Courtney, Kamasi, Frisell and Sheppard thrill the flock as VEIN hits rich seam at Cheltenham

It's a small town, Cheltenham, and the jazz festival is a big deal both locally and nationally. So, thousands converged on the marquee-filled main site in baking hot weather for a programme combining crowd-pleasing big gigs – notably vocalists like Randy Crawford and Van Morrison – with jazz 'names' including Courtney Pine (above) and Jason Moran. Crucially, programmers Tony Dudley-Evans and Emily Jones ensured a strand of edgier, forward-looking music centred in the smaller Parabola Theatre, providing plenty for the jazz-minded to get their teeth into.

That venue's Friday-night programme had a pleasing unity, two concerts linked by a live 'remix' of the first which began with Swiss vocalist Lucia Cadotsch's Speak Low trio. Performing to some inner soundtrack, Cadotsch's unforced vocals coolly unfurled laconic standards and others while Otis Sandsjö's circular-breathing tenor sax and Petter Eldh's incessant bass followed their own paths around her. More unity of purpose fired ENEMY's powerful set, with drummer James Maddren's polyrhythms and the returning Eldh's unflinching bass providing proper foils to Kit Downes' increasingly complex piano visions. Numbers like 'Faster Than Light' became mini-suites, subliminal melodies emerging through pyrotechnic episodes and shifting moods. This was then excellently exploited by the remix team of Iain Chambers and Dan Nicholls, elements of both sets merging into a pulsing stream to create a virtual band-that-never-was.

Dinosaur2

This all led nicely into Dinosaur's (above) preview of their imminent Wonder Trail album, an entertainingly post-pop set of tunes reflecting the band's four diverse musical personalities. The deft economy of Laura Jurd's trumpet being less foregrounded, quirky cuts like 'Set Free' and 'And Still We Wonder' evinced an old-school Canterbury feel, while other tunes recalled 1980s synth-pop. It was good, bright stuff, musical intelligence laced with whimsy. Other Parabola highlights over the weekend included the willful theatrics of Estonian singer Kadri Voorand, whose attentive band somehow managed to stay with her whooping, roaring, harmonising and looping vocals, while the relaunched Roller Trio, now with added Chris Sharkey, revisited 'The Nail That Stands Up' (the only 'old' tune they played) and revealed how their new material has a tighter feel, thanks to Sharkey's electronica. Yet the group retains the rawness that made their name. Their next album – due this summer – should be a corker.

Kaadri-Voorand

The increased use of electronica was a definite trend across the festival, with drummer Jim Black's deployment of the tactile Roli keyboard in his Malamute quartet somewhat of a revelation. Fortunately, it didn't wholly obscure his distinctively forceful drumming, but the band's brash sound was blunted by the oddly muted tone of Óskar Gudjónsson's tenor sax. It seemed an odd choice for Black's otherwise typically assertive project, and the contrast with Donny McCaslin's (below) crisp howl the next day was marked. McCaslin's similar line-up benefited from Zach Danziger's whip-tight energy on drums, precision bass-playing from Kevin Scott and Jason Lindner's imaginative electronics. The music pulsed and throbbed with rock energy, with the sax soaring at its centre.

DonnyM

Seeing the Roller Trio had cost me Jason Moran – by all accounts a real class act – so I made sure to catch the last half of Christian McBride's Big Band (below) in the Town Hall. It didn't disappoint, the genial bandleader's impeccable bass with Quincy Phillips' drums the cucumber-cool foundation for excellent charts, including a joyfully funky setting of George Duke's 'The Black Messiah (Pt II)' that gave pianist Xavier Davis his well-deserved McCoy Tyner moment. Their rich, classic sound filled the room with a fine restatement of the jazz heritage.

Christian-M

It may have been that reminder – or possibly the introductory announcement as "the greatest jazz musician in the world" – that made me less positive about Kamasi Washington's set. The band's sheer power is indisputably impressive, and there were fine solos from keyboard-player Brandon Coleman and Washington himself (below), but overall the brashness of sound and similarity of the pieces became wearing. I was in a tiny minority, though, in a massively approving sold-out big top crowd.

