Blues1

The blues is a lived and living truth, as much as a genre. It may be coded in chord changes and rhythms, but what precedes and follows these sounds, namely how people talk, think and act, means something. This gig is a potent, provocative event that underlines the blues as a foundation for progressive black culture, and though billed as Elaine Mitchener and Jason Yarde co-leading a band on a set of Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant-Garde, the overriding impression is that the mercurial, experimental, wanderlust character of pre-war ‘Negro’ folk music still decisively shapes its modernist outgrowths.

When Neil Charles’ walking bass and Mark Sanders’ deep shuffle on the drums mark a climatic moment in proceedings there is a clear reference to centuries-old rights of swing, yet this ageless strategy packs a mighty punch because of the way it is framed by the invention and emotional charge of these players and their colleagues, trumpeter Byron Wallen, pianist Alexander Hawkins, saxophonist Yarde and vocalist Mitchener. They convincingly show the blues as an artery within the flexible, mutative body of black music, where sonic and metric bloodstreams are thrillingly unpredictable, with a pulse that smartly follows Beaver Harris’ ideal of ‘ragtime to no time’. 

Mitchener’s mixture of guttural, gravelly textures and crystalline articulation; Yarde’s braying, bucking alto, almost an evocation on the horn of reggae’s dread warning that "de fence cyan hold, too much bull inna de pen", and his seamless unison playing with Wallen; Hawkins’ splintered motifs and timbral escarpments – all these starkly vivid sounds move in and out of focus as the band changes shape, scaling down to trios and duos before coming back up to a quintet. The years of shared experience of the players in many British ensembles tells.

The music is rooted in the fertile U.S. soil of AEC, Shepp, Dolphy and Jeanne Lee, among others, but there is a gutsy earthiness to the performance that is contemporary and personal. From the joyous, jockeying funk of the opener to the strains of fiery anger and misty tenderness that follow the commitment is unbowed. The appearance of American poet Dante Micheaux, who does a fine reading of Joseph Jarman’s 'Non Cognitive Aspects Of The City' among several other pieces, brings more substance to the table. But the crucial moment of the night is the shift on to black British territory, through the intoning of words of wisdom from West Indian warrior intellectuals, Stuart Hall, Louise Bennett and Sam Selvon. It is uplifting and empowering to hear this ‘colonisation in reverse’ amid such a dubwise tapestry of sounds, and connect these sentiments to the word Haiti that is stamped on Mitchener’s t-shirt. The world’s first republique negre is still paying the price for daring to resist European rule. That’s the blues.

Other significant details reveal the ensemble’s literal and lateral thinking. Mitchener repeats the mantra "the maximum capacity of this room is 180", but that may not be recognition of the fact that this gig is sold out. She seems more interested in locking us into congregation and reflection on how many souls, or nations of millions, it takes to move us forward beyond simplistic notions of black and white.

The evening ends with Yarde playing a ghostly recording of his alto on the fly, so we can savour a homemade memory for the fire next time.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Dawid Laskowski

Belgium may be better known for its beer than its jazz, but an upcoming event in Edinburgh is out to change that. While Paris and Copenhagen are widely viewed as European jazz centres – where once the likes of Dexter Gordon, Lester Young and Bud Powell used to live and perform – we often forget that Brussels has plenty of musical pedigree too. Belgium is, after all, the birthplace of Toots Thielemans, Django Reinhardt and Bobby Jaspar, and continues to produce outstanding jazz musicians. It is then of no surprise that Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival have teamed together with www.visit.brussels and Federation Wallonie Bruxelles to produce Thrill, a one-of-a-kind, three-day festival, featuring some of the hottest talent from Brussels.

