TD-KurtElling-11
With optimistic weather firmly in place and the Montpellier Gardens site festooned with flags, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival kicked off its weekend programme with a circus swagger as the massed pomp of the Guy Barker Big Band and the BBC Concert Orchestra pitched up at the Big Top venue for a special broadcast of BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night. This now traditional festival opener upped the ante this year with a triumvirate of three of the hottest contemporary jazz singers, Kurt Elling, Liane Carroll and Curtis Stigers, who tore into the prohibition era Hoods, Horns and Hooch theme with spirited individual and collective performances of ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, ‘Stormy Weather’, ‘Someday You’ll Be Sorry’, ‘Minnie The Moocher’ and a rumbustious Louis Prima medley, suggesting that these three should step out again rather soon.

TD-Loose-Tubes-32
The
talking point of the weekend was of course the return of Loose Tubes, marking 30 years since their formation and more pertinently 24 years since their last gig together. What could have been one almighty disappointment was soon all too obviously a triumph, with the multi-coloured maverick monstrosity back in force. The 21 members sauntered on to the vast Big Top stage to be greeted by a 1,000-strong crowd, and proceeded to deliver in spades. Old favourites ‘Yellow Hill’, ‘Säd Afrika’ and ‘Exeter, King of Cities’ all sounded as resplendent and brightly hued as the band’s shirts, Ashley Slater’s disco-ball style shoes and Eddie Parker’s black and white striped trousers which must have been visible across most of the Cotswolds. Yet it was the new Radio 3 commissioned material that showed how the band have moved with the times as spiky themes, such as Parker’s cool-toned ‘Bright Smoke, Cold Fire’ and Bates’ ‘As I Was Saying…’ shimmered and darted with a steely modern edge. Still playing with an irreverence and self-confidence that fuelled much of the British jazz boom of the 1980s, Loose Tubes sealed things with a simply superb take on ‘The Last Word’, its militant reggae hits stamped with a ripping trombone blast from Richard Pywell. Long may they stay reunited.

TD-Michael-Wollny-04If Loose Tubes did complexity on a grand scale then German piano star Michael Wollny’s trio delved into the dark and enticing corners of his imagination on a thrilling set that was the weekend’s other outstanding performance. Playing music from his new album, Weltentraum, Wollny conjured wonders from the microtonal to the moving, magical and outright mesmerising as he and drummer Eric Schaefer set up a telepathic maelstrom. Viennese choral music never sounded so hip, given a pensively lyrical twist here by the trio on Alban Berg’s ‘Nacht’. Bassist Christian Weber did more than fill Tim Lefebvre’s absence (he’s on the album, but not on the tour) by corralling the white hot spikes of energy that were soon boiling up between piano and drums, Wollny often doubling and quadrupling rhythms over Schaefer’s blitzkrieg of beats. This performance echoed an early Cheltenham appearance by EST in 2002, that augured great things for the Swedish trio; surely bigger stages and much bigger audiences beckon now for Wollny whose trio is arguably one of the very best in the world today.

Cheltenham makes a virtue of diversity so it was Kurt Elling’s suave and swinging Hammond and guitar-fuelled band that found him exploring far more soul-rock directions in one of several gigs in the reinstated Town Hall venue. Denys Baptiste also played to a full house earlier in the afternoon with his Now Is The Time, a gospel inflected wide-screen prequel to Let Freedom Ring, that combines an impressive large ensemble, strings and choir conducted by Harry Brown and sharpened by polemical poetry projections from Lemn Sissay. Brooklyn funk fusioneers Snarky Puppy burnt the midnight oil with a blasting set that felt a little rushed and initially suffered from a harsh sound mix. Not that the largely twentysomething audience seemed to care – this was their gig and they loved it.

TD-Ambrose-Akinmusire-01
The star of Sunday’s programme was Oakland trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire – who linked in Blue Note Records’ 75th anniversary, along with fellow labelmate Gregory Porter, with whom he appeared as a very welcome guest in the Big Top later on. Akinmusire’s archly complex, slightly oblique composing style is sometimes a little too dense on record, but playing to a packed Jazz Arena his music was pushed along by the heavyweight grooves of bassist Harish Raghaven and outstanding young drummer Justin Brown, who added elasticity and great feel to the labyrinthine tunes. Yet it was new piece, ‘Milky Pete’, with its propulsive ostinato melody and densely packed structure that saw Sam Harris dig deep into his Rhodes and had the trumpeter weaving more golden threads on top with another eye and ear opening solo.

The Parabola Arts Centre is such a valuable space away from the headline grabbing artists and perfect for Iain Balamy’s Anorak XL to showcase his outstandingly whimsical themes – ‘Lobster Upgrade Mondays’ and ‘Chompin’ at the Saveloy’ among the highlights – all capped with some excellent solos from himself, Nathaniel Facey, Freddie Gavita and Kieron McLeod, while Dan Nicholls’ Strobes and Thomas Strønen’s Time is a Blind Guide, featuring Kit Downes, were vital components to this outer limits strand.

