Bristol Jazz Festival at Bristol Beacon, Sunday 20th May

There’s been a lot of virtual cheering and happy anticipation recently at the return of the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival after a four-year absence. Last weekend they were back where it all started 10 years ago at the Bristol Beacon, in its now renamed (again) foyer space the Bridgehouse. With gigs on the hour, every hour on Friday evening and from early afternoon on Saturday and Sunday, there was a lot of music. I took in a slice of the action from Sunday afternoon to early Sunday evening and it was an intoxicating blend of established performers, new ventures and too rarely seen favourites.

Sarsen Drift declared their presence with electronic washes, clatter and rumbling courtesy of trumpet and electronics wizard Nick Walters, Nim Sadot’s electric bass, and Andrew Lisle on drums. Rebecca Nash leavened the mix, sprinkling ripples of dissonant piano chords. They dropped into a slowly throbbing funky groove setting the scene for a set built around cycling chord sequences and insistent riffs. Electronics provided atmospheric washes, ringing adornments to piano chords or melody lines and wove recorded sounds into the mix including birdsong from an early morning visit to the ancient stone circle at Avebury. It was an absorbing first outing for the new collaboration.

By some mysterious process, the energy and excitement in any room climbs when Sisanda Myataza takes the stage, and it was no different on Sunday. Anders Olinder (keys), Guillaume Ottaviani (bass) and Andy Tween (drums) provided a tightly grooving rhythm section, and Sisanda led them through clutch of her own originals and a few South African vibrant soul jazz groovers complete with audience participation in the shape of singing infectious hooks and arm-waving. It was an irrepressible, irresistible performance.  The set was on the stage upstairs, whilst downstairs another new project was getting set up.

Drummer Matt Stockham Brown has assembled a band with Brown’s volcanic grooves married to Riaan Vosloo’s bass and Dan Messore’s guitar. That alone would be an exotically exciting prospect. Add a double tenor sax attack, trumpet and trombone and it sounded explosive. There was a buzz of anticipation and from the first loping phrase beaten out on the drums smiles were spreading on faces.  Jagged phrases from the horn section fitted together to trace out themes. On one tune Jake McMurchie and Sophie Stockham Brown alternated as they seamlessly spooled out two almost identical phrases. On another a frenetic punk jazz thrash provided the platform for unbridled free form blowing. It was a thrilling set and whetted the appetite for more.

The strains of Matt Hopkins’ guitar breezing through the boppish lines of a Hammond Hopkins Trio original was a delight as the two Hammonds, Ruth on organ and Scott at the kit swung in behind. Guest Gary Alesbrook notched the energy up with a fluent, shapely solo. We were back on the upstairs stage and the Trio plus guest were scintillating foil to the 6161 set delivering an exuberantly swinging set to a rapt audience.

Even my limited swoop through the festival was a welcome reminder of the quality and depth of the city’s musical life.  There was plenty more to savour and Tony Benjamin has captured the full smorgasboard here. A salute is due too to the people behind the organisation of the festival, an all year round labour of love. A sunny weekend sandwiched between a string of bank holidays may not have been the most serendipitous for audience numbers, but there was no missing the warmth of the reception for the music.


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