“The saxophone is a wonderful instrument which transcends genres and age” – with these words YolanDa Brown, Artistic Director of the London Saxophone Festival (and one of the performers herself), opened the grand finale of its inaugural year – a concert with two Grammy award winners, Casey Benjamin (Robert Glasper Experiment) and Bob Reynolds (Snarky Puppy).
First up was Casey Benjamin, one of Robert Glasper’s most trusted collborators, backed by Mark Colenburg on drums and Carlos Henderson on bass. The double Grammy Award winner was an extraordinarily charismatic presence on stage, whether he was smiling a wide smile as he sang, or shaking up and down to the rhythm of a frenetic sax solo. We were treated to a wide variety of musical genres, ranging from almost Radiohead-esque electronic soundscapes to frantic post-bop barrages, and everything in between.
As well as his solo music, Casey Benjamin gave a nod to his material with the Robert Glasper, and his musical roots, covering Herbie Hancock – the man who inspired him to play the vocoder. Casey spent the majority of the concert on keytar and vocoder on which he painted rich ambient pictures with his voice and effect pedals. While that meant less time to showcase his saxophone talents, the trio’s set was full of intriguing musical ideas and remained engaging throughout, with plenty of opportunity for Casey and his sidemen to display mastery of their instruments. After little over an hour, the trio left the stage to loud applause.
The second act of the evening was a quartet led by Bob Reynolds – one of the leading saxophonists in contemporary music, having released numerous solo albums and worked with John Mayer and Snarky Puppy. Reynolds’s jazz unfolds and develops in many directions, but always remains coherent and surprisingly accessible given the complexity of the music. This remains true for his recently released new record as bandleader Quartet, which he was showcasing that evening.
Reynolds spoke with great excitement at the fact that for the first time in his career he was taking the exact same band on tour as the one which recorded it. The quartet worked in perfect harmony, leaving one another space to shine individually, such as during the wonderful ‘Hush’ which included a hypnotic piano motif from Ruslan Sirota and a spectacular drum solo from Chaun Horton, or the fantastic layering that bassist Janek Gwizdala did on his loop pedals, simultaneously achieving sounds of an acoustic guitar, percussion and an electric synthesizer while at it. Of course, the headline attraction was Bob Reynolds himself, who laid out one beautiful saxophone passage after the other, including a magnificent two-minute solo that seamlessly transitioned into a full-band jazz-funk piece.
Bob Reynolds’ performance left everyone on their feet requesting an encore, after which followed a second standing ovation. This triumphant finale brought the first London Saxophone Festival to a close. With an impressive line-up, an engaging programme of activities beyond the concerts and a never-ending well of good saxophone music, hopefully the London Saxophone Festival becomes an established tradition in the annual music calendar.