Django Bates/Norrbotten Big Band: Tenacity review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

The centenary year of the birth of Charlie “Bird” Parker is a reminder that the saxophone genius not only accelerated bebop’s transformation of jazz in the 1940s, but galvanised the imaginations of music-makers everywhere. This month also sees the 60th birthday of British composer and improviser Django Bates – like Bird, a wilful subverter of habits in anything from big-band jazz to the expected trajectory of almost any tune. Bates celebrates both occasions on Tenacity, with Sweden’s Norrbotten Big Band – kindred free spirits often reminiscent of the great Loose Tubes orchestra Bates and others created in the 80s.

Django Bates: Tenacity album cover.
Django Bates: Tenacity album cover

Bates’s 2010 tribute to his childhood hero, Beloved Bird, put his wayward stamp on the interpreter’s art, disrupting Parker’s devious themes with abruptly skidding rhythm changes and garrulous counter-melodies, but always keeping the fierce beauty of the originals in earshot. Tenacity takes that forward, joining radical but heartfelt remakes of Parker classics to four close-knit Bates pieces, including the edgily contemplative The Study of Touch. At times the set seems to unite the cultural implications of Bird’s meteoric 40s/50s flight through Harlem with the global and contemporary-classical scenery opening up to Bates and his peers in 80s London. This sense of a continuing jazz story vibrates through A Leu Cha’s balance of multilinear intensity and quiet piano reflections; in Donna Lee’s mix of free-improv and hooky riffing reminiscent of South African township jazz (a profound influence on Bates); or in the mischievous messing-with-Latin-jazz grooves on My Little Suede Shoes. Tenacity sometimes feels like an idiosyncratic birthday party, not just for Bird and Bates, but for a liberating century in the world’s music-making, too.

Also out this month

The defiantly joyous energy of apartheid-era 1960s South African jazz is vividly reflected on Armitage Road (We Are Busy Bodies) by the hard-boppish Heshoo Beshoo Group. It’s a rough-hewn but hard-driving blend of Coltrane-worthy sax whooping and guitarist Cyril Magubane’s mix of cool lines and funky groove-playing. On Flow (Cavalo Records), pianist/composer Maria Chiara Argirò’s lyrical duo with guitarist Jamie Leeming colours a rich, folksy, but subtly electronic soundscape hinting at Radiohead or Avishai Cohen – and including a yearning cover of James Blake’s Retrograde. And Keith Jarrett’s 2016 Budapest Concert (ECM) spans the then 71-year-old’s spontaneous prowess from stalkingly dissonant improv to wry boogying with a headlong drive worthy of the best of his 21st century solo shows.

The Guardian

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