Ingrid Jensen Band, 3 June 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

One of the great delights of jazz is the way well-turned improvisations, even on the most familiar melodies, have a way of surprising us. But a live performance can also confound our expectations. What might we have anticipated from a professor of jazz trumpet at the Bruckner Conservatory of Music in Austria? Masterful control, of course; clean, well-articulated runs, nuanced phrasing, precision and clarity. From the fist bar, we were put on notice: all that and more, in configurations it would have been hard to imagine, let alone foresee. Ingrid Jensen started her set with a blistering, extended duet with drummer Tim Giles—and from there, into an intense quartet performance.

ingridFor a band that had only been performing for the length of Ingrid’s relatively short tour of the north, their coherence and shared musical agility was astonishing, especially because one of the key features of the music in both sets was its sheer rhythmic variety, with sharp turns, graceful swells and sudden pauses, and cross-cutting rhythms  that could so easily have ended in a pile-up.

Every number had its surprises, most often in the form of some beautifully executed solo and duet work.

Much of the music was thickly textured, driven by Tim Giles. Polyphonic drumming has been a mainstay of jazz for many a year, but without good musical judgment and keen responsiveness, it can overwhelm other players. Not so here: the colours and textures he produced were integral to the band’s sound; and when he cut loose, he still held his intense musicality. Bass player Andy Champion demonstrated what accomplished bowing technique can add to a jazz performance—his contributions especially pronounced in some of the more abstract and experimental interludes. More conventionally, his playing is distinguished by a technique that is as fleet as it is powerful and resonant.

The guitar playing of Jez Franks was a show in itself. He combined melodic invention worthy of John Abercrombie, together with that combination of power and a ‘how’d he do that?’ command of the fretboard that one readily associates with John Scofield—and all with a voice still his own. And although he can melt a chord into next week, the audience thrilled as much to his playing on the more intense numbers, whether at the extreme of the guitar’s upper register or providing  a powerful backing for Ingrid’s trumpet.

Who might have guessed that the trumpet could exhibit so many different tonal qualities? And who could have expected to hear them in a single performance? Ingrid Jensen employed the familiar range of mutes, but also made deft and often subtle use of electronics—repeats, loops, distortions—and, most memorably, a carefully controlled echo effect, which made her long notes seem as though they were arcing over the horizon, to be met by Andy Champion’s gentle figure played on the harmonics of the bass. There were many such moments—and for all that the music was often electric and hard-driving, there were also many spacious passages, which showed each of the musicians to further advantage.

By the end, the audience was shouting for more; and for an encore, the band invited tenor player Riley Stone-Lonergan to join them. A ‘vamp’—Ingrid’s description—seemed a remarkably pale way of describing this roof-raiser. It was a sensational end to an evening of riveting music. This band’s element was fire: hot, intense—and brilliant.

© J.Whitman 4th June 2016

Ingrid Jensen Band, 3 June 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

Ian Shaw, 27th May at Wakefield Jazz

ian shaw 1

Because Ian Shaw has such a commanding stage presence and is so engaging and entertaining, this could easily have been knock-about cabaret, punctuated with music. It wasn’t; and that’s because the man exudes music—and every number was shot through with his seemingly endless musical invention and an expressive range that is as astonishing for its variety as for its sheer musicality.

There is no shortage of singers who can reach a falsetto, but none who can do so with such assurance, precision and sustained power. What comes at a stretch for most singers Ian Shaw can modulate as though it were his middle register—and from there, he can pivot, seamlessly, to yet another mode of expression. But there is considerably more to his music than a very large array of well-honed techniques: for all variety and richness of his vocals, they are placed at the service of the songs: these were felt, often passionate renderings.  There were plenty of technical marvels in his take on ‘A Place for Us,’ but his delivery was  poignant and touching.

Anyone familiar with Shaw’s output will know that he is also a considerable pianist—punchy, percussive and playful.  But it didn’t take long to appreciate the qualities his accompanist, Jamie Safirudin brought to the proceedings. He’s a more lyrical player than Shaw, with a lighter touch and no shortage of supportive melodic invention. He was joined by trumpeter Miguel Gorodi—and quite aside from the colour both provided in each of the numbers, their own interplay was an added treat, with plenty of blues-inflected soloing (and a hint of ragtime, too.)