TD-Anorak-10
Back in the Big Top, drum demigod Billy Cobham made being 70 look easy, as he whipped up a fusion tornado with his Tales From The Skeleton Coast band – flashing around his kit like a man half his age.

Gregory Porter’s strutting soul-jazz love-in at a sold-out Big Top was given some welcome gravitas with the presence of trumpeter Akinmusire. He joined fiery altoist Yohsuke Satoh to create some sublime horn parts, while also stepping up for ‘Song For My Father’, Porter recalling the Horace Silver classic as a formative moment in his early introduction to Blue Note, the label that he’s now signed to. ‘Liquid Spirit’ was rattled off like the hit single it is, but Wayne Shorter’s ‘Black Nile’ from his 1964 Blue Note album Night Dreamer, was as dark and dangerous as you could wish for – Porter scatting with venom, Satoh and Akinmusire following suit on their solos.

In what could well be considered a vintage year the abiding memory will be the return of Loose Tubes, who emphatically seized the moment and made this theirs, and many others, jazz weekend of the year so far.

– Mike Flynn and Jon Newey
– Photos © Tim Dickeson

 

Phronesis-jazzahead
If anyone doubts that there’s a worldwide jazz industry surviving, and indeed thriving today then they need to visit Jazzahead! in Bremen as the feverish networking, deal making and concert going reached new levels of intensity this year. With a 100 concerts taking place at venues within the conference centre, the wonderful 500-seater Schlachthof – the imposing converted slaughterhouse nearby – and numerous clubs around the city. The sheer number of international jazz bodies, record labels, promoters and artists present made this ninth edition the premier jazz expo and showcase in Europe, if not the world.

Among the musical highlights piano trio Phronesis (pictured top) gave a spirited performance as part of the Danish music showcase on Thursday – bassist/band director Jasper Høiby the Danish native alongside Swedish drummer Anton Eger and English pianist Ivo Neame – playing melodically-driven music from their latest album, Life To Everything. Fellow Danes Girls In Airports followed this with a varied half-hour of sounds that ranged from alluring Nordic-noir soundscapes and frenetic Afro-beat marimba and horns. The German showcase on Friday offered more variety with rising stars Tingvall Trio, led by the charismatic pianist Martin Tingvall, tearing into their set of snappy post-EST melodies with serious rhythmic intent. Saxophonist Peter Ehwald’s Double Trouble – aptly named after their twin double bass plus drums formation – created a lurching low-end sound that balanced delicate counterpoint with clattering, out-and-out skronk all without a distortion pedal in sight.

Slovakian pianist Kaja Draksler presented her meditative classically-influenced solo pieces from her recent album The Lives Of Many Others, which, while requiring patience to appreciate, rewarded with a performance full of imagination and daring from this most exciting composer and performer. More otherworldly sounds came from hugely innovative Italian percussionist and sound-sculptor Michele Rabbia who performed his mutli-media Dokumenta Sonum project that mixed a surreal David Lynch-ian sound world of electronically effected bells, drums and cymbals with a glitchy, beat-driven film, the results eerily compelling.

Marc-Carey-10
Fittingly it was the Schlachthof that played host to some of the standout gigs of the weekend with the forward-looking Motéma label bringing in many of its key artists including bassist Charnett Moffett, pianist Marc Cary and saxophonist Jacques Schwartz-Bart. Moffett’s solo bass sets are compelling affairs – part swashbuckling flash, part solo technical master class, part effortless swing – but it was Marc Cary and his Focus Trio (pictured above) that shook the walls with their molten blend of burning NYC post-bop, twisted Mwandishi funk and explosive Indo-jazz (see the full concert below).

Shai-Maestro-Trio-04
As if to prove that the piano trio remains one of the most versatile and exciting formats for jazz today Israeli pianist Shai Maestro (pictured above) lit up the Halle 2 stage for a late-night set on Saturday that showed just how much he’s grown as a solo artist since his formative days alongside Avishai Cohen. While the rhythmic complexity of his former boss’s music remains, Maestro’s shimmering chords and dynamic build ups – always capped by whizzing piano and drum cross-currents from Ziv Ravitz – highlighted the pianist’s impassioned, emotionally rich compositions. Bassist Jorge Roeder did a fine job of anchoring the trio with fulsome tone and deft bass lines.

