Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Sachal Jazz Ensemble, Barbican, London – 30 June 2014

In what is Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s (JALCO) third residency at the Barbican since 2010, this year’s packed opening night with Pakistan’s Sachal Jazz Ensemble was met with both an air of anticipation and curiosity. The cross-cultural Indo-jazz nature of the evening was presented from the off with ensemble trading between the two traditions. As the collective sound grew in cohesion such musical integration provided somewhat of a reassuring social statement and set a positive momentum that the event built on.

Although this was an East and West collaboration, it was often members of the Sachal ensemble that received the overwhelming affection of the audience. Highlights included a particularly original interpretation of the widely covered ‘Take Five’. Dave Brubeck himself previously described the Sachal’s recorded version of the much loved standard as “the most interesting” he’d ever heard. ‘My Favourite Things’ was another piece that upon announcement sparked an atmosphere of expectation, to which JALCO’s Walter Blanding responded with a soaring and Coltrane-honouring soprano solo. A trading flute feature between Ted Nash and Sachal’s Baqar Abbas, backed by both ensembles, fuelled the most raucous audience applause as virtuosity and jovial conversation was beautifully balanced and impeccably displayed.

From this it became apparent how, despite both soloists using often-similar musical elements and techniques such as their rhythmic language and tongued effects, our ears seem to associate certain timbres with particular traditions and consequently evoke different feelings. Such interesting realisations occurred throughout the evening, encouraging cultural considerations beyond musical parameters and once again highlighting the unifying nature of music.

Wynton took few solos across the evening, usually on second line numbers showcasing his trademark buoyancy and historical awareness. He remained content to take a more ensemble role and ensure attention focused upon the essence of the evening: the intriguing collaboration between Western and Eastern large ensembles - a largely unexplored avenue of Indo-jazz alliances.

– Tom Wright

For more info on the Barbican’s contemporary music go to www.barbican.org.uk

 

Trudy Kerr and Mornington Lockett at the 606 Club

trudy-kerr-606
With flickering candlelight on tables in the enveloping dark and the great Duke Ellington smiling down on proceedings from the back wall, the 606 Club in Chelsea delivers a seductive atmosphere, even at 1.30pm in the afternoon. This Father’s Day lunchtime, club owner Steve Rubie heartily welcomed onto the stage Trudy Kerr on vocals and her regular working trio, Tom Cawley on piano, Geoff Gascoyne on double bass and Sebastiaan de Krom on drums. They were joined by special guest, Mornington Lockett on tenor saxophone for one set, which included some rarely-heard jazz standards.

It was obvious from the outset that these guys have fun playing together: ponytailed Lockett’s chatty tenor dexterously hit the high notes during rousing opener, ‘Alone Together’. Here Cawley’s unusual piano solo of slightly discordant tumbling phrases was reminiscent of American jazz pianist, Phineas Newborn’s florid playing. This worked well in combination with Gascoyne’s more melodic walking bass line, and de Krom’s military-sounding bass drum and cymbal alternations added even more colour. Kerr then joined them, statuesque in a sparkling white jacket for ‘On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever)’. Delicate ‘black soul’ inflections could be heard in her singing, which infused a yearning sincerity with grittier swing.

During bossa nova ‘Where Or When’, the atonality of acclaimed composer Cawley’s piano solo jarred with the song’s harmonic progression as if he was trying to break free of a ‘jazz standard’ straitjacket, whereas Kerr’s sense of humour (she confided that her husband, Gascoyne, “got a remote control cushion” for Father’s Day), endeared her to the sizeable audience. She’d chosen the Nat King Cole hit, ‘L-O-V-E’ for all the children present, which involved an arm-waving element of audience participation; well-placed at the peak of the gig to keep the energy flowing.

A rhythmically vibrant, cutesy performance of jazz waltz, ‘Up Jumped A Bird’ by Kerr’s musical hero, American songwriter, Bob Dorough, followed with all the band shouting, “Woo!” in unison throughout. By this time the head-solos-head song arrangements had become too predictable and Gascoyne craning his neck to read a wad of chord charts he’d plonked unceremoniously inside the grand piano, looked unprofessional. Significant silences then occurred between the remaining numbers while the band discussed what they were going to play next. This level of unpreparedness from world-class jazz musicians playing at a major venue in front of a paying audience doesn’t do jazz any favours, and separates out the good enough from the truly great.

