2018: A Year In Food
In 2018, my gym coach assigned me to keep a food blog so he could track my meals. Through developing healthy eating habits to satisfy all of my nutritional needs and a rigorous exercise programme, I lost the 21 kg between January-August 2018 I'd gained on anti-depressants.
I wanted it to be somewhere more private rather than being shoved down people's throats (literally) through Instagram/WhatsApp. Hence I've posted my culinary creations here.
Being vegetarian and/or vegan always presents a challenge in terms of hitting the protein target so this was particularly the most interesting challenge for me.
I made a conscious decision to stop food blogging in 2019 (due to time restraints), but it's useful to have a year's diet documented as a reference and a source of inspiration!
RD’s London Jazz Festival Picks
Y&S member Rory Duffy looks back at the highlights of what has been a memorable London Jazz Festival.
5) Samara @ 606
Being a lover of Brazilian music, I was immediately attracted to see this band, and when I saw them at last year’s London Jazz Festival, they had the entire club up on their feet dancing. The band, led by Steve Rubie (alto saxophone, flute), fronted by Jandira Silva (vocals), and starring Ivo Neame (piano), Dill Katz (bass), Nic France (drums), Dawson Miller (percussion) and featuring Michael Roydon (soprano saxophone), samples some of the finest talent from in and around West London - combining heavy, rock solid percussion with clinging, clamouring piano soloso and an explosive melt of saxophone, flute and vocals. Samara play a cracking mix of Brazilian music and jazz, with a great rhythmic style, every last Friday of the month at 606.
4) Matt Roberts Big Band @ Spice of Life
I was lucky enough to witness this band last year as part of the freestage event curated by last year’s Young & Serious in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room. A year later, Matt Roberts and his big band have returned with more ingenious writing, fresh soloists and a special guest, Julian Siegel. The feature that I like most about this big band is that, during the shout choruses, the band moves as one unit, joining the dots and landing on the same points; creating the impression of something with such weight and density behind it, moving so tightly and effortlessly. The structures, orchestrations and harmonies are compelling and delightful in ways that are contemporary, without resorrting to atonal, free improvisation. Matt Roberts is a remarkable writer and director. His music is progressive; luring you into its gardens and enclosures, constantly surprising you, and leaving you questioning - where is it going to go next?
3) Snarky Puppy @ XOYO, Shoreditch
Snarky Puppy brought the roof down at XOYO, Shoreditch, only a week ago. There are no words to describe Snarky Puppy - they are, simply, indescribable. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the band is unique for two reasons. Firstly, it is completely undeputisable. This means that every member is as important as the next, and each individual contributes in equal measure to the whole. When one member is absent, the band cannot perform. It is this level of commitment and dedication, not only to the project, but to its binding musical and social relationships, that set this band apart from the rest. Secondly, none of the music is written. Themes can be played in a multitude of different ‘modes’ and still be the same, and the music is in constant flux from tour to tour. This means that the same composition can bring about new circumstances and challenges that make it sound completely different. Ontologically, however, it is the same composition. The compositions are formulated on musical ‘germs’ that grow and develop outwards from within themselves - it is these processes in which lies the magic… These characteristics reveal the profound universality of the music; that the compositions are merely the adjustments of perspective that interrogate and interfere with forces that are already present. Today, the band preaches a new, optimistic ethos in composition and large band direction.
2) Ara Dinkjian @ Southbank Centre / Purcell Room
It is very rare to chance upon a band of musicians that are both phenomenally talented, yet extremely heart-warming and play music of such beauty that it melts your heart and leaves you soaking in the sun of their radiance. This band is my second favourite, because I was moved and humbled by their heart-warming soul, roots and personality, despite their virtuosity, technical accomplishment. Appearing with top musicians from Greece, Sokratis Sinopoulos (lyra), Vangelis Karipis (percussion) and Yannis Kirimkiridis (piano and keyboards), Armenian-American oud player Ara Dinkjian organically fuses together intricate melodies, whirring rhythms and lush string harmonies. it is easy to understand how some people - relatives or not - travel the world to hear his music. We are fortunate enough that, through London Jazz Festival, these rare pleasures are sitting, waiting for us, on our doorstep. And we do not need to travel; simply discovering this music is enough to turn us into armchair travellers… The perfect culmination to a whirlwind musical odyssey.
“Dinkjian shines as an instrumentalist, carrying the listener away in the unique musical world of this Armenian in America” - Songlines
… and the winner is …
1) Jan Garbarek @ Southbank Centre / Royal Festival Hall
This show was something else, it took me somewhere else entirely. I have been a fan of Jan Garbarek for many years, and this is the first time that I was actually able to see him live (the last few times, it was sold out - quite understably). Enchanted and moved are two words that sum up my feeling after this show - such a remarkable, magical thing. Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek collaborating with Indian Trilok Gurtu, with Rainer Brüninghaus on piano and Yuri Daniel on bass guitar. For the first time ever, this festival, I felt the need not to write during the performance, but instead to simply let myself drift off and be whisked away on a musical voyage through heart and homelands. The show took me to many places… Not only Norway, other parts of Scandinavia and the Indian subcontinent, but also to Scotland, Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Himalayas, North and South America, Iceland and the Middle East, all in one heady two hours’ flight. Through it, I experienced many different emotions - some painful and disturbing, yet others intimately moving, surreal and unpredictable… The concert was a true mystery, and, by the end of it, the discourse and logic reached a summit whereby everyone in the hall had reached the same goal - resolution and order triumphing over exploration, development and apparent meaningless. After a standing ovation, the ballad at the end, in its simplicity and sincerity, made me cringe with sadness at its beauty. At this point, nothing much more was to be said. It was the perfect ending to ease oneself back into the linear present.
“40 years after his ECM debut, Norway’s Jan Garbarek remains one of the most recognisable voices in jazz. He has been fundamental in creating a distinctly European perspective on the music, as well as in establishing the so-called ‘Nordic tone’. Yet the saxophonist negotiates his expansive, ethereal soundscapes with rare humanity, his sound like warm breath floating in frosty air.” - Serious
“Neither classical nor jazz, neither new nor old, this music simply exists, for everyone’s wonder and nourishment” - The Times
London Jazz Festival 2013 will take place between 15 - 24 November 2013. www.londonjazzfestival.org.uk
Meanwhile, here’s a video for you…
When he started playing Jimmy Van Heusen’s ‘It Could Happen To You’, I was reminded of the wonderful recording by Keith Jarrett, which I embedded into a video “Drifting” that I put together some years ago, based on a poem about nature. It was a priceless experience to sit up there at the top of the Southbank Centre, and to gaze westwards over the morning sun beaming over Waterloo and Westminster. Tom Cawley has a delicate, light touch, sensitively working his ideas into his playing, without disrupting the rhythmic flow. His subtlety of harmonisation, and his depth of voicing, add class and style to his fluent improvisation. He references the melodic line of the standard, without being bound by it, amidst his own fluctuations and embellishments.
I felt that the open-ended format of the workshop was effective. Tom Cawley really worked with his students to get the best out of them, and he spoke some wise words of wisdom, which were both encouraging and inspiring. By the end of the workshop, I felt that each student had a real sense of where they were now, what they were aiming towards and their strengths and weaknesses. Altogether, a productive, fulfilling morning!
This band features some amazing instrumental arrangements, sensitively musical combinations, intriguing tonal qualities and a beautiful use of instrumental textures. The saxophone solo is incredible for someone of such a young age, exemplifying a wide range of dynamics. Their sound is very Gil Evans, and it transports you back through time and space, fifty years to the nineteen sixties, when Gil Evans and Miles Davies were all the rage in New York, bringing an autumnal sunshine into a dark night at the Barbican.
One audience member commented that he was lying down on a sofa, listening to this music, and that the distant applause of the audience combined with the closing notes, gave him a transcendental ‘out-of-body’ experience. Looking at the biographies and photographs of these classic musicians, their images mingled together in a montage, propelled by the energy of this band, and enabling him to visit those places that he had only visited in his mind.
Through this band, I experienced some fantastic flourishes and builds of kaleidoscopic colour and harmony, matched by a fervent, youthful dedication to jazz, and astounding talent.
London Jazz Festival was bracketed, Sunday to Sunday, by singing workshops given by two distinctly different artists.
Basement Jaxx singer Brendan Reilly (vocals) led this workshop, accompanied Tom Cawley (piano), at the Barbican. The workshop was accessible to all singers - regardless of age, ability or background - and empowering, because not only did he teach you how to improvise over twelve bar blues and ‘I Got Rhythm’ changes, but he also demonstrated techniques in interpretation, tone and inflection, imparting some valuable lessons concerning creativity, individuality and spontaneity. He addressed the issue of nerves, and stressed the importance of forcing yourself into these experiences to develop confidence.
His demonstrations were truly inspiring. He added a funky, contemporary touch to timeless classics, and showcased a flexible and vast range, fusing effortless falsettos (head voices) with gritty bass tones and soulful interludes. I was also impressed by the vibrancy and clarity of the accompanying pianist.
During the discussion at the end of the workshop, everyone got to know one another, and there was a real chemistry in the room. Everyone who had walked in the room now walked out equipped and ready to conquer the strange world of improvisation and interpretation.
Swedish songstress Emilia Mårtensson led a fun, intuitive workshop, enthusing singers of all backgrounds and abilities, accompanied by Sam Crowe (piano). I felt that Emilia selected a fun, interesting and hugely varied programme of music, each highlighting different challenges and pathways of exploration.
After taking us through some useful warming up exercises, Emilia first taught us a Swedish folk song ‘Vem Kan Segla Förutan Vind’ (‘Who Can Sail Without The Wind’), as an interlacing canon, and demonstrated how the melody could be inflected to add variety, and how re-harmonisation could add different colours to the music. She then taught us the jazz standard ‘Come Rain, Come Shine’ - firstly as a swing, and then as a Bossa Nova - demonstrating how the melody could be accentuated, depending on whether it is a swung (4/4) feel, or straight (2/4) feel. Lastly, she taught us a Jill Scott song ‘Golden’, further illustrating how melody could be elaborated and enhanced to adopt a ‘jazz’ approach.
Emilia has a pristine grasp of the English language, and her teaching style is thoughtfully structured, supportive and inspiring. By the end of the workshop, the participants were really getting into it! What struck me most of all, was the way that the workshop successfully united all age groups, 10 - 60, and brought everyone together on a common level of interconnection. There is nothing like a group of people, of all ages, singing together - it was magic!
London Jazz Orchestra, set up twenty years ago, initially as a rehearsal band, has developed to become one of London’s foremost creative jazz orchestras. Tonight, expounding the music of Gil Evans and Kenny Wheeler, alongside original compositions by John Warren, the band stirs up a thought-provoking pastiche of eloquent music.
Lines of bebop converge with the colours of classical music in ‘Isthmus’. Here, there is no strikingly apparent tonal focus; instead, rays of dissonant harmony spread outwards in an artfully cosmopolitan, forward-thinking arrangement, occasionally bound with sweeter, inward looking cornices. The soprano saxophone solo meshes through a buffet of differentiating rhythmic forms and feels, tightly coordinated and rehearsed. Pedal notes (anchored bass notes under modulating harmony) maintain the anticipation and drive, building up into smoothly bolstered cacophonies, harmonically rich and inspiring the listener with some highly developed, advanced improvisation.
‘My New Ship’, a Gil Evans-style ballad, written with Kurt Weill (‘My Ship’) in mind, counterpoises a tenor saxophone and trombone, with intertwining stems that reveal and more sentimental side to this band, flourishing in evanescent colours. The whispering, paper tone of the saxophone, and the shaped vibrato of the saxophone section, defines some meaningful, prospective insights. The ballad develops into a creeping swing, incorporating converging contours and some lovely examples of section writing - presenting different backing textures, in turn, over descending harmonic turnabouts. Romantic, without being overtly sappy, here is a contemporary big band showcasing a selection of truly gifted performers and writers.
This big band, emerging as the high flyers in young British jazz talent, could easily be mistaken for professionals. In reflection of this, Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room is the most packed I’ve seen all week. The band showcases some mature and meaningful improvisation and an ability to tackle complex arrangements, from players so young. Continuing the Kenny Wheeler theme of London Jazz Festival’s culminating evening, his Lost Scores are so compellingly engaging that it is hard to tear yourself away.
Director Nick Smart explains that Kenny Wheeler’s big band compositions prescribe different roles, and that it is nice for the young players to fit into these roles. So much of Kenny Wheeler’s music is determined by these roles and relationships between the musicians - socially and professionally.
Vocalist Emma Smith, seen previously performing with NYJO (National Youth Jazz Orchestra) last weekend, returns, with her smoky, developed voice, which lingers and curls through the sinuses of space, light and free floating, and wrapping itself around your soul. To this, she adds effortless suspended tensions, with a sensitive and refined touch.
In comparison to some of the other big bands that I have witnessed this week, this one has an air of sophistication about it - an essence of ‘cool’. These are the high flyers, the top of the top, the cream of the crop and the most fertile seeds for emerging jazz talent in the UK.
Moroccan singer-songwriter Noraay is living proof that if we are to change the outside world, then we must change that which is within. Combining neo-soul, R&B, hip hop, North African and Middle Eastern influences, her music explores the miracles of creation, of nature revealing the deeper complexities of order and the impact of man on the environment, through lyrics that emanate ‘peace love and positive thoughts’.
Casting her illustrious and minimalist charm over acoustic, soulful blends of soft piano and bluesy guitar, Noraay croons a song-like and soothing jazz reminiscent of Norah Jones, with a speculative character - forever searching for something. Her songs are very spiritually rooted - like a prayer or an elegy - telling tales of ‘walking through the valley of darkness and depth, looking within the self and evaluating the future’, strengthened by hope and optimism.
‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’ emits a powerful, ballad poetry. Her pure, wavering voice flirts delicately with the giddy, playful rhythms of the kora. The overall combination infuses Noraay’s own style with a myriad of different essences, such that the essences themselves become transparent, and the music’s message is transmitted on its own terms.
‘Flower of Life’ is a composition describing the effect that when cells divide, they create this shape. Pulsating with soft tabla tones, Noraay paints an oriental music village, casting a metropolitan mural of moving shapes, patterns and colours; spellbinding Arabic scales, shimmering through a forward-thinking groove; and flourishing with Middle Eastern mystique.
Legend of British jazz and big band writing, and trumpeter, Kenny Wheeler, appears with this all-star line-up at the culminating point, marking the closing night of London Jazz Festival. And what a perfect way to do it, through a world premier of their latest CD - and the first recording in twenty years - ‘The Long Waiting’. Originally written to commemorate Kenny Wheeler’s eightieth birthday, this music has never before been performed in the UK.
Walking into the auditorium, I simply cannot believe the group of people sitting onstage, which includes not only Kenny Wheeler (trumpet, flugelhorn) but also Norma Winstone (vocals), Gwylm Simcock (piano), John Parricelli (guitar) Chris Laurence (bass), Martin France (drums), a saxophone section consisting of Evan Parker (baritone), Stan Sulzmann (tenor), Ray Warleigh (alto), Duncan Lamont (alto) and Julian Arguelles (tenor), not to mention Nick Smart (trumpet) and others too numerous to mention - all monumental figures of British Jazz who I have seen at various points throughout the week - directed under the hand of Pete Churchill.
Kenny Wheeler’s music symbolises the cutting edge in British big band composition and orchestration, and it is wonderful to here these creations unfolding, live to my ears. There are passages that create the sense of falling down an infinite chasm, surrounded by floating cities of brass and shafts of airy vocals. Amidst the thick butter of interlacing horns, dancing and wavering in a rhythmically polygonal patchwork of textures, the female vocals (Norma Winstone) radiate through, giving the music a hauntingly human quality, whilst still adhering to the abstract and the extremes of substance and development.
‘Counter Number Three’ is a modal waltz of sweet saxophones and vocals, while ‘Counter Number One’ hovers a dodecagonal metre, elegantly underpinned by the apocalyptic undertow of rising brass textures, mingling with the rush-of-consciousness effect of the vocals. This subsides into a militant swing, and the fiery lead trumpets take the forefront. The dialectic call-and-response structure takes control of this composition, which switches between two opposing sides, gradually building up, before finally collapsing back into the spindly clockwork of Afro twelve-eight rhythms.
The smooth transition into ‘Old Ballad’ fans out in a pristine, vibrato pool of languishing saxophone chorale. The trumpets swoon overhead, piercingly, in their altitudes, before succumbing to the gelatinous touch of Ray Warleigh (alto saxophone).
Indeed, it is all too easy to say that the big band writing has a distinctively British quality to it; one could liken it to overcast rainclouds of vocals and horns, occasionally subsiding for some radiant solo improvisations. Here, Stan Sulzmann (tenor saxophone) leaps and swings over straight quavers, his melodic outpourings swept up by the harmonic flow in some spectacular, kinetic formations and emotions, channelled with lighting-speed touch and response. Smooth mirrors of muted brass open disrupt the current, and the audience react at every twist and turn of the music, which, like film music, is cinematic and progressive.
These ‘weather’ analogies are meshed out through ‘Old Ballad’, which has some brand new lyrics added to it by Norma Winstone. The lyrics are startlingly beautiful: ‘haunting sounds that filled my life, and made their mark on me / can I rewind to what’s behind / to land in a world / where all the dreams are dust / some things remain, untouched by the rain’ drawing the music into a shimmering, mirage.
The closing number ‘Upwards’ once again introduces a swathing ballad of wordless vocals to a clammy guitar, which leads into a syncopated waltz, finished with a squirreling trumpet solo by none other than Kenny Wheeler. His all-star band, featuring the cream of British Jazz, propels you in a tour-de-force through clouds of buffeting brass and wind, exquisite vocals and a steaming rhythm section. A thrilling journey to the heart, and back again.
It is very rare to chance upon a band of musicians that are both phenomenally talented, yet extremely heart-warming and play music of such beauty that it melts your heart and leaves you soaking in the sun of their radiance. Appearing with top musicians from Greece, Sokratis Sinopoulos (lyra), Vangelis Karipis (percussion) and Yannis Kirimkiridis (piano and keyboards), Armenian-American oud player Ara Dinkjian organically fuses together intricate melodies, whirring rhythms and lush string harmonies.
Their opening number combines a sumptuously sampled bass purling under some lovely four-square grooves, that sit back on the groove, and coast out some undulating pastures of rhythmic resilience. The oud and lyra draw so much feeling and flavour out of one chord, and it is amazing to be so close to the musicians and watch the expressions on their faces. Soon, the audience is clapping along in time, entranced by these exotic beats.
Following this is a seductively stately, ceremonial waltz, transporting you back to sunnier climes, with its wistful, romantic and nostalgic tones, evoking long journeys and loved ones back home. With its stoic, almost stiff character, the music plays out a unique insight into the flavour, soul and temperament of these musicians - passionate yet with an indescribable dignity and honour. The sheathing syncopations of the keyboard, caught by the delicate, offbeat kick of the high accent, creates a flirtatious sonority. The hollowness of the oud notes, falling slightly outside the ‘Western’ tonal system, resonate with old world, almost alien, charm.
Supplanting this is a frolicking folk tune, again setting the audience off to clap on every first beat. Here, I notice that the players are smiling at one another as they execute the native licks and loops at second nature - and I realise that they truly have these ancient melodies well and truly under their fingers. Like neo-classical choro or ragtime, the yarn modulates through minor and major keys, skipping with joy and youthfulness. The highlight of this piece is the improvised solo on the darbuka.
Never have I had the privilege to sit so close to a darbuka (goblet or chalice shaped drum, used in North Africa, Mediterranean and the Middle East) played so well. Never have I heard such rhythmic vibrations like this. Vangelis’ fingers are so strong, yet so relaxed and roll out these deliciously whirring tap rhythms, morphing through many different clusters and formations; ablaze with the fire of his own ferocity. I must admit that, sitting there, I could no longer write, but gaze helplessly, jaw wide open, lest anyone else guess how intimately I was experiencing this moving spectacle. The rest of the audience must have felt this too, for after a moment of suspended calm and disbelief, applause broke out - as it does - in the middle of his solo, and culminated with the rest of the band joining in perfectly.
