Marvellous Masekela hits amid the kicks at Ystad Sweden International Jazz Festival

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Best known as the location for TV series Wallander, Ystad also hosts what’s become one of the best jazz festivals in Scandinavia. The event was conceived by pianist Jan Lundgren (artistic director) and Thomas Lantz (president) after a chance meeting on a train travelling to Ystad. Now in its seventh edition, this year’s happening boasts 44 shows at 11 venues around the town, with major concerts being held at the lovely Ystad Theatre, constructed in 1894 and seating 400. 

Highlights at this venue were: Mare Nostrum II featuring Paolo Fresu (trumpet) Richard Galliano (accordion) and festival artistic director Jan Lundgren (piano), playing music from their second ACT album; Joe Lovano accompanied by the Bohuslan Big Band and Hugh Masekela brought his Playing at Work band, featuring the excellent Cameron Ward (guitar) and Johan Mthethwa (keyboards). Masekela seems to be really enjoying his music at the moment. Here with his full band he was clearly having a ball. The warmth and energy he brings to his shows together with the sheer quality of the material is magical. He was brought back for a wonderful encore and left to a standing ovation from the sold out theatre.

More adventurous music was to be found at the Klosterkyrkan – a 12th century monastery. The first concert there was a collaboration between Fresu (trumpet, flugelhorn), Daniele Bonaventura (bandoneon) and multi-instrumentalists Mare Balticum, a quartet specialising in early medieval Nordic music and songs. Mare Balticum were using selected instruments from the European Music Archaeology Projects (EMAP) touring exhibition Archaeomusica which is on display here until January 2017. Fresu’s spine-tingling trumpet was the perfect accompaniment to this quite solemn and sacred music and fitted perfectly with the haunting vocals of guests Ute Goedecke and Aino Lund Lavoipierre.

One of many outstanding concerts of the festival came at the same venue the following evening – a solo piano recital from German pianist Joachim Khun. His playing is so intense that it’s impossible not to get swept up in his music – fierce crashing chords or a delicate run of notes that give a brief respite before the next explosion. The best moment for me was undoubtedly his melding of a tricky and complicated Ornette Coleman tune into The Doors’ ‘The End’ – a real master at work!

A couple of nights later at the same site came another stunning concert – this time featuring Michael Woolny (piano) and Heinz Sauer (sax). The Art of the Duo is their take on classic tunes and their own compositions. They’ve played together as a pair for over 10 years now, so the level of understanding and telepathy between them is astonishing. Woolny’s playing is mostly very lyrical, while Sauer slices through almost at right angles to him, neither barely offering any clues as to what they are playing and when the merest hint comes in the form of a few notes from the melody, it sounded simply amazing – ‘Nothing Compares to You’, and ‘So What’ were breathtaking.

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The UK was well represented at the festival with Martin Taylor playing duo guitar with Ulf Wakenius and Zara McFarlane who was the featured singer with Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret’s band. Anita Wardellwas brought in at the last minute for Bob Dorough, who was unable to travel. Wardell, being a bit of a Dorough fan, did a sterling job singing his songs and giving insightful information about them.

There were two collaboration concerts between Norwegian and Polish artists at the Ystad Art Museum featuring concerts by the Helge Lien Trio, featuring the quite brilliant violinist Adam Baldych, and then Jacob Young (guitar) and Trygve Seim (sax) playing with the Marcin Wasilewski Trio.

There are two very picturesque outdoor venues in Ystad, both very old and with masses of character. The Hos Morten Café, a 17th century half-timbered building with a cobbled courtyard and Per Helsas Gard, a beautiful square surrounded by craft and coffee shops, both dotted with hollyhocks, which seem to grow just about anywhere here in Ystad.

One of the concerts at the latter space celebrated the 100th birthday of Danish violinist Sven Asmussen. Asmussen has played with all the greats in his long career, including the likes of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Josephine Baker, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and Stephane Grappelli. Halfway through the first number and to everyone’s amazement Asmusssen himself appeared from the audience to take his place in front of the stage. The musicians playing the tribute concert had all played with him in the past and it was a touching moment.

Closing the festival in the theatre was a majestic performance from Avishai Cohen and his new trio featuring Omri Mor (piano) and Daniel Dor (drums). Cohen was in brilliant form and his new band are great finds (this was only their third live gig) together.

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It was a fitting end to a festival in a picturesque setting (Ystad has miles of sandy beaches, with lots of places to stay making it an ideal place for the jazz tourist). It comes highly recommended.

