Review: Spitalfields Summer Stew ’09

Review of the two-day Spitalfields Summer Stew, by guest reviewer Patrick Hadfield-
(who also took this photo on Sunday of the great Kenny Wheeler.)

Patrick Hadfield writes:

Festival curator Mark Holub of Led Bib clearly has eclectic tastes. All in all I heard five very different groups, which showcased the wide variety and the rude health of jazz in Britain just now.

I arrived just in time for the second band of the day, Orphy Robinson’s quartet. Robinson was playing marimba. He created a set of powerful jazz improvisation with a funk-rock edge. And in the process he created a lot of excitement too. Playing a continuous set without pausing between sections, drummer Steve Noble and bassist Camelle Hinds pushed the band along energetically, working quite a groove behind Robinson and altoist Ntshuks Bonga ’s solos. This was fusion of a kind, but behind the drive it was subtle, engaging music.

(Looking at Orphy’s blog after the gig, I was taken by his touching reflections on Hugh Hopper’s funeral.)

Next up was a very different ensemble, reedsman Chris Biscoe and cellist Ben Davis. The cello is rarely seen as a jazz instrument, but the combination of Biscoe’s alto clarinet and soprano sax and Davis’ cello improvisations worked very well – perhaps there is something in the timbre of the instruments that fit together. They played a mixture of original tunes and standards – lovely versions of Ornette Coleman’s Peace and Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Mood – and original numbers. It was a real change in pace from the earlier set, just the sounds for a weekend afternoon in the sun!

Billy Jenkins Blues Collective (two links there, the second to the Sadtimes site…) took the early set on Sunday. This was sad, sad delta blues music: straight from the Thames delta! Billy sang “I’m a man… from Lewisham!” His blues credentials are riveted through with an anarchic brand of humour, and his band are very tight, too: their blues-shuffle-boogie would’ve blown away any Sunday hangover cobwebs. Jenkins was having laughs at the expense of the audience, children, the music, and in particular his band – sabotaging their solos and frequently pointing out the uncanny resemblance of rhythm guitarist Rick Bolton to Homer Simpson. He had the crowd laughing and clapping along. And wanting more of the same when the set was over.

Next came a real change of pace, with the trio of Stan Sulzmann on tenor, John Parricelli on guitar and Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn, going under the name Ordesa, the title of one of Parricelli’s tunes. This was a lovely, measured set – Wheeler’s playing was honeyed and mellow, and the tunes suited a lazy Sunday afternoon. NB Wheeler has a couple of dates coming up at the Vortex on 12 and 13October.

There was another change of gear for the final set, a cross between avant jazzers Polar Bear and Led Bib featuring Jan Kopinski from jazz punks Pinski Zoo on tenor. I’ve heard tracks by both bands but hadn’t seen them live before, and I had reckoned they wouldn’t really my bag; this set made me think again. The line up of two drummers and two bass players – one acoustic, one electric – with saxophone whipped up a maelstrom of sound. Kopinski and the electric bass freely used feedback to add to the sounds available, and the two drummers were bouncing ideas off each other. It was a fascinating set of exciting modern free jazz. Gripping stuff!

Follow this link to Spitalfields’ Summer Stew Jazz Festival

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