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A wet afternoon in the ‘Big Smoke’ is brightened by a quip about the ‘Windy City’. Ben LaMar Gay describes the latter, Chicago, as ‘country’ to the former, London, the urban sprawl. He then invites the audience at an impressively full matinee to be part of an ongoing transatlantic exchange that has already seen him and fellow Chicagoans Makaya McCraven and Jamie Branch work with young Brits in the past year or so.

The cornet player-electronicist-vocalist is here with his own quartet rather than local guests and there is a crackle of anticipation in the room at the prospect of him playing material from Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun, an album compiled from seven previously unreleased sets of music. All of which makes the point that the Chicagoan is nothing if not productive, but the sound palette he creates with a very cohesive band shows that quality matches quantity. Sat at a table with a couple of consoles for effects and beats, Gay, his distinctive red cap and dark blue jacket giving him the allure of an industrial revolution factory worker, channels the resources around with impressive aplomb. The combination of the digital drone and drag of his programming, the brooding rumble of Josh Sirotiak‘s tuba and the understated but penetrating flicker of Tomasso Moretti‘s drums makes for an enticing canvas upon which colours can be splashed. Will Faber‘s guitar is a vivid pastel in the mix, its precise, aqueous arpeggios enhancing the flow of the arrangements without flooding the upper or middle range. Gay’s brass pierces the air with a stark, melancholic beauty steeped in a far-reaching lineage of significant horn players that would include anybody from Roy Eldridge to Don Cherry. Yet, as the set unfolds, there is a more distinct resonance of Chicago in the 1990s and millennium, typified by Tortoise, that permeates the music, which builds a solid bridge between the dark undercurrents of dub and hip-hop and the light-and-shade of improvisation. Lines loop and motifs mutate, as the 21st century artist’s border crossing and time travelling gain steady traction, pushing Gay to the AEC axiom of ‘Great black music: ancient to future’.

His understanding of that heritage comes into focus in a few thrilling moments that send a notable tremor of excitement around the room. Firstly, he reaches for a melodica and plays the most charming, chugging riffs that vaguely recall the great Hermeto Pascoal’s singular Afro-Brazilian meta-modernism. The child-like brightness makes for a fine contrast to the breathy moan of Sirotiak’s bansuri flute. Secondly, Gay launches into a funky hybrid of rapped and sung choruses over a riveting, zigzag cowbell beat that underlines the Latin subtext. There is a spark in this sign-off that confirms Gay as ‘country boy’ who is more than a match for the big city.

Kevin Le Gendre

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The Enjoy Jazz festival is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, presenting gigs between three main cities in south-western Germany. It’s an extended season that usually begins in early October, stretching until mid-November. Each night features a show in either Heidelberg, Ludwigshafen or Mannheim, sometimes with simultaneous happenings in each location.

This year’s artist-in-residence is the veteran saxophonist Archie Shepp, and his first showing was at the Mannheim National Theatre, with an expanded crew revisiting his Fire Music album, from way back in 1965. Being his second release for the Impulse! label, a certain amount of free jazz was surely promised, rather than the more mainline style that Shepp has favoured during recent decades. We were not disappointed, as this eight-piece crew (including Hamid Drake on drums) set out to capture the essence of the original contents with a surprising closeness of spirit and style.

Drake (bells, mallets) and bowing bassist Darryl Hall laid sparse improvised terrain for Shepp’s recital of ‘Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm’, followed by a pointed, overblowing solo on soprano saxophone, precise spikes driven in. The old LP’s key track, ‘Hambone’, wasn’t quite as complicatedly careening, here, but Shepp’s four-piece horn section certainly made a dynamic negotiation. He ripped straight into a tenor solo at high velocity, and Shepp’s hornmates looked visibly enamoured of their grand master’s inflamed efforts. Drake made lightning snicks and clatters, and regular sideman Carl-Henri Morisset issued a forceful piano statement. Trombonist Sebastien Llado led a bluesy slowing down, and ‘Los Olvidados’ didn’t take long before letting Shepp fly again, with a tough, racing tenor solo. This is an 81-year-old who’s not short on stamina.

