Colin Stetson fires up at Dingwalls

On stage, man and machine lock in fractured harmony. The sweaty (sweating) venue soaks up the goosy-garbed belch and piercing overtones. Carnivorous bellows, oscillating pulses, like sawing through a redwood with a whoopee cushion… over and over. Stetson’s circular breathing vacates multi-phonics croaked through contact mics affixed to his neck by dog collar. The technique initially impresses, the elephantine roar of ‘Judges’ wraps round a percussive loop, built from tapping the body of his bass sax. Sounds like a Humpback’s heartbeat echoing through the hollows of the Delaware Aqueduct. But the initial impact of original process quickly fades.

Compositions such as ‘A Dream Of Water’ and ‘To See More Light’ appear built from the same bare bones as the thuggish swing of Mats Gustafsson’s The Thing, but here any dissonance is kept on a regimentally tight leash, leaving only polite residues to trickle out into the night. Cropped of the vocal elements and finessed production of Stetson’s studio recordings, one expansive instrumental pours into the drone of the next.

There’s also a prevailing air that, whereas newbies getting an earful of The Thing for the very first time might have their curiosity piqued towards an epiphany of Spiritual Unity discovery, tonight’s rapturous crowd are content to cherish Stetson as a token gesture, annexing him forever as a freakish sideshow for an Arcade Fire support slot. That probably won’t bother him – in interviews he’s quick to shy away from the ‘jazz’ tag. But that technique deserves better. Let’s just hope he can muster other modes while articulating it.

– Spencer Grady


Fapy Lafertin Quartet swings Le Quecumbar

Passers by on Battersea High Street on a warm summer evening, hearing the sweet energy of a guitar and a violin in full flight on a warm summer evening, stopped to listen as Fapy Lafertin’s guitar and Hannah Bienert’s violin entwined, parted, teased and cajoled before bringing Lapertin’s Cinzano – an exhilarating coupling of fast jazz waltz and czardas - to a soaring conclusion.

Inside Le Quecumbar, a friendly brasserie that double as a veritable shrine to the spirit of Django Reinhardt, the bitter-sweet I’ll Be Seeing You found Lafertin in lyrical mood, sometimes chasing a long, assertive run up the fingerboard, only to conclude it with a slow, delicate phrase of delicately caressed notes. A true improviser, he clearly has many well practised patterns and devices in his repertoire but he is constantly inventive and discriminating in his choice of notes, his dynamics and the development of his solos. His introductions to songs - a mix of chords and fragmentary phrases - are often little gems while his occasional use of right-hand tremolo on chords can add drama and intensity behind a soloist.

Of all the guitarists to emerge from the revival of interest in the music of Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France that began around 20 years ago (wryly dubbed “The Django Industry” by Jim Mullen), Fapy Lafertin is one of the most creative and interesting. A Manouche gypsy who lives in Holland, he made his name in the 1980s as guitarist with the pioneering Belgian gypsy jazz group Waso in the 1970s and ‘80s. Although recognised as a master of the gypsy jazz guitar style of playing and its particular techniques, has never been content merely to reproduce the Hot Club style. He has wide musical interests and has often included in his concerts a set of Portugese Fado, performed on the traditional 12-string guitarra (challenging to tune, let alone play!).

Lafertin’s compositions at Le Quecumbar included a minor-key bossa whose Romany title translates as Hedgehog, Plachterida (meaning Butterfly) and the somewhat baroque Turn. When he raided the Hot Club repertoire, it was to select less well-worn songs such as I’ve Had My Moments, Coquette (with double bassist Sébastien Girardot astonishing everyone with a spectacular slap-bass solo) and Speevy which, with its menacing chromatically descending chords which then resolve conventionally, served as an excellent showcase for Hannah Bienert. This young violinist from Berlin is the ideal musical partner for Lafertin; she explores a ballad with delicate care and understanding but can hold her own against the virtuosity of the leader and set the room alight on fast tempos.

The tone of Lafertin’s Maccaferri-style guitar is gorgeous, bright, deep and clear from top of its range to the open strings a the bottom and the overall sound and internal balance of this largely acoustic quartet was perfect. Bassist Sébastien Girardot, from Melbourne, Australia, but now a confirmed Parisian, laid down a firm foundation throughout while Dave Kelbie, played excellent acoustic rhythm guitar on a giant vintage archtop Gibson L7.

