For a brief moment, this well-established weekend of jazz at Southport’s Royal Clifton Hotel had looked to be in jeopardy, stymied by the need for new blood on the organising committee and the lack of same. Happily, rescue was at hand and in no time at all, everything was once again up and running. Good news for the sell-out crowd this year and for those of us who relish organiser Geoff Mathews’ record for picking bands and performers that one is unlikely to hear elsewhere.

Along with international soloists and up-from-London star turns there’s always room at this hotel-based festival for local performers and young emerging players. Jam Experiment and the Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra [of whom more later] carried the flag for youth this time while the invigorating Main Street vocal quartet with veterans Dave Lynane on bass and the very authoritative Dave Hassell on drums represented the north. Theirs was a late night session, more mellow than most, with some well-worked replications of the Hi-Los, the Four Freshmen et al. All clever stuff, and made more so by the creativity of supporting pianist Tim Lapthorne.

Jam Experiment, a student-based group hailing from Manchester, boasted the presence of altoist Alexander Bone, the BBC’s Young Jazz Musician of the Year, and earned all sorts of spurs with their set. Bone is an increasingly authoritative player, with a cool Desmond-ish alto sound, even making good on the dreaded EWI, who can write decent originals. Bassist Sam Quintana and pianist Toby Comeau also impressed. Next up was the ever-popular Alan Barnes/David Newton Septet, re-visiting their own compositions with a three-sax plus trumpet line-up, which included the happy presence of Derek Nash on baritone and tenor.

On this hearing, Newton’s way with a tune is worthy of praise, his Scotch Blues redolent of his Caledonian roots, the pianist’s sparky keyboard touch a fine reminder of his grace under pressure, with Nash’s rousing choruses another standout. Of the promised special festival composition, there was no sign. Late on, the engaging pianist/singer Theo Jackson had to make do with a makeshift band, this apparent dilemma resolving itself surprisingly well with tenorist Binker Golding responding brightly, Jackson’s expert pianisms a pleasure to observe.

Tony-Kofi-Southport

Day two brought more rewards with Jump Monk, this led from the back by the Arnie Somogyi, a bassist who doesn’t just mark time but makes it sing, urging his fellows on in the most vital way on an array of Monk’s tunes [with extra Mingus] aided by Clark Tracy and the ever adroit pianist Liam Noble. Add in Jeremy Price’s trombone and the searing alto of Tony Kofi (above), with his flamethrower tone and vehement attack and you have music of real consequence. Haitian Fight Song had it.

Then came the initially puzzling duo of Marius Neset’s tenor (pictured top) and soprano saxophone with tuba virtuoso Daniel Herskedal. How could this pared-down ensemble work? Well, by allowing Neset to dip into his fecund imagination, his ethereal, folk-like sounds balanced by sudden, raucous eruptions, these much aided by the didgeridoo-like rumbles from his chum. A betting man might have laid odds on a muted response to this novel music, but the reaction from this open-minded audience was wholly appreciative. The reaction to the Dimitry Baevsky Quintet with US trumpeter Joe Magnarelli that followed was more guarded, divided between those who revelled in this one-off group’s hard-bop mannerisms and others who found the format all too predictable with the expected fireworks from top brassman Magnarelli largely missing. Still, there was nothing but praise for the diminutive Baevsky, a Russian altoist based in New York, whose command of the idiom pleased everyone.

Lower-key perhaps, Josh Kemp’s quartet also opened some eyes, mine in particular, this fine tenor saxophonist fusing disparate influences to create improvisations that breathed extra life into his intriguing originals. Still, with Tim Lapthorne bounding about the keyboard, the bass precision of Mike Hutton and the drive of drummer Mat Skelton how could Kemp go wrong?

Pete-Long-southportThe aforementioned BCJO directed by Head of Jazz, Jeremy Price, offered a demanding programme of pieces by Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely and Maria Schneider, these generally pulled off well, with soloists Claude Pietersen on tenor, trumpeter Sean Gibbs and guitarist Gareth Fowler the names to watch. In a festival programme suffused with variety, it was Pete Long’s ‘Jazz At The Phil’ last-burst concert that set out to thrill with its expected no-holds-barred approach. And lo, reader, that is what happened, the audience rapturous with some prompted to stand for the final ovation.

