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Musicianship Remains Undiminished at Ever-Expanding London Jazz Festival

The EFG London Jazz Festival and the show keeps on getting bigger and bigger. This year’s 31st edition, which took place Nov. 10–19, was a 10-day extravaganza that featured over 300 acts playing across more than 70 venues throughout the city — meaning that no matter which part of town you might have ventured to, top-quality improvised music was ever-present.

Gaining an overview of a festival on this scale is a gargantuan task, since programmers curated lineups that covered almost every aspect of jazz’s varied identity: from legacy celebrations of Pharoah Sanders and Wayne Shorter, to living-legends sets from Ron Carter and Charles Lloyd, homegrown talent in the shape of saxophonist Emma Rawicz, Dave Okumu and Tom Skinner, as well as experimental pursuits from the likes of Rarelyalways, Bill Orcutt, Tyshawn Sorey and others.

Yet, such tyranny of choice also produced a fantastic array of highlights. An opening-weekend high point came in the form of Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven’s show at the Barbican with the London Contemporary Orchestra. Returning to the festival following a triumphant 2022 performance, McCraven’s string accompaniment for this 2023 concert was perfectly pitched to flesh out the luscious orchestrations of his latest album, In These Times. In a tightly packed show of just over an hour, conductor Robert Ames’ LCO provided gorgeous harmonic swells and textural ambience between McCraven and his band’s bursts of rhythmic flair. Opening on the fast-paced ride cymbal patterns of “Seventh String,” the LCO provided a delightfully delicate top-line melody before giving way to a muscular vibraphone solo from Joel Ross. While on downtempo interludes like “Lullaby” and “The Calling,” strings swept cinematically across the sold-out auditorium, showcasing McCraven’s skill as a composer as well as a drummer.

Read the review in Downbeat Magazine.

[This piece was published on 05/12/23]

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