Sunday, June 26, 2022

Saxophone star Helena Kay joins East Neuk’s eclectic jazz and folk line

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The Perth-raised saxophonist and former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year will perform with his KIM Trio, writes Jim Gilchrist

Helena Kay’s 2018 trio debut album Moon Palace was inspired by a novel by acclaimed New York chronicler Paul Auster, while the title track of the second Golden Sands, due out in September, was inspired by a song her grandmother used to sing. Add in musical influences like Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker and Bobby Wellins and it’s clear that the Perth-raised, London-based saxophonist’s music is cosmopolitan to say the least – and she can carry her through the centuries with her KIM Trio be heard -old districts from Anstruther’s Dreel Hall on July 1st as part of the ever eclectic East Neuk Festival.

At 28, Kay cuts a slim figure by blowing big tenor sax in a warm, clean and uncluttered style, and was recently involved in a rich dialogue between sax and strings in violinist, bandleader Seonaid Aitken’s newly released and haunting jazz classic -Folk Distillation , Chasing Sakura.

“I always try to play and write melodicly,” says Kay. “I think that’s really important. I want to communicate with the audience and the other musicians in the band.”

Kay recorded Golden Sands a few months ago with her established trio of drummer David Ingamellis and bassist Calum Gourlay – plus guest pianist Pete Johnstone. Johnstone isn’t available for the East Neuk gig, so the guest spot is taken by another of Kay’s associates, vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield, which should make for some memorable reed and percussion timbres.

There is an ongoing crowdfunding campaign for the new album (which can be accessed at “We’re halfway there,” says Kay.

Raised in Perth – where as a teenager they saw the late, great Bobby Wellins and played with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland’s Jazz Orchestra – Kay went to attend London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2012 and stayed there, except one Stay in New York. After playing alto saxophone for several years, they switched to tenor in their third year at the Guildhall after hearing the great Sonny Rollins.

Kay was Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year in 2015 and two years later won a Peter Whittingham Jazz Award which enabled them to record and release Moon Palace to critical acclaim. In addition to the KIM Trio, Kay also plays in bassist Gourlay’s own quartet and big band and in the ranks of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.

Later in June they will play with trumpeter Ryan Quigley’s Big Band during the Glasgow Jazz Festival, while in July they will perform at the Edinburgh International Jazz Festival alongside their saxophonist Laura MacDonald and in celebration of the hugely influential Charles Mingus’ centenary , featuring bassist Emma Smith are out this year.

Kay is just one of a number of eminent artists leading the jazz, folk and world music sections of the East Neuk Festival, which sees outstanding classical and non-classical musicians perform in some of these picturesque corners of Fife’s venerable churches and halls. Among them is Syrian-born Rihab Azar, one of a growing number of women players of the oud, the fretless Middle Eastern lute, who performs with her trio and with folk musician Luke Daniels. Arabic music had a major influence on the development of flamenco, represented at the festival by virtuoso guitarist Daniel Martinez and his ensemble.

Influences from the Middle East and beyond permeate the music of cellist Shirley Smart, who appears in her trio with pianist John Crawford and drummer Demi Garcia Sabat, while Newcastle singer and violinist Frankie Archer in further cross-cultural collaboration with the Kenyan multi-instrumentalist and singer meets -songwriter Rapasa Nyatrapasa Otieno.

Festival favorite clarinettist Julian Bliss returns with his septet and a program of film music. Speaking of which, the inimitable Neil Brand, ‘the doyen of film pianists’, directs the festival’s cinematic section, plays for a Buster Keaton screening, among other performances, and joins the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra, the Tullis Russell Mills Band and others in the festival’s mesmerizing -sounding Celebration of the weather, Thunderplump.

The East Neuk Festival runs from June 29th to July 3rd,

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