JASON MORAN | London, Milton Court

Every year something at the EFG London Jazz Festival takes me by surprise — a show you’re at because you trust the quality of the musicians without necessarily knowing the music that’s about to be unleashed, the wildcard concert. This year, Jason Moran and a band made up of The Bandwagon group, a Polish chamber ensemble and guitarist Marvin Sewell were that surprise.

Having last been in the UK with his Fats Waller project and the unforgettable papier-mâché Fats head, the ‘set’ for Wind indicated a continuation of this flair for visual aids. Mysteriously, Milton Court’s stage was completely taken over by a tent fort structure comprising thin gauze gazebos at the front and a patchwork curtain of white linens stretching the entire length of the back wall. Curious. With this as the dream-like setting, the musicians took their places within the blanket fort, the azure back-lighting casting silhouettes on the draped material. With this simple and unique staging concept, they set the tone for this special piece, commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw for Wraclaw’s year as European City of Culture.

From within their canvas, the players whispered to each other, over-heard by an audience who were seemingly an incidental aspect of the performance (morseo than usual). There was no break to the flow of ideas uttered between the chamber ensemble, ranging from the re-invented ‘Blue Note’ sound (perpetrated by the likes of Robert Glasper, Terence Blanchard and Ambrose Akinmusire) through to more abstract chamber moments. It was a serene way to paint in sound while the superbly choreographed lighting pushed at the visual dimension of the audience experience, warmly drawing us in to a dream-like world one moment and pushing us back with bold, direct columns of light the next.

As the moods and grooves subsided after about 90 continuously sumptuous minutes, Jason led the quite beautiful musicians out of their temporary tabernacle home to rapturous applause. He introduced the international group and explained that dialect was at the heart of the composition, the conversation and collaboration across languages (musical and lyrical). What we glimpsed and overheard on Friday evening was completely captivating. If you get a chance to eaves-drop on Wind, I cannot recommend it more highly.

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