New CDs by London Jazz Festival performers

There’s wall-to-wall jazz this week down at the EFG London Jazz Festival. Whether or not you can get to any events is down to the busyness of your diary and your proximity to The Big Quince. But there’s no excuse for missing out on the music. Here are just some of the albums by performers at the festival:

beyond-nowDonny McCaslin – Beyond Now (Motema): The tenor saxophonist has long been a go-to player on the New York scene and was hitherto best known for his work with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, with whom he played in Birmingham a year ago. Then David Bowie heard him and used him as his musical director for his final album, Blackstar.

The Bowie experience had a profound effect on McCaslin and this album is full of that theatrical jazz/rock overlap. In addition to a bunch of the saxophonist’s originals his superb quartet – they were the Blackstar band – plays two Bowie songs, one from his Low album complete with strong vocals from Jeff Taylor, the other from Outside. There are also adaptations of pieces by electronic musician Deadmau5 and rock band Mutemath.

The instrumental prowess of McCaslin’s band coupled with the sometimes grand power of the music – just try the title track for good measure – make this a listen that sometimes really pins your ears back. Really very good.

  • Donny McCaslin + Skint are at Rich Mix tomorrow at 8pm.

somewhere-in-betweenBugge Wesseltoft – Somewhere In Between (Jazzland): It’s 20 years since the pianist, composer and arranger first came up with his Nordic mix of jazz and club electronica which he called New Conception Of Jazz. This double disc is part retrospective/part recreation as he programmes tracks old and new, most of the new ones reworkings of old tunes. It opens with a 2016 trio version of Existence, perhaps Bugge’s best known tune.

Elsewhere there are examples of his strong collaborations with vocalists Mari Boine and Sidsel Endresen, and other big names which appear as guests include Joshua Redman and Dhaffer Youssef. There is also a beautiful duet with violinist Henning Kraggerud which shows Bugge in classical/folk mode.

Wesseltoft seeks new sounds and collaborators from near and far, but is sometimes happy to settle for a solo grand piano and a standard like How High The Moon. Throughout he brings his open, unassuming character and rhythmic flair to the party.

  • Bugge Wesseltoft has a residency at the festival and is appearing on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 at Kings Place.

parisMike Westbrook – Paris (ASC): The hugely-respected and too-often overlooked national treasure that is Mike Westbrook is heard here as a solo pianist, and as with other composer/arrangers who are often leading quite large bands it’s a treat to hear his chord voicings, his inimitable take on music, pared down to such an intimate – and fairly introspective – recital.

The programme is divided into for parts – The Front Page, Bar-Room Piano, Love Stories and The Blues – and there are many of his and his wife Kate’s pieces here, interspersed with Ellington, Strayhorn, The Beatles, Bessie Smith and even the Philly soul classic You Make Me Feel Brand New – Westbrook would have taken great satisfaction throwing in that curveball, one feels.

One can hear some Ellington influences, some Monk, some European classical – but most of all it sounds like Westbrook.

  • Mike Westbrook launches this album at Kings Place on Saturday 19 November.

diwanDhafer Youssef – Diwan (Okeh): The Tunisian singer and oud player has an all-star American band of Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Aaron Parks on piano, Ben Williams on double bass and Mark Guiliana on drums. The music is a seamless mix of jazz and Youssef’s traditional heritage, and while all the tunes are richly hued, all the musicians play marvellously and the leader’s oud playing is tasteful and neat, it is, as is always the case with Dhafer Youssef, the voice which knocks the listener for six.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get fully accustomed to just how high he can go – and with such clarity! It’s a super-human sound. It can become dangerously like a party trick, though. Just once I’d like to hear him sing a whole piece in the “human” range without being tempted to head for the stratosphere and leave me choking on my toast and spilling my tea all over floor.

  • Dhafer Youssef and Ambrose Akinmusire are playing the Barbican on Saturday 19 November.

trioburn-the-boatELDA – Trio (Two Rivers) & Fini Bearman – Burn The Boat (Two Rivers): ELDA is a trio of vocalist Emilia Martensson, accordionist Janes Dovc and percussionist Adriano Adwale; Fini Bearman is a vocalist and has a quartet to write for. Both these albums were recorded for the genre-transcending London label and act as perfect examples of the capital city’s creative music scene. Yes, there’s some jazz in both albums but there is a whole lot of other good stuff too: strong songwriting, finely wrought lyrics, and wide-ranging sounds.

ELDA’s sound is a lot bigger than the instrumentation would suggest; Bearman’s band adds strong grooves behind their leader’s own words and also poetry from Fernando Pesoa, Langston Hughes and e.e. cummings – and the title track is a belter! Both singers often stack their voices in harmony. They are equally classy releases which show how some of the most enriching music is made in the cracks between genres and where cultures meet.

  • These bands are doing a double bill at Union Chapel’s bar at 4pm on Sunday 20 November.

white-desert-orchestraEve Risser White Desert Orchestra – Les Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed): The French pianist and composer brings together some fine fellow Parisians together with Norwegian trumpter Eivind Lønning. This is a jazz orchestra that sounds like no other – sometimes very sparse and making noises more familiar in contemporary classical music or in abstract improv, sometimes settling into seductive swelling and swaying themes.

It all conveys really well Risser’s interest in wide open spaces, and in particular in this programme the canyons of the south western U.S. There are big skies here and dry air, plus open fissures, breaks in the land, all filled with the noise of spaces. Apparently she would like her listeners to hear the physicality of it rather than the intellectual. Works for me!

  • Eve Risser is playing a solo set at The Vortex on Saturday 19 November and the White Desert Orchestra is on the Barbican Freestage on Sunday 20 November.

time-lifeCharlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra – Time/Life (Impulse!): This is the final recording by the great jazz orchestra with its bassist leader before he died in 2014. This time the tunes are all by the band’s arranger Carla Bley, with Miles Davis’s Blue In Green opening and Haden’s own Song For The Whales closing.

It’s a more sedate and on the surface less overtly political album than some of the LMO’s most striking, like 1970’s debut disc and 1983’s The Ballad Of The Fallen. This time the politics are broader and greener – we’re talking the natural world of the planet here.

It’s a live recording from the Middelheim Jazz Festival in Antwerp, and all the characteristic strengths of the band are here: those gorgeous, dignified, ever-so-sad harmonies that Bley puts in the horns, a fine bunch of soloists, and of course the unmistakeable life pulse of Charlie underneath it all.

  • The Liberation Music Orchestra, directed by Carla Bley, will play the Cadogan Hall on Sunday 20 November.

live-at-union-chapelBill Laurance – Live At The Union Chapel (Ground Up): The only Brit in the most popular jazz/funk band in the world, Snarky Puppy, is a prodigious talent. Not only does he play and tour with the big outfit, but he somehow finds the time to write and play and tour with his own core trio – two fellow Pups Michael League on bass and Robert “Sput” Searight on drums – plus added strings, French horn and percussion.

Live At The Union Chapel is a double disc which just piles on the value! More catchy riffs, more layered keyboards, more pulsing grooves. Probably best experienced in person but it survives to CD well enough though I always find albums like this become rewarding background music to some activity – like driving the car, or the vacuum cleaner – rather than absorbing listening for full concentration.

  • The Bill Laurance Project is at Shoreditch Town Hall at 8pm on Sunday (don’t expect League and Searight, though).
  • For full details of all these gigs and the rest on offer at the EFG London Jazz Festival, go HERE.

Categories: CD review

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3 replies

  1. going down tomorrow



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