They say that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It's always difficult and often strange, but sometimes it feels totally absurd. Take this set from boundary-breaking US altoist and composer Steve Coleman and his Five Elements group at central London's 229 The Venue, a club more often associated with punk and indie bands. What can I tell you about it? Only that it was one of the most mind-expanding, rhythmically-audacious gigs I've ever seen. How can I make you feel like you were there? All I can do is offer an analogy.

Like Miles Davis, Coleman loves boxing. His last release, 2015's Morphogenesis, was a musical exploration of the sport and you can hear the influence of it in his writing. Watching this performance felt like stepping into the ring with Floyd Mayweather. The music was a storm of punches – visceral but pinpoint precise. Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson jammed out hypnotic riffs and intricate lines, alternating solos like sparring partners – latching onto motifs, developing and abstracting. Anthony Tidd laid down absurdly funky, electric bass grooves and syncopated pedals, including one that was so fast it sounded like the shuddering whirr of fists on a speedball. And drummer Sean Rickman drove them along with needle-sharp hi-hat patterns and snapping backbeats.

Sometimes they locked into trance-like grooves for minutes at a time before triggering confounding metric modulations and sudden shifts – the musical equivalent of fancy footwork, shoulder rolls. Rhythmic. Feints and changes, of tempo and-if-this-ludicrous-punctuation-is. Tripping. You up then good: you have some idea of. What it... was like.

Every so often the group's towering MC, Kokayi, stepped up to the mic, channelling the fire of a Baptist preacher, spitting his own rhythmically inventive bars and providing snarling, street-smart commentary on everything from social media ("tweet, tweet"), puppet masters and PTSD to the story of Icarus: "I'm not going to play it safe, Dad. I'm just going to spread my wings and fly." He was great to watch. As he rapped he flexed his hands – heavy with bracelets and rings – and mimed playing the pining-ponging pitches of his vocal lines on an invisible trumpet or guitar. Every questing, poetic salvo earned him a huge cheer.

A lifetime of musical research and experimentation was countersunk into the performance. Cutting hornlines brought echoes of one of Coleman's early inspirations: James Brown sax player Maceo Parker. There were glimpses of jazz standards – including a radical abstraction of 'Round Midnight' and a jabbing, close-harmony riff in the horns that eventually revealed itself as a play on 'Salt Peanuts'. And there were myriad ideas derived from Coleman's deep investigations into the rhythms of West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the past, Coleman has said that he thinks of himself as a West African griot – a musician, storyteller and custodian of tradition responsible for passing knowledge on. Late in the set, he adopted that persona, beating a 3-2 clave pattern on a cowbell and accompanying it with wordless hollers. Then came funk beats and distorted bebop lines and jaw-dropping gobbledygook vocalising performed by the whole band in unison. By which point I was metaphorically out for the count, sprawled on the canvas, looking up at Coleman and the Elements through a vortex of cartoon stars. Afterwards, my equally punch-drunk musician friends decided against going to the pub: "What are we going to talk about after that?" Pity the fool who had to write 500 words.

Thomas Rees

Canadians are patronisingly characterised in the US as 'over-polite' but one wouldn't wish to encounter a Quebecois on the hockey ice. As the recent stands Trudeau has made against Trump on trade and immigration reveal, they are no pushover north of the border. So too the French Canadian audiences in Montreal: impassioned, committed and sometimes, hyper sensitive.

My first show at Gésu was a doozy, a booty-shaking one-off triumvirate of John Medeski, Marc Ribot and funky drummer JT Lewis. Ribot was in town for his own righteously dissident gig the following night dubbed Songs of Resistance. He'd pulled some classic charts – 'Sookie Sookie' was credited onstage to white rockers Steppenwolf but the trio's attack cleaved closer to Grant Green, with Lewis' funky backbeats recalling Don Covay's 1965 original. As maverick as Medeski's sporadically Booker T-esque organ was – his mitts busy like the Muppets' Swedish chef hurling pizza dough from behind the keys – the depth of Ribot's own vintage aesthetic focus was startling (he did once work with Jack McDuff). Though also known for sardonic twanging and abstraction Ribot dug deep with Wes-like octave slashes and urgent vernacular riffing, then bust out like Derek Bailey playing 'Pop Goes The Weasel'. Not so exciting was his singing with the Songs of Resistance quartet (he announced demurely at set's end that the upcoming coincident CD, will feature vocals by Meshell Ndegeocello, Steve Earle and other stars, only two cuts boasting his dulcet tones). More important was the message and Ribot stretched back to the 40s for a song of solidarity 'We Are Soldiers in the Army', thence the civil rights anthem 'We'll Never Turn Back' and the bittersweet 'Bella Ciao,' injecting latin flavours redolent of his Arsenio Rodriguez project Los Cubanos Postizos. Another Rodriguez, saxophonist Jay of Groove Collective fame, superbly blended smooth blues riffs with emotive, even angry, expressionism. Ribot offered a rousing 'Fuck La Migra' which brought the Gésu crowd to its feet, as he name-checked for excoriation such scourges as Scott Pruitt and attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Archie-Shepp-Montreal-311