Ten bands, featuring musicians from Belgium and Scotland will appear, offering a diverse range of bands, with varied instrumentation, styles and tone. From the Belgian side, artists include the Mâäk 5tet (above), unusually comprised of four horns and a drum – playing raw, interweaving melodic lines over a background of extended horn techniques and world music-influenced rhythms. Their bandleader, trumpeter Laurent Blondiau, describes Mâäk’s music as rich in its diverse influences, as the band have spent 15 years working with traditional African musicians from Mali, Benin and Morocco.

gig11 Aka Moon Danny Willems 2 copy

Trio AKA Moon (above) – famously inspired by the Aka pygmies of Central Africa – will also perform. The seasoned sax/bass/drums outfit makes the most of the freedom that comes from its chord-less line-up, with a focus on rhythmic interplay and powerful melodies. Among the Scottish contingent will be the Celtic folk-influenced Colin Steele Quintet and the up-and-coming STRATA. In the true spirit of collaboration, the newly-formed Thrill Sextet will amalgamate musicians of both Scottish and Belgian nationalities.

Thrill is a welcome new event, offering musical textures that are different from British and American jazz norms. As one of the festival organisers Fiona Alexander comments: “Belgian jazz offers a fresh approach, drawing on a huge range of world music influences. Thrill is a one-off, but we hope that the links between Belgium and Scotland will continue to grow and we are talking about future collaborations.”

– Gail Tasker

– Photos – Aka Moon © Danny-Willems – Mâäk Quintet © Klaas-Boelen

For more info visit www.thrill.brussels

Ra

The Sun Ra Arkestra – led by that indomitable intergalactic seer, Marshall Allen, who is 95 this year – touches down for their now traditional residency at Lewes Con Club courtesy of those enlightened folk at Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival. Catch the troupe performing cosmic classics in full astronomically-attuned attire on Sunday 21 and Monday 22 April.

Spencer Grady

For more details and ticket info visit www.dictionarypudding.co.uk

Southampton’s Turner Sims music venue has announced an impressive line-up of jazz concerts for the first half of 2019. There’s an Edition Records double-bill of young talent, namely sax newcomer Tom Barford and fast-rising guitarist Rob Luft (26 Jan), while Dutch daredevils Tin Men And The Telephone (above right, 8 Feb) perform their mischievously interactive audio-visual show in support of their recent album World Domination Volume 1: Furie, an acoustic-electro work using cut-up samples from speeches by various populist politicians.

The European theme continues with Norway’s biggest-selling jazz singer, Silje Nergaard (pictured top), and her trio (9 Feb), followed closely by fellow countryman and tuba star Daniel Herskedal and his band that features pianist Eyolf Dale (22 Mar). Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans follows this in a trio with accordionist Tuur Florizoone and cellist Jörg Brinkmann (29 Mar), while further bookings include Snarky Puppy-affiliated fusion-funk saxophonist Bob Reynolds’ Group (5 Apr), and a special collaboration between Scandi-Brit power trio Phronesis and the Southampton Youth Jazz Orchestra (5 May).

The Steve Williamson Experience sees the revered UK saxophonist (pictured above left) line-up with bassist Hamish Moore, drummer Zoe Pascal and Tomorrow’s Warriors' string quartet, Stringting, for what promises to be a highlight of the programme (10 May). Two more notable nights complete the season, as jazz guitar maestro John Etheridge appears with his high-flying gypsy jazz group Sweet Chorus (17 May) and the equally starry PrintmakersNikki Iles, Norma Winstone, Mark Lockheart, Mike Walker, Steve Watts and James Maddren – play on 8 June. Jazzwise is media partner for the Turner Sims jazz programme.

– Mike Flynn

For full details visit www.turnersims.co.uk/eventcategory/jazz/

19-year-old vibraphonist Sasha Berliner wins LetterOne Rising Stars Award

California-based jazz musician, composer and bandleader, Sasha Berliner, has won this year’s LetterOne Rising Stars Award. The win will see her career given a substantial boost through the prize’s yearlong touring and press support.

Selected from the 230 entrants by a judging panel comprised of musicians, journalists and record producers, chaired by its founder Mikhail Fridman, Berliner’s winnings include an international seven-city tour and a full year of PR and marketing support through Air Artist Agency, DL Media and the West End Strategy Team.

Berliner, who began playing drums aged eight, starting vibraphone at 13, is now a student at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary in New York, previously studying at Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Canada and performing as a member of the SF Jazz High School All-Stars Orchestra.

– Mike Flynn
– Photo by John Rogers

 Listen to Sasha Berliner play a beautiful rendition of ‘Between The World and Me’ here:

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