Liverpool International Jazz Festival

The Capstone and The Kazimier
26th February - 1st March 2015

Review by Joe Coventry

This year the gigs took place in two main venues. The Capstone is a state-of-the-art performance venue; the Kazimier a dark and dingy old cabaret and dance club that has seen much better days.

In the former you have a dedicated seat, the act comes on at 7.30pm and you can't take alcohol into the auditorium or talk.

In the latter you can sit anywhere as long as it is on the floor, drink like a fish and gab away to your hearts content; for example,like the guy from Ukraine that I chatted too in the bar queue; oh and the main act does not come on until 9.30pm.

On Thursday The Kazimier played host to new stars Go Go Penguin, Mercury Prize winners from last year. They performed their set after some impromptu solo saxophone from Nick Branton of local trio Dead Hedge. Self assured and playing with aplomb, Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (bass) and Rob Turner's (drums) mellow stage presence served up an electro-acoustic outpouring of trendy jazz, which easily met the expectations of their predominantly young fans. It ventured more on the go slow, rather than the go go, but it warmed the big crowd and the place up.

It was freezing cold again on the following Sunday when James Taylor brought his Quartet and his immense venerable beast of a Hammond organ to town. What an instrument it is! He played it like a mahout on a charging elephant, as it creaked on it's hinges. The audience peering up at him through the smoke generated haze marvelled at his dexterity and sheer effort.

Those savvy enough to stand up stage left got within a yard of the great man and could look over his shoulder as he produced his trademark, and some Booker.T anthems. The crowd had earlier been treated to some circular piano perambulations from local, Jacapo "Jamie" Malchance, that culminated in a Khatkaturianesque sabre dance thrash.

The middle two days provided a series of workshops and free sessions across the Capstone. On Saturday afternoon a joint venture with Milap saw the talented Svari Kanti enthrall a big crowd digesting their curry lunches. Led by avuncular Scot Simon Thacker on guitar, they sashayed from Flamenco into an Indian style raga and from thereon in traversed the subcontinent with crossover playing and folk and love songs courtesy of Japjit Kaur's exquisite voice. Justyna Jablonska's cello and the tabla of Sarvar Sabri provided depth and continuity to proceedings with the collective likes Aruna and Tonal Offerings.

Then it was the turn of some North West Trad combos in the foyer stairwell, playing to a full triangular seating plan that Pythagoras himself would have been proud of.

On Friday evening the Trio Troyka, led by Kit Downes with his Hammond organ and synths took centre stage. The range of this set allowed guitarist Chris Montague to showcase his skills with solid support from Josh Blackmore on drums. For his part Downes, playing his instruments at right angles to each other, but looking at neither, mainly blasted away on the keys, with the likes of the Django Bates inspired instrumental, Life was transient, and the new Raise the Sun allowing improvisation at will and generally getting to the parts that others don't reach. There was just time to scoot across to the Caledonia for a late light Marley Chingus gig but the pub was too packed and noisy to stay for more than one pint.

The Saturday headliner was the ebullient and tireless trombonist Dennis Rollins, who, with the help of his Velocity Trio, was red hot all night. Such vitality and charisma and in a white coat and shoes to boot. Pedro Segundo's orgasmic drums burst into life repeatedly, while Ross Stanley on organ waded in with Emergence, inspired by Larry Young. Bone Yard and a smoochy The Rose, for encore, concluded the events.

Overall, the extended weekend was a success, for which credit must go to Artistic Director Neil Campbell for programming events. There was something here for everyone as the diverse audiences testified. Roll on next year.

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