Marcus Strickland brought his Twi-Life band to Ronnie Scott’s to perform tracks from their 2016 Blue Note debut Nihil Novi. Given the album’s title comes from the latin for ‘nothing new’, audiences could be forgiven for expecting a more routine evening, but Strickland sees the phrase as a distillation of the idea that everything is inspired by something else, and it was his rich diversity of influences on display tonight.
Neo-soul and R&B vibes were apparent from the off, with drummer Charles Haynes a powerhouse of invention and backbeat. A cover of J Dilla’s ‘Lightworks’ shook the foundations of Frith Street, as Haynes squeezed in fills in a host of different metres before returning to beat one as if nothing had happened. Very much from the Chris Dave school of drumming, Haynes’s captured the glitches of hip hop loops and never rested in the same feel for long, making his more simple beats all the more satisfying.
Hip hop was certainly a unifying theme, but Twi-Life explored much more besides. ‘Sissoko’s Voyage’ sampled Malian n'goni player Bazoumana Sissoko and ‘Mirrors’ paid tribute to the great Fela Kuti. Mitch Henry was kept busy on three keyboards and Hammond organ – one minute grooving with all the frenetic energy of Afrobeat, the next building complex synth textures. All the while, bassist Kyle Miles was an island of calm centre-stage – barely moving as he delivered sub-bass notes which glued the quartet together.
Strickland’s powerful, natural sound gave the central melody of ‘Tic Toc’ gravitas and spirituality, and elsewhere his tone was doused in effects redolent of the Robert Glasper Experiment’s Casey Benjamin. Throughout the night, Strickland’s philosophy shone through just as clearly as his musicianship – at one point he triggered a sample of the author James Baldwin discussing the artistic struggle for integrity as a metaphor for the wider human condition. It was in bringing together these different black oral histories – from Baldwin to Dilla, from Bazoumana Sissoko to Fela Kuti – that Strickland found the sweet spot.
– Jon Carvell
– Photos by Carl Hyde
There were tears, heartache and no shortage of emotion, and that was just the drum solo. It was a shock when David Bowie released his final album Blackstar out of nowhere on 8 January this year, but his death just two days later was nothing short of seismic. Indeed, Donny McCaslin, while joyfully dynamic for most of the night, seemed close to crying when he spoke, "what a year it's been, it's great to be here for all sorts of reasons, there's so much to say," pausing to catch the lump in his throat, "but we're just going to play." And play they did, with Bowie's 'Lazarus' sending chills and his version of 'Warszawa' sounding like a fittingly bittersweet epitaph to its creator and a year cast in Blackstar's shadow.
As a parting 'gift', Bowie's macabre masterpiece has proved to be a most prescient soundtrack to a year of unending bad news, not just if you happen to have voted for staying in the EU or for Hilary Clinton, but with numerous cultural figures passing into the ether along with any sense of normality being shaken to its foundations. 2016 can quite frankly now do one. Thus these most extraordinary of times require extraordinary artistic responses and Bowie's Blackstar band, here in the form of McCaslin's stellar quartet of keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Jonathon Maron and drummer Mark Guiliana, have extended what they started with the Thin White Duke on the saxophonist's suitably interstellar album, Beyond Now. Indeed, it's a sense of transcendence that touches much of the music here, yes it's rooted in the throbbing analogue synths of Bowie's dark 1970s albums, jazz-punk and post-rock but it's super-charged with Lindner's fizzing textures and Guiliana's exceptional, febrile virtuosity that really sets the gig on fire.
Drawing heavily on Beyond Now, the album's opener 'Shake Loose' is the perfect live launchpad too, Maron more than stepping in to fill Tim Lefevbre's sizable shoes with his own rumbling frequencies and effects-laden lines. The bass man's role of sonic lynchpin was vital as McCaslin set about pushing his ferocious solos and the album's many memorable melodies, not least its surging title track, to their limits, with Lindner and Guiliana whipping up an electrical storm of beats and spaced-out synths. Yet what really made this night something special was the sheer passion with which the music was attacked – anger and joy burst forth in equal measure, the foursome embracing rock's power to drive home a message that seemed to proclaim, "we shall overcome".
– Mike Flynn
– Photos by Emile Holba for EFG London Jazz Festival @emileholba and @emileholbaphoto - nine years of EFG Photos HereG Photos Here
"You can't build a tribe on hate, you've got to do it with love", explains Christian Scott when introducing 'The Last Chieftain', a tribute to his grandfather, a chieftain who united the Afro-Indian tribes of New Orleans. Scott has certainly built his band with love. During his Scala set he often stepped back, taking time to appreciate how his cerebral brand of neo-jazz was animated by a sextet of distinct but complementary talents.
Scott eulogised about his bandmates. Pianist Lawrence Fields was dubbed 'the internet of jazz', and flautist Elena Pinderhughes would make us "forget how the flute sounded in jazz before her". Twenty-one-year-old Pinderhughes did a good deal to justify Scott's claim. Her extended solo over the J Dilla-like grooves of 'Liberation over Gangsterism' mixed both fresh and familiar improvisatory language to beguiling effect.
