Swanage’s format is well-established and well-understood. A marquee each for the die-hards, traditional and modern, clamped for three days to the grassy banks overlooking the sweep of the bay. Add in the Conservative club and the vaulted Methodist church and the options multiply. Organiser Fred Lindop keeps the talent roster fresh, while including favourites like Festival President Alan Barnes, alto storm-trooper Gilad Atzmon and the classicist Keith Nichols, each a sure-fire banker.
The modernists revelled, first, in Swanage’s Friday-night special: Jean Toussaint’s Sextet in Blakey mood, each man excelling, pianist Andrew McCormack supreme on an extended version of ‘Moanin’, while brassmen Byron Wallen and Dennis Rollins also scored heavily. This really was a band of all the talents. Their Saturday night counterparts were the Stan Tracey Dynasty Octet, drummer son Clark master-minding a series of octet reprises, with Marks Armstrong and Nightingale on form, Barnes alongside, youngster Chris Maddock and Don Weller breath-taking in a game of tenor tip-and-run on ‘Timespring’. The Sunday-night clincher featured Barnes and on-form tenorist Dave O’Higgins out front co-leading their Reed Breed with tenor-saxophonist Robert Fowler, altoist Sammy Mayne and Karen Sharp forceful on baritone. Nicely varied too, with Benny Carter’s ‘Just a Mood’, scored by Barnes leading to a version of Dexter Gordon’s ‘The Chase’ solo orchestrated by O’Higgins and beyond. Pianist Dave Newton was up for it all, inventive, quirky when appropriate and earned plaudits from everyone.
Celebrating a past master, or in the case of the MJQ Celebration quartet, a whole repertoire can be a winner. Excellent work all round here, with Jim Hart nudging pianist Barry Green for honours. Sharp and Fowler badged their quintet as ‘Play Al and Zoot’ and so they did, in a superb set sparked by peerless rhythm from Newton, Andrew Cleyndert’s bass and drummer Steve Brown. Chris Biscoe’s Profiles of Mingus swung hard, Biscoe’s bass-clarinet ruminations and fierce alto alongside Henry Lowther and able tenorist Pete Hurt. Smaller-scale perhaps but remarkable too, were the Henry Armburg-Jennings Trio, with the omni-present Ross Stanley and that fine bassist Adam King. Focussed trumpet playing, fire matched by sensitivity. Violinist Christian Garrick already has a star on his door, his quartet session in the church like a master-class in joy with guitarist Jez Cook and Alec Dankworth at one in support. Altoist Alison Neale’s new quintet with the crowd-pleasing pianist Leon Greening and vibesman Nat Steele in tow played it cool, the leader’s sinewy flute a standout.
Good things also emanated from Martin Litton’s Red Hot Peppers, with the remarkable Ewan Bleach on clarinet and the Nichols Blue Devils, guest US cornetist Andy Schumm in Bix-ian mode, trombonist Alistair Allan playing a solo version of ‘I Cover the Waterfront’ that stunned us all. Trip Advisor rating for the 26th Swanage? Five stars all the way.
– Peter Vacher