Review: EFG London Jazz Festival Launch

The EFG London Jazz Festival's official launch at Ronnie Scott's proved to be an enjoyable taster for the forthcoming programme, according to John Watson

The African roots of jazz were celebrated in fine style at Ronnie Scott’s, when the 2015 EFG London Jazz Festival was officially launched with the traditional BBC Radio 3 live broadcast from Ronnie Scott’s on Friday 13 November.

Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke’s considerable talents are well established - it was his work with Herbie Hancock that first drew him to my attention - and Loueke (pictured right) can be heard in several concerts during the festival. During the Jazz On 3 broadcast, hosted by Jez Nelson, he suffered an immediate setback when his top E string broke as he was tuning it, but he soldiered on in style, his left thumb creating powerful percussive drive.

The revelation of the night, though, was the exuberant UK group Vula Viel, led by the energetic percussionist Bex Burch. She has studied the music of the Dagaare Tribe in Upper West Ghana, and created an intoxicating mix of exotic rhythms, jazz improvisation and electronic sounds. Her group, including the excellent keyboard player Dan Nicholls, kicked off the event in quite spectacular style, and she even used an adze to hack a new wooden tonebar for her home-made marimba-like instrument live on air, to cheers from the packed crowd.

That was quite an act to follow, but singer-pianist Jarrod Lawson (pictured left) and his group created plenty of contrast with a mellow set including a laid-back version of Soul Symphony. Lawson, who sang earlier in the evening as part of the Jazz Voice concert at the Barbican, has his own show at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight (Saturday 14th).

Powerful rhythms were back in evidence when the superb Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer (pictured below right) and his band took to the stage, having performed at the club earlier in the evening. He uses two microphones - one on a stand and the other clipped to the bell of his horn - to create powerfully atmospheric tones, deftly mixing straight sounds with expansive echo and finely controlled electronic effects. His high-note exclamations are blistering, while the warmth of his long, low sounds evoke the style of his early inspiration, Miles Davis.

The show was an enjoyable taster for the festival. This year there are fewer jazz legends featured - though American veterans Keith Jarrett, Cassandra Wilson and the under-celebrated Sheila Jordan are in the programme - but the festival does offer some very promising music. Artists over the coming days include Bela Fleck, Nik Bartsch, Terrell Stafford, The Necks, Arild Andersen, Marcin Wasilewski, Kurt Elling, Christian Scott, Dave Holland, Melody Gardot and the Maria Schneider Orchestra - plus a vast array of exceptional home-grown talent.

Text by John Watson, photos by Tim Motion

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