Headliners Huff-N-Puff As Tomeka Reid Shines At Jazztopad

 Tomeka-Reid-Jazztopad

This 14th edition of the nine-day Jazztopad festival in Wroclaw, Poland meets the high standards set by its predecessors and invites healthy debate on key issues in arts programming. Above all, the question of how a touring international artist adapts to an unfamiliar environment is thrown into sharp relief by the hotly anticipated climax of the event.

As soon as the deafening roar that greets Herbie Hancock's band dies down the decibel count appears to go, metaphorically speaking, right through the roof of the Narodowe Forum Muzyki, a multi-purpose venue whose main auditorium has a capacity of 1,800 and a stage big enough to host a symphony orchestra and choir. Right from the get-go a grating drone robs electric bassist James Genus of any of the phrasal ingenuity for which he is renowned, and his use of a five-string version of the instrument gives cause to curse rather than praise the addition of the bulging B.

Adding to the woe is drummer Trevor Lawrence's insistence on a breeze-block snare sound that threatens to shatter the separation panels between him, Hancock and alto saxophonist-keyboardist Terrace Martin. The harder they play the less is heard, or rather heard in detail. All of which also brings the role of the personnel manning the mixing desk into the discussion. Herbie's travelling engineer may well know all of the finer points of Herbie's music, but not the specific audio anatomy of the NFM. The maelstrom of electronics, added to the unremitting attack of the drums, would possibly work better in a standing, if not open-air venue, but Herbie has sufficient charisma to transcend the mismatch. He makes a point of stating that Martin has produced Kendrick Lamar, and the implication that his presence will update the master for the WhatsApp generation is by no means inappropriate. Whether it comes off tonight is another matter, as the vocoder heavy neo-fusion is undercooked at times, and the set wavers between peaks of energy without ever building a sustained burst of excitement. That said, Herbie's pop culture status should not be denied just because he is a jazz icon, and the showtime manoeuvres are not crass. To hear the chromatic squelch of 'Chameleon' offstage and then see Herbie walk on with that keytar at his waist as hundreds of people rise in crazed communion is to realise that this is an artist who has changed music and deeply affected people in the process.

charles-lloyd-jazztoppad

Profound emotion of another kind was the order of the day when Charles Lloyd (above) premiered his extended new suite, 'Red Rivers, Black Skies', in the same hall. This is an intensely poignant work that investigates the Native American presence in America, just as Donald Trump was throwing around Pochahontas slurs to add to his already lengthy charge sheet. Lloyd, who is of Native American as well as African-American heritage, is joined by his quartet, the Lutoslawski string quartet and the NFM choir to play music set to a projection of stunning images of the indigenous people in question in an engrossing performance. On the downside most of the vocal arrangements are bland, with little interaction between the singers and players. The strings could also have made a more telling contribution, but the quartet, anchored by drummer Kendrick Scott and bassist Harish Raghavan is superb. And guitarist Bill Frisell and lapsteel guitarist Greg Leisz deliciously entwine rich countermelodies to create an excellent canvas for Lloyd's majestic flights on flute and tenor, which still bear the sensuality, as well as the water flow rhythm, of 'his man' Lester Young.

If these two headliners are notable then the spotlight on a new generation of artists is also strong, as the festival has always provided a platform for them. Opening proceedings was alto-saxophonist Maciej Obara, recently signed to ECM, whose development has been indexed by several previous appearances at Jazztopad, though I missed him as I was only in Wroclaw for the second half of the event. However, a couple of promising young Polish players are drummer Radek Wosko and alto-saxophonist Maciej Kadziela. Both appear as part of a Scandinavian Day that sees their respective groups collaborate with musicians from that part of the world, and the results are mostly good. Wosko's band, Atlantic Quartet, treads a fine line between understatement and momentum, with guitarist Brian Massaka drawing on Metheny/Frisell pastoral sensibilities to enhance the character of the largely mid-tempo compositions that have judicious light and shade. Kadziela has a formidable, if not fierce, technique that makes him stand out right from the downbeat, and his use of high harmonics, hard rhythmic trills and soaring lines impresses. Although the group proves itself able to move skillfully from chord-based swing to tonally free settings at a moment's notice there is a distinct imbalance in the performance. The leader's presence is often overbearing, to the extent that, when he lays out, the trio, marshalled by the excellent pianist Artur Tuznik, really starts to fly. Once Kadziela improves his listening and pacing, and interacts more with his accompanists, he could have the makings of a significant band on both the Polish and possibly the European scene.

