Ezra-2

"This is about joy and happiness and celebrating everything that's good," proclaims Femi Koleoso. "There's no boundaries to how you express yourself – dance, shout, be mad quiet and stare – but let's lose the barriers, we ain't superstars or nothing." He's talking about the crash barriers around the stage, but he might as well be talking about barriers musical, cultural or social, as from the word go it's one big sweaty inclusive party here at Patterns' seafront nightclub. 'Juan Pablo' from their eponymous debut gets things started – a ferocious Afro-beat assault, with Femi flailing at the drums like a man possessed and his bro TJ on bass, a massive presence centre-stage, leaning into the beat as the twin-horn frontline punch out riffs and the close-packed crowd start to move.

Ezra Collective have come a long way since their Brighton debut in the tiny Verdict jazz club as part of the New Generation Jazz programme three years ago – sell-out shows, international touring, JazzFm awards and Femi's appearance as star of the Champions League TV ad campaign all contribute towards a sense of boundless confidence. The energy seems inexhaustible as the album tracks are extended and sped up into high-octane workouts over pulsing urban-Afro grooves, and though Femi insists "this ain't just jazz" the band's instinctive grasp of dynamics and interplay adds a level of depth to the music. There are real conversations taking place onstage, most notably between Femi and keys man Joe Armon-Jones as they toss accents and displaced metrical figures back and forth to each other without ever impeding the flow of the rhythm.

But, ultimately, it's all about delivering the message to the people through the music. There's a sense of relaxed, impromptu cameraderie between the band members; like his contemporary Yussef Dayes, Femi has a habit of downing sticks and prowling around the kit mid-song, before leaping back on to drive the groove even harder. TJ abandons his bass guitar to treat us all to some impromptu dance moves; the horns wander off and on stage as the road manager appears at intervals to dispense towels, send hand signals to the soundman or bump fists with the band. Appearances are deceptive however. Ezra have learnt how to put on a show, with Femi as the preacher leading his congregation and all the band playing their parts. There is a real sense of pace, with nicely judged solo spots for each member which never drag into indulgence. Tenor man James Mollison's fluent, creative feature leads into a version of Sun Ra's 'Space Is The Place' and the audience respond by demonstrating that new phenomenological development at jazz gigs attended by the under 25s – singing the wordless melody back to the band in a raucous ragged unison. Dylan Jones on trumpet has a soulful excursion that shapes itself into the old chestnut 'Pure Imagination' – elsewhere he demonstrates tough chops and enough power, precision and imagination to really fly over the inexhaustible updraught of energy from the rhythm section.

This is a band really in their element; facing a room packed full of their diverse peers who dance, scream their approval, film on their phones and jostle for position in the most good-natured way possible. With a fair smattering of greyer heads also among the crowd, it's a truly mixed demographic, reflecting back the sense of positivity and inclusion emanating from the stage. The finale sees the whole club get down low on the floor before rising up to a real hands-in-the-air moment. As Femi exhorts us to "study what the prophet says and use it to move forwards", Ezra Collective seem like a band determined to do just that. If they can harness this vibe in all it's magnitude in the studio and send it out across the world, they could be set for big things indeed.

Eddie Myer

 GoGoP .LWorms 9

The Concorde usually hosts mid-ranking rock bands or popular club nights. Tonight it's completely sold out for an acoustic piano trio. GoGo Penguin walk onstage like rockstars to John Carpenter style atmospherics – Chris Illingworth plays one repeated note from the piano amid the swirling sea of haze and reverb. There's a surge of excitement from the crowd as they recognise the intro to the latest release, A Humdrum Star – good market penetration there, guys. Then Nick Blacka on bass and Rob Turner on bass kick in with a rushing, tumbling rhythm and we're instantly caught up and carried away.

GoGo Penguin have been working towards their vision of jazz music as spectacle since their inception, and bigger stages and more financial clout have brought their design closer to fruition. The band have a level of togetherness, telepathic communication, and control at high volume that come with years of touring at a level that affords decent monitor systems. While both Blacka and Turner play with a shade more freedom than on the record, each move is still carefully plotted around the matrix of Chillingworth's repetitive piano figures to achieve maximum impact, and nothing is left to chance. The M.O. has remained basically consistent throughout their five releases to date; plangent minor chord progressions over Blacka's rock solid, powerfully accurate bass and Turner's busy, restless drum figures, ever building towards the big final reveal.

