It’s the week when the Birmingham jazz community heads south to Cheltenham, not to have a bet on the horses but to lay some money down on a more reliable return: one of the major jazz events of the year.
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival opened last night with guest director Jamie Cullum playing back-to-back shows at the Big Top, and continues until Monday. There is far too much to preview in any depth so here are my recommendations for each day:
Tonight: Birmingham singer Laura Mvula proved such a hit last year that she is back at Cheltenham in 2014 as artist in residence. She first gets to present her own music, much of it from her debut album Sing To The Moon and honed from some pretty relentless touring over the past 12 months. She will also be collaborating with other performers at Cheltenham. Laura is in the Big Top at 8.30pm.
Tomorrow: Hoods, Horns & Hooch is the nostalgic title of BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night Is Music Night live broadcast from the festival. The Guy Barker Big Band plus BBC Concert Orchestra are joined by singers Kurt Elling, Curtis Stigers and Liane Carroll. All three singers have their own gigs later during the weekend. This one is also in the Big Top, at 8pm.
Saturday: For anyone who has been following British jazz since the 1980s, the must-hear gig of the festival is the first performance in over 20 years by big band Loose Tubes. Original Tubes include Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Chris Batchelor and Mark Lockheart. This is in the Big Top at 2pm.
Sunday: Among many fine players on the day, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire represents jazz’s glowing future while drummer Billy Cobham, who is celebrating his 70th birthday, reminds us of its rich past. Akinmusire and his Quintet are in the Jazz Arena at 1.15pm; Billy Cobham At 70 is in the Big Top at 5.45pm.
Monday: Two excellent British quartets share a double bill in the early evening: Get The Blessing, from Bristol, contain the bass and drum team from the band Portishead, guaranteeing a strong rock pulse, while Kairos 4tet, led by saxophonist Adam Waldmann, also contains two-thirds of the band Phronesis. Both GTB and Kairos are MOBO award-winners. They are in the Jazz Arena at 6.45pm.
For a full guide, go to cheltenhamfestivals.com
* Stuck in the Big Smoke over the next week? Fear not, there are still some choice gigs here, and the choicest of the lot is Snarky Puppy at the Glee Club on Sunday.
The band got started at university in Texas and is now resident in New York. Led by bassist Michael League, the nine-piece Puppy combines instrumental excellence with joyous presentation and achieves that magical synthesis of music that is as infectiously danceable as it is intellectually stimulating.
They are playing at the Cheltenham Festival on Saturday night at Cheltenham Town Hall, but will be even more up close and personal at the Glee Club. More information at glee.co.uk/birmingham-music .
* Tomorrow evening there’s another Cheltenham link for the Birmingham Trondheim Exchange, when students of music colleges here and in Trondheim, Norway, get together for their annual musical sharing session. They preview their Cheltenham Sunday performance with a Free Jazz session courtesy of Jazzlines in the Symphony Hall cafe bar. It starts at 5pm.