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REVIEW: Jazz Exchange: Paris and Birmingham at Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Lucio Tomasi
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Jazz Exchange: Paris and Birmingham
(Parabola Arts Centre, 4 May 2019, Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Slavid)

Until last year this first slot on a Saturday morning at the festival was traditionally used for the exchange between the students of the Birmingham Conservatory and their counterparts from Trondheim. This year for the first time the exchange is with students from the Paris Conservatory, but the model is much the same. Three quartets are formed, each with two musicians from each country, and after preparing online they meet up and rehearse, then perform once in Birmingham before appearing at the festival.

Although each group only gets a 20 minute slot, the overwhelming impression was that all three groups were extremely capable with some outstanding musicians, and despite their youth and the lack of rehearsal time their performances would grace any jazz club. The only surprise was that the music was all fairly conventional jazz, with almost no use of electronics and no influences from the rock and urban musics that are so prevalent in British and French jazz today.

Group 1: 
Guillaume Guedin – alto saxophone
Lucio Tomasi – drums
Asaph Jeffrey – bass
Cameron Sheehy – piano

This was the most conventional line-up of the three groups, but they made a brave choice to start their set with an extended solo from Guedin before the rest of the group joined in. He managed to pull that off, and came across with a real personality, as did Tomasi on drums with some excellent work, particularly with the brushes. In this group the two British musicians performed well, but were slightly overwhelmed by their French counterparts.

Group 2:
Clémentine Ristord – soprano saxophone
Noé Richard – piano
James Owston – bass
Liam Brennan – tenor saxophone

This drumless group had a very different sound to Group 1, and their music was written by the various band members. Here the interaction between excellent bass and piano was particularly strong and underpinned the whole set. Without the drums this sometimes had a classical feel, sometimes a more dramatic sound. The interaction between the two saxophones worked well and both produced strong, interesting solos.

Group 3:
Cyril Galamini – trombone
Nicolas Jacobee – double bass
Matt Holmes – drums
Lewis Sallows – alto saxophone

Despite the chordless line-up, this was in many ways the more conventional of the three quartets musically. The trombone/saxophone sound was interesting and there was excellent ensemble playing as well as good solos all round. If there was a criticism I felt it was a bit lacking in a strong personality, probably something that could have been fixed with a bit more rehearsal time.

Overall the quality of the musicianship from all 12 performers was outstanding, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing some of them returning as main-stage performers in the future.

This sort of collaboration between musicians across country borders is more important now than ever, so let’s hope that relationship can expand in the future and that funding can be found to secure it.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European modern jazz on the internet. Details at

Categories: Live reviews

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