Pianist Nick Dawson, guitarist Nigel Price and bassist Paul Morgan kicked off with Tenderly, drummer Ed Richardson soon alongside, with a massed front-line of trumpeters George Hogg and Ryan Quigley, trombonist Callum Au, tenorists Alex Garnett and Dean Masser, Long on clarinet and cheerleading. They jousted, they riffed, with Hogg and Quigley playing high-note chase while Garnett and Masser traded blows, high-revving on the final Lester Leaps In, Au similarly impressive, the rhythm section like a bludgeon, the swing palpable and hugely uplifting. Cue mass appreciation and smiles all round. Well done, Long, but very well done Southport, once more.

– Peter Vacher

– Photos by Robert Burns

A double bill of iconic Irish singer songwriter Van Morrison and Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter are the first names announced for the new Nocturne at Blenheim Palace concert series – both of whom will perform on 25 June. The concert is the first in several planned events to be produced by music promoters Neapolitan Live Events, the same company behind the successful Love Supreme Jazz Festival (back for a third time this July) and U-Live, the new live music division of Universal Music. With a £2.5million investment from the 12th Duke of Marlborough of Blenheim Palace, the series will bring large-scale live music events back to the historic venue’s Great Court for the first time in ten years.  

Both Morrison and Porter have recently released albums on the resurgent, now Universal-owned, Blue Note label with the former’s 2012 recording Born To Sing: No Plan B his most jazz-orientated for years, while Porter’s Grammy-winning third album (and first for Blue Note) Liquid Spirit has enjoyed global chart success and achieved platinum sales status.

Neapolitan Music’s Ciro Romano commented on the series: “It’s a huge honour to be entrusted by the Duke of Marlborough to bring music back to this unique palace. We are thrilled that we have secured Van Morrison to return to Blenheim for the first time since his historic performance in 2004 and also Gregory Porter, whose career I have personally followed since first seeing him perform in small clubs in London only a few years ago. Both acts perfectly realise our vision to bring the greatest talent to Britain’s greatest palace.”

– Mike Flynn


Tickets go on sale on Friday 13 February – for more info go to www.nocturnelive.com  

Eminent pianist Chick Corea racked up the lion's share of Jazz trophies at this year's Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on 8th February, while Dianne Reeves and Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band also walked away with gilded-gramophones in the other major jazz categories.

'corea-bladeBest Jazz Instrumental Album' went to the Chick Corea Trio for Triology, an acclaimed three-disc live album showcasing an indefatigable Corea (now 73) alongside the outstanding Christian McBride and Brian Blade (the latter pictured left with Corea). Found on the same disc, Corea's solo on 'Fringprints' was likewise rewarded with the 'Best Improvised Jazz Solo' gong. These trophies, Corea's 21st and 22nd to date, surely comes as invigorating news to the longtime favourite as he heads off on his piano duo world tour with Herbie Hancock this March.

The 'Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album' prize escaped Corea's majesty however, as Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band humourously pointed out while accepting the honour, "Once again we want to thank Chick Corea for not making a large ensemble album." The release concerned, Life In The Bubble, is a tour-de-force from this 18-piece big band. Meanwhile, The Offense of the Drum from Arturo O'Farrill & The Latin Jazz Orchestra won out for 'Best Latin Jazz Album' and singer Dianne Reeves came top among the 'Best Jazz Vocal Album' nominees for her Beautiful Life, crowning an already impressive career. The talents of Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway, which feature on the latter, were notably awarded their own gold elsewhere with 'Best Traditional R&B Performance' for 'Jesus Children' from Black Radio 2.

