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Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2008

Cheltenham remains a major focal point of the British jazz calendar with the emphasis still very much on the cutting edge of the music.

SUNDAY 4th MAY 2008

DAN NICHOLLS BAND

A day of interesting and often brilliant music kicked off in the Town Hall’s Pillar Room with the Dan Nicholls Band, an exciting young group led by the Stafford born pianist.

Nicholls is a product of the successful and highly regarded jazz course at the Birmingham Conservatoire and other alumni of the course were to feature extensively at the festival.

Two of Nicholls’ Birmingham colleagues joined him here with bassist Ryan Trebilcock and drummer Simon Spreyer combining to form a flexible and intelligent rhythm section.
Robin Fincker, a member of the London based Loop collective completed the line up, appearing on both tenor saxophone and clarinet.

The quartet played a programme of Nicholls originals, which revealed him to be an interesting and often quirky writer. The opening “If I Were An Arsonist” with it’s jagged rhythms was a case in point and featured the composer at the Nord electric keyboard and Fincker on tenor.

Fincker switched to clarinet for “Ignoramus” which saw him exploring the instrument’s upper register as Nicholls’ writing incorporated elements of dissonance.

Born in 1985 Nicholls is a young musician who likes to acknowledge his musical heroes in his compositions. “Sacks Magique” is a dedication to American pianist Jacob Sacks, a leading figure on the New York downtown scene. As Nicholls subsequently explained the piece was centred on the use of thirds and featured an engaging solo from Trebilcock plus Fincker on tenor.

Nicholls is a multi instrumentalist and is also in demand as a saxophonist. “Sabri” however was dedicated to his tabla teacher and was based on a sixteen beat Indian cycle. Commencing with Trebilcock’s solo bass the piece also included vocal chanting and the mood was meditative and ecstatic by turns with solos from Fincker on tenor and Nicholls on acoustic grand piano.

“The Berne Supremacy” was dedicated to New York alto saxophonist Tim Berne, a major influence on Nicholls. Presumably Nicholls had been in attendance at the Pillar Room the previous day when Berne’s band Science Friction played a typically uncompromising set.
Nicholls’ composition was suitably robust and featured Fincker’s solo sax introduction and a storming piano solo from Nicholls. Spreyer came to the fore in a series of nimble and inventive drum breaks and the piece as a whole was very well received by the audience.

“Storey” calmed things down with it’s ECM style balladry. Fincker’s airy tenor featured after Nicholls’ crystalline solo piano introduction.

Nicholls “American History” toyed with politics as in his announcement of the tune he talked of the USA’s short history but big and often malign influence on world events. Musically, like many of his compositions it was a labyrinthine, constantly evolving affair which saw Fincker switch from clarinet to tenor then back again. As the piece built in intensity Fincker again took up the tenor for some suitably garrulous playing with Nicholls matching him at the piano.

The closing “Wither Without” again revealed a love for punning titles and saw the band engaging in a kind of cerebral funk. Nicholls soloed in electric piano mode on the Nord and Fincker blew some suitably earthy tenor.

Dan Nicholls is clearly a musician and writer with a great deal of potential. There were times when the playing seemed a little too stiff and formal, and the music occasionally sounded overly academic and a bit too much like a composition exercise. However this is merely the result of an enquiring mind. Nicholls clearly wishes to avoid the obvious and there is much to enjoy in his writing.

It will be interesting to see how his career develops, especially if he can get a regular working band together.


JACK DEJOHNETTE
From a promising newcomer to a bona fide jazz legend.
Drummer DeJohnette’s work with leaders such as Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis and Keith Jarrett has deservedly earned him a place in the jazz pantheon. However he is also an established leader in his own right as well as gracing countless other recordings as a sideman.

His appearance at the Everyman Theatre for a special one-man show was intriguing.  In addition his skill behind the kit DeJohnette is also a talented pianist and composer.

