Tony Dudley-Evans (above on the official preview video) and Jon Turney (below) preview this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival (2nd – 7th May):
Brecon may be going through another uncertain time, but Britain’s other best programmed small town jazz festival remains in rude health, going by this year’s line-up.
Public booking opens today (Monday 20) for the six-day programme, with the main events as usual packed into the Saturday and Sunday of May’s first bank holiday weekend.
You can tell it is a proper festival – there’s more than any single punter can possibly hear. And there are sounds to suit all tastes, with a particularly rich mix of vocalists (artist in residence Paloma Faith, Melody Gardot, Jacqui Dankworth, Gregory Porter and last year’s guest director Jamie Cullum), plenty of blues and soul, and a good helping of venturesome jazz.
Hard to choose even among the latter, but a personal top five is headed by reedsman Chris Potter, seen in inspired form last year with the Overtone Quartet, returning to lead a festival band of the cream of Birmingham Conservatoire students playing his own compositions.
Another welcome returner is Bill Frisell, touring this time not with the quartet he brought to London in 2011 but with the Beautiful Dreamers trio. It’s an apt name, quartet stalwart Eyvind Klang’s viola blending seamlessly with Frisell’s warped Americana.
It means a sprint to a different venue, but also looking forward immensely to drummer Jeff Williams’ US quartet, having heard his UK ensemble play material from his fine new CD Another Time last year. It will be good to hear how the New York players, trumpeter Duane Eubanks, bassist John Hébert and the brilliant tenor player John O’Gallagher, deal with Williams’ tunes as vehicles for their freebop flights live.
Equally mouthwatering is the prospect of Fieldwork, the improvising trio featuring a collaboration between three of the most stimulating young players and composers around, Vijay Iyer on piano, altoist Steve Lehman, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.
That only leaves one more for a quintet of gigs. A shame, as there are at least five more which leap out of the brochure – but festivals are like that. I choose Liam Noble, one of those undersung-because-not-gifted-at-self-promotion players who lend the British scene its sparkling creativity. He’s appearing with his own group, a five piece with former Loose Tube Chris Batchelor on trumpet and the energetically ubiquitous Shabaka Hutchings on clarinet.
With those inked in the diary, there should still be time for some incidental encounters, on the freestage and the festival fringe. The main venues this year include a big top on the main canvas-bedecked festival site – the, ahem, comforts of Cheltenham’s Town Hall having been set aside – and the nearby and rather swish new (RIBA- Award Winning/ follow link for pictures…) Parabola Arts Centre, courtesy of Cheltenham Ladies’ College, no less.
All this an easy day trip from London – though you’ll need to check the times of last trains if you don’t fancy driving. Here’s hoping for good weather – last year was balmy, 2010 chill and clammy. Well, the beginning of May is chancy, but the music will warm you even if the weather doesn’t.
Jon Turney ‘s Bristol Jazz Blog
Cheltenham Jazz Festival website