Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles take off at Jazz Cafe

Known to many for his often-sublime keyboard work with Snarky Puppy, Cory Henry is now branching out with a project of his own, The Funk Apostles. Their gig at the Jazz Café on Monday as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival heralded a powerful, slick and raucous new brand of funk.

Henry and the Apostles embarked upon an odyssey of groove, with the beats of their two drummers, TaRon Lockett and Darius Owens, and the colossal sounds of Antoine Katz (bass) and Nick Semrad (Prophet synth) barely contained within the walls of the venue. In a vivid reconstruction of Juan Tizol’s ‘Caravan’, the Apostles never made it as far as the B section, but stuck with a menacing ultramodern take on the classic, given extra vim by Andrew Bailie’s towering guitar solo.

The set hinged on Prince’s ‘1999’, which received a futuristic funk refurbishment. Henry intoned the apocalyptic party lyrics through a vocoder evoking ‘Sunlight’ era Herbie Hancock, and there were shades of Parliament-Funkadelic; however, the overall effect was much more contemporary. Not so much a group of apostles, Henry and his band felt like a collective of funk-crazed soothsayers, who had journeyed to the Jazz Cafe so that they might impart the future of groove to Camden.

Later in the night there was a beautiful reinterpretation of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’, Henry repeating an enthralling keyboard hook, and Lockett and Owens zoning in as if they were one player. Throughout, myriad musical influences were stirred up to create something entirely new: not bad for a group just 11 months old, with a debut album recorded in August ready for release. Cory Henry and The Funk Apostles can give us all something to believe in.

      Jon Carvell

Nik Bartsch plays Nik Bartsch at Kings Place, London

Seated in the stark beauty of Kings Place, concentrating on following ever changing tempos, this reviewer finds her focus drifting to the Theatre de Champs- Elyse, Paris, where on 29 May 1913 Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered to an audience so perplexed, there was almost a riot. By contrast today’s very listening audience, accustomed to the multiple tributaries of current day musics, appears almost nonplussed.

Nik Bartsch, Zurich based pianist, composer and producer, presents his quartet Ronin plus guests as part of the London Jazz Festival and Kings Place’s Minimalism Unwrapped series. Ronan’s most recent release, ‘Nik Bartsch’s Ronin Live,’ was back in 2011, however his quartet Mobile, billed to play next day, has a CD on ECM expected early in 2016.

Tonight Bartsch presents his through-composed “ritual groove music”, a percussive, tightly controlled, funk influenced amalgam, which together with Bartsch’s striking attire, underlines his interest in Japanese martial art, Aikido. Compositional spareness is most evident in Bartsch’s own piano contributions, though all band members save drummer Kasper Rast, are kept on a short leash. The minimalism abruptly gives way to furious, sustained expositions by Rast, or brief joyous group eruptions of funk, shifts often accented by explosions of purple floods, setting the black clad band momentarily alight.

Bartsch conducts with stylised flourish, often presenting mere single notes on keyboards. The sound of Japanese wood blocks (in reality sticks played under the piano lid) offers welcome variance, whilst bass clarinettist Sha has permission for some succinct but engaging solos. The brass section begs to be let loose yet, constrained to accenting the percussion and heralding change, prove effective. Quiet guitar ruminations offer balance to Rast’s domination, the latter impressing with his ever changing metre, attack and endurance.

Thus ends a cognitively stimulating concert of what this reviewer finally chooses to understand as a stylized manifestation in jazz form, of Aikido.  

      ­F C Mactaggart

Yazz Ahmed mysterious and compelling at Foyles

Yazz Ahmed

In an over-lit auditorium on the top floor of Foyles flagship bookshop, British-Bahraini trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and her quartet provide a set of mystery and promise. Ahmed cuts a reticent figure throughout, and at times it feels more like vibraphonist Ralph Wyld’s gig. He takes the majority of the solos, crafting zero gravity phrases with any number of mallets, and on occasion a bow. Melodies oscillate between the two, beginning on Flugel and ending on vibraphone, or at times meandering off unresolved into the ambience.

It has been four years since Ahmed’s feted debut album Finding My Way Home. The long awaited follow up is apparently just around the corner, but on tonight’s evidence there is much Ahmed still wishes to explore. The newer compositions we hear are high concept: ‘Whispering Gallery’ is based on field recordings from St Paul’s Cathedral; two pieces dedicated to inspirational women are extracted from Ahmed’s Women of the World suite; and another is based on an improvisation by Janek Gwizdala, Ahmed’s friend and the bassist on her first album. That at least two pieces derive from borrowed melodies hints at a search for self-confidence. The familiar theme of home elicits the liveliest dialogue among the group.

