Chicago x London (EZH/International Anthem)

Total Refreshment Centre, Stoke Newington, London;

Oct 18th/19th 2017

If you have never made the place a visit, you’ll find that the Total Refreshment Centre is a fairly non-descript venue on an otherwise residential street off Stoke Newington road on the border of north and east London.

If you have stumbled across the TRC, you will know that what goes on inside could never be described as such. Over the past couple of years this unassuming little space has become a mecca for some of the finest contemporary jazz coming out of London.

So, it is on a damp couple of midweek nights that the perfect antidote to the Autumn conditions outside was found here at the Chicago x London showcase curated by Tina Edwards (EZH), Scottie McNiece and Alejandro Ayala (International Anthem). And what a job the guys did — the talent oozing from this venue was immeasurable. If you didn’t go to any gigs this year, attendance here would have more than made up for it.

Warming the cogniscenti on both evenings were sets from the revered and multi-faceted cellist Tomeka Reid as the common denominator: back with free trumpeter Jaimie Branch’s ‘Fly or Die’ group on the first night, and with Reid’s own ensemble, Here in Now, for the second.

Branch’s was joined by Jason Ajemian on upright and the inimitable Frank Rosaly on drums (replacing Chad Taylor from the studio recording of the album) — the things that Rosaly does to a drumkit and the sounds the group as a whole produced were absolutely mind-blowing. The four were complimented by Ben Lamar Gay on cornet and Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet who revealed themselves as the protagonists of the sounds that appeared from within the audience mid-set, meandering through the crowd. Together, they set the bar with an avant-garde journey that had the venue mesmerised from the start in its invention, emotional extremes and abstraction through true free movement.

Following Jaimie were Theon Cross’ trio inclusive of Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia. Outstanding in each of their own rights and flying the flag for the UK jazz scene, these three tireless Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni came together on the evening with a more structured set based around some of Cross’ releases to date and one or two new numbers from his imminent new album. The trio injected an energy into the proceedings which manifest not just in the sound and vibe filling the venue but also in significantly dialling up the heat! Whilst Boyd looked the epitomy of composure on the kit dropping breaks effortlessly, Garcia attacked the tenor in her exemplary style juxtaposing fluid lines with top and bottom end exclamations, and Cross dug bass out of his tuba that, simply put, was sublime in its warmth and subsonic depth.

Underscoring the first night were the impromptu trio of Makaya McCraven, Soweto Kinch and Kamaal Williams. Soweto, off the back of his latest outing at Rich Mix before hitting the Fall festival trail, and the prolific Williams/Wu riffed with the metronomic and playful McCraven, tripping through hip-hop and broken beat rhythms. You could see the joy on Williams’ face connecting with the beat scientist in a way not seen since the Yussef Kamaal sessions with Yussef Dayes — it was invigorating to watch. And then, swopping his alto for a mic, we were treated to some bars from Soweto — Kinch’s lyricism epitomising the freestyle and versatility of this ensemble. Such a treat!

And then almost too soon, part one concluded. We made our ways to chase the last tube home, safe in the knowledge that this collective were not done with us yet…

As mentioned, Part 2 opened with Reid’s Here in Now comprising Silvia Bolognesi on upright and Mazz Swift on violin. This string section blended classical, jazz and avant-garde into a set that weaved the listeners through the smooth, silky ethereal sections whilst punctuating each movement with stabs, staccatos and anguished screeches from the body of Tomeka’s cello.

Consciousness raised, the assembled were ready for the Ashley Henry Trio. We enjoyed the familiar grouping of Henry on keys breezing through trad and contemporary shapes, Nache and Kokoroko’s Eddie Hicks’ accomplished stickmanship with polyrhythms accentuating every phrase and assured grounding from Dan Casimir on upright. Had the set ended with just these three, all in attendance would have been a very happy bunch of jazz heads indeed but further enhancing the trio tonight were Binker Golding on sax and percussionist, Williams Cumberbache who, for his introduction, proceeded to treat us to a five minute duel with Hicks. Trope’s Cherise Adams-Burnett completed the stage with her exceptional vocal control which had this writer remembering a young Jill Scott. The influential Anthony Joseph joined at the last to compliment the youth on show with some sage wisdom delivering a few verses for the penultimate piece. All in all we had been completely spoilt again.

If that wasn’t enough, the two nights concluded with another super-grouping: Ezra Collective’s Joe Armon-Jones on keys, McCraven, joined by Garcia and Cross for the final jam. McCraven once again enchanted us with contrasting time signatures, dropping to half-time lazy Dilla grooves, cycling back up to double, swing… to those who have worn out their copies of In The Moment, you’ll know that simply listening to this genius drive through styles would satiate in itself. Add in Garcia and Cross complimenting the mastery of Armon-Jones, that has made him one of the most talented jazz pianists in the UK at this time, and you are transported to contemporary, free jazz heaven.

It is almost inconceivable to believe that the median age of the instrumentalists on show over the two nights is around 25/26 years given the maturity of the musicianship on show, confidence and proficiency on their instruments. Chicago X London it may well be but the talent over both nights would perfectly satisfy a US x UK two dayer.. nay a US x Europe two dayer… you get the picture. If you’re not tracking the names seen here already, list them right at the top of your bucket list. If you are, you know the score. These guys will be pushing and developing this, now, well established contemporary jazz scene for a good few years to come.

One thing I will end on: every time I come to see any one of the names I’ve mentioned in this review, I discover another instrumentalist and that takes me down another strand, another group of musicians, another venue, another scene, another story… such is the positive vibe about the scene at the moment and there is so much to discover. It is far from a cliché to say that this is a community movement. All of these musicians know each other well — most have studied together. They support, promote, guest with each other on stage and on each other releases. There are no observable egos. Everyone is helping their brother or sister up. And the fusion of styles hip hop, breaks, funk, straight 4x4, traditional jazz, house, broken beat (the list goes on) …. being peddled is delightful. This scene is truly dispelling genre in its wake. It really is a joy to be a punter in these times!

(Words: Rob Whitaker @wittakmusic; Photography: Jennifer Barroso @jennbarr101; Oct 27th 2017)

Makaya McCraven — Highly Rare out on International Anthem LLC, 17 Nov

Theon Cross — Album out end 2017

Nubya Garcia — Nubya’s 5ive released on Jazz Re:freshed May 2017

Joe Armon Jones (Ezra Collective) — Juan Pablo: The Philosopher released on Enter the Jungle Records 6 October 2017

Moses Boyd — Absolute Zero released via Vinyl Factory/Exodus Records Aug 2017

Eddie Hicks (Kokoroko) — supporting Ezra Collective @ Islington Assembly Rooms Nov 19th 2017

Cherise Adams-Burnett — Trope’s 5ive released on Jazz Re:freshed Apr 2017

Jaimie Branch — Fly or Die released on International Anthem May 2017

Dan Casimir — Escapee released on Jazz Re:freshed Apr 2017

Kamaal Williams — Projections EP out on MCDE end Nov 2017

Tomeka Reid — Signalling released on Nessa May 2017

Ashley Henry — Supporting Marcus Miller @ Royal Festival Hall Nov 12th 2017

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