By Andrew Myers

‘We do like to groove beside the seaside’ was the tagline for the first Emergence festival last weekend (28-30 Sept 2018), but it could equally well have been ‘forget what you think you know about jazz’. Jazz in the Round (usually based in London’s Cockpit Theatre) took over St Mary in the Castle for a staggeringly diverse three days of improvised music. Some might see this as an example of DFL-ism, but personally I was delighted to save the train fare up to the big smoke. Hastings is already blessed with a thriving jazz scene, but it’s a real indication of the town’s increasing cultural significance that a major contemporary music venue chose to relocate here for the weekend.

Alina Bzhezhinska Quartet with Tony Kofi
PICTURE: Tatiana Gorilovski

And make no mistake, this was world-class stuff. Hosted by Jazz FM’s Jez Nelson and Chris Phillips, it featured ten cutting-edge acts, with over twenty musicians at the top of their game, hailing from everywhere from the US to the Ukraine via Scotland.

You would need brave ears to appreciate everything on offer equally, but what a line up! The ‘maverick’ solo keyboard sounds of Dinosaur’s Elliot Galvin kicked off the proceedings on Friday, followed by Denys Baptiste’s celebration of the late music of John Coltrane. Former Jazz Messenger Jean Toussaint shared the Saturday night slot with Chiminyo’s ‘revolutionary electronic dance music’ and the Sons of Kemet-influenced funk of bassist Arthur O’Hara’s Trio.

If that was all a bit mainstream for you, Sunday’s offering ranged from the jazz rock of the Mike De Souza Trio to the Alice Coltrane-inspired jazz harp of Alina Bzhezhinka, via the free-jazz sax stylings of local lads Trevor Watts and Ollie Brice, whose inclusion means the festival gives a sage nod to home-grown Hastings talent. And for the grand finale, we heard Kim Macari, and Jamie Murray’s fusion quintet Beat Replacement, featuring the electrifying playing of altoist Zhenya Strigalev.

A paradox of improvised music is that sometimes musicians stay in their comfort zone, falling back on stale formulas in familiar settings. Well, there was nothing stale about the Emergence Festival. Some will always ask the time-honoured question, ‘but is it jazz?’, to which I can only respond with the words of Wayne Shorter – ‘for me, jazz means I dare you’. The music on offer this weekend certainly lived up to that, and reader, if you missed it, I dare you to go next year!

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