There's Noh Limit: Space In Between At London's King's Place

Noh-Space-In-Between1

This two-day festival that explores and extends the 650-year-old tradition of Japanese ritual performance art Noh is a welcome event, given the success of its previous 2016 edition. Although the talks and workshops on what is a highly complex, codified form, where mask and movement as well as music all cohere with enormously rigorous discipline, are not without interest, the concerts, which bring together artists from different backgrounds, are fascinating. Tonight Japanese nokhan flautist Yukihiro Isso and British pianist Leon Michener pool their respective talents on the same stage where Isso memorably met Evan Parker two years ago, and though it is a relatively sparse audience in Hall Two, the smaller of Kings Place's two basement auditoriums, there is nonetheless a palpable sense of excitement as they take up position. Isso can be heard clearly due to the clapping of his wooden clogs under long-flowing robes. He walks to a table under the light on which no fewer than nine flutes are laid out. Dressed soberly in a black shirt and trousers, Michener approaches a Steinway next to which is an electronics station comprising laptop, synth and mixer.

As they start another minor sartorial detail comes into play. Michener is wearing a black glove. It is glimpsed by any eyes that follow him as he leans right into the body of the piano, and presumably enables him to tighten or loosen his grip on the strings and other inner mechanisms in order to produce startling timbres that range from dark, dense roars that flood the low register to higher-pitched scrapings, the net result of which conjures up an ambience of both enticement and foreboding. Unflinching in his posture, Isso proceeds to shatter into life with a violent maelstrom of sound that he sustains with astonishing consistency and accuracy as he moves from one flute to another without pausing for a moment. Later on, in a passage of Parker-esque circular breathing, he will negotiate a series of wavering harmonies where his intonation is so pinpoint sharp it sounds as if he is atomising a split tone. On some instruments he is piccolo-like, practically scorching the air by the ferocity of his attack, and on a curved animal horn he has a warm velvety muffle akin to an alto-flute. The volume at which he plays is as remarkable as the sustained flow of ideas, and it is telling that at no point in his exchanges with Michener, who crafts grainy textures and displaced phrases over a stark sub-bass throb, is Isso ever drowned out.

After Rahsaan-like multi-phonics through two or three flutes played simultaneously, and some discrete but effective motifs from Michener on piano, the pair unite on the highpoint of the performance; a gorgeous passage where they play short themes and variations back to one another, with the low, slightly hoarse tone of the flutes now like a child's recorder. It is innocence incarnate. Further excitement is generated by the arrival of Mitsuhiro Kakihara on otsuzum hip drum. Yet, as he sits a few feet away from Isso, he looks quite tentative. He executes the distinctive action of stretching his arm out in time with a vocal cry, but struggles to be heard amid the other instruments. His projection is smothered out. It is a slightly underwhelming episode on what is otherwise a fascinating adventure through an 'ancient to future' musical landscape.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Mayumi Hirata 

The Invisible get Brighton buzzing with Electric Miles: Miles Davis Through The 1970s

Take the current craze for mindfulness, add one pioneering jazz album, get a 400-strong audience to listen to it in silence, then bring them back to hear a key period of the artist's music brought to life by some of the most groundbreaking contemporary musicians around .... and you get an idea of one of the most anticipated jazz performances at Brighton Festival this year.

Festival Director and illustrator David Shrigley, responsible for bringing to Brighton the Played Twice: Kind Of Blue concept developed by Dalston venue Brilliant Corners, with this performance not only culturally juxtaposed two consecutive centuries in one afternoon, but also presented a giant prism through which rainbow rays of musical light by contemporary band The Invisible, introduced potentially new fans to the whole era of the electric recordings of Miles Davis.

