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FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Bath Jazz Weekend

Jason Rebello, Iain Ballamy and Percy Pursglove
Photo credit: Mike Collins
FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Bath Jazz Weekend
(Widcombe Social Club, 4-6 January 2019. Round-up by Peter Slavid)

For those of us who enjoy the pleasure of the new, music festivals hold a special place over individual concerts. At a good music festival you can see the bands you were hoping to see, but you can also come across some surprises, and the new Bath Jazz Weekend was no exception to this.

The festival was something of an experiment from the start. The area is home to an astonishing number of world-class jazz musicians and this weekend was put together and run as a co-operative. The line-up of almost entirely local musicians plus the organisers and stage crew all went in to this on a shared-risk basis – with each taking an equal share of the proceeds.

The venue, the Widcombe Social Club, is a splendid modern building holding up to around 150 at a pinch, with two excellent bars.

Judging by the size of the audience, the weekend  will have ensured that everyone did get paid. Hopefully the event also demonstrated sufficient demand to enable it to take place again, and to build on this success.

It did have something of a community feel, especially on the Sunday, but also a strong European theme despite almost all the musicians living locally. European jazz has long been an enthusiasm of the organiser, Nod Knowles, and on the Sunday he was joined by a team from “Bath for Europe” who he supported in campaigning on behalf of the European Union.

Friday night highlight was a charming piano duet between Jason Rebello and Dave Newton. It felt like two old friends playing together in their living room and was full of wit and invention. The audience enjoyment was undoubtedly enhanced by the free winetasting which preceded it. In keeping with the overall theme the tasting was entirely of European Wines.

Saturday was a sold-out event starting with Karen Street’s Streetworks band.  I’ve always liked the sound of the accordion in jazz, but Street is a rare UK exponent. Her playing lends the music traces of folk, gypsy and tango without departing from the lyrical jazz that she and saxophonist Andy Tweed do so well. This was followed by the terrific quartet led by Iain Ballamy on saxes, and Jason Rebello on piano with Mark Whitlam on drums, and Percy Pursglove on bass – until the final number when he unleashed a storming trumpet solo.

The evening session started with the electronics (and humour) of the Jellilalas, followed by my first surprise of the weekend. Andy Hague is an excellent trumpeter, apparently well known to everyone locally, but not previously to me – and he leads a fine Blue Note-influenced Quintet. The evening was brought to a storming finish by Get The Blessing, who seem to get stronger and more polished each time I see them. The band has a distinctive sound combining punchy riffs with surprisingly subtle improvisations. And they have a nice line of dry humour in their introductions.

Sunday was billed as a family day, and there were lots of unusually well-behaved children around for my second surprise of the weekend. The Bristol European Jazz Ensemble apparently has a rotating group of European musicians resident in the Bristol area, led by David Mowat on trumpet. Good musicians and some overt European campaigning – but then jazz has always been a political music, so why not? Dave explained the philosophy of the band in a recent interview in LondonJazz News).
I missed the James Lambeth band singing from the Great American songbook – I was downstairs watching some of the films that were showing throughout the day – including a fine extended video of the Willem Breuker Collective. At other times the crowd was entertained in the downstairs bar by a DJ playing 78s on two wind-up gramophones.

And finally to the splendid John Law Re-creation Quartet playing some surprising arrangements of well-known tunes from Over the Rainbow to Gymnopédie to Imagine. The talented band is completed by Sam Crockatt on tenor and soprano, James Agg on bass and Billy Weir on drums. This was very accessible music in clever arrangements that brought out inventive solos from the band. Perhaps because of the environment the musicians all seemed to be particularly relaxed, and Law has a rare ability amongst jazz musicians to engage directly with his audience through anecdotes and conversation – as well as through his outstanding improvisation.

The Bath Jazz Weekend demonstrated that jazz is very much alive and well in the Bath/Bristol area, not only with local musicians, but also with a knowledgeable and open-minded audience. Hopefully this will lead to bigger and even better things in the future.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on

Get The Blessing at the Bath Jazz Weekend
Photo: Nick Steel

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