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A few minutes’ walk from Kings Cross and St. Pancras stations stands Kings Place. Opened in 2008, it’s the first concert hall built in London after the Barbican was finished in 1982. Its developer and director Peter Millican has achieved a splendid environment for arts fully loaded with state-of-the-art facilities that is revitalizing the cultural life and also bringing new business opportunities to the northern side of the British capital. Incarnated in an ethereal and luminous architectural design by Dixon Jones, Kings Place hosts commercial offices in its upper levels (like The Guardian’s, among many others) together with spacious cultural infrastructures, including two art galleries. As far as music is concerned, it offers two auditoriums with excellent acoustics, specially its Hall One, headquarters of the GMF Music Festival, as well as several rehearsal rooms where the Foundation gave its workshops.

Sessions started at 9:30 in the morning, when all the students attended three different seminars till noon. Stephen Keogh started working with  concepts like pulse and silence. Then, Guillermo Rozenthuler talked about the voice, body-mind coordination, enhancement of the listening skills and ear training. The morning finished with Francesco Petreni’s samba workshop, who taught the different rhythm patterns that make up this genre. Participants were distributed in different percussion sections and were brought all together into a lively samba crowd with all the necessary instruments to build a uniform band by the end of the session. These activities had the goal of facilitating personal self-discovery, interaction and connection within the group of students. From midday on, musicians went to instrument seminars, and later to combos led by teachers like Barry Green, Bruce Barth, Kevin Dean or Perico Sambeat.

Thursday, March 28th

At night, the Festival got dressy in Hall One. The opening concert on thursday was a triple bill, a true stars parade with different rhythm sections that the audience was able to enjoy in different combinations throughout the following days, observing the different interactions of the performers, the very essence of jazz.

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For the opening show, bassist Arnie Somogyi acted as master of ceremonies introducing the bands. The one to break the ice was Barry Green. In his performance we were able to discover a highly lyrical player à la Bill Evans, delicate and meticulous in his sound, far from any shrillness. He was supported on stage by Jeremy Brown on bass, really comfortable in this poetic manner where silence and space are fundamental, and Francesco Petreni on drums, as committed with melody as his colleagues were. Due to time limitations in a three band concert, solos were concise as much as efficient, and soon the next band took over the stage. Albert Sanz on piano, Arnie Somogyi –who had to introduce himself in a humorous manner- and Stephen Keogh on drums, fluently developed  a full set of standards where Sanz showed his taste and his ability to lead the pieces through risky and surprising pathways, carried lightly and gently by the impulse of Somogyi and Keogh. Guest Guillermo Rozenthuler provided the latin touch with his voice, performing a heartfelt version of “Tú, Mi Delirio” by Cesar Portillo de la Luz over a bolero rhythm that was acclaimed by the audience. The main course of the night was served by tenor sax player Jean Toussaint with Kevin Dean on trumpet, with a straight ahead swinging set where Toussaint delivered burning solos full of virtuosity that had their answer in Dean’s classy playing and caressing sound, the perfect balance on stage. Not to forget Bruce Barth’s magnificent contribution in his first appearance in this festival, together with two musicians to be discovered: Chris Hill on bass and Eddie Hick on drums.

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After the concert, it was time for the jam session in Hall Two. Led by Barry Green, GMF workshops students got together on stage with teachers like Arnie Somogyi, Albert Sanz, Bruce Barth or Perico Sambeat, who dropped by at the jam the night before his performance.

Friday, March 29th

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Friday night was the time for Perico Sambeat to open the double bill, splendidly surrounded by Barry Green on piano, Chris Hill on bass and Stephen Keogh on drums. The Valencia-based alto player started his show with the optimistic “Mirall”, where Chris Hill’s powerful pulse was already noticeable. The set continued with a sax intro wrapped in a collective improvisation that led to “Nereida” (Elastic, 2012), a waltz based on a riff that Green played with his left hand. Keogh pushed Sambeat strongly as he toyed with rhythm and silence in his solo, which got a beautiful response from the piano. The sound of the sax was left alone to introduce the ballad “I Wish I Knew”, where the audience could enjoy a bass solo built alternating his great sense of melody with fast arpeggios, before the leader closed the piece as it started, with the naked voice of the sax on stage. After the calm,  a storm of swing arrived with “Impasse” where Sambeat delivered a flaming solo, followed by the piano and an exultant Stephen Keogh, rewarded with spontaneous applause. After thanking the audience, the leader started “Bugalu”, a bluesy urban sounding composition he used as background to introduce the members of the band and to put an end to an excellent performance.

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After the break, vocalist Claire Martin went on stage and opened with Donald Fagen’s “Do Wrong Shoes” a set full of blues, a genre where Martin not only feels in her element but provides intense moments. Martin continued with “Meaning Of The Blues”, a Bobby Troup composition she recorded for her Secret Love (Linn Records, 2004) album, a song where Bruce Bath painted a picture of desperation with his piano and Jeremy Brown embellished the moment with an intensely melodic solo greeted by the audience. Then the band played a 5/4 arrangement of “Estate” with English lyrics by Joel Siegel, and latin-flavored “Too Much In Love To Care”, the composition that gives its title to Martin’s latest recording. A sepeeded up “Love Come Back To Me” followed, with Eddie Hick giving a lecture on fast brush playing under a brilliant piano solo that had its response in Claire Martin’s swinging voice, who showed her skills by masterly playing with the tempo in her performance.

