Phronesis-jazzahead
If anyone doubts that there’s a worldwide jazz industry surviving, and indeed thriving today then they need to visit Jazzahead! in Bremen as the feverish networking, deal making and concert going reached new levels of intensity this year. With a 100 concerts taking place at venues within the conference centre, the wonderful 500-seater Schlachthof – the imposing converted slaughterhouse nearby – and numerous clubs around the city. The sheer number of international jazz bodies, record labels, promoters and artists present made this ninth edition the premier jazz expo and showcase in Europe, if not the world.

Among the musical highlights piano trio Phronesis (pictured top) gave a spirited performance as part of the Danish music showcase on Thursday – bassist/band director Jasper Høiby the Danish native alongside Swedish drummer Anton Eger and English pianist Ivo Neame – playing melodically-driven music from their latest album, Life To Everything. Fellow Danes Girls In Airports followed this with a varied half-hour of sounds that ranged from alluring Nordic-noir soundscapes and frenetic Afro-beat marimba and horns. The German showcase on Friday offered more variety with rising stars Tingvall Trio, led by the charismatic pianist Martin Tingvall, tearing into their set of snappy post-EST melodies with serious rhythmic intent. Saxophonist Peter Ehwald’s Double Trouble – aptly named after their twin double bass plus drums formation – created a lurching low-end sound that balanced delicate counterpoint with clattering, out-and-out skronk all without a distortion pedal in sight.

Slovakian pianist Kaja Draksler presented her meditative classically-influenced solo pieces from her recent album The Lives Of Many Others, which, while requiring patience to appreciate, rewarded with a performance full of imagination and daring from this most exciting composer and performer. More otherworldly sounds came from hugely innovative Italian percussionist and sound-sculptor Michele Rabbia who performed his mutli-media Dokumenta Sonum project that mixed a surreal David Lynch-ian sound world of electronically effected bells, drums and cymbals with a glitchy, beat-driven film, the results eerily compelling.

Marc-Carey-10
Fittingly it was the Schlachthof that played host to some of the standout gigs of the weekend with the forward-looking Motéma label bringing in many of its key artists including bassist Charnett Moffett, pianist Marc Cary and saxophonist Jacques Schwartz-Bart. Moffett’s solo bass sets are compelling affairs – part swashbuckling flash, part solo technical master class, part effortless swing – but it was Marc Cary and his Focus Trio (pictured above) that shook the walls with their molten blend of burning NYC post-bop, twisted Mwandishi funk and explosive Indo-jazz (see the full concert below).

Shai-Maestro-Trio-04
As if to prove that the piano trio remains one of the most versatile and exciting formats for jazz today Israeli pianist Shai Maestro (pictured above) lit up the Halle 2 stage for a late-night set on Saturday that showed just how much he’s grown as a solo artist since his formative days alongside Avishai Cohen. While the rhythmic complexity of his former boss’s music remains, Maestro’s shimmering chords and dynamic build ups – always capped by whizzing piano and drum cross-currents from Ziv Ravitz – highlighted the pianist’s impassioned, emotionally rich compositions. Bassist Jorge Roeder did a fine job of anchoring the trio with fulsome tone and deft bass lines.

Elephant-9-11
The eclectic nature of today’s jazz scene continued as Saturday night opened at the Schlachthof with the Dutch Tin Men and the Telephone’s mesmerising and highly entertaining use of technology via interactive visuals, and the incredible worldly blend of oud, percussion, bass, tarhu (Australian cello) that was brought together by L'Hijâz'Car whose brilliantly arranged and well rehearsed set brought a rapturous response. The band that had been on everyone’s lips throughout the weekend were Norse noise gods Elephant9 (pictured above). They duly delivered a blistering acid-fried wall of churning Hammond and Rhodes from Supersilent/Humcrush keys genius Ståle Storløkken, with thunderous yet funky bass and drums from Nikolai Eilertsen and Torstein Lofthus sliced through with switchblade swathes of sound from guest guitarist Reine Fiske. Their breathless 30 minutes was painfully short; the set felt like it was over only five minutes later – a bit like this most frantic yet fantastic weekend of jazz that’s still racing ahead.

