Jazz: Surreal treats at Bath time

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Bath Festival Jazz Weekend

Over the past 10 years, Bath's Jazz Festival has steadily moved the goalposts, creating an entirely new field of play. What the festival lacks in top-of-the-marquee pulling power, it makes up for in the sheer unlikeliness of its acts: Dutch harpsichordist Gnus Janssen, for example, whose mad comping on distressed versions of standards such as "Misty", proved wonderfully witty.

It may be the surreal juxtaposition of jazz and the harpsichord itself, but to see Janssen plonking out a 12-bar blues or explaining how his next composition is about fleas pogo-dancing, was unforgettable.

The chance to see California's Rova Saxophone Quartet was even more welcome, for the group are an avant garde institution whose performances in this country are very rare. Though the sound of sax quartets can be a little wearing, Rova are less concerned with tricksy ensemble parping than with communicating the essence of the music they commission from a range of composers.

Jazz that sounded more like, well, jazz could be found at Bath Pavilion where late on Saturday, Tony Coe & Co brought the day's proceedings to a close. Coe led a 10-piece band through music co-commissioned by the BBC and Cheltenham and Bath Festivals and his own playing was masterfully subtle and assured. A number of high-note features for Steve Waterman on trumpet provided energy, but the main virtue lay in writing that was never dull or academic.

Trio Clusone, who played the Guildhall on Sunday, belong to the Reeves and Mortimer end of the free jazz spectrum. With veteran Dutch drummer Han Bennink playing every surface in sight (including the Georgian mantelpiece), his compatriot Ernst Reijseger using his cello as both double-bass and guitar, and straight-man Michael Moore creating a refuge of tunefulness on clarinet and saxophone, the group stretch the boundaries of taste to breaking point, yet still manage to amuse their audiences in a way few straight groups are capable of.

Highlights included a brief interlude of strict-tempo tea-dance music, Bennink's glorious bebop brush-work, and an interplay of art and slapstick that would require a very stiff upper lip to remain immune to. Like Trio Clusone, Bath's mixture of the far-flung, the home-grown and the simply odd grows on you.

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