Kris Bowers at XOYO, London – EFG London Jazz Festival

XOYO is a far cry from the plush environs of the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican, but no matter; this is jazz for active engagement and unadulterated energy – not for sitting pensive upon a throne stroking one’s chin – and this dingy basement next to Old Street station was enlivened by Kris Bowers, one of the most promising young pianists around.

After a tentative but admirable performance from show opener, Peter Edwards, the tension was palpable. Bowers, however – alongside Adam Agati (guitar), Alex Bonfanti (bass), and Richard Spaven (drums) – immediately dispelled any of these worries, moving straight from the serenity of album opener ‘Forever Spring’ into a sprawling twelve-minute long version of ‘Wake The Neighbours’.

This was a night for fans of improvisation. Bowers’ debut album Heroes + Misfits features Casey Benjamin’s ethereal alto playing heavily throughout, but his absence this evening was more than made up for by Agati who demonstrated great rhythmic dexterity in his phrasing, and moments of all-out rocking to rival the great John Schofield; a real gem in the making. Bowers equally matched Agati’s playing, though, and his hands soared across the Fender Rhodes with consummate ease in his masterful interpretation of tUnE-yArDs’ ‘Gangsta’.

Outside of these demonstrations of improvisational prowess, however, compositionally the end product at times felt to be lacking. Aside from the really special ‘#theprotester’ and the single ‘Forget-er’ – which was subject to an inspired re-visioning in the absence of vocalist Julia Easterlin – the tracks performed didn’t have the strongest sense of direction or development. Nonetheless, this was but a minor lacuna in an otherwise very impressive full London debut for an artist who may be raw, but who is incredibly exciting and bursting with potential; he may just be the kick the jazz world needs to invigorate a new generation.

– Alex de Lacey

100 Years of British Song – Ian Shaw with special guests at QEH – EFG London Jazz Festival

It was always going to be an ambitious project to capture 100 years of British popular song in two hours, but if anyone can do it, it’s Ian Shaw. MC Jumoke Fashola’s observation that she “doesn’t know any singer who hasn’t worked with him” paved the way for an evening of, in jazz showbiz terms, a glittering all-star line up.

Shaw’s long time collaborator Claire Martin made the first sparkling entrance onto the cabaret set stage with her rendition of Bowlly’s Love is the Sweetest Thing, placing us between the two World Wars. The segue into Smile illustrated with projected images from the Jazz Age, Chaplin, Hitler and Auschwitz(!) was no doubt intended as juxtaposition, but was one of several visual sequences that at times jarred with the upbeat tone of the evening.

The jazz royalty roll call continued with Elaine Delmar and Barb Jungr, both capturing the spirit of the 1940s and 1960s with their fluid, expressive style. Shaw is unafraid to venture from jazz to other genres if it suits and Kathryn Williams’s Folk-tinged rendition of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face is apparently the finest Ewan MacColl ever heard.

Shaw took the opportunity to showcase his protéges: Ben Cox didn’t change from his 2WW Naval uniform despite being the star of the 1970s slot with an easy going, crooning rendition of Drake’s River Man. Another new discovery is Yvette Riby Williams, celebrating the 2000s with her soulful (and much improved) version of Coldplay’s Fix You.

Natalie Williams’s finale of Emeli Sande’s Next to Me brought us up to date and was the cue for the entire ensemble to dance and clap on stage. A strange sight – jazz royalty past and present waving back to the audience, before departing backstage where the real party began.

– Kate Gamm

Kris Bowers and Peter Edwards bring music and generations together at OXYO – EFG London Jazz Festival

“It’s just me and my laptops,” Peter Edwards introduces himself with a sentence that really sums up the young generation of the line-up. Both Bowers and Edwards are of the millennial generation, forcing the old jazz scene on its toes by pushing its boundaries with electronic waves and guitar riffing rhythms. Edwards and his electronic set proved to be the perfect introduction to the eclectic journey of jazz, hip hop, R&B, blues, and even rock, that is Kris Bowers. With such a wide set of influences you might think it would sound disconnected, instead the sounds blended seamlessly into each other where every note and instrument had its own place.

