God Knows Where I Am From: Berserk! + InterStatic Live at XOYO – EFG London Jazz Festival

Within the EFG London Jazz Festival 2013, funky Hoxton basement venue XOYO played host to a mind-blowing live show of the Italian jazz-prog ensemble Berserk! created by guitarist, composer and arranger Lorenzo Feliciati together with master vocalist/mutli-instrumentalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (aka LEF) and guest Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset. Both Berserk! plus its supporting Nordic triumvirate, InterStatic (both bands on RareNoiseRecords), with pianist, organist and composer Roy Powell, guitarist Jacob Young and drummer Jarle Vespestad, creating psychedelic, transcendent moments as well as smooth breaks between stylistic genres.

With an inviting smell of incense wafting around the club helping to create an intoxicating psychedelic atmosphere, InterStatic set about seducing listeners with their spacey magical sounds. Unusually for a frontman and bandleader, Powell sat in front of a Hammond organ, rendering 1970s Pink Floyd influenced sounds to be mixed with solid tunes from guitar backed by driving drums. In songs like ‘Watermusic’ or ‘Anthem’, jazz, rock, shoegaze and psychedelica mingled so seamlessly that the breaks were barely noticeable. After taking the audience to many different musical spheres, the Hammond player departed with a sincere: “God bless you.”

InterStatic may have journeyed into inter-stellar space with Powell introducing himself mysteriously as “only God knows where I am from,” but Berserk! also evoked the sense that we as human beings are part of the wider universe via their astonishingly transcendent audiovisual performance. Fornasari mingled his majestic playing of a seraphine (an early keyed wind instrument, which makes its sound via air being blown across metallic reeds), with his extraordinary vocal range. The talented composer Feliciati created an amazing mix of musical styles, ranging from the classical ‘Ave Maria’, 1920s swing/jazz music to 1980s electronica, and snatches of popular tunes by the likes of Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk, or Joy Division, evoking strong memories from this listener’s childhood. In this well-conceived performance, the visceral atmosphere was also heightened by the use of movie effects and field recordings from a Spaghetti Western train whistling or an iPhone ringing. Not only transcendent moods were awakened but also background screenings of a lady eating a strawberry cake with her bare fingers or the beautiful green scenery of a pathway with trees behind it, contributed to make their inter-media manifesto indeed both brilliant and berserk!

– Monika Demmler (story and photos)

Christian McBride Trio: swinging a Full House at Ronnie Scott’s – EFG London Jazz Festival

It’s no wonder that bassist Christian McBride can so easily sell out Ronnie’s for two nights; an increasingly omnipresent figure in the jazz world for twenty years now, he’s worked with a who’s who of jazz giants such as Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny and to R&B/soul luminaries such as Isaac Hayes and James Brown, not forgetting hip-hop/neo soul stars The Roots and D’Angelo, or the likes of Sting and Carly Simon.

So on this Tuesday night, the second of two sold-out shows as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, he stretched out in the relaxed setting of his acoustic trio with two hand-picked young talents: Christian Sands on the piano and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. What held their Trio together were its hardcore swinging, bluesy way of playing and their effortless communication, as they performed music from McBride’s fifth album, Out Here (Mack Avenue). This included ‘I Guess I’ll Have to Forget’, with McBride dedicating other tunes to Prince and the jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.

Their performance also benefited from the club’s highly conducive setting for this kind of tight-but loose trio jazz, accentuated by the venue’s intimate atmosphere. As things built to an energised crescendo, one of the most astonishing highlights of the evening was when the charismatic pianist plucked the inner-strings of the grand piano in heart-stopping style. As things got more heated and the set moved from jazz to soul to funk, the audience began to move. It was almost a shame that there wasn’t more room for dancing. All in all, the extraordinary atmosphere and McBride’s infectious swinging style made the audience truly forget their daily sorrows.

– Monika Demmler

Troyk-estra review by Mike Collins Purcell Room, EFG London Jazz Festival, Saturday 23 November 2013

What extra do you get with an ‘estra’?  Troyka, the sizzling. electronica orientated trio of Kit Downes on keyboards, Chris Montagu on guitar and loops and Josh Blackmore on drums, who have made such a splash with their blend of rock, jazz and clubby loops and grooves, added the ‘estra’ by collaborating with the Royal Academy of Music’s big band and its conductor Nick Smart, made possible originally by a commission from Jazzwise. This gig launched the CD, a live recording of their 2013 Cheltenham Jazz Festival performance.

One extra is the impact of stabbing, syncopated riffs from the squeakily tight horn sections, artfully arranged so that the jagged phrases locked and retained the momentum of the quick-fire techno exchanges of the trio. From the off, ‘Rarebit’ began with a looped rocky feel and the force of the big band’s richly voiced chords pinning us to our seats.  ‘Dropsy’ starting with atmospheric washes of sound from the trio developed into a real groover, the brass storming in with joyous declamatory phrases.

