Review: Norwich Jazz Party




Bruce Lindsay enjoys a mix of familiar old favourites and a little gentle radicalism at this year's May bank holiday Norwich Jazz Party

The seventh Norwich Jazz Party once again brought the best of mainstream jazz to Nelson's County over the early May bank holiday weekend. As usual, old favourites mixed with a few surprises, keeping a packed hall happy with around 30 hours of performance across the three days.

If there's a stereotypical jazz-party set, then it's the "small combo plays the standards". This year was no exception. A relaxed and easygoing Sunday morning set led by Warren Vaché featured standards such as Look For The Silver Lining and Darn That Dream, on which Alan Barnes played a warm-toned and spacious alto solo. Enrico Tomasso (pictured right) led another entertaining standards programme notable for the sonically and sartorially well-matched front line of Tomasso, Barnes, Ken Peplowski and trombonist Dan Barrett. Peplowski's own Monday afternoon quartet featured his romantic clarinet rendition of Cry Me A River and Scott Hamilton's KC Seven was a lively tribute to Count Basie that proved a big hit with the crowd.

The occasional surprise is always welcome. The biggest of this weekend came courtesy of Barnes's enigmatically titled programme on Saturday evening. Just a bar or two into the opening number and it all became clear: "Barnes By Gum" was the saxophonist's take on "Mingus Ah Um". Karen Sharp's gritty baritone sax, Steve Brown's assertive drumming and Alec Dankworth's tight basslines were highlights of a set that included Better Git It In Your Soul, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Fables Of Faubus.

This was also a strong year for the vocalists. Rebecca Kilgore's quintet set was notable not only for her warm vocal style but also for some impressively sympathetic backing, with NJP newcomer Jacob Fischer crafting some well-judged and fluid guitar solos. On Sunday afternoon, Kilgore and Fischer came together for a duo set devoted to songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Fischer's nylon-strung, flamenco-style acoustic guitar proved to be the ideal instrument to accompany Kilgore. When he solos, Fischer makes use of every inch of the guitar's fretboard, often within the space of a single bar, crafting dynamic runs and rhythmic chordal phrases with apparent ease. His bossa nova approach to 'S Wonderful gave the song an added frisson.

The most joyous set of the weekend came from the strings trio of singer and bassist Nicki Parrott (pictured left), Bucky Pizzarelli and Fischer. Their own enjoyment was palpable and readily translated to the audience. Pizzarelli and Fischer's duet on Django Reinhardt's Nuages was a delight and driving, uptempo versions of Honeysuckle Rose and Stompin' At The Savoy showed that Pizzarelli can still pump out a hard-hitting rhythm.

Pizzarelli spent much of the weekend sitting in the hotel foyer, talking to all and sundry, playing solo or with a fan, chatting happily and practising a few tunes with Fischer. His impromptu performances were a pleasure to experience.

For me, the weekend's finest sets were those that stepped away from the horn-led small-band combos. First up, Kilgore and Fischer's Sunday afternoon duo set: classy songs, stylish performance. Second, the trio of Parrott, Pizzarelli and Fischer: musicianship of the highest order, plus a sky-high feel-good factor. Third, Barnes's Mingus set. Jazz parties aren't noted for confrontational, overtly political, musical statements, and Barnes' decision to present this set didn't win universal acclaim, but the risk was worth it. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat is still one of the loveliest tributes ever paid to a musician.

This was the final Norwich Jazz Party to be held at the airport Holiday Inn. Next year's event will move to a new venue on the southern outskirts of the city. It promises to maintain its familiar but well-loved format.


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