– Mike Flynn

 – Photos © Tim Dickeson

Borneo-Jazz-2014If you're not sure where to go on vacation, you could start by picking a music festival first. With so many of them dotting the globe in some of the most exotic, fascinating places, it's a guaranteed highlight on your trip. One of the most interesting destinations, the two day Borneo Jazz Festival, is coming up on Friday 9 May and Saturday 10 May in Miri, a small city in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak, North Borneo. Maria Bakkalapulo guides you through the sights and sounds of this year’s event (follow her on Twitter @mbakkalapulo)

To find it, guide your finger around the huge island of Borneo, up the east coast until you find the state of Sarawak. Look a bit closer, halfway along the northern coast, just beside Brunei, and you’re there. Miri’s oil industry brought much foreign investment into the area and, with it, a large expatriate community with an appetite for music they cannot find on local radio and TV. Miri is also the gateway for tourists wishing to explore several national parks, including the breathtaking limestone caves of Gunung Mulu National Park.

The city hosts the yearly Borneo Jazz festival, organized by Sarawak Tourism Board, supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism Sarawak. This two-day festival is one of the island's most popular music events bringing jazz artists from around the world. It’s a remote destination, which is a big part of the festival’s appeal.

“Borneo Jazz has a resort, laid-back atmosphere by having an open-air stage right by the sea, in expansive grounds of the Parkcity Everly Hotel,” explains Jun-Lin Yeoh, the festival’s artistic director. “We unashamedly put on anything and everything from boogie woogie to New Orleans jazz to swing to gypsy jazz to bebop to Ethno jazz to funk.”

With so many large-capacity festivals mushrooming up in the region, from Java Jazz in Indonesia to Bangkok Jazz in Thailand, Miri keeps it intimate, where you can watch the sunset and listen to some great music in a much more chilled out vibe.

Borneo Jazz Festival 2014 Lineup:

Diana Liu (Sarawak)
Diana-Liu-2

Sarawak’s own jazz singer / songwriter Diana Liu returns to her home state for a special performance. After studying music in New Zealand and Australia, Liu returned to Sarawak in 2007. In 2009, she released her debut Mandarin album. The album’s success took her around the region performing at Java Jazz in Indonesia and the ASEAN Jazz festival in Batam. In 2010, she collaborated with some of the best jazz artists in Indonesia for the compilation ‘album Women in Love,’ spotlighting young female artists. Her latest release, Sunny Days, is out on Warner Music Malaysia. She is joined at Borneo Jazz by – Lewis Pragasam of Malaysia, Christy Smith of USA, Tan Wee Siang of Singapore, Greg Lyons of Britain.

Mario Canonge (Martinique)

Mario-Canonge-2
Piano virtuoso Mario Canonge brings the fiery energy of the Caribbean to the heart of Borneo. Studying in France, Canonge created his own distinct sound by jazz genres with rhythms of his native land such as mazurka and the biguine. By the late 1980s, he formed the zouk group and later joined legendary zouk group Le Grand Méchant Zouk, a special ensemble group made up of the Antilles' most famous zouk stars of the time. Canonge decided to split off on his own, and in 1992, he released his popular solo album Going Back to My Roots, selling over 15,000 copies. After touring the world for more than two decades, Canoge continues to be in great demand, performing with the likes of Lavelle, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nicole Croisille, Ralph Thamar and Carter Jefferson.

Anthony Strong (UK)
Anthony Strong-2

Pianist, singer and songwriter Anthony Strong has supported stars such as B.B. King, Charolette Church and many others. He also has toured extensively in Europe and played Jerry Lee Lewis in a West End production of Million Dollar Quartet. He is signed to French label Naïve, home of Adele, Carla Bruni and Katie Melua, which released his debut album Stepping Out in April 2013.

