Music - Jim Gilchrist previews Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

As the concept of live, audience-attended concerts gradually unfolds as something more than a forlorn memory, Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, which last year functioned as a wholly online entity, dips a toe in the water from 16-25 July, featuring 20 concerts live-streaming before a small audience at the Assembly Roxy venue, plus a further 20 pre-recorded events showcasing talent from Scotland’s burgeoning jazz scene as well as from further afield.

Saxophonist - and Masterchef finalist - Laura Macdonald
Saxophonist - and Masterchef finalist - Laura Macdonald

One highlight sees saxophonist Laura MacDonald in dynamic collaboration with two other notable female musicians – MOBO-winning Anglo-Bengali pianist Zoe Rahman and another award-winner, the young London-based Scots saxophonist Helena Kay.

For MacDonald, as for the majority of musicians, the past year of lockdown has been bizarre and frequently depressing (although she found a novel way of occupying herself by making it to the finals of BBC’s MasterChef, which had the whole of Carluke, where she lives, rooting for her). She proffers “a huge thank you to Edinburgh Jazz Festival for keeping us going this year, because the experience of playing with live musicians again has been overwhelming”.

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She’ll play with Rahman in a duo and with Kay in a twin-horn quartet: “Zoe’s been in projects of mine for the past 12 years or so and the music she writes is amazing, so we’re doing it as a duo, with half my music and half hers. I first came across Helena when she was taking part in the Scottish Jazz Awards and I’ve been watching her intently. I threw some quite hard music at her – it’s just two horns with bass and drums – but she sounds absolutely fantastic.”

MacDonald is also involved in an online Women in Jazz round table discussion, joined by Rahman, Kay and others including Seonaid Aitken, Georgia Cécile, Ali Affleck and Sue McKenzie. She describes the resulting discussion as “mainly a celebration of women in jazz and our personal experiences, very positive and quite inspiring”.

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Other notables on the festival bill include acclaimed alto-saxophonist and rapper Soweto Kinch, who brings his uncompromisingly charged jazz and hip-hop with his trio as well as joining Edinburgh’s ever-eclectic Playtime collective. And festival favourite Jacqui Dankworth sings in a wife-and-husband duo with pianist Charlie Wood, celebrating a century of jazz.

Also delving into the archives – particularly early New Orleans vintage – is Edinburgh-based singer and jazz historian Ali Affleck, while another returning favourite is Davina and the Vagabonds. Other vocalists include Georgia Cécile and Alison Burns (with guitar star Martin Simpson), while the fast-rising Luca Manning appears with both old and new-found collaborators.

Also appearing are the improvising trio HLK, featuring guitarist Ant Law, pianist Richard Harrold and drummer Richard Kass, as well as respected saxophonist and composer Tim Garland, collaborating with young pianist of the moment Fergus McCreadie and his trio. Further luminaries from Glasgow’s hectic scene include nu-jazz collective corto.alto, while Strata drummer Graham Costello unveils a new band, fellow Glaswegian bassist Mark Hendry premieres a new composition and another award-winner, saxophonist Matt Carmichael, performs with eclectic folk fiddler Charlie Stewart.

In the funk realm, former Average White band vocalist Hamish Stuart joins a new Scottish 12-piece, the Tomorrow Band, while a vigorous blues strand includes Nashville’s Stacy Mitchhart, Dana Dixon and Blind Boy Paxton.

What promises to be an engagingly quirky event is pianist Brian Kellock’s “Marty Party”, in which Kellock, bassist Roy Percy and guitarist Ross Milligan celebrate the irrepressible American rhythm guitarist, singer and raconteur Marty Grosz, who recently turned 91 and who paid his first visit to the festival 30 years ago when he played with, among others, a young Kellock. They’ll be playing Grosz’s kind of music ­– classic, swinging jazz from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties. “Nobody swings rhythm guitar like him,” the pianist says, “but it’s also his humour. It’s real feel-good music – and we really need that now.”

For full details, ticketing and access pass for all 42 online concerts, see www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

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