– Gemma Boyd (story and photo)

 

Kaz Simmons, Burton Bradstock and Fini Bearman at Smile Acoustic, Rich Mix, London, 1 June 2014

KazSimmons-300Hosted once a month by charismatic pianist and singer-songwriter, Arthur Lea, June’s singer-songwriter showcase session, Smile Acoustic at Rich Mix, featured three very different English acts – all of who are heavily influenced by jazz. It was a very ‘Sunday’, laid-back affair, and a veritable feast for those of us who love words. Lea’s cleverly catchy opener, ‘Take A Seat’ included an element of audience participation, which, though ear-splittingly loud, had the desired effect of bringing more people in to listen.

Kaz Simmons’ hero is the American-Canadian singer-songwriter and composer, Rufus Wainwright. Many of his compositions are opaque with references to opera, classical, pop and ragtime genres, and his influence can be clearly heard in Simmons’ tricky work: Belying her cute exterior is a hugely talented songwriter whose quirky songs are full of surprises. Accompanying herself on fingerpicked guitar, Simmons has a voice similar Kate Bush and the story-telling abilities of Victoria Wood, displayed throughout her highly amusing song, ‘Staying In’, about Internet dating. ‘Signs’ from her most recent album, Signs, contained an intriguing Kurt Weill-like twist, and her jazz roots were audible during a scat section in a song that personified London, entitled, ‘For the Love of the Big L’.

The most thought-provoking music of the evening came from Burton Bradstock, comprising of Jimmy Cannon on vocals and Dorian Ford on vocals and keyboard. Taken from their album, All Upon A Lovely Summer’s Day, their unusual jazz-folk work combined the simple but memorable scalic melodies of English folk songs such as ‘Salisbury Plain’ with foot-tapping rhythms and compelling bassy vocal harmonies built up in a round. There was a refreshing rawness about ‘John Barleycorn’, with its bluesy bass figure and Cannon’s staccato inflections, and the audience particularly got into the groove of ‘Train Song’ with its yummy lyric, “Love is a basket of light.”

FiniBearman-300Fini Bearman’s tribute to a friend of hers who passed away, ‘See the Sun’ was greeted with whoops from the audience. It had an emotional intensity about it that was heightened by the beauty of her multifaceted, soulful voice. Infused with wisdom and honesty, her lyrics enthralled, and her polished (albeit at times, self-conscious) offering – aided by an easy chemistry between herself and gifted acoustic guitarist, Rob Lamont, was unique in the way that it amalgamated contemporary jazz strains, the poetry of E. E. Cummings and a cover of a pop song by Justin Timberlake. Bearman’s new album, Porgy and Bess: Revisited is due for release this summer.

Most of the audience present admitted that they didn’t often go to see singer-songwriters perform, and so the fact that they came at all and were entertained, was testament to Lee’s commitment to the event, and of course free cake in the interval gave it that extra-pulling power!

– Gemma Boyd (review and photos)

 

Brian Charette Organ Sextette – Pizza Express, London

 
“I’m gonna get myself a cocktail,” Brian Charette decides as show-time looms. With a borrowed Hammond B3 and high-class local stand-ins for his New York Organ “Sextette”, Charette is relaxed and interested in the prospect of these strangers playing his music.

His six acclaimed albums are influenced by Larry Young at least as much as the inevitable Jimmy Smith. More even than that, he’s an Anglophile prog-rocker at heart, idolising Keith Emerson, and was pretty much drummed out of the sometimes stiflingly doctrinaire New York scene for several years for playing rock. His music tonight doesn’t raise the soulful steam his instrument usually suggests. Its boredom with bop or soul-jazz verities leads to less well-mapped territory; even so, there’s a feeling that he’s boxing himself in for the jazz circuit’s sake, and not letting rip with all he has.

Gareth Lockrane (flute), Sammy Mayne (alto sax), Osian Roberts (tenor sax), James Allsopp (bass clarinet) and Matt Fishwick (drums) are Charette’s enviable pick-up band. It’s the clarinet that gives this line-up its edge, finding sinuous melancholy on ‘Computer God’, as the alto completes a pensive ascent. Allsopp suggests the urban romance of ‘40s New York, too, before the sax was fully king.

