Monday night’s EFG London Jazz Festival’s concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall kicked off with a dazzling set from JD Allen, who more than lived up to his billing as one of the great virtuoso saxophonists. The rhythm section, particularly Jonathan Barber on drums, delivered an energetic backdrop that complimented JD perfectly on his debut London performance as a band lead.
There followed a sublimely evocative performance from Randy Weston and Billy Harper, the former as languorous and graceful across the keys as his tone of voice in introducing each piece and, at 88, surely a strong contender for Top 5 Cool Dudes You Wish Were Your Granddad. The pair’s sound is consciously derived from the culture and nature of Africa, through which Weston takes the audience on a journey throughout the set, and as a lifelong blues fan I was delighted to learn that the blues rhythm was inspired by an elephant’s walk.
Midway through the set, as shades of Harlem crept ever further into the sound, I began to feel as though my conceptual blues elephant had wandered off the savannah, holed up in a Casablanca nightclub and would presumably wake the next morning with a headache, half a bag of hashish and venereal disease. As they closed on “Little Niles”, however, I realised this analogy is unfair – there is a wholesomeness to their music, derived as it is from a romanticised yet transcendent nature and, more importantly, intimately linked to raw, human emotion. This for me is blues as it should be, superbly executed by two of Jazz’s all-time greats.