Bury St Edmunds Jazz Festival: Jazz

The Orlando Consort and Perfect Houseplants, St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds, May 19

It's always a delight to attend a concert in the beautiful surroundings of St Mary's, one of Suffolk's finest parish churches. Even better when the offering is two contrasting quartets - the virtuoso medieval singers the Orlando Consort and the innovative modern jazz group Perfect Houseplants.

It's exactly 10 years since the Orlandos and Houseplants entered the recording studios to document their Extempore project, where jazz meets early music.

It was a conjunction of styles which worked effortlessly, easily confounding those critics who sneer at the mention of 'crossover' and 'fusion'.

Back in Suffolk, the two groups - both dressed in black costumes as solemn as the setting - played under harsh church lighting, creating the formality of the concert hall, rather than the relaxed atmosphere of a jazz gig.


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Huw Warren (piano), Mark Lockheart (soprano and tenor saxophones), Dudley Phillips (double bass and bass guitar) and Martin France (drums) thrive in a world away from the Great American Songbook, with a sound that is clever, quirky and whimsical - but always accessible.

Add to that the extraordinary voices of Robert Harre-Jones (counter-tenor), Mark Dobell (tenor), Angus Smith (tenor) and Donald Greig (baritone) that reel us back through the bleak, devotional music of the eleventh to fifteenth centuries and the effect was one of eerie beauty.

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Sombre, certainly, but spiritual and affecting also none more so than in their gorgeous combination on Mass for the Feast of St Michael, based on the medieval melody L'homme arme. The Orlando Consort's repertoire spans no less than 10 centuries. An especial highlight was the performance of Scattered Rhymes by contemporary British composer Tarik O'Regan.

In considering any “crossover” venture, it's not long before Duke Ellington's celebrated dictum springs to mind - there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.

As one of the greatest jazz musicians of the last century, as well as the composer of sacred music, the Duke would have applauded the bravery of the Orlandos/Houseplants project. And, as a pianist, he'd have definitely dug Huw Warren's fabulous playing. One enchanted evening.

DONALD MUIR

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