It’s time to look back over the live jazz scene in the Midlands and reflect that 2008 has been a better year for jazz concert-goers than for merchant bankers, hedge fund investors or Woolworth assistants.
The first jazz giant to stride a Birmingham stage this year was the pugilistic US saxophonist Dave Liebman who, even with a streaming cold, managed to put a few tricky Phil Robson tunes up against the ropes.
Other transatlantic visitors of note included pianist Robert Glasper, the supremely wonderful band of trumpeter Dave Douglas, and pianist Jason Moran, with his own rhythm team and a British horn section, evoking the spirit of Thelonious Monk with a tribute to his famous New York Town Hall concert.
This one may have started in the main CBSO Centre room but ended up in the foyer, the band jamming spontaneously for a delighted audience.
And then, of course, their was Herbie Hancock who, despite alarming some less adventurous fans with a particularly strenuous first half at Symphony Hall, revealed, especially listened to again from London, courtesy of BBC’s Jazz on 3, that “resting on one’s laurels” is not a phrase in his vocabulary.
The Europeans may have been thinner on the ground but in a couple of cases were just as compelling.
Django Bates, who in recent years has swapped his English postcode for a Danish one, led the electrifyingly brilliant band from Copenhagen’s Rhythmic Music Conservatory, otherwise known a stoRMChaser, in a joyous celebration of his music and their youth.
Out in the characterful Lichfield Guildhall, Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen, Italian drummer Paulo Vinaccia and Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith played one of the gigs of the year, their expertise in perfect harmony.
Representing the national team, there were fine performances from Christine Tobin and her band at the Polish Club and the very welcome return of Julian Arguelles’ Octet at the CBSO Centre. Zoe and Idris Rahman brought their expanded Bengali-jazz project back to Birmingham and it sounded even better than the first time.
And, representing Birmingham itself, let’s hear it for Chris Proctor’s Conservatoire Big Band project, playing the music of Mike Gibbs and conducted by the man himself; the John Randall Quartet who lifted the Dave Holland Ensemble Award at the Conservatoire and singer Sara Colman, whose Ready album launch at the Glee Club Studio was another gig of the year.
The ultimate prize is taken by Bill Frisell and his band at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival – another Everyman Theatre diamond performance to treasure for many years to come.
* Peter Bacon’s blog is at www.thejazzbreakfast.wordpress.com