Reviews

LIVE: Level 42 @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2019

Wednesday, 08 May 2019 11:32 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Forty years after they first formed, Level 42 are still going strong. And judging from the high level of enthusiasm that this well-received Bank Holiday Monday afternoon concert generated at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, they still can boast a devoted legion of fanatical followers. Though the news of former member Boon Gould's death six days earlier must have cast a dark shadow over the group, especially for surviving co-founders Mark King and Mike Lindup, they produced an upbeat 75-minute set whose only moment of solemnity was provided by the presence of the band's classic haunting ballad,  'Leaving Me Now,' which King dedicated to Gould's memory. "He was a brother, a friend, an amazing musician, and a fantastic lyricist," said the singer/bassist with palpable emotion in his voice while Mike Lindup's lone piano at the end of the song, with its glistening melodic filigrees, was poignantly evocative.

Elsewhere, the music was less reflective, dominated by King's omnipresent slapped bass, which propelled the group through a catalogue of big UK hits that brought the 1980s vividly back to life: from the chugging jazz-funk of 'The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)' and the turbo-charged 'Hot Water' to the anthemic 'Something About You' and 'Lessons In Love.'  Bolstered by a punchy three-piece horn section, this was Level 42 on steroids, injecting a new dynamism into their old tunes without jettisoning the spirit of the originals. For many of the audience, the gig represented an enjoyable nostalgic trip back to the '80s but also, more importantly, it proved that Level 42 are still a potent force on the concert stage while also reaffirming Mark King's place in the pantheon of all-time great bass players.

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 May 2019 11:44

 

VICTOR HAYNES: Take It To The Top (Expansion)

Monday, 06 May 2019 15:47 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altOver the years UK soul singer Victor Haynes has released plenty of choice soul and he's always in demand for live shows and sessions. He has a loyal following amongst the UK soul cognoscenti and this new 13 tracker will do his reputation no harm at all. Indeed his loyal fans will lap it up and if mainstream stations (like Radio 2 and Jazz FM) get onto it, 'Take It To The Top' might be the one to break Vic with a wider audience. And why shouldn't mainstream radio take a punt? Most of the tracks here are easy-on-the-ear and radio friendly and would fit admirably into most playlists.

Take the track that first heralded the album ... 'Hopping, Skipping, So In Love' first appeared on Expansion's 'Luxury Soul' CD and it won a great response. At risk of repetition it is easy-on-the-ear and radio friendly.... great melody, catchy hooks, soulfully sung and lavishly produced... as good as anything you're e liable to hear on any radio station. And this album has plenty more to offer. In fact the opening six tracks are crafted from the same template as 'Hopping, Skipping, So In Love'.... lovingly produced Brit soul dancers – with those sweet melodies and hooks that we've just described.

The second half of this album is a little different. Not experimental, but on things like the meandering 'Who Do You Love', the lithe Latin dancer 'Help Me Feel The Sun' and the obviously jazzy 'Jazz Street' Victor takes a few more chances. Those two musical halves are divided by the album's real highlight, 'My Sweetest Temptation' – a beautiful, mid-tempo swayer that not only references the Temptations in the title but also in its music and lyrics ... "sunshine on a rainy day" etc. Then there's the falsetto hook – quite lovely.

Add to all that a pair of gorgeous quiet storm ballads – 'Tapestry Of Love' and 'Giving All My Love To You' and 'Take It To The Top' shapes up to become Victor's best and most complete long player and with the right exposure it could just be the one to allow him to crossover... no one deserves it more!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 15:55

 

LIVE: Joshua Redman @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Monday, 06 May 2019 11:16 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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There was a time, not so long ago, when Joshua Redman was regarded as one of the young lions of the American jazz scene. It's hard to believe, then, that the Californian-born tenor saxophonist celebrated his 50th birthday in February. Even so, slim, shaven-headed and possessing a youthful visage, he doesn't look his age. There's also a youthful vigour to his playing, which remains as vibrant and exploratory as it was twenty-five years ago when he first took the jazz world by storm.  The last time Redman appeared at Cheltenham was in 2005 when he brought his Elastic Band to the festival. At that time, the saxophonist was experimenting with a type of edgy fusion sound (as heard on the 'Momentum' album) but these days he's more of a traditionalist and at Cheltenham Town Hall, he opted to showcase a saxophone-bass-drums trio,  an instrumental configuration that was first pioneered by Sonny Rollins in the 1950s. Rollins favoured a trio without a chordal instrument because it allowed him greater melodic and harmonic freedom as a soloist, and it's my guess, listening to his foraging, free-flying saxophone in Cheltenham, that Redman was attracted to the format for similar reasons.  

