Review: Loose Tubes, Ronnie Scott’s

Loose-Tubes NEW credit- Nick White-1

Loose Tubes go hand in hand with Ronnie Scott’s. This was the setting for their fabled residencies back in the Eighties, the scene of their farewell gig in 1990 and of their comeback last year (both of which feature on new live album Arriving). The venue’s location gets a name check on 2010 release Dancing on Frith Street (featuring more live material from that 1990 gig) and it got another mention on Thursday night, with Tubes trombonist and irreverent MC Ashley Slater declaring it the band’s “spiritual home”.

I saw them play the 1600-seat Hall One at Gateshead International Jazz Festival back in April and, whilst it was enjoyable, it didn’t feel quite right. With a huge space to fill and the band strung out across the stage, a lot of the energy and the immediacy was lost. At Ronnie’s they’re just feet away, crammed in shoulder to shoulder and spilling into the walkways, and their music sounds all the better for it. Read the rest on

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Nick White

Sons Of Kemet, Neil Cowley Trio And Dylan Howe Play Up A Storm At Canary Wharf Jazz Festival

Musicians have always benefitted from the patronage of the wealthy, but though it’s now in its ninth year, there’s still something odd about a jazz festival in Canary Wharf. It’s hard to imagine two more contrasting worlds than those of jazz and high finance and you’d think this fiercely ordered business hub would take umbrage against a bunch of scruffy, free-spirited musos traipsing through.

Yet it all works rather well and the arts and events wing of the Canary Wharf Group proves itself a generous and accommodating host – the philanthropic heart of gold behind all that glass and steel. For starters the whole weekend is free; they’ve splashed out on a series of giant video screens to relay the on-stage action around Canada Square Park; and when I arrive on Friday night, in the driving rain, there’s a gaggle of dripping wet stewards handing out ponchos. It’s down to Bristol-based jazz-rock band The Rawness to start the show and, to their credit, they play their hearts across some funked-up originals, despite performing to a crowd of around 30 people cowering beneath umbrellas.

Headlining the opening night are Sons of Kemet (pictured top) who banish the rain altogether with tracks from forthcoming album Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do. It’s an inspiring set, full of heavy dub grooves, swaggering, roar-throated sax lines and jolting drum beats, with Arabic and Ethiopian notes to counterpoint the strong Caribbean flavour. Theon Cross gets the crowd going with a thunderous tuba breakdown, complete with yelping altissimo whoops, and Shabaka Hutchings (below) riffs in return, spinning out some arrestingly fragile melodies – notes of calm amidst the wonderfully chaotic, bull-in-a-china-shop drum solos of Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner. The four musicians give it their all and by the end, spurred on by the roar of the small but dedicated crowd, they’re wetter than we are – drenched in sweat.


The rest of the weekend is dry, the stewards are handing out plastic picnic rugs and the park is packed. It’s a varied crowd – families, friends of all ages, a few barefoot hippies and a sprinkling of the formidably well-heeled – and we get a varied programme to match. Some of it ispretty involved and one of Sunday’s highlights is an appearance from trumpeter Yazz Ahmed and her Family Hafla Band, followed by an atmospheric set of Bowie instrumentals from drummer Dylan Howe’s Subterraneans. As archive footage of goose-stepping soldiers, murky street scenes and flickering crowds plays out on the big screens, Howe transports us to 1970s Berlin. The music is engrossing and much of it is sunk in shadowy intrigue, but there are bright lights and bold colours too, with glinting solos from pianist Ross Stanley and unison melodies that see James Allsopp’s saxophone blending with Steve Lodder’s fizzing, acid-trip synth to great effect.

Also on the bill are a few party bands and, as private jets skirt the surrounding skyscrapers bound for London City Airport, Afrobeat warriors The Fontanelles take the stage. Formerly the band for FELA! at the National Theatre, a musical about the life of Nigerian icon Fela Kuti, they’re polished and punchy and they get the crowd dancing.

