Joe Lovano, Ambrose Akinmusire and China Moses power-up at Pančevo Jazz Fest

is a quiet, post-industrial town separated from Serbia's capital Belgrade by the Danube. There is an imposing bridge that takes you over the river from the bustling capital to the flatlands that lie beyond and reach as far as the Hungarian border to the north. Civic pride is hugely important here and the town punches well above its weight when it comes to providing culture and entertainment to its citizens and visitors alike. This year was the 20th Pančevo Jazz Festival and, as in previous years, the festival director kept an open ear to bring a diverse selection of artists to the festival. Its location is the town's Cultural Centre, a 600-seat theatre with a foyer free-stage and bar. Every evening there were two main concerts plus additional talks by one or more of the main artists, plus a jam session. The first of these featured Joe Lovano, his talk primarily attended by local music students who performed later that night at the jam session.

The renowned saxophonist talked at length about his formative years before inviting the students to watch his sound check. One of the more interesting questions asked was by Tim Berne (who played the first show of the evening) who really wanted to know how Lovano practiced and how the process had changed for him over the years. Lovano duly demonstrated to the delight of the students. His parting shot to the students? 'The more you play, the more you'll say!"

Lovano's show was one of the best from him that I have seen in recent years. He was positively on fire, with his former Berklee student Lawrence Fields also a revelation on piano. Fields' fingers gliding over the keys with seemingly no effort, he's a brilliant improviser and can swing too. This was not just about Lovano either with rhythm section of Peter Slavov on bass and Otis Brown on drums rock-solid all night. The quartet were such a tight unit that when Joe stood back he appeared engrossed in their playing.

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China Moses was also hugely entertaining – some might say she takes the acting a little too far – 'Hungover' saw her rolling around the stage in a faux drunken state, collapsing on the floor towards the end. But ultimately the quality of her voice and of her material won out. Moses uses a storytelling style and has a very slick band featuring Joe Armon-Jones (piano), Neil Charles (bass) and playing his first ever concert with her, Josiah Woodson (guitar and trumpet). Ultimately the show became a good concert as she moved away from 'Summer Holiday' and more towards Billie Holiday.

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Trumpeter Avishai Cohen on the other hand was the master of cool. His set was deep and moving, and had the audience on the edge of their seats, silently waiting for his next foray should they miss a single note. 'Shoot Me in the Leg', and 'Will I Die Miss, Will I Die', had fleeting moments of Miles in the playing but this was all Cohen's music, as he poured his soul out on the horn, it was hauntingly beautiful from beginning to end.

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The other trumpet star at the festival was Ambrose Akinmusire, who's a completely different prospect to Cohen. Akinmusire is taking the instrument in directions and places that few other players are presently even remotely trying to do. Starting with a solo number, somewhat reminding me of Lovano's practice piece in structure, soaring high and growling low, puffing and tonging till he came to an end. The set continued in the same way with blistering long runs with slow reflective moments such as 'Moment In Between the Rest (To curve an ache)'. A beautiful ballad there was delicate colouring from Justin Brown on drums and plaintive bass lines from Harish Raghavan. The penultimate tune, 'Umteyo' saw him playing the same note over and over while the band rotated the melody, until eventually Akinmusire broke the pattern and took the tune to the end. It was uncomfortable at times but ultimately exhilarating. Akinmusire has created an approach to playing that pushes the technical boundaries of his instrument and by doing so has created a totally unique sound.

Also playing at the festival were Serbian band, Fish In Oil, who play a quirky groove-driven funky jazz – band-member Bratislav Radovanović resplendent in dreadlocks thumping out the bass. Elsewhere Velvet RevolutionDaniel Erdmann (sax), Jim Hart (vibes) and Theo Ceccaldi (viola, violin) – comprise a power trio of virtuosos who play together with a telepathic understanding. Ceccaldi was a joy to watch, at times appearing to saw his violin in half such was the speed and ferocity of his playing.

Pančevo may not be the most obvious location on the jazz tourist's bucket list, but the festival programme and the town's friendly atmosphere (and wonderful local fish restaurants) certainly mark it out as something special. The ticket price for the whole festival is less than that of one show at most jazz festivals. Pančevo is always the first weekend in November and next year will be a very special 21st birthday edition.

