Liane Carroll and MY Duo light up second Amser Jazz Time Festival

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With a great programme of top quality jazz – not just from some of the biggest names in UK jazz but also from the students here at the college playing their end of year assessments – the AmserJazz Time Festival at the RWCMD in Cardiff was a resounding success.

The opening show on the Friday night featured Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble – Atzmon playing tunes mostly from his, Songs of the Metropolis album. 'Paris', 'Berlin', 'Tel Aviv' and 'Moscow' all perfect cameos evoking a glimpse of the city beneath the gloss, but it was on Scarborough (a loose interpretation of ‘Scarborough Fayre’), that Atzmon let the music run playing an incredible solo with pianist Frank Harrison joining in with an equally brilliant piece of improvisation – he ended with one of his favourite pieces of music, ‘Burning Bush’ this time dedicated not to the former US President but a former girlfriend.

Saturday’s two concerts also featured alto saxophonists – firstly the Martin Speake Trio (pictured above) and later Soweto Kinch. Speake, who was joined by Mike Outram on guitar and Jeff Williams on drums, played a very mellow set, with long haunting solos, Outram creating ambient sound-washes and Williams (a quite brilliant trio drummer) keeping it all together; the stand out number was ‘Folk Song for Paul’ a tune dedicated to drummer Paul Motian.

Out in the fantastic glass foyer I spotted Alan Barnes and drummer Tim Giles who were sitting among the free-stage audience marking the students on their performances, Barnes was knocked out with the high quality musicianship on show.

Back in the main hall Soweto Kinch, as you would expect compared to Speake, was much more, ‘in your face’. Joined by Shaney Forbes on drums and the excellent Nick Jurd on bass he set the pace with ‘Roadblock’ and ‘When will I be getting mine’ before getting the slightly conservative audience involved with ‘Privatise the Gains’, which, given the slightly small audience, was a great effort; a great show with an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm – let’s not forget Kinch is an extremely gifted alto player too.

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Two of the three Sunday concerts were recorded by Radio 3 for broadcast on Claire Martin’s show in the summer. First up was Gareth Lockrane’s Grooveyard Unplugged (pictured above) – featuring Lockrane on alto and bass flutes alongside saxophonist Alex Garnett.

Playing an up-tempo funky soul-groove mix, Lockrane gets an incredible sound from his flutes and the interplay between him and Garnett is excellent – Ross Stanley on piano and organ and the back line of Dave Whitford on bass and Tim Giles on drums ensured that the music powered along nicely. This show will be broadcast on 21st June on Radio 3.

The second performance in the Dora Stoutzker Hall was the McCormack & Yarde MY Duo with the Elysian String Quartet (pictured below), they looked far more at home in this beautiful wooden-clad concert hall than Soweto Kinch did the night before. The conversational interplay between pianist Andrew McCormack and multi-reedist Jason Yarde is well known but now with the introduction of an improvising string quartet the conversation is thrown open to a whole set of new voices.

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Yarde explained that this project only works because the Elysian String Quartet are improvisers too. Both he and McCormack have written four pieces each for this project with Jason in London and Andrew in New York, where he now lives – but left large areas of improvisational room in the writing for all of the players and so the conversation has now four new voices. The album Juntos that features this music is released shortly.

To illustrate this improvisational collaboration Yarde gets the audience to shout out a selection of notes and timings (and a title) – they then proceeded to turn this into a tune and so ‘Caustic Happiness’ was born on its one and only performance! This concert will be broadcast of Claire Martin’s Jazz on 3 radio show in August.

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The Liane Carroll Trio (pictured above), featuring Roger Carey on bass and drummer Mark Fletcher, provided a fitting end to the festival. The Richard Burton theatre was packed for her show and it seemed she knew most of the audience personally such is her warmth and appeal. Playing ‘just a bunch of songs that I really love’ from Disney to Donald Fagen, Carole King to Nina Simone, Carroll had a ball and the audience loved it.

Talking afterwards with Andrew Miller the artistic director he commented on the festival: “Over the last three years jazz in Cardiff has become synonymous with the Royal Welsh College. Our weekly JazzTime sessions in the foyer overlooking Bute Park attract regular audiences in the region of 100-200 people and provide a terrific showcase for the next generation of jazz artists training at the College”

The annual Amser Jazz Time Festival, which is made possible with the support of the Arts Council of Wales and BBC Radio 3, allows RWCMD to place a major programming focus on our unique and accessible approach to jazz. Students' performance exams sit alongside sets from established jazz stars to create a great weekend of music in both formal and informal spaces.

With stroller ticket to see all the shows costing just £65 (£55 concession) and with food and drink on hand and the beautiful Bute Park outside the back door, and the City Centre a mere five minutes walk away, this really is a great festival to come to.

– Tim Dickeson (story and photos)