Ibrahim And Helbock Impress At Austria's INNtöne

Paul Zauner is a softly spoken man with piercing blue eyes and a welcoming aura that immediately puts you at your ease. He owns the family farm in Austrian countryside not far from the German border, where the river Inn (which gives this festival its name) divides the two countries. He is also a musician (he plays trombone) who has performed professionally around the world. His greatest passion, however, is undoubtedly the creation of this unique festival hosted in his own backyard – literally!

A huge barn, with a pig sty turned into ‘St Pig's Pub', is the main venue (the only ticketed part of the festival), while a wine/coffee bar hosts live music throughout the day and a stable is reborn as a blues club. Camping is available on the site for free. The food and drink concessions would shame most festivals, down to Zauner’s insistence on high-quality at reasonable prices. No surprise that the organic pork is sourced from his farm and the trout is from just up the road.

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So, to the music itself – an eclectic mix of all forms of jazz. Zauner is a master programmer and his understanding of how to present a festival in an exciting, challenging and complementary way is enviable. There were 18 gigs over the three days, by artists from across the globe. This year there were several UK-based artists – Calum Gourlay’s excellent Thelonius project with Martin Speake, Steve Cardenas and Hans Koller (above); Jean Toussaint’s all-star sextet with Andrew McCormack, Byron Wallen and Dennis Rollins, and Joe Armon-Jones, featuring Nubya Garcia and Chelsea Carmichael, while tubist Theon Cross made a huge impact with his trio on the final day. Featuring Moses Boyd on drums and Chelsea Carmichael on sax (pictured below), the trio wowed the crowd within the first few minutes. Boyd’s metronomic beat and Cross’s inventive soloing set a pattern over which Carmichael either trilled or got into the groove. Cross’ clever use of electronics and Boyd’s brilliant drumming kept the attention throughout a superb gig.

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Abdullah Ibrahim (pictured top), who played solo on the opening night, was in reflective mood. On his music stand a well-worn notebook was opened to a double-page filled with handwritten song titles. These tunes spanned decades – 'Tsakwe', 'Shrimp Boats', 'Eleventh Hour', 'Chisa', 'Kippie', 'How Deep is the Ocean', 'Robben Island' – a career of work from which he dipped in and out. It was like a monologue of memories – sometimes a brief anecdote, at others a longer, more sober story. He often returned to the opening phrases from ‘Salaam Peace’ and ‘The Wedding’ in the way that Mussorgsky uses ‘Promenade’ in ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’. He ended his performance with a South African chant leading into the spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’ – both beautiful and moving.

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While pianist Florian Weber’s quartet with special guest Ralph Alessi was outstanding – the pianist’s fiery style complimented Alessi’s more clinical playing perfectly, as Nasheet Waits (drums) and Michel Benita (bass) just killed – it was David Helbock's final concert of the festival which particularly impressd. His Random/Control’s project (above) Tour d’Horizon, featuring multi-instrumentalists Andreas Broger and Johannes Bär, provided an eclectic mix of covers, with tunes ranging from Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take 5’ and EST’s ‘Seven Days of Falling’, via Keith Jarret’s ‘My Song’. Bär was by far the busiest musician, playing brass, percussion and beatboxing, often at the same time, while Helbock mostly played delicate piano, but also a synth with his right foot. The musicality of the concert matched the musicians' onstage performance. These brilliant interpretations of well-known songs will leave you surprised, smiling and completely in awe.

Tim Dickeson

Sanem Kalfa and George Dumitriu toast European jazz at Manchester Jazz Festival

Waiting for the gig to start in Manchester’s International Anthony Burgess Centre, surrounded by images of the Clockwork Orange creator’s book jackets, the audience may have wondered about the connection between the eponymous venue and this ‘Celebrating Europe’ jazz festival double-bill. Until, that is, the Centre’s exhibits quickly revealed the appropriateness of the celebrated author’s extensive musical interests and even more extensive relationship with Europe and the wider world.

First up the piano/tabla duo of Helen Anahita Wilson and Shahbaz Hussain took the complex rhythms and time signatures of South India and blended them, often in meditative style, with the nuances of Europe’s prime gift to music – the endlessly expressive and adaptable 88-note piano keyboard.

