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After the terrible events on the Promenade des Anglais on the 14 July last year this year's Nice and Jazz à Juan jazz festivals were bound to be tinged with more than a little sadness. As a mark of respect Jazz à Juan started its festival one day late on the 15 July.

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Featuring a mix of jazz and popular music the festival attracted a large audience (despite the drop in tourism on the French Riviera since the terrorist attacks) selling over 90% of the available tickets. Security was high but the atmosphere was as brilliant as ever in this wonderful concert bowl on the beach in Juan-les-Pins (above). Sting, Tom Jones, the Macy Gray/Gregory Porter double bill and Jamie Cullum were the top-selling concerts with Sting selling out well before the programme had even been fully announced.

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There is always plenty of pure jazz at Juan too., notably The Wayne Shorter Quartet (above) in a double bill with the Branford Marsalis Quartet featuring vocalist Kurt Elling. Shorter repeating his Umbria gig and playing very accessible music with his regular band of Danilo Pérez (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and the brilliant Brian Blade (drums), who were really buzzing throughout the set. Marsalis, with Joey Calderazzo on piano – surely one of the best supporting pianists on the scene today – was a great foil to the intensity of Shorter's set with Elling (below) providing the focus of the band, and of course super-cool vocals.

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Another pure jazz night, featuring a triple bill of Shabaka & the Ancestors (below), Robert Glasper and Archie Shepp was also a great success. The variety of the music during the evening from Hutchings' African rhythms (this gig also featuring terrific vocals from Cleveland Watkiss), to Glasper's beat'n'groove-led electronica to Archie Shepp's very cultured and beautifully played bebop was wonderful. There was a definite theme running throughout the three shows across a very cleverly programed evening.

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Once again Jamie Cullum proved that he is one of the best British festival acts. His high energy show galvanising the audience (and by no means a 'young' audience at that) to leave their seats and bounce up and down in front of the stage with Cullum leading them on like the pied piper of jazz. I had not seen Anoushka Shankar (below and top) before and her set before Jamie Cullum's was one of the highlights of the festival.

Her brilliant mixing of Indian and jazz elements was a revelation and a really unique fusion of musical styles. Combining sitar, Hang drum and Shehnai was mesmerising and infectious. Hang drummer Manu Delago, who co-wrote Shankar's recent Land of Gold CD and from which they played tonight, was brilliant, capturing the essence of Shankar's heritage but adding another direction. The quartet was completed by Tom Farmer on bass and keyboards, who anchored the sound and drove it forward with great skill. The whole show, including very effective and dramatic lighting, was phenomenal.

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It was great to see piano star Hiromi (above) and Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda opening for Sting. Although their music is the other end of the musical spectrum to the pop rock of Sting, the sheer quality and energy of the music won them many new fans among the huge audience. Hiromi's 'Elements' suite, composed for the duo, comprised of four movements ('Earth', 'Air', 'Water', 'Fire') was a tour de force. It was hard to remember that there are only two musicians on stage such was the intricacy of the harmonics between them.

Jazz á Juan is the longest continuously running festival in Europe with an enviable location in a small sheltered pine grove facing the beach and an fantastic reputation for bringing the best of jazz to the south of France. Over 23,000 tickets were sold this year and the 'Jazz Off' free program was watched by more than 5,000 people. Of course the festival has diluted its program, but not in a detrimental way – by means of clever programing and choosing the right non jazz acts Jazz á Juan promises to continue for many years to come. Next year you can enjoy the festival from the 14 -22 July.

