Festival's brilliant start
THE Big Chris Barber Band represented the acid test: does Bristol really want a jazz and blues festival?
The unbroken sea of heads in the capacity-filled main Colston Hall constituted an emphatic "Yes!"
At 82, Barber was on great form, presiding over his glittering line of brass players through a brisk set of New Orleans classics and a splendid trio of early Duke Ellington numbers played with unearthly authenticity. Trombonist Barber went on to sing Precious Lord (Take My Hand), in a classic Dixieland six-piece line-up, then played double bass for the trio intro to Wildcat Blues, Bert Brandsma's liquid clarinet evoking Sydney Bechet in full swing. The big band returned and numbers like Rocking In Rhythm and the inevitable When The Saints Go Marching In go down a storm, with Barber's amiable showmanship and undisputed musical credentials showcasing the music he loves. Outside the foyer was packed on all floors, with Moscow Drug Club's gypsy swing entertaining the sell-out queue for Ginger Baker's Jazz Confusion. They're actually not confused at all, the music having a crisp clarity with Baker's drumming very controlled and precise throughout, reflecting his abiding passion for African styles. As the sole melodic voice, Pee Wee Ellis was on excellent form, playing it cool on opener Footprints, then ripping into Monk's Bemsha Swing and Rollins' St Thomas. A tight four-piece, Alec Dankworth's bass faultless and Abass Dodaa's hand percussion given full rein by the calculated Baker, whose devastated rasp of a voice and stiffened posture belie his musical nimbleness. The evening rounded off with a fine jam session into the small hours, Pee Wee returning for a blow alongside some of Bristol's best and dynamite New Orleans vocalist Lillian Boutte giving a preview of her show the next day.
All-in-all a brilliant start to a promising weekend.
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