Two London jazz-hops for Monday…
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Cockpit Productions present:
Jazz In The Round: Alexander Hawkins/Elaine Mitchener Quartet + Michael Janisch + The James Beckwith Trio
The Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, Lisson Grove, London, NW8 8EH, England
Monday 28th November 2016, 7.00pm – information
According to their own description, the Alexander Hawkins/Elaine Mitchener Quartet work with “repertoire (which)“fuses Mitchener’s unique way with both melody and abstraction, with Hawkins’ idiosyncratic compositional and pianistic world; as well as spotlighting re-imaginings of a small number of non-original songs which reveal the influence of precursors such as Jeanne Lee and Linda Sharrock.” The project’s still young enough not to have spawned either recordings or video clips, so you’ll have to imagine it from the existing pedigree of its players and movers.
Pianist and composer Alexander Hawkins (a onetime renegade lawyer and youthful church organist who evolved into a jazz keyboard explorer of rare brilliance) has already made marks as a noted collaborator with Louis Moholo, Shabaka Hutchings and plenty of others, plus previous leader/co-leader work with Convergence Quartet, Hammond organ funk-improv trio Decoy and his own de-/free-constructive Trio and Ensemble. He’s been hailed as an exceptional talent within his generation.
Vocalist Elaine Mitchener, though she’s been following a decidedly more outre path, is also exceptional: twisting and fusing (or placing in parallel) vocal approaches from jazz, gospel, sound poetry, free improvisations and contemporary classical, and where possible blending it with performance aspects of movement theatre. A collaborator with the likes of Phil Minton and Evan Parker (music), Deborah Warner (theatre) and Christian Marclay (both and neither), she’s as happy with pre-linguistic gabble and the esoteric libretti of David Toop operas as she is with a standard. At least as likely to be found performing in a gallery space as in a jazz club, she’s one of Britain’s most daring singers; balanced conceptually (though not necessarily tonally) between Lauren Newton, Abbey Lincoln, Dagmar Krause and the latterday Scott Walker (as well as the aforementioned avant-jazz vocal trailblazers Lee and Sharrock), but carving out a highly individual expressive space of her own. Below is just one example of what she does.
The quartet is completed by double bass player Neil Charles (from Alexander’s existing Trio) and by drummer Steve Davis, who appear to be considerably more than sidemen: “structurally, the group function as complete equals, veering radically from the traditional norm of ‘singer plus rhythm section’, instead treating this as only one possible dynamic amongst many.”
Reknowned émigré-American bass player Michael Janisch (once of TransAtlantic Collective, more recently a member of City of Poets, leader of Paradigm Shift and prime mover of both Whirlwind Recordings and the Whirlwind Festival) is playing a solo set as the middle act. Outside of master classes, this is an unusual scenario for Michael: he’s generally to be found at the hearts of ensembles, pushing them on with inspired work whether on double bass or electric bass guitar. There’s no details on which of these he’s using this time (it might be both).
As opener, pianist James Beckwith brings the trio of himself, rising jazz-pop drummer Harry Pope and bass guitarist Joe Downard (a protégé of the great Herbie Flowers, now one of London’s busiest cross-disciplinary bass players in jazz, blues, country, soul and hip hop). Together they present a London spin on “New York contemporary jazz harmonies, the piano trio lineage, Middle Eastern and Asian folk, to mould strong rhythmic tunes delivered with driving energy”, working from fragmented syncopation to tight funky knots.
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Some time ago, I was bemoaning the loss of Archway scratch-deli Forks & Corks (an up-and-coming London jazz venue) to buildings works and gentrification. While I’ve been grumbling, Archway local (and cheerily formidable double bass hero) Jonny Gee, who had some responsibility for the music there) has picked himself up undaunted, and moved proceedings a minute or so’s walk south to the Sitara restaurant. There he’s continued to build plans for an Archway jazz scene with an unfolding series of surprising blink-and-you’ll-miss-them meal-plus-music gigs, of which this is the latest.
There’s not too much information on this one besides from the words “improv, bebop, jazz” tossed onto the poster like hasty clip-art, so (as with the Hawkins/Mitchener Quartet) you’ll just have to go by the reputations of the people in the band. Nothing to do with the similarly-named polystylistic French ensemble, they’re a more recent alliance of Jonny, Orphy Robinson and two other impressive London musicians.
Jonny’s sideman and MD work for King Salsa, Antonio Forcione, Ravi Shankar and Cleo Laine only scratches the surfaces of a thrillingly animated career on bass, which has stretched from jazz to Latin dance to baroque classical and back again in a ongoing arc of possibilities. Orphy, meanwhile, is a beloved veteran of the ‘90s British jazz boom. Once a Jazz Warrior, subsequently a Blue Note-signed vibraphonist, he’s now firmly fixed at jazz statesman status thanks to diverse work within education and curation as well as his host of ongoing projects as a player (including Nubian Vibes, Bruise, Codefive, Clear Frame and his Black Top duo with pianist Pat Thomas).
Regarding the remaining half of the quartet – drummer Andrea Trillo has played with both Herbie Hancock and Jerry Dammers, as well as with Dave O’Higgins, Jon Toussaint, Simon Purcell and Tim Richards. Long steeped in jazz and Latin music, Shanti Paul Jayasinha’s played trumpet for Brand New Heavies, Jason Yarde, Tim Garland and Buena Vista Social Club as well as leading his own ShantiJazzWorld ensemble. He also plays flugelhorn and, for this gig, might be toting the Slumpet (his custom valve/slide trumpet). In case he doesn’t, this is what it sounds like.