Review: First Liverpool International Jazz Festival
(Capstone Theatre. Roundup Review by Barry Dallman)
Amongst continuing economic pessimism and massive cuts in arts funding, the appearance of a new jazz festival is something to be savoured. The first Liverpool International Jazz Festival took place between Feb 28th and Mar 3rd and showcased some of the finest original and progressive jazz artists in the UK.
The standout gig of the festival was probably Denys Baptiste's Triumvirate, which saw the saxophonist teaming up with bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Moses Boyd to deliver a series of kaleidoscopic group improvisations loosely based around modern pop melodies.
Baptiste led the trio through a captivating 60 minute medley featuring a multitude of tunes. With no set program, he explored a succession of melodies, sometimes developing one theme at length, at other times merely referencing a tune. Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy' was given a reasonable workout for example whereas Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic merely popped up briefly in the middle of Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes and the bass riff from Chameleon sent things off on a tangent at one point.
Triumvirate is an apt name for this ensemble, with each member shouldering equal musical responsibility. Although Baptiste's name appears on the program and he primarily leads the improvisation, Messrs Bartley and Boyd proved more than equal to the task. Boyd particularly was a revelation; sensitive and musical, his laid back implications and commentaries on grooves explored a multitude of poly-rhythmic possibilities whilst still keeping feet tapping and heads nodding.
After a solid hour of playing and a brief name-check of tunes covered, they set off on another 30 minute journey which started with Time After Time and ended with Eleanor Rigby – perhaps it would have been more surprising not to have heard a Beatles tune at a Liverpool music festival!
Led Bib have been at the forefront of UK contemporary jazz for nearly a decade now but their music still sounds fresh and exciting. Drummer Mark Holub and his group clearly relish the opportunity to perform and their music is eclectic, engaging and refreshingly fun. Whilst it certainly features some challenging sounds, the music is both grounded in groove and full of variety. During the interval, one festival-goer told me that this was his first foray outside of mainstream jazz; although initially uncertain, he had been won over by the end of the first set. What more needs to be said?
Roller Trio also delivered a confident, muscular performance to show why they're in such demand at the moment. James Mainwaring (sax), Luke Wynter (guitar) and Luke Reddin-Williams (drums) lay down incredibly tight and surprisingly inventive riffs and melodies that never do quite what you expect. It's easy to forget that this is a trio sometimes as a liberal use of effects allows them to create a huge sound - the result is an exciting musical firework that appeals to the adrenalin gland as much as the ears!
A selection of gigs by local artists proved that Liverpool has its own thriving grassroots jazz scene. The Weave performed their eponymous new album in full, featuring a host of catchy melodies penned by trumpeter and leader Martin Smith. As the band has just been selected to be part of Jazz North's new Northern Line assisted touring support program, this band is one to watch in 2013.
Blind Monk Trio was formed by Bob Whittaker to pull off the unlikely feat of performing Thelonius Monk compositions without a chordal instrument. Monk's distinctively angular and timeless melodies work well in this context and Hugo Harrison (bass) and Jonny Hunter (drums) provide intelligent and highly musical support at all times. Nevertheless, it's Whittaker's sax playing that shoulders most of the workload and his big, bold tone and flowing lines prove more than capable of holding the attention. With a few quirky and humorous original tunes of their own thrown into the mix, this was the perfect gig for a Sunday afternoon.