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EFG London Jazz Festival Preview
November 10 - November 19
The EFG London Jazz Festival is a highlight in the UK capital’s music calendar, explains Robert Spellman.
Out of the November gloom comes the EFG London Jazz Festival for 2023. I simply love this event with its unparalleled access to jazz in so many of its forms, from the beloved and classic, to the brave and new. The festival delights in music from all over the world and the numberless questions that can be asked of that deceptively simple word “jazz”.
It all takes place over 10 days in numerous venues across the capital, from famous halls to busy basements, and there are film screenings, free events and workshops open to everyone. Big attractions this year include Sergio Mendes, Ron Carter, Charles Lloyd, Mulatu Astatke, YolandDa Brown, Judi Jackson and a much-anticipated tribute in The Symphonic Music of Wayne Shorter, the titan saxophonist who passed away earlier this year.
What follows is a selection of shows from each day, but for the complete line-up and all activity relating to the festival, see website link below.
Taking to the Barbican stage on 10 November is Ethiopian composer and arranger Mulatu Astatke whose haunting mix of native music, Latin and US jazz is a sonic stand-alone and has been widely sampled, notably by Damian Marley and Kanye West. On this night Shoreditch Town Hall is transformed into a cabaret space as the Clod Ensemble and Nu Civilisation Orchestra adapt Charles Mingus’ 1963 classic The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady for its 60th anniversary. And for the festival’s Celebrating the Jazz Clubs element, Grammy-winning New York saxophonist Roxy Coss leads her quartet at the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club for two shows that evening. However, it all begins with the festival’s glorious opening gala Jazz Voice at the Royal Festival Hall, with singers including Emeli Sande, China Moses, Naomi Banks and Omar backed by the EFG London Jazz Festival Orchestra. Then in celebration Jamaica’s influence on the jazz scene, the Appleton Estate Jazz Sessions presents UK neo-soul explorers Bina and Ashaine White at Denmark Street’s Lower Third. Attendees can enjoy a Mai Tai rum cocktails at these sessions which continue throughout the week.
On 11 November much-decorated musician, broadcaster and educator YolandDa Brown brings her winning fusion of jazz, soul and reggae to Chelsea’s Cadogan Hall, while pop’s Emeli Sande makes her festival debut at the Royal Festival Hall. There’s some hardcore cool down at Soho’s PizzaExpress Jazz Club as drummer Billy Drummond, a man who’s sat with Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, leads his quartet for this tough small-band setting and category-defying Makaya McCraven joins the London Contemporary Orchestra at the Barbican in a next-wave exploration of jazz and electronica. Another seeker, the Gilles Peterson-favoured pianist, poet and sound innovator Robert Mitchell plays a solo show at Karamel.
Catch vocalist and Jazz Fm award winner Judi Jackson delving into the American Songbook at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 12 November (and again in Barking on the 18th) or the Palestinian singer Nai Barghouti whose astonishing layered vocalising is rooted in Arabic maqams, jazz and western classic music – she plays at Kings Place. Bass virtuoso and ace session man to Herbie Hancock and Aretha Franklin, Marcus Miller will be packing out the Royal Festival Hall and at PizzaExpress Jazz Club world-class pianist Joey Calderazzo is joined by bassist Orlando Le Flemming and drummer Donald Edwards for a session of original material and choice covers. And taking cues from Fela Kuti and Freddie Hubbard, south London trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi performs at Omeara for the Appleton Estate Jazz Sessions.
Ronnie Scott’s will host the Steve Gadd Band on 13 November, the legendary drummer chosen by Steely Dan and Chick Corea and whose band for the evening features Frank Zappa sessioner Walt Fowler, while Japanese pianist and composer Hiromi takes jazz, classical and pop to unexpected places with her Sonicwonder project. At Islington’s Union Chapel, Dublin violinist Aoife Ni Bhriain and Welsh harpist Catrin Finch use their classical training to explore many musics through the aperture of their native folk traditions. Angeline Morrison, whose 2022 album The Sorrow Songs: Folk Songs of the Black British Experience was voted folk album of the year by the Guardian, also takes the Chapel stage. While At the 606 Club you’ll witness the Emily Francis Trio whose spacey electronic jams take in prog and psychedelia and have been tipped by King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.
