For the first five minutes at least, there must have been many in tonight's audience in agreement with New-Yorker Oz Noy's quote in the programme notes that his "music is jazz, it just doesn't sound like it". The vibes were decidedly heavy and bluesy. Flung over a solid funk groove from electric bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Keith Carlock came a fidgety guitar lick from Noy that flipped between spacious and reggae-like and the sort of howl you'd expect from Jimi Hendrix.
An inspired ballad arrangement of 'Better Get It in Your Soul' saw Noy, unplugged from all his axe effects and gizmos, delve into his raw and raunchy blues side. Naturally, the Mingus tune also proved a perfect platform for Haslip to solo, and some poignant noodling from the session veteran beautifully complimented Noy's soft, graceful chords, his fluid lines dripping across a shuffle so laid-back you could nap on it.
The band followed this with a breezy new funk tune, 'Zig Zag', before pandemonium abruptly broke and an unannounced piece had Carlock and Haslip nailed to a knotty time signature and Noy intensely picking out what sounded like a 1970s cop theme. Even at his most out there, sonically and technically, Noy's playing remained lyrical and groove-driven through the show. His deploying of nervy, gymnastic licks, recurring loops or choppy wah guitar over already complex rhythm-section parts made for some real edge-of-your-seat interplay and soloing from all. A robust take on The Meters' classic 'Sissy Strut' built-up great tension, a polyrhythmic coup in which the tune's familiar melody was dragged in and out of irregular rhythms, clashing erratically against a simpler, syncopated pattern from Carlock in four.
With the exception of Noy's lone performance of his ballad 'Twice in a While', too abstract and shrill for tonight's crowd, more incredible playing from this tireless trio carried over into a second set. They cruised through more high-energy blues, tight-knit funk and loose, lazy swing, before splitting with a spirited sprint through James Brown's 'I Feel Good (I Got You)'. With Haslip holding down some serious low-end and Noy up in the high registers replicating all the busy brass from the original cut, Carlock drove the whole thing home, erupting into an explosive drum solo, the applause for which lasted into the opening bars of an encore, Miles' 'Freedom Jazz Dance'.
– Mark Youll
With the E-Type Boys, south Londoner Maxi Jazz is exploring a funky, rocky seam, with jazz inflections, away from Faithless, the seminal electronica dance act that has been his main gig since the mid-1990s. Here, the besuited Boys (and girl, the wonderful backing vocalist Azadeh Akhbari) were augmented to telling effect by the Kick Horns, the UK section with an almost absurdly long list of supernova recording and gigging credits.
With twin guitars, keyboards, two backing singers and full rhythm section including percussion there is no danger of Maxi being under-supported in his new venture. In fact, you might think there was a risk of him being overwhelmed; after all his voice is a subtle thing, full of breathy, low-pitched restraint with a touch of vibrato adding a distinguished, knowing, vibe. But this disciplined, listening band soon allayed any fears. Every instrument had its place; the two lead guitars – Chris Dover on slide and Jake Libretto – meshing with echoes of Denny Dias and Jeff Skunk Baxter from early Steely Dan, especially on tracks like 'Saturday Morning Blues'. Similarly, Alexis Countouris' bass work elevated accuracy and punctuation above thunder; but make no mistake, the power was there, it had just been thought about. And Basil Isaac's percussion contributed far more than sheer rhythm, his instrument choices and note placement always enhancing the compositions, making a sonic space zone all of his own.
Maxi's songs, some co-written with backing singer LSK – who occasionally shared lead vocals – are often riff-based, but just as the listener enters their comfort zone, they suddenly switch to bridges or refrains at other tempos, sometimes other time signatures, often 6/8, a device familiar in hip hop. Showcasing this technique were excellent, well structured tracks like the excellent 'Stand Firm', 'Going Back to the Bottle' and 'Smoke Screen', performed with a lean panache every bit as sharp as Maxi's suit. The addition of the Kick Horns (on this occasion trumpet, tenor, baritone and trombone) for the London dates was a masterstroke. The outstanding sound quality at Ronnie's meant the section's superb arranging, accuracy and command of articulation was rendered with the utmost clarity. 'A Long Time Gone' featured a simmering riff prodded along by lush, split, harmonised lines. 'I've Got Something in My Eye' saw the section switch to unison mode; ascending, dissonant voicings added tension behind Jake Libretto's searing guitar work. 'We're Alright''s slow funk groove complemented by super-smooth flugelhorn and flute.
