Arts: Jazz; In your own time...

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The Independent Culture
NOWADAYS, EVERY jazz festival has its funky Friday-night crowd- pleaser. Cheltenham's "In the Mix" - "a night of serious grooves driven by hard beats" - looked good on paper, with Ninja Tune's The Herbaliser sharing the bill with DJ Pogo's Lyrical Lounge. That The Herbaliser seemed to consist of jazz-funk musos with two turntables stuck in the middle was disappointing, but DJ Pogo was another matter. "Are you ready?" the MCs kept saying with ever-increasing urgency as the start-time was delayed. We were ready all right. Unfortunately, they weren't.

We gradually realised that the Lyrical Lounge didn't have a clue what they were going to do. Despite having a few proper musicians on stage, including Nikki Yeoh on keyboards, the band hadn't just failed to rehearse, they'd not even talked to each other in the van on the way up. As this was Cheltenham rather than Brooklyn, the audience was relatively indulgent, but the evening emphasised the pressing need for a government-appointed ombudsman for DJs, to investigate short measures and sharp practices in this increasingly troublesome sector.

Proper jazz was resumed the following day at the Everyman Theatre, when Nikki Yeoh looked much happier directing her own big band, Infinitum +, in an impressive set. Later, the French pianist Martial Solal displayed a superbly sure touch on the Steinway. It's 40 years since Solal composed and played the sound-track to Jean-Luc Godard's A Bout de Souffle, but he hasn't dated.Solal deconstructed careworn standards such as "Summertime" with an easy, laconic air that belied the intensity of the performance.

Nothing in the weekend, however, could compete with the American trumpeter Dave Douglas. Appearing on Sunday night with his "Tiny Bell Trio', Douglas revealed himself to be the most impressive new voice in jazz for years. Mixing up original compositions with the odd bit of Thelonious Monk, and "re-composed" anthems by Robert Schumann, Douglas and his band of Jim Black on drums and Brad Shepik on guitar achieved the remarkable feat of being playfully post-modern without compromising either the seriousness of their intent or their musical virtuosity.

Compared with Douglas, even the American saxophonist Joe Lovano seemed to hark back to another era. Though he played fluently on a range of horns, his boppish patterns lost some of their intensity in the enormous space of the Town Hall. No doubt he will be on great form in the more intimate setting of Ronnie Scott's, where he plays for the rest of this week. After Dave Douglas, everything else is a little pallid.