British jazz force Clark Tracey brings his quartet to Chelsea’s Pheasantry on 14 November featuring notable young talent including sax star Alex Clarke and ex-Incognito pianist Graham Harvey and exciting London jazz pianist Sultan Stevenson brings his trio to the Vortex Jazz Club. Meanwhile multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Quinn Oulton, a radio favourite of Gilles Peterson and Huey Morgan, blends contemporary R&B and elements of “indie” with a jazz sensibility at the Fox and Firkin in Lewisham.
On 15 November Sergio Mendes lets all his influences come to bear, from Latin to jazz and pop, with at a special show at the Barbican and gives special attention to 2020 album In The Key of Joy, while the Queen Elizabeth Hall welcomes the amazing Cecile McLorin Salvant, the Grammy award-winning composer and curator of rare and forgotten songs from blues to vaudeville and jazz. There’s some hard, explosive playing from Berlin-based Moses Yoofee Trio at Hootananny Brixton and you’ll catch Indo-jazz bassist Shez Raja alongside saxophonist Soweto Kinch at 606 Club. And over at Hackney’s Cafe Oto, music and cultural theorist Edward George considers the Strangeness of Jazz through spoken word and track selection.
The most recorded bassist in jazz history Ron Carter takes listeners on a career-long journey at Cadogan Hall on 16 and 17 November with quartet Foursight, while the festival welcomes back jazz-pop superstar Nora Jones to Southbank’s RFH. Leading British piano improviser Charlie Stacey knuckles down at PizzaExpress Live and the spellbinding Desta French doses her Latin heritage with hip hop, salsa and R&B at Oslo in Hackney. Meanwhile, over at the Barbican, South African and European traditions meet as cellist and singer Abel Salaocoe collaborates with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Duncan Ward.
On 17 November “Africa’s premier diva” Angelique Kidjo returns to the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate a 40-year career with Chineke! Orchestra and venerated saxophonist Charles Lloyd returns to the Barbican, this time with pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Marvin Sewell as Ocean Trio. Latin singers Luzmira Zerpa (Venezuela) and Luna Cohen (Brazil) perform at Jamboree in Kings Cross and SpiceJazz Soho respectively. Blue Lab Beats’ David Mrakpor plays complex funky jazz with no loss of soul at Ninety One Living Room and Gilsons trio has fun with rock, samba and reggae with a big nod to their father and grandfather Gilberto Gil at Camden Town’s Jazz Cafe.
Premier harpist Alina Bzhezhinska fills PizzaExpress Jazz Club on 18 November with incredible sounds in homage to Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane and is joined by Brit saxophonist Tony Kofi. Bahraini-Palestinian jazz vocalist Banah brings her “Jazziyat” project to Omeara, as she interprets Arab hits from the 1930s on and thrusting young Brit saxophonist Blinker Golding brings his super-gifted quintet to PizzaExpress Jazz Club with compositions based around manhood and death. At the Barbican Miles Davis’ epic 1970 jazz-rock album Bitches Brew is reimagined by young supergroup London Brew, in a hotly anticipated show carried over from the cancelled 2020 festival and it’s to Cafe Oto for the dazzling pairing of peerless multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey (“He sees across the entire musical landscape,” The New Yorker) and piano maestro Pat Thomas.
The late, great Wayne Shorter is celebrated on 19 November, the festival’s final day, in The Symphonic Music of Wayne Shorter at the Royal Festival Hall. Many of Shorter’s collaborators including vocalist Esperanza Spalding and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane have come together to perform his symphonic works including the rarely heard Gaia. At Woolwich Works, the estimable Tenderlonious leads his unstoppable band Ruby Rushton in their sweep of Coltrane and Lateef-inspired sounds and sonic reveller Ash Walker is sure to transport Brick Lane’s Ninety One Living Room to spacey realms in a performance of new album Astronaut. While on firmer ground, British jazz dame Selena Jones plays Ronnie Scott’s, a venue she first played in 1965 in a two-week booking that went on for five more due to audience demand. Selena has sung with Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn and Antonio Carlos Jobim.
When is the London Jazz Festival 2023?
From 10 to 19 November 2023.
More information on London Jazz Festival 2023
Discover all there is to know here.
Jazz on Screen
Read about the parallel running: Jazz on Screen, Barbican Cinema 2023 – London Begins at 40.
Words By Robert Spellman. Cover image © Photography by Jake Davis (instagram.com/jakephilipdavis)