The London Jazz Festival boasts a wide line-up of over 250 live concerts taking place all over London. Here is a roundup of what I managed to catch over the incredible 10 days:
Robert Glasper Experiment
“F*** whassup London?” Robert Glasper takes to the stage, taunting with egoistic bravado. Fusing hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass beats with classical and contemporary jazz, the Robert Glasper Experiment is renowned for broadening the limits of jazz. With the help of Basement Jaxx’s Vula Malinga, and underground rapper MF Doom, the Experiment wowed the audience. Black Radio as an album does not do Glasper justice as the group take it to a whole new level in a live experience. From late night grooves, to heavy grimy bass, and the best funky grundge cover of “Smells like teen spirit” you’ve ever heard, the Robert Glasper Experiment truly provided a feast for your ears.
The distinctively country influenced Bristol based collective Phantom Limb, took to the stage one member short. With the absence of their drummer due to illness, or to put it in their own graceful terms, “he’s got it coming out of both ends”, their sound felt blissfully simplistic and serene. In many ways the lack of percussion probably allowed the band to showcase their individual talents further. The country inflections in the acoustic guitar and the melodious vocal harmonies became more vividly heard. Most ear-pleasing of all were lead singer Yolanda’s vocals, who, as the night went on, gradually unleashed her raspy growls.
Beats & Pieces meet Ensemble Denada
The stage is rammed with instruments and music stands. As a multitude of men walk on, drums create a steady beat, a funky bassline drops and the audience is aroused by a cacophony of brass. The set up for the night is very unique as not only do each of the big bands alternate segments of the show, but they also intermingle in fantastic ways. Both groups engaged in a “wife-swap” style “musical director-swap” as Ben Cottrell composed one piece for Ensemble Denada, and Helge Sunde wrote a piece for Beats & Pieces, each imitating each others styles. The show ran impressively smoothly, which with so many performers on the stage is no easy feat. But what was most enjoyable of all was to witness two incredible big bands basking in each other’s talents and making fabulous feel-good music.
Shabaka Hutchings and the BBC Concert Orchestra
One of the most unique shows billed on the London Jazz Festival programme, an evening of Classical Jazz fusion with renowned clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings and the ever prominent, BBC concert orchestra. Shabaka premiered his latest composition ‘Babylon’, written for the concert orchestra, Sons of Kemet, electronic maestro Leafcutter John, and beat boxer Jason Singh. Described by Shabaka himself, to evoke “joyous” feelings in and amongst “clean” and dirty” sounds, the piece intends to reflect the conflicting “inner workings of a city”. With often dissonant and otherwise airy sounds, it often felt as though the band and the orchestra were two clashing forces, yet at times both worked beautifully to create a unique blend. After ‘Babylon’ the crowd were treated to a dose of the Shabaka they known and love, as conductor Keith Lockhart and the BBC concert orchestra left it to Sons of Kemet to finish off the night.
A new young collective grace the Front Room freestage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Psylus are a unique five piece consisting of Jamie Benzies (bass), Chibike Odukwe (drums), Zuri Jarrett-Boswell (keys), D’vo Tile Gichigi-Lipere (electronics) and the 17-year-old powerhouse sax player David Turay (sax). Infusing hip-hop beats with jazz structures, the group managed to draw and hold an unusually large crowd for the front room. The group’s free-flowing melodies, and fluctuating rhythms completely captivated the audience. One thing was for sure, although most arrived not knowing who Psylus were, the majority left unexpectedly impressed. So, the name’s Psylus, take note as they’re definitely ones to watch.
As the lights dim, the massive boombox radio on stage twiddles its dials and the band humorously replicate different genres with each turn. Stopping at a soulful groove, Esperanza joins the stage adorned in a sleek emerald dress. From love narratives to politically infused gospel, the setlist reads like a script, with Esperanza introducing each song with a tale. She is a sassy, charismatic and natural performer who could easily transcend the “jazz” boundary. As she closed the night with the jazzy ballad ‘Cinnamon Tree’ I could easily imagine non-jazz fans not being quick to change the dials if Esperanza came on.
Paco de Lucia
At age 64, Paco is still the leading light on flamenco guitar, and it is a testament to his ongoing dedication and sheer musical prowess. The Spanish don’t do things by halves; every single aspect of this performance was delivered with maximum ounces of passion. Unbelievably flawless singers, mesmerizing flamenco dancing, and rhythmically complex percussion, Paco’s band displayed unrelenting focus and talent. A hugely passionate performance deserves an equally passionate audience, for which Paco needed to look no further. The sold out hall is packed full of lively Paco fans wolf-whistling and yelling Spanish adulations. With such a riveting performance there is no doubt as to why the hall was worked into such frenzy, they were in the presence of a guitar god.
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