Category Archives: Gigs I’ve enjoyed

Gigs I’ve enjoyed

The 30th Belgrade Jazz Festival, 24-27 October 2014

logoThe 30th Belgrade Jazz Festival (24-27 October 2014),  organised and produced by Dom Omladine Beograda,  was a sell out festival, notable for its young, enthusiastic audiences and imaginative programming from Serbia, Europe, Africa and the USA.   The festival was established in 1971 as a mirror of the Newport Jazz Festival of that year. Subsequent years saw the development of the Newport-Beograd Jazz Festival and then the fully fledged Belgrade Jazz Festival.   The fall of communism caused a hiatus in festivals from 1991 until 2005 when the current organisers drew up lists of artists they wanted to see and rebuilt the festival so successfully that it has been accepted by the European Jazz Network, the first Serbian festival to be accepted.  Past programmes read like a Who’s Who of Jazz – Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock. Try to find a world class artist who has not appeared here!  This year’s theme was Jazz All Stars,  and the tireless organisers Marko Stojanovic, Voja Pantic,  and Dragan Ambrozic laid on a feast of Serbian rising stars to complement heavyweights from the USA, – Charles Lloyd (with his Wild Man Dance Suite), David Binney, John Patitucci, Brian Blade –  and introduced me to new talent such as Jacob Anderskov  from Denmark, whose almost classical set was very moving.

Something we could learn from – the Festival organisers, the Belgrade Youth Centre, have deliberately pitched pricing to be affordable to students and people on average wages.  The result was halls full of young people, knowledgeable and enthusiastic.  And workshops where students learn from masters and chat over drinks in the foyers and in late night jam sessions.

Petar Krstajić Belgrade
Petar Krstajić, image by kind permission of Tim Dickeson

What were my highlights?   Most notable was the young bass player Petar Krstajić, who has won a place at Berklee.  He started life as a pianist and at 19 has only been playing bass for five years.  Yet his beautiful duo of Ola Maria by Jobim with Vasil Hadžimanov was quite unforgettable for its delicacy. He’s already played with Shai Maestro, now he can add David Binney to his cv.  Such is the kudos of this Festival that young musicians are fast tracked in their careers.

Paolo Fresu
Paolo Fresu, image by kind permission of Tim Dickeson

Another highlight was Paolo Fresu Quintet, also celebrating its 30th year together  – his stance reminding me of a Botticelli trumpeter in a fresco. The skilful blending of trumpet and clarinet and reverb created a dizzy sound, intoxicating and disorienting.   The audience loved it.

And the festival experience?  The scheduling was perfect – no rushing from venue to venue. Time for drinks and chats, and enjoyable times with Igor Mišković whose gig I am sorry we missed. The venues were comfortable and spacious, the sound was excellent.   Don’t speak the language? It didn’t really matter – everyone was keen to try out their excellent English. Long lunches (including a particularly beautiful one on a floating restaurant on the Danube)  and late nights left little time for sightseeing, so guaranteeing we will return.  Belgrade is an interesting city, its past only just beneath the surface. Its people are its greatest attraction, strikingly attractive and eager to share their experiences. Go next year, you won’t be disappointed, this is an important festival that deserves our attention.

Concert review: The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, The Parabola, 5 July 2014

Moogs
Moogs

There was a very excited buzz in The Parabola last night – ten Moogs on stage, of varying sizes and instinctively you knew, of different temperaments, from the tiny Roland SH09 to the wedge shaped Korg MS20 and the archetypal Moog, the mini Moog ( illustrated).  Their oscillators so sensitive that the mere opening of a door which causes the temperature to drop a millionth of  a degree is enough to make them stop working.   The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble, led by the composer Will Gregory (half of Goldfrapp) gave us two hours of great fun but also poignancy. They warmed us up with Handel’s Bourrée, just enough to get our ears attuned. Then Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3 delivered at high speed like a giant fairground organ. But they hadn’t really got going yet.

Will explained you can sequence the Moogs – hands appeared to be lifted off the keyboards, just  a few knobs were twiddled and we had a premiere Carry on Noise Box, which ended up as techno with layers of white noise. By this time a small group in the gallery were dancing and the rest of us smiling with glee.  Then what else but some Burt Bacharach to ease us to the interval?   We’d had fun, we’d experienced wails, howls and pulsating rhythms. It all felt, well, very human. These were not machines being controlled by musicians, the Moogs had won us over with the breadth of emotions they displayed from sheer joy and bounce to deep, gut tingling throbs.

It was worth coming back for The Service of Tim Henman , through-composed by Will to a film about the tennis player. But nothing could have prepared me for this extraordinary work – a slow motion film which covered just a few seconds of a game but shown in very very slow motion.   It enabled us to slip inside the soul of Tim Henman through his steady gaze and cool eyes, to experience the loneliness of being on court, of the aggression you have to feel to win, and the desolation at a poor shot.  The score emphasised the pounding energy of tennis, the brutal nature of combat where you have no time to reflect on a victory but must plan the next move, and the next until you win.  Or lose. I do not know how the game ended, the camera in Henman’s face as he left the court seemed impertinent, we’d experienced so much with him.   And who would have thought that Moogs could do that?