A piece dedicated to Ahmed’s Bahraini family is built on Jaco-like bass loops melded with middle-eastern melodies, underscored by the urgent rhythms of a bazaar bustle. “We should play another; I think…?” questions Ahmed as she introduces the encore number. It is a tribute to the ‘inner destroy in all of us’ and Ahmed makes good on this dedication by using a sampler to repeat her fluid Flugel phrases as twisted sirens. One senses Ahmed needs to build her confidence a little, but the results of her efforts, while sometimes unassured, are oddly arresting.

– Liam Izod

Hiromi rocks the Royal Festival Hall London

Hiromi

Hiromi turned it up to eleven from the off. Opener 'Spark' featured the head banging piano pyro-technics that have seen the Japanese virtuoso become one of the biggest draws in jazz. Upon entering the Royal Festival Hall, concert goers were confronted by drummer Simon Phillips’ kit; a jungle of tom-toms and cymbals. This sight set a distinctly proggy tone, which was heightened by the spacey keyboard that opened the set; recalling the excesses of Hiromi’s mentor figure Chick Corea in his galactically curious 1970s fusion band Return to Forever.

The first two numbers were rhythmic workouts, shifting through more metres than Mo Farah, and featuring piano solos longer than the queue for Hiromi’s autograph after the gig. Despite kitchen-sink levels of subtlety, Hiromi’s jazz-prog stylings are seductive. It is hard not to groove along to the boss-fight basslines conducted by her converse stomps, delighting in the dazzling complexity of it all.

It was not until the opening of the second set that Hiromi proved she could be deft as well as devastating. She returned to the stage alone, and played a revelatory solo piano piece entitled ‘Place to Be’. This low key cadenza waltzed through Gershwin-like lushness before coalescing around an inventive groove worthy of Jarrett. This was Hiromi’s first gig at the Royal Festival Hall, and one hopes she might emulate Jarrett in returning for some solo sets that display more of the light and shade in abundance on ‘Place to Be’, but only sporadically sprinkled throughout tonight’s trio gig.

After the standing ovations subsided, the buzz in the Festival Hall foyer anticipating Hiromi’s emergence to meet her fans was electric. Perhaps only Esperanza Spalding generates similar levels of excitement. Having two women at the top of jazz can only be positive for the shape of jazz to come.

– Liam Izod (photo by Sakiko Nomura

Tom Green Septet at Studio at St James Theatre, London

Tom Green

Young composer and trombonist Tom Green returns to the venue where he launched his debut album Skyline in January this year. Since then his band of brothers from the Royal Academy have honed their craft touring up and down the UK; their grooves now as sharp as their button-down shirts.

Green's precocious compositional skills have heightened. It is the newer pieces that stand out. 'Seatoller' – dedicated to a dawn drive through the Cumbrian landscape - is propelled by tidal grooves that flow through different time feels. Tightly plotted counter-melodies disassemble into a pointillist shout chorus. Green's use of collective improvisation is striking throughout. He successfully transposes this compositional device, better associated with a New Orleans march, into Kenny Wheeler soundscapes.

The stand out chart is 'Jack O’Lantern', a playful folk inspired fugue. Tenor sax man Sam Miles features on an irrepressible theme worthy of Bob Mintzer. Miles’ melody is enriched by deps Miguel Gorodi on flugel and Tommy Andrews on soprano, scything spectrum-like in counterpoint. The horns give way to the heft of Misha Mullov-Abaddo’s bass, paired with the craft industry of pianist Sam James on an off-beat breakdown anchored by drummer Scott Chapman.

Green’s background in physics shines through on a series of compositions that refer to light. Another - ‘Winter Sun’ - is a tribute to David Attenborough, a dedication that conjures the ideal imagery to match Green’s landscaping of sound. Amidst complex polyphony, everything is clearly illuminated.

Ending the first set with an arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s Skylark – re-imagined into chaotic chorales and languid lead lines - the band are surprised to hear from the compere that Hoagy Carmichael Jnr is actually in the audience. When the gig ends Carmichael Jnr shakes Green’s hand, recognising a composer of rare talent.

Liam Izod

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