Marlborough Jazz Festival - Round-Up Review

U'Zambesi, St Mary's Church, Marlborough Jazz Festival 2013. 
Marlborough Jazz Festival- Saturday
(Various locations in Marlborough Wiltshire, Saturday 20th July 2013. Report by Rosie Walters)

Rosie Walters attended Saturday, Day Two, of the three-day Marlborough Jazz Festival. 

Tucked away in a picture-perfect Wiltshire town is a hidden gem. Running for 27 years, the Marlborough Jazz festival is the kind of event that weekend dreams are made of. A local highlight, the festival takes over the town, shutting its roads, and commandeering its fields. Any location that could conceivably be considered a venue is turned into one. The conservative club? Perfect place for ‘ukulele lady' Sara Sands who had people queuing outside doors and windows to hear her performance. The fire station? (photo below) Just the place for the chilled out bossa nova beats of the Edu Egito trio. The majestic Town Hall, complete with stern portraits of Marlborough mayors past? A sensational spot for headliners the Darius Brubeck Quartet on Saturday evening.

But with any hidden gems, there is usually a bit of a treasure hunt to find them, and with 103 different acts in 24 locations seeing everything is simply not feasible, and requires you to do the musical equivalent of ‘dining and dashing’. I caught 20 minutes of the vibrant Afro-beat sextet Hélélé led by Cameroonian Alphonse Daudet Touna playing his hand-crafted balafon, before speeding off to see Chris Jagger & the Atcha Band’s set, who were studiously instructing audience members to move chairs out of the way to make space for dancing, before wowing everyone with up-tempo folk jazz numbers that left no room for sitting down.

Australian band Flap! who had such a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, were fantastic fun and lit up the stage of one of the marquees with their bright Hawaiian shirts and upbeat dancey numbers that included long technically brilliant trombone solos and Bing Crosby-ish vocals. The young group all met while ‘loitering around the Australian jazz scene’ and includes the winner of the 2012 Australian National Jazz Award Eamon McNelis on trumpet and vocals whose magnetism makes Flap! A pleasure to watch, and Jess Guille on banjo and whose voice is reminiscent of an early Amy Winehouse.

Berlin trio the Crazy Hambones continued the retro vibe and had audience members doing the lindy hop and swing dancing despite sweltering temperatures inside the Castle & Ball pub, as did the Swindon Youth Modern Jazz Orchestra,  playing classics such as Mack the Knife from a road-based marquee to wine-sipping fans.

U’Zambesi (photo above) were easily one of the highlights of the day. This a capella quintet from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe performed in St Mary’s church- but managed to transport us all to Southern Africa for a style joyfully tinged with afropop, jazz and RnB. Wearing rolled-down overalls and hard hats they had audience members gasping when they performed the energetic and rhythmic gumboots dance. Their final song was the South African national anthem-  Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika - dedicated to Nelson Mandela, sung perfectly still, with closed eyes, just perfect for the church's reverberant acoustic.
Gary Crosby at Marlborough Jazz Festival 2013

Despite stiff competition from the treasure chest of performers, the absolute highlight of the whole day, had to be Gary Crosby’s Groundation. Bafflingly hidden away in one of the smaller, un-signposted venues, Crosby and his breathtakingly talented young band played a near two hour set, that everyone wished that could have gone on for longer. New material, much of which was written by Crosby and his band, was mixed with a few new arrangements of old classics. All veterans of Crosby’s youth jazz orchestra Tomorrow’s Warriors, this group of musicians had only played together 3 or 4 times before, but were so in sync that I found that hard to believe. Alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey stole the limelight with beautifully complex drawn out solos, played with minimal movement and pretty much redefining what cool looks like. He was approached afterwards by one particularly enamoured fan who told him that he was ‘absolutely beyond magnificent’ which describes his skill pretty much spot on. ‘Liver Quiver’ written by drummer Moses Boyd was a particular highlight, as was ‘Anansi’s dance’ a piece written by Crosby and based on Jamaican folklore. Crosby announced at the end that he was going to finish “a long set with a long piece’” which turned out to be a brilliantly complicated new arrangement of Sonny Rollins’ Oleo that really shouldn’t have worked, but somehow did, and had everyone quietly tapping their feet.

Marlborough Fire Station during the 2013 Jazz Festival 

Marlborough Jazz Festival is part village fete, part festival, and it would have been nice to see a bit more of a younger crowd. But if it carries on booking as many great artists in the future, this hidden gem shouldn't stay hidden for long.

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