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.

DSC 8794 low-res Sarah Hickson

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

Jan Garbarek and Nils Petter Molvær brighten up a rainy Au Grès du Jazz Festival


Au Gres du Jazz Festival takes place in the beautiful setting of the tiny village of La Petite Pierre (59km from Strasbourg) in the Northern Vosges National Park region of Alsace. The 10-day festival features two main open air concerts on the weekends and one during the week. There's also an 'Off Festival' featuring two or three performances per day from local and regional artists in and around the village of La Petite Pierre. For such a small place (population around 600) there are a large number of hotels, restaurants and B&Bs. These of course do not cater purely for the jazz festival but for the many cyclists and ramblers who come to this area of the National Park to enjoy its outstanding natural beauty and the miles of trekking and cycle routes to be found here.

The main shows are staged in a large raked courtyard between the old village and the manor house that seats around 1,200, which is perfectly suited to jazz as it feels very intimate and, for an outdoor venue, the sound is exceptional. This year for the 15th edition of the festival, the main stage concerts were of a very high standard, with the likes of Avishai Cohen, Yaron Herman Trio, Jean-Luc Ponty/Biréli Lagrène/Kyle Eastwood, the Biréli Lagrène Acoustic Quartet and Shai Maestro all performing before we arrived.

Our first evening was the Hiromi/Edmar Castaneda Duo. The compactness of the setting certainly enhanced the atmosphere: the audience almost in the pockets of the two performers. Apart from a massive downpour which halted the concert for around thirty minutes, the duo kept the feeling and spirit of the show alive and no one left despite the atrocious conditions. The festival does have a 'Plan B' in case of inclement weather: a village hall that can squeeze just under 1,000 people inside. Following another rainy session with singer Hugh Coltman the following night the next three days were all inside.


We were extremely lucky that in this location we saw two outstanding shows. The first featuring Jan Garbarek (above) and the second with Nils Petter Molvaer (top). Garbarek playing with percussion maestro Trilok Gurtu, pianist Rainer Brûninghaus and electric bassist Yuri Daniel was just brilliant. His style of filmic music starting with 'Molde Canticle' was perfectly suited to the rammed hall and the atmosphere was fantastic. Not stopping to speak to the audience once the concert flowed effortlessly with virtually no break. Gurtu's solo slot towards the end 'Nine Horses' (which when I heard this in the the vast open spaces of an arena seemed a little tedious) was in this situation exciting and spellbinding – the audience hanging on every note as he worked his way through a plethora of bells and gongs.

Each musician was given an extended solo slot and as well as Gurtu's tour de force, bassist Daniel's solo 'Tao' also a treat giving the audience a masterclass in bass styles from Pastorius to Haden. Nils Petter Molvær brought his 'Buoyancy' project to the festival which is his homage to all things diving and underwater. The trio featuring guitarist Eivind Aarset and electronics and percussionist Vladislav Delay were as enthralling as Garbarek had been two nights previously. The CD features more musicians, so live percussionist Delay has to double up as an electronics wizard – his stage set a mind boggling mess of cables and control switches.

The music of course was far from chaotic, superbly orchestrated by Molvaer the music ebbed and flowed like the waves in his original idea – haunting, threatening and serenely beautiful his interjections on trumpet inspired and moving. He segued into 'Nature Boy' surely a nod towards Esbjörn Svensson. A brilliant two hours of music.


Rising star French trumpeter Airelle Besson (above) featured in two shows, firstly, with her own quartet which features Isabel Sörling on vocals sounding not too dissimilar to Anne Paceo's Triphase and secondly, with pianist Edouard Ferlet and bassist Stéphane Kerecki which was a more interesting set. Heavily influenced by Delta blues (and Dr John in particular) singer Marion Rampal was very entertaining. Anne Paceo on drums and pianist Pierre Francois Blanchard made up the trio which is quite quirky but well worth catching.


The last big night featured Archie Shepp and Joachim Kuhn (above). The two masters of jazz played a wonderful concert each with such deep understanding of the other. Shepp undoubtedly took the lead. Shepp's playing was on top form and his inventive soloing a joy to listen too. Kuhn is a master, supporting Shepp throughout then when taking his own solos, he would slide off on his own improvisational take on the tune ultimately returning for Shepp to finish it off. It's rare in jazz to see a gig where the artists are older than the audience and this was one and a very special gig at that.

La Petite Pierre is a mature, laid back, but very well organised festival. Its setting in a rural location would suit any jazz fan who also has a love of walking or cycling – there are other places to visit nearby – the Lalique museum and the start of the Alsace wine route being two and there are plenty of options for accommodation in the area. For next year's festival dates and more information check the festival website www.festival-augresdujazz.com

– Tim Dickeson (Story and Photos)

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