Charles Lloyd Group plus Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas Barbican, 23 November 2014

The last evening of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2014 was a fitting end to what has been a diverse ten days. With an almost full house, the audience poured in from the cold damp outside in eager anticipation of hearing two saxophone giants in new contexts, Charles Lloyd in ‘Wild Man Dance Suite’ and Joe Lovano in ‘Sound Prints’. What followed were two extraordinarily balanced and sophisticated sets.

Joe Lovano and trumpeter Dave Douglas formed the group ‘Sound Prints’ in 2012, with the idea of performing music inspired by the work of Wayne Shorter. With interactive free moments as interludes to more structured tunes, each band member contributed equally to this set - as did Wayne Shorter, who had composed two songs specially for the ensemble. Throughout the set, Lovano and Douglas moved from playing sweet melodic lines in harmony, to collectively improvising in a chaotic and haphazard way. Grooves from Joey Baron frothed and fluctuated; now slowly swinging, now plunging forward at breakneck speeds. The highlight of the set was Linda Oh’s rich bass tone and extraordinary musicality, truly deconstructing any notion of accompanying roles in this group. Each player came forward and receded cyclically in a kaleidoscopic journey, far from any predictable Shorter ‘tribute’.

The much-anticipated ‘Wild Man Suite’ followed displaying Lloyd’s characteristic hermetic approach to instrumental forces. Though the Greek lyra was harder to discern in louder sections, this set was notable for the equal space each instrument was granted. Often jazz musicians have tried to incorporate timbres from other musical worlds into compositions, ignoring the necessary acoustic considerations. ‘Wild Man Suite’, however, showed how the virtuosic stylings of Lukacs (cimbalom), the melancholy of Sinpolous’ lyra, Clayton’s sensitive accompaniment, amongst the remarkable musicianship of Lloyd, Harland and Sanders could all be housed under one roof.

– Cara Stacey

Regina Carter plus Yazz Ahmed at Queen Elizabeth Hall – EFG London Jazz Festival

Had this concert been programmed with a specific theme in mind, then the subject of ancestry might very well fit the bill. It was clear that British Bahraini trumpet player Yazz Ahmed had something new to say before she even played a note, arriving on stage in a stunning emerald green full-length dress of Middle Eastern origin. Joined by a sextet that included bass clarinet, assorted percussion and vibraphone, the sound of the Arabic modes pervaded her music as textures varied effortlessly throughout her short set.  

Violinist Regina Carter has been investigating her forebears recently, which led her to the folk music of the Appalachians where her paternal grandfather worked as a coal miner. A mix of these folk songs, arranged by her bassist Chris Lightcap, among others, were interspersed with other tunes including one commissioned for tonight’s concert. Hank Williams’ ‘Honky Tonkin’’ opened the set with the band laying down a solid groove before she even made it to the stage. The harmony remained static for what might otherwise have felt like a generation, however Carter’s sustained inventiveness in dialogue with accordionist Will Holshouser meant that the piece was over all too quickly. One of the folk songs, ‘Miner’s Child’ is a simple minor key theme that flourished as the harmonies were gradually reworked by bass and guitar.

Carter asked the audience what they would like to hear. ‘It won’t be loud’ she responds, but there was a break from the folk songs to ‘Hickory Wind’. Loud it wasn’t. Nor was it flashy or showy, and yet Carter digs deep into the subtle beauty with stunning results. If her band showed any brief sign of flagging as in ‘New for N’awlins’ by drummer Alvester Garnett, then Carter’s solos with their heavily syncopated lines got them burning again. Carter’s commission may have been titled ‘Pound for Pound’, but there was nothing here to suggest that she needed to punch above her weight.   


– Mark Stokesbury

Jef Neve/Rusconi Kings Place, London – EFG London Jazz Festival

Jazz pianists often talk about ‘being ready’ to approach a solo project, the lack of bass and drums requiring them to dig deep into the realm of inventiveness. Jef Neve was certainly prepared tonight and he had also prepared his piano, which conferred an unexpected timbre upon the opening of Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Lush Life’. Neve’s set was a mix of standards and originals, with perhaps the standout piece of the evening being Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.

Baring his soul in the same way that playing solo piano does, he revealed that the power and beauty of this song saved his life once, memories perhaps alluded to by the minor chord reharmonisations towards the end, which then resolve, thankfully, back to the major. Contrapuntal inventions on an original, ‘Solitude’ gave way to the implied groove of Monk’s ‘I Mean You’, which served to demonstrate what a versatile player Neve actually is. ‘Flying to Diani Beach’ is inspired by a flight over Mount Kilimanjaro that sees a busy ostinato in the right hand join ascending melodies in the left. As for Neve’s ascent to the summit of solo piano, he has proven that he is more than ready to undertake the climb.

