Georgina Jackson Quartet takes requests at 606 Club

Fresh back from guesting with the BBC Big Band at the Lockerbie Jazz Festival on 26 September, Wigan-born jazz singer and trumpet player, Georgina Jackson, exuded a warm, down-to-earth stage presence as she spoke of her obsession with the Great American Songbook, from whence she’d selected the majority of the numbers for this Sunday lunchtime set.

Dave Chamberlain on bass, Matt Skelton on drums and Matt Regan on piano joined Jackson and her sonorous vocals on bouncy opener, ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love’, after which she invited song requests from the audience, reminding us that this gig would be “a one-off thing: the music is never going to be played in the same way again.”

Next up came a song Jackson described wittily as a fusion of “jazz and nagging”, entitled, ‘Why Don’t You Do Right’ from her 2013 album, Peggy, Duke & Benny – Georgina Jackson and the Peter Long Quintet. It featured the fluidity of Regan’s discordant phrasing on piano, which lent to this standard a welcome piquancy. Chamberlain’s clean, long-tone pizzicato sound à la Duke Ellington double bassist, Jimmy Blanton, worked well on bossa nova, ‘Change Partners’, the title track off Jackson’s 2012 album, Watch What Happens.

Unfortunately sometimes the drums and tinny upright electric bass were slightly out of sync, and Skelton’s monotone hitting of the cymbals with sticks, too ‘big band’ in style for such an intimate venue. Jackson’s zesty vibrato on trumpet during Bunny Berigan classic, ‘I Can’t Get Started’, however, demonstrated exactly why she is a characterful force to be reckoned with in her fronting of large ensemble groups.

The introduction to ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ was rhythmically most unusual and interesting, with Jackson singing in tempo rubato accompanied by Skelton’s subtler drumming with mallets, and Eydie Gormé’s ‘I’ll Take Romance’ was performed with more energy, driven along by Chamberlain’s bass pedal point. Mixed in with the standards were some unexpected arrangements, including ‘Pure Imagination’ from the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Jackson’s heroine, Peggy Lee’s 1957 version of ‘The Folks Who Live On The Hill’ is backed by a rich string section. Likewise, Jackson’s vocals (particularly well-suited to ballad singing) on her takedown of this song for quartet, filled the room as effectively as any orchestra could, and judging by the many CDs she sold at the end, the audience left happy.

– Gemma Boyd

– Photo by Janet Lee

Robert Mitchell’s Invocation sets sail at Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival

Although Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival is bringing many charming open-air events to the historic seaside town over the next fortnight [until October12], the interior space of St. Peter’s Church was the scene of a superb opening night concert. London-based pianist Robert Mitchell has always been a formidable improviser whose composing has the sort of baroque, multi-layered character that lends itself to bigger orchestral settings so the collaboration between his longstanding group Panacea, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and young students from Avonbourne and Harewood colleges made perfect sense. The ambition of the concept was matched by the beauty of the result.

Invocation is a tribute to, in Mitchell’s own words, ‘life-changing teachers’, and the suite in five movements made specific reference to such iconic figures as Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr as well as quoting ancient Chinese proverbs and Sumerian riddles, which had the effect of placing the general concept of education, or perhaps the gift of wisdom, within a kind of timeless, dare one say, ageless context. 

In its most inspired moments the performance vividly created a deeply ancestral, almost primeval atmosphere, that resonated with the nature of the subject, as if the act of passing on the most vital of lessons in life could only be done with a knowledge of and respect for history of the most far-reaching kind. The inherent drama of Mitchell’s writing was skillfully rendered by Deborah Jordan’s operatic, gymnastic vocal that negotiated wide intervallic leaps, dissonant thematic lines and stark shifts of harmony with impressive poise. Rather than overload the score with the added power of the 100-strong Chorus, Mitchell spread out their interventions with a fair amount of economy, yet they reinforced the numerous counter-melodic subtexts of the composition and provided a gauzy, string-like texture to Jordan’s many daring flights into the soprano range. The singers had a delicate power.    

Chorus master Gavin Carr, who often opened each piece with a short melodic rendition of one of the proverbs with his mighty baritone, was sufficiently precise in his conducting to harness the vocalists as effectively as possible, yet the changing landscape of the choir did not detract from the rhythmic volcano of the band. Indeed the surgical percussive precision of drummer Laurie Lowe, bassist Tom Mason and Mitchell himself on piano, skipping through lopsided meters as if every bar was a straight 4/4, was as impressive as it has been whenever the group has performed in the past few years. The leader’s distinctive composite of post-M-Base funk, Afro-Cuban son and McCoy Tyner-stamped swing is well and truly patented, and if there was the slightest crack in the otherwise impressive edifice of the performance it was the mixing of Lowe’s drums, which too often veered from flat to harsh.

