What a way to start the year. One room; an evening, a day and an afternoon; a dozen or so sets and most corners of jazz touched. To quote Seb Scotney of London Jazz News, “a festival in these cold drizzly days of early January can bring a real sense of warmth – and connection”. He was talking about another jazz festival, in Münster on the same weekend, but the words work just as well for the Bath weekend. More on that in a moment, but first the music.
They came in two by two on Friday evening. Piano and violin, then two pianos followed by two guitars, with a wine tasting no less, to punctuate the flow. The programme was a mouth watering appetiser as I’ve already gushed, then we really got down to business on Saturday.
Streetworks, led by Accordionist Karen Street, kicked things off on Saturday afternoon and John Law’s Re-creations Quartet wrapped things up on Sunday. There was a diverse riot of music in between, but those two sets provided some of the most enchanting and moving music of the weekend.
Street’s quartet have a beautifully balanced sound that make her melodic and harmonically rich music glow. Will Harris nearly stole the whole show with a bass intro to the last tune Peace, bringing out resonances that only bass evoke, but Mike Outram on guitar, Andy Tweed on saxes and Street herself all provided catch your breath moments on the wistful, wonky tango of Dancer, on the anthem like evocation of large ensemble of Ode to Scott Bradley and a burst of carnival fever on The Last Mile. A set to make the heart leap.
John Law’s quartet were on thrilling form. His restless imagination and energy have transformed a bunch of the most familiar tunes. Gymnopedie was stretched out over and easy groove, Lets Face the Music and Dance had a racing bass figure and pelting momentum, Well You Needn’t gravelly off-kilter funk. What ever the tune and the distorted time and pulse, Sam Crockatt, James Agg and Billy Weir were right there creating drama and energy. Over the Rainbow made time stand still. Law blended the tunes themes and motifs into a flowing (surely three handed) counterpoint with dazzling control, so that when Sam Crockatt’s sporano floated the melody from the corner of the room with heart breaking delicacy, the effect was transporting.
The quality of the programme between the
bookends was uniformly high. From Iain Ballamy’s reliably top class quartet playing their evolving and increasingly distinctive repertoire, (and leaving these ears eager for more ..and more), to Andy Hague’s quintet with their bustling, swinging energy and Greg Sterland guesting, who caught the ear and consistently made the music warp and bend in new directions, there was plenty to engage. Get The Blessing raised the roof to complete Saturday night and provide another undoubted highlight of the weekend. Their infectious grooves, artful manipulation of their sound and blistering soloing built and built the momentum. The sell-out crowd were roaring for more at the end.
James Lambeth’s impeccable swing and effortless, intimate vocal, dug deep into the American song book and leavened the set with takes on some Everything But The Girl classics, providing a delightful mid -Sunday afternoon moment, between the adventurous, and frequently intense set from Dave Mowat’s Bristol European Jazz Ensemble and that finale from John Law.
The concentration of all that music, both in time and location with the bar downstairs at the club providing a bit of decompression and socialising space, made for an strong sense of celebration and, yes, connection.
The idea for a weekend like this may have been gestating for a while, harking back to the glory days of a long weekend in the then three week Bath International Festival in the 90s and noughties, by Nod Knowles’ account he’d been thinking about it for a couple of years. The concrete proposal and organisation popped up in a few weeks however and that it sold out on Saturday and was nearly full on Friday and Sunday is proof enough of the appetite, both form audience and muscians. There’s hope and optimism in the air around here that it can be the start of something. For now, its enough that its launched my year in style and I’m remembering moments that I suspect may not be topped by the end of it.