Stanko HI res fot Karol Sokolowski 025

A grand occasion for a towering figure in Polish music. Tomasz Stańko has founding father status as one of the post-war players who fostered the significant growth of jazz in the Eastern European country whose scene has since seen the emergence of several other feted champions. Fittingly, the 75-year-old trumpeter leads a quartet comprising musicians half his age, but the other major selling point of the gig is the presence of the NFM Philharmonic Orchestra, arranged and conducted by Krzysztof Herdzin.

Those with long memories will know that Stańko worked with the pioneering Globe Unity Orchestra back in the 1970s, and that he has always shifted astutely between post-bop and avant-garde pathways. Hence the prospect of hearing his broad, at times brash, at times plaintive tone cast against a stage full of strings and horns is mouth-watering. The majesty Stańko has often been able to evoke in his vast discography, above all on highlights such as 1976's Fish Face and 1999's Litania, his urbane take on the music of Krzystof Komeda, the iconic, enduringly influential composer with whom he worked in the 1960s, should lend itself well to such a dignified setting.

Stanko HI res fot Karol Sokolowski 022

So it proves intermittently. Backed by drummer, Michal Miskiewicz, double-bassist Slamowir Kurkiewicz and pianist Dominik Wania, Stańko, a master of what he himself termed the 'heavy ballad', projects commandingly in the 1,800 capacity concert hall, which is sold out, and the airy, swish strains provided by the orchestra serve to heighten that, bringing out the precise, dry crackle of his brass all the more. While the mysterioso, sombre grace of Ascenseur-era Miles is part of his vocabulary Stańko has a hard, if not austere turn of phrase that is utterly gripping at times. The set-list comprises excellent material from recent works with his New York Quartet such as 'Dernier Cri' and 'Wislawa', which the band negotiates well, handling the buoyant swing and lithe, looser, more metrically open passages with a deft touch. Pianist Wania takes fine solos on which his harmonic finesse is matched by carefully channelled rhythmic drive from bassist Kurkiewicz and drummer Miskiewicz.

Sadly, there is a major problem with the arrangements. The horns are mostly underused, and the biggest disappointment is the inappropriately saccharine preludes and interludes on some pieces that stray far from the innate character of the band, to the extent that when the quartet is left alone without the orchestra the performance is enhanced rather than impoverished. The rest of the set has some beautiful melodies – 'The Street Of Crocodiles', 'Oni', 'April Story' – but the sense of imbalance between the orchestra and the band is a shame, given the potential of the meeting on paper.

Having said that, Stańko, radiating charisma in a bright red beret and slick dark suit, plays too lyrically for the concert not to engage a highly responsive and openly appreciative audience. Last year I was lucky enough to see him play with his New York quartet at Gateshead and the performance, marked by superb interplay and probing improvisations, was brilliant. This Polish band is also excellent, but the question is, how can a soloist of Stanko's immense stature be most adequately served in an orchestral setting in one of the best concert halls in the world? There are hints of an answer tonight, but the enquiry on 'Stańko symfonicznie' shouldn't stop here.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Karol Sokołowski

This Hawksmoor church in Bloomsbury is by no means familiar to the majority of jazz audiences. It is not on the recognised circuit of venues. But that in itself is telling. Although she is a known quantity in the world of improvisation, Elaine Mitchener resolutely resists easy categorisation. St. George's should suit her constituency; whoever does not subscribe to a rigid separation of music, dance, mime and theatre.

She is a vocal and movement artist, and this premiere of 'Sweet Tooth' is a cross-disciplinary piece in which sound and vision, and, perhaps more importantly, the specific layout of the space, are all used in the course of a quite gripping performance. A meditation on slavery in Jamaica, and the closely related sugar industry, a hugely lucrative business and culturally transformative phenomenon in the UK, the piece is as thought-provoking as it imaginative, effectively conveying the dehumanisation of bondage by way of chilling detail as well as compelling stagecraft. In real terms, that means that the spreading of sound sources around the pews and altar – Jason Yarde's baritone saxophone, Sylvia Hallett's violin and Mark Sanders drums – creates a disturbing sense of oppressive forces enclosing the listener, as if the rumble of the horn, buzz saw of strings and skitter of percussion mark out borders not to be crossed.

