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Mandela Day Concert Festival Theatre Rob Adams At the end... [Derived headline]

July 21, 2014

Mandela Day Concert

Festival Theatre

Rob Adams

At the end of a week when action was stepped up to try and stop Edinburgh losing the Picture House in Lothian Road as a music venue, the city's jazz festival's tribute to Nelson Mandela underlined its value as an amenity.

While there were those in attendance who would prefer the comforts a theatre affords, much of the music on offer would have benefited from the closer musician-audience relationship that came as standard at the Picture House.

Both the Mahotella Queens and their younger colleagues Freshlyground present music that's vibrant and as much about the dance steps it generates as the notes it contains.

Indeed, the former's spokeswoman, at a sprightly 72, is walking, sashaying proof of the youth-preserving properties that 50 years of synchronised booty-shaking brings and while their ululating voices have become a little strident with age (the youngest of the three, a new arrival at 29, is 40 years junior to her nearest-in-age), the vigour of their performance was uplifting.

The evening began sedately, with pianist Abdullah Ibrahim picking out a series of hymn-like phrases, folksong melodies and the occasional Thelonious Monk-like detour. Now approaching 80, he's one of a very small band of survivors from the generation that gave South African jazz its cache of defiant celebration, although this was more of a meek meander.

Celebrations, as well as pockets of dancing in the auditorium, soon broke out, however, with Freshlyground.

Their relaxed but very together ensemble grooving cut across Afro pop, funky soul and George Benson-like smooth R&B and featured much nimble, splendidly choreographed, not to say athletic, footwork as well as neat saxophone-violin-keyboards embellishments.

Martin Kershaw- Julian Arguelles Quintet

Festival Theatre

Rob Adams

Last year's Edinburgh Jazz Festival saw Martin Kershaw cast as Paul Desmond.

This year, on a day that celebrated influential pianist and jazz theorist Lennie Tristano, he was given the role of another hero of the alto saxophone, Lee Konitz, and it says much about Kershaw's strengths as a musician that he's been able to give strong suggestions of both of these highly individual characters without diluting his own musical personality.

Kershaw and Julian Arguelles, walking in Konitz's partner, tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh's shoes, made a terrific partnership, their execution of tricky lines from the Tristano school they embraced such as Marsh's tongue-in-cheek Background Music convincingly capturing the exciting surge t hat became Konitz and Marsh's trademark as a team and that Marsh continued, often exultantly, afterwards with Pete Christlieb.

Compared to the opening Tristano-inspired set by French alto and soprano saxophonist Roby Glod's trio, which married technical proficiency to a flowing if ultimately rather detached style, the Kershaw-Arguelles quintet brought an emphatically human quality to the music.

There was passion, vulnerability and no little humour as pianist Brian Kellock left no room for doubt that Tristano's 3 17 East 22nd Street borrowed heavily from jazz standard Out Of Nowhere.

Topsy's stealthy blues-swing was delivered with brilliantly relaxed musicality, with drummer Alyn Cosker and bassist Ed Kelly knitting assuredly together into the groove and Kershaw and Arguelles showing an inspired level of understanding as their lines complemented and intertwined, and both the essential song quality of Fooling Myself (a hit for Billie Holiday) and the bebop heart of Tristano's pacey tribute to Charlie Parker, Lennie-Bird, glowed with creative clarity.

The Big Chris Barber Band

Queen's Hall

Alison Kerr

There was a sense of deja vu about the concert given on Friday at the Queen's Hall for the opening night of this year's jazz festival.

As the Big Chris Barber Band launched into a performance of Duke Ellington's glorious Rent Party Blues which stirred neck hairs into a standing ovation, memories of this British outfit's last visit to the Glasgow Jazz Festival flooded back.

And so it was for much of the evening, which seemed to follow the same programme (a mixture of classic New Orleans jazz tunes and spirituals, Ellington compositions and the wild card of Miles Davis's All Blues) and trigger the same pleasures and frustrations as that 2010 concert.

Among the pleasures of hearing this band are the fact that it offers a rare opportunity to hear 1920s Ellington being played so expertly and enthusiastically.

Its slick, exhilarating ensemble playing - especially when trios of clarinets, saxes or trumpets are featured playing in unison (as happens so often, to thrilling effect, on such early Ellington numbers as East St Louis Toodle-Oo and Hot And Bothered) - was a particular delight, and there were some ace solos, not least by star clarinettist Bert Brandsma.

Barber himself, now 84 and in a wheelchair, played some memorable solos when the spotlight (the stylish lighting also added to the concert's classiness) was on him but, unfortunately, the tear-your- hair-out frustration of being an audience member at one of his concerts was still very much present: it's nigh-on impossible to make out 90% of what he says because of his rushed delivery.

And what makes it even more infuriating is that the 10% that was intelligible was funny and/or fascinating.

Iain Hunter

Queen's Hall

Alison Kerr

Well, there's a first time for everything - and it's safe to say that Saturday night's concert by crooner Iain Hunter was the first jazz festival gig in which the headline act offered the audience a discount on mince (10 per cent, in case you're interested).

This, after all, was the Queen's Hall debut of the man known as "the Singing Butcher", and, boy, was he thrilled to be on that stage.

Anyone who attended his concert and had never heard him before, however, might have been forgiven for wondering if they had gatecrashed a mega wedding reception. Why? Not just because women got up and danced in a circle, but because the star seemed to know most of the members of the audience personally.

Likable and self-effacing though he was, Hunter did rather push his luck with the name-checks and dedications - so much so that it was tempting to seek out one of the former church's donations boxes to pass among the pews as a makeshift sick bucket.

So what is it - chummy banter aside - that made the audience go bonkers for the butcher? Well, he has an appealing, commanding voice and swinging style.

He sings the songs of Sinatra, Darin and co the way we remember hearing them.

Singing along is not discouraged; it's de rigueur. It's all very familiar and enjoyable.

And on Saturday, he had the accompaniment of a first-class band - led by Eliot Murray - featuring some of Scotland's top players; something he was clearly relishing. It would have been nice to hear some instrumental solos, but this wasn't a jazz concert; this was all about the singer and his rapport with the audience.

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Source: Herald, The (Scotland)

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