Some pieces reveal a more sentimental side to the band. The crisp, feathery tone of the bowed lyra floats, like a vessel, over the tranquil waters of piano harmony, an ecstatic bliss suspended in gardens to your ears. This is complemented by the mellowness of the oud, twanging, thoughtfully, over this ‘Milky Way’ of piano and lush string samples - a music that glistens so pure and golden. During these meditative passages, Vangelis adds some tastefully percussive enhancements, sheathes of shaker, wriggling bells and twinkling chimes.
Some songs combine simple, electronic rock / pop ballads on synth, enriched by the Arabic stylings of the melodic instruments, adding a contemporary touch to a traditionally ancient folk repertoire. Languishing pools of beautiful sadness permeate these moments, tuned into the heartstrings of longing and despair welling up through the sensitive plucking of the oud, in a music that is at once passionate yet solemn - as if these musicians are mourning a timeless loss. This mood presides over the gentle, resonant clanging of the tambour. I love how, when the main theme returns, the keyboard harmonies thicken and intensify, altogether leaving you in a dream state, overwhelmed and overcome with their profound power.
The idea is taken further, as the same theme is replicated into a sensual, gyrating folk song, and the audience are again clapping along in time. Here, the lyra and the oud take turns at soloing, in a delightfully fluorescent, improvisational exchange - making it impossible not to nod your head, or sway your hips, along to the infectiously slinky leaning. Each time it comes around, the refrain returns, accompanied by the roll and slap of the darbuka, inciting more spontaneous clapping on the first beat.
During the encore, Ara Dinkjian explains how he is graced with the honour of having his wife and daughters over from America, and two very good friends from New Jersey: it is easy to understand how some people - relatives or not - travel the world to hear his music. We are fortunate enough that, through London Jazz Festival, these rare pleasures are sitting, waiting for us, on our doorstep. And we do not need to travel; simply discovering this music is enough to turn us into armchair travellers. The only person who is not present (studying hard) is the son of Ara Dinkjian, who decides to evoke his spirit in a composition dedicated to his son, ‘In Wolf’s Clothing’; a sweet, pop ballad, whisking you on a night flight of heady oud, like a lullaby, floating across a vista of sparkling piano, and leaving you at piece with the world, and at one with your soul.
The rest of the band return to the stage for one more round; a buzzing, flittering hive of complex Karsilama (9 / 8) rhythms, rattling and colliding with a satisfying slap on the first and final beats. The perfect culmination to a whirlwind musical odyssey.
I managed to catch the end of this performance, by jazz’s greatest living guitarist (Jazz Times) Jim Hall, who, through seven decades’ worth of playing, has worked with Art Farmer, Bill Evans, Paul Desmond and Ron Carter, and influenced the course of some of the world’s greatest guitarists including Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell.
His set includes unique arrangements and re-workings of timeless classics, such as ‘Chelsea Bridge’ (Duke Ellington), gloriously reproduced, in a whispering, creeping ballad, through the tangibly raw, natural sound of his guitar, over the acoustically projected ambience of Steve LaSpina (bass) and the smooth, rinsing underwire of of Anthony Pinciotti (percussion).
His finale, ‘St Thomas’ (Sonny Rollins - with whom he has collaborated, as he quips, “800 years ago”), is elaborated with a fragmentary interpretation, pulled along with the nimbleness of his fingers, gravelly and reverberant in the space, riding over swinging, Benny Goodman-style drumming. A fitting end to what has been a momentous Jazz Festival!
Adriano Adewale has a very naturalist approach towards sound and music. For him, “Sound is always in the air… We pass by it, we see it and sometimes we play with it. This is the world of sound, it is all part of that great music, the song within us, which makes us move and feel.”
Consequently, his music brings us right back to the inner resonances of our being, and the counterpoints of sound existing in our environment. His band is a gently bubbling, simmering pan of mellow, minimalist flute, finely tuned percussion, strummed and plucked, hypnotic, modal harmony and tribal dancing and song, which engages the audience in a heady call and response, and lifts the mind into the treetops of traditional African and Amazonian soundscapes.
Percussively, the soundtrack is permeated with ambient sounds at all levels - glass, metal, leather and wood - overlaid and interlaced, in a rich fabric that suggests the proximities of other sentient beings, musical lines crossing, lives intersecting and eventualities intertwining - every click, hit, pop and tap so intricately interwoven into the texture, and transmitted over a ‘forest’ of onlookers in the Clore Ballroom.
Towards the end of the set, his skidding, sliding and giddy grooves morph restlessly through a deeply spiritual song cycle of pulse and buzzing voices. A rich cocktail of cultural immersion and a sobering nod towards the fundamental roots of jazz.
I first saw Soweto Kinch ‘Tales of the Tower Block’ at Contact Theatre, performing his multisensory integration of jazz and improvised music across different mediums, and their synchronisation with electronics and fixed backings. Seven years later, Soweto Kinch has risen to become a status symbol in British Jazz, renowned for his streetwise, grimy, hip hop inflamed jazz, which combines influences as diverse as Coltrane, Mingus and Sun Ra, and intellectually exploring and portraying alternative aspects of society, ideologies and cultures through creative, abstract-meets-conceptual performance situations.
Sowero Kinch took us on a smoky, grungy journey through his curious little world of jazz and hip hop fusion. With a lovingly silky, defined saxophone tone, clear and bright, ringing through the echelons of this dark, domed venue, much of the harmonic interest is determined by him, especially in ‘The Healing’, where pivoting, schizophrenic improvisational licks skip and flicker restlessly over the beat.
‘Better Off Alone’ is written at a point where you’re looking around at your close friends, and you realise that they are not your close friends - “But maybe, that is not such a bad thing,” he reflects, with casual ease, “Sometimes you realise that it is what you need - to be around people who will not get you where you want to go, sad as it may seem”. Soweto Kinch oozes ethos and personality, equally at ease behind his saxophone as he is on the MC, the outputs simply being two arms to his creative outbrace. With a natural way with words, endearing to witness, the unfolding narrative unravels itself over a harmony that modulates and moves so sincerely over a melancholic, prophetic undertow of rhythm and soul.
‘Traffic Lights’ on the other hand is rough and ready, the tone of his saxophone blaring like a siren, over a brisk bebop emblazoned with harsh edges. Soweto Kinch has a very Coltrane sound, one that is very raw, yet intensely spiritual, and tripping with dissonant and whole-tone goodness. His builds clamour into wild, untamed scaly runs, losing their nerve and becoming all-encompassing in his identification and campaign towards a reformed world.
This project features a stellar Kit Downes (organ), Ruth Goller (bass), Tim Giles (drums), James Allsop (tenor saxophone) and Alex Bonny (trumpet, electronics). The focus is free, conceptual improvisation that intermerges humane and robotic influxes, the gentle pushing and pulling of opposing tensions and the creation of highly immersive sound ‘environments’ that bathe your ears in a pseudo-mechanical world of electrifying, ambient counterpoint.
The group have a real vibe about them that I can’t quite put my finger on. Their music has a true culture of its own, one that speaks directly to the heart and nurtures the soul, with its own moods and temperaments; at times longing and nostalgic, glowing with a fond reminiscence; at other times rich and folky with Latin and gypsy touches. The music took us through majestic peaks and surging tidal waves of emotional epic, spirited dances and wistful lullabies. The encore treated us to a steaming serving of hot, stonking swing, with each of the musicians playing over the rhythm changes at breathtaking pace, displaying an accomplished sense of virtuosity. I was stunned just watching this - these guys have really made their craft, and they can do anything that they want with it. By the end of it, the audience were completely enchanted, and there was a real sense of magic in the air. A gig that neither I nor the rest of the audience will forget!
Brazilian vocalist Jandira Silva released her debut solo album ‘Festa De Um Sonho Bom’ in April, this year, and she is due to be performing with Samara, led by Steve Rubie, at the606, as part of London Jazz Festival.
I caught up with her for a coffee in Ealing Broadway on the morning of the show, to ask her about her background, influences and experiences being a jazz musician working in London. Read her full story here: www.jandirasilva.com
Tonight’s LJF with Samara starts 9:30pm @ 606, 90 Lots Road London SW10 0QD. Check back tomorrow, to read the 2nd part of this feature.
Read the 2nd part of this feature HERE.
For those not familiar with your music, how would you describe your music to a complete stranger?
Based on my CD, it would be a mixture of influences. On my CD, I’m playing the Brazilian music that I have been playing since the beginning, when I first started talking to my family and friends about how much I wanted to be a singer. Radio was a great influence, and also the songs from my youth.
The songs on my album are a mixture of influences, because it was the music on the radio that I decided to follow. Brazil is full of rhythms, full of music. I will be glad, one day, when I am able to say to you that my style is this or that. Being an interpreter, as well as a writer, opens you up to different styles. At the same time, when I came to Europe, and I started getting into jazz, this made a big difference for me. So it is a mixture of influences. I don’t have the perfect word to describe my music. Even for me, sometimes, I find it difficult to get a song sounding in a certain style. I sing Bossa Nova, Samba, Baião. It’s a mix of things.
If the average person in the UK didn’t know what Bossa Nova, Samba or Baião were, would you just say that you play Brazilian music? Do you find it difficult to transmit or summarise this kind of understanding, without explaining?
For me, people here are really open-minded. On my gigs, I can see that most of the people in front of me don’t understand a word of Portuguese, but they like the flavour, they like the rhythms and they feel the vibrations of the songs. That’s the kind of thing that is a real chemistry between the crowd and myself. For example, the people always ask if I can sing that song by Tom Jobim or Elis Regina, because they have the melody on their minds. Brazilian music is really rich. When you mix the power of the melodies and harmonies that we have there, with the rhythm, then that makes a really powerful combination.
Even if they don’t understand a word that I’m singing, the rhythm brings the people to me. It’s nice to see this kind of interaction, because it’s not just music to dance to, it’s music to listen to as well.
Brazilian music is often very harmonically rich, as well as being rhythmic. Your biography talks about your earliest memories as a child. If you had to choose one, what would be your earliest, most vivid memory of singing? Can you remember the first time that you ever sang?
I don’t remember it that well, but… You’re going to laugh. This has no connection at all with what I do! When I was a little girl, there was a really famous singer, at the time, called Domenica “Nikka” Costa, who was the daughter of a notable music producer, Don Costa. I saw her singing on TV, and I thought, ‘I’m a little girl too, I can sing as well.’
Here, she pauses to sing a couple of lines from ‘(Out Here) On My Own’ – “When I’m down, and feeling blue, I close my eyes, so that I can be with you… Out here on my own.”
There were things like this. It was stupid, but I would try it anyway. There was another thing on the radio. I don’t suppose that you’ve heard about a genre called Sertanejo? Not the Sertanejo that they are playing now, but specifically the Sertanejo that they played, at one time. My father was from the countryside, so, at home, my mum and dad used to listen a lot to the very roots of Sertanejo, countryside music. That is rich as well, especially when they sing with two or more voices together.
Music was a kind of imitation. The radio was the thing at home. When my father was at home, he was always listening to Sertanejo and those kinds of music, and he played a bit of pandeiro as well. Lots of my family were musicians, particularly on my father’s side; his brothers and sisters were always singing and playing guitar. My uncle recorded a vinyl. Music was really present in my family. It wasn’t like I just came into the world and decided to be a singer. My father loved music, and he was always singing boleros as well, he liked that kind of music. So we listened to everything, but mainly that roots music from the countryside – Sertanejo. That was my father’s favourite.
Your parents switched off the radio when you came home from school. Why?
Because I was singing and trying to do my homework at the same time. My parents would ask me ‘are you doing your homework or are you singing?’ And then they would switch off the music, because I was never that good at concentrating as a child. And they knew it – they could tell that I was always thinking about other things instead of doing my homework. I would just sit there with the radio on.
Your parents were quite musical, but at the same time, they wanted you to study?
My family wasn’t that supportive of me being a musician, especially, because of the way that my uncle was living his life, surviving on music. They didn’t like the idea of me being a musician. I was always singing, I was always saying that I’d be doing that for a living.
If your father loved music, how could he discourage you?
My father wasn’t a musician. For him, music was purely for enjoyment. He would be singing, or playing the pandeiro, because that was just something that he did with his work colleagues. He listened to lots of music at home, and in the car as well. But he wasn’t a musician by trade. I think that from the difficulties that my parents saw in my uncle, surviving on music alone, they didn’t want that for me. At the same time, there is a marginalisation of musicians in Brazil. That it’s not easy. They talk about alcohol, and drugs, and all of that stuff. The stereotypes are that musicians are drunks or addicts.
That is very different to how it is in the UK. We have the same stereotypes, but it’s a bit more light-hearted and humorous. Was that not the case in Brazil? Did they really assume that you did those things if you were a musician?
Yes. Even if we did have respectable forms of music, for example, the school bands, I wasn’t living so close to the school, so my father didn’t want to see what was going on there. I tried to ask him to get me into the school band. In Brazil, every school had a band that was going to do the parade once or twice a year. So you have to rehearse, and learn how to play an instrument, and you would need someone to organise that. They would audition people who played instruments – not singers, but I asked my father if I could join the band. First of all, there was not enough money to allow me to go to the school twice a day. If I had to do that, then I would have to stay in the city, because the distance between home and school was forty minutes by bus. We couldn’t afford two tickets. That was the first reason. The second reason was that being a musician was not what my father wanted for me. So I didn’t have the support.
Do you remember how you felt, when you finally made it to the stage, to your first performance? How did you feel – a sense of accomplishment?
I really wanted to sing, and I was going everywhere where I knew that there would be musicians. At this time, I begged people to allow me to hold the microphone. I was pleading with musicians “Let me sing, Let me sing…” I was thinking a lot about whether my parents would allow me, or whether the people would give me the chance to sing one song. If they liked me when I’m singing, then my father would let me join the band. So there were two very different conflicts there.
I was connected with my local church, on the Sundays, at the ‘Corto Do Domingo’ (‘Sunday services’). I was always there with the guys, singing and dancing. When I was young, my aunt, my father’s sister, was always singing the songs from the church with me, when we were doing the cleaning and the gardening. I also had a cousin who was the same age as me. We used to get the book from the church, which contained around a hundred or so songs. We would one by one, testing each other to see whether we knew it or not. That was how I developed an early repertoire.
I had two friends, who wanted to start a project – one was a guitarist, and the other one was a drummer, and they needed a singer. Another friend of mine suggested to them ‘why don’t you call Jandira?’ The drummer was someone who had studied with me in my previous school. And he said, ‘Yes, I know her…’ etc. We started doing small rehearsals, and that was just singing at the school parties for the students, for thirty or forty minutes. These were my first experiences on stage.
Do you remember how you felt when you first walked on stage?
I felt really good. Of course, there were conditions. My father said that they would have to bring me home, so that I wouldn’t end up on the streets late at night.
From the sounds of it, you can’t remember much, which suggests that you took to it ‘like a fish to water’?
No, it wasn’t like that. Not straight in, natural. It would have been nice, but it took time to work up that sort of confidence, because I hadn’t worked much as a musician because my parents wanted me to finish school. As soon as I finished school, I found a job in a private school as a secretary. So I was working there all day. But as soon as I had time to go out at the weekends, with my friends, as soon as I knew that there was a restaurant or a bar with some live music, I always wanted to be there, and ask ‘Let me sing that song’.
Music is a socially driven, time bound, art form.
I would be sitting there in that restaurant or bar, and my friends would have already left, but I would be waiting because the guy said that I would be singing a song with him. Everybody would be saying that we had to go, yet I would stay behind, waiting for him to let me sing this song. Sometimes, I came home crying, because they didn’t let me sing, and I was very sad. The bar was empty, my friends had left me, and the band had switched off all the equipment. Yet they didn’t let me sing a song. Later on, these were the same guys that would phone me and invite me to sing with them. Gradually, they warmed to me.
During this time, you were working in an office, and doing chores at home. How on earth did you have the energy to go out and do all of this?
When you are young, you do it. It’s as simple as that. Some days, my mum would say to me “I need you tomorrow to help me clean the kitchen”. I was there all day at school. This friend of mine who I’d started singing with would say “There’s this bar, they want live music, the money is not that much, but if you were off…” So I would wake up at 6:00am, pack my bag and take my bike. At 6:30am, I would go to school to work until 5:30pm or 6:00pm. Then I was leaving school, going to the city forty minutes away by bus, to sing with my friends until late night. Then we would arrange for someone to bring me home or I would sleep at someone’s house… And then the next day, I would have to wake up really early to go to school again. And then when I finish, I would have to go to my home where my mum was waiting for me to do the chores.
Were your parents comfortable with you doing that?
Not that much. They were worried, because they knew the guy with whom I was working. They knew that that I was working in the daytime, and that I wasn’t getting enough sleep. About him, they would say, “he works as well, he’s not just a musician.” That was the idea that they had – that you are a musician but you work as well, like they are two separate things… Sometimes we would arrive home at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning after a gig, and then I’d have to get up at 6:00 to go to school. So I’d have two hours sleep maximum, and this was when I was around eighteen or nineteen.
What gave you the drive?
I was passionate about singing. Doing this was a way to prove to my father and my family that I really wanted to sing.
Your family was a wall against which you could push?
Yes. I would always be thinking, “Tomorrow, you have to get up early to get to work.” I would have this on my mind. If I were late for work, I would be in trouble with my parents. My father taught me about discipline from a young age – to be on time, to respect people, to not leave people waiting for you. When you make an appointment with someone, you have to be there. He instilled in me a strong sense of discipline. And I think that this is what really helped me with my music.
Once, when I was nineteen or twenty, I became really ill, but I tried to go to work. I was thinking, “I can’t miss work.” I had so many days when I would feel down, and then I would have to do the gig. How could I cancel things? It still happens, sometimes. How can I cancel a show, for example, 606? That would be impossible for me. That’s the place where people come to see my project, my band. There is no way that I would cancel that.
Would you say that these years during which you were going to these clubs and singing were your formative years where you were learning much repertoire and gaining all this performance experience? Was that a major part of your development?
All of these years were part of my development - the experiences that I had in Brazil, then when I came to Portugal and the UK.
You lived in different parts of Brazil, and then you moved to Portugal. Why, apart from the language, did you decide to go to Portugal? Did you see yourself as a Brazilian having an affinity with the Portuguese as your ‘cousins’ or did you see it important as a Lusophone to learn about Portuguese music and culture as part of your own development?
I was at this stage in my life where I just wanted to run away – you know, when you look around, and you feel like things have to change, otherwise you’ll go crazy? I was twenty-two, I had no money and I wasn’t doing the things that I would like to do such as playing good music. I was working hard with my mum to sell food at the market. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted something more than that.
When I was young, watching movies, or programmes on television – you look at those things, and you think, “I want to be this or that some day.” You would look at your life like a storybook, and you would then decide, “I want to do that”. Suddenly, you look around, and you think, “Oh my God, I’m in Lisbon, I’m in London.” Life is like that.
I’d finished school by that point. I didn’t go to university. I tried, but the importance of working was more important than studying, especially as I was not only earning money, but I was helping my family as well… I was working in a private school. I was working there for six years. After that, I left, and I came to Portugal.
My father knew someone there, someone with whom he was confident to look after me. I said that I needed this. Brazil was not the place for me to be anymore. I wanted to go. I was heartbroken. I think that my father felt that I wasn’t happy. It wasn’t easy, honestly – to leave your house, to go to a completely strange place, and then to go to different houses, different venues – being on your own. You learn things such as paying rent, buying food, all of those things. Not that I wasn’t doing that before; since I had my first salary, I was always helping my family – but this was completely different – in Brazil, I would look around and I would see my mother and my father there, but in Portugal, I was on my own. When they are not there, you have to learn to stand on your own two feet, to do things for yourself. I was still sending money back home. That is the kind of immigrant lifestyle that I lived.
How did this affect your music? Did you start playing as soon as you arrived in Portugal, or did you take it slowly?
The first thing was that I had to find a job. It didn’t matter which kind of job. I was cleaning in a hotel near to where I lived. My friend, with whom I was staying in Portugal, said to me, “there is a bar in Lisbon, where they have live music, and they are doing auditions for singers.” In less than a month, I was already in Lisbon, singing.
Were you singing Fado as well?
