Preview: London Jazz Festival 2016

Wayne Shorter Quartet

Wayne Shorter Quartet

The 2016 London Jazz Festival kicked off this weekend and runs until Sunday 20 November at a range of venues around London.

Here are musicOMH’s Top 5 picks for the festival…


Donny McCaslin – Rich Mix, Tuesday 15th November

Saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s band played a pivotal role in ensuring David Bowie realised his vision for Blackstar. Here is a rare chance to see that band in its own right in the UK. Expect intriguing sound worlds, virtuosic improvising, a blend of the electronic and the acoustic and some thrilling rhythmic trickery.

Wayne Shorter QuartetBarbican, Sunday 20th November

Having been present at various key turning points in the development of the music (with Miles Davis, as a co-leader of legendary fusion band Weather Report and as as a bandleader for a string of essential albums on Blue Note), Wayne Shorter is a strong contender for the title of greatest living jazz musician. Now an octogenarian, but still sharp of mind, Shorter remains one of the music’s most philosophical innovators. This quartet with Danilo Perez, Brian Blade and John Patitucci has now been working at the highest levels of creativity and interaction for over 15 years. The group’s shows have a reputation for their fearlessness, the band always finding new ways to surprise, challenge and delight their audiences. Shorter’s continued vital presence should be treasured and celebrated.

William BellBarbican, Friday 18th November

Every year, the festival seems to include a controversial selection that its hard to justify including under the jazz banner. In the past, this has included outstanding singer-songwriters such as Lucinda Williams. Critics of the choice of Williams failed to recognise her occasional collaborations with guitarist Bill Frisell, himself a notable exponent of expanding the language of jazz to include other American folk traditions. This year, the choice is the great William Bell, one of soul music’s most vital voices, a resoundingly clear communicator and a hugely underrated songwriter. His return this year with the outstanding This Is Where I Live album is one of the year’s most unexpected and exciting triumphs.

Norma Winstone

Norma Winstone

Norma Winstone 75th Birthday CelebrationCadogan Hall, Wednesday 16th November

Norma Winstone is one of the most important British jazz vocalists of all time. She is both a brilliantly affecting interpreter and an impressive lyricist in her own right. She has worked with John Taylor, Kenny Wheeler, Steve Swallow and, most recently, with Nikki Iles in The Printmakers. This birthday concert features her European trio with Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier, with the second half of the concert finding them joined by the Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra and Big Band performing music arranged for Winstone by Steve Gray and a special commission for the event from master composer and arranger Vince Mendoza.

LUMEkestra + Entropi + Ripsaw CatfishEklektik Artlab, Monday 14th November

Can Of WormsCon Cellar Bar, Friday 18th November

Flying MachinesThe Green Note, Sunday 20th November

Yes, picking three separate gigs in one slot is cheating a bit, but one of the vital functions of the festival is to highlight the grassroots work of musicians, collectives and promoters in organising high quality jazz gigs in London all the year round. Here are three examples of the best spaces to enjoy live improvised music in the capital.

LUME is a regular night of contemporary, original improvised music organised by Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne, both themselves excellent saxophonists, composers and band leaders. For the festival, they have assembled a larger ensemble of musicians to take the usual fearless spontaneity of their excellent gigs to a new level. Saxophonist and bandleader George Crowley organises regular gigs at the intimate Con Cellar Bar in Camden.

These gigs, originally started by the late, much missed trumpet player Richard Turner, have long been one of the key events in the London Jazz calendar. This tiny basement space doesn’t leave much room to move, but this is what makes it so special. It’s both a fantastic environment to watch great musicians demonstrate their skills at close quarters (and thus essential for any serious student of the music) and it’s also a fantastic, hugely welcoming social hang out. The gig during festival week features Crowley’s own band, the excellent Can Of Worms and an opening set from the nuanced and searching duo of pianist Liam Noble and drummer Paul Clarvis. To see two of the country’s most thoughtful and inspiring musicians in this environment is essential.

The Green Note in Camden has hosted a monthly sunday night jazz jam session for many years now, with a guest band playing an opening set and then serving as house band for the jam later in the evening. Their festival event features guitarist Alex Munk’s Flying Machines, who have just released an outstanding album bristling with rhythmic invention and melodic ingenuity. 

Further information on the 2016 London Jazz Festival can be found here.

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