Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2011: April 27-May 2, 2011
While Sanders clearly demonstrated the talent and flair of the older generation, and Eastwood, keyboardist Django Bates and singer Liane Carroll showed what established players can do, there was plenty of ability and imagination on display from the younger generation. The members of Trio Libero hardly qualify as Young Turks: saxophonist Andy Sheppard (pictured left), bassist Michel Benita and percussionist Sebastian Rochford are all internationally known musicians, but Trio Libero is a new ensemble with an as-yet-untitled debut album due out on the ECM label later in 2011, and its music was being heard for the first time by most of the audience in the Town Hall main stage. The trio's music was refined, thoughtful, yet engaging and good-humored. All three members are exceptionally fine musicians but on this day, it was Benita's flowing, heartfelt bass grooves that stood out, whether on ballads such as "Living On The Stars" or the more up-tempo, bop-ish, "Rubber Necking."
The upcoming generation created a buzz throughout the weekend. In some cases they did so by playing with established starstrumpeter Jay Phelps and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings in Django Bates' The T. D. E.s for exampleand in other cases they did it on their own. Outhouse, with guest guitarist Hilmar Jensson, weren't ideally served by a midday performance slot but the band delivered a strong set that showcased the superb drumming of Dave Smith on tunes such as "Kitchen in the Middle" and "Bleak Sylvette" from Straw, Sticks And Bricks (Babel, 2011). Jensen's own "Uncle Fishhook" gave the band the chance to stretch out with some fine ensemble playing.
Jazz-and-comedy was provided by the Horne Section, the brainchild of standup comic Alex Horne. There is a fine British tradition of combining jazz and comedy, stretching back to the Temperance Seven and the mighty Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, that respects the music while not being afraid to emphasize some of its more unusual elements. It helps to have a band that knows its jazz chops, too: this group includes pianist Joe Stilgoe, bassist Will Collier and drummer Ben Reynolds, so when Horne drove it through a rapid musical demonstration of key terms from the jazz glossary, the band was more than a match for his exhortations to "walk the bass," "take it to the bridge," "break it down" or "give us some free jazz."
There was also some great performance poetry from Tim Key and a brief, rather befuddled set from comedian and TV presenter Simon Amstell. There was audience participation too, but as much of that involved this reviewer, this reviewer's socks, and a song in praise of his bald head, the impact of such comedy gold is hard to deal with subjectively.
A combination of jazz and science brought the Cheltenham Jazz Festival one of its most innovative, and well-received, events. Animation Migration was a joint venture between the Cheltenham Jazz and Science Festivals, which aimed to explore ideas of evolution through music and visual art. Dr. Adam Rutherford, an academic and BBC TV presenter, provided the science; pianist Kit Downes (pictured right) wrote the music; animator Lesley Barnes, who created the gorgeous cover art for Downes' Quiet Tiger (Basho Records, 2011), produced the lively and colorful 15 minute animated movie.
The project was sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, a leading medical research charity and not the usual source of support for a jazz event. The audience, a high proportion of which was under the age of 14, was keen to learn about the science but also enjoyed the music and film. Downes' music was realized by a quintet of leading young musicians, including his trio's regular members, drummer James Maddren and bassist Calum Gourlay. James Allsopp was particularly effective in creating the sounds of rampaging dinosaurs with his bass clarinet. The work proved so popular with the audience that after a short question-and-answer session, the entire piece was shown and performed againa rare and well-deserved example of an encore that lasted as long as the original performance.