‘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.