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Cheltenham Jazz festival, May 2-3

May 6, 2009

Tried doing four (or was it five) gigs in a day last year at Cheltenham, and ended up almost running between them. So four spread over two days this time: more relaxing, theoretically…

First up Will Vinson’s quartet, with Kurt Rosenwinkel on guitar the main attraction (no disrespect to Vinson who is a skillful, if not particularly individual player). Hampered at first by muddy sound, and not helped by another damned clattery, ultra-busy young New Yawk drummer. Sure, we’re glad you studied and practised, and can play all that stuff, but do you have to do it all the time?

They were warming up quite nicely, though, in spite of the 12 noon start (Vinson: “welcome to the breakfast gig”). Then proceedings were cut short by a back stage power failure, which meant no fire alarms, which meant out of the theatre. Doubly annoying, if that were possible, after a staff member’s cheery admmission that this happened before. Quite recently. So really unimpressed they hadn’t fixed the problem. Not fixed in time for the next one on the list, John Surman with Nikki Yeoh, either. Refund time. Wasted day. Nuff said.

Undeterred, and a precautionary phone call later, back on Sunday for Phil Robson and Dave Liebman. Now that was more like it. Never heard Liebman in the flesh before and he’s a striking player, thoughtful, incisive, inventive. Sounds astonishingly like John Coltrane on soprano, but does it so well… Robson reminded why he is a favourite guitar player, and old Liebman cohort Jeff Williams was full of pep without dominating on drums. A fine set, finishing with Lonely Woman (Ornette, not Horace Silver) on wood flute/whistle thingy -you know: ethnic – which could have been twee but was surprisingly effective.

Best ’til last…  We did not stay for Don Byron, so our highlight – and everybody else’s apparently here, here and here– was Dave Douglas’ quintet in the first evening slot. What a great band! Everything those broadsheet refviews say is true, though none of them make enough of Scott Colley’s contribution in bass – a transfixingly good player, and a match for any of the top drawer bassists now on the road.

Possibly the gig of the year, then, although Marsalis B and Dave Holland to come soon in Bath and, wonderfully unexpectedly, Ornette himself and the Liberation Music Orchestra in London in June  for Meltdown at the South Bank. Keeping up with the good stuff gets time-consuming this time of year.

Having invested in those, will give Sonny Rollins a miss in London in November, I think. That’s a break with tradition, but after a dozen or so evenings over the last two decades listening to his show (for show it is) – the majority of them quite wonderful – I finally begin to feel too nervous that the next one won’t reach the heights. I’d rather remember the good ones already savoured, and watch the rather fine DVD from Vienne a couple of summers ago, which was one of the good nights, too…  I bet we’ll feel wistful come November, even so, although the money saved will probably cover five or so gigs in Bristol. How to weigh these against the grand old man is the question…

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