Leith Jazz & Blues Festival, Saturday June 7, various venues ***
Saturday’s weather proved ideal for the first full day of the fourth Leith Jazz & Blues Festival: the sun shone and the forceful winds proved handy in powering punters from venue to venue – especially helpful this year when some of the venues in this expanding festival were relatively far flung.
The evening belonged to singers – indeed, the night’s proceedings were pretty much carved up by three well-known Edinburgh vocalists, and it was impossible to get round all three – but before that, the place to be was new venue The Scotch Malt Whisky Society where even standing room was at a premium for the festival debut of Trio AAB which served an uplifting blend of funky beats, catchy tunes and a dash of musical anarchy in the sort of gentleman’s club surroundings that Bertie Wooster would not look out of place in.
Trio AAB’s was an attentive audience which had clearly come specially to hear the music; over at Sofi’s Bar, the gently swinging bass-guitar duo of Ed Kelly and David Series didn’t have such luck – and struggled to be heard over the chatter of regulars. It was the same story with the evening gigs that took place in restaurants – rather than pubs or bars. Diners were there to dine; the music was incidental unless you managed to secure a seat within listening distance of the band.
At Credo, singer Becc Sanderson was good-natured despite her soft voice and Steve Hamilton’s classy keyboard playing being pretty much drowned out by the ambient dining and chatting noise. Fellow singer Lorna Reid and the afore-mentioned David Series fared better at the Italian restaurant Anfora – partly due to the lay-out of the place and the fact that their repertoire comprised more uptempo material and songs, notably her country-style Killing the Blues, on which they both played guitar.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday June 9
Bobby Wellins Quartet, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Sunday June 30th ****
If the Glasgow Jazz Festival organisers thought that they were cruising on the home stretch by the last 24 hours of the event, they clearly had another thing coming when, on Sunday morning, word came through that British piano great Stan Tracey was cancelling his appearance at the closing Fruitmarket concert that night. Ill health forced the octogenarian to reluctantly pull out, but the rest of the band – bassist Andrew Cleyndert, drummer Clark Tracey and prodigal Glasgow son, tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins – came north.
What was clear from the outset was that these musicians have played together so long and know each other so well that they are completely tuned in to the workings of each others’ minds. On the stand-out number, a cheeky My Funny Valentine, the ever-inventive Cleyndert seemed to finish Wellins’s phrases – such is their rapport.
You might think that a replacement pianist would struggle to fit immediately in, but Glasgow-based Paul Harrison – said to have been personally selected by Tracey as his dep for the night – did just that. And with considerable style. His Funny Valentine solo turned into a elegant duet with Cleyndert: it was as if they were operating as a unit. On Lover Man, taken at a brisk tempo and imbued with a Latin feel, Harrison stole the show with a dynamic, colourful solo which was nothing short of dazzling.
Earlier, Paul Towndrow (soprano saxophone) and Steve Hamilton (piano) had revealed that theirs is another class double-act. Their short set featured a string of original numbers, though the undoubted highlight was a gorgeous interpretation of a classic ballad, The Very Thought of You.
First published in The Herald, Tuesday July 2