Banks of lights sketch out a looming angel presence on the backcloth as Alina Bzhezhinska sits at the harp and strikes an introductory chord. She reproduces Alice Coltrane's trembling flurries of high notes and swooping glissandos with uncanny accuracy, and her intensely physical relationship with her harp is mesmerising to watch. After a chiming solo sets the scene, she cues in Larry Bartley and Joel Prime who come in like thunder as Tony Kofi strides forward into the spotlight from the blue-lit wings and the band burst into 'Blue Nile'. It's the first spectacular emotional sucker-punch of the evening. The band sound great: Bartley's big-toned, magisterial bass solo draws whoops of applause, as does the climactic duet between harp and Kofi's clear-voiced soprano on 'Journey in Satchidananda' – and Alina's eccentrically effervescent personality shines through, bringing a real sense of joy.

Baptiset-Barbican2

Next up is Denys Baptiste's outfit (above), an altogether a more considered production, with Baptiste asking the audience to imagine themselves sitting on top of Everest, quipping "don't worry about the oxygen" before launching into an Expression-era group free improv, complete with electronic tambura. Next the band sets up a heavy groove reminiscent of 1970s Miles, over which Baptiste initiates a dialogue of increasing frenzy with a kimono-clad Nikki Yeoh that has the latter up off of her seat before drummer Rod Youngs lashes the kit up to the finish line. There's a duet with Yeoh on 'Peace On Earth', which allows Baptiste to give free rein to his powerful chops, then a reworking of 'After The Rain' with a simple extended major-key vamp over which Yeoh shows her impressive imagination before the piece subsides into an incongruous reggae-lite groove. Surprise guest Steve Williamson, louche and elegant in a rumpled suit, joins the leader in an extended two-tenor freak-out over Young's boiling beats – his powerful, cutting tone a reminder of just what a singular force he is; then everyone leaves the stage but Baptiste and Bartley, the bassist setting up a bolero bassline while the saxophonist shows off his awesome technique on the effect-enhanced horn.

Pharoah S-Barbican

Expectations are running high by the as Pharoah Sanders (above and top) himself is announced. The band walk onstage and the audience rises to its feet as a frail, hunched figure moves with infinite slowness from the darkness of the wings; cautiously climbing the stairs and slowly moving centre stage. Yet, once he lifts his horn to the mic the sound that emerges is undiminished – a clear powerful clarion. The band swell into a rippling crescendo as he blows a simple sequence of three falling tones, like a child's rhyme, fading away into a single held note so high and faint that it seems to suck all the sound in the room into itself, creating a concentrated vacuum of absolute silence, and the packed hall holds its breath in a moment of total stillness. Then suddenly, improbably, he blasts out the head to Trane's 'Lazy Bird' and pianist William Henderson leads the band into a crashing tide of high-speed virtuosic free-bop. Sanders sits impassively on a strategically placed chair, head bowed, as bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo give a good account of themselves. Then he's back up again, entering with squall of notes, effortlessly riding the rhythm. Next, another surprise. A solo rendition quickly takes shape as 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkely Square', as Henderson enters, sketching out the background with deft strokes. Sanders sounds fantastic – agile, clear, impassioned – age hasn't diminished his talent, even if it has led him to be more economical in its deployment. The speed and facility over changes he acquired in later years is still there, and while the tone no longer screams as it did with Trane there's a diamond hardness still at its core as well as a confidence in the phrasing that betokens an absolute unwavering belief in the message of his music. After Hayhurst's monumental solo he returns with a spectral, unaccompanied cadenza, each note falling through the silence like a snowflake.

Next a scarlet-jacketed Chaouki Smahi appears onstage and takes up his oud, to lead the band into a hypnotic ostinato that turns into an extended flamenco-tinged jam, Sanders entering and leaving at intervals, his contributions never less than riveting, before the band return to a swelling minor key rubato against which the leader plays starkly beautiful, towering phrases, like mountain peaks against a darkening sky. Then the mood changes again.

Hayhurst and Calderazzo set up the familiar line for 'The Creator Has A Master Plan', and Sanders, turning and facing the crowd for the first time, is suddenly all approachable geniality, introducing the band with palpable warmth, beaming smiles between his snow-white beard and impressive moustache. Getting the audience to sing along as the beat shifts to a sprightly calypso, he essays some shuffling dance steps and executes a cautiously arthritic twerk, to rapturous applause. "My name is Farrell Sanders, and I play the tenor saxophone," he says, then breaks into a hoarse-voiced, raucous wordless folk melody. Somehow it's the most uplifting moment of the evening: a simple affirmation of life, music and everything by one of jazz's true visionaries. The only less-than-cosmic aspect of the evening is the unsympathetic Barbican sound: all harsh, over-amplified bass, with the piano often almost completely swallowed up in the blurry sonic fog. Such masters deserve more.

– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Tim Dickeson

Jazz-influenced experimental musician, composer, conceptualist and now political protester Matthew Herbert is among 12 musicians receiving a grant from the UK Department for International Trade (DFID) to help export musical talent overseas. Herbert will receive a £5,000 grant to help his Brexit Big Band complete its ambition of releasing an album on the day Britain is expected to leave the EU in March 2019. It's ironic that the DIT is headed by pro-Brexit MP Liam Fox.

Other artists sharing the £181,944 grant money, awarded via the Music Export Growth Scheme, include Mercury-nominated rapper-songwriter Ghostpoet and Public Service Broadcasting. DFID, which aims to promote international trade and will seek free-trade agreements after Brexit, has so far awarded grants totalling £2.4m to support musicians who could "become the next Adele or Ed Sheeran". Contrary to these export plans, the Musicians Union and The Guardian have reported that there are big issues with UK and European musicians continuing to work as freely as they do now. An example of this is the European Union Youth Orchestra leaving its base in London, "in part due to concerns over restricted freedom of movement for working musicians".

Herbert performed with his Brexit Big Band at the Barbican in October, with the concert featuring numerous UK jazz musicians as well as percussive sounds created by copies of the pro-Brexit Daily Mail being torn up on-stage. Herbert stated on his website that: "The message from parts of the Brexit campaign were that as a nation we are better off alone. I refute that idea entirely and wanted to create a project that embodies the idea of collaboration from start to finish." The composer has already set Article 50 to music and will conduct a series of Brexit-related concerts and workshops right up until March 2019. Commenting on the project he said: "I want to create something that's the opposite of Brexit – about collaboration, about creativity, about love rather than hate."

UPDATE: Since this story was first published Matthew Herbert has released a statement clarifying his position on Brexit and his motivations for initiating this project:

“Most importantly, this is not an anti-Brexit project. This is a project that, having accepted Brexit will occur, attempts to work out what a new kind of relationship with our European neighbours may look like. That relationship I believe should be founded on respect, curiosity, creativity, empathy, collaboration and love. I am unclear which of those ideals are controversial.

This project is not simply one person’s vision or pet project; it has already had contributions from over 1000 people from here and from all over the world who think those values are worth nurturing.

One of the things I value most about this country is its tolerance for dissent and, having performed with my big band in places such as Syria, China and Russia, I feel like the project is representing some of the very best things about Britishness abroad whilst at the same time providing hundreds of people with jobs or income in the creative industries - one of Britain’s biggest and most respected exports.

Having recently successfully applied to the BPI for part of a grant to assist with exporting British music abroad, some of the musicians fees will be covered by this. None of it is a wage or money to me. According to the BPI website every £1 they invest brings a return of £10 so it is clear that they consider this an investment
 rather than a subsidy.

The state subsidises many things in this country, including a lot I don’t agree with: wars in the middle east, the arms trade, processed food manufacturers, giant American tech companies who avoid tax, the DUP, fossil fuel companies and so on. If parts of our democracy can’t cope with an industry body supporting musicians in trying to bring ideas of tolerance and hopefully even some joy to others then maybe we’re in worse shape than I thought.

I reserve my democratic right to hold the government accountable in public and to propose an alternative comment that reflects what I believe to be important British values such as inclusiveness and kindness. I created this project to be part of the conversation with ourselves and with Europe about what it means to be British post-Brexit. This and any plan should aim to bring people of all identities and beliefs with it. I reject the forced distinction between Remainers and Leavers, and all are welcome to contribute or be part of the show. It’s up to others whether they wish to be part of this expression of common values or not.” – Matthew Herbert, November 2017

 – Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.matthewherbert.com/brexit-big-band/

See the December/January double-issue of Jazzwise out on 23 November for a further discussion of this issue in the Way It Is – subscribe here to order your copy today.

Multi-award winning saxophonist and composer Courtney Pine has been announced as the fourth high-profile instrumentalist to lead the Inner City Ensemble touring project in February 2018 as part of the ongoing Jazz Directors series. Previous musicians involved have included US stars Terence Blanchard and Chris Potter, while this year saw Pine collaborator and Mercury Prize nominated pianist Zoe Rahman lead a specially convened group of young emerging musicians from the north of England.

The Jazz Directors Series is a two-year residency and touring project which brings together emerging UK professional jazz musicians with an internationally revered Jazz Director. Each edition comprises of a four-day residency produced by Brighter Sound and a corresponding tour of live concerts produced by Band on the Wall in collaboration with local regional promoters. The musicians for the Inner City Ensemble will be announced soon and will play music written by Pine for the project.

