The Belgrade Jazz Festival celebrated 30 years this year, the festival started in 1972 but due to the war in the 90’s there was a period with no festival. The first artistic director the impresario Alexander Zivkovic (who was an honoured guest this year festival) had an arrangement with George Wein at Newport Jazz Festival to bring the artists who played at Newport over to Belgrade and thus the festival was born.

It is now 10 years since the festival was resurrected and has firmly re-established itself as one of the major European festivals. This year the festival ran for four nights and was again based in the Dom Omladine (Youth Centre) in the centre of Belgrade. The opening night featured the Max Kochetov Quartet notable for the brilliant young bass player Petar Krstajic (who has just been awarded a scholarship to Berklee College) I am sure we will see much more of him in a few years time, and the Children of Light Trio, featuring Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade – the Wayne Shorter Quartet minus Wayne Shorter!

I really enjoyed this set, all three players having so much freedom to play and develop their ideas – like three students excused from a Quantum Mechanics lecture and allowed to go off and do whatever they wanted – one of my colleague’s described there being a really ‘hot potato’ on stage being passed around until it cooled, then another was tossed into the band for the same fate.

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There were so many people at this gig (the seats had been removed to increase capacity) that we photographers were pinned to the front of the stage, feet from the band, and we could catch every nuance and glance that the band made during the performance. After the show Danilo Perez came over and shook my hand and thanked the photographers for the ‘energy’ that they had imparted to the band during the show – quite extraordinary! I may bring that up with Keith Jarrett next time I see him…

The midnight show was a more though provoking affair with Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet) and Laurens von Oswald (soundcapes) a near pitch-black auditorium was swathed in ambient sounds evoking images of barren Scandinavian landscapes and the occasional glimpse of the Northern lights.

Saturday saw two Serbian bands take the main stage – the very likeable and talented Serbian Jazz, Bre! who featured a VJ artist (Ivan Grlic) mixing images on the big screen behind the band to great effect, and the Vasil Hadzimanov Trio featuring David Binney. Hadzimanov is a gifted pianist but the music really worked best in the trio format with Binney fronting up – when the full band joined in for the second half it all got a bit loose and lost the clarity and purpose of the first half.

The midnight shows were very interesting ­­– the ‘Mutua’ trio of Wolfgang Puschnig (sax), John Sass (tuba) and Mamadou Diabate (Balafon, electric Cora) created a glorious mix of African rhythms and free improve playing – John Sass’s brilliant tuba the cement holding it all together. Following on was the Nils Wogram Nostalgia trio – with a similar approach but completely different – trombone, drums and Hammond B3 – groovy boppy, hip hoppy with pulse and a beat that was very infectious and multifaceted.

Sunday night’s shows opened with the new project from Danish pianist and composer Jacob Anderskov who is the latest in a string of pianists who have turned their attention to writing and working with string’s (Dave Stapleton, Vijay Iyer, Neil Cowley to name a few). Strings, percussion and piano (the string’s being a trio – violin, viola and cello – the percussionist Peter Bruun) is a lyrical almost classical ensemble that in parts was excellent and quite moving but the frailties of classical players who are reading and jazz musicians who are improvising inevitably leads to the transition moments that let the strings come back in which to me always slightly jar and puncture’s the music un-necessarily.

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No such problems happily for the Paolo Fresu Quartet (above) who followed. Having played with this line up for over 30 years there was a feeling of total ease and familiarity. Whilst not at the cutting edge of jazz, Fresu’s Quartet is a joyous group, a ‘bunch of mates’ – who perform and play not only with great humour but with great style, they pleased the crowd but above all they enjoyed themselves. The midnight shows, deliberately planned to contrast the main shows featured two ‘improv’ bands with differing styles. The Red Trio from Portugal – who build from small quiet phrases to big crashing moments and then die down again to simmer and brew the next explosion.

Sylvie Courvoisier, whom I have seen several times in the last few months, is at the moment as good a pianist as I have seen – her range of playing be it slightly classical, rhythmic or improvisational is astonishing – here with husband Mark Feldman on violin she was the architect of some beautifully complex yet enthralling compositions – Scott Colley (bass) and the superb Billy Mintz on drums were as good a group as you will see anywhere.

The last night and another chance to see Charles Lloyd (pictured top). A few months ago I raved about his performance at the Palatia Festival in Germany and I was very keen to hear him again to see if he was still playing with the same fire and enthusiasm as he was then. During the afternoon I had the opportunity to watch the film about him ‘Arrows into infinity’ made by his wife Dorothy Darr who was on hand to answer questions afterwards. At a little over two hours the film really is too long, but never the less, it does give an insightful look at his early career with excellent old footage of him with Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Michel Petrucciani.

The concert presented his new suite ‘Wild Man Dance’, played here without Sokratis Sinopoulos and Miklos Lukacs the Greek instrumentalists he had in mind when it was originally written (but they will be at the London Jazz Festival show in a couple of weeks time). A single piece of music with several distinct movements Lloyd, as always, has left enough room for the band – Gerald Clayton (piano) Joe Sanders (bass) and Eric Harland on drums – to have that freedom of expression that he is famous for, while at the same time, never loosing the idea that this is a suite - a written and superbly constructed piece of music. Lloyd has the major voice throughout but it Clayton’s beautiful touch on the piano, his effortless soloing, that was just so in tune with Lloyd’s playing that made the piece come truly alive and very real. A masterclass in both composition and playing and at the LJF with the addition of Lira and Cimbalon this looks like being one of the hottest show of the festival.

The closing show was another masterclass – this time delivered on piano by the fiery Michel Camilo – he started as he intended to carry on – at a hundred miles an hour, fingers battering the keyboard in a blur of notes – not for show – this is how he plays, intensely complicated solos but at the same time melodic, fluent and incredibly enjoyable – he is without doubt flamboyant and dramatic but he has the talent and ability to carry it off. An excellent trio completed by Lincoln Goines on bass and Cliff Almond on drums.

Away from the main events – and one ticket to see everything cost around £40 – there were workshops (one in particular featuring Oscar Noriega was fascinating), foyer gigs by music students and last but not least the energy sapping jam sessions from 2am–4am at the Jazzbuka club.

David Binney and the Charles Lloyd Band among others sat in whilst the house band of top Serbian jazzers was constantly refreshed by students from the music school who could all stand up on a much bigger stage than this and impress. The management and general manager Marko Stojanovic have a wonderful resource in this festival and fortunately they appreciate this – they have not yet been tempted to go down the route of having ‘pop or rock’ stars on the festival to sell 5,000 tickets at the massive stadium down town – they are keen to keep the heritage and tradition of this great Festival intact – a jazz Festival for jazz fans. Next year to encourage more visitors they may even offer packages including flights, hotel and tickets and with Belgrade on a push to become more cosmopolitan and more visitor friendly, this is only to be applauded.

– Tim Dickeson (story and photos)

Packed with big name talent this premier date on the European jazz calendar also has an imaginative edge in its programming that resonates with Tampere’s own rich history. It was here in the early 20th century that there was a general strike that eventually resulted in universal suffrage for the Finns and greater room for manoeuvre under the Russian yoke. So the appearance of Linton Kwesi Johnson at Klubi proves something of a political-cultural coup de théatre.

It is fascinating to see the deep engagement the local audience has with the pioneering dub poet’s bulls eye strikes on the British establishment, in all its violent, racist infamy, which possibly marks a parallel with the misdeeds of Soviet rule in Scandinavia. This standing venue has a much more informal atmosphere than the large seated concert hall of Tullikamarin Pakkahuone – where the likes of Holland’s ICP Orchestra with special guest, American pianist Uri Caine, show how fruitful can be the union of artists from the Old and New World – and fully highlights Johnson’s ability to make people think and dance at the same time.

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At a press conference prior to the gig he had professed allegiance to Charlie Parker and the jazzier strains of a superb backing band led by bass legend Dennis Bovell lend weight to that declaration. With perfect serendipity Django Bates’ Beloved trio keep ‘Bird’ in flight with customary verve; the spooky, almost gamelan-like tones of a keyboard used in addition to the grand piano bringing a startling new colour to the harmonic enigmas. Other worthwhile British representation comes from the raucous and focused Partisans (Phil Robson, above), sharply extrapolating soul jazz and crunching fusion, while Sons of Kemet (pictured top) have their West Indian European folk art down pat.

