Review: Ipswich Jazz Festival




John Watson joins near sell-out crowds for the third Ipswich Jazz Festival and finds Ian Shaw, Jacqui Dankworth and others displaying energy in abundance

The key to running a successful jazz festival seems to be finding the right mix of musical depth combined with sheer good fun. Ipswich’s third festival certainly had this blend just right, ensuring that festival co-ordinator Neil Bateman and his team were rewarded with near sell-out crowds over the weekend, despite World Cup football matches clashing with the concerts.

The festival opened at the St Peter’s By The Waterfront arts centre with a show that was as much a party as a concert, featuring the vibrant Italian band Rumba de Bodas. The Bologna-based seven-piece group, featuring singer Rachel Doe, quickly had members of the audience on their feet with a blend of Latin, swing, gypsy music and soul. By the end of their furiously energetic, non-stop, two-hour show almost all members of the audience seemed to be either dancing or at least swaying vigorously.

Energy was also in abundance the following evening, when the festival presented its Stars At St Peter’s show, featuring the effervescent singer-pianist Ian Shaw and saxophonists Brandon Allen (Shaw and Allen pictured above right) and Vasilis Xenopoulos, backed by pianist Chris Ingham, bassist Arnie Somogyi and drummer George Double. The rhythm section really powered the whole show with extraordinary drive, and the horns blended excellently. High spots included Shaw eloquently singing Peace Is For Everyone, with Xenopoulos on soprano and Allen on tenor, and an unusual upbeat swing version of the ballad I Thought About You. The saxophonists, this time both on tenors, had a superb feature with Horace Silver’s Nica’s Dream.

I’ve long admired the mellow voice of Jacqui Dankworth (pictured left), who gave the closing concert of the festival with husband singer-pianist Charlie Wood and guitarist Chris Allard. After Wood - a soulful singer in his own right - performed some of his own compositions with Allard, Jacqui opened her set with a serene version of the ballad A House Is Not A Home, followed by more slow-paced pieces including The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. But there were some excellent uptempo pieces, too, featuring effective vocal duets between Wood and Dankworth on Duke Ellington repertoire: I’m Beginning To See The Light, and It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). Wood and Allard, by the way, will have a new album of their own out soon.

The festival also featured some good regional bands: the South Suffolk Youth Jazz Ensemble opened the Stars At St Peter’s show and the big band Horn Factory gave a dynamic afternoon performance at the same venue, including a particularly fine version of Joe Henderson’s Latin piece Recorda Me. Around the town, guitarist Simon Hurley and bassist Rob Palmer performed at The Arbor House and saxophonist Johnny Herbert, guitarist Vincent Jewell and bassist Edward Morgan gave a performance of soulful swingers at The Duke Of York. The festival also featured jazz movies, exhibitions and workshops.

Photos by John Watson, whose photography exhibition, The Jazz Moment, runs until July 7 at the Sub Arts Gallery in St Peter’s Street, Ipswich.


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