Brad Mehldau Trio, Georgie Fame and Camilla Beeput shine at Bath Festival

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Brad Mehldau, Georgie Fame with Guy Barker's Big Band and a one-women evocation of Lena Horne's life were among jazz gems in a refreshed Bath Festival programme. In a bold move for 2017, Bath's Literature and International Music Festivals combined to create a new, multi-arts festival in the second half of May.

After a launch night, with the city pulsing to the sound of dozens of free events, Mehldau was a big draw with a capacity audience packing the Assembly rooms to hear his trio weave their spell. There was quintessential Mehldau thematic invention and in-the-moment storytelling, as melodies evolved in fluid counterpoint and two-handed torrents of notes intertwined on the Beatle's 'And I Love Her', Sidney Bechet's ballad 'Si tu vois ma mère' and Mehldau's own softly grooving 'Gentle John' and lilting 'Wolfgang's Waltz'. Other material explored different territory as looping rhythmic phrases from Ballard and hypnotic vamps evolved into ecstatic collective work-outs. Encores produce a sideways take on the blues, on 'West Coast Blues', and a scintillating, melodic solo from Jeff Ballard on drums.

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Later in the week, Guy Barker's Big Band was not daunted by the height of the roof at the cavernous Forum and had a good go at blowing it off. They were fronted by Georgie Fame in loquacious and anecdotal form, colouring-in episodes from his 50-year career between delivering flawless vocalese over Basie classics and a second set of treats: Steve Gray arrangements of Fame originals that had a unique and exhilarating punch.

The combined literature and music festival created the opportunity for events to span both art forms. Camilla Beeput's 'Stormy: The life of Lena Horne', is an extraordinary one-women show at the Komedia that does just that. It narrates Horne's journey from a child in Harlem, through the Cotton Club in the in the 1930s, Hollywood of the 1940s and on, with Beeput's script and music by Alex Webb, who was also on-stage with a five-piece band. There were electrifying moments as she evoked all of Horne's loves, ghosts and demons and a rousing finale as the band grooved-out on a gospel-fuelled anthem to pride and identity.

With enthusiastic reports of intriguing collaborations and encounters threaded through the programme and Madeleine Peyroux bringing down the jazz-folk-world music strand's curtain on Saturday, Bath's new flagship festival has got off to a great start.

– Mike Collins
– Photos by James Cheadle