John Fordham The Guardian, Monday 3 May 2010
While the 2010 Cheltenham jazz festival had kicked in last week with Elaine Page singing standards, and the weekend included guest artistic director Jamie Cullum’s sell-out show for the pop-angled Pursuit album, the event remained its quirky self. An absorbing Sunday programme ran from Empirical’s tight postbop and Carla Bley’s whimsical music to a jazz renaissance for guitar star John Scofield, who is currently swapping his recent gospel-wailing repertoire for pungently harmonised ballad playing and headlong Charlie Parker bop classics.
In the early afternoon, Bley’s mournfully poignant reeds/brass harmonies and obliquely witty themes, Andy Sheppard’s circular-breathing sax ascents against Paolo Fresu’s sumptuous flugelhorn sound and Steve Swallow’s humming basslines provided object lessons in making understatement unforgettable. Fly, the virtuosic US trio featuring saxist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, was a harder-hitting contrast. Turner’s long, lithe runs and purity at the top end of his range make him one of contemporary jazz’s most distinctive voices.
Fringe Magnetic, the Loop Collective’s 10-piece hybrid of classical strings and jazz instruments, sometimes plays its elegantly layered music with a kind of preoccupied erudition, but the spine-chilling roar of Andrew Plummer, the ethereal delicacy of Elisabeth Nygaard and the mellifluous urbanity of Cullum (who sat in on a song co-written by him, Nygaard, and leader Rory Simmons) raised the temperature with three very different vocal routes.
Vietnamese-American trumpeter Cuong Vu probably stole the day, with a thundering mix of orchestral electronic effects, flat-out improv of astonishingly assured audacity, unexpected dissections of a couple of standard ballads, and the raw power of a free-rhythmic rock trio – significantly furnished by the remarkable drumming of the little-known and very inaccurately named Ted Poor.