Review: Jersey Jazz Festival
Bob Weir reports from the revived Jersey Jazz Festival, scene of many a mainstream jazz triumph in past decades. This year's event included Dennis Rollins' jazz and Caribbean blend and Simon Spillett's urbane bop and standards combo
Spring in the attractive and easy-going town of St Helier is an ideal setting to start the jazz festival season. It helps to have everything so well organised by Leon Fleming at the central Mayfair hotel and in various pubs and bars around town. There was a pleasing variety of music on each of the three days from midday to midnight with plenty of time for sightseeing in the mornings and a generous evening break for fine dining in the hotel or the many excellent restaurants within easy walking distance.
Six bands played two or three one-hour sets (only Dennis Rollins had a single appearance) and there were opportunities to mingle and chat with the musicians. The two local groups, the Jersey Jazz Quintet and the Sam Orchard-John Sealey Quartet from Guernsey, played efficient modern-mainstream drawing on the repertoires of Miles Davis, Horace Silver and Wayne Shorter as well as some attractive originals. These bands would easily hold their own at most UK jazz clubs.
A brace of lesser-known (to me) London-based outfits contributed some metropolitan sophistication and greater individuality. The Linley Weir Trio (no relation) featured the leader's exquisite vocals backed by piano and bass on a well-balanced range of lovely ballads, rocking blues and several of her own proficient compositions. The trumpet-and-rhythm Blam Quartet had players originally from Malta, Chile, Germany and Italy. They all provided excellent originals in a variety of post-bop styles to produce sparkling international music of real quality.
The Dennis 'Badbone' Rollins Velocity trio gave a high energy, all-too-short set of tight jamming by trombone, organ and drums. They moved easily through numbers by Bob Marley and Larry Young to toe-tapping, soul-inflected R&B with a high level of creative interaction. The enthusiastic full house was left wanting more.
Top of the bill and deservedly so for their two thrilling performances was tenor saxophonist and JJ scribe Simon Spillett's all-star quartet featuring John Critchinson (p), Alec Dankworth (b) and Clark Tracey (d). Whether it was tenor features at breakneck pace on Speak Low and Cherokee, rhapsodic ballads like All This And Heaven Too and Alone Together or Tracey's musically satisfying drum solo on Caravan, everything they played was inventive and wholly absorbing and undoubtedly the highspot of a very enjoyable weekend.
News of next year's event can be found later in the year at jerseyjazzfestival.com.
Photo of Dennis Rollins by Mark Beirne-Smith
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