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

 

Gareth Lockrane Big Band At The Gunnersbury Tavern, London - 13 July 2014


Football was not the only ‘beautiful game’ being performed at its highest level on World Cup Sunday as The Gunnersbury Tavern’s weekly jazz afternoon hosted “flute phenomenon” Gareth Lockrane and his 19-piece big band. Since winning Best European Jazz Group in 2003 at the Granada Jazz Festival with his Grooveyard band, Lockrane’s career has rocketed to, and remained at, the forefront of British jazz. Sunday’s performance showcased much of his widely acclaimed and latest Whirlwind Recordings release, The Strut, as well other high-energy originals inspired by, according to the flautist, “pumped up groove tunes of the 1960s.”

The Gunnersbury’s high ceiling acoustic and traditional Sunday menu provided an ideal setting for Lockrane’s biggest self-titled outfit. Striking an assured, albeit tightrope, balance between common expectations for ‘Sunday afternoon jazz’ and Lockrane’s current big, bold and driving sound, the set kicked off with a hard-swinging Mel Lewis dedication, ‘Mel’s Bell’. Much rhythmic variety between straight-ahead swing time and African bell patterns, as well as syncopated ensemble backings behind the soloists, created a distinct momentum for the set to take off upon.

A similarly pulsating force continued through Lockrane’s samba-inflected original ‘Lock Up’, which saw his forearm twitching at an almost comical rate to keep up with his seemingly limitless musical ideas during his first real stretch-out of the set. Sadly Graeme Blevins’ tenor solo was at times lost in volume under the ensemble backings, though his technical command and refreshingly space-conscious approach shone through in later solos. Recent Royal Academy of Music graduate, trumpeter Tom Walsh, enjoyed sole accompaniment from Ryan Trebilcock on bass for his solo, reining back the dynamic of the piece and allowing listeners to fully appreciate Walsh’s full-bodied tone.

Other highlights included a graceful re-balancing to the band’s taut intensity as Simon Marsh opened up into a tenor solo on Lockrane’s ballad ‘Forever Now’, while percussionist Miles Bould provided a variety of tonal colours, sympathetically accompanying the direction of his solo. The aptly named ‘Groove Rider’ included a growling trombone solo from Adrian Fry and guitar solo from Alex Munk that truly stood out as a particularly special moment of the afternoon. Ramping up the energy to finish off the set, title track ‘The Strut’ provided big-tuneful melodies with compelling, strutting rhythms, and had Lockrane with his piccolo riding out on a final tidal wave of energy.

– Tom Wright

For more info go to www.garethlockrane.com and www.thegunnersbury.com

Jazz, Spirituality, and Politics: Kendrick Scott’s Oracle carries the tradition of John Coltrane and Max Roach



Early last year, jazz drummer extraordinaire Kendrick Scott and his band Oracle released its spiritually galvanising album, Conviction, on Concord Records. Yet the album is not merely spiritual but politically elucidating. This is one of the marvels of Conviction, and it superbly illuminates the jazz album as a medium for spiritual and political empowerment as presented in the work of jazz icons John Coltrane and Max Roach.

In his book, Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of The Sixties, historian Scott Saul notes that A Love Supreme introduced “the new position of the jazz musician as spiritual avatar.” Saul also goes on to say that A Love Supreme represented “a resonant expression of spiritual uplift and gratitude” and that “Coltrane affirmed the deepest of religious longing.” A Love Supreme as a “liturgical language” was a musical antiphony that documented Coltrane’s spiritual conversion after a tumultuous time of suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. The album’s ability to touch the human spirit propelled Coltrane’s meteoric rise in jazz, and has made it one of the greatest albums of any genre.

Now if A Love Supreme introduced the jazz musician as a “spiritual avatar,” then it could be said that Max Roach’s We Insist! album (1960) presented to the world the jazz musician as a “political avatar.” Filled with themes that addressed the social and political drama of the late 1950’s in the US and abroad, We Insist! served as a precursor to the jazz album’s ability to musically contextualize and package the musician’s political critique.

Scott and his band Oracle, as well as other new jazz leaders, are carrying the tradition of employing social commentary and/or spirituality as an underlying motive for their compositions and arrangements. Other examples include faith themes on saxophonist Kenneth Whalum III’s For Those who Believe as well as Kirk Whalum’s The Gospel According to Jazz. Trumpeter Christian Scott also engages several political themes from Yesterday You Said Tomorrow such as the passionate tune, ‘Angola, LA and the 13th Amendment’, which is a commentary on neo-slavery.

On ‘Pendulum’, the first track of Conviction, the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century monk, is read by Scott, introducing the album’s intent and the bandleader’s petition for humility and submission to God’s will. Even though the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi is Christian in nature, it is similar to the poems read on A Love Supreme, although Coltrane’s poems embody what historian Scott Saul calls a “pan-spirituality.” Nevertheless, Scott and Coltrane’s usage of poetry/prayer is a remarkable tool that uses “spoken word” to verbally coalesce their personal faith experiences with their music.

I found one of Conviction’s most spiritual pieces to be Joe Sanders’ improvised solo bass performance entitled, ‘We Shall by Any Means’. The first part of the title of “We Shall By Any Means” is actually derived from the gospel tinged ‘We Shall Overcome’, which became the anthem for the 1960’s Civil Rights movement and is still sung today. The other part of the title comes from the phrase “By any means necessary,” which was extracted from Malcolm X’s 1960’s speech and has since become a popular catchphrase. Both phrases were from leaders whose pursuit of social justice and freedom emanated from their personal faith.

I am glad that in the midst of several back-to-back tracks on the album that engage the idea of human rights, (an arrangement of Herbie Hancock’s ‘I Have A Dream’ and Scott’s original composition ‘Liberty or Death’), the decision was made to choose a bass solo. Sanders’ performance creates the same type of spiritual awe and meditative soundscape that emerges when listening to Johann Sebastian Bach’s cello suites in a minor key. It was a completely unexpected and arresting surprise.

The solo’s minor key immediately posits the listener in a state of “all seriousness,” with its aesthetically dark and melodious theme beginning on D. It becomes a monophonic narrative as Sanders’ utilizes careful and beautifully peculiar harmonies – with tenths and other leaps –between the upper and lower register of the bass. On ‘We Shall By Any Means’, the solo seems to express a politically intense and historical moment where African Americans struggled for democracy and equality. However, the theme can now apply to race and gender groups around the world who are fighting for these ideals as well.

The track entitled ‘Conviction’ is driving and also spiritually penetrating. It’s a total musical drama that perfectly glues all of the voices through the compositional brilliance of acclaimed bassist and composer Derrick Hodge. Taylor Eigsti’s gorgeous chord selections and ornamentation on “Conviction” are both clever and sophisticated. Last, ‘Conviction’ features another meritorious drum performance by Scott. Oracle has an incredible line-up that includes bandleader and drummer Kendrick Scott, pianist Taylor Eigsti, guitarist Mike Moreno, saxophonist John Ellis, and bassist Joe Sanders. The album also features bassist and vocalist Alan Hampton.

– K. Shackelford

 

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