Now in its fifth year the Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival has matured well, and this year's programme managed to balance crowd-pleasing headliners and popular mainstream jazz and blues acts with a weekend's worth of well-chosen contemporary jazz action that was gratifyingly well-attended.
Andy Sheppard's specially-commissioned soundtrack for Fritz Lang's silent classic Metropolis made for an impressive opener: Sheppard's score pitted an eight-strong horn section against his own trio with guitarist Eivand Aarset and Michele Rabbia's percussion. Their adroit and imaginative use of electronics wove around strongly thematic brass parts to capture the essence of the film's themes, notably the tension between the remorseless machinery and human needs. By leaving space for individual improvisation the music, notably the guitar and saxophone, was able to mirror the emotional tides of the story while permitting the more tightly scored music to return with split-second timing. As always with soundtrack performances, the trick was to make it interesting without being unduly distracting and this was certainly achieved.
By contrast, Jason Rebello's (above) solo piano performance was intense and intimate, drawing the listener into the physical mechanics of Herbie Hancock's richly riffing 'Canteloup Island' or Errol Garner's powerhouse stride on 'Play Piano Play'. These were rhythmically dense numbers, like his own 'Pearl', whereas his Jarretty ruminations for Sting's 'Every Little Thing' or the self-penned 'Closeness' played with the melody, savouring the possibilities of the phrasing. It was beautiful and absorbing music and all the more impressive for being played at lunchtime.
A similarly early start had bedevilled Dakhla Brass on Friday, but again this didn't hamper their performance which showcased new music from a forthcoming recording. This included 'Insomnia Sonia', a programmatic piece driven by a ticking clock, the four brass voices pulsing through the chorus and then derailing throughout the verse until a final becalming resolution. Their music was driven by contrasts – staccato/legato, tight harmony/chaotic anarchy, single time/double time – and a smart use of polyrhythmic overlay that made it a satisfyingly complex listen. After a year that took them to Montreal Jazz and the Albert Hall they have deservedly become local heroes.
Fans of classic bebop were well rewarded by Gilad Atzmon and Alan Barnes (above) whose Lowest Common Denominator's entertaining combination of drily antagonistic banter and briskly flamboyant playing drew a capacity audience. Moving easily between a choice of reed instruments this odd couple proved highly compatible in evoking a vintage sound with fresh energy on original numbers like the appropriately titled 'Alone Together' with Gilad's torrential alto well-matched to Alan's elegiac baritone sax thanks to Frank Harrison's no-nonsense piano. More bebop treats came from former Gillespie sideman Bobby Shew's evocation of 'My Friend Dizzy' with the veteran trumpeter supported by the festival's house big band in a set of favourites that included 'Manteca' and 'Groovin' High' with the Afro-Cuban groove of 'Tin Tin Deo' providing the set's real high-point.
There was no doubting a shift in this year's festival attendance that, gratifyingly, packed out The Lantern's programme of contemporary jazz acts as never before. This included Yazz Ahmed's (above) septet performance, atmospheric Arabian-influenced music picked out through well-judged effected trumpet and Ralph Wyld's vibes, and complex compositions like 'La Saboteuse' and 'Her Light' unfolded with spellbinding assurance. Though there was no question that it was her compositional vision that defined the music there was also a strong sense of the individual musical personalities involved, notably Dudley Philips' expressive bass and Martin France's drumming that rode effortlessly over the often-complex time signatures and rhythms.
They were followed on Sunday evening by the much-anticipated Jasper Høiby's Fellow Creatures (below), whose interestingly eclectic set had only the slightest echoes of the bassist's long-standing trio, Phronesis, and its whirlwind pyrotechnics. Instead there was a conscious deliberation about their playing, suggesting the musicians were still exploring the ideas underpinning this coming together of three generations of British jazz in Loose Tubes alumnus Mark Lockheart, Jasper himself, and the trio of young players alongside them. Numbers like 'Spirit of the Bees' subverted what could have been a carnivalesque dance with little glitches, Will Barry's suppressed piano coalescing with tinkling bells, scattered rimshots and a laughing trumpet riposte.
