Reflections on the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2011

With a choice of over 50 shows spread over 10 days, all I can give is just a flavour of the Festival based on the 7 shows I managed to see. Virtually every form of jazz was available from New Orleans ‘traditional’ jazz to contemporary compositions. In the case of the latter, home-grown musicians whose work I enjoyed included Dave Milligan, Colin Steele (Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra); Tom Gibbs (Tom Gibbs Quartet); Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson (New Focus)

I was struck by the consistently high quality of musicianship just mentioning as examples, the Swedish Jacob Karlzon Trio with their contrasting lyrical and powerful approach, and, from Texas, Sherman Robertson’s earthy blues guitar performance;
also, not forgetting Scottish based Brazilian Mario Caribe whose Jazz Bossa,with vocalist, Miriam Aida and percussionist Edmundo Carneiro, proved a real treat, as did US trumpeter Tom Hagens interpretation of the Miles Davis Miles Ahead album, with Ken Peplowski taking one of the solos on clarinet.

Personally, I found the Konrad Wiesnieski – New Focus concert the most intriguing. He had brought together an ensemble made up of a standard jazz quartet including pianist and arranger Euan Stevenson along with a string quartet and harpist drawn from the RNSO. The meeting of musicians drawn from different backgrounds worked so harmoniously thanks to Stevenson’s arranging skills. It was obvious how much enjoyment they derived in making music together. Wiesnieski’s prowess as a saxophonist continues to impress with his superb all round ability. On ballads, his interpretations give his saxophone a singing quality.

His set featured numbers from the Stan Getz Focus album recorded  in collaboration with composer and arranger Eddie Sauter, as well as his own and Stevenson’s compositions. This was the first time the ensemble had performed together live. Word is that there may be some tour dates in the offing. If so, it would be worth checking out.

Timing the Festival one week earlier seemed to bring in extremely healthy audience numbers. In past years there was always competition in the final few days with the start of the Fringe. This year there was no such problem.

One worrying aspect is the situation of the Mardi Gras in the Grassmarket on the first Saturday of the Festival. This year, without public funding, donations were being asked for. With 3 hours of toe tapping ‘feel good’ music on display, a donation of a few
pounds seemed a small price to pay to ensure the survival of this piece of Edinburgh tradition. On the day, the weather was very kind and when this event is taking place where else would a jazz fan want to be!

The Festival organisers should be congratulated for assembling such a marvellous array of artists. There are just too many to mention whom I would like to have seen but there is always next year!


Pushkart Derby:- P in the Bay III 23 July 2011

Okay something was wrong from the start. It was an outside gig of marathon proportions being staged in Scotlandand it wasn’t raining. Not only was it dry, it was warm and sunny throughout even hot at times and that was before the bands hit the stage once more. Maybe because the event was being staged for Cancer Research Uk the weather Gods decided to smile on the event.

Preceded by the Pushkart race itself, 12-00 sharp saw Jake and Elwood Blues took to the stage to bring to the burgeoning crowd all the best of the songs from the classic movie. All the classic numbers were in evidence and it is no doubt that these guys know how to sell both themselves and the show. Was there a better way to start off the marathon day? Well I doubt it.

Our MC for the day was local singer, comic and all round character Jimmy Clouston. Now your reviewer was given a roasting from him for forgetting to give him a name check from last year’s event, so I will put that right from the start. Clouston mixes well, he has a raft of different songs and styles which he uses to fill the gaps between the acts and inspite of having very serious surgery not so long ago was in top form all day.

While all were being entertained  by Jimmy, the hard working crew were setting up for the young yet extremely talented local band Fire in Effect to rock the house for their entire set. Last year’s event introduced me to them when I was very impressed and I feel they have got even better. Their rocky set was a mixture of their own material with a couple of covers thrown in for good measure. These guys have talent to burn, surely bigger and better things are in their future and that will come fairly soon if there is any justice in the world.

A change of pace was the introduction of the next act, Grace Black a bluesy jazz big band style singer, quite a change of pace, but a welcome addition the line-up. Her entire set was well received and the mellower sound was in keeping with the summer weather.

Next in line were another young four piece rock combo by name of Lost Fleet was next in line. Again I saw them last year for the first time and again I think their set has improved in the last 12 months. Again a mixture of their own stuff with some covers was the order of the day and like with Fire in Effect surely they will be going places. Their 40 minutes was all too short for most of us and I certainly look forward to seeing them again.

