I was lucky enough to be in London when Louis Moholo-Moholo brought his quartet to the Vortex. It was a phenomenal gig (I reviewed it for London Jazz News) maybe my gig of the year – and I took several photos.
THree months on and I relaise I haven’t captured what I got up to in London last November…
Three days at the London Jazz Festival. Three gigs a day plus talks and other stuff. An intense weekend of jazz… When I lived in London, I was much more measured in my approach to LJF, but cramming it in like I did this year makes it a different experience – and it means I heard some wonderful music I would otherwise has missed.
My first performance was a project in improvisation with three schools and a trio of Corey Mwamba, Dave Kane, and Joshua Blackmore. Each musician worked with pupils from one school to create improvised music, and then played a trio set before leading everyone in a short improvised piece. I was there because I like Mwamba’s playing; but I was energised by the music the school pupils made. Intrinsically simple, but it really worked.
Back at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – jazz festival central – I saw a packed out set by Peter Edwards trio. It was a lively, assured performance. I love Edwards’ playing. Mostly originals, with a couple of standards like Monk’s I Mean You, the trio highlighted tracks from their new CD.
Over to Hammersmith for Way Out West. I was expecting a big band with lots of familiar names I hasn’t seen in a while. What I got were lots of people playing in a very large variety of ensembles in all sorts of combinations. The first half consisted of small and medium sized combos, from Kate Williams trio up to a nine piece. Williams had young bass player Flo Moore, who really impressed, and was joined by Nettie Robinson on vocals. Emily Saunders also sang, her wordless vocalese more akin to a solo horn than singing the standards. More interesting, too. (She proved she could sing words too when she sang Happy Birthday to one of the audience in the break!)
The second half was almost entirely given over to Tim Whitehead’s Turner project, consisting of tunes that Whitehead had improvised at the sites of Turner’s paintings on the Thames in west London, which Whitehead had then expanded into full scale compositions. He started off with a quartet, but it proved to be an expanding band, players joining (and leaving – some had other gigs to go to!) throughout the set – I think it finished up as a twelve piece, bit I wasn’t counting. This was great music, lively, fun and exciting. Jonathon Gee was on piano, and Whitehead was joined by several horn players – the great Chris Biscoe on baritone, Henry Lowther excellent on trumpet, and Matt Waites, Pete Hurt and Jimmy Hastings on a variety of saxes. This was a wonderful evening of uplifting music, which finished off with just about everyone on stage jamming to a standard as an encore.
The next day’s jazz started with an afternoon set by the Dedication Orchestra. Playing the music of Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and the Blue Notes, this was the gig that had actually got me down to London to are them: they don’t play often, and frankly they are not to be missed.
A star studded line up with sins of the best of British jazz (including a couple from the previous night’s gig) and headed by an ever ebullient Louis Moholo-Moholo, the only surviving member of the Blue Notes, they played a joyous set of arrangements familiar to fans of the Brotherhood of Breath, together with some new arrangements commissioned from Alexander Hawkins.
Personally, the band could do little wrong: I was bound to enjoy this no matter what, and I did. My only quibble would be that the music seemed so heavily arranged, lacking the spark of anarchy that seems to linger so close to the surface when listening to recordings of the Brotherhood of Breath, a spontaneity McGregor apparently worked hard to maintain. But that’s a minor gripe: I loved this set. It just made me smile.
This was followed by a discussion of music and influences by clarinetist Arun Ghosh and pianist Zoe Rahman. Over two afternoons, they sat and played some of their favorite tracks, and demonstrated how their own playing had been influenced. Despite a packed house, this felt really intimate: two people talking about music and what it meant to them. When they played, there was a real energy and excitement to their music. Really, really fun. More, please.
I then headed off to Kings Place to see John Surman and the Bergen Big Band, which I reviewed for the LondonJazzNews blog.
My plans for Sunday afternoon were changed at the last minute, and finding myself with a free afternoon I decided to check out Leo Appleyard, because I had his new CD. Only to find out his gig was sold out. Great for him, disappointing for me! Instead, I headed to the Spice of Life where I spent the afternoon drinking beer and listening to the very enjoyable London City Big Band.
Back to the South Bank for the second installment of Arun Ghosh and Zoe Rahman’s conversation about music, and then my LJF experience for 2014 finished off with a great gig, the Tori Freestone Trio – who were very good – followed by the Henri Texier Hope Quartet – who were astounding. I wrote about that for LondonJazzNews, too.
