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One of the Brussels Jazz Festival's best gigs came three days before the end of its 10-day run. The Stateside pianist Uri Caine was commissioned to write a new work for the Brussels Philharmonic, and it was given its world premiere in venue Flagey's concert hall-sized Studio 4. During the first half, Caine revisited his 2001 'Diabelli Variations For Chamber Orchestra And Improvised Piano Solo', tweaking the legendary pieces by Ludwig Van Beethoven. The Philharmonic's core parts weren't noticeably revolutionary, but the tension revolved around Caine's almost continual jazz flow, as his elaborations created a huge playpen for spontaneous development.

The key points of pause and change were when he locked eyes with conductor Alexander Hanson, each agreeing on the next structural passage. Caine subversively introduced ragtime matter, even stepping boldly, right into the boogie-woogie realm. It was a striking new ingredient, this unpredictability, as he wove in and out of time with the orchestral flow, a scampering renegade, invoking the spirit of Danny Kaye. At one stage Caine ran through a sequence of lone plinks, isolated handclaps and a loud "atishoo", and then we were considering the legacy of Harpo Marx. This is not to suggest any comedic dominance: Caine's virtuosity is serious, but anything goes, as he makes contained flashes, flighty thwips and repeatedly runs his fingers from left to right, in time with the orchestral swells. Was that a snatch of a Looney Tunes cartoon theme there? Or a moment of Thelonious Monk or Fats Waller? Then some Cecil Taylor-Stockhausen hybrid? Caine might have been mocking the tradition, on one level, but he was also investing an over-familiar great work with a fresh sideways glance, his virtuosity perhaps not so radically unpredictable for the seasoned jazzer, but still generally ear-opening.

Uri-Caine-Brussels2

Following the intermission, Caine presented the world premiere of 'Agent Orange', for an even bigger orchestra, with three extensive percussion spreads to the rear, a harp and four French horns amongst the expansions. The composer was also joined by Dave Liebman (soprano saxophone), John Hébert (bass) and DJ Olive (turntables). Now there was no past baggage, as all the floodgates were open for a state-of-now barrage of complexity, dynamism, contrast and a natural welding of multiple forms. Caine was in a Romantic Zorn state, but with a Varèse-then-Zappa lineage, utilising the orchestral forces in massively confident fashion, sometimes even harking back to Carl Nielsen, or heading out across a John Ford cowboy prairie. There was a gripping surfeit of hyper-action, with recurring Liebman rebel-Gershwin tendrils, winding between the big orchestral blooms, as Olive gently scratched out slurred vocal vinyl, or made cosmic electronic bloops. Hébert's groaning bass stood out from the crowd, as we appreciated the perfect sonic balance between these massed elements. Caine himself was in an almost permanent soloing mode, but also vaguely subsumed for much of the time. Nearing the climax, 'Dixie' was fed into the chaos, and the orchestra shouted out "No! No! No!", as Caine's gloriously ambitious work exploded with an ultimate dynamic, surely anti-Trumpian excess. Long known for reconfiguring classic works by hallowed composers, it's as if Caine has fed all of this cumulative experience into his own monumentally elaborate, personal distillery.

– Martin Longley
– Photos by Michel van Rhijn

Nubya-WeOutHere-1351

Like all the best creative scenes, London's emergent and youthful jazz-based soundscape is characterised by tight relations between those that perform within it. Drummer Femi Koleoso keeps it grounded: "It's just my friends doing well," he says, in a documentary created for the We Out Here album launch at Total Refreshment Centre.

This latest Brownswood Recordings cut features an array of London-based musicians with a rich musical rapport, developed through years of learning the ropes and growing together. If it does sometimes feel like an extended group of talented friends, it also feels like a dynamic music scene with its own enthralling sound: spiritual jazz mixed with the best of UK club culture, given a broken or Afro-beat twist and performed with infectious energy.

On the second night of the launch run, the crowd were served up a treat by groups Maisha and TriForce, as well as tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia (pictured top), introduced by the MC as the "empress" (not queen) of the scene. If you're not moving to Maisha's music, you may want to check your pulse. They specialise in frantic, contagiously joyful percussion, but also offer a shimmering spiritual jazz embrace. They're tightly rehearsed as anything, (a theme of the night), regularly pausing on a dime and in sync.

TriForce-WeOutHere-06520

TriForce (guitarist Mansur Brown above) mix a Thundercat feel with Hendrixian pyrotechnics and London street sensibilities: fresh-sounding and, at times, jaw-dropping. Nubya Garcia, a member of Maisha, followed TriForce with her own band to soar through a selection of tracks from her 2017 debut EP, Nubya's 5ive. An extended lead-in to the instantly recognisable 'Lost Kingdoms' proved one of the highlights of the night. What did we do to deserve all this? If you're London-based with an ear for discovery, the energy and sounds that these collectives are producing in a live setting and on record demand your immediate attention. They're out there, catch them as soon as you can.

– James Rybacki // @james_rybacki

JasperH DSC5408

There were three dominant artist groupings during the Brussels Jazz Festival. Naturally, there's a considerable indigenous Belgian contingent, plus a strong showing by US artists, but there was also a powerful wave of featured British players. These acts were mostly gathered into a marathon UK Night, but were also spread out across days other than this Saturday spectacular.

