Review: Scarborough Jazz Festival

Scarborough 2018 came up trumps with yet another of the varied and wide-ranging programmes we have come to expect from them, says Brian Payne

From 28 to 30 September, in the balmiest of weather, South Bay’s Victorian sea front Spa hosted a plethora of riveting performances from an array of top class bands. It’s no surprise that Scarborough’s festival has won jazz venue of the year in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

Friday opened at lunchtime with Andchuck, a guitar, bass and drums set up which normally operates as a quartet with saxophonist Caitlin Laing in their ranks. Unfortunately she was unable to appear. With influences from Snarky Puppy and Impossible Gentlemen, this experimental band played a series of originals composed mainly by their bassist, Tom Chapman. Jack March was on guitar and Gabriel Alexander drums. Not for the faint hearted, this performance was extra loud. It made some old heads in the Grand Hall positively reverberate.

Bassist Ben Crosland (pictured above right) and his quintet followed with their tribute to Ray Davies’s classic songbook. This was terrific stuff with Crosland’s rearrangements including Tired Of Waiting, Well Respected Man and Waterloo Sunset. Sunny Afternoon produced a spellbinding sparring match between John Etheridge on guitar and his Soft Machine sidekick, saxophonist Theo Travis. Etheridge was explosive with his solo on All Day And All Of The Night. With Jim Watson on piano and Nic Francis on drums this was some band! The set closed with a driving rendition of You Really Got Me to massive applause from the audience.

Another tribute came next - this time to Toots Thielemans. Phil Hopkins is a veritable virtuoso on chromatic harmonica and he led his band with arrangements of music that had been performed by Toots with the likes of Charlie Parker, Quincy Jones and Brazilian musicians Caetano Veloso and Ivan Lins. With a running commentary from Hopkins on the history of Thielemans, numbers included Do Not Leave Me, My Little Suede Shoes, Sesame Street, Stardust and the theme from Midnight Cowboy. Jeremy Shoham was absolutely superb on alto sax. Jonathan Gee was on piano, the majestic Yaron Stavi on bass and Shoham’s arch collaborator in their band East of Jazz, Rick Finlay, on drums and percussion.

Terry Seabrook’s Quintet celebrated the music of Wayne Shorter. Shorter composed and played for Art Blakey’s Messengers, the Miles Davis Quintet and Weather Report as well as his own bands. Seabrook’s quintet comprised Andy Panayi who was all things Shorter on saxes, the quicksilver Graeme Flowers on trumpet, the superb rhythm section of Simon Thorpe on bass and Peter Hill on drums and Seabrook on piano.This was a polished set which included Prince Of Darkness, Tom Thumb, Anna Maria and Speak No Evil. Seabrook’s own A Shorter Suite was particularly well received.

Jo Harrop (pictured left), who reminded me of Sandie Shaw, sang the songs of Peggy Lee. Backing her were Tony Kofi on alto, Alex Webb on piano and narration of Lee’s story, "Level" Neville Malcolm on bass and Peter Hill again on drums. Having played through the earlier set Hill was having a busy night.

This was a round trip through some of Lee’s back catalogue with additional numbers from others including It’s A Good Day, He’s A Tramp, Just One Of Those Things, Blues In The Night, Get Out Of Town, I’m A Fool To Want You and Webb’s own well-crafted original End Of The Affair to name a few. Fever, perhaps the song most identified with Peggy Lee, was a show stopper for Harrop supported by Malcolm’s superbly soulful bass.

Friday night ended with Henry Lowther’s Still Waters. Dave Green had been unable to play and Flo Moore stood in on bass. If you can stand in for a legend like Green you must be doing something right. And so it proved to be - Moore was more than capable. The rest of the band were also first class as expected with Pete Hurt on tenor sax, Barry Green piano, Paul Clarvis drums and Lowther (pictured below right) on trumpet and flugelhorn. They played a raft of Lowther originals ranging from soft, melodious music to radical shifts of free improvisation. Numbers included Can’t Believe Won’t Believe, Amber - named after Barry Green’s two-year-old daughter - Something Like, TL (in tribute to Tony Levin) and White Dwarf. The band also played engrossing versions of Pete Hurt’s Capricorn and Jimmy McHugh's Too Young To Go Steady. It was a great band to finish off the day!