– Story and Photos by Tim Dickeson

Rubin-Atzmon team-up brimful of vim at The Verdict

 

Saul ‘Zeb’ Rubin epitomises an aspect of the Manhattan jazz scene that receives scant media coverage but lies at the heart of the city’s reputation as one of the jazz centres of the world. Since graduating from Hartt School, where he studied with Jackie McLean, he’s built an enviable reputation as a player among his fellow guitarists, and has sporadically entered the wider public’s consciousness through work as a player/arranger with Roy Hargrove’s big band and a continuing association with that doyen of the Manhattan jazz tradition, Sonny Rollins. Yet, for much of his career, he’s alternated a day job as a graphic animator with a night-time existence tirelessly working at the grassroots, running Zebulon Sound And Light, a not-for-profit performance space that’s helped germinate the career of Gregory Porter for one, organising the NYC Guitar festival, and plying his trade in the clubs and bars that nourish the scene.

He’s over in Europe for a rare string of dates, and tonight’s show at Brighton’s The Verdict is the second of a pair of UK gigs sharing the frontline with Gilad Atzmon, who’s brought his longtime associate Yaron Stavi on bass, with Enzo Zirilli on drums rounding off this truly international quartet. ‘Say It (Over And Over Again)’ opened proceedings; Atzmon on tenor showing off his hard, biting tone in the tradition of the song’s most famous interpreter, but with his own characteristic romantic slurs and wide vibrato applied at will, Rubin giving a lesson in creative pianistic comping and ripples of Lenny Breau-style tapped harmonics. ‘Invitation’ followed, a sultry tango – Rubin’s solo mixed radical reharmonisation with Benson-esque soul-to-bop licks in a compendium of technique which Zirilli matched in his irrepressibly imaginative drum exchanges. This was in the best tradition of improv; songs from the repertoire, selected more or less on the fly, allowed the band to demonstrate their individual strengths. ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ provided an excuse for a proper tear-up, with the zurna-like wail of Atzmon’s high register, Rubin’s NYC funk licks and Zirilli’s quirky percussion held down by the the unobtrusive rock-solid foundation of Stavi’s unamplified bass. The whole was truly more than a sum of its parts.

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Atzmon’s ebullient personality made a perfect foil for his co-leader’s self-effacing charm. If his sheets of 16ths on ‘All Or Nothing At All’ tended to dissipate the energy rather than stoke the fires, he was all focused sincerity on ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’, embellishing the hell out of the melody with a tumultuous flock of slurs and trills. His own middle-eastern flavoured original gave the band a chance to show what they could do outside the post-bop idiom, as did Rubin’s future-funk piece. The latter had a blast on ‘Cute’, swinging out the riffs like a Basie band stalwart, and played a stunning solo on ‘What’s New’ that reached deep into his harmonic bag.

All four players seemed delighted to encounter the very different voices each brought to the mix, and were stimulated to the extent that they were still playing as midnight approached. They gave the impression that they could have continued all night were it not for the vagaries of train timetables and airline schedules. Plaudits are due to promoter Andy Lavender for bringing this connoisseurs’ delight to Brighton and filling the house at such short notice.

    Eddie Myer
    Photos by Lisa Wormsley

Swingles mingle with McLaughlin and Garbarek at this year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues

In the appropriately named Palais du Variété The Swingle Singers are negotiating chords and athletically inclined melodies for which even their scatting of Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Klavier’ might not have prepared them. ‘Soul Man’ is giving way to ‘Knock on Wood’ and ‘Little Red Rooster’ is morphing into ‘Johnny B Goode’ then ‘Voodoo Chile’, as the man responsible for all this, Lucky Peterson, swigs a beer and high-fives all-comers while still fretting the guitar licks.

Later, back at the keyboard whose vocal patch facilitated the sampled Swingles interlude, Peterson will duet with the rain battering the tent’s roof and cajole his superb Cuban drummer into doing something different to express himself. It’s tempting to say that we didn’t get anything like this from the festival’s biggest name attractions, John McLaughlin (above) and Jan Garbarek, except that we sort of did.

McLaughlin may have made slightly weary efforts to sell his latest album but his repertoire in a frankly thrilling gig with the 4th Dimension extended to Pharoah Sanders as phrased by Carlos Santana. He was also at least as encouraging to his drummer, the brilliant Ranjit Barot, as Peterson was to his, and Garbarek, before encoring with Blind Faith’s ‘Had to Cry Today’ no less, gave Trilok Gurtu no end of space in which to drum, vocalise and create his inimitable water music with a bucket that he turned into a musical instrument.

