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London Jazz Festival, first weekend (Nov 13-15).

November 16, 2009

No, we didn’t see Sonny Rollins – and I did feel a little wistful not being there after catching every visit he’s made to the UK in the last 20 years. On the other hand…

Bobby Hutcherson, Ronnie Scott’s, Friday.

A treat from start to finish. Being in the club felt curiously time-warped – the refurb has certainly preserved the ambience. And the music was in a style which, I reckon, could have been heard there almost any time in its fifty years in business. None of this mattered. Once the poised and polished Mr H. got warmed up, other thoughts fell away, as they do. The club is still a wonderful cockpit for jazz, and these four musicians – there were naturally three other stalwart American players in the band, all new to me – made it their own. Hutcherson, still fixed in many minds as a somewhat avant-garde player by early 1960s Blue Note standards, is now simply a master of modern jazz. He leans ever more heavily toward Milt Jackson, even playing That Old Devil Moon at one point as if to underline the lineage. But then he goes straight into a movement from A Love Supreme, not the first tune you think of on vibes, and very effective it is too.

The whole 80 minute set is cleverly programmed and paced. Sometimes he just lingers over the notes to bring out the goodness in the melody, sometimes the mallets fly. Either way the support from Joe Gilman’s piano, Glenn Richman’s bass and (especially) Eddie Marshall’s drums is just right. Hutcherson has worked extensively with McCoy Tyner, and the piano here had some of that flavour at times, as the drums evoked Billy Higgins (all drums should evoke Billy Higgins). The verdict on this particular old master at work? Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Sheila Jordan, Ray’s Jazz at Foyle’s, Saturday.

Then out early to splash down Charing Cross Road and squeeze into Foyle’s café to hear Sheila Jordan. The words living legend work well here. You either like her voice or you don’t. I love it, even in its slightly wavering 80 year-aged version. Such presence, such timing and subtlety of phrasing. She could make any song sound amazing, but this 40 mins duo set with Brian Kellock as a perfect piano partner stuck with familiar Jordan vehicles – Dat ‘dere, My Funny Valentine, Sheila’s blues. There is a lot of arch anecdotage, and some fairly standard reminiscence, but I don’t care. She is performing “being Sheila Jordan”, but also fitting in some very fine singing, and holding a packed lunchtime crowd spellbound – a jazz photography project which just captures people’s faces while listening would have a great start at a Jordan gig. Doubt if I’ll ever hear her live again, but very happy to be at this one. And she’s even older than Rollins…

Polish showcase, Clore Ballroom at RFH, Saturday p.m.

Two bands here to delve a little deeper into current Polish jazz before Thomasz Stanko’s London gig (as seen in Bristol a couple of nights  before). The first lot didn’t quite grab our attention, so chatting with friends took precedence. But then on came another vocalist, the very charismatic Grzegorz Karnas. Sounds like he can do anything, but what he did here was regular jazz vocal with improv thrown in at suitably judged intervals. Sort of like Ian Shaw meets Phil Minton…  A striking performer, and definitely not one to talk over.

Loop groups – Phronesis, Sam Crockatt Quartet, Blink, Clore Ballroom at RFH, Sunday p.m.

There seemed a real buzz about the festival this year, and this sample ended with some of the reasons why – the Loop Collective is a wonderfully fertile pot for brewing great bands. Phronesis is Jasper Hoibys trio, and the band which gives full scope to his remarkable bass playing, and very attractive composing. We’re booked for Dave Holland in a few days and the playing here made me think of him more than few times. The compositions are, if anything, trickier, and I wonder how long bass and piano had to rehearse to bring off those long unison lines so faultlessly. He also has a very fruitful rapport with his drummer, Anton Eager (obvious surname related comments apply).

A quick turnaround after that for Crockatt’s quartet. This came across as a bit more generic tenor and rhythm section jazz, but the rhythm section does have the estimable Kit Downes on piano which guarantees something worth listening to. And finally, an exciting trio, with Robin Fincker on reeds, Alcyona Mick on piano, and the entirely wonderful Paul Clarvis on drums. They work with simpler materials, and get into slightly freer areas, but always with melody to pick up on and great rhythm – outstanding players, impressive gig, great afternoon. A search for Blink CDs will ensue, I think.

Then we made our weary way back to Bristol. Ed Jones was doing his stuff at Cabot Circus, starting about when we rolled into Temple Meads – momentarily tempting, but enough music, even for me. Sorry Ed…

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