Peter Bacon reviews the highlights of a busy year for jazz in the region.
If live jazz in 2010 ends with a snowy and icy backdrop, it didn’t start all that differently.
My first highlight gig of the year came after a stride through snow flurries to Birmingham Town Hall where the Jan Garbarek Group warmed the crowd via its heat-seeking drummer Trilok Gurtu.
A few days earlier another drummer, Mark Holub, had fired his band, Led Bib, down at the Rainbow in Digbeth.
February increased the frequency of the high points with superb Rush Hour Blues performances from the Kit Downes Trio and from Kairos 4tet (such great music and all for free!), and there were also storming sets in small venues from the Alyn Cosker Power Trio with Seamus Blake, and from the completely terrifying Trio VD at the Rainbow.
With the spring shoots in March a new jazz festival was established with the inaugural Harmonic Festival, masterminded by young musicians Chris Mapp and Percy Pursglove, and centred round the CBSO Centre. It featured a rich mix of local musicians and some big guns from New York, with strong performances from new bands created by trumpeter Aaron Diaz (Moon Unit) and bassist Mapp (Gambol), as well as the NYers, the Claudia Quintet (with Pursglove guesting).
Also part of Harmonic was a fascinating evening of Dave Holland music played by Birmingham Conservatoire students and with the great bassist present to hear it all.
We look forward to what Chris and Percy have lined up for the second Harmonic in 2011.
If former EST bassist Dan Bergland divided opinions with his new band Tonbruket, he certainly brought an eclectic crowd together for a gig mixing Euro-jazz with mid-Western country rock.
The beginning of May is always jam-packed with highlights at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, and this year mine were Carla Bley’s Lost Chords, Food, and Fly, with a second chance to hear Fly – the trio of Jeff Ballard, Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier – a few days later in the Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham.
I think my gigs of the year would have to be the Gwilym Simcock Quartet at the CBSO Centre in late May, and the Roberto Fonseca band at the Town Hall in June.
With Simcock were British guitarist Mike Walker and the US bass and drums partnership of Steve Swallow and Adam Nusbaum.
Walker has been a favourite for years and it was great to hear him soaring in this esteemed company. The good news is that this band now has a new name, The Impossible Gentlemen, and a CD out on the Basho label in May next year.
Fonseca has forged a very attractive new amalgam from jazz and Cuban music, so continuing the cross-fertilisation started by Dizzy in the ‘40s and continued by bands like Irakere. His band is tight as a drum and his own playing is warm and generous.
July brought another new jazz festival to Birmingham. Mostly Jazz, modelled on the folk bash that happens a bit later in the summer, featured strong headliners, including the Sun Ra Arkestra, and sunny weather added to the good vibes.
The autumn jazz season started strenuously with a double bill from Atomic and the Ken Vandermark 5, prime examples from both sides of the Atlantic of how to mix structure and freedom to create a fresh jazz for this century.
Highs in November and December were Claire Martin and Soweto Kinch, respectively, both gigs at the CBSO Centre.
If it has been another good year for contemporary jazz in Birmingham, the future looks a little uncertain. Recent news reports have announced that Birmingham City Council is to cut its grants to a number of arts organisations in the city and Birmingham Jazz is one of them.
Birmingham Jazz does a lot of good work in the city, not only by creating a strong platform for the city’s young musicians (and thereby stopping them heading for London) but also with inventive education work in schools.
In one ground-breaking project in 2010 they even started bringing jazz to pre-school children. Now that’s forward thinking.