Review: Norwich Jazz Party 2012

"This was not the place for a world première of a new and challenging free jazz composition, but one of the joys of the weekend was in hearing how these players brought fresh approaches to familiar (and not so familiar) tunes," writes BRUCE LINDSAY

Photography by Bruce Lindsay

Houston PersonThe "jazz party" concept is a simple one: ask some talented musicians and vocalists to arrange themselves into combos of various sizes and instrumental shapes, fill a room with an enthusiastic audience, relax and let it happen. Jerry and Ann Brown and Brian Peerless, organisers of the 6th Norwich Jazz Party, may disagree with the "relax and let it happen" part of that description, but everything else worked beautifully across the three-day event. The room was full for every session, the performances ranged from solo spots to big band performances and the music maintained a consistently high standard – with one or two performances of exquisite beauty.

The consistency of the jazz party approach with its focus on swinging jazz is a key attraction for many audience members: this was not the place for a world première of a new and challenging free jazz composition, or for much in the way of post-bop music. That's not to suggest that the event simply preserves music in aspic. One of the joys of the weekend was in hearing how these players brought fresh approaches to familiar (and not so familiar) tunes.

The NJP promised "over 26 hours of the best swinging jazz" and that's pretty much what it delivered across 38 different performances from over 30 musicians. The party's core players including drummers Steve Brown and Bobby Worth, pianist John Pearce, and saxophonists Ken Peplowski and Alan Barnes returned, as did occasional visitors such as guitarist Dave Cliff (pictured below) and clarinettist Bob Wilber. There were first-time appearances from trombonist Adrian Fry, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and trumpeter Alain Bouchet among others. Dave Green, a NJP stalwart, had to withdraw at short notice but he was ably replaced on the double bass by another first-timer, Andy Cleyndert.

There was plenty of classic jazz: Alan Barnes led two excellent sets, devoted to Coleman Hawkins and Art Pepper; Enrico Tomasso reprised his 2010 tribute to Billy Butterfield; Alec Dankworth led a septet on some original John Dankworth Seven arrangements including Move, Mood Indigo and Get Happy.

Dave CliffThere was also some risk taking. Guitarist and singer Eddie Erickson performed When I'm Cleaning Windows as a special tribute to George Formby. It was a surprise for the audience and judging by some problems with chord changes and lyrics it seemed to be rather a surprise to Erickson as well, but his engaging personality kept the crowd onside. Bucky Pizzarelli and Aaron Weinstein performed an "unplugged" acoustic set, featuring Weinstein on mandolin as well as violin. Pizzarelli and Dave Cliff opened Sunday's proceedings with a gently intimate duo session that included Corcovado and How Deep Is The Ocean: by contrast, Karen Sharp was brave enough in her tribute to Bob Brookmeyer to introduce Jive Hoot as a tune "with a bit of a disco beat".

Two players stood out across the weekend: Warren Vaché and Houston Person (Person pictured above). Both of them blended energy, power and style in everything they played, including their quintet set on Saturday night. With the rhythm section of John Pearce, Nikki Parrott and Bobby Worth locked in behind them, Vaché and Person produced a punchy performance that included a beautiful rendition of Star Eyes. Person's quartet on the Monday night – Pearce, Cleyndert and Brown - was if anything even more impressive. The tenor saxophonist appears laid back, as if everything is effortless, but his sound combined technique, energy and passion to engage the whole room for 45 minutes. Through standards like Isn't It Romantic and Let's Fall In Love to the rather surprising final pairing of The Way We Were and Bobby Hebb's Sunny, Person proved his mastery of the tenor sax, bringing out the loudest and most demonstrative audience response of the weekend.

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