The self-consciousness of the set was possibly emphasised by having seen drummer Corrie Dick and trumpeter Laura Jurd (pictured top of page) on the same stage the night before in Laura's band Dinosaur. The fluid energy and assertiveness of Dinosaur's Miles-leaning music – a fresh take on the electric jazz-rock of the 1970s – gave it a confident momentum that was exhilarating to hear. On 'Living, Breathing' the trumpet needled at the writhing Elliot Galvin's fearlessly vintage electronica until Conor Chaplin's rigorous bass suddenly locked into the unobtrusively creative drumming like an idea suddenly making sense. It was moments like that (and there were many such) that made them appreciably the highlight of a pleasingly satisfying weekend.
– Tony Benjamin
– Photos by Tim Dickeson
Dynamic jazz singer Lauren Dalrymple has hosted her SoFF Music Jam for nearly two decades at The Effra Hall Tavern (aka The Effra), a cosy Victorian pub in Brixton, South London. One of the longest running jazz jams in London, she's retained a loyal following as well as nurtured new talent by offering them a way into the sometimes intimidating London jazz scene. Over the years the house band has included many top level players such as drummer Robert Fordjour (Courtney Pine), bassists Karl Rasheed-Abel (Laura Mvula) and Neville Malcolm (Billy Cobham, Gabrielle, Tom Jones etc) as well as pianists Robert Mitchell, Chris Jerome and Alex Hutton among many others. The jam often features hard-swinging bop, soulful jazz-funk and vocal jazz performed in a uniquely eclectic atmosphere of diverse local listeners and hard-core jazz fans, aspiring amateur players and worldly-wise professionals – all uniting around the chance to play and listen to the music they love in an accommodating space. Ahead of the jam's 18th birthday night on 9 April, Dalrymple spoke to Mike Flynn about the history and staying-power of this eternally swinging night
How did the SoFF music jam start?
I was running jam sessions and performing by the time I brought my jam session to Brixton in 1999. I found The Effra because I sat in on a gig after being taken by another singer. After that performance the owner asked me what I could do for the venue. I explained that a jam would encourage a steady flow of talent and audiences. We kicked it off in the April of that year. At that time, I had a small (miniscule) organisation called SEG: Sistah Entertainment Group with a newsletter, but the name allowed people to think it was just for women or even just black women. I changed the name to represent me and the thing that I was told would keep me from singing successfully. Sistahs of the Fuller Figure Music: SoFF Music. I named it with a couple of other big girls who since enjoy a smaller frame. I'm keeping my sound and the jam as BIG as a Fuller Figured Sistah!
What are the key ingredients to a good jazz jam night?
The house band and host must be able to keep the entertainment flowing because with a jam you don't who will turn up or indeed if anyone will at all. You've got to be able to keep the audience happy and there must be an "ego-less" enthusiasm to share your talent with both audience and whomever is ready to perform. (Lemon-infused water between songs helps too)
What advice would you give to young musicians, or those taking their first steps into jazz, any dos and don'ts?
Again a willingness to share your talent without ego; "give and take" is mega important. You will learn from others but in turn you will also teach as they have the opportunity to listen to you. Long selfish solos are nobody's friend and you can't hear anyone else if you are the only one "showboating " and making "noise" rather than making music.
As things progressed did the word spread about the jam – and did it help attract more high-calibre musicians?
Well as I had mentioned before when SoFF was still SEG, I had a newsletter that advertised in the initial stages of the jam being in Brixton. I got the word out by word of mouth and inviting patrons to spread the word and join a mailing list, which admittedly was a weak one. We were still in the days of no social media. The community gave me, the band and the gig major props and continued to support us. We help them (the community) with their out of town guests, birthdays, Mother's Day, even Christmas!
