The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which takes place from 16 to 25 November, is starting to take shape with some heavyweight additions now in place. Chief among these will be the powerful UPLIFT group led by eternally questing US trumpeter Dave Douglas (above centre), the band's cutting-edge personnel including iconoclastic electric bassist/producer Bill Laswell, guitarists Mary Halvorson and Rafiq Bhatia, renowned saxophonist Jon Irabagon and rising star drummer/percussionist Ches Smith (Queen Elizabeth Hall, 16 Nov).

Another genre-smashing highlight will be a rare UK appearance by Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar who leads his 17-piece Rivers of Sound ensemble through his impassioned Middle Eastern-tinged vision of contemporary jazz and the musical heritage of his homeland (Kings Place, 16 Nov). With 1970s fusion enjoying renewed popularity, bass hero Stanley Clarke (above left) heads up his feisty young electric band in a double bill with jazz-funk icons the Headhunters, who appear with key original members Bill Summers, Paul Jackson and Mike Clark (Royal Festival Hall, 20 Nov). There's also a mouth-watering reunion of imperious Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen's (above right) epoch-defining Trio with pianist Shai Maestro and drummer Mark Guiliana. They join forces at the Barbican to celebrate a decade since they unleashed their Gently Disturbed album which spawned a new generation of acoustic power threesomes, not least Phronesis (24 November).

Further new additions include bluegrass stars Punch Brothers (Barbican, 16 Nov); composer Bramwell Tovey in collaboration British-Iranian turntabalist Shiva Feshareki and the BBC Concert Orchestra (QEH, 18 Nov); cool piano-led jazz from the Darius Brubeck Quartet (Kings Place, 21 Nov); the creole/folk duo of cellist Leyla McCalla and guitarist/singer Melissa Laveaux (Cadogan Hall, 20 Nov) and the exuberant Jamaican jazz of virtuoso pianist Monty Alexander (Cadogan Hall, 25 Nov).

These artists join those already announced in Jazzwise, who are media partners for the festival, including: Jazz Voice (RFH, 16 Nov); Tord Gustavsen Trio (Cadogan Hall, 16 Nov); Bobby McFerrin (Barbican, 18 Nov); Lea DeLaria (Bridge Theatre, 18 Nov); Elina Duni/Rob Luft (Clapham Omnibus, 18 Nov); Youn Sun Nah (QEH, 20 Nov); Orphy Robinson's Astral Weeks (QEH, 19 Nov); Eddie Parker's Mirrored (Purcell Room, 20 Nov); Myra Melford's Snowy Egret Band (Purcell Room, 23 Nov); Richard Pite's Jazz Repertory Company (Cadogan Hall, 24 Nov); BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018 Final (QEH, 24 Nov) and Madeleine PeyrouxAnthem tour (RFH, 24 Nov).

Mike Flynn

For full details and tickets visit www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

 

Every music festival has its logistical problems – from gremlins in the backline equipment to stormy weather for open-air gigs – but the most common obstacle that producers have to clear is that of transport. Flight delays are almost a given. So it proves this time round for Jazzkaar when an electrical fault at Amsterdam airport grounds half of Nik Bärtsch's Mobile. Only the pianist-leader and drummer Nicholas Stocker (above), who had travelled to the Estonian capital Tallinn, on other flights, made the gig. They present what could be called R.M.E – Reduced Mobile Experience.

Bärtsch makes light of the situation by welcoming the audience to the 'premiere' of a new band, and that raises the stakes. Is the duo going to be the quartet by half or two musicians creating as much interest as four? It is definitely the latter, and then some. Bärtsch's core principles are still identifiable – serial structures; eerie, icy motifs, particularly from his finely-weighted right hand; start of a new cycle marked by his trademark cry of "Oh!"; slow-burn narratives that release tension at crucial moments. However, this intricate groove aesthetic, touched by minimalism and non-western music, is really enhanced by Stocker's outstanding work on drums. The sensitivity and economy of his touch brings out a considerable amount of detail in the music that makes the absence of bass clarinet and additional percussion anything but problematic. Stocker's discreet, almost spectral drifts into melody, by way of a glockenspiel and kalimba thumb piano, enhance the uncluttered grace of the duo.