DeJohnette began his performance seated behind his enormous drumkit. In a highly musical opening piece he coaxed ethereal chimes and shimmers from his array of custom-built cymbals using his vocal mic to catch the resonances and subtly manipulate the sound. The end result was ethereal and hauntingly beautiful.

Less successful was “Stand In The Shadow Of Motown” described by DeJohnette as “an elaboration on funk grooves” and a homage to the rhythms of Motown’s celebrated “Funk Brothers”. Despite being initially impressive the piece eventually outstayed it’s welcome although one had to admire DeJohnette’s sheer physical resourcefulness.

The appearance of saxophonist Ravi Coltrane as a special guest added a second voice to the proceedings and was most welcome. The combination of Coltrane’s impassioned tenor and Dejohnette’s rolling thunder drums and chiming cymbals was exhilarating and exciting.

DeJohnette then moved to the piano for a duet that encompassed both gentle balladry and full on free improvisation. After a quiet opening Dejonette’s piano playing gradually became more percussive and he eventually returned to the drum kit as Coltrane’s squalling sax wailed belligerently. After the sound and fury the pair produced a surprisingly elegiac ending.

Despite the rapturous audience response we were to hear no more. It had been a demanding hour or so of music despite the occasional longeurs and it would have been asking a lot for both performers and audience to handle much more music at this level of intensity. Impressive as Dejohnette had been I wasn’t sorry to move on to something else.

BOBBY PREVITE’S NEW BUMP

Cheltenham’s artistic director Tony Dudley-Evans has an impressive record of attracting the leading lights of New York’s jazz scene to appear at the festival. 2007 witnessed remarkable performances from both the Claudia Quintet and the Ben Allison Band. This year at the Pillar Room it was the turn of drummer Bobby Previte’s latest ensemble New Bump to provide what was arguably the gig of the festival.

Performing material mainly drawn from their new Palmetto records album “Set The Alarm For Monday” the band made their intentions clear from the start. Playing at a high level of intensity and with a tangible “Downtown” edge the interlocking grooves of Previte and electric bassist Brad Jones set up a sturdy but flexible platform for the solos of tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin and vibraphonist Bill Ware. Ware added an important rhythmic component and also featured in several engaging dialogues with the leader’s drums.

Visually the band were arresting with the dapper Previte upright at the drums, punching out the rhythms and subtly leading the group. Eskelin’s bookish appearance was in marked contrast to the fiery nature of much of his playing. Jones, sporting a hat, and the dreadlocked Ware seated at the vibes both exuded an air of implacable New York cool.

Previte’s laconic announcing style introduced titles such as “The Wrong Guy”, “There Was Something In My Drink” and “Were You Followed” plus the album’s title track
Grooving yet intelligent this was simply great music. Despite the complexity of the material everywhere heads were nodding and toes were tapping, such was the power and flexibility of the rhythms. Over this Eskelin’s scorching tenor and Ware’s fluid four-mallet technique wove remarkable solos. There were of course moments in the limelight for Jones and Previte, the latter demonstrating subtlety, inventiveness and power on the solo drum introduction to “The Wrong Guy”.

There were moments of subtlety etched into this rich tapestry such as the duet between Eskelin and Ware that ushered in “Set The Alarm For Monday”, the opening tune on the album but the set closer here.

This was intelligent but accessible music played by a tight yet flexible unit with total confidence in it’s own abilities. The high level of interaction between the four musicians belied the fact that this was their first UK appearance. They either had plenty of gigs behind them already or had made optimum use of any available rehearsal time.  In Bobby Previte they have a leader who strikes the right balance between discipline and individual freedom.

“Set The Alarm For Monday” adds trumpeter Steve Bernstein and percussionist Jim Pugliese to this core quartet. The studio performances are more measured and lack the intensity witnessed at Cheltenham. Nevertheless this is a consistently engaging album with some excellent writing and playing and is highly recommended.

