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Festival preview by Simon Spillett

Friday September 16th

Tim Garland Quartet

Opening this year's festival, Herts Jazz presents a performer whose career to date has embraced virtually every aspect of musical endeavour: Multi-instrumentalist Garland has worked in bands led by everyone from Ronnie Scott to Chick Corea, honoured composition commissions from, among others, the LSO and the Northern Symphonia, and played across the globe in settings drawing in influences ranging from folk to prog-rock.

“His level of genius is rare,” Corea has said of Garland and tonight he heads a characteristically adventurous quartet, including former Eighties jazz wunderkind Jason Rebello, a group that has already turned heads with its recently released album 'One', showcasing the leader's engagingly individual and eclectic compositional style.

Bryan Spring Trio

The UK has produced a veritable litany of jazz drum talent but for sheer dynamic creativity few can equal Bryan Spring, a musician whose career stretches across an impressive fifty-plus years and whose energy and sheer drive show no sign of abating. Spring's always recognisable, always inventive playing has lit the fuse for a long list of giants – from Stan Tracey to Ian Carr's Nucleus and beyond – but tonight finds him leading his own trio, a unit whose genuine three-way musical conversation consistently uncovers new angles.

Saturday September 17th

Herts Youth Jazz Ensemble

In what has become a tradition, Saturday morning kicks off with HYJE, thus far the only band to make five appearances at Herts Jazz Festivals! However, such is the band's high turnover of budding jazz talent, each year boasts new faces eager to take up the improvisational challenge. Closely mentored by Duncan Fraser, the return of the ensemble to the festival is a heartening reminder that, whatever the doubters may say, the j-word can and does grab the ears of the younger generation. This year HYJE presents a programme featuring the music of young jazz professionals who have recently graduated from the group.

The Printmakers

It would be tempting to call this band a super-group, such is the array of top-line improvisational talent. Each is a leader in their own right but, united by what one reviewer called “their collective love of song and a powerful spirit of collaboration”, this is a band that is very much more than the sum of its parts. Their first album 'Westerly' received a glowing appraisal in The Guardian, hailed for its “intensity pulsing beneath its vaporous melodies” and it's no surprise to find that the group has quickly become a solid draw at jazz venues across the UK.

The music they make is unclassifiable; taking in everything from Joni Mitchell to Ralph Towner, each performance promises songful improvisation, subtlety and interactive adventure. Unmissable!

Neil Angilley Trio

Keyboardist, composer, arranger, musical director, producer, Neil Angilley is the ultimate man of many musical parts. Having collaborated with a bewilderingly wide-ranging list of artists from James Galway to Roy Hargrove (to name but two!), Angilley brings a genuine spirit of creative ingenuity to his own projects, such as this unit featuring regular collaborators Davides Mantovani and Giovannini. A formidable technician, he never falls into the trap of letting his virtuoso abilities dictate the course of the music; instead what emerges is some of the most satisfying piano trio improvisation to he heard on the British jazz circuit.

Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett/Dave Kane/Clark Tracey

Perhaps more than ever before, this year's festival emphasises the spirit of spontaneous musical invention, never more so than in this performance which unites a stellar line-up whose stylistic links might not instantly be obvious to some.

However, dig a little deeper and you'll find that the names Tippett and Tracey have a long association, going back to the days when Tracey junior marvelled at his father's intense two-piano collaborations with Tippett during the 1970s.

A further connection exists between Tippett and saxophonist Dunmall – among the finest tenorists the UK has ever produced – who collaborated in the co-operative 'Mujician', a band legendary for its power and intensity. With the addition of bassist Kane, this line-up surely promises an edge-of-your-seat experience, creating music richly rewarding for those with open minds and ears.

Ernie Wilkins'  “Top Brass” Revisited

For a recording date back in 1955, famed Count Basie arranger Ernie Wilkins convened an all-star trumpet summit featuring five of the best of New York's young brass talent (Donald Byrd, Ray Copeland, Ernie Royal, Idress Sulieman and Joe Wilder), producing the now legendary 'Top Brass' album. Tonight, the festival reboots Wilkins' concept by assembling a cross-generational, cross-section of UK trumpet talent. Underpinned by a dream-team rhythm section, this gig not only gives an opportunity for Wilkins' arrangements to breath anew, but in the best festival tradition pitches together players who might not otherwise occupy the same bandstand. It's almost academic to add that the audience can expect fireworks aplenty!

Dave Newton/Andrew Cleyndert Duo

A return of two festival favourites, this after-hours duo features a pairing who've worked together in a wide variety of different bands over their thirty-plus year association. Newton remains the ultimate pianist: ceaselessly inventive, conjuring new repertoire from the most unlikely places and, above all, fiercely dedicated to the virtues of straight-ahead acoustic jazz, he's a perennial poll-winner, as is Cleyndert, the renaissance man of British jazz, whose sure-footed, unmistakable playing goes hand-in-hand with similarly high-end talents as a photographer, recording engineer and record label boss.

