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

Programme notes by Simon Spillett


The Reuben James Trio

A name which may well be new to many of those attending this year’s festival, Reuben is one of the most exciting piano prospects on the UK jazz scene.  Still attending the Trinity School of Music, he first came to attention as a member of the late Abram Wilson’s quartet and has recently been recruited for the new Clark Tracey Quintet, a sure fire endorsement of his prodigious talent. This morning’s session features him leading his regular trio, providing an opportunity to hear the blend of youth and precocious musical maturity that has made musicians like Wynton Marsalis sit up.

Toni Kofi Quartet Plays Monk

Saxophonist Toni Kofi is among the most hardworking of all UK-based jazz musicians. This year alone he has played a series of club engagements in Belarus and toured South Africa with Abdullah Ibrahim, but this lunchtime session finds him returning to one of his key inspirations, the repertoire of Thelonious Monk. Not only has Monk’s music held a lifelong fascination for Tony, it provided him with one of the best received British jazz albums of recent years, Always Is Know, on which his band demonstrated their familiarity with some of the lesser played compositions by the High Priest of Bop. The same quartet, featuring piano whizz Jonathan Gee, bassist Ben Hazleton and drummer Winston Clifford, reunite for this festival appearance. Click here for YouTube clip.

The Alan Barnes Trio

You could call him Mr Jazz UK. He’s certainly one of the most ubiquitous of all British jazzmen, and without doubt is among the most entertaining musicians on the circuit today. Equally gifted on the entire saxophone family and the clarinet, as well as being a notable composer and arranger, Alan has made his reputation with a genuine enthusiasm for all corners of the jazz genre, something reflected in his choice of band for this year’s festival. Featuring vibes wizard Jim Hart and that unclassifiable drummer Paul Clarvis, the instrumentation may well mirror the old Benny Goodman trio but the group’s music has its own personal slant. Alongside the glittering instrumental virtuosity, Alan’s natural wit is bound to surface too.

The Don Weller Quartet

Don Weller is the kind of jazz musician that, if he didn’t exist, you’d have to invent. First there’s the signature sound – warm, throaty and utterly personal; then there’s his delivery, the ultimate example of cutting all the excess music down to the bone; finally there’s Don himself, the big bearded, beret-topped and yet quietly humble individual who prefers his playing to speak for him. Quite rightly he’s regarded as among the best jazzmen to have ever been born in the UK and over a career stretching back to the 1960’s he’s played with the best, from Stan Tracey to Gil Evans. This afternoon catches him with his regular quartet; urbane pianist Dave Newton, polymath bassist Andrew Cleyndert and the great Dave Barry on drums, the same line-up that recorded the critically acclaimed album The Way You’re Gonna Look Tomorrow Morning. Jazz tenor saxophone does not come any better.

Tribute to J.J. and Kai

The mid-1950’s quintet co-led by trombonists J. J. Johnson and Kai Winding rapidly achieved legendary status as one of the finest groups of its day, with Johnson’s dry and methodical approach combining with Winding’s earthier playing to create an ensemble sound that is one of the most easily identifiable in jazz. In a session that will delight both nostalgic veteran fans and new listeners alike, the original band's arrangements are reinterpreted this afternoon by what amounts to a British jazz super-group; the front line comprises the twin peaks of UK trombone, Mark Nightingale and Alastair White, with a rhythm section of pianist John Horler, bassist Alec Dankworth and Clark Tracey on drums.

The James Pearson Trio

Emerging blinking into the daylight, James Pearson forsakes his musical directorship of Ronnie Scott’s club for a rare appearance at this year’s festival. Featuring his regular trio with bassist Sam Burgess and drummer Chris Higginbotham, the music is sure to reflect the hour-upon-hour that these musicians have played together at Ronnie’s. For anyone who doesn’t know James’ piano work, suffice to say that his CV includes Johnny Griffin, Wynton Marsalis, Buddy Greco and Dame Cleo Laine to name but a few. This evening's gig will be smack in the tradition of the great jazz piano trios, with a few surprising choices of repertoire giving an added twist!

The Brandon Allen Sextet

Tenor and alto saxophonist Brandon Allen is a tough, no-nonsense jazzman filtering the classic  influences through a healthily contemporary outlook. The same could be said of his band tonight – and what a band! The front-line boasts another heavyweight saxophone virtuoso in Nigel Hitchcock and also includes trombone star Mark Nightingale. The rhythm section features Ross Stanley, equally adept on piano and organ, bassist Sam Burgess and UK drum legend Ian Thomas.

Expect high-energy music, drawing on straight-ahead jazz and more funky influences. Were this not enough, the prospect of hearing the leader and Hitchcock going head to head makes this gig a must for all fans of jazz saxophone. Click here for YouTube clip.

Georgie Fame

To conclude this year’s festival, Herts Jazz presents a performer who truly deserves the superstar tag.

Georgie Fame shot to the top of the UK singles charts in 1965 with Yeh! Yeh!, providing a jazz friendly antidote to the Beat Boom. But then Fame has never made any secret of his love of jazz, and his passion for the music of his heroes – among them Chet Baker, Mose Allison and Thelonious Monk – has run consistently alongside his chart-topping pop career ever since.

In 1965 he confounded fans and critics alike by recording the album Sound Venture with the Harry South Big Band, a record which also featured Brit-jazz legends Tubby Hayes, Ronnie Scott and Stan Tracey, and over his fifty-plus year career he has collaborated with jazz stars including Count Basie, Blossom Dearie, Jon Hendricks and Phil Woods, and recorded projects dedicated to Chet Baker, Benny Goodman and Hoagy Carmichael.

His Blue Flames line-up has included the crème of British jazz, ranging from saxophonist Peter King to drummer Phil Seamen, but tonight he is appearing with what might be called the “family band”, an intimate trio setting with sons Tristan and James Powell, and accordingly the emphasis will be as much on the leader's instrumental skills as on his hip, witty lyrics and laconic vocal delivery. Renowned for name-checking his influences and inspirations in his on-stage presentation, Fame is the ultimate example of the jazz crossover artist, with a broad fan following encompassing aficionados and non-specialist listeners alike. Click here for YouTube clip.