Vintage night for Van watchers

Jazz: Van Morrison and the Jazz Set; Cork Jazz Festival, Ireland
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The Independent Culture
It's midnight Saturday at Cork Opera House and it's a vintage night for Van watchers. The Man has a new band, it's their debut performance, it's being filmed for TV, there's an album in the can and only the fearsome reputation of one man in Ireland could have prompted the stage manager of an international jazz festival to pull the plug on John McLaughlin 10 minutes before the end of his set.

McLaughlin - the real coup for the festival - was playing his own show in the same venue prior to Van, and he wasn't amused. Neither, one imagines, were the TV crew, as Van repeatedly insisted on lowering the lights to something approaching the visual quality of a nocturnal wildlife documentary. Photographers with legitimate passes who felt they weren't wasting their time had to contend with somebody Van was sending round telling them they were. Regardless of the music, this was Van doing what Van does best, and for once he actually seemed to be enjoying himself.

Musically though, the bottom line is that Morrison likes jazz, but with the best will in the world he's not a jazz singer. He may have the impenetrable life-darkness of a pre-war blues man, the mystical, metaphysical predilections of the literary greats and the techniques of a soul singer but he simply doesn't have the diction, range or emotional breadth to be a great jazz vocalist.

That said, his music has always lent itself to improvisation and the new band do feature some of the best players around - Guy Barker on trumpet and Alan Skidmore on tenor in particular. Robin Asplend (piano), Alec Dankworth (bass), Leo Green (tenor), Ralph Salwins (drums) and Georgie Fame - sole survivor of the Man's last outfit - on Hammond completed the line-up.

Green's outrageous, swaggering persona and FR Leavis shirt-and-pin-stripe situation provided a potentially explosive counterpoint to Van's serious artist obsession, while the man himself was happy to grind through a mixed bag of standards including, most successfully, a disciplined stab at Ray Charles's "You Don't Know Me" - and revealing selections from his own enviable oeuvre. For all the beauty and warmth of "No Guru, No Method, No Teacher" and "Did Ye Get Healed?", the refrain of "Raincheck" ("Don't let the bastards grind me down... I don't fade away unless I choose") pretty much set the tone for the night's material, borrowed or otherwise.

Georgie Fame, the dutiful deputy, warmed up the crowd at the start and managed to whip up the encores at the end with a set-piece routine of hyperbole repetition of the "Let's hear it for the Man / He fills your heart with gladness/ Takes away your sadness..." variety. There were five encores, and they were the best performances of the night - most particularly an exhilarating, endless medley of "Tupelo Honey"/ "Why Must I Always Explain?" with spirited soloing all round and what, if the film surfaces, will probably end up being labelled as the "laughing version" of "Have I Told You Lately". They were making a film all right, and it'll certainly have its moments - but I don't think they should call it The Jazz Singer.

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