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FROM the very first minutes of this year’s London Jazz Festival, it was the jazz elders who were celebrated.
Yorkshire’s 80-year-old saxophonist Trevor Watts introduced his quartet’s opener at the South Bank’s Purcell Room by dedicating it to “all the musicians who have left us, who never got the chance to play here.”
Perhaps he was remembering his brilliant free-playing confreres of the past like trombonist Paul Rutherford or drummer John Stevens. But their spirits were hovering all around his seething soprano saxophone, Veryan Weston’s chiming piano, Mark Sanders’s ricocheting drums and John Edwards’s diving, echoing bass.
It was a powerfully moving and inventive challenge to all who were to follow in the ensuing 10 days.
Three of these were Joe Lovano’s Trio Tapestry at Queen Elizabeth Hall — saxophonist Lovano, pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi — created a jazz garment of darkly subjective texture, with Lovano’s beautiful tone and the complex figures of Crispell’s keys weaving sounds and dreams together.
At Omnibus Theatre, the anguished joy of Albanian vocalist Elina Duni and Rob Luft’s lucid electric guitar, sounding sometimes like an orchestra in one instrument, created Kosovan and Dalmatian heart songs of migrant sorrow and joy, while in the grandiose lobby of Cadogan Hall drummer Clark Tracey’s band of brilliant young contenders with trombonist Daniel Higham and altoist Mark Payne, played Ellingtonian standards like Take the “A” Train as if born to it.
In Wigmore Hall, the Liberetto Quartet of bassist Lars Danielsson, drummer Marcus Ostrom, guitarist John Parricelli and pianist Gregory Privat, played a version of jazz chamber music where passion broke through, especially in Privat’s scintillating keyboard runs and Ostrom’s furious brushwork.
At the Art Blakey celebration in Cadogan Hall saxophonist Jean Toussaint and his band led off the tribute, with trumpeter Byron Wallen’s pellucid solo embellishing his tune The Gatekeeper and trombonist Dennis Rollins providing rumbustious choruses on Major Changes. Toussaint’s own serenely modulated tone sang through bassist Daniel Casimir’s melody The Missing of Sleep.
There was Blakey-like thunderous drumming of Ralph Petersen in the Messenger Legacy concert that followed. As soon as the US band of ex-Jazz Messengers roared into Tell it Like it Is and the notes came surging out of Bill Pierce’s tenor saxophone, Brian Lynch’s blistering trumpet or Robin Eubanks’s creamy trombone in Lover Come Back, you knew time was reversing to a place where the groove was all.
At Cafe Oto, two powerful jazzwomen, alto saxophonist Matana Roberts and bassist Joelle Leandre, were a sisterly duo of improvisation of improvisation.
Leandre’s scything bow sawed through her wordless vocals, while a musical belligerence attacked her notes and Roberts, like a griot of old, blew and sang her sound-stories above her partner’s groaning, subterranean bow-sound.
A festival of infinite varieties indeed.
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