Review: From Ellington to Oasis in a fine array of jazz in Kenilworth

Clive Peacock reviews performances by the Alex Clarke Jazz Quartet and others at the Kenilworth Arts Festival

Curzon Brass made a welcome return to the area

Thanks to the hugely innovative festival volunteers, Becky Webb, Sarah McCaffrey and Liz Heath, most of this year’s events were held outdoors in the specially constructed ‘eco canopied dome’ in Talisman Square surrounded by the rapidly maturing ‘volunteer’ gardens – a credit to all involved.

Sunday afternoon featured the Curzon Brass, products of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, making a welcome return to the area following their memorable visit in early July as part of the Leamington Music Festival.

Jazz nights were top selling nights in the Square with Adrian Litvinoff’s Interplay persuading the audience to take to their feet on Saturday. Friday night showcased the remarkable talents of the Alex Clarke Jazz Quartet.

Alex, 21, began life in Congleton, progressed to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire before starting a professional career and a role as a teacher at Warwick School. She brings with her Paul Jeffries on bass, Charlie Stratford on drums and the exceptional Alex Steele on keyboards. All three have wide experience of working with high profile groups including Clarke Tracey, Ben Holder and Jamie Cullum, experience which helps guide Alex as she builds her career which was boosted by her appearance as a finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician competition in 2020.

Days of Wine and Roses began her set, soon followed by two Duke Ellington favourites – Rose Room and In a Mellotone, a 1938 jazz standard. Alex excels in this slow ballad with a fine balance achieved within the quartet with stand out keyboard playing by Steele. Alex brought her “guilty pleasures” to public view with performances of Abba’s Money, Money, Money and Oasis’s Wonderwall, serving to demonstrate her wide-ranging jazz repertoire. The sublime rendition of Ray Henderson’s Bye Bye Blackbird lit up the second half, shortly before the minor catastrophe of the sound engineer’s mixer failing, resulting in the loss of keyboard sound. The quartet’s ‘never die attitude’ ensured the completion of the evening with performances of another jazz standard On the Sunny Side of the Street and Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger.

The loss of the remarkable Steele on keyboards was overcome with some creative, quick thinking rearrangements of these last two pieces, a tribute to the skill and ingenuity of the remaining three players. All four will be back in town at Kenilworth Jazz Club’s regular rugby club venue on December 6 – worth catching again.