Mostly Jazz Festival

Neil McKim visits the UK’s newest jazz festival 

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Last Saturday I dropped in at a brand new jazz festival. Yes, in a genre that often seems to be fighting its corner, a new festival all of its own is welcome news. Arriving in the Moseley Village suburb of Birmingham, I took a walk down an alleyway just off the high street and found myself transported straight into the open-air Mostly Jazz Festival. With two stages, this intimate festival is set in the idyllic setting of Moseley Park, its natural sweeping slope making an ideal amphitheatre with a lakeside backdrop.

 
A particularly interesting line-up had drawn a wide audience. As well as fans of jazz music, who were clearly there aplenty, there’s also an audience in the UK jazz scene who might not be necessarily into mainstream jazz but which are drawn in by elements of music where jazz blends with other genres – such as latin, indie, funk, or the avant-garde. And the organisers had gone to some effort to cater for this. Previous Mercury Prize-nominees Led Bib, Polar Bear and Portico Quartet, who have all pushed the jazz envelope, where on a bill which included the ever-inspirational Brit saxophonist headliner Courtney Pine.
 
The lack of any formal seating certainly broke down any concert hall aesthetics and encouraged dancing aplenty, as the likes of the Hammond organ-driven James Taylor Quartet did what they do best, their version of Carole King’s ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ pretty much doing exactly that!
 
In one of the other marquees, Stateside visitor Marshall Allen, who now leads Sun Ra’s Arkestra, another headliner, was giving one of the pre-concert Q&As, revealing how his former bandleader Sun Ra would appear to fall asleep at rehearsals but would suddenly awaken if anybody tried to leave early.
 
Saturday’s compère was actor and DJ Craig Charles, who has become somewhat of a champion of UK Jazz (he was notably on the cover of Jazz UK recently) with his show on BBC 6 Music. He happily introduced recent acts from his shows including vocalist Lizzy Parks, who lent glamour to the Yardbird stage, before the straw-hatted Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro (pictured), fresh over from Columbia, via a set at Glastonbury, got a good portion of the audience up on their feet.
 
It was an impressive first festival, as you may expect from a city that is clearly awash with homegrown jazz, while major jazz artists are regularly drawn to the foyer of Symphony Hall for ‘Rush Hour’ concerts. Birmingham Jazz promoters hosted their own stage on Sunday with talent ranging from Birmingham Jazz Youth Group, to bands drawing members from Birmingham Conservatoire, such as MC3 and Moon Unit. I, for one, hope this festival becomes a regular fixture.