Over 2,000 Musicians Perform At London's Annual Jazz Festival
Saxophone legend Archie Shepp was one of the top acts at this year's EFG London Jazz FestivalGetty
Now in its 26th year, EFG London Jazz Festival remains the capital’s largest city-wide festival, with over 2,000 artists in more than 325 performances in concert halls, clubs, at family events, free concerts, films and talks, in over 70 venues across London. I noticed more of a mixed crowd at this year's festival and was thrilled to see jazz veterans such as Archie Shepp and Stanley Clarke continuing to innovate by working with young emerging musicians. I also think that collaborations between young artists working in different musical genres is becoming increasingly common and is helping to shine a light on jazz. When Kendrick Lamar, one of the world's hottest hip-h0p stars, works with brilliant young jazz composers and musicians like Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington, younger audiences are going to notice.
Young Dutch funksters Jungle By Night at London's Jazz Cafe
We were blown away when we first heard Jungle by Night perform on a beach stage in Sines, Portugal at a world music festival in 2014. And four years on, this group of nine energetic young white guys from Amsterdam performed the most remarkable funk, a blend of afrobeat, hip-hop and soul to a packed house at Camden's Jazz Cafe during the London jazz festival. Using sax, trombone,trumpet, guitar,keyboards, bass, drums and percussion, the band creates powerful, infectious and danceable music. Their latest album "Livingstone" was released at the Jazz Cafe that night and they'll continue to tour it in Europe through February.
Sax Ruins performing at Cafe Oto
One of the great aspects of the London jazz festival is the chance to discover experimental music like Sax Ruins. This energetic Japanese duo was brought to Cafe Oto, an east end music venue, by the innovative young promoter Baba Yagas Hutwho present the best in avant garde music throughout the capital. Sax Ruins features one of Japan's most innovative drummers Tatsuya Yoshida performing with saxophonist Ono Ryoko and the Cafe Oto gig was a rare live show for the duo who've been performing together since 2006. The big sound they produce from only two instruments is an incredible, enthralling blend of prog rock, free jazz, classical and punk.
Archie Shepp performing at London's Jazz Festival in November 2018Andfotography.com/Paul Allen
From intimate venues to major halls, this year's jazz festival included legends like Archie Shepp at the Barbican who performed arts songs and spirituals with a brilliant, specially assemble choir featuring Carleen Anderson, joined by singer pianist Amina Claudine Myers. Soulful saxophonist Archie Shepp who is in his eighties has been leading the avant-garde jazz scene since the 1960s when he recorded "Ascension" with John Coltrane and split a record "New Thing at Newport" (the first side featured Coltrane, the reverse, Shepp). Today, Archie Shepp continues to experiment and work with younger musicians to keep things interesting. His admirable support act at the Barbican was Simon Purcell's Red Circle, featuring vocalist Cleveland Watkiss who has been described by London's Evening Standardas the "best male jazz singer in Britain."
Stanley Clarke and the Headhunters at the Royal Festival Hall
Stanley Clarke, the Grammy award winning, legendary bass player and his versatile band, thrilled the audience at the Royal Festival Hall with loved pieces and brand new music. Known for his early work with greats like Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Gil Evans and Stan Getz, Stanley Clarke's versatility enabled him to play with Chick Corea, guitarist Jeff Beck and The Police drummer, Stewart Copeland. His music has also been widely sampled by the likes of Jay-Z and the Beastie Boys and his career in film music includes the soundtrack for "Boyz N The Hood." Stanley Clarke has also been a brilliant mentor for emerging artists like saxophonist Kamasi Washington, as well as his band's current young members, keyboardist Cameron Graves, drummer Mike Mitchell and pianist Beka Gochiashvili, the latter of whom joined the band at 17 and 16 years old respectively. The gig at the Royal Festival Hall was ably supported by jazz-fusion band The Headhunters, the jazz-fusion band formed by Herbie Hancock in 1973, with the original members Bill Summers, Paul Jackson and Mike Clark still performing.
Toni Kofi and Byron Wallen in a tribute to Cannonball Adderley at the 606 Club during the London Jazz Festival
Saxophonist Tony Kofi and trumpeter Byron Wallen performed a lively tribute to hard bop legend Cannonball Adderley (also famous for his soul hit single "Mercy, Mercy Mercy") at the 606 Club. Tony Kofi rose to fame with the UK's Jazz Warriors Big Band in the late 1980s, has performed with high profile musicians like Courtney Pine and Harry Connick Jr. and continues to collect accolades and awards, including BBC Jazz Awards' Best Instrumentalist. Versatile trumpeter Byron Wallen has played with top jazz and pop artists including George Benson, Chaka Khan, Style Council and Cleveland Watkiss. Byron Wallen, Tony Kofi and his band were joined by vocalist Deelee Dube to perform an impressive range of Cannonball Adderley's engaging music.
Saxophonist Grant Stewart performing with Nat Steele at Toulouse Lautrec jazz club
In south London at the Toulouse Lautrec jazz club, another tribute to a jazz great was easily one of top gigs of the festival. Canadian jazz saxophonist Grant Stewart was an excellent addition to vibraphonist Nat Steele's quartet who performed a fantastic gig featuring the music of Sonny Rollins. Their take on the classic 1956 Prestige album "Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet" was part of the annual Bopfest, focusing on the best in bebop, running alongside the London Jazz Festival. Grant Stewart’s tenor is tight, rich and his modern interpretation of bebop has often been compared to Sonny Rollins while Nat Steele has been described by Clark Tracey as "one of the best vibes players this country has ever produced." Together, along with the admirable contributions from Gabriel Latchin, Dario di Lecce and Steve Brown, they performed one of the best gigs of London's annual jazz festival.
Rothko + Jazz presented by Maris Briezkalns' Latvian quintet at Kings PlaceAndfotography.com/Paul Allen
Kings Place, Central London's newest public concert hall, is recognized for featuring experimental jazz. One of the most creative gigs in this year's London jazz festival came from a Latvian quintet led by drummer Maris Briezkalns who presented "Rothko in Jazz." Ten Latvian composers responded to abstract expressionist Mark Rothko's late paintings by creating sometimes intense, sometimes upbeat tunes. While Rothko is known as an American artist, he was actually born and spent his childhood in Latvia. Thus the backdrop of projected Rothko paintings certainly added a fascinating dimension to the quintet's performance.