There’s more dancing when Venezuelan timbales player Edwin Sanz and his San Agustin Salsa Orchestra steam on, with charismatic, high kicking frontmen and keys player Alex Wilson pounding out the montunos. They’re a lot of fun but it’s a surreal experience and thoroughly disorienting, particularly when they launch into salsa versions of pop classics ‘Ain’t Nobody’ and ‘Higher Love’ and when Brit rapper Jayel comes on for the finale, amidst furious percussion breaks, beatboxing and screaming lead trumpet.

Just as spectacular are the Neil Cowley Trio. Backlit by the eerie blue glow of the Barclays and KPMG buildings, they bring the festival to a close with a characteristically RSI-inducing set of minimalist grooves and thrashing, rock climaxes that go down a storm. “It’s great to be here at Canary Wharf,” the pianist says with a laugh, “… a place I so rarely come.” I’d be willing to bet that’s the last time you’ll see a jazz musician in Canada Square Park, at least until they allow us all back for the festival’s 10th anniversary next year.

– Thomas Rees @ThomasNRees

– Photos by Nunzio Prenna

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Review: Irakere with Chucho Valdes, Ronnie Scott’s

The legendary Cuban ensemble’s 40th anniversary celebration doesn’t quite take off

When Irakere first played Ronnie Scott’s, back in 1985, they sold out the venue for five weeks on the trot. You can watch a video on Youtube of the band in full flow and wish you’d been there. 30 years later (40 years since the pioneering Latin jazz outfit began) and they’re back to celebrate the anniversary, playing two shows a night across six nights, with pianist and founder Chucho Valdes at the helm.  

I’d heard the stories and I was in the mood for a party – for the kind of gig that has you wishing you’d splashed out on one of the tables at the front where you’re right in the middle of the action, with room to dance – and at times it was heading that way.

“Estela Va A Estallar”, a hard grooving take on “Stella By Starlight”, intensified by driving electric bass, boisterous montuno, furious conga and kit playing and shout choruses from the horns, was uplifting. As was the funk number that followed, given an Afro Cuban twist by charismatic percussionist Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, who augmented his batá drumming with Yoruba vocal shouts, frantic on-stage dancing and a wander through the crowd to orchestra a few claps. “Bacalao Con Pan”, an Irakere classic, was better still and here the horns stole the show, contributing ballsy solos and a few dance moves of their own.

There was the moment Valdes stood up and shouted ‘¡Coño!’ at the top of his lungs before directing a splashy, all-over-the-place pause, and there were piano fireworks – showers of sparks, ostinati that span like Catherine wheels and chords that detonated like rockets.

But for the most part the set felt a little subdued and decidedly underpowered. In the early stages there were too many drawn-out solos under which the rhythm section failed to build. Melodies and grooves felt truncated – they didn’t cook for long enough and the horns often looked disengaged – and when the band left the stage after a little over an hour, declining to play an encore, it felt as if they were just getting warmed up.

It was a young band. As well as reinventing Cuban dance music and making an indelible impression on the world of Latin jazz, Irakere was the training ground for some of the most influential Cuban musicians of the past few decades. Clearly Arturo Sandoval and Paquito D’Rivera hadn’t fancied a reunion. Still, you would have thought that young blood would have raised the energy levels not dampened them. Perhaps the week-long run had taken its toll. Maybe they were saving themselves for a big finish in the late show. Whatever the reason, if I’d paid full whack for one of those tables at the front I would have been a little disappointed.

— Thomas Rees

— Photo Wikicommons

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Review: Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock, Barbican

Moments of brilliance ensure this rare collaboration from two jazz legends lives up to the hype

There was a buzz at the Barbican last night, the kind that makes you feel like a child again, a ripple of electric energy that only comes with seeing the true greats. And they don’t come much greater than Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, two jazz legends with strikingly similar trajectories. Both cut their teeth playing with Miles, both helped determine the direction of jazz-rock fusion and, though they’re now in their mid 70s, both have continued to push the boundaries.

