Savannah DafnisPrietoBigBand FrankStewart

This 30th edition of the Savannah Music Festival featured a strong jazz presence, though spread throughout its extended run rather than dominating just one week, as has previously been the case. Balmy Savannah boasts many verdant squares, seemingly on almost every street intersection, with its festival venues all easily walkable, from east to west of this historically-preserved town centre in Georgia state.

The festival’s first Saturday presented a notably fine roster, each combo playing a pair of sets, from the afternoon into the evening. The Dafnis Prieto Big Band now seems to be its leader’s main vehicle, following his early-career emergence within a powerhouse smaller combo. Now, that energy has multiplied, but the Cuban sticksman, composer and arranger Prieto (pictured above) has also ensured that subtle colouration illuminates his big band charts, besides any expected forcefulness.

Prieto played in the medium-sized Charles H. Morris Center, the festival’s core venue, perfectly balancing the jazz and latin elements of his sound, the latter strong in the hands of percussionist Roberto Quintero and salsa-shaper pianist Alex Brown. The bond between Prieto and Quintero is tight, the leader playing his kit with a timbales ring. The opening salvo of 'Una Vez Mas' was followed by the lusty propulsion of 'So Long Ago', twinned flutes contrasting with tenor and baritone saxophone depth, not to mention the soft mass of the bass trombone. 'Song For Chico' held an elaborate power, with alto solos at key points, while 'Two For One' pushed forward a forceful percussion lattice. All of these Prieto pieces resounded with a bassy push throughout the ranks. Michael Blake delivered a rough-edged tenor solo of twining thought, whereas Román Filiu and Joel Frahm were underused, at least during the second set. It was Prieto himself who crowned this later sequence, his kit sounding quite dry, all the better to make blows with a no-reverbed staccato power.

Savanah JohnMedeski 2 2 ElizabethLeitzell

Just right for the afternoon, there was an inspired double-bill at the Ships Of The Sea Museum, a garden space with an all-spanning canopy, leaving its sides open to the sun-beaming elements. John Medeski’s Mad Skillet and Jon Cleary’s Absolute Monster Gentlemen brought the New Orleans vibe a bit further north, alternating two sets apiece, to extend into the evening. Mad Skillet allows Medeski to attach his full-on prowess to a parade band base, as Kirk Joseph (pictured above) takes the tough attitude towards his breath-bluster on sousaphone, creating a buoyant foundation for his leader’s Hammond organ eruptions. Medeski opened the floodgates early, pausing only for a sensitive melodica dapple, his head otherwise down deep in the Leslie speaker’s whirr. Old Dirty Dozen Brass Band member Joseph literally took it out onto the floor, parading through the crowd by the second number, before 'Blister' burst its skin, his big horn electronically tweaked for a cosmic gumbo-flatulence solo, close to the set’s climax.

Jon Cleary’s keyboard trio displayed a more conventional love for New Orleans tradition, though the leader’s vocals sometimes smoothed out a number or two, taking a poppier, or balladeering path. Cleary is actually an Englishman, but has been living in the Crescent City for around 40 years. His 'Unnecessarily Mercenary' grabbed our lugholes straight away, piano cavorting over an earthy bassline. All three band members sang choruses in unison, and when Cleary solos, it’s invariably a racing scamper of expressive notes. On 'Been And Gone', he delivers verses like he’s in a tiny saloon, naturally expanding into this larger setting. Around half way through the set, Cleary slung a guitar around his neck and the resulting solos were given a different incarnation. Professor Longhair’s 'Tipitina' opened gently, getting into a flouncing step, with hollerin’ vocals, then moving towards a salsa cowbell zone, the set concluding with the stutter funk of 'Just Kissed My Baby' (by The Meters), bringing in an a capella section. By this time, the two bands had jointly covered just about every possible variation on the sound of New Orleans.

Martin Longley
– Photos by Frank Stewart (Dafnis Prieto) and Elizabeth Leitzell (Kirk Joseph)

With Cheltenham Jazz Festival set for a busy six days and nights of music running from 1 to 6 May across the Bank Holiday weekend, it’s been confirmed that an all-star revival of iconic 1960s BBC TV show, Jazz 625, will be broadcast live from the festival on BBC4 on Friday 3 May. Combining live music, archive clips, features and interviews, and a house band led by pianist Robert Mitchell, guests will include Gregory Porter, Joshua RedmanJean ToussaintShirley Tetteh (above left) and Jacqui Dankworth (above centre). 

There will also be an exclusive pre-recorded live performance from Rolling Stones’ drummer Charlie Watts (above right with bassist Dave Green) on a hard-swinging set with top US saxophonist Scott Hamilton, plus a new interview with Dame Cleo Laine reflecting on her performance on an original Jazz 625 episode. Those wishing to attend can apply for tickets at www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz625.

The full festival programme is now available online and includes headliners such as Abdullah Ibrahim, The Bad Plus, Joshua Redman Trio, Nubya Garcia, Yazz Ahmed, plus dynamic duos Nikki Yeoh/Zoe Rahman and Omar Sosa/Yilian Canizares. Alongside these shows the festival’s Freestage and ‘around town’ programme will spread the music beyond the dedicated site in Montpellier Gardens, with 90 free gigs at street stages and venues around the town.

The Yamaha Discovery Space also hosts plenty of workshops aimed at getting kids (and their parents) into the music, with sessions including Jazz Babies, Evelyn and the Yellow Birds with Cherise Adams-Burnett, Sound Discoveries with Jason Singh and Family Sing with Alice Zawadzki among many others.

The Henry Westons stage also presents acoustic performances from a wide range of artists throughout the weekend, while there’s jamming until the small hours at the Hotel Du Vin, plus aftershow parties and late night DJ sets. Birmingham-based Stoney Lane Records will once again run the on-site record store that will also host numerous post-gig signing sessions with the stars of this year’s event. Jazzwise is the festival’s media partner.

– Mike Flynn

For full details and tickets visit www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz/

This year’s Jazz FM Awards ceremony took place at Shoreditch Town Hall, London on Tuesday 30 April (UNESCO International Jazz Day), with the winners reflecting the strength and vibrancy of the UK and US jazz scenes. Among those taking home gongs were emerging London-based saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, who is making waves with her SEED Ensemble, winning Breakthrough Act of the Year, while fiery fast-rising tenorist Nubya Garcia won the public vote for the UK Jazz Act of the Year.

More established artists among the winners included expat US saxophonist (and former Jazz Messenger) Jean Toussaint, who won Instrumentalist of the Year, while Shabaka Hutchings’ incendiary four-piece Sons Of Kemet won the public vote for their all-conquering Your Queen Is A Reptile in the Album of the Year category. Transatlantic triumphs included drummer/producer Makaya McCraven winning International Jazz Act of the Year; tenor titan Kamasi Washington’s spontaneous appearance at south London’s Steam Down venue helped it and its live jazz collective scoop Live Experience of the Year and leading US guitarist and singer Eric Bibb was named Blues Artist of the Year.

The Blue Note record label’s 80th anniversary this year was also recognised with its president, Don Was, receiving the PPL Lifetime Achievement Award, with a congratulatory video message from his friend, and Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr. The night’s other special award saw Quincy Jones’ vocal protégé Jacob Collier collect the PRS for Music Gold Award. Hosted by Jazz FM presenters Chris Philips and Jez Nelson, there were live performances from singer Beverley Knight, who paid tribute to late-great soul-jazz vocal legend Aretha Franklin, while the high-energy Steam Down Collective closed out the show in emphatic style.

Mike Flynn

For more details visit www.jazzfmawards.com

The full list of winners is as follows:

Breakthrough Act: Cassie Kinoshi

The Digital Award: Louis Cole

The Innovation Award: Steam Down

Instrumentalist Of The Year: Jean Toussaint

International Jazz Act Of The Year: Makaya McCraven

Soul Act Of The Year: Poppy Ajudha

Blues Act Of The Year: Eric Bibb

Vocalist Of The Year: Cherise Adams-Burnett

UK Jazz Act (Public Vote): Nubya Garcia

Album Of The Year (Public Vote): Sons Of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile

Live Experience Of The Year (Public Vote): Steam Down featuring Kamasi Washington

PRS for Music Gold Award: Jacob Collier

PPL Lifetime Achievement Award: Don Was and Blue Note Records

 

RibotWeb

Portugal’s premier experimental jazz bash, Jazz em Agosto, adopts a decidedly rebellious stance this year with a series of events pushing for protest and a manifesto of social change. Held between 1-11 August, within the grounds of Lisbon’s picturesque Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, among the sonic insurgents appearing at this year’s festival are Marc Ribot, who’ll be performing his ‘Songs of Resistance’ suite, plus Nicole Mitchell, Joey Baron, Tomas Fujiwara, Zeena Parkins, Ambrose Akinmusire, Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey, Julien Desprez and Mary Halvorson.

Spencer Grady

For more details and ticket info visit www.gulbenkian.pt/jazzemagosto/en

lovesupreme2019 may

The organisers of this year’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which runs from 5 to 7 July, have confirmed that cult jazz-trip-hop band The Cinematic Orchestra (above left) will make an exclusive UK festival appearance at the event. This follows their sold-out three nights at London’s Roundhouse in March in support of their new album, To Believe, which was the band’s first release in 12 years. Other names added to the bill include reggae legend Jimmy Cliff and Zambian-born singer/rapper Sampa the Great, while the vibrant Bandstand line-up features a swathe of emerging jazz talents. Names to watch out for including Tomorrow's Warriors 5tet, storming Birmingham saxophonist Xhosa Cole and his Quartet and the Mingus Underground Octet. The opening Friday night line-up for the Arena stage has also been confirmed and includes soulful jazz-funk crew Yakul (above right), the virtuosic large-ensemble Patchwork Orchestra and danceable brass-fuelled Afro-jazz-fusion band Kongo Dia Ntotila.

These names join those already announced in Jazzwise (media partners for the festival) which include high-flying piano trio GoGo Penguin, spiritual jazzers Maisha, funky flautist Tenderlonius, grime-jazz tuba-ist Theon Cross, heavy-groovers Steam Down Collective, fast-rising SEED Ensemble and Brit-jazz vibist Orphy Robinson performing his acclaimed version of Van Morrison’s seminal album Astral Weeks. Some strong US names include fiery New Orleans five-piece Tank and the Bangas (above centre), Grammy-nominated pianist Christian Sands, cutting-edge Chicagoan drummer/producer Makaya McCraven and trumpeter Marquis Hill’s Blacktet. Experimental jazz sounds come via the Jazz in the Round stage, alongside further performances on the Bands & Voices cabaret and spoken word stage. Headliners Jamie Cullum, Snarky Puppy, Chick Corea’s Spanish Heart Band, Louie Vega & The Elements of Life Band and Kamaal Williams round-out the three-day event that takes place in the idyllic surroundings of Glynde Place, East Sussex.

– Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.lovesupremefestival.com

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