Review: Scarborough Jazz Festival

Brian Payne enjoys the majestic setting of the 2016 Scarborough Jazz Festival as well as excellent music from duos through to big bands

The 14th Scarborough Jazz Festival took place on a bright sunny weekend at Scarborough Spa from 23 to 25 September. As always, the majestic venue for this annual festival overlooking the sea was superb. Cafés, bars and a brasserie are on site and the festival again had its own specially brewed real ale. The main concerts were in the Spa’s Grand Hall with its excellent acoustic properties and seating for 2000 people.

Friday began at lunchtime with Artephis. This young and proficient jazz quintet formed only two years ago at the Royal Northern College of Music. They delivered a mix of originals, influenced in part by Christian Scott, and contemporary rearrangements of Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Herbie Hancock numbers.

Benn Clatworthy’s Quartet followed. The tenor saxophonist (pictured right) has played with Horace Silver, Cab Calloway and Cedar Walton amongst others. With John Donaldson on piano, Simon Thorpe on bass and Rod Youngs on drums the band delivered what can only be described as a masterclass in crisp, no-nonsense delivery of their art. The repertoire included Frank Strozier’s Frank’s Tune, Lime House Blues and Clatworthy’s own Kandahar. His dramatic soloing on Danny Boy and McCartney’s Here, There And Everywhere was well received by the audience. Rod Youngs' personal performance was a joy to behold - he has to be the most expressive drummer on the scene today. To close the afternoon Pan Jumby, featuring Trinidadian steel pan master Dudley Nesbitt, served up a contrasting set with their catchy blend of calypso/jazz and foot tapping Caribbean rhythms.

The superlative piano/sax duo of Gareth Williams and Trish Clowes took Friday’s early evening spot. Williams’s dry wit and banter with Clowes knitted each number together. These included Tristano’s Lennie’s Pennies, Cole Porter’s Everything I Love, Kern and Hammerstein’s Don’t Ever Leave Me. The audience were treated to two originals - Williams’s premier of Traffic Noise and Clowes's absorbing Pfeiffer And The Whales complete with sonic ocean effects.

On next was another fine jazz pianist, Alan Broadbent, with vocalist Georgia Mancio (pictured left) and the stellar rhythm section of Oli Hayhurst on bass and Dave Ohm on drums. The set comprised songs from a forthcoming album entitled Songbook. Alan Broadbent was in Charlie Haden’s Quartet West and he has written for, conducted or played with numerous other major artistes including Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Woody Herman, Johnny Mandel and Paul McCartney. One of his first numbers in the set was The Last Goodbye. This was originally The Long Goodbye written for Charlie Haden but reworked with Mancio’s lyrics to her late father. Another Broadbent original, Small Wonder, was written for his son when a baby. The last song - Just Like a Child - fittingly preceded a closing plea from Georgia to the audience for donations to help children abandoned in the “Calais Jungle”. Such is her concern for their plight she’s worked there voluntarily six times in the last 11 months.

Friday night finished on a climactic note with the Abstract Truth Big Band. Dave O’Higgins and his wife Judith had extended the original seven-piece arrangements of Oliver Nelson’s classic 1961 album, The Blues And The Abstract Truth to fit a 16-piece big band. The band included top musicians Martin Shaw and Steve Fishwick on trumpet, Mark Nightingale on trombone, Howard McGill and Sam Mayne woodwinds, Graham Harvey piano, Geoff Gascoyne bass and Sebastian De Krom drums. From the very first number, Stolen Moments, right through to the last this band’s performance was outstanding.

Saturday began with the Nicola Farnon Trio. She hadn’t had much sleep the night before but still delivered an energetic and entertaining set. Piero Tucci was on piano and sax, husband Phil Johnson on drums and of course Nicola (pictured right) on double bass. The repertoire included standards such as East Of The Sun, Moonlight In Vermont, Almost Like Being In Love and unusually Surrey With The Fringe On Top. One Note Samba and Nicola’s touching solo Throw It Away, based on Esperanza Spalding’s version of Abbey Lincoln’s song were especially well received by a highly appreciative audience.

The SK2 Orchestra led by drummer Dave Tyas played the arrangements of Stan Kenton to perfection. This is a most impressive band. It’s loud and fast. Individual soloists shone. Munch Manship was muscular on alto sax as was Rick Halliwell on tenor. Tom Sharp was on cracking form on trumpet and Ellie Smith was a delight on trombone to name but four.

Barnes/O’Higgins and the Sax Section came on without their pianist Robin Aspland as he was stuck in traffic. However, all was well for who better than Gareth Williams again to step in at short notice? The set went without a hitch. Benny Carter’s Just a Mood, Dexter Gordon’s The Chase, Sonny Stitt’s Topsy and Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge were delivered flawlessly with great interplay between the saxes. Karen Sharp’s baritone solos in End Of A Love Affair and Ellington’s Ko-Ko were top notch. The band encored to a rousing ovation with Eddie Lockjaw Davis’s Oh, Gee!