When I first visited the jam back in 2006 Robert Mitchell was playing piano in the house band – who are some of the people who've come through the Effra who've gone on to great things since?
I believe at least three members of the jazz-funk band, J-Sonics met at the SoFF Music Jazz Jam Session in Brixton. Trumpeter Jay Phelps was a regular and Empirical members Nathaniel Facey and drummer Shane Forbes (from age17). Shane paid me a compliment when I told him how proud I was of them, (Jay, Nathaniel & Shane) saying: "Auntie (my nickname) back in the day we didn't have gigs, your gig was our gig". In fact, they are the reason I got my nickname. In West Indian/African culture an older woman would get that respect... standard! I was 27, they were 17. Passers through have included 'bone master Dennis Rollins, saxophonist Tony Kofi, guitarists Robin Banerjee and Cameron Pierre and MOBO award winners such as pianist Zoe Rahman and saxophonist and hip-hop stylist Soweto Kinch.
For me the greatest thing about the nights at the jam at The Effra over the years is how it draws together the local community and how supportive the atmosphere is. Is this local focus an important part of the jam's success?
The local community is the audience. SoFF Music prides itself on treating them with the utmost respect and serving them with different 'special occasion gigs', like the jam's 18th birthday party on 9th April 2017. We always celebrated ourselves and the success of the gig but that means we celebrate the support of the community audience and treat them to top quality entertainment (and the odd prize giveaway and audience participation). The great thing is we have a global community too. I touched upon the fact that the local community bring their friends, family and out of town guests to see us, so we have audience members from France, Germany, Australia, China, Canada, Argentina and beyond. These people have all revisited and continue to email me to find out if the jam is on. They never let us down so we, SoFF Music and me will continue to raise them up! Love, peace and hair grease! The SoFF a.k.a. Lauren Dalrymple.
The SoFF Music Jam's 18th birthday night is on 9 April 2017 – for more info visit www.facebook.com/Soffmusic/
Thelonious Monk's only ever soundtrack recording, for the provocative 1959 French feature film Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is set to be released in its entirety on a double LP for the first time, specially for the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day on 22 April. The album, co-produced by Zev Feldman, is being released in partnership with two French companies: Paris-based Sam Records and Saga Music and features rare photographs from the sessions and extensive liner notes. The labels' respective producers, Fred Thomas and Francois Lê Xuân, contacted Feldman to give the music a full public release, as the music has never been available separately from the film, itself is now out of print.
Recorded on 27 July 27, 1959 at Nola Penthouse Studios, New York the band is on fine form and features Charlie Rouse and Barney Wilen both on tenor saxophones, plus a rhythm section of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor. The track listing includes high-energy takes of 'Rhythm-a-Ning', 'Crepuscule with Nellie', 'Blues', 'Well You Needn't', 'Ba-Lue Boliver Ba-Lues Are', 'Light Blue (Making Of'), 'We'll Understand it Better, By and By', plus two solo takes and one quartet version of 'Pannonica'.
Commenting on the music Feldman notes: "It was a startling revelation to discover that this music existed, that it was not just another live recording but a very well recorded studio session of great historical significance. I was beyond honoured and thrilled to participate in this collaboration with my colleagues Mr. Thomas and Mr. Lê Xuân."
The album, which will also be released on CD, marks Monk's centenary year ahead of what would have been his 100th birthday on 10 October 2017.
– Mike Flynn
– Photo courtesy of Arnaud Boubet (Private Collection)
For more info visit www.recordstoreday.co.uk
Port-au-Prince is one of the most intoxicating places I've ever been. The Haitian capital is filthy and utterly dysfunctional – one vast, chaotic squatters camp/street market strewn across the hills that climb up towards Kenscoff and baked onto a coastal plane that drags itself into the Caribbean. It's the first city of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. A difficult, squalid place to live. But it's also colourful and captivating. It heightens your senses and works its way into your dreams, filling your head with images of lacy, "gingerbread" mansions and brightly painted "tap tap" minibuses, with the sound of carnival bands, birdsong and grinding gears, and the sweet smell of bougainvillea and gasoline.