No, that is completely different, completely separate. That is a Portuguese thing. Not for me, as a Brazilian.
I heard a Portuguese band, called Jazzinho, with Guida Do Palma – she is Portuguese, but she sings Bossa Nova, which is Brazilian. As a Brazilian, did you feel that you couldn’t sing the Portuguese style as well, or was it a personal choice?
Even if they say that we are ‘cousins’, there is still a bit of segregation – “You stick with your Portuguese. I’ll stick with my Brazilian.” They are two completely different ideologies. The Portuguese love Brazilian music, but Brazilians know nothing about the Portuguese, unless they have the chance to travel and learn about other cultures.
Did you not see it as part of your ancestry and heritage as a Brazilian?
That was a long time ago. Nowadays, there are lots of Portuguese going to Brazil. When I first came to Portugal, there were lots of Brazilians going back to Portugal. Two years ago, lots of Portuguese started going to Brazil, because the economy in Brazil is better, and this has increased in the last two years – what is happening now is similar to what happened back in the seventies, during the time of Salazar – from Portugal to Brazil. These migrants work in the business of cafés and shops. So, now again, they are going to Brazil. Some years ago, the Portuguese were going back to Brazil because there was a crisis. After that, the Brazilians came to Portugal. And now, the Brazilians are going back to Brazil.
When you were in Portugal, you also started singing on cruises?
When I was there, I met lots of musicians. I was invited to sing on the cruise, for one week, going to Ibiza. During this week, I had the chance to meet Portuguese musicians. So we left on Monday, and on Saturday, we came back to Lisbon. On the Monday after that, I was already rehearsing with the pianist.
From my understanding, just from knowing other musicians who have done cruises; playing or singing on cruises can be quite a fixed, commercial labour, artistically. You have to play or sing certain songs with which people are familiar, and it is of a ‘function band’ nature. Was the cruise like this, or did they give you some artistic liberties?
They were exactly like that. You had to do the Brazilian music. You had to sing Mais Que Nada and Garota De Ipanema, because that was the thing. Luckily, because I have more repertoire than the standards, I could adapt to some extent. So I could compromise a bit; give them a bit of what they wanted me to do, and, at the same time, do a bit of what I wanted to do.
On the cruise, there were two or three different bands with which I would play. There was one guy doing Bossa Nova with me. There was another guy doing just piano, nothing more than jazz standards. Then there was another guy doing the carnival show with dancers and everything. At that time, I didn’t have any original songs; I would always be interpreting.
But did you have some freedom to explore repertoire that you wanted to sing?
I was allowed to assimilate repertoire. But it was also good to be exposed to music that I didn’t have knowledge of before. To learn about jazz standards was so nice. The jazz I knew at the time was when someone put on a really beautiful song… I remember really well… A long time ago there was this recording by Nat King Cole and his daughter, singing ‘Unforgettable’.
Here, she starts singing “Unforgettable… Unforgettable… That’s what you are.”
That was such a beautiful song. But that was the only one I knew, before studying jazz. I didn’t know how many beautiful songs Nat King Cole had written… That was the difference. When I went to Portugal, I had access to this information. It made me think as well. In 2000, the Internet was developed in Brazil, but it was expensive. I didn’t have access to computers where I was working. The Internet was not easily accessible to me. I didn’t have all the tools including emails and downloads. Maybe, for you, you already had this. But my area of Brazil was very remote. Perhaps if I were living in Rio at that time, I would have had this. This was when we lived on the coast, after having left Rio (I left Rio when I was four or five). I was living nowhere near a central city. The Internet is there now, of course. But in 2000, it wasn’t like it is today. You didn’t have Internet access like you have today. Today, you can type ‘Nat King Cole’ into a search engine, and you see a whole list of YouTube videos, media and everything. But at that time, this wasn’t the case. You would discover music by listening to the Radio, or, if you had the money, buying CDs – but not someone like me, who, for months, lived out in the countryside, with a poor salary – only if you had the chance to go away, to travel around Brazil, or if you had the money to see cities like Rio or São Paolo. There, they had these courses where you would study music from all around the world. But where I lived, this was not the case. The only way to access this was by watching television or by watching movies, listening to the music of the soundtrack. Moving to Portugal was how I was got to know the music of Nat King Cole. Where I lived, you didn’t have access to that type of information. Maybe if I were living in Rio, then things would be different. Maybe I would never have gone to Portugal.
So you were living in this ‘bubble’, and when you came out of this ‘bubble’, it was like an awakening?
Yes. It was like opening a window and discovering so many things, even about Brazilian music. In the UK, you have access to those things that we don’t have. For example, Romero Lubambo is the guitarist who plays with Dianne Reeves. Romero Lubambo has been out of Brazil for more than three years now. He plays with all the big names around the USA, around the world, and even comes back and performs in Brazil. Why didn’t I know about Romero Lubambo when I was living in Brazil?
So there was quite a cultural disparity, locally and globally, between Brazil and the rest of the world?
Yes. I don’t know if you’ve heard of a singer called Rosa Passos? Rosa Passos is someone to whom more people are giving attention. Some time ago, I couldn’t find any of her music in Brazil… You see lots of really good music coming out of Brazil. It goes back in, yes, but really slowly. To be honest, the music business in Brazil is really bad, dominated by this commercial thing. When you think that this was the place where Tom Jobim came from, it’s sad – it is this kind of music that is happening now in Brazil. In my time, Sertanejo was a real ‘roots’ music – something from far away places. Now, Sertanejo is simply putting two guys together and seeing what they can do. They’re not talking about how hard life was back in the country. They just talk about love, love and love.
One day, I can show you some of the things that my father used to listen to… I can show you, straight away, the differences between Sertanejo, from how it was then, to how it is now. In my time, the guys from school used to listen to Milton Nascimiento, not the Sertanejo of today.
So here you were in this bubble. You went to Portugal, and you discovered jazz standards. A lot of people this side of the Atlantic study music the opposite way round; they learn jazz first, and then they discover Latin music. In your opinion, do you think of jazz and Latin music as two separate schools/disciplines, or are they two branches of the same tree?
Maybe I’m not the best person to answer that. But you can see very clear points where the two meet each other. And sometimes, they’re apart…
Jazz standards are very well known here. And then you take a song from Tom Jobim, for example, and it is really complicated… If you put a good player in charge of a ‘jazz standard’, they are ‘all over it’ – easy. But then, when you put a song in front of them, by Tom Jobim, the form is different, the wary to play it is different.
For example, I do some gigs with some guys. They are amazing players, amazing musicians, and they improvise a lot. Their material was really nice. But my material needs to be clean, structured and rehearsed. The feeling with Bossa Nova needs to be different.
I have heard Bossa Nova played over here, by British musicians. But it’s nothing like the Bossa Nova played in Rio. That is just something else – it has so much feeling, it breathes so effortlessly.
Bossa Nova has to be played in a certain way, and with a certain feel. You can’t just think about Bossa Nova in the same way as you think about Jazz – it’s 2/4, not 4/4, for example. At face value, the rhythm is the same. But the feel and the interpretation are different.
Sometimes, when you go to jazz gigs, the vocalist will bring the charts for all of the musicians – the form is done; the main thing is the improvisation, going around the band, with a solo for him, a solo for her… This is the thing with jazz. But I find it really difficult when I have to do a gig with someone who is not really into Brazilian music, to understand that language. There are lots of meeting points between Brazilian music and jazz as well, but there are differences; it is not easy for me to find a gig, or to do a gig, with the whole band, without rehearsal. But the jazz musicians, they just bring the charts, and it is done.
I understand that your music is more structured, more elaborate, with different sections – like you don’t just have one head, but you’ve got an introduction, a theme, maybe a bridge, going into another section or a refrain?
Yes. If you listen to Rosa Passos, you will understand what I’m saying. I’m not saying that Jazz is not good. I’m saying that there are places where Bossa Nova and Jazz meet each other, but they are different.
Would you say that Jazz has informed a lot of what you are doing now as a musician? You mentioned that Jazz was a different experience, and that it opened up your ears to a new sound.
Yes. When I went to Portugal, I had the chance to discover this different world. That really made me grow as a musician. From that, I started to listen to music more and more, different genres and repertoire. That opened my mind quite a lot. It brought lots of inspiration to me as well.
I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘jazz vocalist’, but if you listen to track four from my album (‘Sem Antes Nem Adeus’), you’ll notice touches of jazz, touches of a jazz ballad such as ‘Lets Talk About Love’ – these completely took my heart… Of course, Brazilian music inspires jazz music as well. When I listen to Dianne Reeves, I cry, because she sings so beautifully, and she’s amazing, and she’s powerful. And then when I hear her interpreting Brazilian songs, if makes you feel, “Oh my God, music from my country is being interpreted by a Jazz singer.”
It must be interesting for you to hear a North American singing Brazilian songs. Brazilian music is reflecting back towards you, as if you were looking in a mirror.
I think that it’s amazing that my culture is being interpreted by other people.
Which lessons, skills and techniques can you pinpoint in your music that specifically came from Jazz? Through Jazz, did you find that some things became easier, or more challenging?
No. I think that there are still some things that I don’t understand. The things that I don’t understand, I don’t mess with. I’m not the one to be standing there improvising. Even if there are some songs that I know really well, I play around with them, but I’m not improvising, because I don’t feel confident enough to do that – that really proper jazz.
Did you find that Brazilian music disciplined you, whereas Jazz forced you to ‘loosen up’?
Sometimes we Brazilians are a bit too disciplined, and maybe that is what we are missing, unless we ‘go crazy’ sometimes.
Last time that I saw you perform at London Jazz Festival, you played Milton Nascimento, ‘Cravo E Canela’, and also Tania Maria ‘Come With Me’. It was very free and open, and it seemed to me that the band didn’t quite know or had planned where it was going. Did you feel a bit on edge, thinking, “Where is this going?” Or, did you find that the jazz element within you made you feel more at ease with it?
I think that there are songs with which you identify yourself, whereas there are songs with which you don’t have any connection. For example, someone can say to me, “I love that song,” etc. And then I listen to it and I don’t feel anything. I was feeling free to open up with those songs that you heard.
As a singer, you feel this, especially, when you can get the people to interact with you. That makes a better performance, because it’s not just you trying to do something, to impress people, like singing or scatting. Maybe because I don’t know or don’t feel confident enough to do certain things, like improvisation, I go out of my way to get the people to sing with me… When I’m doing gigs in a bar or a restaurant, I feel that the people are really into the music: when you look at them, when you talk, or tell some jokes to get the people involved, it is not ‘you as a punter there, and me as a singer here’. You have to build those bridges, blurring the boundaries between audience and performer. This is how I feel. That helps me to grow in confidence, because I’m getting something back from the audience.
Had you not had those experiences on the cruise, where you were discovering Jazz, do you thinkthat you would have been able to do that – without having studied Jazz?
No. For me, the most important thing, after living in Brazil, was that the world of music was now open to me. For many things, I’m really grateful for that day when I took the flight to Portugal. It wasn’t that easy, but I had lots of friends who helped me, lots of people who went out of their way to help me as a musician or singer. Even if I didn’t go to university or anything; everything that I learned was from the night, those practical skills that I learned from going out and singing. I am really grateful for the way that things have happened, because if it wasn’t for my dad, then maybe I’ll have never left Brazil. If I were living in Rio, I would probably have had access to those things as well, but this wasn’t the case. I was in a place where you didn’t have access to this kind of information. When I went to Portugal, and met all of those pianists, and they were playing all of that great music that I had never heard before; it was nice to be in contact with that, because it opened up opportunities for other gigs as well.
That’s how you find different styles, songs and artists – just by meeting people and them introducing you. There’s only so much that you can learn as a musician on your own – Music is a social, as well as aesthetic, art form.
I would spend an afternoon with a pianist, and he would play me a CD. And he would be saying, “listen to this, listen to that. That is a nice song, you have the kind of voice that could sing that song really well, I’m sure.” I studied a bit of English in Brazil, at school, and also through some private courses. When I came to Portugal, I studied a bit there and I did a bit here as well. I’m still not the best at speaking English, and I know that I make lots of mistakes, but I try my best! And I think that makes me grow a lot. When you really get into music, and you hear the stories, and the recordings, like Betty Carter singing the songs of Ella Fitzgerald – it was amazing. She just told stories; song after song, she would say something. If you are interested in the stories, for example, when she wrote that song, or when she interpreted that song; it’s a nice thing. It’s the same when I’m trying to find my repertoire in Brazilian music. But Jazz was another world. That is the point. Maybe I consider myself someone who is trying to do a mix of things. Maybe for my second CD, who knows? Maybe I’ll be doing Jazz standards, played in a Brazilian feel? You never know.
You always have to remain open to learning new things. It’s never that you reach a certain point; you’re always developing. If you stop developing, then it’s not a good thing. What made you decide to move to London?
Because I got engaged with someone, and then he moved here to work. After that, for one year, I was coming here to spend three days, and going there to spend three days. At some point, we got a bit tired, and we’d miss each other. At that point, I was doing a TV show and doing live shows in Portugal. At that point, I thought that it would be nice to change, to experience another challenge and to see what would happen.
You seem to be really driven and motivated to pursue challenges. I think that is a really strong quality.
Routine can be a bad thing – especially when it comes to music. I hate routine.
You said before that there was a big musical hub in London, and that you could discover different styles of music, for example, Esperanza Spalding, and all sorts of music. Was that not also a main part of the decision to move to London?
No, I think that the main part of the decision was because of my husband, but also to try different things. I didn’t know that London was so connected to the Jazz world, as well as Portugal – even when you watch TV, and the pop songs that go higher and higher in the charts. I was really glad to have the chance to meet the people that I met here, and to do the gigs with the musicians here. That was very different from the way that I was living in Portugal. I was able to do different things, to learn different things. Sometimes, I even played with a Jewish band, doing Jewish songs, when they allowed women to sing.
London is such a multicultural city, and it enables you to discover not only Jazz and other, perhaps, Anglo-American forms of music, but also Jewish music, Italian music and so on. I’ve heard of Soul Fiesta. Could you tell me a little bit more about that project?
Soul Fiesta is a function band. I have to be versatile to maintain my bills, in addition to doing the small gigs. It’s not easy. I do lots of functions here, weddings and parties. I would like to say to you that I’m just playing very nice jazz clubs in London, but that’s not the case. I would like to, one day, maybe. But I really like the guys in Soul Fiesta. We play together pretty much every week.
Did you establish Soul Fiesta yourself, or was it a group effort? Or, was it already established when you arrived in London?
No, it was a question of time – meeting people in the Brazilian community. For example, half of the band members are Brazilian; the other half are from London. We play a lot of Brazilian music, but we also play a lot of non-Brazilian music with that line-up. We mix things, because when you say ‘Soul Fiesta’; ‘Fiesta’ is a very Latin name, but then we play Motown, and we play Soul. We play a bit of everything.
It’s parallel to your experiences on the cruises; you were playing more commercial material to ‘pay the bills’, but you were also playing more interesting material as well.
The cruise was almost the beginning of my days in Portugal. I was there on the cruise, just playing with the Brazilian section. I met these Brazilian guys there in Portugal, and they needed a Brazilian female vocalist for only one week on the cruise, so I didn’t do too much cruising, to be honest. I did this one, and then I did another one, four years later, once again, just to play with the Brazilian section. And then we had Portuguese guys doing the Fado, and then we had another girl doing the Soul. It’s really interesting.
Would you say that it is a similar situation in London?
No. Here, like the cruise, I was at the beginning just playing Brazilian music, but when they found out that I do other styles as well, I started interacting with other people. If you present yourself as playing more types of music, then you get more gigs than you would as if you were just playing Bossa Nova.
So was it that you had two or three different projects, involving the same circuit of musicians? And did you find that you were playing among the same musicians, but playing different styles? Or, were there different musicians for different projects/styles?
Both. I think that for me, it was the two things. For example, do you know Da Lata? I sang with them in July, then in August, and then we’ll be doing a gig on the 1st December. It will be a massive event, really big. I will be on the CD as well. I have recorded two songs.
Could you tell me a bit more about Da Lata; what is it, and what is their sound/ethos?
I can’t describe that really well, because I’ve only worked with the guys for three or four months. Da Lata is a band that plays Brazilian music inspired by the sixties and seventies – by the way that Brazilian music was done before. But to this it adds a very nice groove, and some new electronics from nowadays. They are a big act, and now they are coming back. The singer that used to work with them before is no longer there. Guido Do Palma from Jazzinho was in Da Lata as well. I’m the one who’s here now.
It’s interesting how you can find these established progression routes that work through the same genres, communities and networks. You completed your debut album Festa De Um Sonho Bom in April; what were your first, initial thoughts when it was completed, and you were listening to it back for the first time – what was going through your mind?
People look at you, as an artist, in a different way, when you say that you have a CD. That is really nice. But on the other hand, you need more and more gigs with that band to sell the CDs, otherwise it’s not perfect. You’ve got to keep both things – the recording and the gigs – going at once. I feel really good to know that I have done that.
I think that every singer, when they start, wants to have a really nice career, but sometimes there are many things that get in the way – you lose yourself, or you don’t focus. At some point, I was a bit lost, because I was doing so many different things with so many different musicians. At some point, I thought to myself, “What am I going to do with my career? What am I doing for my solo project?
When you look at my time in Portugal, I was singing with everyone there. I was singing on TV shows. I was working on lots of different projects. And there are people who don’t notice me, but then there are also people who look at me, like, “oh, you’re the singer who was at the TV show, or, oh, you were the girl who used to sing with that band.” They never knew my name. They didn’t remember me. Here, it’s a bit different, because at some point in the beginning, I was trying to get in contact with the people, get gigs and show the musicians what I could do. And then I realised, myself, that I’m going the same way, one more time, as I did in Portugal. Where was my project? Where was my name? Where was my band?
In the UK, I have my own projects. I go to some places, for example, Speak Easy Jazz Club, playing as ‘Jandira Silva Band’, ‘Jandira Silva Quarteto/Quinteto’. I did that in Portugal as well, only, then, I didn’t have a CD, and I didn’t have originals. Here, I started doing Brazilian music, but just with ‘Jandira Silva Band’. This was the beginning of my solo career, at the 606, National Theatre and Guanabara; my name, but at the same time. There was one time at Guanabara, where I was doing Tuesday with my band, Wednesday with the samba band and Friday with Soul Fiesta. So, in the same week, I was there three times, doing different things! That is the main issue. You get lost, because you’re doing so many different projects, and where are you? How many people can understand you and what you are doing? You are working for other people a lot, which is great, because you get different experiences, but it’s not the best thing that you can do for yourself.
Apart from your album and some of the projects that you have already mentioned, what are your main focuses at the moment?
I would like to get my band involved in many more big things. I felt really glad when I had the chance to play in a really nice jazz club like 606. As you said before, the ambience is amazing, and the crowd there – everything. But I would also like to be more practical, and do more jazz festivals, or go to Europe – to play internationally. That was always my dream. I would like to know how to get in contact with these things. Right now, I do not find it easy to get a PR or a manager, if you don’t have this kind of name or reputation.
Have you ever thought about managing yourself?
Yes, but that is the point where I got lost, because it’s not easy to manage yourself – find the gigs, do the gigs, organise the repertoire – at some point, there will be one thing that is not completely possible. There you are, behind a phone, trying to find the gigs, trying to get the musicians to organise the rehearsals and get the repertoire done. Then there are the payments, the invoices, and doing the PR, like I’m doing talking to you now. There is so much administration, a lot of work. I was trying to get a PR, but I couldn’t get one.
Sometimes, you’re lost – you just feel like some things are missing. For example, when I was organising my CD launch, I didn’t know a lot of things. Honestly, 606 was packed full of people. Most of them were people who know me personally, of course, friends and such. I sold lots of CDs, and it was amazing, and ambient too. But there are so many things still to be done… Maybe you need someone to work with you in organising these things, and then you can just focus on the music. You can be doing a gig as Esperanza Spalding was doing yesterday. I’m pretty sure that she wasn’t thinking that tomorrow she had to pay the bass player. It’s nice to be able to take that weight off your mind, and focus on the creative aspects.
Tell me a bit about Samara, and what to expect from tonight.
