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

Vocal Summit: Trudy Kerr, Brigitte Beraha & Marta Capponi with Rick Simpson Trio – Spice of Life @ EFG London Jazz Festival

Trudy Kerr

Soho’s historic basement jazz club is one of the few remaining clubs in central London and last Wednesday it was home to a “Vocal Summit”. The diverse repertoires of three top London jazz singers and accompaniment of Rick Simpson’s outstanding trio of drums, piano and bass made the night truly delightful.

The first singer, Marta Capponi, in her London Jazz Festival debut, won over the audience by her smooth and deep tone while singing standards including Honeysuckle Rose and Caravan. Marta’s unique scat approach to all of the songs proved her true command of the style. Brigitte Beraha and her clear, pure voice on a gentle repertoire was an engaging change of vibe. Latin songs, French chanson and standards like 'I Fall In Love Too Easily' with flowing, often vocalised phrases sung confidently sounded soothing and admirable. Trudy Kerr (pictured), repeatedly highly appreciated by London Jazz Festival audience was truly fantastic. Her bright, vivid set of songs including 'Joy Spring' or 'Shaker Song' interspersed with personal anecdote about her daughter and a little love story that charmed the audience. The warm and pleasant voice of Trudy, while performing classic upbeat swing standards and ballads thrilled the public.

Along with her glorious vocal delivery, the audience appreciated her great rapport with young trio Rick Simpson, Mark Lewandowski and Lloyd Haines. The show closed with a song “But not for me” showcasing the talents of all three singers accompanied by the sharp trio. The night was a real musical festival of vocal diversity seemingly effortlessly presented by highly skilled artists who were in their element.

– Alicja Jablonska

Yazz Ahmed Quartet – Ray's Jazz at Foyles, London

Yazz Ahmed

A full house at Foyles witnessed something special as trumpeter/composer Yazz Ahmed took to the stage with her copiously talented quartet. Allowing the band to swirl and flicker through an evocative introduction, Ahmed conjures music that has an instant presence and sense of place. As the groove takes hold, the focus sharpens and we get a clearer picture of where this place might be, Arabic scales shaping the irresistibly sinuous basslines and hypnotic melodies. A potent soundworld opens up, Yazz's beckoning trumpet alongside beautifully nuanced drumming (Will Glaser), insistent bass (Dave Manington) and expressive vibes (Ralph Wyld).

Second number 'Whispering Gallery' (developed from field recordings in St Paul's) also brings with it a feeling of place – and a sense of space: echo and distance seem key parts of Ahmed's musical anatomy. 'Finding My Way Home' is dedicated to her Bahraini family and perhaps seeks to bridge a gap between two worlds; a lovely vibes solo (masterful handling of all that reverb!) ushers in the warmth of flugelhorn in a beautiful, intimate piece.

Elsewhere, Ahmed expands the sound-palette of her instrument with electronic processing – it's bold and effective, and consistent with her exploration of sound in space. On 'Lahan Al-Mansour' she uses a harmoniser to create chordal layers – this piece taken from 'Polyhymnia', her suite celebrating inspirational female role-models. Ahmed is covering a lot of ground, and yet there's a sense of spaciousness – impressively, the music still has room to breathe. And always there's the groove. No one else is doing anything quite like this at the moment: Ahmed's pursuit of the connection between Arabic music and jazz has such meaningful focus. The encore is dedicated, she says, to her 'inner destroyer' – but that destructive force is obviously well under control, because this is a winning performance of a glowing body of work, original, exciting and optimistic.

– Philip Hogg

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