Jazz at Lincoln Center Barbican 0258

The 1938 Carnegie Hall concert that brought together Benny Goodman's hit-making orchestra and stars from the Ellington and Basie bands was a game-changing moment for 20th century America, both artistically and socially. Carnegie Hall, a temple of classical music, was opening its doors to a new world. It was also lending its stage to a glimpse of social harmony that – though yet to be fulfilled, 80 years later – was nonetheless a high-profile showcase for white/African-American artistic liaisons that were inconceivable to many in the 1930s.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra came to London's Barbican to celebrate that landmark's 80th anniversary – with founder Wynton Marsalis discreetly concealing himself in the trumpet section, and lively local stars Clare Teal (voice), Jim Hart (vibes), and clarinetists Giacomo Smith and Adrian Cox from the Kansas Smitty's House Band circle joining the Americans. The JLCO caught the elusive glide of a 1930s swing groove and the garrulous horn-section polyphonies with an offhand flawlessness that even Goodman the legendary martinet might have approved of, and the programme stayed close to the original, a sprint through 20-plus tunes in two tight sets.

Jazz at Lincoln Center Barbican 0857

Highlights of the first half included a smoothly-oiled 'Don't Be That Way' (with leader/saxophonist Victor Goines on clarinet sharing solos with tenor saxist Walter Blanding), a hurtling 'I Got Rhythm' for a scintillating Jim Hart spurred on by a fired-up Adrian Cox, some tender Bix Beiderbecke impressionism from trumpeter Kenny Rampton, and a terrific account of Fletcher Henderson's alternately stuttery and sultry arrangement of Irving Berlin's 'Blue Skies'. A crackling, tone-shifting, rhythmically fearless Marsalis trumpet solo opened the second half on Goodman's and Harry James' 'Life Goes to a Party'. Goines and Ted Nash roused cheers for their clarinet relay-race on 'Dizzy Spells', Blanding and Sherman Irby shared earthy sax speculations on Ellington's 'Blue Reverie', and Giacomo Smith, Hart, and pianist Dan Nimmer flung fireworks at each other on 'Stompin' at the Savoy'. 'Sing, Sing, Sing' was the predictable but still irresistible finale, with JLCO brassmen Elliot Mason and Marcus Printup in full cry, and all the clarinetists – Goines, Nash, Cox, and Smith – reflexively swapping phrases as if the notes were red hot.

The only thing missing was a little more sense of the import of the original gig in Victor Goines rather scholarly announcements – but the music left an indelible impression that something extraordinary had happened that January night in 1938.

– John Fordham
– Photos by Mark Allan/Barbican

The nominees for the fifth edition of the Jazz FM Awards were announced at a ceremony at Melomania in southeast London on 27 February and include a wide range of UK and international jazz talent. Reflecting the success of many fledgling UK acts in the last year, London Afrobeat-fuelled group Ezra Collective are nominated in both UK Jazz Act of the Year (Public Vote) and Breakthrough Act of the Year, the latter category also including charismatic saxophonist Nubya Garcia (above left) and prodigious guitarist Rob Luft.

Other artists receiving double nominations include widely hailed singer Cécile McLorin Salvant (above right) and virtuoso bassist/vocalist Thundercat (above far left), both of whom are nominated in the International Artist of the Year and Album of the Year categories. Salvant will also perform during the Awards evening and will be backed by the Jazz FM house band that will be led by pianist Ashley Henry. Further performances will be announced soon. The recipients of the three special awards – PPL Lifetime Achievement Award, PRS for Music Gold Award and Impact Award – will also be announced ahead of the ceremony.

