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Joe Stilgoe Trio at Iford Manor Jazz Festival 2022

Joe Stilgoe Trio

(Iford Manor Jazz Festival. 22 July 2022. Review by Mike Collins)

Joe Stilgoe (with Tom Farmer) at Iford. Photo courtesy of Iford Manor

‘You can get up and dance now’ said Joe Stilgoe, and the field in front of him flowered with wriggling hips, swirling swing dancers dotted amongst them as the trio notched Putting On The Ritz up a gear. Compère for the night and curator of this inaugural weekend festival Claire Martin leapt on stage as they finished. ‘Do they know another one?’  Of course, they did, and as the light began to fade, shadows thickening in the woods on the hill behind the manor house, Stilgoe teased with the intro to a ballad, and then the trio let rip, big grins all round, Tom Farmer on bass and Will Cleasby digging in.

The grounds of Iford Manor tucked away in a valley near Bath, have hosted summer concert series and jazz gigs for years now, but 2022 is the first time, at the prompting of Claire Martin, a weekend of gigs has been programmed. The Joe Stilgoe gig was the opener on Friday night, with the audience settled, picnicking on the grass, umbrellas mercifully furled thanks to Iford’s mysterious micro-climate dodging the post-heat wave downpours.

Stilgoe wears his musical erudition and sophistication lightly. The song selection and styles swerved through fizzing shuffles and boogies, breezy latin grooves, and propulsive swingers, then bringing the listener up short with delicate atmospheres and tender romanticism, all punctuated by his divergent repartee. If you think you know a song, Stilgoe knows it upside down and inside out. Harmonic shifts, zippy fills doubled with the bass, and changes of pace, all inject tension and drama. You Can Never Tell from his Songs on Film project had skipping energy, Tom Farmer shadowing Stilgoe’s left hand. Cabaretin the second set switched between melancholic reflection and raunchy swagger. The trio’s take on Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi respected the original and opened it out, Farmer’s bass finding tasteful counter-point lines to piano flourishes. They followed it with a sumptuous reading of Wichita Lineman. Stilgoe’s originals were equally varied from the jaunty energy of Mr Peanuts to the elegant, romantic waltz of Seaside.

The weekend promised more, with lunch-time sets from locally based, national profile name trio of Rebecca Nash, Sam Crockatt and Henrik Jensen, a headline gig on the stage on Saturday from Ray Gelato and the Giants, and a Sunday night solo set from Martin Taylor in the Manor House’s magical cloister.  The Friday night set from Joe Stilgoe certainly set them fair for a great weekend.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

LINK: Iford Manor website

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