Five gigs that hit the spot this year, a few surprises for sure, instant groove winning out in the end

5 Kairos 4tet, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
A slightly different Kairos 4tet with imaginative bassist Sam Lasserson deputising for the MOBO-winning band’s regular low-note man Jasper Høiby. Kairos 4tet play complicated yet ultimately melodic modern jazz with a huge amount of improvisation developing between the quartet members especially beyond the bridge in the more open passages. Waldmann has been quoted as saying he “looks for the pictures songs paint in my head and very emotive, unique communicators”, and the songs though structurally dense bear this claim out, finding their own intricate ways of connecting via the band’s expressionistic canvas.
Adam Waldmann, above

4 Anthony Strong, City of Derry jazz and big band festival, Spiegeltent, Guildhall Square, Derry
Getting better all the time performing with his fine band, the sound spearheaded by the classic blended Blue Note style of saxophonist Brandon Allen, fresh from an appearance at Ronnie Scott’s Late Late Show the night before, and trumpeter Graeme Flowers, with Empirical bassist Tom Farmer and ex-Gregory Porter drummer Dave Ohm completing Strong’s band. Playing material mainly drawn from his album Stepping Out highlights of the show included a sensitive treatment of Kurt Weill’s ‘My Ship’, ‘When I Fall in Love’, a song more or less synonymous with Nat Cole, and a soulful take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ with the band responding well. Anthony Strong, above


3 James Carter's Django Unchained, Ronnie Scott’s, London
Tarantino-esque in his fearsome delivery, but Django-esque more in the Reinhardt sense this being jazz beaming in from the spiritual home of the music in Europe the 45-year-old saxophone star James Carter putting on an exaggerated English accent as he rolled ‘Scott’s’ round on his tongue in his introductory words. This performance was an extraordinary reminder of sheer virtuosity, joie de vivre and exuberance from Carter who it’s easy to forget 20 years ago was one of the biggest new stars on the American jazz scene and who perhaps we take for granted a little bit too much: a big mistake. Here in organ trio mode he was with fellow Detroiters Gerard Gibbs roogalating infectiously on the B3 and the slick drummer Leonard King, company Carter keeps on 2011’s At The Crossroads. In the set marlbank caught Carter began on tenor and then moved through the family of instruments to alto and eventually straight horn soprano, the latter rendered Bechet-like all buttery and mellow.
Leonard King, above left, James Carter, and Gerard Gibbs. Photo: Ingrid C Hertfelder

2 Bap Kennedy, Ardowen theatre, Enniskillen
Released not long after Let’s Start Again came out the double set included several songs from this the singer/songwriter's latest album including ‘If Things Don’t Change’, ‘Radio Waves’, ‘Revelation Blues’ and ‘Strange Kid’, the latter with perhaps the best lyric of the night, although there was plenty of choice, with the wry ‘When I look in the mirror I can see/Some strange kid/Looking back at me’ in the lyrics. Kennedy has a highly melodic ‘real’ voice. There was a neat take on ‘Madame George’ from Astral Weeks instead, one of only a few covers. Energy Orchard might seem like a lifetime ago but this was all about the here and now and there’s no better time. If Things Don't Change from Let’s Start Again, above


1 Cymande, Sugar Club, Dublin
Playing their first ever appearance in Dublin the reunited seminal 1970s funk band Cymande who had been wowing audiences in London and Paris earlier in their tour did the very same in a vibrant show as they opened their set with ‘Brothers on the Slide’ in front of an up-for-it crowd at the Lower Leeson Street venue. Atmosphere, musicianship, good sound, sheer joy in performance and above all instant groove: it all came together. Cymande, above