Peter Slavid writes about the free events of the first Weekend of the 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival
It is pretty much inevitable that during the EFG London Jazz Festival most professional journalists and even amateur ones will head towards the concert halls, big names and the events that look most interesting.
The rest of us often end up at smaller, or free gigs which never get reviewed at all. And yet these often yield up the big surprises - and the first weekend of this year’s festival was no exception.
So my festival started on the first Friday in the bar of the Festival Hall with a fine set from Nick Smart’s Anglo-Cuban band Trogon – great fun, but much more of an improvising band than that Anglo-Cuban label usually implies.
Then on Saturday in the Front Room free stage with an afternoon from the F-IRE Collective. I have to declare an interest – I have been involved with the collective for the last 8 years, I organised the gig, so I obviously can’t review it objectively. We had set up three interesting duos for the afternoon (Jonathan Bratoeff on Guitar with Andrea diBiase on bass; Zac Gva on piano and Fred Thomas on drums; Jonny Phillips on guitar and Dorian Ford on piano). The crowd of around 150-200 listened intently and seemed to enjoy it all, and I thought it was a fine afternoon of intelligent music. In the intervals I managed to get a quick look in the Clore Boardroom at both Dainius Pulauskas and Benet McLean – and some great tracks played by Kevin Legendre.
On Sunday I went to see four young big-bands under the label of “next generation takes over”, this time taking up residence in the Clore Ballroom. First up was the Royal College of Music playing film tunes. Fairly conventional swing and big band arrangements, tightly played, but not really my thing. Then came my big surprise of the festival, the Aldeburgh Young Musicians’ Exchanging Worlds Ensemble who delivered a fiercely individual and highly improvised set of original material – terrific stuff and I’d love to see more of this band – and hear a recording.
After that the Trinity Laban Contemporary Jazz Ensemble felt a bit tame, although objectively it was much better than that. Finally came Reuben Fowler’s big band full of exciting young musicians. High quality playing and tight arrangements – an amazing achievement from someone so young although I’d like to see a bit more imagination in the compositions - which I’m sure will get more innovative as he develops.
Finally I saw the sparkling 21 – a 21 minute commission by the festival to celebrate their 21st anniversary – composed and performed by Chris Sharkey with his exciting new band Shiver. Fierce rock orientated jazz with all sorts of surprise melodies threaded through the piece – another one that needs recording!
So a weekend with two brilliant bands I had never heard before; several highly competent bands with interesting young musicians; a couple of sets that weren’t to my taste – that’s just the mix I look for at a festival. And that was just the first weekend.