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Review: Dankworth 2011 Prizewinners’ Concert

Dankworth 2011 Prizewinners Concert
(Trinity College Jazz Ensembles, Ronnie Scott’s, February 15th 2011, photos by David Sinclair )

On the strength of what I hear last night, I sincerely hope that Laura Jurd’s Danza de la Selva (Dance of the Forest) gets a professional performance, and not just so that I can hear it again. The piece deserves to be heard. Perhaps Scott Stroman can somehow get into the London Jazz Orchestra’s pad, or someone in Cologne or Frankfurt could give Laura Jurd a call.

The 2011 Dankworth Prizewinners Concert has brought to the fore a very lively chart indeed. In the performance directed by Mark Lockheart, it showed itself on first hearing to be a convincing narrative, building in the full band sections by adding layers and voicings, but leaving space for the soloists to stretch out.

The other winning chart, Alex Roth ‘s “November Song” for nine-piece was darker, slipsliding harmonically in a way which was hard to get to the bottom of first time. Max Johnson shone on full-toned alto sax.

Leslie East from the Worshipful Company, Tim Garland (one of the judges with Frank Griffith and Nikki Iles), Dame Cleo Laine and Jacqui Dankworth made speeches which, in their different ways, suitably marked a special occasion.

Alex Roth receiving his award from Dame Cleo Laine and Jacqui Dankworth

The Dankworth Prize Award, supported by the Wavendon Foundation and the Worshipful Company of Musicians has been a triumph of far-sightedness for its instigator Art Mead. It’s literally a case of Ready-Steady…. GO. In just its third year, Mead has found two other organizations to fund and to run the prize, and can step back. Arts funders of organizations which have had Arts Council funding continuously since 1946 please take note.

The Dankworth Prize was the third set of a four-set evening. This was, in effect, a public “Klassenabend”, with proud parents of first years in attendance, for London’s largest, and possibly liveliest conservatoire jazz department, Trinity College of Music in Greenwich.

The evening started with the trio of highly impressive fourth-year undergrad pianist Laurie Erskine. I enjoyed the way he led the trio through both Jarrettish freeze-frames and precise, Bad Plussish games of catch.

The second set was Ellington charts from a big band directed by Malcolm Earle Smith. An infectiously lively, inventive and propulsive presence in that band was drummer Emmanuel Adelabo. “This needs Lindyhoppers,” said my companion. Ronnie’s with a drop-down dance floor? One can only fantasize, but with a band swinging that hard, it felt wrong to be sitting still.

The last set consisted of Mark Lockheart’s explorations of Ellington. Satin Doll was deconstructed and re-worked into a sort of Rhapsody in Black. Come Sunday had a glory moment for the ensemble’s fine bass clarinettist landing emphatically on an everything-down low C. And there was fun to be had in a bouncing sun-soaked calypso version of Strayhorn’s Raincheck. Laurence (Loz) Garrett, on upright bass in the prize pieces, and electric in the last set, was just one highly impressive player among many. The standard of these students seems to rise inexorably, every year. …..

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