Nathaniel-Facey

Speaking of bebop and the music of Charlie Parker on Dial Records, the veteran Club Eleven drummer Laurie Morgan once said, “It’s still in my opinion the finest jazz that’s ever been played.” Of course, he was harking back to the heady days just after World War Two when this startling music became known and young British modernists fell heavily for it. Given that certainty, I’m sure Laurie would have been newly enthused had he had the chance last Friday to hear Alex Webb’s recreation of the music made by Bird for Dial’s Ross Russell back in the 1940s as presented on the wide-open stage of this imposing hall set in the grounds of St. Paul’s School.

Webb’s show, and that’s what it is, is far more than a repertory run-through of familiar pieces. With his crisply-written but unsparing narrative delivered pleasingly between songs by US expatriate Serena Riley and with appropriate visuals back-projected, each piece was performed by his quintet with the necessary verve and accuracy, but with the added bonus of exceptional solo skills from all concerned. Altoist Nathaniel Facey (pictured top) had these tricky parts down, those tortuous lines still challenging to play today, telling me later that he felt “honoured to be standing in Bird’s shoes” and produced fast-fingered solos of exceptional quality.

Webb told me that given the chance Facey “would play all night” and certainly his fund of ideas on up-tempo lines like ‘Ornithology’ and ‘Quasimodo’ seemed unstoppable. This young veteran, now 32, is an exceptional player, as able to find the poignancy in a quartet version of ‘The Gypsy’ as he was to fire off cascades of taut phrases on the bop classics. His front-line co-partner Freddy Gavita on trumpet also impressed at every stage, his solos a model of constructive thought and fire, their joint handling of the heads as clearly articulated and vibrant as you could want.

Where the Dial recordings included the lachrymose vocals of Earl Coleman, here they underwent a gender change and were handled by Georgia Mancio, whose honeyed sound and jazz feel on such as ‘Dark Shadows’ and the lively encore ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ was a joy. Good work throughout by Webb on piano, guitarist Jo Caleb, bassist Alex Davis and drummer Shane Forbes ensured that swing was uppermost, tricky routines safely navigated and the sheer elan and creative zest of all twenty pieces thoroughly explored and maintained. Seventy years old this music may be but on this showing it’s as fresh and relevant as ever.

– Peter Vacher

Genre-mashing keyboardist and one of the hottest properties of the past decade, Robert Glasper returns to his piano trio roots when he releases a new album Covered on 15 June on Blue Note. Recorded with his original trio of bassist Vicente Archer and drummer Damion Reid, who played with Glasper on his first two Blue Note albums, Canvas and In My Element, the album was tracked live at the famous Capitol Studios in Hollywood and features newly composed material alongside interpretations of tunes by Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, John Legend and a co-write with legendary singer and activist Harry Belafonte.

Glasper, who has recently signed an exclusive deal to play Steinway pianos, took his trio into New York’s revered Village Vanguard for a week in late February and has also composed music for the forthcoming bio-pic of Miles Davis, Miles Ahead, which is directed by and stars actor Don Cheadle. Following the release of Covered, his seventh album, the Glasper Trio hit the UK in August for dates at Royal Northern College Of Music in Manchester (8 Aug); Brecon Jazz Festival, Wales (9 Aug), The Hub, Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh Festival (10 Aug) and a much-anticipated return to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London for three nights 12-14 August.

– Jon Newey


Eliane-Elias

Sometimes seeing jazz gigs feels a bit like trophy hunting. Everyone has a list of targets, and high up on mine, amid transatlantic migrants and flightless rarities seldom seen in the UK, were the names of two Brazilian keys-playing vocalists.

I discovered Eliane Elias during a year at music college when I transcribed her take on ‘But Not For Me’ from Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans and got hooked on her supple sense of swing. Ed Motta’s brand of throwback 1970s soul is an equally serious, if more recent addiction, so the chance of seeing them both was always going to be too good to pass up.

Despite a few issues with the sound, they didn’t disappoint. Both chose to focus on their latest releases – Elias with a set of slinky bossas from her latest album, Made in Brazil, supplemented by Brazilian classics like ‘Chega de Saudade’, ‘Chiclete com Banana’ and ‘So Danço Samba’ and two tracks (‘I Thought About You’ and ‘Embraceable You’) from her 2013 Chet Baker tribute album; and Motta with material from 2013 release AOR, arguably his strongest to date. But both musicians went well beyond the recorded versions.

Switching between piano and Fender Rhodes, Elias played with characteristic elegance, imbuing her lines with a coconut palm sway that matched her languid vocals. Yet there was a gutsiness to her playing too and, as she traded solos with bassist Marc Johnson and energetic drummer Rafael Barata, hunching her shoulders and hammering out octaves, glistening grace notes and bursts of tremolo, she sounded less restrained than she does on record.

