Gregory Porter raises spirits at iTunes Festival

Gregory-Porter-itunes

For all the hype surrounding Gregory Porter, there’s a lot that's concerning about his band. Don’t get me wrong, the man in the hat is flawless, as good as all the Grammy plaudits make him out to be, and if you haven’t seen him live you really ought to. On stage, he’s every bit as charming and charismatic as his lyrics suggest and his voice is like nothing else. It’s a voice of warmth and mellow fruitfulness that crackles like a log fire and sounds even better up close than it does on record.

Appearing as part of the month-long iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse in Camden, the singer was on typically magisterial form, launching straight into a rendition of Donny Hathaway classic ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’ with the crowd already in the palm of his hand. From there, he strolled through ‘On My Way To Harlem’, exploring gentle dissonances and freeing up the melody, and followed it with the heartache of ‘No Love Dying’. One of the highlights of the set, it finished with a bittersweet cadenza on which Porter’s vocal was as dark and rich as mahogany.

Gregory-Porter-mvula

Tracks from all three of his albums showcased the full extent of his musical and emotional range. A duet with Laura Mvula on ‘Water Under Bridges’ was a nice touch and ended with both singers riffing on the words “London Bridge is falling down”. A fiery rendition of ‘Musical Genocide’, the smouldering ‘1960 What?’, prefaced by falsetto improv, and the dirty blues of ‘Work Song’ whipped up the crowd, with the sonorous bass-notes and wistful melody of ‘Wolfcry’ and the melancholy charm of ‘Be Good’ rounding out the set. But, while Porter could do no wrong, when he stepped back from the mic it was sometimes, depressingly average.

The singer has been with his group since the beginning. They met during jam sessions at St Nick’s Pub in Harlem, they’re his musical comfort blanket and his loyalty to them is commendable. But at times it feels like he’s outgrown them, with the mismatch in quality plainly apparent in a live setting. Though alto sax player Yosuke Sato, pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold never quite ruined things, they came dangerously close. Outside of the groove, all four men have shaky time and seemed intent on playing showboaty lines that weren’t fully under their fingers. The result was a gratuitous blur of haphazard noodling, a splurge of high-energy licks and tasteless patterns.

Though it’s encouraging to see improvisation being brought to a mainstream audience, it could be so much better. As it is, the group are at risk of alienating their more discerning listeners and, for the sake of the music, it may be time for Porter to move on. Just imagine how good he could sound if he did.

– Thomas Rees

@ThomasNRees

 

Joshua Redman, Gwilym Simcock and Wolfgang Muthspiel: Three giants of contemporary jazz join forces at Wigmore Hall

redman-simcock-trio

When American saxophonist Joshua Redman, British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel took the stage in front of a packed Wigmore Hall on Thursday night, they had never played together as a trio, save at a rehearsal the day before the concert. According to an excitable Redman, even that was brief. “I knew it was going to be cool,” he said, describing his delight at being able to work with two musicians he had long admired, “but, after about 10 minutes we didn’t need to rehearse any more. It was more than cool!” As was their set, the final part in the saxophonist’s three concert jazz series at the hall, which had all the freshness and excitement you’d hope for from a first encounter.

Simcock’s ‘Shanty’ provided a gentle start to the proceedings, opening with an icey wash of piano and guitar that made way for Redman’s soprano. The tune’s simple melody launched solos of increasing intensity, with Redman scanning the changes and nodding approvingly, his bottom lip thrust out, as Simcock moved things up a gear. ‘Double Blues’, a Muthspiel composition with a cat-and-mouse unison head, came next, featuring a blistering solo from the guitarist that juxtaposed choppy chordal work with fluid bop lines and thrillingly long holds that floated above Simcock’s walking bass notes, resolving in the nick of time.

A smoky tenor sax introduction became Redman’s ‘High Court Jig’, its reel-like groove drifting towards dissonance before shying away, as Simcock turned the time signature inside out and Muthspiel contributed percussive backings on the muted strings of his guitar. Two standards followed: ‘’Round Midnight’ was brought to life by electronic swells from the guitarist and Redman’s reworking of the melody, which curled upwards towards pitch-perfect altissimo before finishing in the mud of his lower register; while Brubeck’s ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ was prefaced by a piano segue of exquisite beauty – a filigree of intricate lines and glistening harmonies.