The dominant mood might be described as euphoric melancholy – a big-sky emotional uplift that perhaps has it's closest parallels in the indie-rock of artists like Bon Iver. But everything has gone up a gear since their last release; added lights, pulsing strobes and extra sound gear are deployed to such overwhelmingly immersive effect that it's hard to remember that the band we're watching has the same basic line-up as, say, the Bill Evans Trio. Tuner's kick-drum now has the sub-bass impact of the proper club music – Blacka's bass retains it's natural tone, with audible clicks and growls, to function as the articulate voice at the centre of the sound, and is granted most of the improvisational space – Chillingworth's piano is enhanced with massive reverbs to mimic the electronica that inspire the band's vision. They have successfully mined the seam of wistful ambient hipness personified by such emblematic post-millennial artists as Bonobo and Nils Frahm and added a level of muscular virtuosity to deepen the appeal; the audience ranges from young twenty-something urbanites to grizzled jazz connoisseurs, and their absorption in the music's shamelessly direct emotional manipulation is total.

'One Percent' from their last v2.0 release is something of a mission statement, and the eerie reproductions of electronic data glitches that the band play in the closing moments have been expanded to an almost supernatural degree of tightness – this is a truly unique musical language that the trio have developed. Blacka has an unaccompanied solo spot that reveals an unexpected Celtic tinge to his phrasing, and also takes on the role of compere, breaking the tension with carefully timed announcements of unassuming Northern matiness. The final track, 'Transient State', takes the formula and refines it to the extent that the strobes are pulsing in and out in perfect sync with the opening and closing hi-hat. The next step is surely some kind of VR-enhanced, all-out sensory assault as GoGo Penguin take their unique vision out across the world, as far as it can take them.

Eddie Myer
– Photo by Lisa Wormsley 

Fast emerging saxophonist Helena Kay is set to release her debut album, Moon Palace, on 7 December on Ubuntu Music. Kay's trio features bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer David Ingamells on originals inspired by the leafy streets of Muswell Hill, north London on 'Strawberry Terrace' and the sights and sounds of New York's Greenwich Village on 'Perry Street', alongside a solo rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's ballad 'Stardust' and a quirky arrangement of Charlie Parker's 'Kim'.

The album is launched at The Vortex, Dalston on 12 December with further dates at the following venues: Whiskey Jar, Manchester (10 Dec); Flute and Tankard, Cardiff (11 Dec); Jazz at the Future Inn, Bristol (13 Dec); The Verdict, Brighton (15 Dec); Ashburton Live (16 Dec); North Devon Jazz Club (17 Dec); Ronnie Scott's Late Show, London (18 Dec); Cherry Reds, Birmingham (19 Dec); The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (20 Dec); St Matthew's Church, Perth (21 Dec); The Blue Arrow, Glasgow (22 Dec) and The Lescar, Sheffield (9 Jan 2019).

Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.helena-kay.com

Jazzwise is pleased to share the video for 'L and D' here:

BLG-2

A wet afternoon in the 'Big Smoke' is brightened by a quip about the 'Windy City'. Ben LaMar Gay describes the latter, Chicago, as 'country' to the former, London, the urban sprawl. He then invites the audience at an impressively full matinee to be part of an ongoing transatlantic exchange that has already seen him and fellow Chicagoans Makaya McCraven and Jamie Branch work with young Brits in the past year or so.

The cornet player-electronicist-vocalist is here with his own quartet rather than local guests and there is a crackle of anticipation in the room at the prospect of him playing material from Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun, an album compiled from seven previously unreleased sets of music. All of which makes the point that the Chicagoan is nothing if not productive, but the sound palette he creates with a very cohesive band shows that quality matches quantity. Sat at a table with a couple of consoles for effects and beats, Gay, his distinctive red cap and dark blue jacket giving him the allure of an industrial revolution factory worker, channels the resources around with impressive aplomb. The combination of the digital drone and drag of his programming, the brooding rumble of Matthew Davis's tuba and the understated but penetrating flicker of Tomasso Moretti's drums makes for an enticing canvas upon which colours can be splashed. Will Faber's guitar is a vivid pastel in the mix, its precise, aqueous arpeggios enhancing the flow of the arrangements without flooding the upper or middle range. Gay's brass pierces the air with a stark, melancholic beauty steeped in a far-reaching lineage of significant horn players that would include anybody from Roy Eldridge to Don Cherry. Yet, as the set unfolds, there is a more distinct resonance of Chicago in the 1990s and millennium, typified by Tortoise, that permeates the music, which builds a solid bridge between the dark undercurrents of dub and hip-hop and the light-and-shade of improvisation. Lines loop and motifs mutate, as the 21st century artist's border crossing and time travelling gain steady traction, pushing Gay to the AEC axiom of 'Great black music: ancient to future'.

His understanding of that heritage comes into focus in a few thrilling moments that send a notable tremor of excitement around the room. Firstly, he reaches for a melodica and plays the most charming, chugging riffs that vaguely recall the great Hermeto Pascoal's singular Afro-Brazilian meta-modernism. The child-like brightness makes for a fine contrast to the breathy moan of Sirotiak's bansuri flute. Secondly, Gay launches into a funky hybrid of rapped and sung choruses over a riveting, zigzag cowbell beat that underlines the Latin subtext. There is a spark in this sign-off that confirms Gay as 'country boy' who is more than a match for the big city.

