Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet – London Jazz Festival 2014

Barbican Centre, London. Thursday 20th November 2014

Thursday’s Tomasz Stanko concert presents quite a challenge to review. No tracks were introduced though most were from the ‘Wislawa’ album with the New York Quartet. The music is frequently impressionistic, dense, free and constantly shifting.

The medium swing of ‘Assassins’ served as the uncompromising starting point for a challenging evening’s music requiring some serious concentration. Much was asked of the audience to stay with this, but the rewards were well worth it. Almost every piece seemed to contain many sub pieces, often with quite different harmony and rhythm. Asides of asides were pursued relentlessly resulting in a sometimes uncomfortable de-centering effect.

‘Dernier Cri’ supplied some contrast, the wistful and dreamy introduction from pianist David Virelles conveying a mood perfectly echoed by Stanko’s melancholy trumpet. The piece managed to capture a romanticism tinged with sadness and longing. The track eventually moved on up into a swing, Virelles keeping us on our toes with some angular side shot arpeggio flourishes.

Especially effective was the insistence of ‘Faces’, drummer Gerald Cleaver sounding gorgeously fluid, keeping up a captivatingly intense rhythmic layer for Stanko to shower his fast trumpet cluster splurges over. Bassist Thomas Morgan provided a clear backbone throughout, much in the vein of classic modal era Coltrane tracks. He frequently stuck to a one-note drone type layer, albeit presented within a complex rhythmic figure. The playing was nothing showy on the face of it, but he was always driving things along with maximum effect. His later solo was really quite unusual, comprising a root to fifth movement shifting across tonalities.

It was clear this concert wasn’t to everyone’s taste, especially coming after high energy spectacle of opening act Stefano Bollani and Hamilton de Holanda. Nonetheless, it was the sort of concert that stays with you. It’s certainly left me intrigued to seek out and understand his music more. Music shouldn’t have to be difficult and of course, often isn’t. However sometimes when it is, it can push you into places you otherwise wouldn’t go. We don’t always find the journey easy, but it can be wonderful when you get there.

Trumpeter Tomasz Stańko
Pianist David Virelles
Bassist Thomas Morgan
Drummer Gerald Cleaver

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Alice Zawadzki - London Jazz Festival 2014

Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London. Wednesday 19th November 2014.

We were treated to an enchanting performance last night from Alice Zawadzki at the Royal Albert Hall. The set opened with the gruff chords and swirling folk tones of ‘Indome Para Marsilia’ before singers Emine Pirhasan and Jessica Berry joined for ‘Ring of Fire’. Alice has added a new groove section to the end of the track that, perhaps surprisingly, worked really well, guitarist Alex Roth digging in with some tasty overdriven lines.

One of the many set highlights was the Arabic influenced Spanish tones of ‘Dicho Me Habian Dicho’, a track Zawadzki learnt from Roth. The dark brooding introduction slowly built up momentum to an ecstatic and powerful conclusion. Zawadzki introduced and explained the story behind most tracks, the lovely three part harmonies and Frisell style guitar of ‘Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light’ being inspired by a beautiful sunrise one morning in Denmark.

The track of the night was a genuinely moving take on ‘You As a Man’. Pianist Lee opened with a really good sweeping retro organ introduction, reminding me of some of John Paul Jones playing for Zeppelin. Zawadzki joined with some beautifully sensitive singing, the piece then twisting into its dark and intense section making way for great solos from Roth and Lee.

The set closed with some fantastic three-part harmonies on ‘Cat’. The band was nicely warmed up and relaxed at this point, so it was a shame we had to leave it there for this relatively short late night set. Short but certainly sweet.

Alice Zawadzki: voice, violin
Alex Roth: guitar
Pete Lee: piano, synth
Tom McCredie: bass
Jon Scott: drums
Emine Pirhasan: voice
Jessica Berry: voice

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Trish Clowes and Guy Barker with the BBC Concert Orchestra - London Jazz Festival 2014

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. Tuesday 18th November 2014

There was quite some sense of expectation last night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the 'Trish Clowes and Guy Barker with the BBC Concert Orchestra' concert. Premieres of commissions can be nervy affairs at the best of times, a concert orchestra and live Radio 3 broadcast only upping the ante.

We were eased into the evening with a few pieces from the Trish Clowes Quintet. ‘Question Mark’ was a clipped angular affair followed by the gently questioning ‘Chorale’, the intro of which Clowes delivered with a sensitive lyricism. The BBC Concert Orchestra then joined for ‘Balloon’. It began nice and groovily, Clowes saxophone sounding strong and strident. I felt the orchestra could have kicked more when they came in, but they still managed to give the piece some extra depth.

Guy Barker then came on to conduct his ‘Soho Symphony’ with the orchestra, a piece based on a 24 hour boy almost meets girl story. For the most part I really enjoyed this largely classical sounding piece. I’m no expert on classical sounds, but my ears were hearing a range of elements through the piece including impressionistic Debussy, some 2001 Ligeti style floating dissonances, Psycho stabbing violins, dark growling chords with spitting muted trumpets along with some classic swing blues moments. It came together well.

Singer Norma Winstone joined the quintet and orchestra for some arrangements by Clowes and Barker of songs she's performed in the past.  ‘Peacock’ tested Winstone’s range with some very tricky wide intervals, but she pulled it off like a pro backed by a lovely lush string arrangement. My personal favourite of the night was the Clowes arrangement of John Taylor’s ‘Enjoy the Day’, a track from Winstone’s first record under her own name.  Some potent solos from Clowes and Mike Walker on guitar enhanced a really great chord sequence. It was interesting to hear an orchestra backed version of Steve Swallow’s ‘Ladies in Mercedes’ which totally worked, James Maddren’s drums sounding particularly sweet on the track’s seductive latin groove.

The evening finished with a Clowes’ composed three part commissioned piece, ‘The Fox, The Parakeet and The Chestnut’.  The first part I found a bit frustrating, being a bit jerky both rhythmically and harmonically. However this was followed by a really engaging section opened by Clowes playing some eerie sax into the sound box of Gwilym Simcock’s piano. Walker added a lovely raindrop like guitar backdrop to which the violins adding extra texture. The latter part of the piece really kicked in with Clowes sounding particularly gutsy.  There were some tentative moments for sure, but overall the piece was a genuine success.