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Monday, April 28, 2014

Darlington Jazz Festival. Saturday Afternoon April 26

(Review by Russell)
This year’s Darlington Jazz Festival, the third, incorporated a new, additional venue across town at the Head of Steam (Darlington Railway Museum). Gigs at the Forum Music Centre on Borough Road have become an established part of the region’s jazz scene - the venue hosted an eve of festival workshop and a full day of jazz - and the opportunity to showcase the music at other venues showed commendable ambition.
Trumpeter Matt Roberts led a Thursday evening workshop, participants ranging from pre-teens to sprightly octogenarians, and the results of their efforts would be heard on Sunday afternoon at the Railway Museum.
Saturday, the first full day of action, got underway at one o’clock with an array of the musicians of tomorrow on stage in the main hall. Durham County Youth Big Band (MD Shaune Eland) don’t do things by half. A quick head count mustered something like seven reeds, six trombones, six trumpets and a rhythm section of piano, guitar, bass and drums. All did themselves proud during a varied programme (Mercy, Mercy, Mercy and Cantaloupe Island to name but two). Matt Roberts joined the ensemble on flugel on the latter number. The weekend’s big draw - Mark Nightingale - took time out to listen to the band (the trombones passed with flying colours) then suggested he join them on his own composition Carnifest! An occasion none of those present will ever forget.
From big band stars of tomorrow to an established duo of today. In the bar Zoe Gilby and Andy Champion performed a voice and bass set of jazz standards (Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, Nice Work If You Cab Get It, Well You Needn’t) to cotemporary pieces from the likes of Kate Bush (Kashka From Baghdad) and Tom Waits (Way Down in the Hole). The set opener set the standard. Pink Floyd’s Money illustrated Gilby’s vocal dexterity and Champion’s imperious technique. First rate, as always. Pianist Jamil Sheriff arrived in good time to play a set in the hall with Pete Turner (double bass) and drummer Dave Walsh. The room wasn’t full (the same spot during last year’s event featuring James Mainwaring experienced the same thing) but it should have been because this was jazz piano trio playing at its best. Applause sporadic, the jazz terrific. I’ll Remember April and Pannonica respected the tunes yet all three musicians stretched out in absorbing improvisatory sections. Original compositions were heard - Bluish (great left hand), a swinging Crazy Happy, Trio Piece No.1 and The Contortionist – and those who were there to hear them loved them. A quality set.
Tyneside’s Debra Milne Ensemble returned once more to the Forum to play a set in the bar. Festival goers keen to slake a thirst made for a typical ‘social occasion’ hubbub. The musicians all too aware of the situation got on with it and hit the ground running with Billie’s Bounce. Vocalist Milne’s song-writing partner guitarist Steve Glendinning and redoubtable bassist Paul Grainger taking the solos. Blame Game (comp. Milne and Glendinning) has become something of a fixture in the set list, Killer Joe is certainly that and Betty Carter’s Tight was as described - tight! The man at the back - drummer Tim Johnston - provided the propulsive fuel, Grainger the swing, Glendinning the comprehensive solo flights and Milne the post-bop, sometime original, lyric.
The afternoon session concluded with a roaring big band set from the Darlington Big Band. On home turf, bandleader Richie Emmerson was on first name terms with more than a few in the audience with many a wise crack from stage and floor. Structural engineers were called in after the first number Younger Than Springtime. The culprit responsible for the damage to the building’s foundations being none other than powerhouse trumpeter Kevin Eland. The Thrill Is Gone (‘Aye, it is’  confessed a lone voice) heard thrilling trumpet playing from Young Contender Tom Hill (were we in Darlington or Jericho?). East of the Sun to Collaboration (a feature for Dave Brocklesby, trombone) to a new number for the band - Oliver Nelson’s Full Nelson - featuring tremendous tenor from MD Emmerson, the ensemble and soloists hit the bull’s eye. Ace composer/arranger Gordon Goodwin regularly gets a name-check on Bebop Spoken Here but to appear in the same sentence as Tim Rice and Elton John must be a first!  The Great Phat One rearranged the Rice/John tune I Just Can’t Wait to be King from the film The Lion King. Trumpeter Mick Hill showed Hill Jr that there is life in the old dog yet and Andy Bennett (alto) tore it up. Bennett, no slouch on clarinet, led the march on St Louis Blues before switching back to alto to tear it up a second time on Stolen Moments. A great set, the band returned to the bar to celebrate.
Russell.

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