Atlantic Crossover was a great band to start the day. They opened Saturday at lunchtime with a mix of originals and rearrangements. Jim Corry on alto and James Russell on tenor co-led the band with Mark Chandler on trumpet, Rod Mason on baritone, Martin Longhawn piano, Adrian Knowles bass and Dave Walsh on drums. Mason’s baritone was markedly ebullient throughout the set. The playlist included Christian McBride’s Shade Of The Cedar Tree - a tribute to Cedar Walton - George Coleman’s Amsterdam After Dark, A Winter’s Day, Tin Tin Deo and Woods in tribute to Phil Woods. Their CD completely sold out after the gig.

Dave Newton and Alan Barnes followed with their piano/sax duo to mark 40 years (or is it 41 years now?) of playing together. Some say that duos are difficult to pull off well as there’s nowhere to hide if things go wrong. In this instance the playing was flawless and Barnes’s comic banter when introducing the songs was as engaging as ever. Luiz Bonfa’s Gentle Rain, Ellington’s The Mooche, Frigo’s Detour Ahead, Strayhorn’s The Lotus Eaters and Peanuts Hucko’s A Bientot were among their well received selection.

Matt Ridley is probably more familiar to many as Darius Brubeck’s bassist but the band he brought to Scarborough has been touring and playing for six years now. It has been hailed as one of Britain's finest contemporary quartets. With Jason Yarde on soprano and alto sax, John Turville on piano and George Hart drums, they performed music mostly from their albums Thymos and Metta. Ridley’s compositional talents are certainly impressive. The set, mostly originals, provided a mix of melodic content with passages that were perhaps not the most accessible. It was challenging at times but I think it’s music that would definitely grow on you the more you listen to it. I wish I’d bought their CD now.

As Alan Barnes remarked, you can wait a long time for a bass-clarinet player to be heard and then along comes three of them (plus clarinet) in the form of the Woody Black 4. This unique quartet of clarinet virtuosos from Vienna delivered a highly unusual set of experimental jazz with frequent trips into world music and the avant-garde. The music was creative, often euphoric and melancholic in turns. Their skilful and humorous improvisations kept the audience hooked. At one point each of the players began to disassemble their instruments yet remarkably carried on playing. Each took their turn to introduce the numbers and all had a good line in quips with one remarking that they had decided to tour the UK now before visas are required after Brexit. This band is without doubt a one-off and certainly worth looking out for.

The highlight on Saturday, if not the whole weekend, had to be the evening’s penultimate performance by Vimala Rowe (pictured left). This was the third time Rowe had been to Scarborough and once again she blew the house down with her impassioned vocals. Sympathetically backed by John Etheridge on guitar and Andrew Cleyndert on double bass, her performance was based on the songs of Billie Holiday. Numbers included God Bless The Child, Them There Eyes, Pennies From Heaven and Travelling Light. Apparently Detour Ahead was the first song Rowe sung with Etheridge after bumping into him on Hampstead Heath. And Blue Breeze was one she’d composed with Paco Peña after bumping into him in Córdoba. Rowe told us that Blue Breeze was about her being placed for adoption with a white family and the life issues that had entailed. When Etheridge had the stage to himself he delivered a terrific version of Mingus’s Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, written about Lester Young after his death in 1954. Etheridge explained the relevance here was that Young had loved Billie Holiday and vice versa but they were never an item. Following her rendition of Sunny Side Of The Street, Rowe completely changed tempo with Strange Fruit. This time she was supported only by Cleyndert’s lone and sombre bass. Just like two years ago, her delivery was so dramatic that the audience were stunned, and just like two years ago the applause hit the roof. The performance closed fittingly with Prayer For Peace sung by Rowe in Syrian/Aramaic, backed by Etheridge. What a set!

