Jack’s been thinking…about the London Jazz Festival

In his weekly colomn for LondonJazz , Jack Davies writes about his experience so far of the London Jazz Festival

The 2011 London Jazz Festival is drawing to a close, and I’ve managed to get down to some great concerts so far.

On Tuesday night I sought to challenge by own preconception that it was impossible to do the usual “festival thing” of checking out several different bands in different venues in London. I started at the freestage of the QEH where Matt Roberts’ big band was playing, and managed to get to the Forge in Camden to see both Trio Riot and the Claire James Trio, before jumping on a bus to Kentish Town to see the second set of George Crowley ’s astoundingly joyful quartet at The Oxford. Although London’s sprawling geography doesn’t help, with the help of LJF’s festival planner app and TFL, it is definitely possible to see several gigs in one night.

It’s been nice to see so many new faces at small venues like the North London Tavern and The Oxford as well as full houses at The Spice of Life and The Forge. My hope is that a healthy percentage will return to these venues once the formidable prod of the festival’s publicity budget is removed. There are huge numbers of blisteringly talented jazz musicians in this city, and the festival provides a tantalising glimpse of what the audiences could be like if advertising and publicity could be sustained all-year round.

Two of my trumpet heroes have been in town this week – Ambrose Akinmusire with Michel Portal’s group and Dave Douglas with Richard Galliano’s La Strada Quintet. Sadly, both fell foul of the poor sound at the Southbank (strangely enough the sound in the foyer seems to be better than in the concert halls!), and both ended up sidestepping the malfunctioning microphones and putting in the physical graft to project over the lumpy, muddy, bass-heavy mix. Ambrose was the stand-out member of Portal’s band, with some of the most acrobatically beautiful trumpet playing you’ll ever be likely to hear.

The highlight of the festival for me so far was Dave Douglas’ tribute to audience member Kenny Wheeler – a solo that gave a blissful break from Nino Rota’s themes and used Kenny’s ‘Kind Folk’ instead. Despite the concert’s title, this seemed to be the only really heartfelt tribute of the night.

The festival isn’t over yet – tomorrow I’ll be checking out Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic at Kings Place (3pm Saturday) , and on Sunday the criminally under-appreciated Hans Koller at the North London Tavern.

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