RALPH ALESSI & THIS AGAINST THAT

Back at the Everyman Theatre another New York based player, trumpeter Ralph Alessi had to follow this.

Alessi’s group adopted a far cooler approach and with Alessi declining to make any announcements they seemed somewhat detatched from the audience.

Ravi Coltrane appeared on saxophones, playing his second gig of the day following his earlier cameo with Jack DeJohnette. Andy Milne was on piano, with the ubiquitous Drew Gress on bass and Mark Ferber at the drums. This is the line up that appeared on the recent album “Look”, the band name originally coming from Alessi’s highly successful album “This Against That” recorded in 2002 with different personnel.

Alessi proved himself to be an awesome technician, demonstrating clarity and dexterity on the open horn and occasionally making use of the Harmon mute. He and Coltrane largely kept out of each other’s way although there were moments when the horns coalesced in a pleasing manner. One such example was the sparring on “A Dollar In Your Shoe”, one of the few genuinely playful moments in the set.

Coltrane’s playing here was more restrained than on the DeJohnette set but he still provided solos of a choked intensity that fitted in well with the slightly sombre mood of many of Alessi’s compositions.

Milne provided sensitive accompaniment and contributed several solos, striking a good balance between thoughtfulness and a kind of controlled exuberance. He was well supported by the supple rhythm team of Gress and Ferber who handled the meanderings of Alessi’s compositions with characteristic ease.

Alessi’s approach is very much about mood building but for me the music here was too studied and rarely caught fire despite the undoubted technical excellence of the players. The air of academic detachment and lack of announcements didn’t help. After the fireworks from Previte I found the gig something of a disappointment though to be fair to Alessi he was aiming for a totally different effect to the drummer.

PETE WAREHAM-THE FINAL TERROR!

In search of more pyrotechnics I headed back to the Pillar Room to catch saxophonist Pete Wareham’s latest project. Wareham has certainly provided plenty of fireworks as the leader of Acoustic Ladyland and as a member of Polar Bear.
His latest project sees him joined by Ladyland’s new bassist Ruth Goller and powerhouse drummer and F-ire Collective member Leo Taylor. In a late addition to the programme guitarist Chris Sharkey completed the line up.

Wareham warned “hold on to your chairs” before the band commenced. He wasn’t kidding. The Final Terror take their energy from Acoustic Ladyland’s approach but add in dollops of white noise and distortion courtesy of Sharkey’s guitar and Wareham’s occasional use of keyboards. Wareham has spoken before of learning to forget the saxophone “vocabulary” he learnt at music college. He has taken this process a long way with Ladyland but here his sax seems less like a conventional instrument than ever as he electronically treats and manipulates it’s sound. With Goller’s rumbling, fuzz laden bass and Taylor’s thunderous drumming added to the mix The Final Terror is a pretty potent cocktail.

The opening “Mode 3” was inspired by one of Wareham’s musical heroes Oliver Messiaen and based on one of his scales. Effects laden guitar, fuzz bass and distorted sax were all present in abundance.

“A Final Night Of Terror” (aka “Mayday”) initially began in a more conventional manner with Wareham’s tenor sax sounding comparatively normal. This was eventually hi-jacked by Sharkey’s ominous guitar chords and subsequent solo.

“Bald From Above” featured Wareham on baritone with the sound electronically distorted and subsequently looped. He later took up the tenor and manipulated the sound of that by sampling himself before laying a keyboard drone over the top. All the time he was lashed on by Taylor’s vicious drumming.

“April In Deptford” (great title) again featured baritone and was the one tune of the set that bore a close resemblance to Acoustic Ladyland. Goller’s fuzz bass was to the fore and Sharkey subsequently weighed in with a searing guitar solo.

Another nod to Messiaen followed with Wareham’s arrangement of the first movement of his “Turangalila”, originally written for onde martenot. Wareham commenced on baritone before taking up the tenor to make suitably scary noises in conjunction with Sharkey’s eerie guitar.

