Every year at this time, Midland jazz lovers had headed southwest, meandering down through Herefordshire and into Wales to help the mass invasion by the hip and swinging of the lovely little town of Brecon.
Earlier this year, there was every indication that 2009 wasn’t going to be like that. Brecon Jazz Festival, after some very good years, had finally hit the financial buffers.
But wait a minute, who was this on the white charger? The book under the arm was the give-away. It was the Hay Festival, the organisation that has turned the nearby equally lovely little town of Hay-on-Wye into a book capital of the world.
With Hay Festival’s backing, Brecon Jazz is back on track; it takes place this weekend and between Friday and Sunday there is a very good programme of classy British players and some big names from Africa.
The international visitors first. If you wanted to demonstrate the full and rich range of jazz that emanates from that great continent and birthplace of humanity, you couldn’t really do better than Abdullah Ibrahim, Manu Dibango and Anouar Brahem.
Ibrahim, a previous visitor to Brecon, is playing two gigs this year, first solo, early on Saturday evening in the Market Hall. His most recent CD, Senzo, is a solo affair, but he has been doing this as far back as the late 1960s. He was playing glorious, long and winding solo piano concerts while Keith Jarrett was just dreaming of such things and his creative flame remains undimmed.
Then, on Sunday evening, the South African jazz master plays with his US trio mates, Belden Bullock on bass and George Gray on drums.
Dibango, the Lion of Cameroon, was onto the pop-funk angle as early as Ibrahim was doing those solos. Even at 73, he remains eternally hip and capable of raising a roof. In this instance, it will be the Market Hall’s and the fun starts at 7.30pm on Sunday.
Brahem may be the least known of the three but, to the initiated, he is just as great a star. Hailing from Tunisia, he plays the oud and has made some simply gorgeous CDs for the ECM label down the years. He doesn’t stand still and chooses interesting collaborators; in this case, they are pianist Francois Couturier and accordionist Jean Louis Matinier.
They play late at night in Brecon Cathedral and this has to be my tip for gig of the festival.
The British contingent at Brecon is outstanding, too, ranging from Courtney Pine to Stan Tracey. I reckon the ones to go for are the Stan Tracey Octet, including Guy Barker, on Friday evening; the Gareth Williams Power Trio on Saturday lunchtime; the Clark Tracey Sextet, with Kit Downes on piano, early on Saturday evening; and Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents later on Saturday evening.
Have a look at the full programme at breconjazz.org