New British Jazz Generation Blasts Bath With Spiritual Baptism

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Bath Festival applied radical surgery to their roster of festivals in 2017, merging the literature and music events and running a single, multi-arts programme over two weeks in May. 2018 has seen the second edition of the new look festival and the music strand had a diverse and expansive take on jazz and improvised music. There was something global, something local, something old and something new.

House of Waters kicked things off, injecting an international outlook with the first of a series of gigs at Komedia. The New York-based trio's distinctive sound, with Max ZT on hammered dulcimer, Moto Fukushima on six-string bass and Ignacio Rivas Bixio on drums, blended ideas from Indian, African, Latin musics and more with pulsating grooves. It's a quirky fusion and they rock, a fact signalled by their signing to Snarky Puppy's GroundUP imprint. The NY Music Daily's description of them as the most original band on the planet may be rather over-heated, but they put on an absorbing and exciting show.

A couple of weeks later, the local rounded things off. The 'Jazz at the Vaults' session emerged from it's cellar to recreate the format of their fortnightly gig, house rhythm section plus guests, in the grandeur of the Masonic Hall. The festival billing had local forceful and virtuosic trumpeter Jonny Bruce for a set, followed by Tony Kofi. Bruce delivered a swaggering, swinging performance, dipping into classic standards including 'St James Infirmary' and 'Sunny Side of the Street'. Kofi joined him for a burn-up through 'Night in Tunisia'. Kofi made his trademark dip into the Monk oeuvre, starting off with 'Hackensack' and returning later with 'Monk's Dream'. The trio were right there with him, their bounce and verve getting the capacity crowd going. Bassist Wade Edwards is the man behind the regular session. He's been working with Vyv-Hope Scott on piano and Trevor Davies on drums for over a decade, and it shows. Another Bruce-Kofi blast on 'Scotch and Water' to end had everyone on their feet.

Between the global-local bookends, there was a taste of what's causing a buzz on the London and national scenes. Maisha (top) took to the stage in Komedia and were straight into the fusion of Afro-beat and ecstatic jazz that has had everyone talking. The axis of drummer Jake Long, bassist Twm Dylan, Shirley Tetteh's guitar and percussionist Tim Doyle time and again built-up layers of locked tight and irresistible polyrhythms. Nubya Garcia delivered chanting incantations before building into swirling, fiery solos. Sarah Tandy's keyboards provided textures, punctuation and some incendiary soloing that threatened to steal the show. This was new British jazz storming the festival and winning a lot of admirers.

KSmittyBathFest preview

Kansas Smitty's are getting to be festival favourites wherever they go. Their set at Komedia the next night was, as ever, largely original, but steeped in the jazz tradition, and often as not straight out of New Orleans. They've got pulling power as well. Jason Rebello was depping on piano and Claire Teal stepped up to guest on a couple of songs in the second set and summed them up in a neat line: "100 years of jazz, nothing clichéd and everything authentic". As if it to prove the point they brought the curtain down with a storming rendition of 'The Way You're Livin', a belting Dixie-funk style groove and Pete Horsfall's raunchy vocal setting the scene for a blistering solo from Giacomo Smith on alto. Extended pleading from a grateful crowd brought them back for one more.

Back with 'Jazz at the Vaults' at the Masonic Hall on the last night it was the same story. After all the thanks had been declared, bows taken and good nights wished, then a bout of foot stamping and cheering forced the band back on stage for a final blast as they blew 'Perdido' inside out. The festival had touched a lot of bases with a handful of performances and it went down a storm.

Mike Collins