Cherise Adams-Burnett, Elgar Room – EFG London Jazz Festival 2018

Jazz vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett’s gig in the Elgar Room of The Royal Albert Hall was a tale of two halves. The performance began as a piano quartet with Olly Sarkar on drums, Louis van der Westhuizen on double bass and Gabriel Piers-Mantell on piano with Cherise displaying her expressive scat style in this intimate setting. Then after the interval more instruments were incorporated with a small string section, backing vocalists and trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi (who plays in Moses Boyd's Exodus).

Cherise contributes flute, and this bigger sound gives the songs a richer harmony reminiscent of Kamasi Washington’s spiritual jazz. Furthermore, the music has a freer, driven and imperfect approach almost straying into prog-rock territory on tunes like ‘Fickle Feelings’. The soon-to-be-released original material clearly comes from a range of inspirations and was well received in this sold-out room. The songs have a heartfelt honesty to their lyrics and come with some smart hooks. The only standard of the night was ‘Skylark’, with which Cherise pays homage to her jazz forebears with this melancholy tune.

Later, the ensemble performs a response to ‘Skylark’ entitled ‘Felicity’, which is well thought out with beautiful vocal harmonies and subtle string melodies. Cherise’s vocal style can be described as confident and exuberant with an inquisitive innocence and curiosity. She’s clearly been well-trained during her conservatoire studies and rarely a bum note is heard, but the vibrancy of her timbre makes it all feel a little inauthentic and forced. It’s particularly noticeable when she slips in to her local Lutonian accent from something akin to the American masters Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. However, this delivery is not required on tunes like ‘Fickle Feelings’, which has a reggae off-beat rhythm and Cherise gives a more conversational pop performance much like Lily Allen is known for. She cites more contemporary artists like Lauryn Hill and Whitney Huston as well as 'golden age' legends but not much here is grooving neo-soul as was expected. The closest the set gets to this is the funky ‘Undercover Dreamer’, but it never really captures the imagination of the audience.

Fred Neighbour

Empirical, Purcell Room – EFG London Jazz Festival 2018

It was a phenomenal start to the EFG Jazz Festival in the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre. Empirical returned to the festival for the first time in two years, and it was indeed an honour to experience their performance.

With the release of their new EP, Indifference Culture, the ‘cool’ contemporary quartet were able to flawlessly dictate their views on societal ills without uttering a word during their songs.
Considering the intimacy of their music, the Purcell Room did not accurately convey this. However, their ability to communicate such important messages with smoothness, rawness, and ease felt within the title track, was astounding. Nathaniel Facey (alto sax) and Shaney Forbes (drums) both embodied a unique swagger that added to the already captivating performance. They all complemented each other perfectly, but allowed time for each to shine.

The audience reception was slightly lacklustre during the first half of their performance, especially with such impassioned songs being performed. However, this picked up quickly during the second half as the audience finally loosened up and interacted with the band.

The contrast between the different tracks on their EP such as ‘Non-Verbal Language’, which was filled with hypnotising fury and passion, was matched by intense red lighting. However, tracks such as ‘Persephone’ and ‘Celestial Being’, which heavily featured Lewis Wright on the vibraphone, were calmer, more melancholic, with a twinge of noir and an 1980s soul ballad.

‘No Service’ by bassist Tom Farmer, accurately conveyed the feelings associated with not having a mobile phone on you in such a technology-reliant society. It was almost comical. The sheer anxiety and sense of impending doom replicated by a booming double bass, comparable to having no signal. It was brilliant to see a return to more political or protest jazz, we definitely need it right now.

Audrey Owusu

Davina & the Vagabonds + Natalie Williams, Cadogan Hall – EFG London Jazz Festival 2018

Natalie Williams Soul Family opened the Thursday evening with 'C’est La Vie', her effortlessly sensual vocals kicked into life by the electric undercurrents from the two bass guitarists and drummer, the pianist honed the dissonance in between. Williams shuffled to the upbeat harmonies, each song from her 45-minute set followed a pattern of steady soothing tones ending with an instrumental solo epogee. Some successful, some not, as a couple of songs like ‘Sleep’ lacked lyrical finesse. The crowd didn't seem too bothered however, nor by the adynamic changes throughout; they had warmed to her infectious personality. The husky undertones to her dulcet voice energised the performance with powerful moments.