This and other headline concerts at the 10-day event – that included, prior to my arrival, The Bad Plus, Ambrose Akinmusire, Cory Henry and Sons of Kemet, to name but some – take place at two venues at the Telliskivi centre, a hipsterish cultural hub that encourages people to see as much music as possible. If Bärstch went down well at the large concert hall of Vaba Lava, then Delbecq 3 is an equal success in the smaller adjacent space of Punane Maja. French pianist Benoit Delbecq has been one of the most consistently creative figures in improvised music in the past decade, counting the likes of Mal Waldron and Muhal Richard Abrams as sources of inspiration, while being able to fashion his own language in many different contexts. This trio, featuring Canadian double-bassist Miles Perkin and Congolese drummer Émile Blayenda, has a fascinating blend of metric ingenuity and soundscaping, but the advanced numbers games and otherworldly sounds yielded by Delbecq's careful use of prepared piano do not obstruct the clarity and focus of the music. Blayenda, who is also of the acclaimed Les Tambours De Brazzaville, is something of a marvel, and the range of timbres he draws from several calabashes combined with his sparing depolyment of cymbals takes him far away from kit-drum conventions, without compromising the nuanced dynamics of the ensemble.

Kirke-Karja

Less engaging are the singers who come thick and fast on the closing weekend – Britain's Myles Sankho, as well as Estonia's Ashilevi and Anna Poldvee all have decent voices, but their material, broaching soul, electronica and rock to varying degrees, is unfortunately pedestrian. In contrast, the 'home concerts', which as the name suggests, are gigs in front rooms, are a real pleasure. Taking place in relaxed atmospheres where the hosts provide hospitality, the performance is more like a gathering among friends than a concert per se and certainly provides the opportunity to hear an artist up close and personal. Pianist Kirke Karja (above), one of the figureheads of a new generation of very gifted Estonian musicians, plays an engrossing set in a spacious lounge, with sunlight streaming in on a Steinway, which she uses to display the full range of compositional ideas that catch the ear for a lyricism that frequently soars over stark, sometimes austere harmonies. Her time is sufficiently fluid to make her switch between counts of  four, seven and nine, with the alterations being seamless rather than telegraphic. And her ability to draw inspiration from Stravinsky or Debussy, all the while avoiding any 'classical jazz' typecasting, is excellent. Her compatriot, bassist Peedu Kass (below) also acquits himself well, giving a consummate display of rhythmic verve, sweet balladry and technological ingenuity on acoustic and electric versions of the instrument. He starts with Mingus' 'Goodbye Porkpie Hat' and climaxes with Massive Attack's 'Teardrop', but between there is a bracing African-oriented number reflecting the influence of Rich Brown.

Peedu-Kass

Plugged-in sounds of a different kind prove to be a fitting climax to the festival. Bill Evans' Petite Blonde is the group that might convert fusionphobes before they blow the amp of their own prejudice. With the powerhouse rhythm section of Dennis Chambers and Gary Grainger as its axis this is a solidly funky quartet that makes much of a hard steady downbeat and slinky themes and unison lines from their leader's saxophone, still sporting the bandana from his distant Milesian days, and Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius. Wakenius is a dazzling soloist whose gritty, occasionally grinding tone and expanded lines, bubbling over with energy and agitation, are a potent compliment to Evans, harmonically. In any case, the keyboard-less group sound has an edge that is appreciated by a wildly responsive audience. Then again, in their centenary year of independence, Estonians have no problem lifting their voices.

