FESTIVAL REPORT: 2015 Norwich Jazz Weekender with Claire Martin, Kit Downes, Partisans, Damon Brown, Majamisty Trio...

Nick Fitch Quartet. Photo credit: ck@chris-kirby.co.uk

Norwich Jazz Weekender 
Various venues in Norwich.  29th- 30th August 2015. Festival Report by Maureen Baker)

“When it comes to producing great jazz musicians, some wonder why Norwich punches above it’s weight”. So mused Simon Brown, promoter of the second Norwich Jazz Weekender, when introducing Kit Downes, one of the City’s finest gifts to jazz in recent years. Modesty must have precluded him from explaining why this city in the rural East, with its medieval heritage, should be such a jazz hothouse, because the answer lies at least in part in the encouragement and direction given by Simon and others, past and present, who have helped nurture this creativity. Ventures like this Weekender can only ensure that the tradition will continue. It was great to hear Simon himself playing piano in “Back to Birdland” – a tribute to George Shearing- and in other contexts too. The following report will not cover the complete and very full programme - I was sorry to miss Gabrielle Ducomble for example - just the gigs I was able to attend...


The main stage was at “Open” in the City Centre and first up was local trad band “Dixiemix”. Hard on their heels came Norwich’s next big thing: 19 year old guitarist, Nick Fitch- who fronted the Nick Fitch Quartet, comprising the equally precocious talents of Tom Smith on saxes and flute; Ed Dunlop on drums; and, Norwich’s best kept secret-till now-, Owen Morgan on upright and electric basses. Fitch is a recent NYJO recruit, and winner of a scholarshio to this year’s GMF Summer School in Certado. The band belied their youth with musical skill beyond their years playing classics including Miles Davis’ Seven Steps to Heaven – all played with real panache but really showing their mettle to best effect on contemporary pieces such as Gwilym Simcock’s “Barber Blues” with, Owen “Jaco’s –in- the- house” Morgan nailing the bass right down to the sandy Norfolk soil beneath him and Ed Dunlop fast, sharp and swinging on drums. Their version of Jim Mullen’s Medication was another triumph, Smith switching between alto and tenor throughout the set before a final flourish of flute in Gareth Lockrane’s  Stutterfunk earned them their warm reception from an appreciative crowd.

Majamisty Trio. Photo credit Maureen Baker


Next up was the Majamisty Trio from Novi Sad in Serbia about whom little was known save their next gig was at Soho’s Pizza Express the day after. How had Norwich come to net a band this rare and exotic? The question may have been intriguing, but the answer was prosaic : Novi Sad is twinned with Norwich and, trio leader and pianist , Maja Alvanovic had simply Googled “Norwich Jazz” to find Simon Brown and get her band a gig. All who heard them play would surely agree they were glad she did. Musically placed somewhere in the EST style jazz sphere, there was a translucent beauty in Ms Alvanovic’s playing: her style contemplative as to be expected of a Bill Evans disciple with Lennie Tristano touches evident too in her love of cliché- free solos. It was her admiration for Erroll Garner’s Misty that brought the band a name and provided the set’s only standard, albeit performed in anything but a standard way.

Complemented by her strong connection with Ervin Malina on bass and Istvan Cik on drums, the three played as one musical being on beautiful self penned ballads “ Landscape” and “ Barquinho”, Ms Alvanovic’s lightness on keys, ebbing and flowing as Malina’s bowed bass yearned achingly away against subtle percussive underpinning from Cik. Compositions inspired by topics as diverse as forests in rain, Rain Drops and riding on uncomfortable Serbian buses, Coolah Trance, were played with immense delicacy and managed to cast a spell over the room. The drama and joy of the ambitious Love as the set neared it’s end reinforced that Majamisty’s first visit to England must not be allowed to be their last.

Claire Martin
Photo credit:Ivars Galenieks


High energy bebop then chased away any languor as Damon Brown's quintet roused the audience and got their receptive energies back in place ready to receive the Queen of British jazz, Claire Martin OBE, who graced the stage next, with the equally regal Dave Newton Trio (Dave Newton on piano; Jeremy Brown on bass; and Matt Skelton on drums).

