LIVE REVIEW: Tower Of Power @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2018

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 07:04 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


50 years ago, horn players and songwriters Emilio Castillo and Stephen 'Doc' Kupka, formed a band in Oakland, California, called The Motowns, which morphed in 1970 to Tower of Power. Despite numerous changes in personnel during their long and storied career (its past members number 64), half-a-century later the legendary soul and funk aggregation are still going strong. They have been fronted by many different lead singers - most notably, Lenny Williams, in the 1970s - but now they probably have the most charismatic and athletic vocalist that they've ever had - Marcus Scott. The Memphis singer, whose vocal gymnastics were often out of this world, really worked the crowd into a frenzy.

Opening with the thundering 'Soul With A Capital S,' with its soulful call-and-response vocals, the 10-piece, horn-heavy band came across like an out-of-control juggernaut hurtling down a hill with no brakes at 100 miles per hour. At the wheel steering it was Marcus Scott, who commanded the stage like a veteran, even though he's by far the youngest and most recent member of the band. The group served up some of their most cherished funk masterpieces from their voluminous back catalogue, including a pulsating 'So Much Oil In The Ground,' the frenetic 'On The Serious Side,' and the classic 'Soul Vaccination.'  

There were ace ballads, too, exemplified by the timeless 'You're Still A Young Man' and 'So Very Hard To Go,' where Scott demonstrated that he possesses sensitivity as well as incredible technique. Another fan favourite, the carefree, feel-good anthem, 'You Ought To Be Having Fun,' was given a run out as was 'You're So Wonderful, So Marvellous.' But the concert was not merely an exercise in nostalgia, as the introduction of a freshly-minted song called 'The Soul Side Of Town,' (taken from the group's forthcoming new album) proved, showing that the band are looking forward as well as back. Mind you, the new song had all the ingredients of classic Tower Of Power - a killer hook, stupendous brass charts, and a groove that won't quit.

The super-syncopated 'Diggin' On James Brown,' a track recorded in the 1990s as a homage to the "Godfather Of Soul," bookended a tribute to "Mr Dynamite," with Scott shimmying across the stage like "Soul Brother Number One" during energised versions of  Brown's 'It's A New Day,' 'Mother Popcorn,' and 'There It Is.' Scott vacated the stage to allow the band to shine on the fluid instrumental, 'Squib Cakes,' which as well as highlighting the individuals in the horn section, showcased Roger Smith on Hammond organ and Jerry Cortez on guitar.

Inevitably, the band climaxed their show with their signature song, the evergreen 'What Is Hip.' Characterised by an orgy of tightly-knit brass riding on a slippery groove propelled by drummer David Garibaldi and bassist Marc Van Wageningen, the song, with its instantly recognisable sound, encapsulated Tower Of Power's unique, Oakland-inflected  take on funk and soul.

Fifty years on, Tower Of Power are still at the top of their game - they might not be young men anymore, but they still play with a youthful vigour and enthusiasm. And crucially, they haven't forgotten how to be hip. Pure dynamite.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 May 2018 08:28


LIVE REVIEW: P.P. Arnold @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2018

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 06:47 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Los Angeles-born, London-based, soul siren P.P. Arnold (real name Pat Cole) is enjoying something akin to a renaissance right now on the back of the success reaped by her critically-lauded album, 'The Turning Tide,' a collection of previously unissued songs from the late '60s. Both looking and sounding fabulous - can she really be 71? - P.P. was backed by a young English four-piece band ("I stole them from Steve Craddock" she laughs) and a lone background vocalist. Together, they served up an energetic performance that was warmly nostalgic and yet also looked forward to the future.

The veteran singer proved a warm, personable host, interspersing her songs with anecdotes about the career. She began by going right back to the dawn of her career with the punchy soul number, 'What You Gonna Do,'  a song that she made her recording debut with doing background vocals on (as an Ikette) with Ike & Tina Turner soul revue. From there, the singer served up 'River Deep Mountain High' as a tribute to Tina Turner, of whom she said: "If it wasn't for her, I might not be with you tonight."  After that, P.P. explored her solo catalogue at Immediate Records by digging out classic cuts like the Northern Soul stomper 'Everything's Going To Be Alright,'  the driving rock-soul of  'Speak To Me,' the Bee Gees'-penned 'To Love Somebody,' and the big tear-jerking ballad, 'Angel Of The Morning.' The singer also presented some of the key songs from 'The Turning Tide' - which was produced by Eric Clapton and Barry Gibb - including the gentle but passionate title track,  a fabulously soulful version of Traffic's 'Medicated Goo,' and a souped-up rendition of the Stones' anthem, 'You Can't Always Get What You Want.'  

