Sholto Byrnes: Talking Jazz

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The Independent Culture

Numerologists would approve of the programme for the London Jazz Festival, which has been unveiled this week. Significant figures abound in the event listings. There are birthday celebrations for the double bassist Dave Holland (60), composer Mike Westbrook (70), and pianists Randy Weston and Stan Tracey (both 80). Evan Parker, the formidable free jazz saxophonist, also enjoys a "landmark concert", although he's, er, 62; the LJF wanted to mark his 60th birthday a couple of years ago but it didn't quite come together. What's a couple of years between friends, anyhow?

The opening night, Friday 10 November, features another brace of remarkable figures. The 10 baritone saxophonists of Tokyo-Chutei-Iki, a fascinating ensemble of fairytale grotesquerie - imagine the kind of music 10 particularly dextrous trolls would produce - will be performing at Pizza on the Park. Then, at 6pm, a crowd of 200 plus saxophonists will gather in front of the Vortex Jazz Club in Gillett Street, Dalston for Andy Sheppard's Dalston Saxophone Massive. Players of all ages and abilities will split into two choirs of 100, with other saxophonists positioned in different parts of the square, from roof-tops to doorways, in an architectural piece that Sheppard says will build into an almighty climax. It promises to be a raucous, raggedy, beautiful sound, an appropriately rootsy event for such a democratic and diverse festival.

For this year's LJF does have the requisite sprinkling of international names - Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Cassandra Wilson, Abdullah Ibrahim, Richard Bona and Lee Konitz among them. But it's not relying on them to sell the programme. Neither is any great fuss being made about the presence of those Swedish jazz superstars, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, or the Latino dynamo pianist Michel Camilo.

These acts sit amid an eclectic programme in which the younger generation of musicians - artists such as Zoe Rahman, Soweto Kinch, Abram Wilson, Nikki Yeoh, Julia Biel, Andrew McCormack and Alex Wilson - feature consistently, as well as longer-established artists such as Gilad Atzmon and Tony Kofi. The elders of British jazz, such as John Taylor and Ian Carr, are also represented. But there's not a single act that could be seen as ordinary - no pallid singers in LBDs trotting out "Autumn Leaves" or hard bop quintets revisiting the Art Blakey chart book. Nothing, it seems, is too left-field this year. Billy Jenkins, the anarchic bard of Bromley, leads his own Songs of Praise at the Spitz on the first Sunday (aptly so, as he is the nephew of the infamous former Bishop of Durham), and a band named Fast'n'Bulbous will be playing the music of Captain Beefheart in the style of a New Orleans marching band. On a more sophisticated level, trumpeter Guy Barker will preview dZf, a jazz noir take on the story of Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), an ambitious step further on the path he's taken before with his "Sounds in Black and White Suite" and version of Rob Ryan's novel Underdogs.

That will take place in the BBC's Maida Vale studios, another new outpost of the LJF, which is steadily creeping further afield from its Soho and South Bank base. From Cadogan Hall in Chelsea to Koko in Camden and the Baltic Restaurant in Southwark, to Lauderdale House in Highgate and the Bull's Head in Barnes, jazz will be covering more of London than ever before during the 10 days of the festival. For residents of the capital who take the Frank Zappa line - "jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny"- it may be time for the clothes-pegs.