Edinburgh Jazz Festival reviews: Jan Garbarek Group featuring Trilok Gurtu | Mike Hart Memorial Concert

Percussionist Trilok Gurtu
Percussionist Trilok Gurtu
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Scotsman music critic Jim Gilchrist reports from the opening weekend of the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival

Jan Garbarek Group featuring Trilok Gurtu, Festival Theatre ****

It remains a sound like no other in jazz: Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek opened with a high, gull-like keening on his curved little soprano sax, electronic wind effects cranking up the Nordic factor, before launching into the familiar stately fanfare of his Molde Canticle.

In the established company of Rainer Brüninghaus on piano and keyboards, Yuri Daniel on fretless bass guitar and Indian percussion maestro Trilok Gurtu, much of the repertoire here was well tried – folksong-like melodies, Latiny or township jaunts – but frequently resounded with a freshness and power evident in some beefy ensemble convergence and particularly in some of Garbarek’s more minimally accompanied sax excursions, growling and howling, stabbing and shrilling with improvisational energy.

With his background keyboard washes or studied piano bridges, Brüninghaus can sound a bit like a classical pianist who has blundered into the wrong room but, given a solo, he proved he can slope slyly into old-fashioned boogie, while the often warm-toned rumbling of Daniel’s bass threaded the standard Afro Blue through his own hard-driving solo

Gurtu is a show in himself, inciting argumentative dialogues on tablas, chanting, emitting rapid-fire konnakol vocables or grabbing assorted gewgaws – including, of course, his beloved water gong – like a man picking a fight in a hardware store, all the while keeping up blistering rhythms, while his duet with Garbarek on end-blown flute saw the pair whistling and rattling to delectably avian effect.

Mike Hart Memorial Concert, George Square Spiegeltent ***

The first notes of this 42nd Edinburgh International Jazz festival were sounded by the indefatigable veterans of the Climax Jazz Band, co-founded in the 1950s by the festival’s founder, Mike Hart MBE, who died last December.

Celebrating Hart’s immense contribution to Scottish jazz, this concert re-assembled three bands he’d helped establish and was replete with affectionate trad blowing (amid suitably New Orleans-like temperatures) and fond memories. Sadly, the Climax’s trumpeter, Jim Petrie, was indisposed, his place in the band being deftly taken at last minute by Mike Daly.

The Society Syncopators (also with Daly) were more cross-generational, enlisting the likes of Martin Foster on reeds and pianist Brian Kellock bringing characteristic sparkle to a purposeful set, with vocalist Wendy Weatherby joining them before they were followed by the only still extant band associated with Hart, pianist Violet Milne’s Spirits of Rhythm.

Jazz historian and informative MC Graham Blamire took up his bass in the closing, dapperly dinner-jacketed Scottish Jazz Advocates, led by the man with the white clarinet, Hamish McGregor.

Doyenne of Scottish jazz vocalists, Fionna Duncan, was also waylaid by illness, her spot with the Advocates taken by Ali Affleck with a sassy Salty Dog.

After their gloriously shambolic opening, the Advocates closed the show with panache, and as banjoist Ross Milligan skittered through Hart’s old showpiece of Tea for Two, one could imagine the man himself looking on with gleeful satisfaction at the mighty, ten-day festival his brainchild has become.