Joe-Smith---Christian-McBride-10

If Valletta's sun-baked limestone is a constant reminder of Malta's ancient history, then its jazz festival, much like some of its forward-thinking contemporary architecture, is a strong indication of its cultural ambitions, perhaps amplified this year by the city's status as Europe's 2018 Capital of Culture. The jazz festival is firmly established with a 27-year history, but with switched-on festival director Sandro Zerafa at the helm the opening free-entry concerts outside the stunning Renzo Piano-designed parliament building, felt like an acknowledgment of today's hot topics of openness and diversity. It paid off, with throngs of younger listeners packing the ascending stone steps to listen to promising Tel Aviv guitar talent Yotam Silberstein (below) and his band, which featured young Israeli drum star Daniel Dor, who stoked the band's folkloric jazz fires.

Yotam-Silberstein

While some jazz festivals are increasingly including non-jazz headliners, it was telling that the audiences engaged most willingly with the jazz heavyweights at the heart of the programme here. Indeed, the standout concert of Friday night's bill, was an imperiously raw display from bassist Christian McBride's New Jawn (pictured top). I'd last heard the bassist with his big band at Cheltenham, where he'd shown effortless command of this large unit, but his wilder instincts had been tamed by the reams of scored music. This showing on the festival's waterside main stage was a no-holds-barred improv session with some scorching work from fearsome young trumpeter Josh Evans and drum don Nasheet Waits, McBride grinning and grimacing as he worked between their crossfire. So spicy were these exchanges that Marcus Strickland's cool tenor and bass clarinet offered some sonic balm which he poured over the frenetic grooves. Yet, with another one McBride's Cheshire Cat grins, he introduced Waits' 'K-Kelli Sketch' as being "an audio portrait of his wife" – which made the ferocity of his sawing bowed strings all the more eyebrow-raising. Yet even this freeform freak-out didn't feel out of place thanks to the sheer booting confidence of McBride and his compadres – the depth of their empathy lending the music a tumbling yet authoritative momentum.

If the risk taking of McBride roused rather than riled the audience, then the more box ticking festival-friendly Afro-fusions of Bokanté seemed to trample on some of the artist-audience frisson McBride had achieved. Bokanté (above), the brainchild of Snarky Puppy bassist/bandleader, Michael League, nonetheless extend his immaculately executed polyrhythmic ploys with an African and Brazilian twist. The nine-piece also featuring fellow Puppy guitarist Chris McQueen, plus standout lapsteel master Roosevelt Collier, League himself playing what seemed to be a fretless bass lute that allowed him to perform bluesy low-end slides and slurs. The stand out band member was vocalist Malika Tirolien, who sailed over the triple-drum percussion grooves and quartet of guitarists, deftly integrating some vocal harmonies via her own mic-stand-mounted box of tricks that momentarily swelled her soaring vocals into choir-esque proportions. Maintaining her poise while navigating the twists and turns of the material Tirolien elevated this beyond pristine fusion into something far more soulful.

CC -12-of-32

The final night was an equal split between two sprightly septuagenarians: the 77-year-old Chick Corea and his Akoustic Trio (aove) and legendary Brazilian singer songwriter João Bosco, now 72. The former threesome are no strangers to big stages and top billings, but this was no cause for complacency as they dug deep into an imaginatively constructed set. Among the highlights were opener 'Morning Sprite', an uptempo swing-into-latin workout that showed the trio's empathetic interaction from the off, the pianist's virtuosity flowing with ease. Corea was intent on recasting old music in a new light as he spun counterpoint bass themes on a reharmonised take on Sammy Fain/Lew Brown's 'That Old Feeling', followed by an equally enlightening reworking of Ellington's 'In A Sentimental Mood', which sounded anything but dated. While there had been some dazzling bass breaks from John Patitucci and the fleet drumming from Dave Weckl, it was the latter who introduced the devilishly complex 'Lifeline' as, "a lot of fun to play". This fiendish 2001 Corea original came over like 'Spain' on steroids and even had bass behemoth Patitucci pushed close to his limits. It was a set that drew the biggest crowd who were held spellbound until the trio's final note.

Bosco's closing set added subtle funk and savvy jazz-inflected interplay to those infectious Rio de Genaro rhythms. Mining the songs to sublime depths, it was bassist Joao Batista and Bosco's guitar that formed the rhythmic core with lead guitar and drums orbiting with improvisational fire – their effortless funk pulling you mercilessly into the huge heart and soul of Bosco's music.