Kevin Le Gendre

Photos by Jim Aindow

Archie Shepp06

The Enjoy Jazz festival is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, presenting gigs between three main cities in south-western Germany. It's an extended season that usually begins in early October, stretching until mid-November. Each night features a show in either Heidelberg, Ludwigshafen or Mannheim, sometimes with simultaneous happenings in each location.

This year's artist-in-residence is the veteran saxophonist Archie Shepp, and his first showing was at the Mannheim National Theatre, with an expanded crew revisiting his Fire Music album, from way back in 1965. Being his second release for the Impulse! label, a certain amount of free jazz was surely promised, rather than the more mainline style that Shepp has favoured during recent decades. We were not disappointed, as this eight-piece crew (including Hamid Drake on drums) set out to capture the essence of the original contents with a surprising closeness of spirit and style.

Drake (bells, mallets) and bowing bassist Darryl Hall laid sparse improvised terrain for Shepp's recital of 'Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm', followed by a pointed, overblowing solo on soprano saxophone, precise spikes driven in. The old LP's key track, 'Hambone', wasn't quite as complicatedly careening, here, but Shepp's four-piece horn section certainly made a dynamic negotiation. He ripped straight into a tenor solo at high velocity, and Shepp's hornmates looked visibly enamoured of their grand master's inflamed efforts. Drake made lightning snicks and clatters, and regular sideman Carl-Henri Morisset issued a forceful piano statement. Trombonist Sebastien Llado led a bluesy slowing down, and 'Los Olvidados' didn't take long before letting Shepp fly again, with a tough, racing tenor solo. This is an 81-year-old who's not short on stamina.

As with the album, following the three more adventurous pieces, the set's remainder inhabited standards-land, but still involving a few quirks. The reading of 'The Girl From Ipanema' was one of its free-er outings, and Shepp wasn't rationing out his solos. He sang with a croaky, vulnerable tone on 'Prelude To A Kiss', and ended the show with an extra tune, 'Syeeda's Song Flute', a Coltrane number covered on Shepp's Impulse! debut.

In Heidelberg, there were two contrasting gigs at Karlstorbahnhof, an intimate arts venue. The Vincent Peirani Quintet adopt a jazz-rock fusion attitude, though without too much over-electrification. The leader's significant left-hand man is soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien, who pretty much qualifies as a co-leader, so profound is his contribution. For a while, during 'Bang Bang' and 'Unknown Chemistry', he was restrained, but then embarked on his first soprano salvo of the session, swiftly escalating, feet beginning to pixie-prance and side-kick uncontrollably. Peirani's first significant solo was on a chunky chromatic harmonica, but his accordion spotlights would be saved for later in the night. The quintet gave 'Kashmir' a slow build-up, initially unrecognisable, then releasing its full riff, following a snaking Parisien solo. Fractured Rhodes hacks followed, and then a transition was made into 'Stairway To Heaven', this Led Zeppelin celebration being among the most exuberant parts of the performance.

On a more internalised level, The Necks pleasingly offered two sets (and therefore two extended improvisations) at the same venue – often, if appearing at a festival, they'll only play one, so this was a good chance to hear alternate manifestations of their epic-form extemporising. The first set was almost traditionally jazz piano trio in nature, until Chris Abrahams snagged onto a two-note repeat, with snail elaboration, Tony Buck limited to cymbal and small gong, softly resonant, until he added a scrunching metal texture. A blurry shimmer loaded up, Lloyd Swanton's bass alternating between bowed murmurs and sensitive finger-strums. The sombre, blood-red lighting was sympathetic, with slow growth into a saintly white glare. The second Neck-ing began obsessively, Buck deciding on a repetitive hand-drumming figure, on floor tom, fast and unbroken, until he clutched first one shaker, then another. Abrahams had both hands in the middle of his keyboard, amassing a Reichian blur of adjacent sonorities, a sonic mirage shaping, and the number finishing with him alone, as if his delayed entrance gave him some bonus time to conclude.

Over in Ludwigshafen at Das Haus, another well-sized arts haunt, the guitar, bass and drums trio Radian visited from Vienna, though they've been well-schooled in Germanic electro-rock approaches for around two decades. Their basic structure blooms outwards and across via a stack of processing boxes and pedals, splintering, fracturing, glitching and dispersing. Their edges were often brutal, but they also paused to release gaseous clouds of contemplation.

Enjoy Jazz continues until 16th November...

Martin Longley
Photo by Manfred Rinderspacher/Enjoy Jazz 

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