Mezquida marvels and Silva shines at Südtirol Jazz Festival

Exploring Iberia was the theme of this year’s Südtirol Jazz Festival. Over the course of 10 days we were treated to some dazzling music in the most beautiful locations. Festival director Klaus Widmann chose pianist Marco Mezquida (top) as the artist in residence giving him five concerts in the first few days. Mezquida is a very lyrical pianist with a deft touch, his fingers seemingly floating over the keyboard, barely touching the keys. In the Modern Art Museum, he presented ‘Ravel’s Dreams’, his take on the work of composer Maurice Ravel.

In conjunction with the brilliant cellist Martín Meléndez and percussionist Aleix Tobias, Mezquida remained sympathetic to the original writing – but pushed each piece into new territory via clever use of time signatures, blues inflections and swing, helped transform the familiar into a whole new experience. Meléndez is a real find: his soloing was brilliant and he lives every note, with his body movement and facial expressions drawing the audience even closer to the music.

High in the Dolomites at Hocheppan Castle, Mezquida alongside guitarist Juan Gómes ‘Chicuelo’ and percussionist Paco de Mode, brought the essence of Spain to this glorious location. Chicuelo, a well-respected Catalan exponent of flamenco, has toured and recorded with the pianist, so it was no surprise to hear a real chemistry between them. The concert was a non-stop dialogue between the two whether chatting, arguing, lamenting or crying the music was up close and personal. The audience was spellbound such was the emotion of the music – the Castle, with its ancient walls and majestic views, adding much to the experience.

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Mezquida’s last stand was a solo performance in a small courtyard at a fine winery. The piano was set under a tree to avoid the intense heat from the sun, as the acres of vines rose up the steep mountainside behind him. He performed one long flowing piece that took his audience on a journey, using every bit of the piano along the way. He’s a lyrical player but is very capable of being manic, abstract and free. Leaning into the piano to hammer the strings or arranging metal blocks to create percussive sounds, he created a complex soundscape that eventually resolved into serenity befitting of the location. Mezquida is a huge talent and one who puts everything into his playing. The festival rightly gave him the chance to shine and shine he did.

Another artist who stood out was trumpeter Susana Santos Silva, who played two very interesting concerts. In the Contemporary Art Museum she was joined by saxophonist Lotte Anker, bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (all pictured above) – there should have been piano too, but Sten Sandell was unwell and unable to travel. As it transpired the loss of the only chorded instrument made little difference to our enjoyment of the set. Anker is an outstanding player and her influence on Silva is obvious – the two creative, aggressive and at times sensitive – Silva also playing penny whistle to great effect.

The second Silva concert was at an Innovation Park – the home of a former Aluminium Rolling plant. A massive hall nearly the size of two football pitches with a very high ceiling was the setting for a trio performance. Silva was again joined by Zetterberg on bass plus Hampus Lindwall on organ and electronics.

Using the acoustics of the massive space Lindwall and Zetterberg created low frequency drone sounds with Silva’s trumpet set slightly above them. Zetterberg played hunched over his bass, his head almost trying to squeeze in the sound hole as if minutely monitoring his resonance.

Silva, eyes closed, blows, growls and breathes into her trumpet, the trio creating a bleak and dark place momentarily broken by Silva walking down the room away from the stage. She then played a few clear notes that echoed around this vast space. The three then built the sound to a loud climax that ended abruptly leaving the echo to slowly subside. Not easy to listen to and quite dark, but none the less a brilliant performance, gripping and totally enthralling.

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By complete contrast in the tiny Batzen Brewery underground stage, the trio Blackline, with Francesco Diodati (guitar, above), Leïla Martial (voice, electronics) and Stefano Tamborrino (drums) just had so much fun it was joyous to watch. Diodati had composed both music and words, which Martial used her unique vocal abilities to deliver them. Often seen playing very earnestly in Enrico Rava’s band – it was wonderful to see him let rip and get down and get dirty. Ms Martial is certainly one to watch – if you even remotely enjoy Andreas Schaerer you will love Leïla.

Südtirol is a unique festival where the director’s vision and artistic merit over-ride any commercial constraints. And by using so many scenic locations such as mountainsides, vineyards, forests and castles, to present new and exciting music creates a truly memorable experience.