Kevin Le Gendre

It's a small town, Cheltenham, and the jazz festival is a big deal both locally and nationally. So, thousands converged on the marquee-filled main site in baking hot weather for a programme combining crowd-pleasing big gigs – notably vocalists like Randy Crawford and Van Morrison – with jazz 'names' including Courtney Pine (above) and Jason Moran. Crucially, programmers Tony Dudley-Evans and Emily Jones ensured a strand of edgier, forward-looking music centred in the smaller Parabola Theatre, providing plenty for the jazz-minded to get their teeth into.

That venue's Friday-night programme had a pleasing unity, two concerts linked by a live 'remix' of the first which began with Swiss vocalist Lucia Cadotsch's Speak Low trio. Performing to some inner soundtrack, Cadotsch's unforced vocals coolly unfurled laconic standards and others while Otis Sandsjö's circular-breathing tenor sax and Petter Eldh's incessant bass followed their own paths around her. More unity of purpose fired ENEMY's powerful set, with drummer James Maddren's polyrhythms and the returning Eldh's unflinching bass providing proper foils to Kit Downes' increasingly complex piano visions. Numbers like 'Faster Than Light' became mini-suites, subliminal melodies emerging through pyrotechnic episodes and shifting moods. This was then excellently exploited by the remix team of Iain Chambers and Dan Nicholls, elements of both sets merging into a pulsing stream to create a virtual band-that-never-was.

Dinosaur2

This all led nicely into Dinosaur's (above) preview of their imminent Wonder Trail album, an entertainingly post-pop set of tunes reflecting the band's four diverse musical personalities. The deft economy of Laura Jurd's trumpet being less foregrounded, quirky cuts like 'Set Free' and 'And Still We Wonder' evinced an old-school Canterbury feel, while other tunes recalled 1980s synth-pop. It was good, bright stuff, musical intelligence laced with whimsy. Other Parabola highlights over the weekend included the willful theatrics of Estonian singer Kadri Voorand, whose attentive band somehow managed to stay with her whooping, roaring, harmonising and looping vocals, while the relaunched Roller Trio, now with added Chris Sharkey, revisited 'The Nail That Stands Up' (the only 'old' tune they played) and revealed how their new material has a tighter feel, thanks to Sharkey's electronica. Yet the group retains the rawness that made their name. Their next album – due this summer – should be a corker.

Kaadri-Voorand

The increased use of electronica was a definite trend across the festival, with drummer Jim Black's deployment of the tactile Roli keyboard in his Malamute quartet somewhat of a revelation. Fortunately, it didn't wholly obscure his distinctively forceful drumming, but the band's brash sound was blunted by the oddly muted tone of Óskar Gudjónsson's tenor sax. It seemed an odd choice for Black's otherwise typically assertive project, and the contrast with Donny McCaslin's (below) crisp howl the next day was marked. McCaslin's similar line-up benefited from Zach Danziger's whip-tight energy on drums, precision bass-playing from Kevin Scott and Jason Lindner's imaginative electronics. The music pulsed and throbbed with rock energy, with the sax soaring at its centre.

DonnyM

Seeing the Roller Trio had cost me Jason Moran – by all accounts a real class act – so I made sure to catch the last half of Christian McBride's Big Band (below) in the Town Hall. It didn't disappoint, the genial bandleader's impeccable bass with Quincy Phillips' drums the cucumber-cool foundation for excellent charts, including a joyfully funky setting of George Duke's 'The Black Messiah (Pt II)' that gave pianist Xavier Davis his well-deserved McCoy Tyner moment. Their rich, classic sound filled the room with a fine restatement of the jazz heritage.

Christian-M

It may have been that reminder – or possibly the introductory announcement as "the greatest jazz musician in the world" – that made me less positive about Kamasi Washington's set. The band's sheer power is indisputably impressive, and there were fine solos from keyboard-player Brandon Coleman and Washington himself (below), but overall the brashness of sound and similarity of the pieces became wearing. I was in a tiny minority, though, in a massively approving sold-out big top crowd.

