London Jazz Festival, Nov 21-22

Not well enough to make St George’s on Thursday but, determined to fit in another weekend dose of metropolitain extravagance, headed West in spite of head full of oatmeal. And miraculously, the feeling dispersed as the music went on. Note to self: jazz is good for the immune system.

Clarinet Council/Overtone Quartet, QEH. Friday

Increased well-being was certainly helped by the sound of David Jean-Baptiste’s Clarinet Council. An all clarinet quartet (sometimes 2 bass, sometimes bass + contrabass) is a lovely sonority, and not just because it is a rarity. The music was fun, and beautifully played, if not startling. A nice arrangement of Round Midnight with the contrbass in the lead, and a couple of nicely flavoured Brazilian tunes which put me in mind of a night long ago in Rio hearing the great Paulo Moura. Less of the multiple clarinet excitement of the only other clarinet quartet I’ve listened to closely (John Carter’s clarinet summmit) or, for that matter, the other night some while ago when Jean-Baptiste played bass clarinet duets with David Murray. But plenty to enjoy on its own terms – thoughtful arrangements of attractive music performed with panache.

Then a second half with more bite, expected and delivered, from the Overtone Quartet – not led but fronted by Dave Holland. Delivered: but perversely my expectation for this lot was so high I ended up slightly disappointed over the span of the set. Sure, they were good, and everyone played brilliantly. I think the problem was that a co-operative approach is great, and probably needed to make sure this was  not just a Dave Holland quintet one player short, but it extended to the repertoire as well as the performance. While these may be players of equal (vast) stature, they are not all great composers, for me. Jason Moran’s two pieces stood out from all the rest. A couple from Holland were fine, but drummer Eric Harland and Chris Potter’s compositional efforts didn’t seem to work so well. Add a few problems with the sound. Drums way too far up in the mix for about two thirds of the gig. And Holland was playing a different bass from the instrument he has used the last four or five times I’ve seen him, with no bottom on the body and (it sounds) a lighter action. That meant he still sounded like Dave Holland – and his solo features were still exquisitely played – but there definitely seemed to be some loss of resonance there.

So it turned out to be merely a very good gig, rather than one of the greatest quartet gigs ever. Fussy, aren’t I? I’d give a lot to hear more Moran soon, though. Great things happen every time that man goes near a keyboard. I left thinking a duo with DH one day would be a great thing to see.

Barbican Freestage, Sat p.m.

Caught a bit of guitar ace Femi Temowo, a new take on African jazz, then a larger helping of the inimitable Roy Nathanson, storyteller, alto preacher  (if the preacher is a rabbi),  and leader of the rather wonderful Sotto Voce, featuring human beatbox and singing bass rhythm section, violin and the always excellent Curtis Fowlkes on trombone. Weird, in lots of good ways, and funny, and like Frank Zappa if he had been Jewish, and from Brooklyn, and played sax, and fond of Alan Ginsberg and …   well, Nathanson is himself really.

Stefano Bollani’s I Visionari. King’s Place, Sat eve.

Then off in the rain again to King’s Place for the final night of Stefano Bollani’s residency. Five great Italian musicians (can’t be bothered to look up names again), playing a superb, eclectic brand of Euro-jazz. Andy Sheppard would fit in perfectly with this band, except that they already have a somewhat Sheppard like tenor player, and a brilliant clarinettist. But Bollani is the star. The man is a phenomenon – musical electricity just crackles around him. In a week (actually a year come to think of it) of great pianists, this one stands out. He began sounding more like Jarrett than Jarrett, then stretched out in all sorts of directions. But he resists indulgence – save for a bit of (for me) misjudged, and missable comedy at the end. The first encore was spellbinding solo piano, and made me wish we had caught him earlier in the week. But this band were a revelation, too. I knew there was some good jazz being made in Italy, but not as good as this! Creative exuberance of a high order, and a fantastic venue too. There were some pretty startling gigs in the festival we didn’t catch, but this must have been one of the best of all.

Quite a week. No more music for a few days, I think, even on record.


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