On Monday night, the Jazz Nursery journeyed to The Vortex from its new home at the i'klectik arts lab in Waterloo, to showcase a special nonet packed with emerging talent. The group had been assembled specially for an evening of Canadian composer John Warren's work, including the second performance of 'Awhereabout', commissioned and premiered by the Nursery earlier in the year.
Conducted by Warren and kicking off with 'Lopsided' from his 2008 album Finally Beginning, the group didn't take long to hit its stride. Oli Hayhurst (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums) swung hard on 'Convergent', which featured the impressive Owen Dawson on trombone and the expansive phrasing of James Allsopp on tenor. Just as the line-up of Warren's recent studio discs reads as a who's who of top British jazz players, so tonight felt like a guide to the next generation. A huge fan of Monk, Warren included a fine arrangement of 'Ruby My Dear' as the only non-original of the night – Sam Braysher's mellow alto sound weaving ornamented lines over the ballad.
After the interval came 'Awhereabout', which takes its name from a made-up word conjuring the expanses of the Canadian wilderness. Warren's 50-minute four-movement work – inspired by the folk stories of the indigenous Algonquin people – was shot-through with inventive arranging and Gil Evans-esque tutti writing. Trumpeter Steve Fishwick roared out of the blocks on the opening number 'Story of the Drum', and as the four sections progressed there was a real sense of development, culminating in the catchy central theme of the last movement, 'Land of Deep Water'. Though the cool school sound isn't an obvious choice for evoking Algonquin lore and legend, Warren's musical language felt uniquely compelling.
– Jon Carvell
– Photo by Liam Izod
Black History Month rightfully seeks to expand views of Africa and its Diaspora, but there are usually glaring blind spots. Our perception of the West Indies remains largely governed by the territorial divisions of Empire, so that Jamaica and Trinidad, formerly British colonies, spring to mind at the expense of Guadeloupe and Martinique, two islands that are still départements francais. But they are an integral part of all our Caribbean history.
This engagingly soulful event celebrates as much. Produced by Zil' Oka, a musical ensemble and organisation that stages cultural events for the relatively small francophone West Indian expatriate community in Britain, the numbers of which are hard to ascertain because its members are administered as French citizens, Jouné Kréyol is a whole day of family-based activities, from cooking workshops to dance classes, games and quizzes on the creole language.
The presence of all age groups, from children and teenagers to adults and pensioners, at a community centre on the Tulse Hill estate in South London, also reinforces the old African adage that it takes a whole village to raise a child. This feels like cultural activism from the ground up rather than a top-down diversity initiative.
As the tang of akwa a mori, [codfish fritters], wafts through the air the evening of performances by Guadeloupean and Martiniquan artists begins. Up first is singer S.Rise, whose set is lively, though the reggae-slanted backing tracks rather than a live band, compromise his strong tenor. Things take an upward turn with songstress Ines Khai, whose finely wrought vocal is effectively embellished by the subtle but resonant backing of two members of Zil' Oka. The sparkling timbres produced by percussion, whistles, bells and conch shell weave a rich fabric around yearning melodies fringed by syncopated guitar chords. Sung in creole, the pieces speak of anything from affairs of the heart to the rigours of daily life, and visibly connect with the audience.
The same applies to Zil' Oka, who scale up to the full band with more vocalists and percussionists, two of whom play the 'gwo' ka', a large kind of conga while Christian Takadoum excels on the higher pitched 'ti ka.' With the bigger drums providing a rumbling bass Takadoum solos liberally in the upper register, some of his phrases ending on sharp, crisp notes not dissimilar to the rimshot of a snare, and as the swish polyrhythms spread out over a wide dynamic spectrum it is easy to see why jazz musicians such as David Murray and Jacques Schwarz-Bart were keen to incorporate this vocabulary into their work. The evening climaxes with the appearance of special guests Ka Fraternité, a similar, [Paris-based] organisation to Zil' Oka that brings more drummers and singers to the stage to create a denser, bulky sound, especially when calabash shakers, almost like a heavier form of maracas, come into play. More importantly the percussionists enter into call and response with a troupe of dancers as the audience joins in a rousing praise song to the elders, 'Pas Oublier', which essentially means 'lest we forget.'
Much as the drums and dance are to be applauded the beauty and plurality of the creole language also stand out. Nothing conveys this more than the many renditions of 'How are you?' that are flagged up in the hall. In Martinique they say 'Sa ka fet?' In Guadeloupe 'Ki jan aw?' In Haiti 'Koman ou ye?' Out of many people, many tongues.
– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Max Boucher
Jazz is cool again, report the latest editorials. But, launching his album Rare Groove at the Pizza Express, Josh Kemp embodied the spirit that sustains jazz no matter which way the weather vane of vogue is pointing. Kemp is a musician at the coal face of jazz, his expression of the idiom uncut with additives or E numbers. No slugged hip hop beats or EDM drops here, just 100 per cent free-range swing.
His ensemble of outstanding sidemen ring every drop of groove from Kemp's compositions. 'Stirred not Shaken', a high-wire hard-bop blend of 'Straight, No Chaser' and 'Sweet Georgia Brown', sees Arnie Somogyi's blisteringly groovy basslines meld with Ross Stanley's perfectly weighted piano voicings. Kemp's own playing recalls the soulful fluidity of Hank Mobley, an influence alluded to with a cover of Harry Warren's 'The More I See You'. But his sound isn't tied to any particular tenor touchstone; his improvisatory language speaks of a deep and comprehensive engagement with the jazz canon.
