Cheltenham Jazz Festival Widens its Range
The music of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, which took place May 2–7 in Gloucestershire, England, was even more eclectic and wide-ranging this year than others, as Cheltenham adopts a policy of widening its scope to include non-jazz artists, attracting a broader array of attendees.
The great thing about Cheltenham is the ease with which seriously knowledgeable jazz buffs rub shoulders with newbies and casual listeners without any sense of superiority. All that’s required is a willingness to move from one venue to another, to be prepared to hear something unexpected, and to wear waterproof shoes and carry an umbrella.
Festival patrons could enjoy vast musical offerings of pianist John Taylor (who musically interpreted the works of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.), the lively 1950s boogie-jive of Imelda May and the right-now shimmering pop of artist-in-residence Paloma Faith with the Guy Baker Orchestra. Slightly more mature jazzers were given an opportunity to recall the heyday of disco in the 1970s when Candi Staton demonstrated her criminally underrated vocal chops to the assembled, including her classic “Young Hearts Run Free.” Their inclusion may have upset the serious purists, but for those with open minds and ears, there was plenty to savor across the entire event.
Guitarist Bill Frisell—who released a John Lennon tribute disc, All We Are Saying (Savoy Jazz), last September—brought his interpretations of Beatles music to the Big Top, and the Chris Potter Ensemble expanded itself inventively with the inclusion of a viola, violin and cello.
Those who like their jazz with full-on aggression and bang-up-to-date credentials joined a late-night gathering featuring the improvisation of Tweedle Dee. The group delivered a serious technical workout with edgy and percussive musical interaction. This is only the third outing for the collective, and the raggedy, unfinished atmosphere they created only added to the excitement for those who appreciate their jazz when it takes no prisoners.
As of late, guest director Jamie Cullum has popularized jazz in the U.K. with his wonderful radio programs and television appearances. His appearance with Gregory Porter was a guaranteed standout event that was hugely anticipated by everyone attending. Porter has been championed by Cullum for some time, and at this performance, it was easy to see why—a rapturous reception for a truly mesmeric performance provided one of the biggest highlights of the festival, and given the caliber of jazz on tap, that was no mean feat.
Another crowd favorite was bassist Marcus Miller, whose performance gained a standing ovation and gave a look forward to his upcoming Montreal performances.
For 2012, the Cheltenham Jazz Festival proved its developing vibrancy and inclusive approach, which was rewarded with spectacular live music and a wonderful overall atmosphere created by the influx of jazz fans to this most genteel of English towns.