Story and photos by Tim Dickeson

Amy Roberts-Richard Exall Quintet Limber At Imber

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Imber Court out in leafy East Molesey was once the Met Police's private playground. Now it's a sports and leisure centre open to the likes of you and I, and a regular monthly location for jazz gigs promoted by long-time fan Carole Merritt. She uses the centre's spacious dining room, bar downstairs, good sight lines, just right for a rousing couple of sets by this lively reeds pairing.

Amy Roberts and Richard Exall, multi-instrumentalists both, met while playing in the Big Chris Barber band and formed a partnership, musical and personal, touring the nation's clubs and festivals, their most recent CD a blend of hot numbers by Earl Bostic and Johnny Hodges. Not quite sweet and sour maybe, but certainly a contrast in tone and attack, thus fully borne out in their tune choices here. Still with Dave Newton on keyboard, bassist Dave Green and last-minute dep Mark Fletcher on drums, no challenge seemed too great, the entire quintet at one in despatching a truly eclectic range of numbers.

Roberts tends to the flute and rightly so, adding alto and clarinet as and when, while Exall projects best on tenor, this evident on their opener, a cheery version of 'Just Friends' with Roberts impassioned while the hyper-active Fletcher very nearly sank the ship even as Newton sailed blithely on, quirky and probing in turn. Clark Terry's 'A Pint Of Bitter', composed for his recording collaboration with Tubby Hayes, had a nice funky strut, Newton more fragmentary, Green propulsive in the best way, Fletcher throttling down, Exall's tenor like an airy amalgam of Eddie Miller and Ken Peplowski. He sang on 'Sweet Lorraine', fetchingly, and revved up on alto, Roberts likewise, as they sounded out on Bostic's '845 Stomp', raunchy and red-hot, followed by Hodges' 'Below the Azores', a feature for Roberts' very captivating flute. Then came Art Pepper's 'Popo', altos intertwined again, Fletcher's cross-rhythms abundant, as Newton dug in, Green panther-like alongside.

In a second half that included a swing version of 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' with Exall vocalising, a piece by Gilbert O'Sullivan, a serene version of 'Robbins Nest' and Exall's Monk-like 'What's Going On', all bases were touched, all tastes satisfied. This pair knows how to pick top sidemen and, more to the point, how to build a programme packed with interest and classy creativity. Seek them out.

– Peter Vacher 

Joshua Redman, Donny McCaslin and Marc Ribot shine at bumper Belgrade Jazz Festival

This year the Belgrade Jazz Festival chose a programme more aimed at exploration than familiarity and featured many emerging artists plus a smattering of more familiar names to add balance to the line-up.

Joshua Redman (above) was probably the biggest name this year and his show featuring Reuben Rogers on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums was a masterclass in the art of the trio. Mixing standards and self-penned songs Redman was in ebullient mood throughout playing numerous excellent solos – Rogers and Hutchinson the perfect sparing partners.

Fellow American saxophonist Donny McCaslin, ably supported by Jason Lindner on keys, has certainly moved up a few notches in his career. His tall imposing figure stalking the stage and his explosive soloing making for a terrific concert.

Away from these more familiar names was a treasure trove of emerging artists who offered a great insight into the current direction in jazz. Trumpeter Peter Evans (below), a founder member of Mostly Other People Do The Killing, here presented a new project as a bandleader and composer, leading what could be described as an 'avant garde chamber orchestra'. Mixing through-composed music with free improvisation it was a breath-taking show. Individually and collectively the band wove delicate passages with explosions of energy.

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The mix of electronics from Sam Pluta and Levy Lorenzo, plus drums and bass from Jim Black and Tom Blancarte respectively, laid down the platform for Mazz Swift's plaintive violin and Evans' brilliant horn playing. A must see band who are really offering something different.

There was also an excellent concert from French saxophonist Emile Parisien (below), playing here with his own quartet. Parisien, who regularly plays as a sideman and also duo with Joachim Kuhn, was brilliant in his role as front-man and composer. The complex material, much of it improvised, was always accessible and exciting with Parisien hopping energetically around the stage as he led the band.

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Another stunning concert was Giovanni Guidi's 'Inferno' project (below), his approach is more measured and composed than Parisisen's. Featuring beautiful lyrical tunes with compatriot Francesco Bearzatti taking blistering sax solos in another memorable performance.

