SWANSEA INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL – DAY ONE | LIVE REVIEW
Maritime Quarter, Swansea, Fri 20 Jun
Many people argue that only in the furthest, most sequestered corners of your closest cosmopolitan community will you find a deep-set appreciation for live jazz music. It is customarily snubbed and avoided by many folk for its abstruse nature or elitist connotations. Well you can certainly dismiss this rationale if you were anywhere near Swansea’s Maritime Quarter this past weekend.
Over 50 concerts were spread over three days offering vibrant and expressive live music with more than half of gigs hosted being completely free to attend.
Kicking off day one was the South Wales Schools Big Band. These young hopefuls are an accumulation of schools from different counties across Wales, brought together by veteran players Alan Barnes and Bruce Adams to expand their knowledge. Tight, powerful arrangements of popular jazz compositions such as Weather Report’s Birdland were blasted at us full pelt by enthusiastic young lungs signaling impressive beginnings to the festival. All the more astounding was the revelation that the only rehearsal the group had had was in a workshop earlier that morning! Amidst the highs and adrenaline, we were however given a grievous reminder by David Miller, director of Cardiff and Vale Music Service, that arts funding cuts are making it all the more difficult for young people to get involved in jazz and music in general… our support, it seems, has never been so crucial.
After a brief afternoon break, festivities continued with fringe concerts; three groups in three different venues. The famously lavish Morgan’s Hotel accommodated the smooth, cocktail lounge-friendly tones of Megan Thomas and her sprightly Quartet. Just around the corner betwixt the ravaged beauty of Swansea’s pre-war architecture, the Tom Cottle Ensemble bellowed out some fast paced fusion from the Queens Hotel. Down at The Pump House, a different, perhaps more audience-friendly deviation of jazz thrived amongst an attentive crowd. Brian Breeze and his blues band churned out at breakneck speed, spirited renditions of Muddy Waters and other blues favourites
These first fringe events really set in place the atmosphere for the next two days, it was a joy to be able to walk around the sunny, picturesque Maritime Quarter of Swansea and hear extraordinarily good music travelling the airwaves.
Moving on to the headliners I was first engrossed in Loose Tubes’ founding member Eddie Parker’s Quartet. Eddie gave us an entirely
scintillating performance, full of exploratory melodies, ambitious chord sequences, stocky fusion grooves and surreal harmonies. Whilst the majority of his music was interesting and captivating, it did sometimes feel rather trapped in time, leaning a great deal towards the experimental jazz fusion of the 1970s and 80s, which is understandably where it started. However, Eddie particularly seems to enjoy unearthing and traversing old and ancient forms of music and interpreting them in a new and originative way, as he did here with a renaissance piece from the Ottoman Court. This was amongst the strongest and most out-there moments of the set.
Rounding off the day (and evening) I made my way to see Jeff Lorber’s Fusion. It is at this point I should mention that I regrettably missed Alan Barnes/Bruce Adams Quintet and Matthew Ford and herein lies my only problem with this festival: I can’t seem to get myself around the sheer volume of great artists on show (though admittedly I’m not the quickest on my feet).
Lorber and his band were unrelentingly energetic. Lorber has been a pioneer of fast jazz/funk fusion since the 1970s and hasn’t withdrawn from the limelight since. Effortless in their delivery, the band wowed with their funky, vivacious jams and propelled the audience to a state of elation, proving themselves to be the perfect finisher for the first day. Whilst some felt compelled to fling their limbs every which way, I found myself mesmerised by the virtuosic capabilities of the group, not necessarily by how fast they can play, but in the absolute focus and vitality they put into their craft. So concludes a promising start to the weekend.
words CHARLIE PIERCEY