Partisans Peddle History Of Jazz (R)evolution At Brighton's Verdict

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The night outside may be wet and windswept, but here in the Verdict's cosy basement a crowd of appreciative connoisseurs are all attentiveness as Partisans take to the stage. The band have two live dates at the Vortex coming up, to be captured for an upcoming release, and their music stands (and drummer Gene Calderazzo's floor tom) are laden with a sheaf of new music, some of it barely played before – as guitarist Phil Robson says, tonight's audience are "not quite guinea pigs" for the new jams.

They pitch straight in, Robson and reedsman Julian Siegel blowing slices of syncopated unison over Calderazzo's bustling backbeat groove – but it's quickly apparent that this is anything but your standard jazz-funk, as the beat disappears into spacious free-form breakdowns, then bursts back into life under Robson's furious overdriven solo. 'That's Not His Bag' (titled for an airport luggage incident, apparently) develops around Thad Kelly's slinky, loping ostinato, like something from Extrapolation-era McLaughlin, onto which Robson, Siegal and Calderazzo hang all kinds of explosive licks and trades – 'Nit de Nit' from the second album features some multi-textured free improv that shows how thoroughly attuned all the bandmembers are to each other's personal voices – Bowie's 'John I'm Only Dancing" is pulled apart and re-assembled ("Years before Donny McCaslin", says Robson, mock-ruefully) in an organised chaos of skilfully interlocked sounds and silences – 'Egg' is a tribute to Egberto Gismonti over a pulsing pedal groove and 'Pork Scratchings' has a contemporary-sounding lazy hip-hop inflected beat overlaid with all manner of cacophanous effects.

Partisans LWorms

Elsewhere there are high-energy, densely harmonic swing sections for the soloists to stretch out over, Mahavishnu-style guitar freakouts, quirky melodic exchanges and the occasional missed ending on the new stuff that only accentuates how effortlessly tight and disciplined the band are. Robson and Siegel are well-matched, both of them combining a sure rhythmic accuracy and a clean and precise articulation with boundless melodic and harmonic imaginations – Kelly works within the limits of an unusual left-hand technique to produce an utterly solid foundation devoid of clichéd licks – and Calderazzo is a creative firework display, throwing forth showers of bright-coloured ideas that burst in the air. For all the intensity of the music this is a relaxed affair, and the band demonstrate a level of mutual understanding and good humour that testify to a 22-year back history of playing together.

The music is a patchwork of influences – the towering jazz-rock of the 1970s, the language of the post-bop revolution and its free-improv twin, the quizzical eccentricity of Anglo art-rockers like Soft Machine and Henry Cow, the uncompromising angularity of M-base, and much else harder to classify. This is a band that will never be content to do the obvious; as we see many of the tropes of 1970s groove jazz currently being embraced by a younger generation of musicians, Partisans provide a salutary reminder of how diverse the evolution of the music has been over the last 20 years; time has only sharpened their creativity and in no way dimmed their relevance.

Eddie Myer
Photos by Lisa Wormsley 

Sam Knight Quintet and Elephant Talk sound off at Spice of Life

Sam Knight humorously identifies himself as the "designated email sender" for these two bands – presumably a vital role for any group trying to build a reputation and following. Knight's lively young quintet plays original compositions, drawing strongly from the jazz giants that have most influenced him during his time at the Guildhall School of Music – Seamus Blakey, Wycliffe Gordon, Miles Davis. The confidence of youth is on full display, both in the solos taken by each member of the group and in the patter between songs, as one of the compositions reputedly aims to take Miles Davis's 'Nardis' "to the next level". The group have a nice range of feeling, from the lamenting 'Goodbye Tomorrow' to the clattering pace of the conceptually unusual 'Musk of the Underground'. It's straight-ahead jazz, performed with flair and passion.

The arrival of Elephant Talk marks a change in tack. The tried-and-tested jazz structures of the Sam Knight Quintet give way to a more multi-faceted sound that mixes jazz harmonies with more of a rock feel. Elephant Talk excel at shifting gears and moving from tension to release. They build with staccato stabs from the three-piece brass section, release as they round the musical corner, suddenly firing on all cylinders with a volume and intensity that draws cheers from the crowd.

Again, we're mainly listening to original compositions, this time drawn from guitarist James Maltby's wellspring of musical influences and invention. Fresh from playing with Knight's Quintet, Maltby shows his breadth, as capable of a delicate chord solo as he is a spiky riff, bristling with dissonance.

All these musicians played together during their studies at Guildhall. A few – Knight, Maltby and drummer Floyd St Barbe – feature in both bands, in some cases because they always do, in another because of a last-minute personnel shortage which also necessitated the introduction of an unrehearsed yet still excellent pianist.

