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


VARIOUS: Southern Groove (BGP)

Sunday, 06 May 2018 18:36 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altBack in the 70s Michael Thevis was one of Georgia's best-known "businessmen". His main business was pornography, though he dabbled in plenty of other sidelines – all of varied degrees of legitimacy. One that was strictly legit (mostly) was music. In 1973 he set up GRC Records in Atlanta which quickly grew the subsidiaries Aware, Hotlanta and Clintone. How serious Thevis was about GRC is open to debate (some commentators suggest it was a money laundering operation) and, interestingly, the label's biggest hit was a country song – 'Chevy Van' by Sammy Jones. However, based in Atlanta, GRC was also home to countless soul performers and there was minor chart success for GRC tunes on people like Ripple, Loleatta Holloway and King Hannibal. By 1975 Thevis' past was catching up on him (he was arrested on a murder charge!) and his music operation folded, leaving countless recordings in the vault.

Over the years UK reissue specialists Ace Records has released lots of excellent GRC soul material on their Kent subsidiary and now, via their BGP imprint, they offer a selection (22 generous tracks) showing the funkier, tougher side of the GRC output.

The big names on the collection include the aforementioned Ripple and Loleatta Holloway alongside John Edwards (who went on to join the Spinners) and Jimmy Lewis. One of the two featured Holloway tracks, by the way, is her classic 'Only A Fool' and for those who like these kinds of things the set also features the cut's backing track which was released as 'The Bump' and credited to Loleatta's husband, Floyd Smith.

As with most Ace/BGP albums there are plenty of previously unreleased tunes to keep the anoraks happy. Most interesting of 'em is the Family Plann's early disco workout 'Let's Dance' –not quite as unrelenting as the most of the other offerings.

(BB) 3/5

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 May 2018 18:47


BEADY BELLE: 'Dedication' (Jazzland)

Saturday, 05 May 2018 09:17 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                              altOriginally from Oslo, Norway, Beady Belle started out as a duo comprising singer/songwriter, Beate S. Lech and bassist/producer Marius Reksjø, and made their debut back in 2001 with the album 'Home' for Bugge Wesseltoft's Jazzland label. Melding soul with jazz, electronica, and dance music flavours, the duo created an alluring sound and over the course of six more albums for Jazzland developed their own distinctive and immediately recognisable style. In 2016, Reksjø stepped into the background, allowing Lech - who adopted Beady Belle as her stage name - to go it alone, releasing the aptly-titled album, 'On My Own.' Now she returns with 'Dedication,' without doubt Beady Belle's most organic, soulful and satisfying long player yet.

Though intended as a homage to Lech's musical heroes and heroines - which range from old school icons like Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway to the present day's  Alicia Keys and Raphael Saadiq - it reveals what a singular talent the 44-year-old Norwegian musician possesses, both as a singer and a songwriter. In the 17 years since Beady Bell's debut, Beate has grown, blossomed, and gone from strength to strength in her evolution as an artist. She has a knack of crafting sinuous melodies that aren't necessarily immediate but which, on  repeated listens, insinuate themselves firmly in your grey matter. Her songs seduce by stealth, so that after a few spins, this album has got its hooks in you and won't let go. 'Out Of Orbit' is arguably the killer cut, where an addictive electric sitar line (which bring back memories of Philly soul group, Blue Magic, perhaps) rides on a mid-tempo groove, while the soulful interplay between Lech and her background vocalists is sublime. The confessional ballad, 'I Run You Ragged,' is similarly gorgeous while 'Traces' shows the singer's funkier side. There's even  hint of disco on the anthemic 'Last Drop Of Blood.' 'Mooring Line,' with its combination of warmly harmonised chorus and a crisp backbeat, is another winner. More reflective is the slow, introspective 'Waste Of Grace' while the mid-tempo 'My Religion' is a thoughtful examination of personal faith.

Unlike most contemporary R&B songs, Beady Belle's tunes aren't obsessed with sex and characterized by banal, disposable lyrics. Beate Lech writes songs about love and life that are intelligent without being too cerebral and eloquent without being wordy. She strikes the perfect balance between expressions of the heart and mind, resulting in songs that make you think while touching the heart. You can catch Beady Belle at Ronnie Scott's in London on May 6th.

(CW) 4/5


Last Updated on Sunday, 06 May 2018 18:47


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