Courtney Pine and Inner City Ensemble dates are: Band on the Wall, Manchester (22 Feb); Brudenell Social Club, Leeds (23 Feb); The Grand, Clitheroe (24 Feb) and Grand Theatre, Lancaster (25 Feb).
Mike Flynn

Tickets are now on sale at www.bandonthewall.org

Mark Guiliana is associated with a certain level of jazz-fusion high intensity, but tonight's gig, in support of the new album Jersey is billed as a different turn for his career. As if to emphasise the fact, the first number begins with no sound from the leader's drums at all: a limber, curling unison from saxophone and piano unfolds in the expectant hush, until Guiliana enters, tapping the snare with his fingers over an insistent single-note bassline. The dynamic slowly builds, as the sax peels off into a flurry of spiralling phrases. Guiliana hunches over the kit, completely absorbed in the restless chattering polyrhythms, hands and feet ever busier with the rising tide, leaning into each unexpected, sudden rhythmic bomb. He and bassist Chris Morrissey skirt around the implied pulse as Fabian Almazan's piano builds up from whisper-quiet to cascading intensity and the whole band radiate a fiercely geeky energy.

Mark-Guiliana-Ronnies2

In a surprise move, Guiliana leaves the kit and sits down at the back of the stage, head in hands, leaving Jason Rigby's tenor sax to play a soft, almost pastoral melody over a droning arco bass and rumbling piano. Then he's back on the stool, and they're off into a hip three-four swing that suddenly descends again into near-silence, punctuated by a few carefully positioned bass phrases, before Rigby takes flight again, his awesome fluidity complemented by his soft, clear tone. Both Rigby and pianist Almazan share a similarly remarkable command of language, at once capable of great abstraction and immense tenderness. An extended piano solo goes from mutated blues phrases and hints of expansive Peterson or Shearing chording into dense tonal clusters and shimmering, cimbalom-like textures, all delivered with a sure and subtle touch. Morrissey takes a feature on his bass, playing it as though it's a folk instrument, his strums and simple pentatonics accompanied by Guiliana's taps on the snare and slaps on his thigh.

Mark-Guiliana-Ronnies4

The quartet are superbly balanced: the almost supernatural empathy and the compatibility of their voices allows them to range freely across the open structures of the compositions, using silence as a potent musical force, pushing the dynamic almost to the lowest limit of audibility before rising again, diverging then miraculously coming back together for a short, gnomic phrase or unexpected accent. The second set pays increasing dividends as the band set up a cycle of simple minor chords, like a still pool of water, with Almazan and Guiliana creating ripples of dissonance on the surface and Rigby soaring aloft on butterfly wings. His dazzling flight seems like a clear winner for solo of the evening, until Almazan equals it with another effortlessly sustained flow of ideas, with accents of everything from free-improv to calypso, and bass and drums spin an intricate filigree of rhythm out of which Giuliana finally pulls the astonishing, climatic drum solo that everyone's been waiting for. After this payoff, there's a version of Bowie's 'Where Are We Now' as an elegiac coda for the evening's journey; an outstanding performance of a unique and convincingly realised musical vision, created by four distinctive and wholly compatible players. No wonder the leader looks quietly triumphant.

– Eddie Myer

– Photos by Steve Cropper

It was during the late 1980s that John Surman (above) conceived of the idea of augmenting his regular working trio of Chris Laurence (double bass) and John Marshall (drums) but, wanting to avoid the obvious harmony instruments such as piano or guitar, decided on a brass choir and asked John Warren to arrange for it. Their first album, The Brass Project, was released by ECM in 1992 and 'The Traveller's Tale' received its debut performance at the very first London Jazz Festival in 1993. However, it was only in early 2017 that a near-forgotten recording of The Traveller's Tale from that year came to light, enabling its recent release on CD by Fledg'ling Records. Unsurprisingly, Kings Place's Room 2 was packed for an EFG London Jazz Festival event for which many in the audience had been waiting for almost a quarter century – the second-ever live performance of 'The Traveller's Tale' by Surman's and Warren's Brass Project.

With Surman standing stage left, facing inwards towards Laurence and Marshall and, beyond them, a nine-piece brass choir seated in two rows – five trumpets behind and four trombones in front – Warren directed from centre stage. 'Dawning' began with a few fragmentary notes from Surman's soprano saxophone, which soon evolved into a flow of short phrases, increasing in intensity as Laurence and Marshall joined the fray with restless rhythmic counterpoints. When the brass section finally entered it was to accompanying Surman, introducing fresh statements and to air its own fine trumpet and trombone soloists.

john-surman-john-warren-edit-ljf17-kingsplace-byjohnwatson

Warren, whose inspiration for this eight-part work was the life of travel and sea-faring adventure of his grandfather Jack Warren in the late 19th century, brings a deep basket of textures and voicings to the brass choir, presenting Surman, whether soloing on baritone or soprano saxes or bass clarinet, with so many musical ideas and moods to respond to. But Warren also left space for a breathtaking dialogue between bassist Laurence and drummer Marshall, affording plenty of opportunity for the soloists in the brass section, including trumpeters Tom Gardner and Luke Vice-Coles, as well as trombonists Harry Maund and Nabou Claerhout. The whole brass ensemble, all students at the Royal Academy of Music, had clearly worked hard under the benevolent guidance of their Head of Jazz, Nick Smart, to play with such precision, sensitivity and enthusiasm. Theirs was a major contribution to what was an extremely memorable performance.

– Charles Alexander
– Photos by John Watson

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