Instrumentalist - Piano
London Jazz Festival
Sunday's programme opened with an afternoon showing at the Barbican of Louis, a must-see gem. The silent film fantasy is based on a real-life incident, Louis Armstrong's boyhood arrest for firing a pistol in the air, which earned him a sentence to the Coloured Waifs' Home. The events leading up to the incident are lost to history but for director Dan Pritzker, political corruption, bordello shenanigans and puppy love have much to answer for.

The monochrome is sharply shot and, following the Chaplin template, pathos and slapstick are finely balanced. Anthony Coleman is charming as the boy Armstrong, capturing the street-savvy trumpeter's ebullience and sense of justice to a T: as the capacity audience filed out, Coleman was spotted, still seated in the stalls, and acknowledged the fans' prolonged applause with a stiff bow and a shy grin.

It was the integration of live music and film that made Louis such a success. The Wynton Marsalis score closely weaves the solo piano music of 19th-century Creole composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk into a tapestry of original material and jazz classics. Concert pianist Cecile Licad unleashed the bittersweet contours of Gottschalk's Chopinesque compositions, while an on-the-money nonet, led by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, swung hard and dug deep, driven by drummer Herlin Riley's imperious, hard-boiled shuffles. At times, the score switched from one style to the other, following the film to the slightest gesture. At others, it was rhythmically at odds, the ragtime jangle of Licad's piano or the moan of Jellyroll horns giving a surreal undertow to streetlife and bawdy dance alike.

***** (five stars)

Mike Hobart, Financial Times
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