The prolific French film composer and pianist Michel Legrand was one of a select band – think fellow-pianist Dudley Moore, for example – whose prowess in parallel fields masks their relevance as a practicing jazz musician. Legrand, who died in Paris on 26 January aged 86, wrote over 200 film and TV scores, many jazz-tinged, and a host of songs that have endured, garnering him three Oscars and awards aplenty along the way. Legrand’s father Raymond was a noted conductor and his older sister Christian Legrand, who died in 2011, performed with the Double Six and the Swingle Singers and Legrand himself studied with Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatoire, becoming a commercial arranger at the age of 20.

Having gained considerable success as a composer and songwriter, Legrand travelled to New York in June 1958 to record his brilliant recastings of familiar pieces issued as Legrand Jazz. Columbia paid for him to hire the best players of the day including Miles Davis, sublime on ‘’Round Midnight’, Phil Woods, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Ben Webster (sensuous on ‘Nuages’), the results cited by many critics as of five-star quality. Ten years later, he recorded as a trio leader at Shelly’s Manne Hole in Los Angeles, his style owing much to Oscar Peterson, with bassist Ray Brown and Manne on drums. There were further collaborations with key US and French musicians, including albums written for Stan Getz and Sarah Vaughan; I recall a marvellous evening at the Petit Opportun club in Paris when he unleashed his (occasional) big band, packed with star French players, fronting but never dominating a glorious set of performances.

While press comments and his detailed obituaries will concentrate on his extraordinary success as a movie composer and writer of songs, these including ‘The Windmills of Your Mind’ from The Thomas Crowne Affair, his jazz credentials should not be understated. Seldom heard in Britain – there was a trio tour in 1979 with Pierre Michelot on bass – he had planned his ‘good final chapter’ to include a concert in London. Not anymore.

 – Peter Vacher

trigan hamasyan trio 003 olivier lestoquoit

The Brussels Jazz Festival is a relative newcomer, but this ambitious 10-dayer managed to sell out around two thirds of its gigs, and was the most successful edition in terms of overall attendance. Concerts are held in the two main studios of Flagey, a 1930s Art Deco radio broadcasting complex in the Ixelles area, just south of the city centre. It was saved from demolition in the late-1990s, and lovingly preserved for reopening as a cultural centre in 2002. For six of the nights, there were also late party sets in the Flagey foyer bar area, packed with standing crowds.

Each BJF involves a collaboration with the Brussels Philharmonic, usually having a piano bias. This year was no exception, as Tigran Hamasyan (pictured) and his trio performed original works, elaborately expanded for orchestra. During the last few years, Hamasyan has disappointed with the overly introverted nature of his solo gigs, but this showing was one of the best that your scribe has witnessed, along with his early performances with an increased electronic input. Last year, the Philharmonic got extreme with Uri Caine, but in 2019, classicist grandeur was called for, or sometimes, soft, spiritualised sensitivity.

Director Alexander Hanson has a rapport with other musics, and an empathy with his guest artists, conducting large forces with exact judgement. The audience were ecstatic, and Hamasyan was inspired to visibly give his all, in the name of extroverted expression, standing up in legs-apart Jerry Lee Lewis fashion, or hanging his head with willow sadness over tear-stained keys. Armenian folk tradition was at the root, and sometimes even the Armenian blues, with ‘Markos And Markos’, then ‘Lilac’. Sometimes, Hamasyan slipped into gentle singing, and then, towards the end of the evening, whistling, along with the orchestral ranks.

The festival’s artist-in-residence was multi-instrumentalist Nathan Daems, who was involved with three of the late foyer sets, clearly the optimum time for his groove-steeped sounds. Daems is best known for Black Flower, who delivered their expected heavy miasma cobra-sway, but Daems also appeared in duo with Dijf Sanders (that’s Dave in Dutch!), who operates in the deep sampling/retro keys zone, migrating to an unknown island paradise that could be Java, in an alternative musical reality. Forest aura prickled, amid an avalanche of tumbling, sampled percussion, with flute and reed-flute topping. An anthemic slowie emerged, with Daems switching to tenor saxophone, a kind of Indonesian harpsichord vibe developing, with a soft metronomic plunk. The Sanders equipment looked very much like a lounge organ from the 1970s. By the third number, the palette had become alarmingly unusual, perhaps best described as Flemish orientalist-exotica, becoming a treacly gamelan dub, cheapo beats augmented by fruity organ and bleating tenor. “Thank you for keeping your distance,” Sanders quipped, observing the audience.

echoesofzoo 07 olivier lestoquoit

The next night, Echoes Of Zoo (pictured above) took similar musical forms, but shoved in a more aggressive direction, via Bart Vervaeck’s serrated electric guitar, Daems initially rapping a small, slender drum, before belting on his tenor saxophone for a gutsier outlet, practiced at making his horn sound like a shawm. An Eastern headbang ensued, with drummer Falk Schrauwen’s skins contrarily muted flat, avoiding that big Bonham boom.

In the medium-sized Studio 1, local pianist Martin Salemi led his trio, concentrating on a quieter aspect of his range. Just over a week earlier, your scribe had caught him playing an outstanding set in quintet mode at The Music Village, one of the city’s best jazz clubs. The presence of bass clarinet and electric guitar took that music in a more turbulent direction. Strangely, though, the best number of this festival set was the penultimate ‘Early Morning’, delightfully delicate, with a haunting melody.

Martin Longley
Photos by Olivier Lestoquoit/Brussels Jazz Festival

The night goes on and they keep on coming, a stream of dynamic young musicians emerging onto the crowded stage for a moment in the limelight. They are members of Tomorrow’s Warriors, the music education scheme and charity that is the now not-so-secret weapon behind much of the diversity of talent in the UK Jazz scene today.

