Top picks from Glasgow Jazz Festival and Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival programmes
- Stewart Smith
- 7 June 2017
Highlights include Ginger Baker, Tony Allen, Kaja Draksler, Theo Croker, Yussef Dayes, Michael Janisch, Binker Golding and Moses Boyd
A sure sign of health for any decent music festival is not its headline acts, but the extent to which it supports emerging talent and reflects developing trends. On that count, Scotland's two leading jazz festivals are in pretty good shape. Glasgow Jazz Festival marked its 30th anniversary in 2016 with the 30 Under 30 showcase for young Scottish musicians, and several of those artists return this year, alongside a smattering of upcoming acts from the UK and beyond. Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, which turns 40 next year, has always been the more conservative of the two, but its new Cross the Tracks strand is refreshingly contemporary, with a focus on acts fusing jazz with hip hop and electronica.
Glasgow represents the American side of this vanguard with Theo Croker's Escape Velocity. A former student of the great Donald Byrd and a collaborator with rappers Common and J Cole, Croker is a dazzling trumpeter, who combines classic modal moves with slick nu-soul grooves. Edinburgh looks to London's vibrant new jazz scene to present the Scottish debuts of punchy sax and drums duo Binker & Moses, and Black Focus mastermind Yussef Dayes.
Recipients of the 2015 Mobo Award for best jazz act, Binker Golding and Moses Boyd play an energetic and exploratory acoustic jazz based around tight tunes and muscular grooves. Despite the marketing, their music has no obvious hip hop or grime influence, but it does have a directness and sense of freedom that makes it utterly contemporary. Their second album, Journey to the Mountain of Forever, features such guests as Evan Parker, Byron Wallen and Sarathy Korwar, underlining their openness to different schools of British improvised music.
Drummer Yussef Dayes masterminded last year's Yussef Kamaal album, Black Focus, with keyboardist Kamaal Williams. Draped in hazy Rhodes riffs and wiggly synths, the album fuses the dreamier end of 70s jazz-funk with a London club sensibility, tapping into jungle, trip hop and house. Dayes is joined in Edinburgh by guitarist Mansur Brown, bassist Tom Driessler and keys man Charlie Stacey. Expect head-nodding grooves and classy improvisation. Other highlights of the Cross the Tracks strand include rapper and saxophonist Soweto Kinch and Ibibio Sound Machine with their infectious blend of Nigerian high life, Afrobeat and electronica.
Glasgow Jazz Festival features several upcoming British acts who are more squarely in the jazz tradition, while bringing contemporary influences to their sound. Virtuoso bassist Michael Janisch brings his electro-acoustic ensemble, Paradigm Shift, to the city, while Nérija, a female group who emerged out of the crucial Tomorrow's Warriors development programme, appear with support from Scottish women's improv collective Bitches Brew. Youthful trumpet ace Tom Syson presents his sextet, while saxophonist Jonathan Chung introduces his Glasshopper trio, featuring guitarist James Kitchman and acclaimed Scottish drummer Corrie Dick.
While Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra are always a welcome presence at Glasgow Jazz Festival (their show this year features legendary vocal improviser Phil Minton), the relative absence of the avant-garde from both festivals is a constant frustration. While it could be argued that fans of free jazz and improvised music are catered for by Counterflows, Tectonics and GIO Fest, it just ain't right for Scotland's leading jazz festivals to keep marginalising jazz's most creative side. Given the rapturous Glasgow reception for masters like Roscoe Mitchell, William Parker, Joe McPhee and Linda Sharrock in recent years, there can be no doubt that Scottish audiences are ready for it.
Having said that, it's great to see Slovenian pianist and composer Kaja Draksler on the Glasgow programme. An emerging star of the European improvisation scene, Draksler has recorded a number of solo and leader projects, as well as a fine duo set with the brilliant young Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva. The Amsterdam-based pianist has just released Gledalec, an octet album that draws on free improvisation, jazz, and classical music, with a beautiful detour into the choral music of Slovenian Renaissance composer Jacobus Gallus Petelin.
'I like melody as an ingredient of music, especially when it's sung,' she says. 'I find it very easy to connect to on the emotional level.' Her Glasgow solo performance, she explains, will be determined by the piano and acoustics of the room. 'I don't know exactly what I will be playing before I get to the actual space. Usually I do a mix of free improvisation with original compositions. Sometimes I play jazz tunes as well, particularly Monk or Duke.'
As for those headline acts? Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen's tribute to hard-bop drum legend Art Blakey should be fun, while many will flock to see Ginger Baker doing his curmudgeonly thing. But it's with those emerging acts, in smaller venues, where jazz's real spirit of adventure presides.
Glasgow Jazz Festival, Wed 21–Sun 25 Jun; Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Fri 14–Sun 23 Jul.