Joshua Redman And Sosa Electrify Spirits, As Kinch And Campiche Take The Cheltenham Crown

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After last year’s swelter, Cheltenham Festival offered a more temperate climate for 2019’s week of jazz – a genre where cool is always welcome. There was a cool new venue too – a Gilles Peterson curated pop-up (pop-down?) nightclub in a department store basement offering a hipster counterpoint to mainstage big names including Gregory Porter, Incognito and Jamie Cullum. Overall it seemed that, along with a wider UK jazz audience, the town was turning out for the occasion. 

Three jazz big guns featured on Saturday to slightly mixed results, with John Surman’s appearance with the Brass Project disappointingly light on the saxophonist’s own playing. John Warren’s hour-long composition ‘Traveller’s Tale’ felt monochromatic, lacking in variety of tone, though Chris Laurence’s bass made a notably lively contribution. Over in the Big Top Abdullah Ibrahim once again proved that, like a skilled homeopath, he dispenses the minimum of his own playing needed to satisfy an audience. Apart from occasional interjections and an occasional linking segue, he left his band Ekaya to carry the gig.

By contrast the opening witty deconstruction of ‘Mack The Knife’ established that Joshua Redman (top) was out to enjoy himself. He powered through a set that ranged from smoking funk-bopper ‘Tailchase’ to the lusher balladry of ‘Never Let Me Go’ before welcoming Soweto Kinch for an unannounced guest spot. The two ripped into some hard-bopping blues, trading solos with proper competitive vigour to the great amusement of impressive bass man Reuben Rogers.

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The festival’s ‘Trios With A Twist’ theme also included Kinch’s own gig opening things at the Parabola Theatre, associate curator Tony Dudley-Evans’ favoured venue for more adventurous music. SUNLIGHT (above) pitched the saxophonist and MC together with astounding Swiss vocal artist Andreas Schaerer and Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima. What ensued was remarkable: a largely improvised stream of musical consciousness loosely woven around Kinch’s rap-style lyrics, musically shifting from free jazz to hip-hop and prog to schmaltz. What unified it was the vocalist’s phenomenal range, incorporating scat, vocal experimentation and beatboxing into a flexible sonic vocabulary that shapeshifted into whatever the music called for.

Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq gave a third impressive ‘twisted trio’ gig with the additional curveball that illness brought dep saxophonist Quentin Biardeau into the band’s strongly original (and highly combative) set. Slamming into the relentlessly physical monotone of ‘Someone Burned The Pie’, drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq and cellist Valentin Ceccaldi created a furious post-industrial onslaught that rarely let up. One number even included an alarm clock, and by the end half the audience were exhilarated, half exasperated… but all were wide awake.

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More subtle, yet equally impressive, Swiss harpist Julie Campiche’s (above) UK debut revealed a unique voice both in her electronically processed instrument and the style of her playing. Her quartet steered their way through the lengthy ‘Onkalo/To The Holy Land’ suite with remarkable empathy, managing extended electronic spells and shifting rhythmic forms with seamless precision.

Anticipation for the Rymden (below) concert in the Jazz Arena had been high and not disappointed by the Scandinavian supertrio of EST rhythm section Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström with Norwegian renegade Bugge Wesseltoft. Their music was highly textured, rarely sounding like a conventional piano trio, with effortless shifts of gear and mood that fed moments of coordinated technical brilliance few others could hope to emulate.

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But for sheer entertainment Cuban pianist Omar Sosa’s tireless grin and exuberant exploration of Afro-Cuban style with singer/violinist Yilian Cañizares and percussionist Gustavo Palacios was incomparable. Whether pounding rich montuno, sweeping a romantic ballad or even dancing energetically with the vocalist his music lifted the spirits and brought the audience to their feet long before their triumphant finish was drowned in huge applause.

Tony Benjamin

Photos by Tim Dickeson