Samara is a band that has been here quite a long time. Steve Rubie puts a lot of love into it, because he loves Latin music. It’s nice to see those guys playing together for so long. It’s a kind of inspiration; you like that kind of music, you put together a project, and then you try to keep going - even if everything else is falling around you. I think that this is an example of dedication and friendship… Steve and his percussionist have played together since the band started. It’s a very nice thing to be done. It’s not easy. Sometimes, we start a project, and then, soon afterwards, realise that it’s not working.
What’s the focus of the project?
Latin music in a Jazz setting. Steve likes Latin music a lot, and he always learns new material, and puts some guys together to learn that music… Samara is the house band at 606. Every last Friday of the month, we do a gig. Tonight will not be the last Friday of the month, because if it is October or November, it is London Jazz Festival, and they change the date to be Samara on the last Friday of the London Jazz Festival.
I have just three more questions. My first question is, have you been to see any other gigs at the London Jazz Festival, and what were your highlights?
Last year, I went to see Hermeto Pascoal. This year, I watched Esperanza Spalding as I told you. I think that it’s wonderful to have the chance to see musicians like that, and to have a group that is really interested in putting all of these big names together for one or two weeks, which makes it possible for people like me to get the chance to hear music like that. I think that it’s a really good thing. One day, there will be my band as well!
That leads me quite nicely onto the second question. Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
It’s a long time. You don’t even know what’s going to happen to you when you cross the road. How can I predict what’s going to happen to me in five years’ time?
Do you find that this ‘living in the moment’ philosophy, taking each day as it comes, is very important to you, as a musician?
It’s very important, and, actually, I’m learning that; to not create too much expectation, to live each day to the fullest – I’m learning that. You can say that I’m learning that now!
Here, she leans into the microphone and settles her point!
My third final question is: you are stranded on a desert island, and you are only allowed three albums, one book and one luxury item. What would they be?
Dianne Reeves, Rosa Passos and Joyce. For Rosa Passos, the album would be Pano Pra Manga. It’s difficult for me, for the other two, because I listen to them quite a lot. Maybe their compilations.
‘O Caçador De Pipas’ (‘The Kite Runner’) by Khaled Hosseini. I love that book.
One luxury item?
A CD player. How can I have three albums and nothing to play them on? You didn’t say that there would be some things there to be playing my music!
Presumably, then, you’d need an electricity supply, and a pair of headphones? This could go on forever.
A battery. A solar-panelled generator to get the battery to work!
This could potentially lead on to an endless list. So, your album, Festa De Um Sonho Bom, is out now. Where can people buy it?
They can buy it off my website, www.jandirasilva.com. Then I’m on Spotify, to be downloaded. Then I’m on iTunes as well, and BandCamp.
It’s very generous of you to share your recordings online.
Yes, this is what the new artists are doing now, isn’t it? Even the big ones are doing things like that. Why should I be like, “You need to buy my CD if you want to listen to it”?
You’re performing with your own band on the 3rd December. Where is it?
It’ll be at the 606, just my band, if you can come?
I’ve got it in my diary. I’ll definitely be coming! Thank you for giving us the time, for sharing your music.
Samara @ 606
Read the first part of this focus HERE
Last year, I witnessed this beautiful Brazilian band, and I wrote that it “combined heavy, rock solid percussion with clinging, clamouring piano solos and an explosive melt of saxophone, flute and vocals.” Well, I’m happy to say that this year, the band has gone from strength to strength. The band, led by Steve Rubie (alto saxophone, flute), fronted by Jandira Silva (vocals), and starring Ivo Neame (piano), Dill Katz (bass), Nic France (drums), Dawson Miller (percussion) and featuring Michael Roydon (soprano saxophone), samples some of the finest talent from in and around West London.
Steve Rubie, musical director and owner of the 606, is an immensely talented performer and director, exemplifying real skill and sophistication on flute and saxophone. Just listening to him play lifts your spirits. He also displays a deep understanding of Latin music about which he is so passionate, with his arrangements and percussion. His repertoire is a little bit different, a little more rich and refined, than the usual Brazilian gig. Tonight, he put together a tasteful selection of tunes from Tom Jobim, Elis Regina, Alcione and Roberto Fonseca to Joe Henderson, among others.
Ivo Neame (piano) was only called in at 5pm, yet he responded to the complexities and demands of the gig as though he had been playing the selection of charts all his life. A versatile and energetic musician, jazz being his specialism, yet having a tight knowledge of Clave and Latin rhythms, impresses all with his meaningful, compositional intention, and astounding speed and skill - it is easy to understand why he is so sought after as a pianist in London. His free, improvised introduction to Elis Regina’s ‘Cai Dentro’ took everyone’s breath away with its serendipity and magic, propelling the band into a wonderfully pumping samba, to which it is impossible not to dance or move your hips and feet.
Michael Roydon (soprano saxophone) happened to be visiting the 606, and was invited to feature as an impromptu guest. With a steadfast, all-out style comparable to Hermeto Pascoal, he flies through the modulations and changes, their means and directions nailed securely under his fingers, underpinned by Nic France (drums) who seemingly has an entire batucada section emanating from his kit, complete with buoyant surdo and caixa rolls. Michael Roydon was particularly ‘all over it’ in the band’s slinky cha-cha-chá version of Joe Henderson’s ‘Recordame’.
Jandira Silva once again excelled herself as a vocalist and performer, her vocals all at once sensuous and extravagant. She looks so comfortable onstage, interacting with the audience, and endearing everyone to her glowing warmth. Being able to spend time in her company, discussing her music, background, influences and ideologies, was a humbling, thought-provoking experience. Every now and then you meet a performer who is so accomplished, and yet so open, kind and selfless with their music, and generous with their knowledge - someone who is a true, creative spirit, always striving to learn, develop and reach new levels.
Samara play a cracking mix of Brazilian music and jazz, with a great rhythmic style, every last Friday of the month at 606.
Jean Toussaint + Ivo Neame
Jean Toussaint (tenor saxophone) and Ivo Neame (piano) gave an intimate performance at Ray’s Jazz Stage. Toussaint’s saxophone has a wonderfully rich, organic and oak-smoked tone with a soft, breathy underbelly and kinetic elasticity. Playing timeless classics by Thelonious Monk, Victor Young and Tadd Dameron, he hushed the audience
Ivo Neame (piano), in his controlled style, paints a nice array of dynamics and colours. With a strong sense of rhythm, Ivo Neame - instead of relying purely on the outer pulse - builds his metre from the inside, with confidence and assertion. Filling in the harmonic framework with voicings that drip exquistiveness and charm, the saxophone outlines their points, joining the dots, and exploring some interesting, interlocking constellations of melody.
Toussaint’s saxophone improvisation is progressive, yet fleshed out through repeated cells varied through transposition and fragmentation. ‘Ladybird’ includes a nicely written piano introduction, after which the saxophone flirts decadently with the head, weaving in and out of its contours, without straying too far from the original notion.
Aquarium quartet, led by Sam Leak (piano), exemplifies a melodic, poetic and measured style. The original compositions display some imaginative, original writing and ideas. During improvisational solos, the musicians are listening intensely, creating plenty of space and reflecting off one another in sensitive, mutual interaction.
‘Chasing Away’ demonstrates some haunting, ambient piano, over a soft, rolling tom-tom groove and pedaled bass, with contemporary harmonies that relay a smooth, cosmopolitan sensibility. Calum Gourlay (bass) draws together some thoughtfully structured lines in his soloing, complemented by the silky, sweet tone of James Allsop (tenor saxophone) and undulating rhythms of Joshua Blackmore (drums).
Harmonically, the quartet tinkers with the boundaries of tonality, yet lingers within its nether reaches, without being contained by them - especially during the solos given by Sam Leak (piano), who plays up and around the ascending bass lines, earmarked as a definer. His flowing ideas roll and cascade with ease, revealing an incredibly sensitive and soulful touch. His alluring enclosures and interwoven passages are not limited by the confines of line and meter; instead, they work their way inwards, to the centres. The ideas come and go at different points of the cycle, so that when they do ‘lock in’ together, this occurs with breathtaking impact. When the melodies move into bridges and counter-subjects, these take the ear away from the comfort and security of the original themes, and gently lift you into another moment, or plane of existence.
I caught up with Sam briefly after the performance, and I asked him about the inspiration behind the project. Citing Keith Jarrett, Paul Blade and Anne Rampling as his major influences, he writes with specific intentions in mind, and not merely for the sake of writing. Personal experiences inspire his work, for example, ‘February’ is a wistful, melancholy composition about a month during which he had an unfortunate experience on the street amidst romantic problems. Their London Jazz Festival show previews their new album, due for launch at King’s Place in January - definitely one to check out.
Open Souls is a new collaboration between Indian vocalist Ranjana Ghatak, beat boxer and electronics artist Jason Singh and Seb Rochford (F-IRE Collective / Polar Bear) on drums. Their music blends the traditions of South Indian Karnataka music with contemporary, free improvisation.
Jason Singh explains that the music explores spiritual cycles. The compositions are inspired by the music that he grew up with, and given the wide range of artists with whom he has collaborated, which includes Nitin Sawhney, Matthew Halsall and Stuart McCallum (Cinematic Orchestra), his music does not really fit into any particular ‘box’. Instead, it brings all of these influences together, and also incorporates interdisciplinary arts across audio, visual and linguistic mediums. His beat boxing is clean and rhythmic, with an impressive range of vocalised percussion techniques and effects - sucking, breathing, clicking and popping - spun together in a web of interconnecting texture.
Ranjana Ghatak overdubs her softly layered ambient vocals, which revolve and float via loop pedal, and blend with sitar drone and synthesised beats. Over these, she adds some stylised melismas and vibratos, which lock in perfectly over the backings. Renowned for her work with Nitin Sawhney, Ranjana released her debut album ‘Awakening’ in 2011, which has since received much critical acclaim. Here, she flourishes and transforms Open Souls into a trancelike, soulful incantation of meditative magic.
Hyperpotamus makes music with no instruments. Like a conductor with an orchestra of instruments and a choir voices at his fingertips, he packs an arsenal of a million different sounds in his vocal chords, layering and baking them with the aid of microphone and loop pedal, in a way that is spontaneous and informed by his surroundings.
Although the music draws together cycles that layer on top of one another, he builds in definition and shape, creating complex structures - complete with verses, bridges, choruses and refrains - with fluency, on the spur of the moment. He delivers these in a way that is completely in touch with reality and at one with his environment. There are no barriers between his internal creativity and what is happening on the outside; his resounding columns of sound are so natural, that they breaths and pulsate by their own accord.
Equally comfortable improvising words in English as well as his native Spanish, he exudes the phonetic potential out of every letter in the Latin alphabet. Even when he has a technical problem, he incorporates this humorously into his routine, singing ‘Got a technical problem, Gotta find a solution’, complete with perfectly rhyming couplets. His strong, projected tenor voice is operatic and controlled, comfortable in all ranges, from high falsetto (head voice) to dulcet bass tones, and equipped with a vast array of timbres.
Jay Phelps Quartet
When I heard the audience openly applauding before the end of each piece, I knew that we were onto some ‘hot stuff’! This quartet, led by up-and-coming giant of the trumpet, Jay Phelps, complete with his band, Reuben James (piano), Tim Thornton (bass) and Moses Boyd (drums) showcased new material from their latest album ‘J Walking’ at Ray’s Jazz Stage, Foyles, Soho.
‘J Walking’ blends a Dizzy Gillespie-style mambo riff with some steaming bebop, where fleeting moments and passages flicker by, revealing infinite shafts of depth and richness beneath the music, combining an intuitive feel with some smooth, confident playing. As a trumpet player, Jay Phelps has a vast range, and the fluency of his improvisation is second-to-none, working his lightning-fast, cataclysmic melodies and turnarounds into the breach of the rhythm section, and exploiting some expertly timed, intelligent ideas. His melodic phrases bolt through angular leaps, dips and thrifts. His advanced, virtuosic improvisation of this quartet reveals some scarily skillful chops and thoughtfully engaging material. Every idea is nailed to the fullest, put across clearly, and to the point, and anything that he so desires musically or wishes to develop in a certain way is executed with precision and style.
Reuben James (piano), barely nineteen years old, plays with a maturity so outstanding for such a young age. His improvisation percolates honky-tonk, bebop, soul, New Orleans and Latin influences drawn together in a web of breathtaking montage of rhythmic fragmentation and lightning pace, with ideas developed and fleshed out with incredible speed and dynamic. Tim Thornton (bass) has a wonderfully elastic, rubbery feel to his sonorous improvisation, creating shimmering mirages and elaborate rhythmic constructions - going rhythmically ‘out’ whilst not losing the pulse - without need for support from the rest of the band. Moses Boyd (drums) flexes some highly complex polyrhythms, under piano and trumpet backing figures. The snare rolls are perfectly coordinated, and his explorations of groove flit between signatures with ease and clarity, with sobering use of the standard patterns, which form a mystical backdrop to the style of this quartet.
By the second tune, Jay Phelps declares ‘These guys are cookin’!’ - an apt way to describe the energy and momentum of this skin tight unit. This composition is inspired by the music of West Africa, and in particular, Mali, in a ‘Mali to Mississippi’ blues progression. Jay explains that he tried to work out what that meant to him, and so devised a tune ’ ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ which fluctuates between swing and African six-eight. The composition pushes to extremes of shape and colour, wholly sealing the timeless connection between Africa and the Americas, and bringing this theme to the forefront with class and pristine finish, delivering a melting pot of old and new, in a collaborative conjunction that stimulates the mind, ear and senses.
Utilising traditional mediums and techniques in an unconventional, yet informed, modern way, Jay Phelps is the iconic example of a modern, experimental quartet, whose exciting blend of modern bebop, rooted swing and mediated, experimentalist conceptions will enthuse, delight and transfix audiences and listeners for years to come.
At face value, Esperanza Spalding may strike you as something of a crossover between Kenny Wheeler and Beyoncé, but there is much more to this, for her sound soaks up the richness of R&B, soul and contemporary jazz, all complemented by her unique character. With the big band, she is never outdone or out-phased by its wall of sound; and her message never has to strain to be heard. Even in those moments where her voice is subservient to the rest of the band, it speaks through with a crystal clarity and immediacy.
‘Hold On Me’ displays the strength of her vocal technique. More impressive still, is the way in which she assimilates this with her bass playing, as one unit, a single musical voice and line of creative thought, like an internal dialogue, the one informing the other. Whether she is playing, singing or speaking, it does not matter; it is the substance of what she is conveying that is important.
Her music is permeated with dialectic interaction at all levels. Much of the drama unfolds in the dialogue between Esperanza the individual soloists, such as the alto saxophone in the third composition ‘City of Roses’, in which conceptual talk meets with abstract saxophonic expressions in a seamless integration of verbal and non-verbal discourse. The saxophone solo cascades upwards to stellar rhapsodies and cosmological heights, and is composed with soft inward centres and soulful interiors.
‘Hold On Me’ and ‘City of Roses’ are thematically opposed; ‘Hold On Me’ representing ‘what happens when things go wrong’ and ‘City of Roses’ representing ‘that silver lining’.
As well as having a discernible musical gift, Esperanza has a real talent with words and conceptual ideas. Improvised poetry and spoken word were as much a part of her upbringing as her musical discipline, and Esperanza exudes emotion and personality from every single note and phrase - stating ‘I believe in poetic justice’. Throughout the course of her live performance, Esperanza freely intersperses running commentary and compere with melodic passages and lyrics, creating a fluid continuum of the cognitive and the abstract. At times, she steps out of the musical flow to verbally observe and comment on what is going on. She does this with a sharpness, wit and clarity so accessible to the listener, at one point, summarising the moment in the phrase ‘music speaks louder than words’.
Esperanza transforms like a chameleon or a phoenix, adopting different characters and sentiments between songs. ’Crowned & Kissed’ talks about the ‘little things that you forget to notice, which are sometimes there right in front of you…’ Coincidentally, this composition emphasises the finer, positive aspects of life within a world that over-stresses the negative, and it fills you with a wonder and optimism that makes you think and re-evaluate your life. Her music is, again, all-inclusive and interactive - it is as much about YOU as it is about them. Esperanza and her band work with the energy of the audience, its spontaneous whooping and cheering becoming an integral part of the performance. It is as if the entire performance were written and expressly performed just for YOU, on this very night, and it makes you wonder how much of it was composed and how much of it was improvised.
‘Black Gold’ features a male vocalist, Algebra Blessett, adding an alternative personality to the mix, with his lamenting, melismatic excursions interposed with supporting comments from the former female presence, adding ‘a little medicine for your soul’. This composition reminds me that her music has roots and foundations as well as staggering heights, with its soulful R&B and danceable grooves, executed with an immersive jazz sensibility. The male and female vocals combined added a shimmering richness, and the brilliance is enhanced by the classic key change, which takes the momentum up another notch and empowers it onto another plane.
‘Vague Suspicions’ blends gliding cross-rhythms with kaleidoscopic rays of harmony, coloured with silky, cocoaesque vocals, soprano saxophone and flute; with swishing piano and gentle cymbals crashing under swathing sheets of texture. The music never lingers too long on a particular vibe; like Esperanza herself, it is forever shifting and evolving through seemingly endless subjects, from within itself, growing and transforming. And just when you think that it cannot get any higher or go any further, it surprises you again and throws something new onto the table.
‘Cinnamon Tree’ transmits powerful imagery, which make out Esperanza as much a romantic as she is a voyeuristic, her sentimental poetry pleasing those young couples who are only too happy to waltz with one another in contemplative bliss. Esperanza refers to each composition as a ‘scene’ - almost like the concert is a moving film or motion picture that submerges your ears into a fabulously warm ocean of sounds and sensations. The distinctions between compositions are subtly blurred, as the pacing is very fluid, yet each composition still maintains its own cognitive boundaries.
‘Endangered Species’ is a Wayne Shorter composition that was ‘perfect just how it was’, but is now enriched with lyrics, again, presenting us with something new and unexpected, and revealing another side to her personality. Here, Esperanza exploits the power of the voice as an instrument as much as for its lyrical potential. Sometimes, especially when it is subservient or equal to the rest of the band, it resonates with the subconscious rather than the conscious, and you do not always notice it, but if you tune your ears and mind, then you realise that it is omnipresent. The overall forms and instrumental combinations are like auditory illusions; you can listen to the music in a multitude of different ways, and it would probably still make sense if it were played backwards, because the unity and structure is so immanent. Listening through its multitude of layers, you can hear internal structures interacting with one another at different levels - not limited to the surface.
‘I Just Can’t Help It’, featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, has to be my favourite track on the album. The slinky, sensual cross rhythms, purring saxophonic trails and kaleidoscopic vocals throw your mind and senses into a disorientating star field of speculation and wonder.
Her live shows seem to have no beginning or end. The compositions tap into streams of consciousness that are already there, like telescopes uncovering entities that were always lingering beneath. This is a testament to the strength of her music, and to the compositions, in themselves, which transcend technical boundaries and become a platform for social engagement and improvisational mastery.
DPZ Quintet, fronted by saxophonist / MC Thomas de Pourquery and featuring trombonist Daniel Zimmermann hail from Paris, France, the land of ‘camembert, Moulin Rouge, Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysses’, he quips. His music moves from surrealistic, bittersweet fairy tales and coppices, into traumatic, terrifying ‘nightmares before Christmas’. The guitar-driven quintet plunders through deep, dark depths, rising up in mammoth walls of sound and plummeting through extraneous chordal caverns. Every now and then, they are accompanied with spoken French, narrating as if in a dream sequence the source of these morbid visions.
Pools of reverberant guitar and synthesised fields of ambient noise drown the crying, wailing saxophone, as the sedated drumbeat continues, underneath. Clouded archons of lead guitar permeate the sound world, amidst sombre muted trombone and falsetto vocal howls. At every twist and turn, the music senses impending threat and danger, with slowly carousing, building steady cacophonies, sailing soprano saxophone - sickeningly thrilling - smoking and smouldering amidst doom-ridden angst, and a divine turbulence that swallows your ears and devours your mind, body and senses.