A huge cheer went up as they took the stage, looking supremely relaxed, with Hancock thanking the crowd and Corea declaring it a privilege to play with his “buddy and musical inspiration”. Their setlist brought some crowd-pleasing moments, too. The unmistakeable bassline of “Cantaloupe Island” was greeted with spontaneous applause, and there was a superb reimagining of the Hancock classic “Maiden Voyage”, which began with gently padding chords before opening out into a knotty groove, with both men leaning into the cadences and Hancock really giving it some, through gritted teeth.

In between came extended passages of improvised interplay as they faced one another across two acoustic and two electric pianos. There were digital wobbles, murmurs and sighs, rolled chords and tumbling motifs that called to mind Stravinsky, and folk melodies that suggested the influence of Bartók.

Sometimes these interactions bordered on the uncanny. They lingered together on melodies and stopped dead without so much as a look. Interjecting stabs landed with pinpoint precision – as if each man knew exactly where the other was headed – and they seemed to delight in reharmonising each other’s lines and setting up fiendish, interlocking grooves and rhythmic riddles for one another to solve.

It didn’t always work. “Cantaloupe Island” was a little cluttered and unsteady at times. Some keyboard tinkering from Hancock, in which he experimented with a few vaguely orgasmic vocal samples, prompted sniggers, and there were moments when the crowd seemed to want a few more tunes that they recognised.

Corea acknowledged as much when they returned for the encore, settling on “Spain” and inviting us to sing back progressively complex fragments of the melody. “They seem real musical, this audience,” he joked. “They must be to still be here after all that!”

Even so, it was great to see that Hancock and Corea have lost none of their musical curiosity and there was more than enough brilliance on display to ensure that the post-concert atmosphere matched the pre-gig buzz. As the two legends left the stage a group of boys ran down to the front to shake hands. Giddy and still a little star-struck, I think we all felt a bit like joining them.

— Thomas Rees

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Review: Eliane Elias and Ed Motta, The Barbican


Sometimes seeing jazz gigs feels a bit like trophy hunting. Everyone has a list of targets, and high up on mine, amid transatlantic migrants and flightless rarities seldom seen in the UK, were the names of two Brazilian keys-playing vocalists.

I discovered Eliane Elias during a year at music college when I transcribed her take on ‘But Not For Me’ from Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans and got hooked on her supple sense of swing. Ed Motta’s brand of throwback 1970s soul is an equally serious, if more recent, addiction so the chance of seeing them both was always going to be too good to pass up.

Despite a few issues with the sound, they didn’t disappoint. Both chose to focus on their latest releases – Elias with a set of slinky bossas from her latest album, Made in Brazil, supplemented by Brazilian classics like ‘Chega de Saudade’, ‘Chiclete com Banana’ and ‘So Danço Samba’ and two tracks (‘I Thought About You’ and ‘Embraceable You’) from her 2013 Chet Baker tribute album; and Motta with material from 2013 release AOR, arguably his strongest to date. But both musicians went well beyond the recorded versions.

Switching between piano and Fender Rhodes, Elias played with characteristic elegance, imbuing her lines with a coconut palm sway that matched her languid vocals. Yet there was a gutsiness to her playing too and, as she traded solos with bassist Marc Johnson and energetic drummer Rafael Barata, hunching her shoulders and hammering out octaves, glistening grace notes and bursts of tremolo, she sounded less restrained than she does on record.

Motta left most of the instrumental solos to his ultra tight, globetrotting band, comprising French bassist Laurent Salzard; Finnish guitarist Arto Mäkelä; German keys player Matti Klein and Lisbon-born drummer Miguel Casais, allowing him to focus on the vocals. ‘Simple Guy’ basked in a husky, all encompassing warmth, he chewed up the lyrics to ‘Smile’ and growled and whooped through ‘Dondi’, pouting and grimacing with delight.

