Marquis Hill ascended to the top at the 27th annual Thelonious Monk International Trumpet Competition on 9 November at Hollywood’s glamorous Dolby Theatre. The 27-year-old, Chicago-native won a $25,000 music scholarship and a recording contract with Concord Records.

Accompanied by the competition trio – drummer Carl Allen, bassist Rodney Whittaker and pianist Reginald Thomas – Hill showcased his mellifluous tone and melodic, assured approach to improvisations on two classic ballads – Frank Loesser’s ‘If I Were a Bell’ and Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’. Hill thoroughly impressed the panel of judges, which consisted of Randy Brecker, Quincy Jones, Roy Hargrove, Arturo Sandoval, Jimmy Owens and Ambrose Akinmusire.

On the former, Hill animated the melody with sleek passages that developed knottier as the song progressed. It became a fine vehicle for his fluid, seemingly effortless virtuosity as well as his keen interactive skills. But it was his transfixing reading of ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams’ that really sealed the deal. He zeroed in on the sensual contours of the melody by articulated it a captivating languid manner that allowed listeners to luxuriate in the sound of his horn, especially on his cadenza toward the end.

Prior to the Monk Competition, Hill was a winner at the 2013 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition and the 2012 International Trumpet Guild Jazz Improvisation Competition. He gained a lot of bandstand experience from playing with Windy City figures such as trumpeter Tito Carrillo, saxophonist Fred Anderson and pianist Willie Pickens. Also, Hill has a noteworthy discography consisting of four discs. Including the recently released, Modern Flows EP Vol 1, which meshes modern jazz with hip-hop, R&B and spoken word. Nevertheless, it’s ballads that are closet to his heart. “From a very young age, I was attracted to ballads,” Hill said after the event. “So I knew that I wanted to play a beautiful ballad during the finals and semifinals. I think it’s extremely important to be able to communicate over a ballad.”

Brooklyn’s Adam O’Farrill, the 20-year-old son of pianist, bandleader Arturo O’Farill and grandson of the legendary latin jazz legend Chico O’Farrill, also shined brightly. During the semifinals at University of California Los Angeles’ Schoenberg Music Hall, he gave one of the most suspenseful performances from the 13 semifinalists. On Billy Strayhorn’s ‘U.M.M.G’ and Thelonious Monk’s ‘Ask Me Now’ O’Farrill honed a buttery tone and fashioned elliptical improvisations that often arrived way behind the beat and unraveled in unexpected twists that revealed capricious displays of tension and release. He capped off his semifinal performance with a thrilling rendering of Charles Mingus’ skulking, ‘Pithecanthropus Erectus’.

O’Farrill’s maturity beyond his years and improvisational inventiveness made him an undisputed candidate for the finals. His conceptual approach to melody and improvisations got the best of him though during the finals as he fumbled through an inchoate cadenza at the beginning. He launched into a comely original ballad but still didn’t seem to fully recover on Monk’s “Criss-Cross.” He took home the third prize of a $10,000 music scholarship.

Billy Buss, 26-year-old alumni of the Berklee College of Music and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance from Berkley, Calif., won the second prize of $15,000 scholarship, by exciting the crowd during the finals on a frisky take of Clifford Brown’s ‘Brownie Speaks’. Of the three finalists, he showcased the most crackling of virtuosity and the brightest of tones. When he improvised, fusillade of notes burst with the marksmanship precision. He followed up the bebop standard with an exploratory original, ‘The Quotablues’, that begin with an abstract cadenza, marked by smears and zigzagging phrases, before seguing into an amorous balladry.

Before the announcement of the winner the Monk Institute threw a star-studded gala in honor of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who in 1993 hosted a major jazz concert at the White House. In addition to a litany of jazz notables such as Wayne Shorter, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Heath, Stefon Harris, Joshua Redman and Kris Bowers, the list of Hollywood celebrities at the gala included actors Goldie Hawn, Don Cheadle and Kevin Spacey, who crooned a swaggering rendition of Bart Howard’s ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Dee Dee Bridgewater and Dianne Reeves delivered two respective noteworthy performance of Gershwin’s ‘Lady Be Good’ and ‘Love Is Here to Stay’. Queen Latifah turned is a delightful reading of Harry Rosenthal’s “Georgia Rose” as did Chaka Khan on Gershwin’s ‘I Love You Porgy’.

Jazz gave way to the blues during the second portion of the gala thanks to a greasy rendition of the Crusaders’ 1972 honky-tonk classic ‘Put It Where You Want It’, featuring rocker John Mayer admirably channeling Larry Carlton. Mayer held his own too while accompanying blues legend Taj Mahal on a shimmying take on Robert Johnson’s ‘Dust My Broom’.