I was taken aback by all the laughter. Haiti's backstory reads like an Argos catalogue of disasters. They've suffered colonial brutality and blackmail, political turmoil, ruthless dictatorship and sickening corporate exploitation, fires, hurricanes and epidemics. Not to mention the earthquake of 2010, one of the most catastrophic events of the modern era. Port-au-Prince has seen so much death, yet it feels full of life, sunnier and more optimistic than you'd think possible. It's truly inspiring.
As many expats will tell you (there are thousands of embassy staff and foreign NGO workers here), there's something magical about this city and some of that magic rubs off on the Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince. The eight-day event, now in its 11th year, is co-run by Joël Widmaier, a musician and head of Haiti's Radio Metropole, and Milena Sandler, the daughter of celebrated Haitian actress and singer Toto Bissainthe. I was in town for the first half of the week. The programming was strong and the organisation, particularly the sound, was excellent. If you can run a jazz festival somewhere as logistically challenging as Port-au-Prince you really can run one anywhere. But it was the setting and the giddy, dreamlike atmosphere of the whole event that made it.
Take the opening night. Seeing Danilo Pérez (pictured top), Wayne Shorter's pianist of choice, is always special. Seeing Pérez play an intimate, after-hours set at the Quartier Latin, a bar in a converted mansion in the suburb of Pétion-Ville, while sipping Barbancourt rum and watching rain drip from the patio umbrellas and the leaves of the banana trees? That's an experience you don't forget. Particularly when it comes right off the back of a gala concert in the grounds of an old sugar plantation, patrolled by haughty peacocks and skittish guinea fowl, featuring Haitian-American vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles and trumpeter Christian Scott (below) on an open-air stage, playing their hearts out into the teeth of a tropical storm.
In the end, the elements proved too much and the set was cut short, though not before Scott had carved out a few lacerating, deeply soulful solos. Of Charles' originals, the best was 'Free of Form', the title track from her third album, due for release later this year. It began as a mellow, R&B groover, becoming grittier and rockier as it progressed, climaxing with blazing, electro-enhanced trumpet and vocals.
Pérez's set, though equally brief, was one of the highlights of the week. 'Elegant Dance', based on a refined Panamanian dance form called punto, and 'Suite For The Americas' brought quick-stepping rhythms on congas and drum kit interlaced with twisting horn lines and bold Wheeler-esque harmonies, played by fiery soprano player Carlos Agrazal and trumpeter Roberto Ruiz. Pérez was mesmerising throughout, needling the band (all tutors from his jazz foundation in Panama City) with keyboard thumps and broken chords and building the energy with scampering, asymmetric runs.
The next few days brought more magic and a little more characterful chaos. Most of the remaining performances took place on an open-air stage at Quisqueya University, which the tech team were still hastily building when we arrived on Monday night. A car had allegedly been parked in the allotted space and the driver hadn't come back, so a team of 10 burly Haitians had to pick it up and move it out of the way. There was an hour-long delay, but I passed the time watching tiny, iridescent hummingbirds flit between the magnolia trees, so no great hardship.
Those headline shows were followed by nightly after-hours sets at hotels and bars around the city. On Tuesday, impressive Belgian trumpeter Jean-Paul Estiévenart channeled Clifford Brown with half an hour of cutting hard bop at the Hôtel Montana, recently rebuilt following the quake. From the terrace you can see the whole of Port-au-Prince shimmering in the valley below. PapJazz has close ties with many of the embassies in Haiti, and both Europe and the Americas were well represented, with a small cast of careworn ambassadors taking turns to introduce their acts.
