Nairn International Jazz Festival, 7 - 13 August 2005

By Ferdinand Maylin

This now firmly established Scottish Highland Jazz festival has had its best year ever, selling 4,500 tickets to well-booked and mostly sold-out performances.

The formula is always the same: immaculately dressed and incredibly polite Americans play (mostly) incredibly polite classical swing Jazz to an immaculately dressed and incredibly polite (mostly) Scottish audience.

Twenty-five performances and workshops took place over the week, of which I have reviewed a few.

Evan Christopher Celebrating Bechet

Evan Christopher, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; John Sheridan, piano; Andrew Cleyndert, bass; Tony DeNicola, drums

Swinging, melodic, tuneful. Front-runners Evan Christopher and Duke Heitger, who have found their future in the past, displayed the full-edged sweetness of their art. Heitger puts thoughtful slurring and care into his solos whilst Christopher favors the Creole style of playing; his refreshing and vibrant clarinet is just about perfect. They play blues well with a stretched-out meter, and the John Sheridan piano is stately, measured, and accurate, most suitable for the Bosendorfer grand.

Christopher tells us that when Bechet talked about Dixieland he always called it Ragtime. They gave us "That's a Plenty," and Christopher lets enthusiasm carry him away when speaking about Bechet, so the more experienced leader Duke Heitger had to step in and lead him back to the music.

Clarinet, piano, and drums played "Blues in Thirds." This is an attractive piece, and some of Christopher's best work is done in the lower register, which he often seems to favor.

"I've Found a New Baby" and "Egyptian Fantasy." These are finely studied Rags that require good ensemble work. They played "Indian Summer," "Runnin' Wild," and "September Song," featuring a delicate and calmly articulated piano from Sheridan, then finishing in good Dixieland style with "China Boy" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans." A sweetly turned-out set.

Bob Wilber's New Generation Band

Bob Wilber, clarinet, sax; Antti Sarpila, clarinet; Luca Velotti, sax; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Andrew Cleyndert, bass; Tony DeNicola, drums

Bob Wilber is one of the most acclaimed clarinet players alive today. Now seventy-seven, he still looks like your friendly guidance counselor, and he presented us with new stablemates who are also his pupils, the Finn Antti Sarpila and the Italian Luca Velotti.

Running with an all-reed front line that swopped between clarinets, tenor, alto, and soprano saxophones, they blended into the Wilber style. Backed by the wonderfully velvet piano of Rossano Sportiello, the steady and reliable Andrew Cleyndert on bass, and drummer Tony DeNicola, they played the Johnny Hodges number "Good Queen Bess."

A tenor sax solo by Sarpila followed. His playing could be sharp and angular, but showed a lighter and tender side with "Blame It on My Youth."

There followed "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" with some humorous trading of twos and fours among three sopranos, though they got a bit mixed up at times.

Pianist Sportiello starts his solos sparsely, usually building to a climactic stride or boogie bass at the finish. Wilber has a rich tone on alto, which I have not seen him play before, and continues to give full value with his playing. There is fine work with Ellington's "Morning Glory" and a finish with "Bye Bye Blues."

Mulgrew Miller and Joe Temperley

Mulgrew Miller, piano; Joe Temperley, baritone saxophone

Miller is from Mississippi, and Temperley is from Fife, Scotland, though he has been resident in New York for nearly forty years. Both have played together in the Duke Ellington Orchestra, so it was no surprise to hear Miller, a firm and inventive player dueting pleasantly with the sweetly toned baritone of Temperley.

They played a beautiful rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood," gilded with tenderness by the baritone and backed by exquisite chording from the piano. In the ballads they were able to open out and fully express themselves, Temperley carrying a sweet tone and Miller coloring his improvisation with great richness from tunes like "East of the Sun and West of the Moon" and "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart." Temperley asked for a request, then played his own nomination! They closed with a sharp "Take the A Train."

It is interesting how any combination of instruments in the right hands can seem made for each other other's company; tonight the piano and baritone saxophone were perfect.

