FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Highgate Jazz with Soul 2014

Highgate Jazz with Soul orchestra trombones: Winston Rollins, Trevor Mires,
Mark Nightingale and Callum Au, with singer James Tormé (extreme left).
Highgate Jazz with Soul Festival 2014
(Various Locations in Highgate, 23-25 August 2014. Round-Up review by Mark McKergow)

The fourth edition of Brandon Allen’s North London bank holiday extravaganza presented its most ambitious line-up to date, including artists like Sarah Gillespie, Laura Jurd and Chris Allard.


Saturday afternoon saw Arnie Somogyi’s Scenes in the City present the music of Charles Mingus. The United Reformed church provided a suitably gospelly vibe for exuberant blowing by Alan Barnes and Tony Kofi, whose baritone sax had the roof lifting a few notches. Somogyi’s bass underpinned proceedings with some very Mingus-like aggression.

Later in the same venue we were treated to a rare outing by Alex Garnett’s London Supersax project, with dazzling orchestrations of Charlie Parker’s legendary solos. We heard wonderful ensemble work by Garnett on baritone, Nigel Hitchcock and Sammy Mayne (alto), and Graeme Blevins and festival director Brandon Allen on tenors, showing the way to read ‘fly-shit at 500 yards’ (as Garnett memorably put it). Trumpeter Steve Fishwick played an important role, not least in giving the reeds a breather after chorus after chorus of hemidemisemiquaver tumbles. The sax section was really on the mark with their performance – the dynamics and subtle pushes and pulls of Parker’s work showed through. And after all the franticness, it was a real treat to hear Nigel Hitchcock, on imperious form at the moment, lay it down solo on Lover Man.


We convened first at Lauderdale House for Jean Toussaint’s JT4 quartet including Andrew McCormack on piano. The music consisted mainly of originals from Toussaint and McCormack, including a sneak preview of part of the leader’s London Jazz Festival commission. Toussaint’s strong tenor sound filled the long gallery, and McCormack was on sparkling form. A word must go to 21 year old drummer Ben Brown, a new discovery for me, whose inventive and supportive work was restless and yet completely solid.

Down the road at the Old Crown the Artie Zaitz organ trio was limbering up for some afternoon groove melting. Much of the music here was original too – not the usual way for this kind of line-up and a welcome change from endless 12-bars. Ross Stanley played up a storm on organ (a proper one, not a synth) and showed he can pedal with the best. Zaitz threw in a couple of Alex Garnett tunes alongside his own. Shaney Forbes gave driving support from behind the kit. Brandon Allen appeared with his tenor sax (responding to a twitter request!) to join the trio at the close. Back at Lauderdale House, vocalist Anita Wardell gave a dazzling display of dexterity. Robin Aspland’s piano was delightfully precise and crisp, while the Italian rhythm section of Dario Di Lecce (bass) and Enzo Zirilli (drums) gave sympathetic support. Their hushed, poised account of It Never Entered My Mind was unforgettable.


Those who braved Monday’s rain were rewarded with a storming lunchtime performance from the Ed Jones Quartet at the Old Crown. It was a real pleasure to hear the intensity of power of his playing once again. Ross Stanley, a key figure at the festival, was back on piano and held up his side of the playing with his usual style and flair. The band performed a mix of standards and Jones’ originals, with drummer Tim Giles forcing the pace in an Elvin Jones-esque way on a rolling 6/4-flavoured Body And Soul workout.


The climax of the festival was the first appearance of the Highgate Jazz with Soul Festival Orchestra at the Gatehouse on Monday night. Allen had clearly pulled out all the stops to assemble a full-on five (super) sax/four trumpet/four trombone big band dripping with solo talent, a rhythm section including drummer-for-the-stars Ian Thomas and a string section. With a capacity crowd surrounding the band in an atmosphere resembling the old Bimhuis in Amsterdam, Allen led the orchestra through jazz (including Ellington’s Rocking in Rhythm and Thad Jones’ Three In One, as well as Callum Au arrangements) towards soul (Allen’s own workings of Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed, featuring Abigail Boyd’s deceptively silky vocals). The first set ended in a romp through Sly Stone’s If You Want To Stay with Allen rooting hard on tenor. The second set featured James Tormé’s slick arrangements and patter, which went down well with the crowd, but left me wishing we’d had more solo space for the horns - but hey, you can’t please all the people all the time.


Allen announced at the end of the night that there will be a fifth Highgate Jazz with Soul festival next year. I really hope he’s right – the event is clearly run on a shoestring, lots of adrenaline and much goodwill from the performers. In terms of giving London a jazz bank holiday feature to remember, it is clearly succeeding and Allen deserves all the plaudits and more for single-handedly luring the cream of London jazz talent up the hill, for instigating some memorable and classy music, and for patiently levering the event to its current position.

It is very much to be hoped that this celebration gains more support. It is a wonderful showcase for the energy, the initiative and the quality of London's jazz scene.

2014 supporters: The 606, Benham and Reeves, Prickett and Ellis the 606, D'Addario Woodwinds, RRC Thai Restaurant, London Music House, and the venues. 

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