PREVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, March 16-19th.

The crowd at the 2014 Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
Photo credit: Ruth Butler

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival, the city's very own jazz jamboree based in and around Colston Hall already seems well-established, with the fifth edition in a few weeks offering a well-balanced mix of special projects and a tempting selection of touring bands. Bristolian JON TURNEY previews the four-day event:

First up, on the Thursday evening (March 16th) - a day earlier than usual - is the intriguing prospect of a new score for Fritz Lang’s expressionist epic Metropolis. Long-time resident Andy Sheppard, already missed in the city after his recent move to Portugal, returns to Bristol to debut this 90-minute effort, featuring a 10-piece band including regular cohorts Michele Rabbia on percussion and Eivind Aarset on guitar. Sheppard has set Lang’s great fable - of the workers’ rebellion in a stratified city, and Martha the girl activist turned into a robot by archetypal mad scientist Rotwang - to sounds that blend, guitars, electronica and treated saxophones. Films buffs will also want to note a sumptuous sounding set on Saturday evening (18th) when Charles Hazlewood explores jazz scores by the likes of Lalo Schifrin, Roy Budd, Ira Newborn, Don Ellis, Ellington and (of course) Henry Mancini, in the company of his own orchestra, strings, Adrian Utley and Will Gregory.

Over the four days, this year’s festival follows its usual three-tier schedule, using the many mansions of the Colston Hall (with one gig, by Quantic over the road in the O2 Academy). The main crowd-pullers for ticketed gigs are in the main hall. The smaller Lantern fills out the roster with plenty of things for more adventurous listeners, and there’s a freestage in the foyer that attracts big crowds for a showcase of local talent.

After Sheppard, and Friday night’s ever-popular swing dance gala, the main hall features Robben Ford, Mud Morganfield, and Hazelwood (Saturday) and The London Community Gospel Choir, Bobby Shew’s centenary tribute to Dizzy Gillespie, and Macy Grey (Sunday). Ford and Shew, who is backed by festival music director Denny Ilett’s big band, also have dates at Ronnie Scott’s but they’re both already posted as sold out so you’ll have to pop down to Bristol to catch them.

The Lantern is well-supplied with must-see bands this year, including double helpings of Laura Jurd, appearing with her own Dinosaur and with Jasper Hoiby’s splendid new ensemble Fellow Creatures. The programme there also takes in trumpeter Yazz Armed, Gilad Atzman and Alan Barnes, Alec Dankworth, and a solo piano set from Jason Rebello. Bristol favourites Dakhla Brass are promoted to the Lantern this year, in a double bill with guitarist Remi Harris’s trio, and I’m told their set will feature other special guests yet to be revealed. If none of those appeals, hang on for the final set on Sunday night, when a trio led by Neville Marten recreate Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced to mark its 50th anniversary, though they have to compete with the heavily Hendrix influenced Tony Remy gracing local hero saxist James Morton’s band and closing the foyer programme at the same hour.

Add a score of other foyer sets over the four days, and late jam sessions in neighbouring, newly refitted bar/restaurant Bambalan, and a serious sampling of what’s on offer will need serious stamina - always a good test of whether a programme measures up as a real festival. This one certainly does.

LINK: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

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