Greg Fox

The second phase of Poland’s Jazz Jantar festival involved five nights of mostly twinned bills. The northern port city of Gdańsk was washed over with some of the most vital young acts from the UK and the US, its three programmers having a particular feel for what’s rising to the surface in this bubbling pot of modernity.

The Thing With Five Eyes might sound like some heavy-ass doomcore combo, but instead, they are a trio dedicated to spacious ambiance, adopting a ritual presence, complete with massive gong, laptop and prominent oud soloing. A fourth member, Mohammed Antar, was booked to play flute, but ultimately wasn’t able to make it to Gdańsk. Emanating from the Netherlands, TTWFE are a pan-European grouping, from Dutch, French and Russian quarters. Jean Christophe Bournine’s bowed bass imparted an immediate Arabic aura, rapping the body of his instrument, as if it’s a darbouka. Leader Jason Kohnen initially stroked his gong, then deployed mallets to intensify its rumble, turning to electro-pads while a growing symphonic swell emerged from his laptop. The Russian Dmitry Globa-Mikhailenko’s oud was played comparatively straight, as bass sounds quaked out of the computer. The following stretch retired the electronics, allowing a sensitive relationship between oud and bass, with Kohnen turning back to his gong subtleties. Soft electronic womb pulses eventually returned, so low that they represented internal ribcage business. The oud became coated in harmonic effects, to the extent that it no longer sounded like an oud. The overall sonic experience was Arabic-styled meditation, but heavily filtered into the abstract zone via electronic processing.

Pulverize The Sound have changed. This NYC trio have now decided to operate in a wildly improvised mode, even if they are allowed to drop in sudden modules from already existing compositions. No set-list guarantees high flying. Peter Evans often picked pocket trumpet, Tim Dahl favoured fuzz bass and Mike Pride brought along a side-display of thunder-bass drum, two heavy gongs, and tiny chimes. Evans rammed his tiny bell onto the microphone, hooded for amplified internal tubular distress. Pride clacked blocks like a 1930s dance-band percussionist. Dahl’s bass sound became an oscillating slipstream tone, shorn of audible fingering sounds. Then he wrenched out jetstream extensions, Pride switching to brittle bongo rattles. Dahl vocalised, melding inseparably with the bass storm, and Evans gruffly groaned through his horn too, each phase of the fairly concise set imploding or exploding in turn, crushed tightly with manic hyper-speed rifflets. This was one of the peak festival sets, taking jazz improvisation to its almost ridiculous limits. We were exhausted, but still just about sane, when a suitably brief encore featured Pride on bongos and Evans on pocket trumpet again, taking it down a touch for the finish.

Drummer Greg Fox (pictured above) is still arguably best known for his initial work with the controversial black metal outfit Liturgy, but he has since gone on to operate in multiple prolific settings, including Zs and Ex Eye. Quadrinity finds him joined by Justin Frye (bass), Michael Beharie (guitar) and Maria Grand (tenor saxophone). Fox pummelled beside Beharie’s 12 acoustic strings, with extra electronic cycles controlled by the leader, who remained the most powerful presence throughout, absolutely at the centre of his own music. Quadrinity possessed a magnetic co-existence between slow eruption and a strangely introverted power, sustained at length, solos passing thoughtfully between each member, in the midst of a rolling process.

There was just one set on the final night, with James Holden & The Animal Spirits being much jazzier than expected. The leader sat on a high platform, in the manner of an Indian classical musician, his modular synthesiser wires knotted around an ecstasy of spiritual electro-pulsation. The stage was profusely decorated with plastic plant life (or possibly even the real greenery). Holden was always central, but crucially aided by percussion and horns, the latter section featuring Polish guest reedsman Wacław Zimpel, who provided several outstanding solos. There were bells, intoned vocals, then free bursts of alto saxophone over the sequenced pulsing, a multiple tone plateau planting a Terry Riley sense memory deep within our bowels. The final run was staggering, with older works ‘Renata’ and ‘The Caterpillar’s Intervention’, stomping and shaking over a big tom boom, coated with a pseudo-sitar shimmer. This was a typical example of Jantar viewing a jazz core, prone to spreading out into further universes. Holden beamed with sheer joy.

Martin Longley
– Photo by Paweł Wyszomirski        

 Irresversible Ent

Jazz Jantar has been running in the northern Polish port of Gdańsk for the last two decades, and is housed in Klub Zak, an arts centre that has roots stretching back 60 years. ‘Jantar’ refers to amber, for which this coast is renowned. The main part of the festival spans 11 days, with two sets each evening. This year, there was a notably strong line in UK and US acts, though with fewer indigenous Polish artists included than in 2017.

Irreversible Entanglements had appeared a week earlier at Jazzfest Berlin, but this Gdańsk set was superior, generating a crackling energy in this more intimate setting. Hardcore free-jazz simultaneity took over the muted trumpet and chattering alto saxophone of Aquiles Navarro and Keir Neuringer, while Camae Ayewa was dancing more than usual, visibly preparing for her first verbal release. As bass and drums coalesced (Luke Stewart/Tcheser Holmes), Neuringer brought out his percussion collection of shakers and bells, while Navarro turned his horn into a low-note echo wind tunnel. When Ayewa began to intone, the bustle turned to sparseness. When a swarming climax arrived, the players were making a formidable free racket, with such peaks frequently cutting to just bass and drums, before a new patch of verbal and instrumental intensity grew anew.

