Review: Titley Jazz Festival

Liam Keating enjoys a packed weekend of jazz old and new at the 5th annual Titley Jazz Festival in sunny Herefordshire

The Titley Jazz Festival is held annually at the Rodd Estate, Herefordshire, located near Presteigne. Created by jazz enthusiast David Masters to fill the gap left by the demise in 2007 of Neil Ferber’s late lamented Appleby Jazz festival, it has grown from a two to a three-day event generally held on the last weekend of July, this year falling on the 25th to 27th. As with Appleby, the aim is to present the best of modern British jazz, featuring the likes of Stan Tracey and associated musicians. Regrettably Stan is no longer with us, but his legacy is still sustained at Titley, with an assortment of performers providing a dedicated band of followers with a programme of 14 groups playing some top-class music.

On Friday, a young group from mid-Wales, the Brownfield/Byrne Quintet, were given the opening slot and tasked with playing the music of Duke Ellington. The leaders, on trumpet and tenor saxophone respectively, along with Andrew Hume guitar and guest reedman Alan Barnes, produced some nice solo work, and despite the lack of a piano excelled in the arranged ensemble interludes on In A Mellotone and The Mooch. The audience reaction was justifiably positive, which is always a good sign when younger jazz musicians appear on the scene.

The Peter King/Dick Pierce Quintet had a slight problem when part of Dave Barry’s drum kit went AWOL; however, the resourceful drummer produced admirable results with snare and cymbal! By contrast to the previous group, the emphasis was on solos, which for the most part tended to the lyrical, for instance Peter King’s remarkable reinterpretation of I Can’t Get Started.

The early evening spot was filled by the Steve Waterman group, which besides Waterman’s trumpet had Anthony Kerr on vibraphone (a first for this instrument at Titley), Chris Allard, guitar, the redoubtable Andrew Cleyndert on bass and Dave Barry, again on reduced drum kit. Here we had Waterman (pictured right) revisiting his 2010 album Buddy Bolden Blew It. Along the lines of Gil Evans’s reshaping of classic jazz pieces, we were given a brief history of the jazz trumpet and treated to intriguing new arrangements of the likes of Bix Beiderbecke’s In a Mist, Roy Eldridge’s Little Jazz and Miles Davis’s Milestones.

The final session was given over to supreme song interpreter Anita Wardell, accompanied by the Alan Barnes Octet visiting the works of Johnny Mandell. No vocal gymnastics here, but outstanding ballad performances supported by appropriate Barnes arrangements.

On Saturday we started with a midday set from the Clark Tracey Festival Quintet which included Waterman along with Simon Allen tenor saxophone and David Newton piano. On the subject of British jazz composers, this virtuoso group provided outings to Lullaby Of Birdland (with Newton sprinkling some sly Shearing phrases into his full-blooded solo), Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps To Heaven and Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley’s Who Can I Turn To.

The highly popular Jim Mullen with Stan Sulzman on tenor saxophone took us through the afternoon. The personnel was that of the guitarist’s 2007 album Smokescreen, which includes Mike Gorman on organ (another instrumental first for Titley). There was an insouciant, relaxed feel to the whole set which contrasted nicely with the following session featuring veteran Art Themen, accompanied by young trumpeter Laura Jurd and John Donaldson piano. Themen is something of a fixture at Titley, and was at Appleby, and the same can be said of Don Weller who took over the first evening session. Both tenor saxophone players with differing idiosyncratic styles, they reward listeners with stimulating interpretations of both old and new material – obviously much appreciated by an enthusiastic capacity audience. Similarly, the final musical outing by the Peter King/Mornington Lockett Quintet had the two saxophone players accompanied by Mike Gorman (on piano) producing some of the most high-octane solos of the weekend.

On Sunday, by contrast, the morning session by the Jim Mullen/Mick Hutton Duo was far more relaxed, with vocalist Zoe Francis guesting on a couple of pieces. The guitarist’s sound is instantly recognisable as is his sense of humour; he featured the theme from University Challenge as a vehicle for a series of quotes that he somehow managed to present as a natural part of the original composition. By coincidence the following set by Andrew Cleyndert’s group continued the relaxed approach – possibly imposed by the nature of the line-up: Martin Shaw trumpet, Ross Stanley piano and Colin Oxley guitar.

Intended or not, this led seamlessly into a full-blooded concert by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra playing Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Directed by trumpeter Mark Armstong, this remarkable collection of young musicians wowed the audience with facsimile versions of (mainly) early Basie and (mainly) middle-period Ellington. Most versions kept close to the originals, although Mark Armstrong’s open trumpet gave us an innovative take on Wendell Cully’s muted obbligato outing on Li’l Darlin’. It is very reassuring to know that a younger generation of jazz musicians are here to keep the flame burning.

Again a connection with the past was demonstrated in the penultimate session by Enrico Tomasso with a Salute To Satch. The ex-Pasadena Roof Orchestra trumpeter proved very popular with what could be described as a modern jazz/bop-appreciating audience. They were given their staple fare with a finale by the Titley Jazz Sextet, including the chameleon instrumentalist/composer/arranger etc, Alan Barnes, reedmen Weller and Themen, and rhythm section David Newton, Andrew Cleyndert and drummer Steve Brown, all giving rumbustious outings to such standard fare as Broadway, Like Someone in Love, Monk’s Well You Needn’t and Hank Mobley’s This I Dig of You.

Titley has been very lucky weatherwise over the years, and 2014 was no exception; other than a brief shower, the sun shone. For one summer weekend this beautiful rural part of Herefordshire was certainly alive with the sound of music, provided by some of our top musicians, old and new.

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