Vocal Sampling (Cuba)
Vocal-Sampling-2

Latin Grammy nominated Vocal Sampling may sound like a full salsa band, but they are an all-male six piece Cuban acapella group. Using their amazing vocal abilities, cupped hands and their bodies, they create salsa, son and Rhumba rhythms by imitating a range of instruments, from the piano, conga, cowbell and various brass instruments. The six members of Vocal Sampling met at Havana’s Instituto Superior de Art, creating this unique style of music when they couldn’t find the right instruments for their house parties. Vocal Sampling has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival and had toured throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia.

YK Band (Indonesia)
YK-Band

Proving that jazz has traveled everywhere, meet the YK Samarinda Band from East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The group formed when two friends, Yusuf and King, were asked to play a local event back in 2003. Then keyboardist Yin and Thrash Metal drummer Avant joined, the quartet was formed and they chose jazz as their music path, combined with ethnic songs of Kalimantan.

Iriao (Georgia)
Iriao

Finding jazz in another far-flung place, this time Georgia. Iriao is a Georgian ethno-jazz band from Tbilisi, Georgia. They use folk traditions as the building blocks of their music, creating something new with vocal polyphony, jazz and improvisation.

Brassballett (Germany)

An 11 member band from Hamburg that combines brass playing with funky dance moves.The brain child of band leader Wassilij Goron. Brassballett formed in 2011 - these instrumentalists not only play their instruments, they get down to it too on stage. Wassilij, a dancer himself, wanted to create a more lively stage show, rather than musicians playing on stage. He decided o create a show where dance is as much a center of the performance as the music. Playing the gamut - from jazz to hip-hop and salsa.

Junkofunc (Malaysia)
Junkofunc-1

Coming back to Malaysia’s homegrown talent, Junkofunc also aim to engerise the crowds at Miri, with their blend of funk with a touch of soul. Junkofunc played their first gig in 2008 when they were asked to perform at the Genting International Jazz Festival, an hour’s drive outside of Kuala Lumpur.

For more information go to www.jazzborneo.com 

 

VEINGregOsbySwiss piano trio Vein are set to play their second UK date this week at the Vortex jazz club, London on 24 April, with special guest, US saxophone star Greg Osby. Led by drummer Florian Arbenz, alongside his brother/pianist Michael Arbenz with bassist Thomas Lähns, the group have been making waves in their homeland since their eponymous debut album in 2006, releasing a steady stream of albums that blend traditional piano trio sounds with propulsive riffing and relentless grooves.

Their 2011 album, Vein Plays Porgy and Bess, saw them exploring Gershwin’s classic work from a fresh perspective and their subsequent tour with leading US saxophonist Dave Liebman also spawned an album in 2012, Vein featuring Dave Liebman. For these UK dates, which included a gig at Band On The Wall in Manchester on Tuesday, the trio are joined by regular collaborator Osby who’s best known for his work with the influential M-Base collective and its composer Steve Coleman, and for his extensive period recording for the Blue Note label. Vein with Osby will be performing highly charged music from the group’s latest critically acclaimed album, Vote for Vein, as part of their European tour.

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.vortexjazz.co.uk and www.vein.ch

 

focus-trio-250Motéma label-signed Washington DC-based group Marc Cary Focus Trio are set to make their UK debut with two performances in London next week. Hotfooting it from weekend showcases at the big JazzAhead! exhibition and showcase in Bremen, Germany this weekend where they will be performing as part of a Motéma showcase night alongside labelmates bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Will Calhoun. Pianist Cary and his band of bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Sameer Gupta will be hitting the award-winning south London venue Hideaway, Streatham for their first ever UK gig on 29 April, in what will be the first in a series curated under the banner of Chris Philips Presents… in association with Jazz FM and Hideaway and will also feature an opening support spot from new jazztronica band, J-Sonix – an off-shoot of six-piece latin-funk band J-Sonics (who also appear at Hideaway on 15 May).  

