Joshua Redman, Donny McCaslin and Marc Ribot shine at bumper Belgrade Jazz Festival

This year the Belgrade Jazz Festival chose a programme more aimed at exploration than familiarity and featured many emerging artists plus a smattering of more familiar names to add balance to the line-up.

Joshua Redman (above) was probably the biggest name this year and his show featuring Reuben Rogers on bass and Greg Hutchinson on drums was a masterclass in the art of the trio. Mixing standards and self-penned songs Redman was in ebullient mood throughout playing numerous excellent solos – Rogers and Hutchinson the perfect sparing partners.

Fellow American saxophonist Donny McCaslin, ably supported by Jason Lindner on keys, has certainly moved up a few notches in his career. His tall imposing figure stalking the stage and his explosive soloing making for a terrific concert.

Away from these more familiar names was a treasure trove of emerging artists who offered a great insight into the current direction in jazz. Trumpeter Peter Evans (below), a founder member of Mostly Other People Do The Killing, here presented a new project as a bandleader and composer, leading what could be described as an 'avant garde chamber orchestra'. Mixing through-composed music with free improvisation it was a breath-taking show. Individually and collectively the band wove delicate passages with explosions of energy.

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The mix of electronics from Sam Pluta and Levy Lorenzo, plus drums and bass from Jim Black and Tom Blancarte respectively, laid down the platform for Mazz Swift's plaintive violin and Evans' brilliant horn playing. A must see band who are really offering something different.

There was also an excellent concert from French saxophonist Emile Parisien (below), playing here with his own quartet. Parisien, who regularly plays as a sideman and also duo with Joachim Kuhn, was brilliant in his role as front-man and composer. The complex material, much of it improvised, was always accessible and exciting with Parisien hopping energetically around the stage as he led the band.

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Another stunning concert was Giovanni Guidi's 'Inferno' project (below), his approach is more measured and composed than Parisisen's. Featuring beautiful lyrical tunes with compatriot Francesco Bearzatti taking blistering sax solos in another memorable performance.

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One of the many highlights of the festival was Marc Ribot (below) paying homage to the 'Philly Sound' with a nod towards Ornette Coleman's Prime Time band from the same era. Ribot and the Young Philadelphians with strings hit the stage with real energy. This melding of orchestrated bass-driven disco music and Ornette Coleman's wild and baroque jazz-rock could be a recipe for disaster, however, in the hands of these super talented musicians it was pure joy.

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Seminal tune 'The Hustle', saw former Prime Time bass pioneer Jamaaladeen Tacuma (below) thumping out the low-end with drummer Grant Weston driving the band through several mash ups of the song, while it was left to Ribot to play guitar as Ornette might have blown his horn. It was a wonderful celebration of a distinct time in music history, with old classics such as 'Love Rollercoaster, 'Do it Anyway you Wanna', 'Fly Robin Fly' and a great version of Colemans's 'Voice Poetry' dusted off and given new life in a wild and exhilarating concert.

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German drummer Eva Klesse and her quartet also showed great promise. Her blend of free jazz, folk and dance music has a distinctive blend of emotion and expression. Already winning of the Newcomer of the Year at the German Echo Jazz awards, and voted the most impressive act at the 2016 12 Points festival, in San Sebastian, she's one to watch out for.

It's worth noting this festival's listening experience is quite intense with four concerts a night starting at 7.30pm and ending at 2am in the centre of Belgrade in the Dom Omladine (Youth Centre), which has two stages, plus a couple of shows at the much larger Sava Centre. Belgrade's philosophy is to programme a concert series that heavily features newer artists while also respecting more mainstream acts. For a five-day festival it is incredibly cheap (around £85 for all 21 shows) and Belgrade itself is a fascinating city to spend a few days looking around with the festival always taking place on the last weekend in October.

– Story and photos Tim Dickeson

Kamasi Washington and Donny McCaslin wow at So What’s Next? Festival – Photo Report

Jazz was just the starting point at an eclectic fifth edition of the So What's Next? jazz and beyond festival that took place in Eindhoven, Netherlands in early November.

The Muziekgebouw Eindhoven venue was at the heart of the festival – alongside several other locations in the city centre, where 55 live acts performed over three packed days and nights.

