Review: Bournemouth Jazz Festival

Jay J. Reiter heralds the 2016 Bournemouth Jazz Festival as a success, with its mix of local talent, big names from the national scene and the World Jazz Jamboree

This year’s Bournemouth Jazz Festival was a considerable step up from last year’s pilot event. In 2015 the focus had been on local bands – and there are some excellent ones in Bournemouth. But in 2016 the organisers presented a larger and "enriched" festival by consolidating the venues, bringing in a number of name acts to join the programme of local musicians and introducing a free Jazz Village to whet the appetites of those new to jazz or for anyone just wanting to enjoy the weekend party atmosphere.

The idea of attracting visitors to Bournemouth for a weekend of jazz by the sea was a hit. The festival was shifted from June to April to capitalise on venue availability and catch an eager springtime audience. Festival director Gerry Clarke also introduced an education programme to encourage young musicians to take up jazz, together with a unique World Jazz Jamboree concept to differentiate the new festival and celebrate jazz music’s global breadth.

The programme sought to balance opportunities for local bands with headline names to attract audiences, plus bring in some newer "rising stars". Whilst there is quite a good jazz scene in Bournemouth, the town is more Blackpool than Bristol so some better known names appealing to the wider public were booked.

The Saturday night headliner was originally Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion with Andy Sheppard guesting. Sadly at the last minute Ginger was diagnosed with heart problems (now cured) and it was too late in the day to seek an alternative so the band was rebranded The Ginger Baker Experience and welcomed American master drummer Gene Calderazzo to the drum chair. Although their tough, sinewy, music was enthusiastically received by the good-sized audience, the performance was not the earth-shattering, chandelier-tinkling experience it might have been. Simply, Gene, while superb in his own way, was not Ginger. For many, the star of the show was Ginger’s larger than life Ghanaian drum buddy, Abas Dodoo (pictured above right), who had the audience foot-tapping and arm-bopping with his authentic, heart-pounding African rhythms.

Artistic director Paul Kelly had sought to give as many good local bands a gig as possible, but also wanted to extend what they normally do. So to saxophonist Sarah Bolter’s excellent Not Just Sax the singer Tina May was added, a partnership that worked well. Tina did a second show with the 18-piece Girl’s Only Jazz Orchestra in a classy venue on the Saturday night to a large and enthusiastic audience.

Two trumpet players of distinctly different styles entertained the Saturday audiences. Dorset trumpet player Andy Urquhart presented his driving, hard­-bop Sound Of Blue Note to which he added the outstanding Mark Nightingale on trombone. In contrast, the music from Yazz Ahmed (pictured left) and her seven-piece band was a mix of youth and experience, featuring highly original compositions with an interesting line-up including bass clarinet, vibes, trumpet and electronics, producing timbres and textures that were reminiscent of the fine exploratory jazz Britain produced in the 1970s.

Later on in the day, Arun Ghosh’s Indo Jazz Sextet played a blistering set to a packed room with a powerful mix of rock riffs, jazz improvisation and Indian infusions. Their instrumental line-up was based on clarinet, saxophone, guitar, drums and tabla and attracted a younger crowd which the festival plans to build on in the future.

The World Jazz Jamboree also included bands representing music from mainland Europe and South Africa and proved surprisingly popular as an introduction to different world jazz styles. Future invitations will go to artists from the Middle East, Latin America, the West Indies and Asia. On the Sunday, Jacqui Dankworth and Charlie Wood entertained a good-sized audience with a well-judged mix of jazz standards and stayed on to listen to the prog­-jazz of Theo Travis’s Doubletalk, enthusiastically applauding Mike Outram’s searing guitar solos.

Gerry Clarke commented "This year's Bournemouth Jazz Festival was a great success. All the planning and hard work seems to have paid off and we have created a fantastic jazz festival which sets new standards for the future. We have a vision to become a world class jazz venue and over the coming months will be inviting more international stars to join us for a Weekend of Jazz by the Sea again in 2017!"

Photos by Alex Dixon

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