The jazz weekend of the Bath International MusicFest has always been one of the most important dates in the jazz calendar – for those of us who want to hear the more innovative improvisers and to explore the more radical explorations of jazz, which tend more often to be found coming from Europe than from the US.
In the last few years Bath has changed. It still has a European focus, but not in the same way. For a start there are fewer concerts, and there are no longer day or weekend tickets. The problem with that of course is that the lesser known bands get marginalised. Nobody will pay £10 or £15 to see a band they haven’t heard of – and the organizers are less willing or able to take the risk of putting on an unknown if every concert needs to be a commercial success – so the programme seeks out “safe” names.
Having said all that – the festival, which took place last weekend, remains a great festival with high quality music.
The weekend started with a strange Saturday afternoon concert of Led Bib and Acoustic Ladyland – really more suited to an evening gig. After that the obligatory “big name” Saturday night party of Booker T (rather bland I thought) and then a magnificent late night gig organised by Jazz Line-Up comprising a solo set from Robert Mitchell and then a storming session from Partisans. Listen out for this on Sunday – details of the broadcast HERE
Sunday was a great day. Despite Kenny Wheeler ’s absence with a damaged hand, John Taylor managed a good solo set. It seemed to me that he took a while to get warmed up, but once in full flow he showed what a terrific imaginative pianist he can be. After that the French Quartet of Julien Lourau gave us a classy post-bop session.
The second concert contained the discovery of the weekend for me. Eric Vloeimans and his Fugimundi trio with piano and guitar was spectacular stuff. Not least visually – pink trousers and silver shoes – but also because of the typically Dutch wit that ran through all the items.
After that the legendary Martial Solal demonstrated an awesome command, but to my taste was something of an anti-climax after the sparkle of Vloeimans. Finally – for those with enough stamina – there was a fine session by Tom Arthurs and Richard Fairhurst in the small Chapel Arts Centre.
Monday gave us a storming set from Django Bates. (Photo credit: Sarah Lee). Starting with a film about the life of Charlie Parker, Django went on to play music from his recent CD Beloved Bird which is a tribute to Parker. It’s a very fine CD, but the live set with a fine young rhythm section, including music from other sources too, was the five star gig of the weekend for me. Django Bates should always be the first name on any festival organiser’s wish list!
Finally on Monday night we finished off with David Murray and the Gwo-Ka Masters. Murray is always good value – he’s a fierce improviser and this highly rhythmic band seems to bring out the best in him.
Keep your eyes open for next year’s festival. It’s a very well organised event, in great venues in a beautiful location, and the music is always of the highest quality. Bath is unmissable.