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Reviews: Glasgow Jazz Festival

Dennis Rollins Velocity Trio

ZARA McFARLANE: Endearing honesty and soulful interpretations offer superb clarity and character - no wonder she appears on Jools Holland.
ZARA McFARLANE: Endearing honesty and soulful interpretations offer superb clarity and character - no wonder she appears on Jools Holland.

Dennis Rollins Velocity Trio

Rio Club

Rob Adams

The sons and daughters of Jamaican immigrants have made an indelible impact on the UK jazz scene and with the Commonwealth Games's imminent arrival in town, Glasgow Jazz Festival devoted most of the prime slots of its Saturday programme towards celebrating this phenomenon.

Jamaican music's influence in repertoire terms varied from act to act and it was interesting to hear how classics such as Bob Marley's Jammin' and Junior Murvin's Police And Thieves and the song that gave the mass UK market its first taste of the island's pop music, Millie Small's 1960s hit My Boy Lollipop figured in their various guises.

Trombonist Dennis Rollins's group used the Marley song as inspiration for a musical investigation that typified this superbly self-sufficient unit's adventurous, probing work. They're as likely to take inspiration from Pink Floyd as reggae, in truth, although the number that lodged in the inner-ear for the remainder of the evening took thoughts on the afterlife as the basis for a musical journey that began with a fabulous hand-drumming intro from the marvellous Pedro Segundo, settled into a grooving, Latin American rhythm and found Rollins ruminating over Ross Stanley's sly, slinky organ figure.

Rollins's insistence that this isn't a trombone-led trio is right on the money: the three musicians work in transparently common cause, creating crisp, by turns invigorating, reflective and explosive and consistently downright attractive music of substance.

Courtney Pine House of Legends

Old Fruitmarket

Rob Adams

Courtney Pine's performances can be invigorating in their own way but the saxophonist's latest appearance at the festival wasn't one of his most appealing. His House Of Legends ostensibly pays homage to a selection of Caribbean personalities but there was only one dimension: a frenetic torrent of notes from a succession of soloists over an unremitting, if celebratory rhythm. If the sight of a set of steel pans stage left made anyone anticipate the musical colour and joyous counterpoint that Othello Molineaux brought to Jaco Pastorius's Word Of Mouth orchestra, illusions soon would have been shattered by an inglorious rammy that was hardly distinguished by Pine's determination to rehearse his now rather tired, snap, crackle and pop soprano sax party pieces.

Pine's influence on and groundwork for what must now be at least two generations of young musicians can't be denied, although he might learn a thing or two himself about pacing, solo building and finding interpretive empathy from the deeply impressive Binker Golding, whose tenor saxophone added atmosphere, gristle and weight to singer Zara McFarlane's set.

Jazz Jamaica

Old Fruitmarket

Rob Adams

Jazz Jamaica don't so much keep their fingers on the pulse as concentrate their collective endeavours on creating it. This was the late-night party end of the festival's Caribbean celebration and had to be held up while Golding made his way from his previous engagement with McFarlane. A disappointingly small turn-out didn't stop the carnival as the band bounced through reggae hits, adding touches of New Orleans in the horn arrangements and both hot and mellow improvisations. Special guest, Jamaica's jazz sweetheart Myrna Hague lent a cool presence with her 1970s hit What About Me, although any notions of being cool were soon overtaken by the infectious, dance-floor-filling strains of My Boy Lollipop making limbs as well as hearts go giddy-up.

Zara McFarlane

Rio Club

Rob Adams

McFarlane has been attracting increasing attention lately, even winning a jealously coveted slot on Later with Jools Holland, and it's easy to hear why. Her singing has clarity, character and a well-tempered tone as she sings both original songs - her tale of meeting her ex and his new squeeze had a lovely, endearing honesty about it - and soulful interpretations of Nina Simone's Plain Gold Ring and Junior Murvin's aforementioned Police And Thieves, the latter sounding like a jazz news bulletin.

She's also very comfortable, not just as the focal point but also as one-fifth of a creative, searching, collectively developing in situ quintet, where as well as Golding she has a crackingly responsive drummer in Moses Boyd, an imaginative and intelligent pianist, Peter Edwards, and the cool, assured presence of bassist Max Luthert. And while there are occasional echoes of the great examples to be heard in the jazz singing canon, the waltzing The Games We Played and the slow burning Woman In The Olive Groves confirmed McFarlane is growing into a singer with her own strong personality and one whose finger is definitely on the pulse of contemporary jazz.

Martin Taylor

Old Fruitmarket

Rob Adams

Martin Taylor has spoken before about music's healing powers. At a particularly low point in his professional career some years ago Taylor turned his situation around completely through playing his guitar to himself, and doubtless realising he can do things with it that makes ordinary mortals frankly envious, he continued giving master classes like this one.

Towards the end here, Taylor gave an insight into the impact of his younger son, Stuart's suicide in 2005 and played the melody that pulled him through the aftermath. This simple line, reminiscent of an Irish air, was as eloquent a demonstration of Taylor's musicianship as were the preceding examples that furnished living proof Taylor doesn't so much arrange as orchestrate music for the guitar, introducing bass lines, horn section-like passing chords and percussive dinks simultaneous to bluesy improvisations.

On this form he may well be the leader in a field of one. His repertoire came from pop and world music as well as the jazz standards book, with a mesmerising Girl Talk grooving through innumerable key changes before James Ingram's Just Once illustrated Taylor's ability to turn his guitar into a soul ballad singer and a gutsy, swinging Stella By Starlight preceding the almost throwaway blend of folksy primitivism and sheer sophistication of the calypso-ing Down At Cocomo's, complete with self-deprecating use of a capo.

I Got Rhythm, taken at Usain Bolt pace, was beyond virtuosic and even sound gremlins couldn't stop the genial flow of I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free - surely the ultimate confirmation Taylor has achieved his desire to "play piano but on the guitar".

Sons Of Kemet

The Rio Club

Sean Guthrie

More than an hour into a set that pushes the boundaries of both musical and physical dynamism, tuba player Theon Cross anchors the beat for what seems like forever, maintaining a deep, sonorous 4/4 pulse as Sons Of Kemet's ringmaster Shabaka Hutchings wrenches squeals and squalls from his saxophone and dual drummers Seb Rochford and Tom Skinner flex and fizz accordingly. It's giddying. After the group finally fall into step with Marshall's groove and harry the cut over the finishing line, they depart the stage, spent.

It's hard to tell whether the goal of Hutchings's hymns to the African diaspora is retribution or rapture. On the inside cover of their debut album, Burn, Sons Of Kemet behold the Manhattan skyline at sunset, a skyscraper tumbling before them. But here, in a basement on their maiden visit to Glasgow, their endeavours ride a white horse of wide-eyed wonder. No matter - the result is immense in its ambition and colossal in its execution.

Few players can rival Hutchings for mastery of both sax and clarinet - an unaccompanied four-minute extemporisation on the latter instrument early in the set is a peerless gambol through scales and tone - while Cross, deputising for Oren Marshall, oscillates instinctively between bass riffs and soliloquies in higher registers with ease. Behind them, Skinner and the ubiquitous Roachford, ever watchful of his colleagues' manoeuvres, form a profoundly funky alliance, gathering African and Caribbean instincts and drop-kicking them gleefully into the pot.

Stir these elements together and the resulting gumbo could feed an army, though judging by the vigour that sustains Sons Of Kemet throughout this performance, they've had second helpings before most of us have had breakfast.

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