FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Ambleside Days 2018

Mike Walker with Thomas Gould and Yuri Goloubev
Photo credit: David Forman

Ambleside Days Festival 2018 
(Zeffirelli's Ambleside. 30 Aug-2 Sep 2018. Round-Up by Mike Collins)

“All these amazing musicians, Here! In Ambleside”. Derek Hook, shook his head as if it was scarcely believable, as he prepared to introduce another set of adventurous, contemporary jazz. Never mind that it was Derek and a small team who’d made this second edition of the Ambleside Days festival happen, a concentrated four-night series of gigs in the cinema at Zeffirelli’s in Ambleside. Established groups, provide an anchor, but also personnel for one-time-only Ambleside special ensembles that give the festival its special flavour.

As the lights dimmed on Thursday, the first evening, was it too fanciful to re-imagine Mike Walker’s first, almost ghosted phrase as a wisp of cloud floating over a ridge in the hills? Perhaps so, but an atmospheric and organic rumination from the trio solidified into resonant harmony, an insistent groove and (what else?) the arc-ing phrases of Ambleside Days launched the four-day festival. The unbroken set with improvised segues between a diverse set of pieces was a mouth-watering scene setter, both for the quality and sound world of the music and for the prospect of a nightly mutating cast of Ambleside ensembles.

Tim Garland’s Quartet took the stage after the Simcock-Walker-Sirkis trio, the line-up with Jason Rebello on piano, Yuri Goloubev on bass and Sirkis behind the kit again, provided one of the highlights of the festival. Garland’s back catalogue is packed with riches. Whether on Bright New Year, a buoyant folk-tinged melody over a scintillating groove or Ambleside Nights, with a signature Garland flourish to the melody, Rebello built fiery, mazy solos, exciting even by his exalted standards. The Snows They Melt the Soonest became a rocky modal workout with Garland in explosive form. Weather Walker was played as trio, the flowing pulse and affecting melody with angular interval leaps, evoked exquisitely wrought, lyrical solos from Rebello and Goloubev. A pyrotechnic, intensely rhythmic finale, Sama’i for peace produced yet another incendiary solo from piano evoking whoops and grins from the rest of the band, Garland was no less exciting.

Paul McCandless
Photo credit: David Forman

On Friday evening, after Paul McCandless, with the trio Charged Particles, had brought the richness of his music and the Oregon legacy to life, vibes-man Joe Locke launched into an exuberant and joyous set. He started with a beautifully wrought duo with Gwilym Simcock then Darryl Hall on bass and Alyn Cosker on drums joined as they launched into a scintillating version of Nostalgia in Times Square, summoning fiercely percussive and funky solos from Simcock and the vibes-man. Locke nudged Simcock off the piano for a duo with Claire Martin. His melody and lyric, was a tribute to Bobby Hutcherson and his desire to make the listener feel. Locke does this. He makes you nod, stamp your feet, cheer, smile – and feel. The set was a tour-de-force, finished with the high energy Blondie Roundabout that had everyone roaring for more.

Claire Martin with Joe Locke (piano)
Photo credit: David Forman

Claire Martin had her own set on Saturday evening, that reminded us, just how steeped in the breadth and depth of the jazz tradition she is. It was there in every stretched phrase and effortless twist to a melody line. The band was a rolls-royce with Nikki Iles on piano, Alyn Cosker at the kit and Daryll Hall on bass. Mark Lockheart on saxes and Mike Walker’s guitar completed a line-up that purred under the swinging People will say we’re in love, slid seamlessy between swing and latin on All or Nothing At All. Martin channeled the spirit of Shirley Horn on Time for Love. A rollicking climax on Never Make Your Move to Soon underlined the fun the band were having, cheered to the rafters by an audience who were right with them.

Thomas Gould with Gwilym Simcock
Photo credit: David Forman

Later on Saturday, composer and arranger Johannes Berauer’s Hourglass was realised live for the first time, providing another highlight amongst many over the four nights. Simcock and Walker joined by Martin Beraurer on bass, Thomas Gould on violin and Bernhard Schimpelsberger on percussion performed the suite of pieces, written for them, all musicians fluent in the classical tradition as well as jazz. There were strong flavours of folk and traditional tunes in the melodies, as well as attractive tone poems. The writing made the most of intricate rhythms, layers of sound and artful development, dynamics and changes of pace adding to the drama. It was complex music but made to sound effortless by the band, with plenty of scope for expression and improvisation. Mike Walker repeatedly raised the temperature and the passion. On Invention, a canon in an odd time-signature, the guitar, sighed, cried, changed gear with fluttering runs, and singing notes, bursting into fizzing, twisting lines. A spellbinding moment. On Nocturne that followed, not to be outdone, Simcock produced an electrifying solo on the more reflective piece. The suite was a high-point; powerful music and a thrilling live performance.

The pleasure and inspiration that musicians were drawing from the retreat to hills and precious time together was mentioned frequently. It was evident on stage too in the final set on Sunday, whether in the riotous Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring rendered as swirling folk dance, or on a specially written Johannes Berauer piece now for two drummers ( Sirkis and Schiplesberger), and two bass players (Goloubev and Martin Berauer) with Simcock, Garland and Gould all in the mix, or a volcanic duo interaction from the two drummers including an eye-watering exchange of Indian vocal rhythmic patterns.

The spirit of the festival was no more evident than in the first of the last evening’s sets however. The trio of Gwilym Simcock, Yuri Goloubev and Asaf Sirkis is a longstanding one. Their capacity to make abstraction and texture pulse, groove, and morph into a melodic shape before evaporating again or transforming into a racing pulse is magical, reminiscent more than once of John Taylor’s trios at the height of his powers. They saluted him explicitly with a beautiful take on Between The Moons. The beauty of the music, the variety and world-class performances sum up what was the essence of this remarkable festival: open-minded music-making of the highest quality.

Curtain call for Thomas Berauer's Hourglass
Photo credit: David Forman

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