1 November 2014

Openers 2

Hip Flask is led by Roger Manins and is presented as barbeque music that will go down well with the neighbours as well as the jazzers. It’s true. I loved this outing. All grooves and blues and wonderful playing. It’s an odd combination with nice weight-weight but light-toned Hammond organ and Leslie sharing keyboard space with truncated, dissonance-rich, Monk-inspired quirkiness on piano, driving straight-ahead drumming, fabulously fat and clever tenor, soft but deep and endemic swing from bass and a leavening of stage humour. One tune starts with a wooden flute that’s bought on the day and played in the key of the new instrument. Apparently Stu could only find a plastic descant recorder in Wang, so this was it, wrapping peeled on stage and song key set. Surprisingly, Roger did a decent solo on the thing but lamented at the end “It’s horrible, this thing. Wang, can’t you do better?” He prefers wood. There were new tunes, choppy organ grooves, odd contrasting times. I failed to understand one count; I thought the organ was playing 3 and the rest 4, but that doesn’t sound nearly complex enough for this oddity. There were agile and contorted heads and simple bluesy repeats. There were some stellar solos. I particularly enjoyed the bizarre piano (I write bizarre with great respect!) and Roger’s firm lines, but I reeled from Brendan’s extended outing, soft but strong, long and ever intriguing. It’s not always you can say that of a bass solo but he’s such a master of swing. There was deep ‘70s funk and swapped fours between organ and piano (strange that one, what keyboard contrasts), and a most amazingly beautiful ballad, The beauty in their eyes, with haunting sax over raindrop piano accompaniment, then openly-spelt bass harmonies that were stunning. My foot tapped throughout but my brain synapsed too. Both clever and earthy and open to all. Great stuff.

Then off to the Blues tent for a very different experience. More people, more beer, more dancing, much much much more volume, less grey hair. Perhaps this is the real place for the barbeque and the neighbours (if not for the ears). I’d gone for some authentic, black American blues guitar from Joe Louis Walker. Blues is all much of a muchness and I feel it’s all been played before, but this was obvious quality. It’s not easy to do a style with authenticity and authority and this had both. Great presence, sharp blues solos, thumping drive, basic bass, expressive keys and busy drums. Plenty of dancers up front, plenty of beers, a modicum of cops and the breathalyser on the street outside. And that thapping punch in the stomach from every bass drum kick. Good and social and fun but deadly for the aural anatomy. It wasn’t quite so deafening out of the line of fire of the PA, but I didn’t last too long.

Finally, the Pinsent Hotel, jamming-home of the festival. It’s Friday and not the busy night and the trad end of the scene was in residence. I caught a few tunes from the Syncopators. Again, more entertaining and irreverent than the modern stuff at the major theatres. These were decent players but my interests lie elsewhere, and, wary of breathalysers, I stayed for only one beer.

Hip Flask are led by Roger Manins (tenor sax, recorder) with Stu Hunter (organ), Adam Ponting (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Toby Hall (drums). Joe Louis Walker (guitar, vocals) played the blues with Phillip Young (keys, sax), Lenny Bradford (bass, vocals), Anthony Cage (drums). The Syncopators are Pater Gaudion (trumpet, vocals), Chris Lydowyck (trombone), Richard Miller (clarinet, sax) with Steve Grant (piano), Peter Baylor (guitar), James Clark (bass) and Andrew Swann (drums).

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