Maria Chiara Argirò Weaves The Vortex A Seductive Dance

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"It's the end of a long, emotional journey," pianist and bandleader Maria Chiara Argirò tells the Vortex crowd at the launch of her debut album. But at this journey's end there's real reason to celebrate; The Fall Dance is an astonishing achievement. Her beautiful collection of original compositions ranges from the touchingly simple to the boldly cinematic and has been realised with help of a perfectly formed crew of five other talented young musicians – guitarist Tal Janes, drummer Gaspar Sena (both Middlesex graduates, like the bandleader), plus Sam Rapley on saxes and Andrea Di Biase on double bass. These London jazzers, with a notable Italian connection, make up the more familiar Maria Chiara Argiro Quintet. For this album and its release party, however, we are also treated to the singular voice of Paris-based Leïla Martial.

Diving into the thick of it, Argiro opens the evening with 'Dream R', an intoxicating scream at the world and the frustrating reality of politics in her home city of Rome. Its wonky lyrical rhythms and tolling bells provide fertile ground for some fine opening solos from Raply and Janes. Sadly, technical hitches in the opening minutes throw the team off balance. But their flow returns with a soulful free rhythm medley – a meditation on the question 'what is family?', which earned some almighty applause.

Later highlights included some feverishly cool soloing from Martial on 'Every Now & Then', a new piece overlaid with (occasionally hard to hear) Hungarian poetry and a climactic performance of the album's title-track that displayed just how successfully the group have managed to balance composition, orchestration and individual voice. Indeed, Di Biase explained these arrangements were reworked over the course of several years.

The group has impressive sonic range, from noisy warmongering to asymmetric rhythms to seductive folksy melody. Furthermore it feels natural and unshowy, especially in this live setting. The appeal is immediate and perhaps explains why some have been quick to state how their music has true crossover appeal. In terms of virtuosity there were very few moments of extravagance, but their strength is that such flamboyance often seems unnecessary. 

The journey complete and, after a brief moment of concern, Maria Chiara relocates her glasses atop the Steinway. The packed upstairs room of the Vortex swims back into view, reality reasserted. Her smile and the crowd's standing ovation acknowledge the dreamy distance we've covered tonight.

– Tommie Black-Roff

Nigel Kennedy hits a high with Brighton Hendrix hoedown

The last time a Brighton friend of mine saw Jimi Hendrix, he stalked past him with his black cap pulled down, his gloweringly foul vibe confirmed as he trashed his equipment on Sussex University's stage, ending a set so moodily short that support act Ten Years After had to play again. Three weeks later, Hendrix returned to the seaside in better shape and grander circumstances, playing the Prince Regent's one-time stables the Brighton Dome on December 2, 1967. These are the associations Nigel Kennedy is evoking as he takes the Dome's stage nearly 49 years after, to play Hendrix's music here once more.

Hendrix's mutant mesh of rock, blues and jazz suits Kennedy's own hybrid nature, letting him apply his classical technique, relatively punk irreverence and improvisational ability pure classical players lack. Leading a quintet minus the advertised Orphy Robinson on vibes, in electric mode they're ridiculously, ear-worryingly loud, hitting volumes Hendrix's amps could never have reached. 'Purple Haze' begins in a feedback storm from Julian Buschberger and Doug Boyle's guitars and Kennedy's electric violin. But it's when this fades away for an acoustic Kennedy solo which seems to draw on Jewish, Arabic and Celtic strands and ends sounding like acoustic Pink Floyd that the music takes shape. Over the low padding of double-bass, his playing slips into classical mode, till his whispered slides and shivers finally bring an unbroken, largely improvised half-hour to a stop.

That's broadly tonight's format, as when the electric reverberations of 'Foxy Lady' make way for an acoustic gypsy lament. Kennedy recalls Dylan's Desire violinist Scarlet Riviera on 'When the Wind Cries Mary', while 'Crosstown Traffic' is full-on, swinging wah-wah, followed by feedback-flecked classic rock which gets two latter-day freaks dancing.

Rocking out rewards Kennedy, but he's more interesting when he brings Hendrix into his world, the guitarist's charisma and innovation lying in a realm the violinist can't reach. Rye Jazz and Blues Festival worthily promoted this one-off channelling of Hendrix's Sussex spirit. But its highlight is the encore, Django Reinhardt's 'Swing 39'. With Adam Czerwinski's kit reduced to a snare, the band huddle in intimate interplay. The music's grace takes them out of time, and is the best, cleansing expression of Kennedy's catholic taste.

– Nick Hasted
– Photo by Francesca Moore

John Scofield and David Holland's Aziza Among The Balkan Fest Feast In Belgrade and Pancevo

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This year's autumn jazz festivals in Belgrade and Pancevo (just 25kms away from Belgrade) showed once again the passion and reverence the Balkan countries have when it comes to jazz. Both events featured a mix of top American and European names, with a broad range of lesser known and breaking through artists. The possibility to discover an as yet unknown talent is always a distinct possibility.

