Archive for Gig reviews

Gig review – Beach House, 17 October 2018

This gig was a double first for me.  The first time I’d been to Troxy and the first time I’d seen Beach House.  Troxy is a Grade II listed building in London’s east end.  Opening in 1933 the building originally saw use as a cinema, the largest cinema in England at the time.  Its reincarnation as a venue for live music happened in 2006 and to this day Troxy continues to exhibit its Art Deco charm.  Holding over 3,000 people, Beach House packed out the venue for two nights running.

Beach House is a dream pop duo consisting of vocalist / keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally.  Formed in 2004 in Baltimore the duo have released seven albums, and were in town (with a drummer added to the line-up) to promote their latest, 7.

As you’d expect the set consisted mainly of tunes from 7.  While 7 has some great tunes – Dark Spring, Lemon Glow, Woo – there were to my mind a number of average tunes on the album.  Hearing them live however mostly shifted my opinion and I found that the live setting added up to the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.  The band also played some of their back catalogue including Myth from 2012’s Bloom album, a favourite it seemed of most of the audience including me.

Here’s a short clip of the band in action:

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Beach House are certainly a band worth seeing live.  Their dreamy soundscape seemed to wash over the venue and everyone in it.  My only regret was that the sound generally remained the same throughout the gig.  Victoria Legrand has a great voice and it would have been wonderful to hear her sing without her voice being embedded within a dense wave of sound, though that’s a minor quibble.  I’d recommend anyone catching the band so look out for them when they’re next in town, maybe promoting 8!

Gig review – Wynton Marsalis quartet, 19 June 2018

One of the so-called “young lions” of jazz in the 1980s, Wynton Marsalis has carved out a name for himself in jazz and classical circles.  He’s the artistic director and the leader of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  Lauded for his technical prowess on the trumpet, I was expecting Marsalis to be a larger than life character when I saw his quartet play at London’s Barbican centre, which, according to the gig’s announcer, has been a long time coming.

Marsalis was joined by younger brother Jason on drums, Dan Nimmer on piano, and British talent Mark Lewandowski on bass.  Despite its size, the four musicians occupied a small and intimate section of the stage, which lent a certain charm to the gig.  Added to this was the choice of material.  Marsalis and his band served up some oldies, some of which I didn’t know – Goodbye (Gordon Jenkins, 1935), After You’ve Gone (Creamer and Layton, 1918) – and some which I did – Stardust (Hoagy Carmichael, 1927) and Ramblin’ (Ornette Coleman, 1959).  The best way I can describe the band and its music is natural.  Nothing was forced or out of place and every note seemed right. This was jazz at the highest level.  There is a certain thing that happens when you see players of the highest calibre; they make it look easy.  It’s only when you sit behind the piano (or whatever your choice of weapon) the next day when you appreciate that it takes a lot to look easy.

Marsalis lived up to all of my expectations, his playing and otherwise.  He reminiscences of Ornette Coleman and others kept the audience enrapt, as did his ventures out into the stalls. The gig felt like a real event rather than just another gig and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for when Marsalis next visits these shores.

Gig review – Cigarettes After Sex, 24 May 2018

With a name like Cigarettes After Sex you’d expect to see a bunch of greasy-haired and long-in-the-tooth rockers.  This couldn’t be further from reality.  CAS, which formed in Texas in 2008 and are now Brooklyn-based, describe their music as ‘ambient pop’, though it’s probably closer to ‘ambient rock’ were I to be so picky.  The group came to prominence, as much as an ambient band can, in 2015 on the release of their Affection EP, which included their cover of REO Speedwagon’s Keep on Loving You.  Their tune, Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby, which featured in the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, and has a classic feel to it that makes you think it’s been around since the 60’s, couldn’t have done any harm either in raising their profile.

The band were holding court in London’s Brixton (or ‘O2’) Academy, which holds just under 5,000 people.  The gig was sold out so I guess there were around that many at the gig.  The vast majority of the set was made up by those tunes from their eponymous 2017 debut album, their only album to date.  In fact, I think they played all of the tunes on that album, alongside others including Affection, Nothing’s Gonna…, Keep on Loving You, and a new tune.  The band stuck closely to the recorded versions of each tune, which was a bit of a shame given the potential to do something a bit different with each, though perhaps my slight disappointment is due to the jazzer inside of me!

The band revolves around Greg Gonzalez, the band’s founder, and singer/guitarist.  It’s his quiet, ethereal vocals and chiming guitar chords that give the band its dreamy, somnambulant sound; a sound, which is perhaps better suited to a more intimate venue that Brixton Academy, even once the sounds guys got the mix right (the vocals were too low in the mix and the bass was too boomy).  Nevertheless, it was great to hear live one of my favourite albums of 2017.  The highlight of the evening was the encore, Apocalypse (‘your lips, my lips, apocalypse’), the standout track off their album and a clear fan favourite.  Here’s a brief video that I shot…

Cigarettes After Sex (click on the icon once you’re on the next page)

CAS are definitely worth checking out if you’ve not seen or heard them before.  You won’t be disappointed.

Gig review – Chris Potter’s Underground, 13 March 2018

Looking back at my gig reviews, I noticed that it’s been a few months since my last gig.  My recent visit, however, to Ronnie Scott’s jazz club to see Chris Potter’s Underground sees the belated start to my 2018 campaign.  I’ve already a few in the diary, including The Cure, Wynton Marsalis, Harold Budd, and Cigarettes After Sex, so there’ll be plenty more to come in terms of gig reviews.

I’ve a few Chris Potter albums, mainly, I admit, because of the company he keeps.  His albums feature top pianists/keyboard players, including the likes of Craig Taborn, Kevin Hays, and David Virelles.  As a pianist I’m always going to be interested in what my fellow instrumentalists are up to.  Chris Potter is equally revered, especially by saxophonists, and has garnered numerous plaudits over his career.  So it wasn’t a hard decision when invited to go along and see his band play.  My only reservation was that the quartet didn’t include a keyboard player.  The quartet was completed by Adam Rogers (guitar), Fima Ephron (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums).  As you’d expect, they’re all top players in their own right.

Potter didn’t appear to be much of a talker (if this gig was anything to go by), letting his horn do it for him.  The set was varied with the band serving up a fusion of jazz, blues, funk and rock.  I can’t recall most of the names of the tunes played but can tell you that they played The Dreamer is the Dream, the title track of Potter’s 2017 album, and The Wheel, from Potter’s 2006 album underground, the closing tune of the evening.

What most of the tunes had in common was groove. Dan Weiss (who was for me the star of the evening) and Fima Ephron looked after the groove, taking you on all sorts of interesting rhythmic journeys but always dropping you off in the right place at the right time.  Potter was a never-ending fountain of creativity and invention. His ability to conjure so many interesting ideas within the space of a tune, while not trading this for musicality is why he’s so revered.  Rogers sounded slightly schizophrenic on guitar, his solos often alternating between chordal lines and flurries of bebop lines.  For my money, the band got better as the night went on but was at its best on the slower, more sparse Dreamer is the Dream.

For all this, I found myself disengaged with the music on a basic emotional level.  I appreciated the musicality but just didn’t warm to what was served up.  I should note that the audience as a whole certainly enjoyed the experience, as did my companion, so I’ll put this down to personal preference.

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.