Proving that credibility and accessibility needn't be mutually exclusive, the idyllic setting, high-calibre programme and relaxed ambiance made for a memorable festival experience.

– Mike Flynn

– Photos by Joe Smith (McBride and Bocanté) and André Micallef (Chick Corea)

In 2002, the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko provided an answer to a question jazz fans had been debating since 1959: what album do you play after Miles Davis' Kind of Blue? Davis' album is so powerful it blots out the memory of anything played before and diminishes anything played after it. Yet Stańko's Soul of Things (ECM) followed on with no sense of disjunction, no feeling that someone had boorishly changed the radio station, maintaining Davis' mood of quiet introspection without seeking to imitate it.

Born in Rzeszów, Poland on 11 July, 1942, Stańko emerged during a golden period of Polish jazz, along with pianists Adam Matyszkowicz (Makowicz), saxophonist Zbigniew Seifert and pianist Krzysztof Komeda. In 1962 Stańko organised his first group, The Jazz Darings with Makowicz on piano, entered a jazz competition and won, with Stańko taking the top instrumental award. It brought him to the attention of pianist, composer and arranger Krzysztof Komeda, credited with launching the modern jazz movement in post-Stalinist Poland. At the 1963 Warsaw Jazz Jamboree Komeda invited Stańko to join his ensemble. It was a career shaping move. Soon, Stańko was recording Komeda's film music and touring with Komeda across Europe. In 1966 he appeared on Komeda's historic Astigmatic, one of the most important European jazz albums of all time. When Komeda died unexpectedly in 1969 it was a blow to Stańko. He formed a quintet with Zbigniew Seifert and Janusz Muniak (ts) recording Music for K – dedicated to Komeda – ensuring this group would become recognised as one of the best Polish jazz groups of the time.

In 1973, Stańko formed the Stańko-Vesala Quartet with Finnish drummer Edward Vesala, debuting on ECM with Balladyna. During the 1980s he formed Freelectronic, briefly reunited with the ECM label on Gary Peacock's Albert Ayler tribute, Voice From the Past – Paradigm, and collaborated with Cecil Taylor later in the decade. With the political climate changing for the better in the 1990s and personal problems behind him, Stańko's career took off. He renewed his association with ECM and a series of critically acclaimed albums followed, including Litania: Music of Krzysztof Komeda, a tribute to the pianist – which was described as "one of the jazz triumphs of 1997" by The Guardian.

In 1993, he formed a new quartet with pianist Marcin Wasilewski, bassist Sławomir Kurkiewicz and drummer Michał Miśkiewicz, and toured extensively, debuting the group on record with Soul of Things (ECM). Other groups followed, with pianist Alexi Tuomarila and his New York Quintet. In April 2018 he succumbed to ill health, cancelling all concerts. He died on 29 July 2018 after a battle with cancer.

– Stuart Nicholson
– Photo by Tim Dickeson

They say that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It's always difficult and often strange, but sometimes it feels totally absurd. Take this set from boundary-breaking US altoist and composer Steve Coleman and his Five Elements group at central London's 229 The Venue, a club more often associated with punk and indie bands. What can I tell you about it? Only that it was one of the most mind-expanding, rhythmically-audacious gigs I've ever seen. How can I make you feel like you were there? All I can do is offer an analogy.

Like Miles Davis, Coleman loves boxing. His last release, 2015's Morphogenesis, was a musical exploration of the sport and you can hear the influence of it in his writing. Watching this performance felt like stepping into the ring with Floyd Mayweather. The music was a storm of punches – visceral but pinpoint precise. Coleman and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson jammed out hypnotic riffs and intricate lines, alternating solos like sparring partners – latching onto motifs, developing and abstracting. Anthony Tidd laid down absurdly funky, electric bass grooves and syncopated pedals, including one that was so fast it sounded like the shuddering whirr of fists on a speedball. And drummer Sean Rickman drove them along with needle-sharp hi-hat patterns and snapping backbeats.

Sometimes they locked into trance-like grooves for minutes at a time before triggering confounding metric modulations and sudden shifts – the musical equivalent of fancy footwork, shoulder rolls. Rhythmic. Feints and changes, of tempo and-if-this-ludicrous-punctuation-is. Tripping. You up then good: you have some idea of. What it... was like.