Kemp is no historical re-enactor of jazz's glorious past, however. His compositions speak of an impulse for creation not curation. From a selection of grittier grooves in a second set that saw Ross Stanley switch to Hammond organ 'Home Cookin'' stood out. The riotous New Orleans inspired jam, propelled by Chris Higginbottom's stomp-inducing second line beat, turns out to be inspired by building work undertaken in Kemp's kitchen. Many of the pieces have domestic inspiration, from Kemp's daughter's bedtime ('Turn on the Dark'), which hints at Head Hunters-era Herbie, to a moody, bluesy meditation on his Walthamstow home ('East Wind').
Kemp's domestic vignettes tell of a jazz-man in the finest tradition. A fierce talent, cemented by studious shedding, who is practising a devotion to the genre that is rarely glamorous and often hard. If music is its own reward, we are lucky that we can share in Josh Kemp's gift.
– Liam Izod
– Photos by Colin Izod
Founded five years ago, Limerick JF always comes up with interesting and/or unexpected players or presentations. The opening big-band concert this year saw the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra celebrating aspects of Gerry Mulligan and Stan Kenton, with America's Claire Daly (on her first visit to Ireland, pictured top) playing the baritone parts in Mulligan's distinctive charts for his Concert Jazz Band and at least one originally done for Kenton. More surprisingly, the second half had Norma Winstone lapping up her unaccustomed role as a 1940s/1950s band vocalist on tunes debuted by Kentonites Anita O'Day, June Christy and Chris Connor, while a later set by the LIMK educational project was enlivened by singer Linda Galvin.
Much programming featured different aspects of the guitar, initially via UK band Partisans, fronted by Phil Robson and Julian Siegel (formerly separate visitors to Limerick JF), their multi-faceted and quirky compositions alternately anchored and driven by the no-holds-barred Gene Calderazzo and bassist Thaddeus Kelly. Artist-in-residence for the weekend David O'Rourke, the NYC-based Dublin-born guitarist-arranger, did two notable sets, one with Cork trombonist Paul Dunlea and one with three other Celtic pluckers, namely Hugh Buckley, Tommy Halferty and Joe O'Callaghan (above). What threatened to be just a chops-fest was in fact well organised, reflecting four very different personalities and inevitably becoming a tribute to the late Louis Stewart.
The hit of the festival was undoubtedly Tenerife-based jazz-salsa band Atcheré, who did a workshop, a late-night pub date and an afternoon concert. Led by vibist Jordi Arocha, the eight-piece has a dynamite rhythm-section, strong jazz solos from tenorman Fernando Barrios and pianist Samuel Labrador, and inventive arrangements by trumpeter Manuel Lorenzo. His tight originals and extended versions of standards like 'My Little Suede Shoes' and 'Guarachi Guaro' led to outbreaks of dancing and smiles all round.
– Brian Priestley
– Photos by Salvatore Conte - Instagram - Facebook
Gareth Lockrane is in town tonight with a bag full of new tunes and a cohort of old friends to play them with. To set the scene, he opens with 'Put The Cat Out' from the original Grooveyard album - a skittish, blues-y waltz that Lalo Schifrin might definitely have enjoyed, embodying the type of hard-driving accessible soul-jazz that inspired the project. Lockrane is such a powerful player that he has no trouble occupying the space that might usually have been filled by trumpet or alto sax, as he demonstrates during his first solo – fluent, warm-toned, urgent and architecturally well-structured. Next comes the first of the new material, as yet untitled; a piece of Steps Ahead-style acoustic fusion, with Lockrane pulling out an inexhaustible supply of in-the-pocket phrases and Tristan Maillot on drums keeping a fierce but flexible groove – despite the frowns of concentration over the printed page the piece takes off.
Maillot was part of the original, organ-led line-up; perhaps reflecting shifting tastes there's also an Acoustic Grooveyard, and Lockrane has brought a mix-and-match rhythm team including Dave Whitford on bass from the latter line-up, and Rob Barron standing in heroically on keys – together they're as supple and solid as you could wish for. The constant factor since the band's inception has been the presence of Alex Garnett on tenor, and the next new offering, labelled 'Slow Burner' for obvious reasons, pairs him with the low seductive tones of Lockrane's bass flute to hypnotic effect, as he mixes slippery post-bop elisions with some righteous preaching. They are a perfectly-matched foil for each other – Lockrane's clean cut persona, exuding wholesome energy like an inspirational youth club leader, contrasting with Garnett's dapper style and mordant wit, bearing with it the unmistakeable scent of the Soho night-club. They're both such powerful practitioners on their instruments – Garnett's darker chromatic shadings contrast with Lockrane's no less complex but somehow sunnier feel for melody. They simply fly over the high-energy 'Dark Swinger' (the titles still need working on) – Lockrane seems invincible, pouring out a torrent of perfectly-executed ideas over a rock-solid but free swing.
The second set brings further hot-off-the-press delights; 'New Tasty Swinger' features alto flute in some airy mid-tempo bop that gives Baron a chance to shine. "New Ballad Waltz" is a real highlight, with a melody hinting at Mingus' immortal 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' and lovely low-end statements from Whitford and Lockrane on bass flute. 'Frizz' sounds like an updated Horace Silver, though the piercing tones of the piccolo are perhaps an acquired taste, and 'Method In The Madness" is a great feature for Garnett's virtuosity and Lockrane's tight, logical writing. It's a real pleasure to see such outstanding players in a relaxed, informal setting, working through the challenges of new material and coming up trumps every time; a mix of discipline and spontaneity that's surely the essence of jazz.
– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley