Hilde-Marie-Holsen photoEspen-Koen-Webjrnsen2

The Norwegian brass-band tradition, which first evolved in that country with the onset of railway construction in the 19th century, is very much alive and kicking, particularly on the western side where Hilde Marie Holsen was raised. It was why she picked up a trumpet in the first place, and after finding classical music too restrictive she moved to jazz, and her favoured form of free-improv with acoustic and processed trumpet.

This is the basis for her second solo release, Lazuli (Hubro) and the record's launch night, an understated affair hosted at Kafé Hærverk in Oslo, a hangout of bare brick and lampshades lovingly reproduced from a 1960s German prototype by a lamp enthusiast (so the English sound engineer told me). The set opened with an extended single note, gentle but assured, hanging in the air like a horn sounded on an ancient longship. Her playing of the acoustic trumpet is minimal and even when she elaborates with melody such as on the track 'Lapis', it follows the modern Scandi template; pared down, muted.

It's in the processed trumpet noises that you feel her thrill, the invention of clicks, hums, fuzz, ripples and radio interference. These electronic manifestations actually give an impression of an analogue of the past, Holsen may be using a laptop and media controller, but she sounds like she's transmitting from a Cold War hideout surrounded by oscillators and code-breaking typewriters. Her nuances force the audience to tune into the slightest glimmer of change, an absorbed silence pervades.

At one point a droning bass follows her melody, a breath lagging behind the timing, like a foreboding shadow. The blue tone, so integral to the original Norwegian jazz wave, is broken on occasion; a flock of metallic noises, playful at first becomes menacing and Hitchcockian as the music intensifies. Shards of emotion break out, when Hilde's instrument rasps or squeals, balancing out the drones. There needs to be more height to the music, and more tension, but without doubt the audience was captivated and Holsen clearly knew how to leave her audience wanting more.

– Debra Richards
– Photo by Espen Koen Webjørnsen 

 Ken-V-2

The streets of Brighton have been overflowing with music fans thanks to this year's Great Escape Festival, whose ever more eclectic programming even expanded beyond it's indie rock remit to include some 'New Thing' jazz artists. As a coda to that event, the ever resourceful promotion partnership of Dictionary Pudding and the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival brought a pair of genuine musical free-thinkers to town.

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love took to the stage, framed by the modishly derelict-industrial girders and brickwork of the Green Door Store, launching immediately into a furious tirade of squalling tenor sax and crashing tides of percussion that gradually coalesced into a swaggering polyrhythmic funk. Vandermark's virtuosity and conviction were instantly present, projecting into the room, but equally impressive was the metronomically insistent power of Nilssen-Love's drumming, his surging, clattering, endlessly inventive playing creating a turbulent sea over which Vandermark surfed, skimming the surface or diving into the groove, responsive to every current and squall. The drummer suddenly dropped out, allowing Vandermark to demonstrate his fluency and imagination in a solo atonal workout, with long gobbling runs, interspersed with fragments of shattered melody, unexpected squawks and honks; Nilssen-Love returning to add terse punctuation. Vandermark's sax barrage resolved into a nagging, insistent three-note phrase which Nilssen-Love converted into a pulsing, monumental beat. Together, the pair ramped up the tension into a towering structure, which then shattered apart under its own internal stresses.

Next Vandermark revealed his extraordinary voice on clarinet; woody and tender in the lower register, ascending to higher notes of laser-beam intensity, melodic lines unfurling into something approaching a jaunty swing. Nilssen-Love responded with a barrage of unorthodox percussive effects that gradually merged into what, during its closing moments, appeared to be a distant relative of a Brazilian Chorinho. Further unexpected traces of Brazilian accents surfaced briefly in the snare patterns and repurposed items of samba percussion accompanying the next searing clarinet exploration. Then, all too soon, we reached the set's climax – a protracted, more conventionally free-improv passage of gnomic dialogue between sax and percussion, all high tones and sudden startling crashes like Japanese Gagaku, growing in intensity and then cataclysmically releasing into a pounding three-beat worthy of John Bonham.

It's a shame that none of the Great Escape crowd were present to witness this radical stomp – but the small, loyal band of supporters give it their all as the dynamic duo bowed, dripping with sweat, and left the stage to make for the bar.

– Eddie Myer

 Nigel

What better way to celebrate the conferring of an honour than to invite a crowd of chums to Ronnie Scott's and then to offer them the company of great musicians and ply them with plentiful food and wine while they wait to greet you? These generous preliminaries preceded the arrival in the club last Friday of Nigel Tully MBE, hot-footing it from the Palace, with distinguished spouse Professor Deborah Cunningham on his arm, medal in hand, and with a smile that lit up the room.

