ROUND-UP REVIEW: South Coast Jazz Festival 2017

Emily Dankworth and Phil Robson in AlecDankworth's
Spanish Accents. SCJF 2017. Photo credit: Lisa Wormsley


South Coast Jazz Festival 2017
(The Verdict, Brighton and Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham, Sussex. 16th - 29th January 2017. Round-up review by Charlie Anderson)


The South Coast Jazz Festival, now in its third year, continues to expand and it now covers a wide range of jazz styles which encompasses the thriving Sussex jazz scene. Beginning with Dave Drake’s trio at Brighton’s acclaimed jazz venue The Verdict, one half of Empirical joined forces with young pianist Drake to launch the two week festival, bursting with energy and enthusiasm (REVIEWED HERE).

Terry Seabrook's Triversion. SCJF 2017. Photo credit Lisa Wormsley


Terry Seabrook’s Triversion provided the danceable jazz-rock fusion with Andy Williams’ electric guitar accompanying Seabrook’s rocking organ, ably accompanied by Javier Ferrero on drums with special guest Tristan Banks on percussion.

Brighton Jazz School’s Education Forum gave insights into the different directions that jazz education can take, with a discussion on practical-based learning over theory-based approaches. Geoff Simkins reflected on his decades-long career as a self-taught musician who learnt his jazz pedagogy from following the example set by Lennie Tristano. Chichester College’s Julian Nicholas, a co-director of the festival, discussed society’s perceptions of jazz as well as the problems of convincing parents that it is a viable vocation. Fellow festival director Claire Martin also gave an engaging talk on the practical skills required to be a bandleader, something also covered in more detail in her in-depth ‘Tools of the Trade’ workshop with Elaine Crouch the following week. A student showcase at the end of the conference highlighted the results of jazz education with performances by students from Brighton Jazz School, Chichester College, Chichester University and Geoff Simkins’ jazz course.

Olie Brice, Rachel Musson and Mark Sanders provided inspiration for those wanting to hear jazz improvisation of a more explorative, freer nature, together with the monthly Safehouse session at The Verdict, in association with the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival.

Nigel Thomas Quartet with Paul Booth promoted Thomas’ latest album Hidden, although the highlight of the concert was the beautiful title track from Nigel’s previous album, Yoichi. That said, the entire evening demonstrated his increasing capability to produce music with real emotional resonance.

The Sunday Roast Jam Session was a chance for musicians (and festival directors) to have a blow and let off some steam after putting in a lot of hard work, together with fantastic food provided by The Verdict’s head chef John Easterby. Later in the day, superb Danish vocalist Sara Oschlag and trombonist Mark Bassey performed music from the album A Day In Copenhagen by Dexter Gordon and Slide Hampton as well as arrangements made famous by Cecile McLorin Salvant.

The South Coast Jazz Festival has consistently promoted jazz photography with past exhibitions by Brian O’Connor and the late David Redfern. This year featured an exhibition at The Verdict by official festival photographer Lisa Wormsley as well as an exhibition of photos by Chinese photographer and promoter Rachel Zhang at the Ropetackle Arts Centre. A panel discussion at The Verdict, hosted by Lisa Wormsley, also covered images chosen by photographers Lynne Shields, Sara Oschlag, Neil Garrett and Greg Heath.

Eddie Myer 5tet, SCJF 2017. Photo credit Lisa Wormsley


The Tuesday night performance by bassist Eddie Myer’s 5tet featured some storming solos from former NYJO saxophonist Riley Stone-Lonergan in a gig full of originals by Myer as well as tunes by the late Ian Price. Pianist Mark Edwards, who had performed with Nigel Thomas’ quartet was on fine form and a clearly delighted Eddie Myer looked as if all his musical dreams had come true.

The friendly and intimate nature of the festival continued when concerts moved to the Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham-by-sea, with the foyer area providing a perfect space for socialising whilst DJs Neil Godwin and Kevin Le Gendre provided the music. A series of double-bills in the seated concert hall began with the latin-fusion band J-Sonics performing upbeat tunes such as Berimbau, Partido Alto and Mas Que Nada which got the crowd dancing whilst Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents were more low-key, drawing the audience in with a varied set of tunes inspired by flamenco rhythms, such as Chick Corea’s Armando’s Rhumba.

On the following night, Zoe Rahman’s solo piano concert was both hypnotic and mesmerising, and was a masterclass in extended techniques. It was a thoroughly absorbing performance of pieces from her 2016 album Dreamland, including a beautiful rendition of Ellington’s A Single Petal Of A Rose, her own interpretation of These Foolish Things and her distinctive original Red Squirrel. By contrast, the upbeat funk of Dennis Rollins’ new ensemble Funky Funk got the crowd dancing, as well as being a platform for some jazzy extemporisations from Rollins and saxophonist James Morton, guitarist Tony Remy and keyboardist Martin Longhawn.

Nigel Price. SCJF 2017. Photo credit Lisa Wormsley

At the beginning of the festival, guitarist Jim Mullen was in hospital so Festival organisers improvised ‘Jim Jars’ for jazz fans to donate money towards what is likely to be a lengthy recovery period. Guitarist Nigel Price kindly stood in for Jim and performed a beautiful version of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, as well as his own interpretation of standards such as Jobim's Triste and Wes Montgomery's Four On Six. One of the best features of the Ropetackle concerts was the contrasting double bills and Sarah Jane Morris was certainly unique, giving intensely emotional renditions of popular tunes as well as originals that were deeply personal and moving, ably accompanied by guitarists Tim Cansfield and the ubiquitous Tony Remy.

The final day saw Terry Pack’s large ensemble Trees perform at lunchtime before the main concert of Ray Gelato’s Giants, who provided two sets of entertaining and energetic music in the style of Louis Jordan, with festival directors Claire Martin and Julian Nicholas joining the band on stage for the rousing finale.

The concerts at The Verdict proved that local musicians could put on sell-out shows that offered engaging, original music, whilst the Ropetackle concerts showed that a diverse range of jazz styles in a mixed programme could offer both intellectual fulfilment and danceable entertainment. Well done to festival directors Claire Martin and Julian Nicholas for putting on a bigger and better festival and bringing together all of the varied elements of the local and national jazz scene.

Charlie Anderson is the editor of Sussex Jazz Magazine

LINK: South Coast Jazz Festival website

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