High-Caliber Talent Soars at EFG London Jazz Festival

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Dee Dee Bridgewater performed songs from her album Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready during a Nov. 16 concert at the EFG London Jazz Festival.

(Photo: Mark Higashino)

London is blessed with a wide variety of music venues, which in turn provide vastly differing atmospheres for the musicians who played in them during this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, held Nov. 10–19. Judicial tube train journey planning and the compact location of most festival venues makes catching several shows a day perfectly feasible.

DownBeat was able to attend three such shows, all on one day: Thursday, Nov. 16.

The foyer of the Cadogan Hall hosted pianist Kate Williams with her trio and the Guastalla String Quartet in an intimate afternoon performance. It was a stimulating mix, with string instruments accompanying, and then leading the sounds, as Williams played structured and scored sections interspersed with adventurous improvisation. There was never a sense of a quartet bolted onto trio, or vice versa; the whole show was an exciting and innovative exploration of a new format that has the potential for far more music in the future.

That evening, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and her Memphis Soulphony band performed at Cadogan Hall, an auditorium that perfectly suited for the event. Bridgewater was every inch the Southern jazz/blues/r&b hybrid that her background implies, and she gave free rein to her superlative band while remaining completely in control, gently steering the atmosphere with skill and precision.

Some of the set list was drawn from Bridgewater’s latest album, Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready (OKeh), which nods to her roots.

Known as a superlative jazz vocalist, her reputation rightly rides very high in jazz circles, but tonight, it was time for jazz’s cousin—the blues, more specifically Southern rhythm & blues—to step up and shake the party. Bridgewater arrived on stage in dazzling sparkling trousers, a white blouse and a jaunty hat, with a huge grin that never left her face as she and her band appeared to have the time of their lives.

From Bobby Blue Bland’s “I’m Going Down Slow” to the serious horn workout through Carla Thomas’s feisty “B.A.B.Y.,” it was obvious that Bridgewater was loving the sounds, the atmosphere, the interaction and the sheer joy of unfettered fun.

By the time “The Thrill Has Gone” kicked off, the audience was on its collective feet, endorsing a fabulous highlight of a seriously high-caliber concert. It was time to get up and dance, and everyone did. This was the type of memorable performance that will probably expand Bridgewater’s fan base.

Over at the intimate 606 Jazz Club, saxophonist Dayna Stephens stepped on stage for his first live show in London in 17 years, with a band he had rehearsed just once, that afternoon. Stephens has recovered from the health issues that prevented him from touring last year, and it seems that the layoff has only strengthened his appetite for musical danger and risk-taking.

Thanks to intuitive communications, the band jelled completely on John Coltrane’s “Satellite” and ensured that listings will be eagerly scanned for Stephens’ name, in the hope it won’t be so long before his next visit.

For more info on Dee Dee Bridgewater, visit her website. DB



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