Talking Jazz

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The Independent Culture

To the delight of those keen to stand firm against the tide of world music, from whose ouds and pan pipes no genre is safe, there is distinctly less of it in this year's London Jazz Festival, which starts a week today.

To the delight of those keen to stand firm against the tide of world music, from whose ouds and pan pipes no genre is safe, there is distinctly less of it in this year's London Jazz Festival, which starts a week today.

In its 10th year, the event has drawn big names from around the globe as well as showcasing local talent, and has come up with some inspired combinations. Soweto Kinch supports David Sanborn: two alto saxophonists one would never expect to mention in the same breath, Kinch's serious new voice being an utter contrast to Sanborn. It works, though, because Sanborn has always been better than his followers, his commercial sound leavened by a dash of originality and the listener's certainty that the smooth school's fake passion is a poor copy of the real thing.

Bobby McFerrin, a vocalist we hear too rarely, is supported by the fiery pianist Danilo Perez, whileJamie Cullum is on after the marvellous Cameroonian singer and bassist Richard Bona. I fancy Jamie will find him a hard act to follow.

A good balance has been struck between the populist and the thought-provoking, with the poppy fusion of the Yellowjackets at Ronnie Scott's and, at the Purcell Room, a tribute to the late Joe Harriot, a British-West Indian saxophonist.

There's only one problem; timing clashes mean that even the most dedicated concert-goer willmiss some acts. On the opening night, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio are at the Royal Festival Hall while Incognito and the Average White Band raise the roof of the Forum in Kentish Town. A different audience? Not necessarily. On the Monday, the majestic singer Dianne Reeves is at the Festival Hall; bad luck if you'd like to catch Michael Garrick's big band at the Vortex.

It's understandable that all London's major jazz venues want to be part of the festival. It's important for Pizza Express in Soho, the 606 in Fulham and the Spitz near the City to be recognised. But it might be worth looking at the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague. There, the huge Congress Centre contains venues from the 100-seater to the stadium, and the visitor can flit from gig to gig. You pay for a pass, either for the day or the whole festival. The South Bank is big enough to host such an event, and its many outside spaces could house temporary structures. It would be sad for the clubs, but more people would get to hear more jazz. That has to be what it's all about.

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