The organisers programmed 20 more ticketed events this year than last – almost 200 hundred over 10 days – and most seemed to reward this confidence, with a new venue, the City Art Centre’s fifth floor providing great views and proving popular for music ranging from Tennessean singer Earl Thomas’s urgent gospel-blues to David Milligan’s flowing traditional music-inspired solo piano improvisations. New faces likely to reappear included New York-based Emmet Cohen, whose grasp of jazz piano history impressed mightily and whose drummer, festival cover star Bryan Carter, proved as good at singing as swinging, while local pianist David Patrick’s adaptation of Debussy’s long neglected ‘Jeux’ was transformed into a potent, attractive extended jazz waltz for tentet.

– Rob Adams 

Dave Weckl joins Barker-led big band for Buddy Rich tribute at London’s Royal College of Music

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Dave Weckl was a devoted Buddy Rich disciple long before he stole the show playing ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ and ‘Bugle Call’ at a LA-staged memorial bash celebrating his hero in 1989. Magazines were running interviews where the skilful young drummer professed to meeting his hero, regularly catching him live, and even slowing down Rich’s records to half speed at home to nail all the insane licks. “I drove my dad nuts learning that stuff”, Weckl recalls, now 56, dusted with a distinct white goatee and taking questions from the floor in the lavish basement theatre of the RCM. He’s appearing here as a special guest of the college, the main draw of their one-day percussion festival that’ll not only present a rare clinic set from the St. Louis-born drum marvel, but also a special salute to his long-time idol, a set that will see him sit in with students of the RCM Big Band, performing a set of Buddy classics under the direction of conductor and trumpeter, Guy Barker.

Ahead of the main show, though, crammed into a busy timetable of timpani and drum-line performances, cajón master-classes, a session on soundtracks and some hard bop in the bar, Weckl spoke to UK drum promoter Mike Dolbear, who quizzed him about various aspects of his near-30-year pro career. The chat eventually eased into clinic mode with Weckl now centre-stage, fixed behind a beautifully-lit kit and dissecting such topics as timing, practice and his approach to feel. Every point discussed was also expertly demoed around the drums, often over whistles and loud cheers from an awestruck audience completely glued to his every move. This informative hour also included a funky sequenced track, ‘Get To It’, over which Weckl displayed (and displaced) some stunning breaks and beats, before closing with an equally-rousing open solo that flipped fluently between double kick-rumbling rock grooves, martial snare tattoos and cowbell-clattering samba patterns with equal aplomb.  

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Come the concert, and with the fireworks of the afternoon set still resounding in the ears of all, Weckl, Barker and the 18-strong band were welcomed to the stage, and to an early ovation which Guy let die down before easing the evening in with Ellington's ‘In a Mellow Tone’. Brassy and sassy, the tune’s seductive melody, trickling with light piano and a propulsive walking line, at once filled the room, surging into a heavier chorus section with a high-register solo from trumpeter Tom Griffiths. This was trailed by a more hard-driven ‘Nutville’ to which Weckl added a seductive, swinging latin figure. The persistent ting of his ride cymbal chilmed over a busy kit groove, prompting horns to blow with more vigour, in particular that of tenorist Azura Ono, whose broad, impassioned solo sailed to the back of the room, slicing through shrill trumpets and raspy trombones still carrying the theme.

Out of Weckl’s first, and arguably best, solo of the night, came a breezy ‘Basically Blues’ tapped along with soft quarter notes on ride, punctuated with light snare and the occasional bomb of bass drum. Pianist Sergei Istratis found gaps in the groove to plant rich bluesy chords or complement fluid jazzy runs from electric guitarist Toby Morgan, a lyrical player whose light, finger-picked style would feature more solidly over waltzer ‘Willowcrest’, and a funky ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’. As he last did in LA all those years ago, Weckl once more made the latter cut his own, refreshing the same snappy, syncopated beat and darting solo he had brought to the arrangement. But while most drummers in attendance would relish the opportunity of watching Weckl deliver hot licks and solos like this in a swing setting, there was much magic to be heard in his tight, effortless phrasing. Whether at full pelt, doubling scissor-sharp sax lines during Sam Nestico’s ‘Ya Gotta Try’ or sweeping a lush brush part under Strayhorn’s silky ‘Chelsea Bridge’, his attention to detail and dedication to the music was worth all the applause.

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During a reading of Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’, Weckl even recreated one of Rich’s infamous breaks over some fours. From a rattle of toms, a short, crisp snare roll abruptly stopped dead, leaving a single thump of bass drum to fill the moment’s silence, cueing back in the band to blow their last screamy note. One last encore, ‘Time Check’, gave Barker the opportunity to break out his horn, ramping up the intensity, leaping registers, and adding extra thrill to all the low-end honks and squealing highs. It was a fitting end to a turbo-charged set from a brilliant band that royally honoured Rich – a show that naturally belonged to Weckl, nearly 30 years on and still a bona fide exponent of Buddy Rich, his drumming and all that dazzling showmanship.

