FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS: 2016 Edinburgh Jazz Festival

Jan Garbarek in Edinburgh.
Photo Credit: AJBlairPhotography

Edinburgh resident Patrick Hadfield writes about his personal highlights of the 2016 Edinburgh International Jazz & Blues Festival (15th-24th July)

Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival has just finished: more than 170 concerts over ten days, with music from genres of jazz and blues from New Orleans to modern electronic improvisation, and most styles in between. I carved out my own festival of twelve concerts, still varied, from established international stars to young musicians early in their careers.

Jan Garbarek Group in Edinburgh. Photo Credit: AJBlairPhotography

The biggest star I saw was saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who played for over two hours to a full house at the Festival Theatre. He weaved a spell from the moment he started playing, fusing jazz and Norwegian folk melodies to great effect. The one niggle might have been the extended solos taken by his band members, except that the quality was so high that the adoring audience welcomed them. Garbarek's long time collaborator on piano Rainer Brüninghaus and relative newcomer to the band Yuri Daniel on bass captivated the crowd, but it was Trilok Gurtu, playing a mixture of western and eastern percussion who truly impressed. His final, extended solo was breathtaking, involving a huge range of instruments, including a bucket of water. Full of humour and musicality, it brought a smile to Garbarek's face, and the two played a duet involving a fair bit of audience participation beating out some supporting rhythms. Garbarek's playing was captivating throughout. I felt I'd be lucky to see a better gig all year.

Graeme Stephen and Calum Gourlay
photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

But just two days later I did. Another sell out show crammed into the award winning JazzBar; I've never seen it so busy. Playing music solely written by guitarist Graeme Stephen, his quartet consists of local and formerly local musicians Calum Gourlay, always impressive on bass, Stu Ritchie on drums and Phil Bancroft on saxophone. Stephen uses a variety of pedals and loops to create textures over which he and the band play, producing music of depth and emotion. The band were all excellent, but Bancroft in particular played a series of scorching solos. Ritchie's drumming had both finesse and guts. The music was at times dark, at others humorous, and sometimes both. This was an unexpected triumph, and it felt a privilege to hear musicians I see regularly pull off something both world class and original.

Phil Bancroft
photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

For the first, the jazz festival used the City Art Centre as a venue. Kitted out with a grand piano (they must have had fun getting that to the fifth floor!), it featured a range of pianists. I saw three excellent gigs there. The first was a solo performance by Enrico Zanisi. He played a range of pieces, both composed by himself and wholly improvised, that exhibited a rare sensitivity. Zanisi closed his entrancing gig with a piece from Wagner's Tannheuser; the distance from classical to jazz was never closer. Dave Milligan, another local musician, have a similarly nuanced performance, and also included extended improvisations. Some of Milligan's playing also reflected the some classical sensitivity, but his music displays aspects of the Scottish folk tradition, too. Both Zanisi and Milligan produced deeply engaging performances in which one felt one could get lost within the music.

Most impressive of the pianists, though, was Fergus McCreadie, not least because of his youth: not yet in his twenties, and still a student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, McCreadie plays with a deep maturity. Leading his trio of David Bowden on drums and Stephen Henderson on bass, they played music by all three. McCreadie's playing was sometimes impressionistic and abstract, but the trio could also swing. To hear three young musicians produce such impressive music was heartening finale to a very enjoyable festival.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield

LINK: Edinburgh Jazz Festival website

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