A celebration of the life and songs of Billie Holiday, a visit from the “father of Ethio-jazz,” Mulatu Astatke, and a journey into space are just some of the strikingly diverse elements making up the 33rd Glasgow Jazz Festival, which runs from 19 to 23 June.
The festival’s opening night sees the English singer David McAlmont at St Luke’s presenting his show Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall, inspired by Holiday’s legendary 1956 concert. McAlmont, best known for his work with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, channels Lady Day to extraordinary effect.
Other major guests include Bill Laurance, pianist and founding member of Grammy-award-winning fusion outfit Snarky Puppy, with his trio at St Luke’s on 21 June, while the same night sees Mulatu Astatke, creator of the hypnotic blend of jazz, funk and indigenous Ethiopian music known as Ethio-jazz, take the Old Fruitmarket stage.
Other guests include British-Jamaican soul singer Ruby Turner, guitar star Martin Taylor and Brooklyn singer-songwriter Madison McFerrin, daughter of the celebrated Bobby, who makes a return visit to the festival.
“It’s definitely a diverse spread,” laughs festival director Jill Rodger, “but I don’t think it’s deliberate, it just organically ends up that way.”
The festival will also turn the spotlight on Scotland’s own rising young stars, with a powerful fusion line-up of Fat Suit, Mezcla and Graham Costello’s Strata playing the Old Fruitmarket on 20 June – part of a showcase which should wow delegates attending this year’s Jazz Promotion Network Conference. “It’s a great opportunity for these three young bands to be seen by UK promoters,” says Rodger. “And the slightly older guard, Brian Molley and Laura MacDonald, are playing upstairs in the City Hall, where the conference is, so it’ll be quite a hotbed.”
Other young names on the festival bill include pianist Fergus McCreadie, performing in a bill with guitar and vocals duo Joe Williamson and Luca Manning at the Rennie Mackintosh-designed House for an Art Lover, the first time the festival has used the venue. Fast-rising Glasgow vocalist Georgia Cecile’s gig at the Blue Arrow, meanwhile, has already sold out.
The programme also includes two concerts funded by the Going Dutch programme, one featuring Netherlands drummer Joost Lijbaart’s trio Under the Surface, the other with the Scots-Dutch fusion sextet Lolanders.
Another intriguing new venue for the festival is the planetarium of Glasgow Science Centre, which on 22 June hosts a showing of the groundbreaking 1925 German space documentary Wunder Der Schöpfung, with a big, spacey-sounding electronic score from Herschel 36, the astronomically titled duo of pianist Paul Harrison and drummer Stu Brown. They’ll be launching the album of their part-improvised score, which was originally commissioned three years ago by the Bo’ness Hippodrome Festival of Silent Film, but has since developed legs, with them performing it at screenings as far apart as Stornoway and Cambridge.
The show enjoys a certain added cachet as Brown’s father happens to be Professor John Brown, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, who not only provided useful advice but performed a magic show before the premiere.
“Sci-fi jazz,” of course, is nothing new – witness the cosmic voyagings of Sun Ra and his Arkestra, or Gary Bartz and Pharoah Sanders, revisiting their Another Earth album of 50 years ago. Harrison emphasises, however, “Stu and I are a bit baffled at being called a jazz duo. We don’t really mind how it’s described, but to say it’s jazz doesn’t really give the full picture.”
Both are in demand on the more mainstream jazz scene, but, as Harrison puts it, “Herschel 36 is us on our day off, although we do bring a lot of jamming to it. The music is electronic, free-form, and we get to do all the things we don’t do normally, like turn the synthesiser up to ten, or intense, repetitive beats which would drive some jazz fans to distraction. But it works in a coherent way with the film.” - Jim Gilchrist