Bath Festival applied radical surgery to their roster of festivals in 2017, merging the literature and music events and running a single, multi-arts programme over two weeks in May. 2018 has seen the second edition of the new look festival and the music strand had a diverse and expansive take on jazz and improvised music. There was something global, something local, something old and something new.

House of Waters kicked things off, injecting an international outlook with the first of a series of gigs at Komedia. The New York-based trio's distinctive sound, with Max ZT on hammered dulcimer, Moto Fukushima on six-string bass and Ignacio Rivas Bixio on drums, blended ideas from Indian, African, Latin musics and more with pulsating grooves. It's a quirky fusion and they rock, a fact signalled by their signing to Snarky Puppy's GroundUP imprint. The NY Music Daily's description of them as the most original band on the planet may be rather over-heated, but they put on an absorbing and exciting show.

A couple of weeks later, the local rounded things off. The 'Jazz at the Vaults' session emerged from it's cellar to recreate the format of their fortnightly gig, house rhythm section plus guests, in the grandeur of the Masonic Hall. The festival billing had local forceful and virtuosic trumpeter Jonny Bruce for a set, followed by Tony Kofi. Bruce delivered a swaggering, swinging performance, dipping into classic standards including 'St James Infirmary' and 'Sunny Side of the Street'. Kofi joined him for a burn-up through 'Night in Tunisia'. Kofi made his trademark dip into the Monk oeuvre, starting off with 'Hackensack' and returning later with 'Monk's Dream'. The trio were right there with him, their bounce and verve getting the capacity crowd going. Bassist Wade Edwards is the man behind the regular session. He's been working with Vyv-Hope Scott on piano and Trevor Davies on drums for over a decade, and it shows. Another Bruce-Kofi blast on 'Scotch and Water' to end had everyone on their feet.

Between the global-local bookends, there was a taste of what's causing a buzz on the London and national scenes. Maisha (top) took to the stage in Komedia and were straight into the fusion of Afro-beat and ecstatic jazz that has had everyone talking. The axis of drummer Jake Long, bassist Twm Dylan, Shirley Tetteh's guitar and percussionist Tim Doyle time and again built-up layers of locked tight and irresistible polyrhythms. Nubya Garcia delivered chanting incantations before building into swirling, fiery solos. Sarah Tandy's keyboards provided textures, punctuation and some incendiary soloing that threatened to steal the show. This was new British jazz storming the festival and winning a lot of admirers.

KSmittyBathFest preview

Kansas Smitty's are getting to be festival favourites wherever they go. Their set at Komedia the next night was, as ever, largely original, but steeped in the jazz tradition, and often as not straight out of New Orleans. They've got pulling power as well. Jason Rebello was depping on piano and Claire Teal stepped up to guest on a couple of songs in the second set and summed them up in a neat line: "100 years of jazz, nothing clichéd and everything authentic". As if it to prove the point they brought the curtain down with a storming rendition of 'The Way You're Livin', a belting Dixie-funk style groove and Pete Horsfall's raunchy vocal setting the scene for a blistering solo from Giacomo Smith on alto. Extended pleading from a grateful crowd brought them back for one more.

Back with 'Jazz at the Vaults' at the Masonic Hall on the last night it was the same story. After all the thanks had been declared, bows taken and good nights wished, then a bout of foot stamping and cheering forced the band back on stage for a final blast as they blew 'Perdido' inside out. The festival had touched a lot of bases with a handful of performances and it went down a storm.

Mike Collins

PY

Catching bands at the beginning of their journeys is so often a joy. Compositions are fresh and authentic and genuine pleasure is taken from performances in which every player offers pretty much everything they've got. 

So it was with PYJAEN at Peckham's Ghost Notes this week. This is a quintet now edging into 'hot' territory – so soon after starting out late last year – and one that's now being picked up by festival and club bookers all over the country. Comprised of friends from Trinity Laban's jazz course, the group effortlessly meld funk, modern jazz, Afro-beat, disco and hip hop references without the listener really hearing the seams. Of course, using categories to describe contemporary music is always a bit lame – so let's just say PYJAEN have their own sound, with compositions by all of its members that seem to be of a piece.

