Review: Scarborough Jazz Festival 2019

Brian Payne reviews the 2019 edition of Scarborough's jazz festival, particularly impressed by Clement Regert's Wild Card, Tony Kofi and Jim Mullen

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Clement Regert at Scarborough 2019. All photography in this article © Brian Payne

The 17th annual Scarborough Jazz Festival took place in the magnificent coastal setting of Scarborough Spa over the weekend of 20 to 22 September.

Friday’s session began at midday with Jasmine, a Leeds-based band led by alto saxophonist Jasmine Whalley. Influenced by music from Braxton Cooke, Soweto Kinch and Shabaka Hutchings they delivered an exhilarating mix of impro jazz and hip-hop originals written by Whalley. With Ben Haskins on guitar, George Macdonald piano, Owen Burns bass and George Hall drums, Jasmine is a band with a promising future.

Regert’s band Wild Card is a must-see if you get the opportunity

Wild Card followed with a vigorous set of hard bop, funk, jazz rock and Afro/Latin beats. Guitarist Clement Regert led with core partners organist Andrew Noble and drummer Sophie Alloway plus Graeme Flowers on trumpet, Chris Grant sax and Rosie Turton trombone. Tight, foot-tapping numbers composed by Regert were combined with arrangements of Fever and Paint It Black delivered by guest singer Imaani. Flowers was absolutely top class. Regert’s band is a must-see if you get the opportunity.

Later, John Law’s Re-Creations with Law on piano, Sam Crockatt sax, James Agg bass and Paulo Adamo drums served up an imaginative set of re-arranged standards and indie numbers including There May be Trouble Ahead, Monk’s Well You Needn’t and splendid interpretations of Satie’s Gymnopedie 1 and Miles Davis’s So What.

The Freddie Gavita Quartet took Friday’s early evening spot with a bevy of originals composed by Gavita including Yearning, about a painful journey on a London night bus; Pull Your Socks Up in recollection of his school report when aged 9 and Turn Around dedicated to the trumpeter Richard Turner. The set, with Gavita on trumpet and flugelhorn, Tom Cawley piano, Calum Gourley bass and Joshua Blackmore drums was particularly well received by the audience.

Liane Carroll was on next with a matchless solo performance on the grand piano. Each song was delivered with total ease and often snippets of personal history: Bring Me Sunshine – a favourite of hers when growing up, Paved Paradise, All Of Me (her nan used to sing it), Summertime and My Baby Just Cares For Me amongst others. Carroll’s irrepressible humour abounded throughout – the audience loved it.

Stepping out of his role as festival compère, Alan Barnes closed Friday night with a first-call band assembled to celebrate his 60th birthday. Its name, Alan Barnes + 11, recalls the Art Pepper + 11 recording of Modern Jazz Classics in 1959 – the year of Barnes’s birth. He had asked Mark Nightingale to write charts of pieces from that year and the repertoire unfolded tonight. It included: Mingus’s Boogie Stop Shuffle, Brubeck’s Take Five, Mulligan’s As Catch Can, Ellington’s Single Petal Of A Rose and Monk’s Little Rootie Tootie. With superb soloing all round this performance was spectacular.

Saturday began with Sam Rapley’s Fabled – Rapley on sax & clarinet, Alex Munk guitar, Matt Robinson piano, Conor Chaplin bass and Will Glaser on drums. The band neatly mingled jazz, folk, rock riffs and classical music. All numbers were penned by Rapley and inspired by novels he or band members had read. They combined dramatic sax crescendos, climactic guitar riffs and driving bass and drums with passionate clarinet, soft piano and slower, soulful lines. Fabled are clearly another outfit to look out for. They were followed by Kate Peters and her big band – 18 top-class musicians conducted by Graham Hearn. This was a heady tribute to Ella Fitzgerald on the centenary of her birth with splendid arrangements of songs she had recorded over the years including Black Magic, Cheek To Cheek, Shiny Stockings, Pick Yourself Up and April In Paris. Peters has an exceptionally wide-ranging and expressive voice and she delivered each number with panache.

