Music review: Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, various venues, Edinburgh

This year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival may have been smaller than usual, but it was no less varied, writes Jim Gilchrist

Matt Carmichael

Rewarding music tends to show up the inadequacy of genre headings, not least in the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival which ended yesterday, featuring a minor multiverse of iterations of what we label jazz.

Violinist, singer and broadcaster Seonaid Aitken, for instance, led a string quintet of classical and folk players plus tenor saxophonist Helena Kay in her Chasing Sakura (****), a suite inspired by Aitken’s time in Japan – particularly during its cherry blossom festivities – and composed during lockdown while recovering from an injury.

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Filmed in the spacious Stockbridge Parish Church, the piece was a largely engaging creation, opening with spring murmurs, Kay’s sax singing potently against the strings and Aitken’s lead violin sounding brightly against ensemble pulsing, while Song Without Words had her vocalising over gently plucked strings.

Brian Kellock

Back in the dark of Assembly Roxy, Scots folk influences, with an echo of Nordic jazz, were the hallmarks of rising young tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael (****) and his impressive quartet, here joined by fiddler Charlie Stewart , whose presence added further textures to those established by pianist Fergus McCreadie, bassist Ali Watson and drummer Tom Potter. Their opener, The Airport, was a stately business, with Carmichael sounding over piano ripples and cymbals, The Gloaming unfolded gradually from a traditional-sounding fiddle air, while The Spey was an appropriately high-powered torrent with sax and fiddle racing in tight unison.

The Louise Dodds Quartet (****) steered more towards the mainstream, with the vocalist backed by a crisp trio of pianist Alan Benzie, double-bassist Andrew Robb and drummer Alyn Cosker. On this occasion Dodds stuck purely to her own compositions, rather than any covers.

Not all these compositions were eminently memorable, but her delivery is lightsome and clear, with a background warmth of tone that came out in Blossom in Indigo, with its upbeat sense of release underpinned by the nicely travelling band. Elsewhere there was energetic scatting in the self-questioning Nowhere to Hide and a winsome open-heartedness to Every Hue.

In fairly electrifying contrast, Trio HLK (****) are in the business of reinventing established works with polyrhythmic glee, as they did here in no uncertain terms with Coltrane’s Giant Steps, re-titled Flanagan’s Lament. We don’t know who Flanagan was but his lament featured Ant Law’s eight-string guitar floating airily or grinding out riffs against Richard Harrold’s spookily ringing piano and the cross-rhythmic churning of drummer Richard Kass. A similarly forensic deconstruction of Afro-Cuban rhythms saw Kass in particularly deft form.

Marty Grosz wouldn’t have liked it. “The stuff I like is practically dead … all it needs is a headstone,” once declared the legendary American rhythm guitarist, singer and raconteur, still going strong at 91.

Grosz guested at the Edinburgh Jazz festival 30 years ago, leaving an indelible impression on, among others, a young pianist by the name of Brian Kellock. Now an acclaimed jazz player in his own right, Kellock, joined by bassist Roy Percy and guitarist Ross Milligan, marked the anniversary with an exuberant “Marty Party” (****), demonstrating that Grosz’s kind of jazz was still alive and very much swinging.

The emphasis was very much on cheerful tunes for these dismal times, with numbers such as Waller-Hill’s Keep a Song in Your Soul , driven by Percy’s slap bass, or Milligan crooning the ultra-corny lyrics of A Porter’s Love Song (which Grosz had sung at that 1991 festival), Kellock’s constantly and cheekily inventive playing carrying the song.

They wound up with the archly titled Dr Heckle and Mr Jibe, apparently a 1934 jibe at music critics, delivered here with such zest that this particular writer felt no pain.

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