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Kirk Lightsey, Bobby Wellins, Alan Barnes

The Southport Melodic Jazz Club's inaugural winter weekend event will live long in the memories of those lucky enough to be there.

Capping a fantastic three days of performances at the English seaside resort's Royal Clifton Hotel was Detroit-born pianist Kirk Lightsey, whose link up with UK tenor man Bobby Wellins had jazz fans roaring their approval.

The Melodic Jazz Club has a knack of bringing together explosive musicians, lighting the blue-touch paper and tiptoeing to a safe distance as the creative fireworks fly. But with this they surpassed themselves.

Lightsey was a regular with Dexter Gordon and Chet Baker bands in the 70s and 80s and the pedigree shows. At the piano he is a man possessed. On ballads such as Some Day my Prince will Come, he played with a haunting romanticism. For an untitled Cuban workout, he wore the face of wild man, shouting out crazy voodoo, encouraging bassist Steve Watts and drummer Wickins to match his daredevil beat.

Lightsey's exuberance was matched perfectly by Wellins. The poker-faced Scots tenorman, whose commanding place in British Jazz history is grows ever more secure, played so sweetly and assuredly that the listener was utterly at his mercy.

Wellins' inventive interpretations of standards such as The Way You Look Tonight and When the Sun Comes Out where wonderfully fresh and exciting, veering between a ghostly melancholy and lustful exuberance but never losing sight of the melodic integrity of the song.

The weekend's main event came later that evening with the Alan Plater/Alan Barnes collaboration Songs for Unsung heroes.

Plater (the writer behind the Beiderbecke Affair) gave droll introductions to songs, co-written with the likeable reedman, that celebrated some lesser-known jazz luminaries. The witty and swinging numbers were given a suitably laid-back interpretation by vocalist Liz Fletcher but it was trumpet player John Ruddick Snr who stole the gig with gloriously zestful playing.

Ruddick was also on hand to lead BBC Two Big Band winners "Fat Chops" in a uproarious finale on Sunday night and completed a Dixieland for Connoisseurs event that had such an impressive line-up that came within a whisker of converting this enemy of trad.

Highlight of Friday's entertainment was Geoff Earles' brave attempt to bring the be-bop compositions of Charlie Parker to the Steinway grand.

Trying to do justice to rhythm, melody and swing of Bird on such a clean and classical instrument proved to a task too far for the Welshman but more successful was his arrangements of Bill Evans romantic oeuvre.

What this pianist needed was backing and it arrived, seemingly out the ether, when he joined on stage by Alan Barnes. The pair stuck up and instant understanding and two numbers later the crowd were calling for more, a future gig and even a recording.

With Anita Wardell, the Sefton Youth Jazz Orchestra, Jack Emblow and the John Hallam Jazztet completing the weekend, it's hard to imagine how the Southport Melodic Jazz Club could top this event.

But with them anything seems possible.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Kirk Lightsey
  • Subtitle: Southport winter Jazz festival
  • Venue: Southport, England
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