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Two artists appearing at the Belgrade festival who definitely fell into this category were Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez and Austrian pianist David Helbock – both highly impressive composers and performers. Rodriguez, who was spotted by Quincy Jones at the Montreux young pianist competition a few years ago, has all the hallmarks of fellow countrymen Roberto Fonseca, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Chucho Valdes, but retains his own sound. His trio's performance was one of the highlights at the Dom Omladine Youth Centre in the heart of the city.

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Helbock (a multiple Montreux piano competition winner), who impressed with the band Random/Control at this years Bolzano Festival, showed that he's also someone to look out for in the future. Here with his trio of Raphael Preuschl on bass and Reinhold Schmolzer on drums, the music was heady and intricate – the interplay between them mesmerizing – the themes of the music inspired by the worlds of myth and legend.

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Of the bigger-named artists appearing in the much larger seated Sava Centre across the river in New Belgrade. Dave Holland's Aziza (with the imperious Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke and Eric Harland) were fabulous – at times hard-driving rock, at others more free-flowing jazz – the band and particularly Potter shone on every number. It was equally wonderful to hear Loueke just let rip on a number of occasions.

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Avishai Cohen was in slightly reflective mood, some might say 'laid-back'. But what his set may have lacked in outright energy was more than compensated for by the superb band he has assembled (Omri Mor on piano and Hamar Doari on percussion). Together they are probably the best piano trio around.

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Other standout shows at the Dom Omladine included Tord Gustavsen featuring Tore Brunborg. The intense passion he brings to his music is spellbinding, at times the only audible sounds were his fingers gently stroking the piano keys, coaxing out notes. By contrast, Gianluca Petrela and his Cosmic Renaissance band were joyfully tripping their way through some inventive Sun Ra-type compositions that had the audience stamping their feet for more.

Pancevo is a very relaxed festival, this time located in the town's Cultural Centre with two concerts per evening and, as at Belgrade, a jam session to follow lasting until around 2am. The mix is similar to Belgrade – big name American and Europeans, plus lesser-known artists who've taken the ear of artistic director Voja Pantic, who unsurprisingly, is also artistic adviser to the Belgrade festival.

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The Americans were led by, Lee Konitz, featured soloist in the RTS Big Band (probably the best professional big band in the Balkans). Konitz's playing was wobbly at times, but it's still immediately recognisable by its tone and phrasing. 

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John Scofield brought his 'Country for Old Men' project, a wonderful romp through some old classics that, at some time or another have taken Scofield's ear. His band, featuring Larry Goldings on keys, Bill Stewart on drums and the brilliant Steve Swallow on bass, were clearly having so much fun on stage, their joy and enthusiasm transferring to the gathered crowd.

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Enrico Rava's New Quartet played a blistering set, nobody contributing more than guitarist Franceso Diodati, who lit up the stage with his brillant playing. He's a real find from Rava, an axeman blossoming into a really classy musician.

The Balkans were well represented by the Romanian cimbalon duo of Miklos Lukacs and Kalman Balogh, the Lazar Tosic Quintet and Sound Sculptures, led by the impressive RTS Big Band pianist Ivan Aleksijevic

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But the best was kept for last, as the final show of this year's festival featured the James Carter Organ Trio playing a set comprising of Django Reinhardt material (although even a devotee would have been pushed to recognise the tunes). Carter takes no prisoners, from the outset his solos are fast and frenetic, honking low or squealing high, but always beautiful. Gerard Gibbs was almost dancing on the Hammond with Eddie Alex White anchoring it down and heavy on drums. This is a power trio in every sense. The triumphant encore of 'Nuages' left everyone sweating – Carter and band dripping sweat from their efforts, the audience out of breath and with sore hands from the applause they offered up at the end of the show.

– Story and Photos by Tim Dickeson

Oz Noy Trio's Funk Blues Flux Triumphs At Ronnie Scott's

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For the first five minutes at least, there must have been many in tonight's audience in agreement with New-Yorker Oz Noy's quote in the programme notes that his "music is jazz, it just doesn't sound like it". The vibes were decidedly heavy and bluesy. Flung over a solid funk groove from electric bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Keith Carlock came a fidgety guitar lick from Noy that flipped between spacious and reggae-like and the sort of howl you'd expect from Jimi Hendrix.

An inspired ballad arrangement of 'Better Get It in Your Soul' saw Noy, unplugged from all his axe effects and gizmos, delve into his raw and raunchy blues side. Naturally, the Mingus tune also proved a perfect platform for Haslip to solo, and some poignant noodling from the session veteran beautifully complimented Noy's soft, graceful chords, his fluid lines dripping across a shuffle so laid-back you could nap on it.