Renu are a seven-piece band combining classical vocals, jazz vocals / harp / violin, violin, guitar, guitar / percussion, piano and bass. Their diverse influences everything from MF Doom and Django Bates to grand opera, flamenco and snatches of Kanye West. Their members are all multi-instrumentalists, and combine an interesting range of textures and timbres woven together with bold, outspoken ideas.
Quirky and eccentric, these London Revellers cross over performance practices from jazz, classical and music theatre respectively, freely mixing the abstract with the poetic and programmatic. Musically, they are creating something quite unique and a little bit ‘out there’ - without relying on extraneous free improvisation. Instead, the music is developed through highly poetic and structured occurrences, complete with liberal sprinkles of humour and slapstick surrealism. The beginning of their set is quite rock / pop-influenced, while the latter half experiments with Spanish / Iberian stylisations, flamboyant guitar, hand clapping and themes reminiscent of Maurice Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole. An intriguing discovery reconciling the worlds of commercial indie and rock, with forbidden fantasy, and nauseatingly rich imagery.
Oded Kafri + Drumachine
Percussionist Oded Kafri, otherwise known to over a million YouTube viewers as ‘The Drumachine’ has a well-travelled background. Originating from Israel, growing up in France, and having lived in both North Africa and the UK, Oded Kafri learned his trade as a street performer, bringing together many different influences and working with many different types of people. Oded possesses an encyclopaedia of musical vocabulary. A natural multitasker, Oded makes imaginative use of different surfaces, not only the water dispenser bolted onto his drum kit, but sticks, monitors and even wine bottles, progressing outwards into the audience. But these percussive applications are not executed in a contrived or random manner; Oded verily prepares his ideas, and works them into his arrangements. For him, the rhythmic-spatial world is simply an extension of his personality, where his mind and sticks work as one.
Additionally, Oded mixes his skill and virtuosity with digital samples and loops, fusing World musics from Eastern Europe, Africa and the West Indies, cementing choral singing with raving ‘drum ‘n’ bass’ beats, substantiated tempos and Groove Armada-style horns. Over these he plays and improvises, yet they do not seem to control him; rather he appears to be controlling the samples - at least, it is a mutual flux of control that is happening here - exploring the boundaries between human and inhuman, man verses robot. The samples function as a departure point for his personified elaboration and discourse.
Visually, Oded Kafri is a showman, welding robotic movements, gestures, dances and circus gymnastics into his crazed, insane routines. Whether these were planned or incorporated by sheer luck and intuition is open to discussion, but it is soon easy enough to understand how he attained over a million hits on YouTube. As he explains, ‘Music is not a profession, it is just something that everyone does’. In this sense, he is testifying to the immanently social origins of music, as integrated into everyday life. The brain is a remarkably complex organ. Oded Kafri, in his music, pushes the capabilities of the human mind, combined with the products of human invention.
Highly renowned as a gifted jazz musician and teacher, and considered by many to be the founding father of jazz education in Britain (The Guardian), Eddie Harvey (trombonist) died one month ago at the age of eighty-six. Tonight, his life is celebrated with a special concert featuring many of the local talents from the Way Out West All Stars, paying him a fitting tribute with a night of jazz and swing.
Way Out West Collective features twenty musicians, all ages, based in and around South West London. Walking into the venue, I was immediately warmed and touched by the friendly, welcoming committee and community spirit. Chatting to one lady gave me an insight into his impact on their collective.
“He was a local legend, the most remarkable man. He had a wide circle of friends, and he never lost a friend. He was like a youth at heart, very jovial, and he lived life to the fullest - always ‘there’ until he died. Knowledgeable, well read and learned, he was genuinely interested in people. He was someone with whom you could talk if you had a problem. He was good at making constructive criticism, although he was also very honest. Everyone here knew him, and can recount stories about his life. There were three hundred people at his funeral, and the coffin was brought in to the tune of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’, which was the most amazing thing - Can you imagine how anyone could have sung that at a funeral?”
She then pointed out several relatives and friends around the club, including his wife and daughter, who were also present. The music was easy swinging, enjoyable and accessible, bringing together musicians both young and old, and showcasing a thing or two of the local jazz scene. Highlights were the arrangements by Eddie Harvey, combining saxophone and clarinet quartets with rhythm section, with open, inclusive improvisation. The complex constructions blend sweet, harmonised woodwinds and tightly coordinated rhythmic breaks, angular melodies brought to like by dovetailing or angular horn passages, and perfectly synchronised vibratos. A glowing introduction to the life and work of this great jazz artist and nurturer.
Psylus is a project consisting of five progressive, improvising musicians, who blend jazz, hip-hop and electronic music with modular and free improvisation, and an array of different textures and styles. Featuring Chibike Odukwe (drums), David Turay (alto and soprano saxophones), D’vo Tile Gichigi-Lipere (electronics), James Benzies (bass) and Zuri Jarrett-Boswell (piano and synthesisers). Tonight, young curators Young & Serious put the band on in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room, as part of London Jazz Festival 2012.
One feature prevalent in their music is cyclic repetition. The forms, taken from the above styles, serve as platforms for abstraction and musical evolution - free improvisation that bursts at the seams, and pushes the boundaries to the next level. Every now and then, linear ideas are projected for a while, before abruptly locking into an obsessive rut, creating a potentially explosive tension and restlessness.
David Turey (saxophones) possesses a humbling talent at the young age of seventeen. His saxophones implore different moods and sensibilities, from fluttering and free flowing to sinister; dashing and peppery to exploding in squawks and violent ululations; from short, choppy calls and responses to languid squeals; from hungry, caged wilder beast to roaming, optimistic mammal, taunting and provoking games.
The rhythm section often revolves around complex metres, out of which the improviser extrudes new, rhythmic constructions that subjugate or tighten the frameworks around them. At times, there is a nauseating sense of stress and anguish, the feeling of force pushing against hardened edges. Yet this is tinged with optimism and progressive momentum. Bare fifths and apocalyptic drones underpin blistering, labour intensive presses, and the music constantly challenges the ears and stimulates the mind. Quite simply, edge-of-the-seat.
Enchanted and moved are two words that sum up my feeling after tonight’s performance - such a remarkable, magical thing. Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek collaborating with Indian Trilok Gurtu, with Rainer Brüninghaus on piano and Yuri Daniel on bass guitar. For the first time ever, this festival, I felt the need not to write during the performance, but instead to simply let myself drift off and be whisked away on a musical voyage through heart and homelands. So forgive me if this review comes across as a little ‘flaky’, for I felt that the music resonated so much in my being that I can still hear its lingering strains, reverberating in my mind.
Tonight, I have been taken to many places… Not only Norway, other parts of Scandinavia and the Indian subcontinent, but also to Scotland, Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Himalayas, North and South America, Iceland and the Middle East, all in one heady two hours’ flight. I have experienced many different emotions - some painful and disturbing, yet others intimately moving, surreal and unpredictable.
The performance began with one of my favourite, long term Jan Garbarek melodies ‘The Creek’, its lingering, echoing spirit bringing me back to childhood memories travelling through the mountains in the back of a car, raising goosebumps all over, after having this melody implanted in my record collection for so long. His saxophone has a strangely organic quality to it, as if it is not being played, but that it is playing itself. Its tone has the thin, reediness and shrill brightness of the bagpipes, yet with the softness of ‘warm breath, floating in frosty air’ - perfectly described by the preview in the Southbank Centre.
I would like to mention a few things that I really liked about this concert. Firstly, and this might sound odd, but I liked the way that the stage was set out - with its chameleon-like, colour-changing backdrop. I sometimes hear colours when I listen to music, and, for me, this really formed a major part of my overall experience, because my mind had something visual-spatial to interact with the, in the soundscape surrounding me. Secondly, I liked the symmetry between the pianos on one side and the percussion on the other; it almost looked like two camps set up in the middle of a field, under a starry expanse.
Thirdly, and most importantly, I liked the way that the concert was structured. It was a full two hours’ length, without a break, so that time became almost meaningless in itself. The musicians had such a depth and breadth of ground to explore, that there was a clear, aesthetic contour, flowing through the programme. There were three sections, each possibly around twenty minutes, where the piano, bass and percussion broke free from the rest of the ensemble and embarked on their own adventure.
Rainer Brüninghaus (piano) took us through a kaleidoscopic world of shimmering, swirling drips of music, which came and passed over like a rainstorm out at sea. With his Michel Camilo-style Caribbean polyrhythms and syncopations, he displays an incredible, breathtaking virtuosity, and I could feel little explosions in my ears as the drops and clusters of notes thrashed relentlessly against my being, running out into streams, rivers and pools of harmonic languish. Elemental themes run through my mind, as the forms were so abstract and fundamental to the continuing of life - life and creation unfolding within the passages themselves - and the piano is water.
Speaking of water, Trilok Gurtu (percussion) took us to an entirely different territory. I cannot recount much of what happened because it is too spellbinding to recall. But I do remember at one point the tiredness and aches leaving me, and suddenly feeling an indescribable sense of nothing else but pure Awakening. Suddenly, I was immanently conscious of everything that was happening; the subtle snaps, crackles and pops of the tabla, tickling my sinuses, the stillness of two thousand people around me, the blueness and darkness of the expanse, the shadows, the breath coming from within me… I felt an unexplainable freedom and urge to look around, and to observe my surroundings from different perspectives, not looking upon the stage. It was like everything had simply drifted away, leaving empty shells, and I had woken up from a dream, intensely aware of and alert to movement. What I do then remember is Trilok Gurtu improvising with metal bells and echoes in the water. He then added vocalisations, like he was summoning a spirit into the space, and Jan Garbarek re-entered on a horizontal, wooden flute. The two then engaged in an astounding, non-verbal dialogue - yet its cognitive outpouring spoke directly with meaning!
The band segued through many rhythms and feels, too many to summarise here in this report; from strident, free-flowing ice sheet themes over wastelands of dusty rhythms, to green and fertile moments, reflective surfaces and soaring, avian proclamations. The concert was a true mystery, and, by the end of it, the discourse and logic reached a summit whereby everyone in the hall had reached the same goal - resolution and order triumphing over exploration, development and apparent meaningless. After a standing ovation, the ballad at the end, in its simplicity and sincerity, made me cringe with sadness at its beauty. At this point, nothing much more was to be said. It was the perfect ending to ease oneself back into the linear present.
There are no words to describe Snarky Puppy - they are, simply, indescribable. When I first witnessed their open clinic in April 2012, it opened my mind to a whole new set of possibilities concerning live musical invention. Seeing their live show was something else entirely. Snarky Puppy is a jazz-rock-fusion project hailing from Brooklyn, New York. Currently on tour throughout the UK (London, Leeds, Manchester) and Europe, Snarky Puppy stopped off at XOYO in Shoreditch tonight, to unleash their magic at the London Jazz Festival.
The band is unique for two reasons. Firstly, it is completely undeputisable. This means that every member is as important as the next, and each individual contributes in equal measure to the whole. When one member is absent, the band cannot perform. It is this level of commitment and dedication, not only to the project, but to its binding musical and social relationships, that set this band apart from the rest. Secondly, none of the music is written. Themes can be played in a multitude of different ‘modes’ and still be the same, and the music is in constant flux from tour to tour. This means that the same composition can bring about new circumstances and challenges that make it sound completely different. Ontologically, however, it is the same composition. The compositions are formulated on musical ‘germs’ that grow and develop outwards from within themselves - it is these processes in which lies the magic.
‘Flood’ opens the set with a geodesic, rhythmic entity slowly turning around on itself, like meat on a skewer, fleshed out with a fragmentary vein of brass melody, always coming back to land on the familiar hooks and presses. The composition flits between two modes of reality - on the one hand, strident and organised; on the other hand, voyeuristic and pensive - like two distorted sides of the same face. This dialectic tendency is a distinguishing feature of many Snarky Puppy compositions. The zappy, synthesiser solo twists psychedelically through this sonic transept, expelling outwards in shards of timbral colour, and occasionally stepping outside of the harmony to reveal a box within a box. Upon its culmination, the band arrives at possibly one of the most extraordinary harmonic sequences known to date. This was deconstructed in the clinic that I attended in April. Basically, the sequence comprises six bars of modulation, played out in a swirling guitar texture, which gradually revolves and reverberates upwards like a gigantic machinism taking to the stars. Upon this is superimposed a zigzagging brass melody, which propels the improvising lead guitar into the stratosphere. It is amazing how such a non-verbal medium can promote such an elated response from the audience; it is the paradigm of a new dawn in improvised music - a new philosophy, an all-encompassing, therapeutic way of composing without words - based on the principle of developing a single idea within a complex, sonic situation. After reaching the point at which the musical machinism is fully suspended in the stars, the music violently transforms into a disturbed carnival of ‘We Will Rock You’-style, thumping rock, bringing the machinism crashing down to earth and labouring it into the ground.
‘Ready Wednesday’ follows this, written by the only English member of the band, Bill Laurance (piano). His first cluster of five notes provokes screams of recognition from the audience, and launches into a racy and syncopated piano invention, over pumping disco beats and spiky horn stabs. One feature that is prevalent throughout many of Snarky Puppy’s compositions is the use of busy, florid rhythms surging underneath a cyclic, yet static and sustained, melodic line. This creates the illusion of flying very fast over a wide, open space. The prophetic, thematic undertow is always on the move, progressing ever closer to a goal that it may or may never reach, until some kind of release from the cycle propels it into another dimension. I would go so far as to say that the music is like a film score (sci-fi comes to mind, such as Star Wars or Deep Space Nine), except that it does not require a visualisation to bring it into relief; its thematic development is metaphysical in itself. Here, any spatial-conceptual references are purely analogical. At this point, the music descends underwater, until rays of piano permeate it once again and throw it out of the water and back into the funk.
Harmonically, the music is rich enough, that even without having known it prior to hearing it, it reaches inside of you and wells up not only emotions that are both powerful and complex, but also abstract ideas that are so deep that you can relate to them even if you have never heard the music before - bringing you back to moments of childhood, disembodied thoughts and memories. The compositions manifest the unfolding of history - the sediment of time itself. Like Adorno on the music of Schoenberg, for the most part, music has never really broken away from the technical restraints to become a ‘thing’ or an ‘experience’ in its own right. Listening to this music, you momentarily forget who is playing what instrument and how, as you become solely focussed on The Forms.
‘Slow Demon’ is up next, rolling out a boxy, polygasmic groove, surrounded by elaborate horn structures oozing parasitically out of the sides, grinding cogs, rattling cages and whizzing mechanics. Again, we experience the seamless alternation between two different modes of being, sudden leaps from the extrovert to the introvert. The saxophone solo, encased in a vocoder shell, reminds one of the mechanical age, the onset of technology and the transgression from organic evolution to digital revolution - the sediment of the times. The saxophone solo flits in and out of existence among towering colossi of synth pad and brass mesh. Every time it comes around, the soloist and band collide together on the dramatic seventh beat. Upon its culmination, the great, multi-faceted contraption screeches to a halt, opening out into a vista of Hammond organ spiralling upwards. Again, we are returned to the transcendental ideas of the first song, ‘Flood’, and it seems that some themes are universal and branch across more than one composition. For me, this composition reveals the advanced development of the complex human being. Like societies, the Hammond organ and lead guitar theme builds, while the percussion stirs up a resistance; a ferocious rebellion which rises to the same strength such that it almost drowns out the main theme - here, the excitement lies in a dynamic battle between rhythm and harmony - leaving the audience to question, which side is going to win? The band segues into a distorted six-eight metre, lazily pulled under a carpet of harmonic disorientation, such that it almost morphs into a slow reggae. What is to happen next?
‘Young Stuff’ is so immersive that it is almost like its forms are unfolding in three dimensions, right inside your very ‘brain and booty’! With its dynamic tensions, its schizophrenic alternations between two opposing sides, and its funky, well-coordinated snaps and breaks, the music empowers and transports you through its mind-bending soundscapes. Claire commented ‘I think the piano player [Bill Laurance] is enjoying himself far too much - look at his face!’ I asked Claire how she found out about the band. She is studying the guitar, and her guitar teacher advised her to check them out. After all, the name of the album is ‘Tell Your Friends’ - much of what Snarky Puppy represents is the fact that words cannot describe the music, words simply cannot unlock those innermost structures that make the music so compelling. The name ‘Snarky Puppy’ does not really give much away, concerning what the music is about. I’ve come to realise that the music is not actually about anything, apart from itself; it creates its own dramas, unleashing a barrage of abstract happenings, situations and eventualities. And perhaps the name ‘Snarky Puppy’ is the key to this door because it the name does not really mean anything, objectively - it can be interpreted, subjectively. Like fractals blowing in the wind, you cannot actually see the wind, only the objects that the wind touches. Likewise, you cannot see what the music is cognitively imparting - only the reactions from the audience are telling.
In terms of vivacity, the band has the ability to seamlessly interchange between two opposite ends of the dynamic spectrum - as if they were slipping through a curtain into an adjacent musical ‘environment’, or simply tapping into a continuum that was happening all along (rather than starting or stopping sections). The music not only creates its own Time, but it presents us with an alternative concept of Time, one that is cyclic as opposed to the linear sense that we are so accustomed to in the ‘Western’ world - all at once, plunging from the noise and bright lights into the quiet depths of deep space.
I remember from the clinic that each of the players listens to all kinds of music, and they all exchange music amongst one another. This enables the group to truly establish a common musical forum, in terms of their influences and compositional ideas. While a central musical theme is unfolding, the players are, consistently, hearing other tunes buzzing around in their heads. Occasionally, I hear snatches of melodies from other lifetimes and experiences that burst out of their shells and bleed into the present continuum, as if the central theme were surrounded by a milky way of alternate, parallel realities, all contributing to the same composition. These idea ‘bubbles’ are neither good nor bad, happy or sad, they simply exist within the collective subconscious.
Tonight, Snarky Puppy feature a guest musician with whom they have had a most fulfilling musical relationship - a ‘freak of nature’ - about whom they can recount many stories: percussion, Jason Marsalis. ‘Alma’ (‘Soul’) introduces Latin rhythms; a three-two Partido Alto feel, bolstered by layers of wood, metal and electricity, supplanted with a suave reggaeton, and staggered with heavy metal. The trumpet solo throws up snapshots of different moments out of time, before Jason Marsalis skids into a giddy, conga-injected Cuban rumba, complete with bell, conga, bongó and timbales. His improvisation builds, punctuated at every other turn by a sparse stab on the ‘and of one’, like a gigantic press. Eventually, this crunches back to the original, half tempo.
‘Thing of God’ is the only composition written in the UK (in Bill Laurance [pianist’s] living room as he was making pesto). It opens with a tantalizingly shrill ‘clown-walk’, which is both quirky and odd. However, it is not long before this descends into open, angelic pastures - evocative to the opening of a Disney movie. Instantly, I recognise this theme as the track featured on one of their most notable live, studio videos; bringing in spiritual soul and gospel influences. At once, I know that I’m in for a ride, because this one modulates into ever higher and ecstatic planes. Again, I’m reminded that there are two sorts of people - those who have heard Snarky Puppy, and those who have not. Likewise, this song separates two states of being - the light, silkiness of the main theme, and the chugging underbelly of its counter-theme. Subsequently, the main theme returns, subverted in the minor, before giving way to a gloriously modulating stairway, ever progressing upwards, and the sky’s the limit!
The last number transforms from a brass band-style march, to a cosmetic, free improvised New Orleans-style ‘Trad’-jazz momentum, before delving into a funky hotbed of James Brown-ness. I am particularly impressed by the way in which the band members are announced, celebrating each name with a party piece of brass and percussion, integrated into the flow. By the end of it, the audience is ecstatic, and bring the band back to stage by thumping the ground with their feet, and chanting ‘Snarky’ all over again.
‘White Cap’ - the encore - pulls together some thrashing disco beats with the characteristic slow, brass melodies laid down on top, like the light squares on a dance floor amidst spinning, metallic loops and sequences. The most astonishing feature of this composition is the dynamic interplay between harmony and melody. While the melody is very simple and consists of static, walking intervals, the points at which it lands throw up complex harmonic implications - like hot surfaces touching. This technique is most effective when, after having projected this cycle many times, the backing drops out, leaving the horns alone. The theme is so strong, so profound, that it can be justified by the horns alone - simply because when the harmony ceases, it carries on in the mind of the listener.
