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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 in HeraldScotland on Sunday July 24th

Carol Kidd & David 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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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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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012: Orange Kellin & Morten Gunnar Larsen

Orange Kellin & Morten Gunnar Larsen, Spiegeltent, Monday July 23rd ****

Rain beating down on the tent’s roof, damp coats, uncomfortable Spiegeltent seats, and two guys onstage who looked like they’d taken a wrong turn en route to a convention for Latin teachers: the early evening jazz festival gig on Monday did not promise to be a joyful affair. But the duo concert featuring the versatile Norwegian pianist Larsen (last heard here last year accompanying a singer on a programme of cabaret songs) and Swedish-born clarinettist Kellin proved to be well worth running the risk of contracting trench foot from the George Square mud.

These musicians are keepers of the flame of early and classic jazz styles and, on Monday, they exhumed tunes from the repertoires of three pioneering jazz men – and made them as fresh and thrilling as they must have been when they were written, in some cases almost a century ago. With their rousing opener, Jelly Roll Morton’s Big Fat Ham, any thought of this music being of purely historic interest went out the tent window; this was thrilling, exhilarating stuff which instantly hooked the audience and kept everyone pinned to their seats for a solid 90 minutes.

With his squawky, authentic New Orleans clarinet sound, Kellin complements Larsen’s delicate, refined piano style perfectly and what was particularly appealing was the fact that each of the musicians had a direct link to one of the other two composers whose work was featured: in the 1970s, Kellin worked with the great trumpeter Jabbo Smith, whose tender ballads I Owe It All To You and Must Be Right; Can’t Be Wrong were highlights, while the young Larsen met the legendary ragtime pianist Eubie Blake at around the same time. In other words, Monday’s audience was three degrees separated from a certain Scott Joplin…

First published in The Herald, Wednesday, July 25th

Programme:

Big Fat Ham

Wild Man Blues

Shreveport Stomp

Absolutely

How Could Cupid Be So Stupid?

I Owe It All To You

Katie Red, Who’s Been Sleepin’ in My Bed?

Love Will Find a Way

Chevy Chase

Must Be Right; Can’t Be Wrong

Bandana Days

You’re Lucky to Me – Memories of You

Frog-i-more

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock

Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock, Spiegeltent, Sunday July 31st ****

The last night of the jazz festival got off to a jubilant start – thanks to the Edinburgh-based Nova Scotia Jazz Band, which included two special guests, Jack Wilson (drums) and Brian Kellock (the pianist who recently won the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Instrumentalist in the UK, and who has probably notched up more diverse jazz festival engagements this week than any other single musician).

Playing to a stowed-out Spiegeltent, the band dished up a programme of rousing Dixieland and classic jazz tunes and had feet stomping from the off. This was happy, unpretentious jazz – and it was a treat to get to hear such a top-notch band playing it. Nova Scotia may be a relatively young outfit (only formed a few years ago), but the front-line of John Burgess (clarinet and tenor sax) and Mike Daly (cornet) gel so well you would think they’d been playing together for decades.

Among the many highlights – most of which were crammed into the first half – were the sultry ballads New Orleans and When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, both of which showcased the warmth and richness of this ensemble’s sound and, especially, the lovely burnished tone of Mike Daly’s cornet, and his lyrical style. Kellock, who was in dynamic form, ramped the band’s performance up the Richter scale on a thrilling Riverboat Shuffle and After You’ve Gone, before duetting with Burgess (on saxophone) on an unforgettable and moving version of Georgia, dedicated to their old friend, the late Tam White (see clip below).

(First published in The Scotsman, Tuesday August 2nd.)

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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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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Lollo Meier & Tcha Limberger Quartet

Lollo Meier & Tcha Limberger Quartet, Spiegeltent, Edinburgh           ****

A death in the family – no, Amy Winehouse was no relation – meant that the great gypsy guitarist Fapy Lafertin, a musician who has performed at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival at regular intervals in its 33-year history, had to cancel his appearance on Saturday night, but the concert he was headlining went ahead nevertheless.

It may have lacked the swagger and star quality that the charismatic Lafertin brings to proceedings, but there was still plenty of that gypsy passion and colour in evidence in the form of his guitarist cousin, Lollo Meier, and, especially, the young, blind violinist Tcha Limberger. This band, including Lafertin, is often billed as “gyspy jazz royalty” and it on Saturday it was easy to see why: there’s a real sense of history and authenticity about these players who grew up in a similar culture to their musical – and gypsy – forefather, Django Reinhardt.

Although Meier – who looked, from halfway back the Spiegeltent, like Errol Flynn (appropriately enough: his cousin looks like George Brent) – produced dazzling solos, especially on a finger-busting Japanese Sandman, it was Limberger who held centre stage and had most opportunity to impress the audience with his lyrical, loose and virtuosic violin playing.

His vocals were a different matter – I Surrender Dear started out promisingly, with Limberger singing quietly, violin still tucked under his chin, in a manner reminiscent of Chet Baker. But as he began imitating a trumpet and veering from very loud to very soft, the initial charm wore off – and the effect, though enthusiastically received by much of the audience, was a bit like a deranged hyaena singing the blues.

(First published in The Herald, Monday, July 25th)


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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Leroy Jones Quintet

Leroy Jones Quintet, Spiegeltent, Friday July 22nd                                           ***                                                                                          The 33rd Edinburgh Jazz Festival started with a whimper rather than a bang. Why? Because the early evening gig in the Spiegeltent felt like an exercise in time-filling until something more exciting came along.

Trumpeter Leroy Jones may tick all the boxes – he’s a born and bred New Orleans musician, he’s served as a sideman to Harry Connick Jr and he’s got an entertaining stage presence which helps draw in the audience. However, the reality was that his gig was lacklustre; the playing largely unremarkable.

Sharing front line duties with his wife, the trombonist Katja Toivola, Jones offered one hackneyed standard from the trad repertoire after another. Fine for the tourists on Bourbon Street, perhaps, but, really if we have to hear another version of China Boy or Chinatown in our lifetimes, it really should be something spectacular and/or different.

That said, Jones’s peculiarity is that he sounds like a modern player – shades of Clifford Brown and Miles Davis were evident in his solos which veered between fast flurries of notes and cool minimalism – but playing in the New Orleans style. Based on the evidence onstage on Friday night, however, it’s not always a winning combination. Much more appealing were his vocal numbers, but the star of the show was his pianist-for-the-night, David Patrick, whose colourful, rollicking solos should have been the spark that ignited the band …

(First published in The Scotsman, Monday, July 25th)

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