Gems from his back catalogue got similarly inventive treatment. The urgent bass groove and zappy, sci-fi synth lines of ‘Drive Me Crazy’ were gloriously rendered and ‘My Rules’ became an extended beatboxing breakdown, in which he gnashed his teeth and imitated drum machines, stomach churning bass vocoders, backing vocals and horn lines.

What really stood out though, in both performances, was passion for the music and the milieu in which it was produced. Elias’ set was interwoven with reflections on the beauty of the coastal region of Bahia, anecdotes about Antônio Carlos Jobim’s legendary womanising and biographies of lesser-known songwriters. I didn’t know that Chet Baker’s unaffected vocals and habit of phrasing across the barline was an influence on pioneers of the bossa nova or that Elias first toured with Jobim when she was just 17.

There was a beguiling eccentricity to Motta’s conversation and he seemed most at home joking with the Brazilians in the crowd and persuading them that ‘Colombina’ was a better choice of encore than ‘Manuel’, one of his best-loved tracks. In between, he paid tribute to Dom Salvador (“the first musician to mix jazz, soul and samba”), explained that AOR stands for Adult Oriented Rock, a 1970s sub genre that he worships but playfully derides, and expounded on his love for Magnum P.I., a shining example of “AOR lifestyle” and one of a number of TV theme tunes that have influenced the album.

It would have been nice if the two musicians had played together – Motta features on ‘Vida’, the seventh track on Made In Brazil so that would have been the obvious choice – but I can’t grumble. This was still a dream way to kill two birds with one stone.

– Thomas Rees

– Photo credit: Lucas Secret/Wikicommons

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Seb Rochford and Co, Brilliant Corners

A masterful double play of celebrated Andrew Hill album ‘Smokestack’

If you still haven’t been to Played Twice, a monthly jazz night held at Brilliant Corners in Dalston, I suggest you do something about it. The concept is simple. First there’s a playthrough of a landmark album on the venue’s top of the range analogue soundsystem – an anorak’s dream, all glistening valves and sleek silver turntables – and then a band reinterpret that recording live in the venue.

I first went way back in November for a double play of Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil, and I’ve been a regular ever since. It rarely misses a beat. The musicians are always from the top flight and the sense of ceremony that comes from sitting in a darkened room and listening to a record in complete silence gets me everytime.

The live reinterpretations have tended to stick closely to the original recordings. But last night’s performance of Smokestack, a 1963 Blue Note release by progressive pianist Andrew Hill, led by Polar Bear drummer Seb Rochford, was different.

Hill was joined in the studio by two bassists, Richard Davis and Eddie Khan, and by drummer Roy Haynes. Together they produced an album with one foot in hard bop and the other in free jazz. The harmonies are abstract and dense, themes arrive in fragments, and structures and forms are blurred by scrambling basslines, off-kilter drum work and passages of collective improvisation. It’s a difficult listen, full of nagging tension and delayed resolutions and it relies on texture as often as melody to maintain the interest.

Rochford did away with the piano altogether. Instead he chose two tenor saxophonists, Pete Wareham and Shabaka Hutchings, with bassist Tom Herbert taking care of the low end. The arrangements were lighter and more open than the originals, but they still retained much of the atmosphere and the air of spontaneous exploration. Melodies were given more room to breath, changes in texture and dynamic were more pronounced and there were cross rhythms and grooves to add further interest.

They played the tracks in reverse order and, with Wareham on the tremolo-heavy melody and Herbert setting up probing basslines, the room sank into the shadows of “30 Pier Avenue” – the immediacy of the band’s sound thrilling after the recording. “Not So” was varied in its colours. Rochford’s drum sounds were all sticks and stones, Hutchings’ interpretation of the melody had a roguish, take-it-or-leave-it swagger and Wareham delivered a solo full of mercurial lines and mewling altissimo, never seeming to run out of ideas.

“Wailing Wall” opened with a lone sax riff that meshed with a series of shifting cross rhythms, sliding into a languid melody before rearing its head once more, and “Day After” was cooler than on record with a whisper-soft solo for Rochford, at times scarcely audible over the impassive out-breath of the air conditioning unit.