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Having said that, the array of Finnish acts performing at the intimate Telakka restaurant opposite the main venue is a great advertisement for the country’s improvisers, with the three-drummer ensemble Kallio Slaaki greatly impressing. As for the captivating quartet Liberty Ship (above), led by experienced tenor saxophonist Esa Pietila, it brilliantly recasts the creeping, crepuscular ambiences of electric Miles and Milestone period Joe Henderson for the digital age. This is one of the highlights of the whole four-day event insofar as it keeps listeners rapt during a lengthy, often hypnotic suite that shifts seamlessly from tautly executed grooves to electronic hiss and crackle without ever losing its bold narrative drive.

The gifted multi-reed player Mikko Innanen also makes a strong showing with his large ensemble 10+, blending dense, freewheeling orchestrations with pithy melodic interludes, which again underline the strength of the Finnish jazz scene. This compares favourably to the international acts that had also appeared on the big stage before and after, and although Swedish-Norwegian trio The Thing, Norwegian saxophonist Karl Seglem and American trumpeter Terence Blanchard present moments of raw power and ornate virtuosity all three, diverse as they are, do not avoid sounding formulaic and clinical at times.

More invigorating is the Dutch-German-American quartet Perch Hen Brock & Rain, whose unusual line-up of two reedists, Ab Baars and Ingrid Laubrock, viola player Ig Henneman and drummer Tom Rainey, creates a wide textural palette due to the clever deployment of resources, with the tough little string instrument often playing a strikingly aggressive role as a percussive engine that fires away tirelessly while the horns engage in intricate dialogue. True to its name, the group also produces a spectrum of sounds that vividly evokes nature and the animal kingdom, above all in the shrill, stark bird calls of the tenor saxophones and clarinet and the undergrowth rustlings of the drum kit, which Rainey works with consummate dexterity, leavening his syncopations with off-centre manoeuvres such as dropping a bag full of sticks onto his snare.  

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If programming a jazz festival these days is first and foremost a question of representing the enormous diversity within the genre as well as showcasing its intersection with other forms then artistic director Juhamatti Kaupinnen is to be commended for his choices. Two inspired gigs by A-list international acts sum this up neatly: Indian percussion maestro Zakir Hussain (above) and Norwegian psycho-gypsy-pop mavericks Farmers Market. Both close the gap between extremes. In the former’s case 18-beat tala cycles and Morricone; in the latter’s 11/8 Balkan folk and Michael Jackson. Both get a whole lotta love.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Maarit Kytöharju

Whirlwind Recordings is set to release three serious bass-led projects from rising star UK bassist/bandleaders Euan Burton and Max Luthert, plus a funk-laden set from renowned Headhunters bass man Paul Jackson.

Too Much Love is Glasgow-born Burton’s follow up to his first Whirlwind album Occurrences (2012), and features an all-Scottish band of alto saxophonist Adam Jackson, pianist Tom Gibbs and powerhouse drummer Alyn Cosker on a set of lyrical originals by the bassist. London-based Max Luthert also consolidates his position as an increasingly in-demand sideman, with the likes of Zara McFarlane and Partikel, and now bandleader with the release of his WWR debut Orbital, which showcases his wide harmonic and melodic ideas as a composer. The album’s stellar cast of UK players includes flautist Gareth Lockrane, saxophonist Duncan Eagles (from Partikel), altoist Seb Pipe, up-coming pianist Matt Robinson and drummer Dave Hamblett on nine originals from Luthert.

They join former Headhunters groove-meister bassist Jackson who also makes his WWR debut with Groove Or Die, a no-nonsense hard-funking set featuring his new trio of keyboardist/singer
Xantoné Blacq and drummer Tony Match set for release on 3 November. Jackson and his trio play one UK date this year at Hideaway, Streatham south London as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival on Friday 14 November.