The performance that got everyone out of their seats though, was a sanguine take on Pharrell Williams’ contagious worldwide hit, ‘Happy’ on which he shared the stage with bassist Ben Williams, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and pianist/keyboard wizard Herbie Hancock, who deftly invigorated the anodyne pop gem with acoustic and electric piano asides that alternated between soul-jazz boogaloo and impressionistic modern jazz.

– John Murph

Scottish Saxophonist Laura Macdonald and New York pianist David Berkman will launch their new album, Duets, at EFG London Jazz Festival on Saturday, 15 November, when they open for Dee Dee Bridgwater at Queen Elizabeth Hall, before playing a three concert tour of Scotland.

The two musicians, who have worked together in various line-ups since appearing in a band Macdonald formed for an Edinburgh Jazz Festival concert a few years ago, first played as a duo when they were asked to fill an hour’s slot in a festival programme at five minutes’ notice. They had more preparation this time and exchanged emails with ideas and suggestions until they settled on a selection of romantic standards, including ‘It Could Happen to You’ and ‘My Romance’.

The album was recorded, with trumpeter Ryan Quigley producing, at Gorbals Sound in Glasgow and the duo will return to Glasgow to play at City Halls on Friday 21 November following concerts at the Tolbooth, Stirling on Wednesday 19 November and the Blue Lamp, Aberdeen on Thursday 20 November.

Duets follows Macdonald’s two albums for Spartacus Records (Laura and Awakenings) and Open Book from the quartet that she co-leads with Swedish drummer Martina Algren. Cleveland-born Berkman’s most recent recording is the New Straight Ahead, released this summer on Michael Janisch’s Whirlwind label with the New York Standards Quartet, which also features drummer Gene Jackson, saxophonist Tim Armacost, and double bassist Daiki Yasukagawa.

– Rob Adams

For more info go to www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

Indo-jazz saxophonist, Jesse Bannister, continues his UK tour this month following the release of his new album, Play Out, in October. A highly regarded teacher and an established composer on the Bollywood scene, Bannister has built a strong reputation for fusing Indian influences with classic jazz saxophone.

Recent collaborations have included Mercury Award nominee bandleader and drummer
Seb Rochford while the current incarnation of his quartet features MOBO-winning pianist Zoe Rahman along with in-demand producer and drummer Eddie Hick, and Kenny Higgins on bass.

The tour kicked off at in mid-October at
Wakefield Jazz and continues this month at Nottingham New Art Exchange (Fri 14 Nov); Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, London (Wed 19 Nov); Pizza Express Jazz Club, Maidstone (Sat 22 Nov); Harrow Arts Centre (Fri 28 Nov); and Norwich Arts Centre (Thurs 11 Dec).

– Steve Owen

For more info go to www.jessebannister.co.uk

The Belgrade Jazz Festival celebrated 30 years this year, the festival started in 1972 but due to the war in the 90’s there was a period with no festival. The first artistic director the impresario Alexander Zivkovic (who was an honoured guest this year festival) had an arrangement with George Wein at Newport Jazz Festival to bring the artists who played at Newport over to Belgrade and thus the festival was born.

It is now 10 years since the festival was resurrected and has firmly re-established itself as one of the major European festivals. This year the festival ran for four nights and was again based in the Dom Omladine (Youth Centre) in the centre of Belgrade. The opening night featured the Max Kochetov Quartet notable for the brilliant young bass player Petar Krstajic (who has just been awarded a scholarship to Berklee College) I am sure we will see much more of him in a few years time, and the Children of Light Trio, featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade – the Wayne Shorter Quartet minus Wayne Shorter!

I really enjoyed this set, all three players having so much freedom to play and develop their ideas – like three students excused from a Quantum Mechanics lecture and allowed to go off and do whatever they wanted – one of my colleague’s described there being a really ‘hot potato’ on stage being passed around until it cooled, then another was tossed into the band for the same fate.

TD-Children-01

There were so many people at this gig (the seats had been removed to increase capacity) that we photographers were pinned to the front of the stage, feet from the band, and we could catch every nuance and glance that the band made during the performance. After the show Danilo Perez came over and shook my hand and thanked the photographers for the ‘energy’ that they had imparted to the band during the show – quite extraordinary! I may bring that up with Keith Jarrett next time I see him…

The midnight show was a more though provoking affair with Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet) and Laurens von Oswald (soundcapes) a near pitch-black auditorium was swathed in ambient sounds evoking images of barren Scandinavian landscapes and the occasional glimpse of the Northern lights.

