Tag Archives: Norwich Jazz Party

Norwich Jazz Party 2011: Monday afternoon

The last day of the Norwich Jazz Party got off to a rousing start. If ever there was a set guaranteed to wake you up it was the one which launched the sensational new CD by Alan Barnes and Warren Vache – The London Session (Woodville Records). I have to confess to feeling a sort of  motherly pride as they began playing the music which was already very familiar to me as I wrote the liner notes for the record, and had interviewed them extensively in the process.

So, hearing the very distinctive and stylish arrangements of such numbers as My Funny Valentine and, especially, a hangover-blasting Molasses played live was a particular treat. And, since not all of the Woodville All-Stars, with whom Barnes and Vache recorded the CD, were at the party, they were replaced by the likes of trombonist John Allred, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson, adding a different flavour to the tunes.

Barnes himself farmed out his baritone sax duties to Karen Sharp (who turned in a gorgeous extended solo on Sophisticated Lady), and was able to devote himself to some ace alto solo work instead, notably on an uptempo Love For Sale – a number which also had him playing bass clarinet.

For Sharp, The London Session er, session was an excellent warm-up for her own set of Gerry Mulligan-associated music later in the afternoon. It was interesting to note how many of the musicians made a point of listening to her set – the same thing happened with pianist Rossano Sportiello’s solo session later that night. And no wonder: both are lovely, lyrical players who grabbed the audience’s attention and kept them spellbound.

In fact, having your attention grabbed and then being bound to your seat are the risks you run if you attend a jazz party like this. The fear of missing what might turn out to be THE set of the weekend leads to marathon bouts of sitting still (some of the audience members looked as if they should be checked over for DVT), and, frankly, after a while the music just starts to wash over you. (I was completely jazz-lagged by Sunday afternoon.)

My leg is still bruised from the kicking I gave myself for missing most of the Basie set led by Rossano Sportiello on Sunday at lunchtime – the self-abuse began almost as soon as Scott Hamilton wrapped his horn around a sumptuous Blue and Sentimental… At least I got to hear him and Sportiello again – this time in a duo, playing some glorious music from their recent CD – on Monday afternoon. Among the many highlights was a high speed This Can’t Be Love – featuring a rollicking solo from Sportiello and Hamilton working up a head of steam on tenor – and the poignant ballad A Garden in the Rain which highlighted the tenderness and gentleness of Sportiello’s piano playing in particular.

Of course, there’s just no way I would ever risk missing the Ken ‘n’ Marty show – sadly only 20 minutes long this year but one for the history books as it featured this longstanding double act’s first onstage kiss, midway through Ken Peplowski’s sung serenade to Marty Grosz (pictured above) of When Did You Leave Heaven? Amidst the hilarity there was some lovely music – for the serenade they were joined by John Pearce (piano),  Alec Dankworth (bass) and John Allred whose mellow obbligato work behind Peplowski’s vocals was a delight. Peplowski himself was on great form, notably on a speed limit-breaking version of Walter Donaldson’s You, an old favourite of this duo. And Grosz, who has enjoyed better health this year than before last year’s Norwich expedition, was in similarly fine fettle, and evidently relishing the musical and comedy antics.

Other stand-out moments of the afternoon? Pianist Tardo Hammer’s elegant and funky set which revealed the great rapport he’s established with British drum whiz Steve Brown, Dan Block’s set of colourful and complex, John Kirby-style arrangements of Fats Waller songs, and Jim Galloway’s serene tribute to Pee Wee Russell – I’d Climb the Highest Mountain. When the young Galloway complimented Russell on his handling of the tune, he was told that he liked to play it “because it was a favourite of Bix’s”.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2011: Saturday

This was my favourite moment in the first night of the 2011 Norwich Jazz Party. Midway through an all-star closing set headed by Toronto-based soprano saxophonist Jim Galloway, the stage emptied leaving just the leader, plus trumpeter Duke Heitger, guitarist Dave Cliff and bassist Giorgos Antoniou. And what did they serve up? An exquisite Sweet Lorraine – perfectly seasoned. Not too sugary, not too fast; just a gentle, laid-back conversational handling of the old standard. The way that Galloway, the impish charmer of sinewy soprano sax melody, and the mellow-toned Heitger gently batted the melody back and forth reminded this listener of a memorable night in Nairn when Ruby Braff struck up a similar musical dialogue with Scott Hamilton and Jon Wheatley. The set ended with what seemed like a nod to my Glasgow granny (and probably Galloway’s too): a hugely enjoyable tout ensemble (11 players) version of Show Me the Way to Go Home.

Earlier in the night, the Japanese clarinettist Eiji Kitamura and tenor man Scott Hamilton had only really hit their stride by the time they were on the closing numbers of their 45 minute set: a classy take on These Foolish Things, which – unlike some of the earlier tunes – seemed to benefit from Kitamura’s restrained style, and a super-fast Lover Come Back to Me which boasted a classic Hamilton filibuster solo.

