Listening to Wadada Leo Smith and Vijay Iyer in conversation at Wigmore Hall was as inspiring as watching them play. Their pre-concert talk, hosted by Kevin LeGendre, was insightful and frequently profound, touching on physics, mysticism and magic. There were stories – Smith's account of the time two undercover police officers infiltrated and performed with the AACM – thoughts about toying with expectation as a means of creating tension, on the performance space as ritualised and meditative, and on performance itself: "When we step on the stage we destroy the memory that we exist. You forget that you are alive. You have no fear of death," stated Smith.
Iyer discussed the line drawings of Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi, to whom a cosmic rhythm with each stroke (a typically poetic phrase taken from one of Mohamedi's diaries) is dedicated. He mused on their use of repetition ("not obsessive, but very directed") and on the patterns and the rhythm that emerges from it. They have a "meditative quality" and yet they also offer us "a glimpse of the infinite".
Smith also gave advice to a first year jazz student in the audience:
1. Forget about defining yourself as jazz. Jazz doesn't exist. It never existed.
2. Forget what other people think about the way you sound.
3. Imagine everything is possible for you.
And together they elaborated on the approach they take as a duo – using the piano as a sounding board for the trumpet and listening to the resonant properties of every room they play in, allowing it to influence the direction of the performance.
I enjoyed a cosmic rhythm (ECM, 2016) on disc, but I don't feel as though I fully understood what the duo were trying to say. Live, and in light of the talk, it all made sense. The connection with Mohamedi and the distinctiveness of the project were both obvious.
They played continuously for just over an hour, finishing with two shorter pieces. Smith dressed all in white, leaning back and bending double, breaking notes against the floorboards before leaping into his upper register, as if catching a thermal. Iyer on piano, Fender Rhodes and electronics taking care of the meditative repetition and using his set-up both as a sounding board and an amplifier for Smith's trumpet – letting notes sing in the piano strings; triggering looping electronic glissandi that mirrored the trumpeter's flights; and allowing stabs to explode across the keyboard, scattering like handfuls of broken glass.
There were passages of bracing dissonance. Smith's muted opening salvo, sustained for upwards of 10 minutes, was so keening and discordant it felt as though he were driving the point of a knife between the bones in your ear. The resolution was blissful when it arrived, the purity of his sound and the tenderness of his attack almost shocking.
Another highlight came when Iyer took the lead, with an inexorable, writhing piano figure. Then Smith's exclamations sounded weary, as if he were pleading with the pianist to stop – to slow down. He broke off for a moment before redoubling his efforts and soaring to the top of his range. Offering us a glimpse of the infinite.
– Thomas Rees
– Photo by Roger Thomas
Details have reached us of an enticingly eclectic new jazz fest, curated by writer Sammy Stein. The London Jazz Platform takes place at The Brewhouse on Sunday 18 June and will showcase a broad swathe of styles within its arched environs.
Among those appearing at the event are silky-smooth chanteuse Kitty LaRoar (accompanied by pianist Nick Shankland), freewheeling saxophonist Colin Webster, legendary improvising guitarist John Russell (pictured above), boundary-busting bassist John Edwards and a quartet of captivating keys contortionists in Simon Lasky, Lars Fiil, Marco Marconi and David Dower.
– Spencer Grady
Tickets are available at www.eventbrite.co.uk
Bassist, composer and vocalist Avishai Cohen appears at the Barbican on Thursday 9 February 2017 for his only UK date this year. He'll be accompanied by pianist Omri Mor and percussionist Itamar Doari, while the BBC Concert Orchestra are on hand to embolden and embellish under the stewardship of conductor Bastien Still.
The concert will be dedicated to Cohen's close friend and producer-of-choice, the late John Ellson, who sadly died in October 2016. Ellson was the man responsible for introducing Cohen to a wider British audience and a key figure in the Israeli's ongoing artistic development. Commenting on his long friendship with Ellson, Cohen said: "‘I met Mr John Ellson (Elsi) around 1999. I can't think of anyone else I’ve met in this business that was so generous, real and purely good like John. I will miss him dearly, especially his wonderful sense of humour."
– Spencer Grady
– Photo by Tim Dickeson
For more details visit www.barbican.org.uk
"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