At the end of the show Carr applied the term genius to Mitchell and it did not seem like a case of over-emoting in the heat of the moment. There was a conceptual richness to Invocation that would be beyond even the most creative of beings and if the immense intricacy of the composing was commendable then so too was the real soulfulness, the humanity, at its core. The piece will be performed again at the London Jazz Festival and could well be a highlight of the ten-day celebration.

– Kevin Le Gendre      

– Photo by Gerry Walden – www.gwpics.com

Robert Mitchell performs Invocation at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 23 November at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
– go to www.southbankcentre.co.uk for more info

      

Jason Rebello with Empirical bring fireworks to the Wiltshire Music Centre

empirical-rebello-live

There were a few sharp suits on stage at the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday. If anyone thought that meant it was going to be a solemn evening, the look on pianist Jason Rebello’s face was more ‘kid let loose in a sweet shop’ after the first scorching solo from Empirical’s alto man Nathaniel Facey. Rebello’s career went into orbit 25 years ago touring with Wayne Shorter, then saw him replace Kenny Kirkland in Sting’s band and subsequently tour relentlessly with Jeff Beck. Empirical have maintained their status as one of the hottest, most adventurous young jazz groups in the UK and Europe for nearly a decade now. The pianist’s decision to make the one off collaboration his inaugural gig of a year long artist-in-residence stint at the newly re-furbished Centre in Bradford-on-Avon, brought a near capacity crowd out and they were thrilled by the fireworks it produced.

It was a varied programme starting with that blistering take on ‘Whole in One’ from Rebello’s 1999 release Next Time Around. There was a sharing of back catalogues as Empirical dusted off tunes from their last album to feature a piano, Elements of Truth. ‘Ying and Yang’andCosmos (for Carl Sagan)’ evoked different moods, making the most of the moody wow of the vibes combining with chiming chords from the piano. There was more from Next Time Around including another burner to finish, ‘Justin Time’.

In between there were some delightful duos. Piano and alto on ‘Soul Eyes’hadNathaniel Facey evoking the spirit of Coltrane at his most tender. Vibes and piano on Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ raised the roof, Rebello laying down a viscerally exciting funky gospel tinged groove driving Lewis Wright onto another dazzling solo. Despite a streaming cold, he nearly stole the show a few times.

It was the evident delight of Rebello and Empirical in each other’s company that lifted this beyond what was always a sure fire jazz feast. Empirical found themselves grooving deliciously on Herbie Hancock’s Chan’ Song and etching out a lyrical flowing melody on Rebello’s own Closeness. Jason found himself in the middle of a dense tumult on Empirical’s ‘In the Grill’ and pulling out a wildly inventive solo on bass man Tom Farmer’s zany piece ‘Card Clash’. The grin on drummer Shaney Forbes’ face barely dimmed all evening. He had one of the moments of the evening with a ghostly drum solo using hot rods on ‘Ying and Yang’.

 This was a reminder, if we needed it, of the world beating quality of the UK scene and a mouth watering start to the programme at the Wiltshire Music Centre. The next in the series is a duo with Ola Onabule in November.

– Mike Collins

Talo’s Festival 2014 – A People’s Music Celebration

Devoid of McDonalds, billboards, militarized police and security cameras, the social tranquility that breezes through the ancient town of Ruvo di Puglia in southern Italy proved an idyllic setting to present a mostly free festival celebrating both the regions boisterous Banda brass & wind orchestras, and a bounty of beautiful jazz and improvised music making. It’s thanks to the vision and energy of artistic director Pino Minafra (think Instabile Orkestra) that nary a single event fell short of the highest standard for concert presentation and performance. Britain was represented by Keith & Julie Tippetts, alongside Louis Moholo-Moholo in their deeply moving tribute concert ‘For Mandela’.

Augmented in simpatico with a bevy of Italian players the Minafric Orchestra brought to life the magnificent compositions of Keith Tippett, the legendary South Africans, and their glorious national anthem. Keith also gave a solo piano concert that organically unfolded a highly impressionistic musical journey. Old lion Louis Moholo-Moholo met the extraordinarily talented young tiger, pianist Livio Minafra for an improvisation on built on a foundation of intimacy. Individually their creativity and technical wells were deeply resourceful, and the results of their meeting proved resplendent with dynamical drama and emotional joy. And Britain’s Ogun Records was the subject of a small conference celebrating the label’s 40th anniversary. Otherwise the trio of saxophonist Roberto Ottaviano presented the compositions of Steve Lacy, with all their Monkish wit, to the delight of enthusiastic audience. The soprano, bass and drum sounds hung with bold purity unamplified within the acoustics of the town’s wine refinery.

Under the night sky Holland’s ICP Orchestra won over the local audience from an outdoor stage, set up in the center of Ruvo’s breathtaking beautiful old town. They also generously developed and delivered a workshop concert with local young musicians. Theirs is the spirit that informs Talos Festival, rooted in the people, their music, with cooperation trumping commercial concession. It’s a deep breath of fresh air from the dominant culture that remains either indifferent or hostile to higher socialist ideals. Bravo Talos!

– Michael King

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

 

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