Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Carol Kidd & David Newton

Carol Kidd & David Newton, Spiegeltent St Andrew Square *****
Well, well – just when you’re beginning to wonder if the days of five-star reviews for Carol Kidd concerts are in the past, she turns in the performance of this reviewer’s jazz festival.
 
Thursday evening’s concert may only have been an hour long, and the singer and her pianist may have had to contend with an unacceptable amount of external noise, but it was an absolute delight from start to finish, with Kidd on top form as she powered through ten songs with a minimal amount of chat in between.
 
Reunited with David Newton, her pianist/MD in the early 1990s, Kidd revisited many favourite numbers from her earlier career, notably a rare outing for How Little We Know which featured the singer at her playful best, clearly enjoying herself whether she was getting a kick out of the cheekily sexy lyrics or bopping around on the stage during Newton’s elegantly swinging solo. 
 
She also, undoubtedly, got a kick out of the effect her singing had on the sold-out Spiegeltent audience. There wasn’t a sound to be heard in the tent (outside was a different matter – yapping dogs, drinkers’ chatter and sirens were just some of the sounds that listeners had to blank out). Everyone was spellbound and rivetted, not least by Kidd’s ever-mesmerising way with a ballad. How Do You Keep the Music Playing was heart-wrenchingly lovely while The Ballad of the Sad Young Men was a masterclass in painting a vivid picture in song – and, with its line “All the news is bad again; kiss your dreams goodbye”, painfully poignant and apt.
 
Here’s listening to you, Kidd ..
* First published on HeraldScotland, Monday July 25th
Carol Kidd & Dave Newton, Spiegeltent St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, Thursday July 21st
A Foggy Day
Night and Day
Skylark
How Little We Know
Ballad of the Sad Young Men
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Moonlight in Vermont (DN solo)
You Make Me Feel So Young
How Do You Keep the Music Playing
You Don’t Know Me
When I Dream (encore)

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Moscow Drug Club

Moscow Drug Club, St Andrew Square Spiegeltent **

The one-hour opening concert by the festival first-timers Moscow Drug Club on Wednesday evening proved to be a strange and slightly surreal experience. This five-piece band, whose line-up comprises trumpet, guitar, accordion, bass and vocals/percussion, doesn’t hail from Russia at all; indeed, its name apparently represesents more of a fantasy place where all sorts of exotic musical genres meet and merge. 
 
Sitting in amongst the instrumentalists and looking like a cross between a circus ringmaster and the (fully clothed) burlesque queen celebrated in the song Strip Polka, Canadian singer and percussionist Katya Gorrie made an appealing host, and her easy charm and the laidback set-up on stage gave the proceedings a party feel. Indeed, on several of the numbers, notably Istanbul (Not Constantinople) and the stand-out Strip Polka, there was definitely a singalong potential.
 
The trouble was that so much of the programme was taken up with vintage novelty songs which don’t necessarily merit being revived. Peggy Lee’s dreadful The Gypsy With the Fire in His Shows, written for a Tony Curtis western, and Two Guitars, a Russian folk song with disappointing English lyrics by Charles Aznavour, were just two of the numbers which made you question this band’s taste in material – and wonder if they had turned up at the right festival. Moscow Drug Club would appear to be much better suited to the Fringe.
 
Jacques Brel’s Jacky brought Gorrie’s Norma Desmond-like theatricality centre-stage but a funereally-paced and surprisingly un-atmospheric Dance Me to the End of Love killed off any hope of Leonard Cohen saving the day.
* First published on HeraldScotland on Thursday, July 21st

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Bratislava Hot Serenaders

Bratislava Hot Serenaders, Spiegeltent George Square ****
 
Following their success at last year’s Edinburgh Jazz Festival, the Bratislava Hot Serenaders returned on Tuesday evening, to a packed Spiegeltent. This 19-piece ensemble is ideally suited to the beautiful vintage venue – both musically, with the Serenaders’ repertoire of 1920s and 1930s numbers, and visually, with their period style of dress, authentic period instruments and their famous period microphone which is tilted in the direction of whoever is soloing by their obliging, Jeeves-like, crooner.
 
Tuesday’s concert had a déjà vu feeling about it, as many of the tunes had been played at last year’s show, and the same observations kept springing to mind as the Serenaders powered through a programme of 22 numbers in 90 minutes. Once more it was clear that this band has excellent hot jazz credentials, which revealed themselves immediately – on their exhilarating recreation of Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Stomp. 
 
Indeed, as was the case the last time the Bratislava Hot Serenaders came to town, the 1920s Ellington elements of the evening were the absolute stand-outs for jazz fans – after all, chances to hear such gems as Old Man Blues and Washington Wobble played so authentically and thrillingly are few. Wonderful takes on I Got Rhythm and Dinah were also highlights from the swinging section of the programme.
 
The bulk of the concert, however, was given over to the dance music of the day – novelty tunes, such as The Broken Record, and numbers involving the stylish vocal trio the Serenader Sisters, went down extremely well with the audience. All that was missing was a dance floor…
* First published on HeraldScotland, Wednesday July 20th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2016: Remembering Chet Baker

Remembering Chet Baker, City Art Centre ****
 
It may sound like the title of a show, but Remembering Chet Baker is the name of the Scottish trio which, for the last four years, has been celebrating the music and musical style of the jazz icon who died prematurely 28 years ago. As they hinted during Monday afternoon’s performance, there’s not much point in celebrating Baker’s life or him as a person: he seems to have hurt everyone in his life and, by all accounts, was really not a very nice human being.
 
