Steam Down, Emma-Jean Thackray and Leafcutter John kick it in the Cotswolds at Jazz Stroud Festival

Stroud’s reputation as the alternative hippy hub of the Cotswolds is just fine with many of the locals, and naturally when they have a jazz festival it’s on their own terms. The posters offered ‘jazz influenced music’ and 2019’s eclectic four day programme ranged from electronica and dance-oriented grooves to classic acoustic jazz. Being Stroud, audiences might include tumbling toddlers, barking dogs, miscellaneous sketching artists and the occasional passerby from the town’s Steampunk weekend.

For opening night Polar Bear electronics doyen Leafcutter John found himself corralled by random sofas in the middle of the Goods Shed’s cavernous barn. The intimacy was enhanced by the need for near darkness in order to deploy his self-built light operated synth interface. Like some kind of cosmic conductor he waved and swooped torches and bike lights to release a soundtrack that shifted startlingly from cascading birdsong to throbbing analogue techno and gripping avant-dub. As a showcase for the specially installed d&b audiotechnik soundsystem PA it could hardly be rivaled.

jazz stroud vels 1

(Jazz)man of the match had to be livewire drummer Dougal Taylor, however, who featured at two of the weekend’s high points: behind trumpeter/producer Emma-Jean Thackray in the Goods Shed and keeping a packed SVA bar dancing with the Vels Trio (above). Barely 40 minutes separated these two gigs – a testament to his energy. Emma-Jean’s performance was an especial revelation, with Ben Kelly’s harmonised sousaphone bass adding grit to tunes like ‘Ley Lines’. Shorn of its high production vocals and with ramped-up drumming Thackray’s (below) sharp trumpet and easy singing gave the number real feeling.

Sam Rapley’s Sunday afternoon performance was an impressive surprise, too. With his regular Fabled quintet reduced to a saxophone trio he bore the melodic weight of his own compositions with impressive ease. That said, having Conor Chaplin’s bass and Will Glaser drumming meant the work was well shared and each tune nicely characterized. Trumpeter Paul Jordanous’ Ensemble also benefitted from imaginative rhythm contributions thanks to drummer Ted Carrasco and nimble-fingered bass man Kevin Glasgow. The latter’s 6-string solo on the Metheny-esque ‘Summation’ was a nicely-judged showstopper, as was Paul’s trumpet coolly coasting through Blue Note tribute ‘Latin Vase’. Even more adroit use of the six-string bass via a packed pedal board and laptop enabled Forrest’s Mike Flynn to create complex tapestries of layered loops for Matt Telfer to add lyrical saxophones. Their combination of low down grooves, rich sonics and upbeat melodic phrasing was the perfect pick-me-up for an attentive (if jaded) Sunday SVA lunchtime audience.

jazz stroud emma jane t 2

While not officially twinned with South London there was a definite linkage, with strong showing from smokily poised poet/singer Cil, vigorous modal grooving from Roella Oloro’s young quintet and a great Friday night party set from Deptford’s Steam Down (pictured top). With Ahnanse’s Ethio-sax and Wonky Logic’s grinding synth bass meshing like Sons of Kemet behind epic vocals from And Is Phi it was intelligent, evolutionary music with a big sense of fun. Bristol’s excellent Snazzback had earlier established a similar mood with their more cosmic ensemble sound. Embracing flamenco, rhumba, Blaxploitation and House styles yet smuggling in off-kilter time signatures, they deployed a rich percussion mix and unforced solo playing while the d&b PA system to whirl around the room. That effect was deployed the following night for Ishmael Ensemble’s more measured approach to spiritual jazz, with producer Pete Cunningham’s sinuous tenor sax an organic ghost in the machinery of cinematic mood pieces like 'The River' and 'Lapwing'.

Stroud being Stroud, for all the ear-catching visitors there was a fair showing of local talent, too, with renowned bass clarinet improviser Chris Cundy unveiling the lyrically neo-classical Triofolio in the atmospheric St Laurance’s Church, followed by the incongruously playful duo Mermaid Chunky’s willful (and skillful) blend of layered electronics and ridiculous noise-toys with sax and vocals. Equally upbeat, the nine-piece latin-swamp-blues outfit Albino Tarrantino rammed out the Ale House venue with impeccably precise grooves and a Tom Waits-recalling loucheness that nonetheless blew out the house PA.

It was a fitting climax to a successful weekend that had brought an entertaining cross-section of the current UK jazz scene to a very receptive slice of the local community. And their dogs.

– Tony Benjamin (Story and photos)

 

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