Best of all was “Smokestack” itself, a hysterical tour de force, which saw the quietly spoken and wryly humorous drummer setting up opposing clapping patterns around the room. Wareham conjured a squirming, rat-run of a solo, full of blind corners and hairpin bends and went head to head with Hutchings on throaty riffs, amidst whistles and furious head nodding from the crowd.

Rochford took a gamble here. He tinkered with a classic recording but it more than paid off. Dare I say it, it was better than the original – more varied, more rhythmically engaging and more melodic. In doing so he’s thrown down the gauntlet for future performers at Played Twice, an event that’s fast becoming one of my favourite jazz nights in London.

— Thomas Rees

— Photo: Miguel Echeverria

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Christian Mcbride Trio Make Wigmore Hall Swing

Avant garde jazz is all well and good – I enjoy something brain-scramblingly off the wall as much as the next man – but there are times when only swing will do, and when only swing will do what you really want is Christian McBride, a man who’s built a career out of it. Appearing with his prodigious young trio of pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr for the inaugural performance of his year-long Wigmore Hall jazz series, the great bassist’s set certainly swung, but it had plenty more to offer besides.

From the opening bars of ‘Day By Day’ to the final phrase of ‘Down By The Riverside’, a bluesy romp of an encore, the three men played with next-level polish. ‘East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)’, featuring a whisper-soft drum solo full of theatrical leans and cymbal catches; ‘Good Morning Heartache’, with McBride’s richly bowed bass on the melody; and a tender rendition of Michael Jackson’s ‘The Lady in My Life’ that hovered between jazz and R&B, displayed uncanny dynamic control. Monk’s ‘Raise Four’, in which all three men traded solos and quirky takes on the theme, was an interactive masterclass and ‘Caravan’ was elusive and intangible – a mirage of shifting cross rhythms that brought Owens Jr’s wonderfully subtle musicality to the fore.

ChristianMcbride MG 4140

But it was the virtuosity with which they played that really stood out. Signet ring glinting, his fingers quick-stepping over the strings, McBride’s phrases were both technically astonishing and effortlessly melodic, punctuated by bluesy bass grooves and low end tugs that brought you down to earth with a bump. Sands, who combines the fire of Oscar Peterson with an elegance and lightness of touch that recalls Bill Evans, was just as impressive and it’s easy to see why even Wynton Marsalis is billing him as the next big thing. On ‘Sand Dunes’, a ballad of his own composition and one of a number of tracks to feature on the trio’s upcoming album, Live At The Village Vanguard, his lines unfurled like ribbons of silk and tied the keyboard in knots.

The only thing that was amiss was the pacing. There’s a limit to how much virtuosity you can take before it loses its impact and mid-way through a storming rendition of J.J. Johnson’s ‘Interlude’, with both Sands and McBride unleashing blizzards of semi-quavers, I could feel my attention beginning to wander. If they can keep a little more in reserve rather than giving everything in the first few numbers they’ll be even more swingin’.

– Thomas Rees

– Photos by Roger Thomas

Review: Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonseca, Barbican

The musical traditions of Cuba and Mali leave a capacity crowd in raptures

Though they may be separated by thousands of miles, Cuba and Mali share a common musical connection. Right at the heart of Cuban music lie rhythms from sub-saharan African and last night the two traditions were united once again when Havana-born piano virtuoso Roberto Fonseca (of Buena Vista Social Club fame) took the stage with Fatoumata Diawara, a Malian singer and guitarist who is fast becoming a giant of the world music scene.

The pair first met when Fonseca invited Diawara to feature on his 2012 releaseYo, in which he explored his own African roots. Since then they seem to have been inseparable, touring extensively, shaking up Womad festival and appearing at Jazz in Marciac, where their debut, At Home, was recorded.

It’s a strong release but, as last night’s set proved, it’s nothing on seeing them live. Theirs was a set full of passion and charisma, a blend of fibrous Malian melodies and intoxicating Afro-Cuban grooves in which astonishing feats of musicianship were commonplace.

