|Frans van Geest
Friday of Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend 2014, Southport
Photo Credit: Alan Ainsworth. All Rights Reserved
Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend 2014
(Southport, Merseyside. 31 Jan- 2 Feb 2014. Festival Round-up of Saturday and Sunday by Brian Blain)
Once again Jazz on a Winter’s weekend at Southport’s Royal Clifton Hotel punched well above its weight for a small festival, with eleven concerts over three days, and full houses for all of them. Geoff Matthews and crew, we salute you for this, the crowning glory of a year round club activity. Not just the big names either -fringe events with workshops , Alan Barnes regaling us with anecdotes from a rich and varied career, Art and Photography exhibitions and extra, free shows in the bistro bar, where I caught Three Views of a Secret, the Pastorius classic , beautifully delivered by Liverpool band, the wittily named Ginger Tunes, inspired, presumably by the colour of its leader, Mike Smith’s barnet. All of which added up to a real Festival atmosphere, choc-a-bloc with friendly and enthusiastic fans
Not too difficult to catch every show, which opened with a well drilled Big Band full of current and ex Wigan Youth members under the direction of Dr Iain Darrington, with an MBE given for his inspirational work in jazz education, thereby blowing the lid off the old cliché about those who can’t do, teach. Compositions of Lennon and McCartney made up the repertoire and while local vocal hero, the young AJ Brown sounded fine in tunes like Long and Winding Road and Blackbird, lovely as they are, they don’t actually provide much of an insight into someone’s jazz chops. Still a good opener, showcasing much Lancashire talent and the imagination of the Festival’s Director in thinking of it.
So what were the highspots from the rest of the weekend? Saturday morning is not a great spot for Le Jazz Hot, but Art Themen’s New Directions five piece, with Gareth Williams, Steve Fishwick, Arnie Somogyi and the magnificent Winston Clifford was certainly one of them. Fishwick’s trumpet crackled, Williams’s powerful piano comping Somogyi’s bass and Winston’s drums swung the whole thing and Art ,as ever was blistering, edgy ,and full of surprises, not least on Autumn in New York, with echoes of Coleman Hawkins the one who virtually invented jazz saxophone playing, coming from somewhere deep in his consciousness. Themen has been hip for decades: he’s still there marching at the head of the parade.
A good word too for Julian Joseph’s Q and A session with him for a later Radio 3 transmission (he. did the same later on Saturday evening with Alex Garnett) You may have heard a few of these from time to time on Jazz Line-Up, but watching Joseph at work, live, was, as we hipsters used to say, something else.
Don’t want to sound like having a down on ‘the chaps’, but guitarist Freddie Bryant’s Trio from New York (how does a small festival like this afford such things?) was pure groove heaven. Custom built Fender for the blues and a clever ,oblique reference to that old Bo Diddley hambone beat on , not surprisingly, a tune named after him,and immaculate acoustic playing on rhythms spiced with Indian and Middle Eastern inflences confirmed Bryant’s total mastery of his craft. The rhythm section of Patrice Blanchard’s electric bass-terrific lines,never overplayed- and Willard Dyson’s drums and percussion ,drove home a basic lesson that the opportunity to play together frequently, no matter what the style will always add up to a great jazz experience when musicians are as good as this.
Not sure that NY tenor giant Tim Armacost, sitting in and sounding to me like a veteran (though still young) of that iconoclastic loft scene although clearly brilliant really added to the musical experience but he certainly did later that evening with Alex Garnett’s Bunch of Fives, an astonishing collection of talent gathered together from many parts of the jazz compass. There was Mike Janisch ,someone else sporting an electric bass, pianist Liam Noble and top of the ‘new generation’ drum tree James Maddren. This was another blistering set and if it might have been a bit much for some Alex’s presentation suggested that the master Alan Barnes might well have a rival. One of his tune titles Delusions of Grandma inspired by a former bandleader much given to malapropisms (think about it) cracked everyone up.
And so to the late spot with the MJQ Celebration package inspired by the late Michael Garrick with the flame now kept burning brightly by Matt Ridley, a bassist with gorgeous long notes and sound, Barry Green (piano) Steve Brown (drums) and possibly the most exciting new generation player of them all, vibist Jim Hart. No doubt the Jazz Police (Newish Thing Original Music Division) will have something to say about this concept ,but here was a feast of great time and marvellous tunes; oh yes and Alan Barnes reminded us what a wonderful tenor player he is with material from the album the band made with Sonny Rollins, in the middle of the set.
Sunday morning and another ‘concept’ to get up the noses of the original at all costs brigade. Robert Fowler’s presentation of the music of the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band. This was some of the finest music ever written for a larger group , totally devoid of the macho swagger that is usually associated with Big Bands . Fowler is a beautiful tenor saxophonist but here his light ,feathery baritone captured the essence of Mulligan to perfection. Built on the rhythmic foundations of THE team, Steve Brown and Dave Green (no piano) the thirteen piece delivered Mulligan’s subtle charts to near perfection: great Sunday morning music which will be heard on other festivals this year, but not , I imagine, the one in London.
Another brilliant baritone player on Sunday afternoon, German virtuoso Michael Lutzeier, appearing with a special touring group led by the man with that fat ,juicy Lee Morgan trumpet sound, Damon Brown. With a back up from one of the finest UK time drummers, Mark Taylor, domiciled in New York for many years, another German musician, Martin Zenker,an old musical companion of Brown’s and Scots pianist Paul Kirby the band delivered a set of hard swing post bop jazz with Brown and Lutzeier’s long flowing lines and great sounds outstanding. A deeply felt ballad written by Brown, I Don’t Mind , reminiscent of some long forgotten classic from the thirties or forties, really touched the audience, holding them spellbound like the trumpet masters of the past.
Fitting really that the festival should come to an end with the music of Alan Barnes , with a programme largely made up of songs written with the late playwright Alan Plater and inspired by jazz that had influenced Plater , like the music on Blue Note, or stuff which seems to have irritated him like Dinner Jazz. Kenton he seems to have liked, inspiring Stan The Man, but whatever the song not for the first time I was impressed by the singing of Liz Fletcher, fitting easily into the party vibe that Alan was inspiring with his announcements and asides. Where would these UK festivals be without him , a non stop fount of energy, musical and organisational inspiration. This was my third Winter Weekend, and foul weather or no, I don’t regret that nightmare journey up the M6 one bit.