Story and photos – Tim Dickeson

New Irish Jazz Orchestra Dish Up Dynamic Precision With Martin Hayes At Cork School of Music


Despite its name, the New Irish Jazz Orchestra includes several UK players, such as Ryan Quigley, Steve Fishwick, Paul Booth and trombonist Chris Dean, along with Northern Ireland trumpeter Linley Hamilton and Cork-based South African altoist Chris Engel. Directed by Cork native Paul Dunlea, the ensemble had not only punch and precision but attention to dynamics, as well as some striking solos, for instance from Fishwick and Quigley (also responsible for most of the lead playing). Of the more conventional big-band part of the programme, for instance works by Slide Hampton and Ronan Guilfoyle, there was perhaps an item too many, given the promise of a most unusual guest artist.

I’ve often thought of Martin Hayes as the Wynton Marsalis of Irish traditional fiddle playing. Now associated with supergroup The Gloaming, he’s the son of a revered musician and, in his duo with Jim Hall-like Dennis Cahill, became a focus of debates about innovation versus consolidation. His distinctively individual style was immediately evident with his first entrance, a straight/ornamented rendition of ‘The Lark In The Clear Air’, followed by Dunlea’s score featuring his trombone backed by the brass choir.  The next item, based on ‘Si Beag Si Mor’, had the soloist surrounded by expansively rhapsodic piano from arranger Cormac McCarthy, while Hayes’s closing set (again arranged by Dunlea) climaxed on a magical exchange with the fiddle’s melodic phrases answered by Booth’s questing tenor. Having never performed with a big-band before, Hayes pronounced himself very happy with the result, as were the audience.

Brian Priestley

Portico Punch Hard At Hackney's Studio 9294

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It’s a weird walk to the venue – fully grown adults dressed as minotaurs and a faux Mia Wallace, shouting down from the rooftop as she downs another martini. Perhaps I’ve got off at the wrong place but, no, I’m right, this is Hackney. It’s just a Saturday. Perched on a cube-like stage, away from the noise of the street, multi-instrumentalists Portico Quartet launch straight into their latest album, Untitled (AITAOA #2), opening with sequences of abstract computer-like bleeps, followed swiftly by the kind of warbled sax and moody sustained piano that we've come to expect from the group. We’ve waited five years to hear something new from Portico and they delivered, alternating from double-bass to bass guitar in simple, swift movements, the four-piece eloquently introducing experimental electronica into their deep-rooted jazz and ambient influences. The results, often very dramatic, suck the audience in, one song flowing seamlessly into the next. Deep dry ice fills the cube and the crowd itself is lost, only rediscovering their bearings again with the rare glimpse of bass head or mic stand. The combined effervescence of sax solos, numba beats and synth screeches belie the band's humble, even shy onstage presence, yet the crowd is mesmerised throughout Portico's mesemric set.

Hayley Sigrist 

Mitchener and Yarde make moves with Jeanne Lee’s legacy at Kings Place

The Venus Unwrapped season at Kings Place has been shining ‘a new light on music by women’ since the beginning of the year, and this concert draws a significant figure out of the darkness. Black British ‘vocalist-movement’ artist Elaine Mitchener celebrates the work of the African-American singer, poet and educator Jeanne Lee, who died in 2000, and whose vital contribution to the music of Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp and Gunter Hampel among others, has been largely overlooked. As was the case with her 'Classics Of The Black Avant-Garde' gig at Café OTO earlier in the year, Mitchener leads a band comprising saxophonist-beatmaker Jason Yarde, pianist Alexander Hawkins, double bassist Neil Charles and drummer Mark Sanders, with cellist Anton Lukoszevieze a new addition to the ensemble.

Capturing Lee’s spirit is a daunting task because her identity was unique. She blurred the line between sung vocal, spoken word and pure sound exploration with such skill that these three disciplines formed a logical whole. Mitchener also makes a virtue of this ‘out of many threads one fabric’ aesthetic but, crucially, she brings her own character and idiosyncrasies to bear on Lee’s repertoire, which includes pieces from the mid 60s to the late 1990s. Mitchener’s physical exertions, from the upward stretches to skipping dance steps, are inextricable from the shifting timbres of her voice, and the fearless interpretation of the music essentially brings forth ever more personal manifestations of herself.

