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Traveling around Europe these days researching my next book has brought me to London town once again. The jazz scene is thriving here with a plethora of clubs and concerts and an impressive lineup for the upcoming London Jazz Festival.
Of course, the clubs put forth legions of U.K. musicians, but I'm detecting an interesting migration of international players who have made London their home and are working steadily. The migration parallels what exists in Gotham and doesn't appear to be losing any steam, a remarkable situation given that, arguably, London has been hit by the international recession as badly as any of the major cities.
One of the more intriguing venues is Steve Rubie's 606 Club at 90 Lots Rd. near the Thames. Both musicians that I interviewed and patrons that I conversed with had high praise for the room, which sports a modest music charge of 8 pounds during the week and 12 pounds on weekends. Rubie books a different group every night, and a few visits will bring jazz tourists up-to-date on the London scene.
I chose to catch Chico Chagas a multi-talented accordionist/pianist/ composer from Brazil, who featured tenorist Dave O'Higgins , a U.K. native, with his group. O'Higgins has appeared with Cleo Laine and John Dankworth, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles in a long career that has spawned 10 albums. Chagas played a selection of melodic ballads in the first set, which had gorgeous changes recalling the melodies of Hermeto Pascoal and Antonio Carlos Jobim. When I spoke with him between sets, he stated that those composers were indeed his principal mentors. O'Higgins read the Chagas' charts expertly, and the sound with U.K. guitarist John Parricelli and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adwale was compelling.
In the second set Chagas uncorked a cornucopia of up-tempo folk music that had the room roaring. The infectious rhythms of the halcyon days of Tropicalismo were unfurled, together with some carnival music from Recife in northeast Brazil. The latter provided a new chapter in the litany of disparate musics that I have heard from this nation. Unfortunately, according to Chagas and many other expatriate Brazilians interviewed in New York, the richness of tropicalismo of the 1960's and beyond is all but lost in Rio, Sao Paolo and other cities. The cacophonous commercial sounds that have replaced it have helped drive many of the nation's best musicians to foreign shores.
The following night Chagas invited me to Club Guanabara, but I couldn't make it and will get there another time.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.