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This year's Scarborough Jazz Festival partly felt like a trip around the world with musical influences including Ghana, South Africa and Cuba.

The variety of groups and styles laid to rest the idea that jazz is an easily definable genre but throughout the weekend the music stayed true to Festival Director Mike Gordon's criteria - namely that it should involve melodic improvisation and above all it should swing.

Proving that even music in unusual time signatures can swing were the SK2 Jazz Orchestra - a big band devoted to playing the repertoire of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. The choice of compositions ranging from the 1950s to the '70s included several in uncommon meters and with intricate arrangements as well as the trademark Kenton wall of sound.

A highlight were two tunes apiece from the West Side Story and Cuban Fire albums, the announcement of 'Le Suerte de Los Tontos' being greeted by as much enthusiasm from the band as the appreciative audience - perhaps proof that despite these arrangements being technically demanding they're also a lot of fun to play.

In contrast to the power of a big band at full throttle, the duo of Gareth Williams and Trish Clowes provided some moments of more intimate improvisation, not least in Clowes' own composition inspired by seeing whales in California. Playing her soprano sax into the belly of the grand piano conjured up a sound akin to the horns of distant ships as the notes and breathy sounds created overtones from the piano strings.

The Hancock-Shorter 'Aung San Suu Kyi' was another highlight with some bluesy phrasing from Williams lifting the tune beyond the original recording. Back in the 1940s saxophonist Charlie Parker was a controversial figure in jazz with some people questioning if his music swung at all. 'Charlie Parker on Dial' could have easily been purely a historical recreation if it weren't for the passion and invention put into the playing by the band, notably Nathaniel Facey on tenor sax.

If anything the music sounded more modern than much contemporary jazz - perhaps everyone is still trying to catch up with Bird after all. This was also another welcome chance to hear singer Vimala Rowe with whom it sounds as if you're hearing every song for the first time.

Vula Viel were the surprise hit of the festival with an unusual line up and a repertoire in part inspired by Ghanian funeral music. The harmonic base of the tunes was laid down by Bex Burch on the Gyil - a type of xylophone made from sacred wood - with the group collectively taking the music into unexpected places using analogue synth textures, saxophone with effects pedals and polyrhythmic drumming.

The resulting performance was bold, energetic and brave and the group were rewarded with an enthusiastic ovation from the Sunday afternoon audience.

Another delve back into jazz history provided source material for the Dave & Judith O'Higgins 'Abstract Truth Big Band' who paid tribute to the classic 1961 Oliver Nelson album with classy new arrangements for big band by Jorg Achim Keller. With the cream of UK session players and soloists involved this was always going to be a solid performance but they exceeded expectations with a powerful rich sound and impeccable ensemble playing. The two Dave O'Higgins originals added to the six original album tunes were a chance for soloists to have some fun and prompted an deserved encore.

Being the final act of a festival can be a tough slot to fill if listening fatigue has set in with the audience, but there were no such problems for the Brandon Allen Sextet, whose varied choice of tunes and passionate playing turned out to be one of the real highlights of the weekend. The arrangements were smart and witty, particularly 'Pure Imagination' from the movie based on the Roald Dahl story which had a few twists and surprises worthy of Willy Wonka himself.

The Stanley Turrentine blues 'Don't Mess With Mister T' gave pianist/organist Ross Stanley opportunity to deliver a blistering solo on the Hammond and the closing Charles Mingus composition 'Boogie Stop Shuffle' was sheer joy from start to finish. This is a group who play with as much emphasis on emotion as technical excellence resulting in intensely exciting music. And boy, do they swing.

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