Selecting from her back catalogue right back to The Waiting Game and mid- 90s albums Offbeat and Secret Love, this gig was pure joy for fans who either trod the path with her over the years or came to visit later. The tempo was up from the off:  I Love Being here With You nodding respect to Peggy Lee, breezing through Better Than Anything  then cooling to Bobby Troup’s bossa- for- his- Mrs : The Meaning of the Blues. Travellin Light saw Dave Newton swinging a path alongside Jeremy Brown’s masterly bass. You Turned the Tables on Me would have had Anita O’Day herself give credit for all that peerless diction as the phrasing moved against Dave Newton chopping the rhythm around as only a piano god like him can. Other classics followed including the now seldom heard Betty Carter masterpiece “ Tight” which the band recognised as a direction ever as much as the name of the piece. A final 90s salvo from Come Back to Me and the audience would have bayed for more save authentic Cuban jazz was up next in the form of  Sarabanda who played whilst some listened and many danced right to the end of the night.

The Dunnett/ Baxter Big Band
Photo credit Maureen Baker


Day two began with the Dunnett/ Baxter Big Band a seventeen- piece band comprising ex-Birmingham Conservatoire graduates and best mates, led by another son of Norwich, the hugely likeable Tom Dunnett, whose talents, beyond his considerable musicianship, incorporate the apparent ability to impersonate all regional accents- beyond a Norfolk one that is. Packed onto the club room stage, the band took no easy paths and much of their material was either written or arranged from amongst their talented midst. Dave Ferris (piano) arranged the band’s opener “Virgo”, a pace- changing showcase for sax choruses and trumpet blasts set against a guitar motif by Nick Fitch, guesting from his previous day’s gig. Monk’s Think of One , arranged by Chris Maddock (ts), featured a fluent alto solo by Elliott Drew with Tom Dunnett following on trombone and announcing why he’s joint leader. Other glories followed: “Joker in the Pack” (arr. Dave Ferris), began in funk but blossomed into swing with a glorious elongated alto solo from Elliot Drew again. Loose Tubes’ The Last Word showed the band’s puckish sense of fun: oom-pah meets reggae, yielding to a more conventional big band groove and featuring a fine solo by Chris Maddock on tenor along the way with the last word itself from Tom Dunnett on trombone. Sean Gibbs (tp) (whose new album “Burns “ was recently reviewed on LJN ) showed off his composing chops with The Eye of the Needle and Natures Law, both performed here, showing his feel for sophisticated melodies played against irresistible driving tempos.

Tom Dunnett’s own Bebop inspired “ Times Up” rounded off the set with Calum Roxburgh giving an old style blistering tenor show just before even energy on this scale had to surrender to the next act on the bill.

Kit Downes
Photo credit: Ivars Galenieks


Kit Downes’ new trio “The Enemy” (Kit Downes piano; Petter Eldh on bass; and James Maddren on drums) was a highlight gig for many, bringing what he calls his “new music” fresh to his home town for one of it’s earlier hearings. His childhood fascination with improvisation was wisely encouraged and has developed through the years to bring us music now that engages not just the emotions but makes the brain work too. From pieces where the playing was as fast as sunlight bouncing across rippling water to gentle reflective music with multiple construction changes, this was a highly sophisticated set. The enigmatically titled Politics went back and forth like opposing points of view, Downes’ phenomenal playing diverting it’s course with Maddren’s deceptively understated drum work serving to enhance the fineness of the piece before it ended, somewhere, whether in resolution or surrender, who knows? Other Eldh composed pieces comprised “Race the Sun”, named in honour of the computer game, featured staccato phrases from Downes whilst Eldh reflected melodic motifs on bass, and the obscurely named, Children with Torches which provided yet more evidence to underscore this trio’s terrific musical intellect, huge energy and intuitive sensibilities.

Thad Kelly and Julian Siegel of Partisans
Photo credit:Ivars Galenieks


Such glory was hard to follow but the mighty Partisans took on the challenge. Though not a Norwich original, Julian Siegel at least studied Music at UEA and he and his band gave as uncompromising a set as all have come to expect of them.

Fletch’s Brew ended the night and the event with another Norwich hero, Freddie Gavita, pedal pushing both trumpet and flugelhorn to silky effect atop Carl Orr’s dynamic guitar; Laurence Cottle’s killer electric bass and Mark Fletcher’s searing drums for a slick and funky finale.

LINK: Norwich Jazz Club

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