Spoiled for jazz!

Posted by Dick Playfair on Oct 5, 2019

It wasn’t the Festival. It wasn’t the Fringe. It wasn’t the Jazz Festival, but you could be mistaken for thinking it was given the number of top-line jazz gigs that have been happening in Edinburgh over the last few days. We’ve had the Verneert/Simon Quartet – a French, Belgian, Spanish mix – at Polwarth Church and at Whighams, and Simon Spillett with JazzMain at the Voodoo Rooms. There’s been the Yati Durant/David Patrick Miles, Miles, Miles project at the Jazz Bar, and visiting US bassist Adam Booker with Richard Bailey and Keith Haldane at Palmerston Place. And, to round it off, trumpet maestro Jon Green launching his new album with a stellar line-up of Scotland’s finest at the Outhouse.  And then there was all the usual programmed activity too.

I couldn’t get to all of these. Had I done so I would have definitely been grounded for months!  But I did make it to Polwarth Parish Church and the Outhouse, and what a couple of fabulous gigs these were.

Polwarth Parish Church is new as a jazz venue. Pianist Jean-Baptiste Richon, through his just fledged venture Small Stage Productions, has secured this as a wonderfully airy and acoustically brilliant space for jazz concerts where, hopefully, we will see a lot more happening over the coming months. Friday evening opened with a short set from JB’s own multi-national quartet (Ed Kelly on bass; Iain Carleton, guitar; Slawek Justynski; drums).  Just four numbers – Stella by Starlight, Body and Soul, Invitation, and Beatrice – but enough to set the mood and not steal the thunder, as this combo would be eminently capable of doing.

The Verneert/Simon Quartet

The visiting Verneert/Simon Quartet play beautifully crafted compositions so suited to the atmosphere that this venue affords. Filip Verneert, guitar; Enrique Simon, piano; Gil Lachenal, bass, and Pedro Vasquez Martinez, drums, delivered to a hushed audience without a hint of chatter or background noise. Reverence perhaps for the surroundings, but also for their spellbinding music. Stupidly, I didn’t write down the song titles, except for their final number. All in, this was an exquisite performance, packed with emotion and so uplifting – especially the closing Lucentum. This was music that crossed genres, that captured the cultures and traditions of the players, and that allowed us to learn a little more about them through their performance. Simply stunning.

Filip Verneert, guitar and Gil Lachenal, bass

Then Jon Green’s gig to launch his new album Nina Fairouz in the 21st Century. Given Jon’s inspiration was to reflect what he thinks his daughter Nina, aged three, sees and experiences, it was so apt that this session filled the regular Outhouse ‘Playtime’ slot. An absolute galaxy of talent, who also supported Jon’s trumpet on the album, produced a very special performance: Graeme Stephen, guitar; Paul Harrison, keys; Martin Kershaw, alto sax; Mario Caribé, bass; and Tom Bancroft, drums.  Jon, in a way that only he can, introduced the songs, gave a brushstroke or two of explanation, and then left his audience to draw their own conclusions.

Jon, Graeme, Tom, and the wall!

Among the tunes were Sandy Brush (think Portobello Beach on a Sunday afternoon), the mood-swinging April, the ethereal Nationals. Jon invited us to think what 3 For 1 Days was about and, I hate to say this, skipping came into my head! The first set rounded off with the up-tempo Fixin’ A Rally, introduced as the Republican national anthem, with maybe a hint of irony, Jon doing his one-legged thing whilst soloing, and with the occasional whoop thrown in. Echoes of Snarky Puppy’s Quartermaster, and a rousing end to the first period.

Mario, Paul and Martin, and that wall!

The second set featured more original songs from the album, with equally off-the-wall titles like Our Wall, Critically Acclaimed Calming Devices, and a song about a solitary candlepin bowler, Hank Rolls A Strike. Every tune carries the distinctive Jon Green stamp, combining the different instruments in smaller ensembles, complex rhythm changes, and doubtless chord changes too, weird and wonderful forms, strong narrative, and amazing and inventive solos from all quarters as you would expect.  A highlight for me was the guitar/keyboard/trumpet trio for I Know Where We Can Go which would make the hairs on your neck stand up – it did mine.  We were treated to Waldorf Salad as the closing number, inspired by Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem with its non-existent view, and then Open Closed as an encore. 

I’ve skimmed through what was an extraordinary mix of extraordinary songs, played by truly extraordinary musicians, and I feel I’ve done none of them justice in this too brief summary.  And here was another audience that again had come to listen, enjoy and appreciate with Tom reminding them in his unique style that you can buy the album; “that’s Jon Green, no ‘h’ in Jon, at Bandcamp.”  “Dot com” came the response from somewhere in the room.

Some platform for showcasing new music, this was playtime and, importantly, it was fun. And looking back on the last week as a whole, wow, there is so much good jazz, and a lot of it highly original jazz, happening in Edinburgh right now. Spoiled for choice would be an understatement.

Just one negative. From a photography perspective I’m not keen on that wall!

The Verneert/Simon Quartet live recording from Oldenberg and other recordings are on Bandcamp.

Jon Green’s album Nina Fairouz In The 21st Century as well as his other recordings are on Bandcamp.