Another double-bill followed: well, Louis Moholo-Moholo followed by Louis Moholo-Moholo… Actually a triple bill: first was Jez Nelson interviewing Moholo about his experiences as a black musician in apartheid South Africa (alternately surreal and harrowing) and then as an exile in Europe, playing with the Blue Notes, the Brotherhood of Breath and a wealth of free-jazz players. This was followed a duet set by Moholo and pianist Keith Tippett – half an hour or more of imaginative, inspiring improvisation. The second set was Moholo’s septet commemorating his birthday, “Seven for Seventy”. This band made a glorious sound, mixing township rhythms with improvisation. Featuring Jason Yarde and Ntshuks Bonga on saxes, Henry Lowther on trumpet, free-jazz firebrand John Edwards on bass, Alex Hawkins on piano and Francine Luce on vocals, this was a great band. Moholo was pushing them forward from the drum-stool, full of energy – quite how he can keep up that force and power at 70 is beyond me. This was definitely one of my favourite gigs of the festival, together with the John Etheridge Trio – gigs that I was really pleased to have seen!
I caught a couple of numbers by Brass Jaw in a free set at the Royal Festival Hall, but I was a bit passed it by that time. They sounded good, and it’s great they are getting recognition – they are fine musicians – but I had had enough for a Saturday night.
I had been back in London a month when I thought I would like to go to some jazz; so I went to two gigs in the space of a week, in the same venue.
I had been to the old Vortex, which was around the corner from the original Jazz Café on Newington Green; but that was getting on for over fifteen years ago. The Vortex moved a couple of years ago, a mile or so to Dalston.
What attracted me to the first gig was the drummer. Well, the saxophonist too – it was Evan Parker’s gig – and he had Louis Moholo–Moholo playing with him, on a visit from South Africa. I have seen Moholo play a lot over the years (I first saw him in 1974…) in a variety of bands, often with Parker in the band too. [He used to be plain Louis Moholo, but he is now billed as the double barrelled Moholo-Moholo, so I guess that’s how he wants it, and I see no reason to dissent.]
They were playing in a quartet under the name Foxes (Slightly Foxed), with a bass player and pianist I didn’t know – John Edwards and Alexander Hawkins respectively. I knew they’d be pretty free, but they were a lot freer than I expected: there were no “tunes” played that night. It was good – Parker is an exciting saxophonist, Moholo-Moholo is a great drummer (though it wasn’t a night for him to swing – it wasn’t that kind of music) and I was impressed by the Hawkins and Edwards – but it was a bit too free for me.
The Vortex was packed, though – surprising, frankly, given the nature of the music: free jazz is not usually a sell-out. I was chatting to a couple of guys on the same table who said that Parker’s regular gigs at the Vortex are always popular.
So I was really surprised that the gig I went to on Monday night was practically empty – there were twelve punters (including me) at the start of the gig, and fifteen at the end. Maybe because it was a Monday night? Strange.
This gig was in honour of Ornette Coleman; he is curating this year’s Meltdown Festival, including playing a couple of gigs himself, but I am away for the whole of that (shame, there are some great gigs in addition to Coleman’s – Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, The Bad Plus, Han Bennink with Evan Parker), so I decided to catch this show by Martin Speake and Chris Batchelor celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the recording of Coleman’s classic album “The Shape of Jazz To Come”.
This was the second gig I had been to recently celebrating a fiftieth anniversary – back in March I went to Colin Steele’s quintet celebrating Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue. There was a lot happening in 1959 – Mingus Ah Um (a brilliant, wonderful record) was also recorded then (just over fifty years ago – May 12, 1959). Whilst I know Kind of Blue and Mingus Ah Um very well, I am much less familiar with Coleman’s record – I have heard it (and I have seen Coleman play several times, mostly with his electric group Prime Time – a remarkable free jazz dance band. Really..), but I don’t know it.
This quartet – Speake in Coleman’s alto role, Batchelor taking Don Cherry’s trumpet duties – was made up with Calum Gourlay on bass (who I saw at Islay last year) and Gene Calderazzo on drums (he was in Edinburgh with Zoe Rahman a couple of years ago. Gourlay seems to be playing quite a bit in London – he has another gig at the Vortex in a week or so.
It was great music. It is still difficult – even after fifty years of mellowing: it has a spiky, angular, jagged quality; and at times it sounds discordant; it stops and starts (Gourlay and Calderazzo did a great job keeping the rhythms going) – but it also swings – it has a real life to it. The sax and trumpet were excellent – some great solos.
Shame there weren’t more people to hear it!