Trumpet

This venue has deep historical resonance for black music in Britain. It has been a nerve centre for community activism in the West Indian community, a hub for the Notting Hill carnival, a fact denoted by a large plaque dedicated to Claudia Jones, one of its co-founders, and a forum for black culture and politics in general. All of which is duly reflected by the on-stage repartee of the America-based Trinidadian trumpeter-vocalist-percussionist Etienne Charles. His introduction to every piece is bolstered by anecdotes that charm and shock in equal measure. Before playing one of the highlights of the gig, 'Speed City', Charles draws attention to the picture in the corridor of John Carlos and Tommie Smith, the two African-American sprinters banned for making the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics, and points out that the over-achieving Athletics Department in San Jose they represented was also shut down by way of sanction. The song has an appropriately high tempo, a rhythmic synthesis of funk and house, and a stinging theme from which Charles and tenor saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael draw punchy, pugnacious solos, creating a blend of defiance and celebration that galvanizes a thoroughly responsive audience.

Taken from Charles' current album, The San Jose Suite, the song is a leitmotif for his artistic identity, insofar as it casts astute composing and arranging against a political backdrop that could not be more relevant to the times in which we live. Without missing a beat Charles calls out the Windrush scandal and leads the band in a spirited rendition of 'My Landlady', a biting observation on the bitter realities of housing for blacks in post-war Britain by Lord Kitchener, one of the defining figures of calypso, from whom Charles draws great inspiration. Since his 2009 debut, Folklore, he has been one of the most progressive of contemporary Caribbean musicians, primarily because of his deep immersion in the work of his forebears and desire to stretch tradition towards modernity without weakening its foundation. This is an impressive concert insofar as Charles has a local pick-up band with which he has had precious little rehearsal time, but the cohesion of the ensemble carries the performance through the inevitable moments of hesitation due to the relative unfamiliarity the players have with the material, which networks a wide range of idioms from the black diaspora. Drummer Rod Youngs and double-bassist Alex Davis have the requisite bounce on the calypsos and harder 'one drop' groove on the dub, while Dominic Canning shows an assured touch on the Fender Rhodes. However, it is guitarist Shirley Tetteh, noted for her work with Nérija, who makes some of the most telling contributions of the night. Her wah-wah technique is sufficiently robust to underline the percussive implications of much of the writing, but it is the beautifully understated, shadowy, almost ghostly nature of her chording, where the notes breathe very gently into life to form a kind of vapour trail around the beat, that is decisive. Softness is strength.

On the sensual love songs, such as Bob Marley's 'Turn Your Lights Down Low', which segues neatly into 'Waiting In Vain', the blend of finesse and fire is superb, though it is Charles' teasing vocal on The Mighty Sparrow's 'Jean And Dinah', full of the spiky irony apposite for a tale of prostitution and the sly corps-a-corps of capitalism and colonialism, that has us rapt. It is a moment for head, heart and feet.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Richard Denney 

 Tous1

'All-star' is a term mostly out of fashion these days. But Jean Toussaint's 6Tet make a convincing case for its reinstatement. This storming gig from the Virgin Islands saxophonist who relocated to London via New York in the 1980s after a stint with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers features a frontline of volcanic energy – trumpeter Byron Wallen and trombonist Dennis Rollins – as well as an eruptive rhythm-section – pianist Jason Rebello, double-bassist Alec Dankworth and drummer Shane Forbes – that calls to mind the heyday of small groups with big sounds, epitomised by Toussaint's former boss. The spirit of Blakey is strong throughout the two sets as several of his trademarks, from heraldic, stirring themes to bluesy unison passages and potent soloing across the whole band, are present and correct.

Furthermore, as he emphatically demonstrates on the group's studio debut, Brother Raymond, Toussaint has injected a bold, robust Afro-Caribbean pulse into much of the music that is further enhanced by the horn players all hitting cowbells, shakers and agogo, just as Blakey's men did on the breakdown of 'A Night In Tunisia' in their hard-bop heyday. Pieces such as 'Amabo' – a tribute to Obama – have a driving, snapping vigour that has real dancefloor appeal, as do a number of other pieces with a similarly punchy, strident dynamism. The bright chording of 'Major Changes' belies the downward cast of its subject matter, Brexit, while the evening's finale, 'Mandingo Brass', is an utterly hypnotic calypso in which the resonant clang of the percussion provides a piercing, entrancing rotation into which drums, bass and piano are drawn before the horns skip heartily into action. Inspired by a band he was in during his formative years in the West Indies, the song has the energy of what is known in the locality as a 'road march', meaning that the sub-text of people letting go to 'jump up' is well to the fore. Joyous as the ensemble playing is, the detail in the individual performances really counts, chief among them being Rollins' enticingly round, bulbous tone that evokes as much the lineage of great latin players such as Raoul De Souza as it does the American titan Curtis Fuller. Then again, Rebello's comping, full of fleet, fluttering, percolating lines, often judiciously filling the breathing space between the horn phrases, serves the important purpose of providing a full spectrum of colour for music that conveys all of the wine-yuh-down abandon of carnival.

Tous2

Having said that, the introspective side of Toussaint the composer also marks the evening. 'Interlude For Idris' and 'Letters To Milena' are gently charming ballads in which the noble whisper of Wallen's trumpet seals the underlying reverence of the music. Yet Toussaint, whose finesse of tone and well-paced, patiently graduated solos, are a reminder of what Blakey heard in him all those years ago, is entirely clear in his mission statement – an evocation of the spirits of 'Buh', Mingus, Monk, Duke and Caribbean and Cuban legends such as Ray Barretto. The result is a statement of modernity borne of tradition that strikes a parallel with the work of The Cookers on the other side of the Atlantic. Those two bands on one bill would be a very hot ticket.