Motta left most of the instrumental solos to his ultra tight, globetrotting band, comprising French bassist Laurent Salzard; Finnish guitarist Arto Mäkelä; German keys player Matti Klein and Lisbon-born drummer Miguel Casais, allowing him to focus on the vocals. ‘Simple Guy’ basked in a husky, all encompassing warmth, he chewed up the lyrics to ‘Smile’ and growled and whooped through ‘Dondi’, pouting and grimacing with delight.

Gems from his back catalogue got similarly inventive treatment. The urgent bass groove and zappy, sci-fi synth lines of ‘Drive Me Crazy’ were gloriously rendered and ‘My Rules’ became an extended beatboxing breakdown, in which he gnashed his teeth and imitated drum machines, stomach churning bass vocoders, backing vocals and horn lines.

What really stood out though, in both performances, was passion for the music and the milieu in which it was produced. Elias’ set was interwoven with reflections on the beauty of the coastal region of Bahia, anecdotes about Antônio Carlos Jobim’s legendary womanising and biographies of lesser-known songwriters. I didn’t know that Chet Baker’s unaffected vocals and habit of phrasing across the barline was an influence on pioneers of the bossa nova or that Elias first toured with Jobim when she was just 17.

There was a beguiling eccentricity to Motta’s conversation and he seemed most at home joking with the Brazilians in the crowd and persuading them that ‘Colombina’ was a better choice of encore than ‘Manuel’, one of his best-loved tracks. In between, he paid tribute to Dom Salvador (“the first musician to mix jazz, soul and samba”), explained that AOR stands for Adult Oriented Rock, a 1970s sub genre that he worships but playfully derides, and expounded on his love for Magnum P.I., a shining example of “AOR lifestyle” and one of a number of TV theme tunes that have influenced the album.

It would have been nice if the two musicians had played together – Motta features on ‘Vida’, the seventh track on Made In Brazil so that would have been the obvious choice – but I can’t grumble. This was still a dream way to kill two birds with one stone.

– Thomas Rees @ThomasNRees

One of the 20th century’s greatest guitarists, B.B. King, has died in Las Vegas at 89 after a career in blues music spanning 66 years. Born Riley B. King and later nicknamed B.B., he began to develop a uniquely jazzy, sophisticated blues style in Memphis in the late 1940s, earning a reputation for his silky voice and singing guitar lines. King grew to become a major influence on just about every electric guitarist who followed him.

He was a particularly strong inspiration for British players during the British blues boom of the 1960s, leaving an indelible mark on the music of guitar icons Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and above all, Peter Green. B.B. King’s own style was deeply affected by jazz as well as traditional blues forms, his songs often incorporating jazz harmonies and extended improvisations, while his bands typically included full horn sections. With a discography that stretches to over 50 albums, 'The Thrill Is Gone' remains one of his best-known tunes .

A man who made music his life and never ceased to perform for his fans, King’s presence will be sorely missed, while his music continues to inspire yet further generations of listeners.

– Marlowe Heywood-Thornes

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

Remember him this way

Three essential B.B. King albums:

B.B. King Live at the Regal (ABC/Paramount)

B.B. King Completely Well (Bluesway)

B.B. King Live in The Cook County Jail (ABC)

The second tranche of names has been announced for the EFG London Jazz Festival, which takes place from 13-22 November, with fast rising Grammy nominated singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and fellow Grammy nominated singer/songwriter Melody Gardot, as part of the EFG Excellence Series, extending the 2015 festival’s special focus on the art of jazz vocal. Salvant has a highly anticipated new album, For One To Love, scheduled for release on Mack Avenue on 25 August while Gardot’s new album, Currency Of Man, is released by Concord on 1 June. They both join Cassandra Wilson, Kurt Elling and Jarrod Lawson in what is already a heavy jazz vocal presence with other names to be added in forthcoming months.

Also just booked for the festival, for which Jazzwise is media partner, are the Andy Sheppard Quartet, with Michele Rabbia, Eivind Aarset and Michel Benita playing music from the recent ECM album Surrounded By Sea; former James Brown funky sax legend Maceo Parker; hotly tipped Cuban pianist David Virelles; the Family Jazz All Stars with Juliet Kelly; Scottish beat-driven trip hoppers Hidden Orchestra; Ibrahim Maalouf and Manu Katché double bill; Miami-based Cuban’s Tiempro Libre, and London-based Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale with a new project Within The Waves.

Among the other major names already announced for this 23rd edition of the festival are: Maria Schneider Orchestra; Nik Bärtsch; Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn; Sons of Kemet; James Farm featuring Joshua Redman; Christian Scott and Derrick Hodge double bill; Average White Band and Kokomo double bill; the Britten Sinfonia with Eddie Gómez performing a new commission; and a celebration of Paul Whiteman featuring Guy Barker, Keith Nichols and the Jazz Repertory Company.

– Jon Newey

For all ticket details and information go to www.efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk

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