As you might expect, there was also a lot of latin jazz on the bill, and later in the week we saw an outstanding set from Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba (above) and his Volcán Trio, of bassist Armando Gola and drummer Horacio 'el Negro' Hernandez. Rubalcaba has atrocious taste in synth sounds, but his piano-playing was sublime. Especially on 'El Cadete', a theatrical Danzon (one of Cuba's most elegant styles) written by his grandfather, a bandleader in the 1930s. Close your eyes and you were transported to a Havana ballroom, full of neatly turned-out Cuban gentlemen bowing to their dancing partners.
The remainder of the performance, which wound up with 'La Nueva Cubana', a Rubalcaba classic from the 1980s, brought bruising grooves and reams of rhythmic trickery. That's what makes top-flight Cuban bands such a joy to watch. Their rhythmic security is humbling. They have total freedom within the groove. They run rings around you and around each other, switching between meters so distantly related they wouldn't make it onto the same family tree. Watching 'El Negro' play steaming swing with one half of his body and fiendish, switchback clave patterns with the other, as Gola laid down a third bustling groove and Rubalcaba floated free of the time altogether, had me grinning from ear to ear.
The most unorthodox take on the latin jazz tradition came earlier that night, from German pianist Sebastian Schunke and his Berlin Quartet. Schunke has worked with Antonio Sánchez and Paquito d'Rivera. He named Rubalcaba as one of his heroes, but his approach is very much his own. It's like Latin jazz viewed through a kaleidoscope or glimpsed in a broken mirror. 'Move More' brought refracted montunos and splintered melodies and 'Misterioso' was dark and stormy, with a slug of romance and a dash of classical impressionism (Schunke was raised on Brahms and Debussy). Bassist Marcel Krömker was solid and there were muscular solos from Dan Freeman on saxes and Uruguayan drummer Diego Pinera, who whipped the band along with vicious snare-drum tattoos and a storm of percussion.
As this year's festival coincided with International Women's Day, there was also a focus on female artists, who made up over half the programme. Canadian vocalist/pianist Carol Welsman delivered a polished, gently-swinging set of standards, the perfect accompaniment to a balmy night on the rum punch. And Swiss-Cuban vocalist/violinist Yilian Cañizares (above) went down well with the studenty crowd at the university. A frenzied joint feature for Cañizares' violin and Richard Bona-like bassist Childo Tomas was a highlight.
With big international names on the bill, I worried that local bands might not get much of a look in, just as I worried after the gala concert at the sugar plantation and a lavish jazz brunch/art exhibition the next morning (attended by the same affluent, expat-heavy crowd) that the jazz festival might be aimed at a very limited section of Haitian society. Both concerns proved to be unfounded.
All of the university gigs were free and a big public event in Pétion-Ville's Boyer Square was planned for Friday, followed by a set from star Haitian DJ Gardy Girault. During my time there, young band SMS Kreyol blew the roof off Pétion-Ville bar Presse Café at one of the most enjoyable after-hours. Their music blends jazz, funk, soul and R&B with a ubiquitous Haitian style called compas (kompa, in Haitian Creole), that sounds a bit like laid-back reggaeton. There are myriad varieties, but at its core there's always a pulsing, easy-to-dance-to beat. SMS bassist/band-leader Steve Cineus and ultra-tight drummer Eder Junior Charles are excellent instrumentalists and there were guest appearances from young singer Alexa and James Germain, one of Haiti's best-known vocalists. Both have serious, soulful sets of lungs.
Festival co-founder Joël Widmaier and a virtuosic band featuring his father, Mushy, on keys, offered another take on Haitian jazz funk fusion, drawing on compas and creole pop, while at the jazz brunch, electric bassist Gerald Kebreau and his trio proved they had chops to burn. They even managed to make 'Cantaloupe Island' compelling.
And I have to mention Follow Jah (above), a rara band from Pétion-Ville. Rara is Haitian festival music, traditionally played during Easter processions. It's the Haitian equivalent of the Mardi Gras marching band tradition in New Orleans, a riot of drums, percussion and bouncy, blarty trumpets – rudimentary horns made from plastic or recycled tin. It's heaps of fun to dance to.
