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Thursday 6: Vieux Carre Jazzmen - The Holystone, Whitley Road, Holystone, North Tyneside NE27 0DA. Tel: 0191 266 6173. 1:00pm. Free. OUTDOOR gig.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Scarborough Jazz Festival 2019. Sunday Sept. 22. Evening Session. Partisans and Jim Mullen and the Volunteers.

Partisans: Julian Siegel (reeds), Phil Robson (guitar), Thaddeus Kelly (bass guitar), Gene Calderazzo (drums).
(Review/photos by Steve T).

Mr Birkett, his trio and guests on keyboard and clarinet had them dancing in the aisles so Partisans were already onstage by the time I returned to the main hall. I'd seen them before and enjoyed it but this was better; much better. 

The second piece was That's Not His Bag but we were assured it referred to Easyjet and not James Brown. Robson - having whet our appetite with Dankworth - was playing pedalled up guitar and crazy chords, weaving solos in and out of Siegel's sax and I'll be amazed if the guitarist isn't familiar with prog guitar maestro Steve Howe.

Overthink rocked things up nicely, bass guitar pumping and squelching like a heavy metal band, guitar set at eleven and even the arrival of sax somehow managed not to tone things down. It was clearly a bit much for some, covering their ears a bit of a giveaway, but Scarborough is a fiercely across the board festival and they're used to the esoteric. 

Right on cue, they demonstrated their quieter side with 3:15 on the Dot, named for a groundhog in New York called Barry and featuring bass clarinet, then guitar over cymbals and barely perceptible bass.

Drums set up a groove and guitar chords and a heavy bass sound found them firmly in Weather Report territory, guitar and some effects pedals playing it close to Zawinul's 70s/ 80s arsenal of keyboards.

Last Chance had Siegel back on bass clarinet, Robson bending notes, running through his pedals 'til he found the one marked jazz-rock, from the heady days of Lifetime and Mahavishnu Mk 1. In the best traditions of those times, it was then taken down to a trickle with gentle rhythm behind a remarkably fluid solo from bass clarinet, a notoriously tempestuous instrument.

Jim Mullen's Volunteers: Jim Mullen (guitar), Gareth Lockrane (flute, arranger), Steve Fishwick (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mark Nightingale (trombone), Alan Barnes, Julien Siegel (reeds), Gareth Williams (piano), Nick Hatton (bass), Tristram Mayo (drums).

Following a period of serious illness, Jim Mullen has found himself an elder statesman of British Jazz, a veritable national treasure.

I first saw him with jazz-funk outfit Morrissey-Mullen at the start of the eighties, next backing soul singer Terry Callier, then giving a masterclass followed by an organ trio performance at Sage Gateshead, and most recently with vintage British funk band Kokomo supporting the Average White Band at the London Jazz Festival. The local guitar teacher in Crook refers to him as Big Thumbs, reflecting his unique style of emulating his hero Wes Montgomery.

The all-star assembly more or less took turns taking solos, the guitarist taking one during each piece. Lockrane was visibly active keeping everything together from the stage and Mullen was keen to heap praise on him.

The entire set was taken from his current album The Volunteers, a mixture of Mullen originals: Medications, Spare Change, Overactive and Smart Money, plus a sprinkling of standards: When I Fall in Love, Spring is Here and Back in the Day.

Smart Money was the final piece and illustrated the tightrope jazz musicians operate from every night. Mullen finished his solo and turned to Williams and, when he didn't respond, turned quickly to Lockrane and back to the pianist who opened his solo. Great stuff.

Though I relish being amongst the youngest, I can't believe this festival doesn't attract a younger audience. There really is something on offer for everybody and the oldies for the most part, lap up the multitude of sounds the festival presents them with. Perhaps the seaside setting makes the cool young people think it's a bastion for the elderly. 

I was  also encouraged to see the CD store attracting so much interest, and I read somewhere that sales of CDs in jazz and the other genres are holding up well, despite the decline in pop music old and new.     
Steve T       

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