Although it is a respected cultural event throughout the Caribbean and the Americas in general, the St. Lucia Jazz Festival gained additional kudos this year through a partnership with Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. While the latter’s avowed role as keeper of the swing-based flame was reflected in some of the programming the pleasingly eclectic week-long offering of music struck a good balance between local and international acts, and acoustic and electric bands. Moreover, the choice of indoor venues is marginally better than in previous years, where some of the hotel ballrooms, so crucial in the history of music in the West Indies, were marred by a soulless atmosphere and poor sound engineering. This year the Ramp in the lively Rodney Bay area and Gros Islet Park are a step up; they have a good layout and sightlines.

Topping the bill were Gregory Porter (pictured above) and Dianne Reeves, two stars with international reps that ensure ticket sales are anything but slow, and the buzz before and after their respective appearances was loud. Yet the real talk of the town turns out to be The Baylor Project, the husband and wife duo of drummer Marcus and singer Jean Baylor. Performing material featured on their Grammy nominated album, The Journey, they are the highlight of a ‘gospel brunch’ at the open air Shangri-La venue, where there is also a strong showing from St. Lucian ensemble Shirley-Ann Cyril-Mayers’ God’s Anointed Ministry. Black church traditions are the order of the day, but the Baylors pull off the considerable feat of capturing the essence of praise songs while avoiding clichés. First and foremost, they draw on a finely shaded palette of modern jazz, as embodied by the likes of Herbie Hancock among others, to bring to the table a flickering subtlety that offsets the rousing energy of spirituals.

There is a misty quality to the combination of Baylor’s voice and Freddie Hendrix’s flugelhorn, whose velvety legatos float around her fluttered phrases, which are well supported by double bassist Rich Goods and pianist Terry Brewer. A daringly re-harmonized ‘Afro-Blue’, complete with strong Afro-centric adlibs from Jean, is masterful. The ensemble pushes the Latin pulse towards an ethereal grace, heard elsewhere in a set which has memorable surprise turns. From Marcus’ discreet use of timpani sticks to saxophonist Keith Loftis’ quotes of 'A Love Supreme', which are finely woven into an arrangement that starts life far away from Coltrane’s timeless monument. A superb gig from artists who warrant a higher profile.

The same can also be said of Somi, who mesmerizes a capacity crowd with a performance that bridges her African-American and African heritages quite seamlessly. Drawing largely from her latest album, Petite Afrique, which places a spotlight on African migration in Harlem, she addresses pressing issues such as the legal and social status of ‘aliens’ as well as gentrification. Somi’s contralto soars powerfully on melodies framed by a spectrum of vivid harmonies by Senegalese guitarist Hervé Samb, whose electro-acoustic sound caresses and energises elaborate arrangements.

Christian McBride St Lucia

On excellent form too is bassist Christian McBride (above), who leads his Inside Straight quintet in a set of mostly original material whose post-bop leanings are marked by the strong personalities who back him, none more so than vibraphonist Warren Wolf. Vocalist Ledisi guests briefly, and she is something of a wandering spirit throughout the festival, sharing the stage with Gregory Porter and headlining her own 'Nina And Me' project, a tribute to Ms Simone that crackles with vitality as a result of the singer’s spirited delivery and the percolating rhythm and brass of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. After starting perhaps with a touch too fire and fury Ledisi settles into a poised delivery that sees her do more than justice to the mix of blues, gospel, jazz, classical and political lyrics of the woman who remains a pivotal model for any generation that cares to see beyond their iPhone screens. Finally. Trinidadian trumpeter, composer and percussionist Etienne Charles’ gig, where his fine band Creole Soul presents an excellent synthesis of Anglophone and francophone Caribbean musical culture, has an intricate yet danceable rhythmic momentum and swooning, often heraldic themes. It is the best possible ad for the African Diaspora.