Up next, Davina and the Vagabonds, the introduction of ‘bluesy, blustery, bawdy’, hadn’t prepared the audience enough for the Minnesota-based quintent’s riotous performance. Layerings of double bass, trumpets, drum and barrelhouse piano battled over each other, in an organised cacophony that demanded attention. The band’s brass rowdiness encouraged the audience into a clapping, tapping trance. Davina’s sultry vocals led the charge, harmonised by the raspy backing vocals of her male bandmates. The mixture of blues, jazz and swing tones, resembling New Orleans Mardi-Gras vibrance and Memphis soul, blasted the Cadogan Hall with uproarious colour. Occasionally, the jagged set lacked narrative, the domineering drums and barrelhouse piano halted the rhythmic fluidity. Nonetheless, it only left the audience wanting more of the fantastical feral atmosphere.

Davina’s eccentric charisma juxtaposed upbeat melodrama with caustic lyrics like those of ‘Keep Running’. The cabaret ‘Sunshine’ uplifted the audience, whereas the rest of the quintet’s instrumental solos were equally impressive. Euphonious variations demonstrated the band's skillset, providing quick breaks from the otherwise delightful discordance. Front stage were two tip-toeing, red faced trumpeters, meticulously readjusting their mouthpieces and distance to the microphone stands throughout, a testament of the band’s rigour. Especially as Davina had confessed to everyone only having ‘about 5 hours sleep’ fuelling herself with red bulls throughout the eclectic set of originals and covers from Fats Waller to Louis Jordan. The band’s boisterousness earned them a resounding standing-ovation that very nearly matched their own roaring energy.

Pamela Vera

Arun Ghosh + Jason Singh at Corsica Studios - EFG London Jazz Festival 2018

Corsica Studios was treated to a night of weird and wonderful sounds by Arun Ghosh and friends midway through the 2018 London Jazz Festival. Following the unbefitting default ‘jazz gig’ playlist, the audience were hypnotised by sound-artist Jason Singh. Beginning solo, Singh cooked cinematic drones with bubbling beatboxing and smatterings of Kannakol (vocalising of Indian percussion sounds) in a cauldron of electronic and vocal inventions. Multi-instrumentalist Alicia Gardener-Trejo joined Singh onstage, and although her bass clarinet and chirping flute were occasionally overpowered by Singh’s earth-rumbling effects, their duets were as beautiful as they were strange.

Ever-grinning ringleader Ghosh led his eight-piece band with wide-eyed energy, hopping madly about the stage, clarinet in (often one) hand. The 2018 Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year was flanked by tenor saxophonists Chelsea Carmichael and Idris Rahman, who bolstered the frontline against a powerhouse four piece rhythm section and Singh’s electronic wizardry. In extended, gritty vamps like ‘Dagger Dance’ and ‘Snakebite’, the twin tenors of Carmichael and Rahman showed flashes of magic. In a brilliant contrast to the grungy back-beats, a mind-bending rhythmic duet between drummer Sarathy Korwar and Singh’s Kannakol led into a song written for god Shiva. Opening with flowery arpeggios from Ghosh’s clarinet, Korwar, Singh and keyboardist Jessica Lauren painted a starry, rippling backdrop to tell the Hindu story of creation. The irresistibly funky ‘Punjabi Girl’ really got feet moving before a rousing encore of Lennon’s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.

Ghosh and his group tackle any anxieties about genre head-on, by slinging in ingredients of rock, Punjabi music and spiritual jazz, and asking questions later. In this melting pot of sound, Ghosh consciously reflects a society in which celebration of cultural diversity is needed more than ever.

Tom Barber

Empirical, Purcell Room (2) – EFG London Jazz Festival 2018

One, two... one, two, three, four.

A sharp blue light cuts out four male silhouettes dressed in suits. Sparks of metal and wood take over the Purcell Room beat by beat. The quartet: Nathaniel Facey, alto sax; Tom Farmer, double bass; Lewis Wright, vibraphone and Shaney Forbes, drums; begin the show with eyes closed as if each one were hypnotised by his particular instrument. The result is a blend that is full of dissonant and precise nuances that hook you in from the first moment.

Their formal dress code of browns and greys contrasts with the energy of their innovative jazz that, far from constrained, vibrates and snakes through the room bringing the audience closer to the stage, despite its large size, to create a more intimate atmosphere. "No service" is a song that exemplifies their modern influences. Inspired by a permanently connected world, reflects on how indispensable it is to be online nowadays.

Tropical vibes of subtle drums and vibraphone join a more romantic tone in the second part, whispered by the double bass and the saxophone. The audience's imagination wanders among sandy and wet sounds that clear all worries and calm minds. In one of their last songs, the group begin a string of rhythmic clapping. The euphoric public follow giving the timber a rather physical and Latin touch.

Empirical started more than 10 years ago, for a tribute concert to the great American saxophonist, Eric Dolphy. “There is no set thing. You have to be open to anything,” says bassist Farmer. “Today it was quite astral. I was thinking of space. We haven’t played for a while, so we’ve got this intensity to come out,” he adds.

Lucía Camblor

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