This event brought current and former students on stage together, with a palpable mood of celebration and optimism. The first half was dedicated to seven newly commissioned compositions from some of the glittering alumni of Tomorrow’s Warriors – names like Zara McFarlane (above), Soweto Kinch (pictured top) and Cassie Kinoshi.

zara m

The new pieces are strong, with a nice mix of through-composition and space for the young talent to show their improvisatory chops. Master of ceremonies Binker Golding takes over as conductor for some of the more elaborate compositions, before donning a sax to show the room why he must be one of the more in-demand musical mentors at Tomorrow’s Warriors. Another highlight is the delightfully unpredictable and idiosyncratic piece arranged by guitarist and recent alumnus Shirley Tetteh, a fast-rising name on the London scene.

Ife JazzCafe

The second half is more open – an all-hands-on-deck, free-form jam that has Camden’s Jazz Cafe buzzing with delight. Tomorrow’s Warriors co-founder Gary Crosby looks on approvingly – open jams like this are the ideal environment for young players to hone their skills, and have been a crucial element of the scheme since the early days. While this night was a celebration of work already done by Tomorrow’s Warriors, it was also asking us to consider the future of the scheme, most notably the £FREE Young Artist Development programme. Established to give a chance at a career in jazz to all young people – regardless of background – the programme is in dire need of funding if it is to continue running. 

If you remain in any doubt as to the value of the scheme, make sure you take the opportunity to attend a Tomorrow’s Warriors event. It’s more than likely you’ll be watching some of the stars of, well... tomorrow.  

– James Rybacki (@james_rybacki)

– Photos by Jim Aindow

To help support Tomorrow’s Warrriors visit uk.gofundme.com/iamwarrior

Few styles of music can claim to have come as close to articulating and confronting the issues of the day as prevalently as jazz. Its historical significance and study of tension/resolution has not only sought to lay bare the unjust treatment of those marginalised, but often sought to directly challenge the fraudulent and slippery powers that be. Presently in the UK, Brexit negotiations harrow the land far and wide, yet its precursor still casts a large and menacing shadow. The issue of the day is austerity. And it’s this that’s the inspiration of Mark O’Thomas’ The Austerity Playbook, a satirical jazz musical that details the lasting impact of its namesake in Burnside, a mythical city in the north-east of England. O’Thomas has teamed up with musical director/pianist Andrea Vicari to re-interpret the research of professors Laurence Ferry (Durham University Business School) and Ileana Steccolini (Newcastle University), whose examination of damaging government policy and consequent public-spending cuts has led to UK-wide poverty, displacement and unemployment.

Andre Pink Musical 72

Following its premiere at Northern Stage in Newcastle, The Austerity Playbook now travels to London and the recently refurbished Hoxton Hall, to deliver an imaginative and entertaining recital performance featuring a live ensemble and the Dende Company of Elders (60+), a community theatre group directed joyously by founder, André Pink. The story follows the struggle to prevent Burnside’s local library from closing at the hands of an increasingly strapped local council, desperately searching for ways to “balance the books”. Tonight, Vicari calls in the assistance of guest vocalists Juliet Kelly, Fini Bearman, Georgia Van Etten and Luca Manning, who assume the roles of four lead characters, supported by an impressive group of players including Ronnie Scott’s jam host, trumpeter Andy Davies and NYJO alumni, saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael.

Billed as a work in progress, the show’s improvisatory nature is charming but rough and at times, difficult to follow. Nevertheless, frequent rallying calls to “Save Our Services!” and lifelike Cameron and Osborne puppets dance to Vicari’s dynamic and purposeful compositions. Vicari tackles complex the themes of love, loss, immigration and community resistance, across a wide range of styles, in what feels like a true celebration of cross-disciplinary collaboration and artistic activism. As the UK dangles off a cliff of uncertainty, The Austerity Playbook reminds us where the real fight lies.

Fabrice Robinson

– Photos by Leandro Facundo

 

Grammy-winning groove crew Snarky Puppy return with a new studio album, Immigrance (GroundUp Music), on 15 March ahead of a year of globe-trotting live performances. Much like their Grammy-winning 2016 set Culcha Vulcha, which broke with their previous albums that were recorded live with an audience present in the studio, Immigrance is also multi-tracked, this time with the band ensuring they retain some rough edges and raw-energy in the music.

Bandleader/composer Michael League has taken a far more direct approach to the writing, as can be heard on preview track ‘Xavi’, which features a percussion-heavy Afro-beat-fuelled groove and some typically climactic melodic surges. Explaining the idea behind the album’s title League said: “The idea here is that everything is fluid, that everything is always moving and that we’re all in a constant state of immigration. Obviously the album’s title is not without political undertones.” As well featuring many longtime band members, the record also includes three drummers – Jamison Ross, Jason ‘JT’ Thomas and Larnell Lewis – who all take separate sections of each tune to create exciting dynamic changes across the music.

Snarky Puppy will once again host the GroundUP Music Festival on Miami Beach, Florida on 8-10 February, with a line-up that see the band headline all three nights (performing songs from Immigrance live for the first time), as well as David Crosby, Andrew Bird, Tank and the Bangas, Lalah Hathaway, Richard Bona and more. This will be followed by a show at the Walt Disney Hall Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on 23 February, with the band kicking off their world tour in April. These dates will include European and UK shows, with a headline performance at the Love Supreme Jazz Festival in July, while the band are set to return to Europe and the UK in the autumn for more live shows.

Mike Flynn

Take a first listen to ‘Xavi’ from Immigrance below – and click here for more info on the GroundUp Music Festival

 

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