Marcus-Miller-Maalem-Mustapha
There was jazz: Afro-Caribbean pianist Mario Canonge, in a trio mixing mazurka, zouk and salsa. Lebanese trumpet virtuoso Ibrahim Malouf and an orchestra on everything from electric guitars to Middle Eastern percussion, delivering a you-should-have-been-there set that combined visceral bombast with moments of quiet introspection, outdoors, under a full moon, before a rapt Moroccan crowd.

Marcus Miller – bassist, multi-instrumentalist, one-time Miles sideman – turned in a two-hour performance that variously involving phat acrobatic lines, musings on the likes of Davis’s Tutu and Amandla and thumb-slapping funk excursions marred only by a couple of screechy lead guitar wig-outs.

And then there was jazz: as deployed by Morocco’s Gnawa, the funky hosts of a festival that is now in its 17th year. Having overcome prejudice and terrorism (in 2003 and 2007 it went ahead despite the bombings in Casablanca that devastated the country) and weathered the vagaries of sponsorship (this year the World Cup saw many erstwhile sponsors look elsewhere), the Gnawa Festival is now widely considered the Maghreb’s most exciting and progressive musical celebration.

Back in the 80s and early 90s the likes of Don Cherry, Bill Laswell, Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders saw the crossover potential in the pentatonic music of these Sufi musicians and healers, whose behind-the-scenes lila ceremonies use ritual, trance and colours to cure maladies and bash down the doors of perception.

Such experimental journeys by Cherry et al went down in jazz annals, helping to spark the onstage fusions that have been pivotal to the festival’s success: Pat Metheny, Maceo Parker, Omar Sosa and late greats, conguero Anga Diaz and keyboardist (and another one-time Miles’ collaborator) Joe Zawinul among them.

The Gnawa Festival has embraced its status as a musical laboratory, proclaiming itself the ‘greatest jam session on the planet’. “It’s a great musical rendezvous,” says director Neila Tazi Abdi, a graceful Muslim woman who founded the festival with a far-sighted aim to create an event that would safeguard and promote the music of the Gnawa, which was then dismissed and endangered.

“The festival is unique,” she says. “The music and history of Gnawa gives it a very powerful African anchor that allows us to bring together Gnawa groups and talented musicians from all over the world. They all say it is an unforgettable experience.”

That the Gnawa are now included on the oral heritage list at UNESCO is down to the hard work of Tazi and her all-female team at the Casablanca-based A3 Communications: even if the artists onstage are largely male – and it would be good to see the Sufi sisterhoods better represented – the festival is driven by women. Their accomplishment was further exemplified this year by the release of a long-awaited 9CD anthology – an initiative hatched with the association Yerma Gnaoua that presents the Gnawa as both as an ancestral oral tradition and a mighty musical force.  

The descendants of traders, craftsmen and freed slaves from the Sahelian region of West and Central Africa, the Gnawa were once shamefully marginalised in the way that, say, Romany Gypsies continue to be today. This annual gathering on the Atlantic coast – the most famous of many annual Gnawa gatherings in the Maghreb – is a meeting of clans, an opportunity to perform before a sprawling tens-of-thousands strong Moroccan crowd. A free, freewheeling festival laced with respect for the Gnawa Maalems, the masters of the guimbri bass lute, who perform their stand-alone sets with groups of musicians who beat side drums, clack giant metal cymbal/castanets called krakeb, and dance and leap like martial artists.

This year local hero Maalem Mahmoud Gania played the beach stage, shifting sand dunes and changing ocean currents with his low-toned guimbri vibrations and undulating chants in Arabic and Bambara (check 1994’s Trance of Seven Colours featuring Pharoah Sanders for a taster). Older now, and slower on his feet, his unofficial mantle as the King of Gnawa was challenged by younger pretenders such as Casablanca’s Maalem Hassan Boussou, whose turn over at the Bastion venue at Bab Marrakech included, unusually, a horn section.  

As the son of (late great) Hmida Boussou and the co-founder of the group Gnawa Fusion, Hassan Boussou is used to travelling between pure, traditional ‘tagnawit’ Gnawa music and the modern forms that are helping ensure its longevity. Boussou’s fusion concert with French electro-violinist Didier Lockwood on the main Moulay Hassan stage opened the three-day event and while impressive, lacked the punch of the previous year’s stunning collaboration with Haiti’s Jazz Racines.

