Ousted from its Colston Hall home by the builders, the seventh Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival relocated to the welcoming bars and venues of the Bristol University Students Union, as well as St George’s Hall. Thankfully fine spring weather meant wandering between was largely pleasant and, buoyed by some great crowd-pleasing performances, the general verdict was positive.

This year’s jazz trends would seem to be bass clarinets, vibraphones and suites, with vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield’s Elftet scoring on all three in their reprise of his ‘Armitage’ suite, setting five pieces by popular Yorkshire poet Simon. The composition fully exploited the diversity of an 11-piece line-up with adroit shifts in texture and style and George Millard’s bass clarinet and Ella Hohnen Ford’s remarkable vocals especially striking. They were preceded by Huw Warren’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ celebration of Dylan Thomas, a performance of extraordinary beauty in the suitably restrained atmosphere of St George’s. Warren’s elegant and emotional compositions ranged from the intensity of the title-piece to the jaunty calypso of ‘Organ Morgan’, with Iain Ballamy’s tenor a fine second voice to actor/singer Mark Williams.

TD Kate Westbrook 15 small

Prior to that Kate Westbrook (above) had opened a special programme organised by Jazz South with her Dartmoor-themed ‘Granite’ suite, scored by Mike Westbrook for jazz-rock sextet. Kate’s vocal trademarks were there – growling and howling one moment, stately declamations the next, while the jazz-rock music battled with sound issues to jump through Hendrix-flavoured metal to Weillian cabaret and free-jazz blowing. It was a blast from the past, as was Soft Machine’s much anticipated appearance, which clearly did not disappoint a largely veteran audience happily reliving the days of ponderous prog riffs, thunderous drum fills and bedazzling guitar fretwork.

Arguably the contemporary blending of modern dance music technology with jazz has parallels with that 1970s urge to fusion and the current style was exemplified by Bristol-based project Phantom Ensemble. Wrapping threads of electronic beats and samples in layers of acoustic flute, sax and vibraphone the quartet created ear-catching looping ambient jazz. Elements of a similar approach ran through ‘Redefining Element 78’, an electro-acoustic suite commissioned by the festival from pianist Rebecca Nash and performed by her group Atlas. This ambitious project relied on a balance between carefully written passages and inspired solo contributions, including those of guest saxophonist John O’Gallagher and Rebecca herself, elaborating the themes and variations that gave the piece its impressive unity.

But the doyen of contemporary fusion jazz has to be Soweto Kinch (above top), whose alto sax stormed through a set of laptop-enhanced tunes on hip-hop inspired beats from Nick Jurd on bass and Will Glaser’s drums. Despite the torrential approach there was a clear melodic logic to his playing, which was as imaginative as it was flamboyant, and the audience quickly bought into his subsequent call-and-response rapping thanks to the man’s amiable persuasion. His was an upbeat finale to a satisfying weekend, but the abiding memory would prove to be that of Julian Siegel’s quartet with Liam Noble’s piano, Oli Hayhurst on bass and Gene Calderazzo drumming. In their tenth year this is a collective of equals and from full-tilt opener ‘The Opener’ to the percussive snap of closing favourite ‘Room 518’ they played their individual socks off without ever getting in each others’ way. The bandleader, however, was exactly that and his authoritative tenor glided definitively through each number with, sadly, only one excursion for his bass clarinet: a treat that deserved second helpings.

Tony Benjamin

 Watermill

Trombonist Mark Nightingale is the most accommodating of virtuosi. He’ll turn up in any number of situations: small jazz groups, big bands, commercial orchestras, and everywhere he goes he gives his all. Here though, he was the master of all he surveyed: a big band stuffed to the gunnels with crack players in front of a house-full audience and performing a programme that was entirely his own. Every piece was composed or arranged by him and at its core, a special commission to celebrate Watermill’s 25th anniversary as Dorking's premier week-in, week-out jazz club.

First though, there was the opening salvo of cleverly devised originals and standards, Nightingale’s re-working of Pat Metheny’s ‘Timeline’ revealing his gift for smart patterns and sudden trumpet flourishes, with a rumbustious solo from tenorist Paul Booth. ‘But Not for Me’ opened with, what else, a trombone chorale before the groove built by drummer Matt Skelton’s morphed into three-flute softness ahead of Nightingale’s robust theme statement and some swinging brass mayhem. Trumpeter Martin Shaw dusted down his flugelhorn for ‘Just Once More’, a pretty ballad feature ahead of ‘A Gentle Man’, a medium tempo exercise originally conceived for a student big band and here adorned by another peachy trombone chorale with more from Booth and Shaw. Juan Tizol’s ‘Caravan’ closed the first half via an array of soloists: altoist Sammy Mayne, baritone man Martin Williams, tenorist Graeme Blevins and trombonist Richard Edwards, their efforts book-ended by a wonderful sax soli sparked by Andy Panayi’s soprano as the icing on this particular cake.