Another revolutionary, a couple of decades Ribot's senior, Archie Shepp, returned to Montreal after a long absence (he was last seen at the long gone Spectrum in 2002) and lit up the Maison Symphonique with his tremblingly intense classic 'Mama Rose'. The references to dreams in the lyric – 'rêves' – riffed with 'revolution', such punning no doubt not lost on Shepp. At 81 the Florida born Philadelphian's gigantic exhortation (seamed with gospel, blues shout or even operatic flourish) to take "This ex-cannibal's kiss" and "Your vagina, split asymmetrically between the east and the west" inspired requisite shivers, especially potent in the resonant, bourgeois hall.

Shepp addressed the audience entirely in French, an oversight of classy young Montreal pianist Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon who opened for Terence Blanchard's E-Collective with her trio at Monument-National. When Gentiane MG announced her compositions the patriotic audience fiercely demanded that she speak 'en francais!' Blanchard on the other hand announced little – the widescreen processed sound of the E-Collective's opening number stretching to forty minutes. Another instance of Canadian socio-political assertion involved a vociferous protest of Robert Lepage and Betty Bonnifassi's SLAV, a 'Theatrical Odyssey based on Slave Songs' which was canned after its initial sold-out performances due to criticism of its all white cast.

US based self-censure in the wake of Mexican border brutality was intimated with some levity by Herbie Hancock (pictured top), who in-joked with drummer Trevor Lawrence that his drums were like weapons at the border, adding "Everybody loves children –no matter what they say – we can't have that", suitably apposite from the composer of 'Tell Me a Bedtime Story,' 'Toys' and 'Speak Like a Child.' Hancock crowd-pleased with 'Chameleon' and 'Actual Proof' by surgically reinventing such hits. The latter was a heavy Rhodes workout with Lawrence munching into the off-kilter rhythms of predecessor Mike Clark, while guitar wizard Lionel Loueke conjured another effects master, Joe Zawinul. When James Genus took a solo, fellow bass ace Thundercat, who'd opened the show attired in orange shorts and flip flops with outrageously gauche pink socks, came from backstage to watch the Hancock show from out front. Another pianist at Monument-National with a more linear but also masterful touch was Monty Alexander, a festival favourite who's trio balanced Jamaican high jinks with jump cut dynamics and dime-edge timing redolent of Ahmad Jamal.

Marius-Neset-group-471-5x7

The staunchest instrument during my four-night sampling of Montreal's sprawling menu was perhaps not the piano or the organ however (despite the hurtling energy of Medeski and Cory Henry, the latter slaying Mtelus with his Funk Apostles) nor the saxophone, notwithstanding the mastery of Mark Turner (with guitarist Gilad Hekselman) and Norwegian genius Marius Neset (pictured above) who debuted at Gésu alongside two thirds of Phronesis.

Tubas

No, it was the ambitious plumbing of tuba and sousaphone. The irrepressible Kirk Joseph regaled with the latter ungainly device plus effects in Medeski's 'Mad Skillet;' Theon Cross's agile tuba sparred with the punchy Shabaka Hutchings in the drum driven Sons of Kemet and last but not least, Lance Loiselle's sousa held down three boisterous, entertaining nights, melding soul, hip-hop and two-tone at the outdoor Casino de Montreal with the unstoppable Chicago based eleven piece he co-founded, The Lowdown Brass Band.

Story and photos by Michael Jackson

Screen-Shot-2018-07-25-at-16.34.31

Iconic saxophonist Wayne Shorter is set to make a dramatic return with his epic new triple album, Emanon (or 'no name' spelt backwards), accompanied by a self-penned graphic novel, illustrated by renowned artist Randy DuBurke and co-written with Monica Sly. Released on Blue Note on 24 August, the day before Shorter's 85th birthday, the first section of the album documents a 2013 studio session featuring his four-part orchestral work performed by the 34-piece Polish Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and his Quartet of Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. The latter half of the album features the Quartet recorded live in London in 2015, the day after it was debuted at Carnegie Hall.

Conceptually complex, the album finds Shorter drawing on his lifelong love of comics and graphic novels, sci-fi, Buddhism and quantum physics, all of which has informed DuBurke's artwork, with an introductory note from bassist Esperanza Spalding. According to Shorter, the orchestral nature of the music stems from a conversation he had with Miles Davis just before the trumpeter's death in 1991: "He said, 'Wayne, I want you to write something for me with strings and an orchestra, but make sure you put a window in so I can get out of there.'" Early listens confirm that the dialogue between orchestra and Shorter's characteristically incisive soprano sax is densely detailed and empathetic, the saxophonist in imperious form throughout.

- Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.bluenote.com

 SeedEnsemble LWorms 2

Day-trippers pour out of the trains in their hundreds, heading straight for sand and sea in the endless sun. Jazz Re:freshed have taken their sixth celebration of the new scene they've helped catalyse on a seaside break, too, relocating from London's South Bank to Brighton's Dome. This attempt to spread a movement already characterised by its outward focus is rewarded by a crowd of well over a thousand, choosing to swap sunlight for uplift by seven barely-known jazz bands.

"This is not a passive environment," the MC advises, but noon arrivals for Brighton's Vels Trio still stand docilely in light from the stage, like a scene from Close Encounters. Rolling keyboard grooves define an as yet unexceptional band, before Leeds' Gondwana-signed Noya Rao toy with post-techno rhythmic rigidity, and add bossa nova swing to soul vocals. Daniel Casimir's intimate upright-bass solo soon becomes buzzingly propulsive, in a taste of more conventional jazz which joins necessary dots. This Nubya Garcia bandmate is joined by his Escapee EP singer and co-writer Tess Hirst in a warmly organic, if low-key, sound.

DanielCasimir LWorms

Female collective Nérija are currently in the shade of Garcia's breakout glow, but altoist Cassie Kinoshi, with guitarist Shirley Tetteh and trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey also in tow from that crucial unit, deserves similar success with her 10-piece Seed Ensemble. Their first symphonic jazz piece is named 'The Darkies', in take-that riposte to a resurgence in 1950s-style racism. The next song is dedicated to Grenfell Tower's victims of social schism, with electric keys as the adhesive root to a trumpet's reproachful rise and Kinoshi's modal flight. Tetteh locks into her own time and space between the drums. Then guest poet Zana's searing words of "resounding disgust" match Kate Tempest, before the Afro-futurist redemption of Kinoshi's 'Afro More'. Her undemonstrative command, compositions and quiet ballsiness suggest Seed Ensemble's album will be special.

Yussef Dayes' drumming is a climactic contrast. The muscular tension of his presence and a bass drum like an ogre demanding entry are constants. His snare's dry snap and Senegalese-style percussion, the half-speed drum'n'bass beats and zooming guitar interplay, are virtuosity as visceral force. His string vest and tracksuit bottoms, meanwhile, kiss goodbye to post-war jazz suits. The perils of jamming mean his band's energy sometimes drops, but his charisma never does.

Criticism that this scene isn't groundbreaking enough has credence, as fusion and jazz-funk sometimes seem default positions, lightly dusted by contemporary rhythms. But, as with Love Supreme, the live reality's bliss brooks no argument. From the four-year-old black boy concocting his own complex dance in a corner, to the septuagenarian white jazz faithful digging the new scene from the back rows, and from the young women loving drum solos to the young women playing sax solos, the jazz walls have come tumbling down.

Music which has sometimes been fearfully insular is reawakening as a utopia.

Nick Hasted
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley 

full-blast page image

The south coast's premier experimental music symposium – the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival – makes a welcome return with its third iteration taking place throughout October 2018. Presenting over a dozen acts in four venues, thrill-seekers can expect a diverse programme of local, national and international artists from the world of creative, improvised music.

Highlights include performances from Trevor Watts & Veryan Weston, plus Entropi (The Verdict, 4 October), Terry Riley (St Luke's Church, 7-8 October), Peter Brötzmann's Full Blast (pictured), Irreversible Entanglements, Matthew Shipp & Ivo Perelman, Dinosaur and Adam Fairhall (St Luke's Church, 13 October), Ashley Paul (The Rose Hill, 20 October) and Sons of Kemet (Komedia, 30 October).

Spencer Grady

For more details and ticket info visit www.brightonalternativejazzfestival.com

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