Elephant-9-11
The eclectic nature of today’s jazz scene continued as Saturday night opened at the Schlachthof with the Dutch Tin Men and the Telephone’s mesmerising and highly entertaining use of technology via interactive visuals, and the incredible worldly blend of oud, percussion, bass, tarhu (Australian cello) that was brought together by L'Hijâz'Car whose brilliantly arranged and well rehearsed set brought a rapturous response. The band that had been on everyone’s lips throughout the weekend were Norse noise gods Elephant9 (pictured above). They duly delivered a blistering acid-fried wall of churning Hammond and Rhodes from Supersilent/Humcrush keys genius Ståle Storløkken, with thunderous yet funky bass and drums from Nikolai Eilertsen and Torstein Lofthus sliced through with switchblade swathes of sound from guest guitarist Reine Fiske. Their breathless 30 minutes was painfully short; the set felt like it was over only five minutes later – a bit like this most frantic yet fantastic weekend of jazz that’s still racing ahead.

– Mike Flynn

 – Photos © Tim Dickeson

Borneo-Jazz-2014If you're not sure where to go on vacation, you could start by picking a music festival first. With so many of them dotting the globe in some of the most exotic, fascinating places, it's a guaranteed highlight on your trip. One of the most interesting destinations, the two day Borneo Jazz Festival, is coming up on Friday 9 May and Saturday 10 May in Miri, a small city in Malaysia’s state of Sarawak, North Borneo. Maria Bakkalapulo guides you through the sights and sounds of this year’s event (follow her on Twitter @mbakkalapulo)

To find it, guide your finger around the huge island of Borneo, up the east coast until you find the state of Sarawak. Look a bit closer, halfway along the northern coast, just beside Brunei, and you’re there. Miri’s oil industry brought much foreign investment into the area and, with it, a large expatriate community with an appetite for music they cannot find on local radio and TV. Miri is also the gateway for tourists wishing to explore several national parks, including the breathtaking limestone caves of Gunung Mulu National Park.

The city hosts the yearly Borneo Jazz festival, organized by Sarawak Tourism Board, supported by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Ministry of Tourism Sarawak. This two-day festival is one of the island's most popular music events bringing jazz artists from around the world. It’s a remote destination, which is a big part of the festival’s appeal.

“Borneo Jazz has a resort, laid-back atmosphere by having an open-air stage right by the sea, in expansive grounds of the Parkcity Everly Hotel,” explains Jun-Lin Yeoh, the festival’s artistic director. “We unashamedly put on anything and everything from boogie woogie to New Orleans jazz to swing to gypsy jazz to bebop to Ethno jazz to funk.”

With so many large-capacity festivals mushrooming up in the region, from Java Jazz in Indonesia to Bangkok Jazz in Thailand, Miri keeps it intimate, where you can watch the sunset and listen to some great music in a much more chilled out vibe.

Borneo Jazz Festival 2014 Lineup:

Diana Liu (Sarawak)
Diana-Liu-2

Sarawak’s own jazz singer / songwriter Diana Liu returns to her home state for a special performance. After studying music in New Zealand and Australia, Liu returned to Sarawak in 2007. In 2009, she released her debut Mandarin album. The album’s success took her around the region performing at Java Jazz in Indonesia and the ASEAN Jazz festival in Batam. In 2010, she collaborated with some of the best jazz artists in Indonesia for the compilation ‘album Women in Love,’ spotlighting young female artists. Her latest release, Sunny Days, is out on Warner Music Malaysia. She is joined at Borneo Jazz by – Lewis Pragasam of Malaysia, Christy Smith of USA, Tan Wee Siang of Singapore, Greg Lyons of Britain.

Mario Canonge (Martinique)

Mario-Canonge-2
Piano virtuoso Mario Canonge brings the fiery energy of the Caribbean to the heart of Borneo. Studying in France, Canonge created his own distinct sound by jazz genres with rhythms of his native land such as mazurka and the biguine. By the late 1980s, he formed the zouk group and later joined legendary zouk group Le Grand Méchant Zouk, a special ensemble group made up of the Antilles' most famous zouk stars of the time. Canonge decided to split off on his own, and in 1992, he released his popular solo album Going Back to My Roots, selling over 15,000 copies. After touring the world for more than two decades, Canoge continues to be in great demand, performing with the likes of Lavelle, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nicole Croisille, Ralph Thamar and Carter Jefferson.

Anthony Strong (UK)
Anthony Strong-2

Pianist, singer and songwriter Anthony Strong has supported stars such as B.B. King, Charolette Church and many others. He also has toured extensively in Europe and played Jerry Lee Lewis in a West End production of Million Dollar Quartet. He is signed to French label Naïve, home of Adele, Carla Bruni and Katie Melua, which released his debut album Stepping Out in April 2013.

Vocal Sampling (Cuba)
Vocal-Sampling-2

Latin Grammy nominated Vocal Sampling may sound like a full salsa band, but they are an all-male six piece Cuban acapella group. Using their amazing vocal abilities, cupped hands and their bodies, they create salsa, son and Rhumba rhythms by imitating a range of instruments, from the piano, conga, cowbell and various brass instruments. The six members of Vocal Sampling met at Havana’s Instituto Superior de Art, creating this unique style of music when they couldn’t find the right instruments for their house parties. Vocal Sampling has performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival and had toured throughout Latin America, Europe and Asia.