Kevin Le Gendre
Photos by Carl Hyde

 

Hilde-Marie-Holsen photoEspen-Koen-Webjrnsen2

The Norwegian brass-band tradition, which first evolved in that country with the onset of railway construction in the 19th century, is very much alive and kicking, particularly on the western side where Hilde Marie Holsen was raised. It was why she picked up a trumpet in the first place, and after finding classical music too restrictive she moved to jazz, and her favoured form of free-improv with acoustic and processed trumpet.

This is the basis for her second solo release, Lazuli (Hubro) and the record's launch night, an understated affair hosted at Kafé Hærverk in Oslo, a hangout of bare brick and lampshades lovingly reproduced from a 1960s German prototype by a lamp enthusiast (so the English sound engineer told me). The set opened with an extended single note, gentle but assured, hanging in the air like a horn sounded on an ancient longship. Her playing of the acoustic trumpet is minimal and even when she elaborates with melody such as on the track 'Lapis', it follows the modern Scandi template; pared down, muted.

It's in the processed trumpet noises that you feel her thrill, the invention of clicks, hums, fuzz, ripples and radio interference. These electronic manifestations actually give an impression of an analogue of the past, Holsen may be using a laptop and media controller, but she sounds like she's transmitting from a Cold War hideout surrounded by oscillators and code-breaking typewriters. Her nuances force the audience to tune into the slightest glimmer of change, an absorbed silence pervades.

At one point a droning bass follows her melody, a breath lagging behind the timing, like a foreboding shadow. The blue tone, so integral to the original Norwegian jazz wave, is broken on occasion; a flock of metallic noises, playful at first becomes menacing and Hitchcockian as the music intensifies. Shards of emotion break out, when Hilde's instrument rasps or squeals, balancing out the drones. There needs to be more height to the music, and more tension, but without doubt the audience was captivated and Holsen clearly knew how to leave her audience wanting more.

– Debra Richards
– Photo by Espen Koen Webjørnsen 

 Ken-V-2

The streets of Brighton have been overflowing with music fans thanks to this year's Great Escape Festival, whose ever more eclectic programming even expanded beyond it's indie rock remit to include some 'New Thing' jazz artists. As a coda to that event, the ever resourceful promotion partnership of Dictionary Pudding and the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival brought a pair of genuine musical free-thinkers to town.

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love took to the stage, framed by the modishly derelict-industrial girders and brickwork of the Green Door Store, launching immediately into a furious tirade of squalling tenor sax and crashing tides of percussion that gradually coalesced into a swaggering polyrhythmic funk. Vandermark's virtuosity and conviction were instantly present, projecting into the room, but equally impressive was the metronomically insistent power of Nilssen-Love's drumming, his surging, clattering, endlessly inventive playing creating a turbulent sea over which Vandermark surfed, skimming the surface or diving into the groove, responsive to every current and squall. The drummer suddenly dropped out, allowing Vandermark to demonstrate his fluency and imagination in a solo atonal workout, with long gobbling runs, interspersed with fragments of shattered melody, unexpected squawks and honks; Nilssen-Love returning to add terse punctuation. Vandermark's sax barrage resolved into a nagging, insistent three-note phrase which Nilssen-Love converted into a pulsing, monumental beat. Together, the pair ramped up the tension into a towering structure, which then shattered apart under its own internal stresses.

Next Vandermark revealed his extraordinary voice on clarinet; woody and tender in the lower register, ascending to higher notes of laser-beam intensity, melodic lines unfurling into something approaching a jaunty swing. Nilssen-Love responded with a barrage of unorthodox percussive effects that gradually merged into what, during its closing moments, appeared to be a distant relative of a Brazilian Chorinho. Further unexpected traces of Brazilian accents surfaced briefly in the snare patterns and repurposed items of samba percussion accompanying the next searing clarinet exploration. Then, all too soon, we reached the set's climax – a protracted, more conventionally free-improv passage of gnomic dialogue between sax and percussion, all high tones and sudden startling crashes like Japanese Gagaku, growing in intensity and then cataclysmically releasing into a pounding three-beat worthy of John Bonham.

It's a shame that none of the Great Escape crowd were present to witness this radical stomp – but the small, loyal band of supporters give it their all as the dynamic duo bowed, dripping with sweat, and left the stage to make for the bar.

– Eddie Myer

 Nigel

What better way to celebrate the conferring of an honour than to invite a crowd of chums to Ronnie Scott's and then to offer them the company of great musicians and ply them with plentiful food and wine while they wait to greet you? These generous preliminaries preceded the arrival in the club last Friday of Nigel Tully MBE, hot-footing it from the Palace, with distinguished spouse Professor Deborah Cunningham on his arm, medal in hand, and with a smile that lit up the room.

Nigel spoke touchingly of his desire to share his good fortune with the jazz world at large. He then cited his own engagement with music as both player and enthusiast before adding a song with perfect accompaniment by pianist Nikki Iles, tenorist Tim Garland's coda his own special gift. An impromptu display of genius from solo guitarist Martin Taylor followed ahead of chanteuse Tina May's heartfelt set, with Frank Griffith on clarinet and bassist Simon Woolf at the piano. Earlier, the specially assembled line-up of Alex Garnett (as), Alex Ridout (t), Garland, Chelsea Carmichael (bs), Iles (p), Nick Fitch (g), Adam King (b) and Shane Forbes (d) had given us such a rousing display of exuberance, creativity and, yes, humour, that one would have wished it never to stop.

Ex-IBM executive, long-time leader of the Dark Blues function band, Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Musicians and now Executive Chairman of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Nigel has more than earned his musical spurs and fully deserves all the recognition that has come his way. Bravo and thanks, Nigel.

– Peter Vacher
– Photo by Carl Hyde

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