Photography: Glyn Akroyd / facebook.com/Glyn-Akroyd-Photography

ESMOND SELWYN

International Guitar Festival Of Great Britain @ The Floral Pavilion 11/11/16

Wirral’s International Guitar Festival of Great Britain celebrates its 28th year, quite an achievement for a Council promoted event whose stated aim has always been to bring top class international and national artists (Paco Pena, Jan Akkerman, John Renbourn, Albert Lee) to the Wirral whilst giving local talent a chance to shine. The festival has always prided itself on covering the widest possible range of styles and repertoire and this year is no different, featuring jazz, classical, Flamenco, blues, rock and folk.

Tonight sees the return of jazz guitarist ESMOND SELWYN, a performer of international fame (he played for Frank Sinatra at a private party at the Savoy, and has performed with Chick Corea and Charlie Byrd and is a noted teacher). Following a solo performance at the festival in 2014 tonight he plays with his quartet, featuring saxophonist Toni Kofi, a band leader and reputed performer in his own right.

However, it appears that none of the above plaudits have been capable of generating the kind of audience that tonight’s subsequent performance undoubtedly deserves. I walk into the Blue Room and find myself amidst, or rather sitting in splendid isolation amongst, an audience of precisely eight people. For a festival whose target audience is presumably the kind of aficionado who would wear knowledge of Selwyn’s pedigree as a badge of honour this is totally mystifying. It becomes more so as the evening unfolds.

The band launch effortlessly into versions of Charlie Parker’s Cool Blues and Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa. Selwyn cuts a relaxed figure, sitting, glasses perched on his forehead as though browsing the Sunday papers, while his fingers do the talking. Kofi’s playing is lyrical, the melodies strong and sweet. Nancy With The Laughing Face (Van Heusen/Silvers – yep, that’s Sgt. Bilko to you and me!) sees a floating Selwyn solo underscored by guttural Hammond growls courtesy of John Paul Gard and Kofi again coaxing rich, flowing passages from his alto. It’s becoming apparent that this is a night to sit back and revel in a choice set list delivered with absolute quality.

Bernie’s Tune (Bernie Miller) lifts the tempo, Kofi blasting off some fiery riffs and Selwyn’s fingers a blur on the fretboard. Beneath it all, drummer Coach York anchors the rhythm with a delicate intensity before flying off into passages of polyrhythmic propulsion as he duets with Gard. The piece ends with an Eastern flourish before Selwyn opens John Coltrane’s blues Mr P.C., demonstrating his famed technical ability, wringing clean, sharp notes from his customised Hagstrom.

It is to the great credit of Selwyn and his band that they play throughout as though there were 800 people in the room. Towards the end of the set Selwyn surveys the audience, leans into the mic and says: “John Coltrane said that if one member of the audience is listening it’s like having another band member on stage, thanks for being part of the band tonight”. That’s not just professional, that’s downright cool.

On Van Heusen’s Polkadots And Moonbeams, Selwyn is flying and York delivers a knockout solo before being joined by Gard’s gnarly, swirling Hammond. Kofi bobs and weaves like a middleweight, light on his feet, as he plays out the melodic hook of Thelonious Monk’s Blue Monk quite delightfully. The applause is sustained.

It is to be hoped that the organisers of the festival are as resilient as tonight’s performers and that they continue to drop this kind of quality musicianship onto our doorsteps. Come on people, get off your arses!

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