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Glasgow International Jazz Festival reviews

WHO says lightning doesn't strike twice? On his very first visit to Glasgow in the 1980s, American alto saxophonist Bobby Watson dropped his instrument on stage, and only an emergency backstage repair by the late Bobby Thompson saved the day. On this return visit – 14 years since he was last in the country – he did the same thing at the sound check, and a repair man had to be summoned to the Old Fruitmarket from East Kilbride.

All ended well, though, and Watson was in good form with his occasionally slightly ragged Live & Learn Sextet in the main evening concert on Saturday (***).

While his music is rooted in classic hard bop, it is by no means limited by it. He has never stood still, and his fiery, inventive contributions remained both fresh and forward-looking, even on staples such as Mal Waldron's Soul Eyes and the Bobby Timmons classic, Moanin'.

He was joined by long-time collaborator Curtis Lundy on bass and pianist Harold O'Neal, while the three younger members of his band, vibes player Warren Wolf (who favoured a sparkling linear approach using two mallets over the more textural four-mallet style), trumpeter Philip Dizack and drummer Quincy Davis brought a more contemporary edge to the band's post-bop explorations.

Nils Petter Molvaer's late-night show at the same venue on Saturday (***) was an entirely different kettle of fish. In the late 1990s, the Norwegian trumpeter moved away from conventional jazz structures to evolve a very different approach, built around a potent combination of spacey electronica and hip-hop and drum'n'bass beats. He unveiled his new style a decade ago in this venue with his Khmer quintet, but this trio reflected the pared-down directions he has subsequently taken.

The Apple logo glowing from laptops has been a familiar sight on stage in this festival, although not quite in such an array as this. Molvaer's plangent, generally electronically treated trumpet floated over the even more electronically altered guitar work of Eivind Aarset and drummer Audun Kleive, both leading lights in the Oslo Nu-Jazz scene.

They played two extended pieces, both following similar structural patterns, opening with a spare, slow-moving soundscape that grew in tempo, density and intensity to reach furious full-on mode. Their final piece settled for the slow part of the equation, but they returned to encore with a fast one to complete the pattern.

The choice of Lee Konitz for the final main-stage concert of the festival on Sunday (**) always promised to deliver an understated rather than festive finale, but in the event his Old Fruitmarket show proved a disappointment. The alto saxophonist was never reliant on stamina and speed, so advancing years have not robbed him of a vital element in his armoury, but his rather desultory showing here remained largely unengaging over a set of standards.

There were flashes of vintage Konitz here and there in his phrasing and melodic invention, but much of the music simply meandered along. The absence of drums did not help in this big venue, and while pianist Frank Wunsch and bassist Henning Gailing were pleasant enough, no-one provided the spark that might have ignited the music.

The extension of the Homegrown showcase to a dozen concerts this year gave the final weekend much more of a genuine festival feel. Programmer Cathie Rae had shown fine perception in booking saxophonist Joe Wright for a slot well ahead of his lifting the Young Scottish Jazz Musician title, and if his lunchtime recital showed he still has some developing to do, he is a very promising talent.

More established names such as saxophonist Paul Towndrow, guitarist Kevin MacKenzie and trumpeter Ryan Quigley all performed impressive recent work, while the Alyn Cosker Trio and pianist Tom Gibbs opened for Watson and Konitz respectively.

Kudos also go to the young Finnish group Oddarrang, whose afternoon concert at The Tron on Saturday was one of the highlights of the week.

 
 
 

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