The festival’s music programmers – Paris-based Algerian drummer Karim Ziad, French multi-instrumentalist Loy Ehrlich and Essaouira-based Maalem Abdeslam Alikane – have been rigorous in choosing guest musicians and bands (Will Calhoun, Nguyen Le, Wayne Shorter) on the basis of their risk-taking and openness to other musics. But the festival tends to suffer from an overabundance of French jazzers with a fondness for noodling keyboards and overly slick production – why are there not more British artists? Trumpet-player Byron Wallen, say,and vibraphonist Orphy Robinson are no strangers to Gnawa music.

There were lightning bolts, however, when Marrakech-based Maalem Mustapha Baqbou met Marcus Miller (above) in an encounter that saw guimbri and bass guitar recognise and reconnect. Miller – who, like Ibrahim Maalouf is EFG London Jazz Festival-bound in November – replaced the cover pic on his Facebook page with a photo of Baqbou’s Gnawa brotherhood soon after.

Even more powerful was the official closing concert, which brought together Hamid El Kasri, the country’s Maalem du jour, with the Grammy-nominated ngoni–lute player Bassekou Kouyate, over from Bamako in Mali with a band that included his singer wife Amy Sacko and their two sons, Madou and Moustafa.

Urged on by krakeb castanets, the frenetic cries of the tama talking drum and Sacko’s soaring, soul-griot voice (not for nothing has she been called the ‘Tina Tuner of Africa’), the instruments of both men meshed and duelled as if connected by an invisible silver thread. Spontaneous and spiritual, experimental and groove-laden, this was jazz returned to the source, to Africa, via a festival with peace and unity at its core.

Jane Cornwell

www.festival-gnaoua.net/en/ 

 


The choice of the Ace hotel in the fashionista’s paradise that is Shoreditch in east London for the launch of a key ‘breakout’ artist of the year may have raised one or two eyebrows. But the venue was actually spot-on. The low lighting, clear acoustics and intimate atmosphere greatly served Somi’s meaningful anecdotes as well as the songs themselves, and the American singer proved quite emphatically that she has the kind of talent that warrants her graduation from an indie [Obliq] to a major label [Sony/OKeh].

All of which should provide the profile and PR muscle to enlarge her fanbase. In any case, Somi’s The Lagos Music Salon has the standard of writing – above all the lyrics as well as melodies – and vocal performance that make it clear the loudening buzz around the singer is anything but hollow. Furthermore, the presence of a backing band that includes current or former members of ensembles led by Henry Threadgill, Joe Lovano, Soweto Kinch and Sylvain Luc – guitarist Liberty Ellman, drummer Otis Brown III, bassist Michael Olatuja and keyboardist Jerri Leonide – says much about Somi’s deep engagement with jazz and the substantial place of improvisation in her aesthetic. Yet Africa, and more precisely Nigeria, is the conceptual foundation for this latest project, and the songs essentially act as ‘reality poems’ that reflect the close observations that Somi made during an extended sojourn in Lagos.

Alternatively, the music can be seen as a kind of audio diary of her experiences, and more importantly, conversations with the locals, all of whom are vividly depicted in thought-provoking texts. That said, all of the players, particularly Ellman, are given a wide berth for soloing that enhances the tonal lustre and phrasal richness of Somi’s voice. In fact, the electro-acoustic resonance of the guitar matches her sharpness and precision to a tee, slightly recalling the alliance of Romero Lubambo and Dianne Reeves, surely one of Somi’s key role models. Then again Nina Simone looms large on Four African Women, a kind of ‘motherland’ adaptation of the legend’s signature piece. Artful in her use of African rhythms and Fela references, Somi has managed to capture the suffering and smiling of Lagos in her original writing, and if there are two pieces that cover that spectrum they are ‘Two Dollar Day’ and ‘Ginger Me Slowly.’        

They are delivered with an authenticity and attention to detail that mark out the singer as an artist intent on questioning as much as creating. Bigger venues and greater recognition beckon aplenty.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo by Roger Thomas

 

Misha-Mullov-AbbadoThis year’s Kenny Wheeler Music Prize has been awarded to London-based composer and bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado. The prize is open to graduating musicians at the Royal Academy of Music and was judged by Edition Records label boss Dave Stapleton, trumpeter and RAM Head of Jazz Nick Smart and leading UK saxophonist Evan Parker, with the prize including the release of an album on Edition. Now in its fourth year the prize aims to highlight ‘a young artist who demonstrates excellence in both performance and composition’, with previous recipients including saxophonist Josh Arcoleo, trumpeter Ruben Fowler and singer Lauren Kinsella, with the latter set to release her debut for Edition later this year with her group Blue-Eyed Hawk.

