Cheltenham Town Hall, Parabola Arts Centre & Jazz Arena
I was really looking forward to the Sunday lunchtime performance by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and guests playing Julian Argüelles‘ arrangements of South African jazz. The album Let It Be Told was one of my CD highlights of 2015 and I was sure this would be my highlight of Chelt ’16. As it turned out it was the first in a whole day of highlights.
The sound of a big band is always exciting, especially so when it has the tight power and discipline of this one. The fact that there were two drum kits side by side on the stage – Steve Argüelles was one of the guests – and that the opening number was Dudu Pukwana’s bustling Mra Khali, threatened to tip that excitement over into ecstacy. The band played the album in much the same sequence, with solos from the other guest Django Bates as well as many of the Frankfurt horn men. Good as they all were, the overwhelming memory which gives me greatest pleasure is of the full band in full cry.
The fact that such a large band could convey the immediacy and grittiness of what were originally often smaller combo pieces is partially a tribute to the players but most of the credit must go to Julian Argüelles. With his expert arrangements and overall understanding of the music he has, like that eminent South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard, given an ageing body a new, strongly-beating heart.
From the dusty joy of a South African celebration to elegaic Norwegians. Drummer Thomas Strønen and tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg had been looking forward to playing at Cheltenham with pianist John Taylor. His death last July meant that this Meadow concert turned into a dedication to Taylor. As Strønen explained, pointing to the grand piano behind him which remained unmanned, “no one could take his place”; instead, Swedish double bass player Anders Jormin was invited to added his musical voice. The music, mostly by Brunborg, was quiet, lyrical and inventive in a subtle and unshowy way, its sonic range contained but by no means restricting. All three are melodicists and the songs flowed between them, creating a wonderfully consoling atmosphere as we all remembered John Taylor. May Meadow continue with this line-up – Jormin is a real bonus.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah has all the credentials to bear the New Orleans jazz banner aloft – a fine trumpeter, and a man who moves forward while staying true to his heritage. He presented a new band – Stretch Music – and if their premier performance meant that they needed to rely on some classic jazz standards from half a century ago – Herbie Hancock’s Eye Of The Hurricane, John Coltrane’s Equinox – no one in a packed Jazz Arena looked very upset. If any band can sell jazz to a new audience while still keeping the jazz police happy it is surely Scott. I found it a wholly marvellous set.
Scott plays with panache and power but the finesse is there too; Logan Richardson was an unexpected bonus, very much the altoist of the moment but sharing Scott’s solid foundations, and turning in some very impressive solos on this afternoon. Corey Fonville on drums, Tony Tixier on piano and Luques Curtis on double bass made up what sounds like a much more cohesive unit than could reasonably be expected first time out. I suspect their music might take in more contemporary sounds and styles as Scott gets the band to live up to its Stretch Music aims, but it’s already one well worth seeking out.
And so, there was just time for an early evening audio palette cleanser before the drive home. And what a refreshing joy it was. At the Parabola Arts Centre Austrian guitarist Peter Rom stood stage centre, staring out at the back of the stalls, the merest smile lurking somewhere, his fingers busily picking out a circling pattern on his electric guitar. To his left was fellow Austrian Martin Eberle, muted trumpet close to the mic. To Rom’s right was Andreas Schraerer. But what do we call him? Singer? Too restrictive. Trumpeter? Well, sometimes you would swear so, and that’s without a blindfold. Beatboxer? Well, I’m not sure I’ve heard the most expert beatboxer sing lyrics, hum, and articulate a mix of pops and clicks into a rhythm all simultaneously.
The trio’s performance was a joy from beginning to end, including one of the shrewdest songs about the banking crisis I’ve yet heard, and another that was constructed of cliched jazz endings. Soweto Kinch made an impromptu appearance to play his saxophone and MC a bit, and if the audience was small it was on its feet at the end. This is one of those gigs it was an honour to be at, and one that will feature in many an anecdote and recommendation wherever those audience members happen to be in the coming months. This is what Cheltenham Jazz Festival is still, in part, about: introducing UK audiences to new artists of the calibre of Rom Schraerer Eberle; may other festival programmers now be clamouring for their contact details.
Categories: Live review