by Ian Mann
July 07, 2010
Fantastic weather and a happy, trouble free, family atmosphere with some terrific music from a wide spectrum of artists ranging from local heroes to nationally known figures.
Photo of Pete Grogan (Led Bib) courtesy of: Russ Escritt (http://russescritt.photoshelter.com)
Mostly Jazz Festival 2010
Moseley Park, Birmingham, 03/07/2010
The inaugural Mostly Jazz Festival proved to be a huge success. This two day, open air event, a spin off of the hugely successful Moseley Folk Festival which is due to be held again in September was blessed with good weather for its first year and the people of Birmingham and beyond came and listened, relaxed, danced and celebrated. With the sun beating down (well, mostly anyway) there was a happy, trouble free, family atmosphere and some terrific music from a wide range of artists ranging from local heroes to nationally known figures.
Moseley Park is situated a stone’s throw from the High Street but seated on the grass with a backdrop of trees in full leaf and with sunlight shimmering on the lake it was possible to forget you were almost in the heart of the city. In the moments between bands I spotted swans, Canada geese and most impressively a heron on the lake as even the local wildlife entertained.
This compact little festival deploys two stages right next to each other. While one band plays the other sets up on the adjacent stage. I assume it’s a format they use at the folk festival (I’ve never been to that, maybe this year) and are well used to, but nevertheless I was extremely impressed with the way in which the stage crew and sound men turned the bands round- quietly, quickly and efficiently - without ever falling behind schedule over the whole weekend. The format meant that all the acts had a chance to play to a large audience, a factor that made everybody raise their game and give of their best. With an array of food stalls and a beer tent selling top quality local beer from Purity brewery of Warwickshire everything you needed for a special weekend was all on site.
Whilst all these things were important it’s the quality of the music that really counts. The festival put on twelve bands each day, twenty four in total and I think it’s fair to say that I found something to enjoy in each and every one of them. There was a strong tendency towards funk and good time music, particularly on the Saturday but with groups like Led Bib and Polar Bear providing some real musical gristle the balance was just about right.
On Saturday the smaller of the two stages hosted a programme organised by the Birmingham city centre pub the Yardbird. An acclaimed music venue the Yardbird features both funk and cutting edge jazz. Today the focus was on the funk and soul side of things and featured several of the bands the Yardbird has hosted since opening in 2007. Opening the Yardbird programme and the festival itself were the seven piece Cambridgeshire combo Groove Cartel.
Arriving late due to traffic/parking problems I only caught the tail end of their set but enjoyed what I heard. The band’s blend of jazz, funk and retro soul featured vocals, saxophone, organ, guitar, bass, drums and percussion with organist Hugo and guitarist Martin (it’s first names only with these guys) the principal soloists. Most of the band’s gigs are in the East Midlands or East Anglia but they are due to return to the Yardbird on November 13th 2010. The excellent festival programme includes a free CD featuring music from bands playing at the festival. Groove Cartel’s offering is the driving “Waters Rising”, a good example of their funky, soulful sound with a powerful rock influenced guitar solo.
SISTER HENRY AND THE PRESCRIPTIONS
The funk and soul theme continued on the main stage with Sister Henry And The Prescriptions. This Birmingham based octet is fronted by the powerful vocals of Gail Henry and also features Joe Warner (guitar), Fly Harper (bass), Matt Graham (keyboards), Nobby Clarke (drums) and the three man horn section of Joel Evans (sax), Nathan Jervis (trumpet) and Gareth Thompson (trombone). Their rousing set included originals such as My Good Lovin’, “One Monkey” and He’s So Fine” which appears on the festival CD. Hammond grooves are central to the band’s sound with the horn section really coming into it’s own on the band’s innovative arrangement of the old Box Tops hit “The Letter” with each member taking a solo. Henry has a strong voice but is a slightly static stage presence. Nevertheless these Yardbird regulars are a highly funky and soulful outfit and once more well worth checking out.
The Hammond sound was quickly becoming the signature of the festival. Next on the Yardbird stage were London based quartet The Getup led by organist Mark Ashfield with Lee Blackmore on guitar, Ian Stevens on bass and Mark Claydon at the drums. Sometimes the band also features saxophone and trumpet. The band name James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Jamiroquai and JTQ (of whom more later) as their principal influences. Not a bad roll call and here The Getup delivered an entertaining set with Ashfield their star instrumentalist and with Blackmore also weighing in with his fair share of tasty solos. Their best number was probably “Oo Oo” with Ashfield’s Hammond swirling above Blackmore’s choppy wah wah guitar chords. Ashfield uses a genuine old fashioned Hammond complete with Leslie cabinet and it just sounds great. Tune announcements were thin on the ground but it’s pretty certain that they also played “Worktop” which appears on the festival CD. This is a fine instrumental led by Ashfield’s surging Hammond and also containing a nimble solo from Blackmore. Stevens and Claydon lay down a terrific groove throughout with the latter enjoying the occasional drum fill. It’s a throwback to the heady days of acid jazz and great fun. They are due to make three more visits to the Yardbird before the end of the year.
