Monthly Archives: October 2007

Charlie Haden Quartet West plus Gwilym Simcock Band at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Considering it was the opening night of the London Jazz Festival, there was certainly a degree of irony in Gwilym Simcock’s choice to begin his set with a song entitled ‘A Typical Affair’.  For the launch of his much anticipated debut album, Perception, the dexterous pianist gathered together a talented group to play a set full of pop-laced foot tapers and poignant ballads.

Simcock may be an artist of the here and now, but Charlie Haden’s Quartet West was able to transport you back to a world of uncompromising cool, where Bogart style detectives spent their time chain smoking and cracking down on the debauched illegalities of LA’s sinister underworld.

Inspired by the mood of 1940s film noir, the band utilised contrasting shadows and tones, both musically and visually.  By shifting from the jollity of ‘Childs Play’, a melodious calypso that wouldn’t have been out of place at the most sun-drenched Californian beach party, to ‘Song for Ruth’, a lament haunting enough for even the most deadly femme fatal, Quartet West demonstrated a dramatic range that was completely attuned to its initial cinematic impetus.

Grammy award winning tenorman Ernie Watts was a passionate and diverse player, adopting a muscular approach throughout a blistering version of Charlie Parker’s bebop standard ‘Passport’.  In contrast, there was an air of nostalgic romanticism about his tender solos on ‘Hello My Lovely’.

A highlight of the gig saw Haden revisit his early Hillcrest Club days with Ornette Coleman.  The incredible version of ‘Lonely Woman’ (The Shape of Jazz to Come, 1959) saw pianist Alan Broadbent’s playing open up into a much freer, discordant style. Haden worked with drummer Rodney Green to create polyrhythmic textures and set harmonic counterpoints to Watts’ vigorous, almost Ayleresque, explorations.

If it’s true what they say, and in Hollywood you’re only as good as your last movie, then Charlie Haden’s got a blockbuster on his hands.  I look forward to the sequel.

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Courtney Pine and The Jazz Warriors at The Barbican

Considered by many as a father-figure in the British jazz scene, Courtney Pine has spent the last three decades building up the reputation of a man with real integrity, both musically and socially.  Therefore, it came as no surprise to hear that he had conceptualised a project commemorating the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade this month.

“I am here to help you solve some of your problems with slaves” boomed an ominous voice around the Barbican Hall.  These sobering words, taken from a 1712 pro-slavery pamphlet, acted as an immediate reminder that the evening’s entertainment had a purpose.  As part of a short film screened before the performance, the reading did a great job of contextualising the new compositions premiered. 

Typical of Pine, the event struck a positive balance between remembering the stark realities of slavery and a celebration of the achievements made by blacks since its eradication.  By amassing a selection of his fresh-faced protégés for the event, Pine was able to demonstrate his faith in the black youth of today. 

The cultivation of up and coming musicians has always been a cause worth investing in for Pine.  However, as a huge sign of respect and approval the evening’s collective was adorned with the Jazz Warriors label, something which has rarely done since Pine emerging on the scene in the ‘80s. 

Although there was a definite lack of years amongst the musicians, there was by no means a shortage of maturity.  Inclusively, the members of the Warriors had a fresh approach to jazz and under Pine’s qualified guidance, each soloist’s diversity and talent shone through.

The majority of the compositions had a decidedly serious edge to them and backed with visuals of slaves picking cotton or American civil rights protesters being attacked by white supremacist police officers, it was hard to miss the point.  Titles such as, Black Flag, Soldier and Crossing the Sands gave a definite weight to the politically charged arrangements.

Largely though, the success of the evening was due to Pine’s celebratory approach to black achievements over the last 200 years.  Reinforced with a slide show of prominent black Britons from Moira Stuart to Lenox Lewis, the compositions took on an uplifting feeling that reflects Pine’s own racial pride.

Throughout the evening the Jazz Warriors took the audience on a musical, journey tipping their hats to a whole range of black genres along the way; from hip-hop to New Orleans funeral music, from reggae to avant-garde free-jazz.  The transition from a macabre soprano saxophone solo, evoking the dark and sobering realities of slavery; to wonderful calypso rhythms, complete with an uplifting steel drum solo, was so indicative of Pine’s quest and proved a highly effective way of showing the triumphs that blacks have made as freed people of the world.

Over all, by putting on an event that was as entertaining as it was thought provoking, Pine has yet again proved that his integrity as a man is equal to his credibility as a musician.