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The band is deeply responsive, and the variety of the pulse of the music – from teasing rubtao to sharp ostinato – brilliantly held together by Sanders’ rhythmic adaptability, ensures that the music goes ‘in’ and ‘out’ of all manner of schools and traditions with real coherence. Mitchener pushes her wordless vocal explorations to their creative limits, making single elongated syllables, sighs, gurgles and half breaths a spontaneous micro-concerto, and these moments fit into a continuum of narration and ‘straight’ singing, such as ‘In These Last Days’ or ‘The Seagulls of Kiristiansand’ that is very affecting. There is a crystalline quality, a limpidity in Mitchener’s melodic voice that is striking in its own right, but as is clear when she opens the second half of the concert with an extended solo, it is the movement between the figurative and abstract that makes her sound canvas compelling. Interestingly, this range of voices is enhanced by Yarde’s live sampling, which has the effect of making her original lines waver between the sublime and sinister, growing to the heavens and receding to the shadows.

The day after this concert the Daphne Oram Awards took place in order to mark the contribution of the unsung female hero of the Radiophonic Workshop as a pioneer of contemporary electronica, and this union of Mitchener’s voice and Yarde’s artful new technology could not have been a more apt prelude. Then again, the theatre of these moments is well complemented by simple but effect pieces of stagecraft that add a sense of ceremony to the occasion. In real terms that means the members of the band enter the auditorium in procession, with each person clapping to create a train of percussion that gives way to the music in earnest. This can be read in many different ways, but even though the choreography unfolds in a tight space it is a strong thrust ‘forward’, which is what Jamaican audiences are known to say instead of ‘encore’.

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Dawid Dawid Laskowski 


Charlie Stacey Stirs Daniel Harding Quartet To Great Heights

Rumours of a rift in the UK jazz scene between the much-touted new scene of irreverent South London groovers and the faithful acolytes of the tradition don’t seem to have much credence here in the Verdict tonight as a mixed crowd of young aficionados and well-travelled elder hipsters fill every seat in the Brighton club. Charlie Stacey himself crosses such notional boundaries with ease as alumnus of both NYJO and Tomorrow’s Warriors and bandmate of such diverse figures as Yussef Dayes, Nathaniel Facey and Marshall Allen; his boundless energy and enthusiasm set the pace for this quartet under the leadership of London-based Danish drummer Daniel Harding as they throw themselves at the repertoire with total commitment. A version of Coltrane’s ‘Satellite’ starts proceedings with a masterly solo from Stacey, and tenorist Alam Nathoo impresses with his range and fluency; Don Grolnick’s ‘Nothing Personal’ switches between a loping 12/8 and a burning swing that drives Stacey to even greater heights of virtuosity, with dizzyingly fast right-hand runs anchored by the rock solid timing of his crashing left hand; ‘Brew’ is a lyrical but unsentimental ballad that thrives on Nathoo’s smooth, full tone and a neatly constructed bass solo from ; ‘Clouds’ is a potentially rather drab piece of Euro jazz lifted up by the sheer energy and fertility of Stacey’s imagination.

There are explorations of less obvious corners of the repertoire with pieces by Jerry Bergonzi, Keith Jarret and Joe Henderson; ‘Milestones’ is the earlier Miles Davis bop-fest rather than the more familiar modal workout and simply flies as the band eat up the changes with relish; they tear through Monk’s tricky ‘Played Twice’ with such gusto that when their exploration of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Round Trip’ bursts into no-time-no-changes freedom it seems like an entirely logical progression, through the depths of harmonic complexity and out the other side. Harding is a self-effacing presence, leading from behind, but his supremely sensitive drumming is crucial to the success of the project, managing to swing hard and drive his soloists to greater and greater heights without ever overwhelming them with extraneous volume. Jansen has a complementary quiet mastery on bass, breaking out into solos that reveal his prodigiously comprehensive technique; Nathoo is a superbly accomplished player, and Stacey astonishes again and again with his inexhaustible imagination. Such is the energy they generate that we’re well beyond the second half and into extra-time before anyone notices; proving that there’s freshness on the scene everywhere you care to look.

Eddie Myer
Photo by David Forman

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