TRACK: Espa. Lover to a Liar

Most blockbusters are released at the start of the summer so it’s a rare joy for such a strong track to peep its head out as autumn is taking hold.

‘Lover to a Liar’ foams with the hutzpah of classic Christian Aguilera or contemporary Ella Eyre. Co-written/produced with Mike Kintish and KÅIKÅI, the raw lyrics are musically weaponised with Espa’s powerhouse vocals while tub-thumping drums and breaks set the purposeful pace of the track (with a modulated millennial whoop thrown in for good measure).

Announced with little fanfare, this is an absolute storming utterance that easily holds its own alongside the year’s most commercially-supported releases. More please, Espa.

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FESTIVAL: International de Jazz de Montréal

Montreal is into jazz. How much? Well, the festival features 600 concerts, 400 activities and events and 3000 musicians from 30 countries over the course of 10 days. So yeah, loads of jazz. Founded in 1979 with the intention of bringing the best musicians on the planet to the city and its visitors, the 2017 programme delivers on this mission statement as well as giving stage time to artists that are headed in that direction.

Browsing the full schedule (which you can do here) it’s wonderful to see an event that has everything from the ‘indisputable legends, beg-borrow-steal a ticket’ category through to ‘oh yeah, I’ve heard they’re kinda cool and I’ve got a free afternoon’ gigs. To look forward to just some of this enticing mix, it’s great to see Michael League and Shabaka Hutchings each touring their new projects — Bokanté and Shabaka & the Ancestors respectively. For those who think that a Nobel Prize is exactly what you should look for in a musician, the freshly decorated Bob Dylan is in town. Speaking of decoration, the stage of Maison symphonique de Montréal will be heaving with talent in a double-bill that features Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Scofield, John Medeski, Charles Lloyd, Gerald Clayton, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland. What?? Amazing.

For the young guns, the line-up sparkles with rising stars like Cory Henry, Jacob Collier, Anderson .Paak, Too Many Zooz and many more. For fans of the hang (as an instrument as well as a late night dram) it’s exciting to see the return of Portico Quartet, part of a British contingent that include GoGo Penguin and the burningly ear-catching Binker & Moses.

Think that sounds like a lot? We’ve barely scratched the surface and if the staged gigs seem too formal, 130 non-stop street artists are on a mission to make the city swing. We can’t wait.

Montreal International Jazz Festival runs from 28 June – 8 July and you can explore the full programme here.

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Barbican – Sound Unbound 2017

Sound Unbound sees the Barbican fling its doors wide open to share intimate encounters with classical music. The 60 performances represent 60 different opportunities to taste something new and interesting from a spectrum of pioneering, brilliant ensembles and composers.

In particular, we’re looking forward to Chilly Gonzales with Britten Sinfonia conducted by Jules Buckley in the world premiere performance of The Young-ish Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. You can also catch the orchestra with Alison Balsom and Timo Andres for a jazz-inflected programme of Rhapsody in Blue and Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain.

Guiding another generation through and to classical music is BBC Young Musician 2016 winner cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason who performs as one third of a trio, joined by his talented siblings on violin and piano.

Anna Meredith‘s work grows ever more interesting plumage with every year, and the Curve Gallery is privileged to be hosting an installation performance called ‘Hum’. The infinitely hip Pit Sessions in association with Boiler Room will also be channeling Calder Quartet, Liam Byrne and Ensemble Nevermind never satiate your desire for online-streamed cool.

Events are scattered (in an artful manner) across Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 April so you might want to check out what’s going on when and then enjoy the wanderlust of the open-house. Check it out here.

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Olivier award winning musical returns to London

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Sunny Afternoon, the jukebox musical telling the story of The Kinks, won four Olivier awards in 2015, including Best New Musical.  The Kinks’ lead singer and songwriter, Ray Davies, also won an Olivier that same night.  In the same vein as other jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys, Sunny Afternoon not only features the songs of The Kinks, but is also written by the band and tells the story of the band.  Ray Davies was keen to remain objective as a writer, and to give a warts-and-all account of the band and the British sixties too.

Following a successful run at the Harold Pinter theatre in the West End, Sunny Afternoon has been on tour since August 2016 and is now returning to London at the New Wimbledon Theatre, for a week starting on 28 March.  With Ryan O’Donnell reprising the role of Ray Davies after playing him already in the West End, this looks to be a particularly exciting touring production; whether you already saw it in the West End or not, head on down to Wimbledon for some Kinks-y action.

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SERIES: Borderless

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Battersea Arts Centre may be the venue of choice for comics finetuning their Edinburgh festival sets, but there is no kidding around with the stellar selection of music they have programmed in collaboration with GOAT Music. As the comics migrate north, the musicians takeover for Borderless, a new festival that will soundtrack the Olympic summer with irresistible global grooves.

The line-up reads like a rough guide to the hippest acts on the frontier of any genre, taking in the crackling cuts of electro outfit HAELOS, the jangly it-rock of Manchester band Money, and the percussive punch of afrobeat allstar Dele Sosimi. Amidst a celebration of music that combines the cerebral with the danceable, jazz sympathisers will find plenty that illustrates the genre’s growing influence on the broader alternative music scene. From a strong field, here are three submissions for best in show.

Sons of Kemet

Drummer Seb Rochford has quietly carried the torch as U.K jazz’s arch-innovator since his time with Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear in the noughties. The union of Rochford’s inventiveness with the vision of reed-player Shabaka Hutchings has seen Sons of Kemet capture the zeitgeist again, picking up the MOBO for Best Jazz Act in 2013. Theon Cross’ tuba menaces in counterpoint with Hutchings’ spiky melodies, whilst the presence of second drummer Tom Skinner proves the Sons’ dedication to the beat. The live experience is unique, akin to witnessing a ritual hoedown at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.

Hackney Colliery Band

The East London based brass band continue a trend that has seen horn led groups like Moon Hooch demonstrate you do not need decks to drop the beat. Best known for good-time arrangements of classics from the likes of Prodigy and Dr Dre, this year HCB released Sharpener, an album bursting with fresh original material. Having played out the London Olympics with a set at the closing ceremony, there will be few better places to see in the Rio edition than with Hackney Colliery Band on the 2nd August.

Mammal Hands

For those who prefer less bombastic vibes, Mammal Hands weave melodic fragments into a tapestry of sound far greater than one would have thought possible from the trio who create it. Building on the formula pioneered by Gondwana label mates Go GO Penguin, Mammal Hands base their pieces around trance-inducing patterns. The addition of borrowings from Indian and African musical traditions enriches the approach, adding an emotional heft to the minimalist textures.

Borderless — presented by Battersea Arts Centre and GOAT Music — runs 2 August – 29 September. Full programme here.

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RETURN: The Jazz Cafe

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Q. What do Gil Scott Heron, Herbie Hancock, Mulatua, Astake, Lee Scratch Perry, D’Angelo, Lana Del Ray, Bobby Womack and Amy Winehouse all have in common?

A. They’ve all performed at Camden’s Jazz Cafe, which is reopening after a £3million renovation project.

By the looks of the announced line-up, it’s not just the 25-years-old venue that’s had a face-lift. The programme packs a punch, with established quality lining up alongside emerging sounds on the scene. For example, you can get down there to see the likes of Dave Harrington or Portico. How about Mammal Hands with a smattering of soul and hip hop options to broaden the palate? It’s tasty.

With a vibey new look and feel, here’s to London regaining a venue equal to its history and famous name.

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FESTIVAL: Convergence

Music + Art + Technology  = Convergence

If that maths makes sense to you, 10 – 20 March 2016 is going to be a rather enjoyable period for you London music calendar. Convergence is back for its third edition with a line-up celebrating musical pioneers, visual artists and technologists. Highlights include saxophone maverick Colin Stetson and a celebration of Gil Scott-Heron featuring Kwabs, Jamie Woon, Dave Okumu, Nadine Shah, Loyle Carner, Gwilym Gold.

Convergence Sessions adds a discursive dimension to the programme — a series of talks, workshops, panels, performances and installations take place from 17-19 March at Ace Hotel Shoreditch (full sessions programme).

Dan Deacon has also been announced as the festival’s first artist in residence in a role combining workshops, sessions and gigs — a neat embodiment of Convergence’s raison d’être. Get on down.

Convergence runs 10 – 20 March at venues including BarbicanRoundhouse, Scala, St John on Bethnal GreenVillage Underground, Troxy and KOKO. Full line-up here.

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FESTIVAL: Love Supreme

Now in it’s fourth year, Love Supreme once again affirms itself as the UK’s leading greenfield festival celebrating jazz, funk and soul.  Legends and icons across all three genres occupy top billing from 1 – 3 July: Burt Bacharach, Grace Jones, Lianne La Havas, Giles Peterson and Kelis.  As if these stellar headliners aren’t reason enough to seduce your attendance, here are some choice pickings from the remaining wealth:

Schofield / Mehldau / Guiliana: Mehliana (the port-manteaud Mehldau and Guiliana) are joined by guitarist John Scofield for a UK exclusive.  Reassuringly, they’ve resisted temptation and exercised their better judgement by not rebranding for the occasion as Scomehliana.  Individually, these three are electric.  Combined, this supergroup demands your ears’ attention.

Cécile McLorin Salvant: In a nod to Bacharach’s attendance, Salvant’s set must inevitably include Wives and Lovers from her 2015 album For One to Love.  Her elastic range soars across octaves with a story-telling charm that captivates and dazzles the listener.  Truly a virtuoso, Salvant delights in every note and syllable.

Jacob Collier: His extravagant harmonies, extraordinary chops and polycephalic-hydra visual displays have catapulted Collier from YouTube star to being heralded as ‘jazz’s new messiah’.  He’s got Quincy Jones on side and if his projection continues, he’ll be romping up the billing in subsequent years.  Read the review of his EFG London Jazz Festival performance here.

Love Supreme Festival.  1 – 3 July 2016.  Glynde Place, East Sussex.  See you there.

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BUZZ FROM THE STATES: Hamilton

It is surprising when someone who does not identify as a ‘lover of musicals’ enthuses so whole-heartedly about something in the genre — this happened to me multiple times on a recent trip to the States.

Believe it or not, the musical event that is sweeping a multitude of music-lovers in the USA (beyond the usual Broadway pilgrims) is a biography of American founding-father Alexander Hamilton. Fusing hip-hop, rap, R&B, british pop (as well as musical theatre), if the soundtrack is anything to go by it won’t be long before Hamilton and its revolutionary notions find their way to British shores.

Musical history has never had such flow — props to Lin-Manuel Miranda and his dope compositional chops.

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ALBUM LAUNCH: Casually Here / Kept

Casually Here — South London-based producer Nic Nell — is releasing his debut album Kept, a record of nocturnal subterranean ‘night bus music’. He describes it as ‘a record evoking liminal states of mind between warmth and safety and experiences of coming home alone in South London at night’. The Prickle describes it as ‘really rather good’.

See it live with cellist Tom Pickles at the album launch on Tuesday 6 October hosted by the edgily delightful Rye Wax in Peckham. Oh, and it’s free (both the launch and the record) because Casually Here is casually ace.

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