Follow Jah appeared at gigs throughout the week to entertain the crowds in the lull between sets and they were there on that opening night at the sugar plantation too, braving the elements, with a pair of dancers teetering atop stilts following along behind them.
To me, rara is the sound of Port-au-Prince: jubilant, raucous and chaotic. And it's just the beginning. Haiti's music scene is astonishingly rich, easily the equal of its neighbour, Cuba. It's just much, much less talked about. In part because no-one ever goes. The plane over was split fifty-fifty between Haitian expats returning home and Pennsylvania missionaries with evangelical smiles and carry-on bags full of can-do attitude. And if there's one thing Haiti doesn't need it's more religion.
What it needs is money and visitors. And it deserves them. Little by little Haitian tourism is bouncing back and PapJazz is part of that. If you want a festival experience that feels like an adventure, a trip, a step into the unknown, one that mixes star names with sounds you've never heard before, you should come. And if you do I expect you'll find it a hard place to forget.
On that first night at the Quartier Latin, I spoke to Monique, a French NGO worker in her forties who's been living in Port-au-Prince for the past 20 years. "You have to get away sometimes," she told me, "but Haiti always calls you back. It has this magnetic thing."
– Thomas Rees
– All photos by Josué Azor
After a stellar performance for a sold-out audience John McLaughlin had more than earned the right to an early night, but his presence at the side of the stage is a notable endorsement for the group that follows him. Put simply, the guitar legend is seriously feeling the James Brandon Lewis Trio. But the young Americans, making their UK debut, construct a formidably fierce wall of sound that is hard to ignore, even for superstar musicians enjoying the sanctuary of a dressing room.
Tenor saxophonist Lewis, bass guitarist Luke Stewart and drummer Warren 'Trae' Crudup make their intentions very clear by way of the title of their debut album in any case. No Filter unveils a raw, rugged, uncut and uncompromising aesthetic, and that is exactly what the players deliver. The sheer hardness of their attack has the front row initially leaning back, eyebrows raised and then heads nodding in hypnosis when the full force of the music really starts to kick in.
What JBL trio does so compellingly is show the roots of hip hop in funk and jazz, making the very important point that the kick drum-led 'boom bap', that heartbeat throb that has come to mould pop music in the millennium, is part of a wider rhythmic lexicon that includes a more fluid swing and the loose, floating 'free' metre associated with the avant-garde. The cohesion with which all these enduring historical elements are handled is enhanced by the 'live mixtape' format of the set whereby half a dozen pieces, which include 'Lament For JLew', 'Raise Up off Me', 'Zen' and 'Able Souls Dig Planets', form a suite that unfurls like a long exhalation of energy marked by careful hiccoughs.
Lewis, whose previous release Divine Travels saw him work with veterans William Parker and Gerald Cleaver, has a wrought iron tone and punchy phrasing that references as much the instrumental R&B tradition as it does jazz, and in many ways his ability to create riffs that have the feel of 'breaks' serves as a potent reminder of both the ingenuity of players like Eddie Harris in the 1970s and the visionary use of horn samples by Public Enemy in the 1980s. JBL's immersion in hip hop is reflected by a very personal way of sculpting timbres to create a distortion that sounds uncannily like a DJ's 'backward scratch'.
Bassist Stewart also pushes his sound into interestingly undefined spaces, using electronics to fashion sometimes very austere, spectral resonances that have an industrial rock flavour, but he also impresses for the sharpness of his movement between lower and upper register, and the expert timing with which he hits the unison lines with Lewis. As for Crudup, who drew such a broad smile from McLaughlin, he is a powerful anchor and agitator of rhythm, filling spaces with sufficient additional commentary on the beat without unhinging the ensemble voice. His snare and tom sounds are pleasingly dry, cementing the tough vocabulary of his partners. The closer 'Bittersweet' is a wry, downbeat lament, the calm after the storm, a soothing ballad for an audience that has greatly relished its time in the tremulous eye of the hurricane.
– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Tim Dickeson