As a festival, Winter Jazz Fest have made it something of a hallmark to champion new sounds as the New Year unfolds. There is therefore a naturally synergy between that musical philosophy and those of PRS Foundation, BBC Music Introducing and our Master of Ceremonies for the evening, Gilles Peterson.
The evening was building to an Ezra Collective finale: the 5-piece Afrobeat-hip-hop-grime-reggae-jazz band were the talk of SXSW but there were gems to be found in the bill openers as well. Starting with a self-described ‘rant’ and then a stalker-ish number, London songstress Tawiah moved seamlessly between pad-controller and guitar with Zara Macfarlane-like vocals providing the golden thread between numbers. Titles like Don’t Hold Your Breath (if you wait for me to love you, you will die) demonstrate the wit and articulation of her set. A slow jam cover of Candy Rain drew whoops of approval from the audience and she dealt with a technical hitch with a style and grace that demonstrated her ease on stage. Her almost instantaneous chemistry with guitarist Mike Haldeman (they met 24-hours ago) was flowing and tremendously pleasing to hear, as was the sample of the voice of her 100-year-old grandmother in Ghana on Mother’s Prayer.
Trumpeter/producer/singer/composer/band-leader Emma-Jean Thackray was also taking advantage of jazz musicians’ ability to slot into bands with a few new faces joining her band Walrus. The now distinctive sousaphone-baseline meets layered-trumpet/vocals is a sound that is evolving along with Emma-Jean herself. One of those stepping into the band though was to be the real show-stealer: Dave Drake’s keys skittered, scattered and soared whenever they were given the chance to and the band gave him the extended space to allow this to happen whenever possible. This was a trend that was to continue into the next set as Joe Armon-Jones took the stage with singer Yazmin Lacey. Armon-Jones is playing in no less than three bands this jazz fest (Yazmin, Ezra and Nubya Garcia) and seems a constant in all the good things coming out of the London scene. Various crowd members (some without UK accents) were murmuring about wanting to see Joe in action and he didn’t disappoint. Lacey’s often slowly weaving songs lend themselves to an almost lackadaisical delivery of lyrics which was juxtaposed by the pianist’s dexterity. The singer was moved to hear the announcement of Black Moon cheered by the ‘away fans’ at Le Poisson Rouge — there was a lot of warmth for her and all those who’d made the journey.
Ezra Collective are brimming with confidence. After the aforementioned American recognition in 2018, they demonstrated once more that they have the energy, panache and ambition to ride this well into the new year. The crowd at LPR who had come to dance to their infectious beats, horn licks and harmonies were gladly led by the rollicking band. Although their omnipresence on the UK scene made this one of the less surprising sets of the evening for the Brits in the crowd, the evening as a whole demonstrated the power of these presenting partnerships and made a strong case for us all coming back next year: same time, same place.
The Winter Jazz Fest Marathon weekend runs over 11 + 12 January — more info here.