LJF 2016: Gareth Lockrane and Carla Bley

On his final day at the LJF Bob Weir finds contrasting gigs from big bands led by Gareth Lockrane and Carla Bley and is impressed by both

The final day of the festival offered concerts by two excellent and contrasting big bands.

The Gareth Lockrane 18-piece ensemble of London's top players entertained a packed house at a midday session in the Spice Of Life basement club, where they have appeared every year during the festival since 1995. They were inspired by the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Monday-night band at the Village Vanguard and they play in a similarly eclectic style.

The diverse charts came from within the band and they ranged from exacting contemporary pieces to downright sweaty funk (Stutterfunk and Roots were particularly effective). The leader's several flutes and piccolo were well featured (his sensitive ballad playing on his We'll Never Meet Again was outstanding) and the band was full of good soloists.

It is rare these days for Carla Bley (pictured above right by Brian Payne) to visit with a big band, so her appearance at Cadogan Hall with the 12-piece Liberation Music Orchestra was a special treat. The stellar lineup included Curtis Fuller (tb), the tenors of Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek and the prominently featured alto sax of Lorin Stillman.

Carla's distinctive arrangements of her own and Charlie Haden's compositions, drawn from the orchestra's long but sporadic history, were brilliantly executed with a ravishing display of smooth ensemble textures. Both were interested in Americana, perhaps best illustrated by flawless interpretations of Churchy and a gospel-inspired medley with its Amazing Grace interlude. This band has undoubtedly been one of the finest and most original contributions to post-war big band jazz and it was a privilege to hear them in person.

I prefer my jazz festivals to be in one location although I must concede that the wide variety and high standard of this, the 24th LJF, made the effort of schlepping all over the capital worthwhile. Next year's 25th anniversary promises to be even more appealing. Keep a watch on the London Jazz Festival website for details.

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