Gig review – London Jazz Festival

Since seeing The Bad Plus, I’ve been busy checking out other acts under the banner of the London Jazz Festival.

Donny McCaslin quartet

Donny McCaslin’s quartet has become well known as the band that David Bowie hand-picked for his Blackstar album, having seen the band perform in his Greenwich Village neighborhood.  The band, led by McCaslin on tenor sax also features Jason Lindner on keyboards, Mark Guiliana on drums, and Tim Lefebvre on bass.  For McCaslin’s gig at Rich Mix he was without Lefebvre, with Jonathon Maron stepping in.  The gig featured a number of tunes off McCaslin’s latest album, Beyond Now.  I hadn’t especially enjoyed the album on the first couple of listens so I wasn’t entirely sure what the gig would be like.  I needn’t have worried.  The gig was outstanding: McCaslin himself was inspired and Jason Lindner was a revelation, creating an array of soundscapes from scratch.  One of the evening’s numerous highlights was the band’s soulful rendition of Lazarus, a track off Blackstar and the name of Bowie’s musical.  Other highlights included Fast Future, Shake Loose and Beyond Now, the last two off the new album, compelling me to reappraise the album.  The band’s cover version of Bowie’s Warszawa, also on the new album, has similarly compelled me to revisit Bowie’s 1977 album Low.  If you ever get the opportunity to see this band, seize it.

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One of my favourite tracks of 2016 is Barbara Allen, a version of the well known folk song by Geri Allen (piano), David Murray (tenor sax) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums) on their fine 2016 album Perfection.  The track features an absolutely sublime solo by Allen, whose mother was called Barbara Allen.  It was with high expectations, therefore, that I went to the trio’s gig at Cadogan Hall.  My expectations, regrettably, weren’t met, the reverse of my experience with Donny McCaslin’s band.  Some fine performances were delivered, including D-Special (which featured Murray on bass clarinet), For Fr. Peter O’brien, and The David, Geri & Terri Show.  However, for my taste Carrington’s drums were far too intrusive, and Murray’s solos too far out, which as I now understand it is par for the course, given his free jazz and avant-garde leanings.

The surprise of the evening was the support act, an all-female septet called Nérija.  The London-based band played a number of memorable, self-penned tunes, with each band member and soloist rising to the occasion, especially the trumpet player, Sheila Maurice-Grey.  Surely a band to keep an eye on.