LIVE: Sergio Mendes @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Sunday, 05 May 2019 13:33 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


At 78 years old, Brazilian music legend, Sergio Mendes still knows how to get his groove on. The veteran keyboard player brought the sunshine and warmth of his native country's music to light up a chilly Cheltenham afternoon. Leading from a centre stage keyboard, a fedora-wearing Mendes led his well-drilled seven-piece band  through an enjoyable tour of his back catalogue.  Singers Gracinha Leporace - Mendes' wife of many years -  and Katie Hampton were the main focus of the music; their voices sensuously entwined on material that ranged from bossa nova classics like 'The Girl From Ipanema, ' and 'One Note Samba'  - both written by Mendes' friend and mentor, the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim -  to big US hits he enjoyed with Brasil 66 in the 1960s. The latter included a samba-infused reconfiguration of the Beatles' ballad, 'Fool On The Hill' and a hypnotic take on Burt Bacharach & Hal David's immortal paean to desire, 'The Look Of Love.'  

To add a contemporary twist and no doubt inspired by his successful collaboration with the Black Eyes Peas on three hit albums in 2006 ('Timeless'), 2008 ('Incanto'), and 2014 ('Magic'), Mendes also featured a rapper on a couple of songs (including the Jobim-penned 'Surfboard'). Though purists in the audience might have been irritated by his presence, judging from the enthusiastic reception his energetic rhyming couplets received, his inclusion in the band was a popular one. In terms of its musicianship, Mendes' band couldn't be faulted ("this is the best band I've had in many, many years," he told the audience).  On bass was the legendary Philadelphia player, Alphonso Johnson - whom fusion aficionados would recall from his work with Weather Report and George Duke in the mid-'70s - while on saxophone, flute, keyboards and additional vocals was another American,   Scott Mayo, who duetted with Katie Hampton on Mendes' 1983 US hit, the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weill MOR ballad, 'Never Gonna Let You Go.'

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Mendes closed his packed-out show with his euphoric signature tune, the anthemic 'Mas Que Nada,' which ended the afternoon on a blissed-out high and made Cheltenham seem - at least for 75 minutes - like Rio de Janeiro at carnival time.

(Charles Waring)  

Read SJF's interview with Sergio Mendes here:


Last Updated on Sunday, 05 May 2019 13:45


LIVE: Alfa Mist @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Sunday, 05 May 2019 09:54 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                     altAlfa Mist is a rising East London keyboard player, composer -  and occasional rapper - of African descent whose admirers include noted R&B singer/songwriter, Frank Ocean, and jazz DJ, Gilles Peterson. His striking debut album, 2017's 'Antiphon,' got Mist noticed and now he's touring his freshly-unveiled second long player, 'Structuralism,' which features singer, Jordan Rakei, and has just released on the Sekito label. Fronting a simpatico five-piece band - keys, horn, guitar, bass and drums - Mist, who alternates between electric and acoustic pianos, often draws on the stuttering rhythms of hip-hop and grime for inspiration. His music is hazy, amorphous and loose-limbed but completely mesmerising with its meld of shifting textures and omnipresent sense of groove.  

The excellent Johnny Woodham supplies cool Miles Davis-esque trumpet and flugelhorn lines, which waft over Mist's laidback but engrossing urban soundscapes. He's aided by fine fretboard work from guitarist,  Jamie Leeming, who excels as both an accompanist and soloist.  Bass player Kaya Thomas Dyke - who also contributes ethereal but soulful vocals to the song, 'Falling' - and drummer Jamie Houghton pool their talents to create sinuous rhythm tracks defined by a delicious ebb and flow. The highlights on the afternoon were plentiful, ranging from the luxurious groove of  the set's opener, '44,' to the epic sweep of 'Retainer' with its breezy rhythms and the mesmeric hip-hop jazz of 'Closer,' the latter finding Mist dropping rhymes about urban angst over a throbbing groove, while counterpointed by slivers of jazzy horn. Another standout was 'Jjajja's Screen,' a heartfelt song about Mist's Ugandan grandmother.

Though something of a late-starter in music - apparently, he didn't begin playing the piano until he was 17 - on the evidence of this engaging Cheltenham show,  the 20-something Newham-born auteur has come a long way in a short period of time. His unique approach to urban music singles out Alfa Mist as another bright new star of a British jazz renaissance that is bubbling over with exceptional musical talent right now.   

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 May 2019 11:37


LIVE: Nubya Garcia @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 3/5/2019

Sunday, 05 May 2019 08:07 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Just three days after picking up her second Jazz FM award (this time for Best UK Jazz Act, voted by the British public), high-flying Camden Town saxophonist Nubya Garcia found herself playing in a Cheltenham department store. But this wasn't in front of active shoppers during peak opening times but, rather, at night in a long basement room that had been converted to resemble a dark and dingy low-ceilinged dive bar. Packed to the rafters with a wide range of punters - from young fanatical hipsters to middle-aged broadsheet readers and curious pensioners - 28-year-old Garcia, backed by a stellar band, showed why she's such a hot commodity right now.

Introduced by DJ and tastemaker, Gilles Peterson, Garcia played five long-form compositions that showcased her skills as a composer as well as her prowess as a saxophone player. Her tenor sound - robust and not too rich but also characterised by a dreaminess as well as a spiritual, searching, quality - has distilled some elements from Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Wayne Shorter, but is also, more importantly,  uniquely her own. Her saxophone was framed by a lush chordal backdrop provided by the impressive Joe Armon-Jones on Fender Rhodes while the energetic Danile Casimir on double bass and Sam Jones's drums injected her music with a powerful rhythmic impetus.