The repertoire was mainly the trio material reworked and arranged for this bang up to date big band, although given that this was a CD launch, only two or three of the tunes were from that recording. What is lost in the translation  to a larger ensemble is some of the manoeuvrability of the trio with less scope for pieces to evolve new directions and develop organically in performance.  A gain, alongside that rich palette of sound, is space for some incendiary soloing from the ranks of the sections. Mick Chillingworth on alto and James Alsopp on tenor in particular cut through and produced wild and exciting moments surfing the hubbub of riffs and grooves.  On ‘Chaplin’, a quieter piece, built around an acoustic piano figure and singing guitar lines from Montagu, evoked a more tender emotional solo from Alsopp and a standout moment of the gig.

The extension of Troyka to Troykestra provides for plenty of excitement and energy with more to come. The set closed with new pieces written specifically for the combined band as one of the twenty one commissions celebrating the festival’s twenty one years.  A great pointer towards some of what might be coming in future years.

– Mike Collins

Troyk-estra review by Miranda Schiller EFG London Jazz Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall 23 November 2013


Can a spontaneous, abstract trio like Troyka work with something as traditional as a big band? The answer is yes, Troyk-estra combines the two with ease. And moreover, it shows how a big band can grow beyond its traditional identity.


The core trio Troyka are Kit Downes on keys, Chris Montague on guitar, and Josh Blackmore on drums. They are known for their frequent unexpected changes of mood, alternating between powerful energetic outbursts and calm, complicated lines of unpredictable rhythm and abstract melodies. With the big band, of course, there is less room for free improvisation. But this does not make the music less unique.


The horn section adds a vibrant and upbeat quality to the music, they provide a constant source of energy. Not at all static, and although more predictable by nature, their sound still has a certain wildness to it. They also improvise, and vary the music spontaneously. This works, it loosens the structure up, without ending up in chaos.


The core trio, while not completely dominating the band, are nonetheless the driving force of this group. Their creative and varied approach to their music is supported and solidified by the big band, so it seems as if they had even more freedom to wander in unknown territory, because a safe framework is set. This leads to a wonderful array of improvised beauty.


Originally a commission from Jazzwise, Troyka have built their Troykestra out of young musicians from the Royal Academy of Music to perform as part of Jazzwise's 15th birthday celebrations at Ronnie Scott's. Everyone involved felt the project should go on, so it did. Troyk-estra recorded a live album (called Troykestra) and played more shows. They have not announced any further concerts though, the future of the project is uncertain. It can only be hoped that it will be continued, as it is a signpost for a possible, and desirable, development for big bands in general.

Mirand Schiller

Mehliana plus Sons of Kemet by Thomas Rees EFG London Jazz Festival 21 November 2013


Heads are nodding in the row in front as a screech of controlled feedback and a layer of treble, like the beam of search light, fills the room. You can feel the bass-drum in your chest, like distant mortar fire, right before the snare snaps your head back and the stuttering fills and bewildering cross-rhythms leave you drowning in a sea of electronic noise.


The closest you'll get to clubbing in Barbican Hall, last night's gig featured two acts out on the fringes of jazz. An opening set from Mehliana, a collaboration between legendary pianist and composer Brad Mehldau, and drummer Mark Guiliana, known for his work with Wayne Krantz and Gretchen Parlato, was a hard-hitting blend of improvisation, electronica and drum and bass. On piano, Fender Rhodes and an arsenal of vintage synthesisers, Mehldau unleashed arpeggiated riffs, twisting, gospel-inspired lines and electronic soundscapes. His eyes screwed shut in concentration, Guiliana responded with driving grooves, risking it all on drum breaks of astonishing precision and rhythmic complexity.


In the second half, young London-based quartet, Sons of Kemet, brought raw energy to a stage wreathed in smoke. Tuba player Oren Marshall pounded out bass-lines amidst the clattering fills of the band's two drummers, Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner. Showcasing his extended technique, Marshall added effects, with sounds like scratching on vinyl and rumbling bass notes that evoked Mehldau's synths.


“Godfather”, one of two clarinet features for reeds player Shabaka Hutchings provided a welcome change of pace. Its gentle melody, inspired by “Ethio-jazz”, calmed the hall before the band exploded into a finale, tinged with rock and high-stepping reggae.


Neither group were flawless. Mehliana's set, in particular, lacked variety and saw attentions wandering by the end. But, for pushing the boundaries and capturing the atmosphere of a sweat-soaked underground club in the polite confines of a concert hall, both acts should be commended.


Thomas Rees

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