With music of this quality to show off, someone's got to send those emails.

Story and photo – James Rybacki @james_rybacki

Hersch Gets His Hooks Out As All Jazz Bases Covered At Alsace

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Set in a small quiet village (boasting one shop and a bakery) not far from Strasbourg, the Au Grès du Jazz organisers have made a very successful festival situated in the Northern Vosges National Park. Usually a magnet for walkers and cyclists, during the 13 days of the festival it is packed with jazz fans from all over Europe. This was the 16th edition of the event and it featured a great mix of world class acts, homegrown talent and some very interesting artists on the fringes of jazz.

The big names included Earth, Wind & Fire on a double-bill with the Brooklyn Funk Essential and Abdullah Ibrahim with his Mukashi Trio, who built a beautiful set around his composition 'The Wedding'. Blues maestro Lucky Peterson brought his tribute to Jimmy Smith, which was somewhat underwhelming until he picked up his guitar for some hot slide licks. Just spine-tingling and easily the best part of his show.

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French flautist Melanie De Biasio (above) is an acquired taste. She invites the audience to an 'experience' rather than a concert. She floats around the stage on a cloud of dry ice; singing and playing melancholic songs that rely on hypnotic rhythms to lull the listener into her world. She is very good at what she does – engaging and at times even mesmerising, but five minutes after the concert I couldn't remember any of the tunes. Maybe that's not the point. 

The most entertaining and 'in your face' show was without doubt BCUC (Les Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) from Soweto. Based around mantric tribal drums, chants and thumping basslines, their set got the crowd on its feet and this heart pumping. The addition of alto saxophonist Jowee Omicil to the band gave a welcome break from the beat. He's a great soloist who made the most of his slots.

Grammy-winner Dobet Gnahoré also laced her great set with African overtones. Mixing the pop sounds of that continent with creole and jazz, her band (including father Boni on percussion) gave a bravura performance, with guitarist Julian Pestre particularly impressive.

On the more purist jazz tip, US pianist Fred Hersch (pictured top) – mentor of many younger pianists including Brad Meldau and Ethan Iverson – played with his trio of John Herbert (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums). Paying tribute to those who have influenced him (including Monk, Jobim and Hoagy Carmichael), his wonderful touch around the keys unfurled with each tune. His rendition of John Taylor's 'Bristol Fog' was sublime, as was the encore, his own tune 'Valentine'. Hersch is a great lyrical pianist and well worth looking out for during one of his rare trips to the UK.

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Canadian saxophonist Seamus Blake is another musician who is talked about in glowing terms, largely for his gigs with the Mingus Big Band. He was invited to this festival as a special guest of the Christophe Imbs Trio (above). Imbs has been a long-time fan of Blake's style and so wrote a suite of music especially for the concert. Blake has an accessible approach and his tone is superb, while Imbs' writing brings out the best from his soloing. The compositions were loose and fluid, perfect for an improviser as inventive as Blake.

– Story and photos by Tim Dickeson

Carroll and Martin in Perfect Harmony at The Pheasantry

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Bold reworkings of cherished classics, daring flights of freewheeling improv, singing that melted the heart underpinned by gloriously rich piano voicings, plus a sold-out audience that was receptive to every note. Whether dipping into their respective back catalogues, paying tribute to musical heroes, or dusting down favourite show tunes, Liane Carroll and Claire Martin's blues, jazz and soul revue coaxed the audience into a state of joy thanks to the warmth of their music-making, their easy rapport and, not least, their outstanding musicianship.

Presented as a single continuous set, the evening commenced with a mash-up of two standards, one of the greatest 'list' songs, Cole Porter's 'It's All Right With Me', which featured bracing gear changes aplenty, plus a deeply swinging 'I Thought About You' from the pens of Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Mercer. Recorded by Della Reese, Peggy Lee, Anita O'Day and more, Martin's performance of 'You Came A Long Way (from St Louis)' – which she herself recorded on her 2016 album We've Got a World That Swings – was one of especial eloquence and narrative drive. Sticking with the St Louis theme, Carroll then presented a barnstorming tribute to Bessie Smith, 'St Louis Blues', in which the timbral richness of her voice was perfectly matched by her pleasingly fulsome pianism.

The duo's poignant Aretha tribute '(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman', penned specifically for the singer over 50 years ago by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, lit up the venue with its intense communicative power, while Martin's utterly gorgeous take on 'Too Late Now', the closing song on her 2012 album Too Much in Love to Care, was marked by a tender lyricism and depth of feeling.
Performed as a duet, the Arlen/Mercer classic 'That Old Black Magic' (the lead-off song on Carroll's 2005 album Standard Issue) was another tour de force, followed by Martin's similarly blistering version of Wes Montgomery's trailblazing 'West Coast Blues', learnt from the singing of the great Nancy Wilson.

