London Jazz Festival: electric dreams

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An already-strong bill for the final Friday of the London Jazz Festival was made outstanding by the rare appearance by Evan Parker’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The multiphonic saxophonist has single-mindedly extended the range of sounds that can be produced acoustically, and relishes the unpredictable element. With this ensemble, he goes a step further, immersing himself in the electronic manipulations of a backline of black-shirted boffins.

The first set, featuring Parker on soprano sax and a trio of professorial sound manipulators, started with a simple clarion call that was modulated, expanded, looped and squelched, only to be elaborated on by Parker himself. For more than half an hour, the quartet immersed us in a gale of disembodied beeps, unearthly howls and nocturnal scamperings fuelled by Parker’s fluttery embellishments. It all made perfect sense in a mischievously impish way.

In the second set, Parker was joined by three acoustic musicians, a further two electronics buffs and a real-time video technician who generated a backdrop of constantly changing abstract patterns. The music was denser but Parker conducted occasionally from the front to give textural variety – resonant atonal grand piano, a duet between bass and violin – and deliver coherent music of great beauty.

The notion of a ceramic dog usually conjures up benign mantelpiece clutter but, when avant-guitarist and festival composer-in-residence Marc Ribot decided to name his band Ceramic Dog, it was invested with a horror movie malevolence. This proved justified by his free after-show performance in the QEH’s Front Room.

Ribot is an astonishing post-Jimi Hendrix guitar technician of enormous power, ripping off feedback laden licks at dazzling speed, but his band of the night didn’t seem able to cope and the sounds were too harsh after Evan Parker’s mellifluous soundscapes. Unusually, I left before the end. ★★★★☆

Dave Holland, long established internationally, returned to the UK to celebrate his 60th birthday with this Saturday night Barbican concert featuring two old friends in the first set: guitarist Jim Hall and surprise guest Kenny Wheeler on trumpet; and his high-energy young band in the second.

Holland, like all great bass players, rarely hogs the limelight but is sensed as an inner force, and it was not until the second set’s deserved encore that he finally unveiled his dazzling technical virtuosity.

His rich tone, musicality and sheer good taste were, however, manifest from the first liquid unison riffs of the opening duet with Hall. The two musicians complemented each other perfectly, Hall’s subtle, warm-toned strumming and clean attack matching Holland note for note and generating a surprisingly powerful, deeply satisfying pulse.

The addition later of a slightly querulous Kenny Wheeler only added to the magic.

Holland’s working band supports a dark-toned, skin tight and interactive front line of trombone and tenor sax with powerful fusion grooves.

The set was laced with terrific group interplay, shifting dynamics, and audience-thrilling solos; the surprise addition of keyboardist Jason Moran was outstanding. ★★★★☆

BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting concerts from the festival. Details at www.bbc.co.uk/radio 3

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