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Bath Festival roundup

July 2, 2012

My little summary of jazztastic bits of the Bath music festival has now appeared in Jazzwise, so archiving the original here (one or two small changes, which matter only to me, but this is what I sent in, rather than what was printed).

Bath Festival, June 2-4
Like the festival itself, Bath’s jazz strand has scaled down a little in the last couple of years, but maintains a cheerfully eclectic mix of prime UK acts and quality continental visitors. Oh, and piano players, reflecting the tastes of outgoing musical director Joanna MacGregor.

Piano topped and tailed the Jubilee jazz weekend, opening with a solo set from Gwilym Simcock– serving up a rich pianistic cake, but with a little too much icing for some – and closing with the airy hymnal meditations rising slowly to impassioned testifying of Tord Gustavsen, making his first Bath appearance since 2007.

In between, Andrew McCormack and Jason Yarde followed on from Simcock in the acoustically splendid Guildhall, Yarde’s alto and soprano sax combining brilliantly with the piano to catch the ear rather more insistently. Zoe Rahman shone in Courtney Pine’s otherwise lacklustre Europa set in the Pavilion – and brought her own quartet to Komedia on the rain-soaked Sunday. The most inspiring keyboard work, though, came from Stan Tracey, also returning after a five-year gap. The octagenarian was his inimitable rhythmically charged self, rising brilliantly to the challenge of the extempore duo format with son Clark on drums – a Monday afternoon hour of percussive piano par excellence from an old master.

Other moments to cherish came in two late sets in the Guildhall. Trio Libero played to a rapt crowd on Saturday night, the interplay between Andy Sheppard, bass-giant Michel Bonita and the wondrously subtle Seb Rochford on drums more and more reminiscent of Paul Motian’s trios with Joe Lovano. These three constantly exchange the small smiles of musicians who know they have something special going on. The beautiful small details are improving on every outing.

Sunday, with rain still lashing the town, a smaller crowd were similarly absorbed by the “Jubilee experimental electronic improv” dished out by Food. This was the core duo of that name, Iain Ballamy providing mainly long tones and simple figures on saxes alongside Thomas Strønen, a fountain of invention on percussion. Together they create a fascinating audioscape, the kind of sounds a Miró painting would make if it could. There was plenty of good-natured fun in the bold and brassy big band sound of Beats and Pieces in the immediately preceding set in Komedia, but this was spontaneous music-making of a different order.

This is the fifth year I’ve been lucky enough to review Bath for the mag, so it feels like a well set habit now. Hope we can do it again in 2013, and see what the new artistic director comes up with.

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