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Bath jazz weekend

May 31, 2009

One of the things which intrigues about Festivals is that the attention they get allows comparison with what others thought. It is a reliable reminder how subjective reception of music is.

I’ll have my say about the jazz bit of Bath’s great musicfest in Jazzwise in July, and archive it here later, but meantime there have been enough comments elsewhere (from John Fordham, for instance, and lots and lots from the other blogger), to reflect a bit on this.

They both chime with what I heard and felt pretty well. But there’s those that don’t. One area of disagreement surrounds the fashionable (apparently) Portico quartet. I don’t know if what they play counts as jazz (don’t really care), but it did strike me – on a second encounter with the group – as astoundingly dull. For some reason, though, it is not ignorably dull, but even slightly irritating to be in the same room. I’m not averse to minimalism (though I do live with a music lover who has been known to run screaming from the room when Steve Reich is playing). But this particular brand I really don’t get on with. Enthusiastic response from a healthy-sized audience indicates this is definitely a minority view. Perhaps it doesn’t amount to saying any more than theirs is a sound world which I don’t want to visit?

Another continuing puzzle is the occasional curmudgeonly comments which Dave Holland’s quintet – probably my favourite touring jazz group now that some of the shine has gone off Wayne Shorter’s quartet – tends to attract.

OK, they are a touring group, they’ve been doing it together for a long time, and they put on a show from what is now largely familiar repertoire if you listen to the CDs regularly, and I surely do. But they generally do it fantastically well, and if Bath was any exception it was because they sounded even better than usual. Or so I thought. I know some people don’t get them on record – I recall a Stuart Nicholson review dismissing them for pointless virtuosity, which made me forever doubt his acuity as a jazz critic. But surely an evening like this would win over anyone who was even slightly susceptible to great bands playing at their peak?

But no. Sat down the next night to hear Branford Marsalis and my neighbour reckoned the whole Holland show was pretty lacklustre, the main soloists weren’t really doing anything special, and he’d generally heard better. And the usually fairly acute critic in the Venue said much the same in print. “Efficiently brilliant” was his slightly odd phraseology. Maybe they need to, you know, suffer more to reach some people. On the other hand, perhaps audience suffering is the problem. Both these guys also said the venue was humid, stifling, etc. True, I guess, but I hardly noticed. Too busy enjoying the music to care. Jazz and air-conditioning have never been close associates…  Just grateful my, ahem, jazz-outing wardrobe needs dry cleaning less often since the smoking ban.

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