John Allred / Dan Barrett Quintet

John Allred, trombone; Dan Barrett, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Andrew Cleyndert, bass; Tony DeNicola, drums; Joe Temperley, baritone saxophone; Rebecca Kilgore, vocals

These two stalwarts are remarkably good trombone players and kicked off with "Lu Lu's Back in Town." Though Allred's trombone was considerably shinier then Barrett's, you could not get a cigarette paper between them for quality and sweetness of tone.

Joe Temperley joined on soprano saxophone, being welcomed by "Loch Lomond," which quickly developed into a full swinging number. It was noted wryly by Barrett how much a soprano saxophone could sound like bagpipes!

Rebecca Kilgore joined in with "It's Almost like Being in Love" (this was turning into a rather large quintet group), adding her sweet and melodic tones to this already velvet ensemble. She is a delightful singer with great expression and a lightness of personality which is very appealing.

She sang "Dedicated to You," partnered by Dan Barrett; then "Them There Eyes," backed by two trombones and a baritone saxophone, but it was never overwhelming.

One of the highlights on a personal note was "Ory's Creole Trombone" (something I had often tried to master on the trumpet as a boy), a duet shared by Sheridan's piano and Barrett's trombone. This delightful glissando-driven early Jazz number was played with a feel for the period and enormous panache from both of them.

Then it was Allred's turn, and he chose a smooth ballad "If I Had You," but could not resist inserting a blast of Kid Ory for good measure. They finished with Ellington's "I'm Checking Out Goodbye."

This set left you feeling a bit like it was Christmas, and you had just seen James Stewart and Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life for the seventeenth time-an overwhelming feeling of goodness and the prick of a tear in the eye.

Mulgrew Miller Trio

Mulgrew Miller, piano; Derrick Hodge, bass; Rodney Green, drums

The evening concert brought us back to a sterner reality. Mulgrew Miller at full throttle is an exciting pianist; he plays a firmly struck piano, rich in it's voicing, is not frightened to go anywhere, and had his own men Hodge and Green to go with him.

"When I Get There" is his own piece. The group also played "Yours Is My Heart Alone" and "If I Should Lose You," followed by Carlos Jobim's "O Grande Amore."

He is a powerful exponent of his art, great chordal power and enormous flights of fancy; he uses large chords and chromatic flourish. He was able to show his sensitivity with Ellington's "Don't You Know I Care."

Post-bop or simply modern Jazz is so burdened with differently named nuances, but for sure a lot of the audience would have found his music challenging. At the finish he was cheered enthusiastically.

Nairn International Jazz Band 2005

Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Jon Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Mark Shane, piano; Andrew Cleyndert, bass; Tony DeNicola, drums

This band brings together all those who happened to be hanging around the hotel and who also just happened to be some of America's best swing players.

Led by Bob Wilber, the front line had traditional swing of the highest quality, starting with "A Pretty Girl Is like a Melody," and continuing into some hot playing with "China Town," and a little more Irving Berlin with "The Best Thing for You Is Me."

This was finely relished playing to a full house with Wilber swapping between clarinet, soprano, and alto saxophone. They snorted through "California Here I Come," adapting styles to suit the decade they were playing in, then a magnificent fight between trumpet and trombone as they drowned themselves in wa-wa mutes.

This was mostly tunes of the twenties, thirties and forties. This pick-up band performed Cole Porter's "It's Alright with Me" as though they played together every night; the rhythm section were always on the money, and the solos were enthusiastically presented.

Rebecca Kilgore appeared for some vocals with "I'm Through with Love" and "I Want to Be Happy." She is a remarkably consummate performer, not one movement out of place.

A great swinging finale with Louis Armstrong's "Swing That Music." Back for an encore of "We'll Meet Again." Och Weel. We can't wait!

To my chagrin I was unable to attend the coup of the week. The Count Basie Orchestra were appearing in the Highlands for the first time for two concerts on the Saturday night, but I could not be there.

By Ferdinand Maylin

Back to Contents Page
Jazz Now Interactive

Copyright Jazz Now, October 2005 edition, all rights reserved