“Panic Of Happiness” with Wareham on tenor brought the set to a rousing close. It had been a little rough around the edges and very loud. It may even have upset a few purists but in general it was very well received.

Up to a point we know what to expect from Wareham by now so the performance didn’t have the shock impact of Ladyland in 2004 or Fraud in the same room a couple of years ago.

The Final Terror is still in it’s early stages and is not yet as polished as Ladyland or Polar Bear. However there is great potential here and much to enjoy if you like this end of the jazz spectrum.
BILL FRISELL BAND

The other contender for “gig of the festival” was by American guitarist Bill Frisell’s new quintet, which appeared on Saturday evening at the Everyman Theatre.

Frisell is an inspired improviser and has developed a unique voice on the guitar over the last twenty-five years or so. The all star quintet he had assembled here to promote his forthcoming album “History Mystery” featured long term collaborator Ron Miles on cornet, with Chris Cheek on tenor saxophone plus an all new rhythm section consisting of Larry Grenadier on bass and Rudy Royston at the drums.

This proved to be an inspired aggregation and the music the band played to a packed house was superb. Such is the respect that Frisell commands that one couple I spoke to had driven up all the way from Plymouth for this specific gig, having only heard about it at the last minute.

Frisell was last in the UK in November 2007 as part of the big band convened by Michael Gibbs for his (Gibbs) 70th birthday tour. Gibbs recommended the Cheltenham festival to Frisell as a good place to play and indeed Gibbs was present in the audience tonight.

Frisell is probably the shyest guitar hero around and apart from introducing the band he made no announcements. He clearly prefers to let his music speak for itself but a little more information regarding the material would have been appreciated. The way that Frisell set up the band in a semi circular formation with himself on the extreme right meant that many in the audience were unable to see what he was doing on the fretboard. Those of us who had seen him with Gibbs were thus frustrated a second time. At the Gibbs concerts Frisell had remained seated and difficult to see, especially from the back of the hall.

Having got these quibbles out of the way early on I can’t praise the music itself highly enough. The semi circular formation clearly worked for the musicians as they bounced ideas off each other. The overall level of group interaction was superb but there were also solos of individual brilliance within the band framework.

Frisell touched many of his bases in a superb all round performance. His trademark loping swing derives from his well-publicised love of country music. Frisell has established an interesting and innovative way of fusing jazz, rock and country, coming up with something entirely his own in the process.

This bright and inventive band was constantly shifting styles and tempos, keeping both themselves and their audience on their toes. If Miles’ cornet suggested old time jazz styles this was counterbalanced by New York style grooves and Frisell’s rock influenced guitar effects.

A brooding ballad featuring solos from Cheek and Frisell plus Miles’ mournful cornet gave way to a joyous celebration that hinted at both Latin and South African rhythms. 
Frisell’s chiming guitar was superseded by Cheek’s tenor before the leader returned with his characteristic jazz meets Americana twang.

Elsewhere a slow burning blues saw Frisell begin ruminatively before his guitar flew off into the stratosphere in a classic example of the building and release of tension.

Both horns were shown off to good effect on the closing number, an urgent, shuffling piece inspired by the swing and early bebop areas. Miles’ agility and clarity on the cornet were more than matched by Cheek’s confident and fluent tenor. Whether soloing or in tandem both men displayed incredible chops throughout the evening.

Royston and Grenadier, the latter playing his very first gig with Frisell, brilliantly supported the frontline soloists. Grenadier is an experienced musician having come to prominence in bands led by Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau and he settled in remarkably quickly here. Grenadier delivered a number of stunningly dextrous but tasteful solos and he and Royston immediately forged a brilliant partnership.

Royston is an innately musical drummer and his playing was a joy to watch. Nimble and tastefully energetic, he utilised his kit inventively and his attention to detail and subtle propulsion continually pushed the group to new heights. He was not a player I had encountered before but I enjoyed his contribution immensely.

The Frisell group were given a thunderous reception by a capacity crowd and were given the nod to perform the first encore I’d seen that day. Stately and reflective with subtle horn voicings and understated guitar this closed a remarkable evening of music on a suitably elegiac note.

The concert was subsequently broadcast on Radio 3 and sounded just as good, if not better, second time around. Frisell is one of the music’s great originals and minor misgivings aside it was a privilege to be there.


MONDAY 5th MAY 2008

Bank Holiday Monday proved to be quieter than usual at the festival. With so many high profile concerts now taking place in the evenings immediately preceding the Bank Holiday weekend the closing day had something of an air of anti climax about it. With many visitors having already returned home there was the inescapable feeling that the festival was winding down. This impression has not been so pronounced in previous years and it was significant that the Everyman Theatre was not used at all today and remained closed. Hopefully next year will be different with a greater choice of concerts on the final day.

Nevertheless there was still some fine music to be enjoyed and with Andy Sheppard’s afternoon gig at the Pillar Room sold out well in advance I took the opportunity of investigating some of the “Promoter’s Choice” gigs on the festival’s Fringe programme.

JOHN RANDALL QUARTET

My first port of call was the Pillar Room for a gig billed as featuring the “Dave Holland Competition Award Winners”.

The great bassist Dave Holland was born in Wolverhampton and was recruited by Miles Davis after a chance encounter in London in 1968. Holland has lived in the USA ever since and has become one of the world’s most respected exponents of his instrument. He has appeared on literally hundreds of records as a sideman besides recording many albums under his own name, mainly for the German based ECM label.

Holland has never forgotten his Midlands roots and judged this competition for best jazz act, which was open to students on Birmingham Conservatoire’s jazz course. From several heats the John Randall Quartet emerged as winners and were given the opportunity to perform this prestige gig at Cheltenham

Led by drummer John Randall the group also featured pianist Dan Nicholls who had appeared at the Pillar Room the previous day leading his own group. Michael Fletcher appeared on alto saxophone with Tom Farmer completing the line up on bass. Farmer is concurrently a member of young rising stars Empirical.

Like Bobby Previte yesterday Randall subtly leads and dominates his group from the drums. However his compositional approach has more in common with the British eccentricities of Seb Rochford than the urban cool of Previte.

Like his colleague Nicholls Randall imbues his compositions with plenty of twists and turns and incorporates both electric and acoustic instruments in his arrangements. The opening “The Way You Turn On Me” featured Farmer’s liquid electric bass.

The untitled second piece was a vehicle for Fletcher’s crisp, attacking alto and Nicholls’ electric piano. Both players also featured on the following number with Fletcher’s alto taking flight after a brooding intro followed by Nicholls delivery of a characteristically thoughtful solo on electric piano.

The urgent, skittering “Insomnia” was described by Randall as a “dream sequence”.
Fletcher’s passionate alto was again prominent and Randall pushed himself into the spotlight with a series of high-energy drum breaks.

“Blues for S.J.” featured the dirty sound of Nicholls’ Nord keyboard sparring with Fletcher’s alto.

Randall mentioned that as part of the prize the quartet were due to record later in the year with guitarist Phil Robson appearing as a special guest and also occupying the producer’s chair. On the evidence of what we had heard so far this should be an album well worth checking out.

The group closed with “What Changed?” another feature for the impressive Fletcher who played with extraordinary fire and clarity. Randall’s unfolding, highly inventive drum solo was an unexpected treat and Fletcher switched to flute for the coda.

This final number was particularly well received and it would seem that Randall and his colleagues are set to become increasingly important figures on the British jazz scene.

No doubt inspired by London’s F-ire and Loop Collectives the young musicians of Birmingham have formed their own Cobweb Collective. See http://www.cobwebcollective.com for up to the minute information on Randall, Nicholls and their colleagues.

ALCYONA MICK QUINTET

I ventured outside to check out some of the free music on offer in the marquee in Imperial Gardens.

