PREVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival (15-18 March 2018)

The small hours at Colston Hall, 2013
Photo credit: Ruth Butler


Jon Turney looks forward to the sixth Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival:

Five years after it began, Bristol’s festival already feels like a fixture. But there’s a slight end of an era ambience for the sixth edition, on 15th-18th of March. It’s the last one in the old Colston Hall, a jazz venue on and off since 1951. Next year, the Festival’s home will be closed for a multi-million makeover that’ll run until well into 2020. Artistic director Denny Ilett marks the transition with a programme that emphasises the Bristol-rooted projects that have give the festival its special flavour.

They include an intriguing collaboration in which Bristolians appear on screen as well as on stage. Get The Blessing kick things off in the main hall on Thursday 15th playing music for a film, Bristolopolis, that offers a new portrayal of Bristol created by award-winning film-maker John Minton from archive footage reaching back more than 100 years in the life of the city. The next evening guitarist Ilett co-leads his own big band in the now traditional evening of swing - Get the Blessing’s Jake McMurchie proving his versatility by joining the horn section.

Ilett is also behind another big band project, on Sunday, a re-working of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland fifty years on. This is an all-star affair including Laura Jurd, Yazz Ahmed, Iain Ballamy, Nathaniel Facey and Ashley Slater, and takes inspiration from Gil Evans’ Hendrix treatments and the guitarist’s own never-fulfilled ambition to work with a larger ensemble. The band are doing a couple of nights at Ronnie Scott’s as well, but if you can’t make those dates they alone will be worth a trip to Bristol.

Even larger ensembles feature in two characteristically family-friendly, good-humoured offerings in the main space on Saturday, with William Goodchild reconvening his 30-piece orchestra to extend last year’s film and TV music project with new arrangements of scores from cult TV of the 1960s onwards, and Andy Williamson leading his own big band and the 300 strong Bristol Festival chorus who will roar through a new selection of cartoon themes, egged on by guest vocalist Ian Shaw.

There’s more familiar fare, too, with Incognito, with Carleen Anderson, and the James Taylor Quartet featuring at the nearby O2, and Tommy Smith’s quartet enjoying the superior acoustic of St George’s on Thursday night. And the smaller Colston Hall venue, the Lantern, has a string of quality sessions including Arun Gosh, Asaf Sirkis and Sylwia Bialis, Martin Taylor in guitar duo with Ulf Wakenius and - in something of an Edition records special on Sunday - two bands with much talked about new releases, the engagingly unclassifiable Snowpoet and pianist Ivo Neame’s new quartet with George Crowley.

Add blues offerings including a half-centenary tribute to Cream’s 1968 Albert Hall concert, and masterclasses, and there’s already something for everyone. But if the ticketed gigs leave any gaps, there are also 26 free sets over five days in the generously proportioned Colston foyer. They feature such excellent Bristol-grown projects as bassist Greg Cordez’s quintet, altoist Sophie Stockham’s John Zorn-inspired Sefrial and the Bristol European Jazz Ensemble, presenting a new jazz and spoken word reflection on recent European history pieced together by trumpeter and indefatigable Bristol organiser Dave Mowat. The organising team are working on a plan for a promised 2019 festival spread over other venues, but this year Colston Hall is the place to be during the third weekend in March.

Bristol Jazz and Blues Fest website with full programme details

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