Highlights included a dramatic interpretation of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion, their up-tempo closer I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight and their encore – Fapy’s gentle arrangement of Debussy’s Clair de Lune – rounded off an evening of diverse musical pleasures from this charming, modest musician and his talented quartet.

– Charles Alexander


Dave Holland Prism power-up at Ronnie’s

Anticipation was biting the diners and drinkers circling the stage, and up there waiting for Dave Holland and his band to plug in and find their positions under the heavy spots, the club's compare was informing the floor that the double bassist's debut at Ronnie's was in fact with Miles Davis in 1969, the finer details of which, he explained, "Dave would probably go through later..."

As much as a milestone moment that gig was forty-five years ago, you fast got the impression from all the welcoming whistles and cheer that, like Holland himself, tonight's crowd was more concerned with the now, this gig, this band and the intoxicating self-titled album they dropped late last year.

So it was lights down and down to business, as this all-star outfit of guitarist Kevin Eubanks, pianist and keyboard player Craig Taborn and drummer Eric Harland, threw themselves into the bassist's ‘A New Day’. Growling from the get-go, the tune's repetitive, low-end bass vamp, urgent piano and stuttered, snare-driven beat at once filled the room, bedecked with a dirty, distorted blues solo from Eubanks.

If the band's immediate sound, and this fearless opener, screamed swing, 1970s Miles and Mahavishnu, Eubank's lengthy ‘Evolution’ added all the thrills of straight-ahead rock. Crawling out of some high-register bowed bass, feint cymbal rolls and Taborn slowly scraping the strings inside his piano, Eubanks' sustained, muscular guitar melody mutated into something more venomous, and an odd-time riff reminiscent of Miles' "It's About That Time", had it been covered by Led Zeppelin.

When the guitarist eventually stepped off the gas and reprised the original theme, some swirling organ and a funky, hip-hop-style hook from Holland helped brush it through a long, but hypnotic fade out. Out of that fade, against the natural buzz of the amps, Holland's introductory solo to "The Empty Chair" (dedicated to his late wife, Clare) cajoled some pensive playing from all, particularly Holland himself, essaying spacious and lyrical lines across a slow, blasé beat from Harland, so crisp you could make out every minute subdivision.

Elsewhere, Taborn's ‘True Meaning of Determination’ spotlit Harland's tireless ability to hover, and improvise over odd-time signatures. During a volcanic solo in which he played between a regular kit and much smaller, slack-skinned set-up to his left, it was debatable as to whether he was taking his cues from the piece's montuno-style head, Holland's ferocious finger work, or the clinking of glasses and cutlery around the club.

The drummer's own ballad ‘Breathe’ further-transfixed the room. Eased in with Taborn alone, deploying some vigorous, classical-like chords and rolls, the pretty piece swelled to embrace brushes, soft bass and a cascading single-note guitar drone, all of which factored in its emotive climax.

By the time the band reappeared to rip through encore ‘The Watcher’, it was obvious Holland wasn't going to conclude with some last-minute musings on Miles. Besides, the band had already paid tribute to the great trumpeter with a stimulating set that constantly grooved, moved, and flipped stylistically, just the way Davis did.

– Mark Youll

The Danes get dancing at Aarhus Jazz Festival, Denmark

The Danish word ‘hugeligt’, which loosely translates as cosy, is a perfect way to describe the small but perfectly formed city of Aarhus. Dotted with picturesque squares, gardens, churches, cobbled streets and the kind of rectangular, functional but soberly stylish buildings that the Scandinavians do particularly well, it is a place with a distinct atmosphere of calm and contentedness that simply seemed to make punters listen more intently to the acts on an excellent bill. Two stellar trios stood out: firstly Japanese pianist Makiko Hirabayashi’s group, featuring a couple of great Danes, double bassist Klavs Hovman and drummer-percussionist Marilyn Mazur, was one of the highlights of the closing weekend. Vaguely recalling My Song-era Jarrett, Hirbayashi played melodies that were loose and leisurely but had an intense rhythmic fire provided by her accompanists, in particular Mazur whose clever subversion of marching beats and African clavé patterns provided a joyousness that matched the sun-kissed skies.

