With the full programme confirmed for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which runs from 16 to 25 November, it's the festival's huge number of free concerts that are set to tempt in the wider public, with a dizzying range of international music, live radio broadcasts, panel discussions and workshops on offer. Heading up the myriad European musicians appearing are 15 of the brightest young stars in the Italian jazz firmament (Barbican Free Stage, 17 and 18 Nov, as well as at a special free concert at the Italian Cultural Institute, Belgravia on 19 Nov). These include silken-voiced guitarist/singer Simona Severini (above right) and piano soloist Giovanni Guidi, swing-influenced rockers Clock's Pointer Dance, sonic architects Yellow Squeeds and the groove-led Drive!, as well as a guest appearance by elder statesman, saxophonist Francesco Bearzatti. Elsewhere the Next Generation Takes Over programme features two full days of performances from emerging young UK jazz talent (Clore Ballroom, 24-25 Nov).

Acclaimed keyboardist Kit Downes performs spellbinding ambient organ soundscapes at a special free matinee show with saxophonist Tom Challenger (1pm, RFH, 23 Nov), with Nordic keys man Sigbjørn Apeland providing another idiosyncratic take on the 'organ recital' with his first-time collaboration with keyboardist Danalogue (The Comet is Coming/Soccer 96) and saxophonist Helen Papaioannou at the Union Chapel (12pm, 17 Nov).

Another Southbank free-show highlight comes from tuba-man Andy Grappy, who leads a small army of young brass players in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, under the banner of James Reese Europe Marches, in tribute to the inspirational wartime bandleader (6.45pm, 18 Nov). An equally uplifting sound is sure to come from the combined forces of high-energy Vula Viel gyil player Bex Burch, leading UK saxophonist Jason Yarde and Ghanaian master percussionist Afla Sackey, who perform as Mwalimu Express for some intense Afro-jazz grooves (2.30pm, Rich Mix, 18 Nov).

Something a little more chilled comes courtesy of alto saxophonist Martin Speake who leads his new project, Charukesi, featuring Alyson Cawley (tenor/clarinet), Rob Luft (guitar) and Will Glaser (drums/perc) (2.30pm, Cadogan Hall, 19 Nov). Pizza Express Jazz Club opens its doors for two free lunchtime gigs from a pair of Serious 'Take Five' alumni, with gigs from exciting latin-jazz influenced pianist Al MacSween (1pm, 22 Nov) and fiery guitar virtuoso Ant Law (above left, 1pm, 19 Nov).

Among the numerous talks and workshops at the festival, Jazzworks presents a day of discussions and shared insight for everyone working in, or interested in working in, the music industry (Level 5, Southbank Centre, 24 Nov), with a series of showcase performances in the Clore Ballroom from undergraduate jazz musicians. There's also the danceable Chicago X London night, which sees UK saxophonist Nubya Garcia and US drummer Makaya McCraven (top centre) unite for an evening of free-flowing, forward thinking jazz and beats (EartH, Hackney Arts Centre, 24 Nov).

Other significant concert hall gigs include a stellar Jazz Cubano triple-bill, with Alfredo Rodriguez, Omar Sosa and Arturo O'Farrill (Barbican, 23 Nov); the heavyweight Dave Douglas UPLIFT band with Bill Laswell and Mary Halvorson (QEH, 16 Nov); Hammond hero James Taylor Quartet's cinematic 'Electric Black' show (Cadogan Hall, 21 Nov) and visceral Chicagoan trumpeter Jaimie Branch's two nights at Cafe OTO (21-22 Nov).

And fans of jazz photography should keep an eye out for works by renowned jazz snapper William Ellis, with his 'The One LP Project' on display in the main foyer at Cadogan Hall during the festival. Prints from his 'Miles and Beyond' show – featuring images of Dizzy Gillespie, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nancy Wilson, Kurt Elling, Herbie Hancock and many more – will be on display at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham Common North Side from 16 to 28 November.

All these events join those previously listed in Jazzwise, who is festival media partner.