The first song ‘Drift’ starts with a slow build-up of drums, piano and bass, introducing each instrument carefully before moving on to the guitar, the energy booster of most of the songs. But the basis of the melodies is built with drums, letting the bass drum hang around for a while, joining up all the heartbeats in the room. This is the core of the first songs ‘Drift’ and ‘The Protester’ that Bowers follows with a remix of Tune-Yard’s ‘Gangsta’, using the sound of an analog synth in replacement of the distinctive lyrical and melodic phrases of the original song.

The crowd is so involved that they want to be part of every move, so much that Bowers has to tell them to stop clapping as he is looping the song ‘Caravan’, made famous by Duke Ellington, by clapping his hands and snapping his fingers. The whole set is filled with great talent and appreciation for all music genres and how they all can join together. Just like how the different generations of the crowd joined together and could relate to each other through the music that evening.

– Karin Jonsson

Frazey Ford and Sophia Marshall at Cadogan Hall – EFG London Jazz Festival

Cadogan Hall is slowly filling up and people are patiently waiting for the enchanting woman with the hazy vocals, Frazey Ford, to come out on stage. But first up is supporting artist Sophia Marshall, originally from the band ‘The Have Nots’, who despite the size of the stage manages to fill it with only bass, ukulele, acoustic guitar and her mesmerizing vocals. Sophia Marshall and her sister Sara Marshall come together in beautifully formed harmonies, captivating the audience that sit quietly as in a state of trance. Marshall’s songwriting and the well-defined melodies have transformed Cadogan Hall into the Grand Ole Opry for the evening.

The feeling lingers when Frazey Ford walks on stage with her comparatively bigger ensemble, reflecting on her bold and beautiful personality, as she kicks of the band with no instrument left behind. The first thing anyone would notice about Ford’s vocals is her unique singing technique where she almost whispers, rolls syllables and stretches words into unrecognizable sounds. Sometimes there is no way of telling what the lyrics actually are but, because of her chilled tone of voice, the ambiguity creates a captivating aura around the songs. The saxophone and trumpet chirps in between Ford’s phrases in ‘September Fields’ making you want to tap your feet and snap your fingers.

By inviting us in to her childhood, with anecdotes from a 60’s Canada, in between titles like ‘Running’, ‘Done’, and ‘Weather Pattern’, from her latest album ‘Indian Ocean’, the auditorium is turned into a more personal and intimate venue. After giving us a glimpse of her musical influences Dylan and Franklin, Ford finishes the set with the title track of the album. With its strong and simplistic chorus it leaves us in a place of warmth as we step back into the cold November night.

– Karin Jonsson

Snarky Puppy at the Roundhouse – EFG London Jazz Festival

Each time they return to London, the American Grammy award-winning Snarky Puppy have a bigger venue awaiting them. Last May they played the Scala and for this year’s London Jazz Festival they played the Roundhouse to a sell-out crowd, with Magda Banda (including some members of Snarky Puppy) as the opening act. The collective - formed in Texas almost a decade ago - constantly changes, the only real constant is the founder bass guitarist Michael League.

The fascinating combination of genres and the spectacular solo improvisations of each member of the band, are the elements that have always characterised Snarky Puppy on stage. They have a powerful groove and extraordinary improvisational skills that allow them to draw different soundscapes. The opener ‘Binky’ merges hip-hop, shades of Africa and rock-blues passages. Pink Floyd are not only present on ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’ T-shirt that Michael League wears; before the final reprise of ‘Binky’, there is a subtle reminder of the endless guitar arpeggio of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond Part 1-5’. ‘Outlier’ with its moog synthesiser melody and jazz drums patterns is soaked in progressive-rock influences, while the lyrical ‘Kite’ - ‘the closest thing we have to a ballad’ according to League – recalls the Pat Metheny sense of melody.

After an hour, the jazz fusion of Snarky Puppy grew extremely improvisational and each member chipped in their unique and personal way: the astonishing drums solo on ‘Tio Macaco’ and the spine-tingling Hendrix-style solo of Chris McQueen guitar, left the audience dumbfounded.

The encores saw the London multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier, invited on stage by League to play ‘Quarter Master’, which with its boogie crescendo takes the audience – always ready to sing along the melodies of most of the compositions - back to New Orleans after an astounding two hour's music journey. The stage is the authentic home for these young and talented musicians.

– Chiara Felice

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