• Ally J Steel

EFG London Jazz Festival 2021: Review Roundup

After a spectacular return to live performances, following 2020's digital hiatus, Ally reflects on a wonderful set of performances from across the capital - ranging from legends to rising contemporary stars.



Daniel Casimir - Purcell Room, Southbank Centre


Daniel Casimir - EFG London Jazz Festival 2021
Daniel Casimir

Celebrating the launch of his debut solo album Boxed In, the bassist and composer Daniel Casimir crafted a cracking performance on the opening night of the festival. Having recently been dubbed 'Instrumentalist of the Year' at the Jazz FM Awards 2021, Daniel showcased his deftness with help from Al Macsween (keys), James Copus (trumpet), Binker Golding (sax), Ria Moran (as a guest vocalist), and finally Jas Kayser (drums) - who was also decorated as 'Breakthrough Act of the Year' at the Jazz FM Awards.


Mirroring his excellent record, the performance was beautifully curated, creating a flowing and thoughtful performance on the inaugural evening of the festival.


Daniel Casimir personnel: Daniel Casimir (bass), Al Macsween (keys), James Copus (trumpet), Binker Golding (Sax), Jas Kayer (drums), Ria Moran (vocals).


Read Ben's interview with Daniel Casimir from 2019 here


Tony Allen: A Retrospective - Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre


Tony Allen A Retrospective - EFG London Jazz Festival 2021
Tony Allen

One of the high-profile losses of the musical world in 2020 was the mighty afrobeat legend, Tony Allen.


To commemorate his extensive work and colourful life, a top team of friends and collaborators including Damon Albarn, drummer Femi Koleoso (Ezra Collective, writer Ben Okri and Gorillaz member Remi Kabaka teamed up to coordinate the evening, brought together by Tom Excell (of Nubiyan Twist) as MD.



With such an extensive catalogue to work with, the evening flowed well, with a huge array of stunning players and star guests across the night. For me, the strongest performances were when the large ensembles were in full force, which had a particularly killer horn section.


Femi Koleoso's recollection of his time with Tony was amusing and charming, which was swiftly followed by an electrifying Ezra Collective set.


With too many more moments to pick from, the evening was both thrilling and heartwarming - one which the performers enjoyed immensely. The night was thrilling, with the audience also rising, quite literally, to the occasion, with many invading the stage after an open invitation from the stars when the show came to a close. This was a superb celebration of a man whose musical influence is almost impossible to overstate.


Tony Allen: A Retrospective performers: Afla Sackey, Andrew Ashong, Anthonia Edwards, Ayo Dele, Ben Okri, Brother Portrait, Bukky Leo, Cassie Kinoshi, Damon Albarn, Dave Okumu, Dele Sosimi, Eska, Ezra Collective, Femi Koleoso, Jimi Tenor, Joan as Police Woman, Joe Armon-Jones, K.O.G, Kishon Khan, Lanre Fajumo, Lava La Rue, Lekan Babalola, Mike Smith, Nitin Sawhney, Remi Kabaka, Richie Seivwright, Seye Adelekan, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Tiger Tigre, Tom Excell (MD), WAYNE SNOW.


Read Ben's interview with Nubiyan Twist's Tom Excell from March 2021 here


Ishmael Ensemble - The Jazz Café


Ishmael Ensemble - EFG London Jazz Festival 2021
Ishmael Ensemble

Without a shadow of a doubt, Ishmael Ensemble's performance was one of the high points of the festival. The Pete Cunningham-led Bristolian-based group - who released their exceptional second album Visions of Light in August of 2021 - captured The Jazz Café from start to finish.


Floating between the realms of jazz and electronic, Ishmael created rich musical textures and layers that were utterly engrossing, enthralling, and emotive - a testament to the group's unity. With standout moments from Pete and Hollysseus Fly on vocals, this is a night that many will fondly remember for a very long time.


Personnel: Pete Cunningham (saxophone), Stephen Mullins (guitar), Jake Spurgeon (keys), Ror O'Gorman (drums), Hollysseus Fly (vocals).


Listen to Ally's premiere of Ishmael Ensemble's remix of Dundundun's 'Dun in Outer Space' from March 2021 here


Nu Civilisation Orchestra: What's Going On - Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre


Nu Civilisation Orchestra What's Going On - EFG London Jazz Festival 2021
Nu Civilisation Orchestra: What's Going On

Founded and led by Tomorrow's Warrior's Gary Crosby in 2008, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra have been headstrong in its ambition and scope over the years, and their appearance at EFG London Jazz Festival 2021 was no exception. With 2021 marking the 50th anniversary of the absolutely pivotal Marvin Gaye album What's Going On, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra decided to take it on.


