22 Jul 2013
A hot night in Cambridge - the warmth of the day bouncing off the stones of the city, the street vibe buzzing in the balmy air. What could make the mood more exciting than a bout of fabulous music played with exuberance and skill courtesy of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival?
Cue a brilliantly talented trio, headed by turbo-charged Dutchman Tim Kliphuis on violin. It was just the ticket to take the temperature from pleasant to joyous.
Kliphuis was joined by Nigel Clarke, arguably the very best guitarist on the circuit ( he’s played with Irish folk band Clannad and jazz legend Carla Bley) and subtly underpinned by the raw driving rhythms of bassist Roy Percy now back from his American success and ready with an innovative style to thrill his devotees.
Between them, the trio took the audience pulse up to danger levels at a sizzling session in the formal but quirky setting of the Cambridge Union. The strange layout worked well for the fabulous threesome. The space is a kind of mock-up of the House of Commons with benches on either side, and even voting boxes for the Ayes and Noes - but with the room rearranged and the ancient upholstered benches parked at rakish angles, the stiff formality was doused in a funky onslaught of music that lifted the enthusiastic atmosphere to fever pitch.
The musical style is unique. It began in 1930s Paris by virtuoso violinist Stèphane Grappelli and aimed to bring the rhythms of jazz to classical instruments. Made modishly famous by Django Reinhardt who added his genuine gypsy heritage – he played guitar with only three fingers - the Hot Club of Paris wowed the stylish young things of the inter-war years all over Europe.
The concert on Sunday 21 July had all the thrill of improvisation and eclectic fun of the original. As audience member, jazz guitarist (and painter) James Horton remarked in the interval: ‘You can’t go wrong with this style of music, even heavy metal fans love it. It just puts a smile on everyone’s face.’
Certainly the audience burst into ecstatic applause at the end of the trio’s first number, Fats Waller’s Honeysuckle Rose. They recognised the sheer virtuosity of the musicians, and delighted in the daring of it all. Extemporising on a theme is a high wire act. No one knows where it might go. In fact the concert programme guaranteed the evening would be unique.
Once they had showed off their consummate swing ability, the trio went off-piste. They announced they would play Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘The Nearness of You’ - and morphed it with mysterious skill into Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It was an Alice in Wonderland experience for music lovers.
And there was more to come. In what Tim Kliphuis described a ‘symphonic piece’ but musicians call in the trade a ‘mashup’, the trio created a brilliant mixture of Aaron Copland themes, his Hoe Down and it’s amazing Scottish reels showed off the violinist’s skill in breathtaking style, and blended them with pieces of Bach and jazz tunes. The audience roared approval and surged to the massive Union Bar - another example of how the place is modelled on Westminster!
In the second half, we heard more from the exquisite technique of guitarist Nigel Clark. Young men in the audience, clearly keen finger pickers, were just about open-mouthed at his command of the instrument and he was rewarded by wild whoops of praise. Roy Percy, the bassist, showed off the street rhythms he has brought back from America, including what the programme called his jaw dropping bass slapping techniques unrivalled in Europe.
This was a wild exuberant show. It demonstrates how musically canny the organisers of the Summer Festival are. In one flamboyant fanfare they have opened this event with brio. It bodes very well indeed for the next three weeks.
Cambridge is in for some stunning musical evenings in venues of elegance. Can we really ask more from these inspired musical mentors? Their line-up is a suave combination of sophisticated orchestras to the near madness of pop-up Opera set to explode soon in a shop or square near you.
Variety, virtuosity and fun. Get down to a festival venue and grab a ticket – or scan the menu of events online - to make summer that significant bit more special.