East Neuk Festival: Classic Jazz Orchestra | Kosmos Ensemble

In a venerable Fife burgh, the dry timbred and timeless Middle Eastern strains of an oud sounded out in the converted church that is Crail Community Centre.

The Classic Jazz Orchestra went back to the earliest days of the form. Picture: East Neuk Festivals

East Neuk Festival | Nizar Rohana Trio / Kosmos Ensemble / Classic Jazz Orchestra | Crail Community Hall | Rating ****

Palestinian oud virtuoso Nizar Rohana and his trio were guests of the East Neuk Festival, the opening weekend of which generally has a jazz-world music bias before the rest of the week majors on classical music.

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Rohana, with Hungarian double-bassist Matyas Szandai and Lebanese percussionist Wassim Halal, drew largely from his new album Furāt, an evocation of the River Euphrates. The music, largely his own compositions, duly flowed persuasively, the bass providing a complementary undercurrent to the microtonal coursing of the oud and the rattle and whirr of Halal’s hand drums – not least in the unhurried progression of the album’s title track.

Elsewhere, the exchanges between oud and bass were almost baroque in their intricacy, while White Willows was a solo showcase for Rohana, its meditative deliberations and forward surges inevitably reminding us of the probable origins of flamenco guitar music. All three musicians re-united in the ominously toned Umm El Zeinat.

There were solemn moments amid the exuberant classical-world music mash-up of the Kosmos Ensemble, who as well as their Sunday afternoon spot stepped in to replace the David Orlowsky klezmer trio, billed to share the evening with Rohana but strike-bound in Berlin.

A double helping of Kosmos is no trial, however, and there were the expected eclectic and often highly theatrical fireworks from violinist Harriet Mackenzie, viola player Meg Hamilton and Miloš Milivojević on that monster of a button accordion. Amid the eclectic fireworks, they played a semi-improvised and beautifully melancholic setting of a Japanese folk song, viola played pizzicato to sound like a Japanese koto. Hamilton’s viola also keened plangently, improvising over John Williams’s theme from Schindler’s List.

Intriguing things happen in the Kosmic scheme of things – the Argentinian roller coaster of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango and a Greek island fiddle melody both managed to metamorphose into klezmer tunes, while spirited eastern European gypsy tunes and a Sephardic Jewish melody combined breakneck pace and foot-stamping hauteur with episodes of melancholic grace.

One party piece was not so much an exaltation but a concatenation of larks, a trans-European pastoral romp wrapping up Vaughan Williams’s sublime Lark Ascending with Dinicu’s Hungarian and hell-for-leather Lark, complete with bird calls, mooing cattle and much else thrown in.

It’s hard to feel anything but unbridled bonhomie in the company of the Classic Jazz Orchestra, although there may just have been an elegiac note to the slinky blues of clarinettist Dick Lee’s Fairweather, a tribute to the late Scots trumpeter.

Otherwise the octet, led by drummer Ken Mathieson, delivered what it says on the tin – vintage jazz, played with panache and commitment.

A veritable jazz time machine, delving back to the earliest days of the art form, the band have always championed the music of Jelly Roll Morton and early in their Saturday night concert there was the sassy strut of The Pearls; back to the Twenties, too, for King Oliver’s Sweet Like This, while trumpeter Billy Hunter came to the fore in Louis Armstrong’s No-One Else But You.

Martin Foster’s mammoth bass saxophone was deployed to provide a harrumphing ground for their encore, which returned to Jelly Roll Morton and the ageless exuberance of his Black Bottle Stomp.