Nigel spoke touchingly of his desire to share his good fortune with the jazz world at large. He then cited his own engagement with music as both player and enthusiast before adding a song with perfect accompaniment by pianist Nikki Iles, tenorist Tim Garland's coda his own special gift. An impromptu display of genius from solo guitarist Martin Taylor followed ahead of chanteuse Tina May's heartfelt set, with Frank Griffith on clarinet and bassist Simon Woolf at the piano. Earlier, the specially assembled line-up of Alex Garnett (as), Alex Ridout (t), Garland, Chelsea Carmichael (bs), Iles (p), Nick Fitch (g), Adam King (b) and Shane Forbes (d) had given us such a rousing display of exuberance, creativity and, yes, humour, that one would have wished it never to stop.

Ex-IBM executive, long-time leader of the Dark Blues function band, Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians and now Executive Chairman of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Nigel has more than earned his musical spurs and fully deserves all the recognition that has come his way. Bravo and thanks, Nigel.

– Peter Vacher
– Photo by Carl Hyde

 CometisComing LWormsley 1 USE

After years of going to jazz gigs and being the youngest person in the room by a good quarter of a century, I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see a (too) cool, 20-something festival crowd lose it over a virtuosic bass solo. I watched it happen time and time again at Field Day in London's Brockwell Park this weekend, which had a packed programme of jazz acts alongside the usual DJs and leftfield hip hop artists who help make this festival one of the UK's most self-consciously hip. For anyone doubting whether jazz (or at least a certain, dancefloor-focused strand of it) is cool again, this year's Field Day bill was confirmation.

Though they regularly play to young crowds, the significance of the event wasn't lost on Ezra Collective who unleashed their storming Afro-beat grooves, bold hornlines and pyrotechnic solos on a packed Dimensions/Total Refreshment Centre tent. "If you're about supporting jazz music make some noise," shouted drummer Femi Koleoso, as they kicked off a danceable cover of Sun Ra's 'Space Is The Place'. The cheers were deafening.

There were more London 'new wave' favourites throughout Friday evening, including the ferocious Sons of Kemet and drummer Moses Boyd's Exodus, whose set mixed infectious beats and visceral tuba basslines with rock textures, episodic horn melodies and massive solos – from Boyd, Binker Golding on tenor and guitarist Artie Zaitz. They paved the way for The Comet Is Coming who channelled the sound of intergalactic warfare – all blazing synths, fizzing electronics and hyperdrive drum beats – with Shabaka Hutchings firing tenor hollars and circular breathing through swirling nebulas of notes.

NubyaGarcia LWormsley 1 USE

On the open-air mainstage, Norwich trio Mammal Hands dealt in introspective minimalism. New tune 'Transfixed' featured minor modes, sax whorls and thrumming tabla, and had echoes of a Jan Garbarek and Trilok Gurtu collaboration. Meanwhile, singer Zara McFarlane and her 10-piece band brought a reggae flavour to the intimate Moth Club/It's Nice That tent, closing with the bruising, melancholic 'Stoke The Fire'. Next came one of the highlights, a set from Nubya Garcia, who slayed on tenor, stretching out and showcasing her rich sound as drummer Femi Koleoso and bassist Dan Casimir laid down surging swing feels, hip hop grooves and (once) a burst of UK garage. As much talked-about keysplayer Joe Armon-Jones let rip, Garcia danced and turned her face to the heavens. She looked like a lioness with a mane of braids. Her playing has the same air of fearsome grace. Later on, two of her Nérija bandmates came out to join her: thoughtful guitarist Shirley Tetteh and trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, who was powerful and inventive on the Ethio-jazz tinged 'Hold'. A Saturday morning appearance from Tomorrow's Warriors Female Frontline proved there's plenty more talent where they came from.

Beyond all that, you could hear the influence of jazz in numerous other sets across the weekend – further evidence of its current kudos in the music world. Topping the Dimensions/Total Refreshment Centre bill, Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills battled Afro-beat drum icon Tony Allen and keysplayer Jean-Phi Dary across a psychedelic landscape of subtly-shifting beats, riddled with funky Minimoog basslines and the knuckle-crack of a Roland TR-909. And elsewhere there were electronic music producers backed by horn sections sketching Gil Evans-like harmonies (James Holden and The Animal Spirits) and rappers doubling on alto saxophone (Masego performing his own 'You Gon' Learn Some Jazz Today').

