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!

Ben

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