But both Safirudin and Gorodi needed to be alert and adroit: improvisation is integral to his performances, but one sensed that there was more spontaneity to some of of Shaw’s vocal flights than is usually the case in a jazz gig, no doubt facilitated by singing to, rather than with the piano—a kind of ‘launch on warning.’  It was a delight to witness and to hear.

For all of his humour and musical gymnastics, Ian Shaw is a serious-minded artist, a full-on performer and a uniquely gifted vocalist. The kinds of passion that music can best express were there to be savoured—and we did.

© J. Whitman, 8th May 2016

Ian Shaw, 27th May at Wakefield Jazz

The Weave, 20 May 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

There can’t be many two-trumpet sextets in existence, but on this showing, it’s difficult to understand why. What could offer a brighter prospect than the brilliant, piercing qualities that only the trumpet can deliver–doubled–and configured in ways that are a treat for everyone with musical imagination, composers and listeners alike?
Add a top-flight and musically compatible rhythm section, and just about anything is possible.
weave

This was good time music, though not in any superficial, ‘easy listening’ sense. No one could mistake the quality of the melodic invention and interplay of the two leads (Martin Smith and Anthony Peers on trumpets), or the keen and playful work of the rhythm section, but this was a wondrously upbeat, accessible, swinging performance.
No one needed to strain in order to feel the gravitational pull of New Orleans, or echoes of the blues and swing. And in some of the trumpet-piano exchanges, there was also the legacy of ragtime. Yet, the tunes were largely originals. For these musicians, the tradition amounts to inspiration, not homage.

Then again, there were passages during the two sets that seemed to come straight out of classic Blue Note recordings of the 1950s and 60s, much abetted by Tony Ormesher’s clean, rapid guitar lines. In fact, because the guitar can act as both a harmony and a melody instrument, the sound of the band was particularly full and rich.
The numbers allowed plenty of space for Rob Stringer (piano), Hugo Harrison (bass) and Tino Pirnbaum (drums) to solo, but these were substantial, well crafted numbers, so there was no extended soloing around the simple statement of a theme.

Perhaps inevitably, the trumpets stood out; and it was fascinating to hear how they configured their written lines and improvisations, but as the evening progressed, the full meaning of ‘weave’ became apparent: the interlacing of melodies and harmonies was conceived and performed with the entire band in mind. There were no abstract flights of fancy, no freak-out moments: for all that this was serious music, it never strayed from tuneful, playful and accessible. Even the number closest to New Orleans funeral procession music (begun most affectingly on muted trumpets) delivered us to something quite uplifting by the end. Any music that restores our sense of beauty is itself beautiful music. Thank you, Weave.

What’s on next at Wakefield Jazz

J. Whitman, 20th May 2016

The Weave, 20 May 2016 at Wakefield Jazz

The Lindsay Hannon Plus, 13 May 2016

li

This was wonderfully vibrant and robust music-making from start to finish—a real delight, in part because it was abundantly clear how much fun the band was having, even while they delivered a musically intense and highly varied programme.

Lindsay Hannon’s voice is strong and clear, and she is remarkable for her tonal modulation and stylistic adaptability. Choice of repertoire can be a stern test for a jazz vocalist: variety is welcome, but if much of the material is outside a singer’s main strengths, even the best instrumentalists will struggle to patch over weaknesses. There wasn’t a hint of this—and this in a programme that included Cole Porter, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell and some fresh takes on old classics—not least, ‘What a Little Moonlight Can Do.’ Sultry lows, joyous highs and everything lese in between: Lindsay Hannon not only had the vocal resources but also the deftness and timing to deploy them to fullest advantage. Perhaps the most remarkable number of the evening—and one that showed the subtlety of the band and how well integrated were the singer and musicians—was a striking performance of the seldom-performed ‘Miss Otis Regrets.’ Played with minimal, sensitive accompaniment, theirs was a heart-shredding performance.