Max Luthert is also set for a UK tour in January 2015 at the following venues: Jazz Club, Ashburton (18 Jan); North Devon Jazz Club, Appledore (19 Jan); Dempsey’s, Cardiff (21 Jan); SoundCellar, Poole (22 Jan); and Jazz Club, Sheffield (23 Jan).

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to
www.whirlwindrecordings.com

A new jazz-focused TV series, Jazz@Metropolis, is about to begin filming on 8 November mixing up live performances, interviews and features highlighting the influence jazz has had on shaping popular music and culture. Pianist Neil Cowley – best known for his internationally acclaimed piano trio – will be hosting the programme and he’s set to interview the likes of British-Asian clarinetist and composer Arun Ghosh and Danish pianist Carsten Dahl, while further artists include Kurt Elling, Kris Bowers and Get the Blessing among others. Commenting on Cowley’s skills as a presenter producer Fraser Kennedy commented, ”In addition, he has a vivacious personality and is a superb communicator. When he appeared on the pilot show, his warmth and enthusiasm for music shone though."

The programme makers have said each programme will feature live music from two new and established artists, alongside exclusive content and features, artists profiles and classics from the jazz archives. The production is a join venture between Metropolis Studios and FKMtv, the latter’s production team being behind the Channel 4 music series, Live From Abbey Road.

The
first of the live shows set to be filmed at Metropolis Studios, West London on 8-9 November, with subsequent shows filmed on 15-16 and 22-23November. Importantly any members of the public who wish to attend the live shows and be part of the studio audience should apply at www.jazzatmetropolis.com/#signup

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to
jazzatmetropolis.com

Ray-Gelato-RS

Bookended by performances that spanned several decades of the club’s history, Ronnie Scott’s celebrated its 55th birthday on Halloween night, drawing a spook-free packed house while outside Soho’s streets were a creep carnival of fake blood, spider’s webs and witch’s hats. Kicking off with the Ronnie Scott Quintet (below, second from bottom), featuring stalwarts John Critchinson, Dick Pearce and Mornington Lockett, the band summoned the easy swing and bristling bop of the guvnor’s final line-up, hitting a timeless groove on Horace Silver’s ‘Adjustment’, with Critchinson throwing in few Ronnie asides as the years melted away.

Carleen-Anderson-RS

Below a projection of the 1959 Melody Maker advertisement for the club’s opening night in Gerrard Street, managing director Simon Cooke hosted with copious warmth and no little juggling of numerous club favourites as this special members evening managed to evoke the deep spirit and legacy of the club, helped more than a little by some rare film footage. News reel clips of Ronnie and Pete King on the opening night of Frith Street in 1965; cameo shorts of Ella Fitzgerald and Sonny Rollins on the hallowed stage; and Ronnie answering punter’s phone calls while changing reeds and delivering time honored gags all bore witness to doing the impossible for over half a century – keeping a jazz club alive.

classic-quintet-rs

And alive it most certainly was. Accompanied by James Pearson and the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, Ian Shaw sang blues and bawdy Melly with a little help from Guy Barker; Carlene Anderson (above) hit the soul-jazz spot that packs out her annual residences; Georgie Fame (below) stripped the years back to the Flamingo club-era of the early 1960s with a steaming take on Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’; while a roaring close-out by Hammond honcho James Taylor, Femi Temowo and saxophonist Ray Gelato (pictured top) set up the jam to follow, with violinist Nigel Kennedy waiting beer-in-hand by the bar.

georgie-fame-RSClub co-owner Michael Watt paid tribute to Cooke’s successful steerage of the club in recent years and delivered a heartfelt touch when he stated that really all he was doing was running the club for Ronnie, who he first met back in 1960. Things may well have been different if Ronnie and Pete had accepted the Kray Twins offer of a Knightsbridge venue back in the mid-1960s, as Cooke recounted the tale, but blind faith and assurances from another shadowy Soho capo Albert Dines saved the day. And Dines’ gift of champagne still sits behind the bar all these years later, defying anyone to open it. Even on the 55th!

– Jon Newey

– Photos by Carl Hyde

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