ray-carless-vortex

The Windrush Scandal has been one of the biggest stories circulating in the UK media in 2018 – a litany of bureaucratic errors and ugly policies that have made life here unbearable for many people of Caribbean origin and descent. As Jamaican-born Ray Carless and his band enter full swing during The Vortex jazz club's 'Windrush Jazz' night, any thought of Theresa May's 'hostile environment' seems faintly absurd, a strangely antagonistic policy when contrasted with music that is so unabashedly welcoming and joyous.

Carless leads a five-piece band, each one of them introduced as a "Windrush baby", brought together for the night to tear through a set of ska, reggae and calypso-infused jazz. It's undeniably foot-tapping stuff, if not more, shown by the dance-floor of sorts that has formed at the back of the room by the end of the night.

Event organiser DJ Sapphire makes sure that no momentum is lost at the half-way stage, spinning smooth jazz and soul before gearing up for an impressive cameo on vocals in the second half.

The music is by turns skittery and deep in the pocket, always irresistibly lively and essentially happy. Even normally languorous bossa nova tunes such as Tom Jobim's 'Desafinado' are transformed by this Caribbean juggernaut of a band into the sort of upbeat jam that could be prescribed as an anti-depressant. Guitarist Cameron Pierre often comes within an E-string of stealing the show, mixing blues licks with Wes Montgomery-style octaves and spiky, all-out-jazz runs.

As the final bars of a rendition of Fela Kuti's 'Colonial Mentality' fade away, many in the crowd are reluctant to leave, wanting to hear more music. Like many small music venues, The Vortex is beleaguered by near-constant financial pressure. Nights like this, imbued as they are with a genuine sense of community, underline how important it is that the such venues should continue to exist.

– James Rybacki 

 ShabakaHutchins 0033-13

Though Jazzfestival Saalfelden might not nestle between the likes of Montreux or North Sea in terms of high profile, it's now up to its 39th edition, and has a significant reputation for adventurous programming. Its spiritual siblings are fellow uncompromising festivals such as Moers and Vilnius. Saalfelden is set amid the Austrian Alps, in what is effectively a holiday resort. Fortunately, most of this four-day festival was housed in various indoor venues, as the weather conditions involved a heavy three-day downpour, with flooded villages and snowy summer peaks. The misty vistas were almost as evocative as Sunday's eventual sunny revelation.

The free outdoor shows were held under a large street-square marquee, rain waterfalling around its edges, as beer and sausages comforted the crowds. Mokoomba (Zimbabwe) and La Chiva Gantiva (Belgium) were fine choices for the opening night's Afro-psychedelic-latin double-bill. Artistic director Mario Steidl selected a high-powered programme of acts from Austria, the USA, and the rest of Europe, beginning with Finnish guitarist Raoul Björkenheim's smouldering Ecstasy for the Thursday late set in Nexus. This is a small arts theatre alternative to the nearby Main Stage at Congress Saalfelden.

On these latter boards, NYC guitarist Marc Ribot Euro-premiered his Songs Of Resistance repertoire, flanked by Jay Rodriguez (reeds/flute), Nick Dunston (bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums). The leader's crackling, semi-acoustic solos cut through, but an entire set of Ribot protest-vocals was not so enticing, as he's neither a conventionally tuneful singer, or an arresting talk-tone narrator. A particular highlight was the climatic exchange of guitar solos with Rodriguez, escalating via his soprano saxophone intensity.

TomasFujiwara lores 0013

Tomas Fujiwara's Triple Double involved twinned drums, guitars and trumpet/cornet, with Brandon Seabrook (pictured above, extreme fragmentation, unlikely shapes), Ralph Alessi and Gerald Cleaver joining the leader's accustomed team with Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum (extroverted dazzle, seated with dancing legs). A Haden and Ornette miasma-feeling sometimes grew.

Communicative Munich-based singer Jelena Kuljic fronted Kuu!, her agile lines weaving between the spiky guitars of Kalle Kalima and Frank Möbus, while drummer Christian Lillinger revealed his more linear groove-keeping side. Another striking guitar act was the Schnellertollermeier trio, making strings and drums sound like a single breathless robo-entity, with suggestions of Dawn Of Midi or The Necks, but arriving from a precision math-rock direction. The Swissmen cut and clipped with a determined momentum.

Elliott Sharp maintained the guitar focus, in duo with Austrian drummer Lukas König, both of them using pedals and electronics to explode their vocabularies. Rapport was attained, with no lack of swift idea-stamping. Sharp's later set with a quartet that included French singer and harpist Hélene Breschand was lacking on the vocal front. The wafty Breschand rarely opted for silence, and Sharp is not the greatest singer, though his bluesey numbers were still the best on offer. If we wanted an Austrian Billy Jenkins, who better than Christian Kühn and his Kuhn Fu combo. Manic in terms of guitaring, puppet-dancing and mention-the-war humour, he roughed up the festival with a bucketload of zany humour, in the guise of avant speed-jazz.

Chicagoan flautist Nicole Mitchell presented Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, with an unusual palette of shakuhachi, taiko drum, cajon, theremin, cello (Tomeka Reid doubling on banjo) and acid electric guitar. The first section savoured an introverted south-east Asian aura, but the second jarringly shifted into an avant-gospel showcase for frothing singer Avery Young. There appeared to be little connection.

Jaimie Branch (a Chicagoan trumpeter in NYC) led a subdued set from her Fly Or Die, struggling to discover energy during an early-day showing. Lester St Louis chose an unpleasantly buzzing cello sound, impersonating a tuba, while Chad Taylor introduced a sprightly drum-skip, but when sparseness returned, all was strangely lifeless.

