FESTIVAL ROUND-UP : Swanage 2015

Ross Stanley, Phil Robson, Gene Calderazzo.
Photo credit: Jon Macey

Swanage Jazz Festival
(Various locations in Swanage, 10th-12th July 2015. Round-up by Brian Blain)

Oh to be in that most charming of resorts, Swanage, in early July when the beating heart of UK jazz takes over, with fifty bands; from the edgy sounds of Larry Bartley's Just Us, which attracted a good crowd to the Methodist Church on the High Street, to a clutch of traditonal bands in the second marquee venue with Keith Nichols' Blue Devils, containing on of Britain's true greats, trumpeter Enrico Tomasso, flying high over Mahogany Hall Stomp, and its charismatic singer, Joan Viskant making one wonder why we never seem to see her billed anywhere else.

All three blockbuster bands, one each evening in the other main marquee, completely lived up to expectations with Jean Toussaint's Art Blakey-themed programme setting, for me, a new standard of excitement with themes by the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Timmons and Cedar Walton. Byron Wallen and Denis Rollins sparked, while the great Shaney Forbes on drums and Clark Tracey's bassist protege Daniel Casimir locked into pianist Andrew McCormack's gloriously over-amped comping and solos to prodice the kind of driving swing which once would have been almost inconceivable on this side of the Atlantic.

How to top that, we wondered, but on the next evening in the main venue, Clark Tracey's readings of his old man's octet pad showed that he too has real stature as a leader as well as his drumming with its driving Sam Woodyard feel.

The third major show which also lived up to Toussaint's opening chllenge, was the closer, a five-piece saxophjone section of Robert Fowler, Karen Sharp playing glorious baritone, Sammy Mayne and the dream rhythm section of Dave Newton, Andy Cleyndert and the magnificent Steve Brown co-led by Alan Barnes and Dave O'Higgins. The standard of interpretation of themes by Benny Carter, Tadd Dameron and Duke Ellington with next to no rehearsal was almost impossible to believe.

All through the weekend, gems appeared. Mike Outram for example, with Bristol's Kevin Figes' beatiful alto and bartone sounds was one of three outstanding guitarists appearing over the weekend. Phil Robdson, for example, dazzled with the mighty Ross Stanley and drummer Gene Calderazzo holding himself well in check in the church's tricky acoustic. Amid the fizzing Scofield-isms, Robson's reading of one of jazz's great tunes, J.J Johnson's Lament was a complete and wonderful surprrise. No fears for Georgia Mancio in the same venue. She just gets better and better, and having sussed the system with the engineer, her voice sounded exquisite in the space.

Dennis Rollins had almost packed the place with his Velocity Trio when a Ross Stanley “church organ” passage produced one of the great moments of the weekend. At the end of their set, the queue for Rollins' CDs stretched from the altar back to the vestry: amazing. Who said the codgers never listen to anything new?

To catch Rollins I had to leave Renato D'Aiello's hard-driving Horace Silver set, where one of the big surprises of the weekend, trombonist Chris Dean, who normally leads the Syd Lawrence Orchestra depped at the last minute for trumpeter Quentin Collins. Matt Ridley's MJQ celebration with the superb Jim Hart got Saturday morning off to a great start, while Allison Neale's band revealed another magnificent vibist, Nathaniel Steele. Not difficult to see why Allison's Art Pepper-inspired alto is making waves, but for me, her flute-playing was quite outstanding, while, as always, Leon Greening's piano was pure joy. A band to see without doubt.

So was Robert Fowler and Karen Sharp's Al Cohn and Zoot Sims-insired swingfest, while Gilad Atzmon, as ever, charmed the birds off the trees with his wit and virtuosic musicianship; someone else whose 'difficult' music has wormed its way of the affections of a knowledgeable older crowd. As ever, an inspiring weekend. Apologies to all that I have been able to do justice too, like guitarist Dominic Ashworth, who held the trad tent -yes the trad tent – spellbound with Concierto de Aranjuez and Manha de Carnaval in the irrepressible Digby Fairweather's set.

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