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Zoe Rahman, directing the Guildhall Jazz Ensemble, gets the Guildhall jazz festival off to a flying start tonight. The London conservatoire’s annual festival also features Ian Shaw, guesting with the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble; saxophonist Tom Challenger; Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts and Paul Dunmall better known as the Dartington Improvising Trio. Iain Ballamy and the Guildhall Jazz Band are also appearing during this year’s running. Zoe Rahman, above
http://www.gsmd.ac.uk

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Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print opened the Brilliant Corners jazz festival at the Belfast Barge on Thursday

Brilliant Corners began in Belfast the night before the snow arrived yesterday. While the festival was named in honour of Monk’s Brilliant Corners album there were no obvious tie-ins on the opening night to the great composer and pianist’s music; the festival was too cool to offer a literal interpretation although the spirit was clearly felt. So instead the bands booked did the interpreting by way of original new music.

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Below deck: rising star saxophonist Meilana Gillard’s accomplished set

Brilliant Corners utilised three venues: the Belfast Barge, the MAC in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter; and the nearby Black Box; and new talent on display included Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print, a US tenor saxophonist now resident in Northern Ireland joined by double bassist Marcos Varela, who appears on Gillard’s Greg Osby-produced album Day One. Varela’s debut with Billy Hart and George Cables will be released later this year, with Spike Lee’s brother Arnold Lee and Sonny Rollins trombonist Clifton Anderson guesting. Varela pushed the band hard and tastefully with Gillard, whose individual non-retro sound on the tenor saxophone, probing and darting with a salty edge especially in her reading of Herman Hupfeld’s ‘As Time Goes By’. Leading Irish jazz musician David Lyttle was on drums and excelled. Meilana’s composition ‘Rear View’ was the big highlight of the first set by a highly proficient unit.

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Ellington in Anticipation band played the Factory in the MAC

At the MAC in the Factory on the sixth floor of the very smart post-brutalist arts temple opened in 2012, its volcanic stone facade tastefully undemonstrative, Mark Lockheart’s Ellington in Anticipation band were already burning by the time I got over from the Barge. It’s Ellington for the Polar Bear generation and in many ways codifies the mysterious non-linear compositional method Lockheart has cultivated in his own music a step on from his acclaimed Edition records set, In Deep.

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The Black Box opens for Brilliant Corners

Ellington’s music is like a dream behind the new music, not old music in new clothes at all. Seb Rochford and The Invisible’s Tom Herbert had that kind of ESP that people who are comfortable with each other on a bandstand possess, and chopped it up throughout, especially on ‘My Caravan’ while ‘Azure’ was a revelation. Lockheart blew wildly on ‘Jungle Lady’, clearly at ease, and both Finn Peters and James Allsopp knew how to stoke the flames especially as the music went further out.

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Playing the Sun Ra blues on Hill Street: Decoy debut 

And taking the music even further out free improv rounded off the evening at the Black Box, with Decoy, the tremendous organ trio of Alexander Hawkins, bassist John Edwards, and drummer Steve Noble marking Hawkins’ first Northern Ireland appearance. Sun Ra and kinetic bar-vaulting improv never sounded so good: a suitably Saturnine way to draw the first night of this exciting new festival to a close.
Story and photos: Stephen Graham

The father of Chucho Valdés, and the inspiration of the acclaimed animated film Chico and Rita, the pianist, bandleader, and composer Bebo Valdés, has died at the age of 94. Valdés, who passed away in Sweden where he had lived for many years, began his career as a pianist in the night clubs of Havana and it was in one such, Tropicana, that he made his name. In the 1950s Valdés was a pivotal figure in the development of the mambo with his championing of the batanga rhythm. Valdés settled in Sweden after the 1959 revolution in Cuba and played bar lounges there in virtual obscurity until the mid-1990s when his album Bebo Rides Again caught the music industry’s attention, followed by the success firstly of documentary Calle 54 and then the inspired Chico and Rita which featured much of his music in 2010 and fictionalised his life story so evocatively.
Bebo Valdés top pictured with his son Chucho. Photo: Berklee

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Still under the radar but not for long Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco has been confirmed for the Glasgow Jazz Festival in the first tranche of bookings announced so far. Blanco is to appear at the City Halls recital room on 26 June.

Blind Boys of Alabama, Georgie Fame and Three Line Whip and 1980s band Jazzateers (Rough 46) are also confirmed for the five-day festival with the full line-up expected soon. MB

Leo Blanco top www.jazzfest.co.uk

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The stellar Miles Smiles band has been confirmed for Ronnie Scott’s, the club has now confirmed on its website. A superband, it’s the return of Wallace Roney to Frith Street, the trumpeter above who famously was mentored and performed extensively with Miles Davis late in the great East St Louis man’s career. Miles Smiles is also headed up by drum titan Omar Hakim (Amandla, Tutu), with saxophonist Rick Margitza (Amandla, Live in Montreux), organist Joey DeFrancesco (Live Around the World), and ex-Herbie man Ralphe Armstrong on bass. The band has been playing in the States and appeared at the Cork jazz festival in the autumn, but this is a rare chance for London jazz club audiences to sample the band and its core material based around the Second Great Quintet album Miles Smiles released in 1967.

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Already this year fans of Wayne Shorter who wrote several tunes on the album have warmed to his new take on ‘Orbits’, the lead-off track Wayne wrote for Miles Smiles, and which appears on the brand new Wayne Shorter Quartet album Without a Net that signalled a significant return for the saxophonist to Blue Note records, brought back to the fold by Don Was.

Miles Smiles originally recorded at the 30th Street Studio in New York city and produced by Teo Macero, besides ‘Orbits’ features ‘Circle’, plus Wayne’s most famous piece ‘Footprints’, and on side two of the original vinyl ‘Dolores’, Eddie Harris’ ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, and Jimmy Heath’s ‘Gingerbread Boy’. MB
Miles Smiles plays Ronnie’s on 3-4 May www.ronniescotts.co.uk

Wallace Roney top

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The Erik Truffaz Quartet
El tiempo de la Revolución
Blue Note ****
A highly impressive return to form, this, by French Swiss trumpeter Erik Truffaz. Bristling with club friendly, modal, and electronically processed sounds reminiscent of Mark Isham’s 1990s purple patch, Truffaz’s quartet has produced an evocative mood piece that joins the dots between the reimagined-1950s in his head and the “successive revolutions through which our lives are chronicled”, as the unsigned note on the sleeve has it. Intelligent dance music through a jazz filter as ever with Truffaz, but this has more edge than his last few albums, and Anna Aaron’s Nico-via-Beth Gibbons vocal touches are a definite plus. Stephen Graham
The Truffaz quartet play Ronnie Scott’s, London on Monday www.ronniescotts.co.uk