Maisha Re-Shape Retro Tropes At Brighton's Patterns

It’s a Tuesday night in Brighton and an expectant crowd have assembled in Patterns nightclub to see Maisha embark on the first date of their belated album tour. There Is A Place came out last October, since when many of the group’s own individual careers have continued to prosper, which may account for the delay in getting the band back together – in any case, they make up for lost time by launching straight into a dynamic rendition of ‘Osiris’ that builds up from its unapologetically retro ambient flute, bells and shakers intro into a pounding Afro-beat flavoured workout.

This same club played host to Gong last week, and tonight’s show seems like a natural continuation of that set of 1970s musical values, travelling into the soundworld once frequented by the likes of Gato Barbieri and Lonnie Liston Smith; all the classic tropes of cosmic groove jazz reinvigorated by the energy and commitment of this fresh-faced crew. Nubya Garcia and Shirley Tetteh are the the dynamic duo in the frontline; Nubya in her characteristic warrior stance at the mic, Shirley bobbing and weaving with the beat, they make a charismatic pair, sharing a relaxed onstage camaraderie. Garcia’s warm rounded tone and effectively economic phrasing contrast nicely with Tetteh’s stinging guitar, and they both know how to build a solo from simple beginnings into wave upon wave of intensity, riding the swell of frantically clicking and shimmering hand percussion and the pulsing gimbri like figures of Twm Dylan’s bass. There are percussion breaks aplenty, mysterioso interludes for flutes and assorted diverse ethnic textures from the suitably attired Tim Doyle, even an extended freeform bass solo linking the tunes together.

Material is played from the whole record, taken at a much higher level of intensity to everyone’s general benefit; two full-length drum solos from leader Jake Long may be a little de trop even in this free-flowing environment, accomplished as they are, but there’s a wonderfully creative Ethiopiques flavoured solo from the new keyboard player that builds into a genuinely uplifting workout before Nubya brings it back home and leaves everyone satisfied that justice has been done.

Eddie Myer

Sco's Combo Show At Cadogan Hall

This was a wonderful set from the former Miles Davis and Billy Cobham guitarist, John Scofield, with a nod to all spheres of his musical development from angular bebop to Louisiana swamp shuffle and avant-blues.

Cadogan Hall is more often a classical hangout, but any doubts about the acoustics in the cavernous former Christian Scientist church were quickly dispelled as the quartet kicked into the accessible opener from the Combo 66 album. “It’s called 'Can’t Dance',” said Sco self-mockingly, “but as you can see, we are awesome dancers.”

The Combo 66 quartet with pianist/organist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vicente Archer and regular drummer Bill Stewart, whose rapid-fire and subtle snap and rattle have long been embedded in the Sco sound, proved scintillating support to the guitar maestro – Clayton a particular revelation with piano solos of crystal clear conception and devastating technique.

Sco was in top form, deploying all his wonderfully idiosyncratic phrasing and impossible tone switches without any use of pedals or digital effects. As ever, his guitar was supremely dynamic, producing the odd heavy-rock chord, searing bluesy vibrato, delicately rapid Parker-esque heads, esoteric harmonics; all achieved with minimal attention to his amp or volume control. The Ibanez at times sang full heartedly, but then would adopt an unexpectedly acidic note, stabbing out organ chords alongside Clayton.

Old favourites such as 'Southern Pacific' from the funky A Go Go album were featured alongside recent compositions 'Dang Swing', boppy 'King of Belgium' and the ballad 'Hangover' (from 2015’s Past Present). It was great to hear Bill Stewart’s composition 'F U Donald', the evening’s most out-there and darkest piece, but one that Sco relished announcing.

A rousing funk/rock piece with several gears finally brought the house down followed by a surprising encore choice: the gorgeous Jimmy Van Heusen ballad 'But Beautiful' (Sco told us he didn’t want us causing trouble on the way home), featuring lovely straightahead guitar and piano solos.

