Review: More jazz in Norwich

Bruce Lindsay spends a few late nights in a tent and is rewarded with three enjoyable but contrasting performances at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival

The 2018 Norfolk and Norwich Festival may have kicked off with David McAlmont’s superb Billie Holiday At Carnegie Hall show, but for the rest of the fortnight jazz was pretty thin on the ground. Fortunately, programming in the Spiegeltent in the festival’s second week managed to bring jazz back into the spotlight with a series of late-night gigs. (That’s Norfolk-late, not Soho-late – they started at 10.00pm.)

Barb Jungr (pictured right by Steve Ullathorne) brought her own personal interpretations of the songs of Bob Dylan to the Spiegeltent on Tuesday 22 May, singing – and occasionally playing harmonica - accompanied by Jamie Safir on keyboard and Dudley Phillips on double bass. The venue – a 100-year-old cross between a circus tent and a nightclub – suited Jungr’s cabaret-style approach. Although Dylan has a 55-year career to choose from, Jungr focused on the classics with opener Things Have Changed from 2000 being the most recent recording to make the set (if I’ve got my chronology right).

Some of Dylan’s best-known songs followed: I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight; Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright; It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue; Chimes Of Freedom. Her slow, waltz-time, version of I Want You transmitted a poignancy that’s missing from Dylan’s rather jaunty original. The prospect of Dylan songs performed by a jazz/cabaret singer appealed to the sizeable crowd and Jungr’s set was extremely well received. She’s an engaging performer with an easy-going sense of humour – I particularly enjoyed her explanation of If Not For You as coming "… from when Dylan was happy – which was a mercifully short period".

Thursday’s concert from Binker and Moses (pictured left) took us to another corner of the jazz world as the young tenor sax and drums duo performed a powerful and energetic set. The two men presented a notable visual contrast. Saxophonist Binker Golding stood stage right, side-on to the crowd, stared alternately at his musical partner and off into space and played with such intensity that he looked for much of the time as if he might explode. Moses Boyd played with equal intensity, but even the most complex patterns and polyrhythms failed to disrupt his serene facial expression.

The set showcased music from their recent album, Journey To The Mountain Of Forever, an impressively wide-ranging record. Intoxication From The Jahvmonishi Leaves was an immediate hit, setting a few brave souls a-dancing. Fete By The River – a close relative of Sonny Rollins’s St Thomas – was a highlight and proved that the duo can swing. Golding even threw in a chorus of I’ll Do Anything for the musical theatre lovers in the audience. When I stood in front of the stage, the duo sounded loud and clear. Standing towards the rear of the tent, however, I felt that the sound balance moved too far in favour of the drums. Not that this bothered the dozen or so people seated in two reserved booths – they kept up their chatter without once seeming to listen to the music. Their loss – Binker & Moses are one of the most creative young combos we have.

Ashley Henry’s Friday night gig drew another pleasingly large crowd, who were eager to hear this young pianist. The tall, slender, Henry dwarfed the keyboard (sadly, the logistics of a tented auditorium and a succession of early evening performances that ranged from literary discussions to acrobats to circus performers made it impossible to put a proper acoustic piano on stage): his between songs patter was friendly and good-natured. The keys, bass and drum trio was joined by vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett for the last few numbers.

Henry’s been creating quite a buzz lately, but this was my first chance to hear him live – it was a real pleasure to hear someone who really does seem to live up to the hype. Henry draws on jazz, soul and hip-hop to create a lyrical, melodic and engaging music that by the look of the audience has an appeal for fans from a wide-age spectrum. Most of the set was devoted to tracks from Henry’s Easter EP. These included his gorgeous piano-trio arrangement of rapper Nas’s The World Is Yours – a tune that sampled Ahmad Jamal’s I Love Music, so Henry’s arrangement brings things almost full circle. Adams-Burnett’s arrival added another dimension to the music: she’s charismatic, passionate and soulful, a welcome presence on stage. She joined for Pressure, a ballad called (I think) Fickle Feelings, from Henry’s forthcoming album, and Easter. Henry's performance drew my Norfolk and Norwich Festival to a close on a high.

Bruce Lindsay

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