Tag Archives: Edinburgh Jaz Festival

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 Festival 2011: Ken Peplowski & Alan Barnes

Ken Peplowski & Alan Barnes, Spiegeltent, Sunday July 24th *****

The Peplowski-Barnes double-act may not have played in Edinburgh before – but its reputation, honed over the last few years at the Lockerbie Jazz Festival where it’s been THE Saturday night gig to attend, clearly preceded it, judging by the impressive turn-out at the Spiegeltent on Sunday evening. And by the fact that some of that impressive turn-out had made the journey from Lockerbie …

The reasons for the popularity of this pair were immediately apparent on Sunday – and not just in the terrific music they made, accompanied by a trio led by Paul Kirby. Anyone who’s seen either Barnes or Peplowski in concert knows that they’re going to be entertained by their patter – and when the two of them get together the fun they have onstage is utterly infectious. One number – Hanrid – couldn’t get fully underway because Peplowski was laughing so much he couldn’t play. No-one in the audience had any idea what had triggered it, but it was impossible not to share his Dudley Moore-like giggles.

Both being saxophonists and clarinettists, there are myriad ways Barnes and Peplowski could perform any tune (alto and tenor sax; two clarinets; one on clarinet, the other on a sax) but, on Sunday, the tunes they chose tended to feature either the two clarinets or two saxes combination. And with winning results. The two-sax Fajista, by now a signature number for the duo, was a highlight but the twin clarinet numbers stole the show; on Barnes’s own composition, the loving homage Humph, the effect was sultry and langorous as the melody unfolded in the chalumeau register of the clarinet. And the encore, demanded by an audience which went nuts for more, of Body and Soul, underlined how luxurious and exquisite two clarinets can sound together – when they’re being played by the best in the business.

(First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 26th)

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