Arild Anderson Quintet plus Reijseger/Fraanje/Sylla, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Saturday 16th November

A racing pulse from the cymbals, fragments of mazy melodic patterns delivered at breakneck speed in unison by Tommy Smith’s tenor sax and Matthieu Michel’s trumpet, bass player and leader Arild Anderson nods, smiling and then he and pianist Marcin Wasilweski are in, upping the momentum further. Those fragments join together in a final furious blizzard launching a blazing, driving solo from Wasilewski. This was a post-bop burner. Anderson had started the gig with atmospherics. An echoey, bowed bass set up an accompaniment with loops to back a lyrical solo bass melody that evolved into an almost choral sound as the other instruments joined and blended their parts.  An elegiac and elegant opener, that was something of a tease as they proceeded to pin us to our seats with that burner ‘The Fox’ that came next. “My dream band..” muttered Arild Anderson as he name checked his collaborators for his Quintet’s London Jazz Festival appearance.


With all points of the European compass covered by the band from the leader’s Norway to drummer Patrice Heral’s France and Smith, Michel and Wasilewsky marking out West to East with Scotland, Switzerland and Poland, I wondered what language was used for chat backstage. If Anderson’s flawless English was a guide then accents may have been the only barrier.  There was no mistaking the common musical language and accent on stage. There were plenty of excursions into rock flavoured ballads, angular funk and European folk tinged flowing grooves, territory Anderson has made his own with numerous other ensembles, but this band seemed rooted in a fiercely exuberant take on driving post bop jazz with the effortless mastery and understanding between each other to break things down, dissolve into free collective improvisations and then find their way back to tightly delivered explosive themes.
The connection between Anderson and drummer Heral was the axis on which most incident turned. Time and again, a change of mood or pace was hinted at by a speculative chord from Waslilewsky or a held, burnished note from Michel’s flugel and they were onto it like a flash; disrupting the rhythm, fading out completely for one extended impressionistic passage from the pianist in the middle of another furious burner only to launch back in and ramp up the energy again with one of a number of extended bass and drum duels. Heral was a wonder, as likely to be using hands, battering the drum box he was sitting on as lashing a cymbal to goad a soloist onto greater feats.  And they certainly responded. Tommy Smith seemed to be on fire and provided some of the most incendiary and tender moments of an evening that covered that spectrum.  Even at breakneck tempos, he seemed to have time to steadily unfold ideas that built the excitement’ ‘look I can stretch this phrase this way… now that way… now distort it’ and on. Its not hard to see why this is a dream band for Anderson even if co-ordinating their diaries may be more of a nightmare. Lets hope he manages to continue to do it.


This set was preceded by another international collaboration this time between Senegalese singer Mola Sylla and the Dutch paring of pianist Haanse Fraanje and cellist Ernst Reijseger, part of a series in the festival with a Dutch focus. They delivered a set that by turns audibly juxtaposed classical like accompaniments with the characteristically wailing chant like melodies of the West African storyteller and then blended the sounds more around calypso like rhythms with Sylall adding percussion, mbira and kora playing and  exuberant strumming, plucking and battering of his cello by Rejseger adding particular colour. The combination of the two bands spanning two continents and seven countries was a reminder of the global phenomenon  this festival is showcasing.



– Mike Collins

Mehliana by Adam Robinson – EFG London Jazz Festival, 21 November 2013

This year’s ECHO Jazz award-winning pianist Brad Mehladau, and internationally acclaimed drummer Mark Guiliana, came together last night at Barbican Hall for a midway-stop on their European tour as the duo: Mehliana.

Positioned between a keyboard and a grand Fender Rhodes, each stacked with vintage synthesisers; Mehladau broke from acoustic solos to explore a space between the funk-filled cosmos of the 70s and the Eglo records style bass mixing born from it. Elbows cocked, either side of a spinal posture any physiotherapist would be proud of, he painted this soothing dimension. When Mark’s supple breaks wove into the air, the audience were released from looking into living.

Equipped with samples on drum keypads as well as keyboards, the duo tenderly unlocked their vision. Tranquil synth hums of deep space, punctuated by the percussion of travel, gently built until a cacophony of free jazz meteors were swallowing the auditorium.

Un-phased by an over-excited heckler, Mehladau and Guiliana enacted their roles in the story with unbending devotion. The painter, folding his legs on the duet bench, faced his partner’s percussive solo in meditation. It was a truly virtuosic break-beat display. Snare-rim with tambourine, and mini high-hat with ride combinations that perpetuated the idiosyncratic theme. When roles were reversed, the energy guide left his vehicle to stretch and refuel. Meanwhile, Brad’s fingers twinkled, tumbled and twirled from behind his body. Even at speed, his extremities somehow maintained such a graceful laze that, without his expression on view, one could have mistaken it for boredom.

Adam Robinson

ACS, Barbican, EFG London Jazz Festival, Sunday 17 November

As the last cymbal crash and thundered chord of ACS’s reading of ‘Infant Eyes’ still hung in the air, the capacity crowd in the hall exhaled and let out a roar of appreciation. It was Wayne Shorter day at the Barbican. The octogenarian icon himself and his quartet had the   evening slot, a film was showing in the afternoon, Ruben Fox and Mark Kavuma were on the freestage playing some of his early music and ACS, the trio of Geri Allen, Terri Lyne Carrington and Esperanza Spalding who have been touring with him were in the main hall late afternoon.  This had been no tribute set however.  Over an intense, nearly two hours, they celebrated the man by applying his fearless approach to playing compositions and improvising. Nothing less than deconstruction and re-invention would do.

