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.

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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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A curious sight catches the keenest of eyes on the staircase of the Pahkahuone, the central venue of this fine festival recently crowned with an innovation award by the European Jazz Network. To mark the passing of several inspirational figures in the world of creative music, there is a shrine on the windowsill with candles and portraits of Geri Allen, Misha Mengelberg and Muhal Richard Abrams, entre autres. In the middle of the group is a far lesser known name, Ilkka 'Emu' Lehtinen. He ran a record shop in Helsinki, Digelius, but was a familiar face and much loved presence among both listeners and players at Tampere for his unflagging energy and warm hearted generosity. The stall he manned with his colleagues every year at the festival has a book of condolences that swells with signatures throughout the three-day event.

Sunna

Fittingly, Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, when appearing as a guest with Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs' trio, dedicates 'Emu The Birdwatcher' to Lehtinen, unleashing a tidal wave of applause. The song also underlines why Pohjola picked up the prestigious YRJO award for outstanding contributions to Finnish jazz, as his depth and richness of tone, which strays into flugelhorn territory, and misty but resonant lyricism, blends well with the poise and composure of Gunnlaugs' trio, which, at times, has a touch of Carla Bley about it.

The focus of listeners in the large auditorium says much about the listening culture that the festival has fostered over its 35-year history, but then again the proximity of the smaller venues, Klubi and Telakka, a cosy restaurant on the same square, means that punters don't have to overcome any great logistical difficulties to see as much music as possible. Unlike at larger events, there is no mad rush between sets.

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Among small groups who also go down well New Zion Trio, comprising pianist-keyboardist Jamie Saft, bassist Brad Jones and drummer Hamid Drake, is perfect for a mellow Sunday afternoon. It's an instrumental dub-roots reggae band, with the hypnotic sway of the rhythm section enhanced by shimmering acoustic crescendos and crackling reverb that invoke Monty Alexander and Jackie Mittoo. Equally atmospheric, though markedly different in approach, is Nik Bärtsch's Mobile, whose post-Reich repeated figures and percussive ripples have an edginess lurking underneath a very poised, calm surface, while Norway's Trail Of Souls, featuring vocalist Solveig Slettahjell and guitarist Knut Reiersrud, also creates its own dark-to-light intensity with a twisted slow blues. Of the other singers on show it is Dhaffer Youssef and Lucia Cadotsch who stand out for entirely different reasons. The former soars, propelled by a truly stellar American trio, while the latter simmers, engaging in lithe, subtle interplay with bassist Petter Eldh and saxophonist Otis Sanjo, that is a fine advert for the excellence of the Berlin jazz scene. Cadotsch's fellow Swiss, trombonist Samuel Blaser also leads a brilliant international group enhanced by the presence of American alto-saxophone hero Oliver Lake and French pianist Benoit Delbecq, which provides an invaluable reminder that the conceptual space between avant-garde and the blues can be tantalisingly small.

If this is a highlight of the programme then the appearance of The Fifth Man, an ambitious project headed by Evan Parker and John Russell, is a showstopper for numerous reasons. Both the iconic saxophonist and guitarist are on superlative form, probing at the perceived sonic limits of their respective instruments, and as they construct an ever shifting kaleidoscope of sound in the company of expressive double-bassist John Edwards and wily laptop manipulators Matt Wright and Walter Prati the audience obliges with the deepest unbroken concentration.

In complete contrast comes mass head-nodding to the relentlessly hard rhythmic attack of Steve Coleman's Five Elements, which, as idiosyncratic as it is, nonetheless re-channels the spirit of past masters in pleasingly lateral asides, as the sly quote of 'Giant Steps' proves. As for the Finnish saxophone stalwart Eero Koivistoinen, he invokes the spirit of John Coltrane in more direct ways. To the wildest of applause.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Maarit Kytöharju

Miles Mosley has already started making waves in the UK via a series of extrovert YouTube videos, then as a member of Kamasi Washington's explosive touring band, and fronting his own unit at this year's Love Supreme – now he's back as a headline act. In support are young London-based up-and-comers Vels Trio. They kick-off with a beguiling blend of shimmering keyboard arpeggios, a deep-toned snare-driven disco pulse and clipped off-beat basslines, like an update on mid-1970s Hancock, or a mash-up between Weather Report and Daft Punk. It's a deceptively simple formula; there's no displays of virtuosic limelight hogging, but plenty of creativity is in evidence in the way the trio deftly arrange and re-arrange the textures, swapping focus between Jack Stephenson's array of analogue keyboard sounds, Cameron Dawson's effect-augmented bass, and the ingeniously shifting accents of Dougal Taylor's drums. The set builds til they are making a very big sound indeed, with sweeping keys, overdriven bass and stomping grooves with some nifty details in the hi-hat work, finishing with a polyrhythmic tour de force.

Mosley takes to the stage, an impressive figure in trademark beret, shades and body armour, a look pitched somewhere between a Marvel comic character and Huey Newton. The band smash into some testifying, JB style funk, with Mosley front and centre driving things along on the upright bass and singing in a powerful but light-toned soul voice, akin to John Legend. He works that bass hard, nailing the tight funky lines in tandem with his drummer, the utterly awesome Tony Austin, throwing in slick fills whenever he's not singing, going up high for a solo, whipping out his bow and hitting a bank of effects pedals for some screaming, Hendrix-style freakout. The writing style owes a debt to James Brown, Sly Stone, and the Lenny Kravitz school of bombastic funk rock – Mosley establishes the band's credentials by namechecking work with Stanley Clarke and Lauren Hill, but also Gwen Stefani and Chris Cornell. 'Heartbreak' is a full-on bluesy power ballad that gives way to an extended effects-drenched bass solo that careers on the edge of feedback chaos, with Mosley wrangling his instrument like an unruly bronco, reining it in within a split second to belt out the chorus.