It was always going to be a hard act to follow but the Alan Barnes Octet successfully managed to do just that. This high calibre band delivered a great session of straight-ahead jazz with Bruce Adams on trumpet, Mark Nightingale trombone, Alan Barnes alto, Robert Fowler tenor sax, Karen Sharp baritone, David Newton piano, Simon Thorpe bass and Clark Tracey drums. They began with Surrey With The Fringe On Top followed by Barnes’s own composition One For The Moll which he wrote for his daughter Molly. I’m Coming Virginia featured a splendid solo from Adams on a miniature trumpet that apparently used to belong to Roy Castle. Other numbers included Slipped Disc, Fables Of Faubus and Johnny Mandel’s Cinnamon And Clove which elicited inspired solos from each of the front line. The band bowed out with a superb rendition of The BD Blues. What a night!

Sunday was seen in by Leila Martial’s experimental French trio, Baa Box. This comprised Martial on vocals and keyboards, Pierre Tereygeol on guitar and Eric Perez on drums and percussion. I think Martial probably has an inherently good voice but because it was electronically enhanced throughout, its real quality was disguised and at times metamorphosed into lengthy and amplified screaming. With something of a mix between free jazz and rock, some numbers were positively eerie whilst others struck a happier if slightly mesmeric note. Whilst impossible to categorise I’d say that this band is very much an acquired taste.

Stan Sulzmann’s Neon Orchestra followed with its combination of young bloods and established musicians. Mike Walker’s Clockmaker, John Parricelli’s Alfredo and Nikki Iles’s Westerly were some of Sulzmann’s powerful rearrangements. Other numbers included Sulzmann’s own mini suite Up And Down about connections in Islington where he lives, Jerome Kern’s Nobody Else But Me and Sulzmann’s Chu Chu named after the Columbian bassist Chucho Merchán. This was engaging stuff by a band crammed with top notch musicians too numerous to list in this piece.

The Nigel Price Quartet came on in the afternoon with Vasilis Xenopoulos on tenor sax, Ross Stanley on Hammond organ, Steve Brown on drums and Price (pictured right) on guitar. With musicians all at the top of their game Price’s band performed a blistering hard bop set that had the foot-tapping audience in the Grand Hall shouting for more. The playlist combined rearrangements of standards such as Freddie Hubbard's Up Jumped Spring together with a series of contrafacts. Examples of the latter included Don’t Look Back based on the chord changes of You Don’t Know What Love Is, All In based on Body And Soul and Jimmy Raney's Parker 51 based on Cherokee. Price informed us incidentally that the title Parker 51 related to the pen of that name and not to Charlie which many might have been led to believe. Price’s inventive soloing was a delight to the ears. He was clearly drained after this massively successful performance.

Having won the Jazz Newcomer Parliamentary Jazz Award 2017, Nerija had been widely promoted in the music press as an all-female septet playing a mix of jazz, hip-hop, Afrobeat and South African Township. But when they arrived on stage at Scarborough they were almost 50% male and their USP had somehow evaporated. The band looked a little uncomfortable to start with but as the set progressed they began to warm up. It turned out that the tenor-sax replacement had come in at the last minute - one o’clock that same morning - and I think they’d not long arrived from London before they were due to perform. Cassie Kinoshi on alto however was relaxed from the start and Shirley Tetteh on guitar, a driving force of the band, was her usual concentrated self - I’ve seen her play in other set ups. Lizy Exell was a veritable powerhouse on drums throughout.

Gareth Lockrane’s Big Band closed the festival on Sunday night with songs from their CD Fist Fight At The Barn Dance. These included the title track with Lockrane’s energetic soloing on flute; his luscious arrangement of We’ll Never Meet Again; On The Fly featuring smashing solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Julian Siegel on tenor sax; Do It (which apparently Lockrane, pictured above left, had originally entitled Clint after Clint Eastwood in the film Dirty Harry) with fluid soloing from Nadim Teimoori on tenor, Trevor Myers on trombone and Mike Outram on guitar; the ballad Forever Now with a lovely spot from guest Paul Jones on alto; and One For Junia, a Brazilian theme featuring a sparkling solo from Mike Chillingworth on alto.

By the time the set had finished every player in the band had been asked by Lockrane (pictured above right) to stand and deliver a solo. This was a great performance, more than well received by the audience. Indeed, this was yet another great festival!

Photos by Brian Payne

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