The opener, 'Fly Free' - taken from her 2017 debut album, 'Nubya's Five' - found her saxophone gliding over a giddy maelstrom of percussive polyrhythms, with each member of the band enjoying a solo moment in the spotlight, while 'Source' - taken from her latest EP, 2018's 'When We Are' - found its seismic rhythms tipping its hat to dub reggae, though Garcia's saxophone gave the music a probing quality. Sam Jones's volcanic drums began a new song, 'Hold,' which evolved from an orgy of percussive sounds into a pulsating Latin-style number with Garcia's saxophone - elegant but passionate - surfing over a surging, rolling, wave of groove. Another freshly-penned new song, 'Pace' - inspired by the hustle and bustle of her home city, London - also showcased Garcia and her ace band to good effect. She closed her set with the title song from her EP, 'When We Are,' though it was re-worked in a way that almost made it unrecognisable from that version, beginning with an unaccompanied saxophone solo, which not only showed off Garcia's technique and breathy tenor tone but also her emotionally-nuanced delivery.   

Most people witnessing this enthralling concert  would have recognised that the praise lavished by the press on Garcia is well-deserved and that she is most certainly a real and potent force in contemporary British jazz. Believe the hype.  

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 22:45


JAMES AUSTIN Jr; Songs In The Key Of Wonder (JCA Records)

Friday, 03 May 2019 17:40 Bill Buckley E-mailPrintPDF

altStevie Wonder's glorious back catalogue has been plundered countless times by musicians across all genres seeking something of beauty and meaning on which to display their chops. Latest to dip into Stevie's bag is award winning pianist James Austin Jr.

Austin hails from Chicago but now works out of New York. Back n 2006 he won the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. That day, he met many of his music heroes – Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock and George Duke but a certain Stevie Wonder left him in thrall and so for his debut album as leader James Austin has decided to offer ten of his interpretations of Wonder songs. He explains: "Stevie Wonder has written every type of song you can imagine and it's all beautiful music. I've been playing and arranging Stevie's songs in improvisational idioms for some time. Whenever I threw one into a gig, audiences were keenly receptive...and my objective is to connect with the widest audience possible."

'Songs In The Key Of Wonder', then, begins with a gorgeous version of 'Isn't She Lovely' and you know from the opening bars that this album isn't going to be just a pedestrian take on the Wonder songbook. This 'Isn't She Lovely' is serious stuff: it really swings as Austin allows his side men – notably horn players Jarrard Harris and Ben Rubens to stretch out. Why even drummer Samuel Torres gets a mini solo! Versions of 'Part Time Lover' and 'You Are The Sunshine Of My Life' offer more of the same gently swinging flavours while 'My Cherie Amour' is treated to a classic trio makeover... very Ramsey Lewis!

The other featured tunes are 'Another Star', 'You Got It Bad Girl', 'Golden Lady', 'Overjoyed', 'Tuesday Heartbreak' and 'Lately' which closes the album. An album highlight, this 'Lately' features just Austin's piano and David Williams' upright bass and even without the lyrics it will still manage to wring those emotions.

Since relocating to New York, James Austin has made his name as an in-demand session player and accompanist. He's worked with people like Lalah Hathaway, Brian McKnight, BeBe Winans, Yolanda Adams and Russell Malone. Now, with 'Songs In The Key Of Wonder', he's emphatically announced his arrival as a leader in his own right!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Friday, 03 May 2019 17:47


KELLY FINNEGAN: The Tales People Tell (Colemine Records)

Wednesday, 01 May 2019 19:15 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altIt's been a great few weeks for sparkling new soul albums... we enjoyed new material from people like Eli Reed, the O'Jays and Tony Momrelle – names familiar to most serious soul fans who'd expect artists of that stature to deliver. Adding to that list of "sparkling new soul albums" is a 10 tracker from a name new to me, and, I'm guessing, new to most – Kelly Finnegan. Mr Finnegan is a 37 year old Californian whose father was a session keyboardist who worked with people like Etta James and Joe Cocker. Immersed in music from an early age, Kelly formed his own hip hop collective the Destruments who specialised in instrumental tracks! The group moved from LA to Oakland in 2007 but those familiar "musical disagreements" led to the band disbanding in 2009!

Up to then Kelly had played keys and drums but he had always hankered at being out front; thus in 2010 he became lead singer in Bay Area funk band the Monophonics who soon built up a cult following via arduous touring which by 2015 had started to take its toll, so, the group began to take things a little easier. This "cooling off" gave Kelly Finnegan to opportunity to do something he'd long wanted to do - work on his own material. So 'The Tales People Tell' was born and some three years later it's good to go!

The album release was heralded by the single, 'I Don't Wanna Wait' – a luscious slab of contemporary blue eyed soul with its roots in the classic soul sounds of the 60s and 70s and that particular soundscape is the album's signature feel. The album boasts countless highlights – like the Stax/Hi flavoured 'Smoking And Drinking' and the more subtle, uptown harmony group sound of 'Impressions Of You'. In honesty, though, dip in anywhere and you'll you won't be disappointed by what Kelly has crafted. Helping him deliver are players from the Daptone crew, garlanded drummer James Gadson and – a nice touch – his dad Mike!

Kelly says of his 21st century take on classic soul: "I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel... I just want to remind people why the wheel was such a good invention in the first place" and that's exactly what he's achieved! Long live sweet soul music!

(BB) 4/5

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 May 2019 20:05


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