The remainder of the set brought further displays of frightening virtuosity, spontaneous risk-taking and masterful control, as the musicians continued to sound one another out, with Redman unleashing funk-tinged riffs and treacherous screes of notes. And in the end it took two encores, a break neck rendition of ‘The Eternal Triangle’, which pushed all three men to the edge, and the tenderness of ‘I Hear a Rhapsody’, to silence the crowd. Were this one-off collaboration to lead to something more regular (it should), it would be fascinating to watch it develop. But if it does, let’s hope it can retain some of the thrilling uncertainty and sense of adventure that made this first outing such a pleasure to watch.

– Thomas Rees
@ThomasNRees

The Grip grab The Vortex with free funk and spiritual jazz

There is no definitive jazz line up. Piano trios or tenor-led quartets may be among the most common ensembles, but they are not mandatory options for musicians with imagination. This fine set made the point in no uncertain terms, as The Grip – Finn Peters [alto sax/flute], Tom Skinner [drums] and Oren Marshall [tuba] – reprised and decisively energised a choice of instrumentation largely pioneered by the great Arthur Blythe, Steve Reid and Bob Stewart. Indeed the name of this new ensemble is taken from the title of Blythe’s landmark 1977 album, arguably one of the best live sessions of the decade.

Launching its debut album Celebrate, The Grip displays a very firm handle on the original template, effectively showing why it is so appealing – Blythe’s bag was a conjunction of New Orleans marching band culture, with its spiky, tight-on-the-beat street resonance, and the kind of structural ambition that spans bebop and the avant-garde.

Tonight the net result is a mutant acoustic free funk, simultaneously traditional and modern, symbolized by the music’s strong underlying pulse that easily suggests gospel hand clapping, regardless of all of the spicy harmonic stew that may be bubbling atop the throaty bass and drums. ‘Celebrate’ is not a throwaway title in that respect, and the other wry, pithy tunes that stand out on the night, the rhythmically teasing ‘Compost Fly’, playing incessantly with offbeat, backbeat and swing, the haunting Arabic-flavoured ‘Saladin’ and the sexy slow grind of ‘The 199 Blues’, are testimony to the skill with which The Grip retains a sense of hearty processional joy all the while pushing to abstraction. Furthermore, the latter piece unveils another key reference, Julius Hemphill, on whose timeless ‘The Hard Blues’ the song is based.

Yet if there is one other sacred spirit in the room it is that of Sam Rivers, who Peters channels to devastating effect when he switches to flute, achieving the same kind of tonal flutter and quicksilver momentum as that of the late master. Intricate yet engaging, cerebral yet physical, thematic yet episodic, The Grip presents a new black music that looks as far forward as it does back.  

– Kevin Le Gendre

 

Scott Hamilton Quartet grooving hard at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Bassist Dave Green’s walking bass in thumb position cut scintillatingly through Scott Hamilton’s Ben Webster-style tenor saxophone during the head of chirpy opener, ‘I Just Found Out About Love’ by Nat King Cole, drawing whistles from the crowded floor. Hamilton listened to John Pearce’s playful piano solo with a blissed-out expression on his face as drummer, Steve Brown smiled cheekily on: this quartet have been playing all over Britain and Europe for 14 years and perform together like a well-oiled machine.

American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton has been a regular at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, Soho since the late 1970s and tonight treated us to a set of classic jazz standards including tracks from the quartet’s 2014 album, Dean Street Nights, recorded live here on 4 January 2012.

‘Dream Dancing’ by Cole Porter contained intriguing minor to major and vice versa key changes combined with an expressive use of dynamics, and Hamilton played just behind the beat, lending the music a sultry laid-back appeal. Pearce’s imitation on piano of Hamilton’s melodic saxophone line segued neatly into his solo of syncopated chords and intonation-perfect Green manipulated the rhythm in pleasing, glitchy ways supported by Brown’s soft drumming.