This was not a singer + semi-detached trio, but a wonderfully coherent band—and every number demonstrated that in abundance. All three instrumentalists turned in stellar performances. James Harrison is a stunningly resourceful pianist. His ‘fast’—and even his fortissimo—was never furious: his lines were remarkably clean and well articulated, but perhaps the true measure of the depth of his skill was that he so keenly attuned and alert to opportunities to provide unexpected embellishments, accents and unexpected colours—most notable in his quieter accompaniments, but also even in the midst of the most startling of his solo flights. And throughout, he appeared so utterly relaxed it was possible to forget what skill and concentration were involved.

It is difficult to imagine a more suitable bass player for these proceedings; indeed, they would have had a wholly different character with anyone other than John Pope, whose playing was neatly poised between his virtuosic flights (including extended bow work) and his close and sensitive support for Lindsay Hannon. Russ Morgan provided complementary drumming, always apt to the needs of the tune; and his solo turn, at the end of the second set, demonstrated how much musical inventiveness he had at his disposal.

Lindsay Hannon’s presence was commanding without being overbearing; and her stagecraft—charming, but minimal—allowed the music to speak for her and for the band. Perhaps it could be bottled and distributed widely.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 16.00.05.png

We all have reasons aplenty to be grateful for a century of jazz recordings, but this gig was a vivid reminder that there is no substitute for live music and the pleasures of watching creative interaction, in the moment. Best of all, these splendid musicians had a particularly strong line in dissolving the boundaries between ‘at work’ and ‘at play.’

J. Whitman 14th May 2016 ©

http://www.wakefieldjazz.org/

The Lindsay Hannon Plus, 13 May 2016

Josh Kemp Band with Liz Fletcher, 6 May 2016

The audience could be forgiven for thinking that they knew what to expect; and as it happened, their eager anticipation wasn’t disappointed, but few could have expected such a range of styles and voices, all played with utter conviction. So it was that the band managed to find a coherent way of blending ‘Straight, No Chaser’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ into a single, rousing number; Liz Fletcher reached back decades into the catalogue of American songs and delivered them is a way that was comfortingly familiar, yet quite individual in their arrangement and delivery, and the moods and tempos ranged from the achingly poignant to roof-raising boisterousness.

jjjj

Josh Kemp’s tenor playing eschews the ‘torents of notes’ approach for well-crafted and clearly voiced lines, both in accompaniment and in his solos, with assured command of his instrument in every register. But he also delivers extended, fiery and fast-paced solos; and he has a particularly fine line in that fevered, rasping, bluesy quality so closely associated with the tenor saxophone. His adroitness in shifting between styles and his ability to support Liz Fletcher’s vocals with truly nuanced playing were the marks of a truly gifted musician.

Bass player Pete Turner has a full, rounded sound; and there were moments when his playing seemed not only to anchor the music but to propel it. And by the time Dave Walsh was faced with the unenviable task of playing a drum solo on ‘Take 5’, we had already heard enough to relish the prospect.

If most of Liz Fletcher’s song choices were on the upbeat side—many of them allowing the band not only to stretch out but also to display its range—she saved something special for the penultimate number: a remarkable rendering of ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’, sustained through its opening half by Jamil Sheriff’s piano alone. Fitting though it might have been for a conclusion, the audience could hardly have departed on the quiet desperation of the lyric, so movingly performed. So we ended on a party number—exhilarating music to round off a wonderfully exhilarating evening.

Josh Kemp Band with Liz Fletcher, 6 May 2016

Clark Tracey Quintet, 29th April 2016

When a band opens with a powerful, musically thrilling performance, it’s fair to wonder how they’ll manage to sustain that edge-of-the-seat excitement over two sets. The Clark Tracey Quintet has its own answer: first-rate musicianship, combining individual skill
and tight group cohesion; compelling tunes and shrewd programming; and a judicious blend of scorching, up-tempo numbers with ballads of exquisite tenderness.
In short, this was an all-star band that played as a band.
00a88dab-e9c0-41ff-b3ba-63b0d194f987
Yet for all the power of the band as a whole, each of the musicians deserves special mention.  Many pianists have a technique and voice that is always audible, however adaptable they are. But Harry Bolt would have won notice in any of the countless musical styles he delivered—sometimes, within a single tune. He ranged from ferocious octave playing and sharp attack to moments when his sensitivity of touch and responsiveness were breathtaking.