Concert review: John Law’s New Congregation, The Forge, 15 June 2014

An afternoon of gothic horror and glockenspiels at The Forge Camden from a powerhouse trio embellished with a caramel-toned saxophonist.   That would be my Twitter review.

If John Law’s recent Boink! project felt like a work in progress, this New Congregation is fully formed and the new album These Skies In Which We Rust eagerly awaited.   For those of us who struggle with change in favourite bands, the loss of the mercurial Asaf Sirkis is more than compensated by the quietly brooding figure of Laurie Lowe on percussion.  And as always, there is the poised, focussed bass of Yuri Goloubev whose arco playing stops your heart.

We heard the trio in the first set with the bonus of Josh Arcoleo in the second (who made light work of a tricky time signature in Lucky 13), and together they introduced us to eleven compositions, many of whom will become old favourites for their catchiness (Set Theory, 789 )  or because they haul you up short – the jagged, stabbing, tumbling horror of Incarnadine Day,  the wry humour of To do Today: to Die.

In lesser hands, the electromagnetic pulses from outer space, the battery of keyboards, the fiddling with iPad, an Ibo drum,  the snatches of vocals, the bits of Brahms, the changes in mood and emotion through the concert would feel unsettling or gimmicky.  But not here, they are satisfying, fluent, glimpses of what promises to be a very good album indeed.  An extremely enjoyable afternoon.

If you would like to support this project, John Law’s New Congregation These Skies in Which We Rust, (and I recommend that you do) you can do so here.

Mary James 16 June 2014

Album review: Phronesis: Life to Everything (released April 2014)

PhronesisIs it unorthodox to start a review with an appreciation of the recording quality? Yet without the technical skills of Matt Robertson and the sheer genius of the mixing by August Wanngren, we’d not have this album. Without those engineers, the energy, the passion and the sheer life-grabbing urgency that always characterises live performances by Phronesis, only a few hundred people would have experienced this extraordinary trio live, in the round, at The Cockpit in November 2013.

So we have the best of both worlds in this wonderful album – Life to Everything  – the sheer joy and expansiveness of live performance fused with recording-studio sound.   Of course, if you were not there you would not know that Anton often plays with cutlery, that Ivo sits so quietly at the piano, you think he is asleep, and that Jasper moves with his bass like a dancing partner.  And the result of these things is that unmistakable Phronesis sound!   As the audience we responded with whistles, whoops and gasps and that is what you will do at home, you will feel you are there.   The bustle, the clatter, the dancing-down-the-street feel of Anton’s compositions such as Herne Hill  is balanced by the ethereal, symphonic beauty of those of Ivo where he takes us into space and deserts, and explores the unspoken strength of deep friendship in Phraternal,  the life-changing experience (for him and us) that is called Phronesis.  And Jasper’s strong, instantly hummable tunes provide the sinew that runs through it, his bass playing is so delicate and responsive it drives the Phronesis machine as if it were a high-powered car  – which it is.

Phronesis’ fifth album, Life to Everything is quite simply one of the best albums you will hear this year! And their best!

★★★★★

Available here from Edition Records.

Mary James 6 April 2014

Gig review: John Law’s Boink! Stratford Jazz, 12 March 2014

BoinkThis was a gig I savour more in my mind 24 hours after the event than when I was actually there.    I have had this feeling before:   the first time I saw Brad Mehldau’s Mehliana at The Village Underground.  I just didn’t get it. It was too loud,  I couldn’t see.  Then I saw him again at the London Jazz Festival and it clicked.  This new project of John Law has the same effect.    Boink! is the electronic brainchild of guitarist Rob Palmer and John Law.   The press release says  the idea is to explore “electronic sounds and effects over drum grooves. Spontaneous group interaction between keyboards, soprano/bass clarinet and guitar, coming out of pre-composed electronic music scores. Underpinned by propulsive drum grooves. Jazz, rock, ambient, electronic…”    So we knew what we were in for.  Or did we?

But seeing the project live, with a screen showing videos by  Patrick Dunn which became increasingly interesting, absorbing and distracting as the evening wore on, I felt I was being overloaded with sensory experiences – I just couldn’t absorb them fast enough.   Now as I unpick the experience I can see that the concept is extremely good, it just needs a bit more time to bed in as a live venture.   There were so many experiences crammed in – an obscure  piece of Samuel Beckett, our responses to 9/11,  the challenge of being a jazz musician performing to an indifferent chattering sophisticated audience, what it’s like to be a tortoise ( yes!).    I wondered what it was like on the stage – the musicians couldn’t see the visuals behind them or our expressions as we listened.   Maybe in future the setup could allow visuaIs to be seen by everyone so there was true interactivity? I missed the cool clarity of Jon Lloyd’s sax (he is on the album and Laurie Lowe is on drums).   But I admired the  delicate poise of Lloyd Haines on drums, the quick thinking of Rob Palmer  who could change mood swiftly (this was 90% improvisation after all) and as always the  mesmeric skills of John Law on keyboards.

I hear that John’s next project is an animated version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.   Please slow down John and let us grow into Boink!  The album really does grow on me, I just need to catch up.

John Law, keyboards, iPod
Rob Palmer, guitar
Lloyd Haines, drums
Patrick Dunn, visuals