Nightingale’s re-run of Jerome Kern’s ‘Nobody Else But Me’ allowed Panayi to excel on alto followed by a new commission based on Frank Rosolino’s version of ‘Don’t Take Your Love From Me’, with an a cappella trombone chorale for starters, yet more in-and-out complexity from the sax section and Nightingale unleashing his inner-tearaway in blistering fashion. He introduced the much-awaited Dorking commission as ‘Silver Samba’, explaining it as a series of juxtapositions of the notes A and G which handily combine to represent silver in the Periodic Table of Elements. The result was a jubilant and wholly celebratory piece, jaunty and fast-moving with Andy Wood’s fervent trombone and Panayi's flute as the principal solo adornments. Smiles all round.

Closing with a serene chart on ''Round Midnight, voiced by four clarinets and bass-clarinet and then a two-tier tribute to the late Urbie Green, one part pretty ballad, the other totally ‘raunchy’, Mark’s word for it, and a final surprise with veteran trombonist Cliff Hardie emerging from the audience to vocalise affectingly on Mark’s version of ‘The Summer Wind’. Big day, big band, big outcomes: Watermill overjoyed.

Peter Vacher
– Photo by Brian O'Connor

Over 500 leading musicians from across the jazz, folk and electronic scenes have signed an open letter to The Guardian in protest at recently announced cuts to specialist programming on BBC Radio 3. The changes to the schedule were announced in early March and include the “resting” of Jazz Now (which has been on-air just under three years) and Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz, while the genre-hopping Music Planet moves to a midnight slot. But it is the reduction of vital crossover/experimental show Late Junction, from three nightly slots a week to just one, that’s particularly angered many musicians and music fans.

Former Mercury Prize judge/broadcaster Jude Rogers and Luke Turner, founder of online music magazine The Quietus, coordinated the open letter to Radio 3 controller Alan Davey, questioning the decision to drastically reduce the station’s niche music programmes, which goes against the grain of its public services commitments. High-profile musicians who have signed the letter include Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Norma Waterson, Shirley Collins, Tommy Smith OBE, Orphy Robinson MBE, Claire Martin OBE, Cleveland Watkiss MBE, Shabaka Hutchings, Nikki Yeoh, Dennis Rollins, Elliot Galvin and many more.

An online petition has been started to stop the cuts to Late Junction – click here to sign

Mike Flynn

 

The Irish jazz world has been shaken by the sudden departure of Sinéad Dunphy (pictured), director of Cork’s Guinness Jazz Festival. Barely into the second year of what was announced as a three-year rolling contract, Dunphy was dismissed for reasons unexplained. An unsigned press release from Diageo, the company that owns Guinness (sponsors of the festival for nearly 40 years), thanks her for her contribution and says: “We wish to maintain the momentum achieved over the past number of years to deliver another great event this October”, without giving any details.

Dunphy received enthusiastic reviews (including from this magazine) for her 2018 festival, and noted that she not only succeeded artistically but delivered a profit. Her response now is, “I have been left with no option but to place the circumstances of my termination in the hands of my solicitors”, declining any public comment. Events company Verve Live Agency (no connection with the record label), which administers all of Diageo’s sponsorship contracts, merely stands behind the bland press release. The response of concerned musicians, including some who were in discussions about appearing in 2019, tends to assume that it’s all allegedly about money and, in this case, it seems they may well be right.

– Brian Priestley
– Photo by Miki Barlok

JimmyOwens DizzysClub

The Annual SAM Benefit concert will be held on 13 April at 5C Cafe in New York and will feature George Coleman, Jimmy Owens (pictured), Peter Bernstein, Scott Robinson, Frank London, Virginia Mayhew, Oscar Feldman and many more.

Special Audiences and Musicians, Inc. provides jazz performances in nursing homes, hospitals, assisted-living homes and other such institutions in New York and the Tri-State area. It employs musicians drawn from three under-represented groups; musicians with disabilities, senior musicians and women. The therapeutic, social and emotional benefits gained from live musical performances are well established. Utilising musician with disabilities, female musicians and senior musicians provides valuable professional performance opportunities to those under-represented musicians who have much to offer in terms of artistic expression.

Spencer Grady

Anyone interested in finding out more about SAM, Inc. can visit their website at www.specialaudiencesandmusicians.org 

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