Marc Cary has been a powerful presence on the US scene since the 1990s, working with neo-soul, hip hop and jazz artists ranging from Erykah Badu, Roy Hargrove and Q-Tip, through to Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Horn and a long-running partnership with revered singer Abbey Lincoln. With his Focus Trio, Cary explores a wide-angle mix of hard hitting yet melodic modern jazz, Indian rhythms, Fender Rhodes melodies and frenetic group improvisation as featured on their latest album, Four Directions. Kevin Le Gendre reviewed the album in Jazzwise last October, saying: “With a wide range of colours, rhythmic invention and above all wistful melodicism, Four Directions is more than another piano trio record. This is an electro-acoustic tour de force that stands on the conviction that innovation can spring from deep within traditions rather than tradition.”  

Cary then appears the next night, 30 April, at the second annual UNESCO World Jazz Day concert at Hall One, Kings Place, having made an explosive contribution to the inaugural event last year at the Brixton-based SGI Buddhist centre. Click here for more info on this exciting bill that also features Headhunters founding member Bennie Maupin alongside the UK all-star Human Revolution Orchestra.  

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.hideawaylive.co.uk 


 

BlackTop1
As much an ever changing live workshop as a band, Black Top chronicles each appearance with a number. Tonight chalks up 10 and provides a clear historical base to the event. Core members, pianist Pat Thomas and multi-instrumentalist Orphy Robinson have been at the helm for the best part of two years and the list of collaborators, from Steve Williamson and Cleveland Watkiss to, latterly, Evan Parker, has given the whole venture considerable gravitas.

The Black Top ‘series’ essentially provides a creative platform for different generations of cutting edge players. Tonight’s incoming personnel, percussionist Ansuman Biswas and flautist Emi Watanabe fit seamlessly into the established framework, and from the outset there is a freedom of expression that brings a welcome thrill factor to the performance. Literally, sound spreads out across the room as Biswas crashes chiming temple bells while walking through the audience to take his place on stage at a customised percussion rig that includes kick and frame drums, bows, cymbals and tablas. Multiplicity of instruments is indeed the guiding principle for each player. Thomas has a keyboard with myriad samples next to the piano, Watanabe ryuteki, nohkan and shinobue wood flutes and Robinson keys, marimba and digital effects.
BlackTop2

All of which means that the quartet has the sonic range of a much bigger ensemble, and the first set is largely centred on the richness of textures that arises from the careful deployment of assembled resources. Although Thomas’ string plucking gives the shifting canvas of sounds a rhythmic drive that is reinforced by Biswas’ tablas, moments of great beauty come from long held ascending single notes, particularly when Watanabe’s piercingly sharp pitches are sensitively cushioned by synthesizer chords coming from both sides of the room.

The impression of stereo lift-off is both unsettling and exhilarating. In contrast, the gurgled beats triggered by Thomas introduce an altogether more danceable energy into the room as some of the lines have a lopsided latin flavour. While there are more percussive responses from Biswas the music stays interesting precisely because not everybody sees this as the ‘hands in the air’ techno moment. Robinson, in particular, remains admirably restrained, throwing minimal flashes of marimba into the equation when one might expect a player of his ability to be more expansive. The understatement works.

BlackTop3
Nonetheless the ‘groove’ climax does arrive, and, subversively, it is after the players have switched off the programming. Joined in the second set by another special guest, trombonist John Harborne, the ensemble probes patiently at the fragment of a phrase that gradually curls out into a rhythm, and with great stealth, Robinson sneaks in a hypnotic staccato bass line on the giant thumb piano on which he is perched. As we know, there was once a dance called the ‘Black Bottom’.

– Kevin Le Gendre    

– Photos © Roger Thomas  

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