Aside from the John Taylor gig, I went to three gigs in the Glasgow Jazz Festival, all of which were in the City Halls’ Recital Room, a space I’d not been in before. It is a light, airy room with a high vaulted ceiling. It is quite an intimate space with, in this case, chairs arranged around tables. For all the gigs I was close to the performers, sitting in the second row from the front. It actually felt like a privilege being so close to the musicians.
Zoe Rahman seemed slightly awestruck with the space, and particularly the Steinway piano, as if she couldn’t imagine why so many people would want to be there with her. And then she spent eighty minutes showing exactly why we would want to be there: to hear her music.
In many ways, her performance was similar to Taylor’s a couple of nights before, reflecting their common influences (probably common to jazz pianists anywhere) – Ellington, Monk, Evans, maybe a bit of Jarrett thrown into the mix, too. She opened with a long exploration of an Abdullah Ibrahim number, and included another in her set, together with a beautiful rendition of Duke Ellington’s Single Petal of a Rose (one of my favourite tunes, so she couldn’t lose!), Monk’s Ruby My Dear, a couple of Bill Evans’ numbers, as well as several of her own tunes, often infused with traditional Bengali notes.
It was a lovely show; it felt like Rahman was sharing something with the audience rather than performing for us. She explained how every time she plays a new piano, it’s like building a new relationship, exploring the keys. She clearly bonded with the Steinway, and had a very creative connection!
Evan Parker, honoured by Edinburgh University the day before (together with George Lewis) played a concert with a somewhat slimmed down Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra. They played three improvised pieces, the first featuring Parker on sax, the second directed by Parker and the third a completely free piece.
All three were very enjoyable. In the first and last piece, Parker’s playing was superb. He played a couple of long solos in the first piece. The band were good, too, Catriona McKay being inventive with her harp, and some lovely trumpet playing from Robert Henderson. The pianist (whose name I missed) did some inventive things with the inside of the piano, as well as using it as if tuned percussion (something both John Taylor and Zoe Rahman did, too. It must be something about that piano!).
All in all, a very enjoyable afternoon of improvised music. And great to hear Evan Parker in Scotland!
You wait for a jazz gig with a harp and then two chime along on the same day… Following the GIO gig was a duet of
Calum Gourlay on bass and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian on harp. (The tickets and website called her simply Cevanne, maybe because they ran out of space on the ticket, or perhaps because it is easier to spell. I can use copy and paste, so I shouldn’t have that problem, though my spellchecker may disagree.) They played a set of mostly Ellington pieces, interspersed with some Monk, a piece by Johnny Dankworth, a couple of Armenian folk tunes (reflecting Horrocks-Hopayian’s origins). And some Hendrix, too.
Nothing if not eclectic, then, but they also presented a very coherent sound. I love Gourlay’s bass playing: great tone, wonderful feeling, and intelligent improvisation. He was very at ease with the Ellington repertoire, playing slower titles such as Solitude, Mood Indigo and African Flower, as well a couple of faster tunes in Caravan and It Don’t Mean A Thing.
Horrocks-Hopayian sang on some numbers, as well as playing harp. She has a strong voice, well-suited to the wordless tunes and the folk numbers. I liked her harp playing too, though occasionally it sounded more classical than jazz – a bit too “nice” for the blusier numbers.
The sequence dedicated to Jimi Hendrix was particularly interesting. Gourlay played a solo piece dedicated to Hendrix, predominantly bowed to suggest the wail of feedback, and then the bad and harp played a transcript of the wall of Hendrix’s flat in London: a friend took a rubbing from the wall on manuscript paper, and they edited the marks down to notes, and used it as the basis of composition. As a process, the starting point for music, it is a fascinating idea. Better still, the music they made from it worked, too.
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.
Islay is a special place. It is an island – so you have to really want to be there: it takes some planning and effort to actually make the trip. It is famous for its whisky – it now has eight distilleries, producing a wide range of spirits – and its bird life. And for one weekend each year, it is home to a jazz festival.
Which makes it a very special event indeed.