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When the rush was over, Libor Smoldas was invited to join the band to play “I Keep Coming Back To Joe’s”. The Czech guitarist soon became the center of attention displaying his magic with a beautiful, carefully built, melodic solo, playing sometimes after the tempo. This went on also in “River Of Dreams”, where Bruce Barth handed the accompaniment of the voice over to the guitarist, and his subsequent solo was received by raging applause. In view of such response, the leader stopped Smoldas on his way out of the stage and asked him to stay and play “But Not For Me” up tempo. Once again his guitar delighted the audience with a brilliant solo that proved that his talent extends to playing fast tempos as well. Now it was time for intimacy and emotion. On stage, Bruce Barth turned “A Time For Love” into a piano fantasy while Martin’s voice became a whisper singing Paul Francis Webster’s lyrics, all sensitivity and beauty. After this touching moment, the quartet headed for the end of their show with the merry blues “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” and finished with Chester Babcock’s (a.k.a. Jimmy Van Heusen) “I Thought About You”.

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It was jam time in Hall Two, with Bruce Barth and Eddie Hick joining the seminar’s students. This time we could also discover the talent of a sax player from Valencia whose name will soon be known is the Spanish jazz scene: Victor Jimenez.

Saturday, March 30th

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The saturday night double bill was almost sold out and the upper level seats in Hall One were made available to accommodate the audience. Pianist and composer Pete Churchill opened the show nicely accompanied by Flo Moore on bass and Francesco Petreni on drums. The icing on the cake was Canadian player Kevin Dean on trumpet. The quartet started their trip through the Great American Songbook with a swifter than usual version of “Trav’lin Light” followed by Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” played over a celebratory New Orleans marching band rhythm where Petreni showed in his solo that sometimes silence is as important as the notes. The ballad “I’m Through With Love” that Marilyn Monroe made famous in Some Like It Hot, allowed Kevin Dean to give a lesson on style and feeling in his playing. The band speeded things up with “The Masacarade Is Over”, where Churchill and Petreni had an intense call and response episode, first with his voice and the drums and then with the piano. With good mood and presence, the leader justified playing his own vision of “I Keep Coming Back To Joe’s” where Dean’s trumpet offered again a brilliant solo. Then the quartet played “Young And Foolish” –‘Now I’m old enough to introduce this song’, in Churchill’s words- and finished their performance with “I Was A Little Too Lonely” by Jay Livingstone and Ray Evans, a composition that was made popular by Nat King Cole.

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Bobby Watson and his International All Stars went on stage with the growing excitement of the audience and addressed with resolution John Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary”, where the rhythm section, acclaimed as the Festival’s ‘dream team’, worked as an unstoppable, perfect and hot swing machine, commanded by Bruce Barth and supported by the forceful pulse of the Keogh-Hill duo. With such foundations, Watson was free to enjoy and lead the show as he pleased, as his companions adapted instantly to every change. The man from Kansas City introduced “Time Will Tell”, a piece he recorded with Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers just three weeks after he joined the band in 1977. This composition melted into a collective improvisation that became the ballad “These Foolish Things”, where the alto sax of the leader had his own space, alone on stage, in a beautiful coda.

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It was time to invite another ex-Messenger, Jean Toussaint, to join the quartet. With this extended band, the climax came with Charlie Parker’s “Now Is The Time”, where Watson’s wisdom and feeling weaved together with Toussaint’s impulsive and visceral sound, right before Barth delivered an amazing solo and duo conversations started, first alto sax and drums and then the piano and bassist Chris Hill in state of grace. With the ovation of the audience, the band left the stage soon to return and end the celebration with “Jeannine” by Duke Pearson, a final touch for a memorable show.

Sunday, March 31st

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On Sunday night after Scott Hamilton’s gig, the GMF faculty and students got together at the Pizza Express Club in Soho to hold a jam session with names like Pete Churchill, Eddie Hick, Libor Smoldas, Bobby Watson, Bruce Barth, Perico Sambeat, Kevin Dean, Jeremy Brown and Stephen Keogh. Although the GMF Festival finished on Monday April 1st with the students’ concert, this jam represented the end of an unforgettable experience for this journalist who enjoyed jazz every night with GMF surrounded by the magnificent environment of Kings Place.

Next meeting: GMF International Jazz Workshop Europe 2013 in Saarwellingen, Germany

A few days ago Global Music Foundation announced on its Facebook site the teaching programme of their International Jazz Workshop in Saarwellingen, Germany, 9 – 15 August, 2013. Some of the teachers who have confirmed their presence in this seminar are Bruce Barth (USA), Jean Toussaint (UK), Mark Hodgson (UK), Tina May (UK), Gilad Atzmon (UK), Libor Smoldas (Czech Republic), Eddie Hick (UK), Guillermo Rozenthuler (UK/Argentina), Claus Kirsh (Germany), Jeremy Brown (UK) and Francesco Petreni (Italia). Here you will find a visual summary of the 2012 edition:

Acknowledgements: Stephen Keogh & GMF, Kings Place, Juan Camacho.

© Text and photographs: Sergio Cabanillas, 2013.