REVIEWS: The Parabola Arts Centre Programme at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Lucia Cadotsch at the Parabola
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Enemy, Cadotsch/Sandjo, Trondheim Exchange, Mitchener/Hawkins, Vein/Sulzmann
(Parabola Arts Centre, 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Round-up by Peter Slavid)

Cheltenham Jazz Festival has many different faces – big name Americans, fringe artists, and every style of jazz you can imagine – and much of it already reviewed here. I spent my time at the mini-festival which is held at the Parabola Arts Centre, home of the edgier, avant-garde European jazz.

Friday night was spectacular with a terrific double bill featuring Lucia Cadotsch's Swiss trio featuring Petter Eldh and astonishing saxophonist Otis Sandjo. Eldh then continued as a member of the new trio Enemy with Kit Downes and James Maddren. A splendid concert. The other Friday night concert was from Dinosaur (reviewed here)

Petter Eldh, Otis Sandjo and Lucia Cadotsch
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Saturday morning at the Cheltenham Jazz festival is always reserved for the collaboration project between the conservatoires of Trondheim and Birmingham. Students from Trondheim come over to Birmingham and match up in three quartets with Birmingham students – two from each University making up the quartet. They perform in Birmingham, then in Cheltenham and then the go off to do the same in Trondheim. This is the ninth year of the project, and I thought it was one of the best yet.

Ensemble 1: Vilde Aakre Lie vocals, Håvard Aufles piano, Harry Weir tenor saxophone,
Shivraj Matwala bass.

Ensemble 2: Georgia Wartel Collins bass, Ask Morris Rasmussen saxophone, Aidan Pope guitar,
Charlie Johnson drums.

Ensemble 3: Elias Østrem Tafjord drums, Magnus Skaug guitar, Christos Stylianedes trumpet,   Lewis Sallows - alto saxophone (and many doubles).

Natuarally with only three numbers to show off the group there's a temptation to make sure everyone gets to do their party piece, but in general I thought that this year the groups were well balanced and very creative.

The first ensemble, without drums, featured a particularly strong piano solo from Håvard Aufles on his own composition. The singer featured nicely on her own composition, but was perhaps a bit peripheral on the rest. A good opening set.

The second ensemble was stronger, with a good range of styles including some melodic material, some improv and a strong cinematic sound on the composition from guitarist Pope.

The final group was actually a quintet, with two saxophonists. This band was definitely the finished article, with a very big sound and some fine soloing. Glasgow trumpeter Christos Stylianides and Norwegian guitarist Magnus Skaug stood out, both making intelligent use of electronics and pedal effects.

A lot of the groups at the festival were using electronics – some might say experimenting – and in many ways I felt that these young musicians integrated the electronic sounds at least as well as many of their more established peers.

There is also a separate review (here) of the new Roller Trio – now beefed up by the guitar and electronics of Chris Sharkey. My evening concluded with an outstanding performance from Jim Black's Malamute. Mesmerising drumming and again a big electronic background.

Jim Black at the Parabola
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Sunday saw four more gigs in the Parabola. It started with the splendid Interchange dectet, albeit not the full 10 pieces of 10 minutes each which form their full repertoire. In the shorter time slot they chose five. (reviewed here)

That was followed by the astonishing sound of Elaine Mitchener's voice with Alex Hawkins, piano. That won't be reviewed elsewhere and I don't think I would know how to describe it. Hawkins piano segues from ferocious percussion to delicate melody, and Mitchener's voice provides squawks, whispers, giggles, sounds, noise and sometimes words – all accompanied by expressive hand and face movement. What she doesn't do is sing in a conventional sense. Very enjoyable, but probably not for everyone. After that Arun Ghosh had the full house bouncing with his rock-based Asian sound.

My festival concluded with a band I had been looking forward to. This was Vein, comprising Florian Arbenz (drums), Michael Arbenz (piano) and Thomas Lähns (bass). This is a band that has collaborated over the years with a succession of outstanding saxophonists including Dave Liebman, Greg Osby, Andy Sheppard and here with Stan Sulzmann. Turning 70 later this year, Sulzmann seems to have been around for ever, having played with a catalogue of European and American artists and big bands.

Vein have an eclectic approach to the music and have produced CDs of Porgy and Bess, their own chamber music, and most recently a CD of Ravel's tunes (with Andy Sheppard and others). This is definitely not a conventional piano trio. Stylistically their music is full of strong grooves, a bit quirky, and there are influences from M-Base to Monk.

Tunes from Ravel seemed particularly suited to the combination (although they eschewed the 16-minute version of Bolero that was a highlight of the recent album). A fascinating trio that keeps everyone guessing about what direction they will take next.

This was a fitting end to the Cheltenham Parabola weekend, with one of the best programmes I can remember for a number of years, and I'm already looking forward to 2019.
Enemy at the Parabola
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Peter Slavid broadcasts a radio programme of European jazz at www.mixcloud.com/ukjazz and thejazz.co.uk

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