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The three most powerful gigs of 2019 were all at this year's London Jazz Festival, beginning with veteran British bassist Barry Guy’s Purcell Room concert The Blue Shroud, a musical reflection on Picasso’s great anti-fascist mural Guernica.
At the UN in 2003, a blue curtain was hung over the tapestry reproduction of the painting while US Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined the US and British invasion of Iraq. Guy’s 71-minute contemplation was marked by his 14-piece orchestra radiating a hymnal melodic beauty and moments of rapture, horror and defiance.
Percy Pursglove’s haunting, breathy opening trumpet chorus, Maya Homberger’s rhapsodic violin, the truculent drums of Lucas Niggli and Ramon Lopez and Agusti Fernandez’s resonant piano all gave sonic reality to Picasso’s warscape so that sound and image held the same urgent truth.
At EarTH in Hackney, Soweto Kinch’s The Black Peril was a musical narrative of the waves of black resistance in Britain a year after the end of the 1914-18 War, from Cardiff to Glasgow and from Liverpool to South Shields.
The amalgam of sound from 20-plus musicians included bassist and drummer Junius Paul and Makaya McCraven and members of Tomorrow’s Warriors, with dancers, newsreels, screen images, drama and mime combining with Kinch’s rapping words and visceral alto saxophone.
The themes of “black peril, red terror, fever time,” in an era when the scourge of eugenics and slogans like “Britishers First!” abounded were met by oppositional cries of “We Deserve Better!”
All created a hyper-vibrant and multi-faceted approach to knowing and learning from living history.
She Is Jazz at the Royal Festival Hall featured a prodigious ensemble of 40-odd women musicians and chorus, most in their teens and younger, led by saxophonists Cassie Kinoshi and Chelsea Carmichael.
Full of youthful fire and precocious musicianship, their wonderful London cosmopolitanism challenged the institutional staidness of the venue
A seven-year-old girl played a poised trumpet solo on the opening tune, East of the River Nile, and the ensemble was marvellous as they as rocked into Kinoshi’s tune Interplanetary Migration. Sun Ra would have loved it.
I have been going to jazz performances for 60 years and no other has filled me with such a sense of hope and belief in the future of truly creative music.
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