Jim Gilchrist and Alison Kerr review the opening concerts of the 40th Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival
Keyon Harrold, George Square Spiegeltent ****
If Trump was trounced at a mass demo on Edinburgh’s Meadows on Saturday afternoon, a stone’s throw away that evening, a powerful counterblast to the racism scarring US society emerged in the shape of rising New York trumpet star Keyon Harrold and his fusion quintet, making their Scottish debut at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival.
Harrold’s M B Lament, written in response to the police shooting of a young black man in his hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, was a simmering declamation, its ominous piano and bass riff carrying a sweeping melody that became increasingly turbulent, closing after a raging climax with We Shall Overcome in what came over as a last post for decent humanity.
Couched in the muscular forces of Burniss Travis on six-string electric bass, drummer Charles Haynes, Julius Rodriguez on keyboards and guitarist Nir Felder, Harrold delivers the kind of heroic melody lines that might herald a
Morricone score, before pyrotechnics erupt with jabs and angry whoops and growls, Rodriguez’s energetic keyboard excursions alternating with stratospheric guitar while Travers and Haynes constititute a formidable powerhouse.
The opening Mugician, included snatches of pre-recorded speech and siren howls, with unremitting bass, keyboard explosions and drum fusillades ushering Harrold’s big-toned soundings. Occasionally vocalising, he was joined by singer Andrea Pizziconi for the anti-Trump Circus Show, a funky litany of protest, while a re-imagining of She’s Leaving Home saw the Beatles protagonist indeed leaving, and at one hell of a lick, propelled by Haynes and Travis.
We Begin With Morton, Teviot Row ****
Jelly Roll Morton’s claim to be the father of jazz may have been more self-promotion than anything else. He was, however, the first real jazz composer and seminal in the transition of ragtime into a more swinging mode. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival jumped back a century to the very roots of the music, opening with this “Jellyfest”, as Classic Jazz Orchestra leader and drummer Ken Mathieson put it, demonstrating vigorously that Morton transcends mere antiquarian interest.
Kicking off, the engaging piano-clarinet duo of Andrew Oliver and David Horniblow presented a stripped-down but expert introduction to the Morton canon, Horniblow’s reed voice twining sinuously over piano in classics such as the Original Jelly Roll Blues and Stratford Hunch, while Oliver gave a sparkling rendition of Fingerbuster, in which Morton threw down the gauntlet to the stride piano camp. Mathieson’s CJO fairly breezed into the Morton repertoire in which it specialises, opening with Grandpa’s Spells and Superior Rag, with animated interjections from reedsmen Martin Foster, Allon Beauvoisin and Dick Lee, ranging from perky lick-trading by Lee and Foster in the Latin-inflected Mamanita to Foster’s grumbling baritone sax and growly trumpet and trombone from Billy Hunter and Lee Hallam in Jungle Blues.
Gil Evans’s setting of the classic King Porter Stomp received a nicely unfettered delivery and Ganjam, Morton’s beefy piece of faux-Orientalism, was given a beguilingly Brazilian shuffle, convincingly underlining the innovative and surprisingly timeless nature of Morton’s music.
The New Wave of Scottish Jazz, Teviot Row ****
Teviot Row, this year’s base camp for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, was the scene for a show featuring the festival’s pick of the jazz talent that has recently erupted out of Glasgow.
But it will be a testament to their youth if the musicians who performed didn’t feel like stretcher cases after their appearances on the stage in the airless auditorium – usually the university’s debating hall – on Saturday night. The heat was unbearable, the atmosphere sticky and suffocating; all the more so because there was no break until 80 minutes into the concert.
This didn’t seem to bother the dazzling young pianist
Fergus McCreadie, whose talent and trio were the main focal point of that long first half and who electrified the audience with a series of atmospheric numbers which recalled the style of the American pianist-composer Dave Grusin.
Like the Mark Hendry Octet, who played rich, multi-layered pieces after the break (and was listened to, by the casualties of the first half, from the bar), this was original, contemporary material very much catering to a specific jazz sensibility.
Much more accessible were singer Luca Manning’s trio of songs, accompanied by ace pianist Alan Benzie, which kicked off the proceedings. Manning’s breathy, vaguely Chet Bakerish vocals, combined with his evocative way of telling a story, were especially well showcased in the Steve Swallow song City of Dallas.
40th Anniversary Jazz Gala, Assembly Hall ****
The choice of that hoary old chetstnut I Got Rhythm for the jam session that closed the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival’s 40th anniversary bash was self-evidently apposite. Contrasting with the august surroundings of the Assembly Hall, there was rhythm and virtuosity aplenty as well as moments of real soul, the last from singer Carol Kidd, whose lingering Skylark and palpably heartfelt rendition of Billy Joel’s And so it Goes were among the highlights.
Kidd, accompanied by pianist Paul Harrison, was among the Scottish jazz luminaries on the bill, not least indefatigable pianist Brian Kellock, who reassembled his trio with bassist Kenny Ellis and drummer John Rae for a characteristically mercurial set, veering between the luminous and the uproarious.
Creative chemistry too when Kellock was joined by the throaty tenor sax of another long-time sparring partner, Tommy Smith, the pair coursing between balladic drift and having their effervescent way with the likes of Sweet Georgia Brown.
As well as compering, singer-violinist Seonaid Aitken gave a laidback account of I’m Confessin’ That I Love You as part of a brief but warm-toned set from master-guitarist Martin Taylor, then assembled her own outfit, Rose Room, for some gypsy jazz that particularly sizzled when joined by Konrad Wiszniewski’s soprano sax in the klezmer standard Josef, Josef.
The twin saxes of Wiszniewski and Smith added muscle to the exuberant if occasionally eccentric closing jam, which indeed gave the aforementioned I Got Rhythm a run for its money.