Cheltenham Jazz Festival review: Dave Douglas Quintet

Dave Douglas. Photo © John Watson/  - for John’s Cheltenham gallery click on the picture.

Dave Douglas. Photo © John Watson/ – for John’s Cheltenham gallery click on the picture.

Jazz Arena, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Cheltenham UK

The trumpeter was performing music from his two most recent albums, Be Still and Time Travel, recorded at the same time in the same studio, but with different moods: the first featuring hymns and folk songs that Dave had collected for his mother’s funeral, the second in anticipation of his own 50th birthday and his intention to play this music in all the US’s 50 states.

Pianist Matt Mitchell and double bassist Linda Oh were on those sessions and in this band, while in for drummer Rudy Royston was Johnathan Blake, in for saxophonist Jon Irabagon was Donny McCaslin and in for singer Aoife O’ Donovan was Heather Masse. There were certainly no complaints about the quality of the replacements!

Bridge To Nowhere and another tune from Time Travel started us off, revealing the exhilaration to be had from a top-flight band in soaring form. And weren’t they having fun! There were smiles all round and much appreciation for each other’s efforts. Why can’t all bands show this much pleasure in sharing their music with us?

Be Still, a Christian prayer set to music by Sibelius, is how I hope heaven might be if I ever get there. It is perfect in every sense, and this performance deserves special praise for Heather Masse for making the song her own after Aoife O’Donovan had done such a great job on the recording.

An interpretation of Gillian Welch’s One Morning featured a double bass solo from Linda Oh that had me reaching for the word perfection all over again – she has such a rich, warm sound, such a great and accurate touch and such an articulate way with a solo. Oh and Blake locked down the grooves all through the gig with peerless swing.

There was humour and wit in spades for Beware Of Doug, a circusy anthem dedicated to a flee-bitten cougar that hangs around in a western Canadian town. It featured a wonderfully flowing solo from McCaslin.

Mitchell, too, was in fine form – he has a great sense of structure in his piano solos which is especially suited to the folk/church/Americana material.

And, of course, the leader blew beautifully, whether it was with high fire on the boppish up-tempo instrumentals or echoing Masse in the heartfelt, quieter hymns.

A triumph.

CheltJazzFest, you are fortunate that the sirens (police? ambulance?) that bookended the Gillian Welch song happened to suit its murder storyline, but that is just luck – it could just as easily have completely ruined Be Still. Soundproof the tent! Or move it away from a regular ambulance run! You have another 12 months to do something sensible to prevent this kind of intrusion again!

Categories: Live review

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1 reply

  1. Personally I’m less concerned about sound intrusion than the basic sound quality in the tents. It may be coloured by my seating position – we’re always right at the front/side in the wheelchair spaces – but the sound in the various incarnation of the Jazz Arena tents at Cheltenham has always been muddy and in distinct, and worse than in similar tents at (say) Brecon in years past. For the Dave Douglas gig in particular, it killed Heather Masse’s vocals

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