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MAYFEST ’94
by Richard Russell

What happens when you take a sage British iconoclast and his Voice of God Collective (Jenkins proclaims that "the voice of the people is the voice of God"), partner them up with a virtuoso horn section from both sides of Berlin, and put the whole thing on a stage in Glasgow? Well, whatever did happen, the sound out of the mixing desk alone was deemed worthy of release. Not that this is lo-fi music: Billy Jenkins often employs purist methods but his production standards in terms of what actually hits your ears is far more adept than any teenie-pop backing track. Indeed, whereas the sound quality on ‘live’ recordings has been historically pretty poor, with overdubbed hysterical thousands (Queen, KLF) and guitar solos with the mistakes taken out afterwards (Zappa), it is refreshing to know that when Jenkins is at the controls, what you get is definitely what they heard. ‘Mayfest’ mixes Jenkins compositions from earlier albums with a few things penned by the Fun Horns seamlessly integrated in a full-throttle bravura performance in the best live jazz tradition.

‘Arrival of the tourists’ is a dizzy opener featuring trombonist Jorg Huke. A riff in six-eight time crosses the rhythm section in four-four, the ensemble precision generating the impetus. A trombone solo that hits the trombone stratosphere, interpolating rapid articulation, punctuated by dissonant trills from the rest of the horns. This contrasts with a more introspective piano and bass conversation while the drums break the rhythm up into quiet explosion. The rest of the band comes back in, led again by the trombone, this time with thick block chords which lead us to the coda, with a flourishing piano cadenza.

‘Fat people/Clowning glory’ shows off Jenkins as rhythm guitarist, taking a light-hearted ostinato figure and building the excitement by sheer force of will. The tenor leads a chorus or two of sax dialogue while the incessant rhythm pervades. A linking passage featuring a glockenspiel solo is followed by a delicate minor key chorale from the horns with muted trumpet. This breaks out into the major key and the music swells to a couple of anthemic quotes from a soaring alto. A slap on the double bass and a bit of ‘slap’-tonguing from tenor sax lead the neat twist into a short reprise.

‘Heavy metal/Eurostern’ starts off with a ripping funk-rock escapade featuring Jenkins in classic percussion-guitar style. The tempo eases up a bit and we get treated to a full five-minute trumpet solo from Rainner Brennecke in a sort of mock later Miles Davis style, based almost entirely on extended notes in the instrument’s lower register. Piano twitters away underneath, guitar nods in with some free jazz snapping. Then the original tempo is taken up by the saxes, and the second half of the track spotlights the Fun Horns unaccompanied. They take the funk riff and turn it into a complex counterpoint, which builds in sophistication through an elegant chorale to incorporate textures more associated with a baroque brass ensemble. The texture changes again and the instrumentalists indulge in a sort of mock-Stockhausen routine, echoing the earlier trumpet solo. This gives way to an astounding trombone solo which I challenge any trombonist to listen to without reaching for the lip salve in pained admiration. 

‘Cuttlefish’ and ‘Greenwich one way system’ are two Jenkins concert favourites here given a subtle reworking. The first follows an expansive piano solo with an extended mute trumpet chorus, all accompanied by staccato rhythm and guitar figures, with a coda showing off the horns’ splendiferous breath control. ‘Greenwich one way system’ alternates a mock-standard jazz chord sequence with thumping atonal block chords. Several choruses of roaring sax thunder into a drum break which exchanges accusing glances with some elegantly unsuitable piano.

‘Bilbao (St Columbus Day)’ is a carnival riot which first broke out on Jenkins’ ‘Scratches of Spain’ album. The treatment here prominently features an accordion amid the brisk vivace. In ‘4. Saxophone Nr.3-The Mayfest Variations’ the Fun Horns take us through a lively tango routine complete with perfectly articulated sirens and a brief trip to Glenn Millerland. The album ends with a high explosive reprise of ‘Bilbao’ with Billy Jenkins leading the way.

Billy’s association with the Fun Horns led to a second album, ‘East and West Now Wear the Same Vest’, as well as a tour sponsored by the Arts Council. The Horns also appeared on Jenkins’ 1996 album, ‘S.A.D.’. Between them, the breadth of musical reference coupled with sheer technical ability are amply demonstrated on ‘Mayfest ‘94’. As Jenkins says on the sleevenote, it’s a "close-mixed-voyeuristic-upside-down-inside-out-aural experience". He even includes a little map of the mix as it was on the stage, to heighten your sense of sonic geography. Like his work with British jazz musicians, ‘Mayfest ‘94’ stresses the music itself, as it finds expression with virtuoso instrumentalists; and it sounds like Glasgow brought the best out of them on the night.

© Richard Russell 2003 

 
MAYFEST ’94 


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