Reviews

Meshell Ndegeocello @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 30/04/2017

Tuesday, 02 May 2017 18:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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It's twenty-four years since Meshell Ndegeocellofirst arrived on the music scene via Madonna's Warner-distributed Maverick imprint with her debut platter, 'Plantation Lullabies.' Back then she was heralded as the bright new thing in contemporary US R&B; her bass heavy grooves melding fatback funk with hip-hop rhythms and trenchant socio-political lyrics. But almost a quarter of a century on, Ndegeocello is almost unrecognizable from the artist she was when she first started. In recent years, the funk and R&B vibe has taken a backseat and instead, she's grown and evolved into a noteworthy singer/songwriter whose contemplative and uniquely atmospheric sound eludes easy classification

She has also proved to be an excellent interpreter of other people's songs, as her 2012 album, 'Pour Une Ame Souveraine: A Dedication To Nina Simone' revealed. Indeed, one of the best moments of this 60-minute concert was her mellow but impassioned take on Simone's 'Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,' driven by a chugging rhythmic groove. She also performed her own version of the classic lachrymose ballad, 'Suzanne,' by the late Leonard Cohen ("I'm a huge fan,"  she explained. "He died with such grace."). Elsewhere, the vibe was more strident and pugnacious, melding guitar-driven rock with jazz and pop. "We play 21st century music that's representative of what it's like to be of color in America, so we are going to be loud, we are going  to be brash," said Ndegeocello, prefacing the song, 'Rapid Fire' (from her 2011 album 'Weather'), where her spoken lyrics are framed by echoing guitar shards colliding with celestial synth chords. It was a transcendent piece, transporting you to another dimension.  More down to earth was a febrile New Wave-style number propelled by Chris Brown's, but lighter in tone were the slightly whimsical  'Shopping For Jazz,' and the Lover's Rock style dub track, 'Forget Me,' the latter two songs taken from her most recent album, 'Comet Come To Me.' 

The show ended as it began, with a mellow, downbeat number - the country-tinged 'Good Day Bad.' With its haunting, ruminative quality and brooding intensity, it seem to encapsulate the enigmatic essence of Meshell Ndegeocello, whose presence here at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival was a wholly enthralling one.

(CW)

 

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 18:56

 

LIVE: Kandace Springs @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 30/04/2017

Monday, 01 May 2017 12:25 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Soulful-voiced Nashville chanteuse, Kandace Springs, impressed UK audiences last year, both as Gregory Porter's support act and as the opening act for Jamie Cullum at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. It's no surprise, then, that this year she returned to the affluent Gloucestershire Spa town's annual jazz celebration to perform a show as a headliner. Accompanied by bassist Jesse Bielenberg and drummer, Dillon Treacy, the Afro-topped Springs - alternating between a funky electric Fender Rhodes keyboard and an acoustic grand piano - showed why she's a rising star of the soul-jazz genre. Her sensual, smoky-toned voice is sensational and dripping with a soulful intimacy while her dexterous keyboard playing reveals that she's in possession of some serious jazz chops.

She opened on the Rhodes with the groove ballad, 'Thought It Would Be Easier,' and then switched to grand piano for the lovely Jesse Harris-penned 'Talk To Me.' Both cuts came from Springs' acclaimed debut album, last year's 'Soul Eyes,' but in this captivating 75-minute performance, she offered new material as well. One was a radical, stripped-down, version of Rag 'N' Bone Man's current UK hit, 'Human,'  and another was a stupendous reading of the Stylistics' Thom Bell/Linda Creed song, 'People Make The World Go Round' (let's hope she records the latter for her second album).  Another highlight was her low-key version of  the jazzy ballad, 'Forbidden Fruit,' which came out on her 2015 EP, as did the funkafied 'Love Got In The Way,' which shows that the younger singer/pianist instinctively knows how to groove.   

But Springs is not just a pretty face who happens to sing well - as her Oscar Peterson solo piano tribute, 'Chicago Blues,'  convincingly illustrated, she's also armed with some jaw-dropping piano skills. But it's when she combines her voice with piano that she's at her most potent, as on the Coltrane ballad, 'Soul Eyes,' and a lovely reading of Duke Ellington's timeless 'Sophisticated Lady.' She can funk, too, as a terrific rendering of War's 'The World Is A Ghetto' demonstrated and also, shouldn't be underestimated as a songwriter, as the superlative 'Novocaine Heart' revealed.

Kandace Springs has been compared with Roberta Flack and Norah Jones, and while she openly acknowledges their influence (here, she performed the former's 'The Last Time Ever I saw Your Face' and the latter's 'The Nearness Of You'), she has certainly forged her own distinctive style and identity. As her on-stage patter reveals, she's also got a warm, friendly, and engaging personality, and thus, it's no surprise that she has gained a receptive and enthusiastic following in the UK and Europe. On this compelling evidence, then, Kandace Springs has a very bright future ahead of her.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 18:28

 

LIVE: Steve Gadd Band @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 29/4/2017

Monday, 01 May 2017 11:05 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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It's no surprise that Steve Gadd is often regarded as the drummer's drummer. A prolific session player who rose to fame in the 1970s, his myriad credits (ranging from Steely Dan, Paul Simon and Charles Mingus to Frank Sinatra, George Benson, and Kate Bush) read like a Who's Who of the biggest names in rock, jazz and pop. Though renowned for his flawless technique and impeccable playing, Gadd's sensitivity as a musician is often overlooked - indeed, he's not the flamboyant, egotistical Buddy Rich-type of drummer soloing in a pyrotechnical manner through every track but instead he always remains faithful to the song he is playing, providing often subtle and understated - but always perfect - accompaniment. This was in evidence at this Cheltenham festival gig, where he only allowed himself one brief solo towards the end of the opening number and the rest of the time stayed out of the spotlight, thereby allowing his band to shine.