Kamsi1

By contrast what pushed my buttons the most were three sets epitomising the value of collaboration and restraint. The Andy Sheppard Quartet, as ever, revolved around the leader's highly distinctive sax voice and lyrical imagination as composer and player. His latest ECM release, Romaria, gives more space to his excellent collaborators, notably Eivind Aarset's guitar-driven electronica. Played live, 'They Came From The North' revealed a new, rockier sound arising from an icy ambience, Seb Rochford's usually diffident drumming even bursting out for a jazz-rock moment, before things ultimately resolved into more typical calmness. Like Sheppard, Swiss trio VEIN are 'serial collaborators'. Their own sound was a tight and tidy contemporary chamber jazz which generously opened to make space for guest saxophonist Stan Sulzmann, in a set featuring their arrangements of pieces by Ravel. It was a happy combination of meticulous group-playing fleshed out by the warmth and fluidity of the saxophone. The unity of playing suggested they had collaborated for years, but as far as I know this short tour was a first meeting.

Bill-Thomas-Morgan

Finally, one of the ultimate collaborative players, Bill Frisell, showcased his artful partnership with bassist Thomas Morgan. The duo (above) provided an absolute masterclass in interactive improvisation. Somewhat dwarfed by the Town Hall's big auditorium, the two musicians began what would be over an hour of, more or less, continuous playing, standard tunes glimpsed as they evolved them onwards with absolute empathy. You had the sense, as they shared glances onstage, that they were oblivious to their audience, so wrapped up in listening and responding to what they were hearing. It was breathtaking stuff – Morgan's playing was a particular revelation – and an unshowy crystallisation of what jazz is all about.

– Tony Benjamin

Photographs by Tim Dickeson

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

Catching bands at the beginning of their journeys is so often...

Read More.....
Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef Dayes groove at the Great Escape

Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef D…

Since its beginnings in 2006, Brighton's festival of new music...

Read More.....
Rainforest Reveries: Crawford and Simcock In Arboreal Praise For Powys As Birdsongs Take Flight At Hampstead Arts Fest

Rainforest Reveries: Crawford and Simcoc…

Released last month on Basho Records, Birdsong/Cân yr Adar fuses...

Read More.....
Claire Martin, The Printmakers and Jamie Cullum line-up for 606 Club 30 years at Lots Road Festival

Claire Martin, The Printmakers and Jamie…

Chelsea's salubrious jazz den, the 606 Club, is to mark...

Read More.....
Collective X line-up for Love & Protest at Stratford Circus

Collective X line-up for Love & Prot…

Genre-defying London-based group Collective X, led by singer Alya Al...

Read More.....
Love Supreme summit at London's Roundhouse

Love Supreme summit at London's Roundhou…

A blazing afternoon sun, beer-drinking crowds, and smooth electronic beats...

Read More.....
The Lage Lund Trio, Julia Hülsmann and Christopher Dell inspire at Jazzfest Bonn

The Lage Lund Trio, Julia Hülsmann and C…

During its unlikely spell as the post-war capital of West...

Read More.....
Stanley Clarke, Dave Douglas and Avishai Cohen heat up EFG London Jazz Festival

Stanley Clarke, Dave Douglas and Avishai…

The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....
Breakin' Convention raise roof with jazz-indebted dance riot at Sadler's Wells

Breakin' Convention raise roof with jazz…

  Founded in 2004 by 'choreopoet' Jonzi D and still curated...

Read More.....
Bärtsch's Mobile Go Minimal Amid Homegrown Diamonds At Estonian Summit

Bärtsch's Mobile Go Minimal Amid Homegro…

  Every music festival has its logistical problems – from gremlins...

Read More.....
Courtney, Kamasi, Frisell and Sheppard thrill the flock as VEIN hits rich seam at Cheltenham

Courtney, Kamasi, Frisell and Sheppard t…

It's a small town, Cheltenham, and the jazz festival is...

Read More.....
WorldService Project's propulsive politics mix punk and Python for satirical japes at Jazz In The Round

WorldService Project's propulsive politi…

"Five disillusioned anti-Brexit punk soldiers...", is how Dave Morecroft, commander-in-chief...

Read More.....
EST Symphony and Akinmusire energise and engage at Espoo's April Jazz

EST Symphony and Akinmusire energise and…

It's 10 years since Esbjörn Svensson's death on 14 June...

Read More.....
Ray Blue Rings True With Pan-Atlantic Quartet At Pizza

Ray Blue Rings True With Pan-Atlantic Qu…

  What better way to celebrate International Jazz Day than with...

Read More.....
Tom Ibarra, Stoney Lane Records store and Family shows complete Cheltenham Jazz Fest line-up

Tom Ibarra, Stoney Lane Records store an…

The doors are almost open for this year's edition of...

Read More.....
Esperanza and Nubya energises while Dame Cleo mesmerises at Jazz FM Awards

Esperanza and Nubya energises while Dame…

  Last year's Jazz FM awards was a memorable occasion, with...