Kris-Delbeq-Duo

Throughout the festival's jam sessions at the Mleczarnia restaurant, a short walk from the NFM, there are some other highly talented local players to be seen, chief among them the trio comprising clarinettist Mateusz Rybicki, double-bassist Zibigniew Kozera, and Berlin-based Australian drummer Samuel Hall. To a certain extent they are the lifeblood of the festival insofar as they both lead the after-hours activities, as well as the intimate living room concerts that take place in people's homes on the closing weekend. These informal gigs also feature visiting musicians who performed at the NFM, and it is fascinating to see how they react to the new setting. Bulgarian kaval player Theodosil Spassov, whose solo concert was largely underwhelming, thrives in the company of others while pianists Kris Davis and Benoit Delbecq (above), who played a fabulous duet that demonstrated that prepared piano really is a fine art as opposed to a display of novel sounds, also excel. Indeed, a loose theme that runs through these afternoon and late-night performances is how easily the line between acoustic and electric sound blurs, or rather how the treatment of an instrument with anything from card to plastic to stone to water – poured into the tubing of the horn by Australian trumpeter Peter Knight – can produce sounds that buzz with digital-age energy despite the absence of any laptops or iPhones. Knight's ingenuity makes for a thrilling moment by way of his breath control, rhythmic precision and split-second timing, which create the sound of rolling train wheels or a slow revving car engine.

A more direct bridge is built between the 'plugged in' and the unplugged by cellist Tomeka Reid's quartet (pictured top), a surefire highlight of the whole festival. This is a small group of quite compelling character that draws on a wide range of vocabulary, all the while retaining a vivid personal identity. Reid's strong classical training is in evidence but her desire for structural flexibility by way of trading melodic and rhythmic roles between herself and bassist Jason Roebke, as well as freeing up drummer Tomas Fujiwara, grips the audience. But it is the balance between some of the wilder, shrill bursts of 'country fiddler' backwater blues and the glistening otherworldly tones produced by guitarist Mary Halvorson's artful manipulation of pedals that makes the songs crackle with an engrossing ancient future fire, proper Chicago style.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Sławek Przerwa

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten with video and tour

Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten w…

Manchester's mighty Beats & Pieces Big Band continue their yearlong...

Read More.....
Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy Celebrate Brooklyn blow-out

Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy …

The history of collectives in jazz are nearly as old...

Read More.....
Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 Applications Now Open

Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 …

Budding music writers listen up! This year's Write Stuff music...

Read More.....
John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Directions at Once hits Top 20 Albums

John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Dir…

Last week's release of John Coltrane's The Lost Album: Both...

Read More.....
Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's festival within a festival

Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's…

With an abundance of big names on the larger stages...

Read More.....
Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commissions for 40th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Fest

Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commi…

The 40th edition of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival...

Read More.....
Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Doyen of the music press for half a century and...

Read More.....
Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wave Of Spiritual Sentinels At This Year's Love Supreme

Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wa…

"I've already had my mind blown once today," a geezerish...

Read More.....
Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for Innervisions Fest at Under The Bridge

Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for…

Chelsea music venue, Under the Bridge, will play host to...

Read More.....
Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew Up New Series

Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew…

Connoisseurs of craft ales and well-crafted extemporisation, rejoice! Another series of...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs and Kit Downes added to EFG London Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs…

The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....
Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the spirit of Ornette at Barbican

Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the s…

Wynton Marsalis is more forward-thinking than he gets credit for...

Read More.....
Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with Sound Prints at the Village vanguard

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with…

Joe Lovano remarked that "it was the end of an...

Read More.....
Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK exhibition

Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK …

Southend-on-Sea's Jazz Centre UK presents a major exhibition, Jazz Women...

