Talking Jazz

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The 12th London Jazz Festival begins this lunchtime. Today's line-up is a good example of the mix, with the intelligent young British pianist Zoe Rahman beginning the proceedings on the Festival Hall free stage, followed by the highly-rated New Yorker Jason Lindner bashing Pizza Express's piano in Soho.

By this point the festival-goer will have to choose: John Coltrane's son Ravi, also a saxophonist, is at the Purcell Room, while one of the UK's new wave of singers, Gwyneth Herbert, is next door at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Across town, at the Barbican, the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni Big Band will be swinging hell for leather and, at Ronnie Scott's, those old cheese-merchants the Yellowjackets are sneaking in on the act.

Actually, the Yellowjackets will be finishing a residency, so they would have been there anyway; which could prompt one to query what difference the LJF makes to London's jazz clubs, given that they would have filled their programmes anyway. This feels like a niggle. The fact that big names like two US tenor players of very different generations, Branford Marsalis and Sam Rivers, are under the same umbrella as them gives a boost to much smaller but sparky British groups like Acoustic Ladyland and Soothsayers, who are performing at the Spitz.

The organisers haven't shied away from the serious. For those who can stand listening to that stuff, the free-jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor is in a double bill with another oddball, Anthony Braxton. Although the name of Graham Collier may not mean much to many people, an evening celebrating his music at the QEH should be one of the high points of the festival. Collier, who formerly ran the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music, recorded some extraordinary albums in the late Sixties and early Seventies that never received the attention they deserved.

Thankfully there's little intrusion by the world music gang this year, and although you can go and see Jamie Cullum or Peter Cincotti if you fancy some middle-of-the-road vocals, there are also a couple of singers who are worth catching. Silje Nergaard is interviewed on the opposite page, and Madeleine Peyroux, a New Yorker whose voice is an astonishingly lifelike echo of Billie Holiday's, is at Pizza Express.

The free stage at the Festival Hall is a good place by which to linger. On Wednesday it'll be filled by a superb trumpeter whom Londoners have had too little chance to hear, the Birmingham-based Bryan Corbett. And, on the Sunday 21 November, the last day of the festival, the Babel record label stable will be on all day. In Chelsea, the 606 club is the venue for British jazzers including Stan Tracey, Dave O'Higgins and Liane Carroll, while in Camden the Jazz Café will feature the young champion of the bass, Christian McBride.

Seven out of ten, then, for the programme. The only real criticism that could be made is that the sprinkling of stardust might have been more generous. It's a small caveat, though, and shouldn't stop the organisers getting a small pat on the back.