Saturday saw two Serbian bands take the main stage – the very likeable and talented Serbian Jazz, Bre! who featured a VJ artist (Ivan Grlic) mixing images on the big screen behind the band to great effect, and the Vasil Hadzimanov Trio featuring David Binney. Hadzimanov is a gifted pianist but the music really worked best in the trio format with Binney fronting up – when the full band joined in for the second half it all got a bit loose and lost the clarity and purpose of the first half.

The midnight shows were very interesting ­­– the ‘Mutua’ trio of Wolfgang Puschnig (sax), John Sass (tuba) and Mamadou Diabate (Balafon, electric Cora) created a glorious mix of African rhythms and free improve playing – John Sass’s brilliant tuba the cement holding it all together. Following on was the Nils Wogram Nostalgia trio – with a similar approach but completely different – trombone, drums and Hammond B3 – groovy boppy, hip hoppy with pulse and a beat that was very infectious and multifaceted.

Sunday night’s shows opened with the new project from Danish pianist and composer Jacob Anderskov who is the latest in a string of pianists who have turned their attention to writing and working with string’s (Dave Stapleton, Vijay Iyer, Neil Cowley to name a few). Strings, percussion and piano (the string’s being a trio – violin, viola and cello – the percussionist Peter Bruun) is a lyrical almost classical ensemble that in parts was excellent and quite moving but the frailties of classical players who are reading and jazz musicians who are improvising inevitably leads to the transition moments that let the strings come back in which to me always slightly jar and puncture’s the music un-necessarily.

TD-Paolo-Fresu-01

No such problems happily for the Paolo Fresu Quartet (above) who followed. Having played with this line up for over 30 years there was a feeling of total ease and familiarity. Whilst not at the cutting edge of jazz, Fresu’s Quartet is a joyous group, a ‘bunch of mates’ – who perform and play not only with great humour but with great style, they pleased the crowd but above all they enjoyed themselves. The midnight shows, deliberately planned to contrast the main shows featured two ‘improv’ bands with differing styles. The Red Trio from Portugal – who build from small quiet phrases to big crashing moments and then die down again to simmer and brew the next explosion.

Sylvie Courvoisier, whom I have seen several times in the last few months, is at the moment as good a pianist as I have seen – her range of playing be it slightly classical, rhythmic or improvisational is astonishing – here with husband Mark Feldman on violin she was the architect of some beautifully complex yet enthralling compositions – Scott Colley (bass) and the superb Billy Mintz on drums were as good a group as you will see anywhere.

The last night and another chance to see Charles Lloyd (pictured top). A few months ago I raved about his performance at the Palatia Festival in Germany and I was very keen to hear him again to see if he was still playing with the same fire and enthusiasm as he was then. During the afternoon I had the opportunity to watch the film about him ‘Arrows into infinity’ made by his wife Dorothy Darr who was on hand to answer questions afterwards. At a little over two hours the film really is too long, but never the less, it does give an insightful look at his early career with excellent old footage of him with Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Michel Petrucciani.

The concert presented his new suite ‘Wild Man Dance’, played here without Sokratis Sinopoulos and Miklos Lukacs the Greek instrumentalists he had in mind when it was originally written (but they will be at the London Jazz Festival show in a couple of weeks time). A single piece of music with several distinct movements Lloyd, as always, has left enough room for the band – Gerald Clayton (piano) Joe Sanders (bass) and Eric Harland on drums – to have that freedom of expression that he is famous for, while at the same time, never loosing the idea that this is a suite - a written and superbly constructed piece of music. Lloyd has the major voice throughout but it Clayton’s beautiful touch on the piano, his effortless soloing, that was just so in tune with Lloyd’s playing that made the piece come truly alive and very real. A masterclass in both composition and playing and at the LJF with the addition of Lira and Cimbalon this looks like being one of the hottest show of the festival.

The closing show was another masterclass – this time delivered on piano by the fiery Michel Camilo – he started as he intended to carry on – at a hundred miles an hour, fingers battering the keyboard in a blur of notes – not for show – this is how he plays, intensely complicated solos but at the same time melodic, fluent and incredibly enjoyable – he is without doubt flamboyant and dramatic but he has the talent and ability to carry it off. An excellent trio completed by Lincoln Goines on bass and Cliff Almond on drums.

Away from the main events – and one ticket to see everything cost around £40 – there were workshops (one in particular featuring Oscar Noriega was fascinating), foyer gigs by music students and last but not least the energy sapping jam sessions from 2am–4am at the Jazzbuka club.

