EFG London Jazz Festival 2023: Highlights And Musicians To Watch

Described by BBC Radio as “the best jazz festival on the planet,” the annual EFG London Jazz Festival, created by international music producer Serious, provides the ideal antidote to November’s dreary weather and shorter days. With over 300 shows across more than 70 venues, including some stellar free gigs, this month’s festival attracted a live audience of over 100,000. The ten day, citywide event featured big names and major concert halls like Sergio Mendez at the Barbican and The Symphonic Music of Wayne Shorter at the Royal Festival Hall but perhaps the pure joy for jazz fans was the discovery of rising stars and lesser known musicians at more intimate locations. Here are few of the many highlights from this month’s festival and musicians to seek out at future gigs.

Rory Ingham’s Trombone Assembly, Pizza Express, Holborn

Winner of a British Jazz Rising Star award, trombonist Rory Ingham brought together some of the best jazz trombonists in the business for a high energy night of brand new music, featuring fresh works by trombonist Mark Nightingale. Joining Rory Ingham and Mark Nightingale was Trevor Mires (Sir Tom Jones), up-and-coming virtuoso Daniel Higham (Kansas Smitty’s), and legendary recording artist Andy Wood (Stevie Wonder). Between them they’ve toured and recorded with Frank Sinatra, Sting, Jamiroquai, London Symphony Orchestra, Steely Dan, Ray Brown, Quincy Jones and Kyle Monogue, among others. Rory Ingham also wowed jazz fans with his new sextet Wakey Blakey, in the Soho jazz club, Spice of Life, where they gave a super engaging performance of Art Blakey’s lively hard bop.

Leo Richardson Quartet, Hampstead Jazz Club, The Duke of Hamilton

One of the best gigs of the festival was in a petite jazz club in the basement of a North London pub that makes Smalls in New York look palatial. Leo Richardson’s stellar quartet performed the music of the Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker Quartet from the Original Sessions 1952-1953. Leo, on the baritone saxophone, was joined by trumpet maestro Quentin Collins, the incomparable Tim Giles on drums and the brilliant Tom Farmer on bass. If you missed this gig, Leo will be back here or catch him at at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club where he regularly hosts the Late Late Show and performs with his band.

Marius Neset, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank

It was no surprise that Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset’s performance of his phenomenal free jazz work Geyser with The London Sinfonietta resulted in a standing ovation. The energetic gig with Conor Chaplin on double bass and Anton Eger on drums was the third collaboration between the London Sinfonietta and saxophone virtuoso and composer Marius Neset. London Jazz News summed up the evening perfectly: “Neset ran riot in a spellbinding performance that ran the gamut of musical emotions and secured energetic applause and hollering.”

David Murray Quartet, PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Dean Street

Since arriving in New York in 1975, David Murray has been one of the prominent jazz saxophone players. The influence of gospel, jazz, free jazz and rhythm’n blues shone through in his London gig with a new quartet that includes Marta Sanchez on piano, Luke Stewart on bass and Russel Carter on drums. He clearly enjoys working with the next generation of talent and says “there is no better feeling than revealing a band of youthful creative musicians who aspire to be the cream that rises to the top!”

Julian Joseph trio, World Heart Beat, Embassy Gardens Nine Elms

The highlight of the evening in this small but acoustically perfect venue near the new American Embassy was the London premiere of the violin concerto Julian Joseph wrote for violinist Harriet Mackenzie. Recognised as one of the finest jazz pianists this side of the Atlantic, Julian Joseph has forged a reputation beyond his formidable skills as a composer and performer and is universally recognised as a highly knowledgeable and engaging broadcaster, musical ambassador and cultural advocate. The new concerto was thrillingly performed by his trio, and Harriet Mackenzie who has performed across all five continents and has recorded with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra Nova and the English Symphony Orchestra.

Ubunye, Pizza Express Holborn

Vibrant Afro-jazz band Ubunye’s new ten-piece band featured three powerful vocalists from South Africa’s Kwa Zulu Natal region, combined with a dynamic rhythm section and horn players from Leeds and Manchester. Ubunye’s music is a unique blend of contemporary jazz, Afro-pop and traditional ‘Isigqui’ Zulu music. Their inspirational fusion of jazz, dance and afro-beat encapsulates the soul of South Africa.

Jazz films at the Barbican cinema

The jazz film program at the Barbican was brilliant addition to the festival this year and an absolute delight. What a thrill it was to be introduced to some of the lesser known jazz films. Imagine the Sound (1981) is a documentary featuring fascinating interviews with Archie Shep about free jazz, still considered a “difficult” form of the jazz genre. The beautifully shot Sven Klang’s Combo (1976), follows a traditional jazz quartet in a small town in Southern Sweden in the 1950s. They are forced to question why they perform when a saxophonist arrives from Stockholm and introduces them to the music of Charlie Parker. Regarded by many professional jazz musicians as the best jazz film ever made, Sven Klang’s Combo poses the question how much jazz is too much jazz? Also set in the 1950s, The Stormy Man (1957) shows the rise and fall of a talented jazz drummer in Tokyo. No surprise that the film was a huge success upon release in Japan, with its film noir feel, alongside energetic, intense drum solos between the film’s star and his rival drummers.

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