around the room, he gingerly stands up, his long lilac shirt, indigo turban, brown love beads and white beard making him a picture of prophet-like elegance. He then starts to produce a series of dazzling electronic huffs and hiccoughs, the source of which is not entirely clear for those of us docked at the bar. He gradually moves from the stage. There is an audible gasp from the front row as a tremor of primal sub-bass accompanies his slow tour. He is holding a walking stick. It sparkles like a light sabre, though. He strums the prop like a bass guitar, his thumb cocked like Marcus, and the resonance sharpens as it becomes clear that there is tension running through the device, and that texture and tonality shift according to where and with what force it is struck. There are slides up and down the neck to create a bullying boom worthy of a sound system, but the effect is all the more visceral because the 'axe' is being swung almost like a benign weapon, right under the nose of certain diners. "I bet your grandfather doesn't do that, huh!" quips Smith at one punter beaming with delight as the 'magic stick' casts a spell around her table. Designed specially for Smith by Andy Graham, the instrument is almost like a string-less Chapman stick, but any shock value it holds is more than surpassed by the verve with which Smith draws a wide range of supersonic funky sensations from its hi-tech fuselage. As he showed through renditions of standards such as 'On A Misty Night' and smart new originals like 'Pilgrimage', Smith still has an iron grip on both the orchestral romanticism of the Hammond as well as its ability to delicately craft ambient soundscapes, which is further emphasised by the use of a korg synth and electronic percussion unit. But the 'stick thang' sees the doctor reach for the future while staying deeply rooted in the past, his time travel a joy to behold as he switches off his electro cane and gracefully exits the stage like the wisest of elders.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Carl Hyde

 Cully1

"There will never be peace until God is seated at the conference table", sang the Blind Boys of Alabama. Given our proximity to Geneva and the backlog of international conflicts that need resolving, the lyrics seemed particularly prescient.

Cully Jazz's two-week programme is an eclectic mix of jazz, rock and funk. So exploratory and progressive that the Blind Boys' gospel and blues came over as refreshingly traditional – a group that will always be true to its genre and history; not a sudden time-signature switch, weird effects pedal, or dissonant chord to be heard. Led by founder member (incredibly since 1939) Jimmy Carter, this was a moving and beautifully performed embodiment of the strength of those oppressed for so long in the US South, the rich vocals lit by shafts of instrumental brilliance from guitarist Joey Williams and Trae Pierce on bass.

Set in a venerable wine-makers' village on the shores of Lake Geneva with distant Alpine views, amid tumbling terraces of ancient vineyards, there can be few festivals as scenically awe-inspiring as this. Even noisy neighbour Montreaux (no relation, apparently), at the end of the lake can't really improve on the aesthetics. The four main venues are close together and right at the village's heart, and include the sweaty, ramshackle Caveau pub, which was home to fired-up jazz groovers Kuma, led by Matthieu Llodra on keys and Arthur Donnot on tenor, who propelled an after-show party each night with plenty of guests – mostly young Swiss players like Leon Phal (sax) and Gauthier Toux (piano, next month coming to the UK), all with real chops and depth. Some of these were playing other gigs at the event, such as tasteful trumpeter Zacharie Ksyk, also appearing with interesting improvisational group Francesco Geminiani Electro 6tet.

Back on the main stage, Le Chapiteau, Omer Avital Quintet played a breathtaking set. At times, Avital's double-bass seemed to take the role of dance partner as the expressive Israeli/US bandleader swayed and shimmied along with his own grooves. Particularly impressive was the way traditional Middle Eastern music, samba and Abdullah Ibrahim-style moods were incorporated in a seamless fashion; nothing seemed forced or artificial as is sometimes the case with composers described as 'genre defying'. Powerful melodies, powerful grooves, this was exultant jazz in which super soprano/tenor player Asaf Yuria and explosive drummer Ofri Nehemya shone brightly.

Canadian singer songwriter Mélissa Laveaux brought her riff-oriented, sparse sounds to the medium-sized Next Step venue. Her lush vocals, distinctive finger-picking guitar, and Haitian-heritage tinged compositions were as striking as her onstage aura. The jazz purists may have given her trio a miss but few could deny her strong identity and sheer talent. As with many 'jazz' festivals, an open mind was required – it was never likely we'd be hearing 'All The Things You Are' on a regular basis. But the audience accepted the challenge of clashing genres with a happy heart with the banjo-thrashing Cyril Cyril playing 100 metres from inventive, reflective Shai Maestro, who drew a crowd at the Temple that could barely be accommodated.

Also stretching boundaries were the truly impressive quartet SHIJIN, definitely worth looking out for if they appear in the UK anytime soon. Appearing like a jazz ZZ Top with ample facial hair, their set veered from lyrical to angular with plenty of unexpected twists. A multinational group, Swiss keyboardist Malcolm Braff (pcitured, top) boasted a Darwinesque beard and a delightfully rambling cross-rhythmic soloing approach, somehow with echoes of Zawinul. US saxist Jacques Schwarz-Bart's rich tone and careful solo construction provided the melodic glue for the unit, before he too happily took to the stratosphere.

Cully2

A more edgy approach was taken by Swiss singer Lucia Cadotsch, whose Berlin-based Swing Low trio played the main Le Chapiteau venue, a bold move by the programmers considering the subtlety and nuances of Cadotsch's performance. A few audience members took to their heels during the show, which for some may have been challenging. Cadotsch's ethereal but strong and clear voice was accompanied by Swede Otis Sandsjö on tenor sax, a master of harmonics and split tones, and superb bassist Petter Eldh, also Swedish. The sax provided an all-pervasive soundscape behind the vocal, one that the split tones ensured remained dark and foreboding, imbuing the reworked folk tunes, standards and originals with emotional resonance, but not one that was always comfortable. It was an impressive piece of playing by Sandsjö, not only for the false fingerings but the sheer stamina required.

In great contrast, this set was followed with a performance by the rather more crowd-pleasing Lisa Simone whose dynamic vocal and languid, elegant movement was superbly supported by Reggie Washington (bass), Hervé Samb (guitar, later seen jamming with the funksters at Caveau) and the classy drummer Sonny Troupé who played a lovely, lyrical solo. There were plenty of references to her mother Nina and their difficult relationship, but Simone's tunes proved uplifting, finishing with an ecstatically received foray into the crowd and a rousing rendition of Cannonball's 'Worksong'.

Cully4

Jean-Luc Ponty, Kyle Eastwood and Biréli Lagrène's trio were recently at London's Barbican and last year at Ronnie's. Here they delighted Le Chapiteau with their verve, Lagrène's brilliance giving Eastwood a real test in terms of anchoring the standards ('Blue Trane', 'Mercy Mercy Mercy', 'Oleo', etc) and originals ('Stretch', 'Andalucia', 'To and Fro'). Lagrène this time was relatively sparing with his Django flourishes, deploying Metheny-esque chord substitutions and a wide range of gizmos to great effect. At times, he and Ponty reduced the audience to laughter with their off-hand virtuosity.

This is a forward-looking, diverse festival with helpful staff in an utterly beguiling setting. No wonder this is the area people look to for world peace!

– Adam McCulloch
– Photos by Michel Bertholet (Malcolm Braff); Jean-Marc Guélat (Lucia Cadotsch) and loOrent.com (Jean-Luc Ponty)

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