Village On The Green, Wigan, 16 July 2023. Live review by Frank Griffith
A Force of Nature
Australian multi-instrumentalist James Morrison is a force of nature. He was spellbinding with a “triple-threat” fusillade of artistry on trumpet, trombone, and piano. Morrison, Honorary President of the Wigan International Jazz Festival, and his quartet wowed the capacity crowd with their musical versatility and playfulness.
His fine group included sons Richard (guitar) and Harry Morrison (bass), along with drummer Patrick Danao. These three players are all in their twenties, but their individual and collective levels of accomplishment and maturity were clear to hear, whether playing as accompanists or soloists.
Engaging and Humorous Tales
In addition to his playing, Morrison tells engaging, humorous tales which went down well. Many of these recalled amusing incidents with past audiences and sharing the stage with jazz legends during his 40-year career of worldwide appearances.
The Dynamics and Intensity
One of the group’s many strengths was its ability to use dynamics and build intensity on each tune, very much as if it was a large ensemble (big band, etc) chart that has the drama of a piece written into it – not the easiest thing to pull off with a small group.
The leader’s piano also featured on each piece, with Morrison sidling over to the bench after his brass solos to comp chords for other soloists. And if that wasn’t enough, his piano tour de force on “Take The A Train” was a stupendous display of light and shade.
A Stunning Rendition
From the cloaked simplicity of Jamal, Basie and (sometimes) Oscar Peterson to the high activity and drama of the full 88 keys exercising an orchestral verve and grandiloquence. The opening chorus was slow, creating an open and subtle atmosphere which was followed by a lilting medium ¾ metre to escalate the momentum up a notch. This was followed by a bright, no-holds-barred uptempo swing for all soloists to flourish atop lavishly.
After Patrick Danao’s heroic drum solo, the original slow tempo re-emerged, leading to a quiet close. The entirety of the train routes in the whole of the UK would not have approached covering the mileage witnessed in this “A Train”.
The Gentle Rain and Edelweiss
Luis Bonfa’s “The Gentle Rain” allowed Morrison’s trombone to shine to great effect as did son Harry’s unaccompanied bass solo to score with its many moods and rhythmic textures. His stomping feet on the acoustically resonant stage provided a welcome percussive element to the proceedings too.
Richard Rodgers’s “Edelweiss” was introduced by the leader with a jolly fantasy tale imagining if Captain Von Trapp were to visit a basement Salzburg jazz club and end up sitting in on flugelhorn, thus adding some proper jazz to “The Sound Of Music”. Morrison’s low Eb flugelhorn (a fifth lower than trumpet) carried this lark forward effectively on their gentle waltz treatment.
Two bright versions of jazz chestnuts, “A Beautiful Friendship” and “Just Friends” displayed Morrison’s stratospheric yet seamless lyricism on trumpet and were a delight to hear.
A Tribute to the Festival Team
Full plaudits to Ian Darrington, Peter Fletcher, and the fine Wigan Jazz team for their efforts producing the 38th anniversary of the festival. The Village On The Green in leafy Aspull (a short distance from Wigan town centre) boasts an atmosphere of a Soho Jazz Club replete with cloaked lighting filtered with a neon ambience, the glow of which fully harmonizing with the sounds of Jazz.