Scott's eloquence on the mic was not confined to bigging-up his band though. His playing was as unique as his collection of custom horns, artfully warped out of shape somewhere between Dizzy and Dali. He displayed the hip sparseness of a musician who has toured since aged 13, long since dismissing brash virtuosity in favour of feel. Scott's breathy tone bears comparison to Miles, but it is as a bandleader and composer where he's truly Davis' heir.
Picking up from support act Mammal Hands, whose minimalist melodies sounded like the needle skipping to repeat your favourite Jan Garbarek phrase, Scott extended the sonic canvas. His pieces ranged widely, from soulful chill to scorching bop, but they all contained space for his bandmates voices. Scott often forwent a solo of his own to allow Pinderhughes, or alto saxophonist Logan Richardson to take his music somewhere new.
Scott explained that he is soon due to take on the chieftainship of the New Orleans Afro-Indians, taking over from his uncle, the alto saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. The nuanced musical philosophy and sense of generosity Scott demonstrated as a leader on stage suggests he should have no trouble off it.
– Liam Izod
There seems to be a bit of a resurgence happening with regard to the use of strings in jazz, a move seen by many to have been first legitimised by Charlie Parker back in the early 1950s. Clifford Brown, Paul Desmond and Wes Montgomery all followed suit, until the critics' harsh reception of the 1965 album Bill Evans Trio With Symphony Orchestra, deemed by many to be a step too far into the 'third stream'.
Nowadays there are many more ways to create a sound that sits somewhere between jazz and classical than simply adding a string section, and the term 'third stream' has certainly fallen out of favour, but there's still plenty of scope to revisit this rich period of jazz history and take it somewhere new. Which is exactly what Tim Garland has done with his project Re:Focus, taking an inspired collaboration by saxophonist Stan Getz and arranger Eddie Sauter, and in the process giving us a beautifully re-scored suite of tunes with immense scope to improvise.
Stan Getz's seminal (and favourite) album Focus was produced in 1961 under unusual circumstances: he'd asked Sauter to write some tunes for him employing strings, and Sauter's scores showed no horn part at all; his suggestion being that Getz would improvise throughout. The day before they were due to record, Getz's mother died, and so rather than record the suite in one sitting, the strings recorded as per the schedule and Getz went into the studio alone a few days later, listened to the recordings and then laid his lines over the top. As a result it is a vastly free, emotive and vibrant album, and Garland, treading a path that was neither too deferential nor too cavalier with the material, produced a magical performance in the perfect acoustic environment of the Wigmore Hall.
Working alongside bassist Yuri Goloubev and percussionist Asaf Sirkis, their warm-up set was dedicated to Chick Corea, opening with 'Bemsha Swing', and then treating us to probably one of the most sublime renditions of 'Crystal Silence' ever performed, with the help of the Sacconi String Quartet and violinist Thomas Gould. They also played a memorable version of 'Windows' and one of Corea's brilliant selection of tangos.
But it was the second set which was the main event, the group smiling throughout as they worked their way through the suite uninterrupted with a mood of evident delight, following the same track order as the album – including the encore for which they repeated 'I'm Late, I'm Late', the feisty track which bookends the whole album. Transforming not just the arrangements but also the titles, Garland's take on 'Her' – a dedication to Getz' late mother – is transformed into 'Maternal', evoking a different melodic elegy, and the edgy and burning 'Night Rider' becomes 'Night Flight', a chance for the strings to blur the lines and buzz with energy. Sirkis had at his disposal a set of clotales which added a lovely piquancy here and there, and the moments when Goloubev bowed his bass in unison with cellist Cara Berridge were simply delicious. But most striking of all was Garland's ability as bandleader to know just how far to push a tune, bend a note, challenge his audience, producing what must surely have been a highpoint of his stellar career.
– Sarah Chaplin
Jasper Høiby's Fellow Creatures is a new quintet in which the Danish bassist stars alongside fellow Malija member Mark Lockheart, with the three younger voices of Laura Jurd (trumpet), Will Barry (piano) and Corrie Dick (drums) added to the mix.
Performing tunes from their recent first disc together, Høiby's group kicked off at Pizza Express Jazz Club with a focused intensity. 'Folk Song' had an organic ebb and flow of unison melody and free improvisation, before gradually bleeding into the album's title track 'Fellow Creatures' – Dick cooking up a quiet storm with his brushes under Lockheart's rich tenor sound. Forming an organic 35-minute opening odyssey these two tunes saw the musicians zone in as if part of a single organism, Jurd and Lockheart its two loquacious heads.
The pair second-guessed and interjected into each other's lines intuitively, always craving further invention. The virtuosic central bass riff of 'Song for the Bees' flitted from deft harmonics to cavernous low tones in a hard-grooving samba, while 'Tangible' was dark and brooding – Barry providing illumination with a beautiful piano solo.
Høiby mentioned jazz's tradition of more established musicians mentoring those coming through, but emphasised how much he and Lockheart were learning from these emerging players. Some of the night's most exhilarating interplay came as different members dropped out to allow sparse contrapuntal duels to take place – Høiby and Lockheart locking horns on 'Before', and Jurd and Dick sparking off each other on 'Suddenly, Everyone'. On this last tune, Høiby once again showed his flair for agile funky licks, while maintaining his warm, expansive tone.
– Jon Carvell
– Photo by Roger Thomas