Kamsi1

By contrast what pushed my buttons the most were three sets epitomising the value of collaboration and restraint. The Andy Sheppard Quartet, as ever, revolved around the leader's highly distinctive sax voice and lyrical imagination as composer and player. His latest ECM release, Romaria, gives more space to his excellent collaborators, notably Eivind Aarset's guitar-driven electronica. Played live, 'They Came From The North' revealed a new, rockier sound arising from an icy ambience, Seb Rochford's usually diffident drumming even bursting out for a jazz-rock moment, before things ultimately resolved into more typical calmness. Like Sheppard, Swiss trio VEIN are 'serial collaborators'. Their own sound was a tight and tidy contemporary chamber jazz which generously opened to make space for guest saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, in a set featuring their arrangements of pieces by Ravel. It was a happy combination of meticulous group-playing fleshed out by the warmth and fluidity of the saxophone. The unity of playing suggested they had collaborated for years, but as far as I know this short tour was a first meeting.

Bill-Thomas-Morgan

Finally, one of the ultimate collaborative players, Bill Frisell, showcased his artful partnership with bassist Thomas Morgan. The duo (above) provided an absolute masterclass in interactive improvisation. Somewhat dwarfed by the Town Hall's big auditorium, the two musicians began what would be over an hour of, more or less, continuous playing, standard tunes glimpsed as they evolved them onwards with absolute empathy. You had the sense, as they shared glances onstage, that they were oblivious to their audience, so wrapped up in listening and responding to what they were hearing. It was breathtaking stuff – Morgan's playing was a particular revelation – and an unshowy crystallisation of what jazz is all about.

– Tony Benjamin

Photographs by Tim Dickeson

"Five disillusioned anti-Brexit punk soldiers...", is how Dave Morecroft, commander-in-chief of WorldService Project, portrays his troupe. Launching their fourth album, Serve, at a special edition of Jazz In The Round at the Cockpit Theatre, it's clear a lot has happened since their previous album For King and Country. At the Kings Place launch in 2016, just prior to the Brexit referendum, Dave Morecroft warmly encouraged us to vote. At the Cockpit in 2018, he and his musical soldiers sortied onto the stage, surrounded on all sides, still in their imperial military uniforms, this time bandaged and bruised with stage make-up, dripping with sticky blood.

While the letters pages of Jazzwise argue about whether politics belongs in jazz, the quintet has elected to "sharpen the sabre of our political wit," serving up a darker, more directly engaged vision of their characteristic mixture of prog-rock rhythms and jazz-fusion themes. It isn't really the 'punk jazz' they're calling it, except in the renewed intensity of its political disgust; musically, it's still their recognisable mixture of Cardiacs and Flat Earth Society, with knotty riffs and sequences of daringly-related chords dotted with 'Diablo en Musica'.

WSP-cockpit-1

Anger and frustration at the problems in our society and politics are central to their message, but the group's Python-esque sense of humour remains a key weapon in their arsenal. At gigs, Morecroft dons a terrifying mask with wild eyes and a shock of red hair, becoming Mr Giggles, the group's dark clown and manifestation of pure id, whose self-defeating narcissism makes him the Pound-shop-crowned man of the moment. 'The Tale of Mr Giggles' is a pedagogical fable in rhyming quatrains that might stray too far into preachiness, but 'Now This Means War' is a dark, committed musical-cum-spoken word piece in English, French, Italian and German that leaves no doubt about the height of the stakes at this time in our history.

Harry Pope's galvanising drumming and Arthur O'Hara's thick electric-bass drive the multiphonic sound of WorldService Project, but when combined with saxophonist Phil Meadows they form the "equal parts trio" Skint, who opened this evening's gig. Exploring the productive contemporary interspace between jazz, grime, Afro-beat and EDM genres, hits from a Roland SPD-X sampler pad give an out-of-a-box electro dressing with an inadvertently comic edge from some overfamiliar presets. But the group's playing is hard and heavy, and Meadows' soloing is serious jazz from the Rollins template. When they bust into a bashment rhythm and a single-note alto riff you can imagine Shabaka ringing the horn at the Steam Down club in Deptford, which is where the kids were dancing on the same night.

