The Big Swing dance extravaganza is a fixture of the Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival but this year the retro-stylish dancers didn’t have the monopoly on things because parallel headliner Quantic Live was packing out the O2 Academy at the same time. Touring with long-time foil singer Alice Russell, Will ‘Quantic’ Holland strolled easily onstage with his very tight jazz sextet and proceeded to flit between the various stages of his twenty year musical career with effortless grace. Thus there was snappy Blue Note influenced funk, Latin-flavoured urban jazz dance and, with the ebullient Ms Russell and fine trio of backing vocalists joining them on stage, soulful acid-jazz and upbeat R’n’B. Strapping on his accordion for some straight Cumbia was clearly a crowd pleaser, but it was the tropical reggae fusion that got them really bouncing.
Meanwhile, over the road, the swing dance massive was out in force with Festival house band led by Jonny Bruce and Denny Ilett cracking through some very authentic versions of classics like Tuxedo Junction, At The Woodchoppers Ball and a perfectly smoochy Sleepy Lagoon with trumpeter Jonny catching Harry James’ style to a T. It was great to listen to and even better for the dancers.
The evening had begun in more restrained style, however, with a double bill of Dakhla Brass and the Remi Harris Trio. Recognising a busy and successful year that took them to Montreal Jazz and the Albert Hall Dakhla Brass had clearly been elevated from their ‘local’ status onto the main programme, and the spread of the new music, still with its trademark contrasts of style and pace, more than justified their promotion. A new album is hotly anticipated.
Young guitar tyro Remi Harris, on the other hand, may prove to be the only performer in the festival to have satisfied both jazz and blues fans with equal enthusiasm, shifting from dazzling Django-style runs on Joseph Joseph to classic Freddie King shuffle blues on Hideaway. With the Bristol Bluesmen following later in the evening it would prove a big night for fretboard fans, while many of the evening’s jazzers decamped to Bambalan over the road for what was a very atmospheric jam session.