The stand-out set on Saturday had to be Tony Kofi & The Organisation (pictured by Brian Payne) which delivered a smashing combination of post-bop classics, blues and soul. With Kofi on baritone, Simon Fernsby guitar, Pete Whittaker organ and Pete Cater drums the set included Boss Allegro, Search For Peace, Full House, Moontrane and Ready ’n’ Able. This was some session and the audience’s loud appreciation showed it.

The Clark Tracey Quintet came on later. Tracey’s current line up of James Copus on trumpet, Sean Payne alto sax, Elliott Samson piano and James Owston on double bass is a cracker. Their set included Wheeler’s Foxy Trot, Coltrane’s Naima (with excellent solos from Payne and Copus), Loesser’s If I Were A Bell and Feldman’s Joshua (with superb soloing from Owston). Samson was a consistent force on piano and Tracey as expected supplied a master class in percussion.

Dave Newton followed with a solo performance on the Bösendorfer grand but for some reason the piano had been placed in a strange position which hid him from much of the audience. His playing was superlative as always and his rendition of Pat Metheny’s Always And Forever was a particular high spot. I had to miss the next performance – Jeremy Sassoon’s Ray Charles Project – as sometimes there is only so much music you can absorb in a day.

Sunday afternoon was seen in by New Jazz Extempore with pianist and leader Andrea Vicari, Yazz Ahmed trumpet and flugelhorn, Alba Nacinovich vocals, Rosa Brunello bass and Dave Hamblett drums. Their original compositions were written by Vicari, Ahmed and Nacinovich. I think Nacinovich has a good voice but the electronic synthesizing that made her sound like an echoing choir was over employed. Ahmed was excellent on flugelhorn, especially on Lullaby For A Dream, Brunello was mesmerising on bass and Hamblett on drums was superb, particularly on Vicari’s Borovets.

A distinct contrast in style was introduced by Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents and their colourful set of Andalusian folk and flamenco rhythms. This interspersed Paco de Lucia compositions with arrangements reflecting the influence of Spanish music on composers and musicians such as Abdullah Ibrahim and Buena Vista Social Club. With Roland Sutherland on flute, Mark Lockheart sax, Phil Robson guitar and Demi Garcia on percussion the band were on fire. The combination of Graciela Rodriguez’s stirring vocals and the quick-fire dancing of Jesus Olmedo was dazzling.

Bonsai is a highly talented band with Rory Ingham on trombone, Dominic Ingham violin, Toby Comeau keys, Joe Lee bass and Jonny Mansfield drums. They used to be called Jam Experiment but now the violin has replaced the alto sax. The band combined prog jazz, fusion and funk with elements of folk and swing jazz violin. Some nice numbers but unfortunately too much synth often obscured acoustic clarity.

Sunday evening saw Partisans unleash a battery of high-octane jazz and rock beats on the Grand Hall’s audience. This was powerful stuff. Julian Siegel on sax and bass clarinet, Phil Robson guitar, Thaddeus Kelly bass and Gene Calderazzo on drums hit us with a dynamic set of originals including That’s Not His Bag (about the pandemonium that can affect airport travellers), 3.15 On The Dot (about a punctual groundhog in Robson’s US garden) and The Overthink (dedicated to the lady behind the counter at Limerick Station). Their turbo-charged delivery went down a treat. Could this festival get any better? Well, yes it could.

Jim Mullen’s Volunteers (Jim pictured by Brian Payne) strode purposefully on stage at 8.45 on the dot and they proceeded to turn up the dial with a hard-bop performance of sizzling intensity. Mullen had been seriously ill and unable to play guitar for several months. To get back in the saddle he asked friends if they’d volunteer to form a band for this purpose and they said yes. And what a line up it was: Gareth Lockrane on flute, Steve Fishwick trumpet, Alan Barnes alto and baritone, Julien Siegel soprano, tenor & bass clarinet, Mark Nightingale trombone, Gareth Williams piano, Mick Hutton bass, Tristan Mailliot drums and Jim on guitar. Six originals and three standards were arranged by Lockrane, enabling soloing from each musician at the highest level. To say the session was exciting would be an understatement – the tumultuous applause in the Grand Hall shook the cliffs of Scarborough.