The dancing rhythms of “Yemaya” set the tone, as Fonseca’s piano raced away and Diawara squared up to the audience, finger wagging, her voice rough-edged and stern. Next came “Sowa”, ushered in by a “Superstition” synth groove, and “Connection”, which saw Fonseca pounding out octaves, his hand a blur, and launching solos for the rest of the band with bursts of swaggering montuno and muscular, cross-handed piano slides that made the keyboard ripple.

“Clandestin” changed the pace, with the pianist taking a backseat in favour of Drissa Sidibé’s kamalen n’goni, a west African lute that sounds like water running over stones. Here and on “Real Family”, a duet with Fonseca, Diawara’s richly-textured voice was the star. It’s a voice full of gravel and grit, that cracks like parched earth as it opens in great yawning stretches, and as the two musicians embraced at the end of the song it had the Barbican crowd cheering themselves hoarse.

So too did “San Miguel”, a rhythmically astonishing game of cat and mouse performed by Fonseca and the band’s Cuban contingent. Bassist Yandi Martínez and drummer Ramsés Rodríguez played like only Habaneros can, spinning out grooves that were at once impossibly together and light years apart and leaving Fonseca’s piano to soar over the top.

The party continued with “Mandela” and “United”, as Diawara unwound her headdress, hitching up her skirts and dancing across the stage with a click of shell-adorned braids. Solos from guitarist Sekou Bah and the rest of the band whipped up the crowd still further and the response was one the biggest Barbican receptions I’ve heard in years. With the whole place on its feet, it took two encores, “Nedbufo” and “Bibisa”, the Fonseca track that first brought these musicians together, before the roars subsided.

There was a sense of theatre about an opening set from French-Israeli singer Yaël Naim and her trio too –  a new discovery for me but a voice I won’t forget. Soft and husky one minute, with a shade of an accent that added to the mystique, and soulful the next, her vocal lines arced through the space like something from The Dark Side of the Moon.

“Dream In My Head”, the first tune that saw her really let rip, and “Coward”, with it’s Bach-y piano lines, sighing cadences and unexpected turns, were both superb. The bubble burst when she departed from her own material and launched a melodramatic rendition of Britney Spears‘s “Toxic”, but for the most part she had the audience transfixed.

As we filed out though, all of the talk was about Fonseca and Diawara and you can understand why. If they keep this up we may well be talking about them for years to come.

— Thomas Rees

Review: Vein And Dave Liebman Get Serious At The Vortex



A lemur with a life ring, a mock political campaign poster and a picture of the band dressed as pastry chefs – cast your eye over VEIN’s album covers and you might think the Swiss trio were playing it for laughs. But their music is no joke. On the contrary, their appearance at the Vortex alongside American sax great Dave Liebman was strictly no-nonsense. The quartet played just nine tunes in total, the majority drawn from Jazz Talks, their first studio album as a four-piece, yet their set was steely, focused and thrilling in its variety.

First up came an impressionist take on ‘All The Things You Are’ with a lubricious opening salvo from Liebman, full of slurpy bends and mangled harmonics. From there they shifted between ferociously swinging post bop, balladic melancholy and edgy collective improvisation, blurring the lines between freedom and through-composition to the extent that is was impossible to tell one from the other.

‘Negative Space’ peaked with high-pitched soprano wails before melting into a piano feature for Michael Arbenz, which brought sudden shifts from the rhythm section – surging dynamics that broke like waves and landed with a waterlogged thud. Duke Ellington’s ‘Reflections in D’ was all smudgy tenor lines and arpeggiated whirls, while ‘No Change is Strange’ built to fever pitch as the band returned to give the melody a final kicking in the cadenza.

In the second set, Monk’s ‘Evidence’ showed the core trio at their most rhythmically elastic; ‘Black Tortoise’ was undulating and unpredictable, the musical equivalent of walking on a waterbed; while ‘Jammin’ in the Childrens Corner’ was rough-edged and bordering on funky, with fiercely articulated drum rolls from Florian Arbenz.

