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Listed: The World and Beyond - London Jazz Festival 2014 | reviews, news & interviews

Listed: The World and Beyond - London Jazz Festival 2014

Listed: The World and Beyond - London Jazz Festival 2014

This year's festival promises further encounters with the strange and new

Hackney Colliery Band: from the coalface of, er, E8

Jazz. Is there any other term in contemporary culture so widely recognised, yet so difficult to define? Now in its 22nd year, the London Jazz Festival offers an annual global snapshot of the condition of this most disputed of music form, with the usual big names, but more excitingly, many new, young ones, which is what I have focused on here: acts indicative of the scene today.

Wherever you have a tradition, there’s always a temptation to turn it into a dogma, but one of the delights of jazz is the speed of its evolution, morphing before your eyes and ears into a new shape and sound. Surely more of a process than a static genre, jazz always has digested its neighbouring genres, from ragtime in its baby steps to ska, hip-hop and electronica today. This is where the exciting new music is made at, metaphorically (literally, if you’re the Hackney Colliery Band, main picture) the coalface of new music.  

From Henri Texier and the circuses of North Africa, via the Bad Plus remaking the cheesiest pop sounds into something delicate and fresh, to Kris Bowers’ versions of classical-cum-electronica, boundaries melt in this music. Since they are recommendations of a kind these are mainly events for which tickets are still available. But move fast.

Abdullah Ibrahim and South Africa 20 Years On – Royal Festival Hall, November 15

A tasteful selection of South African jazzers celebrate their country’s 20 years of democracy, and the role of South African jazz in campaigning for social change. Pianist Abdullah Ibrahim is the star, though the rapidly up-and-coming pianist Bokani Dyer and Gareth Lockrane’s tribute to Bheki Mseleku both look very tempting.

Hackney Colliery Band – The Albany, November 15

While the tradition of colliery bands is a familiar one, the addition of “Hackney” detonates the name with irony. Much more than a hipsterish jape, HCB is an acoustic urban marching band for the 21st Century, blending (or “mining from the musical coalface”, as the band puts it) elements of jazz, funk, ska, and hip-hop. Addictively enjoyable.  


Henri Texier – Purcell Room, November 16

If world jazz is trending, it’s partly due to the career-long excellence of musicians like Texier, a French double bass player and bandleader. In the Sixties, Texier was involved with the American avant-garde, including Bud Powell, Chet Baker and Lee Konitz, but is now better known as a supremely warm melodist who blends North African colour into a musical tapestry of circus and swing.  
On paper, just another piano-bass-drums trio, but musically an extraordinary collaboration between jazz style and pop content. Their style has been described as “avant-garde populism” by The New York Times: using the sophisticated, leaderless, improvising skill of the finest jazz trio, they unpick songs from pop, soul, and folk, burnishing their melodies to create songs of captivating appeal.

Kris Bowers – XOYO, November 19

Since winning the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, the young Californian has been astonishing wider and wider audiences with his outrageous blending of jazz, electronica, hip-hop and R&B. Educated at the Juilliard School, his technique is slick, his creativity abrasive. Robert Glasper is the obvious benchmark, but listen and decide for yourself whether he doesn’t have a more seductive melodic sense and lusher electronic sound than the Texan.
Zawadzki released her debut album China Lane earlier this year to frank astonishment, her totally unpidgeonholeable collection of her own songs and arrangements of repertoire from medieval Sephardic and Ladino ballads to contemporary indie rock all propelled in a voice of velvet suppleness and gutsy emotional power. Anglo-Polish Zawadzki also plays violin and piano in compositions informed by folk, world, and pop as much as jazz. Original and unmissable.
The context of a big international festival is sometimes the perfect backdrop to appreciate what you have at home, which is, on the evidence of this line-up, sensational talent. From septuagenarian Bobby Wellins to the twentysomething Laura Jurd, with international stars such as bassist Jasper Høiby and pianist Liam Noble all contributing to a glorious celebration of the British jazz scene. Saxophonist Mark Lockheart curates, explaining his selections in the clip below.

Henry Cow, Music For Films, News From Babel and Oh Moscow play the music of Lindsay Cooper – Barbican, November 21

Some of the most progressive sounds of the Seventies return for one night only. Composer, bassoon player and activist Lindsay Cooper died last year, leaving an extraordinary legacy of music at the forefront of the progressive and avant-rock scene. Many of these bands haven’t performed live for decades – or ever, in the case of News from Babel. For once, the label “unique” is justified.

Celebrating 75 years of Blue Note Records – Royal Festival Hall, November 22

Beyond debate the most prestigious jazz label, Blue Note celebrates 75 years of recording musicians such as Sidney Bechet, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock with a supergroup of contemporary stars. They are preceded by a duet from Jason Moran and Robert Glasper, paying homage to Blue Note’s 1939 debut, the boogie woogie team of Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. Talent is rarely so densely packed on a single stage.
Jazz always has digested its neighbouring genres, from ragtime in its baby steps to ska, hip-hop and electronica today

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