Taking the stage with Redman were two of America's finest rhythm section players - bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer, Gregory Hutchinson. They provided simpatico accompaniment throughout, supporting Redman's improvisations with anchoring bass lines and fluid polyrhythms. The trio began with a sprightly version of the jazz standard 'Mack The Knife' - which allowed Redman to demonstrate his gift for melodic ornamentation - following it with one of the saxophonist's original tunes, 'Back From Burma,' which was initially more meditative in character, though it eventually blossomed into an impassioned tone poem packed with sonic drama before subsiding mournfully. The music ranged from the gentle and elegant - exemplified by an original composition called 'Second Date'  - to more driving, propulsive numbers like the funkafied 'Tail Chase,' which allowed Gregory Hutchinson to demonstrate his dynamic drumming skills.

"We're just up here making it up as we go along," quipped Redman at one point in between songs. The audience laughed, but he wasn't being flippant and was making a serious point. In fact, he felt compelled to qualify his earlier statement, just in case his words were misinterpreted.  "We've studied hard and know this music and practiced and immersed ourselves in the vocabulary and when we're up here improvising, it's just playing what we feel like playing," he said, capturing the essence of what it is to play jazz at the highest level.

The show closed with Redman inviting onto the stage, British saxophonist, Soweto Kinch, who armed with an alto saxophone contributed to a rollicking high tempo blues in the spirit of Charlie Parker's bebop staple, 'Now's The Time,' which closed the show on a euphoric high. It prompted the vociferous audience to call back Redman for a much-deserved encore, who - after much deliberation over what to play - obliged with a simmering groove seasoned with funk inflections.

If you wanted to witness a masterclass of tenor saxophone improvisation, then this was the concert to see at Cheltenham and it didn't disappoint. Let's hope it's not another fourteen years before Redman's next appearance at the festival.   

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 22:38

 

LIVE: Abdullah Ibrahim And Ekaya @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Monday, 06 May 2019 11:11 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                       altThis much-garlanded South African pianist is a legend in his own country, where he began his career under the name Dollar Brand at the dawn of the 1960s before leaving for Europe, and later, the USA, where he established himself as a leading jazz musician and worked with the likes of Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Randy Weston. At 84, Abdullah Ibrahim is still going strong, and although he doesn't say much on stage - he didn't speak to the audience throughout the entire concert - when it comes to music, he's supremely eloquent.

He came out on the stage alone at first, and sat at the piano to play a lovely wistful piece of solo extemporisation full of beguiling melodies and opulent harmonies. Ten minutes elapsed before his six-piece band, Ekaya, took to the stage. The group, comprising a four-piece brass section (piccolo/flute, tenor sax, trombone and baritone sax) plus bass and drums, offered some wonderfully-arranged music, with Ibrahim offering delicate piano asides. As well as providing some sonorous horn charts, Ekaya's individual members also proved to be first class soloists as well. Even so, the afternoon belonged to Abdullah Ibrahim, whose gentle music - refined and elegant - held the audience captive for 75 enthralling minutes.

(Charles Waring)  

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 15:57

 

LIVE: Rymden @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Monday, 06 May 2019 11:06 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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One of the most keenly-anticipated performances of this year's Cheltenham Jazz Festival was this concert from Rymden, a Swedish supergroup comprised of pianist Bugge Wesseltoft together with former Esborn Svenson Trio members, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom. Drawing on material from its highly-regarded debut LP, 'Reflections & Odysseys,' released earlier this year, the trio created glacial soundscapes that were cinematic in the way they combined suspense and atmosphere. Although there were long passages of nuanced quiet - so quiet that at one point a passing ambulance siren was clearly audible outside and integrated itself into the textured quality of the on-stage sounds - the music wasn't monotonous but was characterised by clearly defined peaks and troughs in terms of dynamics and mood. These qualities were readily apparent in their opening song, 'Reflections,' a delicate piece that eventually segued into a sinewy tune called 'The Odyssey,' which then crescendoed to a roaring climax.

Indeed, the group played with a palpable fire in its belly, producing moments of transcendent brilliance in the way the three musicians interacted with each other. Though a sense of spellbinding melancholy - a characteristic long associated with Scandinavian jazz - pervaded the group's music, Rymden also served up some uplifting moments dominated by uptempo, and sometimes funkafied, grooves; as exemplified by the jaunty tune, 'Pitter-Patter,' where Wesseltoft  showed his prowess on the electric piano. He was ably supported by Berglund, who provided bass lines that possessed both an anchoring solidity and fluid elasticity, and Ostrom - the most loquacious member of the group on stage - whose polyrhythmic drums ranged from fiercely dynamic to wispy and delicate. On the basis of this enthralling concert, there's no doubt that Rymden is one of Europe's pre-eminent jazz groups right now. There's a deeply immersive quality about their music that's hard to resist.

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 22:47

 

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