The only slightly disappointing aspect of the gig – apart from the bar closing before the set finished – were the empty seats (the venue was no more than three-quarters capacity it appeared). If a band of this pedigree can’t sell out the Cadogan Hall on a Friday night, should we be worried that topline US acts will bypass the UK on their European tours in future?

Adam McCulloch
– Photo by Tim Dickeson

Alfa Mist Lifts Concorde From The Fog With Post-Modern Vision

Mist

Tonight’s proceedings are initiated by Laura Misch, who has imprudently got chilled to the bone while watching the sunset out on the beach. Still, she gets warmed up enough to charm the crowd with her unassuming persona and easy-on-the-ear combination of sweet alto-sax and relaxed ambient beats. Her act is more engaging when she sings as well – clear-toned vocals crooning songs of millennial urban angst.

Alfa Mist is here promoting his new record – '.44' starts with a vocal sample leading into a smoky, post-Erika Badu vibe clearly related to ‘Apple Tree’. This isn’t lowest common denominator smooth jazz, though; trumpet/flugel man Johnny Woodham is out of the starting blocks right away with an electronically-enhanced torrent of notes demonstrating real post-bebop chops, and Jamie Leeming shows that he’s a fearlessly creative guitarist with a definite penchant for the oblique and the unexpected, favouring squiggly chromatic lines that veer in and out of the harmony. Mr Mist’s own contributions on Rhodes hark back to the reverb-drenched chording style of Lonnie Liston Smith; Jamie Houghton is crisp and responsive on drums.

This is a modern jazz fusion that eschews the soulful vocal histrionics and uptempo popping basslines of earlier incarnations of the style as propagated by, say, Incognito, and replaces them with a much more ambivalent, questioning contemporary mood. The playing is as tight and focussed as you could wish, but chords are ambiguously voiced, grooves come in unexpected odd-number combinations, melodies drift past without ever clamouring for your attention; the general onstage vibe is reserved introspection. Bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke’s mournfully impassive demeanour, under her flamboyant afro, sets the tone and makes her the coolest onstage; her basslines are on point, rock solid over the tricky metre changes.

Alfa, when he speaks, is a relaxed and genial host; when he raps, as on ‘Closer’ from his debut, the show comes into focus. His voice has a gravelly authority and could be his secret weapon; it’s a shame he self-deprecatingly claims to be too lazy to write more than one verse per album. ‘JJajja’s Screen’ is dedicated to his Luganda-speaking grandma; the consistently downbeat mood means that a certain longueur sets in and it’s not til Thomas-Dyke takes to the mic to add her clear, soaring vocals to ‘Breathe’ that the magic returns and the crowd of hip young metropolitan types are all rapt through to the propulsive groove and tumbling melody of ‘Keep On’ – his most recognised tune, and the one that you could describe in the context of contemporary post-modern jazz/hip-hop streaming culture as his smash hit. Alfa Mist is a man with his own beguiling musical vision, gently but positively spreading the word.

Eddie Myer

Glancing backwards, moving forwards: John McLaughlin & the 4th Dimension @ Barbican Centre

Now aged 77, John McLaughlin has a lifetime of intriguing work to revisit. The master fusioneer’s wide musical travels have incorporated jazz-rock, flamenco, orchestral scores, and extended immersions into Indian classical. Few jazzers have tackled such a broad range of styles with such depth and sincerity, and fewer still have earned acclaim from both stadium crowds and ascetic Hindustani maestros.

But any Barbican attendees hoping for a straightforward retrospective would have missed the point. Colin Harper’s engaging biography of McLaughlin describes him as “the world’s worst nostalgic”, something that should come as no surprise to those who have followed his career - how could anyone prone to nostalgia remain so restless?