As with the album, following the three more adventurous pieces, the set’s remainder inhabited standards-land, but still involving a few quirks. The reading of ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ was one of its free-er outings, and Shepp wasn’t rationing out his solos. He sang with a croaky, vulnerable tone on ‘Prelude To A Kiss’, and ended the show with an extra tune, ‘Syeeda’s Song Flute’, a Coltrane number covered on Shepp’s Impulse! debut.

In Heidelberg, there were two contrasting gigs at Karlstorbahnhof, an intimate arts venue. The Vincent Peirani Quintet adopt a jazz-rock fusion attitude, though without too much over-electrification. The leader’s significant left-hand man is soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien, who pretty much qualifies as a co-leader, so profound is his contribution. For a while, during ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Unknown Chemistry’, he was restrained, but then embarked on his first soprano salvo of the session, swiftly escalating, feet beginning to pixie-prance and side-kick uncontrollably. Peirani’s first significant solo was on a chunky chromatic harmonica, but his accordion spotlights would be saved for later in the night. The quintet gave ‘Kashmir’ a slow build-up, initially unrecognisable, then releasing its full riff, following a snaking Parisien solo. Fractured Rhodes hacks followed, and then a transition was made into ‘Stairway To Heaven’, this Led Zeppelin celebration being among the most exuberant parts of the performance.

On a more internalised level, The Necks pleasingly offered two sets (and therefore two extended improvisations) at the same venue – often, if appearing at a festival, they’ll only play one, so this was a good chance to hear alternate manifestations of their epic-form extemporising. The first set was almost traditionally jazz piano trio in nature, until Chris Abrahams snagged onto a two-note repeat, with snail elaboration, Tony Buck limited to cymbal and small gong, softly resonant, until he added a scrunching metal texture. A blurry shimmer loaded up, Lloyd Swanton‘s bass alternating between bowed murmurs and sensitive finger-strums. The sombre, blood-red lighting was sympathetic, with slow growth into a saintly white glare. The second Neck-ing began obsessively, Buck deciding on a repetitive hand-drumming figure, on floor tom, fast and unbroken, until he clutched first one shaker, then another. Abrahams had both hands in the middle of his keyboard, amassing a Reichian blur of adjacent sonorities, a sonic mirage shaping, and the number finishing with him alone, as if his delayed entrance gave him some bonus time to conclude.

Over in Ludwigshafen at Das Haus, another well-sized arts haunt, the guitar, bass and drums trio Radian visited from Vienna, though they’ve been well-schooled in Germanic electro-rock approaches for around two decades. Their basic structure blooms outwards and across via a stack of processing boxes and pedals, splintering, fracturing, glitching and dispersing. Their edges were often brutal, but they also paused to release gaseous clouds of contemplation.

Enjoy Jazz continues until 16th November…

Martin Longley
Photo by Manfred Rinderspacher/Enjoy Jazz (Archie Shepp) 

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Lorraine Baker recorded one of the season’s freshest sounding releases with her Eden project, dedicated to exploring the unique legacy of maverick New Orleans drum supremo Ed Blackwell. As Blackwell was a relatively infrequent composer, she’s picked selections from the back catalogue of his many illustrious employers – in particular artists like Mark Helias and Don Cherry, whose work explores the interface between groove, melody and freedom. Tonight’s set kicks off with a solo intro from bass guitarist Paul Michael that bears a faint family resemblance to Stanley Clarke’s ‘School Days’; Baker leans into the kit, absorbed in the complex polyrhythms that were a Blackwell speciality, drawing all the colours out of the toms and cymbals, and Binker Golding lets fly with the first solo of the evening, his brawny tenor mixing some R&B inflections in among the hip modern language. Next it’s guest John Turville on keys, showing why he’s the first call for so many unusual cross-genre projects; his playing awesomely fluent, sensitive and imaginative, unbounded by cliche. Helias’ ‘Thumbs Up’ gets a lively reading, and Cherry’s ‘Guinea’ sees the band really getting into their stride, with Golding absolutely tearing it up and a wonderful, fleet-fingered solo from Michael full of elegant phrasing.

