Guitarist Nigel Price's epic national tour – 56 dates in all – came to its final stop at Lauderdale House in Highgate, London, last Thursday. Long established as an amenable venue for jazz, the house has recently undergone a major lottery-funded face-lift and Price's climactic gig coincided with the opening of its new bar and café, thus giving everyone, musicians and audience alike, ample further cause for celebration.
Price, whose travels have taken him and his loyal sidemen some 7,000 road miles around the UK, confessed to being exhausted: if so, it scarcely showed for this was a bravura performance by him and all concerned. Honed on the road, tight and crisp, the dynamics as natural as breathing, theirs was music that touched all the emotions: excitement, bliss, awe, even exultation, as they collectively pulled off yet more intricacies or found new ways to build and flourish. They being Price's accomplished supporters, his equal partners really, organist Ross Stanley, all deep-seated chords and spiky right-hand passages, and drummer Matt Home, agile and purposeful, his drum sound quite perfect – in other words, a fusion of talents that could have hardly been bettered. Add in the twin tenors of Vasilis Xenopoulos and Alex Garnett, head-to-head and swinging and you had a definition of zest and joy in jazz.
Opening with 'This Could Be The Start of Something Big' seemed strangely contrary – surely this was the end of something big? No matter and quite erroneous, as Home's brushes laid down a pitter-patter beat and Price began his Wes-like extended exploration of the theme and its underlying harmonic structure. He likes to approach a song as if seeking to shake all the fruit from the tree, here aided and abetted by the tenors of course (they had only played together once previously on the tour) each having augmented the group separately but, my, how well they combined. Vasilis is a linear player, who knows how to shape a solo in what we might call Stanley Turrentine's fashion, with a fine, strong tone and an elegant, centred command, whereas Garnett is a mischief-maker, his playing often oblique, the entry points mostly unexpected, the phrasing sometimes sly, the support from Stanley, Price and Home, giving them both the kind of prompting that must have seemed like wish-fulfilment personified.
Inspired by the organ combos of the Blue Note-era, and thus marked by some as retro, this to me was music of the moment, gloriously creative, ebullient and at times downright funky. How can you beat Wes Montgomery's 'Four and Six', but here played in 12? Price introduced many of the songs as contrafacts of popular themes, mostly taken from his current album, none better than the sign-off piece 'Blue Genes'. Quick-fire yet engaging, the tenors roaring through the chart, this avowedly was a tour-de-force for them all. Quite a night.
The 2017 Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs from 30 June to 2 July, marks its milestone fifth edition in style with two of jazz's biggest living legends set to appear in the form of iconic keyboardist Herbie Hancock and revered guitarist/singer George Benson. Hancock's appearance will be his only UK festival date next year, when he is also due to return with his first full album since his 2010 collaborative vocal-led recording, The Imagine Project, the new music rumoured to be produced by Robert Glasper and feature collaborations with electronica guru Flying Lotus and bassist Thundercat. Set to bring his full electric band to the festival, Hancock commented: "I'm looking forward to playing at Love Supreme Festival in Sussex next year with some new music that I'm working on and a new approach on some of my older tunes."
Meanwhile, 73-year-old, 10-time Grammy Award-winning guitar virtuoso Benson's recent albums Guitar Man and Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole have seen once more favour his formidable guitar work more prominently alongside his rich-toned vocals. Love Supreme has grown steadily each year, with the 2016 event seeing some 22,000 people attend the festival across the weekend, it's now the focal point of the UK summer jazz calendar with its strong mix of new jazz talent, credible crossover artists, jazz legends and soul-funk headliners.
Set in the idyllic, picturesque location of the South Downs, the festival site features a wide selection of bars, international food stalls, jazz record and merchandise stands, children's play area and fun fair. Day passes and weekend tickets, including on-site camping and luxury glamping options, are available now from www.lovesupremefestival.com
Cosmic capers come to Sussex between 29-30 March thanks to a righteous collaboration between the bods at Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival and Dictionary Pudding Promotions.
Yup, that's right, the mighty Sun Ra Arkestra, led by it's esteemed Musical Director Marshall Allen, beams down for a soon-to-be legendary stint at the intimate Lewes Con Club, marking the ensemble's first foray to the county town in their 60 year-long mission of spiritual salvation. But you better be quick or be ready for disappointment, tickets are selling quicker than spicy chicken wings on the school-run home.
Armenian piano ace Tigran Hamasyan is set to return with a new solo piano album on 31 March 2017 when he releases An Ancient Observer on Nonesuch records. His first solo piano album since his acclaimed breakthrough solo album A Fable, and the follow up to his barnstorming fusion record for Nonesuch, Mockroot, it sees him delve deeper into his Armenian roots with a new set of contemporaneous takes on his birthplace's folk music.
Composed over the last four years, An Ancient Observer is a fusion of improvisation, hip hop grooves, Baroque themes and inventive but occasional use of synths alongside his piano playing. Speaking about the album Hamasyan said: "For me it is an awakening, and a beautiful feeling, to be able to observe the magnificence of this sleeping volcanic giant, which has existed for millions of years and was observed by the Ararat Valley Koura-Arax culture through to the present-day citizens of the Armenian republic. I can see and observe the same birds, animals, rivers, and mountains that the craftsman of 4,000 years ago painted on a clay vessel. He was observing the same thing I observe now, and what remains is his or her beautiful work of art."
The album also marks his reengagement with the label after two collaborative recordings on ECM, Luys I Luso with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir and Atmosphéres with a stellar Norwegian trio. Hamasyan embarks on a 40-date world tour to support the release appearing in the UK and Ireland at RNCM, Manchester(5 April); Kings Place, London (6 April) and Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin (7 April).
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club are set to get the new year fired up with several key January bookings including a three-day 'Weekender' from acclaimed jazz-soul singer Natalie Williams and her Soul Family 10-piece, who celebrate the decade milestone of their monthly residency at the club on 6 to 8 January with special guest vocalists soon to be announced.
Other highlights across the month include a debut Ronnie's gig for powerful drummer/soundscaper Jaimeo Brown and his group Transcendence, featuring guitarist/laptopist Chris Sholar (pictured above with Brown) and fiery altoist Jaleel Shaw (11-12 January) who created one of 2016's strongest releases in the form of Work Songs on the Motéma label. Fellow renowned drummer Manu Katché appears for two nights (9-10 Jan) with his hard-grooving European five-piece of leading Norwegians, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and talented bassist/singer Ellen Andrea Wang, Italian trumpeter Luca Luca Aquino and heavyweight UK Hammond man Jim Watson, while leading British jazz singer Claire Martin also appears for two nights with her band (16-17 Jan).
Further bookings include: Booker T Jones (1-6 Jan); Nicola Conte Combo (13-14 Jan); Larry Goldings/Peter Bernstein/Bill Stewart Trio (18 Jan); Marcia Ball (19-20 Jan); James Carter Organ Trio (21 Jan); Ruby Turner (30 Jan-1 Feb and 5-7 Feb); Dr Lonnie Smith Trio (2-4 Feb); Louis Hayes 80th Birthday Celebration Tour featuring Jeremy Pelt (8-9 Feb); Pee Wee Ellis Funk Assembly (10-11 Feb) and Wolfgang Muthspiel Quintet with Brian Blade, Ambrose Akinmusire, Gwilym Simcock and Scott Colley (5-6 Mar).