Mixing things up after the break were Euro trio Rusconi whose stage attire would portend the music to come with bobble hat completing an ensemble of shirts, cardigans and blazers. Perhaps the most joyous moment of their set was when Fabian Gisler substituted his double bass for electric guitar, which succeeded in moving the music in entirely new directions. Before the piece was concluded however, guitar was out, bass was in again and relative jazz order restored.

This change in format was repeated a few more times, as was the use of three part backing vocals over solos as witnessed in the following tune, ‘Ankor’. Unconventional perhaps, but it did at times distract from the business at hand. Pianist Stefan Rusconi, in explaining the narrative behind ‘Sojus Dream’ makes mention of Laika, the first living creature to orbit the Earth, and the effect the experience may have had on her. The poor mongrel never returned to Earth, and I’m not sure I have yet either.    

– Mark Stokesbury

Kris Bowers plus Peter Edwards XOYO, London – EFG London Jazz Festival

Devices. Gadgets. Gismos. These things have become such a part of our day-to-day living that we take the technology for granted and become frustrated when it ceases to function properly. Jazz musicians turn to technology as well on occasion as both acts did tonight, with mixed results. Keyboardist Peter Edwards was clearly having problems with his technology as an unplanned hiatus was experienced by a nonetheless sympathetic crowd who were thanked for their patience at the end of an extended piece of electro jazz, which never really took off despite some nice moments.


Kris Bowers, from behind his mighty rig of keyboards, laptop, mixers and pedals experienced his own little snag in the form of an over-zealous audience wanting to join in with the infectious rhythms he was clapping and finger-clicking, which he would loop to provide percussion to a solo rendition of Juan Tizol’s ‘Caravan’. But it was the real deal, the men who rounded out his band that helped to make this such a strong gig. If there was any hint of hesitation at the outset, then it was gone in the blink of an eye and by the second song, ‘Wake the Neighbours’, Bowers, propelled by a frantic solo from guitarist and Marcus Miller sideman Adam Agati, had hit his stride. ‘The Protestor’ allowed drummer Richard Spaven to build the music to absurd heights of euphoria, something that he had done consistently throughout the concert.

Bassist Alex Bonfanti introduced ‘Vices and Virtues’ with a simple yet engaging riff, and Bowers again made the most of the technological arsenal available to him, looping a synth riff which freed him up to produce an intensely creative solo on the Rhodes. A quick stop to change a broken pedal again reminded us of the shortcoming of relying too heavily on technology in live performance, but overall, in this case the virtues far outweighed the vice.


– Mark Stokesbury

Kris Bowers at XOYO, London – EFG London Jazz Festival

XOYO is a far cry from the plush environs of the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican, but no matter; this is jazz for active engagement and unadulterated energy – not for sitting pensive upon a throne stroking one’s chin – and this dingy basement next to Old Street station was enlivened by Kris Bowers, one of the most promising young pianists around.

After a tentative but admirable performance from show opener, Peter Edwards, the tension was palpable. Bowers, however – alongside Adam Agati (guitar), Alex Bonfanti (bass), and Richard Spaven (drums) – immediately dispelled any of these worries, moving straight from the serenity of album opener ‘Forever Spring’ into a sprawling twelve-minute long version of ‘Wake The Neighbours’.

This was a night for fans of improvisation. Bowers’ debut album Heroes + Misfits features Casey Benjamin’s ethereal alto playing heavily throughout, but his absence this evening was more than made up for by Agati who demonstrated great rhythmic dexterity in his phrasing, and moments of all-out rocking to rival the great John Schofield; a real gem in the making. Bowers equally matched Agati’s playing, though, and his hands soared across the Fender Rhodes with consummate ease in his masterful interpretation of tUnE-yArDs’ ‘Gangsta’.

Outside of these demonstrations of improvisational prowess, however, compositionally the end product at times felt to be lacking. Aside from the really special ‘#theprotester’ and the single ‘Forget-er’ – which was subject to an inspired re-visioning in the absence of vocalist Julia Easterlin – the tracks performed didn’t have the strongest sense of direction or development. Nonetheless, this was but a minor lacuna in an otherwise very impressive full London debut for an artist who may be raw, but who is incredibly exciting and bursting with potential; he may just be the kick the jazz world needs to invigorate a new generation.

– Alex de Lacey

The Write Stuff

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