London Jazz Festival: November 9-18, 2012
Norma Winstone's voice made a cold November night ten degrees warmer on Tuesday evening at St. James's church in Piccadilly. Despite the curious acoustics, Winstone was totally on song and this trio, with Glauco Venier on piano and Klaus Gesing on reeds, is her finest vehicle since Azimuth. Winstone has reached a level few singers achieve. Voice, lyrics and music combined seamlessly in what was truly a trio of equals. Songs such as the gorgeous "Rush" and elegiac "Here Comes the Flood," from the group's two ECM Records CDs, vied for attention with a new setting of saxophonist John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and a transcendent take on singer/songwriter Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talking." Simply divine.
Composer and arranger Graham Collier's music was celebrated at the BBC Maida Vale studios on the Wednesday by the BBC Big Band led by Geoff Warren and featuring Collier alumni like saxophonist Art Themen, keyboardist Roger Dean, drummer John Marshall, trumpeter Steve Waterman and guitarist Ed Speight. The main event featured Collier's The Blue Suite, inspired by trumpeter Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959), but re-imagined with perhaps a hint of Webern. The music was both beautiful and articulate, despite a sense that something or rather someone was missing from the occasion. Thursday night saw a complete contrast and one of the most purely enjoyable affairs of the festival with singer Gwyneth Herbert's Peggy Lee Tribute with bassist Alyn Shipton's Buck Clayton Legacy Band playing the Arts Depot in Finchley. It was great funa collection of great songs associated with Lee, including a marvelous "Is That All There Is?," delivered with love and joy.
The final weekend at the Southbank was largely devoted to British jazz of the sixties. Saturday afternoon, pianist Michael Garrick's two sonstrumpeter Gabriel Garrick and violinist Chris Garrick paid tribute to their father's huge catalogue of jazz tunes. Garrick associates Art Themen and bassist Dave Green played superbly, but vibraphonist Jim Hart came close to stealing the show, whilst poet Jeremy RobsonGarrick's poetry and jazz confrèreread two poems that recalled more optimistic, if still troubled times. Later that night, pianist Peter Edwards led the Nu Civilisation Orchestra through saxophonist Joe Harriott's albums Free Form (Jazzland, 1960) and Abstract (Capitol, 1962), once more revealing the soul and mind of the musical poet who had conceived them.
Sunday evening saw trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and his big band, featuring Norma Winstone, guitarist John Parricelli and saxophonist Evan Parker, performing tunes from his acclaimed The Long Waiting (CAM Jazz, 2012). It was a testimony to the longevity of creativity that Wheeler embodies. From 1969 and his first album Windmill Tilter (Fontana) to this latest CD, the sheer eloquence and elegance of Wheeler's compositions is matched only by that of his trumpet and flugelhorn playing, and drew the very best performances from his soloists, including here the under-sung Australian altoist Ray Warleigh.
But the highlight of the festival could only be saxophonist/clarinetist John Surman's Lifelines, a collaboration with the Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir. To some, the idea of a work that combined piano, saxophone and voices might seem strange but anyone who knows Surman's work would guess that if anyone could pull it off it would be he. The choir was magnificent, combining to perfection with Surman and pianist Howard Moody, but it was the stories told by Lifelines that truly gripped the attention and imagination: stories of industry and empire, of transformation and unfulfilled promise. Could this be Surman's next CD? Maybe. Should it be? Definitely.