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Young Jazz Lions Playfully Challenge London Jazz Festival Audiences to Broaden Scope of Jazz

Ambrose Akinmusire

At one o’clock on Saturday morning in Ronnie Scott’s Club, in the opening hours of the 2012 London Jazz Festival, the phenomenal young California trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and his quintet cut loose 15 minutes of fervent music that felt like a fanfare for the whole 10-day extravaganza. Boiling his complex music down into a dramatic short story for a live radio show, Akinmusire blew clusters of whistling high notes that turned into slashing downward runs over an elemental rhythm-section rumble, while his fluent pianist Sam Harris and Wayne Shorter-like tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III sustained the pace. He returned for a second break that was even better than the first – bouncing off Harris’s prodding chordwork, steering phrases through vaulting octave leaps, and winding up on catlike valve-warped yelps.

Earlier, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Empirical and the Benyounes String Quartet unveiled material from this year’s collaboration on the Trinity Laban Conservatoire’s Co-Lab project. It felt like a set of two halves: from slow-bowed, gliding chamber music to staccato postbop. Vibraphonist Lewis Wright and saxophonist Nathaniel Facey’s edgy sound contrasted nicely with the strings’ graceful precision. Next door at the Royal Festival Hall, pianist Robert Glasper’s Experiment punched out tracks from his Black Radio album along with earlier material, and gave crisp support to hectoring hip-hop from the metal-masked American rapper MF Doom.

Glasper asked the audience: “You came to hear some jazz, right?” and to the roar of “Yeaaah!” he amiably teased: “Fuck that, we ain’t playin’ it.” But between Casey Benjamin’s haunting vocoder vocals, he delivered several superb Herbie Hancockish solos of gracefully twisting long lines, borderline free-jazz, and creative spins off drummer Mark Colenburg and bassist Derrick Hodge’s seething grooves.

Nevertheless, it was the unscheduled visit of Basement Jaxx vocalist Vulu Malinga that almost stole the show. Opening her one song as a soul lament, she rocketed up into soprano scat over Glasper’s driving piano vamp…

Read more: The Guardian


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