Mike Flynn

For full listings and tickets visit www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

 

There is already a sense of excitement in the air as opener Vels Trio's drummer Dougal Taylor brings their set of elegantly hip Hancock-esque minimal fusion to a simmering boil. This gig in the low-ceilinged Komedia basement sold out long ago – evidence of a far-sighted booking policy by joint promoters Dictionary Pudding and Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival. The Sons of Kemet themselves take to the stage without introduction and take it to the top without delay; Tom Skinner and Eddie Hicks kick off a thunderous double-drum bashment, while Shabaka Hutchings preaches above, spitting out short incandescent phrases in a hoarse tone like a furious Junior Walker, and Theon Cross prowls the stage with detached self-possession and floppy hipster hat. He looks as cool as it's possible for a man carrying a tuba, thoroughly reclaiming the instrument from it's association with the likes of Danny Kaye and Harold Bishop and reinventing it as a source of low-frequency wub. Shabaka leans into the attack, forcing out shrill notes with his entire body, then flashing a massive grin as he and Cross negotiate a long, complex unison.

Club grooves, Afro-beat, rave and festival vibes all combine into one 90-minute long workout, each piece blending into the next. The sheer stamina is intoxicating, with sweat and spit flying across the stage. Hutchings and Cross function effectively as co-leaders over the relentless, even chaotic double-assault of the drummers, Hutchings pumping out riffs as Cross breaks out into squeals and bass-bin shaking low-end bombs; their unison lines have a telepathic accuracy that shows the effects of heavy touring. A loping 12/8 groove builds into a pounding Afro-jig; a slow nyabinghi rhythm invites Cross to drop down low with some sub-bass that draws roars from the crowd; then the tempo shoots back up again.

SoK2

Shabaka's playing is built up from nagging two- and three-note motifs, repeated over and over, driving the energy ever upwards; it's all about rhythm and groove, and those after melody or varied expression should probably look elsewhere. There's a foot-on-the-monitor solo for Cross that provides an oasis of respite from the intensity, and a crescendo of echt free-time blowing for the alternative jazz crowd, but the majority here have come to dance, or at least sway and nod heads. The demographic is a typical Brighton mix of older hipsters, young students and assorted free-thinkers, and they are all ears when Hutchings finally addresses them with an unexpected foray into critical theory. "The first thing that oppressed communities lose is the ability to create their own histories," he states, after the cheering dies down, before launching into a disquisition upon the power of 'myth' that would have provided useful material for any third-year students of Barthes. Then, switching off his mic and associated pedals, he moves to the front of the stage. The drummers take up the nyabinghi groove again, but this time softly, as Cross joins in on Agogo, and Hutchings freestyles over the top, in a hushed, mellow tone, full of melody and reflective yearning, as the room remains in absolute silence. It's a magical moment that acts as a coda to, and helps contextualise and resolve, all the sound and fury that went before.

Sons Of Kemet have truly broken out of the jazz box with a message for the people – long may they continue to spread the word.

– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley

The old joke that the audience will have a chance to chat shortly – there's a bass solo coming up – is never further from reality than when Dave Holland's in the house. Back at Ronnie Scott's, the club where Miles Davis first heard him over 50 years ago, Holland's full-toned muscular style was dominant from the opening bars of the first tune, a haunting new piece called 'Leandi' by saxophonist Chris Potter. Starting with Holland alone, the track's long tension-and-release chord sequence had a Middle Eastern or Moorish feel. Playing 'work out the time signature' proved fruitless before the tune seamlessly became a samba with the odd 7/4 measure thrown in, Potter taking a second, stratospheric, solo. Holland told us that it was while working in a Greek restaurant during his teenage years that he was first exposed to 5/4 time – it seemed he was giving a clue as to how scarce 4/4 would be tonight.

As with much of Holland's repertoire down the years, the tracks were built up from labyrinthic bass riffs, with guitar and sax creeping in, picking up on and mutating fragments of Holland's phrases. The distinctions between solos, melodies and collective improvisation were sometimes clear, sometimes blurred, with each player constantly upping the ante, then taking it back down so that Holland's bass once again was alone in the spotlight. Eric Harland's drumming was a vital component; almost conversational with a non-stop supply of inventive, exciting fills, always supportive, but never overly dominant. Kevin Eubanks' idiosyncratic guitar playing came to the fore as the evening progressed. Eubanks, depping for Lionel Loueke here, played with great subtlety and a sense of space, moving in and out of focus with sudden squalls of rapid notes and powerful, tension-building chordplay.

Bursts of funk and then what seemed purely improvised passages with ever-changing points of focus between the musicians would suddenly come into view; it was like taking a musical rail journey with a constantly shifting landscape seen through the window. The occasional look of wry amusement which spread across Potter's face as he contemplated the latest junction of chords and rhythm was revealing, a reaction to the delicious bouts of spontaneity unravelling about him. But then it would all come together, Eubanks strumming powerfully, both sets ending with a rocking, explosive intensity. Pure joy.