MilesMosely MG 6934

Between numbers he's engaging and effusive; his lyrics extol the virtues of hard work, dedication and collective endeavour, as personified by the West Coast Collective of LA-based musicians that launched both his and Washington's careers. He's warmly thankful towards the London crowd ("Thanks for making London my number one for streaming stats!") and they return his good vibes. This unaffected sincerity tempers the LA slickness of the show – there are solo features for Austin and impressive pianist Cameron Graves, who dazzles with a florid display, like Liszt with tattooed biceps, and the trumpet-and-tenor horn section turn in some powerful statements. But, essentially, the band are there to provide a backdrop for the leader's ebullient personality; his immensely powerful, virtuoso technique and genial good nature win the day, finishing with a direct quote from Hendrix and a triumphant rendition of his best-known number, 'Abraham'.

– Eddie Myer

– Photos by Roger Thomas

"If you have to ask, you don't know by now," is perhaps an apt line from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song when it comes to the LA-duo Knower, whose sold-out show at Scala as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival surprised some. It's rumoured that at a recent meeting of music promoters in New York, only a couple, notably John Cumming, had heard of the band. Now road-toughened from an extensive touring schedule with the aforementioned Chilis, the word is out on this furious punk-funk pair's hyperactive blend of post-ironic jazz fusion that sounds like the bastard child of Giorgio Moroder and Weather Report – with the angelic, pitch-perfect vocals of Genevieve Artadi providing a focal point in the muso melee.

KNOWER-Scala-Emile-Holba-2

Knower are the brainchild of drummer/producer Louis Cole and singer Artadi (also an edgy solo artist), yet it's Cole's sardonic humour that pervades and punctures any sense of self-importance here. Initially dressed in a puffy pink jacket, black-and-white zebra-pattered leggings and an immoveable pair of shades, he soon dispenses with the jacket to sit bare-chested at his prominently placed drum kit. A huge gold chain, with a doughnut attached to it, hung thickly around his neck, adding to the uncomfortable notion that a brilliant fusion drummer had come dressed as Vanilla Ice. Of course, none of this is to be taken seriously, neither is his opening gambit on the mic, "this is going to be fucking awesome", which gets a laugh and notches up the excitement levels.

The Scala's bass-resonant space can create a wall of sub-sonic frequencies and indeed bassist Sam Wilkes was plundering low-end bombs from the off, grinning up at Cole as the pair batted polyrhythmic grooves back-and-forth all night. Double keyboards were supplied by Jacob Mann and Dennis Hamm, the latter's own following thanks to his long-running work with fellow LA fusion-funk maverick Thundercat (also in attendance tonight). Here his elongated solos explored the densely clustered harmonies within Knower's often-intense songs with long-fingered dexterity. Guitarist Thom Gill proved both exciting fret-shredder and soulful balladeer, bringing the over-excited crowd to a hushed silence during an unexpected (and unnamed) voice and guitar solo spot that revealed subtle and sophisticated harmonies and some welcome respite from the synth onslaught.

KNOWER-Scala-Emile-Holba-9

That said Knower now have some hits in the form of the poignant 'Hanging On' and the devastatingly effective 'Overtime' with its continually descending bass riff that had the crowd moshing and grinning in equal measure. If musicianship seems to have found a new respect, away from punk's original 'year zero' attitude, then the likes of Knower are poking fun at new forms of pomposity that can sometimes be prevalent today. They're also putting that other 'F' word, 'fun', (which also upsets the jazz police) back front and centre in their music. Tonight, the crowd were in on the joke, to which Knower provided so many killer punchlines.

– Mike Flynn

– Photos by Emile Holba for EFG London Jazz Festival

This month sees two jazz photography exhibitions take place – one with the added bonus of some accompanying live performances and both coinciding with the EFG London Jazz Festival. The first is a joint exhibition from renowned specialist music photographers Alan John Ainsworth and John Watson whose 'The Jazz Moment' show runs from 10 to 23 November at the The Gallery, 77 Cowcross Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1M.

The exhibition will feature 50 images of jazz legends (such as James Carter, pictured) and rising stars captured in full-flight, Watson commenting: "My aim is always to create striking images that capture the thrills of performance, and will interest viewers in great musicians and their work. Capturing 'the jazz moment' is a joy."

The second show, entitled 'The Jazz Gig' features the work of Jim Grover from 1 November to 3 December at the Omnibus Theatre, 1 Clapham Common Northside, London SW4. Showing 35 black and white images of many emerging jazz talents, two of which – acclaimed young guitarist Rob Luft and rising star bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado – with the latter bassist appearing as part of Australian singer/writer Kath Haling's group earlier this week on 12 November alongside pianist Liam Dunachie and drummer Will Glaser, and with Luft leading his own band on 19 November.

For more info visit www.jimgroverphotography.com

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