The full list of nominees is as follows: Breakthrough Act of the Year: Ezra Collective; Nubya Garcia; Rob Luft. International Soul Artist of the Year: Jordan Rakei; Leroy Hutson; Moonchild. UK Jazz Act of the Year (Public Vote): Dinosaur; Ezra Collective; Kansas Smitty's House Band. Digital Initiative of the Year: Esperanza Spalding: Exposure; Jacob Collier: I Harm U; Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club: Live Streaming. Instrumentalist of the Year: Evan Parker; Theon Cross; Yazz Ahmed. International Blues Artist of the Year: Lucky Peterson; Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo; Robert Cray. Jazz Innovation of the Year: Carleen Anderson: Cage Street Memorial; Joe Armon-Jones and Maxwell Owin: Idiom; Shabaka Hutchings: multiple projects. Vocalist of the Year: Alice Zawadzki; Liane Carroll; Zara McFarlane. International Jazz Artist of the Year: Cécile McLorin Salvant; Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah; Thundercat. Album of the Year (Public Vote) Blue Note All-Stars – Our Point of View; Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers; Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Diaspora; Denys Baptiste – The Late Trane; Phronesis – The Behemoth; Thundercat – Drunk. Live Experience of the Year (Public Vote): An evening with Dave Holland – Ambleside Days Festival at Zephirellis Cinema (featuring Norma Winstone, Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker, Nikki Iles, Mark Lockheart, Stan Sulzmann, Tim Garland, John Helliwell, Nick Smart, James Maddren and Asif Sirkis); CHICAGOXLONDON – Makaya McCraven at Total Refreshment Centre – 18 October, featuring Theon Cross Trio and Jaimie Branch Fly Or Die Ensemble; Ronnie Scott's presents Ezra Collective – EFG London Jazz Festival at Islington Assembly Hall; Jazz Re:Fest at the Southbank Centre; Pharoah Sanders Quartet + Denys Baptiste + Alina Bzhezhinska: "A Concert for Alice and John" – EFG London Jazz Festival at The Barbican and Randolph Matthews – Jazz in the Round at Love Supreme Festival.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at Shoreditch Town Hall on 30 April.

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.jazzfmawards.com

Stanko HI res fot Karol Sokolowski 025

A grand occasion for a towering figure in Polish music. Tomasz Stańko has founding father status as one of the post-war players who fostered the significant growth of jazz in the Eastern European country whose scene has since seen the emergence of several other feted champions. Fittingly, the 75-year-old trumpeter leads a quartet comprising musicians half his age, but the other major selling point of the gig is the presence of the NFM Philharmonic Orchestra, arranged and conducted by Krzysztof Herdzin.

Those with long memories will know that Stańko worked with the pioneering Globe Unity Orchestra back in the 1970s, and that he has always shifted astutely between post-bop and avant-garde pathways. Hence the prospect of hearing his broad, at times brash, at times plaintive tone cast against a stage full of strings and horns is mouth-watering. The majesty Stańko has often been able to evoke in his vast discography, above all on highlights such as 1976's Fish Face and 1999's Litania, his urbane take on the music of Krzystof Komeda, the iconic, enduringly influential composer with whom he worked in the 1960s, should lend itself well to such a dignified setting.

Stanko HI res fot Karol Sokolowski 022

So it proves intermittently. Backed by drummer, Michal Miskiewicz, double-bassist Slamowir Kurkiewicz and pianist Dominik Wania, Stańko, a master of what he himself termed the 'heavy ballad', projects commandingly in the 1,800 capacity concert hall, which is sold out, and the airy, swish strains provided by the orchestra serve to heighten that, bringing out the precise, dry crackle of his brass all the more. While the mysterioso, sombre grace of Ascenseur-era Miles is part of his vocabulary Stańko has a hard, if not austere turn of phrase that is utterly gripping at times. The set-list comprises excellent material from recent works with his New York Quartet such as 'Dernier Cri' and 'Wislawa', which the band negotiates well, handling the buoyant swing and lithe, looser, more metrically open passages with a deft touch. Pianist Wania takes fine solos on which his harmonic finesse is matched by carefully channelled rhythmic drive from bassist Kurkiewicz and drummer Miskiewicz.

Sadly, there is a major problem with the arrangements. The horns are mostly underused, and the biggest disappointment is the inappropriately saccharine preludes and interludes on some pieces that stray far from the innate character of the band, to the extent that when the quartet is left alone without the orchestra the performance is enhanced rather than impoverished. The rest of the set has some beautiful melodies – 'The Street Of Crocodiles', 'Oni', 'April Story' – but the sense of imbalance between the orchestra and the band is a shame, given the potential of the meeting on paper.

Having said that, Stańko, radiating charisma in a bright red beret and slick dark suit, plays too lyrically for the concert not to engage a highly responsive and openly appreciative audience. Last year I was lucky enough to see him play with his New York quartet at Gateshead and the performance, marked by superb interplay and probing improvisations, was brilliant. This Polish band is also excellent, but the question is, how can a soloist of Stanko's immense stature be most adequately served in an orchestral setting in one of the best concert halls in the world? There are hints of an answer tonight, but the enquiry on 'Stańko symfonicznie' shouldn't stop here.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Karol Sokołowski

This Hawksmoor church in Bloomsbury is by no means familiar to the majority of jazz audiences. It is not on the recognised circuit of venues. But that in itself is telling. Although she is a known quantity in the world of improvisation, Elaine Mitchener resolutely resists easy categorisation. St. George's should suit her constituency; whoever does not subscribe to a rigid separation of music, dance, mime and theatre.