These characteristics reveal the profound universality of the music; that the compositions are merely the adjustments of perspective that interrogate and interfere with forces that are already present.
Michael League - bass
Mike Maher - trumpet/flugelhorn
Chris Bullock - tenor saxophone
Justin Stanton - trumpet/keyboards
Robert Lanzetti - guitar
Mark Letteiri - guitar
Nate Werth - percussion
Dave Laurance - keyboards
+ special guest Jason Marsalis - percussion
Australian Art Orchestra @ Purcell Room, Southbank Centre
Australian Art Orchestra, founded in 1994, plugs the disparity in larger ensembles geared towards primal, free improvisation.
Through the AAO, director Paul Grabowsk explores his fascination for engaging with musicians from other cultures, in a musical dialogue that transcends structural and technical boundaries. Australian music is the perfect case study, for him, since - apart from being Australian himself - Aboriginal music dates back tens of thousands of years to be one of the oldest musical forms known to man.
Through their relationship with native Australian, Ben, and the young Wagilak group, one of the few surviving indigenous groups, Australian Art Orchestra play the landscape, explore new conceptions of time, and resurrect the spirits of the deceased.
The club was packed full and everyone was in high spirits. Walking in there, it really felt like jazz festival fever was beginning to settle in, as the light fades earlier, and the hard core gig goers come out of their shelters. Township Comets really got the audience going. Featuring the South African vocalist Pinise Saul, who has played with the likes of Hugh Masekela and most notable for directing The South African Gospel Singers, the band delivered a vibrant, colourful afternoon set.
One of the earlier numbers, a brisk, twelve-eight shuffle shows off the vibrancy of the three-piece brass section, consisting of saxophone, trombone and trumpet, which lays down some thick, modal horn arranging, finished with jazzy inflections, while the lead vocalist throws in some of her own embellishments. During the solos, she adds spontaneous shouts, yodelling and vocalisations to encourage them on, as the other horns pitch in with some sweet harmonic backings.
Vocalist Pinise Saul is completely at home on stage, radiating a warmth, wit and lustre to melt the most hostile of audiences. With her conversationalist style of delivery, she does not take herself too seriously, and in some of her songs, it is almost like she is telling a story of her own life, through the third person. The slow funk number shows off the warmth and depth of her emotion and personality, within a soulful offloading of revolving shapes, anchored by horn hooks and refrains that turn and coalesce around themselves. The electric piano adds a softer, silkier touch, so that the band are simmering a steaming incantation that seethes at the climaxes of each solo, and boils right down again as a new solo begins.
One of the later numbers adopted a Sonny Rollins-style, up-tempo afro-jazz-highlife, and featured Rob Townsend on alto / soprano saxophones, who delivered a blistering solo, steadily building, and cooked up with layers of backing and vocal shouts, integrated in a call-and-response, and creating a continuum between vocal shouts and brass stabs. The music was spiritual and accessible, and even incited the bartenders to dance!
The best thing about this performance is that it speaks to the whole room. Even if you were stood right at the back, or serving at the bar, Pinise Saul and her band transmit an energy that is all-inclusive. This was not limited to the stage either; she came out and engaged with the audience, so that everyone was invited to participate, and there was no longer an audience - just a massive, feel-good party, whipped up in the frenzy of danceable, addictive music.
Combining interlocking clarinet and trumpet threads, solid, chugging guitar and bass, and rocking rhythm sticks, this traditional band puts the tickles into the Dixie. Featuring their own takes on traditional songs such as Jelly Roll Morton’s ‘Oh Didn’t He Ramble’, Woody Allen’s ‘Swing A Lullaby’ and the Allman Brothers’ ‘Don’t Want You No More’ as well as original tunes such as ‘Monkey Puzzle’, the band brought a fresh face to traditional jazz.
Dom James’ clarinet has a superbly clear, liquorice tone, and employs an effective use of slide and glissando techniques - critical to get right for this style of music. Moreover, he has a strong sense of rhythm, and he can hold down a rag without support from the rest of the band. One thing that I particularly liked about their sound is the way in which the pieces begin with barely nothing - solo clarinet or percussion - and then gradually build up as other instrumental layers enter. The intertwining melodies - sometimes fixed, memorised material; other times improvised - have a neo-classical, almost symphonic (major to minor) feel to them, given the European elements derived from Beethoven and subsequent composers, which permeated the early African styles via colonialism. The musicians interpret these treasures without a single sheet of music in sight - impressive for a music so intricate and complex. During the clarinet and trumpet solos, the supporting instrument also adds in gestures, which they pick up together, and lace into the structure. The band itself used little or no amplification, thereby preserving the authenticity, and their sound projected perfectly within the reverberant concavities of the dingy railway bridge nightclub.
The slow, trudging twelve-bar blues ‘Don’t Want You Know More’ featured some chunky drum and tambourine rolls, and a trumpet solo from William Roxton, who brought a contemporary edge to the traditional blues by ‘going out’ of the harmony and adding in some nice upper structures, diminished substitutions and rhythmic diminutions - inciting the drummer to kick into double-tempo in some bars. His ideas, while captivating, were finished off with those New Orleans stylizations that preserved the continuity of the band’s oeuvre.
My favourite piece was the sleek, feline tango, with its haunting, Hispanic inflexions, cooking up a broth of dissonance, surrealism and bohemian, Gershwin-style licks. Dynamically, it would drop down to a purring brew before thrashing back with stonking, kicking quavers.
Sudanese singer charmed the Vortex with her beautiful fusion of African music with jazz, soul and influences from Latin America and the Middle East.
Her free, floating voice is like a swallow, sailing over a sea of warm, strummed guitar, taking you on a musical odyssey. The mood is unequivocally humane - whether introspective and nostalgic, or quivering with ecstatic passion - and is characterised by its mix of indigenous African and Arabic inflections. Special guest Morizo Soher ‘spices things up a bit’ in ‘Chauff D’Amour’ (‘Seeing The Light’), an original composition inspired by Sudanese Sufi chanting and the trance-like states that these incite. Here, she urges you to close your eyes, and to use your imagination, as the sedated, sun-soaked triangular polyrhythm of the guitar swathe your eyes, shadowed by the ghostly flute and breathy backing vocals, delicately spinning a yarn and leaving you light and content.
‘Yamara’ (‘Oh Woman’) is dedicated to women, because she loves women (so do the men!). The gliding, cyclic six-eight metre projects a sonic tunnel through which the lead vocalist imparts her heartfelt tribute to ‘her sisters’. As the flute improvises, the guitar textures bristle into flame accompanied by the gentle rattle of the chekere and almost flipped into a binary metre by the percussion hits. ‘The Shattering of the Mirror’, which Amira personalises as ‘The Shattering of the Illusion’, encapsulates that moment when things do not seem to go as planned. This song brings in some clave ideas from Latin America, and incites the audience to clap along. Finally, Amira dedicates the last piece to her father, who taught her to question and challenge everything, which is the reason that she is in the Vortex. As well as there being many people present from the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), many people have travelled from all over the world, some as far as Syria and Sudan, to witness her performance, to savour those rolling cross-rhythms, and to relish in this exquisite world music melange.
It is a very rare occurrence to be able to witness a musician who not only has two sidemen nominated for the Mercury Music Prize playing in his band, but also one who is so humble, personable and focused on his art. Oud player Attab Haddad is just this, accompanied by an all-star line-up of Vasilis Sirikis (percussion), Matt Ridley (bass), Ben Davies (‘cello), Phillipe Barnes (flute) and Kit Downes (piano). Their repertoire weaves a montage of traditional flamencos and bulerias with free, improvised jazz. Many of the songs played tonight come from their new release, ‘Days Indistinctive’, and have a distinctly twilight and meditative spirit. The Middle Eastern drones and Hispanic flourishes converge in a remarkable Pan-Mediterranean, ‘east meets west’ soundscape, before spinning into a mystical, breathtaking yarn, which is, in itself, captivating, unearthly and indescribably beautiful.
National Youth Jazz Orchestra pulled together a spectacular show at the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. Featuring the cream of young jazz talent from all over the UK, many of whom are currently studying at the London conservatories, the show raised the standard in both performance, composition and arrangement.
The programme explored the array of jazz and big band writing that has taken place since World War II, in the UK. The earlier half of the programme concentrated on ‘straight-ahead’, more traditional idioms; beginning close to home with the angular, quirky and cell-driven ‘Soho Hubub’ by Jason Yarde, featuring Chris Whiter on baritone saxophone. Some of the compositions featured a wordless vocal ‘backdrop’; shadowing, in unison, the melodic leaps and skips of the thirteen-piece brass section, such as in the shimmering, smoky veils of Nikki Iles’ ‘Hush’, which swept the listener through a beautifully sweeping soundscape of peaks and climbs, and adding the contemporary touches of lead guitar, flute and horn to the environment; and in Kenny Wheeler’s ‘The Know Where You Are’ taken from ‘Sweet Time Suite’ on ‘Music For Large And Small Ensembles’. Highlights of these two pieces were the improvised solos by Nadim Teimoori (tenor saxophone) and Rob Luft (guiitar).
From this point, the programme moved further into dissonant, Avant Garde ideas, with Stan Tracey’s ‘Afro Charlie meets the White Rabbit’ from the suite ‘Alice in Jazzland’, which whips the soloists through a frenzied rhythm changes, featuring Chris Eldred on piano; and Loose Tubes’ ‘Sad Africa’ adding yet more interesting instruments to the mix - everything from ‘Eb’ penny whistle (Helen Wilson) and soprano saxophone (Phil Meadows), right down to bass clarinet and tuba. This composition also included some accomplished choral harmonies emanating from the brass section - nice work lads! In sections, it descended into chaotic, free improvisation, before reuniting in wide, grandiose pastures.
One feature that I particularly liked about this concert, as well as the contemporary jazz and big band writing, was the utilisation of ethnic rhythms and styles. While the Loose Tubes’ ‘Sad Africa’ toyed with South African township grooves, Joe Harriot’s ‘Freeform’, dedicated to the late Michael Garrick brought the Jamaican influence into British Jazz - a reminder that Pan-Caribbean cultures are a cherished part of British heritage. It featured terrific solos from Sam Razer (alto saxophone) and Nick Dewhurst (trumpet).
Vocalist Emma Smith added words to Stan Sulzmann’s composition ‘A Warm Rocky Place’, originally an instrumental, and she delighted all with her cool, silky interpretation. The programme continued with two compositions by members of NYJO, past and present, tenor saxophonist Tom Stone’s ‘Return Flight’ and percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s ‘The Change’. Felix featured throughout the set on various percussion instruments including congas, vibraphones and glockenspiels. His ecological work represents a journey from the rainforest to the urban metropolis, held together by the antagonisms of thematic development and preservation.
After a brief sorbet of bebop, with Tubby Hayes’ ‘Suddenly Last Tuesday’, which featured some rip-roaring, wood-shedding sectionals from the brass and saxophones, Tim Garland’s ‘Dawn Before Dark Before Dawn’ lifted the momentum to cataclysmic heights. Finally, distinguished vocalist Emma Smith returned at the end, leading the big band in a funk-influenced arrangement of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’, arranged by the band’s own director Mark Armstrong, which featured more incredible soloing from guitarist Rob Luft coupled with the clarity, warmth and charisma of the female vocalist, who awed the audience with her effortless vocal talent and skill.
Altogether, it was a momentous set, with the fuel, drive and spirit maintained and delivered right until the last notes. Listening to the music, it is so easy to sit there and simply lose yourself in the walls of brass, bathing your ears in the fabulous oceans of harmony that they create. The rhythm section arrangements were intricate, unveiling so many different techniques and formulations, integrated in such a sophisticated way - astounding, given the age of the band members - and it is difficult to believe that most of the members are either still studying, or having just graduated, because they play like seasoned professionals. Overall, some incredible music happening, and some inspiring creativity unleashed.
J-Sonics cooked up a bountiful funk-rock, implanted with laser horn hooks over jubilant melodies, thick, pulsating guitar licks, and crackling, rubber conga patterns. The ensemble was as tight as the skin of a drum, the horns locking in with the bass and percussion, catching the back of the beat and ‘nipping it in the butt’. This line-up really excels itself with its rhythmic exploration, with standard binary and tertiary metres divided and subdivided with pinpoint precision accuracy.
The trumpet player brought a bright, cutting and clean tone, working the outlay of his ideas, supplanted by the building rhythm section. Tenor saxophonist Matt Telfer pulled off some ripping solos, drawing whoops and cheers from the audience. Endings were slick and well rehearsed. The overall delivery was mean, with bags of attitude. These guys are truly on a mission to bring raw, razor-edged funk to British audiences.
Bambus City Strut are a London-based, ten-piece line-up, bringing a fresh, youthful swagger to the British funk / soul scene. Sasha Patterson is a fabulous front-lady, with a natural confidence and ability to break the ice, talk to the audience, and make everyone feel included. Add to this a strong vocal quality oozing radiance and persona, and you’ve just bought yourself the ultimate party starter.
James Goodman (keyboards) fills out the texture with some lush, succulent jazz harmony - using Hammond organ and synthesiser pads to great effect. The horn section, made up of Simon Platts (saxophone) and Phil Chadney (trumpet) are completely ‘on the ball’, with the lines and settlements under their fingers. One thing that I particularly enjoyed about this band is the dynamic call-and-response interplay between the vocals and horns, written into the arrangements: upward-snaking torrents of brass met with elastic vocal harmonisations.
The set consisted mainly of their own songs, such as the lively, cruising ‘Nobody Else’ and the strident, batucada-infused ‘Let The Light Shine’ - yet this did not stop them slipping in the odd cheeky cover, including Breakestra’s ‘Cramp Your Style’ and Booty Collins’ ‘I’d Rather Be With You’. I would go so far as to liken their sound to more established acts such as Incognito or PB Underground, despite the band having only been together since 2009.
In terms of presentation, the band looked the part. The swaying front-line soon got everyone dancing, and the upright, swerving delivery of the rhythm section settled the score. The overall feel was sharp, snappy, heated and ‘down to business’. The group released their first EP in 2011, and are due to release their next offering early next year. I believe that they have a lot of potential, and exciting things to offer on the horizon.
Milano alto saxophonist Tommaso Starace, together with his band, Frank Harrison (piano), Will Collier (bass) and Chris Higginbottom (drums), presented a concert celebrating the life and work of the late French pianist Michel Petrucciani. Being an avid lover of Petrucciani’s work, this concert leapt out of the pages for me. Sure enough, as I entered the room, the band were in full swing with none other than my favourite Petrucciani composition ‘Looking Up’ - and I knew that I was in for a good night. The subsequent set did not disappoint, and included many of his classic compositions such as ‘September Song’ and ‘Brazilian Suite’.
Unlike many of the performances that are fiery, intense and passionate; this group have a cool, introspective nature about them. Tammaso Starace (alto saxophone) has an intricate, nimble-fingered touch. His fluttering improvisations shimmer with the quicksilver speed at which he flies through montages of notes. His ability to construct elaborate fragmentations - that is, repetitive, interlocking cell-cycles that work across the beat - create swirling, rippling sonic forms that melt delightfully into the slipstream of his dispatch. On ‘Looking Up’ and on some of the slower tunes such as ‘Hidden Joy’, Tammasco exudes a sweet, silky saxophone tone with well-controlled use of sliding glissandos, wavering vibratos and Paquito D’Rivera-style altissimo embellishments.
Frank Harrison (piano) has a breezy, refined style. His improvisations are relaxed, liberally sprinkled about with dancing clusters and melodic crystallisations that tinker in the stratosphere. His thematic development is nicely paced, restrained, and he gives the music plenty of space within which to breath. Delicately applying sophisticated jazz voicing’s that reflect a sensitive ear; his contemplative nature is evocative of Keith Jarrett, with its haunting, vivid clarity.
Chris Higginbottom (drums) maintained an easy, swinging jazz-samba / bossa nova mettle throughout the set. His solos accent certain sections of the bar to bring out alternate rhythmic orientations, without losing the pulse - occasionally unravelling into six-eight and three-four metres to mesh out his ideas - constantly developing the feel into new and ever-fluctuating planes, yet managing to pull it back with style. Will Collier (bass) tempered some melodious improvisation, bleeding in and around the harmony, with its subtle, chanson-like style.
There was a full house in tonight. However, Posk Jazz Cafe is a wide enough space allowing for people to stretch out and feel at ease, without losing its sense of community. The ambience was cosy, relaxed and open. The audience was attentive, but not deadly silent, and the hubbub of quiet discourse melded in to become a part of the musical dynamic. There was a unified sense of togetherness, intimacy and oneness, solidified towards the end whereby Tammaso Starace enticed everyone to start clapping on beats two and four, and walked out into the audience, playing to the front rows closely. His overall delivery was charming, personable and sweet. His group has a refined sparkle, a genuine love and a subtle immediacy with listeners and enthusiasts alike.
I have seen both Nikki Iles and Stan Sulzmann on separate occasions in the past, and I remember being completely blown away. Tonight, they were both dazzling as ever, featuring with the Guildhall Jazz Band. The ensemble was a traditional big band format, with the addition of auxiliary woodwinds, tuba and lead guitar - adding a contemporary touch to a traditional medium. In terms of the ensemble interaction, I particularly enjoyed the interplay between different voices, sections and timbres; with dovetailing, intertwining layers of harmony that creep seductively over one another.
Nikki Iles played piano some improvisations that really explored the space that she had created through her compositions. Each note teetered over the balance enough to be projected across the builds, swells and warm curtains of wind and brass, which were delivered with staggering control. Her passages, interwoven so intimately into the sequences, rippled and breathed with life, melody and exploratory movement through glittering clusters and sensual phrasing.
Stan Sulzmann played with vigour and inquisition. His improvisation subjugated an exciting, hot-blooded bed of riveting, whirlwind, tour-de-force big band writing. His soprano saxophone played around the pulse, and every subtle nuance and intention was voiced clearly, refined, and without overkill. Equally stunning in the small band setting, his melodious improvisation weaved together precision timing and a high degree of emotive sensitivity. He doesn’t need to move fast during this ballad, instead slipping effortlessly through lush oases of intervallic splendour.
A couple of the tunes were composed by Nikki Iles and arranged by Stan Sulzmann. I was astounded by the structural invention and the way that composer / arranger utilises the big band medium to such stimulating effect. The grandiose, brassy swells, punctuated by the crisp, percussive attacks add impact to the rich submersion of colour and flavour. Moreover, it is delightful to see two such internationally renowned artists working together with these young people, cultivating emerging talent and keeping the art alive. It is proof that the big band is not a dead art form. Overall, it was an enchantingly refreshing and inspiring insight into contemporary British big band writing, and a reminder that the UK does offer a very special heritage within this medium.
Sophie Hunger @ Jazz Cafe
Swiss singer-songwriter, Sophie Hunger, dubbed by The Guardian as a cross-between Beth Orton and Björk, wowed audiences at Jazz Café, showcasing, with her band, songs from her new album. The lineup featured Alberto Malo (percussion, vocals), Simon Gerber (bass, guitar, clarinet, vocals), Sara Oswald (‘cello, glockenspiel, vocals) and Alexi Ameris (piano, rhodes, hammmond, trumpet, flugal horn, vocals). And if that list of instruments doesn’t tantalise your taste buds (or should I say, earlobes), then wait until you hear how the instruments are used! The orchestrations display an impressive array of textures and timbres, inventively played out, whilst drawing on influences from progressive rock, folk and electronic music.
In my opinion, her music is less about subtle nuances; instead, the excitement and tension is generated more through the overall shapes and ideas that are employed, the timbres that are combined and the shifting displacements that are created. Her melodies are smooth and flowing, whilst riveted in movement, attitude and unpredictability. There is so much personality and temperament in her orchestration, with far-flung motifs and grooves being twisted and strung around wildly, in a whirlwind of spontaneous unpredictability and slick, cut-off culminations.
