Jazz Jamaica All Stars
Ellika and Solo
Rita Ray & Max Reinhardt (DJs)
Reviewed by: Jennifer Byrne
Reviewed: 2 August, 2003
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” is fêted for its range of musical inclusion. Eclectic in its scope, to say the very least, “Late Junction” provides a weekly glimpse into an entire world of music. Thus, it seems plausible that a live version of the pioneering programme would follow suit. To schedule such an event as part of the Proms season raised more than one eyebrow among devoted Proms followers, and while the concert probably did very little to elevate world music in the eyes of many regulars, the usual world music crowd was out in full force, seemingly recovered from a triumphant WOMAD weekend.
World music in the broadest possible sense of the term was the order of the evening. From Africa to Jamaica to Finland to Macedonia, one got the distinct impression that this event was something of a trial, a bold experiment in concert programming – how far could an audience be stretched? Certainly it seemed one or two of the sets were included for their novelty factor. Arto Tuncboyacian, Armenian multi-instrumentalist, delivered a set that was both humorous and moving. By utilising implements as curious as a water-filled saucepan, a wind-up child’s toy, by juxtaposing hocketing beer bottle and quick-fire tambourine playing, Tuncboyacian efficiently belied his more “serious” talents.
Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen caused mass nausea by spinning onto the stage, whirling round and round for the entirety of his first piece, the spinning and the performance simultaneously spiralling further into chaos. His otherworldly attire and technical wizardry, however, have probably done more to render the instrument sexy than anything preceding.
African music fans were indulged with appearances by Ellika and Solo, and “Late Junction” record label signee, Manecas Costa. Swedish fiddler, Ellika Frisell, and Senegalese kora maestro, Solo Cissokho, have been jointly responsible for a critically acclaimed fusion of two absolutely unaligned musical traditions. A forceful combination of Solo’s vocals and the unbending quality of the kora meant, in reality, that their short set was more a case of Swedish musical compliance, with Ellika providing sensitive support for a large portion of the performance. When the pair engage in a more direct discourse, however, the result is incredibly exciting, and more than adequate proof that fusion can be, in the hands of articulate practitioners, a valuable and meaningful pursuit.
Gumbe exponent, Manecas Costa, presented a stripped down, acoustic set, a situation that presented his irresistible dance music in a very elegant, organic mode. It was, in essence, a chance to experience the songs as a minimal, melodic experience, as opposed to punching dance-fest. He more than lived up to the current hype, his vocals and guitar-playing on beautiful form, with Venezuelan harpist Carlos Orozco supplying stream after stream of glorious, kora-imitating, improvisation.
A definite highlight of the evening was the Kočani Orkestar, a gifted band of Macedonian Roma musicians. Their frenetic rhythms and unabashed brass wailings delivered the dancing opportunity that had clearly been anticipated all night. Young vocalist Ajnur Azizov endeared himself through his shy but captivating attempts to rouse the crowd even further, while the group-singing gave a tempting taste of the unreserved atmosphere of a Balkan party.
All in all, the Late Junction Prom was an interesting one. At two to three songs each, clearly most sets were too short to develop any depth of rapport with the crowd. That all-important momentum was lost during the changeovers, with DJs Rita and Max doing little to keep energy levels high. As an early attempt, however, it was commendably successful, the diversity and quality of programming reflecting the sophistication of the world music industry, and the high level of demand from an increasingly aware audience.