Nicolas Simion Group + Duo Plus, Rich Mix, London Jazz Festival

Trios, quartets and even big bands, who have in recent years largely been considered extinct, have all been well represented at this year’s London Jazz Festival. But duos? They’ve barely had a look in. Duo plus – aka saxophonist and pianist Ivo Neame and drummer and vibraphonist Jim Hart – however, are a rare and inspiring find, generating as much (if not more than) heat and inventiveness as some of the more padded out ensembles on this year’s line up.

What sets Duo Plus apart from the pack is their knack for the subtle tonal and emotional gradations in their compositions. Avant-garde freak-outs deftly blend into solemn classical sweeps, which in turn bleed into bright, optimistic vibraphone vamps. On ‘Liner Notes’, Hart’s combines scattergun rim shots and roiling tom-tom solos to underpin Neame’s stately melodies; at one point bowing his ride to ghostly, whistling effect. The highlight: the ironically titled ‘Song For Lost Nomads’, which thunderously echoes McCoy Tyner during his eastern-sounding Sahara period.

Although Nicolas Simion is a charismatic, mirthful bandleader, his magnetism doesn’t quite translate over into his formulaically bluesy, Transylvanian folk-party mélange. The quartet – saxophone, bass, drums, accordion – swings, for sure, but, as often as not, seem to be playing for laughs, while seemingly striving to validate their loosely strung together performance with a flurry of, admittedly belting, virtuosic solos.

Nicolas Simion and his hat-clad accordionist have performed together in Romania as wedding entertainers, and it really shows, thanks to the cloyingly punch-drunk, festive thread that runs throughout. The highpoint of the set, nevertheless, arrives when the pair duet a traditional wedding theme, which screams, twists and gallops through the registers, a heart-stopping piece of cat-and-mouse virtuosity.

– Jamie Skey

Nicolas Simion Group and Ivo Neame/Jim Hart’s Duo Plus – Rich Mix, London Jazz Festival

Located in the heart of Shoreditch, Rich Mix is renowned as a hub for interesting and eclectic music, film and the arts. And tonight looks to live up to this reputation. London based Duo Plus are first on, featuring Ivo Neame (piano and saxophone) and Jim Hart (vibraphone and drum kit). They open with an engaging sax and piano piece that has the energy of a Trane/Elvin duet but less ferocious and more playful and considered. The mood instantly becomes more contemplative when Ivo moves to piano and Jim begins to utilise bowed cymbals and atmospheric brushwork. The music in the set still contains a lot of the defining characteristics that are found in some of their other projects (cloudmakers trio, Gemini, Ivo Neame Quartet and Ive Neame Large Ensemble) but bringing out a different colour in the music. A particular highlight of their set was a performance of ‘Song For Lost Nomads’ (recently recorded on Ivo’s Large Ensemble album, Yatra) in which the piano and drum duet feels rhythmically and sonically unabridged with an impeccable groove and plenty of energy.

After a short interval, Romanian saxophonist and clarinetist, Nicolas Simion brings his quartet to the stage. They open with a calypso type, rhythm changes tune that feels all together stale, the band are uncertain of their parts and proceed to have their eyes glued to their sheet music for the entire set. There were some highlights that stood out in the set and showed the brilliance of the performers, in particular a clarinet/accordion folk-based duet, which showed both players in a brilliant light. Despite the unpolished performance, the audience warmed to Nicolas and his Transylvanian troop - probably due to the casual humour and relaxed attitude to performing – and rewarded them with an encore at the end of the show.

– Tim Doyle

Robert Glasper Experiment – Royal Festival Hall, London

A rich mix of African-American music in all of its guises, including jazz, hip hop and R&B, blasted open the 2012 London Jazz Festival.

Phantom Limb made their festival debut, performing numbers from their 2012 album, ‘The Pines.’ During opening number, ‘Laugh Like You’re Mad,’ lead singer, Yolanda Quartey, coupled a huge voice with intensely moving lyrics. The performance overall however, was somewhat lacking, in that Matt Jones on drums was absent but his drum kit was not, and the double bass was too loud. The atmosphere was restless, but during the big crescendo, ‘The Angel Of Death’, gospel, country and R&B sounds were clearly heard to good effect.