Tim Dickeson – story and photos

This year's Parliamentary Jazz Awards will take place on 10 October at Pizza Express Jazz Club's swish new venue in Holborn WC1 – the first time the awards have taken place away from Parliament. The awards are organised by the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG), which currently has over 80 members from the House of Commons and House of Lords across all political parties. The awards are co-chaired by Kelvin Hopkins MP and Lord Colwyn, and supported by Pizza Express Live in conjunction with Peroni. Voting closes on 16 August on the following categories:

Jazz Album of the Year (released in 2016 by a UK band or musicians)

Jazz Newcomer of the Year (UK-based artist, musician or group with a debut album released in 2016)

Jazz Education Award (to an educator or project for raising the standard of jazz education in the UK)

Jazz Media Award (including broadcasters, journalists, magazines, blogs, listings and books)

Jazz Venue of the Year (including jazz clubs, venues, festivals and promoters)

Jazz Ensemble of the Year (UK-based group who impressed in 2016)

Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year (UK-based musician who impressed in 2016)

Jazz Vocalist of the Year (UK-based vocalist who impressed in 2016

Services to Jazz Award (to a living person for their outstanding contribution to jazz in the UK).

To cast your vote visit www.pizzaexpresslive.com/parliamentary-jazz-awards-2017

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As expected, the Gent Jazz Festival performs its characteristic trick of balancing hardcore jazz with outside forms, though this year the splitting of these types into two separate long weekends was less marked. Instead, there were infiltrations: Grace Jones snuck into the first weekend, and the second stretch was fully populated by the Kamasi Washington/Robert Glasper/Shabaka Hutchings posse. This didn't seem to matter, as this fest's audience is noted for its open-mindedness (though the second weekend's Einstürzende Neubauten nite did bring out an avant-goth element, for one evening only).

The first weekend's major event was an appearance of the Wayne Shorter Quartet (above) with Belgium's own Casco Philharmonic, to perform the ambitious 'Emanon', which will make up the forthcoming album on Blue Note. They rehearsed in Gent, and also played a show at the North Sea jazzfest. Shorter is seated yet commanding, as he incrementally leads his quartet towards an intense state, over 25 minutes, which is when the Casco players begin to make their presence felt. Shorter has come up with a palette that's reminiscent of Aaron Copland: very American pastoral, and quite accessible. Following Casco's territorial establishment, the quartet enters stealthily, and suddenly they're out in the open. The brass section is aroused, the strings swipe with vigour, and Shorter begins to solo near the close of the first section, continuing with just his quartet. The re-entry of Casco tends to add a hint of swollen blandness, and it soon becomes apparent that the most stirring parts of the new piece feature the quartet in a prominent position.

Shorter is the absolute leader, among this throng of players, the parts that claw into the audience psyche being his soprano issuances, made with a darting hardness, as if he's so intent on his own expression that the orchestra almost becomes a sidelined entity, supporting his own sharp vision. This is how powerful this 83-year-old legend still remains. Shorter has made the score's mood a touch too cheerful for what is intended to be a science-fiction concept narrative, accompanied by comix art for the album's packaging. Perhaps this tale represents the optimistic side of SF? Nevertheless, Shorter is immune and uncompromising, right at the core of his new work.

Over on the smaller Garden Stage, it's often the preferred strategy to present a band playing a trio of sets, sliced and diced to fill the spaces between three of the main stage performances. Sometimes this can visibly freak out a crew, but some artists can take such a platform in their stride, throwing back to the old format for club jazz: multiple sets presented with their own micro-dynamic. The Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven (above) is one such dude. On the first night of the festival's second long weekend, he sharply drove upwards with each 40-minute segment, uniting a tough funk motion with an uncompromising freedom-edge. The music vibrates with the sense that it's being negotiated for the very first time, even if this isn't actually the case. McCraven wants improvisation to possess beats, however involved and complex these might be, topped with blistering trumpet strafes, sinewy basslines, rawk guitar solos and extreme-retro, post-Bernie Worrell cosmic keyboard textures. McCraven and crew are already steaming during the first set, and by the time we reach the third, matters are getting quite out of control..!