Marty Grosz can always be relied on to do his homework, and his arrangements for his set entitled Songs You Thought You’d Never Hear – or Gold for Mouldies were typically colourful and catchy, and it was a treat to hear this superb eight-piece band playing them. Highlights included Cincinnati, which featured some superb solo work by the dynamic duo of Ken Peplowski (clarinet) and Enrico Tomasso (trumpet).

Since Warren Vache and Bill Charlap’s cornet-piano duet version of What’ll I Do has ruined me for any other, I guess Houston Person didn’t stand a chance. But he made sure of it by playing it at break-neck speed during his late-night set.. Luckily, the ballad to which he introduced me two tunes later more than made up for it: Why Did I Choose You? was the perfect showcase for his spare balladeering style and rich sound.

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News and Blues

….. Top Scots jazz singer Carol Kidd and her ace guitarist Nigel Clark release their first duo album next month. Tell Me Once Again (Linn) is an exquisite collection of ballads, bossa novas (including one by Stevie Wonder) and a Buble-inspired R ‘n’ B classic. Oh, and you might recognise the name of the writer who wrote the liner notes …

….. Carol Kidd’s onetime pianist David Newton returns to his native Glasgow on March 24 to
play a quartet gig, also featuring saxophonist Stewart Forbes, at the Glasgow Art Club – the newest old venue on the Glasgow scene. The concert is part of Bridge Jazz’s new season. Visit www.bridgejazz.co.uk for details of this and other forthcoming concerts…

…..The Norwich Jazz Party runs from April 30-May 2 this year. Among those offering the ideal alternative to the inevitable wall-to-wall coverage of a certain event on April 29 are: Marty Grosz, Ken Peplowski, Warren Vache, Alan Barnes, Howard Alden, Duke Heitger, Daryl Sherman, Bob Wilber (pictured, above, in Nairn with Andrew Cleyndert on bass), Dan Block, Rossano Sportiello, Roy Williams, Scott Hamilton, Jim Galloway and Karen Sharp.

…. The Keswick Jazz Festival runs from May 12-15 this year, and as if there wasn’t enough jazz crammed into that weekend in the shape of my favourite classic jazz band – The Hot Antic Jazz Band, from France – and such top British and American names as Alan Barnes, Karen Sharp, John Hallam, Jeff Barnhart, Wendell Brunious, Enrico Tomasso and Keith Nichols, there are also going to be some pre-festival gigs by some of them, plus the Big Chris Barber Band and the Tim Kliphuis Trio (both on May 9).

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Norwich Jazz Party 2010: Swingin’ the Dream 2

I promised more photos from the all-singing, all-dancing Swingin’ the Dream set .. so here goes. You’ve been warned.

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Norwich Jazz Party 2010: Swingin’ the Dream

No, your eyes do not deceive you: this photo shows “Brother” Marty Grosz preaching while Ken Peplowski plays clarinet (and tries to suppress his laughter).

This was the scene two-thirds of the way through one of the most unusual sets of the Norwich Jazz Party – a costume-free, eight-man recreation of Swingin’ the Dream, an ill-fated, 1939, Broadway show that had a cast of over 150 as well as three bands. Not to mention Louis Armstrong and Maxine Sullivan in starring roles.

Like Ken Peplowski, who had organised this celebration of Swingin’ the Dream, I’ve long been fascinated by this little-documented show which may have been short on success but was loaded with talent. A musical re-imagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set in 19th century New Orleans, it was, said Peplowski, partly a disaster because of its bloated budget.  “It ran for 13 performances – and we’re going to show you why,” said Peplowski, by way of self-deprecating introduction.

With only 30 minutes to evoke the presumed spirit of the show, Peplowski’s septet served up a delightful mix of numbers, kicking off with numbers which Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman might well have performed. Moonglow was a particular highlight, thanks to the combination of Paolo Alderighi’s lovely piano solo, Enrico Tomasso’s laidback trumpet and Peplowski’s hot and sweet clarinet.

For the show’s enduring hit, Darn That Dream (one of the songs contributed, at the last minute, by Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie de Lange), Peplowski switched to tenor sax. Hearing the verse – played by just Peplowski and Alderighi – was a rare treat, and the rest of the number was equally beautifully executed; the musicians gently passing the melody amongst themselves.

Another song written for the show and still surviving is Love’s a Riddle, penned by Alec Wilder who was the musical’s original composer. A quirky, peppy number, it reminded me of the much more successful swinging Shakespeare project – Sullivan, Shakespeare, Hyman – the classic album of jazz settings of Shakespeare songs which Dick Hyman recorded with Swingin’ the Dream’s Maxine Sullivan in the 1970s.

