Liverpool International Jazz Festival

Liverpool International Jazz Festival

Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
22th -25th February 2018

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

The last week in February and the 6th Liverpool International Jazz Festival is back. After a short introduction to events taking place in the Capstone and elsewhere in the city over the weekend from Artistic Director Neil Campbell, the show got underway with the Manchester based duo, Skeltr. Sax and drums and a lot of electronic back up gave a funk infused introduction from the support act to James Taylor, who was on after the interval.

New for this year alcoholic drinks, (red wine excepted), were allowed into the auditorium and Taylor would add another innovation with his barnstorming set, led from the beast that is his famous Hammond Organ. That had the audience dancing and singing in the aisles and seats.

There is no messing about with this man. He started in a jacket and tie and ended up with shirt sleeves rolled up exhorting the crowd to party to his outrageous funk infused playing. His backing group, all accomplished players in their own right, played along with enthusiasm and audacity to complement the leader’s contagious stage presence. Booker T and the MG’s Green Onions was in the mix of tunes amongst those from his own 1970’s heyday. There will always be Room At The Top for his iconic output.

Friday got under way with local favourites The Weave. Good honest brokers as a collective or in solo bursts they had to compete with an influx of latecomers for the attention of those who had turned up on time for their short set. Our day on the mountain was a loquatious vehicle for the busy trumpet of Martin Smith.

They were followed by Bristol-based Get The Blessing. Somehow the billing of a jazz fusion sound that defies easy listening, did just that for me. So blessing denied.

On Saturday lunchtime Milap traditionally have a free end of month performance served up after a curry. Today’s appearance of clarinetist Aron Ghosh, fronting his IndoJazz sextet, turned out to be a real treat. Showcasing his But Where Are You Really From? album the Calcutta born showstopper from Bury and his tight knit unit played a seamless procession of captivating cross continental music, starting with Nataraja.

With mellow sax, bass, drums, tabla and electric guitar along for the ride, the hybrid rhythms then metamorphosed into Snakebite with Bacchus, (some of you will remember those days, he enthused). That was head strong enough to rival the youthful delights evoked by Punjabi Girl. Always in control with his fantastic and cheeky stage presence through to Crash Through The Gates Of Thought, this was a performance to remember without being dismissive of some excellent innovative backing from the rest of the band.

After such a bravura performance someone had to get the short straw as the place emptied before the unlucky AndChuck and Dock In Absolute came on stage. The former met up in the Royal Northern College of Music and are competent enough to have time for a better billing. The latter had jetted in from Luxembourg for a flying visit on their seamless round the world schedule. Led by composer-pianist Jean-Philippe Koch this unassuming trio played through the chagrin of a handful of watchers to provide an hour of eclectic stylish jazz, ranging from classical to rock based derivatives.

Headlining was the indefatigable Jason Robello. Those lucky to be present at 7pm heard him talk about his life and influences with Neil Campbell. Jeff Beck, Wayne Shorter and Sting are among the luminaries in his development, but tonight was all about playing solo piano and promoting his latest opus. Held is the new album in this re-invigorated format and his performance was immaculate; too immaculate.

Having grown up in India and England he has perfected techniques to strengthen playing with his left hand that leave little of the tonal spectrum untouched in his wake. Lovely but cloying; mellifluous but self satisfying. From Tokyo Dream to a transposed Just One Of Those Things the music was well within the aural comfort zone.

More acerbic and challenging on the ear was a Herbie Hancock piece which was nervy, racy, loop driven and careered forward with purpose. The man has a sense of humour though. Not many in the audience spotted he had included the Match Of The Day Theme in Sting’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.

A quick hop across town to the Pen Factory for a game effort from Anti-Social Jazz Club’s Misha Grey’s Prehistoric Jazz Quintet, raucous crowd and all, which brought a long day to an end.

Fast forward to the final act on Sunday. Soft Machine got the honour and did not disappoint. John Etheridge’s electronic guitar led the line with Roy Babbington on bass and John Marshall on drums all in the original 70’s line-up and, since 2015, born again with Theo Travis on sax. They proceeded to play from the Bundles album of that earlier era which went down well with the largely septuagenarian following in the crowd.

With jazz fusion from psychedelia to the Zappa-esque they thrilled as an all encompassing collective but could still hold it together in their own innovative solos. Previous band members Elton Dean and Karl Jenkins were remembered in passing, the latter’s Tales Of Taliesen and Out Of Season ‘out-bloody-rageous’ and In The Back Room featuring, great tight guitar. Theo Travis provided great sax and flute support, aka Elton, but he is still at the ‘Janet and John’ stage with his keys.

Finally, it was mentioned on the radio recently that a dementia sufferer, who had been chairbound a long time, suddenly got up and walked out of the room when the group’s music was played to him. Testimony if it were ever needed of Soft Machine’s power to reach the parts others can only aspire to.

That’s all for now folks.

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