LIVE: Joshua Redman @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Monday, 06 May 2019 11:16 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


There was a time, not so long ago, when Joshua Redman was regarded as one of the young lions of the American jazz scene. It's hard to believe, then, that the Californian-born tenor saxophonist celebrated his 50th birthday in February. Even so, slim, shaven-headed and possessing a youthful visage, he doesn't look his age. There's also a youthful vigour to his playing, which remains as vibrant and exploratory as it was twenty-five years ago when he first took the jazz world by storm.  The last time Redman appeared at Cheltenham was in 2005 when he brought his Elastic Band to the festival. At that time, the saxophonist was experimenting with a type of edgy fusion sound (as heard on the 'Momentum' album) but these days he's more of a traditionalist and at Cheltenham Town Hall, he opted to showcase a saxophone-bass-drums trio,  an instrumental configuration that was first pioneered by Sonny Rollins in the 1950s. Rollins favoured a trio without a chordal instrument because it allowed him greater melodic and harmonic freedom as a soloist, and it's my guess, listening to his foraging, free-flying saxophone in Cheltenham, that Redman was attracted to the format for similar reasons.  

Taking the stage with Redman were two of America's finest rhythm section players - bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer, Gregory Hutchinson. They provided simpatico accompaniment throughout, supporting Redman's improvisations with anchoring bass lines and fluid polyrhythms. The trio began with a sprightly version of the jazz standard 'Mack The Knife' - which allowed Redman to demonstrate his gift for melodic ornamentation - following it with one of the saxophonist's original tunes, 'Back From Burma,' which was initially more meditative in character, though it eventually blossomed into an impassioned tone poem packed with sonic drama before subsiding mournfully. The music ranged from the gentle and elegant - exemplified by an original composition called 'Second Date'  - to more driving, propulsive numbers like the funkafied 'Tail Chase,' which allowed Gregory Hutchinson to demonstrate his dynamic drumming skills.

"We're just up here making it up as we go along," quipped Redman at one point in between songs. The audience laughed, but he wasn't being flippant and was making a serious point. In fact, he felt compelled to qualify his earlier statement, just in case his words were misinterpreted.  "We've studied hard and know this music and practiced and immersed ourselves in the vocabulary and when we're up here improvising, it's just playing what we feel like playing," he said, capturing the essence of what it is to play jazz at the highest level.

The show closed with Redman inviting onto the stage, British saxophonist, Soweto Kinch, who armed with an alto saxophone contributed to a rollicking high tempo blues in the spirit of Charlie Parker's bebop staple, 'Now's The Time,' which closed the show on a euphoric high. It prompted the vociferous audience to call back Redman for a much-deserved encore, who - after much deliberation over what to play - obliged with a simmering groove seasoned with funk inflections.

If you wanted to witness a masterclass of tenor saxophone improvisation, then this was the concert to see at Cheltenham and it didn't disappoint. Let's hope it's not another fourteen years before Redman's next appearance at the festival.   

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 22:38


LIVE: Abdullah Ibrahim And Ekaya @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Monday, 06 May 2019 11:11 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                       altThis much-garlanded South African pianist is a legend in his own country, where he began his career under the name Dollar Brand at the dawn of the 1960s before leaving for Europe, and later, the USA, where he established himself as a leading jazz musician and worked with the likes of Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Randy Weston. At 84, Abdullah Ibrahim is still going strong, and although he doesn't say much on stage - he didn't speak to the audience throughout the entire concert - when it comes to music, he's supremely eloquent.

He came out on the stage alone at first, and sat at the piano to play a lovely wistful piece of solo extemporisation full of beguiling melodies and opulent harmonies. Ten minutes elapsed before his six-piece band, Ekaya, took to the stage. The group, comprising a four-piece brass section (piccolo/flute, tenor sax, trombone and baritone sax) plus bass and drums, offered some wonderfully-arranged music, with Ibrahim offering delicate piano asides. As well as providing some sonorous horn charts, Ekaya's individual members also proved to be first class soloists as well. Even so, the afternoon belonged to Abdullah Ibrahim, whose gentle music - refined and elegant - held the audience captive for 75 enthralling minutes.

(Charles Waring)  

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 15:57


LIVE: Rymden @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Monday, 06 May 2019 11:06 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


One of the most keenly-anticipated performances of this year's Cheltenham Jazz Festival was this concert from Rymden, a Swedish supergroup comprised of pianist Bugge Wesseltoft together with former Esborn Svenson Trio members, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom. Drawing on material from its highly-regarded debut LP, 'Reflections & Odysseys,' released earlier this year, the trio created glacial soundscapes that were cinematic in the way they combined suspense and atmosphere. Although there were long passages of nuanced quiet - so quiet that at one point a passing ambulance siren was clearly audible outside and integrated itself into the textured quality of the on-stage sounds - the music wasn't monotonous but was characterised by clearly defined peaks and troughs in terms of dynamics and mood. These qualities were readily apparent in their opening song, 'Reflections,' a delicate piece that eventually segued into a sinewy tune called 'The Odyssey,' which then crescendoed to a roaring climax.