The island is large, but has a small population – 3,000 or so; and it has no ordinary venues – no jazz clubs or concert halls. Instead, concerts are housed in unconventional surroundings – previous years have seen gigs in the Round Church and the bottling room of a distillery (one of my favourite all time venues!); this year they went to several distilleries and the island’s bird sanctuary.
The festival starts on a Friday evening; but it really starts on the Friday lunchtime ferry across. The boat was packed with punters, musicians, and the festival’s organisers, waiting anxiously to make sure the musicians actually make it. There was a audible sigh of relief when, with moments to spare, the last musician on the list turned up. (Though one musician was stranded on the island for the return trip, having gone to the wrong port!)
Others fly to Islay, though they miss the grandeur of the trip, leaving the hills of the mainland, passing islands before the ferry sneaks through Caol Ila (the strait, not the whisky) between Islay and Jura. It is a wonderful way to travel.
The way it works – more or less – is that a couple of more famous musicians are booked – people from the London scene, Europe or the States – and then a load of Scottish musicians come across (usually from Glasgow or Edinburgh). The ferry is a bit of a jazz Ark, because essentially there are two of each instrument. The programme basically mixes everyone up: lots of scratch gigs, and by the end of the weekend one has seen most of the musicians several times. Musicians and punters hare around the island from venue to venue.
The first gig was a duo between (Scottish) pianist Paul Harrison and the visiting US alto player Jesse Davis at the Lagavulin distillery. Lagavulin were sponsoring the festival this year, which meant they handed out ample drams at each gig – this is a very good thing! (Though I’d have been as happy if it had been Bowmore, or Bruidladdich, or Bunnahabhain, or… well, they’re all good whiskies!) Davis and Harrison opened with “I Want To Be Happy”, which seemed like a pretty good philosophy for a jazz festival. Davis, who’s been to Islay before and seems to like it there, is an altoist in the bebop-Bird mold, bringing a soulful, bluesy feel to the slower numbers; Harrison can play in a lot of different styles (from funk to free), and his accompaniment was suitably bluesy, too. A great start to the festival!
The other “guest” was pianist Zoe Rahman, up from London. All her gigs were in the Bowmore gaelic centre, which housed a grand piano for the weekend. It seemed a bit like she sat there as a stream of some of Scotland’s best jazz musicians flowed through. First up later on Friday evening were bassist Mario Caribe, drummer Stu Brown, tenor player John Burgess and trumpeter Colin Steele. Caribe is a bit of an Islay fixture, the only musician to have been at every jazz festival – this was the twelfth. This quintet had only met an hour or so before the gig but they quickly built a rapport. Caribe and Brown became Rahman’s rhythm section for the weekend. Brown took a bit of warming up, but he got better with each gig. Caribe was excellent throughout, combining subtlety with energy – a great passionate player. Rahman was great throughout the festival, too. Burgess brought his muscular toned saxophone, whilst Steele added the pyrotechnics. They played several of Caribe’s numbers, including a couple from his Islay suite, written for the 10th anniversary of the festival. An interesting combination.
Saturday lunchtime saw John Burgess leading a quartet at Lagavulin, with Harrison on piano, Caribe on bass (looking very cool in his dark glasses – the lights were pointing straight at him!) and Doug Hough on drums. Burgess played both tenor and clarinet. A set of standards with a couple of Burgess’s tunes thrown in, this was a fun, slightly light set. Harrison played some great solos, Caribe really swung, and Burgess tried the set the gig on fire – in a shirt to match.
I skipped the afternoon gig, choosing to walk in the rain instead (not a great decision…) before getting to Bowmore for a trio gig with Rahman, Caribe and Brown. Playing a bunch of standards as well as Caribe’s and Brown’s tunes, this was a lovely gig. Caribe shone once more, and he and Raman worked really well together – there was real musical chemistry going on. A couple of the tunes came from a suite written by Brown for Islay last year (I wasn’t there…), about the birdlife – a drunken swan, a lonely egret. It was all lovely stuff.
