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PREVIEW: London Jazz Festival
Stewart Smith , November 9th, 2015 12:39

Stewart Smith looks ahead at the highlights of this year's EFG London Jazz Festival programme before it kicks off this Friday

The shape of jazz to come?

The 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival, which opens this Friday, comes at the end of what has been a bellwether year for jazz, with artists exploring innovative new directions and reaching out to different audiences. Kendrick Lamar's jazz and funk infused rap masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly has helped to bring the hard bop and fusion sounds of Kamasi Washington and Thundercat to the fore, while in the UK, acts like Sons Of Kemet have continued to incorporate the rhythms and melodies of the Africa-Caribbean diaspora into a contemporary jazz setting. In both the mainstream and underground, there's a sense that jazz is not only gaining in popularity, but is opening up musically too, with an increasing number of artists seeking out collaborators and gigs beyond the jazz bubble.

That energy has spilled over into this year's Festival programme. The fact that Washington's Barbican show – his London debut - sold out weeks ago is testament to the impact the Los Angeles saxophonist and composer's triple album The Epic has had. Sons of Kemet's Rich Mix show has also sold out, but tickets are still available for their leader Shabaka Hutchings' tribute to John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler, more details of which below.

Big names such as Maria Schneider Orchestra, fresh from their collaboration with David Bowie, and Keith Jarrett are also sold out, but there are still tickets to be had for major figures including New Orleans RnB and jazz legend Allen Toussaint, legendary British bassist Dave Holland and Australian improv trio The Necks. Those who missed out on Kamasi Washington might want to check out Terence Blanchard's E-Collective at the Barbican on Friday, November 20. Washington covered Blanchard's 'Malcolm's Theme' on The Epic and while the latter's deft fusion of jazz, funk and RnB is a slicker prospect than the former's spiritual jazz, they share an expansive vision.

The Festival programme boasts a constellation of new UK talent and one of the most exciting acts to fit that bill are Binker Golding and Moses Boyd, who play Ray's Jazz at Foyles on Friday, November 20 at 6pm. Signed to the excellent Gearbox Records, the young sax and drums duo are a great example of the contemporary London scene, drawing on the post-bop jazz tradition and West African drum rituals, while bringing a tightness and directness to their sound that reflects their exposure to hip-hop and grime.

Celebrating the legacy

As Phillip Clark argues in a recent article for the Guardian Wynton Marsalis-style tribute shows, which cast jazz as repertory music to be played from formal scores, can rob the music of its improvisatory spirit. But as he notes, not all tributes are like that, and a number of those at the EFG London Jazz Festival offer creative engagements with the tradition. Encompassing a workshop, concert and panel talk, Chicago-London Vibration – A Celebration of the AACM at 50 sees the inspirational multi-instrumentalist and composer Orphy Robinson gathering an array of talent to forge a British response to the vision of the Chicago-based arts organisation. Among those playing the event at Rich Mix on Saturday, November 14 are the great South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, John Edwards, Cleveland Watkiss, Byron Wallen and Jason Yarde.

Moholo-Moholo and Edwards also contribute to The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost, a concert and talk exploring the music of John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler. Conceived by Shabaka Hutchings, the event, which takes place at Brilliant Corners on Monday, November 16, also features his Sons of Kemet bandmate Tom Skinner and the brilliant pianist and tQ favourite Alexander Hawkins.

The September 2014 passing of the trumpeter and flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler robbed British music of one of its greats. Kenny Wheeler: An Evocation, held at Cadogan Hall on Thursday, November 19, celebrates his life and music with sets from some of his key collaborators, including Norma Winstone and Dave Holland, Evan Parker and guitarist Ralph Towner.

Another intriguing show is The Langston Hughes Project's 'Ask Your Mama' and '12 Moods for Jazz', featuring Ice-T and trumpeter Ron McCurdy. Taking place at the Barbican on Saturday, November 21, this multi-media event uses spoken word, a jazz quartet and video to realise the vision of the great Harlem Renaissance writer.

Outer limits

The London Jazz Festival has never been particularly avant-garde, but more outré pleasures are there for the taking, chief among them being the LUMEafternoon at the Barbican free stage on Saturday, November 14. It kicks off at noon with the duo of balletic Derby vibraphonist Corey Mwamba and the excellent saxophonist Rachel Musson, a regular collaborator with Alex Ward. They're followed by the full-bore sax and drums duo of Dead Neanderthals collaborat Colin Webster and Andrew Lisle. Check out their Live At Café Oto set with saxophonist John Dikeman and guitarist Dick Serries on Raw Tonk Records. The afternoon also includes sets by space jazz outfit Entropi, Cath Roberts' Sloth Racket and Tom Ward's chamber jazz ensemble Madwort's Menagerie.

Free improv event Mopomoso presents a special afternoon at Vortex on Sunday, November 15, featuring the vocals and electronics duo of Viv Corringham and Shaun Blezard, experimental guitarist Hannes Buder, the electro-acoustic trio Twinkle 3, and the duo of pianist Charlie Collins and percussionist Yoko Miura.

Working the electronics, Steve Beresford joins violinist Sakota Fukada at Ray's Jazz at Foyles on Tuesday, November 17.

Arabic jazz

Syrian saxophonist and composer Basel Rajoub brings his Soriana project to Rich Mix on Saturday, November 14. Joined by quanun virtuoso Feras Charestan, percussionist Andrea Piccioni and vocalist Lynn Adib, Rajoub's pieces explore the microtonal improvisations of Arabic music.

Fresh from the release of his latest album Ya Balad, French-Lebanese singer and pianist Bachar Mal-Kahlifé brings his innovative fusion of Arabic classical music, jazz and club music to Rich Mix on Thursday, November 19.

Jazz at the movies

If all that live music isn't enough, the Barbican cinema is holding a number of film screenings, including one of the first showings of Jaco, a new documentary on the fusion bassist Jaco Pastorious (Monday, November 16), Shirley Clark's 1963 portrait of gang life The Cool World, soundtracked by Dizzy Gillespie (Tuesday, 17). There are also chances to see Archie Shepp & Chris McGregor's Camden '81 (Saturday, 14), Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story (Saturday, 14) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Case of the Three-Sided Dream (Sunday, 15).

EFG London Jazz Festival runs across multiple London venues from November 13-22. For more details, click here