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Bath again

July 11, 2009

Proper Bath review has now appeared in Jazzwise (with great pix by Tim Dickeson), so text archived here for future reference. In even further hindsight, I really enjoyed Bobo Stenson’s solo set, but all the rest still sounds like the way I felt on the day(s)…

Bath music festival

Booking musicians is only a start in building a jazz festival. The regular jazz weekend at the start of Bath’s ecumenical music extravaganza shows what turns a string of sets into something more.

That is partly about fixing who plays with whom, and matching bands and venues. Bath nowadays has spaces to suit everyone. The neatly refurbed Komedia started things off on Saturday with the tinkly minimalism of the Portico Quartet, whose evident popularity seems to derive from being undemanding in every way. They were a suitable amuse bouche for meatier fare from Balkan keyboard whirlwind Bojan Z’s aventurous Euro-jazz trio. His Radio 3 commission made full use of guest Josh Roseman’s juicy trombone, on a bed of Seb Rochford’s restlessly inventive drumming.

Back in the dark at Komedia on a blazing Sunday afternoon for more piano trio brilliance from Curios. Tom Cawley offered several new compositions which showed his knack for writing tunes which sound as if they could be standards. No such flair evident from the vaunted keyboard conspirator Nik Bärtsch, who followed, his obsessively layered funk aspiring to the contemplative, but not quite making it.

Honours even, so far, for home grown sounds and visitors. No contest on Sunday night though. Dan Stern, opening for Dave Holland in the barn-like Pavilion, brought thoughtful charts – Euro jazz here including Chopin melodies – that obviously inspired his all-star group, especially fellow reed player Julian Siegel. Their good work was hardly a match for Holland’s quintet though. Near the end of a long European tour, they were astonishingly cohesive, with that special exuberance that comes from musicians who know how well they are working together. You could single out great things from any of them, but they are really  the magic pentangle.

Another venue early on Monday noon, with Bobo Stenson’s wonderful piano touch and lyrical invention a perfect match for the genteel noontime ambience of the Assembly rooms. Joey Calderazzo has those too, but allied to a blistering intensity which almost unbalanced the festival finale – Branford Marsalis’ glittering quartet at the cavernous Forum. Calderazzo featured on two threnodic ballads, with Marsalis on atmospheric soprano. The rest of the time he and newly recruited drummer Justin Faulkner drove each other on furiously, with the leader beaming his approval. Again, their imperious hour and a half contrasted with the more reflective opening set from Brit stars Empirical, developing their exploration of Eric Dolphy’s musical neighbourhood. But after a dazzling long weekend’s music, it was the established bands – Branford’s quartet and, even more, Holland’s ensemble – who helped turn a bunch of gigs into something truly festive.

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