On some nights, the pairing of bands offered similarly inclined artists, but on others, the matching could be completely contrasting. Both strategies were usually successful, for different reasons. Following the Entanglements, trumpeter Josef Leimberg (pictured above) and his Astral Progression Ensemble altered the orientation to Los Angeles spiritual funk-jazz, cutting off the spikes and breathing out the mist. Spacey, with flute and Rhodes, tarry low strings, alto saxophone and bass clarinet solos, a retro cosmic approach was refracted through a modern Californian prism, a very sparse mystical meandering section being surprisingly successful. The reed specialist Tracy Wannomae was a real revelation, contributing multiple monstrous-release solos, pleading up into the rafters, followed by Leimberg himself drawing out emotive smears. The leader rationed his actual trumpet parts, and appeared to be equally interested in percussion embellishments.

M Halvorson

The double-bill of alto saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos and guitarist Mary Halvorson (pictured above) held closer ties, representing the hyperactive, idea-loaded NYC scene. CP Unit boasted a compact assault from alto, guitar, bass and drums, somewhat softened since their Moers Festival performance last May. Pitsiokos is a deep Zorn disciple, but the emphasis has lurched from porcupine riff-twitching to sinuous James Blood Ulmer roaming, the tunes stretched out more, as a stealthier alto ribboning suggested that Pitsiokos is now looking past Zorn to Ornette, or maybe even James Chance and John Lurie. There’s now more space, and more nervy no wave funk. There was also a compulsive alto solo that appeared to recreate North African reed flute multiplicity via a footpedal.

The Mary Halvorson Octet continued to refine their new Away With You material, following a Jazzfest Berlin gig, with the leader immersed in the chiming co-existence of her slide playing with that of Susan Alcorn’s pedal-steel guitar. Tomas Fujiwara gave a stadium-sized drum solo, but ended up slashing cymbals, limiting the hiss with his fingers straight afterwards. Then trombonist Jacob Garchik drastically curtailed his phrases for a stutter attack. A few even newer numbers came at the end, one called ‘Fortune Teller’ (not the 1962 Benny Spellman soul classic, penned by Allen Toussaint), with Alcorn using a wine glass, Halvorson weebling in sympathy, setting up a dampened treble figure that was soon echoed by the horns of Garchik, Jon Irabagon, Ingrid Laubrock and Dave Ballou. Free chatter became a slugging groove, then it was the turn of tenor and trombone, inhabiting a creepily sparse terrain. The encore was another new piece, ‘Rolling Heads’, based around Halvorson’s looping, with this further-along-the-tour set cementing an increased strength, confidence and, therefore, looseness, to the repertoire.

An illustration of Jantar’s various commitments is the presence, two nights later, of the Aaron Diehl Trio, bringing mainline NYC jazz club fare to provide a sharp contrast. Diehl is a slick pianist, but he’s a master of gaining dynamic interest through hopping from smooth flow to open breakdowns, particularly those spotlighting his extroverted drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Diehl made selections from Dick Hyman’s études, dedicated to piano greats from down the decades (Tatum, Brubeck, Evans), as well as interpreting the Philip Glass études that he’s been performing for their composer in recent years. When Hutchinson and bassist Paul Sikivie joined in, the Glass splintered into the jazz universe, expanded and explored. This set was a masterclass in how to keep mainline jazz consistently on the move, arresting our attention with wily moves and individualist solos.

Martin Longley
– Photos by PawełWyszomirski (Astral Progression Ensemble); Jan Rusek (Mary Halvorson)

 

The Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival will return for its seventh edition, running from 21-24 March 2019, but due to the Colston Hall being closed for renovation, the festival will move into a multi-venue format along the stretch of Park Street with several concerts in St George’s concert hall, as well as in Anson Rooms, O2 and Folk House.

The festival’s mix of jazz, funk and blues artists continues with names so far announced including renowned accordionist Richard Galliano; former JBs sax icon Pee Wee Ellis; award-winning singer/pianist Liane Carroll (above right); top UK saxophonist Julian Siegel; genre-splicing trumpet star Yazz Ahmed and acclaimed Welsh pianist/ composer Huw Warren, who will perform his new Dylan Thomas-inspired project. Further names include jazz-rock legends Soft Machine; acclaimed altoist/rapper Soweto Kinch; trumpeter Andy Hague plays Miles Davis' Kind of Blue; and keyboardist Rebecca Nash leads her band on the specially commissioned piece ATLAS, the group featuring ome special guest New York saxophonist John O Gallagher and singer/songwriter Sara Colman.

