Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Thoughts and Listenings on

Swanage 2015

Friday July 10th

My first live music from Swanage this year came from The Andy Hague "Conjunto Gringo"!

Andy is a Bristol based trumpet player of considerable talent, and has appeared at Swanage a number of times before. He regularly organises bands to play in a variety of jazz styles, and to show his own arranging ability.

Over the years he has been associated with another Bristol based musician, saxophonist Ben Wakehorn (yes, that is really his name). This year the band (an Octet) was formed to play Latin based music. Top class musicianship, top class presentation, a great sound, and a great start to this years Swanage. They don’t seem to travel much outside of Bristol, but if you can, do go and see Andy, no matter what the band might be called!!

Andy was in Marquee 2, usually reserved for jazz of a more Modern style. For my next musical adventure I traveled (Yes, Swanage, with its various venues and hills, does keep you fit. Perhaps more correctly, it makes you wish that you were fit!!) to a recent addition to the venue scene at Swanage, The Methodist Church. 

I wanted to see how Sarah Gillespie interpreted the work of Bessie Smith. She had good musical support (Kit Downes was on piano) and she herself plays a guitar in a kind of folk style. The Methodist Church, whilst a comfortable enough venue, has, for music, appalling acoustics. No one I met at Swanage this year had a good word to say for the acoustics of the place. I had experienced this before, but hope springs eternal so they say, and maybe the handling of the acoustics had improved since last time. Well, they were so bad I could not understand a single word of the songs she sang (even knowing the words didn’t help). Maybe this deficiency also had an effect on the musicians with her, as I got the impression that they were under rehearsed. A disappointment.

Saturday 11th

On arrival on the previous evening we had been given quite a long list of amendments. Usually this means changes of personnel, but this year, quite a number of timings had been rearranged, which, if like me, you had planned who to hear and when to take your breaks, was a bit annoying. It meant inevitably that some gigs I didn’t get to see/hear. However, what I did see was all very enjoyable, and on Saturday, the sun shone, and Swanage was again in the South of France.

Before all the venue music got underway we had the traditional reproduction of a New Orleans Street Parade.

Sadly it is now restricted to walking up and down the closed off road on the front. Once upon a time it went round the town, surely giving encouragement to visitors to Swanage to seek out the free venues that were around. Some may well have become attracted to jazz. We all know we need more, and younger, members in our audiences at home base! On a purely financial basis a parade around the town would have raised more money for charity than from the jazz faithful following the band up and down the front. The local authorities cannot be blind to the amount of cash the jazz fraternity has brought into Swanage over the last 26 year? Why stop this ½ hour of street fun?

Gripe over, now to the advertised program!!

First up in Marquee 2 was a celebration of the MJQ. Called “MJQ Celebration”, the band had been formed about 4 years ago with Pianist Michael Garrick. Since his passing, the concept has been kept alive by bassist Matt Ridley. Barry Green is now in the piano chair, with Jim Hart on vibes and Steve Brown on drums. It was nostalgic to hear many of the original MJQ tunes again, and this year as before they started off with “The Golden Striker”. Fans of Hedsor Jazz will recognize the tune, for although The Clive Burton Quintet has never played it, it has been quoted by more than one of them more than once!!

Time for another walk!!

This time to The Conservative Club!

Sue Richardson is a blond singer and trumpet player, or is that a blond trumpet player who is also a singer? She is good a both, and for this set she was playing homage to Chet Baker in a trio format and the title was “Too Cool”. The other members of her trio are Andrew Cleyndert on bass and Paul Richardson on piano. A lovely, intimate session, with Sue telling the life story of Chet Baker, and singing and playing like him to add emphasis to the story. A little bit of jazz magic, with ALL the words being clearly heard!! The Conservative Club is a comfortable venue, perhaps a little on the small side; so you just have to get there early!

