Cheltenham Jazz Festival – Saturday

Parabola Arts Centre & Jazz Arena

My two-day sortie to Cheltjazz this year began as it has done in the past, with the Trondheim Jazz Exchange in the Parabola Arts Centre. And what an encouraging, positive and enlivening start it provides. Students from Trondheim Conservatory fly in from Norway to spend three days with students from Birmingham Conservatoire, then, divided into three ensembles, present the results.

Karl Nyberg in the first Trondheim Exchange ensemble (Photo © John Watson/

Karl Nyberg in the first Trondheim Exchange ensemble (Photo © John Watson/

I can’t quite believe this but every year the standard seems to improve. We heard Monk and Tyner given new, younger clothes, but most of the material was original. Not only were there strong soloists – I particularly enjoyed tenor saxophonist Karl Nyberg from Ensemble One and trombonist David Sear from Ensemble Three – but perhaps more importantly each group had managed to create a distinctive band character – and in such a short period of time! It was also pleasing to hear less conventional combinations of instruments: harmonica, tenor, guitar and double bass in Ensemble Two, and alto and trombone in harmony in Ensemble Three. The most interesting compositions came from alto saxophonist  Signe Emmeluth they had circus tinges and wit within their jazz – and the cool, Scandinavian feel and restraint of Ensemble Two was a real treat.

Marcus Strickland (Photo © John Watson/

Marcus Strickland (Photo © John Watson/

A quick walk over to the main festival site is all it takes to move from young Europe to more mature America. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland and his band Twi-Life are bringing together a multitude of influences in their music. Others have brought hip-hop beats into jazz, and Twi-Life does that too, but Strickland seems to have gone further in assimilating the speech patterns and hooky phrasing of the hip-hop MC into his compositions, translating them into loping saxophone lines.

Add some Afro-funk, some technical tweaks – Strickland often uses his instrument through a harmoniser – and the timbral riches of Chad Selph‘s Hammond (a C3 I was told by a man who knows), and the music expands into a soundscape that is lush and soulful but still maintains an edge. And then there is the overall “concept” thing, spelt out by the addition of a very welcome guest, vocalist and co-writer Jean Baylor. I’ve been a big Baylor fan since hearing her on Yellowjackets’ albums, and here the way she enunciated a message in such a natural musical manner put me in mind of Abbey Lincoln.

Tim Berne (Photo © John Watson/

Tim Berne (Photo © John Watson/

Back to the Parabola for a very different kind of U.S. multi-layered jazz. Tim Berne’s Snakeoil band – there  have been two ECM releases as a quartet (Berne on alto, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums and percussion) and now a third adding guitarist Ryan Ferreira – is for me the most rewarding and wide-ranging of all this prolific bandleader’s ensembles. There are five very strong musical personalities on the stage, but the strongest of these is still Berne’s. His ability to incorporate complex composition and improvisational energy into a kind of orchestrated turbulence can turn even the most well-travelled jazz listener’s ears inside out. Challenging and exhilarating in equal measure.

I was hoping to end the day back in the Jazz Arena enjoying the sweeter nature of pianist Omar Sosa‘s world-jazz Quarteto AfroCubano – a comforting dessert after the tangy main course of Snakeoil, if you like. I stuck it out for a good 40 minutes by which time the dreadful sound imbalance – Sosa’s keyboards at a volume which tipped over into distortion; Childo Tomas‘s bass a sternum-pummelling torture – threatened to put a drenching downpour dampener on what had been a cheerful jazz day so I headed for home.

  • More about concert sound, the audience experience and where the responsibility might lie is HERE.

Categories: Live review

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2 replies


  1. The sounds an audience hears – who’s responsible? – thejazzbreakfast
  2. 2016 Festive Fifty – 50-41 – thejazzbreakfast

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