Leith Jazz Festival, various venues, June 16-17, 2012 ****
Like a phoenix rising from distinctly soggy ashes, the Leith Jazz Festival was revived over the weekend after more than a decade. And even the damp weather didn’t rain on the parade of the publicans who found their establishments packed out for (at least) the daytime gigs which ranged from hard core blues to 1920s classic jazz. For those who remember the old pub trail of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, nipping from one hostelry to another, often catching the first set in one pub before zipping along the road to catch the second set in another was a lovely nostalgia trip.
All the names on the bill were local – but they included some of the best on the Edinburgh scene, from pianist Brian Kellock, who was the unofficial artistic director of the event, and whose regular Sunday session at The Shore was a focal point of the weekend for many festival-goers, to the reliably excellent Swing 2012, which specialises in laid-back, Hot Club of France-inspired jazz, and who played on Sunday evening at The Granary.
Indeed, for the jazz aficionado, Sunday was THE day to get the walking shoes on. And the place to be in the early part of the afternoon was Sofi’s Bar where the alto saxophonist Martin Kershaw – a musician you’d rarely get to hear for free – and bassist Ed Kelly held an audience spellbound as they dished up a fantastic, full concert.
Kershaw, a supremely eloquent and lyrical player, was in terrific form, and was well matched with Kelly. Among the many highlights were an exquisite reading of the Antonio Carlos Jobim heartbreaker How Insensitive (which hinted at the Stan Getz influence on Kershaw’s upper register playing), a bouncy All The Things You Are and a hard-swinging take on Charlie Parker’s Marmaduke. Horace Silver’s Song For My Father was a lovely nod to Father’s Day.
The Compass proved not to be the best venue for singer Lorna Reid and her intimate duo gig with guitarist Graeme Stephen. While Kershaw had an attentive audience, she had to contend with noisy diners who were not there to hear the music and didn’t care who knew it. Nevertheless, those who did listen were rewarded with some lovely songs served in a tasteful, elegant style by the soulful-sounding Reid and her like-minded accompanist.
A late set by the wonderful Diplomats of Jazz – an Edinburgh institution which, like Swing 2012, used to feature on the old jazz festival pub trail – was the ideal way to round off the weekend. Decked out in their dinner suits, the Diplomats may have had to contend with the football on the TV at the other end of the Constitution Bar, but they did so in style: their exuberant playing on Crying for the Carolines and Sorry was a joy to behold.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 18, 2012