The horns inevitably added a jazz inflection with their sophistication, but that was also true of Chris Jerome's keyboard contribution. In another example of well thought out arranging it was often left to him to round off tracks with solo piano improvisations, as on 'Chasing Shadows' and the evening's peak performance, the penultimate track 'Bitter Love', which also featured Jerome's fine Hammond-style solo.
Maxi is a man of many interests: a Buddhist who loves motor racing and Crystal Palace FC (he's a non-executive director) and he brings this eclectic quality to his music, which often seems about to veer off on a cross-genre voyage before being brought back to base camp. He had enough of his fans in the audience to guarantee a good reception, but those at Ronnies on spec, perhaps expecting a more traditionally jazz evening, appeared to be totally won over by the end of the gig, responding with a near universal standing ovation. Maybe next time we'll find out more about where that voyage is heading.
– Adam McCulloch
– Carl Hyde
Bugge Wesseltoft's Kings Place residency began with a night celebrating 20 years of his Jazzland Recordings featuring two of the label's flagship acts.
Formed in 2010, Isabel Sörling's Farvel is one of the label's more recent signings and has been winning awards across Scandinavia, but this was its first visit to the UK. The sextet opened with 'Mörka Hav' (Dark Sea), in which a persistent bass and piano tremolo was punctuated by drifting, pulseless melodies, depicting the claustrophobic sensation of drowning in insomnia. Sörling's voice soared above the texture, showcasing her extensive range and facility with different techniques and electronic effects. Sometimes breaking into pop-tinged tones redolent of Susanne Sundfør, elsewhere Sörling would probe the extremes of her range to serve the wider contemporary textures of the group. 'Rök', the title track of Farvel's 2015 album, translates as smoke, but Sörling uses the word to create a metaphor for the physical sensations of anxiety. Over a quietly insistent ostinato, Sörling shared unison melodies with Otis Sandsjö on tenor and trumpeter Kim Aksnes, their lines twisting and turning – one moment angular and dissonant, the next leaping higher and brightening. Despite Alfred Lorinius losing the E string of his bass halfway through the set (with no replacement in the building), Farvel maintained a compelling exploration of their distinct and unpredictable sonic world.
After the interval came singer Beate S. Lech – more commonly known as Beady Belle – accompanied by Wesseltoft on piano, Christian Meaas Svendsen (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). One of Wesseltoft's earliest Jazzland signings, Lech certainly demonstrated the vocal firepower at her disposal, but the set never really took off. 'Marbles' and 'Castle' felt harmonically and rhythmically unadventurous, and too often the lyrics of 'On My Own' strayed into cliché. By contrast, 'Ghosts' – Beade Belle's first single back in 2001– still sounded fresh, with the catchy central hook and drum'n'bass groove imaginatively transformed in the hands of the trio.
– Jon Carvell
– Tim Dickeson
"Come on, you motherf*****rs!" roars an imposing six-foot clown in white make-up and gold epaulettes while a suitably testosterone-fuelled brass section punctuate his spoken word with punchy, sharp retorts. Welcome to the jazz circus... and emotionally you are in for a true roller-coaster ride.
A cornucopia of live performance assaults the senses in tonight's exploration of the work and art of Charles Mingus, whose album Ah Um is a record collection staple on a par with Kind of Blue.
The Octet, brainchild of bandleader Andy Pickett, formed in 2014, clearly enjoy bringing out the sheer fun, modernity, energy and accessibility of the music. Double bassist Terry Pack , makes the bass in 'Haitian Fight Song' alternately sing and groan. On Fables of Faubus, this takes on a more isolated, alienated tone – perhaps like the anti-establishment Mingus himself.