Vocalist Sanem Kalfa and viola/guitarist George Dumitriu (pictured top) led us into the second part of the evening in a similar gentle, almost meditative vein, as they emerged from the back of the venue and walked through the audience with a simple folk song. Expressive and theatrical – but never over the top or to the detriment of the music – Kalfa moved through an exquisitely varied and well-paced repertoire of originals and adapted songs in Turkish (her heritage), Romanian (George Dumitriu’s) and the universal English of their adopted Dutch nationality.

As the diversity of their backgrounds seemed a perfect metaphor for European diversity, so their musical approach also personified some of the best aspects of contemporary European jazz. Both Kalfa and Dumitriu used some electronic effects on voice and on guitar – but mercifully – and so commendably – avoiding the ubiquitous loop-obsession and using effects sparingly and with sublety just to accentuate elements of a lyric or an instrumental passage.

While recognising the value of these occasional touches of electronics and their prodigious skills and range as singer and instrumentalist, any concentration on such technicalities evaporated as the duo’s considerable impact on the audience was carried to us through sustained and skilfully modulated emotion. In every song, Sanem Kalfa seemed to be addressing each member of the audience personally, whether expressing anguish, joy, humour, light-heartedness, love or sadness - and George Dumitriu’s guitar and viola encapsulated and extended the sentiment with perfectly balanced musical empathy.

Although on their first-ever visit to the UK (via the Jazz Promotion Network’s Going Dutch scheme and the funding generosity of Dutch Performing Arts) the duo undoubtedly made the impact that festival director Steve Mead was aiming for by introducing as-yet unknown artists (unknown here, at least) and encouraging his audience to follow their curiosity and discover new musical delights. In this case, it’s a dead certainty that Kalfa and Dumitriu will not remain unknown to British audiences for much longer.

Robert Beard

Maisha Re-Shape Retro Tropes At Brighton's Patterns

It’s a Tuesday night in Brighton and an expectant crowd have assembled in Patterns nightclub to see Maisha embark on the first date of their belated album tour. There Is A Place came out last October, since when many of the group’s own individual careers have continued to prosper, which may account for the delay in getting the band back together – in any case, they make up for lost time by launching straight into a dynamic rendition of ‘Osiris’ that builds up from its unapologetically retro ambient flute, bells and shakers intro into a pounding Afro-beat flavoured workout.

This same club played host to Gong last week, and tonight’s show seems like a natural continuation of that set of 1970s musical values, travelling into the soundworld once frequented by the likes of Gato Barbieri and Lonnie Liston Smith; all the classic tropes of cosmic groove jazz reinvigorated by the energy and commitment of this fresh-faced crew. Nubya Garcia and Shirley Tetteh are the the dynamic duo in the frontline; Nubya in her characteristic warrior stance at the mic, Shirley bobbing and weaving with the beat, they make a charismatic pair, sharing a relaxed onstage camaraderie. Garcia’s warm rounded tone and effectively economic phrasing contrast nicely with Tetteh’s stinging guitar, and they both know how to build a solo from simple beginnings into wave upon wave of intensity, riding the swell of frantically clicking and shimmering hand percussion and the pulsing gimbri like figures of Twm Dylan’s bass. There are percussion breaks aplenty, mysterioso interludes for flutes and assorted diverse ethnic textures from the suitably attired Tim Doyle, even an extended freeform bass solo linking the tunes together.

Material is played from the whole record, taken at a much higher level of intensity to everyone’s general benefit; two full-length drum solos from leader Jake Long may be a little de trop even in this free-flowing environment, accomplished as they are, but there’s a wonderfully creative Ethiopiques flavoured solo from the new keyboard player that builds into a genuinely uplifting workout before Nubya brings it back home and leaves everyone satisfied that justice has been done.

Eddie Myer

Sco's Combo Show At Cadogan Hall

This was a wonderful set from the former Miles Davis and Billy Cobham guitarist, John Scofield, with a nod to all spheres of his musical development from angular bebop to Louisiana swamp shuffle and avant-blues.

Cadogan Hall is more often a classical hangout, but any doubts about the acoustics in the cavernous former Christian Scientist church were quickly dispelled as the quartet kicked into the accessible opener from the Combo 66 album. “It’s called 'Can’t Dance',” said Sco self-mockingly, “but as you can see, we are awesome dancers.”