Retracing my steps back to Marquee 2 I listened to a set by American alto player Allison Neal and her quintet. The main attraction for me was her pianist. Nothing wrong with Allison’s brand of modern jazz, she is an excellent player, but Leon Greening is an astonishing piano player. When he takes off on a solo, he takes off, wonderful and exciting. The remainder of her band were Nathaniel Steele on vibes, Julian Bury on bass and Steve Brown on drums. It was all kind of Art Pepper, and left me ready for tea!!

After a nice long break for food, I trotted uphill back (against my better judgment) to The Methodist Church. This time I climbed the winding staircase to the gallery, where I had been told the acoustics were marginally better. And here I listened to a magical set by singer Georgia Mancio. She was accompanied by Dave Newton on piano, Julie Walkington bass and Dave Ohm drums.

The sound was still very muddy, but her voice, and Dave’s playing were worth it all. Another great session. Sadly the church seating in the gallery is still “hard pew”, so bottom fatigue finally overcame me, and I left after the first of 2 sets. The hour I had listening to this small band was a truly memorable experience.

One part that should have been amplified was Dave Newton gently warming up on the piano before the gig began and whilst all the others were doing microphone checks. It was worthy of a recording. It reminded me very much of Duke Ellington’s playing when he thought the microphone was turned off and they were recording a tribute to Johnny Hodges.

The weather on Saturday had been brilliant all day; sadly all was to change on the Sunday!

Sunday 12th

Because the day dawned windy, and rainy, damp and cold!!

But were we downhearted? NO.

Because Marquee 2 hosted one of the best sessions of the weekend!

Karen Sharp-Robert Fowler Quintet play Al and Zoot.

Absolutely fabulous music. First of all, the supporting cast was David Newton on piano, Andrew Cleyndert bass, and Steve Brown drums. As the title suggested this ensemble played many of the tunes associated  with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, two of the greatest tenor duo’s ever. But I really do believe that both of them may well have raised an eyebrow in surprised appreciation of what the two saxophones, Karen and Robert, did with their tunes. The musicianship was faultless. Perfectly in tune, the two tenors sounded as one. I was sitting near the front and could see the fingering, and I can assure you that on occasions they were playing alternate notes so fast that I’m sure the bulk of the audience were unaware that this was happening. It sounded seamless. Just as a bonus to the ensemble sound, every solo was also a delight to listen to.

So what could follow that? It had to be something completely different, so I did a walkabout to the Conservative Club and listened to a banjo player!!

Spats Langham. He was joined by Ben Holder on violin, and Richard Exall on clarinet and sax. It was definitely different and very clever, bouncy music. I left in the end as I thought it was all getting a bit too frantic. I had however cleared my ears for a less direct comparison with what was to come in the evening.

For yet another year a number of us went to the Black Swan for our festival meal, which is always very pleasant. It helps you realise that a jazz festival is not all about the music, but also a celebration of the friends you make listening to our kind of music.

After our refreshment I went back to Marquee 2. By now on a Sunday you really only have the choice. Marquee 2 or Marquee 1, but by now some of the weekends fans had started to travel home so it wasn’t unreasonable to wind up some of the venues. That is, from an organisers point of view!!

At Marquee 2 we had The Alan Barnes Reed Breed. No Swanage Jazz weekend would be complete without seeing at least one of the sessions containing Alan, but this one had him surrounded by 4 other saxophonists! The line-up was Karen Sharp and Robert Fowler with the same rhythm section as in the morning, plus Alan, Dave O’Higgins and Sammy Mayne. What a wonderful big sound. As I had been sitting most of the day I elected to hear half the evening standing at the back (OK, at the bar then!). It was a wonderful way to end the festival. I think this year, the Reed Breed had actually mugged up on the parts, as the ensemble playing was much less messy than last year similar finale.

Full personnel of the bands I have listened to can still be found on the Swanage Jazz Web Site http://www.swanagejazz.org/

So, again it is well done to Fred Lindop and his fellow organisers. A positive example on how a jazz festival should be organised. I was taking on board lots of organisation points, as I myself will be the musical director of a day of jazz in September. Yes Hedsor Jazz Goes to School on September 26th. I hope to see all of you and many more at that one!!

Geoff C

No comments: