Festival Roundup: Swanage Jazz Festival. Dorset

Left to right: Kate Williams, Bobby Wellins, Oli Hayhurst, Brian Blain, Tristan Maillot
Photo credit: Jon Macey

Swanage Jazz Festival
(Various venues, Swanage, Dorset. 12th-14th July 2013. Round-up review by Brian Blain)


Blue skies, Med. Blue sea in Swanage Bay, yachts riding at anchor: it was like our very own Newport for the 24th Swanage Jazz Festival.

Honestly, could anything have been better for the open-minded fan than this festival, with its delicious cross-section of contemporary jazz in the first major marquee venue, and continuing loyalty to the traditionalists in the second? I couldn’t take in all the names down for the weekend, several of them arriving late, owing to the fact that thousands of others were clogging the roads to the Isle of Purbeck.

I was taken with the opener in the Methodist Church, Zoe Schwarz and Rob Koral. Their set grew in intensity as the venue filled up; a great programme with nods to Billie Holiday (Foolin' Myself) and Ray Charles (Since I Fell For You) done with real passion. That meant I didn’t want to make the trek to Marquee 2, even for the very fine Steve Waterman seven-piece.

Bobby Wellins and Kate Williams followed in the Church (photo here). As expected, they sounded great in this attractive new venue - not too echo-ey.

The tail end of Waterman’s arrangements of themes by Mulligan, Dameron, Hancock et al saw Dave O’Higgins in sparkling form. It's odd how he seems to move in and out of one’s consciousness, never quite cementing his status as one of the very best. The same goes for Renato D’Aiello Next day he was back in the church, his fabulous ballad sound and blistering Tranery on the fiercer numbers held the crowd spellbound. Great Italian band with piano Bruno Montrone making a strong impression. I can't understand D’Aiello’s relatively low profile.

I missed Charlotte Glasson’s multi-faceted Quintet but reliable spies told me they loved the band, one visiting American tourist giving her trombonist Mark Bassey the man of the weekend accolade.

In Marquee 1, my personal band of the weekend was the Damon Brown/Christian Brewer Quintet. They were handed the tough early morning slot; in truth they deserved a big evening crowd for their totally in control programme of of hard swinging yet lyrical music. Virtually unknown bassist Adam King, coming back after a year out with tendonitis was a revelation in the perfect rhythm team of Leon Greening and Matt Skelton, a trio who grabbed their opportunity in a good Saturday night slot later. Greening never fails, a real thing player of the highest class, with a dramatic sense that no one else equals.

The other young player of the weekend was Reuben James, pianist with Clark Tracey’s New Quintet, another collection of up and coming talent, with NYJO Director, trumpeter Mark Armstrong falling through the rear tent flap as a last minute dep straight into Freddie Freeloader and one of Jimmy Deuchar’s brainbusters, Suddenly Last Tuesday, with astonishing aplomb; a great professional and yet another tremendous trumpet player (not forgetting the real godfather, Enrico Tomasso, in the trad marquee alongside Steve Fishwick, Damon Brown and Steve Waterman gracing the festival.)

Alan Barnes as usual was here, there and everywhere and as well as sitting alongside Tony Kofi in Somogyi’s Mingus programme, partnered the same player in an an unexpectedly intense set, with Kofi sounding absolutely majestic in the church on unhackneyed material like Hi Fly and Kenny Barron's Voyage. Best intro to a tune as well when,in introducing Ellingon’’s atmospheric Isfahan, he opined that "Once , the State Department used to send Big Bands to the Middle and Far East-now it’s drones and stealth bombers” No wonder we love him…

I missed Gilad Atzmon’s main band, the Orient House Ensemble, but his Power Cats, an organ three piece-again sounding great in the church - despite its early sixties beat group sounding name, was marvellous, with Ross Stanley and the truly magnificent Asaf Sirkis on drums; what a time-player: colossal energy and drive but with volume well under wraps.

I wasn't sure if I would dig Kit Downes’ neo-classicism, with cello and all, but in the end he delivered a wonderful set oddly suffused with subtle blues feeling, and even a gospel tinge on the encore-riveting stuff that the packed house of the glibly reviled oldies that make up the bulk of the audience at these events absolutely loved. They took longer to warm to Mark Lockheart’s Ellington In Anticipation, possibly because it wasn’t the sing-along a-Duke they were anticipating. For me I love the way Mark has re written ghastly warhorses like Satin Doll and In a Mellotone, and half way through the set their resistance melted. Lockheart’s scoring for three reeds and viola lead on some tunes is just amazing-and he does it without any of that jokey de-construction nonsense that became Django Bates’s default setting.

And so to the almost now traditional finale, a bulging-at-the seams marquee for Liane Carroll and her two wonderful players Roger Carey and Mark Fletcher. She loves this festival and the crowd love her with banter and wit flying between the two. Her music is great too of course, as ever a totally spontaneous show, with Roger and Mark following every quirky twist as they have done so many times before and yet sounding totally fresh. If she wanted to she could conquer the world but I really believe that her heart lies in beautifully unpretentious events like this.

Thanks Fred Lindop and all the local volunteers—here’s looking forward to next year’s quarter-century.  

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