The Combo 66 quartet with pianist/organist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vicente Archer and regular drummer Bill Stewart, whose rapid-fire and subtle snap and rattle have long been embedded in the Sco sound, proved scintillating support to the guitar maestro – Clayton a particular revelation with piano solos of crystal clear conception and devastating technique.

Sco was in top form, deploying all his wonderfully idiosyncratic phrasing and impossible tone switches without any use of pedals or digital effects. As ever, his guitar was supremely dynamic, producing the odd heavy-rock chord, searing bluesy vibrato, delicately rapid Parker-esque heads, esoteric harmonics; all achieved with minimal attention to his amp or volume control. The Ibanez at times sang full heartedly, but then would adopt an unexpectedly acidic note, stabbing out organ chords alongside Clayton.

Old favourites such as 'Southern Pacific' from the funky A Go Go album were featured alongside recent compositions 'Dang Swing', boppy 'King of Belgium' and the ballad 'Hangover' (from 2015’s Past Present). It was great to hear Bill Stewart’s composition 'F U Donald', the evening’s most out-there and darkest piece, but one that Sco relished announcing.

A rousing funk/rock piece with several gears finally brought the house down followed by a surprising encore choice: the gorgeous Jimmy Van Heusen ballad 'But Beautiful' (Sco told us he didn’t want us causing trouble on the way home), featuring lovely straightahead guitar and piano solos.

The only slightly disappointing aspect of the gig – apart from the bar closing before the set finished – were the empty seats (the venue was no more than three-quarters capacity it appeared). If a band of this pedigree can’t sell out the Cadogan Hall on a Friday night, should we be worried that topline US acts will bypass the UK on their European tours in future?

Adam McCulloch
– Photo by Tim Dickeson

Alfa Mist Lifts Concorde From The Fog With Post-Modern Vision

Mist

Tonight’s proceedings are initiated by Laura Misch, who has imprudently got chilled to the bone while watching the sunset out on the beach. Still, she gets warmed up enough to charm the crowd with her unassuming persona and easy-on-the-ear combination of sweet alto-sax and relaxed ambient beats. Her act is more engaging when she sings as well – clear-toned vocals crooning songs of millennial urban angst.

Alfa Mist is here promoting his new record – '.44' starts with a vocal sample leading into a smoky, post-Erika Badu vibe clearly related to ‘Apple Tree’. This isn’t lowest common denominator smooth jazz, though; trumpet/flugel man Johnny Woodham is out of the starting blocks right away with an electronically-enhanced torrent of notes demonstrating real post-bebop chops, and Jamie Leeming shows that he’s a fearlessly creative guitarist with a definite penchant for the oblique and the unexpected, favouring squiggly chromatic lines that veer in and out of the harmony. Mr Mist’s own contributions on Rhodes hark back to the reverb-drenched chording style of Lonnie Liston Smith; Jamie Houghton is crisp and responsive on drums.

This is a modern jazz fusion that eschews the soulful vocal histrionics and uptempo popping basslines of earlier incarnations of the style as propagated by, say, Incognito, and replaces them with a much more ambivalent, questioning contemporary mood. The playing is as tight and focussed as you could wish, but chords are ambiguously voiced, grooves come in unexpected odd-number combinations, melodies drift past without ever clamouring for your attention; the general onstage vibe is reserved introspection. Bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke’s mournfully impassive demeanour, under her flamboyant afro, sets the tone and makes her the coolest onstage; her basslines are on point, rock solid over the tricky metre changes.

Alfa, when he speaks, is a relaxed and genial host; when he raps, as on ‘Closer’ from his debut, the show comes into focus. His voice has a gravelly authority and could be his secret weapon; it’s a shame he self-deprecatingly claims to be too lazy to write more than one verse per album. ‘JJajja’s Screen’ is dedicated to his Luganda-speaking grandma; the consistently downbeat mood means that a certain longueur sets in and it’s not til Thomas-Dyke takes to the mic to add her clear, soaring vocals to ‘Breathe’ that the magic returns and the crowd of hip young metropolitan types are all rapt through to the propulsive groove and tumbling melody of ‘Keep On’ – his most recognised tune, and the one that you could describe in the context of contemporary post-modern jazz/hip-hop streaming culture as his smash hit. Alfa Mist is a man with his own beguiling musical vision, gently but positively spreading the word.

Eddie Myer

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