The 10-day festival (January 11-20) is held at Flagey, an arts complex in Ixelles, which lies south-east of the city centre. It's an eye-catching Art Deco building from the late 1930s, a former radio studio that has the look of a steamship, illuminated from inside with mood lighting glowing through its windows, in different hues for different portholes. With much of its wooden interior intact, Flagey's converted, acoustically-welcoming studios provide mixed-size venues for performances.

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It's always advisable to have a stellar artist booked for opening night, so the 80-year-old saxophonist Archie Shepp made a relatively rare appearance, with his quartet. It's been decades since he produced the free jazz extremity of his early years, but this Stateside tenorman has successfully rehabilitated himself into being a mainline blower. His set featured several standards, though some of these were less obvious selections. There were also a few of his original compositions. Shepp's overall demeanour was threaded with a quiet power, making him seem like a younger player, and on stronger form than when your scribe last witnessed him, around seven years back.

His longtime team of Daryl Hall (bass) and Steve McCraven (drums) were on hand, with the more recent inductee, pianist Carl-Henri Morisset. There were tunes by Elmo Hope and Duke Ellington, the latter's 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' operating on the cusp of free-ness, loaded with fingered decorations. Shepp has an unusual way of playing, his mouthpiece inserted slackly, with great vibrato visibly resulting from his horn-quaking technique. When singing Duke, his voice also had a similar shook-all-over property, easy-going and with sliding, near-gargled phrases. He found a good balance between cabaret foot-tapping and free-inspired abstraction. Billy Strayhorn's 'Isfahan' was another popular choice, giving Morisset the chance to provide a luminous solo. Shepp's weathered voice had a dignified, churchy tone during 'Come Sunday', continuing the Ducal run. His own 'Revolution' saw a shift to electric piano, with firmly thrummed bass and roiling drums, Shepp choosing soprano, trilling out the tune's labyrinthine theme. All of this cut away sharply, for another vocal, spiritually inclined, and in the mode of original old-school beatnik rapping. The band were only just about willing to give up the storm, swooping down to rest, before closing with a bluesy dedication to Bessie Smith.

As a taster for the actual UK Night, on the following evening, Phronesis bassman Jasper Høiby's Fellow Creatures have a London line-up that includes the frontline of Laura Jurd (trumpet) and Mark Lockheart (tenor saxophone). Initially reined in, the leader's finely composed pieces heated up their temperament as the set progressed, 'Tangible' making space for Høiby's own involved solo, but his percussive bass snap was almost too much, distracting from the whole. The horns have a combined buoyancy, weaving along the same trail. Jurd soloed with a flamenco sting, and Lockheart stood under the spotlight, issuing a contained scream, breaking out of his accustomed understated fluidity.

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The UK Night itself opened with alto saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch's trio, in the smaller Studio 1, where the Birmingham instant poet delivered one of his best-ever freestyle raps, just when we might have been starting to tire of this accustomed section of his set. As the crowd shouted out, he grabbed their proffered words: banana, rain, ukulele, sunshine, shithole, energy and love, shaping multiple rap-lines on the hoof. For his wiry, serpentine alto, he employed footpedals, laptop and a harmonising build-up, straight outta the Brecker boys in the late-1970s, or perhaps like a one-man electro World Saxophone Quartet. This was followed by the linear pulsations of Portico Quartet in the concert-hall-scale of Studio 4, managing to imbue stasis, repetition and surface simplicity with a continuing compulsiveness. Perversely, the night's most powerful set happened in the smaller foyer/café area on the ground floor, with Binker & Moses, the tenor saxophone and drums pair who are now spreading their popularity across the Atlantic. 'Unleashed' is the best word for their state, as Binker Golding piled up the hard-bitten reed seizures, and Moses Boyd trapped and tinkered, like a more direct Tony Williams. The set was akin to a ritual, draining out the topical pus, sizzled up by the duo's amazing empathy and musical commitment.

– Martin Longley
– Photos by Olivier Lestoquoit

FIRE

Check out Martin Malm’s psychotropic Brakhage-influenced flicks for ‘The Hands’, the boisterously cranky title-track from the forthcoming incendiary Fire! long-player, which drops tomorrow on the formidable Rune Grammofon imprint.

You can catch the trio, featuring riotous saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin, play an unmissable gig at London's Cafe OTO on Wednesday 21 February

‘The Hands’ – by Fire!

 

– Spencer Grady

The organisers of this year's sixth edition of the Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs from 29 June to 1 July, have confirmed the first big name appearing will be jazz-funk-soul supergroup Earth, Wind and Fire who will headline the closing night. Featuring original EWF vocalist Philip Bailey, bassist Verdine White and drummer/percussionist Ralph Johnson, the group will appear as a 10-piece, and will doubtless perform many of their huge hits such as 'September', 'Boogie Wonderland', 'Let's Groove', 'Shining Star', 'After The Love Has Gone' among others.

Festival Director Ciro Romano commented on the booking: "We've been coveting Earth, Wind & Fire since the festival's inception. They're a phenomenal live act with an incredible back catalogue of songs and we know they'll be a massive hit with the Love Supreme audience. Having sold over 100 million records across the course of their career they are also the biggest act we've booked for the festival to date and will provide a fitting finale to this year's event."

The festival enjoyed its most successful year to date in 2017 with 40,000 music fans in attendance across the weekend, the programme featured a winning combination of big soul/funk headliners alongside high calibre jazz names such as Herbie Hancock, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper and the new wave of UK-based talent. More names will be announced next month in Jazzwise who are media partners for the event.

Mike Flynn

For more information and tickets visit www.lovesupremefestival.com

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