The tone of Hamilton’s tenor saxophone was pregnant with emotion throughout Johnny Mandel’s heart-melting jazz waltz, ‘Emily’, followed by fast number, ‘Fine and Dandy’, executed with plenty of attack by all. Green inventively bent the fabric of this tune by ‘skipping’ notes and the melody could be deciphered in Brown’s solo, throughout which he skilfully managed to make the drums sound like a saxophone.

Ballad, ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’, had an unanticipated Count Basie big band feel to it, with Hamilton riffing on a single note, filling out the sound, and quoting from ‘Splanky’, composed and arranged by Neal Hefti for the Basie band. After an equally interesting version of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ which was heavily disguised with chromatic chord substitutions, Hamilton welcomed onto the stage gifted alto saxophonist, Allison Neale.

Neale is currently bandleader of a quartet featuring London-based jazz musicians Leon Greening, Steve Brown and Julian Bury. The musical affinity she shares with Hamilton was palpable when the pair traded fours on ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)’. Playing more ‘on the beat’ than Hamilton, Neale possesses a light tone akin to that of West Coast jazz alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. Technically speaking, Neale is superb, however it was the depth of feeling present in Hamilton’s playing that left a lasting impression on the listener.

– Gemma Boyd
– Photo by Janet Lee

 

Barry Harris Trio bring bossa and bop to Pizza Express

Beloved Detroit-born jazz pianist and educator Barry Harris, who has worked with such luminaries as Coleman Hawkins and Miles Davis, was flanked by clapping as he settled snugly onto the piano stool from which location for over 80 years he’s worked legendary bebop-shaped enchantment with his huge nimble-fingered hands, and imparted musical insights to his legions of disciples worldwide. His tastefully stirring solo piano interpretation of gorgeous ballad, ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ evolved into a dance as a beaming Dave Green on double bass locked in tight with an up-tempo walking bass line of real finesse, and Steve Brown responsively swung on brushed cymbal.

The high-spirited jazz standard, ‘I Want To Be Happy’ featured Green’s simple but striking solo of alternating octave leaps that also slotted in well beneath the melody and Harris’s insistent scat-humming. The lush spread of Harris’s chords, backed by Green’s heart-warming low notes contrasted brilliantly with Brown’s rat-tat-tat drumming during ‘‘Round Midnight’ by Thelonious Monk, and Harris’ intricate runs in double time studded with tinkling star-like, touches and an ascending chromatic break, captured some of the wit present in his close friend and major influence, Monk’s playing.

Harris was totally immersed in the music and there was rhythm in even the minutiae of his falling phrases during Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Woody 'n You’ which had a Brazilian bossa nova beginning and ending, marked by Brown’s electrifying high-pitched, dry, cross stick technique. After the interval, Harris cleverly linked a diverse selection of songs, including ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ by Stevie Wonder and popular song, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’, with his amusingly risqué story of Gloria and James (an elderly couple with 14 children who eventually divorced, knocked each other out, and passed away).

Up in heaven, James asked God why he’s black and white in colour. The angel Gabriel had the answer; the punchline to Harris’s joke he chucklingly refused to reveal until his next engagement here. Harris’s drive for actively involving people in the music he loves came to the fore when, after teaching the audience a charming song lyric, he invited individuals up on stage to sing it. Gingerly a man approached the stage and hunched over the mic and sang. The sold-out house cheered. Harris, however, was incredulous that people hadn’t been lining up to have a go and quipped, “Sometimes you have to come to a jazz club to have a good time, too!” Well, Dr Harris, you certainly succeeded in bringing joy and energy to the club tonight!

– Gemma Boyd

– Photo by Shan Verma

 

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The Jazz Nursery, set aboard a magnificent replica of Sir...

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Simon Spillett plays up a storm for Foyles launch of Tubby Hayes – A Man in a Hurry

Simon Spillett plays up a storm for Foyl…

Last Thursday saw the launch of the Tubby Hayes documentary...