Headline concerts and showcases from established and emerging jazz artists covered hip hop, soul, world, electronics and classical music. Artists appearing included Jacob Collier, Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Zara McFarlane, Ambrose Akinmusire, Donny McCaslin with drummer Zach Danziger – all pictured below - and Kamasi Washington (above).

So What's Next? is organised by Stichting So What's Next? in collaboration with partners Muziekgebouw Eindhoven, North Sea Jazz / Mojo Concerts and Brabant C.

Photos and text by Peter van Breukelen

1-Jacob Collier

2-Avishai Cohen

3-Zara McFarlane

5-Donny McCaslin

6-Zach Danziger

 

Chris Barber Big Band keeps on swinging at Cardogan Hall

At 87 Chris Barber is somewhat stooped and tends to ramble when addressing the audience. But in concert he remains a potent trombonist and leads a stunning 10-piece band. Tonight began with 'Bourbon Street Parade' and closed with 'Saints Go Marching In', which suggests, at a glance, Barber leads a Dixieland outfit. Not at all! Throughout the Big Band interpreted Duke Ellington compositions – an especially fine 'Black And Tan Fantasy' demonstrated exceptional ensemble playing. while 'East St Louis Toodle Oo' was pure joy.

Other composers tackled were Fats Waller's 'Wild Cat Blues' and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee's 'Cornbread, Peas & Black Molasses'. For the latter Barber reminisced on touring with Sonny and Brownie and how they explained their loathing for this diet – it being a staple of Southern jails! As Barber brought Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Boy Williamson to the UK it's unsurprising that his Big Band can play a strong shuffle blues but what did surprise me was when they followed with a beautifully felt interpretation of Miles Davis' 'All Blues' (played by a quintet – the Big Band coming and going as the music demanded).

While everyone in the Big Band played with precision I'd note Bert Brandsma's clarinet and Nick White's saxophone, both delivering gorgeous solos, while the drumming of John Watson ensured every number swung. Barber has contributed far more to British music than he is given credit for and, right now, the lion in winter continues to play jazz of great joy and beauty.

– Garth Cartwright

Jace Clayton gets rebellious for his Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner at LSO St Luke’s

Among the more obscure exponents of minimalism and classical avant-garde, the late Julius Eastman was nonetheless a compelling composer and all round agent provocateur whose oeuvre resonates loudly in the 21st century. Titles such as 'Gay Guerilla' and 'Evil Nigger' addressed issues of homophobia as well as racial discrimination in an America that still feels the need to search and destroy its bogey man on a regular basis, and Eastman's absolute refusal to compromise on his identity and self-empowerment – to be "fully homosexual, fully black, fully human", as he said himself – would have most probably seen him continue to write music with sub-texts neither neutral nor neutered by current concerns for decorum. He was dangerous and endangered.

Producer/DJ/writer Jace Clayton's celebration of the artist's legacy materialised on a studio project, 2013's The Julius Eastman Memory Depot, and now this live show proves an engrossing and imaginative evocation of the composer's spirit as well as a smart rendition of his signature pieces. While the music itself is nothing if not interesting Clayton succeeds in creating an eldritch ambiance by way of simple but canny dramaturgy and performance art that significantly lifts the evening beyond a straight and overly reverential form of tribute.

Occupying the central berth on the podium, Clayton, armed with laptop and mixing desk, faces the crowd while Emily Manzo and David Friend are sat at pianos either side of him on a slightly lower level, their backs to the audience. Throughout the performance the two will glance sideways at each other with Clayton in the middle, creating an understated sense of triangular fire that complements the music.

Indeed, there are many moments when the energy in the room boldly combusts, as the motifs oscillating from the two keyboards gather a momentum that is powerfully served by the clear acoustics of the venue. While the relatively short, tremulous phrases and insistent repetition of the parts may mark Eastman out as a minimalist there is a considerable amount of ingenuity melodically as well as metrically to make the argument that it was by no means a definitive term for his aesthetic.

The relentless, at times pummeling trills and fully punched clusters of notes create a free-wheel groove that upholds a long lineage of jazz pianists whose dynamism came gloriously to the fore in drummer-less settings. When the two pianists hammer simultaneously at opposite ends of the tonal spectrum, Friend shudderingly low and Manzo piercingly high, we can hear how Eastman was not a million miles from Matthew Shipp's chiaroscuro skews on Thelonious Monk. There is a sharp intake of breath among certain audience members as the height of the middle register onslaught, which is wrapped in an electric stream of subtle but resonant processing and re-mouldings of chords by Clayton. His slide, squelch and slither of beats impart a pleasing earthiness into the ether of acoustic sounds.