That, combined with the inescapable fact that Baker was a master of melancholy famous for such mope-fests as the misery-laden ballads The Thrill is Gone and You Don’t Know What Love Is could have made one suspect that this would not be the cheeriest way to spend a Monday afternoon. However, nothing could have been further from the truth – thanks to the fact that singer/presenter Iain Ewing punctuated proceedings with cheeky patter, and kept the mood light.
 
Both Ewing and trumpeter Colin Steele, who was on top form, have clearly been influenced by Baker’s lyrical, pared-back style and gentle, soft tone – but, refreshingly, neither attempts to mimic him or recreate his solos. It’s as if both musicians have been so steeped in Baker’s recordings that they can give the standards associated with him a lovely, Baker-esque, flavour, without resorting to impersonations.
 
Among the specific highlights were the classy, upbeat opener There Will Never Be Another You, which featured the first of a series of gorgeously understated solos by Steele; pianist Euan Stevenson’s elegant, Satie-like accompaniment on I Get Along Without You Very Well, and the two instrumentalists’ electrifying duet on All the Things You Are.
* First published on HeraldScotland, Wednesday July 20th

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2016: New Orleans Swamp Donkeys

New Orleans Swamp Donkeys Traditional Jass Band, City Art Centre ** 
The Friday late-night session at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival’s new venue for 2016, the fifth floor of the City Art Centre, was a bit of a surreal experience – before you even got to the performance by a be-kilted escapee from the Louis Armstrong lookalikes agency. 
 
Why? Because, as with the Spiegeltents, where punters have to queue in all weathers until doors-open a few minutes before kick-off, ticket-holders had to wait in line in the ground floor lobby until, eight minutes before showtime, they were allowed into the lift – in groups determined by the ticket inspectors. The easyjet similarity continued with a pre-take-off announcement that, upon disembarking, the bar would be on their right and the toilets straight-ahead.
 
If you were flying solo and weren’t in the first few elevators’ full, then by the time you reached your destination, and had bought a drink or been to the bathroom, the music had started and there were no seats available other than at the very back of this long, curtained-off space.
 
Still, as it turned out, this was probably the place to sit – if you were alone and not in “party flight” mode. It meant that the Swamp Donkeys wouldn’t spot grimaces on the this jazz fan’s face as their leader, trumpeter and singer James Williams, turned in 90 minutes’ worth of panto-worthy impersonations of Louis Armstrong, complete with giant white hanky. 
 
Despite his respectable trumpet playing, and some nice ensemble moments, and although the party-tastic young Friday night crowd lapped it up, there was nothing special about this touristy New Orleans band whose only advantages over a similarly unremarkable Scottish trad band were the authentic accents.
* First published in The Herald, Monday July 18

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Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2016: Hot Antic Jazz Band

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30 Years of Antics in Edinburgh

My Life in JazzThirty years ago, in August 1986, I attended my first Edinburgh Jazz Festival. (Actually, it was my first jazz festival full stop.) These were the heady days of the festival as a sprawling, round-the-clock affair whose programme was like a slightly oversized paperback book, and was stuffed with multiple opportunities to hear the same musicians in all sorts of different line-ups over the course of the week.

These were the days of the Gold Badge (now as fabled as one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets) which allowed agile festival-goers to attend the first of the evening’s three sets in one place set then leg it to another venue for the second set, and then sprint from wherever you had ended up for the evening’s third set back to the station with barely enough time for your father’s last half pint before boarding the last train to Glasgow. (Which, of course, was extra late because the main Edinburgh Festival was on.)

My dad would take a full week off work and travel through to Edinburgh every day (with the also now-fabled Festival Rover train ticket) and attend a full day’s jazz with different assortments of friends, relatives and colleagues. In 1986, I was invited to accompany him – for one reason only. Because Dick Hyman, the American piano genius, was playing a solo set at the Royal Overseas League halfway through the festival.

Earlier that year, Dad had recorded a movie on BBC2, possibly as part of its (also now-fabled) Jazz Week entitled Scott Joplin. It was a TV movie biopic – and one which I have never seen on TV since. Had he not recorded it and had my brothers and I not become completely obsessed with one sequence in it, I probably would not have become a jazz fan. The sequence was a cutting contest between two piano “professors” – and it absolutely thrilled us. To the point that we could soon sing every note of it. As the piano player in the family, I was already playing Scott Joplin pieces. Overnight, mastering the Maple Leaf Rag became my goal for the summer holidays.

So when my dad said that the guy who had played one of the pianos in the cutting contest scenes and who had done all the other piano music in the film was coming to Edinburgh and did I want to come, it was a no-brainer.

Dick Hyman’s solo set wasn’t until the evening of my first day in Edinburgh; being only 14, I had to stay with my father as he took in the rest of the day’s programme. And that programme began in the Grassmarket, in a pub called the Beehive Inn, where I heard and fell in love with the music of the Hot Antic Jazz Band from the south of France.

All of which is a very long way of setting up my first weekend at this year’s  Jazz Festival, when the stars aligned and for the first time in over a decade, the Hot Antics plus my dad and I were all in Edinburgh and all at the Spiegeltent on Friday night’s opening concert. As might have been expected, it was a slightly emotional affair as the events in Nice the night before cast a bit of a pall over proceedings but trumpeter and leader Michel Bastide promised that despite what had happened right on their doorstep, they were determined to give us an evening of jazz, “the music we love”.

The personnel and repertoire may have changed over the years since 1986, but the great sense of fun and irresistible joie-de-vivre (even amidst the terrible sadness of Thursday’s tragedy) endure – and were most apparent as soon as they started playing such uplifting numbers as the opener Funny Fumble and Somebody Stole My Gal, surely the happiest number about being dumped? And, as in 1986, when their charming version of Puttin’ on the Ritz made me forever afterwards sing it with a French accent, so Three Little Words a la francaise will keep me going till the next time the Antics come to town.20160716_183543

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