Do jazz fans still rail against the “plus-strings" concept, or later “third stream", as they did in Charlie Parker’s day, or wail inconsolably when Gunther Schuller and John Lewis took the synthesis a step further?
Possibly not, apart from a few diehards. But this year has seen less of the lonely string quartet parked on stage, hardly written into the action, than in the past. In fact they are more common than ever, and fully integrated, surely a sign that the antagonism to the concept is dying out.
Notable sightings have included the Mount Molehill Strings joining the Neil Cowley Trio, supplemented by even more strings at their recent Barbican concert; the Urban Soul Orchestra strings touring with Jazz Jamaica and Brinsley Forde is another recent collaboration that worked, with Jason Yarde’s arrangements a strong factor; and on Laura Jurd’s Landing Ground a connection to both Molehill and Urban Soul as both bands and Jurd’s impressive debut featured violinist Mandhira de Saram, on Jurd’s record as part of the Ligeti Quartet.
Others dipping their toes in these difficult waters have included Nick Tyson’s Chambr, and continuing his interest in the area, Dave Stapleton, who with Flight draws together jazz quartet and the impressive Brodowski String Quartet.
Where the wider trend started is hard to say, and to some extent, although this is changing, classically trained players who turn to jazz have little difficulty working in chamber situations. Brad Mehldau working with the Britten Sinfonia for instance two years ago, and more recently touring a classical work of his with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, has placed his newly commissioned work, ‘Variations for Piano and Orchestra on a Melancholy Theme’, with classical repertoire from Prokofiev and Mozart in concert programmes. For the full jazz symphony experience it was Wynton Marsalis who made an impact back in the summer premiering his Swing Symphony with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra joining forces with the London Symphony Orchestra.
2013 will see a major new chamber work from Wayne Shorter, the tone poem ‘Pegasus’ for his great quartet and the Imani Winds on his album Without a Net due in February. It’s a protean game changer, and example, for the new generation working in this area, and could inspire yet more jazz and classical collaboration to feed the creativity of jazz once more.
Wayne Shorter above who shows the way forward in 2013 with the 23-minute chamber piece ‘Pegasus’ on Without a Net due for release in February. Photo: Robert Ascroft
Tomorrow sees the opening of new exhibition ECM — A Cultural Archaeology, with the first public view on Friday, running until 10 February at the Haus der Kunst museum in the record label’s home city of Munich. ECM (the letters standing for Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in 1969 by classical bassist Manfred Eicher pictured above left seated and is now the pre-eminent jazz independent record label in Europe, if not the world, with a strong classical side launched as the New Series in 1984 as well. Its roster of artists over the years is astonishing, with Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek pillars of the label, and many new signings releasing records regularly. Curated by Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller, the exhibition the organisers say “presents visual, archival, and recorded material, bringing together a range of formats, such as sound, music, photography, film, and edition work."
Installations and works by contemporary artists whose inspiration parallels that of the label’s is also featured, along with concerts by label artists. An exhibition catalogue will be published later this month.
How was the London Jazz Festival for you?
There could be a hundred or a thousand answers to this question.
Ten days of gigs, with innumerable permutations in gig going, pre-concert talk to-ing, and post-gig foyer fro-ing, as well as films, afternoon shows, late night jamming in the clubs and concert halls of the capital, saturated London with jazz dominating in central London especially with additional pockets of heightened activity in the suburbs.
Yes, there were lots this year, none bigger than Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock, but there were also a great many unknown or little known European names, and many young and established bands from the UK scene taking part, some for the first time.
While some venues from last year did not take part, Boisdale Canary Wharf the most high profile of these, others took their place, but the festival hubs in terms of concert hall activity are clearly at the South Bank Centre and the Barbican. The clubs saw a huge amount of high quality activity, but it was Ronnie Scott’s, the Vortex, and the Pizza Express Jazz Club that were upper-most on many people’s wish lists.
I attended about half a dozen events this year, and I’m sure many people attended many more concerts, or even considerably fewer. It struck me that there is a big difference in feel between the ticketed big concert hall events and freestage activity. Audiences in both the Festival Hall and the Barbican were generally quite subdued and polite whereas in the foyers for freestage and Clore Ballroom gigs the atmosphere was more casual, more sociable, and it felt as if large numbers were sampling new acts that they would be unlikely to attend in such large numbers on a whim parting with hard cash. Hopefully, a percentage of these audiences will return for ticketed concerts in the future if the new bands they saw gain a following. With a band such as Finnish hopefuls Oddarrang, for instance, that could well happen given the response they received on the SouthBank.
How the BBC and Radio 3 will be involved next year for the festival’s 21st running remains to be seen as the “in association” sponsorship the festival has enjoyed comes to an end. But one would presume that the corporation will broadcast heavily at the festival whether it is a headline sponsor or not. With radio coverage and web reviews via blogs and social media and to a much lesser extent print media the festival made its presence felt, but given the epic size of the event this was still paltry compared to say the acres of media attention London Fashion Week, the Proms, and the London Film Festival receives.
It may be a controversial thing to say that the festival is now too big to make sensible choices, and it’s just another aspect of the plentiful array of entertainment in London. If gig-goers start to clamour for an intimate festival of some kind as an alternative then the chances are the festival has bulked up that bit too much. If they don’t then big is, for London jazz fans, most certainly beautiful.
View from the foyer above at the London Jazz Festival in the Barbican last week