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EFG's London Jazz Festival kicked off in style at the Royal Hall

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The EFG London Jazz Festival is underway, taking place over 300 individual gigs dispersed across the city, and continuing until Nov 25th. Keep your eyes peeled for a show nearby as it’s a celebration of sound that’s well worth your time. 

Image courtesy of the London Jazz Festival

The festival opened last Friday with a show-stopping gala performance led by Guy Barker and his 42 piece orchestra, who found themselves accompanied by an array of grippingly soulful and equally powerful vocalists. Together, they previewed the diverse sampling of sounds that you could expect to find throughout the rest of the festival.

Lea DeLaria, who you may recognize from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, kicked off the event with a wonderfully frenetic rendition of ‘Welcome To My Party’ from the Broadway show The Wild Party. The tune served as the perfect, upbeat icebreaker for the festival, as host Jumoké Fashola explained afterwards that in its respective musical, it welcomes guests to a 1920’s party full of drink, drugs and of course, sex.

Deva Mahal, daughter of American blues musician Taj Mahal, slowed things down a bit, offering an emotionally provocative rendition of the title track from her latest album, Shards. Following such an energetic opening from Delaria, Deva’s voice took center stage with a truly compelling performance.

One of the great things about the event was the divergent styles offered by the talent gathered. This was on full display when Lisbon’s Mariza welcomed the audience into the harrowing world of fado, a stripped down Portuguese genre that was simply saturated with laments. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from her performance, but her presence on stage, as well as her vocals, were just so commanding that I could tell I was, with the rest of the audience, totally awestruck.

Video courtesy of the London Jazz Festival

London’s own Zara Macfarlane gave a hauntingly beautiful performance, singing 'Silhouettes', a track from her album Arise. Her ability to not just manipulate, but have fun with, unique tonalities was on full display as she, too, captivated the crowd. 

As deserving as the collective of vocalists were of the night’s billing, a real standout moment of the gala’s opening came when Guy Barker’s orchestra took the spotlight for a medley of tunes from 1968. For about 15 minutes the orchestra ebbed and flowed between upbeat tunes with clear influences from not just the world of jazz, but funk and soul as well.

While the night was focused on vocalists, this was a clear reminder that the London Jazz Festival was a celebration of all aspects of music. 

From here, the festival is chock full of worthy performances, ranging from the young in shows such as BBC’s Young Jazz Musician 2018 Final, where 5 of the most promising youth talents play for the top spot in a concert format competition, to the scene’s new, with sets still to come from actor Jeff Goldblum to concepts so creative that they simply have to be checked out. A prime example of the latter would be Fini Bearman’s 'This is Not America', which explores the musical catalogue of Brixton’s own Davie Bowie through the lens of a true jazz artist.

For the full listing of events, click here and to get tickets and more information on the EFG London Jazz Festival itself click here.

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