Monday, 3 August 2009

Roy Hargrove, Enrico Pieranunzi and Tommy Smith/Makato Ozone Quartet @ Edinburgh Jazz Festival...

Time to rediscover the art of macro-blogging (or is is it just blogging?) after tweeting some some short comments about the weekend's activities on Twitter. Principally a mini RSS reader for me, it was nevertheless good to be able to post short real-time comments about each of the three gigs as soon as they'd happened, and using Blogger's Twitter widget here on Afric Pepperbird to have them instantaneously appear on this page. I just love putting technology at my service where it can be of a real use, and I think this was a pretty good example. And for anybody who followed the tweets, yes, we did go to the Botanical Garden (Louise deserved some non-musical activities, after all), and it wasn't too bad, even for a decidedly disinterested non-botanist like me.

First up was the now not so young lion Roy Hargrove. Well, before that honourable mention must go to our favourite Indian/Gujarati restaurant Ann Purna, where we ate before ambling along the road to the Queens Hall. Superb hospitality, subtly spiced and delicious food, and I'm just sorry we can't get there at least once a fortnight. Now onto the Hargrove, who I last saw at the same venue some 15 to 20 years ago, at the height of his newness. That night he had spark, and an energetic quintet with Marc Cary and Antonio Hart, to belt out the tunes with unmistakably sincere passion and fire. This time he delivered a solid festival set with enough variety to please an eager-to-be-pleased crowd, but it was clear that he now has a set of laurels on which he can rest. Justin Robinson, who I have at times enjoyed a great deal on record, was langorous and strangely behind the beat for most of the night. Hargrove played high notes with a fair amount of precision, but nothing that the late Freddie Hubbard wouldn't have done in his sleep, and young drummer Montez Coleman played with an all consuming passion and volume that at times threatened to sink the music. He could do well to listen to Billy Higgins' masterclass on Hargrove's Public Eye, but I doubt he will. Apart from a pianist in a kilt and an engaging enough warm-up from Brian Kellock before Hargrove arrived on stage, there's not a lot more to be said. And so to bed...

Saturday brought a fresh day, and with it some fresher musical winds. A trip to the aforementioned horticultural mecca was washed down with a nice lunch at Hendersons (incidental detail, but bear with me...), before we headed off to The Hub, possibly the best venue I've ever seen used for live jazz. Everytime I go there I'm impressed not only by the building (a converted church) and it's intelligent use of space and smart interior design, but also the brilliant acoustics. I've seen a few gigs there now, including Arild Andersen and Tommy Smith on the same weekend last year, but it doesn't really seem to get much use for jazz between festivals. Shame, as it is infinitely better than the dull acoustics and hardwood pews of the Queens Hall.

First up was Enrico Pieranunzi's trio with bassist Darryl Hall and facially hirsute drummer Enzo Zirilli. Anybody who has ever heard the great Italian maestro will not be surprised to learn that this was melodic improvisation at its subtle and creative best. Playing a mixture of standards and self-penned pieces, the time just flew and his 75 minutes was over all too quickly. Much is quite rightly made of Keith Jarrett's artistry in this same field, but I bet that the American holds the lesser known Italian in extremely high regard. Perhaps only the late Michel Petrucciani (who, in another gratuitous aside, I once saw perform solo at the Queens Hall) has in recent times operated in this area of jazz so well, and the wellspring of Bill Evans continues to gush serenely.

After a quick glass of wine in a nice little place at the top of the Royal Mile (a place with a ludicrously high count of tacky tourist traps), it was on to the last gig of our festival. Tommy Smith is an Edinburgh legend, and anybody who introduce a tune he wrote 23 years ago (and subsequently recorded for Blue Note) and still be performing on a stage as big as this has made themselves a career to be proud of. I'm a big fan, and my admiration goes back almost 23 years, remembering as I do his early days on the UK circuit after he'd returned from Berklee. Forward Motion, the Azure Quartet, the Standards Quartet, the Paris Sextet, and more recently Arild Andersen and the Forbidden Fruit Quartet - all have entertained and delighted over the years. I like the fact that for all his admiration of Coltrane and Brecker he is still rooted in his homeland, playing with a Celtic and Northern outlook that smacks of authenticity and sidesteps charges of imitation.

For this gig, we were treated to a first-time quartet. They met and rehearsed at 5PM, and performed at 8:30. Of course Smith and pianist Makato Ozone (ex-Miles and Gary Burton) have played and even recorded together before, and Smith is also no stranger to Chris Minh Doky, but to play sophisticated contemporary jazz as advanced as this and sound like a regular working group is quite a feat. Danish power drummer Jonas Johansen (who Smith introduced as Johannes Johansen, before quickly correcting himself and giving a witty aside about the newness of the band) was an excellent example of the need for taste when hitting hard. He found his place in the music with a natural ease, but despite his awesome technique and big presence he knew the importance of allowing space for the music to breathe. Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette had it, and so does the young and exuberant Dane. I'm keen to hear his trio with Steve Swallow and Hans Ulrik, but that will have to wait for another time. All of the musicians introduced their own pieces, and you could write an essay on each. Smith's 'Ever Neverland' was nice to hear again (23 years after it was written), and his Nordic, Garbarek inflected ballad 'Celtic Warrior' brought out the best in the bassist, whose long drone like improvised intro brought the great Palle Danielsson to mind. The bassist let slip that he was thrilled to be in Edinburgh because of the James Bond connection ('the real James Bond') while introducing his slippery piece 'Sniper', and I also enjoyed his Brecker-ish burner 'Certified'. Ozone played highly charged acoustic piano in the Tyner/Corea tradition, and although I've never really listened closely to him in the past I was suitably impressed. His post 9/11 statement 'Where Do We Go From Here?' was the most intense moment of the evening, an emotionally charged hymn of great intelligence and hope. I'm glad they stuck around to play two sets and an encore, and although logistically difficult given their geographical spread and busy diaries, I hope that they can find a way to record.

A touch of shopping on the Sunday morning and then off to Waverley station (with a heavy heart to be leaving this city mid-festival). We should really have stayed longer and found ways to catch The Thing and Atomic, but so much is packed into the Festival these days that if you're not living in the city you have to be selective. I'll get a run down on Stanton Moore and Elephant9 from my good friend and Edinburgh resident Andrew (he may even Twitter it), but for now that's it for us. The festival has come along way since its mainstream biased origins, although I did catch a significant deviation the year I saw Sun Ra at Meadowbank Sports Hall (1991?), and I can't wait to get back there for more next year. I wonder who Tommy will be be with at The Hub on the first Saturday of August, 2010?

Fred Grand

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