Jazza festival - review
The two-day Jazza festival has at its heart the aim of reminding Londoners about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, and raising aid money. But political rhetoric was hardly heard in almost four hours of music at the opening show, which featured a score of players drawing on traditions from Palestinian oud music to jazzy country-rock, Geordie folk and American Songbook classics. If this diverse concert had a unifying humanitarian thread, it wasn't delivered in finger-wagging harangues, but in the music's sadness, joy, humour and compassion.
The show's principal hook was the release of The Ghosts Within, the new album from Robert Wyatt, that downbeat and creatively political genius. The record was showcased in the concert's long finale, with subtle settings of Wyatt originals and classic Broadway love songs from the Sigamos String Quartet's violinist/arranger Ros Stephens. Wyatt himself doesn't play live now, but his chosen representative, Cleveland Watkiss, gave an accomplished and gracefully moving account of the same repertoire, with Gilad Atzmon's quicksilver sax and clarinet improvisations gliding around him.
Palestinian singer Nizar Al-Issa opened the show with a stirring performance of songs from Ramallah, his voice vibrating and tingling between pitches like the strings of his oud. Vocalist Sarah Gillespie – a UK-residing, US-raised songwriter with a country singer's penetrating yodel, forceful delivery and lyrical wit – performed eloquently with Atzmon, on saxes, clarinet and accordion, though her vocal power could have used a little reining-in at times.
The Unthank Sisters furnished the evening with whisper-quiet subtleties, at one point performing without mics – and their finale on Wyatt's Sea Song was hypnotic. Watkiss and Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble closed the show with The Ghosts Within. The album's title track, an anthem to the neglected, was delivered with sonorous poise by Atzmon's singer wife, Tali.