Dipping into Cheltenham Jazz Festival:Deadeye, McCreadie, Downes, Binker

Visits to the intimacy of the Parabola Arts Centre, the capacious grandeur of the Town Hall, a church, and the medium sized tented enclosure of the Jazz Arena in the festival village, all emphasised to us the range and scale of the back-to-full-throttle Cheltenham Jazz Festival on our just-over-24 hours drop-in. Throw in a bit a lurking by the free stage, then some hanging out in Stoney Lane Records’ Jazz emporium catching some micro sets from their roster of artists whilst perusing the merchandise, and even our brief dip into the the 2023 edition was more than enough for a warm post-festival glow. Did I mention the late-night jam? That really revved up when Gregory Porter’s band burned through Pent Up House with Birmingham Conservatoire students who’d been keeping the pot cooking, along for the ride. Porter himself dropped in later we heard.

Our scheduled gigs started with Deadeye in the Parabola Arts Centre. The programme in the ‘PAC’ has evolved into a distinctive festival within the festival over time under the stewardship of Tony Dudley Evans, 2023 was sadly the last time he’ll be responsible for the programme. With Kit Downes on Hammond Organ, Reinier Baas on guitar and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums, Deadeye had the appearance of classic organ trio, but like so much of the PAC programme over the years, they surprise and delight in equal measure. They segued seamlessy between pieces built around looping rhythms, jagged riffs, and spooky guitar figures; Baas steadily built intense solos, from angular, fragmentary phrase whilst Downes and Burgwinkel built momentum to occasionally overwhelming intensity. There were sometimes loping funky grooves, or stacatto clubby dance music allusions, with the band turning on a sixpence from hectic grooving to impressionistic atmospherics or to a suddenly contrasting tempo. The often dense, tense textures made for compelling listening. Wayfaring Stranger shimmered into view at one point before the trio ripped into a crunching riff to close the set.

Fergus McCreadie’s set with his trio in the Town Hall had a similar logic in the way the pieces and the set unfolded. A meditative, lyrical and harmonically rich moment from the pianist slid into what became an 40 minute extended suite that segued between discernable melodies and themes interspersed with vamps and exchanges between the trio. McCreadie’s source material sprang from a materially different place than that of Deadeye. The latter conjured a cellar bar and urban city-scape, McCreadie the wide open spaces of Scottish mountains and hills with a jig emerging at one moment from the rich textures he was producing with David Bowden on bass and Stephen Henderson on drums. The trio stretched out and expanded their material, exploring as they went, fusing the material into one long piece that held the audience.

An exploration of a different kind was on the menu in the early afternoon on Sunday as Kit Downes became more deeply acquainted with the organ in St Andrew’s church for just under an hour, in front of an audience The result was an extraordinary evolution of drones, bird like trills, gradually swelling thunder, floor shaking reverberations with hints of melodies and scronky fugues ghosting in and out. Both McCreadie and Downes seemed to have approached their performances with a sketch map of what they might play, but a desire to create an extended improvised piece from the prepared elements. It’s an ambitious undertaking. Downes continues to create an archive of such organ recordings from around the globe. To experience it live was a special moment.

We concluded our festival with a blast from Binker Golding and his band playing original material from Golding’s album Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy. The music, threaded through with catchy melodic hooks, pulsating rocky grooves here, a melding of country, blues and gospel with a jazz sensibility there, was irresistible. The extended form of the tunes took plenty of turns, but there was space for some exhilarating blowing. Sarah Tandy at the piano whetted appetites with fluid, lyrical lines on My Two Dads, and then really set things alight with a blistering work out on Howling And Drinking In God’s Own Country. Golding was unfailingly inventive, his sound a fat warm tone with an edge, demanding attention. Sam Jones on the kit and Daniel Casimir on bass were a powerhouse. This was a real high to on which to end my festival, and if the instinct to take the music home is an indicator of critical approval, the busy trade in the ‘Jazz Emporium’ afterwards looked like a big positive vote from the audience.


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