Every so often the group's towering MC, Kokayi, stepped up to the mic, channelling the fire of a Baptist preacher, spitting his own rhythmically inventive bars and providing snarling, street-smart commentary on everything from social media ("tweet, tweet"), puppet masters and PTSD to the story of Icarus: "I'm not going to play it safe, Dad. I'm just going to spread my wings and fly." He was great to watch. As he rapped he flexed his hands – heavy with bracelets and rings – and mimed playing the pining-ponging pitches of his vocal lines on an invisible trumpet or guitar. Every questing, poetic salvo earned him a huge cheer.

A lifetime of musical research and experimentation was countersunk into the performance. Cutting hornlines brought echoes of one of Coleman's early inspirations: James Brown sax player Maceo Parker. There were glimpses of jazz standards – including a radical abstraction of 'Round Midnight' and a jabbing, close-harmony riff in the horns that eventually revealed itself as a play on 'Salt Peanuts'. And there were myriad ideas derived from Coleman's deep investigations into the rhythms of West Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the past, Coleman has said that he thinks of himself as a West African griot – a musician, storyteller and custodian of tradition responsible for passing knowledge on. Late in the set, he adopted that persona, beating a 3-2 clave pattern on a cowbell and accompanying it with wordless hollers. Then came funk beats and distorted bebop lines and jaw-dropping gobbledygook vocalising performed by the whole band in unison. By which point I was metaphorically out for the count, sprawled on the canvas, looking up at Coleman and the Elements through a vortex of cartoon stars. Afterwards, my equally punch-drunk musician friends decided against going to the pub: "What are we going to talk about after that?" Pity the fool who had to write 500 words.

Thomas Rees

Canadians are patronisingly characterised in the US as 'over-polite' but one wouldn't wish to encounter a Quebecois on the hockey ice. As the recent stands Trudeau has made against Trump on trade and immigration reveal, they are no pushover north of the border. So too the French Canadian audiences in Montreal: impassioned, committed and sometimes, hyper sensitive.

My first show at Gésu was a doozy, a booty-shaking one-off triumvirate of John Medeski, Marc Ribot and funky drummer JT Lewis. Ribot was in town for his own righteously dissident gig the following night dubbed Songs of Resistance. He'd pulled some classic charts – 'Sookie Sookie' was credited onstage to white rockers Steppenwolf but the trio's attack cleaved closer to Grant Green, with Lewis' funky backbeats recalling Don Covay's 1965 original. As maverick as Medeski's sporadically Booker T-esque organ was – his mitts busy like the Muppets' Swedish chef hurling pizza dough from behind the keys – the depth of Ribot's own vintage aesthetic focus was startling (he did once work with Jack McDuff). Though also known for sardonic twanging and abstraction Ribot dug deep with Wes-like octave slashes and urgent vernacular riffing, then bust out like Derek Bailey playing 'Pop Goes The Weasel'. Not so exciting was his singing with the Songs of Resistance quartet (he announced demurely at set's end that the upcoming coincident CD, will feature vocals by Meshell Ndegeocello, Steve Earle and other stars, only two cuts boasting his dulcet tones). More important was the message and Ribot stretched back to the 40s for a song of solidarity 'We Are Soldiers in the Army', thence the civil rights anthem 'We'll Never Turn Back' and the bittersweet 'Bella Ciao,' injecting latin flavours redolent of his Arsenio Rodriguez project Los Cubanos Postizos. Another Rodriguez, saxophonist Jay of Groove Collective fame, superbly blended smooth blues riffs with emotive, even angry, expressionism. Ribot offered a rousing 'Fuck La Migra' which brought the Gésu crowd to its feet, as he name-checked for excoriation such scourges as Scott Pruitt and attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Archie-Shepp-Montreal-311

Another revolutionary, a couple of decades Ribot's senior, Archie Shepp, returned to Montreal after a long absence (he was last seen at the long gone Spectrum in 2002) and lit up the Maison Symphonique with his tremblingly intense classic 'Mama Rose'. The references to dreams in the lyric – 'rêves' – riffed with 'revolution', such punning no doubt not lost on Shepp. At 81 the Florida born Philadelphian's gigantic exhortation (seamed with gospel, blues shout or even operatic flourish) to take "This ex-cannibal's kiss" and "Your vagina, split asymmetrically between the east and the west" inspired requisite shivers, especially potent in the resonant, bourgeois hall.

