Six Points To Emerge From This Year’s London Jazz Festival

I attended events over the two weekends of this year’s London Jazz Festival taking in a range of music from orchestral events through to small group improvisation. It was clear that the festival maintained the high standards of previous events, even took the festival forward in a number of interesting ways.

There are six observations I would like to make based on my attendance – admittedly relatively limited – at the festival.

The collaboration between jazz groups and players and orchestras is likely to play an ongoing and important role in contemporary music. Soweto Kinch and his quartet worked together with conductor Lee Reynolds and the London Symphony Orchestra to create a unique concert that brought together jazz, hip hop vocals and orchestral writing very successfully. Yazz Ahmed and her quintet worked together with the BBC Concert Orchestra, conductor Bramwell Tovey and various arrangers to adapt various compositions of Yazz’s for a very enjoyable blending of contemporary jazz and classical music. These collaborations took us beyond a ‘jazz meets classical’ approach and created very special works in their own right.

The National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) is developing some very interesting contemporary projects. The gig at Cafe Oto with NYJO performing Sam Eastmonds’ arrangements of material from John Zorn’s Masada Songbook showed that they are well capable of performing challenging material, and the performance of the NYJO Jazz Exchange group mentored by Orphy Robinson revealed a willingness to engage with a cross genre approach.

Next a trivial point perhaps, but it was interesting to compare the conducting methods of the two classical conductors, Simon Reynolds and Bramwell Tovery with that of Sam Eastmond with NYJO. Eastmond emphasised the beat with strong punching movements with his right hand and no baton, while the two classical conductors used much more flowing movements with a baton to show the beat.

The Chicago contemporary jazz scene is on a roll at the moment. I caught Moor Mother doing a voice + electronics set accompanied by saxophonist Keir Neuringer, and then Irreversible Entanglements at Kings Place. I would have liked to have heard Jamie Branch and Damon Lock‘s Black Monument Ensemble. It’s clear that the tradition of Great Black Music from Chicago continues.

The integration of Arab music and jazz seems to work well; Yazz Ahmed’s music draws very successfully on her Bahraini heritage, and Shirley Smart’s Sextet‘s music similarly draws effectively on her stay in East Jerusalem.

Olie Brice

The late night session downstairs at The Vortex with a mix of composition and free improvisation from Olie Brice, Tom Challenger and Will Glaser showed that the improvised music/free jazz scene continues to thrive and develop. This session and the Cafe Oto session with NYJO showed the importance of the the contribution of small venues such as these to the festival programme.

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