Photography: Glyn Akroyd / @GlynAkroyd

Liverpool International Jazz Festival

Capstone Theatre

The sixth LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL (established by Liverpool Hope University and hosted in the main at the Capstone Theatre on their Creative Campus) this year focuses on “contemporary instrumental jazz” and, as ever, there is a varied line-up mixing the stellar and the less well known which promises quality throughout.

Friday night, and THE WEAVE kick things off in fine style. Martin Smith’s critically acclaimed sextet play a short set that mixes explosive improvisation with lyrical melody to mesmerising effect. Smith repeatedly delivers exquisite solos before stepping into the shadows to allow his colleagues time in the spotlight to deliver their own riveting explorations, each solo drawing richly deserved applause from the audience. The Weave quite literally swing us into the evening.

"They morph seamlessly between styles and tempos, punky basslines sitting happily alongside Sketches Of Spain trumpet explorations"

Expectation is high as GET THE BLESSING stride onstage in trademark suits, looking like a cross between the Bad Seeds and Jeremy Vine. They hit the ground running with Adagio, saxophone and trumpet riffing off each other over a muscular rhythm. Pete Judge (Trumpet) and Jake McMurchie (Saxophone) face each other from opposite sides of the stage as though in a western standoff as they trade riffs. Jim Barr (Bass) has a dry, engaging repertoire. E & O is apparently based on “dreams of deep fried pizza cops” while Music Style P contains “no music whatsoever”. It most certainly does, a jazz-rock workout of the highest order relaxing into elegiac horn passages. “There’s some really bad things going on in America” he opines, “but know what’s the worst? The coffee. This is called ‘Americano’”. They launch into a wash of surf guitar, stalking six string bass and mariachi-like trumpet which dissolves into a furious funk squall.

They morph seamlessly between styles and tempos, punky basslines sitting happily alongside Sketches Of Spain trumpet explorations, dissonance and harmony embraced throughout, the audience never quite sure what’s coming next. Barr’s ability to play throbbing bass and shimmering lead on the same instrument adds tension and Clive Deamer’s drumming switches from effortless swing to pounding workout.

Judge and McMurchie occasionally kneel for intermittent periods of judicious knob-twiddling which sends their sampled horns spiralling aloft in washes of an almost psychedelic nature, but they never overdo it, the effects adding to the complex nature of the overall sound. That complexity is never allowed to obscure Get The Blessing’s ear for a melody however, and the set is littered with lyrical, evocative passages. Movie score commissioners, please note.

“This is the Butlins moment,” announces Barr, “we want you to clap along,” and everyone does, keeping pretty good time on the pacey, rhythmic intricacies of OC/DC. The band applauds the audience, and, as well as an atmosphere of musical appreciation, an atmosphere of great good humour permeates the room. The stop-start drama of Einstein Action Figure, brings a wild ride to its conclusion and a hugely deserved standing ovation.

Liverpool International Jazz Festival Image 2

Saturday lunchtime, and the delightful aroma of Indian cuisine permeates the foyer of the Capstone as the midday crowd mingles ahead of the Milapfest promotion of ARUN GHOSH INDO-JAZZ SEXTET. Ghosh, born in Calcutta, raised in Bolton, has a string of highly praised albums to his name, the most recent being 2017’s But Where Are You Really From?’ – a question he was repeatedly asked during his formative years. If Ghosh was at all angered by that he hides it remarkably well, preferring instead to view such stereotyping with a twinkle-eyed amusement. It is a demeanour that is immediately endearing, Ghosh has something of the Lancashire stand-up about him and litters the set with anecdotes of his Bolton childhood. One such concerns his family’s regular walking trips to the Lake District and is a precursor to the beautiful Pastoral Sympathy (This Land Is Mine), its haunting, evocative clarinet and piano intro setting the scene for a piece that by turns skips along like a spring lamb and bathes in an autumnal melancholy, aided by its traditional bandstand brass.

Ghosh himself performs with a controlled intensity, constantly rising onto his tiptoes, body swaying, clarinet thrust at the mic to emit frenzied sorties that front a wall of sound that rises from the polyrhythmic foundations of Dave Walsh’s drumming and Gavin Barass’ slinky basslines, or gentle, lyrical passages redolent of Vaughan Williams, Sarathy Korwar’s pattering tabla rhythms scattering thoughts of Albion eastwards.

"River Song takes us on a journey as sinuous and flowing as the title might suggest"

After an interval Smashing Through The Gates Of Thought does just that, positively rocking the house with its pile-driving rhythms, Ghosh’s clarinet and Chris Williams saxophone solos flying, before River Song takes us on a journey as sinuous and flowing as the title might suggest.

John Ellis’ driving piano motif illuminates Sufi Stomp and finally, they bring a thrillingly realised Tomorrow Never Knows full circle, Ghosh stalking the stage, clearly delighting in the band’s playing before they take an ensemble bow as the audience once again rises to applaud.

Closing the festival on Sunday evening are Soft Machine, back on Merseyside after their autumn performance at the Wirral Guitar Festival and displaying the same virtuosity that we reported on then. Pioneers of the British pastoral psychedelic and jazz fusion scenes and showing no signs of slowing down, theirs is a legacy that bears constant revisiting and reinterpretation. Yet again a full house is on its feet.

It’s been a weekend of music that pushes the envelope, played out to full houses, and which sees the Liverpool International Jazz Festival go from strength to strength.

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