Bobby Wellins, Liane Carroll and Claire Martin get South Coast Jazz Festival swinging

The first South Coast Jazz Festival was an unqualified success. Sell-out crowds turned out for three nights of carefully varied, engaging bills, spanning vocal stars, big bands, a British bop veteran, and the barely classifiable klezmer-circus-noir-swing of Mark Edwards’ Cloggz. The nightly walk from the train station past Shoreham-by-Sea’s Norman church, which looms magnificently over this old Sussex port, was almost pleasure enough, showing what organisers Claire Martin and Julian Nicholas’s home county and jazz have to offer each other. The real ale-replete, ideally-sized and welcoming Ropetackle Arts Centre added to the crowd’s audible, happy buzz between sets.

The VOX choir from county town Lewes’s Old Grammar School opened the festival, a community connection maintained with master-classes and workshops throughout the weekend. A Vocal Summit sold-out months in advance continued with British all-stars Joe Stilgoe, Ian Shaw, Liane Carroll and a Claire Martn cameo. Shaw brought his Joni Mitchell set, bringing out the longing and evocative Americana of ‘Night Ride Home’, the softly-sung, all-encompassing reach of Mitchell’s last song to date, ‘Shine’, and the sprightly cynicism of a song she covered, Rodgers and Hart’s ‘I Wish I Were In Love Again’. Tending to boogie bounce at the piano, Shaw was a considerably jauntier presence than Joni, to a fault when ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ became a double-speed comic duet with Martin.

Liane Carroll is no stranger to big-hearted ebullience and ribald asides. Tonight, though, eyes shut, she dropped without ceremony deep into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘If I Loved You’, deploying the arsenal of effects and feeling which make her Britain’s best ballad singer: gliding through a line, pouring on the power with smoky timbre or scatting. Tom Waits’ ‘Take Me Home’, in which she swapped lines with Julian Nicholas’s soprano sax, gave loving, sentimental admonishment to a partner without whom “the world’s not round”. She held the “s” in ‘Wild Is The Wind’ with a caressing hiss, finding the song’s sultry exoticism, before turning it into gospel-scat and getting the Sussex crowd to clap on the off-beat. The sense we’d all be welcome back at her place in Hastings, especially if we brought our own bottle, meant Carroll’s melancholy skill stayed invitingly entertaining. Stilgoe, Shaw and Martin joined her for this extremely good-humoured Summit’s big finish.

The last time I saw Saturday’s first act, Bobby Wellins, was at the Glasgow Jazz Festival in 2013, headlining alone when his friend and musical partner Stan Tracey had to cancel that morning, as the illness which killed him that year started to bite. Wellins seemed bottomlessly sad then, and that is always somewhere in his nature. But on his 79th birthday, he appeared happy and purposeful, and played gorgeously. With Geoff Simkins’ alto partnering his sax, backed by the Gareth Williams Trio, Wellins was a busy bandleader, thinking and pecking at arrangements as he went in consultation with Simkins. His lines were inevitably on the short side, but the cool worldliness of his tone, its sense of interior, subdued soulfulness, remained. Hawkish, his quizzical look as others played became hood-eyed focus when he stepped commandingly forward. His first solo on ‘It Never Entered My Mind’ had a huge, breathy sadness. ‘See You, CB’, his tribute to his hero Clifford Brown, by contrast saw Wellins and Simkins in unison for a glistening, big city strut. The soul-jazz-style ‘The Promised Land’ referred to the country of Wellins’ beloved Americans, and their revelatory post-war visits. He ghosted through the repertoire they taught him. Young local musicians watched agog from the bar, learning themselves. The old stager even blew out all the birthday cake candles Martin presented him with. “There goes the diet – thankfully,” he purred. The crowd left floating on this music’s warmth.