The set culminated in two more songs written for the show by Van Heusen and de Lange – and for these, Peplowski brought on his secret weapon: Marty Grosz. On Peace, Brother – introduced as ” a message/gospelly number of the era”, Grosz threw himself into the part, waving his arms in the air as he recited the lyrics in a spoken style that was more Rex Ingram than Rex Harrison.

Grosz was back on vocals duty for the catchy title number which provided the all-singing, all-dancing (by Marty and Ken anyway) finale to the set. Featuring terrific solos by Peplowski (on clarinet) and guitarist  Howard Alden, it was one of the standouts of a hugely enjoyable session which Peplowski will no doubt have regarded as a trial run for the full Swingin’ the Dream concert which he’s staging at the Oregon Festival of American Music in July.

* Watch out for more photos of Brother Marty feeling the spirit coming soon..

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Norwich Jazz Party 2010: Django & Sandy

Two jazz legends were celebrated in sets featuring the delightful soprano saxophonist Jim Galloway and the grand old guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli at this year’s Norwich Jazz Party.

First up was Djangology, a Howard Alden-led tribute to the ever-popular guitarist Django Reinhardt. As you’d expect from a Djangly set, this was a joy from start to finish – and it gave all the front-liners in the sextet a chance to shine, not least Alden himself who dazzled on such finger-busters as Nagasaki and Rose Room.

Tenor saxophonist Dan Block contributed a sublime and sultry bossa nova version of Insensiblement (which he’d never played before), while Bucky Pizzarelli’s  take on Nuages was a tour-de-force performance. Swaying from side to side and looking like the Pied Piper as he played his soprano sax, Jim Galloway entranced with his exquisite solo on the languorous Manoir de Mes Reves.

Galloway took centre stage the next night for his sequel to last year’s Sandy Brown set. The 2010 Sandy Brown tribute set was every bit as thrilling as the 2009 one. Galloway was in his element, and no wonder: Brown’s music is nothing if not uplifting.

It was a treat to hear such unusual, rousing melodies as Africa Blues and Everybody Loves Saturday Night being played live, and with such style and good humour. And Galloway did a great job of sounding like himself while evoking the quirkiness and spikiness of the late clarinettist’s playing.

He was undoubtedly spurred on by the enthusiasm and talent of the rest of the band. Randy Reinhart was superb on trumpet duties; his hot but unfussy style of playing perfectly suited to the Brown sound. Bucky Pizzarelli resumed his role from last year, while trombonist Roy Williams brought an authentic British touch to the band and seemed – like everyone else in the room – to be having great fun with the material.

God, I wish someone had recorded it for YouTube.  Surely it’s time Galloway got to record this stuff with one – or both – of his Norwich line-ups. Bagsy a seat in the recording studio ..

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Norwich Jazz Party 2010: Warren Vache

Cornettist Warren Vache was kept busy in Annie Ross’s band over the Norwich weekend and although he was well featured in her sets, I’m sure I wasn’t the only punter who was especially looking forward to the last day. Why? Because it offered two opportunities to hear Vache in co-leader mode – and both quite different.

Last year, I arrived too late for Vache’s duo set with guitarist Howard Alden and my shin had only just recovered from the kicking I’d given it by the time I got to this year’s event …. So I was thrilled to get a chance to hear them on Monday – and it was certainly worth the wait (not to mention the bruises).

Vache was in superb form, at his most delicate and sensitive on a beautiful version of Ill Wind which highlighted the great rapport between him and Alden and culminated in a laid-back, conversational exchange.The bossa nova Felicidad was breezily seductive and played so quietly and gently that you could have heard a pin drop – on the carpeted floor – during Alden’s elegant solo.

But the outstanding number in this outstanding set was the utterly sublime My One and Only Love. A gorgeous tune in its own right, it became heartbreakingly exquisite in the hands of Alden and, especially, Vache, who treated it with the utmost tenderness and gentleness.  Few musicians have such a bewitching way with a ballad as Vache – and the duo setting is the perfect showcase for his softer side.

Later in the day, he had a chance to break out in bop mode, with the quintet he co-leads with ace trombonist John Allred. Their set was essentially a preview of their forthcoming album, Top Shelf, and it went down a storm.  This is a tight, hard-swinging band – Tardo Hammer (piano) and Nicki Parrott (bass) are regulars; only British drummer Steve Brown isn’t on the new CD.

Vache and Allred have both waxed lyrical to me about their musical rapport; indeed, Vache has enthused about the affinity he and Allred feel – both for material (a shared love of the music of trumpeter Blue Mitchell provided the foundation on top of which the new CD was created) and in the way they play it. And it was certainly in evidence on Monday, especially in the freewheeling climax to They Can’t Take That Away From Me when the two horns let rip with an unaccompanied bit of improvisation which underlined the similarities in the way their minds work.

A further touch of class was added by their pianist, Tardo Hammer, whose elegance and wit shone through on the playful Sweet Pumpkin and on his beguiling solo take on I Surrender, Dear.

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