There is a zeitgeist connecting both bands here: WorldService Project speak to its politics, while Skint to its music.

– AJ Dehany

James Turner

It's 10 years since Esbjörn Svensson's death on 14 June, but EST's odd afterlife continues. Listen to their new archive album, EST Live in London, and their radicalism has gone, absorbed into the youthful appeal of GoGo Penguin and the rest. What's left is the lyrical beauty and propulsive energy of Svensson's music. April Jazz's opening night in the Finnish city of Espoo continues Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund's refusal to abandon that legacy, with their latest EST Symphony gig under conductor Hans Ek. The seasick lurch and swoon of the Tapiola Sinfonietta's strings on 'EST Prelude' soon gives way to Berglund's buzzing bass urgency on 'When God Created the Coffeebreak'. Svensson's own arrangement of 'Dodge the Dodo' is the most forceful, till Sinfonietta and soloists combine in a roar approximating an amped-up EST. Quiet smiles between Öström and Berglund show their bond with their late friend lives on.

Espoo is a new city, with flat, geometric lines which become beautiful in the borderless buildings, woods and water of Tapiola Garden City, the district where April Jazz is based. The sensation of light and space suits a festival coinciding with the end of Finland's long, bleak winter. Ambrose Akinmusire's night here also feels like a fresh start, as he plays music first heard by his quartet at soundcheck. His trumpet begins on an airy, sky-blue frequency of difficult strangeness, shared by pianist Sam Harris. He then becomes the strong, soft thread through varied sounds channelled towards a constant destination. A high-energy Justin Brown drum solo becomes the dense gravitational core of quartet music of pummelling speed, Akinmusire's hotwired New Orleans phrases fragmenting as if in a hall of mirrors. His progress conjures an eerily exact mental image of an intrepid traveller flanked by jagged, German Expressionist mountains, sometimes piercing and sometimes falling into the melee. During a long encore solo, the fragile human breath behind such magnificent, searching music is movingly clear.

Finland-Bobo-Stenson-Trio-dombr

Veteran Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson hits similar heights by stealth. There's a friendly yin-yang to the way his more youthful drummer Jon Fält's prowling challenge is absorbed by his meditative mastery. You could miss his undemonstrative presence in his own band at times, till he circles a phrase's implications, and mesmerises. Espoo Big Band symbolise the city's own jazz resources. Their last album, Lauma, was released by Blue Note, and a new jazz suite by conductor Marzi Nyman contains a capaciously unpredictable soundworld, from a heartbeat murmur of piano and trombone to antic, barroom raucousness in 'Espoo Blues'.

Saxophonist Mikko Innanen is similarly impish in a gig at a nature reserve, where back-projected Finnish landscapes accompany his trio's non-nationalist refashioning of regional anthems, as when a tuba combines North European and New Orleans syncopation. Espoo Museum of Modern Art is packed for Raoul Björkenheim's quintet, the audience rewarded for their stoicism by being subjected to assault by eyeball-painted ping-pong balls. Björkenheim's trumpeter Verneri Pohjola soon reappears leading Ilmiliekki Quartet, whose intricacy sustains controlled, aloof interest.

The highlight, Akinmusire apart, is though the jams at April Jazz Club, where bop ballads warmly soundtrack drunken conversation. Altoist Ari Jokelainen's pure-toned melodic directness and the watchful enthusiasm of guitarist Tuomo Dahlblom stand out. In the very small hours, even Akinmusire jumps up. Such unfussy potency characterises this festival's music.

– Nick Hasted
– Photos by Ralf Dombrowski

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