London Jazz Festival 2011 – through my eyes and ears

London Jazz Festival was like Xmas for me: an event once a year with lots of positive feelings, surprises, qualitative music and with the best of the best in the town.

On Day 1 i went to listen to a talk with Steve Coleman. I always find it very interesting to actually hear musicians talking about the music they do, their thinking/ feeling/ ideas behind musical notes, their interpretation of their work and their own musical/ creative development which has led them to the level they are in. This time however a couple of very talkative (read – drunken) listeners at times by being as loud as Steve Coleman did not allow me and few other listeners to focus on musician’s story, so unfortunately i think i missed some parts of this talk. My plan to attend a gig of Robert Mitchell later in the evening was ruined when I realized that tube’s Norther line was not working that evening. at times London transport can be really demotivating…

On Day 2 i spent all afternoon at Southbank centre listening to Julian Siegel and after – Arun Ghosh. Arun Ghosh is probably my discovery number 1 of this festival. I’ll be honest, though i knew about him, i never went actually to his gig as i thought that this synthesis of Asian influence and jazz (and whatever else) will not appeal to me. However, i was absolutely amazed. Combination of great a la Asian style solos with at times hard rock, funky rhythm and interesting improvisations made it all extremely enjoyable. My knees were swinging, my head was nodding to the beat..Next, i liked that Serious was continuing tradition from the last year and offered Jazz History talks by musicians. Last year Soweto Kinch and Shabaka Hutchings were leading listeners through the history of jazz based on their own understanding, perspective and  interpretation. This year Nathaniel Facey and Shane Forbes (Empirical) told their story with emphasis on those jazz history heroes who have had also a great influence on their own musical development and understanding of jazz. Such ‘talk sessions’ are very interesting and educational as it really gives a new perspective on what we hear and how music is ‘made’ an has been developing over years and decades and even centuries.

Day 3 was a beautiful sunny day (in London you really learn how to appreciate sun) and i went to Greenwich to listen to Martin Speake.  This was the first time i heard him live and well – in such a special venue – National Maritime Museum. Wow. Though music is music, i think, venue often can be such an added value and make it all so much greater. There is not much to say except – absolutely perfect music for Sunday afternoon (most of the pieces were Martin’s own compositions) in a perfect venue in the middle of the sunshine lit park.

On Day 4 i went to see Regina Carter who is one of the few violin players on the jazz scene and she must be seen for this reason alone. Beautiful performance mixing in Afro rhythms, traditional/ folk song elements and ‘cooking’ it all with a nice mild hot jazz sauce. 🙂 Some may want to categorize this as world music probably, however, i think, the improvisation with instruments (how often you can hear accordion in jazz music?) and melodies (from wherever they come) was there and nicely fit in the LJF programme.

Also, worth mentioning, before Regina Carter the audience was ‘warmed up’ by Trish Clowes led by female (!) saxophone player. As there are not many female jazz musicians in general, it was even more surprising to find one to be a leader of the band. For this courage alone to break the standard tradition, i applaud her. 🙂

On Day 5 i went to Dalston to see British Piano night led by Julian Joseph and with participation of Jonathan Gee and one more piano player whose name i cant remember. 😦 I love piano trios. My all time favorite is Bill Evans trio, so whoever gets near to that, breaks my heart. 🙂 This gig was what I would call a proper jazz in an intimate atmosphere and in a not-overcrowded, relatively small venue. An evening was like my mental yoga.

On Day 6 i went to see Nik Bartsch band from Switzerland. I saw them for the first time in 2009 in Bath Jazz festival and was totally ‘killed’. You cant find anything even close to this band. What they are doing is so unique, you just have to check them out. It’s kind of a hypnotic, at times trans jazz, sophisticated and at times completely minimalistic. What’s interesting, he does not give titles to his songs. Those are just numbers. Modules. I think, the venue was again crucial here (Kings Place) giving enough space for their music and visual ‘choreography’ to express and tell what they have to say.

On Day 7 I went to see Empirical and Archie Shepp. Empirical who have just released their third album Elements of Truth are getting a more and more distinguished voice on UK jazz scene and being recognized by their special style and musical ideas. I bet, it’s just a beginning and much greater things are still yet to come from this musical collaboration. Watch them out. Archie Shepp in duo with Joachim Kuhn  was beautiful combination of Joachim’s playfulness and Archie’s meaningful, juicy melodies. at times it felt like i was traveling back in time around 1960s or so.

On Day 8 i saw the performance which, i think, i was waiting for more than any other. Ladies and gentlemen, Gretchen Parlato! I just cant help myself but to repeat and repeat how much i like her latest album Lost and Found. It is fantastic and there is no other album to which at the moment i can relate my own state of mind, soul and heart so clearly as to this one. I have posted my favorite Gretchen’s song before in my blog, but i will do it again. Just in case, you have not yet heard it, but if you have, i am sure, you would love to listen to it again.