Shepp addressed the audience entirely in French, an oversight of classy young Montreal pianist Gentiane Michaud-Gagnon who opened for Terence Blanchard's E-Collective with her trio at Monument-National. When Gentiane MG announced her compositions the patriotic audience fiercely demanded that she speak 'en francais!' Blanchard on the other hand announced little – the widescreen processed sound of the E-Collective's opening number stretching to forty minutes. Another instance of Canadian socio-political assertion involved a vociferous protest of Robert Lepage and Betty Bonnifassi's SLAV, a 'Theatrical Odyssey based on Slave Songs' which was canned after its initial sold-out performances due to criticism of its all white cast.

US based self-censure in the wake of Mexican border brutality was intimated with some levity by Herbie Hancock (pictured top), who in-joked with drummer Trevor Lawrence that his drums were like weapons at the border, adding "Everybody loves children –no matter what they say – we can't have that", suitably apposite from the composer of 'Tell Me a Bedtime Story,' 'Toys' and 'Speak Like a Child.' Hancock crowd-pleased with 'Chameleon' and 'Actual Proof' by surgically reinventing such hits. The latter was a heavy Rhodes workout with Lawrence munching into the off-kilter rhythms of predecessor Mike Clark, while guitar wizard Lionel Loueke conjured another effects master, Joe Zawinul. When James Genus took a solo, fellow bass ace Thundercat, who'd opened the show attired in orange shorts and flip flops with outrageously gauche pink socks, came from backstage to watch the Hancock show from out front. Another pianist at Monument-National with a more linear but also masterful touch was Monty Alexander, a festival favourite who's trio balanced Jamaican high jinks with jump cut dynamics and dime-edge timing redolent of Ahmad Jamal.

Marius-Neset-group-471-5x7

The staunchest instrument during my four-night sampling of Montreal's sprawling menu was perhaps not the piano or the organ however (despite the hurtling energy of Medeski and Cory Henry, the latter slaying Mtelus with his Funk Apostles) nor the saxophone, notwithstanding the mastery of Mark Turner (with guitarist Gilad Hekselman) and Norwegian genius Marius Neset (pictured above) who debuted at Gésu alongside two thirds of Phronesis.

Tubas

No, it was the ambitious plumbing of tuba and sousaphone. The irrepressible Kirk Joseph regaled with the latter ungainly device plus effects in Medeski's 'Mad Skillet;' Theon Cross's agile tuba sparred with the punchy Shabaka Hutchings in the drum driven Sons of Kemet and last but not least, Lance Loiselle's sousa held down three boisterous, entertaining nights, melding soul, hip-hop and two-tone at the outdoor Casino de Montreal with the unstoppable Chicago based eleven piece he co-founded, The Lowdown Brass Band.

Story and photos by Michael Jackson

Screen-Shot-2018-07-25-at-16.34.31

Iconic saxophonist Wayne Shorter is set to make a dramatic return with his epic new triple album, Emanon (or 'no name' spelt backwards), accompanied by a self-penned graphic novel, illustrated by renowned artist Randy DuBurke and co-written with Monica Sly. Released on Blue Note on 24 August, the day before Shorter's 85th birthday, the first section of the album documents a 2013 studio session featuring his four-part orchestral work performed by the 34-piece Polish Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and his Quartet of Danilo Pérez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade. The latter half of the album features the Quartet recorded live in London in 2015, the day after it was debuted at Carnegie Hall.

Conceptually complex, the album finds Shorter drawing on his lifelong love of comics and graphic novels, sci-fi, Buddhism and quantum physics, all of which has informed DuBurke's artwork, with an introductory note from bassist Esperanza Spalding. According to Shorter, the orchestral nature of the music stems from a conversation he had with Miles Davis just before the trumpeter's death in 1991: "He said, 'Wayne, I want you to write something for me with strings and an orchestra, but make sure you put a window in so I can get out of there.'" Early listens confirm that the dialogue between orchestra and Shorter's characteristically incisive soprano sax is densely detailed and empathetic, the saxophonist in imperious form throughout.

- Mike Flynn

For more info visit www.bluenote.com

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