Indeed, the group played with a palpable fire in its belly, producing moments of transcendent brilliance in the way the three musicians interacted with each other. Though a sense of spellbinding melancholy - a characteristic long associated with Scandinavian jazz - pervaded the group's music, Rymden also served up some uplifting moments dominated by uptempo, and sometimes funkafied, grooves; as exemplified by the jaunty tune, 'Pitter-Patter,' where Wesseltoft  showed his prowess on the electric piano. He was ably supported by Berglund, who provided bass lines that possessed both an anchoring solidity and fluid elasticity, and Ostrom - the most loquacious member of the group on stage - whose polyrhythmic drums ranged from fiercely dynamic to wispy and delicate. On the basis of this enthralling concert, there's no doubt that Rymden is one of Europe's pre-eminent jazz groups right now. There's a deeply immersive quality about their music that's hard to resist.

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Monday, 06 May 2019 22:47


LIVE: Sergio Mendes @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Sunday, 05 May 2019 13:33 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


At 78 years old, Brazilian music legend, Sergio Mendes still knows how to get his groove on. The veteran keyboard player brought the sunshine and warmth of his native country's music to light up a chilly Cheltenham afternoon. Leading from a centre stage keyboard, a fedora-wearing Mendes led his well-drilled seven-piece band  through an enjoyable tour of his back catalogue.  Singers Gracinha Leporace - Mendes' wife of many years -  and Katie Hampton were the main focus of the music; their voices sensuously entwined on material that ranged from bossa nova classics like 'The Girl From Ipanema, ' and 'One Note Samba'  - both written by Mendes' friend and mentor, the legendary Antonio Carlos Jobim -  to big US hits he enjoyed with Brasil 66 in the 1960s. The latter included a samba-infused reconfiguration of the Beatles' ballad, 'Fool On The Hill' and a hypnotic take on Burt Bacharach & Hal David's immortal paean to desire, 'The Look Of Love.'  

To add a contemporary twist and no doubt inspired by his successful collaboration with the Black Eyes Peas on three hit albums in 2006 ('Timeless'), 2008 ('Incanto'), and 2014 ('Magic'), Mendes also featured a rapper on a couple of songs (including the Jobim-penned 'Surfboard'). Though purists in the audience might have been irritated by his presence, judging from the enthusiastic reception his energetic rhyming couplets received, his inclusion in the band was a popular one. In terms of its musicianship, Mendes' band couldn't be faulted ("this is the best band I've had in many, many years," he told the audience).  On bass was the legendary Philadelphia player, Alphonso Johnson - whom fusion aficionados would recall from his work with Weather Report and George Duke in the mid-'70s - while on saxophone, flute, keyboards and additional vocals was another American,   Scott Mayo, who duetted with Katie Hampton on Mendes' 1983 US hit, the Barry Mann-Cynthia Weill MOR ballad, 'Never Gonna Let You Go.'

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Mendes closed his packed-out show with his euphoric signature tune, the anthemic 'Mas Que Nada,' which ended the afternoon on a blissed-out high and made Cheltenham seem - at least for 75 minutes - like Rio de Janeiro at carnival time.

(Charles Waring)  

Read SJF's interview with Sergio Mendes here:


Last Updated on Sunday, 05 May 2019 13:45


LIVE: Alfa Mist @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 4/5/2019

Sunday, 05 May 2019 09:54 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                     altAlfa Mist is a rising East London keyboard player, composer -  and occasional rapper - of African descent whose admirers include noted R&B singer/songwriter, Frank Ocean, and jazz DJ, Gilles Peterson. His striking debut album, 2017's 'Antiphon,' got Mist noticed and now he's touring his freshly-unveiled second long player, 'Structuralism,' which features singer, Jordan Rakei, and has just released on the Sekito label. Fronting a simpatico five-piece band - keys, horn, guitar, bass and drums - Mist, who alternates between electric and acoustic pianos, often draws on the stuttering rhythms of hip-hop and grime for inspiration. His music is hazy, amorphous and loose-limbed but completely mesmerising with its meld of shifting textures and omnipresent sense of groove.  

The excellent Johnny Woodham supplies cool Miles Davis-esque trumpet and flugelhorn lines, which waft over Mist's laidback but engrossing urban soundscapes. He's aided by fine fretboard work from guitarist,  Jamie Leeming, who excels as both an accompanist and soloist.  Bass player Kaya Thomas Dyke - who also contributes ethereal but soulful vocals to the song, 'Falling' - and drummer Jamie Houghton pool their talents to create sinuous rhythm tracks defined by a delicious ebb and flow. The highlights on the afternoon were plentiful, ranging from the luxurious groove of  the set's opener, '44,' to the epic sweep of 'Retainer' with its breezy rhythms and the mesmeric hip-hop jazz of 'Closer,' the latter finding Mist dropping rhymes about urban angst over a throbbing groove, while counterpointed by slivers of jazzy horn. Another standout was 'Jjajja's Screen,' a heartfelt song about Mist's Ugandan grandmother.

Though something of a late-starter in music - apparently, he didn't begin playing the piano until he was 17 - on the evidence of this engaging Cheltenham show,  the 20-something Newham-born auteur has come a long way in a short period of time. His unique approach to urban music singles out Alfa Mist as another bright new star of a British jazz renaissance that is bubbling over with exceptional musical talent right now.   

(Charles Waring)

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 May 2019 11:37


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