The Ambleside Days contemporary jazz festival is a remarkable event. I’ve just returned from four days at what felt like a retreat (from everyday demands) and an embrace (of listening, paying attention and savouring the moment). I’ve written a round up for London Jazz of the four evenings of gigs, here I’m logging a special moment that seemed to capture one of the elements that make this a rather special, small but big-hearted festival. It’s what everyone refers to as ‘the vibe’, hard to describe although I’m going to try, but not hard to feel it.
The festival programme is built around musicians who who have had a long association with Zeffirellis, an association that starts with love and enthusiasm of course, the love of Derek Hook, co-founder of the restaurant/ cinema business, for the music and creativity found in contemporary jazz. The musicians all stay together in a farmhouse up in the hills and the time they get to spend together seems to be part of what creates an open-minded, interested-in-others atmosphere. A vibe.
One of those core musicians is Tim Garland who has just released Weather Walker, an album bringing together his classical and jazz sides, blending the stunning trio of Garland, Jason Rebello and Yuri Goloubev with large and small string ensembles playing his orchestrations. It’s beautiful music, some of which found its way into a small-band festival performance. The album was lavishly recorded and, unusally, mixed for surround sound (how that came about and was supported is another story). Someone joined the dots (jazz festival, cinema, recorded music mixed in surround sound) and an impromptu, free session was arranged during one of the days.
Without ceremony Garland introduced the music, something of how it had been recorded (an orchestra one day, a small string ensemble another, small jazz band another – all in different spaces) and then ‘an old fashioned listening session’ as Garland put it. Despite the injunction to be informal, wander around and so on, once the lights dimmed a bit and the music started, no one moved a muscle (the cinema was well populated on bright Lake District lunch-time). The sound was extraordinary. At one point as a full orchestra soared quietly, somewhere around the sides of the room, Yuri Goloubev’s bass appeared to be singing in the row in front of me as the piano, to my other side, traced a delicate, lyrical line. Gorgeous music and a unique listening experience.
Listening together were punters like me, some lucky in-the-right-place passers-by, and a good smattering of musicians, some of whom who’d been on the recording. Everyone listening together. Intently. And then a conversation, some contributions were asking how this or that effect was achieved, most however were describing responses, observations, what had been heard. I had a powerful sense of the distinction between ‘producers’, ‘creators’, ‘consumers’ , ‘audience’ blurring and us all just appreciating. A small shift, but completely uncontrived. A consequence of that generous open minded spirit that had been injected into the festival’s blood stream somewhere – the vibe. It pervaded the rest of the festival with the same cinema providing the setting for the evening gigs, that quiet hour in the middle of the day seemed to distill the essence however.
Weather Walker is a sequel to Garland’s 2014 release Songs to the North Sky reviewed here for London Jazz, there’s traditional melody tinge to many of the themes and its a sumptuous listen – heartily recommended. There are samplers on his website here