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The band followed this with a breezy new funk tune, 'Zig Zag', before pandemonium abruptly broke and an unannounced piece had Carlock and Haslip nailed to a knotty time signature and Noy intensely picking out what sounded like a 1970s cop theme. Even at his most out there, sonically and technically, Noy's playing remained lyrical and groove-driven through the show. His deploying of nervy, gymnastic licks, recurring loops or choppy wah guitar over already complex rhythm-section parts made for some real edge-of-your-seat interplay and soloing from all. A robust take on The Meters' classic 'Sissy Strut' built-up great tension, a polyrhythmic coup in which the tune's familiar melody was dragged in and out of irregular rhythms, clashing erratically against a simpler, syncopated pattern from Carlock in four.

With the exception of Noy's lone performance of his ballad 'Twice in a While', too abstract and shrill for tonight's crowd, more incredible playing from this tireless trio carried over into a second set. They cruised through more high-energy blues, tight-knit funk and loose, lazy swing, before splitting with a spirited sprint through James Brown's 'I Feel Good (I Got You)'. With Haslip holding down some serious low-end and Noy up in the high registers replicating all the busy brass from the original cut, Carlock drove the whole thing home, erupting into an explosive drum solo, the applause for which lasted into the opening bars of an encore, Miles' 'Freedom Jazz Dance'.

– Mark Youll

Maxi Jazz's E-Type Boys Get Into The Groove At Ronnie Scott's

 

With the E-Type Boys, south Londoner Maxi Jazz is exploring a funky, rocky seam, with jazz inflections, away from Faithless, the seminal electronica dance act that has been his main gig since the mid-1990s. Here, the besuited Boys (and girl, the wonderful backing vocalist Azadeh Akhbari) were augmented to telling effect by the Kick Horns, the UK section with an almost absurdly long list of supernova recording and gigging credits.

With twin guitars, keyboards, two backing singers and full rhythm section including percussion there is no danger of Maxi being under-supported in his new venture. In fact, you might think there was a risk of him being overwhelmed; after all his voice is a subtle thing, full of breathy, low-pitched restraint with a touch of vibrato adding a distinguished, knowing, vibe. But this disciplined, listening band soon allayed any fears. Every instrument had its place; the two lead guitars – Chris Dover on slide and Jake Libretto – meshing with echoes of Denny Dias and Jeff Skunk Baxter from early Steely Dan, especially on tracks like 'Saturday Morning Blues'. Similarly, Alexis Countouris' bass work elevated accuracy and punctuation above thunder; but make no mistake, the power was there, it had just been thought about. And Basil Isaac's percussion contributed far more than sheer rhythm, his instrument choices and note placement always enhancing the compositions, making a sonic space zone all of his own.

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Maxi's songs, some co-written with backing singer LSK – who occasionally shared lead vocals – are often riff-based, but just as the listener enters their comfort zone, they suddenly switch to bridges or refrains at other tempos, sometimes other time signatures, often 6/8, a device familiar in hip hop. Showcasing this technique were excellent, well structured tracks like the excellent 'Stand Firm', 'Going Back to the Bottle' and 'Smoke Screen', performed with a lean panache every bit as sharp as Maxi's suit. The addition of the Kick Horns (on this occasion trumpet, tenor, baritone and trombone) for the London dates was a masterstroke. The outstanding sound quality at Ronnie's meant the section's superb arranging, accuracy and command of articulation was rendered with the utmost clarity. 'A Long Time Gone' featured a simmering riff prodded along by lush, split, harmonised lines. 'I've Got Something in My Eye' saw the section switch to unison mode; ascending, dissonant voicings added tension behind Jake Libretto's searing guitar work. 'We're Alright''s slow funk groove complemented by super-smooth flugelhorn and flute.

The horns inevitably added a jazz inflection with their sophistication, but that was also true of Chris Jerome's keyboard contribution. In another example of well thought out arranging it was often left to him to round off tracks with solo piano improvisations, as on 'Chasing Shadows' and the evening's peak performance, the penultimate track 'Bitter Love', which also featured Jerome's fine Hammond-style solo.

Maxi is a man of many interests: a Buddhist who loves motor racing and Crystal Palace FC (he's a non-executive director) and he brings this eclectic quality to his music, which often seems about to veer off on a cross-genre voyage before being brought back to base camp. He had enough of his fans in the audience to guarantee a good reception, but those at Ronnies on spec, perhaps expecting a more traditionally jazz evening, appeared to be totally won over by the end of the gig, responding with a near universal standing ovation. Maybe next time we'll find out more about where that voyage is heading.

– Adam McCulloch

– Carl Hyde

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