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The second set starts with Charlie Haden’s ‘Chairman Mao’ – a pulsing one-note bassline sets the stage for wide-ranging explorations from Golding and Turville, before evolving into a groove akin to Herbie Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’ – Karl Berger’s ‘Dakar Dance’ features more bubbling polyrhythms with Michael assisting on extra hi-hat to allow Baker to roam free on a complex, melodic solo. This is a vision of groove-based jazz that doesn’t feel obliged to eschew either melody or occasional forays into harmonic depth; the clattering, chattering drive of the kit, locked in with Michael’s bass guitar, is at the heart of each track, but Baker is also a sensitive player and never swamps the soloist. Golding is best known for his commanding, strident duo act with Moses Boyd; a ravishing duet between him and John Turville on Helias’ ‘Pentahouve’ shows his rarely revealed lyrical side, and his breadth and depth as a player is evident throughout.

All the band play the eclectic, unfamiliar material with total commitment and aplomb and Baker’s playing, and her vision for the project, show a distinct personality. It’s all the more unfortunate that the attendance on this dark, rainy November night is so skinny, and all the more impressive that the band still manage to deliver this exciting music with such conviction. The set closes with another joyous Cherry composition – ‘Mopti”s uplifting Afro lilt sends those lucky enough to attend out into the night well satisfied.

– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley 

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The 37th edition of what is a key date on the European jazz festival calendar does not want for ambition. Or tradition. Over four days Tampere‘s ‘happening’ strikes an enviable balance between current events in improvised music and the underlying roots whence they spring, which is brilliantly epitomised by a show-stopping ovation-winning gig by French double-bassist Henri Texier (above). He is on stellar form.

The septuagenarian leads Sand Quintet, the latest in a long line of dynamic small groups, and Texier’s immense life experience as well as talent – as a youngster in Paris he played with Bud Powell, no less – pours into music that has fine solos and interplay, but retains a melodic richness akin to the richest folk music. The themes, often haunting laments, are memorable and strong resonances of non-western music, particularly North African and Indian, colour much of the material, none more so than the classic Texier composition ‘Amir’, which adds to the anthem-like character of the set. In the large Pakkahuone concert hall the band achieves a club-like intimacy.

Interestingly, Texier makes a point of acknowledging the ‘sixth member’ of the quintet, sound engineer Charles Caratini, who has been mixing the bassist’s work for years, and the question of aural attention to detail and adventurous sonic manipulation surfaces throughout the festival. Technology is something of a running theme among the three bands from Austria, the country Tampere has chosen to showcase this year. Trumpeter Mario Rom‘s Interzone has darkly atmospheric pieces steeped in the mist of his reverb-laden brass; Elektro Guzzi transfers house and techno grooves to a guitar-led trio, while Kompost 3 has a new take on a patented fusion vocabulary. All of the above engage a lively audience at the smaller standing venue Klubi, which is a smart fit for the obvious dance implications of what they do.

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American ensemble Ghost-Note (above) takes that one step further. The Snarky Puppy splinter group led by drummer Robert Searight and percussionist Nate Werth is an ear-poppingly funky proposition that strikes a chord with the crowd from the downbeat. It is the latest iteration of a model that includes such as Headhunters, Tower Of Power and Groove Collective, insofar as the horns and rhythm section are in a state of near-constant effervescence that makes for a climb-the-walls ambiance. Another US artist with a direct connection to pop culture is trumpeter Josef Leimberg, known for his work with Snoop and Kendrick Lamarr, among others. Shaped by edgy backbeats and trippy modal vamps his set has fine moments, above all Tracy Wannomae‘s sax solos, but the whole isn’t greater than the sum of the parts, and suggests Leimberg is a work in progress. The work is interesting, though.