– Kevin Le Gendre

 

Kate Williams and her distinctive Four Plus Three, that’s her strings and jazz trio line-up, with added guest vocalist Georgia Mancio, had appeared for Watermill Jazz in 2017; now they were back but with a new story to tell. In short, this Watermill visit was a key stopping point on their promotional tour celebrating their co-authored album release, Finding Home. Add in the guest appearance in the second half of John Williams, the internationally renowned classical guitarist and it’s no wonder the tickets sold out fast.

The question for at least one committed listener, was did it swing? Well, yes and no, was the answer. The Williams view is simple enough, create a viable fusion of the two genres, write sympathetically for both ends of the spectrum, let the trio swing and allow the Guastalla Quartet to underpin or take the lead: all for one and one for all. Williams is a resourceful keyboard artist, adept at tricky motifs that build momentum and tension too, darkly chorded at times, at others quite sprightly, with the expertise of bassist Oli Hayhurst and the very tactile drumming of David Ingamells to ensure movement; the strings tucking in to serve each piece’s rise and fall.

All that said, it was the songs that carried the evening with Mancio’s sincerity and eloquence wholly convincing: each explained as it related to the album’s concept of ‘home’, Mancio’s song cycle evoking the plight of the Calais refugee children at its core and truly moving. Her singing has now reached an almost sublime level, clarity and poise personified, phrasing with the ensemble or soaring over, intimate yet dynamic, her liaison with Williams’ musical line just or jubilant as the song requires. Victor Jara’s ‘Caminado, Caminado’ was a triumph, as was Jobim’s ‘No More Blues’. It was Williams Sr’s turn in the second half, his daughter’s extra pieces cleverly structured to allow his clear-cut command to show through, his perfect introduction to ‘We Walk’ leading to an impassioned reading by Mancio. Jazz arguments aside, the entire event was a delight.

Peter Vacher

Christmas comes early for fans of the late, great Brit-jazz tenorist Tubby Hayes as Universal have announced the arrival of an unreleased 1969 studio album, entitled Grits, Beans and Greens: The Lost Fontana Sessions, which is to be released on 26 July, 50 years after its recording.

The tapes were in perfect condition and had never been played since the recording, with reports suggesting the music ranks as highly as Hayes’ classic albums 100% Proof and Mexican Green. Alongside this the label also possesses all of the original tapes for Hayes’ 11 Fontana albums, plus lots of out-takes and never before issued material, all of which will be remastered and reissued in one mighty Tubby Hayes on Fontana box set.

And, in a further move to ensure maximum collectability, all of the albums have been remastered by Gearbox Records, with the LPs being cut to the lacquers directly from the tapes, the resulting pure analogue sound potentially better than the original LPs. Hayes expert Simon Spillett has contributed liner notes to the set which will also features dozens of rare or unseen photos of Tubby in his heyday. “It's hard to believe that this music has lain unheard for fifty years, it's so fresh” says Spillett. “There's no doubt in my mind that had they been issued at the time, these recordings would have been seen as Tubby's last great album”.

See the July issue of Jazzwise for an in-depth feature on this newly discovered album from one of Britain’s most celebrated jazz musicians.

– Mike Flynn

– Photo courtesy Simon-Spillett

catfish sjq

Baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts and guitarist Anton Hunter take their mutant improv duo Ripsaw Catfish out on the road at the end of June.

Catch them at the following venues: Notes & Sounds, University Arms, Sheffield (24 June); Noise Upstairs, Golden Lion, Todmorden (25 June); Flim Flam, Ryan’s Bar, London (26 June) and Summit, The Eagle, Salford (27 June).

Spencer Grady

For more details visit www.cathrobertsmusic.co.uk

Chicago Jazz String Summit 19 9 268 5x7

The fifth annual Chicago Jazz String Summit took place at various venues in Chicago between May 2-5. The brainchild of self-effacing, yet proactive cellist Tomeka Reid, the festival has yet to achieve attention commensurate with its quality of programming. Incredibly, Reid, in the spirit of the AACM’s “start your own thing”, mostly funds the event herself, taking care of artists’ fees, lodging and transportation. “The CJSS was a direct response to the Summit concerts the Jazz Institute of Chicago were having for the typical ‘jazz’ instruments (trumpet, drums, piano, sax) – there was not a summit for the string players,” commented Reid. "The first one was held in 2013. I took an hiatus in 2014 and 2015 due to my own tour schedule and lack of time to raise funds, but I started back in 2016. The event focuses on violin, viola and cello players who are leaders and compose original music. I aim to create community, so we learn each other’s work, build new audiences and encourage string players to improvise more.”

