After a stellar performance for a sold-out audience John McLaughlin had more than earned the right to an early night, but his presence at the side of the stage is a notable endorsement for the group that follows him. Put simply, the guitar legend is seriously feeling the James Brandon Lewis Trio. But the young Americans, making their UK debut, construct a formidably fierce wall of sound that is hard to ignore, even for superstar musicians enjoying the sanctuary of a dressing room.
Tenor saxophonist Lewis, bass guitarist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren 'Trae' Crudup make their intentions very clear by way of the title of their debut album in any case. No Filter unveils a raw, rugged, uncut and uncompromising aesthetic, and that is exactly what the players deliver. The sheer hardness of their attack has the front row initially leaning back, eyebrows raised and then heads nodding in hypnosis when the full force of the music really starts to kick in.
What JBL trio does so compellingly is show the roots of hip hop in funk and jazz, making the very important point that the kick drum-led 'boom bap', that heartbeat throb that has come to mould pop music in the millennium, is part of a wider rhythmic lexicon that includes a more fluid swing and the loose, floating 'free' metre associated with the avant-garde. The cohesion with which all these enduring historical elements are handled is enhanced by the 'live mixtape' format of the set whereby half a dozen pieces, which include 'Lament For JLew', 'Raise Up off Me', 'Zen' and 'Able Souls Dig Planets', form a suite that unfurls like a long exhalation of energy marked by careful hiccoughs.
Lewis, whose previous release Divine Travels saw him work with veterans William Parker and Gerald Cleaver, has a wrought iron tone and punchy phrasing that references as much the instrumental R&B tradition as it does jazz, and in many ways his ability to create riffs that have the feel of 'breaks' serves as a potent reminder of both the ingenuity of players like Eddie Harris in the 1970s and the visionary use of horn samples by Public Enemy in the 1980s. JBL's immersion in hip hop is reflected by a very personal way of sculpting timbres to create a distortion that sounds uncannily like a DJ's 'backward scratch'.
Bassist Stewart also pushes his sound into interestingly undefined spaces, using electronics to fashion sometimes very austere, spectral resonances that have an industrial rock flavour, but he also impresses for the sharpness of his movement between lower and upper register, and the expert timing with which he hits the unison lines with Lewis. As for Crudup, who drew such a broad smile from McLaughlin, he is a powerful anchor and agitator of rhythm, filling spaces with sufficient additional commentary on the beat without unhinging the ensemble voice. His snare and tom sounds are pleasingly dry, cementing the tough vocabulary of his partners. The closer 'Bittersweet' is a wry, downbeat lament, the calm after the storm, a soothing ballad for an audience that has greatly relished its time in the tremulous eye of the hurricane.
– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Tim Dickeson
The Elgar Room, the Royal Albert Hall's highly accommodating 200-capacity concert space within the main concert hall building, has an exciting and diversely programmed weekly Late Night Jazz series with concerts happening every Thursday. The series showcases many emerging and established jazz names across a wide-spectrum of sounds from propulsive fusion-edged newcomers Ezra Collective, to swinging tributes to jazz divas Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. There's also a rare live jazz-poetry night from revered British poet Michael Horovitz and his William Blake Klezmatrix Band plus a welcome appearance from Brit jazz-rock icons Soft Machine, with founding guitarist John Etheridge (above), in late June.
All shows start at 9.45pm and include: Ezra Collective (13 April); Deelee Dubé Sings Sarah Vaughan with the Renato D'Aiello Quartet (20 April); Anthony Strong Trio (4 May); A'la Ella! A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (11 May); The Tricity Vogue All Girl Swing Band (18 May) Benoit Viellefon Hot Club (25 May); Michael Horovitz and his William Blake Klezmatrix Band (8 June); Alex Hitchcock Quintet (15 June); Jumoké Fashola: Protest! – Divas, Words & Revolution (22 June) and Soft Machine (29 June).
– Mike Flynn
– Photo by Tim Dickeson
For more info visit: www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/series/late-night-jazz
The weeklong Jazzwise 20th anniversary celebrations kicked off in spectacular style last night. The word genius is bandied about far too often these days, but in the case of John McLaughlin, the epithet is undisputedly warranted for one of the world's most influential and inspirational guitarists/composers.
