Review: Iain Ballamy’s Anorak XL at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Iain Ballamy, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014
Photo Credit: © Edu Hawkins 2014. All Rights Reserved
Iain Ballamy’s Anorak XL.
(Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, May 4. Review by Jon Turney )


“In 1983, I met Django Bates and… he encouraged me to write my own music”, says Iain Ballamy in the notes to his Anorak quartet CD More Jazz from 2007. It’s a reminder that some of the fertile interconnectedness of the Loose Tubes generation predates the formation of the band. So the day after Loose Tubes’ triumphant rebirth at Cheltenham, it was a nice follow-up to stage a gig led by the man who took the first solo for the Tubes in the big top.

Cheltenham, as it happens, commissioned most of the tunes on that recording. This time, the festival didn’t invite new pieces, but suggested that Ballamy augment the band. Hence Anorak XL, a septet with the front line filled out by Nathaniel Facey on alto, Freddie Gavita on trumpet and Kieran McLeod on trombone.

That allowed Ballamy, who many now know in freer contexts like Food, his collaboration with percussionist Thomas Strønen, to display his arranging as well as composing prowess. This was a swinging little big band, and the tunes, the harmonies and the titles (Lobster Upgrade Monday, anyone?) all conveyed something of the leader’s character.

So did his generosity with solos for everyone else. McLeod delivered some splendidly idiomatically appropriate trombone on Chomping at the Saveloy, Gareth Williams on piano was inimitably garrulous several times, Gavita cut loose on One for Gary, and Facey was astringently eloquent on the closer. The leader’s own solos, as these past thirty years, were a seamless blend of gruff assertion and lyrical elaboration. We’re lucky to have him.

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