Los Mercenarios, CCQ, Dr Meaker / Monk Liberation Front, Dylan Howe's Subterraneans - 24-25 November

An epic musical journey from downtown Bristol to fashionable Shoreditch via London’s South Bank, this could definitely be regarded as a full weekend. Saturday November 24 saw three of Bristol’s finest live acts and numerous DJs swarm to The Attic in Stokes Croft, a new underground venue starting to attract a lot of talent. A tight set from the scorching Latin funk outfit Los Mercenarios opened proceedings. Los Mercenarios, CCQ, Dr Meaker / Monk Liberation Front, Dylan Howe's Subterraneans - 24-25 November
Saxophonists Craig Crofton and James Morton both caught the ear during impressive solos, with Morton in particular justifying his soaring reputation. A couple of the best tunes were a crisp rendition of The Meters’ classic ‘Cissy Strut’ and a thoroughly danceable interpretation of the jazz standard ‘A Night In Tunisia’.

Next on stage was Crofton’s CCQ, a seven-piece electronically-driven ensemble fusing breakbeat, funk, drum&bass, hip-hop and more into a maniacally simmering cauldron of raw musical creativity. With a drummer playing along to pre-recorded loops and a lot of tinkering effects, it was sometimes uncertain who was doing what. However, MC Derrick Hines was clear in his delivery of potent, thoughtful lyrics and the sax players threw well-placed punctuations into the group’s multi-dimensional sound. A debut album is on the way in 2008, but any CD will surely struggle to capture the sheer eclectic force of CCQ live performances.

The final group was Dr Meaker, a nine-person drum&bass band currently sending deep waves through the Bristol music scene. The Attic’s monolithic sound system was pushed to its limits as heavy sheets of bass pumped out, interspersed with sharp horn section parts and haunting vocal lines. Definitely less variety than the other two groups, but by that stage the ravers had assumed control of the venue and its atmosphere was pulsating as intensely as the bone-rattling bass vibrations.

As the final day of the London Jazz Festival, Sunday 25 November was always going to have something special on the cards. The Queen Elizabeth Hall’s showpiece event was a performance of the complete works of Thelonious Monk led by saxophonist Tony Kofi and pianist Jonathan Gee. The Monk project has been a labour of love for these two protagonists, who were joined by a fine selection of co-conspirators including Quentin Collins (trumpet), Corey Mwamba (vibraphone) and Winston Clifford (drums).

Constantly differing combinations of players interchanged on and off stage, with greatly varying track times. The three-session, 11-set performance had been rigidly planned – with 70 compositions to get through there was no other way. The first sitting featured well-known numbers such as ‘Off Minor’, ‘Epistrophy’ and ‘Bemsha Swing’ and a few of Monk’s more obscure creations including ‘Light Blue’, ‘Let’s Cool One’ and ‘Brake’s Sake’. The audience may have known what was going to be played, but regular rotations within the band kept the sound fresh and the people guessing.

It was then off to east London to witness a one-off concert at Cargo. Drummer Dylan Howe (pictured) and his group The Subterraneans were performing a 90-minute adaptation of the music of Brian Eno and David Bowie, ambiently re-imagining the classic albums Low and Heroes. A formidable lineup included Portishead electronics wizard Adrian Utley on guitar, free-flowing Israeli saxophonist Gilad Atzmon and Stranglers vocalist Hugh Cornwell, with The Solid Strings in a supporting role.

Easy as it is to draw attention to individual members of this diverse “mini-orchestra”, emphasis must be placed on its immaculate, entrancing collective performance. Tactful arrangements of tracks such as ‘Warsawa’, which featured an eerie buildup of strings and guitar effects before gradually taking off into a harmonised horn section chorus, were the order of the evening. ‘V2 Schneider’ began with a simple yet grooving bassline, the horns then coming in with imitations of falling bomb sounds. Howe’s trademark powerful yet delicate drumming was the motor propelling this finely-tuned engine. Every piece told its own story, with Sir Peter Blake’s background visuals presenting apt linkage to the Berlin Trilogy – the series of Bowie/Eno collaborative albums from which this project drew its inspiration.

Two days, three venues, eight hours of music, at least six different groups comprising over 40 musicians performing more than 50 separate compositions in a multitude of genres. This will not be easily forgotten.

Frederick Bernas

The Write Stuff

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