On the more local front, there were fewer Gentian groups making a significant mark this year, following 2016’s explosion of indigenous excellence.A pair of the best Belgian acts were Daau (a long-running Antwerpian collective) and Compro Oro, a much younger multi-directional posse from Gent, fronted by the vibes and marimba of Wim Segers. The latter fine-tuned their style as three sets unspooled, beginning with slinky exotica, then ranging into Ethiopian lands, but still rooted in the 1970s. Daau are celebrating their 25th anniversary, reconvened after a sometimes sporadic existence, following some departures of founding members. They too changed emphasis over a troika of sets, opening with a modern classical, accordion-dominated sound, then introducing increased electronic elements later in the evening, including samples of singers, storytellers and screamers, with their clarinettist increasingly doctoring his phrases via a laptop. Daau were an impressive part of the final night, which was certainly one of the festival's best.

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The French-Belgian Trio Grande played three sets, with the evening's fourth expanding into the Reve D'Eléphant Orchestra, which features two of the threesome, Michel Massot (trombone/sousaphone) and Michel Debrulle (drums/percussion). The trio adopt a dislocated parading approach, their compositions on the short side, to facilitate the accommodation of their abundance of often romping motifs. Laurent Dehors has the benefit of a rack that includes jaw harp and various clarinets, including bass and contrabass. At one stage he stuffs two clarinets in his mouth at once. Grande's 'Bamako' number has contrabass clarinet, euphonium and a front-marching big bass drum, just to keep us confused, alert and bouncing! Massot hurls his euphonium in the air, then fortunately catches it again. The orchestra features a pair of vocalist-narrators, and has a much more modernised funky rock'n'rap sound compared to when they played here in 2011.

The French duo of Emile Parisien (soprano saxophone) and Vincent Peirani (accordion) illustrated how an intimate sound could exist on the main stage. Opening with some Sidney Bechet, Parisien soon revealed his trademark pixie footwork, which is an integral part of his delivery, helping to power his darting phrases, adding a general vigour to the performance. Even Peirani starts to softly dance as he plays, matching the fluidity of the duo's music. Between the two of them, we've never seen fingers flit so fleetly, the tunes packed with pauses, false endings, calm respites and sudden awakenings, as Peirani occasionally sings, adding to the potential for increased high velocity simultaneity.

In the headlining spaces, there were another pair of crucial sets: a rather lewd Grace Jones, searching for her mislaid dildo (an unusual onstage complaint), and the industrially extreme Einstürzende Neubauten, from Berlin, with frontman Blixa Bargeld as a completely compelling alternative cabaret singer (and castrato screamer!). Both of these acts are somewhat sideways from the usual Jazzwise territory, but illustrate the great imaginative breadth of the Gent fest's booking policy. To close, at midnight, the Fire! trio delivered a relatively brief set, treading the line between minimalist, ritual repeats and the enraged, ripping expression of Mats Gustafsson's tenor saxophone and electronics, returning to the jazz furnace.

– Martin Longley
– Photos by Bruno Bollaert and Geert Vandepoele

There's said to be a minor resurgence in swing in the metropolis, with new bands popping up, and that's all to the good. Still, for the real thing, you needed to be on hand to hear the mighty Buck Clayton Legacy Band storm into 'Outer Drive', its opening piece for this Soho one-off. Arranged by band trombonist Adrian Fry, this had all the ensemble cohesion and rhythmic certainty that its original composer, Basie trumpeter Buck Clayton himself, would have relished. Clayton knew how to give his pieces an inbuilt propensity to swing, but as band altoist Alan Barnes said to me, "I can think of plenty of bands who'd still miss out." Happily this one, propelled by the peerless Bobby Worth, our finest swing drummer, who formed a tight rhythmic bond with bandleader-bassist Alyn Shipton, never put a foot wrong.

Even more to the satisfaction of the late Mr Clayton, were he to be still with us, it boasts an array of on-form soloists. Take Barnes on alto and clarinet, straining every sinew to find a new line on such old favourites as 'The Jeep Is Jumping' or the equally perky 'Broadway Babe'. Then again there's his fellow-saxophonist Robert Fowler, whose robust tenor sound and direct style made me think of Illinois Jacquet, another swing-era hero. Add in the near-boppish trumpet of Ian Smith and the trenchant trombone of Adrian Fry and you have quite a line-up. And that's not to overlook Martin Litton intent at the Steinway, sprinkling every piece with his own personal brand of gold dust, his light touch and lightening runs a joy to observe.

