London jazz festival: this year's must-see gigs

Singer Zara McFarlane, the festival’s director, and our jazz critic choose their five unmissable concerts from this year’s festival, which begins on 10 November

Singer Zara McFarlane’s picks

Zara McFarlane
Zara McFarlane Photograph: Record Company Handout

Basquiat and Jazz, featuring Black Top with Orphy Robinson
I am looking forward to hearing Orphy’s musical response to Basquiat’s work. I was really moved by the Barbican exhibition – Basquiat was so influenced by free jazz and improvisation. This gig is a fitting tribute: jazz musicians reinterpret Basquiat’s ideas, creating a kind of “call and response”. Expect top-class jazz improvisation from this great band and spoken-word performances from artist Anthony Joseph.
• At LSO St Lukes on 10 November.

Abdullah Ibrahim
The festival is a great place to catch legendary international artists. The spotlight has been back on South African jazz recently – in many ways the scene there mirrors what has been happening here, with loads of new bands coming through. Abdullah Ibrahim, though, is one of the all-time greats. This gig will showcase music written by him and another South African legend, Hugh Masekela, who I have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with.
• At Royal Festival Hall on 14 November.

Camilla George Quartet
Got to shout out my girl! Like me, Camilla came through Tomorrow’s Warriors and Jazz Jamaica. She’s an amazing alto-saxophonist backed by a top band that includes Dan Casimir and Femi Koleoso from Ezra Collective. That’s the way with this scene – everyone playing in lots of different bands. Catch Camilla’s show in a small venue before she blows up!
• At Spice of Life on 17 November.

Infectious beats … Kokoroko Photograph: Publicity image

Ezra Collective and Kokoroko
Make sure you’ve got your dancing shoes ready for this gig. Ezra Collective are an exciting new London band of incredible jazz musicians led by Femi Koleoso. Fusing Afrobeat, reggae and hip-hop, their infectious beats will have you on your feet from the word go. Afrobeat outfit Kokoroko are supporting them. Led by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and with an all-female horn section, expect Fela Kuti- and Ebo Taylor-influenced goodness and serious grooving performed by other rising London jazz musicians.
• At Islington Assembly Hall on 19 November.

The Floacist presents Maisha and Triforce
This will be spiritual! Sometimes you have to go a little off the beaten track to get the good stuff. I love what Natalie “Floacist” Stewart did with Floetry – great to see her supporting up and coming artists. I also only recently discovered Maisha, led by the brilliant young drummer Jake Long after he did a session with me for 6 Music. Think spiritual jazz meets west African Afrobeat. The talented saxophonist Nubya Garcia also plays with them. Lastly, Triforce mix jazz-fusion, hip-hop and neo-soul. Another young band making waves – they had a release on Jazz Refreshed last year. Their guitarist, Mansur Brown, who was in Yussef Kamaal’s live band, is outstanding.
• At Stanley Halls on 16 November.

Zara McFarlane performs at Rich Mix on 15 November.

Festival director John Cumming’s picks

Zakir Hussain – Crosscurrents
This is the only European performance of a collaboration that has been touring the US to great acclaim. The tabla virtuoso explores how jazz influenced the popular music of India from the 1930s, and is joined by a group that includes Indian artists who embraced jazz in the 50s alongside stellar soloists Dave Holland and Chris Potter.
• At the Barbican on 11 November.

Listen to Zakir Hussain’s Crosscurrents on Vimeo

Led Bib, Schnellertollermeier and WorldService Project
If you want a snapshot of where one strand of today’s European jazz is heading, look no further – these three bands display an energy and attitude that runs from heavy rock-infused grooves to headlong free improv. It’s one of a run of shows at Rich Mix that explore the breadth of music from today’s jazz generation.
• At Rich Mix on 12 November.

Justin Kauflin Trio, Airelle Besson and Vincent Segal
An acoustic double bill in one of the world’s great chamber music venues. Kauflin’s command of the jazz piano tradition is the hallmark of a massively talented newcomer, while the lustrous tones of the French trumpet and cello duo created a delicately poised opening set.
• At Wigmore Hall on 16 November.

Thelonious Monk at 100
The festival’s celebration of a jazz genius includes a three-part exploration of all the songs Monk ever wrote, curated with love and affection by pianist Jonathan Gee and saxophonist Tony Kofi. The icing on the cake is veteran Charles Tolliver’s re-creation of Monk’s landmark 1959 Town Hall concert – which he attended as a teenager. (At Cadogan Hall, all day on 19 November.) The night before is Monk Misterioso – Theatralia’s exploration of Monk’s world, probing the mysterious silence of his last seven years (at Kings Place on 18 November). Then there’s a rare screening of Les Liaisons Dangereuses with a Monk score that has been released for the first time this year. (At Barbican Cinema on 11 November.)

Jaga Jazzist
A musical law unto themselves … Jaga Jazzist Photograph: PR

Jaga Jazzist and Sinikka Langeland
The climax of a day of events at the Royal Festival Hall that celebrates the extraordinary range of music emerging from the Scandinavian jazz scene. Norway’s Jaga Jazzist are a fascinating musical law unto themselves, while Sinikka Langeland plays the music from one of last year’s signature ECM releases, with Arve Henriksen and Trio Mediæval in the ensemble. Through the day, the wonderful Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur brings her exuberant all-female Shamania to the free stage, alongside award-winning Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and Sweden’s Tolvan Big Band.
• At Royal Festival Hall on 19 November.

Jazz critic John Fordham’s picks

Michael Wollny, Andreas Schaerer, Vincent Peirani and Émile Parisien, with Adam Bałdych and the Helge Lien Trio
This newly minted European supergroup joins star pianist Wollny, the accessibly experimental singer Schaerer, accordionist Peirani and the capricious Ornette Coleman-inspired saxophonist Parisien. They share this ACT Records double bill with violinist Bałdych’s group, who splice jazz with Polish and Norwegian folk music.
• At Cadogan Hall on 11 November.

Watch a trailer for Decade Zero with Phronesis and Engines Orchestra

Phronesis and Engines Orchestra
Since 2009, English/Danish/Austrian trio Phronesis have increasingly fused virtuosic genre-hopping with a rock-blasting energy worthy of the late Esbjörn Svensson Trio. They share the bill with the ambitious jazz-classical Engines Orchestra, applying jazz and improv to the rich-textured, rhythmically devious Decade Zero, written for them by the contemporary classical composer Dave Maric.
• At Milton Court on 12 November.

John Coltrane in 1959.
John Coltrane in 1959. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
New York-based Canadian jazz composer Darcy James Argue leads one of the most innovative and exciting big bands in contemporary jazz, and opportunities to hear him in the UK are rare. Argue is steeped in an orchestral jazz tradition that includes Gil Evans and Mike Gibbs, but his rhythm sections have a pop and rock power, his melodies are edgy and his themes often pungently political – such as the music from their Grammy-nominated 2016 work, Real Enemies, which is the focus of this show.
• At Kings Place on 17 November.

The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda and Pharoah Sanders’ Concert for Alice and John Coltrane
Contrasting but complementary shows reflecting the enduring legacy of jazz and world music’s legendary Coltrane couple – in the spacious, devotional music of pianist/composer Alice Coltrane (performed twice at LSO St Luke’s by a choir from her California ashram). In the evening the stormy, rapturous free-jazz of John Coltrane will be celebrated by his former bandmate and fellow saxist Pharoah Sanders.
• At LSO St Luke’s at 11.30am and 5.30pm on 18 November; at the Barbican on 18 November.

Joe Zawinul’s Stories of the Danube, Terence Blanchard and the BBC Concert Orchestra
The late Joe Zawinul, co-founder of fusion pioneers Weather Report, remains a towering influence in contemporary jazz. This closing-night double bill marks that legacy with the Austrian jazz master’s Stories of the Danube, played by the BBC Concert Orchestra under Kristjan Järvi. The orchestra also performs star trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard’s newly commissioned piece Herbie Hancock: By Himself, with Blanchard in the solo role.
• At the Barbican on 19 November.

The EFG London jazz festival runs from 10 to 19 November in venues around London.

Zara McFarlane, John Cumming, John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Hugh Masekela/EFG London Jazz festival – review

The opening day of the London jazz festival saw Hugh Masekela turn his personal jazz story into a universal one at an entrancing show, writes John Fordham

John Fordham

17, Nov, 2013 @5:31 PM

Article image
Musical bliss: the London jazz festival pays tribute to Alice and John Coltrane
Ten years after her death, the LJF climaxed with concerts recreating the ecstatic devotional music heard in Alice Coltrane’s ashram, and the cosmic free jazz of her saxophonist husband

John Lewis

19, Nov, 2017 @3:48 PM

Article image
'It’s like you’re on top of the Alps': Alice Coltrane's spiritual jazz rediscovered
This weekend sees a host of London jazz festival events revisit the work of Alice Coltrane, who broke the rules of jazz to blaze a musical trail that still inspires

Jude Rogers

17, Nov, 2017 @3:52 PM

Article image
'This goes in deep!' Jazz stars give their tips for the London jazz festival
Leading performers including Laura Jurd and Makaya McCraven select the hottest tickets at the festival, from Herbie Hancock to Iggy Pop

Gazelle Twin, Makaya McCraven, Cleveland Watkiss, Laura Jurd, Marius Neset, Omar Hakim

13, Nov, 2019 @3:45 PM

Article image
21 years of the London Jazz festival: 21 key moments

The London jazz festival celebrates a key birthday this year - 2013's festival is its 21st. Our critics John Fordham and John Lewis, who've covered between them every festival, pick their favourite moments from each year

John Fordham

06, Nov, 2013 @12:48 PM

Article image
London jazz festival 2012: highlights from days three and four

Continuing our series of reports from the London jazz festival, John Fordham and John L Walters pick their favourite moments, including Bill Frisell and a Gil Evans tribute show

John Fordham, John L Walters

13, Nov, 2012 @4:30 PM

Article image
London jazz festival 2012: big bands blow the away the competition
John Fordham: The death of large ensembles has been greatly exaggerated – as the supersized talent at this year's festival shows

John Fordham

19, Nov, 2012 @5:19 PM

Article image
London jazz festival 2012: Where has Jan Garbarek gone? I miss him
John Lewis: The Norwegian saxophonist used to be the king of icy cool jazz – but at this gig he sounded more like Kenny G. What's going on?

John Lewis

14, Nov, 2012 @5:21 PM

Article image
London Jazz Festival: saxophone shows its star appeal
Steve Coleman, Steve Williamson and Chris Potter reveal instrument's depths and variations

John Fordham

13, Nov, 2011 @3:49 PM

Article image
London jazz festival review – a dazzling display all across the musical spectrum
The opening weekend of the festival featured a virtuosic set from Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau, an audiovisual tribute to comics by Art Spiegelman and Silent Six, plus the poised 13-year-old piano prodigy Joey Alexander

John Fordham

13, Nov, 2016 @3:38 PM