Steve Beresford and Satoko Fukuda send sparks Ray’s Jazz

Against the balance of power between improvisers there are often casualties. But Steve Beresford’s unassuming, yet warm presence, his deftness both in touch and in timing, has found a complimentary dynamic force in violinist Satoko Fukuda. Her array of dazzling techniques, particularly a neat spicatto, and hunger for ideas brought about exciting exchanges between the two artists, who were exploring their respective capabilities in a new partnership that sacrificed polish in favour of authentic artistic exploration. The result was refreshing and at times great fun.

Beresford, a devastatingly well-versed improviser, adopted a range of striking personas at the piano. At one extreme he began to resemble a shopkeeper: quick, automatic hands placed, in turn, a glass, a comb, some vibrating devices and other mechanised objects onto the piano strings to alter the sound, as if he were loading cans onto a shelf. Then suddenly he would become gorilla-like, scratching away at the strings, oblivious to the winces of discomfort the sounds caused in his audience. Moments later he was thundering away at the keys again, while Fukuda hacked at her four strings simultaneously with the heavier of her two bows. There is something to be said for musicians who can awaken such helpless reactions in a sophisticated Foyles crowd.

There was great presentation on both sides. Fukuda’s poker-face maintained a strong sense of poise despite enormous distances between the two players, culminating initially in the gallows-humoured announcement: ‘end of part one’. What followed were two shorter parts which were enjoyable but unfortunately didn’t quite develop - such a variety of sounds, pitches and timbres had already been explored. Nevertheless, this was a delightful union of two undeniably free and distinct musical minds, neither of whom shied away from surprises.

      – Will Kemp

Yazz Ahmed bewitches at Rays Jazz, Foyles, London

As the crowd steadily gathered in anticipation on the top floor of Foyles books store, the warehouse-like mise en scene couldn't have contrasted more with the imagery to come of Yazz Ahmed’s music.

UK trumpeter Ahmed, who has collaborated with names such as Kenny Wheeler and Steve Williamson, took us on an exploration of Arabic sonics from her Bahraini roots which she scattered throughout the performance of her quartet arrangement, comprising of Ralph Wyld (vibraphone) Dave Mannington (electric bass) and Will Glaser (drums). Our first taste was immediate in opener ‘Wah-Wah Sowahwah’ in which Persian voicing meandered eerily into the the main percussive riff, personified by Wyld’s use of double bass bows. His elongated strokes along the edges of the vibraphone bars created funereal tones lingering above the ensemble. Among percussive passages complimenting a throng of shuffling brush strokes and accented off beats from Glaser; Ahmed introduced an electronic element adding reverb delay to her trumpet. Her programmed, intertwining melodies created a distinct but pleasing change in the piece’s texture.

‘Whispering Gallery’, inspired by the 1st-floor room of St Paul’s Cathedral followed, emitting flashes of Pat Metheny in Mannington’s increasingly rich bass lines while Ahmed lulled with a soft melancholic traveling solo on the flugelhorn. As the piece ended Wyld took the reigns delighting the crowd with a two minute Gary Burton-esque improvisation, a perfect segue into the standout track of the evening ’Finding my way Home’ named after her debut album; where sparse drums and regal horns flowed into a breakdown that conjured images of rainfall turning a desert to caramel.

The swinging ‘Ruby Bridges’ was another peak, offering shades of Miles’s Sketches material, while Ahmed’s electronic experimentation, via harmonising and phasing effects, again came into play on ‘Laban Al-Mansour' and ‘La Saboteuse’.

      Andrew Mensah

Adriano Adewale - Within the Waves at Cecil Sharp House, London

The evening saw the first fruits of percussion wizard Adriano Adewale’s tenure as Associate Artist at the English Folk Dance & Song Society (EFDSS) in the form of Within the Waves, billed as a musical exploration of English and Brazilian sea-faring cultures. With its doubled-up choir (an amalgamation of Cecil Sharp House Choir and Northumberland based Werca’s Folk, dressed in various shades of blue), two pro singers, two percussionists and sea-life-centre styled visuals above the stage, at least one member of the audience entered the auditorium fearing the moans of a beached whale more likely.

Yet from the first sound, the project began to unpick any cynical assumptions. The choir was for the most part strong and used to good effect, responding with agility to a rolling bench of choral directors - Sally Davies, Sandra Kerr and Pete Churchill - and giving a concerted if laboured effort at Brazilian-Portuguese pronunciation. Traditional songs from both countries were tied together by arrangements that gave the two featured vocalists, the enchanting Rebecca Vallim, and Sarah Jane Morris (who rose to the occasion with aplomb), plenty of space to weave their spells over the room.

In the middle of the programme, Adewale’s own composition ‘Storm + Poem’ was a real high point. Along with Andreas Ticino’s imaginative supporting percussion, all the elements of the event came into their own here in an intriguing maelstrom: Adewale himself finally got going. His distinctive charm and movement was, as always, utterly infectious. The piece ended on Vallim’s poignant reading switching suddenly into English and I was transported out somewhere in the equatorial Atlantic, a sea-deity haunting me at every turn. What might have been a leviathan big-sing bonanza, Within the Waves steered a surprisingly well-navigated course through the sea related music of these two cultures.

– Will Kemp

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

The Write Stuff

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