Review: Konono Nº1, Rich Mix

Electrified thumb pianos and the power of simplicity

If you care about music you should see Konono No.1. That’s a bold claim I know, but hear me out. I caught their set at the Rich Mix in East London the other week and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Konono are Congolese. They play the ritual music of the Zombo people adapted for electrified likembés (thumb pianos), with crunchy amplifiers and percussion instruments cobbled together from junkyard finds – a reminder that necessity is the mother of invention. They’ve been around since the ‘60s, but played their first gig outside of Africa as recently as 2003, on tour with Dutch band The Ex. Since then they’ve worked with Herbie Hancock,  Björk and Angolan/Portuguese producer Batida; picked up a Grammy nomination and a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award and lost their leader, Mingiedi Mawangu, who died last year aged 85.

His son Augustin Makuntima Mawangu now plays lead likembé – which is the sound everyone latches onto. It’s what they rave about, and with good reason because it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard: swampy and gungy, as if the keys are stuck down with chewing gum and the amp is made from bumblebees and liquid nitrogen.

And yet there are long stretches when you hear nothing from it at all. The bass likembé is there, buzzing in your chest like a defibrillator. There are vocals (half shouted, half sung) and hypnotic percussion grooves that grab you by the hips, but that’s about it.

All of the tunes blur into one. You drift in and out and you dance and your neck is sore from head-nodding. You sweat so much you can’t tell if you’re sweating into your eyes or your eyes are sweating. The lead singer, Pauline Mbuka Nsiala, twerks. The kit player plays to the crowd, launching himself off his drum stool as though it’s an ejector seat. The conguero is topless: his hands are a blur and his chest is gleaming. And then the lead likembé kicks back in and they do it all over again.

The connection with ritual music is obvious. Watching Konono No.1 is like being in a trance. The energy is relentless and the band’s commitment is total. Their sets are proof of the power of simplicity – of just how much you can do with nothing much at all.

— Thomas Rees

— Image Credit: Konono No1 Official

More Info:

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

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.

Read the rest on

— Thomas Rees

— Photo by Carl Hyde

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