Janine Irons - co-founder and CEO of Tomorrow's Warriors - introduced the evening, with a particularly warm story about Peter Edwards, a former protége, who arranged the music for the evening and acted as musical director.


The first half of the night was music taken from Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man - a 1972 blaxploitation film directed by Ivor Dixon. Trouble Man was a great choice to start the show, with its variety of soulful songs acting as a nimble way to gear the audience up for the centrepiece of the night.


It really is a difficult challenge to take on a much-loved piece of work. However, Peter Edwards and the Nu Civilisation Orchestra did a great job tackling it. The night featured superb performances across the board, particularly from Romarna Campbell (drums), Chelsea Carmichael (tenor sax) and Noda Orest (congas/percussion).


One of my few criticisms of the night is not directed at the music, but the visual projects - courtesy of Yeast Culture. The visual accompaniments were, in short - hit and miss - some were genuinely thought-provoking and moving, whilst others came across as rather cliché - yet I do appreciate the difficulty in conveying the vast amount of messages packaged within What's Going On.


Anyone who knows me knows how fondly I think of What's Going On - it is tremendous, with its music, themes, lyrics and performances all coming together to create a rich tapestry. As with so many others, it holds a special place in my heart. So, heading into the evening, I was both excited and apprehensive. Yet, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra put together a choice performance of a true masterpiece.


Nu Civilisation Orchestra personnel:


Peter Edwards (musical director), Noel McKoy (lead vocals), Colin Salmon (spoken word),

Cara Crosby Irons (backing vocals), Will Gibson (clarinet/flute), Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Chelsea Carmichael (tenor sax), Rhiannon Jeffrys (baritone sax/flute), Kurt Mayling (trumpet), Lily Carassik (trumpet), Joe Bristow (trombone), Hanna Mbuya (bass trombone/tuba), Olivia Moore (lead violin), Matt Holborn (violin), Rhiannon Diamond (violin), Jamal Hope (violin), Valeria Pozzo (violin), Abigail Davis (violin), Johanna Burnheart (violin), Jules Does Reis (viola), Nadine Simone (viola), Nikki Hicks (viola), Miranda Lewis (cello), David Kadumukasa (cello) Sonia Konate (guitar), Sarah Tandy (keys), Jihad Darwish (bass), Noda Oreste (percussion), Romarna Campbell (drums), Gary Crosby OBE (artistic director), Fish Krish (producer)


Charles Lloyd + Nérija - Barbican


Charles Lloyd - EFG London Jazz Festival 2021
Charles Lloyd | Credit: Tatiana Gorilovsky / EFG London Jazz Festival

The old school were greeted by the new school, as Charles Lloyd and Nérija appeared on the same bill at the Barbican on the closing weekend of the festival.


First up was the 7-piece group Nérija. As expected, their eclectic and upbeat rhythms brought a smile to the faces of the audience, providing some class solo performances, particularly Cassie Kinoshi on alto sax. In a setting difficult to fill like the Barbican Hall, Nérija's tight grouping was brimming with energy and rose to the challenge set in front of them.


Nerija - EFG London Jazz Festival 2021
Nérija

Despite being an impressive 83 years old, the legendary Charles Lloyd produced a commanding performance, full of wit and grace, showcasing the years of experience, which was eloquently teed up by Kevin LeGendre. Charles was joined by a star quartet of Gerald Clayton (keys), Kendrick Scott (drums) and Reuben Rogers (bass).


For most of the performance, Charles Lloyd played tenor sax, however, he switched between the tarogato and flute for several songs, with all instruments played with finesse. When he was not playing, he'd vacate to the sides to watch his class colleagues play, with a particularly notable inning from Gerald Clayton.


Charles Lloyd - EFG London Jazz Festival 2021
Charles Lloyd | Credit: Tatiana Gorilovsky / EFG London Jazz Festival

Charles Lloyd's saxophone skills certainly haven't faded and this performance shows no signs of him slowing down anytime soon.


Charles Lloyd personnel: Charles Lloyd (reeds), Gerald Clayton (keys), Reuben Rogers (bass), Kendrick Scott (drums).


Nérija personnel: Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Cassie Knioshi (alto saxophone), Jospheine Davies (tenor sax) Rosie Turton (trombone), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Lizy Excell (drums), Rio Kai (bass).


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