Frazey Ford and Sophia Marshall at Cadogan Hall – EFG London Jazz Festival

Cadogan Hall is slowly filling up and people are patiently waiting for the enchanting woman with the hazy vocals, Frazey Ford, to come out on stage. But first up is supporting artist Sophia Marshall, originally from the band ‘The Have Nots’, who despite the size of the stage manages to fill it with only bass, ukulele, acoustic guitar and her mesmerizing vocals. Sophia Marshall and her sister Sara Marshall come together in beautifully formed harmonies, captivating the audience that sit quietly as in a state of trance. Marshall’s songwriting and the well-defined melodies have transformed Cadogan Hall into the Grand Ole Opry for the evening.

The feeling lingers when Frazey Ford walks on stage with her comparatively bigger ensemble, reflecting on her bold and beautiful personality, as she kicks of the band with no instrument left behind. The first thing anyone would notice about Ford’s vocals is her unique singing technique where she almost whispers, rolls syllables and stretches words into unrecognizable sounds. Sometimes there is no way of telling what the lyrics actually are but, because of her chilled tone of voice, the ambiguity creates a captivating aura around the songs. The saxophone and trumpet chirps in between Ford’s phrases in ‘September Fields’ making you want to tap your feet and snap your fingers.

By inviting us in to her childhood, with anecdotes from a 60’s Canada, in between titles like ‘Running’, ‘Done’, and ‘Weather Pattern’, from her latest album ‘Indian Ocean’, the auditorium is turned into a more personal and intimate venue. After giving us a glimpse of her musical influences Dylan and Franklin, Ford finishes the set with the title track of the album. With its strong and simplistic chorus it leaves us in a place of warmth as we step back into the cold November night.

– Karin Jonsson

Snarky Puppy at the Roundhouse – EFG London Jazz Festival

Each time they return to London, the American Grammy award-winning Snarky Puppy have a bigger venue awaiting them. Last May they played the Scala and for this year’s London Jazz Festival they played the Roundhouse to a sell-out crowd, with Magda Banda (including some members of Snarky Puppy) as the opening act. The collective - formed in Texas almost a decade ago - constantly changes, the only real constant is the founder bass guitarist Michael League.

The fascinating combination of genres and the spectacular solo improvisations of each member of the band, are the elements that have always characterised Snarky Puppy on stage. They have a powerful groove and extraordinary improvisational skills that allow them to draw different soundscapes. The opener ‘Binky’ merges hip-hop, shades of Africa and rock-blues passages. Pink Floyd are not only present on ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ T-shirt that Michael League wears; before the final reprise of ‘Binky’, there is a subtle reminder of the endless guitar arpeggio of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 1-5’. ‘Outlier’ with its moog synthesiser melody and jazz drums patterns is soaked in progressive-rock influences, while the lyrical ‘Kite’ - ‘the closest thing we have to a ballad’ according to League – recalls the Pat Metheny sense of melody.

After an hour, the jazz fusion of Snarky Puppy grew extremely improvisational and each member chipped in their unique and personal way: the astonishing drums solo on ‘Tio Macaco’ and the spine-tingling Hendrix-style solo of Chris McQueen guitar, left the audience dumbfounded.

The encores saw the London multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, invited on stage by League to play ‘Quarter Master’, which with its boogie crescendo takes the audience – always ready to sing along the melodies of most of the compositions - back to New Orleans after an astounding two hour's music journey. The stage is the authentic home for these young and talented musicians.

– Chiara Felice

Christophe Chassol’s Indiamore Queen Elizabeth Hall, London – EFG London Jazz Festival

Christophe Chassol’s Indiamore is a bold project. Set in the intimate surroundings of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the duo of Chassol (keys) and Lawrence Clais (drums) were accompanied by a startlingly beautiful film from Chassol’s visits to India in 2012. The work marries field recordings from Varanasi and Kolkata with Chassol’s own musical interpretations, and this evening offered a rare opportunity to relish in the full audio-visual experience that he envisioned.

The piece consisted of four parts – each set in different locations – and the creative depth augmented with each new excursion, weaving an exquisite tapestry of sonic discovery, flowing through delicately nuanced timbral territories, much like the river Ganges that meanders through the heart of India itself. Indeed, the Ganges provides the inspiration for the third passage, and its indelible effect upon Chassol is evident in his sensitive touch, and his careful consideration of the melodic figures that flourish alongside the ever-present backdrop of the river lapping against the stone steps. Indiamore is a labour of love, and as such, the more subtle moments prove to be the most successful.

Overly dense live percussion is mismatched with the intricate tabla rhythms in ‘Dosidomifa Pt.1’ and the resultant effect is jarring, rather than symbiotic. That said, for the rest of the performance Clais exhibits great awareness of the material, and the joy shared between the pair in drawing out the elegance of the audio recordings – and the breath-taking cinematography – is never in doubt.

In approaching a country with such a rich and illustrious history to provide inspiration, one can run the risk of creating an unsatisfying pastiche. Christophe Chassol, however, has lovingly produced a work, which perfectly captures his experience of a place he so clearly respects and adores. It may be bold, but only ambition can provide such beauty.

