Music blog London jazz festival London jazz festival: this year's must-see gigs
Singer Zara McFarlane, the festival’s director, and our jazz critic choose their five unmissable concerts from this year’s festival, which begins on 10 November
Singer Zara McFarlane’s picks
Basquiat and Jazz, featuring Black Top with Orphy Robinson
I am looking forward to hearing Orphy’s musical response to Basquiat’s work. I was really moved by the Barbican exhibition – Basquiat was so influenced by free jazz and improvisation. This gig is a fitting tribute: jazz musicians reinterpret Basquiat’s ideas, creating a kind of “call and response”. Expect top-class jazz improvisation from this great band and spoken-word performances from artist Anthony Joseph.
• At LSO St Lukes on 10 November.
The festival is a great place to catch legendary international artists. The spotlight has been back on South African jazz recently – in many ways the scene there mirrors what has been happening here, with loads of new bands coming through. Abdullah Ibrahim, though, is one of the all-time greats. This gig will showcase music written by him and another South African legend, Hugh Masekela, who I have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with.
• At Royal Festival Hall on 14 November.
Camilla George Quartet
Got to shout out my girl! Like me, Camilla came through Tomorrow’s Warriors and Jazz Jamaica. She’s an amazing alto-saxophonist backed by a top band that includes Dan Casimir and Femi Koleoso from Ezra Collective. That’s the way with this scene – everyone playing in lots of different bands. Catch Camilla’s show in a small venue before she blows up!
• At Spice of Life on 17 November.
Ezra Collective and Kokoroko
Make sure you’ve got your dancing shoes ready for this gig. Ezra Collective are an exciting new London band of incredible jazz musicians led by Femi Koleoso. Fusing Afrobeat, reggae and hip-hop, their infectious beats will have you on your feet from the word go. Afrobeat outfit Kokoroko are supporting them. Led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and with an all-female horn section, expect Fela Kuti- and Ebo Taylor-influenced goodness and serious grooving performed by other rising London jazz musicians.
• At Islington Assembly Hall on 19 November.
The Floacist presents Maisha and Triforce
This will be spiritual! Sometimes you have to go a little off the beaten track to get the good stuff. I love what Natalie “Floacist” Stewart did with Floetry – great to see her supporting up and coming artists. I also only recently discovered Maisha, led by the brilliant young drummer Jake Long after he did a session with me for 6 Music. Think spiritual jazz meets west African Afrobeat. The talented saxophonist Nubya Garcia also plays with them. Lastly, Triforce mix jazz-fusion, hip-hop and neo-soul. Another young band making waves – they had a release on Jazz Refreshed last year. Their guitarist, Mansur Brown, who was in Yussef Kamaal’s live band, is outstanding.
• At Stanley Halls on 16 November.
Zara McFarlane performs at Rich Mix on 15 November.
Festival director John Cumming’s picks
Zakir Hussain – Crosscurrents
This is the only European performance of a collaboration that has been touring the US to great acclaim. The tabla virtuoso explores how jazz influenced the popular music of India from the 1930s, and is joined by a group that includes Indian artists who embraced jazz in the 50s alongside stellar soloists Dave Holland and Chris Potter.
• At the Barbican on 11 November.
Led Bib, Schnellertollermeier and WorldService Project
If you want a snapshot of where one strand of today’s European jazz is heading, look no further – these three bands display an energy and attitude that runs from heavy rock-infused grooves to headlong free improv. It’s one of a run of shows at Rich Mix that explore the breadth of music from today’s jazz generation.
• At Rich Mix on 12 November.
Justin Kauflin Trio, Airelle Besson and Vincent Segal
An acoustic double bill in one of the world’s great chamber music venues. Kauflin’s command of the jazz piano tradition is the hallmark of a massively talented newcomer, while the lustrous tones of the French trumpet and cello duo created a delicately poised opening set.
• At Wigmore Hall on 16 November.
Thelonious Monk at 100
The festival’s celebration of a jazz genius includes a three-part exploration of all the songs Monk ever wrote, curated with love and affection by pianist Jonathan Gee and saxophonist Tony Kofi. The icing on the cake is veteran Charles Tolliver’s re-creation of Monk’s landmark 1959 Town Hall concert – which he attended as a teenager. (At Cadogan Hall, all day on 19 November.) The night before is Monk Misterioso – Theatralia’s exploration of Monk’s world, probing the mysterious silence of his last seven years (at Kings Place on 18 November). Then there’s a rare screening of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with a Monk score that has been released for the first time this year. (At Barbican Cinema on 11 November.)
Jaga Jazzist and Sinikka Langeland
The climax of a day of events at the Royal Festival Hall that celebrates the extraordinary range of music emerging from the Scandinavian jazz scene. Norway’s Jaga Jazzist are a fascinating musical law unto themselves, while Sinikka Langeland plays the music from one of last year’s signature ECM releases, with Arve Henriksen and Trio Mediæval in the ensemble. Through the day, the wonderful Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur brings her exuberant all-female Shamania to the free stage, alongside award-winning Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and Sweden’s Tolvan Big Band.
• At Royal Festival Hall on 19 November.
Jazz critic John Fordham’s picks
Michael Wollny, Andreas Schaerer, Vincent Peirani and Émile Parisien, with Adam Bałdych and the Helge Lien Trio
This newly minted European supergroup joins star pianist Wollny, the accessibly experimental singer Schaerer, accordionist Peirani and the capricious Ornette Coleman-inspired saxophonist Parisien. They share this ACT Records double bill with violinist Bałdych’s group, who splice jazz with Polish and Norwegian folk music.
• At Cadogan Hall on 11 November.
Phronesis and Engines Orchestra
Since 2009, English/Danish/Austrian trio Phronesis have increasingly fused virtuosic genre-hopping with a rock-blasting energy worthy of the late Esbjörn Svensson Trio. They share the bill with the ambitious jazz-classical Engines Orchestra, applying jazz and improv to the rich-textured, rhythmically devious Decade Zero, written for them by the contemporary classical composer Dave Maric.
• At Milton Court on 12 November.
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
New York-based Canadian jazz composer Darcy James Argue leads one of the most innovative and exciting big bands in contemporary jazz, and opportunities to hear him in the UK are rare. Argue is steeped in an orchestral jazz tradition that includes Gil Evans and Mike Gibbs, but his rhythm sections have a pop and rock power, his melodies are edgy and his themes often pungently political – such as the music from their Grammy-nominated 2016 work, Real Enemies, which is the focus of this show.
• At Kings Place on 17 November.
The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda and Pharoah Sanders’ Concert for Alice and John Coltrane
Contrasting but complementary shows reflecting the enduring legacy of jazz and world music’s legendary Coltrane couple – in the spacious, devotional music of pianist/composer Alice Coltrane (performed twice at LSO St Luke’s by a choir from her California ashram). In the evening the stormy, rapturous free-jazz of John Coltrane will be celebrated by his former bandmate and fellow saxist Pharoah Sanders.
• At LSO St Luke’s at 11.30am and 5.30pm on 18 November; at the Barbican on 18 November.
Joe Zawinul’s Stories of the Danube, Terence Blanchard and the BBC Concert Orchestra
The late Joe Zawinul, co-founder of fusion pioneers Weather Report, remains a towering influence in contemporary jazz. This closing-night double bill marks that legacy with the Austrian jazz master’s Stories of the Danube, played by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Kristjan Järvi. The orchestra also performs star trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard’s newly commissioned piece Herbie Hancock: By Himself, with Blanchard in the solo role.
• At the Barbican on 19 November.
•The EFG London jazz festival runs from 10 to 19 November in venues around London.
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