The in-demand Reid is involved in countless projects herself: a few days after the festival she was invited by Joe Morris to join an all-star group with himself, Evan Parker and Ned Rothenberg at Real Art Ways in Connecticut; prior to that she convened her large Reid Stringtet at her alma mater, the University of Maryland, performing music inspired by her mother’s visual art, and also performed at Knoxville’s hip Big Ears Festival with Artifacts, a collective with drummer Mike Reed and flautist Nicole Mitchell; (she was at London’s Cafe OTO with Mitchell and pianist Alexander Hawkins in April). Unlike many curators who give themselves a gig, Reid did not perform until the final night of CJSS at the Hungry Brain, when three combo sets were pulled from a hat. 

Chicago Jazz String Summit 19 9 375 5x7

“I ask that each of the leaders stay for the duration of the Summit, if they are able, and on the last day we have a jam session. I also have all of the sets recorded. One group even released their recording.” No doubt this leads to significant additional expense for Reid but palpably promoted a bonding vibe over the four-day festival which took place at the Arts Club, Constellation, Elastic Arts and the Brain. Genius of sabotage Tristan Honsinger (pictured above) was eager to play for the first time with fellow eccentric Fred Lonberg-Holm in a spontaneous aggregation that opened the jam night and included Vancouver-based violinist Joshua Zubot. Lonberg-Holm laid down rock power, pedal-driven cello distortion with Stirrup – his trio with bassist Nick Macri (pictured below with Lonberg-Holm) and drummer Charles Rumback – for the first set but seemed respectively acquiescent to the unpredictable Honsinger, who gesticulated spasmodically like Popeye with Tourette’s, blurting satirical politicised half-pronouncements when least expected. When Honsinger played at Constellation with In the Sea, bandmates Zubot and bassist Nicolas Caloia had to adapt to the maverick cellist plucking scraps of collaged manuscript from an unruly pile, jump-cutting to a new piece at whim.

Fred Lonberg Holm 19 9 457 5x7

Honsinger feigns dilettantism and stomps feet wildly to his own muse, but archly brings that muse to heel. In sharp contrast the beautifully poised chamber music of fellow cello legend Akua Dixon followed, revisiting arrangements from an eponymous 2014 album with a festival-fresh cadre of collaborators, including violist Leslie DeShazor and violinists Zara Zaharieva and Eddy Kwon. During this recital Dixon demonstrated her prowess as a section mate, drawing on considerable experience in the pit at the Apollo and playing for a plethora of celebrated Broadway productions. Kwon’s exquisite high-register forays on Piazzolla’s 'Libertango' and then 'Besame Mucho' were a highlight, later bested, by all accounts, during a solo set at Elastic. I was suitably berated by Reid for missing that set, but did catch debonair Grammy nominee Sara Caswell’s impressively tight quartet with guitarist Jesse Lewis, bassist Ike Sturm and Jared Schonig. In front of Damon Locks’ evocative logo artwork for the CJSS, Caswell appropriately re-harmonised 'Bye Bye Blackbird' (the image has silhouetted birds emerging from a cello scroll into the Chicago cityscape), continuing with the obscure Jobim piece 'O Que Tinha de Ser' and Egberto Gismonti’s playfully antiphonal '7 Anéis'. 

Due to the limited sustain of their instruments (when unplugged), string players are wonderful to watch as they maintain momentum with dramatic arm movement and are frequently masters of counterpoint, buoying each other with perhaps greater precision and attentiveness than your average jazz axe wielder. Such was amply on display at this ambitious, valuable event, which warrants broader support.

Michael Jackson 

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