Gig review – London Jazz Festival 2017

I thought I’d wrap up the remaining London Jazz Festival gigs I attended into one post, having already reviewed Tomasz Stanko’s magnificent band.  I try and see different types of bands during the festival and this year was no exception.

We kick off with Herbie Hancock at the Barbican (see photo above).  Hancock is a living legend.  At 77 years of age and with a recording career spanning over 50 years, you’d think Hancock might want to put his feet up. Luckily for us that’s not the case.  Surrounded by a top band including Terrace Martin (alto sax and keyboard), James Genus (bass) and Trevor Lawrence Jnr. (drums), Hancock was in exuberant form.  When he wasn’t busy pivoting between grand piano and his keyboard, Hancock clearly enjoyed moving centre stage, interacting with the audience, with or without keytar.  The gig felt very much like a show rather than a jazz gig, not least as Hancock got the audience on its feet, clapping along or singing his keytar licks back to him.  Some classics were served up too: Watermelon Man, Chameleon, and Actual Proof.  Hancock obviously put these individuals together for a reason: to achieve a more contemporary sound.  Terrace Martin was largely responsible for the latter, bringing with him sounds that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Snoop Dogg or Kendrick Lamarr records he’s produced.  While I would have preferred an acoustic set, I thoroughly enjoyed what was served up, vocoder and all!

Next up was a double bill of Now vs Now (led by Jason Lindner) and Kneebody (pictured above) at Rich Mix in London’s East End.  Now vs Now was the main attraction for me.  I saw Jason Lindner play with Donny McCaslin’s band the year before (reviewed in these pages, dear reader) and was blown away.  So when the opportunity arrived to see his own band, I jumped at it.  Now vs Now is a trio consisting of Lindner (keys), Panagiotis Andreou (bass) and Justin Tyson (drums).  I wouldn’t call what they play jazz; more contemporary electronic music, but the latter has its place at the festival (for what exactly is ‘jazz’?).  I’m not too familiar with Now vs Now and they played mostly songs from their forthcoming album that’s due in 2018.  So writing this blog a few days after the gig, I struggle to think of any of the tunes the band played.  However, throughout the time that they played I was reminded of bands like Orbital and Aphex Twin and I did think to myself that I’d check out the album once it came out.  The highlight for me was Justin Tyson’s drum solo, a drum’n’bass inspired solo, which sounded almost impossible for a human to perform.

Going into the gig I was expecting to enjoy Now vs Now more than Kneebody.  In fact, it was the other way around.  Kneebody play a combination of jazz, funk, electronic and rock music and their line up includes a cast who’ve played with the likes of John Legend, Bruno Mars, De la Soul, and Snoop Dogg.  So they’ve got good form and know how to write a catchy riff, like Uprising, a Trump-inspired tune off of the band’s out their latest album, Anti-Hero.  The set consisted of most of the tunes off Anti-Hero and I’ve been giving it a good listen since and recommend it to you.

It’s one of the regrettable things in live music that, generally speaking, the bigger the musician gets, the larger and less intimate the venue they play in.  In this respect Rich Mix is a great place to see live music, allowing the audience to get up close with the band (see the photo above).  I expect to be there this time next year for more jazz, if not before.

My final gig of London Jazz Festival was Stefano Bollani’s band at Cadogan Hall.  I first heard of Bollani in 2015 when his album Joy in Spite of Everything was released on the ECM label.  Having enjoyed the album I thought I’d check him out.  Bollani kicked off with a solo piano piece which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in a Giuseppe Tornatore movie.  He was then joined on stage by Daniele Sepe (tenor sax), Nico Gori (clarinet) and Bernardo Guerra (drums).  Most of the evening’s music was from Bollani’s 2016 album Napoli Trip, inspired by the folk music and composers of Napoli/Naples.  I didn’t know this album but I want to become more familiar with it as what I heard throughout the evening was a perfect and charming blend of jazz, classical and folk music.  Check out the video below which gives you a sense of what you would have heard.

What I hadn’t expected was the theatricality and fun of the evening.  At one point Bollani and Gori played a duet, with Gori turning the pages of Bollani’s music, in what could only be described as a comedy sketch.  One page was seemingly the theme to Jesus Christ Superstar!  The band all started moaning at one point (feigning back pain), in what I understood to be a poke at Keith Jarrett and his moaning at the piano.  I may have been right here as at a later point in the gig, Sepe spoke to the audience about how jazz had changed over the years, from a dance hall music to often a serious music where silence is a necessity and cameras are forbidden (Keith Jarrett was referred to here, so I think I might have got it right earlier!).  In my view, there’s a place for both.

To conclude a wonderful evening, Bollani asked the audience (half of which appeared to be Italian) to name some songs which he’d then turn into a medley for his encore.  What we then got was a medley of Air on a G string, Yellow Submarine, Volare, Space Oddity and many more.  Bollani’s clearly an impressive musician; you only have to look and listen to his discography which spans jazz, classical and much more besides.  As far as I understand it he also appears to be well known throughout Italy (a rarity for a jazz musician anywhere these days) and with his musicality and warmth of personality I can see why.  If you get the opportunity to see Bollani live, I’d recommend it highly.