Vocal Summit: Trudy Kerr, Brigitte Beraha & Marta Capponi with Rick Simpson Trio – Spice of Life @ EFG London Jazz Festival

Trudy Kerr

Soho’s historic basement jazz club is one of the few remaining clubs in central London and last Wednesday it was home to a “Vocal Summit”. The diverse repertoires of three top London jazz singers and accompaniment of Rick Simpson’s outstanding trio of drums, piano and bass made the night truly delightful.

The first singer, Marta Capponi, in her London Jazz Festival debut, won over the audience by her smooth and deep tone while singing standards including Honeysuckle Rose and Caravan. Marta’s unique scat approach to all of the songs proved her true command of the style. Brigitte Beraha and her clear, pure voice on a gentle repertoire was an engaging change of vibe. Latin songs, French chanson and standards like 'I Fall In Love Too Easily' with flowing, often vocalised phrases sung confidently sounded soothing and admirable. Trudy Kerr (pictured), repeatedly highly appreciated by London Jazz Festival audience was truly fantastic. Her bright, vivid set of songs including 'Joy Spring' or 'Shaker Song' interspersed with personal anecdote about her daughter and a little love story that charmed the audience. The warm and pleasant voice of Trudy, while performing classic upbeat swing standards and ballads thrilled the public.

Along with her glorious vocal delivery, the audience appreciated her great rapport with young trio Rick Simpson, Mark Lewandowski and Lloyd Haines. The show closed with a song “But not for me” showcasing the talents of all three singers accompanied by the sharp trio. The night was a real musical festival of vocal diversity seemingly effortlessly presented by highly skilled artists who were in their element.

– Alicja Jablonska

Yazz Ahmed Quartet – Ray's Jazz at Foyles, London

Yazz Ahmed

A full house at Foyles witnessed something special as trumpeter/composer Yazz Ahmed took to the stage with her copiously talented quartet. Allowing the band to swirl and flicker through an evocative introduction, Ahmed conjures music that has an instant presence and sense of place. As the groove takes hold, the focus sharpens and we get a clearer picture of where this place might be, Arabic scales shaping the irresistibly sinuous basslines and hypnotic melodies. A potent soundworld opens up, Yazz's beckoning trumpet alongside beautifully nuanced drumming (Will Glaser), insistent bass (Dave Manington) and expressive vibes (Ralph Wyld).

Second number 'Whispering Gallery' (developed from field recordings in St Paul's) also brings with it a feeling of place – and a sense of space: echo and distance seem key parts of Ahmed's musical anatomy. 'Finding My Way Home' is dedicated to her Bahraini family and perhaps seeks to bridge a gap between two worlds; a lovely vibes solo (masterful handling of all that reverb!) ushers in the warmth of flugelhorn in a beautiful, intimate piece.

Elsewhere, Ahmed expands the sound-palette of her instrument with electronic processing – it's bold and effective, and consistent with her exploration of sound in space. On 'Lahan Al-Mansour' she uses a harmoniser to create chordal layers – this piece taken from 'Polyhymnia', her suite celebrating inspirational female role-models. Ahmed is covering a lot of ground, and yet there's a sense of spaciousness – impressively, the music still has room to breathe. And always there's the groove. No one else is doing anything quite like this at the moment: Ahmed's pursuit of the connection between Arabic music and jazz has such meaningful focus. The encore is dedicated, she says, to her 'inner destroyer' – but that destructive force is obviously well under control, because this is a winning performance of a glowing body of work, original, exciting and optimistic.

– Philip Hogg

Kamasi Washington pays tribute to Paris at Barbican

“Every note I played, my heart goes out to Paris.”

These are serious times, and West Coast saxophonist Kamasi Washington makes a serious statement. Today we think of our friends in France, and find shared strength in music. Kamasi’s acclaimed triple album The Epic draws on jazz’s history of engagement with social issues and celebrates the possibility of spiritual transcendence: a contemporary antidote to hate through its own form of ‘love supreme’. It has made him a star and brought a diverse audience to the Barbican hall for his London debut.

The album’s reduction to ninety minutes suits it. The smaller live septet format balances the smoother spiritual songs and the strenuous post-Trane sprints driven by Kamasi’s punchy, peppery tone. Both elements express one idea: love. Coltrane’s deep influence informs the music not only in technique but in the spiritual unity of vision running through every note.