Let's also not get stuck on the name of the band (maybe pronounced 'pie-jan'); it doesn't mean anything, it's simply the result of an in-joke after a barista at the Brainchild Festival mis-scrawled the name of trumpet player Dylan Jones on a takeaway coffee cup. But the new word expressed something that summed up where the musicians are at. From the off, PYJAEN set up a groove propelled with dynamism and formidable technique by bassist Ben Crane, guitarist Dani Diodato and drummer Charlie Hutchinson – one that rarely let up all night.

But driving rhythm and danceability did not mean tunefulness was sacrificed. Tracks like Diodato's 'Tapa' and 'SE Wave' are made up of powerful horn-lines with angular asides and the occasional unexpected departure. Lovely wide intervals on tenor and trumpet suddenly converge, creating powerful intricate unison passages in a manner that reminded a little of late 1970s Brecker Brothers. That thought returned when Jones added a very effective phasing effect, like Randy on 'Heavy Metal Be-Bop'. His soloing featured long phrases across the full range of the horn, with plenty of chromaticism, high-octave exclamations and inside out harmony. Tenor player Ben Vize was similarly exciting, with a full, well-balanced gutsy sound and soloed with plenty of clever twists and pyrotechnic sorties into the upper register.

Despite the newness of the band and material, there were no music stands or any glancing at charts; the material had been internalised to the extent that the musicians could relax into each tune and fully commit to each piece. This is not a band where one could imagine deps casually slotting in; the quality of this sort of performance hinges on hours working as a unit, a unit that breaks out into virtuosic solos. Though the mood was generally uplifting and exhilarating, there were hints of a darker sensibility and more intimacy with standout tracks such as Jones' 'Free Your Dreams' and Crane's 'Steve', the latter set up by a lilting, wistful bassline. For this piece, Vize took to his soprano, starting reflectively and establishing a pool of quiet that might have benefitted from the band taking a little longer to ratchet up the volume and intensity.

The trains on the Catford loop line passing close, but inaudibly, behind the band (the venue is on the fifth floor of Peckham Levels, in line with the elevated railway) added a curiously suitable backdrop to the gig: the sense of a band developing rapidly and going places. But wherever they eventually end up, there's probably no time like the present to catch them.

– Adam McCulloch
– Photo by Glauco Canalis

 

Since its beginnings in 2006, Brighton's festival of new music, The Great Escape has had very little jazz programming, so it was inspiring to see a selection of some of the best acts from the new wave of British jazz. Kicking off on Friday night at beachfront nightclub Shooshh with performances from Poppy Ajudha and Kamaal Williams, the main jazz highlight of the weekend was with a triple bill on Saturday night. This took place downstairs at Patterns and featured sets by pianist Ashley Henry (pictured top), drummer Yussef Dayes and group of the moment, Sons of Kemet.

Pianist Ashley Henry performed some of his latest music with double bassist Ferg Ireland and drummer Dexter Hercules, including a piece from his forthcoming album, the energetic and upbeat 'Sunrise', which demonstrated his ever-increasing maturity as a composer. The pianist followed this with his cover version of the Nas tune 'The World Is Yours', highlighting not just his skill as an interpreter and arranger but also his empathy and interplay with his trio. The formidable vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett joined the group for the track 'Pressure', from Henry's Easter EP, and gave the group a greater sense of urgency, singing impassioned words over a steady, soulful groove. The final tune of their set, the grooving samba title track of Henry's Easter EP, featured more impressive vocal work from Adams-Burnett, some fluid and lyrical solo lines from Henry and gave Hercules the chance to show why he's one of today's most in-demand drummers.

yusef-dayes

Fellow sticksman Yussef Dayes (above) continues to develop as a bandleader since the Yussef Kamaal split of last year. Here he displayed his impressive technical mastery of the kit but was clearly happy to also sit back and play simpler, more relaxed grooves that allowed the other members of the trio to take the spotlight. With well-chosen riffs, inspired timbre selection and perfect timing, former NYJO pianist Charlie Stacey brought something different, applying his virtuosity to a set of keyboards, creating layers of futuristic sounds on top of deep, grooving bass lines. Guitarist Mansur Brown also conjured up an impressive set of different timbres to introduce tunes with gentle, acoustic lines before interweaving rocking melodic lines as the intensity increased.

sonsofkemet

One of the best albums of the year so far, Sons of Kemet's Your Queen Is A Reptile, provided all of the material for their set, beginning with the grooving 'My Queen Is Ada Eastman'. The two drummers set up the groove, then Theon Cross' tuba entered with a pumping bass line, followed by Shabaka Hutchings' (above) melodic sax on top. Although very much a collective endeavour, Cross stood out, not just for playing an instrument rarely heard in a jazz context, but also for his hypnotic grooves, which were reliably on the beat, virtuosic and mesmerising.