Late at night in the Nexus bar, London Afrobeat combo Kokoroko gave a spirited close to the Friday and Saturday, blessed by their three female singers on the frontline, who also injected hardcore jazz horn soloing and riffing into the stream. Or should that be the other way around, horners as vocalists? Our man in Saalfelden, Shabaka Hutchings, fronted the Austro-German party-complexity ensemble Shake Stew, though he became part of the fabric rather than dominating as a big-name guest. Many of his Kemetian toons were negotiated, and this was a superbly suitable combo for interpretation, with bullish electronics, friction baritone and twinned basses, acoustic plus electric. Hutchings was freed up to stretch out loosely in his solos, rather than needing to monitor the rhythmic-thrust side too closely.

Martin Longley
– Photos by Matthias Heschl/Jazzfestival Saalfelden

Following the announcement of the Arts Council England funding award for the Jazz South development programme, Turner Sims Southampton have commissioned the first ever audit of jazz across the region that stretches from Kent to Cornwall to Oxfordshire. Jazzwise, a partner in the initiative, wants to ensure that everyone active in the region's scene pitches in – and is offering a free year's subscription to the magazine – and a coveted Jazzwise T-shirt – to be awarded in a prize draw among all those who fill in the online survey, which is a key part of the audit.

Designed to establish an accurate and comprehensive picture of every aspect of the jazz scene in the region, the survey will collect information about musicians, promoters, venues, festivals, youth orchestras, education projects, labels – in fact anyone and anything connected with the music. Jazz South's programme promises to present new opportunities including touring, commissions, masterclasses, residencies and networking events. Through the audit, Turner Sims wants to ensure that they know who's doing what and where, to identify a comprehensive range of contacts and engage as many people as possible with Jazz South. After a competitive tender process (noted in previous Jazzwise news) Turner Sims has awarded the audit contract to music consultancy Arts & Parts, led by Europe Jazz Network Board member Martel Ollerenshaw.

For more information about the Jazz South audit and to find out how to enter the Jazzwise prize draw, simply go to www.jazzsouth.org.uk

Randy-Weston-Roger-Thomas

Like several prominent African-American jazz artists, pianist Randy Weston, who has died at the age of 92, had Caribbean heritage. Born and raised in New York to a Panamanian-Jamaica father and mother from Virginia, Weston chose to make Africa the foundation of his cultural and musical identity in a glorious career that spanned seven decades. The historical magnitude of Weston's life is summarised by the fact that he is one of the few people to have had conversations with Duke Ellington in the inter-war period and Jason Moran in the millennium, and just a week prior to his passing, Moran, when in London to rehearse for his forthcoming James Reese Europe project, waxed lyrical about both Weston's work and his socio-political stance.

Inspired by Africa as a source of ancestry, creativity and modernism Weston spent much time in Nigeria and in the late 1960s relocated to Morocco, where he ran a club. Weston was a giant of a man whose knees would jut conspicuously above the keyboard anytime he sat down to play, but he cut a very graceful figure. As a pianist Weston came from the wellspring of Ellington, Monk and Tatum, but went on to swim in his own stream of ideas when he explicitly brought both the pulse and sound of African drumming into his performances. The sharp percussive drive Weston drew from the keyboard was enhanced by the input of conga and djembe players on many of his recordings such as the stupendous early 1970s sets African Cookbook, Blue Moses and Tanjah. Yet, he was also capable of tremendous understatement too. His interpretation of Guy Warren's 'Mystery Of Love' is a magical piece of music, as much for the ambience Weston creates through the use of deeply resonant ascending chords that linger over a modal vamp as it is for the delicate improvisation, which is mindful of the poised, contemplative nature of the piece.

Weston's gifts as a composer in his own right are epitomised by the evergreen 'Hi-Fly', a samba-inflected number that has sunshine bursting from its melody, while his most ambitious orchestral work remains the seminal 1961 album, Uhuru Afrika. Bolstered by arrangements from trombonist Melba Liston, the suite was a bold statement on behalf of African liberation movements in the twilight of colonialism, and featured poetry by Langston Hughes as well as narration by Tuntemeke Sanga, a Tanzanian activist who lobbied the United Nations. The record, feted by the American jazz press, was banned in South Africa for its pro-black sentiment.

Weston's ongoing interest in large ensembles led to 2017's African Nubian Suite, but he was also a brilliant partner for saxophonists. He recorded The Healers with David Murray in 1987 and was last seen at the London Jazz Festival in 2014 with Billy Harper. Weston's solo set Blues To Africa is a touchstone for many pianists, while his great generosity and spirituality won the hearts and minds of many the world over.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Roger Thomas

Pianist Robert Mitchell releases a new five-track EP, Epiphany, on 21 September followed by a European and UK tour. The pianist's Epiphany 3 band of drummer Saleem Raman and bassist Tom Mason (above) will feature on the live dates, with acclaimed French saxophonist Julien Lourau joining the group for the album's launch at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London on 26 September.

Further trio-only dates are: The Stables, Wavendon (18 Sept); The Lescar, Sheffield (19 Sept); The Courtyard, Derby (21 Sept); Herts Jazz Fest, Letchworth Garden City (6 Oct); Arts Centre, Bridport (13 Oct); Parr Studios, Liverpool (16 Oct); Soundcellar, Bournemouth (18 Oct); Arts Centre, Ashburton (19 Oct); and Karamel, London (24 Nov).

Mike Flynn

Photo by Przemek Nowak

For more info visit www.robertmitchellmusic.com

 

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