Read More.....
Pat Metheny, Ezra Collective, Esperanza and Nubya Garcia among winners at fifth Jazz FM Awards

Pat Metheny, Ezra Collective, Esperanza …

The winners of this year's Jazz FM Awards were announced...

Read More.....
OFFBEAT Jazz and Cinema Fest goes French

OFFBEAT Jazz and Cinema Fest goes French

A new weekend-long jazz on film event, the OFFBEAT Jazz...

Read More.....
Avishai Cohen Quartet deliver testaments to truth and beauty at Ronnie's

Avishai Cohen Quartet deliver testaments…

The first of two sold-out gigs by the Avishai Cohen...

Read More.....
Black Spirituals Let Axe Fall For Swansong

Black Spirituals Let Axe Fall For Swanso…

Admirers of the scorched earth strategies of Last Exit, Fushitsusha...

Read More.....
WorldService Project power-up with album and tour dates

WorldService Project power-up with album…

Thespian punk-jazz troupe WorldService Project once more don the guise...

Read More.....
Brit-jazz stars, Metropole Orkest, Puppy, Porter, Metheny and more for North Sea Jazz Fest

Brit-jazz stars, Metropole Orkest, Puppy…

This year's North Sea Jazz Festival, the world's largest indoor...

Read More.....
Pat Metheny to be honoured with PRS for Music Gold Award and Esperanza Spalding to appear at Jazz FM Awards

Pat Metheny to be honoured with PRS for …

Revered US guitarist Pat Metheny (pictured) has been confirmed as...

Read More.....
Schneider Supreme Among Savannah Fest's Legacy-Leaning Showcases

Schneider Supreme Among Savannah Fest's …

The middle period of the Savannah Music Festival featured most of...

Read More.....
Dr Lonnie Remedies Ronnie's With Waves Of His Magic Wand

Dr Lonnie Remedies Ronnie's With Waves O…

Improvising musicians have been at the forefront of technology for...

Read More.....
Lucia Cadotsch and Kyle Eastwood among the corking capers at Cully Jazz

Lucia Cadotsch and Kyle Eastwood among t…

  "There will never be peace until God is seated at...

Read More.....
Shake Stew release video ahead of new album Rise And Rise Again featuring Shabaka Hutchings

Shake Stew release video ahead of new al…

Seven-piece Austrian newcomers Shake Stew are set to release their...

Read More.....
Rising star trumpeter Keyon Harrold powerful and political at The Jazz Café

Rising star trumpeter Keyon Harrold powe…

It seems like every time I pick up a great...

Read More.....
Jean Toussaint gets arty with Blakey

Jean Toussaint gets arty with Blakey

Renowned expat US saxophonist Jean Toussaint makes an emphatic return...

Read More.....
Beast Is Back: Return Of The Sloth Racket

Beast Is Back: Return Of The Sloth Racke…

  UK improvising quintet Sloth Racket – led by baritone saxophonist...

Read More.....
Dame Cleo Laine and George Benson to receive special honours at Jazz FM Awards

Dame Cleo Laine and George Benson to rec…

With this year's edition of the Jazz FM Awards set...

Read More.....
Kamasi Washington gets epic again with Heaven & Earth double album and world tour

Kamasi Washington gets epic again with H…

Los Angeles sax star Kamasi Washington is set to return...

Read More.....
Nubya Garcia, Ivo Neame Quartet and Ariwo head to Jazz Stroud Festival

Nubya Garcia, Ivo Neame Quartet and Ariw…

The third edition of the Jazz Stroud Festival takes place...

Read More.....
Cecil Taylor 1929 - 2018

Cecil Taylor 1929 - 2018

With the passing of Cecil Taylor it could be argued...

Read More.....
Pharoah Sanders, Chris Dave’s Drumhedz and Lalah Hathaway added to Love Supreme

Pharoah Sanders, Chris Dave’s Drumhedz a…

The heavyweight jazz quotient at this year's Love Supreme Jazz...

Read More.....
Drummer Andrew Bain takes Embodied Hope on tour

Drummer Andrew Bain takes Embodied Hope …

Emerging Scottish drum talent Andrew Bain hits the road with...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Punctuating England's cricketing woes with the limpid sounds of Arild Andersen, Clive Bell and Mark Wastell on Conf… https://t.co/hxqIwXRJyR
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
@LondonRavensFC ha, that's what I do for us...
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

Sign up to the Jazzwise monthly E-Newsletter

 

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA