This is the last of the regular blogs we'll be bringing you from the Rochester International Jazz Festival. We hope it's given you a taste of what Made In The UK is all about and how important the series is to the festival. And remember, this is only the Rochester section. With the series expanding into Canadian festivals for the first time in 2012, UK artists and the home scene in general are getting this same amazing level of exposure in several other cities around the same time. Far more than just a few related gigs by musicians from the same place, Made In The UK has established itself as an integral part of Rochester's line-up and contributes enormously to the overall international flavour of the event.
Earlier in the day Jazz Services and the Scottish Jazz Federation hosted a small reception for the local media and got the chance to impress on them how important it is that these kind of opportunities exist for UK musicians. We were subsequently invited to appear on local radio station WXXI radio the following morning and promote the series further, which is especially advantageous here because the support from local media has been fantastic. Being on good terms with the press is obviously a good way to ensure the word is spread, and a vital part of any successful festival.
One of the great things about the series is the opportunity to showcase the huge diversity of the UK scene, with last night's concerts being a prime example. Fraser Fifield is a multi-talented player who performs on a range of instruments including flute, whistle, soprano saxophone, cajon and most notably bagpipes. As such, it'll be no surprise for those unfamiliar with him to learn he is part of the group of musicians brought over by the Scottish Jazz Federation and Creative Scotland, and he was joined onstage by guitarist Graeme Stephen, who played the previous night with Breach.
“Weaving a magical spell that we are all blessed to witness,” (to quote one local Rochester radio broadcaster), Fifield and Stephen had the perfect setting in which to showcase their beguiling compositions. There was a distinct Scottish folk tinge to the music, and nestled amongst the original numbers were several traditional tunes dating back several hundred years, and there's a comparison to be made with the folk-influenced jazz of some recent Scandinavian artists, such as the Jonas Knutsson/Johan Norberg duo. To anyone for whom alarm bells started ringing at the mention of jazz bagpipes earlier, leave your preconceptions at home. In Fraser's skilled hands the instrument sang with a haunting, keening tone that had the listeners in awe. Both players also used loops and electronics to augment their sound, and the resulting layers of sound built up to fill the room to the rafters. Stephen admits his own playing owes a debt to the influence of Bill Frisell, and they share a pure clear tone that is an ideal match for the higher register of Fifield's horns and pipes.
By giving the Rochester crowds something new and unfamiliar to digest, Fraser Fifield and the rest of the artists here are doing important work to put our jazz scene on the international map. The Made In The UK series runs until the 30th June in Rochester before continuing on to Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Victoria and Saskatoon, and we hope it can expand even further in future years and continue to spread the word of our national jazz scene far and wide. Rochester has certainly been a great place to start...