Bristol Jazz Festival (19 – 21 May 2023)

Bristol Beacon. Photo from Google Streetview.

Jon Turney writes: Ten years after its first edition, the revival of something like a full programme for Bristol’s jazz festival this year feels like a small miracle.

In the last five years the organisers have contended with being almost snowed off (2018), with pandemic cancellations, and with the closure for redevelopment of home venue the Bristol Beacon (once Colston Hall). So very good to see them back, in May instead of March, and in the adjoining Beacon Foyer (confusingly now also renamed as the Bridgehouse).

The proceedings are, alas, still confined to the Foyer – the main hall remaining a still hungry money pit which is now set to consume over £100m and not scheduled to re-open until the end of 2023. That dictates a smaller programme, but does promises use of the spaces which always gave the festival much of its atmosphere.

The foyer, already redeveloped with less drama, is much more than just a foyer of course, and there’ll be two stages, one downstairs, one up above, in the lofty building, alternating so the music runs more or less without breaks. And like foyer programmes past, the emphasis is firmly on artists from Bristol and roundabout.

Composite photo of artists and festival logo as supplied.

That leads to a programme that offers a tribute to the much-missed Pee Wee Ellis on Friday night, and city favourites such as George Cooper’s Jazz Defenders, singer Victoria Klewin, with a new quartet, and Afrobeat specialists NO GO STOP. The remarkable South-African vocalist Sisanda Myataza makes a welcome appearance in a break from touring in France.

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Up-and-coming piano trio Yetii – with Alex Veitch on piano, Ashley John Long on bass and rising star Alex Goodyear on drums – have built a strong local following at their monthly residency at the Greenbank in Easton. A recent guest appearance with the trio by frequent Bristol visitor Iain Ballamy was so popular they had to reorganise the evening to fit in two shows. Ballamy repeats his guest role on Saturday afternoon in what should be a festival highlight.

There are ten other sets over the weekend, but to finish with just one: Was there a problem fitting in all the musicians who might deserve a show? If so, drummer and composer Matt Brown has solved it, at least in part, by putting many of them in one new band. It’s a seven piece, including Riaan Vosloo on bass and Dan Messore on guitar, plus a four-strong horn section with Get the Blessing bandmates Jake McMurchie and Pete Judge on tenor sax and trumpet, Brown’s frequent co-performer Sophie Stockham on alto and Tom Taylor on baritone sax. Hearing what Brown does with this line up should make for an intriguing debut on Sunday evening.

Worth a trip to Bristol? I’d say yes, but there will be livestream tickets for those who prefer to listen at home. For visitors, in late May we can be reasonably confident the festival will remain snow-free this time.

LINK: full programme details

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