Sophie herself has a gorgeous, breathy tone of voice, delivered with a captivating stage presence, with soulful eyes that gaze up to the heavens, and draw you into her dark, primal world. At times, I can certainly hear the fragile, wavering Björkness in her voice, whereas at other times, I hear the ‘folktronic’ lilt of Beth Orton - slowed-down rock ‘n’ roll, syncopated by polyrhythmic jives. The musical emotion is teased out in her strong, projected vocals; drawn out through smouldering poutations, ecstatic moaning, sighing and playful exclamations. Her personality owns the stage, and her no-nonsense, to-the-point attitude is perfectly encapsulated in the vowels and consonants that are completed with definition and finesse - so much so, that you can almost taste her words. Sophie is as much a linguist as she is a poet, effortlessly interchanging between English, French and German; translating her thoughts through windows of time and space, and providing rare glimpses into her infinite spheres of destiny - orchestrated through languishing ‘cello passages and minimalist voids.
Structurally, her songs are surprisingly short and sweet, in contrast to so many other forms of jazz, where compositions and arrangements are developed and played out through extended improvisation. Here, the story is different. In a sense, her compositions do not need to be developed. Many of them finish on a shrill ‘cliff hanger’, leaving the listener suspended in a void and forever asking questions. These abrupt endings leave the listener to continue the song in their mind, inviting them to formulate their own endings. Their message is delivered succinctly, and, in some cases, there is nothing more that needs to be said. Her poetic shells are complete, compelling and not overdone.
The smooth delicacy of her voice is often juxtaposed against smashing, symphonic hits, while the rhythmic constructions, stops and supplantations are used to dramatic effect. The band respond intuitively to the subject matter of the lyrics, throwing in a complete stop as the vocalist sings ‘float like a feather’, or drowning the vocalist in a satisfying well of heartbreak and trauma. I was particularly impressed with the jazzy, edgy piano improvisation, which nailed rhythmic displacements into kaleidoscopic walls of shimmers, rattles and runs, converging with the percussion, in a limitless determination. The interweaving of trumpet and clarinet at the end of one of her compositions, over bare, bass-line ‘heartbeat’ served to drive the poignancy home.
Examples of Twelves + Bento Box @ Green Note, Camden
Examples of Twelves
This project, featuring a close gang of London’s young, up-and-coming creative knit, bring together dramatic, punchy and dissonant horns, with driving drum riffs. Threading squealing harmonics, violently twisting melodies and flagrant tones in explorations of free improvisation - seamlessly interchanging between ambience and angularity.
Bento Box is a thrilling new collaboration between F-IRE collective members Pete Wareham (saxophone), Seb Rochford (drums) and Ben Hazleton (bass), pushing the boundaries of improvisation over timeless jazz classics. Pete Wareham (saxophone) whips you into a frenzied stream-of-consciousness; his flickering ribbons of melody often wrinkling upwards into altissimo flourishes, before plunging into headfirst dives of wild, thrashing improvisation. He is not half-hearted with his playing; he drives brain and soul into every single note, tempering with the pulse, and alternating fiercely between intensity and disparity.
Ben Hazleton (bass) begins his improvisations by first establishing the lines or parameters upon which to map out and extend his repertory. His unloading is varied and dynamic, experimenting with different techniques such as strumming, chordal playing and pizzicato. He moves his fingers so meticulously across the board, underpinned with strength, and exploiting the instrument to its full merit, through a fine-tuned, strong-willed hand and personality. This structural ‘mapping out’ is extended through his interplay with Seb Rochford (drums), who brings the rhythmic segregation of the bass into relief. He possesses a super-speedy response, fluctuating his metre and groove-changes effortlessly, and with such ease, and yet laughing and joking all the way. Occasionally, he deliberately plays against the beat, conflicting with the saxophone and the bass, to heighten the tension. When the kit becomes the main feature, he is expertly good at unwielding a barrage of smattering improvisation, whilst overtly keeping a cool head.
Overall, the trio brought an engaging dynamic to the Green Note, inciting a terrific response from the audience, who whooped and cheered at every turn of phrase. The development of their individual musical ideas really pushes the boundaries of improvisation and drives you on a tour-de-force, right to the very core of these standard compositions, and transforming them at the heart.
This musical collaboration combines smooth, sultry vocals, with luscious harmonies and a hardened, funky rhythm section - what more do you need? The sweetened interplay between lead / backing vocals and piano are fleshed out in soulful, warm and catchy choruses and uplifting lyrics that speak of love, hope, freedom, revolution and triumph rising up over adversity.
There was a fluid continuum between audience and performers, inciting audience participation, empowering the beholder, encouraging the belief that everyone can reach a global, musical forum, where ideas can be exchanged freely, and dispersed factions are collected, reconciled and unified, and engendering coalescence and bonding between everyone in the club.
The rearrangement of ‘Valerie’ (The Zutons / Amy Winehouse) got everyone up dancing. The tempo was taken down a notch, allowing the fullness and finesse of electronic synthesizer combined with sophisticated, jazzy re-harmonisations and a new, alternative, bass backbeat. The vocalists’ crafty inflections coupled with their re-modelled lyrics, witty wordplay and verbose spontaneity, sealed a standing ovation, and an audience screaming and chanting for more. A satisfyingly enriching end to the evening!
Fred Hersch is a contemporary American jazz pianist whose influences span not only swing, blues and ragtime, but many areas of Western art music, alongide cubism and rhythms from Latin America. He was performing in the Purcell Room of the Southbank Centre, a setting which suited the music perfectly.
He has a super-sensitive touch and response, tinkering with every subtlety, gently teasing every emotion out of each note, carved into an intricate phrasing with the skill of a sculptor. At points, he teeters on the brink of controlessness, but ropes it back in at just the right millisecond, with a fine degree of sensitivity. The scalic runs are also expertly pulled off with precision and style.
The melodies are intelligently put together, starting with simple, meandering lines, slow and profound, which entice you into their little corners and cul-de-sacs, playing with your expectations, and gradually building into symphonic peaks.
The cubist-style repeated cells, evocative of some Stravinsky passages, project some alternate rhythmic orientations, and serve to hasten the tension - now and then breaking out into wide, expansive chordal moments.
Fred Hersch brings about some beautiful convergences of harmony, kaleidoscopic shades and colours, bringing different lines and shapes in and out of focus, and interweaving them into an integrated tapestry or montage. Fred played acoustically, I believe, but he projected every note so clearly, and with such sensitivity, that they were not lost in the intricately weaving textures - each note was important in its own way, towards contributing to the overall picture, like the dots in an Impressionistic painting.
Some compositions experimented with the fugal textures of the Baroque, whereas others were more inspired by Schumann of the Romantic. Many of the compositions were structured symphonically, with driving, revolutionary builds, swells and arcs evocative of Beethoven, always striving towards something. Some compositions were inspired by timeless figures such as Fats Waller, Jerome Kern and Thelonius Monk, whereas others brought in a Brazilian tango or had soulful, cross-rhythmic passages evocative of Cuban Jazz.
Altogether it was a real melange of styles and flavours, all expertly woven into Fred Hersch's musical experience. He breathes so much life into the piano, that, sometimes, it is almost like he could be playing a wind or bowed instrument, because his notes simply 'sing' to you. He never forces it or misjudges it; everything is given as much strength as it needs, underpinned by a rich depth and breadth, to impart its meaning..
Moreover, it is significant to note that Fred Hersch composed most of these works himself, which have been contructed from single ideas or moments, and built into beautifully interwoven, multi-faceted compositions, and yet he plays them without written music, displaying an incredible memory. Neither could I tell whether anything were left to chance or that every note were composed into the music, since he played with the freedom of a bird yet the precision of a mathematician. It was a delight to witness a true artisan effortlessly fusing the worlds of precision and style into a unified masterpiece.
Jorge E Mateus weave a fusion of traditional Sertanejo, Forró and country influences combined with rock, pop and funk, lending itself to a style that is both highly danceable and melodiously infectious. 15 years since I last entered the Royal Albert Hall at the age of 10 to see the proms, it felt more like a Sambadrome Arena come Praça Da Apoteose tonight packed full of some 5,000 Brazilians grooving and singing along. I have been to many Anglophone-dominated shows but it is very rare to have the chance to be able to attend a show where 95% of the population are Lusophone. The hall was transformed and it had a very warm, festive atmosphere, and the energy was very special. The atmosphere was electric. I was fortunate enough to meet a couple of nice Brazilian girls who taught me a thing or two about the music, the dance and even the odd phrases in Portuguese!
One of the girls, Karena, explained that she loves the music because of the lyrics. Most of the time, song topics are about love and relationships, the songs telling anecdotes with which the girls can identify, such as the Beija-Flor (literally: 'kissing flower') which describes a hummingbird, a metaphor for guys who 'cheat' on their girls. At times, this makes her cry because it reminds her of experiences that she has had with two different boyfriends. Apparently, the guys are not so interested in these lyrics; they just want to dance with the girls, and to swagger in their cowboy hats, boots and chequered shirts. Indeed, looking into the centre of the hall, most of the dancing area was filled with young couples swaying closely. But both girls agreed that the pagode-infected rhythms make the music easy to move to. The sexy, Latin American beat soon kicked in and the Brazilians sure know how to shake it - the scene was incredible and heart-warming.
The performers themselves were relaxed and subtle, yet they had the audiences wrapped around their fingers with such ease. Some songs made everyone cry out in delight, the hall resounding with their voices singing the lyrics in unison. Even Amanda, who is not a fan of this music in particular, explained that because it contains so many influences - from rock, pop and tropicalia, to traditional country sertanejo and forró, to folkloric samba, pagode, to groovy funk and reggaeton - this hybrid form of music is universal in Brazil, because it expresses a lot of feeling and it can be danced to with not just a boyfriend or partner, but with any man. Apparently there are a lot of artists today who emulate this style today but Jorge E Mateus are at the top, there are simply 'no others like them'. And to accompany them was a fantastic orchestra packing a booming percussion ensemble, accordion and guitar-driven rhythm section, heavy bass-line and even a string section.
Upon exiting the ticket barriers at South Kensington tube station on my approach to the Royal Albert Hall, I randomly bumped into an intoxicated Amy (whether intoxicated by the music, the beer, the atmosphere or all three, who knows?) but her words "that gig was hilarious, just... hilarious... Get in there!" perfectly encapsulates how I felt about it too - you just had to get in there and party the Brazilian way, certainly a foretaste of the Rio Olympics in 4 years time. I even learned how to summarise these sentiments in Portuguese: Eu gosto muito iso!
Combining the age-old tradition of American brass band playing and regal, epic fanfare with dirty drum & bass grooves and hot-blooded funk, soul and rhythm & blues, Soul Rebels got the party going at Band on the Wall.
The catchy, infectious horn licks and vocal refrains were pulled off with incredible ease and style, underpinned by pumping sousaphone bass lines and stonking kit. Each song was tightly arranged, and flowed into one another, each medley unleashing a barrage of energy and finesse, with interweaving melodic lines and orchestral stabs. The ensemble playing was slick, well rehearsed and executed completely from memory. The music was nicely paced, and involved the audience at every twist and turn to such an extent that each build up made you wonder what they were going to do next, and how much further they could take up the level. Especially impressive was when they played florid, sectional material at different dynamics and articulation style to showcase the technical skills of the musicians, making it an educational - as well as recreational - experience.
As well as being pretty good horn players, these guys don't have bad voices either. Interspersing nicely layered vocals with rapping and call & response with the audience, the voices are cleverly integrated into the mix, creating a wonderfully streetwise concoction of brass, percussion and vocals.
Altogether an explosive powerhouse of raw energy and a real hit with the audience.
The bill included not only Pat Metheny, but also Chris Potter on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Ben Williams on bass, and Antonio Sanchez - and this review, despite its best interests, cannot offer enough insight that will testimony to the brilliance of these modern icons of jazz, each monumental pioneers in their own right with a multitude of works to their names. Every now and then, I had to jolt myself into reality to actually believe what I'm so fortunate enough to be seeing happening right before my eyes and ears.
The concert began with a couple of solo numbers from Pat Metheny, who effortlessly submerges your ears in a glorious ocean of crystal-clear, sonic bliss, with melodies that are simple yet powerful, and sophisticated harmonies that draw you in even deeper. Percussive effects on the instrument is used to great effect, as is the subtle fret noises that enhance every nuance.
The third number introduced the rest of the band, with Chris Potter's soaring, free and majestic bass clarinet tones. Having seen (and played with) him on a couple of occasions before, Chris Potter is impressive as ever in mid-flight, unweilding a barrage of melodious, intuitive heights, combining incredibly crafted journeys across the instrument with lighting fast intuition and response, and whose peaks and dips transport you to another plane of existence. His tenor saxophone dances around and across the beat, through elegant leaps and arpeggiated runs, shifting and gliding through ever-morphing layers of harmonic shape, with the slickness and finesse of an electric eel, yet with subtle, gentle measures of sentimentality and grace. On both instruments, he is master; moving freely from feathery low notes to spellbinding altissimo, always striving for new heights. The transplantation of motivic material in different registers and keys displays an incredibly sensitive awareness of harmonic space, and a great ear.
Pat Metheny uses a range of different timbres, effects and synth leads to great effect, creating an array of sensations and colours. His melodic lines develop organically from moments of space and flickering ribbons, gradually building into stately climaxes and wild, thrashing cacophonies of rippling consciousness. The changes in pace were instantaneous, immediate and controlled.
The programme itself had a nice, defined shape that was cleverly structured, engaging and by no means monotonous; instead, giving the audience plenty of meat to chew on (or cheese, if you're vegetarian like me, but not in the musical sense - not that it is a bad thing!). Much of the music played has two levels, simultaneously juxtaposed; with arcing, profound melodies flying over a vista of solid groove-based material. The mood is deeply spiritual; sometimes, strident and voyeuristic, at other times, wild frenzied and reeling into folk idioms, film theme scores and contemporary popular music across the decades - this is just part of the pool that the music both envelopes and transcends. The level of improvisation and depth pushes the imagination as far as it can go, setting new standards with what can be done with these instruments and their technical frontiers. A technique that I noticed several times throughout the evening was the sudden transition from languishing, non-'tonal' or dissonant material into an elated 'tonal' or consonant repeated refrain, creating a 'brightening' effect that serves to heighten the momentum and take the music into another realm, knocking you to your senses.
Evidence of their individual musical skill was exploited to the maximum in the second part of the performance, where each of the other musicians, Chris Potter ('All The Things You Are'), Ben Williams ('Turnaround' - Ornette Coleman) and Antonio Sanchez, took turns to improvise a musical dialogue with Pat Metheny. The result was sobering enough to forget that you were listening to two completely different instruments - guitar and saxophone / bass / drums); the music almost coalesced into one instrument or musical line / thread. Put these musicians together, back in the quartet at the end, and the combination is electrifying. These musicians are pushing the frontiers, transcending the technical means of their instruments and meeting somewhere in the middle, up above, engaging in a common plan of musical discourse, such that you forget which instruments they are playing. Together, they create a progressive music that speaks many of its own languages, and that sails beyond what can be considered 'normal' into the charting of its own destiny.
Danilo Peréz was born in Panama, and started piano lessons at the age of three. Since then, he has studied and worked with the National Conservatory of Panama, Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory of Music, and is widely considered to be one of the finest jazz pianists around. I had the privilege of seeing him live at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club, where he cooked up a melange of jazz and Latin improvisations, peppered with rhythms from his native Panama - a smoking, crackling, seething concoction of influences and flavours, alongside Ben Street on piano and Adam Cruz on drums.
I was most impressed by the integration of melody, harmony and rhythm within the different instruments of the jazz trio, each contributing an abundance of material, and coalescing into a perfect trio of shape. The melodic lines and phrases revolve liturgically, almost techtonically, around a core of tightly interlocking rhythms, with a virtuosity that reminds one of Eddie Palmieri or Michel Camilo, among whom Danilo Peréz cites as key influences.
His improvisations begin sparsely, developing from loose threads that flash by like flickers of consciousness, snaking and weaving their way through the rhythmic counterpoint. The momentum is controlled with tempering and fragmentation of clusters across space, complemented by percussive interjections. Sometimes, the trio locks into a cyclic refrain that builds up the excitements, ruptured by exploratory ribbons of texture and flavour.
There is an entire orchestra in his fingertips; in his sound, I hear block chords like the stabs from a brass section, occasionally giving way to the cycadelic, kaleidoscopic salsa octaves, underpinned by the rocksteady tumbao (syncopated bass line). The phrases and structures are not limited to four square patterns, the musicians effortlessly weave in and out of the beat, always moving together and reaching one anothers' conclusions. The rumba groove sometimes floats interchangeably into six-eight with the mastery of the batá tradition, whilst the melodic lines meander and build into heightened climactic moments.
Most of the compositions played tonight were new, and had never been played before, yet they were executed with the skill and finesse of a unit who had played them many times before. Overall, it was a thrilling and electrifying performance, transporting the listener through an array of sounds and sensations, and a nice cross-section of an artist at the height of his work yet encapsulated in a moment of continual flux.
Esperanza gave a charismatic, discursive delivery, proclaiming that she travelled '3000 miles to leave all smiles'. She certainly left audiences smiling 'on the inside as much as the outside' after their Monday night performance at KOKO to celebrate the launch of her new album 'Radio Music Society'. When I discovered that this concert was a sell-out, my intuition told me that I was onto a good thing. Sure enough, the venue was maxxed-out, and if you had a space to stand and see the stage, then you were very lucky. But arriving early was worth the wait. At face value, Esperanza Spalding may arrive as a something of a cross-between Kenny Wheeler and Beyoncé, but there is much more beyond this, for her sound soaks up the richness and goodness of R&B, soul and contemporary jazz, all complemented by her unique character.
This night, she was performing with her eleven-piece band, with a brass section consisting of three saxophones, two trombones and two trumpets. The horn writing is extremely detailed and intricate, especially in the opening composition, in which Esperanza, in unison with the brass section, scats out a melody that is so angular and light that it could have been plucked out of the breeze. Esperanza is so accustomed to singing over the big band, which reacts to her every nuance, without losing its juice. She is never outdone or out-phased by its wall of sound; her message never has to strain to be heard. Even in those moments where her voice is subservient to the rest of the band, it speaks through with a crystal clarity and immediacy.
The second composition ('Hold On Me') further displays the strength of her vocal technique. Esperanza sang the whole melody with solo percussion, hitting every note perfectly without any harmonic support, yet still managing to stretch out and embellish with glissando and Sprechgesang-style murmuring. When the brass arrived, she came in 'note-perfect', to spontaneous applause. However, it is not only her vocal technique that is astounding, but the way in which she assimilates this with her bass playing. Her vocals and bass are integrated together as one unit, a single musical voice and line of creative thought, like an internal dialogue, the one informing the other. Whether she is playing, singing or speaking, it does not matter; it is the substance of what she is conveying that is important.
In this composition, the striking muted trumpets converse with the shifting modal shapes in a kaleidoscope of movement and sensuality, brought into relief by the poignant stabs. Dynamically, the level of control is ultra-sensitive - the musicians are stoppered and never let loose (except when they really need to, of course; it is these moments that are really quite impressive). The individual solos transmit so clearly, taking the flow in different directions, buffeted by the layers of backing provided by the rest of the band which rise like a water table. The skin-ripping squeals and heightened moments are conceived with pinpoint precision and timing, underpinned by a boiling undercurrent, and inciting gasps of delight from the audience, amidst the epic, potentially infinite and creeping walls of harmonic sound.
Her music is permeated with dialectic interaction at all levels. Much of the drama unfolds in the dialogue between Esperanza the individual soloists, such as the alto saxophone in the third composition 'City of Roses', in which conceptual talk meets with abstract saxophonic expressions in a seamless integration of verbal and non-verbal discourse. The saxophone solo itself was impressive. Tia Fuller constantly played outside or barely within the harmony (which was almost playing 'catch-up'). This calibre of playing is exceptionally rare; frequently it is the reverse state of affairs, the saxophonist who is 'catching up' with the harmony. This one is, however, ahead of the game, her solo cascading upwards to stellar rhapsodies and cosmological heights, yet composed with soft inward centers and soulful interiors. The audience cried with delight at every twist and turn, at its every slight motion.
