Liverpool International Jazz Festival 2016

The Capstone, 17 Shaw Street, L6
25th - 28th February 2016

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Now in its fourth year, the festival is going from strength to strength under the unstinting efforts of Artistic Director Neil Campbell to bring exciting established and new artists to the Capstone. In this he was ably supported by Liverpooljazz and the wider Merseyside local scene.

First up was Luxembourg's Pascal Schumacher and his young Quartet. Renowned as a composer and vibraphone player his music centres on oriental and minimalist themes with a twist.

Based on the Japanese aesthetics of 'wabi sabi' (the beauty of imperfect things), his set evoked late night green tea house intrigue, but on this, his first trip to Liverpool, he never did get his desired fish and chips. Indeed the chips were down altogether for the band when only a small crowd turned up, which was a shame.

The second night saw 'long in the tooth' Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine's Quartet. His pedigree goes back to playing with violinist Stephane Grappelli.

Tonight's show was not so much racy Hot Club du France stuff but more of a relaxed smoke-filled Soho night club vintage, though his lugubriously smooth, knit one pearl one, compositions went down well with a decently sized audience. Tunes like 'Janet', 'Letter from my Mother' and Cole Porter's 'So in Love', reflected the tenor of the tightly meshed group's outpouring.

Headlining on Saturday night was Courtney Pine, who was fulsome in his praise for the venue's organisers and other performers. In particular Dudley Nesbitt's steel pans pouring out Caribbean high jinks and bonhomie in the foyer during the bass clarinetist's arrival.

Inside, on the main stage, prior to Pan Jumby, who was the most accomplished and sensational event of the week-end. Under the Milap banner, Norwegian based sarod virtuoso Sudeshna Bhattacharya teamed up with Kousic Sen's hypnotic tabla for a concluding session of afternoon Indian rags, which received a standing ovation.

Also taking part in the foyer was Graeme Wilson's free flowing folk and rock infused contribution which wowed the restricted space. There was some innovative hearty Scottish saxophone from the lead, crisp and clear, given the constricted acoustics, with his backers ably finding enough to innovate in their way.

In the evening a sell-out crowd saw Pine joined on stage by versatile contemporary female pianist Zoe Rahman for the initial tour opener profiling their collaboration, Song (the ballad book).

She accommodated his promptings with virtuoso playing of her own, her winning smile always gathering applause for sympathetic contributions on the likes of 'Windmills of Your Mind,' 'Amazing Grace' (a tribute to David Bowie) and A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square'.

As for the man himself, his was an understated effort which only extended into the acerbic and raucous every now and again. Such is his skill and range of breath control he could have produced those sounds on a rusty broken down spout.

The international theme saw Norwegian Viktor Nordberg's drums open the final day, to be followed later on in the spotlight of Liverpooljazz's own cameras by the ever popular The Weave. Trumpet infused blues and rock, hard hitting combinations of sound and gutsy energy percolated onto the stage to the general approval of all, as the second free extravaganza of afternoon jazz came to an end.

It was left to Andy Sheppard's Hotel Bristol to climax events with a solid wall-to-wall big band bash, led from the front by some expressive saxophone from the leader. Suitably sated it was time to go.

The excellent changing stage lighting backdrop had added a feng shui-like frisson to proceedings.

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