– Alex de Lacey

Sunday Fusion featuring Joe Leader – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London 20 July 2014

"Please welcome onto the stage, UK jazz sensation, Mr Joe Leader,” boomed a voice during the other-worldly-sounding opening of this intimate lunchtime gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho. Presently working within the smooth jazz genre as a solo recording artist, saxophone virtuoso, Leader, exuded a self-assured hubris, further bigged up by a curly-edged band banner above the stage containing links to his social media.

Joined by Andres Garcia on guitar, Alex Bennett on keyboards, and Phill Arnold on drums for this, his new Sunday Fusion show, Leader fused soulful jazz, R&B, classical music and pop, anchored strongly throughout by the funky bass lines of magnetic bassist, Yolanda Charles. ‘Caruso’ is about the love that Italian operatic tenor, Enrico Caruso felt for his music. Here, the subtle decorativeness of Garcia’s acoustic Spanish guitar provided the perfect base for Leader to emotively communicate his own passion for music through the satiny tone and purring phrasing of his alto saxophone. This gave way to rocky drums and Bennett’s keyboard solo, which sadly broke the spellbinding atmosphere with its distorting loudness. A final upwards modulation into a renewed ecstasy elicited Leader’s signature trick: a sustained super-high note which duly impressed the near-capacity audience.

We all need to be reminded of the importance of love in our lives, but in introducing songs such as ‘Searching For Love’, Leader overstated his desire to ‘spread the love’ through his music: surely if played from the heart, music should simply speak for itself? The most moving part of the gig came when Leader and his mother, South African concert pianist, Lucille Leader, performed an acoustic piano and saxophone duet of ‘Lavender Rose’; a lullaby written by Leader for his manager, Jacqui Taylor. This was followed by their powerful rendition of ‘Reminiscence’ nocturne by Chopin.

Unfortunately, the shrillness of the soprano saxophone melody on ‘For All We Know’ zapped the romance out of this tender jazz standard, which is more suited to the darker depths of Johnny Hartman’s vocal interpretation. It sounded too smooth, but contained some pleasing syncopation and chord substitutions. Paradoxically, the over-promotion of this gig gave it an edge of inauthenticity and it wasn’t until the encore; a sweltering hot ‘Soul Medley’, that the band really let go and the love flowed, earning them a standing ovation.

– Gemma Boyd

 

Gabrial Garrick Big Band At The Gunnersbury Tavern, London – 20 July 2014


The Gabriel Garrick Big Band swung by the Gunnersbury Tavern last Sunday as the South West London pub continues its commitment to hosting the best of British big band jazz. A stellar line up of musicians presented a mixture of hard swinging classics while honouring the visionary compositions of the late Michael Garrick. Kicking off with the latter’s ‘Amethyst’, as heard on the pianist’s Inspirations album - saxophonist Martin Hathaway (who was both on the original recording in 2007 and the performance last Sunday) took the opening melody on soprano, of which showcased his sensitivity, technical control; and in turn demanded the attention of listeners that was to be effortlessly sustained for the rest of the afternoon.

 

A drummer-less first set enabled different “sonic possibilities,” as Garrick called them, to be explored and appreciated by the band and audience respectively. Highlights that displayed this rare dynamic within a big band included piano solos from Will Bartlett accompanied by Spencer Brown on bass. Steeped in the jazz tradition, Bartlett’s playing also possessed emotionally rich phrasing, underpinned by Brown’s masterful touch and sense of time - greatly reminiscent of another ‘Brown’ of the bass and the foundation to the Oscar Peterson Trio. Ensemble sections also took on a different, almost novel, quality and resulted in a refined texture and purified sound.

 

Garrick took a much anticipated and affectionately applauded solo on ‘Boogie Blues’ that provided an opportunity for the trumpeter to display his absolute oneness with the vocabulary of the composition’s era; maintaining a rich and characterful tone in even the highest registers. Between numbers Garrick discussed some of his philosophies on music – suggesting an over emphasis upon “sheets of (manuscript) paper”, that within jazz somewhat contradict the nature of improvisation; this was commended by the audience. The complete ease that the leader and his musicians had with the music was exemplified throughout, such as the way Garrick would often seem to give Hathaway the go-ahead to compose a short accompanying-backing phrase, for which Hathaway would then play once and upon repeat the entire saxophone section had instinctively harmonised and placed with groove and cohesion under the soloist at the time. Such natural charisma and fluidity was greatly refreshing.

 

As well as a flugel solo from Garrick, tenorist Sam Walker soloed upon the title track to the 1964 debut album from Michael Garrick ‘October Woman’ with much command and innovation. On top of a rhythm section already suggesting a double time feel, Walker further implied the doubling of that pulse by straightening the rhythm of his lines - giving a great sense of forward motion and displaying Walker’s ability to articulate at a rapid rate of notes. Interestingly, while many of the band’s players had worked with Michael Garrick, this almost entirely new generation of musicians served for an intriguing interpretation of “papa” Garrick’s still contemporary sounding and undoubtedly relevant music. Humour, politics, audience heckling, drumstick throwing and an overriding sense of swing were all present in what was a typically Garrick billed event and one that once again suggested the trumpeter to be one of the most truly underrated, communicative and distinctive improvisers of the UK today.

Tom Wright

For more info go to www.gabrielgarrick.co.uk and www.thegunnersbury.com

 

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