‘Clear Light’ varied the pace once again, with an extended feature for Liebman on wooden recorder that incorporated chittering, bird-like volleys and haunting melodies with a Native American lilt. ‘Everything for Everybody’ from 2014’s Vote for Vein came with a slip and slide bass solo from Thomas Lähns and saw the swing return, and then it was over. No encore, minimal chit chat and no mention of lemurs or life rings, but more than enough to confirm VEIN as one of Europe’s most exciting jazz trios, and this collaboration with Liebman as one of the most fruitful of their career.

– Thomas Rees 

Review: Jazz for Labour, Barbican

A celebration of diversity and a historic addition to jazz’s political back catalogue

Jazz for Labour

Jazz and politics go way back. Throughout its history the music has been involved with underground resistance movements in Nazi Germany and Communist Russia. It was inextricably entwined with civil rights campaigns in the United States and it played a part in the struggle against South African apartheid. In 2012, a host of jazz heavyweights (among them Roy Haynes and Joe Lovano) came out in support of Barack Obama in the run up to the US elections and it was that event that provided the inspiration for last night’s Barbican spectacular, Jazz For Labour: A Concert For Fairness and Diversity, the latest chapter in the politico-jazz story.

Andy Sheppard kicked things off, cheeks bulging as he circular breathed his way onto the stage and set up a shimmering reel, before indulging in some microphone trickery and juxtaposing a jaunt through Jerome Kern’s “Look for the Silver Lining” with steel drum-like multiphonics. A rousing welcome from parliamentary candidate Bob Blizzard gave way to short sets from Juliet Kelly and a hyperactive Tim Garland, appearing with Phil Meadows on alto saxophone and venerable drummer John Marshall, who livened-up a rendition of “Afro Blue”, his hi-hat ticking like a turbo-charged pacemaker.

Christine Tobin and Phil Robson slowed the pace before a run of first-set highlights. Soweto Kinch freestyled on audience suggestions of “liberty”, “ambition”, “beer”, “organised”, “unity” and “revolution”, derived from the letters of the word “Labour”. Liane Carroll delivered a punchy, gospel-inflected rendition of “Take Me Home” by Tom Waits, and a set of Anglo-Bengali fusion from willowy clarinettist Arun Ghosh – throughout which he bobbed and weaved like a cobra – brought the house down.

A babbling address from Rachel Reeves and John Prescott, who seemed scarcely in control of his enthusiasm, got things going again and the diversity continued with Darius Brubeck providing transatlantic support and a supremely polished set. Saxophonist Dave O’Higgins’s quicksilver solo on “Ravely Street” was one of the best of the night and Brubeck’s blues lines on “I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of Chance With You” (dedicated to the Tories) were deliciously lazy.

Alex Webb’s Cafe Society Swing made for a fine follow-up and vocalist Vimara Rowe provoked a scattered standing ovation with an electric performance of “Strange Fruit”.Ian Shaw took the stage in the name of gay rights and Claire Martin and Liane Carroll came to join him for a rendition of “You’ve Got A Friend” that revelled in charity benefit camp.

A bleary-eyed take on “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” by a loop pedal-toting John Etheridge was both sublime and understated and provided a moment of calm before a Courtney Pine shred fest, complete with YMCA-esque audience arm-waving and a bizarre episode of unison jumping that brought things to a close.

Musically speaking, Jazz For Labour was far from flawless, but then you wouldn’t expect that from a show full of last-minute collaborations and fleeting turns, one with an agenda and a purpose beyond music-making. What matters is that it felt historic, and, as a worthy addition to jazz’s political back catalogue and a rare snapshot of the diversity of the British scene, it certainly achieved that. Here’s hoping it was swingin’ enough to swing the vote.

– Thomas Rees

Photo Credit: Tim Dickeson/Courtesy of Jazz For Labour

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