This was the end of my this year’s LJF due to unforeseen circumstances. Moreover, due to those unforeseen circumstances, i lost all my photos and videos i took during the festival and i am not able to neither add to my own collection nor to share some of them with you here. For this reason i’m using here some youtube material for reference.

But well, next year, they say, there will be another LJF. 🙂

Gretchen Parlato. I still love

Even if you said goodbye

even if a dream may die

even when my life is through

no matter what you say or do

even if it makes me cry

even if i don’t know why

even when things fall apart

even if you break my heart

even when i feel alone

even if i had no home

till my fears have gone away

let it go and come what may

through my joy and through my pain

like the sun that follows rain

no beginning and no end

love, so love comes back again

i still love

I highly recommend to listen to her most recent album The Lost and Found (which includes also this song – Still). Absolutely amazing. on iTunes available only for 7.99GBP.

Just booked a ticket to attend her gig in November when she is visiting London. cant wait.

13 years old prodigy jazz guitar player Andreas Prodigy, debut gig in London

Last Monday, 21 March at Ronnie Scotts was, i could bet, a historic day.When introducing the young 13 year old prodigy Andreas Varady, the host correctly noted that there have been many bigger and smaller Cats playing on the Ronnies’ stage, however never the headliner has been so young – just 13 years! Moreover, this gig was the first one outside the Andreas’ residence country Ireland (Andreas originally comes from Romania/ Slovakia) and at the end of the night there was no doubt that his name will be part of the jazz future.

Many musicians would spend many years in jazz until they get the chance to play at Ronnies the main act, while for Andreas  Europe’s jazz meka has been conquered already at the age of 13.

Andreas’ gig was amazing. Combination of jazz standards, some of his own as well as his band mate’s David Lyttle compositions made it a truly enjoyable night. Even more, because of his age quality was not compromised, though obviously there is a space for Andreas to grow, improve and potentially at some point in the near future become a source of inspiration and role model for other young jazz guitar players.

He started to play guitar at age of four when his father, who is himself playing guitar, introduced it to him. As immigrants from Eastern Europe Andreas and his father had been busking on streets in Ireland until they were noticed and recognized by Irish jazz musicians and brought into light.

This young jazz player is phenomenon with great talent and passion for music at such a young age. I doubt if he would have been where he is without the external conditions – having his father as his tutor (though they say he is more like self-taught prodigy guy) and rough, but musically useful experience of busking. I wonder, however, if, while developing his professional career, he has time at all to go to school and keep up with general education. Hopefully, he is not compromising too much.

Anyway, i feel that in few years time Andreas will be bringing us more and more great things. With his Leo character (btw, our birthdays are on the same day!) you should not expect less. so, watch his space.

Check him playing with Martin Taylor here.

my top of jazz movies and films

Though this is definitely not a complete list of movies and films about jazz, this is what I have seen and recommend personally to anyone loving jazz music. It can always be debatable to what extent the story about the life of musician is reflecting the reality (fiction vs non-fiction), but still it gives you a good insight into the jazz world and behind the scene area.

Bird – 1988

A movie about one of the greatest jazz musicians – saxophone players – Charlie Parker. Little movie trailer available here.

Mo Better Blues – 1990

This movie is not a biographic story of one particular musician,  but it is story about Bleek following him through his childhood years when he was forced to play trompet while his friends were playing games outside till his adulthood, when he becomes a professional jazz musician and goes through all kinds of challenges.

Denzel Washington is playing the main role.

Here is the tune ‚Mo Better Blues“ as an episode from this movie.

Jazz – 2001

If I have to name the best, most comprehensive, educational film about jazz, then my choice is this Ken Burns‘ film Jazz. A series of 10 films in a chronological order takes you through the jazz from its very beginnings back in the 18th century during the age of slavery up to the modern times giving an excellent insight into the birth of jazz and its continuous development. I like that the musicians here are shown not only as individual artists but as a part of the time they were living in and all the socio, economic and political context within which they lived and formed their art and expressed their ideas through music.

Here you can get a taster. Also, it was a true pleasure to find Wynton Marsalis as an excellent jazz story teller and interpretator and, I would even say, historian of jazz.

Lady Sings the Blues – 1972

This movie is a biographic story about Billie Holiday, legendary blues singer, the rise and fall of her career. Her late childhood, stint as a prostitute, early tours, marriages and drug addiction are featured. Billie Holiday was played by Diana Ross, who herself is a singer.

Here Lady Billie sings the blues.

Kansas city, Robert Altman, 1996

The story line of this movie has not much to do with jazz therefore at least to me it was a bit difficult to watch this movie. However, there is always jazz in the background featuring such great players as Joshua Redman, for example. An episode from the movie is here.

Round Midnight, 1986

This is also probably one of my favorite jazz movies, where Dexter Gordon, one of my favorite sax players, is playing the main role. Extremely real visualization of musician’s life on and behind the scene. Here is a trailer of this movie.