YK Band (Indonesia)
YK-Band

Proving that jazz has traveled everywhere, meet the YK Samarinda Band from East Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). The group formed when two friends, Yusuf and King, were asked to play a local event back in 2003. Then keyboardist Yin and Thrash Metal drummer Avant joined, the quartet was formed and they chose jazz as their music path, combined with ethnic songs of Kalimantan.

Iriao (Georgia)
Iriao

Finding jazz in another far-flung place, this time Georgia. Iriao is a Georgian ethno-jazz band from Tbilisi, Georgia. They use folk traditions as the building blocks of their music, creating something new with vocal polyphony, jazz and improvisation.

Brassballett (Germany)

An 11 member band from Hamburg that combines brass playing with funky dance moves.The brain child of band leader Wassilij Goron. Brassballett formed in 2011 - these instrumentalists not only play their instruments, they get down to it too on stage. Wassilij, a dancer himself, wanted to create a more lively stage show, rather than musicians playing on stage. He decided o create a show where dance is as much a center of the performance as the music. Playing the gamut - from jazz to hip-hop and salsa.

Junkofunc (Malaysia)
Junkofunc-1

Coming back to Malaysia’s homegrown talent, Junkofunc also aim to engerise the crowds at Miri, with their blend of funk with a touch of soul. Junkofunc played their first gig in 2008 when they were asked to perform at the Genting International Jazz Festival, an hour’s drive outside of Kuala Lumpur.

For more information go to www.jazzborneo.com 

 

VEINGregOsbySwiss piano trio Vein are set to play their second UK date this week at the Vortex jazz club, London on 24 April, with special guest, US saxophone star Greg Osby. Led by drummer Florian Arbenz, alongside his brother/pianist Michael Arbenz with bassist Thomas Lähns, the group have been making waves in their homeland since their eponymous debut album in 2006, releasing a steady stream of albums that blend traditional piano trio sounds with propulsive riffing and relentless grooves.

Their 2011 album, Vein Plays Porgy and Bess, saw them exploring Gershwin’s classic work from a fresh perspective and their subsequent tour with leading US saxophonist Dave Liebman also spawned an album in 2012, Vein featuring Dave Liebman. For these UK dates, which included a gig at Band On The Wall in Manchester on Tuesday, the trio are joined by regular collaborator Osby who’s best known for his work with the influential M-Base collective and its composer Steve Coleman, and for his extensive period recording for the Blue Note label. Vein with Osby will be performing highly charged music from the group’s latest critically acclaimed album, Vote for Vein, as part of their European tour.

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.vortexjazz.co.uk and www.vein.ch

 

focus-trio-250Motéma label-signed Washington DC-based group Marc Cary Focus Trio are set to make their UK debut with two performances in London next week. Hotfooting it from weekend showcases at the big JazzAhead! exhibition and showcase in Bremen, Germany this weekend where they will be performing as part of a Motéma showcase night alongside labelmates bassist Charnett Moffett and drummer Will Calhoun. Pianist Cary and his band of bassist Rashaan Carter and drummer Sameer Gupta will be hitting the award-winning south London venue Hideaway, Streatham for their first ever UK gig on 29 April, in what will be the first in a series curated under the banner of Chris Philips Presents… in association with Jazz FM and Hideaway and will also feature an opening support spot from new jazztronica band, J-Sonix – an off-shoot of six-piece latin-funk band J-Sonics (who also appear at Hideaway on 15 May).  

Marc Cary has been a powerful presence on the US scene since the 1990s, working with neo-soul, hip hop and jazz artists ranging from Erykah Badu, Roy Hargrove and Q-Tip, through to Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Horn and a long-running partnership with revered singer Abbey Lincoln. With his Focus Trio, Cary explores a wide-angle mix of hard hitting yet melodic modern jazz, Indian rhythms, Fender Rhodes melodies and frenetic group improvisation as featured on their latest album, Four Directions. Kevin Le Gendre reviewed the album in Jazzwise last October, saying: “With a wide range of colours, rhythmic invention and above all wistful melodicism, Four Directions is more than another piano trio record. This is an electro-acoustic tour de force that stands on the conviction that innovation can spring from deep within traditions rather than tradition.”  

Cary then appears the next night, 30 April, at the second annual UNESCO World Jazz Day concert at Hall One, Kings Place, having made an explosive contribution to the inaugural event last year at the Brixton-based SGI Buddhist centre. Click here for more info on this exciting bill that also features Headhunters founding member Bennie Maupin alongside the UK all-star Human Revolution Orchestra.  

– Mike Flynn

For more info go to www.hideawaylive.co.uk 


 

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