A further highlight will be an appearance from the exciting new piano duo of virtuoso keyboard mavericks Keith Tippett and Matthew Bourne (above left). The pair have already received standing ovations for their initial concerts this year and will tour this project over six dates (including the Bristol jazz festival) next spring. Tippett & Bourne dates are: The Venue Leeds (12 Mar); St George’s, Bristol (2pm, 23 Mar) and Symphony Hall, Birmingham (7.30pm, 23 Mar); Purcell Room, London (8 Apr); Triskel Arts Centre, Cork (20 Apr) and RNCM, Manchester (23 May). 

Mike Flynn

For more details visit www.bristoljazzandbluesfest.com

 

In this centenary year of the end of the First World War, a project addressing the horrors of the conflict as well as literary responses to it is welcome. Vocalist Jessica Radcliffe handles the subject artfully on her debut Remembrance and this sold-out performance, on the back of good radio play and press, makes it clear that her interpretation has struck something of a chord. Backed by a band that includes her Trinity alumnus Sam James on piano as well as two of its current esteemed staffers, saxophonist Mark Lockheart and trumpeter trumpeter Laura Jurd, Radcliffe has notable poise for a twenty-something tackling a not insubstantial theme.

The presence of the horn players, lending a wealth of experience to the ensemble, is a considerable bonus, but Radcliffe and the rhythm section acquit themselves very well, moving through original songs that have a lithe, slightly Methenyesque finesse to them, well-wrought swing bolstered by scat vocal, and bursts of lively Music hall.

Radcliffe’s adaptations of poetry from Laurence Binyon and Wilfred Owen are impressive but occasionally she struggles a touch with the alternation of spoken word passages and sung verses, with ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ needing more distillation and breathing space to do justice to the weight of the text. Bringing material with such gravitas to life requires a certain amount of role-play that is by no means easy to sustain, and she has to find exactly the right moments of emphasis for these very involving narratives. Which she does strikingly on ‘Jack Jack’, an arrangement of a letter written to private on the western front by his sweetheart, which vividly conveys all the breathless urgency of love unfolding in the most extreme circumstances. The sharp clicking of drummer Will Glaser’s rimshots and steady prodding of Joe Downard’s bass enhance the sense of a clock ticking towards a tragic conclusion.

Throughout the evening Radcliffe crystalline tone combines effectively with the unison lines and solos of her musicians, making it clear that she is on an exciting road in her development. Her tour next year should offer further confirmation of that.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo by Emma Perry

The Barbican's foyer is still resounding to the tumultuous multi-horned attack of the Don-qui Five, part of the Nordic Jazz Comets take-over, but in the main hall an atmosphere of calm prevails. Abdullah Ibrahim’s tall, frail figure is greeted with rapturous applause as he walks onstage and sits at the piano. After a moments pause, he starts to play; a quiet, meditative solo, with hints of gospel voicings and simple, township melodies, moving imperceptibly into darker sonorities and out again. It’s like sitting in the next room, listening to the man strumming at the piano, lost in his own intimate musical reverie, and it comes almost as a surprise as the band filter quietly onstage and join in. Hesitantly at first, then with growing presence, they unite in a unison riff, building like clouds until Keyon Harrold bursts forth with a solo that’s like a dazzling ray of sunshine.

The five horns take turns in a tag-team exchange of solos, finishing in an almighty bass statement from Noah Jackson; Ibrahim barely touches the keys until the conclusion, then starts again in the intervening silence with a solemn church ballad that draws a stirring performance from trombonist Andrae Murchsion. Then come dark, cinematic chords from the horns, voiced like a miniature Gil Evans band, out of which drums and bass burst with a super-fast blazing bop tempo. Section leader Cleave Guyton steps forward with, of all things, a piccolo, and lays down a wild solo, setting the scene for Harrold to take flight over the headlong rush of the rhythm section. Ibrahim has dropped out again – as each player takes to the mic, he announces them with a single chord dropped into the racing pulse, his energy turned totally towards the band, overseeing and digging the proceedings.

Jackson ducks behind the piano then reappears, seated, his impressive form encircling a cello, and he and Guyton on flute join the leader for a chamber recital of the kind of major-key South African folk melody that Ibrahim is known for. There’s another solo piano interlude, as a limpid pool of calm, before the band swagger into a boppish mid-tempo line like something from Monk At Town Hall – as Monk was wont to do, then Ibrahim drops out altogether under much of the soloing. There’s a supremely musical drum solo from Will Terrill, and a slow Township march with Keyon Harrold tearing down the walls with his powerfully down-home solo.

Throughout not a word is spoken to the audience – Ibrahim almost seems like a spectator at his own show, watching with an approving nod of the head, quietly guiding proceedings, adding a soft piano commentary in the breaks. The quality of the musicianship is really outstanding, with superb soloing from everybody (special mentions for Lance Bryant on tenor and Marshall McDonald on bari) and the horn section breathing as one on the unison sections; but there’s still no doubt who’s boss onstage, and the closing trio recital, with Jackson back on cello shows why he was described by Mandela as ‘South Africa’s Mozart’. The crowd give a standing ovation, and then as quietly as he came, he’s gone back into the waiting darkness of the wings.

Eddie Myer
Photo by Tim Dickeson

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