Bassist Mullov-Abbado is the son of the revered Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, who sadly died in January this year, and internationally acclaimed violinist Viktoria Mullova. He has studied with the likes of Jasper Høiby, Michael Janisch and Tom Herbert as well as being a busy performer as a bandleader and sideman in and around the capital’s jazz venues and international tours.

Mullov-Abbado is also the winner of the 2014 Dankworth prize for jazz composition and his music is heavily Influenced by Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny as well as the likes of Bach, Stravinsky and Bartok and it was his strength as a writer that was a deciding factor in his winning the prize. Evan Parker commented: “Misha's writing and playing, along with his sense of overall form meant that there was a maturity that communicated very powerfully. His range of musical reference points means that he can go anywhere from here and it will be exciting to follow what is clearly the beginning of a journey of an outstanding individual.”

At present Misha Mullov-Abbado's debut on Edition is slated for autumn 2015.

– Mike Flynn

 

zara-mcfarlane
The block-rocking bass gymnastics of Marcus Miller are set to give the EFG London Jazz Festival a high-powered jazz-funk jolt when he brings his band to the Royal Festival hall on Friday 21 November as the latest addition to this year’s line-up. On 21 November acclaimed singer Zara McFarlane (pictured) will appear at the Rich Mix club while The Bad Plus bring their distinctive piano-trio deconstruction of jazz and beyond to the Village Underground on 17 November.

The festival, which runs from 14 to 23 November, is sponsored by Jazzwise and wraps itself around London with a wide-angle approach to the music at over 50 venues, including major concert halls, jazz clubs, bars and free stages. Also just announced for the festival is a late show by the Branford Marsalis Quartet who play an extra concert at the QEH on 14 November at 10pm; the Turkish/Balkan traditions and electronics of Arifa at the Purcell Room (18 Nov); a double bill of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and leading German youth jazz orchestra BuJazzO at the Purcell Room (19 Nov); electro-jazz pianist Kris Bowers at XOYO (19 Nov); Ian Shaw with special guests celebrating 100 years of British Song at QEH (19 Nov); Movers and Shakers: UK Jazz in the ascendant with Mark Lockheart and special guests at the Purcell Room (20 Nov); a tribute to the music of Lindsay Cooper with Henry Cow, Music For Films, News From Babel and Oh Moscow at the Barbican (21 Nov); Leszek Mozdzer, Lars Danielsson, Zohar Fresco Trio plus Asaf Sirkis and Sylwia Bialas at Cadogan Hall (21 Nov); Bugge Wesseltoft, Henrik Schwarz and Dan Berglund Trio plus Lau at the Barbican (22 Nov); Regina Carter plus Yazz Ahmed at the Purcell Room (22 Nov).

Tickets for all these shows are on sale now as are the previously announced concerts, highlights including Jazz Voice with the Guy Barker Big band and BBC Concert Orchestra (Barbican, 14 Nov); Dr John (Barbican, 15 Nov); Dee Dee Bridgewater (QEH, 15 Nov); Dedication Orchestra Big Band (QEH, 15 Nov); Marilyn Mazur’s Spirit Cave (Purcell Room, 17 Nov); Snarky Puppy (Roundhouse, 18 Nov); Jane Monheit (Cadogan Hall, 19 Nov); John McLaughlin’s 4th Dimension (RFH, 20 Nov); Dave Holland/Kenny Barron Duo (QEH, 21 Nov); Robert Glasper and Jason Moran (RFH, 22 Nov).

– Jon Newey

For all ticket details go to www.efglondonjazzfestival.com

 

Horace-Silver
Pianist, composer and bandleader Horace Silver, one of the jazz world’s most influential stylists and significant composers, has died at his home of natural causes in New Rochelle, New York on 18 June aged 85, his son Gregory has confirmed.

