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November 19, 2018

Gigging being intermittent at the moment, I give way to all temptations when I’m in the right place on the right day. Hence a nice run of music this last week.

Wednesday in Belfast saw a visit to the Black Box (excellent venue) to hear Ronan Guilfoyle’s quartet. Guilfoyle plays a hollow-bodied electric bass guitar, left-handed, no pick, and sounds refreshingly different from anyone else I can think of. Not obviously Swallow or Pastorious influenced, and very jazzy, combining a propensity to double the melody with a stream of obliquely accented, complementary lines. He’s also a distinctive composer, making what might be simple (a closing calypso, for instance) sound a stimulating challenge for the players. His son Chris plays impressive, more mainstream sounding, guitar, Michael Buckley contributes strong post-Brecker tenor sax and Jim Black, the personification of percussive exuberance, rocks the whole evening along with a gleam in his eye.

Then Thursday in Bristol, and just managed to nab a ticket for Catryn Finch and Sekou Keita at St George’s – utterly sold out, as it deserved to be. (See the five star review of an earlier show here). A remarkable pairing, well up to the standard of other inspirational world music duos (see Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure, or Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal’s kora/cello pairing, also seen to good effect at St G’s). The similar sonority of kora and Harp works beautifully, and they interweave to create something very special. If there is a truly universal music, in some Platonic realm always just out of reach, then some of these pieces must be about as close as mortals can get. (Good, because it came after a bit of a wait. The support set benefited from a good voice in the lead, but was otherwise studiedly inconsequential. At considerable length.)

Then another shift, down to London for the beginning of what must now be Europe’s biggest festival – in the number and range of gigs at any rate. First up on Friday night the man who always has a new project, Dave Douglas, with a remarkable band including Bill Lasswell, Mary Halvorsen, and Jon Irabagon. Not a feelgood evening, but solidly interesting music. (Review up here on LondonJazzNews)

Saturday allowed a couple more gigs from the vast array on offer for the festival – a piano extravaganza featuring six players, and a notably satisfying duo set from veterans Dave Liebman and Marc Copland (Must figure out one day why he changed his name from Marc Cohen as the same time – I think – as he switched from sax to piano… ). Reviews of those two here and here.

Reviewing done, temptation persisted, so booked a couple more for Sunday. Phil Robson’s brilliant Anglo-American quartet at Pizza Express at lunchtime came first. His alliance with sax player Jed Levy is producing superb results as they share their compositions, and Oli Hayhurst on bass contributes mightily. The icing on the cake here was Clarence Penn on drums, who reminds at times of heroes like Billy Higgins and is a marvel to see and hear at work up close in a club. Also a marvel to be reminded how good the sound in a jazz club can be – others please note. If, for example, you have five mics for the drums – including separate mics for the bass drum, snare, and ride cymbal, everyone can hear everything without strain. How hard can it be?  I’ve lost count now of the number of sessions I’ve sat through in lesser venues, where one strains to follow the band because the drums just thrash away and blot out everything else…. I may just stop bothering and go to Pizza Express instead, if I’m in London and feeling flush.

Sunday was rounded off with completely different – a big venue, big stage, big lighting – show: a tribute to Hugh Masekela in the Festival Hall. A shame to see that a hefty ticket price left this some way short of a sellout – though they did fly a lot of people in from South Africa so costs must have been high too – but it was a spirited evening’s remembrance of an important human. Masekela’s band excelled themselves and it was a powerful treat to hear the great singer Sibongile Khumalo live in a concert hall. What a presence she has! An evening of this kind of thing…

And finally…. A delightful free gig this afternoon in Cadogan Hall’s foyer (a jazz festival feature which I think began last year but already feels like an institution), featuring Martin Speake’s new quartet – which is excellent as all his bands tend to be.

 Speake closed with some words to the effect that it’s great people come to the festival, but don’t forget that in London you can do this kind of thing all year round. Tempting thoughts again, I fear.

Still, realistically, that’ll do for a bit, I think. (Back in Bris now: work to do) But these occasional binges remain singularly rewarding. What a privilege, once again, to live at a time and place (well, places) where one can hear so many extroardinary music-makers in such a short span.

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