Shorter’s compositions have become jazz standards and the beautiful ballad ‘Infant Eyes’ is a treasure. Terri Lynn Carrington introduced it as a favourite before whipping up a storm with beaters and cymbals and a rolling, splashy rubato statement of the first part of the familiar theme emerged. A seething, regular pulse settled and Geri Allen spun off, all percussive dissonant chords, darting runs and rippling arpeggios. A loose funky groove  with a strong reggae like back beat underpinned an emerging fragment of the middle section of the theme paving the way for a fluid and rythmically driving bass solo.  An insistent pulse built into a melee of rocky crashing chords that etched out the final section of the melody to reach that thunderous climax. No genuflecting at the altar of classic recordings here.

Every piece was worked through with familiar sections of melody appearing and dissolving into an intense, often abstract exploration before reappearing momentarily. Each had its own character. 'Virgo's' theme was whistled jauntily by Spalding; Nefertiti appeared as a dense abstract funky shuffle; 'Beautiful friendship', a standard Allen has been playing and recording for over twenty years kept threatening to burst into swing but Terri Lynn Carrington and Esperanza Spalding kept fractured, anticipatory rhythmic figures churning so it never quite resolved. Only Allen's own composition 'Unconditional Love' provided a slightly more relaxed reading with vocal acrobatics from Spalding embellishing and entrancing by turns.

In an interview with Jazzwise Magazine shortly before the festival, the trio talked about seeking to emulate Shorter in an approach to performing that meant being prepared to follow ideas and inspirations live without knowing where it will lead. There's a risk of it going wrong of course - playing 'Without a  Net' to borrow the title of Shorter's album. To do that and for the results for the trio to be powerful requires, in Spalding's words 'a very deep level of playing'.  The concentration on stage was palpable. Eyes were locked fiercely, grins and smiles exchanged. They were listening hard, stretching and having fun. This demanded a lot of the audience too. There were times where the breath was held "Will they fall off the high wire?"  But in embracing the spirit of Shorter's music making, this trio are creating some quite extraordinary moments. It was a privilege to go along for the ride.



– Mike Collins

 

Hugh Masekela/Larry Willis by Steve Owen – EFG London Jazz Festival, 15 November 2013

Tonight’s performance ‘Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis: a retrospective’. The big red book. An episode of Desert Island Discs, a story-telling accompanied by a jazz soundtrack condensing fifty years of life and music into an audio montage. The opening soundtrack of Canteloupe Island accompanies the film playing in my head of the fantastical musical wonderland of New York City in the 1960s, narrated by Masekela, as two young lads buzz around town to smokey jazz clubs - embarked on a musical bromance which would bring them to the stage tonight.

Theirs is a story about a journey, one that they took together and it resonates with what Zena Edwards told us in the support act. Slow down she told us, don’t rush at it. She seems wise beyond her years and seems to respect the journey which must be undertaken to achieve any worthwhile endeavour, which perhaps the younger generation doesn’t often appreciate. The pensioner duo respect it too with the privilege of looking back over fifty years. Theirs is an almost knowing nod to Zena – avuncular and stately in their competence – as if to say, yes it does take this long so just enjoy the journey and soak up as much music as you can.

It makes for compelling listening to any young jazz musician because, talented though they may have been even then, it’s comforting to know that they too were once sitting in the audience while all the legends (the names of every single one of which Masekela drops into the conversation to the delight of the audience) played with seemingly unreachable finesse. It’s this willing self-deprecation and Willis’s silent diffidence on the piano which makes the story so believable and the pair so likeable. As they dedicate their show to the souls of the departed greats it is easy to feel like long line of aural jazz tradition is being passed on.

Embracing the African-American tradition tonight evoked the pathos of the bluenote at the same time as the sanguinity of the musical township and it’s a perfect metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life – the not always easy path, the journey we’ll get to the end of in the fullness of time with some patience, effort and a good mate to share the ups and downs of the adventure of learning jazz with.

– Steve Owen

Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis: Lullaby for a Sleepless City – EFG London Jazz Festival 15 November 2013

Taking this journey back from Krasnodar I thought to myself that London's going to be my Mecca for it is the only city on Earth you can dream of going to practice the Language of Queen. Imagine my amazement mixed with bewilderment when upon landing I realized that the Capital of English speak all the languages you can think of starting from Chinese and Russian to world languages of Art and Music apart (if not except) from their native one.

Yesterday's evening, I experienced a whole-new cascade of emotions by getting introduced to people who master the discourse of Music practicing it to the utmost level and making it comprehensible to the multicultural city. Being invited to the show of EFG LJF by Zenna Edwards and Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis I found myself forgetting about the "language gap" simply diving into an absolute cosmopolitanism.

The lady who came on stage last night, an African-British bright rising star Zenna Edwards proved the point of the world facing total convergence of both natural and artificial languages, of both global and local mentalities into one common way of interaction. Her rich rhythmical a capella voice backed by traditional African instruments mbira, kalimba and some guitar expressed her inspiration by ever-alert world where the very notion of what we used to call jazz evolved into a mix of ever-young & complete ethnic music with the ever-experienced urban art.

The idea of introducing traditional African tunes and tales into performances gains its foothold among African-born musicians more and more as the world accepts their endeavor to preserve the legacy by the originals, people being at the cradle of today's jazz.

Second set of the night by incredible Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis removed all doubts if any, about Music being ever-revitalizing elixir of life for those who tried it once. The two senior musicians in their late 70s recalling hanging out with Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, or Miles Davis in the prime of their lives, gave an astonishing performance leaving many young vigorous jazz players far behind. You can only envy that vital force cast upon them by passion to share the Music, to tell the story and get heard, which they were lucky enough to make the essence of their lives.

Their music was lullaby to the restless city, to all who came to get told the story of life and listen to the universal language: jazz spoken masterfully by its authors.

– Ilya Fedorov

The Write Stuff

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