ErykahBadu LWormsley USE

This year's headliners continued the theme. There's a jazz sensibility to Erykah Badu's vocals – both her tone and the freedom with which she phrases. She's often compared to Billie Holiday and that certainly came across in her erratic Friday-night set, which also included a rain dance accompanied by some Tanya Tagaq-style throat singing. 'Out My Mind, Just In Time' had the dreamy air of a jazz ballad, and on '... & On' she had her backing vocalists scatting over walking basslines.

Saturday's headliner, Stephen 'Thundercat' Bruner, was an even better fit. Bruner is a childhood friend of Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus, and one of the LA jazz-heads who turned Kendrick Lamar onto John Coltrane. Through those channels and his own music-making he's done a huge amount to introduce mainstream audiences to the joy of burning swing. In fact, we should probably be falling at his besocked-and-sandaled feet. A lot of people were, including Erykah Badu who came out to dance and hype amid the squelchy funk of 'Them Changes' yelling: "Sing that shit, Cat." Bruner did, his chest voice velvety, his falsetto rich, and much more secure than at Heaven last year. Stoner poems, from breakthrough album Drunk, came thick and fast and there was acres of furious shredding as he jammed with Knower keysplayer Dennis Hamm and frightening drummer Justin Brown (a member of Ambrose Akinmusire's quartet), who machine-gunned round his tom toms. More, epic solos; more huge cheers.

Who knows how long this jazz boom will last, or how big it's going to get? But I'm pretty confident that when the jazz historians of the future adjust their Google glasses and try to unravel the renaissance Field Day 2018 will figure. Good things come to those who wait.

– Thomas Rees 
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley 

 Braxton

With the death of Cecil Taylor a few weeks ago we lost one of the great explorers of the borderland between freeform jazz and new music – an experimental "polar region", in the words of the writer Alex Ross, where distinctions blur and "works of classical, jazz, or rock descent can sound more like one another than like their parent genres." I never got to see Taylor perform live and, as the tributes flood in – from Ross, the pianist Alexander Hawkins (in the June issue of Jazzwise) and many others – I regret that more and more. So I certainly wasn't going to let this rare UK appearance from Anthony Braxton, another legendary polar explorer, slip away.

Like Taylor, Braxton is a controversial figure. His opus includes many pieces that listeners have found challenging to the point of alienating, including compositions for 100 tubas and four orchestras. Appreciating him can feel like an exclusive club and the final night of this Cafe OTO residency for Braxton and his ZIM Sextet attracted a fair few hostile, performative listeners, nodding their heads as if to say: "I understand this on a deeper level than you ever will."

There was nothing hostile about the music though. Even at its most abstract, it felt open and enquiring – as gentle-spirited as Braxton himself. Playing for just over an hour, the group juxtaposed boiling climaxes with passages of sparse instrumental muttering. Angular melodies ping-ponged around the ensemble. Jacqueline Kerrod and Miriam Overlach stirred-up shimmering clouds of notes and scraped the strings of their harps with wood blocks and table knives. Violinist Jean Cook stitched folky fragments. Adam Matlock added vocal groans and weedling accordion lines, playfully contrasted with the rumbling of Dan Peck's tuba. And Taylor Ho Bynum experimented with a collection of mutes, trading blasts with Braxton in the biggest moments and once mimicking the sound of birdsong by blowing on the bottom of his cornet valves. Switching between alto, soprano and toy-like sopranino saxophones, the composer played sweet melodic phrases that could have been clipped from songbook ballads and followed them up with deranged flurries – the flight of the bumblebee with a broken wing.

Sometimes the music resembled a seascape, with Braxton directing ensemble swells and undulating dynamics. Gesturing with his palm as the light gleamed off the surface of his spectacles, he looked like a high priest giving the group his blessing. They wound up in the middle of nowhere. Ho Bynum's trombone evoked the gentle roar of a distant motorway. Braxton directed two ensemble hits and then rummaged in a plastic wallet for a piece of paper. Another tune? It was a list of people to thank – greeted by one of the biggest receptions I've ever heard at Cafe OTO. Credit where it's due: performative listeners are good at applause.

Afterwards, I spoke to harpist Jacqueline Kerrod who showed me some of the music the group use. A lot of what they play is freely improvised, but they also follow graphic scores (works of art in themselves) covered in brightly coloured lollypop symbols and cryptic squiggles, indicating dynamics and intensity. They use some standard notation as well, Kerrod explained, pointing to a sheet covered in dense clusters of semiquavers – the sort of thing musicians refer to as "fly shit". "It's completely unplayable," she laughed, "but the point is to follow the shapes and just do your best."

Follow the shapes and do your best. That's good advice for listeners looking for a way into Braxton's music too.

Thomas Rees
– Photo by Dawid Laskowski    

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