REVIEWS: Cambridge Jazz Festival (London Vocal Project + Stan Tracey's Hexad + Waaju)

Pete Churchill directing the combined forces of the Cambridge
Jazz Festival Choir and the London Vocal Project 

London Vocal Project + Stan Tracey's Hexad + Waaju
(Cambridge Jazz Festival. 17 and 18 November 2018. Report by Sebastian Scotney, with additional  reports from Matt Pannell and Frank Griffith)

Well hasn't it grown? The Cambridge Jazz Festival has come a remarkably long way in its three years since it started in its current form. The organizers also seem to have reached out well and drawn in audiences to the events. The two events I went to were close to full, and quite a few gigs sold out well in advance - Soft Machine and Zoe Rahman for example, and the gig that Matt Pannell went to was at maximum capacity with people being turned away.

The behind-the scenes organisation involving a substantial volunteer base to help out at the venues is impressive too. It is building towards the New Gen Jazz event at the Corn Exchange this Sunday 26 November which is one of the most substantial showcases of younger generation jazz in one place anywhere in the UK this year. (preview)

The London Vocal Project's concert at the Baptist Church showed the progression, the growth and the way projects invited to the festival can start to really put down local roots. At the first Festival they were more or less a drop-in, but the LVP way of working has made a home in Cambridge, because LVP member Andi Hopgood teaches at Anglia Ruskin University and was approached by the festival to be part of their community outreach work and bring the LVP vibe to Cambridge by forming a choir to perform at the festival. So the opening set of the LVP’s concert was given by them: the Cambridge Jazz Festival Choir involves all ages, there were disabled members, and what was remarkable was to see the professional singers and soloists go back into the role of steering the much larger ship of local group and giving them a confident foundation.

Chris Eldred on piano was hugely impressive, there was a solo spot for saxophonist/singer Pat Bamber who also proved a charismatic and effective soloist on both voice and instrument in Rolling Around Heaven All Day. A definite high point was Sophie Smith as soloist in Steve Swallow's City of Dallas. There is an ease, a confidence and a deep passion about the way LVP go about things, and it is a joy to witness.

Festival Director Ros Russill is an instinctive bridge-builder and the decision to invite Cadenza, Cambridge University's ’s "premier a capella group”, was a way to bring people together, for town to invite gown, and to see what happened. Cadenza, in existence since 1997, have the benefit of skilled and versatile singer/arranger/composer Harry Castle as a current member of the group His technically demanding arrangements provided a  a contrast with the LVP, in which Pete Churchill's method makes things grow organically - and seemingly effortlessly.  Cadenza are able to dazzle technically. They could easily have scarpered after their performance, but they chose to stick around to watch and listen to LVP - and that was good to see.

And how do jazz festival attenders deal with the fact that the Baptists operate a strict no-alcohol policy? The words Picturehouse and bar, arranged into a phrase provided an ideal solution.


Waaju
Photo credit: Trevor Lee

Waaju, Hot Numbers Coffee. 17 November. By Matt Pannell


Half an hour before the band was due to begin and it was standing room only - usually a good sign.  Drummer Ben Brown’s original compositions are inspired by the sounds of West Africa and the grooves, languid and sweaty, flowed right from the start, drums hardwired into Joe Downard's electric bass and Ernesto Marichales’ percussion. Guitar patterns were carefully woven by Tal Janes, and with no jostling for room in the front line of the band, Ronan Perrett made the most of the space. His alto saxophone solos, well-rooted in the rhythm and feel of every song, were exuberant. He blows life and colour through the instrument, which is no bad thing in November.
Sean Payne, Alex Ridout and Nadim Teimoori with (partly hidden) Andy Cleyndert. 
Clark Tracey's quintet in the boomy acoustic of the Unitarian Church in Emmanuel Road presented an experienced rhythm trio of Steve Melling, Andy Cleyndert and Clark, and three rising stars of British jazz, Nadim Teimoori on tenor saxophone, Alex Ridout on trumpet and Sean Payne on alto saxophone. They played tunes by Stan Tracey, mostly from the 1970s and 80s. It is heartening to witness Clark Tracey becoming the Art Blakey of British jazz, and placing these young musicians in the context of a working band and seeing them prosper and grow. 

Frank Griffith writes: One of the unique and memorable aspects of Stan Tracey's Hexad programme is the fluid and seamless intermingling of ensemble writing and improvisation throughout the entire piece. This makes a welcome change from brief statements of the melody at the beginning and end with an overabundance of improvisation in between. This offers the listener a better balance of the two and a sometimes unpredictable journey through what could be a conventional sequence of events.

Cambridge Jazz Festival continues until 26 November

LINK: Cambridge Jazz Festival

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