Although the concert hall experience is a major part of any contemporary jazz festival worth its salt there is a lot to be said for the sessions that pepper the smaller venues in a given city. In Glasgow’s case, the decision to turn the basement of The Rio Club into a pop-up club is an inspired one as it provides the kind of up-on-your-feet informality and sweat-on-the-wall intensity that contrasts nicely with the Old Fruitmarket just around the corner. This year’s programme ranges from the big guns of Brazilian music such as Marcos Valle to cutting edge contemporary jazz from the high octane Nettwork Trio [Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Stanley Jordan and Charnett Moffet] and the inventive duo of Marcus Gilmore and Taylor McFerrin.
Yet The Rio becomes a kind of unofficial ‘drop in’ centre, where a slew of artists, mostly of a soulful and funky disposition, draw a fair amount of human traffic to afternoon and evening sessions. I catch the tail end of Jarrod Lawson’s set on the Friday night, a couple of days into the festival, and his smartly appointed Donnie-meets-Stevie-meets George Duke repertoire goes down as well as it did at Gateshead in March and at various venues in London in 2014, the breakout year of the American singer-pianist whose bandwagon looks set to continue its impressive forward roll.
Hailing from another time and space, Hamish Stuart (pictured above) smiles heartily as ‘Welcome home!’ rings out when he and his four-piece take to the stage for the late set. The vocalist and songwriter of Scottish soul legends the Average White Band has the kind of kudos that rightly befits an artist whose contribution to black popular music is summarized by the place of their 1970s anthems such as ‘Cut The Cake’, ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and ‘Stop The Rain’ in the crates of many a discerning hip-hop producer. Things make a mellow start but the classiness of the playing, particularly from Ross Stanley on keys, takes hold in due course and reprises of staples such as ‘Atlantic Avenue’ and ‘Cloudy’ hit home, as does a sly segue into the bridge of Chaka Khan’s immortal ‘I’m Every Woman’. After which Stuart regales the crowd with an anecdote of how he and AWB’s Steve Ferrone tidied up the original arrangement of the piece at the behest of producer Arif Mardin. It’s hard to imagine that sort of recollection having the same impact in a bigger performance space and it is precisely at moments like these that the up close and personal nature of the Rio comes into its own.
The following afternoon BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line Up showcases five bands at the same venue and the combination of Rachel Cohen’s lyrical contemporary bop, Zoe Rahman and Laura McDonald’s absorbing piano-alto saxophone duet and Trio HSK’s zig-zag zag-zig grooves presents a good overview of where jazz is in 2015. Surprise package of the day is the Swiss trio Vein, whose raucous and humourous deconstructions make their piano trio stand out in a crowded field. Finally, James Taylor Quartet channels the spirit of Hammond heroes Jimmy Smith and Booker T alike to get everybody shaking a tailfeather in a high-energy get-down. And with that The Rio brings a heartily tropical heat north of the border.
– Kevin Le Gendre