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Legends gather in somber tribute to Kenny Wheeler at Cadogan Hall

Legends gather in somber tribute to Kenn…

We were promised a smorgasbord of jazz royalty at this...

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Cécile McLorin Salvant draws on the past to captivate at Cadogan Hall

Cécile McLorin Salvant draws on the past…

After a lovely low-key opening set from Femi Temowo, featuring...

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Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz Fest

Alto Sax Reigns Supreme At Belgrade Jazz…

The theme at this year’s Belgrade Jazz Festival was ‘The...

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Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future-soul to The Concorde

Hiatus Kaiyote bring cutting edge future…

There’s a crush of boho twentysomethings up against Brighton’s Concorde...

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Steve Smith grooves hard with Vital Information NYC at Ronnie Scott’s

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It was the early 1990s when this writer first discovered...

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Knoel Scott takes on tradition at the 100 Club

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If walls could talk then the 100 Club, squeezed between...

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Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's Elgar Room

Hypnotised by Hindi Zahra at London's El…

Given the limitless ocean of music in which the world...

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Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz Happening

Turning up the heat at the Tampere Jazz …

Festival directors often have to unhitch hitches right in the...

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Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electric Brixton

Elephant9 turn up the voltage at Electri…

While Elephant9’s recent studio sets might’ve inaugurated amassing embroideries of...

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Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bowl

Marcos Valle Makes Do At The Brooklyn Bo…

When taking an evening to see a true legend of...

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Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express Reunite With Jim Mullen At The Jazz Cafe

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It had been forty years since the legendary Jim Mullen...

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Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic at the Bull’s Head

Sheryl Bailey gets playful and virtuosic…

Sheryl Bailey, one of New York’s foremost guitarists and now...

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Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Salzburg swings to Jazz & The City

Austria’s place in the jazz firmament has been well established...

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Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a rapturous Rich Mix

Vula Viel Launch Good is Good to a raptu…

Last time Jazzwise took an evening to see Bex Burch’s...

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Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 606

Sheryl Bailey Quartet get Swinging at 60…

There is a significant coterie of jazz fans that come...

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Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in style

Leroy Jones Quintet get Soho swinging in…

Three nights in to his five-night stay at Pizza Express...

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Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage performance at Celebrate Voice Festival

Liane Carroll dazzles with vintage perfo…

Liane Carroll celebrated, life, jazz and the unrestrained joy of...

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Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

Huw V Williams’ Hon storms The Vortex

On a rainy evening in Dalston, 21 October – ‘Back...

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Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at Ronnie Scott’s

Bill Frisell bewitches with Strings at R…

It’s a great recipe: take a string quartet line-up, dispense...

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Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at Ronnie Scott’s

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet digs deep at …

For the first time in eleven years, leading US drummer...

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Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Pizza Express

Joel Harrison Quartet get cooking at Piz…

The advance billing might have suggested a Joel Harrison solo...

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Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place

Aaron Parks Trio goes Zen at Kings Place…

I’m writing this with one eye on an article about...

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Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry Wallenstein and Mike Hobart’s Urban Jazz Collective at Vortex

Beat poetry meets backbeats with Barry W…

New York beat poet Barry Wallenstein joined Mike Hobart’s Urban...

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Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blasts off with Birchall, Brand and more

Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival blast…

With its emphasis on adventurous programming and bids to redress...

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Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offer an enthralling glimpse of the future

Dave Drake and Riley Stone-Lonergan offe…

 Anyone bold or foolhardy enough to essay a career in...

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Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy to the Verdict

Bobby Wellins brings bright-eyed energy …

Bobby Wellins is unique; a near contemporary of Rollins, Shorter...

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Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at The Vortex

Stan Sulzmann Quartet weaves wonders at …

Stan Sulzmann stepped in for an indisposed Bobby Wellins on Saturday...

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Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power up at Palatia Jazz Festival

Phronesis, Tingvall and Marsalis power u…

The two evenings that we visited the Palatia Jazz Festival...

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Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew at the Vortex

Fletch’s Brew whip up an Electric Stew a…

As Fletch’s Brew steamed through two sets at the Vortex...