Saturday evening commenced in somewhat calmer mood with Malija. The drumless trio comprises Mark Lockheart on sax, Liam Noble on piano and Jasper Høiby on double bass. Their music has been described as lyrical chamber jazz by some. These are great musicians and I have seen them in different settings several times. Parts of this performance were almost ethereal but to my mind some of the sax soloing became a tad repetitious.

The stand-out set on Saturday evening was Charlie Parker on Dial. This was a performance of Parker’s 1940s recordings for Dial Records with accompanying narration by Alex Webb and big-screen projections of the era. With Webb on piano the band comprised Nathaniel Facey on alto sax, Freddie Gavita on trumpet, Aliocha Thevenet on guitar, Alex Davis on bass, Shaney Forbes on drums and last but not least vocalist Vimala Rowe (pictured right). Nathaniel Facey took on Bird’s role to some extent and his playing on alto was immaculate yet not derivative. Freddie Gavita’s trumpet playing was absolutely stunning. Numbers included Cheers which is rarely played now, Moose the Mooche, Night In Tunisia, The Gypsy and Scrapple From The Apple. Webb informed us that scrapple is a dish similar to haggis. Vimala Rowe took the walk-on part of Sarah Vaughan and captivated the audience with her performance of What Is This Thing Called Love? and Lover Man. The finale was Lullaby Of Birdland. The applause in the Grand Hall was almost deafening.

Unfortunately I missed the Waterman/Nightingale/Barnes set and Alison Rayner’s quartet - ARQ. There is only so much music that you can absorb at any one time.

Sunday afternoon was seen in by Vula Viel. This high-energy band recreated the tribal rhythms of north western Ghana in jazz-fusion form. Its leader, Yorkshire-born Bex Burch, was once a percussionist with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. She spent three years living in a remote Ghanian village learning about the culture and how to play the gyil - a large xylophone made of native lliga wood. She made her own instrument and brought it to Scarborough. Alongside Burch on gyil, the band comprised two drummers - Dave De Rose and Simon Roth, George Crowley on sax and Dan Nicholls on keys and bass synth. Throughout the performance Bex provided an interesting commentary on the Dagari culture as she introduced each song. The music was certainly infectious and if you’re into heavy, hypnotic drumming then this is the band for you.

Adam Glasser supplied the audience with another commentary - this time on South African jazz history to accompany the performance of his band, South Africa and Beyond. The award-winning harmonica and keyboard player grew up there. Numbers included “jazz-treated” folk tunes from Cape Town and Hugh Masekela’s Part Of The Whole and Scullery Department. The latter’s title referred to black musicians in South Africa at the time having to always come into the gig via the kitchen. Bluesette and Sno’ Peas were played in tribute to Toots Thielemans. The latter is a difficult piece and Glasser (pictured right) said it took him 20 years to master it. His impressive band had Rob Luft on guitar, Flo Moore on bass and Tim Giles on drums.

Liane Carroll’s solo performance on the grand piano was dazzling and her songs were delivered with consummate ease: All Of Me, Autumn Leaves, That Old Black Magic, as well as some from her CD Seaside such as Bring Me Sunshine. Carroll’s humour abounded throughout - often veiled with double entendre albeit the veil was gossamer thin. The last song of the set, So Here’s To Life, was the one she played for her mother in the minutes before she died. Only Liane Carroll could pass this off on stage so gracefully and without a trace of morbidity.

The Brandon Allen Sextet closed the festival late on Sunday night. This was a powerhouse of a band with Allen (pictured left) on tenor sax, Nigel Hitchcock on alto, Mark Nightingale on trombone, Ross Stanley on piano and Hammond organ, Sam Burgess on double bass and Ian Thomas on drums. Allen’s arrangements included Stanley Turrentine's Don’t Mess With Mr T, Bricusse and Newley’s Pure Imagination, Cole Porter’s So In Love and a three horn chorale to set up Ross Stanley in You Must Believe In Spring. Nigel Hitchcock’s soloing on No More Blues and his playing throughout the set was awe inspiring. He must be one of the top altoists around today. As Brandon Allen said it would, the band went out with a bang with Charles Mingus’s Boogie Stop Shuffle. And a mighty bang it was - the applause hit the roof.

This year’s festival firmly cemented Scarborough’s position in the top drawer of UK jazz festivals. Once again Mike Gordon and his team are to be congratulated for making this happen.

Early Bird tickets for the 2017 Scarborough Jazz Festival can be booked at the festival website.

Photos by Brian Payne

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