       Mark Youll

Photos by Jon Frost

Pharoah Sanders and Binker & Moses walk on water at North Sea Jazz Fest

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With all the recent Brexit shenanigans it must have been a proud moment for Britain's very own Binker & Moses to kick off the 41st North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam last week. Reputedly the world’s largest jazz festival, held in the village-like setting of the Ahoy complex with 13 different stages, along with dozens of eating and merchandising establishments, at NSJF you can immerse yourself in whatever musical bliss you choose to map out, during a jam-packed three-day programme, offering an eclectic mix to satisfy most tastes from mainstream jazz to contemporary pop. In the area known as Congo Square, Binker & Moses tossed and fielded phrases with minimum eye contact, demonstrating a maturity bordering on telepathy. A perfect start to the three days.

Other highlights of the day included Diana Krall, Christian Scott – who engaged with the audience throughout a performance of his Stretch Music – and Ibrahim Maalouf (this year’s artist-in-residence, pictured top). The latter appeared each day of the festival, with his final gig a stupendous showing with the Metropole Orkest. The same ensemble also joined Snarky Puppy, airing material from their collaborative work Sylva, a cinematic fusion of funk, rock and jazz. Kamasi Washington (below) later utilised the full weight of the Orkest to reproduce elements from his current album usually missing from his touring ensemble. This was indeed Epic!

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Buddy Guy created a storm in the packed Nile Arena, delivering gutsy blues guitar, reminding the gathered about the roots of the music. Veteran organist Dr. Lonnie Smith was also on hand, coercing every nuance and texture from his Hammond B3, incorporating aspects of his own electronic gadgetry and that of guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg.

The second day intensified with offerings from relative newcomer James Brandon Lewis, his trio invoking the spirits of Coleman and Coltrane, combined with hip hop rhythms. Performing tracks from his album Days Of Freeman, his composition ‘Speaking From Jupiter’, with its edgy lines, suggested we’ll be hearing a lot more from him in the future. Cécile McLorin Salvant brought the past to life with her sassy renderings tinged with the influences of Vaughn, Fitzgerald, Holiday and Betty Carter, while Charles McPherson and his quartet reasserted the worth of straightahead bebop sax in the snug setting of the Madeira Hall.

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One of the day’s highlights was the duo of Ron Carter and Pat Metheny (above). They played a varied repertoire with hints of Bach and originals such as ‘Eight-One’ and ‘Minuano’, the pure virtuosity of these two masters exposed in perfect unity.

The late evening performance from the Branford Marsalis Quartet featuring Kurt Elling (below) was simply staggering. The lyricism of Marsalis’s saxophone and Elling's stupendous vocal delivery on Sting’s ‘Practical Arrangement’ brought out the theatrical poignancy of it’s lovelorn lyrics before the ensemble beautifully rounded off the set with their recent album’s title track, ‘The Return (Upward Spiral)’.

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The plentiful timetabling of NSJF can often leave you feeling spoilt for choice. Particularly so on the final day, as Esperanza Spalding unveiled her Emily’s D+Evolution alter ego concept, her band accompanied by various vocal actors who explore the substitute personality, coupled with her own faultless vocals and bass work. Slightly more conventional is Henri Texier, presenting his new album and band Sky Dancers 6. Their name comes from the Native American ironworkers who helped build the skyscrapers, working fearlessly on narrow steel beams hundreds of feet above ground. A blend of jazz and Native American textures were identifiable throughout the set, Texier's bass providing drone-like pulses underpinning dense passages of horns, keyboards and moments where guitarist Nguyên Lê throws blues and rock into the sound.

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Charles Lloyd (above) was performing with his New Quartet – comprising Jason Moran (piano), Eric Harland (drums) and Reuben Rogers (drums). Though the name implies it, the band is not a new line-up and have been featured by Lloyd over many years. Performing tracks from his Blue Note album, Wild Man Dance, Lloyd ventured inside the piano during a Moran solo, wildly shaking and rattling percussive items in his oft-declared ‘search for the sound’.

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Chick Corea and John Scofield + Mehliana performed during the closing hours of the festival, while Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles raised the temperature with their rip-roaring rousers. But it was the Pharoah Sanders Trio (above), consisting of Trilok Gurtu (drums, percussion) and William Henderson (piano) that were the final day’s standout. Sanders entered the stage, seemingly a little unsteady on his feet, but seemed transformed as he brought the saxophone to his lips, extracting all he could from his instrument with the use of overtones, high harmonics and even vocalising into the horn. Combined with sounds and textures by Gurtu and Henderson, the look of many faces in the audience suggested they were in jazz heaven and no doubt looking forward to NSJF 2017.

-        Story and photos by Roger Thomas

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