With regard to artists coming into their own after many years at the coalface British saxophonist Denys Baptiste‘s Late Trane project (pictured below) goes down a storm and Finnish drummer Olavi Louhivouri excels with The Net Of Indra, which is a supergroup consisting of two Euro jazz legends, his compatriot saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and Swedish double-bassist Palle Danielsson. The quartet is completed by the excellent Norwegian trumpeter Eivind Lenning, who shines in a setting where Ornettish themes alternate with lengthy unaccompanied solos. Coleman’s influence can also be heard in other Finnish groups such as Maxxxtet who play the homely restaurant Telakka, just opposite the concert hall.

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Showcasing Finnish bands is an important part of the festival’s remit and a roof-raising performance from Mopo, a tremendously likeable trio with a knack for blending zestful danceable tunes with expressive improvisations, is a TJH highlight. The lively ensemble, which features baritone saxophonist Linda Fredriksson, is joined by special guest, multi-reedist Mikko Innanen, her former tutor, who broadens the tonal and rhythmic palette of the music, creating the novel spectacle of a twin baritone frontline at one point. Arresting sounds of a different order fill the air when the mighty Art Ensemble of Chicago plays a set in which Roscoe Mitchell‘s no-compromise soprano explorations are dominant. But the searing lament ‘Odwalla’s Theme’, with which the band closes, gets audience members swinging in their chairs. Emma Salokoski & Ilmiliekki Quartet‘s sublime folk-based set also has the crowd swooning, but the sense of congregation achieved at Tampere Jazz Happening is well in tune with the civic life of the city.

It is the sauna capital of Finland, a fact enjoyed by visiting musicians, some of whom happily avail themselves of the cosy cabin backstage at Telakka. Furthermore, the city is growing in stature on the festival circuit and will have the honour of hosting WOMEX 2019.

Kevin Le Gendre

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With the full programme confirmed for this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, which runs from 16 to 25 November, it’s the festival’s huge number of free concerts that are set to tempt in the wider public, with a dizzying range of international music, live radio broadcasts, panel discussions and workshops on offer. Heading up the myriad European musicians appearing are 15 of the brightest young stars in the Italian jazz firmament (Barbican Free Stage, 17 and 18 Nov, as well as at a special free concert at the Italian Cultural Institute, Belgravia on 19 Nov). These include silken-voiced guitarist/singer Simona Severini (above right) and piano soloist Giovanni Guidi, swing-influenced rockers Clock’s Pointer Dance, sonic architects Yellow Squeeds and the groove-led Drive!, as well as a guest appearance by elder statesman, saxophonist Francesco Bearzatti. Elsewhere the Next Generation Takes Over programme features two full days of performances from emerging young UK jazz talent (Clore Ballroom, 24-25 Nov).

Acclaimed keyboardist Kit Downes performs spellbinding ambient organ soundscapes at a special free matinee show with saxophonist Tom Challenger (1pm, RFH, 23 Nov), with Nordic keys man Sigbjørn Apeland providing another idiosyncratic take on the ‘organ recital’ with his first-time collaboration with keyboardist Danalogue (The Comet is Coming/Soccer 96) and saxophonist Helen Papaioannou at the Union Chapel (12pm, 17 Nov).

Another Southbank free-show highlight comes from tuba-man Andy Grappy, who leads a small army of young brass players in the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, under the banner of James Reese Europe Marches, in tribute to the inspirational wartime bandleader (6.45pm, 18 Nov). An equally uplifting sound is sure to come from the combined forces of high-energy Vula Viel gyil player Bex Burch, leading UK saxophonist Jason Yarde and Ghanaian master percussionist Afla Sackey, who perform as Mwalimu Express for some intense Afro-jazz grooves (2.30pm, Rich Mix, 18 Nov).

Something a little more chilled comes courtesy of alto saxophonist Martin Speake who leads his new project, Charukesi, featuring Alyson Cawley (tenor/clarinet), Rob Luft (guitar) and Will Glaser (drums/perc) (2.30pm, Cadogan Hall, 19 Nov). Pizza Express Jazz Club opens its doors for two free lunchtime gigs from a pair of Serious ‘Take Five’ alumni, with gigs from exciting latin-jazz influenced pianist Al MacSween (1pm, 22 Nov) and fiery guitar virtuoso Ant Law (above left, 1pm, 19 Nov).

Among the numerous talks and workshops at the festival, Jazzworks presents a day of discussions and shared insight for everyone working in, or interested in working in, the music industry (Level 5, Southbank Centre, 24 Nov), with a series of showcase performances in the Clore Ballroom from undergraduate jazz musicians. There’s also the danceable Chicago X London night, which sees UK saxophonist Nubya Garcia and US drummer Makaya McCraven (top centre) unite for an evening of free-flowing, forward thinking jazz and beats (EartH, Hackney Arts Centre, 24 Nov).

Other significant concert hall gigs include a stellar Jazz Cubano triple-bill, with Alfredo Rodriguez, Omar Sosa and Arturo O’Farrill (Barbican, 23 Nov); the heavyweight Dave Douglas UPLIFT band with Bill Laswell and Mary Halvorson (QEH, 16 Nov); Hammond hero James Taylor Quartet‘s cinematic ‘Electric Black’ show (Cadogan Hall, 21 Nov) and visceral Chicagoan trumpeter Jaimie Branch‘s two nights at Cafe OTO (21-22 Nov).

And fans of jazz photography should keep an eye out for works by renowned jazz snapper William Ellis, with his ‘The One LP Project’ on display in the main foyer at Cadogan Hall during the festival. Prints from his ‘Miles and Beyond’ show – featuring images of Dizzy Gillespie, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nancy Wilson, Kurt Elling, Herbie Hancock and many more – will be on display at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham Common North Side from 16 to 28 November.

All these events join those previously listed in Jazzwise, who is festival media partner.

Mike Flynn

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There is already a sense of excitement in the air as opener Vels Trio‘s drummer Dougal Taylor brings their set of elegantly hip Hancock-esque minimal fusion to a simmering boil. This gig in the low-ceilinged Komedia basement sold out long ago – evidence of a far-sighted booking policy by joint promoters Dictionary Pudding and Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival. The Sons of Kemet themselves take to the stage without introduction and take it to the top without delay; Tom Skinner and Eddie Hicks kick off a thunderous double-drum bashment, while Shabaka Hutchings preaches above, spitting out short incandescent phrases in a hoarse tone like a furious Junior Walker, and Theon Cross prowls the stage with detached self-possession and floppy hipster hat. He looks as cool as it’s possible for a man carrying a tuba, thoroughly reclaiming the instrument from it’s association with the likes of Danny Kaye and Harold Bishop and reinventing it as a source of low-frequency wub. Shabaka leans into the attack, forcing out shrill notes with his entire body, then flashing a massive grin as he and Cross negotiate a long, complex unison.

Club grooves, Afro-beat, rave and festival vibes all combine into one 90-minute long workout, each piece blending into the next. The sheer stamina is intoxicating, with sweat and spit flying across the stage. Hutchings and Cross function effectively as co-leaders over the relentless, even chaotic double-assault of the drummers, Hutchings pumping out riffs as Cross breaks out into squeals and bass-bin shaking low-end bombs; their unison lines have a telepathic accuracy that shows the effects of heavy touring. A loping 12/8 groove builds into a pounding Afro-jig; a slow nyabinghi rhythm invites Cross to drop down low with some sub-bass that draws roars from the crowd; then the tempo shoots back up again.


Shabaka’s playing is built up from nagging two- and three-note motifs, repeated over and over, driving the energy ever upwards; it’s all about rhythm and groove, and those after melody or varied expression should probably look elsewhere. There’s a foot-on-the-monitor solo for Cross that provides an oasis of respite from the intensity, and a crescendo of echt free-time blowing for the alternative jazz crowd, but the majority here have come to dance, or at least sway and nod heads. The demographic is a typical Brighton mix of older hipsters, young students and assorted free-thinkers, and they are all ears when Hutchings finally addresses them with an unexpected foray into critical theory. “The first thing that oppressed communities lose is the ability to create their own histories,” he states, after the cheering dies down, before launching into a disquisition upon the power of ‘myth’ that would have provided useful material for any third-year students of Barthes. Then, switching off his mic and associated pedals, he moves to the front of the stage. The drummers take up the nyabinghi groove again, but this time softly, as Cross joins in on Agogo, and Hutchings freestyles over the top, in a hushed, mellow tone, full of melody and reflective yearning, as the room remains in absolute silence. It’s a magical moment that acts as a coda to, and helps contextualise and resolve, all the sound and fury that went before.

Sons Of Kemet have truly broken out of the jazz box with a message for the people – long may they continue to spread the word.

– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley

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The old joke that the audience will have a chance to chat shortly – there’s a bass solo coming up – is never further from reality than when Dave Holland‘s in the house. Back at Ronnie Scott’s, the club where Miles Davis first heard him over 50 years ago, Holland’s full-toned muscular style was dominant from the opening bars of the first tune, a haunting new piece called ‘Leandi’ by saxophonist Chris Potter. Starting with Holland alone, the track’s long tension-and-release chord sequence had a Middle Eastern or Moorish feel. Playing ‘work out the time signature’ proved fruitless before the tune seamlessly became a samba with the odd 7/4 measure thrown in, Potter taking a second, stratospheric, solo. Holland told us that it was while working in a Greek restaurant during his teenage years that he was first exposed to 5/4 time – it seemed he was giving a clue as to how scarce 4/4 would be tonight.

As with much of Holland’s repertoire down the years, the tracks were built up from labyrinthic bass riffs, with guitar and sax creeping in, picking up on and mutating fragments of Holland’s phrases. The distinctions between solos, melodies and collective improvisation were sometimes clear, sometimes blurred, with each player constantly upping the ante, then taking it back down so that Holland’s bass once again was alone in the spotlight. Eric Harland‘s drumming was a vital component; almost conversational with a non-stop supply of inventive, exciting fills, always supportive, but never overly dominant. Kevin Eubanks‘ idiosyncratic guitar playing came to the fore as the evening progressed. Eubanks, depping for Lionel Loueke here, played with great subtlety and a sense of space, moving in and out of focus with sudden squalls of rapid notes and powerful, tension-building chordplay.

Bursts of funk and then what seemed purely improvised passages with ever-changing points of focus between the musicians would suddenly come into view; it was like taking a musical rail journey with a constantly shifting landscape seen through the window. The occasional look of wry amusement which spread across Potter’s face as he contemplated the latest junction of chords and rhythm was revealing, a reaction to the delicious bouts of spontaneity unravelling about him. But then it would all come together, Eubanks strumming powerfully, both sets ending with a rocking, explosive intensity. Pure joy.

Adam McCulloch
– Photo by Carl Hyde

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The English music critic Richard Williams finished his three-year stint as Jazzfest Berlin‘s artistic director, handing the controls over to Nadin Deventer, who proceeded to boldly throw down her gauntlet for this and her next two festivals. She has extensive programming experience, and had been working as production head for the previous two years. Deventer’s main mark is made by firstly condensing the festival down to a hardcore four days, jettisoning the run-up gigs of previous years, and secondly, by opening up the entire potential space of the Berliner Festspiele edifice, from its main stage down to its basement underworld. She also transformed the entrance café into a venue, and utilised the foyer space on the upper level, as well as continuing to use satellite locations such as Quasimodo and the A-Trane jazz club.

The Grand Opening night operated a seven-hour timetable with multiple choices, which might have been frustrating on one level, but also magnified the vitality of the evening, with cross-current crowds and extreme musical contrasts. Two of the strongest themes involved artists identified with Chicago (even if many of them eventually fled to NYC), and a heavy number of sets revolving around individualist guitarists.

Two of the key Windy City combos appeared in ‘special edition’ Berliner fusion guises. The Art Ensemble of Chicago line-up was quite possibly the largest seen so far, with Roscoe Mitchell spending much of his time conducting forces that included a strong string quotient, sensibly dignified. Unfortunately, much of the AEC character from olden days is now lost. There is little in the way of ritualistic, Afro-improvisation, preening display and wily humour, or indeed free jazz or trad jazz content. Positively speaking, this meant increased unpredictability, and a desire to shape a different sound, but this was at the expense of any charismatic abandon or sonic extremity. The best stretch came courtesy of the splinter group featuring almost-founder percussionist Famoudou Don Moye, Dudu Kouate (Afro-drums), Hugh Ragin (trumpet) and Jaribu Shahid (bass).

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch delivered a lacklustre set during the Austrian Saalfelden fest in August, but here, her Fly Or Die quartet were fuelled by the energy of their leader, who managed to exude supreme casualness, while repeatedly spouting concise bursts of solo lava, goading drummer Chad Taylor into manic triphammer beat-skipping. She swapped between mute crisp and open frazzle, distant microphone or bell-closeness.


Fellow trumpeter Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star International added six Berlin players to the nine Americans, having the guts to maintain spacious minimalism for quite a lengthy spell, but then eventually aroused to an intense pitch of power. Damon Locks impressed, with his scholarly office worker vibe, intoning texts into his vintage telephone, doctoring via electronics. Taylor was on board again and eventually rolled crazily, while Mazurek and Branch worked together with the spicy pepper-spraying. Mazurek blew into his tangle of modular wiring, as Lock told of a “careening prism within” (or was that “prison”?).


Mazurek also played an atmospheric duo set with the young French guitarist Julien Desprez, who was the vital discovery of this festival, and deliverer of quite possibly its best set. The Berlin bass-and-drums team of Jean-Francois Riffaud and Max Andrzejewski drifted on, Mazurek departed, and the guitar trio Abacaxi was born. Literally, as this was their first gig anywhere. Distressed metallic contusions deified the abrupt, everyone had a sonic impediment, and the bright white flickershow lighting was manually controlled by the players. This might account for the borderline ridiculous tap-dancing routines around their crowded semi-circle of effects pedals, as a month’s worth of compacted, nervy excitement was crammed into however many minutes they were speeding at full pelt, juddering, jolting and spasming as they demanded total attention to heavy detail. Go see them next time, for sure!

Away from the mainline, there were many innovative performances in other settings. Mary Halvorson played her first gig in a hair salon, in a duo with pedal-steel player Susan Alcorn. A quartet of Tomas Fujiwara (drums), Adrian Myhr (bass), Jacob Garchik (trombone) and Jon Irabagon (saxophones) delivered some good ole free jazz in a not-so-private apartment. Another discovery, the Canadian organist Kara-Lis Coverdale played solo on the gargantuan house instrument of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, and the mysterious, masked Kim Collective ritualised down in the caverns under the main stage, arrayed in circular fashion, set up in individual alcoves that could have been specially designed for such sculpted surround-sound mystery. These are just selected outstanding examples of Jazzfest Berlin’s spread, not only sonically, but also spatially.

Martin Longley
Photos by Camille Blake/Jazzfest Berlin

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Alyn Shipton spoke to Pelin Opcin, the EFG London Jazz Festival’s new head of programming, about the themes of openness, diversity and global awareness she’s bringing to this year’s event

Following John Cumming as director of the EFG London Jazz Festival – well, those are big shoes to step into,” says Pelin Opcin (pictured above left), the new head of programming. “I’m not naïve enough to think I can do what he’s done in terms of the London, UK and international scenes, but after 13 years running the Istanbul Jazz Festival, I think bringing my attitude, my contacts and my musical relationships to London could be good.”

Ticking off the challenges: getting to know the UK jazz world better; coming to terms with a huge, intricately organised festival that runs across many different types of venue compared to the looser, more spontaneous feel of Istanbul; and continuing to reach out to the wider market beyond the most dedicated jazz fans, Pelin is anything but naïve. She recognises that she’s coming into both a supportive team, and a festival that was at least partly-planned when she arrived (as is the way with big international events with stars’ diaries juggled years ahead), but she is determined to bring in her own brand of creativity and imagination.

“2018 is a landmark year,” she points out. “It’s the centenary of the WWI armistice, and the 70th year since the Empire Windrush brought its first thousand passengers from the West Indies. So we’ve events to reflect these two significant anniversaries, but also we want to reflect the current atmosphere in the jazz world, the things everyone is thinking about. For example, at the European Jazz Network conference in Lisbon in September, it adopted a manifesto to put womens’ role in jazz at the forefront. It’s a reminder to all of us, but in London it’s continuing work that the Festival has already been doing over the last decade: to reflect women’s position in society. So this, and another aspect of the London Festival, which is to portray both Britain’s cultural diversity, and that of the global jazz scene, are things that should not even need to be discussed but done out of necessity!”

That cultural diversity is on show with an opening night concert at King’s Place by Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar and his Rivers of Sound Orchestra, which merges jazz with middle-eastern microtonal scales, the Arabic ‘maqam’ modes. “I was proud to host him in Istanbul,” recalls Pelin, “but this is his UK premiere, and I think people will be blown away by his fantastic integration of styles into a large 17-piece ensemble. Equally, a week later in the same venue on 24 November, Ian Shaw will present the Citizens of the World Choir, singers drawn from refugees, asylum seekers, volunteers and campaigners, many of whom Shaw met when he was working in the refugee camps in Northern France. These concerts show the arts as a great exemplar of peaceful co-operation. Personally, I think the arts get nourished in times of crisis. Artists reflect what’s happening around them, and we can provide a platform for a great collection of musicians to comment on what’s going on in the world, whether it’s the current political climate, or even the growing problem with the visa situation for musicians coming to work here in London.

“This is something I learned in Istanbul. When the Taksim Square protests and the attempted coup of 2016 happened, we kept going, and as it turned out we were presenting the EST Symphony in memory of Esbjörn Svensson, and it became a concert to commemorate not just him, but also those who lost their lives in Taksim Square.”

So, I ask if the Windrush concert is to draw attention to the plight of those people in the news recently whose UK citizenship has not been properly recognised by this country? “Of course that theme is present, but we see this as a positive agenda, a celebration of the members of society whose families or forbears arrived on the Windrush, It’s been a bittersweet experience for many, but what we want to underline is their absolutely huge contribution to society and particularly to music.

Anthony Joseph (above centre) came up with the idea, and I’m pleased to say it’s developed into a series of events that go way beyond the festival with literature, films, poetry and discussions kicking off in mid-October and leading up to our Barbican concert on 17 November, with a new suite by Jason Yarde, plus the poet Brother Resistance, and the calypso artists Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose. And we’re also screening the film 1,000 Londoners at the Barbican that afternoon, and holding discussions with director Rachel Wang, and some of the people featured in the film.”

The Caribbean is not the only part of the world to be featured, as there’s a strong South African focus. Hugh Masekela (above right) is being remembered at the Festival Hall, with musicians from his last regular band, plus Oliver Mtukudzi and Sibongile Kumalo. And if that great South African singer wasn’t enough, Miriam Makeba is being celebrated by the Royal Academy of Music at a free show in the Clore Ballroom. The Festival also hosts the final of the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the year with Monty Alexander chairing the judges. Truly an impressive start for the festival’s new director!

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