On the main stage Led Bib represented a welcome change in style and brought a greater degree of improvisation to the proceedings. This was the second time I’d seen the band in a week, they had been at Lichfield Real Ale, Jazz & Blues Festival the previous weekend but as they are one of my favourite contemporary jazz outfits I didn’t mind a bit.
I’ve already covered the group’s Lichfield set fairly comprehensively so I won’t go into much detail save to say that the group played a typically blistering set. Led by expatriate American drummer Mark Holub the London based band features an unusual twin alto sax front-line of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan, with Toby McLaren providing colour on an array of keyboards and related electronics and Liran Donin adding a mighty punch on electric bass.
Led Bib are loud and uncompromising but their music is full of powerful hooks, riffs and grooves which the band use as jumping off points for some feverish improvisation, The band always look as if they’re having a great time as they push the boundaries of Holub’s compositions.
Their enthusiasm is infectious. Since coming together at Middlesex University in 2004 Led Bib have built a loyal following, many of them younger than the usual jazz demographic. The Led Bib story has also been one of continuous artistic progression with each album building on the last, culminating in their most recent offering “Sensible Shoes” being nominated for the 2009 Mercury Music Prize.
In 2010 Led Bib’s music is still developing. Holub’s latest batch of compositions as heard at Lichfield last week and again today are as strong as ever and with McLaren and Donin adding a fresh arsenal of electronic effects to their already distinctive individual sounds the range of textures available to the group is continually expanding. The group’s next album is due to be recorded shortly with a view to release in January 2011 and it promises to be a worthy addition to an already impressive canon.
Moseley was a big gig for saxophonist Pete Grogan who hails from Stourport in Worcestershire making him almost a local. His parents were at the gig and they must have been impressed with the reaction to their son’s band. Maybe it was Mr. Grogan Sr. who called out for the group to perform their version of Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1” as their last number. Led Bib are not the kind of band who normally do requests but today they were happy to oblige with a highly individual take on a tune that originally appeared on their d?but album “Arboretum” in 2005.
Although substantially different to the bands we’d already heard Led Bib’s brand of avant skronk went down very well with the festival crowd which was gratifying to see. Hopefully they gained some new admirers here. Along with Polar Bear who were to follow later this dynamic young band was one of the musical highlights of the day. Oh yes, and they’re great guys too.
NICK PRIDE AND THE PIMPTONES
After Led Bib’s musical fireworks The Pimptones came as a bit of light relief as they took over on the Yardbird stage. The Newcastle based quintet are led by guitarist/vocalist Nick Pride and blend funk, soul and R & B influences. The band’s sound is punchy and brassy due to the sparky horns of saxophonist Dave Wilde and trumpeter Keith Nicholson. Bassist Ian Patterson and drummer Oz Cassidy provide the grooves as the group mix tight funk instrumentals with more structured soul/r&b songs including the ballad “Want To Treat You Right”.
It’s probably fair to sat that Pride is a better guitarist than singer but his group still turned in an enjoyable set with the emphasis on giving the crowd a good time. The band’s show biz touches included sharp suits, Wilde’s doubling on flute and Nicholson’s foray into the crowd during one of his trumpet solos. All good fun, but I was less keen on the use of the overdubbed vocals on the group’s final number. This raised my purist hackles but I’m sure that in a club situation, probably the band’s natural constituency, nobody would give a monkeys.
The group have a high profile gig on 8th July 2010 supporting Maceo Parker in Durham. They’re back at The Yardbird on 16th October. Their festival CD offering “Come And Get It” is a neat encapsulation of their exuberant and energetic approach.
Polar Bear are another band who have featured regularly on this site with my most review being from the Monday of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Like Led Bib the Polars are another band I never get bored of. Every show is subtly different and even the band’s set pieces are never quite the same way twice.