TD-Cloggz-09

Martin Edwards’ Cloggz (above) completed an unlikely but complimentary double-bill. Like everyone over the weekend, he communicated his music’s pleasure (Whiplash seemed a world away). The circus is the wellspring of Cloggz’ upcoming album. This was emphasised by back-projections of human cannonballs, and traumatised kids watching Punch and Judy during ‘Souvenir’’s bittersweet seaside waltz. Initially fox-masked bassist Terry Pack added to a highly visual show. With Julian Nicholas on sax and clarinet, banjo, accordion and harmonium among the instrumentation, they veered from woozy klezmer to the Big Top surrealism of Fellini favourite Nino Rota (though it was Morricone, with his Latin American theme from The Mission, whose music was covered). Imogen Ryall added hugely effective vocals and gospel-torch-song lyrics to Brad Mehldau’s ‘When It Rains’. Nicholas starred on his own ‘Mrs. Mephistopheles’, a giddy, spiral staircase of a tune. Then Edwards himself played rolling shivers of saloon-bar piano on Tom Waits’ ‘Johnsburg, Illinois’, before violinist Ben Sarfas’s star turn on John Williams’ ‘Schindler’s List’ theme brought out a stately, Yiddish flavour, and deep European blues. This good-humoured, strange brew was another great hit.

Peter Long’s Echoes of Ellington Orchestra and The Mingus Underground Octet wrapped things up on Sunday, bringing jazz’s great composers and big bands into the festival fold. There has to be another one in 2016.

– Nick Hasted

– Photos by Tim Dickeson

Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart and Peter Bernstein get Watermill Jazz grooving

From the opening tap of dry ride cymbal and warm, fluid guitar aloft some busy B3, lucky holders of this, the Watermill's most trumpeted ticket to date, were, at once, entranced by the emotive, almost telepathic interplay of this master trio.

Over for a run of four shows to promote last year's Ramshackle Serenade disc, the US-based band were tonight elevated to the club's main stage (normally concealed by curtains and reserved for big band orchestras), and eased in with a breezy reading of Duke Pearson's ‘Chant’. The low-end growl of Goldings' organ here may have had its sights on swallowing the whole hall, but its percussive punch in the higher register beautifully complimented Bernstein's spacious guitar, and sealed the gaps between some snappy fours from drummer Bill Stewart (below).

Bill-Stewart-Watermill

An early highlight of the night was Goldings' ‘Jim Jam’, a tribute to his former leader Jim Hall, which raised the tempo and proved a perfect springboard for Bernstein's fast-fingered fretwork. Recalling Hall's unique phrasing, and subtle pick style, Bernstein would also deploy greasy blues riffs, adding weight to a solo he would slowly build across the tune's lengthy outro.

When the piece did eventually end, and the front row's ovation for Bernstein's solo was hushed, a church-like rush of reedy organ pricked the silence, spilling across the stage. This stunning, isolated introduction to Ellington's ‘All Too Soon’ may have been, as the title suggests, hastily embellished with busy accompaniment, but when Stewart and Bernstein joined Goldings to drive home the bluesy ballad, it was a moment to behold.

The groovy ‘Mr. Meagles’ was another staple of the set; with its latin feel forming a funky bed onto which all three could really stretch out. Remaining firm and blues-based, Bernstein'smelody throughout was ruffled only by the clatter of Stewart's tom fills, his fancy foot work on hi-hat and a scattergun solo from Goldings that would swerve the band back to the main theme, and towards a deft fade-out to a full stop.

Bernstein-watermill

Elsewhere, more audacious drumming would fire up Bernstein waltzer ‘Jive Coffee’, but it was the intro to the trio's penultimate piece, Cole Porter's ‘Everytime We Say Goodbye’ that stirred real scenes of joy around the room. Slow and understated, and fixed to pulse once more governed by Goldings' bass pedals, the song's memorable melody was gently picked out on guitar, swept along by the faint swish of brushes and piercing whistle from Larry's vintage Leslie speaker.

Wrapping up the night with unannounced bossa, Goldings' response to all the roars for more was to joke that they didn't know any more tunes, but they delivered one encore, ‘Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You’. Stripped back and sassy, Don Redman's classic not only managed to encapsulate many musical traits of this trio, but emphasize how a hot mix of sensitivity, instinct and solid swing from three leaders in a small humble jazz club, can so magnificently move a room.

As a footnote to the night – and with echoes of the iconic photo 'A Great Day In Harlem' and Terrence Donovan's 'A Great Day In Trafalga Square' – a small army of leading British jazz musicians came to the gig as well, captured here by photographer Jon Frost (see caption below for names):

Front Row, Left to Right: Dave Warren, Kathryn Shackleton, Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart, Ann Odell, Nat Lambson, Imogen Ryall and Dave Cliff.

Second Row, Left to Right: Nat Steele, Paul Hobbs, Pete Whittaker, Gary Wilcox, Dave Barry,  Robbie Robson, John Turville, Josephine Davies, Paul Whitten, Terry Seabrook, Andy Trim, John Critchinson, Kate Williams, Alec Dankworth, Stan Sulzmann, Bobby Worth, Ross Stanley and Dylan Howe.

Back Row, Left to Right: Pete Cater, Steve Wetherall,    Phil Hopkins, Iain Sutcliffe, Nigel Price, Dorian Lockett, Janette Mason, Andrea Vicari, Shane Hill, Matt Home and Roger Hind

– Review by Mark Youll

– Photos by Jon Frost

Lydia Garrow takes flight at Pizza Express Jazz Club

A Sunday lunchtime slot can mean many things in terms of jazz programming: a nervy new singer being given their first break, a tired-but-safe pair of hands playing a predictable crowd-pleasing set, or an unwieldy big band performing a challenging bunch of five-page charts.

This gig was none of the above, in fact it was a bit of an enigma; vocalist Lydia Garrow is more than meets the eye. She has already packed out the Bull’s Head, yet her new album Little Bird was only released the day before this gig, and if her audience was anything to go by, she clearly has an avid following. And, two songs in, you could see why: Garrow has a refreshingly clear, sparkly kind of voice that lends itself to a wide range of material, from up-tempo Cole Porter, deeply moving ballads like ‘In the Wee Small Hours’, and catchy latin numbers like ‘Besame Mucho’ and ‘Jardin d’Hiver’ (for which she sang the original Spanish and French lyrics).

But this wasn't showing off - far from it: Garrow’s appeal is shy but assured, drawing you in with her warm tone that has a whiff of Edith Piaf at times, or even Kate Bush. With Richard Sadler on bass and Chris Nickolls on drums, the vibe was relaxed and positive with nothing over-stated. The arrangements by pianist Terence Collie and guitarist Guille Hill were tastefully restrained, the soloing secure and inventive, with the odd touch of humour such as the song Garrow co-wrote with Collie entitled ‘Gypsies Call’.

By the close of the second set, which featured a moving but unsentimental rendition of ‘Moon River’ (bet you thought that wasn’t possible!), followed by perhaps one of the loveliest originals I’ve heard in ages – the title song of Lydia’s album, Little Bird – you felt sure you were in the presence of someone who will steer a path through all the young up-and-coming college graduates to emerge as a mature and engaging British jazz vocalist.


Sarah Chaplin

Darius Brubeck Quartet launch new album at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Pianist Darius Brubeck was warmly received on a busy Monday night at Pizza Express Jazz Club, marking the launch of the group’s new album Cathy’s Summer. The album, which features eight original compositions, was inspired by requests Brubeck received at the 2012 Scarborough Festival to perform more of his own works. This fresh compositional activity contributed to the evening’s sense of expectation – in particular how successful his originals would work as creative vehicles and how such works might relate to existing jazz repertoire.

The opening numbers set the mood for the entire evening. Beginning with title track ‘Cathy’s Summer’, its opening chord changes marked Brubeck’s writing as a skilful expression of existing compositional technique rather than a radical departure. The pianist works within a conventional quartet line-up and the stability of his personnel (together for eight years) was evident from the outset through a well-rehearsed and capable unit. ‘Fifteen’ saw saxophonist Dave O’Higgins move through the gears in a solo distinguished by a great use of the tenor sax upper register, with drummer Wesley Gibbens supporting his solo with appropriate heat. Gibben’s drumming is marked by articulate fills constructed from accents placed within drum rolls, thereby ensuring that the Quartet gains momentum during his interpolations since the roll feels like a continuation of the time. ‘Fifteen’, named after its implied 15/8 metre, continues the Brubeck family association with interesting time signatures, whereas ‘Crete’ echoes more classical leanings. The latter featured double bassist Matt Ridley in a fluid solo, supported by a tom-tom ostinato played by Gibbens. This improvisation seemed just the perfect length, which reflected the proportionality of Brubeck’s arrangements whose architecture appears designed to sustain maximum interest. His arranging style is also marked by contrasting sections, which flow seamlessly into one another.

