Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2018: impressions

The sunniest Cheltenham Jazz Festival for years!  Add some sparkling English wine (which was extremely good) and you have the perfect weekend. I’ve been hearing the music in my head for days so here are a few fleeting impressions.  My festival started with Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan in the Town Hall.

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan, Town Hall Cheltenham 5 May 2018

I’m beginning to think that duos are more tricky to carry off than solo shows. This one was genuinely touching, an almost paternal relationship between the two on stage and their encore Petula Clark’s Downtown was very enjoyable.

Empirical, Jazz Arena Cheltenham, 7 May 2018

The extremely hardworking Empirical turned in 12 sets in their pop-up series in an empty shop comfortably converted into an intimate venue complete with cushions and flowers in a vase (surely a nice touch by their manager Claudia?)  and a  superlative 90 minute set in the Jazz Arena.

It’s always good to hear something new and this years’s genuine surprise to me (obviously not to others) was Jim Black at the Parabola  on Saturday.   His band Malamute featured Icelandic saxophonist Óskar Guðjónsson who so impressed me at the recent Jazzahead, his jaunty footwork and doubled-up stance whilst playing was arresting to look at even if I hadn’t been listening spellbound.

Óskar Guðjónsson in Jim Black’s Malamut, Parabola Cheltenham 5 May 2018

A late night set by Evan Parker’s Trance Map was unexpectedly beautiful, an hour of birdsong-infused improvisation.  There were 5 people on stage – sax, bass, a turntablist and two guys who stood intensely peering at something hidden from sight, hard to tell what they were doing.

Overall I would say that I definitely prefer the listening experience in the Parabola to any of the larger venues, with the exception of Empirical in the Jazz Arena last night. I know this is entirely a matter of personal opinion and I really hope for the future of jazz outside the major cities and beyond festivals, that people are today in their workplaces saying “I went to a jazz festival this weekend and it was amazing, I didn’t think I would like jazz and I did”. It almost doesn’t matter too much whether what they heard was jazz or not, what’s more important is that they were there, experiencing the fleeting magic that’s over in a trice but stays with you.

Roller Trio were my gig of the festival and you can read my thoughts here on London Jazz News.

Roller Trio, Parabola Arts Centre Cheltenham, 5 May 2018


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