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Ipswich Jazz Festival 2022

Ipswich Jazz and Global Rhythm Festival

(Christchurch Park, Ipswich. 2 July 2022. Review and photos by John Watson)


Tony Kofi and NYJO. Photo copyright John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Large ensemble Monk is back – thanks to a stimulating new collaboration between UK saxophonist Tony Kofi and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. This special celebration had its premiere at the Ipswich Jazz and Global Rhythm Festival on Saturday 2 July, which was staged outdoors for the first time, thankfully in fine weather.

The 1959 album “Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall” was a milestone in the career of the great pianist and composer, but it received mixed reviews at the time. Whereas Monk’s small group work provided his most valuable legacy, the arrangements which Monk and Hall Overton made for a larger ensemble have their own fascination. UK saxophonist Kofi has taken on the ambitious project to revive the creation – originally recorded in New York – featuring at Ipswich a 10-piece group drawn from NYJO.

Despite a delay in setting up mics and stands – and sound balance difficulties throughout the performance – it really was a captivating set, with the original arrangements enriching Monk’s melodies to considerable effect. There were strong solos from the young players – including pianist Nat Jacobs, trombonist James Wade Syrid and altoist George Garford – on classic themes including “Little Rootie Tootie”, “Monk’s Mood” and “Friday 13th”. Kofi conducted rather than played until the final number, “Trinkle Tinkle”, when Garford took over conducting duties and Tony took a blistering solo on alto.


Mark Lockheart soloing with Dreamers at Ipswich. Photo copyright John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Earlier in the day, tenor and soprano saxophonist Mark Lockheart showed how his superb project Dreamers is fast maturing, blending subtle electronic effects with acoustic tones for powerful impact. I heard a very satisfying concert by this group – completed by keyboardist Elliot Galvin, bassist Tom Herbert and drummer Dave Smith – in Lichfield just a month or two back, but the music is now already much deeper, more colourful, and constantly absorbing.

Xhosa Cole. Photo copyright John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Forthright young saxophonist Xhosa Cole brought an impressive quartet to Ipswich, featuring guitarist Steve Saunders, bassist Josh Vadiveloo, and drummer Nathan England-Jones – with muscular and joyful playing including a splendid uptempo version of the standard song “It’s Almost Like Being In Love” and a sprightly calypso titled “While My Lady Sleeps”.

Pianist Andrea Vicari led her all-female Jazz Ambassadors group, with singer Paola Vera, rising star tenor saxophonist and NYJO member Emma Rawicz, bassist Amy Baldwin and drummer Chiara Spigariol, and they delighted the crowds with some rare songs including harpist Dorothy Ashby’s “Just Had To Tell Somebody”, plus standards including a superbly driving “Devil May Care”.

Laura Jurd with Elliot Galvin. Photo copyright John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Trumpeter Laura Jurd impresses more with each hearing, the clarity of her phrasing and rich tone being her greatest assets. Her group Dinosaur, including husband Elliot Galvin on keyboard, explores atmospheric sounds effectively, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable context to hear. I found it more rewarding than her project including string quartet at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

The day at Ipswich had opened with the very fine singer Jacqui Hicks, a stalwart of Shakatak but also with a significant jazz heritage and presence (including fine albums with the much-missed John Critchinson). She brought a fresh approach to swing repertoire, including a medium-paced “The Nearness Of You”, backed by the trio of pianist Chris Ingham plus tenor saxophonist Mark Crooks.

The jazz stage shared the vast park for the day with six other well-separated stages, featuring blues and world music, including the vibrant Bollywood Brass Band and various soul acts. The whole event drew substantial crowds, and – joy of joys – the gamble with the weather paid off.

LINK: Ipswich Jazz Festival website

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