It was good to see an audience of all ages and types at Burton Agnes Jazz and Blues Festival, from straight laced elderly jazz fans, aspiring posh couples with fancy picnic hampers, champagne and tablecloths, aging hippies, young hip types, to growing families- even a fair sprinkling of dogs. It was a relaxed comfortable atmosphere in a beautiful setting, the weather was kind, the sound quality was great and everybody was able to sit back, eat, drink and enjoy. The evening started with the Al Wood big band and guest vocalist Saffron Byass. They did a workmanlike job, zipping through old Count Basie favourites and jazz big band standards. It was a perfect way to ease the audience into the evening while they enjoyed their food. Saffron Byass has a lovely rich deep tone to her voice and did a fine job, although I have to say that she did rather murder the Cole Porter number It’s All Right By Me. On the other hand I am used to listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s version and that’s pretty stiff competition.
The main event of the evening was a long set by the Velocity Trio. This is led by Dennis Rollins on Trombone, with Pedro Segundo, a young Portugese musician, on drums and Ross Stanley on organ. This was not an audience that were ever going to rush the stage or crowd surf but the enthusiasm and musicianship of the trio quickly created an atmosphere as darkness fell and the stage lights brightened. Jazz musicians love to play and they were completely in thrall to each other and the music. Dennis Rollins is well known for his ability to coax a groove from an instrument that is somewhat neglected, and he is a dignified and charismatic stage presence. His playing has a contemporary edge and creates soundscapes which are a long way from the trad jazz that we had started with. Pedro Segundo was a revelation. He is young and good looking (which never does any harm) but more importantly he is a phenomenal drummer, who was able to create sounds of quiet delicacy alongside his flashier moments. He clearly loved playing and he enjoyed the reaction that he got from his audience. It was a tribute to him that at one point Dennis Rollins had those of us at the front chanting his name. Ross Stanley was the quiet anchor of the trio. The three of them were bouncing off each other, watching each other closely and relishing the communication that they have built up. This produced some very sharp playing, which was also relaxed and carefree, mostly original compositions, but they also threw in a storming version of Pink Floyd’s Money which was full of sheer exuberance and playfulness.
After the set finished there was acoustic blues in the beer tent from Miles Cain, who rather ruefully followed Dennis Rollins with a short acoustic guitar set. He needn’t have worried, he did fine and it was fun when his friend joined him on harmonica for a few Bob Dylan numbers. Next were Two, Helen Turner and Sharon Winfield, who had some nicely written and moving material, and made a pleasant end to a lovely evening.