The smartly suited quartet returned for a second set of equal enjoyment. The leader’s humility and humour generated warmth during each introduction, whereas Brubeck gave generous credit to his band, both verbally and in encouraging the group to cut loose. The Quartet interspersed Darius Brubeck originals with existing standards including the underplayed ‘Flamingo’. These were ultimately eclipsed by an unlikely version of ‘The Trolley Song’ set within an up-tempo Latin-Jazz context. This high-geared arrangement lit up from the outset, with Brubeck on top form during his piano solo. Overall, the gig was a clear success and vindicated Brubeck’s decision to present an album largely of originals. Although his compositions are an expression of the jazz tradition rather than an extension of it – there are no unusual instrumental or stylistic combinations here – this seems wholly appropriate given the significant contribution the Brubeck family has made to jazz history.

– Jamie Fyffe

Fumi Okiji and Brigitte Beraha vibe up traditional sounds at The Vortex

Fumimain

The launch of singer Fumi Okiji’s album Old Fashion (the first based around her Old Time Jazz Band ensemble) supported by fellow singer Brigitte Beraha, presented two contrasting experiences of the interpretation of existing repertoire. Accompanied solely by guitarist Stuart Hall, Beraha treated the audience to a set of largely Brazilian works with a voice perfectly suited to this style. Her sound production, vibrato (or lack of) and rhythmic conception were right on the money, while she also added to the Brazilian vocal tradition an extended upper register (with pleasing sweetness) and well-conceived scat lines delivered with discretely chosen phonetics. Her arrangements echoed the less-is-more charm of Brazilian music with minimal introductions and endings – highlights included Jobim classics ‘Chovendo Na Roseira’ (‘Double Rainbow’) and ‘Aguas de Marco’ (‘Waters of March’). Placed within the minimal line-up of a guitar-voice duo and singing well-suited repertoire, Beraha flourished in a performance that was a pleasure to hear.

Okiji’s set, the main event of the evening, was naturally more involved with the forging of a distinctive new ensemble and the release of a new album. Her voice is balanced across all registers with a finished sound and natural vibrato, and as a singer she is her own woman: melismatic but not overly bluesy, seemingly free from American diction and influenced by a broader musical palette than her Old Time Jazz Band moniker might suggest. Although there were few vocal surprises during straight-ahead selections such as ‘I’m Old Fashioned’, Okiji was sublime in her delivery of more atypical repertoire such as the blues ‘Shake Surgery’. Still close to the beginning of her Old Time Band project, Okiji appears in the process of discovering the group’s A-list materials.

The Old Time Jazz Band utilises cello rather than double bass, lending the group a lighter bottom-end. Drummer Roy Dodds, whose unhurried marking of the time suits the album concept, left his sticks in the bag (swapping between two sets of brushes and mallets) which ensured the bass lines of cellist Ben Davis were not overpowered. Davis proved to be an excellent soloist, swapping from pizzicato to bow and utilising the entire register of his instrument. Nowhere was this more evident than during ‘Mood Indigo’ (counted-off at the perfect slow-medium tempo) balanced out by a superb improvisation by clarinettist Idris Rahman. He proved an excellent foil for Okiji, interjecting her rendition of ‘St. Louis Blues’ with characteristic bluesy clarinet fills. Idiosyncratic contributions by guitarist Hall (e.g. playing high up the strings beyond the fretted area, percussively rubbing the guitar body and detuning the guitar strings) meant the group presented three contrasting solo voices.

Understatement was the order of the day for the Old Time Jazz Band, which unfortunately did appear to hold back the momentum of the gig. Although the group swung cohesively during ‘Tea for Two’ and ‘Yesterdays’, surprisingly this full-group effort proved to be the exception rather than the rule. Individual contributions sometimes left an excessive amount of empty musical space, while both guitar and cello had a tendency to drop out during the solo efforts of colleagues. This meant the group was often out-of-gear, despite the required manpower being present. The Old Time Jazz Band appears to be in the process of discovering how to blend the respective traits of its members to best effect. While Beraha presented a much more finished product on the night, Okiji has successfully initiated an exciting new project with obvious potential.

– Jamie Fyffe

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