tue 23/07/2024

Jazz Voice, London Jazz Festival, Barbican | reviews, news & interviews

Jazz Voice, London Jazz Festival, Barbican

Jazz Voice, London Jazz Festival, Barbican

Guy Barker and top-drawer vocalists pay homage to the art of song

Touchingly intimate: US vocalist China Moses

And we're off. Marking the official start of the London Jazz Festival, “Jazz Voice: Celebrating a Century of Song” provided a superbly paced and brilliantly conceived curtain-raiser. Hosted by Scottish actor Dougray Scott and presenting vocalists from both sides of the Atlantic, this paean to the art of song featured Guy Barker's consummate, high-spec arrangements lovingly performed by his hand-picked orchestra.

From the engulfing beauty of Gretchen Parlato's “Butterfly” and China Moses's touchingly intimate “Walk on By” - the gorgeous, suspended ending of the latter was just one of many heart-stopping moments - to barnstorming crowd-pleasers such as Hamish Stuart's “That’s Life”, this was an evening that burst at the seams with fantastic melodies.

Singer and song weren't always the ideal fit. Georgie Fame didn't sound entirely comfortable with Cole Porter's “Always True to You in My Fashion” (likewise the string section: the song came within a whisker of coming off the rails in a particularly tricky pizzicato passage). The young Canadian vocalist Nikki Yanofsky was pitch-perfect, but can I propose a worldwide moratorium on singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for, say, a thousand years? An exuberant take on Louis Prima's “Jump, Jive an' Wail”, with all hands on board, provided the suitably uplifting encore.

Two hand-held video cameras projecting real-time black-and-white images of Barker, soloists and orchestra added immeasurably to the spectacle. The concert will be broadcast by BBC Radio 3 in “Performance on 3” this coming Monday (15 November). How about getting the TV cameras in next year?

Packing a truly astounding array of music into its 10 days, this year's London Jazz Festival ranges from the must-see headliners (Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Brad Mehldau, Terence Blanchard) to the future stars of the music. Of the several strands running across the festival, the focus on French, Scottish and Danish music offers a treasure trove of delights including Manu Katché, Juliette Greco, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Palle Mikkelborg and Marilyn Mazur. A series of workshops, talks, masterclasses and artist interviews provide a welcoming window onto jazz and its rich history.

Around a quarter of this year's 250-plus events are free. This weekend alone sees a promising double bill of rising-star pianists Sam Crowe and Kit Downes; two instalments of "An Introduction to Jazz" presented by Soweto Kinch and Shabaka Hutchings using live and recorded music; the hip-hop-infused grooves of the Soul Rebels Brass Band; a new collaboration between the East London Creative Jazz Orchestra and hip US pianist Robert Glasper; plus a taste of the current Danish scene with the contrasting influences of cabaret and afrobeat provided by Little Red Suitcase and Ibrahim Electric.

  • Full details of this year's festival, which runs until 21 November, are available on the London Jazz Festival website (iPhone users can download their own pocket-sized programme)

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