REVIEW: 28th 'and final' Swanage Jazz Festival

Tina May in 2013
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Swanage Jazz Festival 2017
(Swanage, 14-16 July 2017. Round-up review by Brian Blain)

Towards the end of the '28th and Final' SwanageJazz Festival, in the last Sunday afternoon slot, with the sun shining on the big marquee, I got the feeling that I was part of a remake of the classic documentary Jazz On a Summer's Day - the part where Anita O Day takes the place by storm. I have never seen Tina May so 'up'; we were certainly not in for one of her subdued sub-Winstone moods or her Edith Piaf show - both of which she does so well.

Here was a great rhythm section, John Donaldson (piano), Simon Thorpe (bass) and Winston Clifford, the listening drummer, with the great tenor saxophonist Art Themen waiting in the wings. Indeed there he was, hand-claps, claves in hand, second tune in No More Blues, whacking out that classic 3/2 pattern with Winston egging on the crowd with his overhead hand claps; demagogic rhythm paradise!

From Monk's Well You Needn't to the Ella tribute Every Time we Say Goodbye, this was a glorious heartwarming show, not just a singer with jazz rhythm section, but five full-on musicians interacting together magnificently.

Coincidentally this followed another set which rocked a full house: the Arun Ghosh Quintet. The Swanage crowd have really taken these guys to their hearts so let's have an end to snideries about token multi culturalism. Ghosh is a super brilliant clarinettist, with one of the most engaging personalities to be seen anywhere - humorous and genuine - and the mix of Indian sub-continent rhythms and melody with the rockish grooves of bassist Liran Donan and drummer Dave Walsh is totally captivating.

Overcoming all my prejudices about the newer generation of technically perfect but somewhat cold musicians, I made my way up the hill to the Methodist Church to be totally captivated by elegant Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame and by bassist Matt Ridley. A beautifully elegant long note from saxophonist Jason Yarde even reconciled me to the sound of the soprano saxophone, my aversion to which is only exceeded by the bagpipes: he was stunning. So was James Maddren. Indeed his opening slow burn groover with the big warm sounding tenor of George Crowley shook all my preconceptions out of the window, his mastery of the tricky acoustics of the room being a measure of his superlative technique and sensitive ears. Maximum marks to both new wave-ish bands and especially to the writing of both leaders, as well as the brilliant John Turville, pianist with Matt Ridley, who is quite a writer himself.

Sunday lunch in the church started none too promisingly with a thin house for Roger Beaujolais' band with Donaldson, Thorpe and Clifford. The sardonically humorous title of one of Damon Brown's new albums, Sorry, It's Just Jazz, was just made for this set with its melodic Beaujolais originals, understated grooves, and fine soloing from pianist Donaldson, and the band's vibes-playing leader, By the end the venue was full, nobody left and a healthy queue was waiting to buy the band's latest CD; people were talking to me about this set for the rest of the day.

Apologies to all those left out; there was so much great music by the likes of Darius Brubeck, Dave O'Higgins, Alex Garnett, Nigel Price, Keith Nichols, Joan Viskant, Liz Fletcher, TJ Johnson and others I couldn't catch.

Above all, thanks to Fred Lindop and his wonderful team of helpers: there will be a big hole in the heart of the British jazz scene.

LINK: Our news piece about the Festival

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