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What with the film of the record Buena Vista Social Club, and its various spin- off projects, it seems that the Afro-Cuban Allstars (above) have hardly been away. But it is more than two years since they burst onto an unsuspecting jazz scene - and now they are back with the traditionally difficult follow- up and an extensive tour. Rather than stick to what has clearly been a successful formula, Distinto, diferente (World Circuit) sees these game old-timers breaking fresh ground and adopting other styles, as well as the irresistible Cuban dance music that is their trademark. They appear at the Shepherd's Bush Empire on Thursday as part of the London Jazz Festival.

Also featured in the line-up for the event, which spreads its eclectic canopy over a variety of venues and musical styles until next Sunday, is the collaboration known as Equal Interest. Less obviously accessible than the Cubans, the unit fronted by the imaginative pianist Myra Melford and avant-garde veterans Joseph Jarman and Leroy Jenkins is certainly never dull or predictable. With a self-titled album out on Omnitone, the threesome, augmented by a collection of British musicians, appears at the South Bank's Queen Elizabeth Hall, also on Thursday, as part of a Contemporary Music Network tour.

Among other highlights of the festival are tomorrow's appearance at the South Bank's Purcell Room by Fred Hersch, a pianist whose rare refinement and touch are heard to good effect on the current Nonesuch solo effort Let Yourself Go, but who nevertheless offers a strong take on Thelonious Monk and other post- bop stylings. Monday sees a Royal Festival Hall performance by Branford Marsalis, who, to judge from the exciting Sony release Requiem, has rediscovered his jazz chops. With support from the inventive Julian Arguelles, this should be a good night out for anybody wishing to assess the current state of the saxophone.

The wide range of sounds on offer is demonstrated by - in addition to the sprinkling of ECM artists - the bringing together of Mali's Toumani Diabete and the blues legend Taj Mahal for a reprise of their recent Rykodisc album Kulanjan at the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday. Support is from Mahal's natural heir, Alvin Youngblood Hart.

Roger Trapp