Review: Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Barbican

A landmark meeting that lives up to the hype

Wayne Shorter and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – that sounds like a dream pairing. Shorter, now 82, is one of the true greats, a saxophonist and composer with an enchanting and unpredictable approach that makes him instantly recognisable. He had a defining influence on Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet and on Weather Report and, for many, his current quartet represents the pinnacle of modern small group performance. Under the leadership of Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra have come to represent the pinnacle of repertoire big band playing, so this collaborative rummage through Shorter’s back catalogue with arrangements by JLCO members ought to be sublime.

But we’ve been here before, and as we take our seats in Barbican Hall I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling a little nervous. Read On…

10 Questions for Jazz Quartet Empirical

Empirical bassist Tom Farmer on musical risk-taking, scientific method and taking jazz to bleary-eyed London commuters

Described by Courtney Pine as “the most exciting jazz band to come out of the UK” and hailed in the press as the new young lions, Empirical broke cover in 2007, topping album of the year charts with their self-titled debut and picking up wins at the prestigious EBU/European Jazz Competition and the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award all within a few months.

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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

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Simon Jay Price

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


— 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

AaronParks MG 2196

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

Review: Phil Meadows’ Engines Orchestra, Ronnie Scott’s

Saxophonist Phil Meadows is nothing if not ambitious. In the 21-piece Engines Orchestra, he’s brought together the improvisers of the Phil Meadows Group with some of the best young musicians from London’s folk and classical music scenes. Earlier this year he led them to a win at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards and they’re now midway through a 10-date tour of the UK. But, with talk of charity status, outreach projects and new collaborations, it sounds like he’s just getting started.

On Thursday night we got a taster of what the future might look like, in the form of an Engines Orchestra variety show, with Meadows playing the role of compère and an army of photographers and managerial types scampering around organising and videoing the lot. A captivating set from vocalist/violinist Alice Zawadzki and pianist Elliot Galvin opened with ‘Low Sun; Lovely Pink Light’, a Zawadzki original with folkloric leanings, wordless lullaby vocals, fluttering violin and piano lines as fine as spider silk. ‘Beautiful Love’ ended with a sublime cadenza, juxtaposing classical poise with gutsy blues as the accompaniment sank into a black depression, and ‘Love For Sale’ was dark and licentious, shining a red light on the lyrics.

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— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Carl Hyde