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Review: Esperanza Spalding, Shepherd’s Bush Empire

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

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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


— 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 know each other’s playing intimately.

On this, the first of two nights at Ronnie Scotts, they didn’t quite reach those dizzy heights. 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’.

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, they were 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

Review: Tigran Hamasyan and the Yerevan State Choir, Union Chapel

“Armenian sacred music from the 5th century to the 20th century” – that reads like the title of an academic monograph – the kind of thing you’d toil over in the drafty corner of a university library, watching the night draw in and your chances of making that early morning essay deadline evaporate. It may well be, but it’s also the unassuming tagline of Luys i Luso (ECM), the latest album by young Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan, which is anything but dry and dusty.

Hamasyan’s longstanding interest in the sacred music of his homeland has led him to collaborate with the Yerevan State Chamber Choir and to arrange a series of Armenian hymns, cantos and sharakans (chants) by composers such as Komitas, Mesrop Mashtots and Grigor Narekatsi, for piano and voices. It makes for a profoundly atmospheric recording, but performed by Hamasyan and a pared-down touring choir of eight voices beneath the cavernous domed ceiling of Union Chapel in Islington the music sounded even better and more alive. Read the rest on

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Roger Thomas

Review: Aaron Parks Trio, Kings Place

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I’m writing this with one eye on an article about the world’s most stressed-out cities. We need more green spaces, apparently, but while we’re waiting I suggest we all listen to more Aaron Parks. The Brooklyn-based pianist has always had a tranquil side. You can hear it on his 2008 Blue Note debut, Invisible Cinema, released when he was just 24, and on Arborescence, his softly-lit solo recording for ECM. But at Kings Place on Wednesday night, backed by his new trio of bassist Ben Street and veteran drummer Billy Hart (a former sideman to Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner), Parks was sounding particularly Zen. Read the rest on

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Roger Thomas