Adam McCulloch
– Photo by Carl Hyde

Art-Ensemble-of-Chicago

The English music critic Richard Williams finished his three-year stint as Jazzfest Berlin's artistic director, handing the controls over to Nadin Deventer, who proceeded to boldly throw down her gauntlet for this and her next two festivals. She has extensive programming experience, and had been working as production head for the previous two years. Deventer's main mark is made by firstly condensing the festival down to a hardcore four days, jettisoning the run-up gigs of previous years, and secondly, by opening up the entire potential space of the Berliner Festspiele edifice, from its main stage down to its basement underworld. She also transformed the entrance café into a venue, and utilised the foyer space on the upper level, as well as continuing to use satellite locations such as Quasimodo and the A-Trane jazz club.

The Grand Opening night operated a seven-hour timetable with multiple choices, which might have been frustrating on one level, but also magnified the vitality of the evening, with cross-current crowds and extreme musical contrasts. Two of the strongest themes involved artists identified with Chicago (even if many of them eventually fled to NYC), and a heavy number of sets revolving around individualist guitarists.

Two of the key Windy City combos appeared in 'special edition' Berliner fusion guises. The Art Ensemble of Chicago line-up was quite possibly the largest seen so far, with Roscoe Mitchell spending much of his time conducting forces that included a strong string quotient, sensibly dignified. Unfortunately, much of the AEC character from olden days is now lost. There is little in the way of ritualistic, Afro-improvisation, preening display and wily humour, or indeed free jazz or trad jazz content. Positively speaking, this meant increased unpredictability, and a desire to shape a different sound, but this was at the expense of any charismatic abandon or sonic extremity. The best stretch came courtesy of the splinter group featuring almost-founder percussionist Famoudou Don Moye (pictured), Dudu Kouate (Afro-drums), Hugh Ragin (trumpet) and Jaribu Shahid (bass).

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch delivered a lacklustre set during the Austrian Saalfelden fest in August, but here, her Fly Or Die quartet were fuelled by the energy of their leader, who managed to exude supreme casualness, while repeatedly spouting concise bursts of solo lava, goading drummer Chad Taylor into manic triphammer beat-skipping. She swapped between mute crisp and open frazzle, distant microphone or bell-closeness.

 Fellow trumpeter Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star International added six Berlin players to the nine Americans, having the guts to maintain spacious minimalism for quite a lengthy spell, but then eventually aroused to an intense pitch of power. Damon Locks impressed, with his scholarly office worker vibe, intoning texts into his vintage telephone, doctoring via electronics. Taylor was on board again and eventually rolled crazily, while Mazurek and Branch worked together with the spicy pepper-spraying. Mazurek blew into his tangle of modular wiring, as Lock told of a "careening prism within" (or was that "prison"?).

ABACAXI

Mazurek also played an atmospheric duo set with the young French guitarist Julien Desprez (pictured), who was the vital discovery of this festival, and deliverer of quite possibly its best set. The Berlin bass-and-drums team of Jean-Francois Riffaud and Max Andrzejewski drifted on, Mazurek departed, and the guitar trio Abacaxi was born. Literally, as this was their first gig anywhere. Distressed metallic contusions deified the abrupt, everyone had a sonic impediment, and the bright white flickershow lighting was manually controlled by the players. This might account for the borderline ridiculous tap-dancing routines around their crowded semi-circle of effects pedals, as a month's worth of compacted, nervy excitement was crammed into however many minutes they were speeding at full pelt, juddering, jolting and spasming as they demanded total attention to heavy detail. Go see them next time, for sure!

Away from the mainline, there were many innovative performances in other settings. Mary Halvorson played her first gig in a hair salon, in a duo with pedal-steel player Susan Alcorn. A quartet of Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Adrian Myhr (bass), Jacob Garchik (trombone) and Jon Irabagon (saxophones) delivered some good ole free jazz in a not-so-private apartment. Another discovery, the Canadian organist Kara-Lis Coverdale played solo on the gargantuan house instrument of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, and the mysterious, masked Kim Collective ritualised down in the caverns under the main stage, arrayed in circular fashion, set up in individual alcoves that could have been specially designed for such sculpted surround-sound mystery. These are just selected outstanding examples of Jazzfest Berlin's spread, not only sonically, but also spatially.

