Monthly Archives: November 2008

London Jazz Festival 2008.

I was down in London for the first half of the London Jazz Festival, and I went to four gigs.

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First up was Keith Tippett, in a variety of settings. First, he premiered a new piece for piano and string quartet; then he played some piano duets with Stan Tracey (whose quartet I saw in Edinburgh in July); and finally he played a set of improvised music with his wife, Julie Tippetts [sic].

The string quintet was energetic, but didn’t really grab me: it didn’t swing. True, I don’t think it was meant to – but it wasn’t really my kind of thing.

On the other hand, the piano duets were excellent: two of my favourite pianists playing together. They played a couple of extended numbers, pure improvisation as far as I could tell. They played almost as one – I have no idea if how much they rehearsed or planned, but it seemed seamless. I have no idea how they knew each piece was over – indeed, I’m not sure that they did – I think the audience applause in a space they’d left pre-empted the end of one piece!

The duet between piano and voice was interesting, although a little too out there for me. Keith Tippett was trying all sorts of things with the piano – putting stones and metal onto the strings, plucking the strings and so on. The wordless vocals were at times lovely, and there were moments of beauty, but I think I’d have preferred more of the Tippett/Tracey piano duet.

Next up was the Bill Frisell Trio. They were playing along to some silent movies – first up were some abstract, modern animations, then a couple of Buster Keaton movies. The animations I found distracting – I didn’t like the visuals – but the music was brilliant. With the two Keaton movies, the whole thing came together: the films and the music were made for each other. It was brilliant. The trio made some really lovely music – some of it rocking out, some of it country-tinged, some lovely trio jazz. It was an excellent gig!

On the Tuesday, we went to another trio and another audio-visual gig: Henri Texier on bass, Louis Sclavis on saxes and clarinets and Aldo Romano on drums, together with projected photographs by Guy Le Querrec. This was another wonderful, wonderful concert: the three player created such a beautiful sound, at times contemplative, at others energetic and forceful – this was really exciting music. Sclavis had a beautiful sound, particularly on bass clarinet. All in all, it was marvellous. The photos were interesting, too – though I am not sure what they added to the music.

On Sunday, we went to a free gig – kind of coals to the South Bank for me, since it was a couple of Scottish big bands playing: the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra; Tommy Smith directed the first and played tenor and directed the second.

I have seen the Youth Jazz Orchestra a couple of times before, and they never fail to amaze: these young people are brilliant musicians. They played a set of big band standards – Ellington’s Cottontail, Oliver Nelson’s Hoe-Down and so on. They were really good.

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The Youth Orchestra were great; but the SNJO were steaming – they were on great form. I was surprised that they were playing of Steely Dan tunes – they toured Scotland with this set last year, and I chose not to go; and they have just been touring a new set, including a commission by Mario Caribe, which I’d wanted to see but missed (since I was in London at the Jazz Festival…): they were playing this in Glasgow the night before, so it was odd that they chose the Steely Dan.

Despite the repertoire, they were on fine form. It was the first time in a long while that I had seen Tommy Smith play in more than a trio setting, and in contrast to his northern European, contemplative sound in those gigs, he was on fire, blasting out really gutsy solos.

The leader set the standard for the band – Konrad Wiszniewski, Martin Kershaw and Paul Towndrow all played empassioned sax soles, and Ryan Quigley and Tom McNiven played some blistering trumpet. They were all steaming, pushed along by some really energetic drumming from Alyn Cosker. It was a really impressive set.

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The Transatlantic Collective. Edinburgh, November 2008.

A few weeks ago, I went to see the TransAtlantic Collective play the JazzBar. (I’d have written about it sooner, but I got waylaid by the London Jazz Festival; and a rather nasty cold, that laid me low for several days.)

Somehow, I had got it into my head that they were a trio; I was wrong: they are a quintet. Except that the trumpeter was called away, so the night I saw them, they played as a quartet, with saxophonist Patrick Cornelius as the sole lead instrument. (The following night in Glasgow, they were joined by trumpeter Ryan Quigley on trumpet and Konrad Wiszniewski on tenor for what sounds like a highly interactive gig split between two venues across the city!)

The JazzBar is a funny venue – I have been there many times, but I don’t really feel like I have a handle on it. It was pretty quiet to start with, lacking in atmosphere from the audience – it was a nasty evening outside – but later on it got busy – with lots of people who were there not to hear the music, but to drink. The hub-bub and bar-sounds threatened to drown out the band. The capacity for bar staff to clink glasses at the quietest moments is quite amazing. (Still, they are only doing their job, I know…) It is a small intimate venue, and I think I should like it more than I do – it is just that most of the audience seems to pay to get in just so they can talk over the music: and it pisses me off.

The band were excellent. They played a mixture of standards and tunes of their new album, Travelling Song – the title track is lovely – including a lovely piece of Freudian Ellingtontonia accidentally named “In A Semi Mental Mood”.

Each member of the band shone – Cornelius was excellent on alto sax, bassist Michael Janisch inventive and solid, and drummer Paul Wiltgen (who shared a lot of the writing duties, too – a talented guy) was both energetic and subtle. Pianist John Escreet took a bit longer to warm up, but be played some great solos in the second set.

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