FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2018 Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

Lee Konitz, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
(Colston Hall, 16-18 March 2018. Festival Round-Up by Jon Turney)

Bristol’s sixth jazz and blues festival weekend nearly ended on Sunday morning when the day dawned with a blizzard. Happily, the weather relented in time for the full day’s programme to run, rounding off a memorable farewell to the soon-to-be-redeveloped Colston Hall.

There was characteristically varied fare before the snow set in, too. Arun Ghosh, with Idris Rahman joining altoist Chris Williams to make a formidable three-horn front-line, had the audience buzzing in a packed Lantern on Friday night with a bustling set full of excitement and good humour. The leader’s gorgeous unaccompanied clarinet intro to Pastoral Sympathy was all the more effective for the contrast with the high-energy dominating the rest of the show. I’m guessing the band rarely play to a seated audience, but we were dancing in our heads.

There was plenty of the real thing, a dancing daughter tells me, in the now traditional big swing session with Denny Ilett and Johnny Bruce’s big band in the main hall. In the foyer, bass-player Greg Cordez’s quintet line-up, with percussionist for all occasions Tony Orrell on the drum chair, caught the ear.

Evelyn Glennie, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino


Trio HLK (Richard Harrold on keys, Ant Law on guitar and Richard Kass on drums) with percussion legend Evelyn Glennie was a bold booking for the first show in the big hall the following day For 1.00 on Saturday afternoon (and 1 degree on the streets) there was a decent crowd, and the music probably benefited from early in the day concentration. These were standards so radically reconstructed that, even when they tell you what they are, you have to take their word for it. Their arrangements are subtle and intricate, and make serious demands on the attention. Glennie fits in seamlessly - and offers one stunning solo piece. The quartet and trio excursions offered probably the wildest and most challenging sounds of the weekend. Then again, why play Blue in Green the way you’ve heard it before in 2018?

No such reservations attended the other pair of sets I caught on Saturday. Louis-inspired trumpeter Enrico Tomasso’s High Standards band delighted the lantern with bravura mainstream, and it was a delight to see Dave Newton’s piano and Dave Green’s bass on stage together. Clare Teal was superb value in a well-filled main hall later in the afternoon. She was backed by a nine-piece big band conducted by Guy Barker (recovered from recent surgery but not quite up to playing yet) that oozed class. It would have been great to have made a bit more solo space for the likes of Jason Rebello on piano, James Gardiner-Bateman and Alex Garnett on saxes, and Ryan Quigley and Martin Shaw on trumpet, but Teal’s show is all about the songs. I lost count of how many she packed in to 95 mjnutes, but every one was delivered with flawless professionalism.

Lauren Kinsella of Snowpoet, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Sunday began in the Lantern with the unclassifiably wonderful Snowpoet (no jokes). Whatever the band are doing - sometimes minimalist, just occasionally full-on jazz - Lauren Kinsella’s matchless voice reaches out of the ensemble and grabs you. The words are mostly modern confessional - mid-tempo reflections on love and death (Philip Larkin for the death), with intermittent flashes of Blakean visions. The overall effect is magical.

A larger crowd had braved the snow by the time Ivo Neame’s quartet took the stage, in a Lantern double bill for Edition records that was a festival highlight. Their live expansions of the rich contemporary jazz on new CD Moksha opened out the music in directions that suggest there’s more to come as they tour. Conor Chaplin standing in for Tom Farmer on bass sounded as if he’d been there all along, and George Crowley revelled in the challenge of the leader’s compositions.

Ivo Neame, Bristol 2018
Photo credit: Mick Destino

Then it was time for a festival special, arrangements by artistic director Denny Ilett for a stellar big band playing their way through Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, 50 years old in 2018. Hendrix’s mostly simple tunes don’t really call for a 16-piece band but this was enormous fun. A crop of super-soloists - Iain Ballamy, Ashley Slater, Ben Waghorn, Nathaniel Facey, Winston Rollins, and more - entered into the spirit of the thing with gusto and Ilett, white Strat and wah-wah pedal out front, acquitted himself convincingly as a voodoo child. Jazzier moments, including a fine trumpet duet from Yazz Ahmed and Laura Jurd on 1983, leavened a set that naturally leaned more toward the blues in the festival’s title.

That tribute to a lost hero was capped in the late evening by a genuine living legend, Lee Konitz in the Lantern. There was a lot of Lee love in the room, not least from his delicately supportive trio, with pianist Andreas Schmidt apparently having a collection of Konitz solos memorised. The great man, now turned 90, played seated, except when he stood, produced a beautiful sound and line on mid-tempo alto sax, sang some of the themes, and joked happily with the audience. Alternately coaxed and prodded gently by the trio, he held a full house rapt for an hour, essaying quite a few choruses that could have come from any time in his immense career. Several numbers ended with note perfect unison with the piano on complex bebop flights, a wonderfully effective way of evoking the core of his music. A duo encore with the piano was the perfect end to a memorable set. Outside, the blizzard had resumed, but hearts in the Lantern were well-and-truly warmed.

LINK: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival website

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