Looking cool, the Robert Glasper Experiment elicited instant, whooping adoration from the packed mixed-age audience, and cranked up the energy for an electrifying performance of covers and original material from their latest album, Black Radio. The musically adept band featured Robert Glasper – keyboards, Casey Benjamin – vocoder and saxophone, and Derrick Hodge – electric bass. Drummer, Mark Colenburg was outstanding, and locked in tight with Glasper on keyboards. Complex, danceable rhythms were built up beneath simple, trance-like melodies based on a single note: ‘Cherish The Day’ by Sade, featured deliciously discordant piano and saxophone lines in unison, and seamlessly blended synthesised vocals and live vocals provided by Vula, whose impeccably sung high notes, wowed. Hip hop rapper, MF Doom made a ‘masked’ guest appearance, and barked unclear-sounding words.

Glasper thrilled us with snippets from ‘Take The A Train,’ and ‘Send In The Clowns’, but at times, his over-long, showy solos sounded more suited to a jam session. The music never veered off into a mash-up of musical styles though, and retained cohesive, singular, beautiful mathematics.

– Gemma Boyd

Nicolas Simion Group and Duo Plus – Rich Mix, London Jazz Festival

A night filled with lyrical improvisation and energetic groove, the Nicolas Simion Group gave an electric performance at the Rich Mix Cafe. Greeted by rapturous applause from the audience, the quartet launched their set. Blending accordion, bass and percussive sounds, Nicolas Simion interwove his alto saxophone melodies among the accompaniments. Adopting a semi-structured approach to the performance overall, the quartet delivered organic sounds in, ‘Fighting Song’, and an emotive interpretation of ‘Anna Maria’. Yet, the band still allowed breathing space for improvisation.

The bassist intrigued the audience with moments of genius. Using slapping and plucking techniques he established a groove. He further turned his electric bass face-up to experiment with a scratching method, whereby, he slid the side of his mobile phone back and fourth along each fret and through all four strings to make his guitar really sing. The Armenian accordionist added a touch of folk flair, fingering through scales at high speed. Only the percussionist could match this tempo, choosing moments to create vibrant rhythms akin to the colour and excitement of a Brazilian carnival. Alternating between alto, soprano saxophone, and flute, Nicolas Simion articulated the sensitive melody of encore piece, ‘Black Forest’ with clarity and grace.

Multi-instrumentalists Ivo Neame and Jim Hart also performed an opening set as Duo Plus. Presenting, in most part, a 40-minute set of improvisation, the duo incorporated in to their performance alto saxophone, vibraphone, piano and percussion. Jim's subtle choices to bow cymbals and vibraphone keys created a deliciously textured sound. Reflecting the duo's long established working relationship the improvisation flowed freely like a relaxed conversation between friends. Although they took few risks in comparison to the Nicolas Simion Group, Duo Plus' performance was elegant and refined.

– Joanne Eze

Nicolas Simion Group: Transylvanian Jazz + Ivo Neame & Jim Hart: Duo Plus – Rich Mix, Shoreditch, London – 15 November 2012

Coming off frantic London streets and into the hidden gem, Rich Mix, a young audience were met with fresh arrangements from new project, Duo Plus, comprised of celebrated British multi-instrumentalists and composers, Jim Hart (drums / vibraphone) and Ivo Neame (piano / saxophone), who conjured up a snowy landscape with perfectly matched grand piano flurries of soulful chords, mingling with Hart’s bowed vibraphone. The pair explored the percussive range of their four instruments, making for a full-bodied but soft sound during Neame’s ‘Song For Lost Nomads’. The music breathed, allowing the instruments to resonate profoundly. Firstly tentative ‘Maison Musique’ by Jim Hart, built on a swinging riff taken up and repeated in unison on the piano, which then melted into Hart on drums, and the set ended neatly with a question.

Quirky quartet, Nicolas Simion Group, featuring Romanian composer Nicolas Simion (saxophone), Martin Lubenov (accordion), Angus Thomas (bass) and Benjamin Henocq (drums) whipped up a blizzard, playing mostly originals from Transylvanian Jazz by Nicolas Simion Group: Talking in July 2009 on the liner notes for this album, Simion described his music as ‘mixing folk music and modern jazz with other styles of music’. Woolly-hatted “hip hop accordion player, into Tequila,” Lubenov, as Simion described him, looked suited to playing traditional Parisian songs on the banks of the Seine, but his deft, folky lines soared over funky bass riffs. All of the densely packed numbers were similar, and contained a formulaic accordion break in the middle.

‘Black Forest’ served as an encore, with Simion honking on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone both in his mouth a once, signalling a piling out of the crowd into the freezing London air.

– Gemma Boyd

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