Looking forward to her new album, P.P. showcased her soulful version of 'Different Drum,' a song written by Monkeys' member Mike Nesmith and which was a 1967 hit for the Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt. But undoubtedly, the biggest cheer of the night erupted at the opening piano arpeggios of 'The First Cut Is The Deepest,' P.P. Arnold's anthemic signature song, which, ironically, went on to become more famous after Rod Stewart and then, later, Sheryl Crow, recorded it.

Now in her sixth decade of performing, P.P. Arnold evidently hasn't lost her mojo yet and here, lighting up the Cheltenham Jazz Festival with a sensational concert, she proved that the old adage "age is just a number" is absolutely true.  




Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 May 2018 06:59


LIVE REVIEW: Kamasi Washington @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2018

Monday, 07 May 2018 13:37 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF


Kamasi Washington
is perceived by some as the saviour of contemporary jazz, having seemingly singlehandedly altered the music's commercial fortunes during the last three years; a situation that saw him rise from anonymous sideman to world renowned jazz superstar. Jazz in now hip and in vogue again, thanks to the hirsute, baby-faced, tenor saxophonist from Los Angeles, a benign giant whose sprawling 3-CD debut album, 'The Epic,' set off the music biz equivalent to a tsunami on its release in 2015. Crucially, Washington has helped to bring young people back to jazz, which is essential for the music's survival.

Here, though, in Cheltenham, accompanied by his band, The Next Step, his coming had also attracted some more mature festival goers, intrigued, no doubt, to hear and see what all the fuss is about. Washington didn't disappoint. After a brief fanfare, which then dissolved into momentary dissonance,  Brandon Coleman's percussive piano announced the chords to 'Change Of The Guard,' a searing, frenetic modal jazz number where Washington enunciated an elegant horn melody together with trombonist Ryan Porter and flautist, Ricky Washington (the saxophonist's father), before Coleman embarked on a wild piano solo. Underpinning the horns were Miles Mosley's fast-walking upright bass and the propulsive double drums of Tony Austin and Robert Miller.

The saxophonist premiered a couple of new tunes from his forthcoming album, 'Heaven & Earth' (due for release on June 22nd). The first was 'Fists Of Fury,' Washington's unique interpretation of the soundtrack theme to an old Bruce Lee-starring Kung Fu movie from 1972, with dancer, Patrice Quinn, supplying astral vocals. Ricky Washington contributed a mellifluous flute solo but it was bassist,  Miles Mosley, who really caught the ear. "He plays the upright bass unlike anyone I know on this entire planet," said Kamasi Washington by way of introduction. He wasn't wrong.  His solo, where Mosley initially plucked the bass strings, before bringing out a bow and using various sound effects, was incredible to both watch and hear (it's not hard to see why Mosley is a recording artist in his own right). Equally impressive was another new tune, an elegant Washington original called 'The Space Traveller's Lullaby,' which features full orchestra and choir on the new album, but was presented here in a raw, stripped-down form.

A major highlight, too, was 'Truth,' a blissful meditation  taken from the saxophonist's 'Harmony Of Difference' EP, released last year. Introducing it, Washington said: "You hear us play five melodies at the same time and it's a metaphor for how beautiful the world can be if we all pull together."  Peaceful and positive vibrations flowed from Washington's horn and it was easy to see why's he's become so popular in such a short space of time - not only is his music accessible but also its messages are clear. In a troubled world beset by conflict and divided by hate, his optimism gives us hope of a better world, where differences can be put aside. "Our diversity is not something to be tolerated... but to be celebrated," he said. It was a statement that elicited a loud cheer of approval from the audience, who appeared to share his sentiments. Of course, the world's problems cannot be solved by music, or even musicians, for that matter - though they'd do a better job than the politicians -  but his idealism is laudable, and at least he's trying to make a difference. And I've no doubt that those new to Kamasi Washington will have come away from the concert enlightened by the experience of seeing and hearing him. On this evidence, his gentle charisma is hard to resist.



Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 May 2018 09:44


LIVE REVIEW: Christian McBride Big Band @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2018

Monday, 07 May 2018 13:22 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

      altNobody can play bass like the phenomenal Christian McBride, who brings a soulful authority to everything he performs. Though he was schooled in jazz and is deeply cognisant of its storied history and his place within it, he's also been brought up on soul and funk and their influence can be heard and felt in the music he performs with his 18-piece big band. It's as if the orchestras of Ray Charles, James Brown, and Duke Ellington have been brought together in one stupendous, mind-blowing ensemble.

Making what was their UK debut at Cheltenham, McBride (who was previously at the festival in 2002) and his cohorts (which included Blue Note saxophonist, Marcus Strickland, and noted trombonist, Steve Davis), kicked off with a seismic big band funk groove called 'Getting To It,' which took its inspiration from an old James Brown tune ('Get It Together') and comes across like 'The Godfather of Soul' on steroids. In acute contrast, the shimmering 'Beautiful Bliss' with its muted horns and sonorous blend of brass textures over a gently swinging groove, showed delicacy and a great tonal subtlety.  Trumpeter Brandon Lee shone on an exquisite version of the slow jazz standard, 'I Thought About You,' and also featured on an inspired reading of Freddie Hubbard's hard bop classic, 'Thermo.' McBride's wife, singer, Melissa Walker, then joined the band for super-soulful renditions of 'A Taste Of Honey' and 'Mr Bojangles.'

But it was back to the funk - "that dirty F-word," quipped McBride, introducing the song - for the big band's finale, a take on the late George Duke's 'The Black Messiah Part 2.' It was a slow, churning monster of a groove defined by a greasy backbeat and featuring dexterous pianist Xavier Davis.

With their meld of dynamic individual solos, crisp ensemble work, and imaginative arrangements, the Christian McBride Big Band went down spectacularly well with the Cheltenham audience. More importantly, it was a performance where McBride conclusively proved that large ensembles are still viable and have a valid place within contemporary jazz.


Last Updated on Monday, 07 May 2018 18:22


LIVE REVIEW: Andy Sheppard Quartet @ Cheltenham Jazz Festival 6/5/2018

Monday, 07 May 2018 13:10 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                          altThere was a time, some thirty years ago,  when tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard was a feted young lion of British jazz's new wave and making his presence felt in the UK pop albums chart. Those days might be long gone but this award-winning Wiltshire saxophonist, now 61, who seems to get better with age, continues to ply his trade and has been making impressive recordings for Manfred Eicher's iconic ECM label during the last decade. Sheppard's latest opus for the Munich-based company is the excellent 'Romaria' and understandably, it proved the focal point of this keenly-anticipated lunchtime concert at Cheltenham's Town Hall venue. The same multi-national musicians that appeared on Sheppard's new album were present here - Norwegian guitarist, Eivind Aarset; French-Algerian bassist, Michel Benita; and ubiquitous Scottish drummer (now shorn of his trademark Afro), Seb Rochford. Together, they created dreamy, ruminative soundscapes whose ethereal, ambient style epitomises the distinctive ECM sound.

A crucial component of Sheppard's quartet is Aarset, who, though billed as a guitar player, offers so much more sonically. With his large array of stunning effects gizmos, he was like a veritable one-man guitar orchestra, creating a cinematic world of sound that imbued the music with both atmosphere and mystery. Alternating between tenor and soprano saxophone, Sheppard displayed his masterly virtuosity though his improvisations were never too ostentatious and he always seemed mindful of preserving the mood of his compositions. Subtlety, then, was key to this performance, and it was also embodied in the sublime support work of bassist  Benita and drummer Rochford, who shined as unobtrusive team players by putting the group's needs before their own as soloists. There was a haunting lyrical beauty to 'Romaria,' while a sense foreboding was created by the filmic 'They Came From The North,' where Aarset's atmospherics dominated.

As an encore, the quartet played a shorter piece. Sheppard introduced it by saying,  "we hope it puts you in contact with the 16-year-old body that's trapped inside your current body," which elicited laughter from the audience, who then got treated to an idiosyncratic version of The Beatles' ballad, 'And I Love Her.' It brought the curtain down on a satisfying afternoon which had the punters queuing up to buy the saxophonist's latest album.   


Last Updated on Monday, 07 May 2018 18:23


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