So while he led his 4th Dimension group through a few old classics, they were never left as they were. 'Trilogy' opened the evening, but its circling seven-beat riff was slower and thicker than on its original inception as a 1973 Mahavishnu Orchestra jam. Most of the set was drawn from later and comparatively lesser-known works, notably including the odd-time blues of 2012’s 'Echoes From Then' and the world-weary lament of 2015’s 'Gaza City'. He looked beyond his own output too, reworking two Pharoah Sanders compositions ('Light At The Edge Of The World' and 'The Creator Has A Master Plan').

His signature lightning-fast fretwork was less of a centrepiece than in younger days, with dense scale runs often being eschewed in favour of more spacious elaborations. But the fireworks were still there, applied with more than enough aplomb to remind listeners why guitarists from Jeff Beck to Pat Metheny have described him as the instrument’s greatest living exponent.

Some in attendance may have felt that he passed the spotlight over a little too often, however McLaughlin has always been a generous bandleader. The supporting cast warranted it too, wearing their virtuosity lightly and visibly enjoying themselves. Anglo-Indian drummer Ranjit Barot proved himself capable of emulating Billy Cobham’s machine-gun stickwork, augmenting it with spoken bursts of konnakol, South India’s syllabic percussion language. He also took up the mic on Abbaji, a tribute to tabla pioneer Ustad Alla Rakha, singing with a powerful delivery informed by his sideline in Bollywood composition.

Gary Husband manipulated his keyboard solos with tasteful electronic swells, often summoning angular phrases which seemed to owe little to the familiar jazz canon. His intense, studied concentration while hunched over the keys gave way to a wide grin when switching to a second drum kit, showcasing superb dynamic control in a dual-percussion face-off with Barot. Cameroonian bassist Étienne M'Bappé’s black-gloved hands brought a rounded tone to authoritative grooves, enthusiastically thumb-slapping and utilising the Barbican Hall’s smooth low-end resonance to superb effect (although still not quite convincing my dad that basses ever really require a fifth string).

McLaughlin has described the 4th Dimension as being among the very best bands he has ever played with. Their personal camaraderie was on clear display, coming across as warm, supportive collaborators even in moments of frenetic competition. The crowd rose to their feet at the close, relieved rather than surprised that advancing age has not seemed to diminish their hero’s technical ability, drive to reinvent, or talent for forging eclectic groups of musicians into a coherent whole. McLaughlin himself has rarely come across so relaxed, bounding to the stage, dancing with little hesitation, and chanting Pharoah’s mystical refrains with closed eyes. The same searching intensity was there, but the old master might just have seemed more content with what he had found than ever before.

– George Howlett (www.ragajunglism.org)

– Photos by Tatiana Gorilovsky (www.TatianaJazzPhoto.com)

Rileys Revel In The Art Of Rippling Repetition

Terry Gyan Riley IMG 3881

Terry Riley is one of those few and far between composers whose oeuvre straddles Western minimalism (of which he is a founding father), Indian classical and jazz. Now approaching his 84th birthday, and joined on stage by guitarist son Gyan Riley, he treated the capacity audience at the Riley Smith Theatre in Leeds to two long sets, and reaffirmed his standing as a highly evolved and questing composer and musician.

The concert opened with a complex, modal piece. Gyan’s intimate, otherworldly electric guitar meanderings grew louder as his father rippled repetitive figures over off-kilter block chords. Often playing in unison, the son's organic sighing and wailing guitar demonstrated his facility for experimental soundscapes, though these were often eclipsed by Terry’s instruments (piano, electronic keyboard, ipad, melodica) which seemed far louder in the mix.

One passage came over like a warm, enveloping balm: simple, melodic, and gentle as the affection evident between the Rileys. Another improvisational piece had the elder statesman looping with his ipad as Gyan showered glissandos, combining to evoke the march of tiny soldiers. 

Highlights came in the shape of a sumptuous devotional raga sung by the older musician, which brought to mind the beautiful American traditional song, ‘Oh Death’, and a highly dramatic flamenco-style guitar piece, with Terry accompanying on melodica and keys, which surfed out on a tranquil ebb-and-flow.

Fiona Mactaggart
Photo by Katharine Coates

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