Brought up on jazz, the Invisible introduced a modern spin on Davis' affectionate tribute "Billy Preston". The fresh and fiery dual drumming of Leo Taylor, alongside Steve Argüelles from the original John Taylor Trio, augmented by the intelligent accents of Tom Herbert's bass, drew whoops and cheers from the audience highlighting the improvisational free spirit in the air. Robert Stillman's delicate but assured soloing on tenor sax and bass clarinet, provided the true soul of the ensemble, with Byron Wallen's pulsating trumpet embodying its heart. Nick Ramm's cool Fender Rhodes tones characterised 'The Ghetto Walk', and, melding with Wallen's hot clarion call, brought one of the better-known Davis compositions of this era, 'Tutu', to dramatic climax, further imbuing 'Little Church', composed by Hermeto Pascoal, with occasionally supernatural atmospherics.

"Miles had so many influences," says bassist Tom Herbert, "... acts like Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Cream ... that's what he was listening to!" Sure enough, the second set unfurled the deep funk, psychedelic and heavy rock elements intrinsic in guitarist and bandleader David Okomu's playing, morphing seamlessly into the jazzier musical direction Hendrix might perhaps have taken had he stayed around, as implied in his later albums.

Smiling and waving to an audience which refused to let them go, The Invisible encored with 'So What', 'Black Satin' and 'In a Silent Way', an inspired medley which, while infused with the players' own distinct flavour, also personified timelessness in its truest sense, just as Miles Davis would have wished.

Jasmin Sharif

Annie Whitehead’s Interplay bring Township sounds to Leamington

Given the background of trombonist Annie Whitehead and her involvement with African music, it came as no surprise that the concert at Leamington's Restaurant in the Park reflected this and the spirit of Dudu Pukwana, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba was in the air. Her collaboration with bassist Adrian Litvinoff's band, Interplay, drew strong solos from all the musicians and their enjoyment was apparent throughout the evening, a feeling that transferred itself to the appreciative audience. All the material generated a freedom of expression and the opportunity for personal improvisation, but keeping within the compositional structure. This was demonstrated in works by Abdullah Ibrahim, Masekela and, suitably, trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, as well as Litvinoff's own engaging composition 'The Shuffle'. Saxophonist Alan Wakeman was on top form on both tenor and soprano, and on Ibrahim's 'The Mountain' he contributed a haunting flute solo. Pianist Neil Hunter used a highly percussive approach throughout, suitably appropriate for the music. But the use of two trombones in the front line was of particular interest, Richard Baker's straight-ahead playing complementing Annie's freer and more experimental style. This was especially noticeable on J.J.Johnson's 'Kenya', a tight arrangement of the soulful number from Johnson's Let's Hang Out album of the early 1990s, all three horns doing it justice, straight from the hip. The trombonists also combined well later by building a supportive platform, supplementary riffing when Litvinoff's bass was featured.

While Dave Balen laid down a firm township beat on many of the numbers, his approach reminds this writer of the melodic textures of Chico Hamilton, alternatively vigorous then deftly understated, according to collective requirements. His percussion skills were effectively used on an improvised duet with Annie, which was followed by a solo trombone tribute to the late Roswell Rudd.

On several numbers the band was joined by vocalist Letitia George; firstly singing jazz standards – Oscar Brown Jr's 'The Snake', Mingus/George Gordon's 'Strollin'' (recalling Honi Gordon's famous versions) and a heartfelt delivery of 'God Bless The Child' which justifiably elicited the applause of her fellow performers. Pianist Hunter showed what a respectfully sensitive and thoughtful accompanist he can be. Moving into Makeba territory, she then involved the audience in a lively 'Pata Pata' – exciting and engaging, like all the evening's music.

Story and photo – Matthew Wright

Phronesis, Sons of Kemet, Keyon Harrold and Cory Henry light up Transition Festival 2018 – Photo Diary

3-Pronesis

This April saw the third edition of the Transition Festival take place at TivoliVredenburg, Utrecht, Holland. This is one of the North Sea Jazz Festival's 'projects' and is organised in collaboration with TivoliVredenburg, with the festival providing a fresh look into developments within contemporary jazz and beyond, as well as highlighting some of the artists who have inspired the current wave of new bands within the genre.

1-Phronesis

Scandi-Brit band Phronesis (drummer Anton Eger, top, Ivo Neame anf Jasper Høiby above) during soundcheck with the New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra performing a beautiful rendition of their latest album, The Behemoth.

4-Sons-of-Kemet

Theon Cross (above) of Sons of Kemet providing some ground-shaking bass with his tuba.

5-Sons-of-Kemet

Fiery saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (above) playing melodic layers over a danceable blend of jazz, brass and dub with Sons of Kemet.

6-Dhafer-Youssef

Dhafer Youssef (above) mixing Arabic influences with contemporary western jazz.

7-Jaga-Jazzist

Hard-hitting Jaga Jazzist (above) proved they are still a live act to be reckoned with.

8-Lizz-Wright

Lizz Wright (above) singing material from her latest album Grace – a stunning vocalist, Wright is always a pleasure to listen to her warm and deep vocals.

9-Cameron-Graves

Pianist Cameron Graves (above) with his trio showing of their virtuosity on a set of jazz-rock fusion.

10-Mike-Mitchell

Drummer Mike Mitchell (also known from Stanley Clark's band, above) playing with Cameron Graves, going all-out as usual.

11-Cory-Henry

Cory Henry (above) and his Funk Apostles creating a party with a deeply soulful and funky set.

12-Keyon-Harrold

Trumpet player Keyon Harrold with his modern, electric take on jazz proved he is somebody to keep your eyes on for the future!

Photos and report by Peter van Breukelen

Sanborn Acoustic Band Sizzles With Brecker-Filled Bonanza At Ronnie Scott's

 

David Sanborn, who has perhaps the most distinctive and influential alto sax sound in contemporary jazz, R&B and funk, is now in his early seventies, but he's still full of surprises. As a sideman his CV is beyond stellar: names like George Benson, the Eagles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen pop out, and in the jazz world he's contributed mightily to work by Gil Evans, the Brecker Brothers, John McLaughlin, Ron Carter, Maynard Ferguson, Bob Berg just to scratch the surface. He's more than a unique player and a name-dropping exercise, however; his own albums down the years, often collaborations with Marcus Miller, are trailblazers of jazz funk, soul and blues.

But in his first set at Ronnie's he chose another direction. Gone were the regular Sanborn 'standards' like 'The Dream', 'Run for Cover', 'Lisa' etc, replaced by three Michael Brecker original compositions from the much-missed tenor sax giant's final Pilgrimage CD. Sanborn kicked off the set with Brecker's exciting 'Tumbleweed', trombonist Wycliffe Gordon taking Herbie Hancock's role in setting up the pensive half-step riff, and the band leader's squally timbre searing through the changes with his trademark chromaticism, split harmonics and blues references. The familiar face on drums was Sanborn and Dave Holland regular Billy Kilson, an electric, powerful presence throughout whose extended solo with its funk references, goofy facial expressions and exclamations, including a beautifully timed 'Really?' brought the house down. In fact the whole band played with a great sense of relaxation and humour; Sanborn even joking 'And I'm not even embarrassed' as he struggled to recall what was next on the setlist. It turned out to be Brecker's haunting 'Half Moon Lane'.

Billed as the Sanborn Acoustic Band, in place of regular electric bassist Andre Berry was double-bass master Ben Williams, whose touring profile took off notably when a member of Pat Metheny's Unity Band. His bounce, deep resonance and sheer funkiness meant Berry's slapping wasn't overly missed on the more groove-oriented tunes.
Sharing the frontline, the imposing figure of Gordon – a former Wynton Marsalis sideman – showed off great power and prowess on trombone, soprano 'bone, trumpet and one extraordinary almost sung solo purely on mouthpiece. His low-note facility and ability with cup and plunger mutes also grabbed the attention. On piano and occasional synths Chris Botti sideman Andy Ezrin added solos of great fluency and taste; and superb synth sounds on a West African take on Sanborn/Miller standard 'Maputo'. The set extended into overtime with a funky 'On The Spot'; Sanborn proving once again that in jazz, advancing years just means more time in which to have reaped the rewards of practice, not a decline in performance.

– Adam McCulloch

– Photo by Ben Amure

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