"She's just got to put a little bit more heart and soul into it", Martin joked after Carroll completely floored everyone with a stunning interpretation of 'Ol' Man River' (from Show Boat). The first of a brace of show tunes, Martin then delivered a luxuriant, pitch perfect 'People Will Say We're In Love' (from Oklahoma!), with its affectionate nod to Ella Fitzgerald and Ellis Larkins at the end. There was also a rollicking, aphrodisiacal 'Love Potion No.9', complete with shaky egg solo by Martin, another standards mash-up of 'Time After Time' and 'I Didn't Know What Time It Was', a final nod to St Louis with a sparkling 'Come Rain Or Come Shine' (from Arlen and Mercer's 1940s musical St. Louis Woman), and the duo's perfect harmonies in an adrenalised account of 'I Got Rhythm'.

The Bacharach/David classic 'I Say A Little Prayer' provided a final salute to the Queen of Soul and brought this intimate night of song to a moving close. There really can't be many more delightful ways of spending an hour and a half than in the company of these two award-winning artists.

– Peter Quinn

Quintet-a-Tete and Buck Clayton Legacy Band get Mainstream At The Mill moving

The team at Watermill Jazz in Dorking seem to like mixing the up-and-coming with the well-established when picking bands and performers for their weekly concerts. And that's not to reflect any very particular stance on style – if bands have something to say, then let them be heard seems to be the philosophy. At least, that's the impression conveyed by two recent bookings.

Which brings us, first, to Quintet-a-Tete, trumpeter James Davison (above) and trombonist Callum Au's brand-new group, coupling these resourceful front-liners to a world-class rhythm section with Gabriel Latchin, piano, Misha Mullov-Abbado, bass, and that most impactive of drummers, Matt Skelton. The declared aim of this bright and shiny line-up is to remind audiences of the joyous music recorded by the Clark Terry-Bob Brookmeyer Quintet back in the 1960s. So illustrious shoes to fill but on this evidence, Quintet-a-Tete have made a highly encouraging start on their new pathway, happily culling material from the CT-BB albums while penning nifty new pieces themselves.

Even more important perhaps, this personable young band has the kind of collective joie-de-vivre that relates well to that of their exemplars, communicating disarmingly, with Davison skittish in attack, the arc of his notes sometimes recalling Terry, as he moved from plungered trumpet to flugelhorn and back again. Au, alongside on the valved instrument, gathered strength as the night wore on, his explorations increasingly complex with Latchin impeccable in all his solo opportunities, the clarity of his lines evoking something of Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan. Clearly a talent to watch as is bassist MM-A, already a forceful presence on the edgier contemporary scene and here combining with the helter-skelter drive of Skelton to often thrilling effect.

Q-a-T opened, reasonably enough, with Terry's 'Tete-a-Tete', before tackling Au's 'Me Time', a contrafact for 'All of Me' with a perky theme, pleasing voicings for the horns and an altogether satisfying resolution. Moving on from these lively riff themes, they calmed down with 'Polka Dots', this revealing Davison's relaxed ballad manner before two rousers in Roger Kellaway's 'Step Right Up and 'The King, hard-swinging, expressive, the rhythm section on heat. More originals, ballad re-workings and peppy re-runs of the Terry-Brookmeyer repertoire signalled a band with purpose who seek to please, this smallish crowd clamouring for [and getting] more. A recording is in the offing; meanwhile, badger your local club to hire them.

Alyn Shipton's Buck Clayton Legacy Band has been around for a while now and attracted a full house a week earlier, opening with their instigator's 'Outer Drive' at full pelt, drummer Bobby Worth, as ever, excelling in achieving swing, the ensemble momentum quite exhilarating. All the band's soloists took their turns, co-leader Mathias Seuffert's early Hawkins tenor style assertive and full-toned, pianist Martin Litton neat and assured. Thereafter, they moved off the expected script and morphed into a Ellington/Hodges tribute band, tackling a number of familiar Ducal specialties with genuine aplomb, Alan Barnes' clarinet on 'Creole Love Call' as intense and yes, as soulful as I can ever remember hearing from him. He was back on alto for his arrangement of 'Three and Six', soaring in ballad mode. Other high notes came with 'C Jam Blues' in the Mel Lewis arrangement and 'Shady Side', also a contrafact, this time by Hodges, which was a slow groover, Barnes again to the fore. The brass team did their stuff well, cornetist Menno Daams always looking for lines that eschewed the obvious in his solo passages. Likeable music, highly accomplished, always creative too. Even so, I could have done with more from their stock-pile of well-made Clayton originals: aren't they what this band is set up to play?

– Peter Vacher (story and photos)

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