Raison D’Etre

Widely considered one of the best live venues in London, it has been a while since I’ve visited the Jazz Caféi n Camden.  Jazz Café has probably been my favourite venue since its opening in the spring of 1991, and I have seen some of the greatest modern jazz artists there. In Jazz Café’s first year of opening I saw Jackie McLean, Robin Eubanks, Greg Osby, Barbara Dennerlein, James Blood Ulmer, Zawinul Syndicate and Tony Williams.

Over the years I would also see amazing acts including Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Billy Cobham, Steve Williamson, Robben Ford, Yellowjackets with Peter Erskine as special guest, McCoy Tyner, Randy Brecker, Mike Stern, Eddie Henderson, Azymuth, Jazz Jamaica, Jean-Luc Ponty, John Scofield, Dennis Rollins, Larry Corryel with Victor Bailey and Lenny White, Stanley Clarke and George Duke. No doubt a who’s who of modern jazz.

Jazz Café doesn’t get as many of the big jazz acts these days and has shifted its focus to other styles of music. The reason jazz artists love to play at the Jazz Café is because it is an opportunity for people to dance to their music as opposed to sitting at a table. It sure is a great venue for live music and a week ago I saw four different acts under the banner of Raison D’Etre which was celebrating its 14th anniversary.Raison D’Etre had its origins in Shoreditch and over the years has helped to launch many an act.

The four artists performing in this order were Kingsize Slim, The Future Shape of Sound, Charlie Winston and Dustaphonics featuring Hayley Red, each getting around 40 minutes to perform. Kingsize Slim was a lone guy on stage with a steel guitar which was an interesting and unusual way to start a set. I can’t say I found his music inspiring or fascinating, but he played his heart out and got an enthusiastic response from the sizeable crowd.

The Future Shape of Sound was an interesting cocktail of rock n roll, new wave, dance, rhythm and blues and even a bit of rap! A seven piece band comprising a saxophonist, lead singer, two female backup singers, bass, keyboards, drummer and a guitarist who was a cross between Slash and Joe Perry. The guys were decked out in 1950s style suits and the band were an absolute riot, playing fantastically energetic stuff and really worked the rapidly growing crowd really well. The visuals were great and the crowd loved it. Definitely one of the better live acts on the circuit I would say.

The third act was a special appearance by Folk Indie singer Charlie Winston who, I was reliably informed is very big in France (informed by some French girls in the crowd!). He was accompanied on stage with a backup vocalist who also played harmonica whilst Charlie played guitar. The duo played a mix of vocal melodies allied with energy which really got the crowd going and singing along to the songs they seemed to know so well. I didn’t know many of the songs myself but I got the impression Charlie Winston and his partner got the biggest ovation of the night.

The final act was Dustaphonics who were also launching a new album called BIG SMOKE LONDON TOWN. It started off with three guys playing an instrumental rock n roll track, and then a tall statuesque woman (Hayley Red) came onto stage dressed in a cape, which she soon jettisoned to reveal a full purple suit with sequins and trimmings! Dustaphonics went on to play a very vibrant rock n roll set which was great fun if you love to twist and shout and was a great way to close out the gig.

Thanks to a baffling curfew in Camden, proceedings came to an end just after 10pm, with a DJ set held afterwards in honour of Pharrell Williams.

But Raison D’Etre is a fantastic idea and at only £10 entry cost was not a bad way to spend a Friday evening.

Author: Laurie Burnette

A jazz fan since my teenage years. Fortunate to get into jazz during a period (late 1980s to early 1990s) when many great contemporary musicians were in their prime and making great music.