The two-night stint at Ronnie's comes at the end of an intense 10-date European tour. McLaughlin wanted the Ronnie's gigs to be the climax of the tour since the club is so very dear to his heart. As he explained in his interview in Jazzwise: "Ronnie and Ronnie Scott's-where would I be without them?... it's thanks to Ronnie personally that when I got the invite from Tony Williams in 1968, it was thanks to Ronnie that I was able to get the visa". The rest, as they say, is history. From being a member of Ronnie Scott's house band in the late 1960s McLaughlin's rise to world stardom was truly meteoric. He's travelled along many different paths during his amazing 50-year career but whatever course he has chosen to take, his music always seethes with passion, humanity and spirituality. His music is yin and yang, fire and grace.
McLaughlin and his regular band, the 4th Dimension, of Gary Husband (keyboards and drums), Étienne Mbappé (electric bass) and Ranjit Barot (drums), were on fire as they took the sell-out audience on a breath-taking musical journey that lasted over two hours without a break. McLaughlin's guitar technique at 75 is just as terrifyingly mesmerising as it was all those years ago when he took the world by storm with those Mahavishnu masterpieces of the early 1970s.
It was fantastic to hear the band revisiting the incendiary Mahavishnu material, the band erupting with two classics: "Meeting of the Spirits" from The Inner Mounting Flame of 71 and 'Miles Beyond' from Birds of Fire from 1973. From then on the set was a gloriously potent mix of old and new material. It wasn't all fast and furious fusion. 'Gaza City' from his Backlight album of 2015 had me in tears. A quiet prayer for those who suffered intolerably in the Gaza bombardment in 2014, it reminds us that this was just one example of man's obscene inhumanity to man. Indeed, the horrors go on unabated.
We need "love and understanding" to repair our screwed-up world as Rangit pleads in Abbaji, the melody simple, anthemic and immensely powerful. The band were in joyous flamenco mood in 'El Hombre que Sabia'. This tune was to be recorded with Paco de Lucia but sadly the virtuoso flamenco guitar legend left us three years ago. Here, the duet between McLaughlin and Husband on keys was awesome. In fact, Husband was incredible throughout the entire evening, whether he was behind the drums or at the keyboard. I don't think it's an over-statement to call Gary a genius as well as John. Mbappé and Barot were stunning too. What a band! I felt honoured to have been there.
We mustn't forget clarinettist Arun Ghosh and his band for their wonderful contribution at the beginning of the evening. They put the audience in a joyous mood before the main event, and Alex Garnett and the guys who bopped away until the early hours to send everyone home in a swinging mood.
– Geoff Eales
– Photos by Tim Dickeson
Evan Parker draws back the veil on the challenges of improvisation during Awkward, a charming and revealing short film produced in 2014 capturing the iconic British saxophonist in intimate conversation and performance at The Vortex Jazz Club alongside John Russell (guitar), John Edwards (double-bass), Adam Linson (double-bass) and Matt Wright (turntables).
This is the first time Awkward has been made publically available by the film's director and producer Adam Brichto, and it has been kindly donated to us here at Jazzwise on the occasion of the magazine's 20th birthday celebrations this month.
– Spencer Grady
Awkward from Adam Brichto on Vimeo
Award-wining jazz development company Tomorrow's Warrior's launches its new music education initiative this month – The Jazz Ticket – marking the centenary of the birth of six jazz legends: composer Tadd Dameron, vocalist Ella Fitgerald, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, drummer Buddy Rich and percussionist Mongo Santamaria.
The project aims to give young musicians aged 11-18 throughout the country an opportunity to work with leading jazz professionals in developing their performance and improvisational skills, while exploring the history of jazz and the music and lives of six of its most pioneering artists.
Premiering at Turner Sims, Southampton on 16 March, The Jazz Ticket will then move on to Luton Sixth Form College (24 March) and Leicester's The Venue (28 March), before reaching out to over 50 schools across the UK, including Manchester, Brighton, Bristol, Hull and London, engaging almost 600 young people as performers and many more as audience members.
– Spencer Grady
For more details and ticket information visit www.thejazzticket.co.uk