A family of old friends, each musician is generously ‘featured’ in turn, showcasing Rickey Washington’s flute, Miles Mosley’s noisy bass effects, Ronald Bruner’s hiphop infused drumming contrasted with Tony Austin’s more florid style. Singer Patrice Quinn has the unenviable task of standing in for the twentypiece choir of the album.

If Kamasi owns the evening it’s partly because we want him to. The band strives above, but shadows remain: the tragic events in Paris, critical acclaim and audience expectation, the legacy of Coltrane. But Kamasi’s celebration of his grandmother “Henrietta our hero” illustrates a touching paradox: the roots of the songs of The Epic are in ordinary life. As in poetry, the epic and universal arise not from bold statements but from small details.

‘The Rhythm Changes’ closes the concert: “Our love, our beauty, our genius,” a great unifying moment stretching out beyond jazz, beyond politics and tragedy, around the world and right back home.

AJ Dehany

Steve Beresford and Satoko Fukuda – Ray's Jazz at Foyles, London

This meeting of two exceptional musicians on the outer edges of improvisation saw long-standing piano experimentalist Beresford and classical violinist Fukuda exploring the sonic limits of their instruments while combining in an appealing, richly communicative set. Beresford treats the whole piano as his workstation – reaching deep under the lid to pluck, scrape or dampen the strings, striking the woodwork, employing a range of idiosyncratic objects that turn the piano into a cabinet of curiosities. In a lovely moment, the flicker of a smile crosses Satoko's face as she glimpses the wine glass that's arrived amongst the piano's innards.

There's a chance element too – some of the objects seem to have a mind of their own, not all are used, and as the musicians chart their course through this extended soundworld there's an overriding sense of the uniqueness of tonight's performance. Quick thinking and impeccable timing (the piano lid snapping shut!) make for an exciting listening - and visual - experience.   Impressively, amid the fast-flowing changes and unending invention, the two give each other plenty of

space – they meet and separate, or dart between one another. At one point Beresford simply stops because Fukuda's sound is so beautiful. A memorable sequence of sliding and scraping creates a sound like the squall of fireworks, while the breathtaking close of the second improvisation has the musicians playing in their highest registers with volume down to a whisper. At other times they're in opposition – exquisitely expressive violin against hard-edged keyboard for instance – though both players explore lyrical and percussive directions and probe dynamic extremes.   The endings to all three improvisations are magical moments where it seems time stops or the music is simply set free. With no repetition and no discernable structure, we have to sharpen our listening – but this is adventurous, intuitive music-making that's well worth tuning into. – Philip Hogg

Partikel String Theory Quartet at The Bull’s Head, Barnes

Partikel’s third album String Theory follows on from 2012’s Cohesion and finds a new cohesion in an impressive integration of jazz trio and strings. The group have recently adapted this live as a quartet with the album’s arranger and violin player Benet McLean.

On new tunes ‘Land and Sea’ and ‘Scenes and Sounds’ McLean’s violin solos are rich in Eastern European style ornamentation, with filmic themes reminiscent of Preisner’s music for Kieślowski. An outstanding soloist with a penchant for quotation McLean playfully relates snatches of Stravinsky and ‘My Favourite Things’.

To simulate the new textures that the strings provided on the album the violin and sax go through electronic stomp boxes. A ‘Blue Hippo’ analog chorus pedal gives the Duncan Eagles’s saxophone some skronk during ‘The Blood of the Pharaoh’, reminiscent of recent Polar Bear’s echo-drenched palette but with a greater sense of compositional structure and drama.

“The Landing”, which closes both the album and their first set, dramatises Eagles’s nervousness about air travel not the flying itself, but the landing. It depicts the carnage of landing and the peace of flying but it’s not that straightforward. The flight isn’t peaceful. Over Max Luthert’s ultrashort bass figure the sax and violin weave long and unsettlingly harmonised themes that hold back from a neat resolution.

When they break out with Eric Ford’s tumbling drum work and Eagles’s punchy soloing the music really takes off. Working with just one string player lets them explore the textural dynamic of String Theory but with the flexibility of a quartet. Partikel recently completed a monthlong tour of China, flying everywhere, and Eagles isn’t nervous any more about flying (or landing). They considered dropping the tune, but it’s such a soaring end to the set you’re glad they didn’t. A quartet album is due next year.

        AJ Dehany

 

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