The two front-line instrumentalists—Chris Maddock on alto and tenor; Henry Armburg Jennings on trumpet and flugelhorn—were exponents of the passion that can be expressed through those instruments, but they also had great articulation. Each had a ballad—Maddock on alto, re-investing ‘Sophisticated Lady’ with its languorous, sweet melancholy; and Armburg Jennings drawing on the darker hues of the flugelhorn for a heart-felt rendering of ‘Polka Dots and Moonbeams.’ And together, whether playing in unison or trading phrases, they were a force to be reckoned with.

As well as playing superbly throughout, bass player Daniel Casimir turned in some remarkable solo turns. These were not a ‘me, too’/‘my turn’ obligatory nod to a band member, but musical showcases in their own right. It’s not often in a bass solo that so much musical sensitivity and aplomb is invested in the phrasing of a note; and in the  slower and more spacious passages, with the band down to a hush, advanced technique and musical inventiveness  were combined perfectly. Audience members could be seen grinning and shaking their heads in pleasure and wonder.

And of course, leading and propelling the band was Clark Tracey, whose power on drums has its complement in attentiveness, finesse and spot-on musical judgment. His own solos were what everyone familiar with his musicianship has come to expect—and then some.

Smart and experienced bands know to keep the best material or the strongest performance for last; however, the best bands start strongly and just keep getting better. After the last, sensational number it was hard to imagine that they could play an encore to match, let alone surpass it. But this was the Clark Tracey Quintet.

J Whitman 30.04.2016

What’s on Next at Wakefield Jazz?

Clark Tracey Live at Wakefield Jazz

Clark Tracey Quintet, 29th April 2016

Noemi Nuti band ft. Quentin Collins, 22 April 2016

Because jazz is an improvising music, its many hybrids invite names and categories, but the best of it—and a live performance in particular—has a way of scribbling over the neat lines and exceeding expectations.

Much of what Noemi Nuti and her wonderful band presented could plausibly be tagged ‘Latin’—but even that is a musical world unto itself; and no one present would want to reduce the splendour and variety of the music they played to a blunt generic. This was quite individual music, from a band of superbly endowed musical talents.

Noemi Nuti divided the sets between her own compositions and Brazilian numbers to deliver a shrewdly balanced and very coherent programme. The evening was certainly not a ‘singer + accompaniment’ outing: for all that Noemi could hold the stage at any tempo and volume, we enjoyed a very tightly integrated performance, with plenty of room for each of the players to shine, but at its best in some of the remarkably fast and intricate exchanges.

Pianist Chris Eldred somehow managed to convey two musical worlds at once: those wonderful Brazilian rhythms, together with voicings and runs that have their home further north—and all with an adaptive, sensitive responsiveness and lightness of touch.

Quentin Collins’ trumpet has power, but also finesse: his jaw-dropping solo passages were complemented by his parallel, note-for-note playing beside Noemi and well-judged, carefully placed interjections and inflections. At one point, the band held back while Noemi sailed in to a duet with bass player Ashley de Neef—a Portuguese vocalise that would give the best scat singing, anywhere, a run for its money. Emiliano Caroselli had two explosive but deeply musical drum solos, which were a delight.

The final number was breathtaking: wonderfully exuberant and fast-paced exchanges between Noemi and the band, reminiscent of Dizzy Gillespie be-bop in the speed and precision of the interplay. We could see that both Noemi and Quentin Collins were left breathless. Kindness might have prevailed, but there was no way they were getting away without an encore.

J Whitman

Noemi Nuti band ft. Quentin Collins, 22 April 2016