Off Minor

Musings of a Jazz geek

Sunday at Coventry Jazz Festival 2007

Posted June 7, 2007

A mixture of stuff to fill the Sunday afternoon and evening (May 28th), all of it at the Cathedral ruins marquee, and all of it in paired sets. (Apologies for the disgraceful posting delay!)

Sunday Afternoon

Bheki Mseleku

Bheki Mseleku Quartet » Bheki Mseleku (piano), Gareth Lockrane (flute), Paul Duncan (bass), Gene Caldeazzo (percussion) «

The afternoon was filled with the double-bill of Bheki Mseleku, and then, secondly, Gwyneth Herbert and her quartet. I was feeling pretty knackered by this point and didn’t really respond to it as well as I could have done… The cold and the terrible bank holiday rains were beginning to set it too. Mseleku played a pretty solid hour and a bit, but it all seemed a bit tentative. Since he had to read their names off a piece of paper, I’m not sure, however, how long before the gig the band had actually first met… But, they were all pretty able… I liked Gene Caldeazzo’s strong polyrhythms… Gareth Lockrane was nice on flute, but struggled to really hold his own on the front-line (the flute itself tending to sound like a bit of a wash). The group seemed to end up playing for a little bit longer than they should have been, and the stage manager hopping up and down in the wings was really seriously distracting…

Gwyneth Herbert » Steve Holness (piano), Al Cherry (guitar), Sam Burgess (bass), Dave Price (percussion), Gwyneth Herbert (vocals) «

‘Jazz-folk diva’ Gwyneth Herbert was entertaining in the second part… but then I’m not generally one for singers, really, so it’s probably unfair for me to comment… I see that songs can quickly generate a wide range of moods, each lurching to some new angle or emotion, and this set was certainly more varied than Mseleku’s. Herbert is a fine vocalist, I think, but, with all this ‘diva’ business it all gets a bit ‘show-business’… It was also frustratingly undemocratic; with Herbert being the single focus, the band never really got much of a chance to stretch out.

Sunday Evening

Abram Wilson

Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta » Abram Wilson (trumpet/vocals), Errol Linton (harmonica), Giorgio Serci (guitar), Gary Crosby (bass), Patrick Clahar (alto saxophone), Ben Burrell (piano), Rod Youngs (drums), Denys Baptiste (t.sax), Michael Mwenso (trombone), Andy Grappy (sousaphone) «

I had seen this ‘act’ last year at the London Jazz Festival, and this Coventry performance was essentially an exact repeat of everything they had done then… It’s basically the stage-version of Wilson’s most recent CD, Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta (although, disclaimer: I’ve never actually listened to the CD itself). Supposedly it tells the story of some kid wandering across the United States doing something or other with some people, and something else with someone who may or may not be his uncle, and who may or may not run a Jazz club somewhere in the Southern states… The tunes are interspersed with spoken word from Wilson, apparently carrying the story along, but they don’t really make sense by themselves; they sound like fragments of something that may be expanded upon in the record (?), but as fragments they don’t really make sense, and I found it hard (on both occasions) to really follow what was going on.

The band itself is fantastic; most of them Dune records stalwarts, Tomorrows Warriors alumni, etc. Wilson is, himself, a New Orleans ex pat, this record clearly dedicated to that origin of music. The band is tight, but fluid and easy, with strong blues and roots… I really liked the stuff coming from Denys Baptiste, some rip-roaring solos… Abram Wilson himself played pert trumpet lines… The drummer was really expressive… Although I had seen them before, there was more fire overall, this time around… A solid act, fabulously entertaining, and solid swinging jazz (traditional sounding arrangements, but present and fresh). Maybe would be better if they could sort out the weird nonsensical vocal bits (make the narrative a bit more obvious) and loosen up the rigorous ‘act’ a bit (hearing the same ‘off the cuff’ banter on both occasions gets a bit annoying).

Andy SheppardAndy Sheppard and James Morton

Andy Sheppard and the Luna-tics feat. James Morton » Andy Sheppard (tenor/soprano saxes), James Morton (alto sax), Dan Moore (piano), Spencer Brown (double bass), Andy Tween (drums) «

Technically the jazz festival wouldn’t be over until the end of Monday’s Blues in the Ruins but, out of habit, I always miss that bit out… Andy Sheppard brought a fine close to my festival, however, bringing his group the Luna-Tics. Although, I’m not exactly sure what that means, since the rhythm section appeared to have been bussed in, new to Sheppard and James Morton. It seemed to be something of a Sheppard-as-mentor (to Morton) project (if that’s not out of order); Sheppard seemed to be in tight control of the group, but there was a lot of delegation, leaving the majority of solo time to Morton. The group underlined by a powerful drum n bass drum and bass, twin bright saxes making it sound positively futuristic. Sheppard I find intriguing because his fluid, mellow soprano sax lines always seem to verge onto the edge of meandering Smooth, but his great improvisational skill just succeeds in pulling it back from the edge… He played tenor, too, on which he has a slightly more gruff and edgy style. The (young-ish) Morton played riffing post-boppish stuff, mixing in positively with the drum&bass. Specifically, they played a few solid 60’s standards, and then finished with a free-er revolving piece Sheppard called the ‘Hotel Suite’ (first piece: ‘Meet me in the Lobby’), which was apparently a work in progress, and based upon his touring experiences… Essentially this was the most straight-up, ‘safe’ band of the festival headliners, but Sheppard ensured it located itself somewhere much more forward looking than perhaps most other contemporary British post/neo-bop.

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