Glasgow Jazz Festival
(Various venues, Glasgow, 29th June to 3rd July. Reviews by Jennifer Paton of the Euphbass blog)
This year was the Festival’s 25th anniversary and it’s been a pretty successful one.
The gigs I was at were reasonably well attended, and the programming varied and interesting. There were a lot of overlapping gigs, particularly between artists that aren’t often in town, which is disappointing: at least with local artists you’re likely to have a chance to see them again in the near future.
The first gig I went to this year was Brass Jaw, the opening gig of the festival on the Wednesday teatime. The guys were brilliant as always, and the crowd invariably loves them, thanks to their phenomenal musicianship and great sense of fun, which always comes across in their performances. Their set primarily consisted of material from their latest album, Branded, but opened and closed with new covers Comin’ Home Baby and Sunny.
Later that evening Tommy Smith presented his Karma, part of a loose tour to accompany his latest album of the same name. This gig was in Stereo, a gig more accustomed to very loud rock and nightclub sets but it kind of worked with the more fusion-oriented style of this album. The performance was accompanied by back-projected visuals behind the band, which definitely added interest. The set was almost entirely material from the album, but included a new piece, 25, presumably commissioned for the festival’s 25th year, but the tracks from the album were definitely more engaging for me. The six-string electric bass playing of Kevin Glasgow was impressive– he’s definitely one to watch out for.
On the Thursday night we took a gamble and went to see Ethiopian vibes player Mulatu Astatke at Platform in Easterhouse (a new venue for the festival). I was prepared for it all to sound rather same-y, from what we’d heard online, but in fact the material was quite varied, within it’s genre (Ethiojazz / funk) and definitely engaged the crowd (quite a number of whom clearly were fans and knew his work). Astatke projected a wonderfully happy personality, and the band (which, unusually, included a cello) were clearly enjoying themselves too. A favourite piece for us was the one towards the end which featured the bass clarinet – some very juicy notes there!
On the Friday night we were swithering about whether or not to go and see Ramsey Lewis – in the end, we did, but were ultimately a bit disappointed. The concert was billed as primarily a rendition of the tracks from his Sun Goddess album, which would have been very funky, but in reality it was much more varied, including only a few of the album tracks, arranged for the ensemble he had with him. The set was a lot more acoustic, primarily featuring piano and string-bass, rather than organ and electric bass, for example. There was a synth player, but most of what we heard from him appeared to be synth string and synth brass (never a good sound). While the playing was exemplary, particularly bowed bass solos, for example, the sound balance was problematic with this gig, and much was inaudible.
Immediately after Ramsey Lewis, still in The Old Fruitmarket, was Federation of the Disco Pimp with Craig Charles. The Federation are one of the funkiest, tightest bands in Glasgow (probably in Scotland) and they were on fire – best we’ve ever heard them (and that’s saying something)! As soon as they started, the dance floor filled and stayed that way for the rest of the night. They played mostly original material, excepting their amusing and fun cover of Sesame Street’s Pinball Number Count. Following their set, Craig Charles, who presents the BBC 6Music show, The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show (which is excellent, by the way) did a DJ set of several hours, including a vast range of soul and funk for dancing – far far better than your usual nightclub dance music! It was definitely the best gig of the festival for us.
On Saturday we saw American singer Gretchen Parlato at The Tron, successfully avoiding the dregs of the Orange Marches on the way in. She was very good, and had an excellent backing trio. Her voice is soft and subtle, and always right on pitch. There were rare hints of power in her voice, which we didn’t experience at this gig, but I would have liked to hear her later that evening with the Ryan Quigley Big Band’s Motown tribute concert – I heard she was singing with them. She played percussion occasionally, and her rhythm was also spot-on – very talented indeed! The musicianship of the trio was fantastic as well, tasteful, inventive and complemented the singer well.
Aspects of the Festival were filmed for a documentary / feature to be broadcast on Sky Arts 1 HD sometime soon, including the performances by Brass Jaw and Federation of the Disco Pimp.