Big Issue column 25

First published in The Big Issue, October 27 – November 3

The London Jazz Festival turns 21 this November, doffing its cap accordingly with a plush guestlist of heavyweights and rising stars. Tickets for the biggest names – the likes of Brad Mehldau, Lee Konitz, Carla Bley, Courtney Pine, Hugh Masekela and 80-year-old sax legend Wayne Shorter – are hot property and priced to match, so I’ll keep my tips to the smaller-scale gigs that venture a bit more off the beaten track.


The duo project from soft-grained, folksy Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen and British turntablist Philip Jeck should be a mellow, abstract adventure (King’s Place, November 17), and pianist Bruno Heinen’s lyrical take on Stockhausen’s Tierkreis makes for revelatory listening – at least, it does on the album released earlier this year (Vortex, November 16). Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer settles in for three-concert residency of expansive, moody soundscapes (King’s Place, November 15, 16 & 17) and Annbjørg Lien, one of Norway’s leading Hardanger players, teams spirited folk fiddling with Swedish guitarist Roger Tallroth (King’s Place, November 15). For intricate, intrepid ensemble writing, try John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet (Purcell Room, November 23). For fearsome, free-roaming improv, try Alex Von Schlippenbach’s Trio with Paul Lovens and Evan Parker (Purcell Room, November 16). For a sparky, sensitive star of the next generation, try young British trumpeter Laura Jurd: her solo show is free and includes a special LJF birthday commission (Foyer, Southbank Centre, November 21). The festival casts its net wide: this is the diverse shape of jazz today. (London, various venues, November 15-24,)

Meanwhile in deepest Yorkshire, the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival gears up for its annual gathering of the avant-garde, the arch-modern and the unapologetically esoteric. It sounds scary and frankly some of it is (generally a pair of wide-open ears makes the best kind of bolster). Big hitters this year include the UK premiere of a work called In Vain by Georg Friedrich Haas – a sizeable score composed in response to the rise of the Austrian right-wing – and the last of a triptych of ensemble works by the Scottish-born, US-based composer James Dillon. Also look out for Cecilie Ore’s shadow opera at Yorkshire Sculpture Park; a pair of intriguing programmes from the Norwegian contemporary supergroup Oslo Sinfonietta, and Apartment House’s premiere of Fluxorum Organum by the Danish composer Henning Christiansen. (Huddersfield, various venues, November 15-24)

For refuge in the downright classical, head to the Bath Mozart Festival, which does more-or-less what it says on the tin. There are classy Mozart programmes from the Takacs Quartet, the Nash Ensemble and the Halle Orchestra, and music by other composers includes Tallis from the Cardinall’s Musick, Schubert from the Schubert Ensemble and Janacek from the Pavel Haas Quartet. Andras Schiff plays a slew of Beethoven sonatas and the venerable Alfred Brendel gives a Saturday-afternoon talk – even though he no longer performs in public, he might just take to the piano to illustrate a few examples during the lecture. (Bath, various venues, November 8-16)

The Takacs Quartet has released a recording of Britten’s three string quartets. It seems as close as is possible to a definitive version of these haunting pieces. The playing is taught and plain-speaking, cutting from overt ferocity to heartbreaking intimacy. There might not be enough magic in the ethereal slides of Third quartet’s ‘Very calm’ movement, but the Passacaglia that ends that work is noble and devastatingly direct. [Hyperion CDA 68004]

AND ANOTHER THING: Pianist/composer Carly Paradis has released a debut album called Hearts to Symphony. It’s expansive, cinematic stuff, built on spacious piano riffs, soaring strings and wordless choirs. Overblown, maybe, but a confident declaration of intent from the Canadian musician.

GO TO: The Scottish Chamber Orchestra premieres a new work called Ebb of Winter by Peter Maxwell Davies, a composer who has written for the orchestra for almost as long as they’ve been an orchestra. Oliver Knussen conducts. November 8, Glasgow; November 9, Edinburgh