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

Maishaonline

Scrolling down the posts on Facebook, from people pleading for spare tickets, you get a sense of just how in-demand tonight’s headliners really are. This evening, Londoners from all over, converge on Peckham’s newest venue, Ghost Notes, for the launch of There Is A Place, the highly anticipated debut album from South London seven-piece, Maisha, and you’d go as far as to say, it’s a roadblock. Led by drummer and composer Jake Long, Maisha’s brand of long-form, spiritual jazz has further broadened the lexicon of the UK’s well-documented rising jazz movement and sought to enthuse its more meditative and outernational roots.

Following the release of the group’s expansive live EP Welcome To A New Welcome on Jazz Re:Freshed in 2016, Maisha went on to open the trailblazing nine-track We Out Here compilation before joining back up with Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint for their debut full-length LP. Alongside an impressively-sized guest chamber ensemble, Long pulls in a heavy cast of UK jazz luminaries including guitarist Shirley Tetteh and multi-reedist Nubya Garcia, and it's Garcia whose tender and journeying flute intro that calms the bustling room to a hush. The group channel the delicacy and dynamism of Pharoah’s ‘Thembi’ on the album’s title track and on ‘Osiris’, their tribute to Alice Coltrane’s ‘Journey In...’, yet tactfully balance it alongside the rhythmic ferocity and Afro-futurist weight of fellow Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni Sons of Kemet and Ezra Collective, on ‘Eaglehurst / The Palace’.

Garcia and guest trumpeter Axel Kaner-Lidstrom’s eastern-influenced melodic phrases wander across Long’s reflective and lifting compositions that feel just that bit more thrilling with an accompanying string section, while percussion, provided by Tim Doyle and Yahael Camara-Onono, is meaningful and seeks to reconnect and give thanks to the music’s early forbearers and origins in Africa. Tetteh’s intricately crafted guitar lines dazzle throughout and Twm Dylan’s long and winding double bass riffs are greeted with ecstasy from tonight’s crowd. However, it’s clear Maisha’s genius begins and ends with Long. Not only is Long aware of its vast history, but seeks to actively engage with the legacy of spiritual jazz, and place this group of musicians in its future-facing continuum.

Fabrice Robinson

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