TDE’s EFG – a London Jazz Festival review

Tony Dudley-Evans reflects on his experiences at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

Archie Shepp (Photo: John Watson/

Archie Shepp (Photo © John Watson/

I followed what was a rather strange path through the EFG London Jazz Festival governed by commitments in Birmingham and a wish to take in a big sporting event at Wembley.  This resulted in my missing nearly all the big names in the big venues with the exception of Archie Shepp at The Barbican.  But I did catch some fantastic music in small venues and in the Front Room, the foyer at Queen Elizabeth Hall.  The fact that I heard so much good stuff in these venues is in my opinion of one of the strengths of the Festival; it engages with the London club scene and helps bring great acts to venues such as Café Oto, The Vortex and The Forge in Camden.  And The Front Room programme clearly helps bring some quite challenging music to a different audience many of whom probably won’t buy tickets to the main events.  One small quibble is that I feel that some of these acts, especially the international ones, deserve to be placed in one of the ticketed venues.

I caught the opening night Jazz on 3 live broadcast from Ronnie Scott’s.  This is an annual event with an invited audience and it’s great fun.  We get all the excitement of being part of a live show on the radio with the short practice of cheering and whooping before the actual broadcast, the handover to presenter Jez Nelson from the very formal Radio 3 link person and four short sets of top class jazz.  This year we started with Medeski, Martin and Wood who were also playing a three-day residency at Ronnies; I had never heard them live and really enjoyed the funkiness of the playing, the interaction that comes from their having played together for many years and the general groove of the band.  They were followed by Sons of Kemet, the band led by Shabaka Hutchings with Oren Marshall on tuba and the two drummers, Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner.  This a great band that thoroughly deserves its MOJO Best Jazz Group award and I just love watching the interaction between the two drummers who never seem to get in each other’s way.  Arild Andersen’s Trio with Arild on bass, Tommy Smith on sax and Patrice Heral on drums were a nice contrast.  But the highlight for me and many in the audience was the Venezuelan Latin band, the Pedro Martinez Quartet.  I think they are mostly based in New York and they certainly add New York steel and grit to their basic Latin sound.

I was back on the Sunday at Café Oto for three European acts, Samuel Blaser Trio, Guillaume Perret’s Electric Epic and Luc Ex’s Assemblee.  I was struck by the ease with which each group moved between quite complex compositions and equally complex improvisations and how the difference between the two is often blurred.  I was also struck by the way these bands unite players from different European countries and also New Yorkers.

I was next down for a show that was co-promoted by Jazzlines Birmingham and the Festival.  This was Lluis Mather and his quartet with Dan Nicholls, Holly Thomas and Euan Palmer.  Both Lluis and Dan are Jazzlines Jerwood Fellows.  They were playing in the Front Room on the South Bank before a typically broad foyer audience who seemed to enjoy the hour set.  The songs that Holly and Lluis have developed from poetry are particularly beautiful and several members of the audience commented on this.  I was even told by two attenders that I am “a very good manager”!  I then caught the first set at the Forge with JJ Wheeler’s very moving suite A Question of Hope, based on his experience as a very young victim of cancer.

After the intense drama of the England v. New Zealand match at Wembley, I sought refuge in the equally intense and dramatic Ten Freedom Summers of Wadada Leo Smith with his Golden Quartet and the Ligeti String Quartet.  I have listened quite a bit to the 4-CD set and therefore have some familiarity with the music, and it was wonderful to hear this hugely ambitious project live and to see how Wadada works with his ensembles.  The music itself is powerful, moving and very impressive.

Sunday afternoon saw me at The Front Room again listening to three good sets with Dors, Sonsale (both Jazz Shuttle projects involving French and British musicians) and the European Sunrise Band coming out of the Take 5 Europe project.

My final gig was in fact one of the closing acts of the festival, Archie Shepp’s Attica Blues.  Archie has recently re-recorded the Attica Blues album with a band of mostly French players and a similar band was at the Barbican.  It also included from the USA Amina Claudine Myers on vocals and piano, Reggie Washington on bass and Famadou Don Moye on drums.  The concert began with a moving speech from Shepp over the PA system about what happened in the Attica prison that inspired the original 1972 Attica Blues album, the injustice of the warders’ reaction to the riot and generally about the civil rights movement, finishing with statement that things today had not changed that much.  It was thus rather strange that much of material played in the two-hour concert did not relate directly to the Attica riot and its consequences. Nonetheless this was a very exciting concert with great playing on the saxophone and the rather gruff but enjoyable singing of Archie Shepp.  The band was great, at times quite raucous, at others rather gentler, but always swinging and great fun. A fitting end to the festival.

London Jazz Festival has become a great jazz festival, unique in the extent and breadth of its programme, and exemplary in the way it interacts with the city.

Tony Dudley-Evans is Jazz Adviser to Jazzlines at Town Hall Symphony Hall and Programme Adviser to Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

There are more of John Watson’s great pictures from the EFG London Jazz Festival here.

Categories: Live review

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