She is a vocal and movement artist, and this premiere of 'Sweet Tooth' is a cross-disciplinary piece in which sound and vision, and, perhaps more importantly, the specific layout of the space, are all used in the course of a quite gripping performance. A meditation on slavery in Jamaica, and the closely related sugar industry, a hugely lucrative business and culturally transformative phenomenon in the UK, the piece is as thought-provoking as it imaginative, effectively conveying the dehumanisation of bondage by way of chilling detail as well as compelling stagecraft. In real terms, that means that the spreading of sound sources around the pews and altar – Jason Yarde's baritone saxophone, Sylvia Hallett's violin and Mark Sanders drums – creates a disturbing sense of oppressive forces enclosing the listener, as if the rumble of the horn, buzz saw of strings and skitter of percussion mark out borders not to be crossed.

Mitchener IMG 2450

When all the performers move slowly around the audience with birches that might well represent cane stalks that they then whip crisply in the air, it feels as if runaways are being apprehended and punished before they can clear the limits of the plantation. The sense of discomfort around me is palpable. As is the moment when Mitchener reads a list of slave names from an 1813 inventory without accompanying music with such mechanical precision that it seems the roll-call is endless, the descriptions of the human cargo blurring into anonymity only to be punctuated by a terribly poignant entry such as 'Delia, sickly'. Mitchener's entirely visceral gestural range, directed by Dam Van Huynh, which involves pulling her hair, lashing her buttocks and twisting and contorting her mouth to evoke the heinous 'scold's bridle' used to torture slaves, provides an equally potent counterpoint to this passage of calm, controlled menace.

Divided into six movements that draw on far-reaching historical material such as kumina, the Congo-derived religious song and the 'scramble', the unseemly jostling for prize specimens at auction time, 'Sweet Tooth' is an uncompromisingly graphic treatment of a traumatic subject. Mitchener's considerable theatrical and vocal ability lead her to draw out nuance in a single broken phrase, the juddering clicks well enhanced by the braying overtones of Yarde's soprano and the wavering of Hallett's accordion, a kind of morbid Scottish reel amid the wasteland of blighted lives.

From the moment she runs at full pelt, screaming into view, Mitchener adopts an artistically brave stance that has notable historical precedents. It was in Abbey Lincoln's hugely controversial evocation of plantation rape in America on Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite and also in the revolutionary poetry of Aimé Césaire's Cahier D'Un Retour Au Pays Natal, where the author raised 'le grand cri negre' against the deaf ears of those who refused to hear the ongoing echoes of post-slavery psychosis in Martinique. 'Sweet Tooth' is a vital black British addition to those seminal creative statements of resistance and defiance from the African Diaspora.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Robert Piwko

When composer and pianist Peter Lemer recorded Local Colour in 1966, he could hardly have believed it would be celebrated 52 years later with a triumphant 'live' performance and re-release of his critically acclaimed album. Yet, when Lemer sat at the Steinway on stage at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on a cold February night, he was warmed by the enthusiastic audience reaction and honoured by the support of his handpicked musicians.

These included John Surman (making a rare club appearance), Jon Hiseman and Tony Reeves, who had all played on the original album. The newcomer to this Son of Local Colour show was Alan Skidmore, called upon to 'dep' at the last minute for an unwell George Khan. The composer explained as he introduced the group: "This is rather an unusual evening for me – and all of us! Does anyone remember 1966? That's when I put some extraordinary musicians together and made my album. Now we can continue where we left off!"

It was a gratifying experience to witness such creativity unfolding before an attentive crowd. Lemer's pioneering jazz-fusion ideas owed their appeal and success to blending arrangements and definable themes, while allowing space for cutting edge improvisation. Over two sets, the group explored the depths of such compositions as Carla Bley's extremely fast 'Ictus', with Skidmore's tenor taking the first solo followed by Surman's soprano. On 'Flowville' Surman revealed his amazing command of the mighty baritone sax, deep, resonant notes flowing from mouthpiece to distant bell, the keys manipulated with finger-popping dexterity.

'Big Dick', a tribute to the late Dick Heckstall-Smith, proved a popular three note jam vehicle with soprano displays from John and more fiery tenor work from 'Skid'. But it was John Coltrane's high flying 'Impressions' that saw the group move into top gear, with an explosive Hiseman unleashed spurred by Reeves' pulsating double bass. 'Blues For Something Funny' led Alan to hint darkly "And it won't make you laugh" amid much laughter. The boppish blues made a superb finale. Peter Lemer had the last word. Despite the sheer modernity of the music we'd just heard, it was now 52 years old: "This is trad jazz!"

– Chris Welch

Local Colour is available on vinyl LP re-issued by ESP-DISK

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