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Review: Brad Mehldau, Wigmore Hall

Genre-fluid brilliance from one of the giants of contemporary jazz piano

Contemporary jazz is a world full of magpies – artists who flit between genres and build glittering nests of disparate musical influences. Rock up to a so-called jazz night today and the repertoire can come from anywhere, you’re as likely to hear Jimi Hendrix or J. Dilla as Jerome Kern, and pianist Brad Mehldau has played a role in making that happen.

Over the course of the past twenty years, Mehldau has established himself as one of the most distinctive and influential pianists of his generation, a musician with a healthy lack of respect for musical boundaries. Cast an eye over the tracklist of10 Years Solo Live, a four disc compilation of his work released this year, and you’ll spot “contemporary standards” by the likes of Lennon and McCartney and music by Brahms alongside traditional jazz repertoire – and the pianist’s two sets at Wigmore Hall were just as wide-ranging. Read the rest at theartsdesk.com

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Simon Jay Price

We Made It: Watchmaker Roger W Smith

The world-leading horologist keeping British watchmaking alive, crafting exquisite timepieces by hand

Long before the Swiss came to dominate the watchmaking world British horologists were leading the way, grappling with miniscule screws and the vagaries of time. In the eyes of many collectors and aficionados they still are, thanks to Roger Smith, who spurns quartz crystals and mass production techniques to make his exquisitely crafted mechanical timepieces almost completely by hand. Read my interview with Roger on theartsdesk.com

— Thomas Rees

— Photo courtesy of Roger W Smith Watches

2015 EFG London Jazz Festival Reviews

Four reviews from this year’s London Jazz Festival

Cassandra Wilson (Mark Seliger)

Cassandra Wilson/Lionel Loueke, Royal Festival Hall        

The Grammy-winning singer’s angsty, delayed performance sparks a public row

“I’m sorry I’m late,” said Cassandra Wilson to a half empty Royal Festival Hall, after a sulky rendition of “Don’t Explain”, the opening track from her Billie Holiday tribute album, Coming Forth By Day. It was an hour and fifteen minutes since the singer was due on stage and half an hour since the directors of concert promoter Serious had arrived in her stead – amidst boos and irate whistles – to tell us she was refusing to leave her hotel room. A good chunk of the 2,500-strong audience had gone for their trains, demanding refunds on the way out and venting their frustration on Twitter, and those who were still there wanted answers. Read the rest here

 

Maria Schneider Orchestra Peerless At Cadogan Hall

No one in the jazz world writes music like Maria Schneider. It’s mercurial and richly evocative – full of stories, images and emotions that range from tenderness and nostalgic longing for the prairies of Minnesota, where she grew up, to frantic, barely-restrained aggression. Sometimes it sounds like Messiaen, at others like the work of Schneider’s great mentors, Gil Evans and Bob Brookmeyer, but more often than not the composer is in a musical world of her own. Read the rest here

 

Terence Blanchard’s E-Collective (Tim Dickeson)

Terence Blanchard’s E-collective And Jacob Collier Electrify The Barbican

There’s a rich tradition of mentoring in jazz. New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard benefitted from it when he joined the great Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and now he’s passing on his knowledge. Read the rest here

 

The Langston Hughes Project (Roger Thomas)

Ice-T And The Ron McCurdy Quartet Preach The Gospel Of Langston Hughes At The Barbican

Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods For Jazz, an epic poem about the struggle for artistic and social freedom experienced by Africans and black Americans during the early 1960s, was never performed in Langston Hughes’ lifetime. By 1967, the writer, social activist and leader of the Harlem Renaissance had written the poetry and some equally poetic musical cues (“drum, alone, softly… but gradually building to uptempo as the metronome of fate begins to tick faster and faster”) and was in talks with the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus about a score. But Hughes died before the project could be realised. Read the rest here

— Thomas Rees

Review: Esperanza Spalding, Shepherd’s Bush Empire

New project Emily’s D+Evolution brings a touch of the surreal

EsperanzaSpalding MG 3035

She comes on stage in a crouch, to a backdrop of squalling rock guitar and bradycardic bass drum. It’s pitch black but I can see something slung across her shoulders, fanning out behind her like a tail of peacock feathers. She steps up to the microphone and I realise it’s her bass.

On my ticket it says Esperanza Spalding, the prodigious bass-playing vocalist who became the first jazz musician to win Best New Artist at the Grammys, in 2011. But this is someone else. This is Emily, Spalding’s alter ego and the front-woman for Emily’s D+Evolution, a new project inspired by rock band Cream; a documentary about Cream drummer Ginger Baker; and a “sleepless night of full moon inspiration.” Or so the story goes.

I like Emily. She’s an enigma wrapped inside a puzzle wrapped inside psychedelic two-tone leggings. She wears braids and baby blue wayfarer glasses and chunky white high-heeled boots that gleam as bright as a celebrity’s smile. Her vocals are flawless, husky, bittersweet and lustrous as caramel, and with the excellent Matt Stevens on guitar, Justin Tyson on drums and charismatic duo Emily Elbert and Corey King on backing vocals, she knows how to pick a band. Read the rest at JazzwiseMagazine.com

 

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Roger Thomas

Review: Bill Frisell’s Music For Strings, Ronnie Scott’s

‘The great American guitarist seemed a little out of sorts’

Bill Frisell calls violinist Jenny Scheinman, viola player Eyvind Kang and cellist Hank Roberts his ‘dream string section’ and on albums like 2011’s Sign of Life and 2013’s Big Sur you can hear why. There’s an elegant simplicity and a wonderful sense of flow to their music. The development feels so seamless and organic it’s as if the tunes are playing themselves and you’re left with the impression of a meeting of minds, of four musicians who share one another’s vision and who know each other’s playing intimately.

On this, the first of two nights at Ronnie Scotts, they didn’t quite reach those dizzy heights and the great American guitarist seemed a little out of sorts – quieter than usual and reluctant to solo – but there was still plenty to enjoy about the set.

Frisell being Frisell, Americana was a prominent theme, established early with ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and ‘Pastures of Plenty’, tunes from a recent Woody Guthrie project. Opening with a small town country feel, the quartet sauntered into a lazy blues that peaked with a wonderful, bleary-eyed violin solo for Scheinman, full of yawning glissandi.

There was more from the American West in the second half, with the strings striding through ‘Going to California’ and the fat, surf rock groove of ‘The Big One’ (both tracks from Big Sur) before shootin’ the breeze in cowboy country with a rendition of ‘Verona’. But references came from further afield too. A brief foray into Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ was lifted by exploratory contributions from Kang, his slides between notes recalling the sound of the Chinese erhu fiddle, and a nostalgic amble through the theme from Bond film You Only Live Twice (set in Japan) brought further eastern inflections.

As for those fabled moments of interplay, it was there in the twisted bebop head of ‘Skippy’ and in the web of fragile guitar lines, murmuring pizzicato viola and rasping cello that prefaced ‘Blue in Green’ – a tantalising glimpse of what this electrified string quartet can do when they’re at their best.

— Thomas Rees

— Image: Wikicommons

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