Three bands were due to play back to back as part of Jazz Services’ Promoter’s Choice Series.
Unfortunately I missed the first of these as Welsh trombonist Gareth Roberts’ quintet played concurrently with the Randall quartet.

However I can thoroughly recommend Roberts’ excellent debut album “Attack Of The Killer Penguins” and also his entertaining live shows, which combine excellent musicianship with a refreshingly humorous approach to music making. I saw him at the Lichfield and Torfaen festivals last year and hope to catch him at Brecon in 2008.Check him out at http://www.garethtrombone.co.uk

Next up on the Promoter’s Choice programme was pianist Alcyona Mick leading her quintet. Alcyona is a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire jazz course and played Cheltenham as part of the Jerwood Rising Stars series in 2003.

She has since moved to London where she is part of the increasingly influential Loop Collective. Using her first name only Alcyona recorded her quintet in 2006 with the album “Around The Sun” appearing on Malcolm Creese’s Audio B label. It is an impressive debut, full of interesting writing and improvising and is real “grower” of an album.

She is also a member of the improvising trio Blink who were to appear on the concert programme at the Pillar Room later in the afternoon. Their eponymous debut album has just been released on the Loop record label.

The quintet played an enjoyable and accessible set and were well received by a laid back crowd on an increasingly warm afternoon. Alcyona was using a Nord electric keyboard and was joined by fellow Loop Collective members trumpeter Robbie Robson and tenor saxophonist Mark Hanslip. Both appear on “Around The Sun”. The rhythm section included her Blink collaborator Paul Clarvis on drums and the experienced Steve Watts on double bass-an impressive team.

The material included a couple of items from “Around The Sun” plus a selection of newer tunes. The instrumental configuration was reminiscent of a classic Blue Note Records configuration and there were elements of this influence in the group’s sound.

Robson and Hanslip linked up well, their squalling horns featuring strongly on “O Positive”.

Robson’s burnished trumpet tones were also to the fore on “Should I?” Alcyona’s variation on the standard “If I Should Lose You”.Hanslip also featured strongly and in an impressive all round showing solos also came from the leader on electric piano and Watts on double bass. Clarvis, clearly enjoying himself, rattled through a series of tasty drum breaks.

From the album came the ballad “Marigold” which featured another excellent solo from Watts and the trilling keyboards of Alcyona.

The unannounced closing number incorporated staccato rhythms and more fireworks from the two horn men.

Such was the crowd reaction that they were called back for a well deserved encore. “Monkey” featured suitably animalistic trumpet growling from Robson reminiscent of the Duke Ellington band’s Bubber Miley. This was impressive updating of an old sound and a good way to round off an enjoyable gig.

FREE SPIRITS

This unusual quartet represented the North of England on the Promoter’s Choice programme.

Led by saxophonist Lewis Watson the band combine jazz with Indian classical music. Both musics are strongly rooted in improvisation and this band explores the ground where the two traditions meet.

Of course this is not a new concept. Free Spirits draws on a lineage dating back to the legendary “Indo Jazz Fusions” of John Mayer and Joe Harriott in the 1960’s.

Watson was joined by Neil Harland on both acoustic and electric basses with the Indian contingent represented by Dharambir Singh on a distinctive electric sitar and Bhupinder Singh Chagger on tabla and electric percussion.

This unusual line up began tentatively, meandering politely through the opening numbers “Chandra” and “Conjunction”.

Watson switched between tenor and soprano saxophones and also handled the announcements. Before the third number “Kanak Mangal” he cited Gil Evans remark “Every culture has its blues”.

Things began to pick up from here especially on Harland’s well-constructed “Chester Street Seven”, the outstanding composition of the set. Here Singh’s sitar genuinely did echo the blues and the dialogue between bass and tabla led into a remarkable solo from Chagger which saw him introduce electronic elements to effectively spar with himself.

