La Linea Festival
(Various London Venues. 3rd April-2nd May2014. Report and photographs by John L Walters)
As promoter Andy Wood pointed out as he introduced the bands at Koko, his La Linea festival coincides with the onset of hay fever. Though there are undoubtedly a few within the World Music cognoscenti who claim allergies to ‘jazz’ or ‘world-jazz’, it is hard to imagine the broadly ‘Latin’ music in the three gigs I witnessed stirring mind and body without a strong dose of jazz spirit.
|Ed Motta at the Union Chapel, April 2014|
Photo credit: John L Walters
Ed Motta (above) is a case in point. Motta’s omnivorous appetite for all kinds of music includes a deep understanding of jazz. For the 7 April performance, pianist Matti Klein took advantage of his bandleader’s immaculate pop-funk material to deliver a couple of two-fisted piano solos pitched somewhere between Victor Feldman and McCoy Tyner. (I reviewed his Ronnie Scott’s gig on this very site last October.)
Motta’s ultra-sharp ensemble sound suffered a little from the lofty acoustic space of the Union Chapel (which seems better suited to more acoustic outfits such as Penguin Café), but his genial personality shone through as he discussed the merits of Magnum P.I. over Knight Rider, and bemoaned the fact that he could never sport the Magnum look – mullet and tight jeans. One long vocal cadenza had a touch of Bobby McFerrin, and guitarist Jean-Paul Maunick – Bluey of Incognito – came on stage to jam with Motta on the hustling ‘Drive Me Crazy’.
Daniel Melingo is a tango bard with a Chaplinesque persona, leading his note-perfect band through a series of vignettes with pathos, drama and wit. Pianist Pedro Ornetto has a delicious neuvo-tango touch, sometimes reaching inside the piano to pluck the strings, while multi-instrumentalist Muhammad Habbibi has an ear for unusual timbres, including a highly melodic use of the bowed musical saw. On guitar, Habbibi has a quiet authority and control that suggests he’s listened to (and learned from) Bill Frisell. The show belongs to Melingo, however, who’s a star – both self-mocking and proud. As an Argentine friend noted, ‘you can’t get more porteño than Melingo’. Their Purcell Room date was on 6 April.
|Luzmira Zerpa. La Linea Festival 2014|
Photo Credit: John L Walters
In Koko (the venue I remember as the Music Machine) the 8 April gig began imaginatively with the movie Nosotros, La Música (1964), a black & white documentary about Cuban music, which put everyone in a good frame of mind for support band Family Atlantica, led by extravagantly attired vocalist Luzmira Zerpa (above).
|Cherif Soumano, La Linea Festival 2014|
Photo credit: John L Walters
Headliner Roberto Fonseca performed with a terrific quintet: Cherif Soumano on kora and tama; bassist Yandi Martínez; drummer Ramsés Rodríguez; and percussionist/vocalist Joel Hierrezuelo / Cuban. After paying his dues in Cuba, Fonseca found international fame when he replaced the late Ruben Gonzalez in the band of Ibrahim Ferrer, later co-producing Ferrer’s swan song Mi Sueño.
Blessed with a phenomenal piano technique, Fonseca has a talent for unselfconscious fusion, bringing together the naturally occurring montunos of Cuban dance music with exhilarating, two-fisted pianism. But the inclusion of Soumano’s well mixed kora pushes his band into fresh sonic pastures. Their live arrangement of ‘Bibisi’ (from Fonseca’s excellent album Yo) puts West Africa back into Afro-Cuban music and vice-versa, while Fonseca’s rollicking ‘80s’ is a quirky reminder of 1980s pop’s deep jazz-funk roots.
There is one more gig remaining in the 2014 La Linea Festival: Friday 2 May - Grupo Niche + DJs Johnny G, Julian Mr M & Fercho KBson - Electric Brixton