‘Fugue for Kathleen Anne/The Ex-Girlfriend Variations’ (exes are, Charette confesses, a theme) begins sounding like mediaeval court music on the Hammond, then becomes smooth, churchy funk, surging forward as Charette pours it on for the climax. The B3’s versatility, evoking both 1960s futurism and Anglican classicism, is fully explored.

‘Risk’ begins as a tiptoe down the stairs that becomes a drunken tumble, before Charette settles into a sort of smooth staccato, then strikes a more jarring beat with drummer Fishwick. ‘Prayer for an Agnostic’ includes a comfortingly mournful alto solo, and more introspective tenor work. Charette again shows church chops, though he hasn’t darkened the door of one for years, and finishes faintly recalling The Band’s Americana organ genius, Garth Hudson.

Lockrane plays the funkiest, hardest-blowing flute I’ve heard in a while on ‘The Question That Drives Us’, as Charette calls and conducts from his stool. ‘Cherokee’ and Gershwin’s ‘A Foggy Day’ (“the most traditional tune in our book”) offer more familiar ground, perhaps reluctantly, but Charette’s breathy club organ on the latter leads his ad hoc band into sleek, cruising union by its end.

It would take a greater mind than mine to explain Messiaen’s harmonic ideas, as apparently explored in ‘French Birds’, but as white-shirted altoist Mayne leans back to play bop and Charette helps Fishwick start to really hammer it, it all works.

Charette accurately announces ‘The Elvira Pacifier’ as “our reggae tune…with a disco ending.” Its melodic optimism rises in volume and speed, in a decent climax. The atmosphere stays low-key, as if nothing crucial is at stake. But some worthwhile ideas achieved by disparate musicians linger in the mind.

– Nick Hasted

 

Snarky Puppy: Jaw Dropping and Blissfully Brilliant – Scala, London May 2014

The last time I saw Snarky Puppy live was Friday 2 May 2014, yes, just five days prior to this time. Why? Because they are exceedingly brilliant. After reading that, understandably you might consider not continuing to read this, but I’m sure you're all keen to know why I have made a point of seeing them so often and making them sound like they are absolutely outstanding composers, performers and artists, right?

It’s a busy, warm evening across the road from London's Kings Cross Station. Everyone is waiting in line to get into Scala, only to look across the road and see Michael League, the front man and bassist for the band, giving us a cheery smile and wave as he makes his way to a pasta takeaway restaurant. Having met these guys before, I can tell you they are the most down to earth, talented and budding musicians I have ever met, and that says a lot considering I am studying a music degree. These guys will have a drink with you and let you in on some secrets as to how they create such magic. Now let’s compare that to Courtney Love who walked out of a show in Leeds last Friday, signed a couple of tickets, told people not to take pictures of her, then stormed off into her tour bus saying ‘I’m too fucking tired, I am going to bed’. Yeah, Snarky Puppy kinda deserve more attention than they get.

There was no support act upon entry to the venue, however it was compensated by the jaw-dropping, two-hour-long set in which they presented blissfully. It didn't take the audience two minutes to break into dance when the Puppies’ dropped their Brazilian, Tangoish style tune to open with. As time went on and the band gradually dropped into their mellow, laid back vibes, the audience died down and didn't seem so engaged. On the other hand, I could look at some members of the audience and I could tell who were musicians and who were not as the musicians were pulling their unattractive ‘bass faces’ to Mr League’s super impressive bass solos. Musicians seem to understand what they don’t understand when it comes to Snarky Puppy. By that I mean, they understand just how complicated and technically challenging what they do is, but they do not understand how they do it, as it is so freaking good!

This all changed however, when the Grammy Award-winning band kick out their new tunes to the audience from the latest album We Like It Here with charts such as ‘Shofukan’ and ‘What About Me’ where ‘Sput’, the drummer, never fails to impress with his time-lapsing drum fills. Of course, ‘Thing Of Gold’ was played, where a sense of magic lifted from the audience as they all sung the melody, soon to be blown away by the face-melting keys solo.

Snarky Puppy are without a doubt, one of the most talented up coming artists at the moment, and if you're into jazz, funk, rock, blues or even trance dance music, the Puppy’s have something in store for you!

– George Charlie Gill

The Write Stuff

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