For all this emphasis on the virtues of mainstream, the meat of the night came with the 'guest' appearance of vocalist Lady J, whose role was to evoke and emulate Billie Holiday, especially on songs with a Clayton association. Given her prominence in the mix, it's not surprising that some of the band's intensity dipped with a touch here and there of 'after-you- no-after you', her vocals sometimes struggling to be heard amid the band tumult. Greater familiarity and more rehearsal will sort that out. Any singer, and there have been many, who seeks to tackle the Holiday repertoire is self-evidently a hostage to fortune and unsurprisingly Lady J took a while to settle, coming off best the nearer she got to replicating Billie's sound and behind-the-beat phrasing. Her second set excelled, the confidence building, the backing scaled-down, as on 'God Bless The Child'. For this combination to work as a concert show, it needs a stronger narrative and a more precise sense of purpose: for now, it's best described as a work in progress, even if the band itself is very definitely the finished article.

– Peter Vacher

While the venue's refit, which considerably extends the standing area downstairs, is not unwelcome – especially as this gig draws a good crowd – there are changes immediately noticed by musicians who grace the stage. The old Steinway is gone. Its absence is really felt in the second set when Nikki Yeoh's keyboard plays up a bit as the Denys Baptiste Quartet is in full flow. But there is also a sharp whiff of nostalgia for the missing 'STFU' sign, an acronymic rendering of a forthright request for silence, when some punters just would not stop talking for the upset of others.

Anyway, the first set by double bassist Gary Crosby and tenor saxophonist Steve Williamson is a fine opening to proceedings. Two players with a 40-year musical relationship, they display the requisite chemistry to triumph in a high risk setting. Then again their strength of character really shines through. Williamson's stately, solid tone, its lack of vibrato grippingly stark at times, is entrancing, while Crosby's swing and playfulness with time, resulting in more than one catcher's catch can pause, works very well. A brisk walk through Miles' 'Nardis' and a jaunt through Monk's 'Blue Monk', where the bassist holds the tune and the saxophonist twists and tugs at countermelody with gymnastic turns of phrase, are notable. As for the reading of 'Body & Soul' it is a grand moment of drama, as both men wring exactly the right torrent of sentiment, the longing, ecstasy and agony, from a standard that has challenged all comers since Coleman Hawkins claimed ownership in 1938.

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Tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste, who in the 1990s picked up the baton from Williamson, Crosby and other Jazz Warriors, is enjoying a very good year, having returned to the spotlight with his album The Late Trane, which offers an astute reading of some of the key moments of the closing chapter of John Coltrane's epic journey through sound.

With double bassist Neil Charles, drummer Rod Youngs and the aforesaid keyboardist Yeoh he has an accomplished group at his disposal and it skillfully negotiates the central premise of Baptiste's re-imagining: the beauty of the sometimes simple themes is drawn out and cast against accessible, often danceable rhythmic backdrops that are very British. Young's use of a second snare drum produces all the whiplash thrust of drum & bass throughout the evening while his bouncing kick and hi-hat lines are mildly Latin-calypso, with Charles providing a steady anchor as the energy picks up. From pieces such as 'Ascent' to 'Peace On Earth' the songs are indeed heavenly, and Baptiste's statement of melody and ensuing improvisations, their vaulting course given a misty shadow by his pedal board and octave divider, are highly effective.

The electro-acoustic sound palette is vaguely Joe Henderson circa Power To The People but the cheeky quotes of Miles' 'Jean-Pierre' spread the references further. Having said that, the sparkling streams of single notes produced by Yeoh when she 'unplugs' on 'After The Rain' fully captivate, before Crosby and Williamson return for a rousing finale in which the doubling up of bass and horns brings forth all of the stormy density that marked Coltrane's valedictory musical statements. Baptiste's take is as personal as it is respectful to that spirit.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Roger Thomas

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