– Charlie Anderson
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley

Released last month on Basho Records, Birdsong/Cân yr Adar fuses disparate elements – from jazz, folk and contemporary classical music – into something transcendent and utterly singular. Hearing the work at its London album launch, in the beautiful setting of St John's Downshire Hill, from the opening 'Birdsong Chorale' to the climactic closing bars of 'Owl Song/Can y Gwdihw', the joyous, almost ecstatic quality of the music-making was even more pronounced than on the recording. The octet featured co-composers Kizzy Crawford (voice, guitar) and Gwilym Simcock (piano), plus a group of stellar musicians drawn from the Welsh chamber orchestra Sinfonia Cymru – violinists Simmy Singh and Lucy McKay, violist Fran Gilbert, cellist Abel Selaocoe, flautist Helen Wilson, plus horn player Carys Evans. At its heart, the work celebrates a unique rainforest in Powys, Carngafallt, using the seasons to describe the lives of its birds, trees and flowers through a yearly cycle. Central to its soundworld is the bilingual text setting, reflecting Crawford's deep love for, and intimate knowledge of, the Welsh language. 

Kizzy-Gwilym1

Both structurally and harmonically, the individual song structures were anything but typical, each one being packed with ear-catching detail. Highlights included Simcock interrupting his powerful vamp during 'Wildlife/Bywyd Gwyllt' to play the inside of his Fazioli grand piano like a bodhrán, the gorgeous harmonic shifts of 'Rhododendron', the almost Ravelian sensuousness of the opening passage of 'Angelic Soul/Enaid Angylaidd', the stacked up vocal harmonies in 'Back to the Trees/Nôl i'r Coed' and the breathtakingly blissful highpoints of 'Into The Dark Mystical Beauty/Mewn i'r Harddwch Tywyll Cyfriniol'. The performance also included a visual element, with the artist Ruby Fox creating a kaleidoscopic projected backdrop, an interpretation of what she herself saw and experienced when she visited Carngafallt. The pleasingly cyclical nature of the piece was expressed by the musicians processing on one by one at the beginning, improvising sounds from the rainforest, then similarly processing off at the end, returning to the same rainforest soundworld. It's a passionate and, at times, overwhelming work, a stunning achievement that is, without question, one of the albums of the year.

Peter Quinn

Photos by David Forman

Chelsea's salubrious jazz den, the 606 Club, is to mark its 30th anniversary at its Lots Road locale with a starry 12-nights of over 30 Brit-jazz names strongly associated with the venue, including an extremely rare club appearance by jazz star Jamie Cullum on 22 May. Unsurprisingly, the latter night has already sold out, yet there are plenty more highlights to enjoy between 16 - 27 May, which include leading UK jazz singers Claire Martin, Liane Carroll, Jacqui Dankworth and Polly Gibbons, jazz-funk gents Hamish Stewart and Tony O'Malley, Kansas Smitty's saxophonist Giacomo Smith and drummer Clark Tracey's Quintet.

Further bookings include a Basho Music night (23 May) featuring Mercury nominated pianist Gwilym Simcock with top UK bassist Laurence Cottle, who appear before forward-looking contemporary jazz group The Printmakers (above centre) featuring pianist Nikki Iles, vocalist Norma Winstone, guitarist John Parricelli, saxophonist Mark Lockheart, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Tim Giles. There's also a Sisters of Soul night (25 May) that unites soul-jazz singers Imaani, Vanessa Haynes and Mary Pearce with a stellar band; and things conclude on Sunday 27 May with a packed line-up of afternoon and evening performances from the likes of Alice Zawadzki/Rob Luft Duo, Claire Martin/Jim Mullen Duo, the Rachael Calladine Quintet and Latin-jazz band Samara.

Opened by owner (and fine flautist) Steve Rubie on London's King's Road in 1976, and named after its 606 address, the club's increasing popularity necessitated a move in May 1988 to the larger space in Chelsea, which has proved a winning location for showcasing the best home-grown jazz talents ever since.

Mike Flynn

For complete listings visit www.606club.co.uk

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