Mid afternoon by this time saw the rather more mature gentleman of the band The Session take over the rocking reigns. Unlike the youngsters these guys played covers throughout, although each number was given the band’s interpretation. Pink Floyd, Kings of Leon, Stereophonic even Ike & Tina Turner where just a few of the artistes that were given their spin. Again 50 minutes was not enough for me and I suspect most others too. That maybe less energetic that their predecessors, that didn’t matter one iota as their class definitely was evident.

Next in line was Calvin Laidlaw performing as The Cherrypickers. Now one man and his guitar could be perceived as understated when compared with what went before, but this wasn’t the case. His selection of material as diverse as Floyd, Paulo Nutini, David Gray, Steve Earle and Stereophonics where just a few of his influence in his set, a performance that was very well received.

Now the main driving force behind this gig is Mark Bennett. This charismatic chappy persuade, bullies, cajoles and does whatever to get this gig in place, ably assisted by a small army of assistants. But not content with this, he is one of the mainstays in Blue Delta and they were the next band to entertain.

I have known him for a while now but it has been a while since I had seen them play. Bennett shares lead vocals with Lynsey his wife, bass guitarist Jon McLuskey and drummer Scott Christie together with Ian Craig playing the guitar with his usual class. They are a really top notch versatile covers band and the range in their material is wide. The set chosen was more modern that often, primarily 80’s to noughties and as per last years gig again blew everyone’s socks off.

Duran Duran, Kim Wilde, Amy MacDonald, KT Tunstall and a whole host more numbers filled to bursting point their set grabbing the afternoon by the scruff of it’s neck and really setting it up for the really rockin’ Queen finale.

Once again the variety of acts changed tempo with an all-to-brief set from David Mutch. As always Mutch delivered what was expected of him, that being top quality vocal performances of premomniately musical theatre numbers.

With the slightly shorter than expected set there was further chance for Jimmy Clouston to do some compereing until Dundee based rockers Millsyeck took to the stage . Last year their set was played to deminishing numbers due to the weather but obviously this wasn’t the case here. The four piece combo played their hard driven set with determination stamping their own spin on some classic numbers in conjunction with their own stuff. A hard working band sold themselves well to their audience, and they even had time to do a couple of numbers as an encore.

Hot on their heels were Polar Haze, a trio of hard rockin’ guys from Fife. The energy these guys put into their performance would have powered the PA for the rest of the night.  The music seems to be a fusion of rock, punk possibly with a bit of grunge in the mix. Although I had not seen them before I’m sure they did their reputation no harm and spread the word of what they are all about to many many more.

Another style change brought Neil Diamond tribute act Tam Scott to everyones attention .  I am a fan of Diamond and although Mr Scott does not really look so much this icon, sound like him he really does.

A pleasing number of the greatest hits were given 100% as nostalgia ruled for the 45 minutes or so. Scott tried to get the audience , especially the kids, involved with plenty of star spangled banners to the fore during the rendition of America. Other classics such as Craklin’ Rosie Sweet Caroline, Love on the Rocks all featured as well.

With the time moving on and still two acts to go swiftly taking to the stage were a trio of local musicians collectively called Shameless. It is almost impossible to pigeonhole these three musicians, a guitarist/ vocalist, a young bass player and a percussionist playing a wooden box in essence . But the sound these three produced was something else. It was so varied. Country and Western. Reggae, Scottish folk, rock a billy you name a genre they covered it, and made a very pleasant noise in the process.

I didn’t expect to really enjoy these guys, but I really did. They blew me away and I really look forward for my next chance of seeing them play.

The headline act was The Jackie Storrar Band, Ms Storrar is a Scottish Country and Western singer with a big reputation, and in spite of being the final act of a very long day certainly played her heart out with a variety of country style songs some well known some less so, but each and every one very well presented and performed. The time went so quickly throughout the day and this set was no different, but eventually all good things come to an end and this did.

At this stage I am unaware how much money was raisd for this excellent charity, but I’m sure it was a pretty penny.

Hats off to Mark Bennett and his committee, all the volenteers who helped during the day and of course the bands and technicians who made it all happen, and of course to all the crowd who came to watch.

See you next year? Hopefully, and even bigger and better!!

Reviewed by Geoff