Live: Willem Breuker Kollektieff / Jazz Jamaica; Bath Festival

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The Independent Culture
By deconstructing so wilfully the conventions of a contemporary jazz ensemble, which is what they are, the Kollektieff sometimes risk sounding like a bad oompah band. Even the drum solo is a deconstruction, though unfortunately for us, it's still a drum solo. A mainstay of the Dutch and European avant-garde jazz scene for three decades, the band (an 11-piece for this concert) was post-modern before its time and as a consequence it can seem old fashioned nowadays, the mix of free jazz, corny pop music, big-band swing and performance high jinks coming over as a little wearying; at times in Sunday's performance you would have sacrificed any of the former for a decent tune.

It's impossible not to like them eventually, though, as the virtues of solid, muscular playing from the front-line of brass, reeds and violin, and the indefatigable good humour of the presentation combine to make you feel as if you're having fun even when you aren't. Snatches of tango, of Kurt Weill and silent cinema accompaniment came and went, often in the same number, and there was a truly outstanding bass solo, no mean feat in any circumstances. Just before the end of what was a very long show, topping the bill of what added up to 28 hours of the epic Clerical Medical Jazz and New Music Weekend, the trombonist sang a wordless, old- style Eurovision ditty that was both impeccably kitsch and deeply moving.

Jazz Jamaica, who closed the opening evening of the weekend, are similarly impossible to dislike, and a lot easier on the ear. Early ska, rocksteady and reggae tunes are played in jazz arrangements that retain a pounding, bass-heavy beat but still find room for elegant solos.

Though original member Rico Rodriguez has departed, his replacement on trombone, Dennis Rollins, has added a welcome fluidity to the sound, and he soloed beautifully. New tunes point more towards Blue Note bebop, with themes by Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter receiving the Caribbean treatment. Sitting and watching Jazz Jamaica, though, is a bit like dancing to Webern, not the best context in which to enjoy the grooves. While people tried to dance, the club-style tables impeded progress and it would have been better to have moved them out. Skanking sitting down is a difficult business.

PHIL JOHNSON

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