In complete contrast was a unique Danish-American trio formed by drummer Stefan Pasborg, saxophonist-clarinetist Lars Greve and pianist Aaron Parks (pictured top). Given the fact that the latter was standing in at very short notice for the scheduled Carsten Dahl, who dropped out on health grounds, the musicians had precious little time to rehearse, and if there was the slightest reticence then it was soon overcome in an absorbing set that moved stealthily between driving rhythms, shifting tonality and still-of-the-night contemplation, in which Greve’s sensual long tones came into their own. This kind of inspired international collaboration did not detract from the breadth of Danish talent, of which a striking example was Ornithopter, which was akin to hearing Mr Coleman’s classic quartet with the leader replaced by Roswell Rudd.

In trumpeter Scott Westh and trombonist Jens Kristian Bang they had an expressive and wholly sensitive front line. Having said that the presence of several other local players who appeared in multiple groups – Hammond organist Kveld Lauritsen, drummer Per Gade, saxophonists Jens Kluver, Christian Wuust and Hans Ulrik– also made for enjoyable moments, particularly when the musicians played in the many small cafes in town where there was no need for amplification, and the rich timbres of each instrument could be enjoyed to the full. Lastly two very contrasting performances really underlined how open-minded the programming is.

The pan-European ensemble Melting Pot Made In Wroclaw, featuring Poles, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz and clarinettist Mateusz Rybicki, German drummer Fabian Jung, Danish electronicist and Soren Lyngso Knudsen two Irish, guitarist Shane Latimer and vocalist Lauren Kinsella, was a freely improvised session that had more moments of fascination than flatness, while a couple of gigs by the quite fabulous guitarist Uffe Steen, one in particular with American vocalist James Loveless, showed that the blues is alive and well in Denmark. The sight of a few hundred people shimmying in a tent to the sound of ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ was just as uplifting as that of an audience listening rapt to abstract sounds produced very much in the moment. The stylistic range proved a fitting allegory for the Aarhus jazz festival itself: challenging its audience all the while making it get up and dance.          

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo courtesy: Inge Lynggaard Hansen


Christian McBride, Mehliana and Pharoah Sanders make for epic North Sea Jazz Festival

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With the proliferation of jazz festivals in recent times you would be less likely to raise an eyebrow if the programme from one of the newer promoters were to heavily featured non-jazz acts. But, for a 39 year veteran such as the North Sea Jazz Festival, and particularly if your expectations lean more towards the mainstream then acts such as Robin Thicke or Pharrell Williams might well be considered as blurring the lines (pun intended) between what is, and what is not, jazz.

However, the NSJF's diverse programming is its strong point, held this year between 11-13 July, with 13 performance stages logistically positioned at the Rotterdam Ahoy complex, the bedazzling three-day timetable is big enough to allow you to map out a personal festival experience to your own liking or experimentation.

Entering the Ahoy is like being teleported into a musical theme park or village with music being performed at every corner. With great variety of eating and hanging out places such as Central Square also various retail outlets – should you wish to indulge in some festival merchandising therapy – the outside world becomes far removed from your existence. This festival village even has its own currency, the munten (or token) for purchasing all refreshments and culinary delights.

The Artist In Residence at this year's festival was Christian McBride (pictured top), which saw several featured performances by him on each day. A jazz bassist of formidable ability and reputation he performed in various settings; big band, small combo and with his regular trio of Rodney Green (drums) and Christian Sands (piano).

Robert Glasper's Experiment featuring Lalah Hathaway and Bilal were one of the first acts to set things rolling. Together with the Metropole Orkest their musical statement blends and crosses the boundaries of jazz, gospel, R&B, hip hop with a tinge of classical. Even the most conservative listener could endorse their rendition of Stevie Wonder’s 'Jesus Children of America' as something special. However, if 1970-80s funk also happens to be your thing, a dash across to the large Nile Arena and you could get your dose from the Parliament-Funkadelic and ex-James Brown bass man Bootsy Collins who showed a strident determination to 'tear the roof off the sucker'!  Wielding a sparkling star-shaped bass guitar he would occasionally turn to face his spacesuit clad Funk Unity Band to summon up more theatrics, much to the delight of the audience.

In stark contrast Mavis Staples brought a sobering sanity to the Congo Stage with her gospel/blues tinged performance. The band laid down a soulful foundation complementing her smooth yet assertive tone on 'Respect Yourself’, which gave the song an authentic stamp redolent of the original Staple Singers.

