Swanage Festival(Mowlem Theatre and other venues in Swanage. 13-14 July 2019. Report by Brian Blain)
One of the unforeseen positives of what was, as Peter Jones reported in his round-up published last week, an inevitably much curtailed Festival this year, was the loyalty of enough attendees to lead to real optimism about next year, and from a personal point of view, as one who has attended for many years, the opportunity to catch up on some of the many fine musicians who live in the South-West region-and it was still impossible to hear more than a fraction of even those, over two days crammed with good stuff.
Friday evening, for example, at a free fringe show in the rear of our favourite watering hole The Red Lion, about 200 people sat in silence in beautiful warm summer weather to hear that was the perfect platform for provided Sarah Bolter‘s terrific saxophone, flute and vocals with a great trio who were masters of groove and swing; Summertime and Cantaloupe Island both had that lazy, subtle backbeat feel that was the perfect platform for her strong voice on alto and tenor. They were back again on Sunday morning in the same place with the addition of the magnificently ebullient Derek Nash, surely the most ‘up’ player on the London scene. Their jousting on a succession of familiar tunes, like Besame Mucho for example, was easy and comfortable; probably something to do with the fact that Nash has been recording Sarah’s group at his excellent Clowns Pocket studios. Pity though that his opening sets of the Festival proper with altoist Tom Waters‘ band were stymied by ferry disruption, but the inevitable jams at least revealed a young player with a biting, urgent sound that sounded really strong.
Moving on, as they say, to a snapshot of many good things, first a visit to the Mowlem Theatre to hear Terry Quinney‘s Sound of Blue Note package which presented a feast of great themed by Wayne Shorter, Bobby Timmons, Lee Morgan and the like, as well as the virtually unknown Kenny Cox’s Trance Dance, proof of Terry’s deep love for the genre. Nigel Price and Alan Barnes have both praised this band and its trumpet player Andy Urquhart was outstanding, crisp, strong and fiery as was drummer Andy Chapman, once of Gary Crosby’s Young Warriors parish. Canadian Terry is clearly a real asset to the area and his work with the Dorset Youth Jazz Orchestra, who played to a full house on Sunday morning was yet another example. Full marks to the festival organisers for giving a full outing to these aspiring young players every year.
Over in the sun-drenched Mowlem Bar Harry Skinner’s Funkasaurus, with its two vocal two guitar front line were threatening to break the plate glass windows with their hard-driving rock/jazz/blues/funk mix. I have never heard such a melange of styles and yet the drummer seemed like pure .loose hard-hitting jazz with no prisoners. Fine players such as drummer Luke Selby, bassist Rob Marshall and Ray Drury on keys make this a strong and thoroughly recommendable band. Why they are not on the totally free entry LoveSupreme-ish festival in Christchurch on 3 August, masterminded by Paul Kelly, like Swanage, is hard to understand.
A great afternoon of more conventional stuff in the Show Bar on Sunday when I finally caught up with pianist Ray D’Inverno’s Trio. A man who has done so much for jazz on the South Coast for many years his set of Bill Evans/Keith Jarrett influenced music was a mature delight.
Before Ray’s set, I was quite taken with singer Rachel More a singer of real quality with a trio that included local bass hero Joe Limburn. Nice to hear the old Goodman/Peggy Lee hit Why Don’t You Do Right? and though a tad over-familiar, Every Time we Say Goodbye was still projected with a sweet sadness that makes the lyric so powerful I imagine it featured a lot in this part of the world during the recent D Day commemorations. An unpretentious, satisfying set. Later, local French singer Veronique Joly who has lived in the area for many years produced a fascinating set of immense variety, which included special guest vibemaster Roger Beaujolais, who hails from Weymouth and has played with guitarist Rob Palmer and bassist Rodney Teague many times in the past. There was French chanson, of course, but a varied set that included Wichita Lineman,a tune of Carla Bley’s, and Nature Boy, as well as a couple of Beaujolais’originals and a Grover Washington theme that caused Veronique to muse on the fact that in the ’90s Roger was quite a major player on the acid jazz scene. A great set.
And so to the bigger beasts in the Mowlem Theatre. Dave Newton (pno) and Art Themen (ten), and, although I yearned for the fabulous rhythm section of Arnie Somogyi and Winston Clifford from two years ago, this was still a magnificent set from two of the masters. …Berkeley Square seems to be getting something of a revival and these two were perfect for this classic song: on the other hand even without a rhythm section Mobley’s classic This I Dig of You brought out Themen’s continuing fascination with that classic era. He produced a great ballad performance on Monk’s Ask Me Now, maybe inspired by his recent work on Nick Weldon’s 11 Smiles album, but it was Newton’s incredible variations on Alfie in a solo performance that would probably have blown away its composer, Burt Bacharach, who was playing it about the same time just over a hundred miles away, in Hammersmith.
Straight after, the Marmite man of jazz Gilad Atzmon. I love him, but I know that there are still many who don’t. (One of them grabbed me the next day for a diatribe so I know of which I speak.) This wasn’t Orient House but a put-together team just for this show. And what a crew: Gareth Williams, Mark Hodgson, and a young American drummer, Ted Tarasco. No Orient, so what we got was a kind of superjam on tunes played by Coltrane. Lightened as always by Atzmon’s irrepressible patter – he even got away, here in the heart of Leave land, with a Brexit gag – this was a magnificent band performance. Gilad’s “fasten your seat belts” was fully justified by a volcanic Stolen Moments, but, later,, Bronislaw Kuper’s classic film score melody, Invitation, recorded by everyone, including JC, was delivered over a slow rhumba beat that calmed everyone down with an almost romantic delivery.
And so to Sara Dowling in the slot just after Sunday lunch. I saw her for the first time last year and was surprised and impressed. Then she was in a big gloomy marquee, this year on the big stage with good lighting and sound it was for me even more enjoyable. Her trio, a new Hungarian pianist, Matyas Gayer, bassist Dario Di Lecce, and drummer Steve Brown, were not just impeccable but clearly knocked out to be on stage with such a dynamic performer. She soars like an eagle and swoops on the lower notes every rhythmic shift anticipated by Brown with that characteristic grin who seems to be having the time of his life,as they all did. Her material was great – no mawkish ballads – and Betty Carter’s Social Call was a real treat for aficianados. I love the way Nancy Wilson transformed a Broadway show tune Never Will I Marry into an almost proto-feminist anthem years before anyone used the term and here Dowling took that model and delivered it fearlessly with swing and bravado. This was a tremendously enjoyable set and so much more than just another jazz-tinged delivery of The Great American Song Book.