David Binney and the Charles Lloyd Band among others sat in whilst the house band of top Serbian jazzers was constantly refreshed by students from the music school who could all stand up on a much bigger stage than this and impress. The management and general manager Marko Stojanovic have a wonderful resource in this festival and fortunately they appreciate this – they have not yet been tempted to go down the route of having ‘pop or rock’ stars on the festival to sell 5,000 tickets at the massive stadium down town – they are keen to keep the heritage and tradition of this great Festival intact – a jazz Festival for jazz fans. Next year to encourage more visitors they may even offer packages including flights, hotel and tickets and with Belgrade on a push to become more cosmopolitan and more visitor friendly, this is only to be applauded.

– Tim Dickeson (story and photos)

Packed with big name talent this premier date on the European jazz calendar also has an imaginative edge in its programming that resonates with Tampere’s own rich history. It was here in the early 20th century that there was a general strike that eventually resulted in universal suffrage for the Finns and greater room for manoeuvre under the Russian yoke. So the appearance of Linton Kwesi Johnson at Klubi proves something of a political-cultural coup de théatre.

It is fascinating to see the deep engagement the local audience has with the pioneering dub poet’s bulls eye strikes on the British establishment, in all its violent, racist infamy, which possibly marks a parallel with the misdeeds of Soviet rule in Scandinavia. This standing venue has a much more informal atmosphere than the large seated concert hall of Tullikamarin Pakkahuone – where the likes of Holland’s ICP Orchestra with special guest, American pianist Uri Caine, show how fruitful can be the union of artists from the Old and New World – and fully highlights Johnson’s ability to make people think and dance at the same time.

partisans-web

At a press conference prior to the gig he had professed allegiance to Charlie Parker and the jazzier strains of a superb backing band led by bass legend Dennis Bovell lend weight to that declaration. With perfect serendipity Django Bates’ Beloved trio keep ‘Bird’ in flight with customary verve; the spooky, almost gamelan-like tones of a keyboard used in addition to the grand piano bringing a startling new colour to the harmonic enigmas. Other worthwhile British representation comes from the raucous and focused Partisans (Phil Robson, above), sharply extrapolating soul jazz and crunching fusion, while Sons of Kemet (pictured top) have their West Indian European folk art down pat.

LibertyShip0934m

Having said that, the array of Finnish acts performing at the intimate Telakka restaurant opposite the main venue is a great advertisement for the country’s improvisers, with the three-drummer ensemble Kallio Slaaki greatly impressing. As for the captivating quartet Liberty Ship (above), led by experienced tenor saxophonist Esa Pietila, it brilliantly recasts the creeping, crepuscular ambiences of electric Miles and Milestone period Joe Henderson for the digital age. This is one of the highlights of the whole four-day event insofar as it keeps listeners rapt during a lengthy, often hypnotic suite that shifts seamlessly from tautly executed grooves to electronic hiss and crackle without ever losing its bold narrative drive.

The gifted multi-reed player Mikko Innanen also makes a strong showing with his large ensemble 10+, blending dense, freewheeling orchestrations with pithy melodic interludes, which again underline the strength of the Finnish jazz scene. This compares favourably to the international acts that had also appeared on the big stage before and after, and although Swedish-Norwegian trio The Thing, Norwegian saxophonist Karl Seglem and American trumpeter Terence Blanchard present moments of raw power and ornate virtuosity all three, diverse as they are, do not avoid sounding formulaic and clinical at times.

More invigorating is the Dutch-German-American quartet Perch Hen Brock & Rain, whose unusual line-up of two reedists, Ab Baars and Ingrid Laubrock, viola player Ig Henneman and drummer Tom Rainey, creates a wide textural palette due to the clever deployment of resources, with the tough little string instrument often playing a strikingly aggressive role as a percussive engine that fires away tirelessly while the horns engage in intricate dialogue. True to its name, the group also produces a spectrum of sounds that vividly evokes nature and the animal kingdom, above all in the shrill, stark bird calls of the tenor saxophones and clarinet and the undergrowth rustlings of the drum kit, which Rainey works with consummate dexterity, leavening his syncopations with off-centre manoeuvres such as dropping a bag full of sticks onto his snare.  

zakirhussainco-web

If programming a jazz festival these days is first and foremost a question of representing the enormous diversity within the genre as well as showcasing its intersection with other forms then artistic director Juhamatti Kaupinnen is to be commended for his choices. Two inspired gigs by A-list international acts sum this up neatly: Indian percussion maestro Zakir Hussain (above) and Norwegian psycho-gypsy-pop mavericks Farmers Market. Both close the gap between extremes. In the former’s case 18-beat tala cycles and Morricone; in the latter’s 11/8 Balkan folk and Michael Jackson. Both get a whole lotta love.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Maarit Kytöharju

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