Diversity is the keynote of the EFG London Jazz Festival
- Alex Johnston
- 1 March 2017
Highlights include Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, Marcus Miller, Harlem Gospel Choir and Pat Metheny
The 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival has announced its programme, and while it may not be the biggest jazz festival in the world, it has the power to attract some serious names. Here are a few highlights.
Two bona fide legends of South African jazz, Abdullah Ibrahim and Hugh Masekela, play the Royal Festival Hall on Tue 14 Nov. Ibrahim and Masekela were both in SA's first great bebop band, The Jazz Epistles, as long ago as 1959, and since 2016 they've been revisiting the legacy of that legendary outfit in a series of reunion concerts. Masekela sits in with Ibrahim's group Ekaya for what should be a memorable night.
Singer Paolo Conte is best known for his finger-snapping, multilingual exercise in cool, 1981's 'Via con me', with its bizarre refrain ''S wonderful, 's wonderful, 's wonderful, I dream of you, chips, chips...'. No, no clue either, but it's a great song, Italian cool meets New Orleans grooves by way of Buenos Aires. Conte is at the Royal Festival Hall on Mon 13 Nov.
If your bad self is someone that you feel like getting down with, then it sounds like you've got a case of funk fever. Fortunately, a crash team is on call in the form of bass guitar master Marcus Miller and his band. Miller's a rare bass player in that he has a thriving solo career, as well as appearing on albums by people as varied as Miles Davis and Billy Idol. He's also a film soundtrack composer, his most notable recent score being for Chris Rock's much-praised documentary Good Hair. He brings his band, and the funk, to the Royal Festival Hall on Sun 12 Nov.
The glorious Harlem Gospel Choir lights up the Royal Festival Hall on Fri 17 Nov. One of the top gospel choirs in the USA, they've performed for more than one Pope, and they do a killer version of Pharrell Williams's 'Happy'.
Pat Metheny is almost certainly America's most successful jazz guitarist, and infuriatingly, he's also one of the best; he's sold out massive venues with the breezy fusion of the Pat Metheny Group, and in the same year released a dense triple album of free improvisation with Derek Bailey. He plays the Barbican on Fri 10 Nov with a stellar band featuring British pianist Gwilym Simcock, the superb Aussie bass player Linda Oh, and longterm Metheny drummer (and Birdman score composer) Antonio Sánchez.
Portuguese singer and fado legend Carminho performs the songs of Brazil's bossa nova genius Antônio Carlos Jobim, who would have been 90 this year. Her band includes Jobim's son and grandson Paolo and Daniel Jobim, plus cellist and all-round musical whizz Jaques Morelenbaum. That's at the Barbican on Fri 17 Nov.
The last day of the festival, Sun 19 Nov, sees two shows from the duo of great Cuban pianist Omar Sosa and Senegalese singer and kora master Seckou Keita; jazz, Latin and African influences combining without losing their distinct identities.
There are also shows from Phronesis and Energy Orchestra; Average White Band and vocal trio LaSharVu; the Jazz Voices opening concert; the Jazz Jukebox, this year featuring the music of Ella Fitzgerald.
Music is often imagined to be something that brings people together, but it's just as capable of dividing them. Hardcore fans of some genres will resist the idea that anything else is worth listening to, but the whole idea of 'genre' as applied to music is like the idea of 'race' as applied to humankind: it's a quality we confer upon the thing itself, not necessarily something we find in it. Duke Ellington disliked people describing his music as 'jazz', and when asked what he'd prefer they called it, he replied, 'Music'. At the beginning of the 21st century, it looks like jazz is becoming what the Duke always claimed it was: the one music that has room for all the others.
The EFG London Jazz Festival runs at various venues in London from Fri 10–Sun 19 Nov 2017.