ESTABLISHED last year by Edinburgh DJ and promoter Chris Knight, aka Astrojazz, to explore the furthest contemporary reaches of the sounds promulgated by the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, Cross the Tracks has mutated this year from its former, festival-wide incarnation as a series of a few curated gigs to being a two-day festival-within-a-festival.
EDINBURGH JAZZ FESTIVAL
Cross The Tracks Weekender
Star rating: *****
Held within the atmospheric internal spaces of multi-arts venue Summerhall from mid-evening until early morning, with socialising opportunities in the courtyard bar outside, it’s fair to say that the event was an unmitigated success.
This success could be measured not just in the apparently significant number of people who attended, but in the breadth and quality of the artists performing. Each night had a subtly different musical flavour – Friday was programmed with help from the crew at the Bongo Club’s Four Corners night, and tended towards the jazz-funk end of the spectrum, a sound whose association with Edinburgh stretches back to the glory days of clubs like the Big Beat in the late Nineties.
The venue’s Dissection Room bar has proven to be a capable space for live music since Summerhall started putting gigs on a few months back, and it provided impressive surroundings for Friday’s bill, which included the 14-strong, Glasgow-based orchestra Fat Suit, whose diverse and versatile blend of blasting horns, folk fiddles and fringe electronica is far more compelling than their name suggests.
Also lighting up this stage was Hidden Orchestra, who aren’t actually an orchestra at all, but a dense, pleasingly atmospheric quintet whose nocturnal sound recalls the acid jazz style fused with the ghost of trip-hop.
Through in the main hall, meanwhile, Four Corners welcomed the London/Leeds-based ten-piece Nubiyan Twist, an attention-grabbing blend of stabbing, Lalo Schifrin-style jazz-funk horns, less immediate reggae grooves and the soulful, otherworldly voice of striking lead singer Nubiya Brandon. The following evening, with the musical brief opened out to include more experimental and club-flavoured styles, saw this room hold possibly the most trad act of the evening; United Vibrations, a four-piece afro-punk odyssey with elements of psych-rock and punk attitude at their fringes, who played for an endurance-testing two hours plus.
Back in the Dissection Room, meanwhile, came clubby Saturday DJ sets from the afro-influenced Clap! Clap! and the hip-hop-styled DJ Format, with two particular stand-outs on the bill.
The first was Romare, a young London DJ named Archie Fairhurst signed to Ninja Tune, whose cut-up style brought together the afro rhythms so prominent among the artists here with a fluid and pounding techno sensibility. Playing high up on the balcony to a heaving, darkened room, his hour-long set could happily have extended long into the night.
Mind, then we wouldn’t have enjoyed the brilliance of Melt Yourself Down. Founded by former Acoustic Ladyland leader and Polar Bear saxophonist Pete Wareham, they were a truly distinctive melding of twin saxophones, Kushal Gaya’s yelped lyrics and a thundering bass and drum assault from Ruth Goller and Tom Skinner reminding more of NYC proto-punks Liquid Liquid than a contemporary jazz outfit. Throughout two hopefully to-be-repeated nights of high quality music, theirs was the most revelatory performance of many.
Seen on 24-25.07.2015