Martin Longley
Photos by Camille Blake/Jazzfest Berlin

Alyn Shipton spoke to Pelin Opcin, the EFG London Jazz Festival's new head of programming, about the themes of openness, diversity and global awareness she's bringing to this year's event

Following John Cumming as director of the EFG London Jazz Festival – well, those are big shoes to step into," says Pelin Opcin (pictured above left), the new head of programming. "I'm not naïve enough to think I can do what he's done in terms of the London, UK and international scenes, but after 13 years running the Istanbul Jazz Festival, I think bringing my attitude, my contacts and my musical relationships to London could be good."

Ticking off the challenges: getting to know the UK jazz world better; coming to terms with a huge, intricately organised festival that runs across many different types of venue compared to the looser, more spontaneous feel of Istanbul; and continuing to reach out to the wider market beyond the most dedicated jazz fans, Pelin is anything but naïve. She recognises that she's coming into both a supportive team, and a festival that was at least partly-planned when she arrived (as is the way with big international events with stars' diaries juggled years ahead), but she is determined to bring in her own brand of creativity and imagination.

"2018 is a landmark year," she points out. "It's the centenary of the WWI armistice, and the 70th year since the Empire Windrush brought its first thousand passengers from the West Indies. So we've events to reflect these two significant anniversaries, but also we want to reflect the current atmosphere in the jazz world, the things everyone is thinking about. For example, at the European Jazz Network conference in Lisbon in September, it adopted a manifesto to put womens' role in jazz at the forefront. It's a reminder to all of us, but in London it's continuing work that the Festival has already been doing over the last decade: to reflect women's position in society. So this, and another aspect of the London Festival, which is to portray both Britain's cultural diversity, and that of the global jazz scene, are things that should not even need to be discussed but done out of necessity!"

That cultural diversity is on show with an opening night concert at King's Place by Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and his Rivers of Sound Orchestra, which merges jazz with middle-eastern microtonal scales, the Arabic 'maqam' modes. "I was proud to host him in Istanbul," recalls Pelin, "but this is his UK premiere, and I think people will be blown away by his fantastic integration of styles into a large 17-piece ensemble. Equally, a week later in the same venue on 24 November, Ian Shaw will present the Citizens of the World Choir, singers drawn from refugees, asylum seekers, volunteers and campaigners, many of whom Shaw met when he was working in the refugee camps in Northern France. These concerts show the arts as a great exemplar of peaceful co-operation. Personally, I think the arts get nourished in times of crisis. Artists reflect what's happening around them, and we can provide a platform for a great collection of musicians to comment on what's going on in the world, whether it's the current political climate, or even the growing problem with the visa situation for musicians coming to work here in London.

"This is something I learned in Istanbul. When the Taksim Square protests and the attempted coup of 2016 happened, we kept going, and as it turned out we were presenting the EST Symphony in memory of Esbjörn Svensson, and it became a concert to commemorate not just him, but also those who lost their lives in Taksim Square."

So, I ask if the Windrush concert is to draw attention to the plight of those people in the news recently whose UK citizenship has not been properly recognised by this country? "Of course that theme is present, but we see this as a positive agenda, a celebration of the members of society whose families or forbears arrived on the Windrush, It's been a bittersweet experience for many, but what we want to underline is their absolutely huge contribution to society and particularly to music.

"Anthony Joseph (above centre) came up with the idea, and I'm pleased to say it's developed into a series of events that go way beyond the festival with literature, films, poetry and discussions kicking off in mid-October and leading up to our Barbican concert on 17 November, with a new suite by Jason Yarde, plus the poet Brother Resistance, and the calypso artists Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose. And we're also screening the film 1,000 Londoners at the Barbican that afternoon, and holding discussions with director Rachel Wang, and some of the people featured in the film."

The Caribbean is not the only part of the world to be featured, as there's a strong South African focus. Hugh Masekela (above right) is being remembered at the Festival Hall, with musicians from his last regular band, plus Oliver Mtukudzi and Sibongile Kumalo. And if that great South African singer wasn't enough, Miriam Makeba is being celebrated by the Royal Academy of Music at a free show in the Clore Ballroom. The Festival also hosts the final of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the year with Monty Alexander chairing the judges. Truly an impressive start for the festival's new director!

For more info visit www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

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