Silver had been away from the scene for a number of years and in 2008 Keith Shadwick, one of Jazzwise’s senior writers, who himself sadly died in 2008, wrote a superb appreciation of Silver’s life and work, highlights of which we bring you here:

Silver was one of the most influential pianists in jazz and the very personification and creator of what has been called soul jazz, composing what are now standards such as ‘Sister Sadie’ and ‘Señor Blues’ and piloting a distinctive direction the Blue Note records sound would take. Initially making an impact with Art Blakey, who “borrowed” the name of Silver’s group to form The Jazz Messengers, Silver went on produce a series of classic albums for Blue Note in the 1960s, including the timeless ‘Song For My Father’ with the infectious bossa style of its much sampled title track and Silver’s own inimitable sense of the Cape Verdean blues.

The Connecticut-born Silver served a high-class apprenticeship in the jazz world, starting abruptly at the age of 23 in 1950 when his accompanying trio for a local Stan Getz gig made such an impression on the saxophonist that he hired them full-time and subsequently recorded early Silver compositions, including in January 1951 ‘Split Kick’. The pianist stayed with Getz through to April 1952, when he was part of a Getz quintet featuring Charles Mingus and Connie Kay playing New York’s Birdland. When Getz moved on Silver stayed in town. By the summer of 1952 he was making contacts with other younger players such as Lou Donaldson, whom he’d met (along with Art Blakey) at a rehearsal studio on 116th Street: he appeared on a Lou Donaldson session for Blue Note in June that revealed a player who had learned from Bud Powell and Dodo Marmarosa but who was already evolving his own concise and powerful improvisatory patterns and rhythms.

Silver played at Birdland with Coleman Hawkins’s Quintet over the early autumn of 1952, backing the great man as he swapped his front line trumpet support between Howard McGhee and Roy Eldridge. At one point Art Blakey took the drum chair in the band and the following month, October, saw Silver front his first trio sessions with Blakey on drums, when he recorded brilliant versions of ‘Horoscope’ and ‘Ecaroh’.

The pianist remained very active on the New York freelance scene during the following year, playing live and recording widely, including his last batch of trio sessions for Blue Note in November 1953 when ‘Opus de Funk’ was recorded. Three months later at Birdland once more the Art Blakey Quintet was taped by Alfred Lion. This band, the prototype for all subsequent Blakey bands, was stacked with talent from top to bottom: Clifford Brown, Lou Donaldson and Curly Russell joined Silver and Blakey to make for a memorable evening’s recording. However, this was not to remain as a working band, with Brown soon off to match up with Max Roach and Donaldson to run his own units. Silver continued to freelance, working intensively during 1954 with a galaxy of modern jazz stars including Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Bob Brookmeyer, Milt Jackson and Clark Terry across a number of record labels including Prestige, EmArcy and MGM. Silver made four dates with Miles that year, including the famous Bags’ Groove session for Prestige that included Sonny Rollins and Kenny Clarke.

In the years between 1960 and 1964 Silver continued to develop his remarkable group in many directions (with Roy Brooks taking over on drums from Louis Hayes), making an unfailingly excellent series of albums for Blue Note such as Horace-Scope, Doin’ The Thing At The Village Gate, The Tokyo Blues and Silver’s Serenade. Of these, Doin’ The Thing stands out as Silver’s first ‘live’ date for Alfred Lion, delivering ‘Filthy McNasty’ into the world, while The Tokyo Blues impresses as one of Silver’s finest achievements, its many beauties, including its variety, subtlety and sensitivity being remarkable even in a career such as the pianist’s. By the time of the next album, however, Silver was ready for a change, although he wasn’t even aware of it himself. He had already attempted something different in April 1963 when he recorded Silver’s Serenade with a tentet, only to reject the results and use the Quintet a month later to successfully re-do the entire set.

Then, as Michael Cuscuna relates, things fell apart. “When Horace and I were reviewing all his unissued material in the studio in the mid '70s, we came across the four-tune October '63 session and the three-tune January '64 session. Horace was unhappy with the results at the time and after the January session, Alfred said to him, ‘maybe it's time for a change in terms of your band’. Horace thought about it and realized it was. That band had run its course. So he disbanded and started auditions that spring for the new group.”

In his post-Blue Note years, Silver also recorded for the Silverto Records/Emerald Records, Columbia and Impulse! labels in the 1980s and 90s, while he was also honoured in 2005 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) who gave him its President's Merit Award. He may have been away from the limelight later in life, but his music and in particular his timeless compositions, continued to inspire a new generation of players both as performers and composers. See the August issue of Jazzwise for a retrospective look at his life and work.

 

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