Mitchener IMG 2450

When all the performers move slowly around the audience with birches that might well represent cane stalks that they then whip crisply in the air, it feels as if runaways are being apprehended and punished before they can clear the limits of the plantation. The sense of discomfort around me is palpable. As is the moment when Mitchener reads a list of slave names from an 1813 inventory without accompanying music with such mechanical precision that it seems the roll-call is endless, the descriptions of the human cargo blurring into anonymity only to be punctuated by a terribly poignant entry such as 'Delia, sickly'. Mitchener's entirely visceral gestural range, directed by Dam Van Huynh, which involves pulling her hair, lashing her buttocks and twisting and contorting her mouth to evoke the heinous 'scold's bridle' used to torture slaves, provides an equally potent counterpoint to this passage of calm, controlled menace.

Divided into six movements that draw on far-reaching historical material such as kumina, the Congo-derived religious song and the 'scramble', the unseemly jostling for prize specimens at auction time, 'Sweet Tooth' is an uncompromisingly graphic treatment of a traumatic subject. Mitchener's considerable theatrical and vocal ability lead her to draw out nuance in a single broken phrase, the juddering clicks well enhanced by the braying overtones of Yarde's soprano and the wavering of Hallett's accordion, a kind of morbid Scottish reel amid the wasteland of blighted lives.

From the moment she runs at full pelt, screaming into view, Mitchener adopts an artistically brave stance that has notable historical precedents. It was in Abbey Lincoln's hugely controversial evocation of plantation rape in America on Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite and also in the revolutionary poetry of Aimé Césaire's Cahier D'Un Retour Au Pays Natal, where the author raised 'le grand cri negre' against the deaf ears of those who refused to hear the ongoing echoes of post-slavery psychosis in Martinique. 'Sweet Tooth' is a vital black British addition to those seminal creative statements of resistance and defiance from the African Diaspora.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Robert Piwko

When composer and pianist Peter Lemer recorded Local Colour in 1966, he could hardly have believed it would be celebrated 52 years later with a triumphant 'live' performance and re-release of his critically acclaimed album. Yet, when Lemer sat at the Steinway on stage at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on a cold February night, he was warmed by the enthusiastic audience reaction and honoured by the support of his handpicked musicians.

These included John Surman (making a rare club appearance), Jon Hiseman and Tony Reeves, who had all played on the original album. The newcomer to this Son of Local Colour show was Alan Skidmore, called upon to 'dep' at the last minute for an unwell George Khan. The composer explained as he introduced the group: "This is rather an unusual evening for me – and all of us! Does anyone remember 1966? That's when I put some extraordinary musicians together and made my album. Now we can continue where we left off!"

It was a gratifying experience to witness such creativity unfolding before an attentive crowd. Lemer's pioneering jazz-fusion ideas owed their appeal and success to blending arrangements and definable themes, while allowing space for cutting edge improvisation. Over two sets, the group explored the depths of such compositions as Carla Bley's extremely fast 'Ictus', with Skidmore's tenor taking the first solo followed by Surman's soprano. On 'Flowville' Surman revealed his amazing command of the mighty baritone sax, deep, resonant notes flowing from mouthpiece to distant bell, the keys manipulated with finger-popping dexterity.

'Big Dick', a tribute to the late Dick Heckstall-Smith, proved a popular three note jam vehicle with soprano displays from John and more fiery tenor work from 'Skid'. But it was John Coltrane's high flying 'Impressions' that saw the group move into top gear, with an explosive Hiseman unleashed spurred by Reeves' pulsating double bass. 'Blues For Something Funny' led Alan to hint darkly "And it won't make you laugh" amid much laughter. The boppish blues made a superb finale. Peter Lemer had the last word. Despite the sheer modernity of the music we'd just heard, it was now 52 years old: "This is trad jazz!"