The group are led by another composing drummer, the brilliant Sebastian Rochford. Like Led Bib they also have a twin saxophone front line, in this case the tenors of Mark Lockheart and Pete Wareham. Tom Herbert supplies earthy, big toned double bass and Leafcutter John is the group’s wild card with his mix of electronics, devices and recently discovered surf guitar.
Polar Bear’s sound is unique. Rochford’s compositions are superficially simple, full of hummable, almost na?ve melodies but the childlike charm of these is subsequently given a sinister edge by the often dark and brooding arrangements. Like the animal they take their name from Polar Bear’s music is simultaneously fluffy and dangerous.
Despite its avant garde trappings Polar Bear’s music has achieved an enviable degree of commercial success (in jazz terms at least), peaking in 2005 with the Mercury nomination for the group’s second album “Held On The Tips Of Fingers”.
The group’s set here was superficially similar to their Cheltenham performance with the majority of the material being drawn from the group’s fourth and most recent album “Peepers”. “Peepers” represents Rochford’s strongest set of compositions for some time and the album benefits from a “live in the studio” approach. Rochford’s desire to keep things simple has resulted in a set of eminently accessible tunes that translate very well in a live situation.
The group kicked off with the infectious “Happy For You” the opening track on “Peepers” with its catchy sax hook, deep bass line and Leafcutter’s distinctive surf guitar sound.
From the band’s eponymous third album came “Tomlovesalicelovestom” which included Leafcutter’s now famous balloon set piece where he coaxes an astonishing range of sounds from a pink child’s balloon, manipulating the noises through his lap top. A duet between Leafcutter and Lockheart with the two effectively trading phrases above Herbert’s grainy arco bass backdrop was innately musical. The balloon episode features in every live show but each time Leafcutter finds something different to do with it.
Dub reggae grooves and a bass/electronics feature led into the stumbling “Drunken Pharaoh”, a brilliantly graphic musical depiction of the seriously pissed. Clever, but fun, principles at the heart of much of Polar Bear’s music.
“The Love Didn’t Go Anywhere”, is one of the standout cuts on “Peepers” but today was the first time I’d seen it done live. It’s deep, sometimes brooding and very beautiful with Wareham’s lonely tenor musing above arco bass and shimmering guitar and electronics.
The group ended their set with the rousing “Peepers”, another hugely catchy tune with Wareham and Lockheart trading solos. The piece got the first dancers of the day to their feet and ensured that the Bear got the best reception of the day thus far.
Anchored by Rochford’s brilliant polyrhythmic drumming there’s still clearly a lot of mileage left in Polar Bear, still the leaders of the contemporary Brit jazz pack.
Back on the Yardbird Stage the funk and soul returned in the shape of The Fantastics. Led by Greg Boraman on keyboards the band also featured guitarist Pete Collison, bassist Raydn Hunter, tenor saxophonist/flautist Mark Norton and drummer James Smith. Mark Claydon who had previously been seen as drummer with The Getup guested on percussion and there were a couple of percussion features involving the whole band as the group stormed their way through a set of grooving instrumentals.
I enjoyed them less when guest vocalist Sulene Fleming joined the band on stage. Something of a soul belter her style wasn’t exactly high on subtlety. However, other members of the audience, especially the little knot of dancers at the front of the stage, seemed to enjoy her, especially when she indulged in a little audience call and response antics.
The Fantastics got a very good response and it has to be said that their instrumental work was among the best of its type we’d seen thus far.
JAMES TAYLOR QUARTET
Something of a great British institution the JTQ recently celebrated it’s 25th anniversary. Described by comp?re Craig Charles as the best Hammond player in the world (which is probably pushing it a bit) Taylor certainly pushed the quality of the playing up another notch.
In a genuine quartet format (no horns) the current edition of the JTQ blazed their way through three superb instrumentals including Booker T’s “Green Onions” with Taylor really showing his chops on a genuine monster Hammond C3. I’d seen the group a couple of years ago in Ludlow and been very disappointed with the formulaic nature of their show but this was a whole lot better.
Part of my disappointment at Ludlow had been caused by the presence of guest vocalist Yvonne Yanney and when Taylor called her to the stage again here the quality of the music immediately took a dive. It seems a bit of a waste for the “best organist in the world” to be having share the limelight with a singer. Frankly I’d rather have heard a set of instrumentals from a very tight band and there were certainly some who agreed with me.
However Taylor is nothing if not a populist and by the end of the set he had pretty much everyone in the park up and dancing and singing along to his brand of Hammond driven, gospel influenced soul jazz. The material included his own hit “Love The Life”, and covers such as Carole King’s “I Feel The Earth Move” Teddy Pendergrass’ “Love TKO” and Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto”, the latter big on audience participation with Taylor conducting the crowd.
It was certainly a big improvement on the Ludlow performance and one which was enhanced by the glorious weather and surroundings.
Taylor was a tough act for Devon born, Birmingham based singer Lizzy Parks to follow, especially as she was performing with what was essentially an acoustic band with guitarist Benedic Lamdin and bassist Riaan Vosloo. Once the volume had been increased to a suitable level Parks came over well, she’s a versatile vocalist equally at home in this pared down format as with fronting larger funk and soul combos.
With two albums already under her belt “Watching Space” (2005) and “Raise The Roof” she had a wealth of original material to draw on and her folk/soul hybrid quickly grew on an appreciative audience. Her contribution to the festival CD is a pretty, acoustic version of “Forever And A Day”, a track co-written with Vosloo and Lamdin which originally appeared on her second album.
Parks has been tipped as a rising star for some time and the charming nature of her performance suggested that her reputation is still on the rise.
QUANTIC & HIS COMBO BARBARO
Quantic is the alter ego of Bewdley born multi instrumentalist and composer Will Holland. Holland’s interests spread across a wide range of music, he’s a DJ and producer as well as a musician and Combo Barbaro (or “Band Of Barbarians”) is just one of his many musical outlets.
In simple terms Combo Barbaro play salsa and other Latin American music and play it very well. The band’s “Spanglish” line up includes a number of Colombians including percussionist Freddy Colorado and bassist Fernando Silva. Holland plays guitar and accordion and the line up also includes saxophones, trombone, trumpet, keyboards and long term Quantic collaborator Malcolm Catto at the drums.
The group’s music is infectiously danceable and besides the authentic Latin rhythms Quantic’s musical stew also throws elements of jazz, funk and blues into the mix. Rhythmically the band is a juggernaut and once more pretty much everybody in the park was up and dancing. However Quantic are more than just a party band, there’s something almost mystical about their musical alchemy, and the band has some fine soloists among it’s ranks with the horn players particularly impressive. From Colombia guest vocalist Nidia Gongora added a touch of additional exotica and authenticity.
Much of the material was drawn from the group’s impending new album “Tropadelica”, a follow up to 2009’s “Tradition In Transition”. I was hugely impressed, I don’t think I’ve seen this type of music played as skilfully as this before. One of the day’s unexpected highlights.
SUN RA ARKESTRA
As the day’s headliners were setting up we enjoyed an entertaining DJ set from the Leftfoot collective of DJs, founded in 2000at Birmingham’s Custard Factory venue and now based just down the road at The Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath. They certainly played some great tunes which could be quite clearly heard during one of my forays to the beer tent.
I was looking forward to seeing the Arkestra after enjoying Jerry Dammers’ UK equivalent the Spatial AKA Orchestra when they appeared recently on later with Jools Holland. Maybe I’m being parochial but frankly I thought that Dammers’ band was better than the group Marshall Allen led here. Yes, Allen was an original member of Ra’s band which gives his version authenticity but I did rather get the feeling that his group was just going through the motions. Some people clearly got off on what he was doing but the crowd down the front didn’t respond with the same sense of abandon as they did for JTQ or Quantic. Granted the music is more avant garde and less dance friendly but I sensed that I wasn’t the only sceptic.
I’ll be honest, I never quite could make up my mind if Ra was a genius or a charlatan and the show Allen gave here with a pared down Arkestra didn’t make me any the wiser. With Allen writing original music for the group this is not strictly a tribute band but this is still how it came across to me. Allen is eighty six and I guess you have to admire the stamina he shows to still be touring at this age, plus the devotion he still clearly feels towards his former leader. But neither this, nor the extravagant Egyptian style costumes necessarily made for great music.
With a long drive home and with my three companions even more perplexed than myself we left early. It was unfortunate to leave on what was personally a disappointing note after some of the brilliant music we’d heard earlier in the day.
As an overall event though Mostly was brilliant and although its success is totally dependent on good weather it deserves to become a permanent fixture in the jazz festival programme. The organisers had assembled some great bands for this first event and the organisation ran like clockwork. We left in good heart, already looking forward to some more wonderful music the following day.
And finally a word for the dreadlocked girl performing amazing moves with a hula hoop in front of the Yardbird stage when the Arkestra was playing. She was more entertaining than the band but her sense of fun was a perfect encapsulation of the whole day. Well done, whoever you are.
Ian’s Star Rating 4 Starsblog comments powered by Disqus