Trombonist Mark Bassey proves himself a dry-witted frontman, making his bandmates mime Pithecanthropus Erectus to much audience laughter. His pacy, direct and communicative approach, together with Rob Leake's quixotic baritone sax and Sam Miles' assertive tenor sax solos, accent and illustrate each musical and lyrical story, while Milo Fell's drumming drives the dramatic tension.
The well-known 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' , is a lovely, mellow reflection, arranged by pianist David Beebee, as is the Pickett-arranged 'Reincarnation.' Trumpeter Martijn van Galen, spices up the evening with lounge-lizard passion, heat, brightness and a certain seediness.
As the improvisational cues are passed to each band member, these musicians somehow manage to stay true to the original Mingus recordings while finding their own voices within the music's framework: no mean feat. They have an insatiable desire to create music. Catch them at the South Coast Jazz in January 2017. If you don't like jazz, you will by the end of the show.
– Jasmine Sharif
A thunder of Afro-Jazz drums roared across the stage during the climactic highlight of a remarkable all-star show, dedicated to the memory of the late Jack Bruce. Former Cream team mate Peter 'Ginger' Baker provided the unique drumming tribute and his presence was all the more welcome, given the circumstances.
Just moments before I was due to announce Ginger's arrival, in my role as guest M.C. Malcolm Bruce, Jack's son who had organised the event with tireless devotion, confided that the legendary drummer was recovering from a recent heart operation. It was touch and go if he could perform. But Baker was determined to please the cheering crowds at the packed-out charity concert. He went on stage to explain his health issues and promised to play a solo, even if he couldn't join in with the vast array of fellow musicians, assembled to play Jack's most memorable songs.
He was accompanied on congas by Ghanaian friend Abass DoDoo and together they unleashed a jubilant barrage of polyrhythms. Ginger fiercely attacked his snare drum and tom toms with the same kind of passion seen for the first time playing with a blues band at the 1962 Richmond Jazz Festival. There had been hours of rehearsal both at the Empire during the afternoon and at John Henry's studios the day before. So, there was tension in the air when guitarists and bass players desperately sought extra leads and microphones and singers patiently waited hours (in some cases) for their turn to sing their one number. Malcolm, who also played bass and keyboards, was kept busy dealing with panic demands, trying to keep the star guests happy and organise the lengthy set list.
The show was full of surprises, like Pete Brown, Jack's erstwhile co-composer, singing 'Politician' with unexpected power and range. The rhythm section was variously beefed up by the indefatigable Gary ('I feel like I've played two shows already!) Husband, the blistering Dennis Chambers and cheery ex-Mountain sticksman Corky Laing. On bass guitars were Jeff Berlin, Mo Foster, Neil Murray and Trevor Horn, the latter on 'Out Into The Fields' and 'Without A Word'. Clem Clempson, a tower of strength on lead guitar, was supplemented by Steve Hackett who played the kind of blues never heard on 'Supper's Ready.' It was also a delight to welcome Micky Moody, Chris Spedding and Mick Taylor on guitars, Mick soloing on an explosive 'White Room' with Terry Reid taking the lead vocals, Malcolm followed in father's footsteps to play bass on Cream favourite 'Spoonful' joined by Judd Lander on harmonica, Steve Hackett and dynamite singer Nathan James, whose stunning performance encouraged Pete Brown to gasp 'Eat your heart out Robert Plant!'
Amid all this mayhem were hard working brass and string players including the dreadlocked Callum Ingram on cello, who drew applause for his vigorous playing, even during the rehearsal. Many fine female vocalists joined the fray notably singer song writer, Eddi Reader, Maggie Reilly and Jack's granddaughter Maya Sage. Biggest shock though was Lulu's appearance in trilby hat and dark glasses, giving a splendid version of 'Sunshine of Your Love' with Clem on guitar and Chambers hammering out the famed Baker-esque tom tom rhythm. Even so, it was Mr. Baker's own appearance that brought the most emotional moments. If Jack Bruce had been looking down, I'm sure he'd have grinned and said 'Ginger...you're playing too loud!'
– Chris Welch