Then a brilliant theatrical twist occurs. Clayton makes a Skype call to vocalist Arooj Aftab who appears on a giant screen and proceeds to interview him for a position at the American Society Of Eastman Supporters. The exchange is a hilariously spiky parody on the formality of the job application that nonetheless makes several shrewd observations on the minefield of identity politics and big business, right down to Clayton wondering whether a stint working at Starbucks stands him in good stead for the challenges of filtering music into commercial environments. The segment ends with some haunting sung lines on equality by Aftab which then gives way to a resumption of the two pianos in a more introspective, plaintive mode, with lower tempos and needling, incisive lines that playfully alternate disjunction and conjunction.

Eastman's existence was a tragic one in many ways, as he died impoverished with several of his precious scores lost, but this Memorial Dinner, with its wit and wisecracks that inflect the 'Crazy Nigger' towards a quasi-Pryorist trope of 'that nigger's crazy' has the iron discipline and steely invention that serves its subject as faithfully as possible.

– Kevin Le Gendre

Wallen Heralds Hughes At Rich Mix

Those with long memories know that the precedent to this performance reaches far back. It was actually in 2002 that British trumpeter-composer Byron Wallen performed original music inspired by Langston Hughes, a key literary voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Much has happened in Wallen's career in the 15 years that have since elapsed, above all the development of the fine quartet Indigo as well as a hugely diverse range of work that has seen him score for dance and theatre. For this opening night of Certain Blacks, a festival dedicated to Harlem, Wallen expands the aforesaid group to a sextet, and the additional textural richness proves superbly effective.

Having said that, it's a shame that there is an opening act, the samples-based Addictive TV, that bears very little connection to the festival theme and whose not uninteresting trans-continental groove would have better suited a standing, rather than seated, venue. Furthermore, this means that Wallen's group does not take the stage until fairly late in the evening to play a shorter set, to the chagrin of some punters.

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Nonetheless quality more than surpasses quantity. Wallen's signature sound for the original quartet is an artful modal jazz that is decisively enhanced by Larry Bartley's pummeling basslines and the subtle funk and reggae inflections of drummer Tom Skinner, whose snare work, in particular, is sharp and crisp. rather than hard and loud. Crucially, Tony Kofi's baritone sax provides grainy harmonies to the main themes as well as stinging second basslines, while Tom Dunnett's trombone and Rowland Sutherland's flute bring further orchestral light and shade. As for Wallen, he is both soaring soloist and engaging narrator-MC, explaining why he chose to write music for Hughes texts, such as 'Merry Go Round' and 'Ask Ya Mama', both of which draw out the poet's mischievous humour. He also clarifies that Hughes was a largely nomadic figure who believed in spending no more than six months in a single location. 'The Journeyman', with its subtle rhythmic shifts and harmonic shadow play, is a brilliant evocation of such restlessness.

In fact, there is occasionally a discreet echo of the famous Mulligan-Baker and Mulligan-Farmer piano-less groups, perhaps with the 'Festive Minor' vibe pushed in a more non-western direction at times. Later in the set a strong flavour of shakuhachi – something of great interest to both Wallen and Sutherland, who has studied with its masters in Japan – can be heard, and all of the players have the chance to solo at length, impressing with their surges of fire and finesse. Wallen, whose improvisations strike a fine balance between clarity of narrative and tight control of crescendo and diminuendo, is keen to make sure that the whole point of the evening – a celebration of Hughes as a human being as well as a poet – is well to the fore, and his decision to close proceedings with one of his most resonant and universal pieces, 'A Dream Deferred', strikes a notable chord with the audience. As he recites the timeless opening lines with their spare, simple, but wholly devastating, images of "a raisin in the sun" and "a sore that festers and runs" the mood is set for a shape-shifting arrangement that starts in folksy, melodic peace and bursts into atonality as the musicians holler "Explode!" like bombs and bullets in an urban riot.

Hughes knew of the beauty of certain blacks, and also their anger at the injustice of white America. Which is hardly an anachronism for the year of our lord 2017.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Sarah Hickson

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