Quite intrigued by the line up for this year's London Jazz Festival which is now managing to capture the kind of talent that is defining what jazz is about in 2011. It is interesting from the prospect that there seems to be a real endeavour to feature some of the "big hitting" soloists of today the I feel are definately filling the void left by the passing of some of the legends from the past or those musicians from another era whose powers are sadly diminishing. There are a few "legends" featured such as Ornette Coleman and Abdullah Ibrahim (already sold out) and it is perhaps a sign of the fact everyone is getting older that the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Chris Potter, Steve Coleman and the great Bill Frisell are now very much an elder statesmens of the music with a body of recordings behind them that have defined jazz for the last 15-30 years.
There are several gigs that appeal (Henry threadgill's "Zooid" sound terrific on the Youtube clips) but there are two concerts which really stand out for me. The first is by singer Gretchen Parlato who I missed at Vienne this year having been caught in a deluge and had to return back to my hotel mid-way through a Chick Corea gig as I was saoked through to the skin. Glad to see that the publicity features a quote from Alyn who clearly shares my enthusiasm for her work. Makes me even more furious that it was raining too hard to go to hear her perform back in the summer although I am not convinced if many people made it that night as the weather was atrocious.
The other gig I would have to single out features a group led by a future subject of "Jazz Library," Michel Portal. I caught this band is Vienne in 2010 and it was one of the highlights of a festival whose creeping commercialism transformed into an onslaught that year. His current band is killing. Not only does it feature Ambrose Akinmisure on trumpet (nearly 50 years younger than the French mult-reed virtuoso) but also includes Bojan Z, Scott Colley and Nasheet Waits. I love this trumpeter's playing who reminds me very much of Kenny Dorham insofar that his playing is so radically different from the way most other musicians treat this instrument. Akinmusire seems to have truly arrived on the scene this year with a very strong album on Blue note under his own name and a fruitful partnership with Walter Smith III's with whose quintet he was also featured on earlier this year. Both albums are amongst the best new issues I've heard in 2011 but the combination with Michel Portal works insofar that it draws the Frenchman very much into the Afro-American jazz tradition and away from his Gallic idiosyncracies whilst perhaps offering an unfamiliar challenge to the American musicians at the same time. The result is wonderful jazz and, for my money, probably the festival highlight. Haven't heard the album yet. I appreciate that Solal may have his enthusiasts on this board, but Portal, in my opinion, has probably been the more creative and exploratory musicians to have come from France. He is a player of genius and quite why he remains so unknown in the UK and not entirely appreciated in his own country either is staggering. For many, a label like ECM is indicative of the contemporary European scene but Portal is a man who follows his own, unique and unusual agenda.