This totally won over the crowd and the closing “Olly Kauns” repeated the tabla/bass duet and also included a strong contribution from Watson.

The Promoter’s Choice series will take these three bands (Roberts, Alcyona and Free Spirits) to the Manchester, Scarborough and London Jazz Festivals. All are well worth seeing so catch them if you can- indeed with many of these being free performances there is no reason not to.

BLINK

Alcyona’s second gig of the day found her in a totally different environment. The concert atmosphere of the Pillar Room was something of a contrast to the marquee and this time she was playing grand piano.

The music played by Blink also differs to that of the quintet, with a far greater emphasis on improvisation. The stripped down line up of piano, drums and reeds allows each musician a heightened degree of involvement and the level of interaction between the players is enhanced as a result.

Drummer Paul Clarvis was also on his second date of the day but the busiest man at the festival was Robin Fincker, doubling here on tenor sax and clarinet. Fincker had appeared yesterday with Dan Nicholls and on Saturday as part of the acclaimed Outhouse Ruhabi.Like Alcyona, the French born Fincker is a member of the Loop Collective.

Blink have just released their debut album on the Loop record label and much of the material played here was drawn from that recording.

However the trio chose to open with Alcyona’s tune “Crunch” which is absent from the record. The first thing you notice is how “full on ” Blink’s sound is. There is little of the ECM style “chamber jazz” the instrumental line up might suggest. Fincker featured here on tenor sax and he was much more involved here than he was yesterday as part of the Dan Nicholls Band. On the evidence of his performance with Blink Fincker is a major soloist who deserves to become an influential figure on the British jazz scene.

Fincker’s own “Mu” followed, a composition taking it’s name from “a door to the Atlantis City”. The tune actually appears on the debut Outhouse CD. Here it was presented as a reflective piece with Alcyona’s solo piano intro with Fincker on clarinet and Clarvis deploying brushes.

A further solo passage from Alcyona provided a segue into Alcyona’s “Something Like The Blues” with Fincker now back on tenor. The title was suitably apposite for this deconstructed blues.

From the album the jaunty “Ronnies” also by Alcyona incorporated a major solo statement from Fincker’s tenor. There was also a piano/drum dialogue with rumbling double-handed clusters from Alcyona.

There was another pause for breath on the following (unannounced) number. The solo piano intro gave way to Fincker’s lyrical tenor.

Solo piano in a kind free jazz style reminiscent of Keith Tippett eventually led into a remarkable version of the standard “Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me”. Mutating into a slow blues the piece featured Fincker’s authoritative tenor.

Grouped together on the album the abstractions of Fincker’s “The Bar” led into Alcyona’s “Quiet Afternoon”. The former featured Fincker’s urgent, belligerent tenor before he made the switch to clarinet for the descriptive “Quiet Afternoon”.

Like his own “The Bar” Fincker’s “The Mess” was stretched beyond the rather brief parameters afforded to it on the album. The closer here as well as on the album “The Mess” as played at Cheltenham was an energetic, groove based affair which gave Clarvis the chance to demonstrate his chops with a dynamic drum solo.

There was to be no topping this and Blink ended the day’s music on a high note. Given the improvisatory nature of their performances these tunes were unlikely to be presented in the same way again so those that were there can genuinely say they were at a unique event.

However it must be said that the trio’s album (reviewed elsewhere on this site) makes for fascinating listening whilst never becoming “difficult”.

Cheltenham remains a major focal point of the British jazz calendar with the emphasis still very much on the cutting edge of the music. Much of artistic director Tony Dudley Evans’ programming is quite inspired and if what are strictly “non jazz” events such as Van Morrison subsidise appearances by the likes of Bobby Previte and Tim Berne plus our own native talents I have no problem with that.

My only real quibble this year was the lack of events on Bank Holiday Monday, which no longer seems to be pivotal to the festival. Perhaps that can be addressed next year. Roll on 2009. 


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