(Clore Ballroom, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Sat 17 Nov 2012. Review and Pictures by John L. Walters)
A highlight of the LJF's second weekend's was the free gig by Stonephace Stabbins, the five-piece, all-acoustic band that grew from Larry Stabbins' drum'n'bass-facing 2009 album Stonephace. What's remarkable is the way saxophonist Stabbins and principal collaborator, Mobo-winning pianist Zoe Rahman, have taken some of the more uncompromising aspects of jazz and made them accessible for a wide audience.
A visiting friend of a friend contrasted the wide age range of the Clore Ballroom audience, and the large number of women present with his local provincial jazz club, which was usually dominated by 50-something blokes (nothing wrong with them of course - salt of the earth).
Stabbins and Rahman have wrought a dynamic musical partnership - they first met playing in Jerry Dammers' Spatial AKA. Rahman is a forthright soloist and an imaginative cornerstone of the rhythm section: she puts her two-fisted stamp on the band while remaining completely within Stabbins' 'spiritual jazz' vision, which harks back both to the jazz dance revival of the 1980s, and the "new thing" of the late 1960s without sounding retro.
In a festival dominated by star piano soloists and trios, it's good to be reminded of the essential contribution that jazz pianists make as part of the band. (Laurence Hobgood, Kurt Elling's longstanding accompanist and arranger, is the not-so-secret weapon in the singer's albums and concerts, and a brilliant musician.)
Stonephace Stabbins' repertoire was mainly taken from Transcendental, with stirring and tuneful Stabbins originals such as Noetic and White Queen Psychology, plus Working Week and favourite, Soul Train.
The quintet plays a kind of fusion, but its splashy, loose-limbed texture seems like a (complementary) polar opposite to the ultra-tight, ultra-funky Snarky Puppy. They swing and groove to a different kind of pulse, and it is thrilling to hear LA percussion (played by Crispin "Spry" Robinson) used in such a free-flowing jazz context. The sound mix was spot on, too.
Stabbins was on splendid form, leading the band with tenor playing that was by turns explosive, abrasive, transcendentally melodic and magisterial.