Coventry Jazz Festival, Various venues, Coventry

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The Independent Culture

While lacking the sheer scale of Cheltenham, Bath or Brecon, the Coventry Jazz Festival can boast its own distinctively individualist booking policy and a pleasing aura of informal friendliness.

While lacking the sheer scale of Cheltenham, Bath or Brecon, the Coventry Jazz Festival can boast its own distinctively individualist booking policy and a pleasing aura of informal friendliness. Most of the gigs are situated a step away from the town's grimy shopping centre, in the historic quarter that surrounds the Cathedral.

The London Community Gospel Choir performed inside this very edifice, but an over-enthusiastic mixing engineer brought their voices close to distortion, swimming in a difficult acoustic space. The actual content was the Lord's music at its blandest, and the choir's general presentation was equally flabby. Even the guesting Dennis Rollins did little to rescue the afternoon, his trombone lost against a half-hearted rhythm backing.

Dissident Israeli reedsman Gilad Atzmon had been workshopping with the youthful Phoenix Collective for two days prior to their evening gig. Typically, this flamboyant experimenter had moulded them into an avant garde groove machine. Atzmon's own Orient House Ensemble followed, mixing up mainstream jazz with Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies. Dry humour co-exists with full-stream saxophone soloing, while violin and accordion add a nervy kind of decoration.

Don Weller's Electric Octet and Bill Bruford's Earthworks made an enticing double bill, with the two band leaders exchanging the modes for which they were originally known. Tenorman Weller's amplified arrangements recalled the funky 1970s fusion of his Major Surgery outfit.

The late-night bar scene brought out the Bryan Corbett Quintet and Tomorrow's Warriors. The latter training-ground quintet have a pair of astounding frontmen. Trumpeter Jay Phelps and alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey solo with pristine emotional eloquence. Barely into their twenties and they're playing like old men - a compliment, in jazz terms. Django Bates has now passed forty, but still looks and acts like a kid. He's not often sighted in solo acoustic piano mode, and the historic St Mary's Hall provided a suitable atmosphere for some serious keyboard contemplation. Bates did this for a spell, then sang a song about tea. He certainly knows how to entertain a crowd.

The Paris-based Vietnamese guitarist Nguyen Le gave the best gig of the weekend, celebrating the music of Jimi Hendrix, as heard on 2002's Purple album. Skimpy skeletons were re-dressed in South African, Jamaican and Moroccan raiments, retaining their essence and fully justifying this unusual re-tread.

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