The late night show on Islay is a thing of legend. I’d not been before, but I decided to stay in Bruichladdich so I could sample Colin Steele’s Melting Pot. The gig started later than its usually late start because so many people were trying to cram into the village hall. It was packed until there were no more chair, and packed a bit more. It was wonderful to hear Steele and co in such a different vibe: this time they were playing the most soulful of soul jazz. Subie Coleman sang, and she’s got a really bluesy voice, way down low. Andy Sharkey’s bass was simultaneously solid and funky – his sense of soul-time was immaculate. Steele and Phil Bancroft were a fiery frontline. I left at the interval, missing out on the party as the space cleared by those heading to their beds was apparently filled by dancers.
Sharkey was back on bass fort Davis’ quartet lunchtime outing at Ardbeg, another enjoyable set of standards.
But it was the following gig, Caribe, Rahman, Steele and Bancroft back at Bowmore which was the highlight of the weekend. Caribe opened with an exquisite, slow solo piece bearing a melancholy beauty; I’d love to hear him play an entirely solo set. Then he was joined the other musicians in a variety of combinations – bass and piano, then trumpet added, then sax. Rahman played a couple of solo numbers, and then the quartet finished their session together. This was marvellous music making.
There were two more gigs, a lively trio set by altoist Martin Kershaw with Andy Sharkey and Doug Hough, and a great tribute to Cannonball Adderley with “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy”, featuring Steele, Kershaw, Caribe, Harrison and Hough. They make the musicians work hard at Islay…
My last gig of the Jazz Festival was the Zoe Rahman Trio. I saw this band last year in a large, cavernous concert hall, and I thought they’d be much better at a more intimate venue; so I decided to check out the theory at their gig at the Bosco Theatre.
They were great. This was quiet, gentle, contemplative music – Rahman played several Abdullah Ibrahim tunes (thankfully without the reverence that Ibrahim requires), as well as some Monk numbers and several of her own. Her playing was good, but she also presented an air that she was surprised to be there: surprised that anyone would come, and surprised that people would know her music. Before one of the Monk’s tunes – following a couple of her own – she said “And now back to some music you are more familiar with”: but the audience had come to see her play! And she has won many awards for her albums – so people would know what to expect.
It was a good gig, bass player Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo working well as a unit – they really gelled. Indeed the only downside was that during the quieter moments, the noise outside came through the tent-walls of the theatre.
It was a similar situation the following night. First on the bill in the Queen Elisabeth Hall was the Zoe Rahman Trio. I specifically wanted to see Rahman: she won various prizes last year, and was nominated for the Mercury prize, so I was curious. She had played recently in Edinburgh, but I missed her, so I took the advantage of catching her in London. She was good, but not overly – she didn’t really bear comparison to Neil Cowley. I think a lot of it might have been down to the venue: her trio were spread across the broad stage of the QEH, and I think they found it hard to fill the auditorium with their sound. It all seemed a bit distant.
(I was discussing this recently with a friend, a jazz promoter who has twenty years experience of managing gigs; I reminded her of how the pianist Michel Pettruciani had managed to completely fill the Royal Festival Hall, captivating his audience from the outset at a concert she had run, and to which she insisted I had to go. She said that this was down to the fact that nowadays, musicians got famous too quickly – to meet the needs of fitting all the audience in, they play big halls, whereas “Michel had to pay his dues in the small clubs, so he could grow in stature…” This was a bit unfortunate, since Pettruciani, although a giant of a musician, was actually very small – he suffered from brittle bone disease. He is sorely missed.)
I definitely think seeing Rahman in a more intimate venue would have been worthwhile; in Edinburgh, she played the Lot, a small club that holds 150 at most. I should have made the effort to see her there. In London, she was good; but why was she not matched with Neil Cowley the previous night? I am sure that would have worked.
Whereas she was first up to Richard Bona. I had not heard of him; and three numbers in, I knew I wasn’t in the mood for the latin-funk he was playing. I lasted three numbers before leaving. It just wasn’t my scene.
So I saw five bands at LJF: loved two, liked one, thought one was ok and hated one. Not too bad a score sheet.