– Chris Welch

Local Colour is available on vinyl LP re-issued by ESP-DISK

Two of British jazz's biggest names – former Miles Davis bass alumnus Dave Holland and renowned improv legend Evan Parker – play two back-to-back concerts (at 8.15pm and 10pm), at The Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston, London on 1 March, with 100 per cent of ticket sales going to the venue. At a time when it is increasingly challenging for venues and arts organisations to contniue cutting-edge programming, the duo's support will help ensure the Vortex remains a bastion of high-calibre and innovative contemporary music in the capital.

The pair, who first performed together in the 1960s and countless times since, are set to release a new collaborative album, Uncharted Territories, released on 11 May on the bassist's Dare2 label. The pair are joined by heavyweight US pianist Craig Taborn and rising star drummer/percussionist Ches Smith, across the album's 23 improvised tracks, which are to be released on 2CDs and a 3LP set.

Ahead of this Holland and Parker have also released an exclusive duo track – to raise further funds for the Vortex – which can be downloaded here:

davehollandevanparkerinduo.bandcamp.com

Mike Flynn

The programme for the sixth edition of the Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival, which runs from 15 to 18 March 2018, has been announced and includes several anniversary-themed concerts. The first of these will see renowned local jazz-rockers Get the Blessing (pictured above left) unveiling their brand new 'Bristopolis' project inspired and utilising archive footage of Bristol drawn from the last 100 years, shot by amateur filmmakers and stored in the city's archives at Create Bristol. The band will be working with John Minton (who already provides visuals for them, as well as for Portishead and Moog Ensemble) and will be writing new music for this special project, which rumours suggest may well become their next album.

Another fascinating addition will be a specially convened band to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's iconic Electric Ladyland album (originally released on 16 October 1968), which will see an all-star Brit jazz band of Laura Jurd, Yazz Ahmed, Winston Rollins, Richard Henry, Iain Ballamy, Thad Kelly, Daisy Palmer and Noel Langley, who line-up under the musical direction of guitarist Denny Ilett, who takes inspiration from the legendary Gil Evan's 1970s reworkings of the Hendrix material.

There's also a guitar-soaked tribute to blues rock legends Cream, under the banner of Cream '68, with axe-slingers Neville Marten, Mick Taylor and Jamie Dickson saluting the iconic trio's final concert at the Albert Hall in 1968. Cult Fiction is another unique concert at the festival, an expansive jazz-meets-classical programme of cult TV and movie themes, conducted by William Goodchild, with comic actor Matt Berry providing links in his own inimitable style.

Further names announced include venerated US saxophonist Lee Konitz with his Quartet; renowned percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie (above centre) with guitarist Ant Law's Trio HLK and an Edition Records double-bill topped by Phronesis keys star Ivo Neame with support from folk-tronica group Snowpoet, with both group's albums released in the spring as part of the label's 10th anniversary year. There are also concerts from top guitar duo Martin Taylor and Ulf Wakenius, Polly Gibbons/James Pearson Quintet; Arun Ghosh; The Big Swing with the Bruce/Ilett Big Band; Asaf Sirkis/ Sylwia Bialas IQ; Enrico Tomasso's High Standards; Cartoon Jazz II featuring Ian Shaw; and jazz-funk sax don Pee Wee Ellis Quartet (above right) featuring Jason Rebello, Alec Dankworth and Julie Saury. The principal concerts will take place at the Colston Hall's main stage, Lantern Theatre and large foyer space, with additional concerts at participating venues the Folk House, Bambalan and The Forge.

– Mike Flynn

Full timings and tickets are available from www.bristoljazzandbluesfest.com

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