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‘One of Britain’s finest jazz events’ - Alyn Shipton, The Times

Programme notes by Simon Spillett


Herts Youth Jazz Ensemble

Among the most heartening aspects of the festival is the healthy mix of youth and experience. At the opposite end of the age spectrum from octogenarian legends like Stan Tracey and Kenny Wheeler is the Herts Youth Jazz Ensemble, a group of burgeoning teenaged talents. The students not only display their improvising talent but are encouraged to compose their own material and such is their reputation for musical excellence that they’ve already collaborated with both Stan and Clark Tracey, giving a memorable concert performance of Stan’s Genesis Suite. We’re sure that today’s appearance will give plenty of opportunity to spot some of the UK’s future jazz stars!

Jason Yarde/Andrew McCormack Duo

Every so often the jazz scene throws up a collaboration that can truly be described as telepathic. The synergy of saxophonist Jason Yarde and pianist Andrew MacCormack has astonished both veteran and new listeners alike and reflects the varied and diverse inspirations of both performers. Yarde emerged from the Jazz Warriors collective to perform with legends like McCoy Tyner and Sam Rivers whilst McCormack’s wide ranging achievements have included composing commissions for the London Symphony Orchestra and film soundtrack work with Clint Eastwood. The pairings first album, My Duo, received glowing reviews in Jazzwise magazine and The Guardian, the latter praising it as “a wonderful jazz conversation”, which is exactly what you’ll hear today – fresh, unhackneyed music full of the sound of surprise. Click here for YouTube clip.

The Leon Greening Trio

Listening to Leon Greening’s playing is like hearing a history of post-Bop piano: there are authentic and yet personal echoes of everyone from Bud Powell to Wynton Kelly, Barry Harris and Horace Silver, all the more remarkable for coming from a musician of such youth. Rightly regarded as among the best of the current crop of UK jazz pianists, Greening is joined this lunchtime by two hand-in-glove colleagues; Adam King has been described as “the best British bass players since Ron Mathewson”, heavy praise indeed, and drummer Steve Brown, well regarded for his lengthy stint with saxophonist Scott Hamilton, is now something akin to a national treasure. For those who like their jazz in the spirit of the golden era of the 1950’s and 60’s, this session is a must.

Ronnie Rae Quintet with Fionna Duncan

The festival presents something of a coup with this performance by a pairing who could accurately be described as “Scottish Jazz Royalty”. Bassist Rae and vocalist Duncan both have a rich and varied CV: Ronnie’s career has found him playing with Ben Webster, Lee Konitz, Johnny Griffin and Buddy De Franco among others, whilst Fionna blossomed from the Trad Boom of the early 1960’s to become a consummate all-round jazz vocalist, “her diction immaculate, her smokey voice investing the words with subtle shades of meaning, and phrasing just like a horn player” as one reviewer puts it. This afternoon they’re joined by a suitably stellar line-up, featuring fellow Scot Bruce Adams, the inimitable Art Themen , piano virtuoso Steve Melling and festival director Clark Tracey on drums.

Kenny Wheeler Quintet

If ever a jazz musician deserved the description of unique, it is surely Kenny Wheeler. Now in his eighty third year, Wheeler’s musical curiosity is undimmed. Legendary not only for his formidable brass skills but for his visionary mastery of harmony and composition, Kenny has covered the entire spectrum of British jazz, from Sandy Brown to Evan Parker and beyond, but is without doubt at his best playing his own music in the company of hand-picked colleagues. This afternoon’s band boasts four of his long-term collaborators, saxophone giant Stan Sulzmann, guitarist John Paricelli, bass maestro Chris Laurence and drummer Martin France, and will feature Kenny’s own compositions, each a magical blend of melancholy lyricism and adventurous construction. Click here for YouTube clip.

Nigel Price Trio

Nigel Price is without doubt the most exciting guitarist to have appeared on the UK jazz scene in decades. Taking his original inspiration from an illustrious predecessor, Louis Stewart, he has gone on to create a style which incorporates the best of the best and which, via his own exciting organ trio, has a strong appeal to listeners both in and outside of jazz. A popular attraction at jazz clubs and festivals across the country, the trio features organist Pete Whittaker – himself a one-man rhythm section – and one of the classiest drummers around, Matt Home. Fierce swing, funky grooves and delicate balladry are sure to be the order of the afternoon. Click here for YouTube clip.

Iain Ballamy’s Anorak

Saxophonist Ballamy is the ultimate maverick jazz talent, cherry picking from all corners of music to forge his own distinct voice. As a sideman he’s worked with a dazzlingly eclectic range of musical legends from George Coleman to Hermento Pascoal, but it is as a leader that he’s created his finest work, steadfastly refusing to follow fashion or favour the easy option.

Anorak is one of his many band projects, one dedicated to “original material that still retains strong points of reference to the legacy of jazz from the second half of the 20th century”. The quartet includes pianist Gareth Williams, bassist Steve Watts and drummer Tim Giles. An engaging personality on the bandstand, Ballamy doesn’t take himself too seriously, so expect challenging music presented with more than a dash of subversive humour.

Django Bates Beloved

Keyboardist and brass player Django Bates is the very embodiment of creative musical breadth. He was a leading light in Loose Tubes during the vaunted British Jazz Boom of the 1980’s, and has since gone on to operate in an enormous range of musical environments, from working with Bill Bruford’s Earthworks to premiering a concerto for electronic keyboard. A winner of the prestigious JAZPAR International Jazz Award, he’s probably best known for writing and performing his own material, but his Beloved trio, featuring bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Petter Bruun, marks something of a departure: the band’s first album paid tribute to the genius of Charlie Parker with Bates undertaking radical reinventions of the saxophonist's songbook, and its second release, Confirmation, extended the group's repertoire further still, drawing the leader's own compositions together with those of Burt Bacharach and Miles Davis. Click here for YouTube clip.

Clark Tracey Trio

Herts Jazz audiences need no introduction to Clark, the mastermind behind both the festival and the regular weekly jazz club. In the family tradition, he is a musician who wears many hats – instrumentalist, composer, educator and bandleader, the latter an especial skill. Over the past thirty years Clark’s various bands have kick started the careers of innumerable jazz luminaries from Guy Barker to Zoe Rahman and he remains a talent spotter par excellence, but for tonight’s after-hours session he brings in two of Britain’s most esteemed jazz veterans, pianist John Critchinson and bassist Dave Green for a session which guarantees creativity, energy and, above all, swing. What better way to finish a full day of festival going by listening to these three masters? Click here YouTube clip.