10th Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham, England
I was nearly shivering with excitement as I settled in my balcony seat in the 1000-seater Great Hall a few minutes to the Ornette Coleman gig. I mean, I was going to see a real live legend, someone who in jazz history ranks up there with the best of them; someone who was born around the time jazz and its offshoots were evolving and must have grown up absorbing these changes. It was clear that Coleman was the main attraction at this year's festival. Still, the audience took its time coming in, seemingly unhurried, but eventually the house was full to capacity. Coleman was introduced to long applause; he stood and acknowledged humbly, appearing rather frail on the large stage. Accompanying him were the two bassists Greg Cohen and Tony Falanga, together with his son and manager Denardo Coleman on drums.
For much of the show, Coleman straddled his stool in the centre of stage, looking straight down for the most part, and sometimes seeming rather detached from it all. Obviously at 75 his strength is not what it used to be, and he addressed the audience in a barely audible voice, but his age certainly did not show at all in his performance. Coleman, on alto sax and trumpet (and a fiddle once) constantly pushed the boundaries of free jazz and bebop; sometimes quirky and fast paced, at other times soft and contemplative. The solos were short and crisp, and most of the time the quartet just played on. Highlights included duets between Coleman's sax and the basses, as well as the bass duet itself, plus a highly energetic solo introduction of the night's last performance by drummer Denardo.
The excellent and ever-changing lighting heightened the enjoyment of the performance, though the acoustics of the hall weren't the best. Overall, it was an excellent ninety minutes, with a very professional and accomplished quartet. I was particularly impressed by the quiet way in which Coleman led, leaving enough room for each of the musicians to fit in comfortably. The group left the stage to a standing ovation.
Joshua Redman and the Elastic Band
Monday 02 May, 4:30 p.m.
Originally entered in the programme as a trio, Joshua Redman's band ended up a quartet with saxophonist Redman, keyboardist Sam Yahel and drummer Jeff Ballard joined by guitarist Jeff Parker. As to why exactly they are called the Elastic Band, I am not sure, but it could be the concept that gives energy to their performances. Redman is excellent on his instrument and certainly doesn't limit himself to his solo sax performances, creating accompanying multi-layered audio effects with the EWI controller, seeming at times to be playing two saxophones at a go in perfect sync. His performance had a lot of energy to it, he proving highly excitable and blowing from deep within. Ballard (who has featured as a drummer for Brad Mehldau) was technically and stylistically excellent on the drums. Parker and Yahel were a little more subdued, but provided sufficient backup.
The performance started off with music from "an unlikely source", the Sheryl Crow-penned "River Wide", followed by "Greasy G", both off the new record Momentum. The night's repertoire included "Mantra #5", with its Indian influences and which saw a stellar performance from Ballard, "The Birthday Song" and "Swanky", which closed the afternoon's ninety minutes.
The music was firmly rooted in groove and funk, with lots of experimental electronic sounds introduced. The acoustics in the recently-refurbished, baroque-interior theatre were very good, but the let down was a very annoying hum that lasted all through the show. The lighting wasn't anything to write home about either, and made for a fairly dull setting.
Town Hall Main Stage, Town Hall
Monday 02 May, 8 p.m.
Rounding off the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, for me at least, was this Herbie Hancock gig. Appearing with Lionel Loueke on guitar/vocals, Dave Carpenter on bass and the young-looking Ritchie Barsay on drums, Hancock proved the best value for money for me, performing non-stop for 150 minutes rather than the advertised ninety. Partly his fault, as he chose to play quite long compositions, on average over 15 minutes each. They kicked off with the keyboard-generated ambient/new age sounds of "Sonrisa", which proceeded to move into the classical realm before settling into a gentle jazz ballad. This was quickly followed by the equally long "Virgin Africa", composed and vocalised by Loueke, followed by "Coney Island", a Barsay composition, and "Benny's Tune".