Cheltenham Jazz has grown. It’s beyond anyone to take in all the paid gigs and free stuff on the festival site and round town. There are layers and layers from the most experimental to the newest buzziest, from acclaimed and established giants to the most niche and precious of flowers, and great music that undeniably draws on jazz but is more distantly related. There’s something for pretty much everyone. I can only salute the programming , I was inspired and uplifted. And of course the weather helped.
My diet of gigs was purposely limited (four gigs over two days, not including free stuff, general vibe and the late night jam). For three of those I was part of London Jazz News’ ‘tag team’, so full reviews appear over there.
On Saturday there were two gigs that worked the magic of distilling music from disparate sources into a singular personal sound. Moses Boyd’s Exodus (full review here) is one the names of the moment and being deservedly celebrated as a distinctively British take on jazz, drawing on all the influences he had, growing up as a teenager in South London through the noughties. It was a scintillating gig. I followed it up with Jason Moran’s Bandwagon, his long standing trio. Moran seems to be able to sum up Jazz history in a few bars, it was an extraordinary gig. The sound in the cavernous albeit nearly full Town Hall threatened to take the edge of a couple of times, but by the end of Saturday, it felt like a musical tour of the world and history. Exhilarating.
Sunday was no less thrilling and a day of contrasts. Issie Barratt’s Interchange was our first stop (full review here), a ten piece, playing pieces penned by the band stuffed full of great musicians. Sumptuous, contemporary jazz. I finished with the full on heat of Donny McCaslin‘s band (full review here). This was full throated, rock-fuelled and McCaslin’s exploration of David Bowie’s Blackstar legacy. That was going out on blast.
There’s a fun wall of banners and jazz aphorisms alongside the Big Top in the festival village. It will have to be extended a long way before it gets close to capturing the diversity, quality and character of the music in this great festival.