Looking back at Bath

Deadline dates mean that my brief roundup of the jazz bits of Bath’s splendid music festival has only just appeared in Jazzwise. Here it is, so I can find it later on. It was a terrific ten days, and the mag tweeted today that Joanna MacGregor has agreed to carry on as artistic director for another year, so here’s looking forward to equally rewarding stuff next time round. And, on a detail that matters to no-one except me, I think the copy went through to print without any subbing alterations, which always pleases, More important, there’s a bunch of great photos from Tim Dickeson, who as usual worked much harder than I did.

Bath MusicFest May 28-June 5

 The jazz threads in Bath’s musical tapestry this year were mostly part of a broader strand billed as Songs of Freedom. Very apt for Soweto Kinch, who brought his quartet’s current New Emancipation show to Komedia. A guesting Byron Wallen burned on trumpet, and pushed Kinch’s alto to new heights. The leader’s famous freestyle rap took a new turn with audience photos uploaded from phones to laptop projection – a good move as it gave him more flexibility than just offering words shouted out.

Earlier the same day Komedia showcased young British star in the making Ayanna Witter-Johnson’s festival-commissioned tribute to Nina Simone, an inspired notion from artistic director Joanna MacGregor. The impressively talented leader offered a through written suite which incorporated a couple of Simone’s trademark songs and lots of elements of her musical world. Highlights included a spine-tingling renditon of Strange Fruit, Ayanna and her cello singing together – a sound to seek out again.

A star long-established commanded the rolling acres of the Forum stage when Ute Lemper went from Brecht to Jacques Brel the long way round, aided by some sly narration and a red feather boa. She acts every line of a rivetting two hour set, and doesn’t really do jazz – but when the moment comes performs being jazzy, in the shape of a vocalised trumpet solo, superlatively well. Carmen Souza back in Komedia topped that for jazziness by slipping a vocal repeat of Horace Silver’s piano solo on Song for My Father into her energetic Cape-Verdian rooted set. The great baritone singer Willard White the following weekend deployed unquestionably the finest instrument of the festival in his Paul Robeson show, with a stunning Mood Indigo that shook the Assembly Rooms’ chandeliers.

Although leaner budgets meant jazz royalty were less in evidence than previous years, there were non-singers aplenty, including fine sets from Evan Parker, the Necks and Andy Sheppard and John Parricelli. And Richard Galliano vied for virtuoso accordion honours with the astounding Stian Carstensen, whose exhilarating weeknight duets of Bulgarian wedding music with Trifon Trifonov rocked the Rondo theatre. They, each in their way, were also playing songs of freedom. It is, after all, a pretty good definition of jazz.

p.s. would have said something more insightful about The Necks, but it was late, we were really tired, and they didn’t quite get through the fog…

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