Pharoah Saunders creates a meditate mood in the Hudson hall with Oli Hayhurst (bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums) and William Henderson (piano). A long surging intro by the rhythm section to John Coltrane's 'Crescent' where Saunders weave his tenor sax motifs before a sweeping crescendo into the melody. This alone was ample confirmation of being at a jazz festival and for you to sit back into your chair assured of a joyful performance.

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Brad Mehldau
(keyboards/samplers - pictured above) and Mark Guiliana (drums/electronic gadgets) jointly know as Mehliana performed a mix of electronica fusing jazz, funk, prog rock to a captivated audience, which at times seems serious. As usual at the NSJF diversity can always be found not too far from the mainstream. In the Nile Arena following on from the Robin Thicke performance, Pharrell Williams draws a crowd that fills the arena conjuring up visions of sardines in a can. Surprisingly people found room to sway and dance when he performed the chart topper he co-wrote with the rapper Nelly, 'It's Getting Hot In Here'.

Day 2 saw Quincy Jones being honoured in the Amazon Auditorium with the Metropole Orkest Big Band, conducted by Jules Buckley they performed lush arrangements from the Jones catalogue. Later on in the day Quincy himself, presented his 'Global Gumbo Project' featuring the young Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, singer Nikki Yanofsky (who also appeared at the Love Supreme Festival) and Hungarian child prodigy, guitarist Andreas Varady. Quincy extolled their virtues as encouragement for each to do their best and for the audience to be impressed by his young protégés. Based on their performances no doubt we will be hearing more from them in the future.

Children Of The Light Trio (Danilo Perez, piano, John Patitucci, bass and Brian Blade, drums - pictured above) showed that they can conjure up musical magic without their mentor, Wayne Shorter. Their collective virtuosity gives them identity as they flow through genres and influences from Pan-American Latin, to classical and American jazz, though there are moments you anticipate Shorter will appear out of nowhere with a crowning embellishment.

Hammond organist Dr. Lonnie Smith with his guitar and drums trio show they can groove as well as take you to the outer edges of harmony incorporating synthesisers and electronic gadgetry. But it's Benny Golson with his poignant relating of the history behind each song played that really transforms the atmosphere of moderately sized Madera room to that of a cosy nightclub. His tribute to trumpeter Clifford Brown through his much-covered composition 'I Remember Clifford' was both beautiful and touching.

Surprisingly other artists such as French-Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, Sons Of Kemet, singer Chloe Charles et al drew decent sized audiences, bearing testament to the strength of their musical offerings. It was surprising by the fact that Stevie Wonder's performance overlapped theirs. Such was Wonder’s attraction that the 15,000-plus capacity Nile Arena’s main entrances had to be closed with audience spilling over into the outer eating areas where it was an equal struggle to be able to view the show from various overhead cinema screens. Typically, Mr Wonder infused the mood with his wonder and closed the day where he held the audience spellbound for a marathon two-and-a-half-hour set where he also invited a gleeful Joss Stone onto the stage where they engaged in ad lib vocal exchanges.

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Day 3 kept the momentum going with great performances and feats of showmanship from Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones and the Daptone Super Soul Revue. Natalie Cole’s performance added a svelte sophistication to the mix and Cécile McLorin-Salvant (above) shows that the defining styles of past songstress (Holiday, Fitzgerald, Vaughan) remain fresh as well as timeless whilst pianist John Escreet with his trio featuring Evan Parker on saxophones showed that you can have form without melody and hold on to an audience.

A tough act to follow after Stevie Wonder's Day 2 closing performance, it was 90s hip-hop duo Outkast who would perform the closing act of the 2014 festival. It might be assumed that the ethos for their performance was one of trying to go out with a bang and perhaps the deafening sound was their way of trying to keep up with Mr. Wonder though not a convincing substitute. However, for the vast crowd it seemed to appeal that the jazz festival would end with no jazz as the performed popular hits such as ‘Ms Jackson’, ‘Roses’, ‘So Fresh So Clean’ and ‘Rosa Parks’.

Whatever, no one would imagine the festival promoters being disappointed with much this year as numbers in attendance made this the biggest ever NSJF, with tickets being completely sold out as it remains the biggest jazz festival in the world. There are so many to choose from these days but if you like your jazz festivals to be as a ‘festival on steroids’ and you also have a good amounts of sustaining energy then this is the one for you.

– Roger Thomas (story and photos)


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