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Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub, Edinburgh

Robert Glasper Trio digs deep at The Hub…

As the audience waits for the Robert Glasper Trio to...

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Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cadogan Hall, London

Steve Fishwick Trio Out To Lunch at Cado…

I’m tempted to paraphrase the old musician’s joke about not...

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Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escreet unlock jazz’s secrets in Siena

Mark Guiliana, Matt Brewer and John Escr…

Such is the quite breathtaking beauty of one of Italy’s...

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Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The Bad Plus/Joshua Redman top triumphant Umbria Jazz Festival

Bennett and Gaga, Snarky Puppy and The B…

Umbria Jazz is a brand and like all brands it’s...

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Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in the heat of Jazz á Vienne

Avishai Cohen and Marcus Miller burn in …

  One of the biggest French summer Festivals enjoyed the hottest...

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Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Climate

Brad Shepik’s Trio explore a Changing Cl…

Guitarist and educator Brad Shepik’s compositions have attracted sufficient attention...

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Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho

Zara McFarlane stretches out at Pizza Ex…

Singer and composer Zara McFarlane played to sold-out crowds at...

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Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kings Place

Nigel Price Organ Trio 25 July 2015, Kin…

  In Michael Chabon’s 2012 novel Telegraph Avenue, the fictitious jazz...

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A party atmosphere reigns supreme at Jazz à Vienne 2015

A party atmosphere reigns supreme at Jaz…

One of the biggest French summer Festivals enjoyed the hottest...

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Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling hit the heights at the Malta Jazz Festival

Soweto Kinch and Kurt Elling hit the hei…

Soweto Kinch’s gig is nearing its climax when he finds...

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The cerebral meets the popular at the Rigas Ritmi Festival in Latvia

The cerebral meets the popular at the Ri…

As Ramon Valle explains, the Ritmi in the title of...

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Swanage Jazz Fest swings hard with Jean Tousaint’s Art Blakey Sextet

Swanage Jazz Fest swings hard with Jean …

Swanage’s format is well-established and well-understood. A marquee each for...

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Jason Moran, Justin Kauflin and D’Angelo shine at Montreux Jazz Festival

Jason Moran, Justin Kauflin and D’Angelo…

Thomas Rees is swept away by glamour, history and stand...

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Ant Law Quintet zero in at The Verdict, Brighton

Ant Law Quintet zero in at The Verdict, …

It’s been a scant 18 months since Ant Law played...

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Mammoth 36th Montreal jazz round-up with Lovano, Cullum, Mammal Hands, Abdullah Ibrahim among the highlights

Mammoth 36th Montreal jazz round-up with…

Each visit there are switcheroos at the goliath Montreal Jazz...

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Sly & Robbie with Nils Petter Molvaer create blissful ‘Nordub’ at Barbican

Sly & Robbie with Nils Petter Molvae…

A meeting of the world’s greatest rhythm section, two progressive...

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Average White Band Jarrod Lawson get the Rio funking at Glasgow Jazz Festival

Average White Band Jarrod Lawson get the…

Although the concert hall experience is a major part of...

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Manu Katché and Dado Moroni  get Bari in Jazz bopping

Manu Katché and Dado Moroni get Bari in…

This year’s edition of Bari in Jazz marked a transition...

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Black Top funk up Freedom: The Art Of Improvisation Festival

Black Top funk up Freedom: The Art Of Im…

“Yes… central heating.” These words from Cleveland Watkiss, closing Black...

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Joe Stilgoe goes Big Band at The Old Vic for album launch

Joe Stilgoe goes Big Band at The Old Vic…

A packed venue, atmospheric lighting, crystal clear sound and the...

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Ivo Neame Quintet leap into the Strata at The Verdict, Brighton

Ivo Neame Quintet leap into the Strata a…

His highest profile work so far may have been with...

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Grand Bal Swing: The Espirit Jazz Big Band swing the Irish Cultural Centre, Paris

Grand Bal Swing: The Espirit Jazz Big Ba…

On their arrival at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris...

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Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock dynamic duo at The Verdict Brighton

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A happy accident of international flight scheduling has brought Tommy...

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