And what a band. Gadd's guitarist was noted session luminary, Michael Landau (who's played with everyone from Stevie Nicks and Rod Stewart to Joni Mitchell and Donna Summer); on bass was another session veteran, Jimmy Johnson (who played in a band with the late Allan Holdsworth); ex-Frank Zappa trumpeter/flugelhorn player, Walt Fowler; and keyboardist, Kevin Hayes. As you'd expect from musicians of this caliber and experience, everything seemed effortless. They began with a cover of Keith Jarrett's jaunty 'The Wind Up,' followed by a meditative mood piece, the Michael Landau-penned number, The Long Way Home,' which highlighted his eloquent, blues-tinged guitar playing and some lyrical flugelhorn from Fowler. Both tracks came from the Gadd band's latest long player, the excellent 'Way Back Home - Live From Rochester NY,' which provided the source material for much of the drummer's absorbing hour-long set. Other highlights of the afternoon included a version of Wilton Felder's quietly chugging  'Way Back Home' and a heartfelt tribute to the late George Duke, called 'Duke's Anthem,' a waltz-time ballad written and led by Walt Fowler's elegant flugelhorn lines. 

Though 72-year-old Steve Gadd was undoubtedly the star attraction here, his band's set was really an exercise in perfect ensemble playing; of musicians listening to each other and responding in a way that made their interactions seem almost on a telepathic of communication. They made it look easy but, in truth, to achieve that degree of skill and musical empathy was the result of years of hard work and experience. This, then, was a master class that both musicians and non-musicians could learn and gain insight from. It was a privilege to be there.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 16:04

 

LIVE: Robert Cray Band @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 29/4/2017

Monday, 01 May 2017 09:53 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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'Legend' is a hyperbolic epithet that is often used by journalists but seldom merited by its recipients - but in the world of blues music, Robert Cray is certainly deserving of that accolade. Now 62, the blues Hall of Famer has worked with many of the idiom's greatest masters - including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton and the late Chuck Berry - but from early on established his own unique and contemporary style and sound that immediately distinguished him from other blues practitioners. Accompanied by his long-serving quartet - drummer Terrence Clark, bassist Richard Cousins, and organist Dover 'White Cliffs' Weinberg - Cray cogently demonstrated why many regard him as the greatest living bluesman (though the great Buddy Guy might dispute that). Cray's guitar playing has often been admired - and rightly so - but this concert also showed what a superb vocalist he is; soft and soulful one minute, strident and plaintive the next, his voice is a finely-calibrated instrument capable of rendering the full range of human feeling.    

Cray's material ranged from brand new tunes - the self-penned 'You Must believe In Yourself' and a great Memphis-infused version of Bill Withers' 'The Same Love That Made Me Laugh,' both taken from Cray's latest opus, 'Robert Cray With High Rhythm' - to ones from more recent albums ('Sitting On Top Of The World,' 'It Doesn't Show,' the poignant 'Time Makes Two' and the harrowing 'Poor Johnny'), vintage classics  and even cover versions (the group served up a super-charged version of Booker T & The MG's '60s R&B classic, 'Hip Hug-Her,' with Cray hinting that Booker T. Jones, also present at the festival, might join the band on stage, though he never materialized).

The Robert Cray Band played with a real, white-hot intensity when required - evidenced by the searing 'Chicken In the Kitchen' - but also when to turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and offer a contrast of dynamics and mood, which helped to not only pace the show but also maintain the listeners' attention. Needless to say, with all those years and miles clocked up on the road, Cray and his band did that expertly and in a way that only true, seasoned professionals can. While their set was a little shorter than anticipated, the quartet left the stage with the audience clamouring for more - ample proof that Robert Cray and his band had done their job well on the night.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 16:04

 

LIVE: Lionel Loueke @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 29/4/2017

Monday, 01 May 2017 08:53 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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With a CV that includes sideman stints with the redoubtable Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, and Jack DeJohnette, it's safe to say that West African guitarist, Lionel Loueke, is on the radar of most serious jazz fans. With six solo albums to his name (the last four on Blue Note), he's undoubtedly one of the rising stars on today's jazz scene and his distinctive individual style, which melds African music with jazz and rock, definitely sets him apart from other fretboardists. Loueke debuted at Cheltenham in Herbie Hancock's band in 2006 but today, he was back as a headliner leading his own trio that comprised Swedish-Italian bassist Massimo Biolcati and Hungarian drummer Ferenc Nemeth ("These are my brothers from another mother," quipped Loueke, alluding to their long friendship).

Starting off low-key with the pastoral opener, the hypnotic 'Dream' - propelled by gentle guitar finger-picking, which he recorded with his band mates under the collective name Gilfema in 2005 - Loueke and his cohorts then got into their stride with a lengthy reading of 'Broken,' a searing jazz-rock piece featuring Loueke on guitar synth, followed by 'Veuve Malienee' which began with an eloquent bass solo from the dexterous Biolcati before Loueke's clipped, percussion guitar took it in another direction. Indeed, Loueke's music is hard to pin down - a mesh of different flavours with a palpable African overtone, it belongs in a category all by itself. "Leaving the comfort zone, that is what we do," remarked the guitarist, describing his music, and it proved an apposite statement. The trio certainly pushed the envelope with their unique and intrepid fusion of styles and while, perhaps, it wasn't everyone's proverbial cup of tea, for this writer the band's almost telepathic interaction with each other proved compelling and left me craving more. If you have the opportunity to see Lionel Loueke and his band live, I urge to do so - he's in a league of his own.

(CW)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 May 2017 16:05

 

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