Preview: Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival

The legendary American Jazz performer, Dr. John. Picture: AP
The legendary American Jazz performer, Dr. John. Picture: AP
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THE Capital gets into the swing of things for another year when the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival kicks off tomorrow.

The ten-day bash features 80 acts playing at more than a dozen city venues, and this year’s line-up brings together a number of luminaries from the international jazz and blues scene, including multi-Grammy Award winner Dr John, Australian outfit Tijuana Cartel and, from closer to home, Scots funk and soul legends the Average White Band.

As well as a host of Scottish musicians, the festival, now in its 34th year, also boasts performers from destinations as diverse as Scandinavia and Martinique, with two special strands showcasing some of Poland and Italy’s leading jazz exponents.

Hogging the limelight on the opening night’s bill are two outstanding female vocalists. Having enjoyed an epic career starring with greats like Ray Charles and Dizzy Gillespie, Detroit-born singer Barbara Morrison (Salon Elegance, George Square, Friday, 9.15pm & Saturday, 7pm, £15) is an incomparable figure in the world of jazz and blues and her shows promise to be spectacular.

Elsewhere, the stylish Niki King (Teatro Spiegeltent, George Square Friday, 10pm, £15), arguably Scotland’s foremost jazz singer, appears with her eight-piece funk band The Elements, when fans will be given the chance to experience material from her new, self-penned album It’s All Good.

Come Saturday, more than 8000 fans are expected to flock to the Grassmarket for the festival’s Mardi Gras (Grassmarket, Saturday, 1pm, free), when the historic market square is transformed into a miniature New Orleans for the day.

The day begins, appropriately enough, with a set by The Stooges Brass Band, all the way from the Big Easy. Entertainment also comes from the Savannah Jazz Band, blues harmonica whizz Dana Dixon and festival newcomer Sleepy Eyes Nelson, as well as Mardi Gras favourites The Criterion Parade Band.

Those daytime festivities serve as a prelude to the evening’s two biggest draws, representing both the modern and conventional, classic sides of the Jazz and Blues Festival’s programming.

Encompassing a huge range of styles and influences, from flamenco to indie, electronica to Afro-Cuban percussion, Tijuana Cartel (Teatro Spiegeltent, George Square, Saturday, 10.30pm, £10) produce a big, bold sound which, combined with an engaging, energetic stage presence, makes the Gold Coast quartet’s gig accessible for anyone who feels a little daunted by more traditionally-styled acts.

Over at the Festival Theatre – a new addition to the festival’s venue roster – is Mac Rebbenack, better known as Dr John (Festival Theatre, Saturday, 8pm, £22.50-£26.50). Ranking alongside Fats Domino and Louis Armstrong in the pantheon of jazz and blues greats, interest in the 71-year-old’s career has recently been reinvigorated following the release of album Locked Down, which featured The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on production duties.

One major change to proceedings sees the introduction of the Edinburgh Festival Carnival (Princes Street and Princes Street Gardens, Sunday, 1pm, free).

Expect colourful costumes galore as Princes Street and the Gardens provide the backdrop to an afternoon of music, dance and street entertainers, including jazz and blues, accordion, brass and pipe bands and dancers from the Edinburgh Samba School.

Other notable highlights of the festival’s first week include the only UK concert by acclaimed American vocal ensemble The Manhattan Transfer (Festival Theatre, Sunday, 8pm, £25.50-£28), a series of intimate cabaret-style shows from Curtis Stigers (Le Monde, Monday-Wednesday, 9pm, £30) and a gig by Dundee soul sensations Average White Band (Queen’s Hall, Sunday, 8pm, £20-£25).

Pairing eight Scottish musicians with the same number of their international counterparts, the Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra (Queen’s Hall, Wednesday, 8pm, £10-£15) presents a showcase of band-leader and arranger Gil Evans in celebration of his centenary year, including a rendition of the terrific Sketches of Spain, his famous collaboration with Miles Davis.

And continuing the spirit of co-operation, Edinburgh’s very own Hidden Orchestra team up with Tomáš Dvorák, better known as multimedia composer Floex (Queen’s Hall, Tuesday, 8pm, £12.50), for an eagerly-awaited hook-up that could well be the crowning glory of the festival.

Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, 20-29 July, various venues. For tickets and full line-up information, visit www.edinburghjazzfestival.com