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


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


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


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