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One of the many highlights of the festival was Marc Ribot (below) paying homage to the 'Philly Sound' with a nod towards Ornette Coleman's Prime Time band from the same era. Ribot and the Young Philadelphians with strings hit the stage with real energy. This melding of orchestrated bass-driven disco music and Ornette Coleman's wild and baroque jazz-rock could be a recipe for disaster, however, in the hands of these super talented musicians it was pure joy.

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Seminal tune 'The Hustle', saw former Prime Time bass pioneer Jamaaladeen Tacuma (below) thumping out the low-end with drummer Grant Weston driving the band through several mash ups of the song, while it was left to Ribot to play guitar as Ornette might have blown his horn. It was a wonderful celebration of a distinct time in music history, with old classics such as 'Love Rollercoaster, 'Do it Anyway you Wanna', 'Fly Robin Fly' and a great version of Colemans's 'Voice Poetry' dusted off and given new life in a wild and exhilarating concert.

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German drummer Eva Klesse and her quartet also showed great promise. Her blend of free jazz, folk and dance music has a distinctive blend of emotion and expression. Already winning of the Newcomer of the Year at the German Echo Jazz awards, and voted the most impressive act at the 2016 12 Points festival, in San Sebastian, she's one to watch out for.

It's worth noting this festival's listening experience is quite intense with four concerts a night starting at 7.30pm and ending at 2am in the centre of Belgrade in the Dom Omladine (Youth Centre), which has two stages, plus a couple of shows at the much larger Sava Centre. Belgrade's philosophy is to programme a concert series that heavily features newer artists while also respecting more mainstream acts. For a five-day festival it is incredibly cheap (around £85 for all 21 shows) and Belgrade itself is a fascinating city to spend a few days looking around with the festival always taking place on the last weekend in October.

– Story and photos Tim Dickeson

Kamasi Washington and Donny McCaslin wow at So What’s Next? Festival – Photo Report

Jazz was just the starting point at an eclectic fifth edition of the So What's Next? jazz and beyond festival that took place in Eindhoven, Netherlands in early November.

The Muziekgebouw Eindhoven venue was at the heart of the festival – alongside several other locations in the city centre, where 55 live acts performed over three packed days and nights.

Headline concerts and showcases from established and emerging jazz artists covered hip hop, soul, world, electronics and classical music. Artists appearing included Jacob Collier, Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Zara McFarlane, Ambrose Akinmusire, Donny McCaslin with drummer Zach Danziger – all pictured below - and Kamasi Washington (above).

So What's Next? is organised by Stichting So What's Next? in collaboration with partners Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, North Sea Jazz / Mojo Concerts and Brabant C.

Photos and text by Peter van Breukelen

1-Jacob Collier

2-Avishai Cohen

3-Zara McFarlane

5-Donny McCaslin

6-Zach Danziger

 

Chris Barber Big Band keeps on swinging at Cardogan Hall

At 87 Chris Barber is somewhat stooped and tends to ramble when addressing the audience. But in concert he remains a potent trombonist and leads a stunning 10-piece band. Tonight began with 'Bourbon Street Parade' and closed with 'Saints Go Marching In', which suggests, at a glance, Barber leads a Dixieland outfit. Not at all! Throughout the Big Band interpreted Duke Ellington compositions – an especially fine 'Black And Tan Fantasy' demonstrated exceptional ensemble playing. while 'East St Louis Toodle Oo' was pure joy.

Other composers tackled were Fats Waller's 'Wild Cat Blues' and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee's 'Cornbread, Peas & Black Molasses'. For the latter Barber reminisced on touring with Sonny and Brownie and how they explained their loathing for this diet – it being a staple of Southern jails! As Barber brought Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson to the UK it's unsurprising that his Big Band can play a strong shuffle blues but what did surprise me was when they followed with a beautifully felt interpretation of Miles Davis' 'All Blues' (played by a quintet – the Big Band coming and going as the music demanded).

While everyone in the Big Band played with precision I'd note Bert Brandsma's clarinet and Nick White's saxophone, both delivering gorgeous solos, while the drumming of John Watson ensured every number swung. Barber has contributed far more to British music than he is given credit for and, right now, the lion in winter continues to play jazz of great joy and beauty.

– Garth Cartwright

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