Dave O'Higgins, Rob Luft, Liane Carroll, Jeremy Sassoon, Dennis Rollins & Alan Barnes - 2023 Southport Jazz Festival

Fact is a lot of UK jazz festivals dotted around are middle of the road meaning mainstream, swing, bebop, accessible funk and practically no ''free jazz'' (free as in avant). You might think that there is nothing wrong with that. Or conversely you …

Published: 4 Jan 2023. Updated: 24 days.

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Fact is a lot of UK jazz festivals dotted around are middle of the road meaning mainstream, swing, bebop, accessible funk and practically no ''free jazz'' (free as in avant). You might think that there is nothing wrong with that. Or conversely you might be horrified at the play-safe familiarity yet again and lack of breadth in the booking policy. Horses for courses. Five hours by road, some 220 miles, from London (50 miles and an hour and a half from Manchester) Southport is no different to the established formula but could hardly be accused of not booking top acts nevertheless. Square that circle hipsters - conundrum of the day.

The familiar and popular names appearing at the Merseyside seaside resort next month include Dave O'Higgins, Rob Luft, Dennis Rollins featuring in Wendy Kirkland's quartet playing a new take on Get Carter, Pete Long, Georgina Jackson, Liane Carroll, Jeremy Sassoon, the Alan Barnes octet. Dates are 3-5 February, organisers are Jez Murphy and Emma Holcroft. The festival venue is The Grand on Lord Street.

Rob Luft and Dave O'Higgins, main photo: Monika S. Jakubowska. Dennis Rollins, above, playing the INNtöne festival in Austria in 2019, photo: Wikimedia. Full festival details

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Jason Moran, From the Dancehall To the Battlefield ****

As much a theatre, given the sweep of narrative and momentousness of the story, piece as anything From the Dancehall To the Battlefield continues the polymath US pianist composer Jason Moran's longstanding interests in the long gone past whether …

Published: 4 Jan 2023. Updated: 24 days.

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As much a theatre, given the sweep of narrative and momentousness of the story, piece as anything From the Dancehall To the Battlefield continues the polymath US pianist composer Jason Moran's longstanding interests in the long gone past whether Thelonious Monk at Town Hall or a rip through Fats Waller - this download/streaming formats meditation on early jazz composer James Reese Europe takes us back to the first world war and early jazz coming to Europe at a time of deep segregation and existential strife.

Because Moran is a modernist this is far more interesting than if he wasn't and yet do these labels really matter? When a tune interpreted as a solo piano piece such as Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake's 'All of No Man's Land is Ours' hangs in the air it's just a bloody good melody no matter what your tribe might be, tradster, modernist - neither.

'Russian Rag' and 'Darktown Strutters Ball' with the ensemble whose members include the Bandwagon's Tarus Mateen (the bassist is especially good on 'Castle House Rag') and Nasheet Waits, altoist Logan Richardson (featuring on WC Handy classic 'St Louis Blues') tenorist Brian Settles and tuba player Jose Davila among others, make no mistake, however can sound and probably were designed to be like period pieces.

That has its reasons given the sonic scene setting needed. Certainly most of us will only if at all know Jim Europe's name from the history books. And there are few versions of at least some of the music here full stop. So from that point of view Moran does jazz history a big favour like a detectorist discovering neglected treasure once found but just as often casually disregarded. It's a helluva deeper trawl than your average crate digging.

Moran's own piece 'Drop (Tear)' is very moving and you get that programmatic sense especially on this as if on an eerie pre dawn battlefield as the drums become louder and the horns relay a lament over and over again.

A good sprinkling of WC Handy given the ubiquity of Handy's legacy makes it easier for listeners who aren't really that interested in early 20th century jazz.

As a historical narrative that embraces the solidarity of the Clef Club black musicians union and more From the Dancehall To the Battlefield covers a whole lot - but this really begs to be heard live in a concert hall. The final Moran piece 'For James' is interesting given the tone it sets as a culminating statement - it's full of love, light and soul.

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Jason Moran, photo: press