Of course, jazz seared through the veins of many other celebrated works that night, most prominently with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga's collaborative collection of jazz standards on Cheek to Cheek receiving a trophy for 'Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album'. And naturally award ceremonies wouldn't be award ceremonies without their fair share of controversy, courtesy on this occasion of Kanye West. But thankfully the drama of 'Best Rock Album' showed no signs of spilling over and igniting the passions of an 18-piece big band, for everyone's sake.

– Tommie Black-Roff

cheltenham15news

Grammy winning US jazz singers Kurt Elling and Gregory Porter, the hypnotic beat-fuelled melodies of Manchester piano trio GoGo Penguin, the experimental electronica of bassist/composer Squarepusher, and the Lee Konitz/ Dave Douglas Quintet are among the newly confirmed highlights for this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Running from 26 April to 4 May the festival once again takes place at its now well-established locale of the Festival Village – which includes the Big Top, Jazz Arena and Freestage venues in the spa town’s Montpellier Gardens – and at key venues such as the Town Hall, Parabola Arts Centre, Daffodil Restaurant and Hotel Du Vin. Other names added to this year’s programme also include rising jazz vocal stars Alice Zawadzki and Nina Ferro (29 and 30 Apr, Daffodil), while Friday Night is Music Night features a stellar cast of Kurt Elling, Clare Teal, Anthony Strong and the Guy Barker Big Band (Town Hall, 1 May).

The 87-year old sax great Konitz returns to the festival for the first time since his memorable 2006 performance, lining up with top US trumpeter Douglas and his quintet, who are followed by a late night club- style show featuring fast rising piano trio GoGo Penguin and a DJ set from Gilles Peterson (Town Hall, 2 May), while highly-regarded electronica artist Squarepusher appears the following night (Town Hall, 3 May).

A wide- ranging vocal-led programme includes soul-jazz vocalist Alice Russell (Jazz Arena, 1 May), rhythm and blues comeback king Wilco Johnson (Big Top, 2 May), popular chanteuse Clare Teal (Town Hall, 2 May) and soulstress Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (Big Top, 2 May). These names join previously announced artists Phronesis, Joe Lovano Village Rhythms Band, Sun Ra Arkestra led by Marshall Allen, John Scofield with Pablo Held Trio, Tony Allen and groove-jazz legends Medeski, Martin & Wood who will be joined by guest festival director Jamie Cullum on vocals.

Left-field jazz tastes are also well catered for at the Parabola throughout the festival with appearances by the drum-led Jonathan Silk Sextet, improv-heavy Samuel Blaser Trio, Alexander Hawkins and vocalist Elaine Mitchener’s experimental Edge Project, Anglo-French trio In Bed With... led by drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq with Julien Desprez on guitar and Kit Downes on keyboards, fast emerging saxophonist Rachael Cohen’s Quartet featuring Phil Robson, and an appearance by leading UK saxophonist Julian Argüelles with his Septet.

The festival bows out with a world premiere of Gregory Porter and Laura Mvula’s celebration of the music of George and Ira Gershwin, pop-soul singer Rumer and the funky Hackney Colliery Band all on Monday 4 May. Jazzwise is media partner of the festival and the full programme will be published in the April issue (out on 26 March).

– Mike Flynn

For full festival info and ticket details go to www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz/

One of the UK’s top conservatoires, London’s Royal Academy of Music, brings together its jazz students and well known teaching staff for two triple-bill concerts this week as part of the department’s jazz week.

Six ensembles, each led by a renowned player and pedagogue, are simultaneously rehearsing in preparation for Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 February performances to be held the Academy’s Concert Room starting at 6pm. For Nick Smart, Head of Jazz at RAM, excitement runs high for these group collaborations; “all these amazing band leaders are actually playing in the ensembles with the students.”

On 11 February evening the groups are headed by Michael Janisch, Martin Speake and John Taylor, while on 12 February Jim Hart, John Parricelli and Martin France take to the helm. The free admission concerts build on the institution’s healthy tradition of student concerts and are a fantastic opportunity to catch some of these esteemed jazzers live. The Academy is located at Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT.

– Tommie Black-Roff

See the website for more details www.ram.ac.uk/whats-on

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