London Jazz Festival 2008
The lines between jazz and hip-hop have been frequently blurred in recent years, by all manner of artists from saxophonist Greg Osbyto the incendiary Youngblood Brass Band. No one, however, has been more effective than Glasper in exploring the crossover through a piano trio format. A relative newcomer on the international circuit, the Texan differs from many musicians who have dabbled with this potent fusion in that his music is genuinely rooted in jazz and hip-hop as equal partnersrather than simply jazz from a hip-hop angle, or vice versa. For this outing Glasper was joined by Alan Hampton on bass and phenomenal drummer Chris Dave, the band's indisputable engine. Beat-heads were out in force, uttering whoops of joy at Dave's peppery rhythms, lightning fills and fearsomely fiery breaks. His sense of timing is wickedly skewed in the best possible way, the perfect complement to Glasper's rippling, undulating chordal style. The pianist is a player of unrivalled fluidity and superior harmonic nous, but his vamps sometimes became overly cyclical and the music a touch directionless. Yet Dave and Hampton always managed to keep things movingthe essence of the trio is perhaps more about soaking up the grooves than any individual leading the way.
To this writer's delight, it seems Mr. Hancock may have read the review posted on AAJ of his performance at the 2008 North Sea Jazz Festival. In short, it was a less-than-innovative stroll through a funk songbook largely of the Headhunters idiom, which, despite the classic nature of the tunes and excellent delivery, was disappointing in its familiarity. This show, on the other hand, was much more excitingHancock explored some different material at greater length, aided by a stellar band featuring Terence Blanchard(trumpet), Gregoire Maret (harmonica), Lionel Loueke (guitar), Kendrick Scott (drums) and James Genus (bass). The musicians seemed to gel more meaningfully than an almost completely different group in Rotterdam, with Genus and Scott locked together solidly and Loueke in inspired form. They played for nearly three hours. Blanchard was an imperious presence on every solo, strutting the stage and employing delay and chorus effects for added wow. It's an increasingly rare delight to find him on the road with other leaders, as he is often occupied with teaching and film score gigs. The Swiss Maret had his moments, but looked a little out of depth next to the plethora of highly experienced players. Of course Hancock had to throw in a couple of old standards "Cantaloupe Island," "Actual Proof" and "Chameleon" as an encore (with obligatory keytar jamboree)but long, twisted, epic adventures through "Speak Like a Child" and Wayne Shorter's "Visitor" ceded together, and a stirring rendition of Loueke's convoluted "17s," more than compensated.
N.B. Highlights from this concert are being broadcast by BBC Radio Monday 3, December 8, 2008 and will be available for seven days online at www.bbc.co.uk/radio3.
Matthew Herbert Big Band
Royal Festival Hall
Matthew Herbert has created a musical monster. With five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass, drums, lead vocalist, more than 60 backing singers (exclusively for this gig), a musical director and the man himself on electronic wizardry, this a summative depiction of contemporary jazz on a grand scale. It is also a beast which obeys its every command, capable of filling any setting with euphoric uproar. Sadly the Festival Hall engineering crew did not match the band's standardit came through the system flat, cramped and unbalanced in a venue that should do better. After a slow start, featuring a couple of forgettable pop-ish meanderings, things really took off with powerful vocalist Eska leading the effort; although often burdened with slightly mundane and repetitive lyrics, she was never lacking style in delivery, admirably making the most of what she was given. One of the most enjoyable moments was a delightedly choreographed tune that featured almost all performers on stage tearing up copies of a low-reputation national newspaper in tandem. Here and in other instances, Herbert's crafty live sampling skills were a lesson in ruthless accuracy. The audience went home very happy, but, in purely technical terms, this ferocious band could have sounded a lot happier.