Read More.....
Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Jazz Weekend

Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Ja…

The UK equivalent to the Brussels Jazz Weekend would be...

Read More.....
Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking beyond Borders

Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking be…

British vibes virtuoso Orphy Robinson is artist-in-residence at the year's...

Read More.....
Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive to Jazz Cafe

Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive t…

Having reopened its doors in January 2016, following a multi-million-pound...

Read More.....
Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

One of the UK's foremost drummers and bandleaders, Jon Hiseman...

Read More.....
Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise Roof At Ronnie's

Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise…

  No greater sign of changing times comes than in this...

Read More.....
Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & Moses head to Harrogate

Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & M…

The Harrogate International Festival, which has been running for over...

Read More.....
Voting Now Open for 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards

Voting Now Open for 2018 Parliamentary J…

Voting is now open for the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards...

Read More.....
Lost John Coltrane Quartet Album surfaces on Impulse!

Lost John Coltrane Quartet Album surface…

A previously unreleased session by the classic John Coltrane Quartet...

Read More.....
Etienne Charles Triumphant At The Tabernacle With Timely Blend Of Defiance And Celebration

Etienne Charles Triumphant At The Tabern…

  This venue has deep historical resonance for black music in...

Read More.....
Jean Toussaint All-Star 6Tet Shine Bright At Ronnie Scott's

Jean Toussaint All-Star 6Tet Shine Brigh…

  'All-star' is a term mostly out of fashion these days...

Read More.....
Horn Doyenne Holsen Hones Minimalist Drones For Hubro Album Launch

Horn Doyenne Holsen Hones Minimalist Dro…

The Norwegian brass-band tradition, which first evolved in that country...

Read More.....
Vandermark and Nilssen-Love Blow Down Brighton's Green Door

Vandermark and Nilssen-Love Blow Down Br…

  The streets of Brighton have been overflowing with music fans...

Read More.....
Tully Takes The Prize To Ronnie's

Tully Takes The Prize To Ronnie's

  What better way to celebrate the conferring of an honour...

Read More.....
Rebirth Of The Cool: Shabaka Hutchings, Thundercat and Nubya Garcia lead a jazz takeover at Field Day

Rebirth Of The Cool: Shabaka Hutchings, …

  After years of going to jazz gigs and being the...

Read More.....
Anthony Braxton's ZIM Sextet go exploring at Cafe OTO

Anthony Braxton's ZIM Sextet go explorin…

  With the death of Cecil Taylor a few weeks ago...

Read More.....
New British Jazz Generation Blasts Bath With Spiritual Baptism

New British Jazz Generation Blasts Bath …

Bath Festival applied radical surgery to their roster of festivals in...

Read More.....
PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

Catching bands at the beginning of their journeys is so often...

Read More.....
Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef Dayes groove at the Great Escape

Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef D…

Since its beginnings in 2006, Brighton's festival of new music...

Read More.....
Zara McFarlane and Jazzmeia Horn among highlights at St Lucia Jazz Fest

Zara McFarlane and Jazzmeia Horn among h…

In recent times this event has had a tenuous relationship...

Read More.....
Rainforest Reveries: Crawford and Simcock In Arboreal Praise For Powys As Birdsongs Take Flight At Hampstead Arts Fest

Rainforest Reveries: Crawford and Simcoc…

Released last month on Basho Records, Birdsong/Cân yr Adar fuses...

Read More.....
Claire Martin, The Printmakers and Jamie Cullum line-up for 606 Club 30 years at Lots Road Festival

Claire Martin, The Printmakers and Jamie…

Chelsea's salubrious jazz den, the 606 Club, is to mark...

Read More.....
Collective X line-up for Love & Protest at Stratford Circus

Collective X line-up for Love & Prot…

Genre-defying London-based group Collective X, led by singer Alya Al...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

RT @beatsnpieces: Thanks @Jazzwise for premiering another track from our new 10th anniversary CD/DVD ’ten’ - this video is our recent singl…
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
@hhhhhennies Aeolian String Ensemble
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA