Category Archives: London Jazz Festival

Pop-up Jazz

The BBC, in a groundbreaking partnership with Jazz FM, is launching a pop-up Jazz radio station which will be broadcasted during the London Jazz Festival from Thursday 12 November until midnight on Sunday 15 November.

It will be available on digital radios and via BBC iPlayer.

Although it is a very short experiment, it is a welcome opportunity to showcase Jazz and we at downwithit hope that it is a great success.

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downwithit.info: Jazz Gigs of The Year 2014

One of my New Year resolutions at the start of 2014 was to get myself out rather more to catch live Jazz performances. As the year ends it is time to take stock of what I saw and where I went.

A deep benchmark was engraved in February when legendary funk masters, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley played at Ronnie Scott’s. Their performance was commented on here and I rated them with an 8/10. I was expecting a deep disappointment when they introduced a female vocalist- so many promise much, but deliver nothing. In this case my lack of faith was exposed and confounded. Robin McKelle was superb and is a real talent to catch (if she ever plays any where else other than France).

2014 was the year when I made my first visit to East Side Jazz Club in Leytonstone. Denys Baptiste featured one May evening and I was there to enjoy the first of six visits this summer.

I was assured that I would enjoy Gilad Atzmon and they were right. His powerful and intense soloing merited my second 8/10 rating of 2014. There were times when I that he was going to blow his alto sax apart, such is the forcefulness that he has on tap.

Another saxophonist also merited an 8/10 the ESJC. I’ve always harboured a strong mistrust of sax players who play several instruments from Adolphe Sax’s brood. They are usually adequate on one and dire on the rest. Derek Nash made me review that particular prejudice (Gilad Atzmon is a fine multi-reedsman too). Playing with the Letonstone R & B Allstars in an end of Summer season spectacular, I enjoyed his showmanship and that of the rest of a band which also featured Geoff Gascoyne on bass.

In addition to playing several members of the sax family, Derek Nash also fronts several bands, which he uses to showcase different repertoires. Following up on a gig he publicised on Twitter took me to a bar called The Water Margin at the 02 (Dome) in Greenwich in late July. I suppose all musicians have performed before small audiences, but that night saw Nash and his jazz funk outfit, Protect The Beat open to no more than three friends of the band and five civilians, myself included. After some deliberation amongst the band about whether to play or not, pure professionalism kicked in and the result was a performance which rated a rare 9/10. Nash is a very entertaining frontman and his joy encouraged his band mates to excel. Particular mention should be given to guitarist Dave Ital and drummer Darby Todd, but the whole show saw great musicians triumphing over a sadly meagre audience.

My home town of Macclesfield hosts a summer arts festival, which is growing year on year and it was there that I attended a rendition of Under Milk Wood, which was another memorable evening. On the same weekend I also saw a re-creation of A Love Supreme on London’s Southbank.

Unexpectedly, and for no particular reason, a hectic summer of gig-going gave way to an autumn in which I only got to three live Jazz performances. Dylan Howe merited the second of my two 9/10 ratings this year, while I was disappointed by Abdullah Ibrahim at London Jazz Festival, and Steve Wiiliamson‘s long overdue return to leading a band also gave me the opportunity to visit Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho for the first of what I hope will be many visits.

All in all I went to 14 jazz gigs, none of which rated lower than 6/10. Out of these, the downwithit gig of the Year 2014 was:-

Derek Nash and Protect The Beat at The Water Margin, for a triumph of brilliant professionalism against the odds.

Well done Derek and here’s to getting out and about again in 2015, with seeing another performance by Pharaoh Sanders as my New Year’s wish. Hope I will have lots to tell you about this time next year!

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Abdullah Ibrahim with his New Trio & Ekaya: Royal Festival Hall. 15 November 2014

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One of the highlights of this year’s London Jazz Festival was a rare opportunity to attend a performance by Abdullah Ibrahim at London’s Royal Festival Hall.

I last saw him play in the 90’s, when a solo concert was part of the Greenwich Jazz Festival programme and I was relishing a chance to see him at work with other instrumentalists, as the gig promised solo piano, work as part of a trio and in a septet.

The radio presenter who introduced the evening assured us, incorrectly as it turned out, that we would be begging the pardon of those seated next to us as we would be needing to move our bodies when the band played Township tunes.

What we actually got was an evening where subtlety and virtuosity were the keywords rather than funk and energy. The expected exhuberance was present but it was a delicately weighted concert hall set, rather than a dance set that we received.

While listening, I thought of a young Dollar Brand impressing the Duke Ellington, to the extent that the older genius became a mentor. The evening commenced with Ibrahim alone on stage, in absolute command of the RFH’s mighty concert grand piano for an extended solo piece that took me to the good place that only the best pianists can reach. On its conclusion he introduced Noah Jackson, who played cello in this segment and Cleave Guyton doubling on flute and clarinet. They took us through about six short pieces that reminded me of the Duet set that Abdullah Ibrahim recorded as Dollar Brand with Archie Shepp, which I took a look at here.

After an intermission, the full septet added tenor and baritone saxophone, drums and trombone. The set was made up of mature and exquisite arrangements with Abdullah Ibrahim sitting out for long periods, seemingly to enjoy and absorb the voicings that he had written and which were being played out for him by the accompanying ensemble.

Overall, the performance was very easy on the ear but seemed to lack a certain spark. There was no sense of musical risk-taking and the accompanists seemed to have been offered little scope to add their own contributions in their short solos. They were more the well-drilled back line rather than contributors with freedom to improvise.

What the audience got was an evening of refined concert hall Jazz from a great musician who is now 80 years old. There were only the slightest nods to the Township sound and definitely no dancing in the aisles. I wasn’t disappointed as the opportunity to see Abdullah Ibrahim playing what he wanted to play in the way he wanted his music to be heard was too good to miss. We were, after all being treated to an evening with a musical genius.

As I close in on completing this review I’m listening to Voice Of Africa, a recording made in 1974 in Cape Town. It has something in abundance that last Saturday’s RFH concert lacked (as well as the great anthem Mannenberg that you can hear on this post from last year here). The recording clarfies that the qualities that were missing from this London concert were exhuberent inventiveness and soul. Saturday’s cool proficiency can go a long way but music that comes from both the head and the heart is what really moves me. It seems almost mean to rate this as a 6/10 performance- but that is what the great Man is getting.

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Pablo Held Milton Court Concert Hall: 20 November 2013

One of this year’s great disappointments was obtaining tickets for Sonny Rollins appearing as part of the London Jazz Festival at The Royal Albert Hall, only to have this great performer cancel due to ill health. However, I did manage to get in an unexpected visit to a LJF event courtesy of Richard, a work colleague (take a bow when you visit here).

I went to see The Pablo Held Trio at a brand new concert venue in the heart of the city. The venue was so new that it was their first jazz performance…ever!

How did it go?

Can I compare a carrot with a kohlrabi? No!

Can I write knowledgeably and with ease about this strand of jazz? No!

Do I want to dismiss something that I don’t particularly get with spite and sarcasm? No!

Is this a reaction to the Leonard Feather school of jazz criticism? Yes!

So I won’t be dismissing music that I don’t feel particularly warm about.

Warmth? Perhaps that’s a useful metaphor. This felt like music to play in the Winter, albeit with the external elements viewed through double glazing from a centrally heated home. Perhaps somewhere with snow-capped mountains in sight.

After the warmth of Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas, this was a very different kind of creature.

It was abstract, though easy on the ear. Music for contemplation; music to drink spring water and detoxify to; not music for the heart or feet, but for the head on the right sort of day when all is tranquil and the spirit doesn’t need raising.

Have a listen courtesy of jazzaheadtradefair from three years ago (though what I perceived tonight was much the same).

Did I enjoy it? Well it’s not really for me, though I could appreciate that these were three very accomplished musicians who don’t really fit here at downwithit.

As for the venue, The Milton Court Concert Hall has great acoustics but it is as far from a sweaty club as I can imagine. I think I may know how Jimmy Smith might have reacted to it.

Live rating: I’ve promised to rate all live performances I comment on here. Sorry lads- you were good at what you did. Sadly, not my sort of stuff, so 3/10, though there were those who hooted approvingly at the end of the second set.

The band: Pablo Held (piano); Robert Landfermann (bass); Jonas Burgwinkel (drums)

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