World According to John Coltrane, 1990

„John Coltrane is easily one of the key innovators, visionaries, and virtuosos of American Jazz. Coltrane’s spiritually influenced and challenging music not only turned the jazz world upside down in the 1960s, but directly impacted all modern music for decades to follow. It is this relationship between music and spirituality that is the core of John Coltrane: The World According to John Coltrane. Produced with his wife’s cooperation, The World According to John Coltrane is truly a heartfelt documentary on his work and influence on the music community. The bulk of the 60-minute documentary focuses on Coltrane’s eastern spirituality/musical direction in the 1960s as told through the voices of friends, fellow musicians, and admirers. Perhaps the most impressive aspects of this documentary are its live footage clips. Listening to Coltrane is extremely powerful, but watching him pour his heart and soul into his sax is absolutely awe-inspiring. These clips will leave you yearning to see the entire performances, unedited.“

The Glenn Miller Story – 1954

This is a biography of Glenn Miller and many episodes are authentic performances of Glenn Miller and his big band. This movie comparing to other jazz movies seem to me a bit too ‚white‘, but maybe it is just normal as the white-black aspect was always part of the jazz world.

A bit of this movie can be seen here.

Rhapsody in Blue – 1945

this is a sort of biographic film about George Gershwin which highlights his striving for success and the line of relationship with a singer Julie.

NiMo quartet from Latvia in London

Slowly but persistently I am getting back to where I was 2-3 years ago – organizing/ co-organizing gigs and/or liaising between musicians and venues etc. With a bit of my help NiMo Quartet from Riga came to London to perform at the Jazz Cafe Posk within the framework of the 3rd East European Jazz Festival in London. Moreover, their tune “James in Peril” has been included in the recently released album “Europa Jazz 2010” celebrating the best new European jazz.

And, a gig was really good. I still would need to learn about promoting musicians/ getting gigs in such a competitive city as London, because this band, despite the fact that they come from my country, is indeed unique. Do you know a jazz band where drummer is replaced by DJ, who is managing the beat and improvising by scratching his vinyls? Innovations, innovations.and distinctiveness from others.

I really hope to get them back here some day again. They are really worth that. London should see them properly. Check out these guys! One of their best tunes you can listen here.

Carmen Souza, 20 September 2010, London

The first time when I heard her live was in March this year, when it was still cold outside and her African spirit warmed me up more than a cup of coffee. Though she jokingly presented herself as a musician from Iceland, on Monday when Carmen was in London again, it was sunny and warm, and i think, she just brought the African sun with her.

Playing the songs from her latest album “Protegid” (Protected) she re-established and illuminated a natural bond between jazz, Latino, Cuban, African rhythms. Moreover, she has a voice and spirit which allow her to establish these connections and easily play with them.

As a special surprise of this gig was a song Sous Le Ciel de Paris. Though you would most likely associate this song with Edith Piaf or Mireille Mathieu, Carmen did it in her own very particular way. Gentleness, softness and as well as playful improvisations created her interpretation extremely refreshing.

Having Horace Silver as one of her most important inspirations, she has included in her album his song “Song for my father” which was played also on Monday night. I dare to say that this is one of the best versions of this song i Have ever heard.

Carmen was not just performing. She was trying hard to engage with public, making them sing along and SMILE! She believes – if you smile, skies will smile to you too!

🙂

Incognito, London, Ronnie Scott’s, 19.09.2010

Ronnie Scott‘s venue  – as a jazz temple in the middle of Soho – with its certain solemnity, interior, red-shade table lamps, ‚unwritten social rules‘ and presence of jazz history all around to some extent already pre-determines the general atmosphere of a jazz night. After taking a seat at one of the long tables one would sit still for most of the evening. Except rhythmic nodding of ones head usage of body language usually is quite limited.

But on a day when Incognito got on the stage it was different. Rules were broken and almost everyone sooner or later was standing, making funky moves, singing along and even jumping. As Bluey, Incognito’s ‘face’ said – this is what jazz originally was meant to be – celebration of life and joy through music, dance and ‘togetherness’ disregarding race, gender, class or origins.

Mixture of good old hits (such as Taking Loud, Always There, Solar Fire) and tunes from their most recent album “Transatlantic RPM”, combination of soulful songs with superb jazz funk made this gig both as a very nice retrospect celebrating band’s 31st anniversary and as a tasting of its persistent development of new musical ideas.

Being probably one of the most popular and commercially successful jazz funk bands in the world Incognito showed that it is not sitting on its laurel and thus leaves no space for disappointment, though lack of improvization to more sophisticated jazz lovers may give a feeling of emptiness. However, while all together and each of them separately musicians presented amazing technical skills, they created excellent engaging bond with public and made everyone feel involved, connected and as an integral part of this 2 hours non-stop gig.