As well as having a discernible musical gift, Esperanza has a real talent with words and conceptual ideas. Improvised poetry and spoken word were as much a part of her upbringing as her musical discipline, and Esperanza exudes emotion and personality from every single note and phrase - stating 'I believe in poetic justice'. Throughout the course of the performance, Esperanza freely intersperses running commentary and compere with melodic passages and lyrics, creating a fluid continuum of the cognitive and the abstract. At times, she steps out of the musical flow to verbally observe and comment on what is going on. She does this with a sharpness, wit and clarity that is so accessible to the listener, at one point, summarising the moment in the phrase 'music speaks louder than words'. The second ('Hold On Me') and third 'City of Roses') compositions are thematically opposed; the second representing 'what happens when things go wrong' and the third representing 'that silver lining'. It is incredible how Esperanza sometimes captures the entire Dionysian abstract in one Apollonian sentiment, especially when the music has no words, or, at least, no narrative sensibility.
Furthermore, Esperanza transforms like a chamelion or a phoenix, adopting different characters and sentiments between compositions. The fourth composition ('Smile Like That') talks about 'that mechanism that you make with your mouth' - a smile being the 'innocent way of describing it' - revealing a flirtatious curiosity, and a sweeter, more feminine side to her personality. The music is rhythmic, even when there is no meter; retaining its rhythmic potential, event when there is seemingly no rhythm. In those moments where the improvisation degenerates into sheer noise and confusion, the audience is still shaking and moving. From the farthest reaches of improvisational complexity, at the slightest touch, the band comes back in together as a collective. It is at this point that Esperanza plays with your expectations, commenting that 'maybe you thought I was innocent'.
Before the fifth composition, Esperanza declares that 'you just walked into the quiet after the storm'. It made me think that the whole set was an essay, or, at least, one continuous composition rather than a set of individual compositions. Their unfolding logic, which unravels itself in intimately connected paragraph-like themes is clear and methodical, yet leaving you compelled to see what transpires next.
Before the sixth composition ('Crowned & Kissed'), Esperanza talks about the 'little things that you forget to notice, which are sometimes right in front of you...' Coincidentally, this composition emphasises the finer, positive aspects of life within a world that over-stresses the negative, and it fills you with a wonder and optimism that makes you think and re-evaluate your life. Her music is, again, all-inclusive and interactive - it is as much about YOU as it is about them. Esperanza and her band work with the energy of the audience, its spontaneous whooping and cheering becoming an integral part of the performance. It is as if the entire performance were written and expressly performed just for YOU, on this very night, and it makes you wonder how much of it was composed and how much of it was improvised. The mention of 'kings and queens' is punctuated by a brassy fanfare, seemingly spontaneous yet executed at the optimum moment, evoking a regal imagery that prevails in the background until the end.
In the seventh composition ('Black Gold') Esperanza is joined by a male vocalist, adding an alternative personality to the mix, with his lamenting, melismatic excursions interposed with supporting comments from the former female presence, adding 'a little medicine for your soul'. This composition reminds me that her music has roots and foundations as well as staggering heights, with its soulful R&B and danceable grooves, executed with an immersive jazz sensibility. The male and female vocals combined added a shimmering richness, and the brilliance is enhanced by the classic key change, which takes the momentum up another notch and empowers it onto another plane.
The eighth composition ('Vague Suspicions') blends gliding cross-rhythms with kaleidoscopic rays of harmony, coloured with silky, cocoaesque vocals, soprano saxophone and flute; with swishing piano and gentle cymbals crashing under swathing sheets of texture. The music never lingers too long on a particular vibe; like Esperanza herself, it is forever shifting and evolving through seemingly endless subjects, from within itself, growing and transforming. And just when you think that it cannot get any higher or go any further, it surprises you again and throws something new onto the table.
Some compositions such as the ninth ('Cinnamon Tree') do not necessarily make narrative sense, but they do not always need to; it is the sensations that they transmit which is integral here, the means rather than the ends. Esperanza is as much a romantic as she is a voyeuristic, her abstract poetry pleasing those young couples who are only too happy to waltz with one another in contemplative bliss. Esperanza refers to each composition as a 'scene' - almost like the concert is a moving film or motion picture that submerges your ears into a fabulously warm ocean of sounds and sensations. The distinctions between compositions are subtly blurred, as the pacing is very fluid, yet each composition still maintains its own cognitive boundaries.
The tenth composition ('Endangered Species') is a Wayne Shorter composition that was 'perfect just how it was', but is now enriched with lyrics, again, presenting us with something new and unexpected, and revealing another side to her personality. Esperanza exploits the power of the voice as an 'instrument' as much as for its lyrical potential. Sometimes, especially when it is subservient or equal to the rest of the band, it resonates with the subconscious rather than the conscious, and you do not always notice it, but if you tune your ears and mind, then you realise that it is omnipresent. The overall forms and instrumental combinations are like auditory illusions; you can listen to the music in a million different ways, and would probably still make sense if it were played backwards, because the unity and structure is so integral. Listening through its multitude of layers, you can hear internal structures interacting with one another at different levels - not limited to the surface. The trumpet solo in this composition is languid and circuitous. Igmar Thomas' fragmentary passages twist and turn, winding around themselves and creating an internal, unfolding logic, hot-wired into a bed of electronic and acoustic dissonance, and free, grooving interplay. The rest of the brass backing once again enters in apocalyptic style, propelling the trumpet to stellar heights, provoking spontaneous rapture from the audience and leaving you dizzy with euphoria.
The overall show seemed to have no beginning or end - even the free improvisatory 'warm-up' grew organically into the opening number. The compositions tap into streams of consciousness that are already there, like telescopes uncovering entities that were always lingering beneath. This is a testament to the strength of her music, and to the compositions in themselves, which transcend technical boundaries and become a platform for social engagement and improvisational mastery.
Krystle Warren uses a very interesting juxtaposition of banjo, string quartet and trumpet, creating a New Orleans / West Country meets folk and blues vibe. The show has a very Bugsy Malone / Speak Easy sound with its decadent 50's style trumpet and comic, almost incidental mood. The compositions combine lilting jazz rhythms with wistful, storybook (non-musical folk, please excuse me) subdominant minor six to tonic major progressions, each song presenting short, sweet moments and situations that never linger longer than they need to - the timing is just right. The lyrics are swishy and poetic, combining lighthearted skat with pragmatic attitudes and old world charm.
Unlike a lot of contemporary music, the compositions of Krystle Warren are not overly reliant on grooving rhythm; it is the timbral combinations and lyrical explorations that are the key interest here. Krystle displays a great range of vocal styles and techniques, utilizing the voice to exploit and tease out all emotional intent. Her voice is rich and gritty, especially with the velvety low notes which are reminiscent of Nina Simone or Joan Armatrading. The backing vocals are used to great effect and enhancement, and provide a sweet counterpoint to her soulful excursions.
Angelique Kidjo is a prolific and internationally-recognised African music star. Her childhood influences were as diverse as James Brown and Carlos Santana, as well as the music of her native Benin. Appearing onstage for the first time at the age of six, Angelique went on to become one of the most important forces in African music - not to mention one of the most influencial African women, politically and socially, as well as musically. Her music and charismatic stage presence act out a story that interweaves all of these struggles and triumphs, and sets the stage for an incredibly rich celebration of life and living.
The compositions are a melange of driving African and Latin rhythms, with contemporary touches of R&B, soul and jazz; combining effortless rhythmic mastery with lush choral textures and lofty vocals. In their rhythmic, harmonic and textural innovation, the compositions preserve a balance of old and new, a reconciliation of past and present.
From the first two songs, I was captivated beyond words. Such a famous and distinguished voice. I have heard her sound so many times - it is that emblazoned in the international music world - but just hearing it live was something really special. The acoustics in the RNCM Theatre were crystal clear, and they provided the perfect depth for Angelique to fill with her iconic voice, which soared freely over a sonic vista of piano, guitar, bass, drums and percussion and the choir providing a shimmering sheen of richness. It was a real luxury within which to bathe my ears and mind.
The Manchester World Voices Choir, featuring singers from around Manchester brought together for this concert, was breathtaking, especially during its opening number 'Fifa'. All around me, I felt the audience mood lifted and transformed. The choir really added that magical ingredient to the evening - every individual moving with the spirit of the collective.
The band, consisting of Thierry Vaton (piano), Lucian Zerrad (guitar), Rody Cereyon (bass), Gregory Louis (drums) and Charly Obin Yapi (percussion) moved effortlessly as a unit. Angelique would sometimes bring one band member out into the forefront to become the primary musical feature, which would serve to highlight their creative accomplishment and add different dimensions to the show.
Angelique herself is an immanently musical person, through and through, right from the very intimate vocal solo at the beginning of the concert, to her climactic moments with the full band and choir; she captures your heart, and every cell in her being radiating warmth. Her charismatic delivery was an energetic outpouring of colour and personality. Angelique moves with such vivacity and flourish. What immediately struck me is the integrity of her music; music that is so honest, true to the heart and full of humanity - music that does not try too hard to be one thing or another, but music that just IS. Angelique has had an incredibly unique, turbulent life as representative of many women in Africa, and her music is as much an unfolding story, taking you every step of the way. Yet even through all of these experiences, Angelique retains an integral youthfulness, enthusiasm, warmth and zest for life, which is at once inspiring and uplifting. A true artist of the world and fulfilling musical landmark.
Angelique Kidjo will be performing with the band and the choir at BT River of Music in London on Saturday 21 July. Another glorious opportunity to catch this significant musical convergence.
Lead singer Ana Bachalau is as much an actress as she is a vocalist - bringing to life a range of moods, colours and flavours - from delicate, bittersweet saudade to cheeky imitations. As a performer, she is extraordinarily individualistic and charismatic, bringing comic melancholy, wavering wantation and the humourous streaks of slapstick and irony to the stage, enflamed in the heat and warmth of the Portuguese song form. Her delivery is confident, not to the point of overdoing it, but with the downright defiance and sweet girlyness of a diva whose eyes and facial features draw you right in and fool you into thinking that you're being seranaded in a bar, pub or fado house in Lisbon (or, at least, that you're receiving a private performance). Her voice has so many different facets and characteristics, with its melismatic slides and wavering vibratos, its gutsy projections and almost recitativo outbursts, which are executed with jaw-dropping control, beauty and authenticity.
The band as a whole gave a dramatic performance, almost like a pantomime or piece of musical theatre in itself, for it delighted the eyes and mind, as much as it did the ears and soul. You don't have to speak Portuguese or know the lusophonian world to appreciate this music - it speaks in its own heart-warming vessel that trickles playfully around your heart and draws you into its curious little conundrums. With each song, I was enchanted by its magic. The songs tell tales of loved ones over the ocean, smiles that can transform the lowest of moods and charicatures who boast false, exaggerated claims but who are actually very small, insignificant people (she sighs, crouching right down so that she is on her knees).
The accompaniment of guitar, cavaquinho and bass with intricately interwovan around the lilting vocal style, immaculately finished with the little stops and pauses, held chords, rallentandos and even some backing vocals, giving the texture its own breath and movement. Deliciously devourable.
No doubt about it, Ceu has style. Performing in a night dress and slippers amidst cups of herbal tea, this band is a haunting powerhouse of everything that central Brazilian contemporary music has to offer. Blending elements of minimalism and avant garde with dark, erotic songwriting, gritty rock and voyeuristic MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira), her delivery was raw, timid and humourously neurotic, brimming with nervous energy and the weight of intellect.
There was no lack of variety in grooves and textures between the songs, which incorporated everything from Mexican cha-cha-chá, Jamaican reggae, West African highlife and Brazilian funk, overlaid with subtle electronics and cool, airy rock. The ouevre was intelligent, weightly and mentally charged. An unusual and captivating performance.
The usual sambistas and Bossa Nova aficionados may have not got quite what they bargained for, but it certainly did not disappoint. Ceu reveals an alternative, darker side to the face of contemporary Brazilian music - at least from an international perspective - one that was true, honest and manifestant of the turbulent dynamics emerging from this amazing sub-continent.
Tineke Postma brought her jazz quartet from the Netherlands to the Pizza Express London where they last played 4 years ago, in 2008. She has returned brimming with some new compositions and evergreen classics.
The quartet has a new age sound, without being overly mechanical or weighed down by the technological advances of society. Its voice is clear, pure and natural with a cool, temperate atmosphere. It escapes squeaky cleanliness with a satisfyingly crunchy friction and de-stability.
The compositions begin very simply, with minimalistic and abstract structures - a reference point - against which the improvisatory explorations push the current through explorations of harmonic space from irregular angles, with sparse, floating segments gently colliding with one another in an overtly thoughtful construction. Her musical voice is highly original; the way that she intricately crafts her melodies, and the depth and richness in which she blends with the rhythm section. The development of her ideas are mature and methodically thought out. She is very economical with her ideas, not relying on too many notes, and always develops them to the maximum.
Technically, Tineke is an artist who does not limit herself to scales and arpeggios to play out her ideas. Her creative spark opens itself much wider and plays with textural and timbral inflections, rhythmic poly-fragmentation and interesting breathing effects which are intelligently used, not for the sake of being used, but brought in as an integral enhancement of her intent. Her smooth, liquorice saxophone tone and seamless altissimo range is employed with bone-tingling effect. Her pianist is not restricted to four-bar phrases, but he plays in and out of the weaving structures, ribbons that are not overly rhythmic but divide the meter into intricate proportions.
The collective improvisation is restrained, yet bristling with a raw essence and fervency that does not blast you away. The interaction is solid, yet always on the edge. You can tell that these musicians have played together as a unit for a long time, they know one another's playing intimately. The passages develop organically, proceeding from the germ of the idea into the multi-faceted complex. Overall, it is very engaging. At points, it seems like the musicians use their combined timbres to 'collaborate' over one note in a pre-destined convergence, although it is easy to forget that virtually all of it is improvised.
Towards the end of the concert, the well-known standard 'It Could Happen To You' was a beautiful choice that complemented the oeuvre perfectly. Overall, it was a highly inventive performance, delivered with style and charm, from a quartet with a highly unusual and refreshing sound world.
Outhouse Ruhabi @ RFH Clore Ballroom
Outhouse Ruhabi is an ensemble consisting of 2 tenor saxophones, bass, drums and 4 Gambian Wolof percussionists. Led by drummer, Dave Smith, the group started in Africa, and its members are spread around the world. Their sound is a juxtaposition of traditional Gaba drumming from Gambia, West Africa, and contemporary, avant-garde jazz... Well, not so much a juxtaposition, but more of a reconciliation; the project truly acknowledges and embodies the African roots of jazz. Saxophonist Robin Fincker described how when the band were touring in Africa, and playing in the villages, the entire population of those villages would come out to watch, and they would recognise their own rhythms and practices integrated within those of the jazz drummer - it is their own rhythms that have permeated jazz and popular music throughout the Americas. The ethos of Outhouse Ruhabi is effectively a reconciliation of the old and the new, the African and the American, the one informing the other in a generational dialogue that transcends time and space - a musical and cultural 'time warp'. The project is a evolutionary frontier, and a breaking of the boundaries, for it returns modern jazz back to its motherland.
The music was extremely spiritual, combining static, saxophonic chordal applications, revolving around crackling percussive layers, fractured by violent ruptures, and occasionally heightened by repeated, call-and-response, polyphonic vocal refrains. The saxophones seemed to float weightlessly at the surface, providing a smooth, airy contrast to the rumbling, wavering percussion. The spine-tingling, intricate, popping rhythms tickled the sinuses of my soul, and moved me in a way that I felt transfixed, lest anyone else know how intimately I was experiencing them.
While I have some knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms, my knowledge of West African rhythm is somewhat limited, so forgive me for incorrectly applying Cuban terminologies to a music that through lifelong study I would barely scratch the surface. The hierarchical layers of percussion added a three-dimensional quality to the music, and played an elastic yet robust rhythmic groove, which morphed seamlessly through different feels and tempos; sometimes a spirited, buoyant 6/8, at other times gnawing and sawing its way through a 4/4 meter, and occasionally a leaping rumba with a 6/8 lilt. The moods were sometimes sombre and processionary, breaking into complex, multi-faceted structures rotating like giant musical organisms; their cyclic hooks compelling you into a state of total absorption and contemplation. During the intense sections, the squealing saxophonic laments of Tom Challenger were egged on by the relentless onslaught of torrential percussion; their cascading tones manifesting themselves in a pure 'flow-of-consciousness' expulsion of the brain, and rippling in a frenzy of wild counterpoint.
The music incited a man to dance alone, which reminded me of the solo male dancer in the Cuban colombia - one of the oldest forms of rumba descended from the African legacy - in which the male dancer manifests himself as the orisha, dancing out the spirit. This man was lost in his own spiritual world, his eyes trance-like, and his mind apparently turned towards the heavens. In dialectic response, one of the drummers positioned himself in front of the stage and performed his own dance at the end, provoking spontaneous cheers and hand clapping from the audience. The percussion 'solo' towards the end was not really a 'solo'; it was a 'soli' yet it was all improvised - or so I understood. It was like your conventional jazz drum 'solo' yet all of the percussionists were improvising together as a unit! This incredibly integrated display, disciplined through generations and years of initiation and practice, is a miraculous phenomenon of human nature that since has manifested itself as a religious, recreational and social cohesive tool across many forms of music.
I only realised half way through the performance that, unlike most groups that I had witnessed in the jazz festival, there was no piano, guitar or equivalent harmony instrument. However, the music did not necessarily need this; there was enough substance to tantalise and tickle the senses, throwing the listener into an open, expansive, inharmonious void. Altogether, it was an energetic, spiritual performance that was very moving and humbling to watch. I have seen some amazing things over the last week that have truly been a measure of the human capability, but it is very rare to be able to simply drift into the Southbank Centre and to be immersed in music of such depth and richness, and to have the luxury of allowing its ripples to wash over you - an experience that cannot be felt at any other place or time.
F-IRE Collective @ RFH Clore Ballroom
F-IRE Collective is an exciting hotpoint of pioneering jazz, which fosters and cultivates emerging young talent both nationally and internationally through a school of like-minded composers and performers, inciting a vivacious wave of creativity bubbling up through the surface of London's jazz scene. I witnessed the F-IRE Collective big band on two separate occasions at the RNCM in 2005 and 2007, and on one occasion I was even lucky enough to play with F-IRE Collective graduates saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trumpeter Tom Arthurs through the Manchester University Big Band, organised by Graham South. Today, I was fortunate enough to hear Porpoise Corpus, one of their newest ensembles, who incite innovative, electrifying and trailblazing original music; combining a wide range of influences, juxtaposing live acoustic and electronic instruments that crash and burn their way through explosive interludes balanced with languid pools of sustained piano and creamy saxophone, and integrating contemplative, sophisticated sensibilities with grooving material that has a sense of immediacy among listeners. The dissonant ballast antagonises itself between periods of tension and relaxation; swelling outwards, withdrawing inwards, and occasionally giving way to glistening, gleaming, diminished and inquisitive vibraphonic releases. The concert finale offered a glimpse inwards into the milky way, sailing outwards into a vast expanse of stellar, musical horizons.
Phronesis @ Southbank Centre Front Room
Phronesis Big Band mix instruments with vocals in an interesting combination of free jazz improvisation and structured arrangement. Their music has an authoritative, auspicious quality to it, and it almost materialises a fantasy film score with a prophetic undertone, tinged with seclusion, mystery and awe. Its lines ebb and flow with magic, effortlessly interchanging between brass and vocals, and transporting you on a whirlwind ride through a sequence of through-composed, programmatic soundscapes. Structurally, it is loose and free in some sections, whilst in others, the material is tonally and rhythmically centred. Occasionally, it is reminiscent of the music of American composer Charles Ives, synonymously juxtaposing a multitude of layers; liturgical, choral curtains with a stratosphere of sparkling piano clusters and gently spattering percussion - engendering a transcendental texture wherein the past and present seem interchangeable. Towards the end, the integrated clapping textures intermingling with the scatted vocal ostinato patterns manifest the most fundamentally and organically human forms of musical expression, gripping the heart and lifting the soul. This clears the way for mirrors of piano sheen, and flourishing brass improvisations among hissing, rumbling percussion.
Rory spent the first few years of his life in an ice cave, carving out his palace of wonder. He's a bit of a love doll, but he who melts the ice shall have their reward.