Gilad with Strings

Unclassifiable, controversial, charismatic, a central figure on the British jazz scene, saxophonist and sometimes author, Gilad Atzmon remains a maverick talent. Whether lampooning political figures or delivering the hardest-driving of post-bop improvisations, whatever Gilad does is shot through with a romantic passion that is impossible to ignore. It's small wonder therefore that he's chosen to realise the emotion-packed pipe dream of every jazz horn player, that of performing with strings. The album 'In Loving Memory of America', his first within this context, garnered rave reviews from publications as varied as The Financial Times and The Morning Star, who hailed it as a “work of beauty, power and intense sonic vision”. Tonight’s gig will revisit music from that recording, taking in both tributes to Charlie Parker and Gilad's own compositions, everything being tied together by the leader's sardonic, thought-provoking humour.

Introducing Sean Payne

It's something of a Herts Jazz tradition to pair new names with established performers and so this late-night set features alto saxophonist Sean Payne (a protégé of Carlos Lopez-Real) with an all-star UK rhythm section. Payne is still in his teens and yet already promises to be a young man to watch in the years ahead, combining a precocious maturity with a deep appreciation of the music's traditions. In Williams, Dankworth and Tracey he's furnished with the kind of accompaniment that would turn musicians of any age green with envy. Every festival has a gig that's a hot ticket – this one affords the chance to see a rising star rise further still – and it's free!

Sunday September 18th

Derek Nash's Picante

Is there a musician with more energy on the UK jazz circuit that Derek Nash? Indeed, so feverishly active is he that it's almost impossible to pin him down as he shuttles between commercial obligations with Jools Holland, heading the explosive Sax Appeal, honouring a never-ending string of solo dates and operating one of the best recording studios anywhere today.

Picante is a relatively new venture for the ever-genial Nash, a band mixing the heady Latin and Salsa rhythms provided by veteran percussion maestro Robin Jones with the technical wizardry of guitarist Dominic Ashworth. The band have already proved to be a popular attraction on club dates, with audiences responding enthusiastically to performers who mix serious musicianship with an infectious sense of entertainment.

Gerd Dudek

German-born Gerd Dudek is, quite simply, a saxophone giant. His career began during the 1950s, the era in which he served time as a sideman in the big band for Kurt Edelhagen, gaining a reputation for his no-nonsense straight-ahead playing. However, it was during the following decade that Dudek really came into his own, embracing post-Coltrane and Coleman innovations to become one of Europe's leading exponents of cutting-edge jazz. He's worked with, among others, Don Cherry, George Russell and Albert Mangelsdorff, and for forty years has been a cornerstone of the European Jazz Ensemble, the band in which he first performed with Clark Tracey.

There are many watch words that could describe Dudek's work: powerful, intense, committed and serious, he is a player of immense fire and excitement, and his union with Melling, Somogyi and Tracey is sure to be a festival highlight.

Nigel Price Organ Trio

One of the hardest working – and hardest swinging – of all UK jazzmen, guitarist Price is a shining example of a player who's found a format that works and works and works! Indeed, his organ trio is rarely off the road, criss-crossing the nation and taking its accessible yet purist message to audiences who can't seem to get enough. The demand is understandable. Not only are Price and his hand-in-glove team relentless grafters, their music combines a canny mix of danceable grooves, instrumental virtuosity and novel repertoire guaranteed to keep any audience entertained.

Laurie Cottle Quintet

Best known for his virtuosic bass guitar work, Laurence Cottle is a formidably accomplished musician whose talents also encompass composition, big band arranging and, when the mood takes him, a return to trombone playing!  Any musician fortunate enough to play alongside Cottle recognises that he does nothing by halves, band leading included, which is why tonight’s group comprises some of the most technically gifted musicians on the UK scene, all of whom are more than equipped to tackle the leader's demanding compositions and arrangements. Expect a breathless ride through a programme including nods to funk as well as bebop, with solos overflowing with improvisational wizardry.

Julian Joseph Trio

Since becoming a mainstay of BBC Radio 3's jazz presentations, UK jazz club audiences have seen far too little of Julian Joseph, an oversight that tonight’s gig by his regular trio goes some way to redressing. Arriving on the same wave that took Courtney Pine to stardom, among its many highlights, Joseph's career has seen stints with bandleaders including Branford Marsalis and James Moody and the establishment of his own big band, an outfit accorded the rare honour of its own Proms concert. A veritable piano polymath, Julian's playing and composing betrays a deep appreciation of giants like Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner, yet retains a personality which is unmistakable, as he'll demonstrate on a set featuring long-time collaborator, drummer Mark Mondesir, a musician with whom he's developed an uncanny rhythmic understanding.

Daniel Casimir Trio

Still only in his mid-twenties, Casimir is well-known as a regular member of Clark Tracey's quintet, a band which cherry-picked some of the finest young jazz talent. The notes to the quintet's album 'Meantime' praised his “impeccable note choices, time and tone” and so it's no wonder that Tracey isn't the only bandleader to recognise the bassist's outstanding talent; Casimir has recently worked as a sideman with American saxophonist Chris Potter, but for this evening's gig he steps into the role of leader, convening pianist Joe Armon-Jones and drummer Winston Clifford for the festival's final foyer set.

Mingus/Monk Big Band Tribute

You could call this one a meeting of the mavericks! Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk stand among the rarefied league of jazz's compositional geniuses. Both men's work was utterly personal and beyond comparison and initially appears not to have much in the way of a connective thread: Monk's writing was spare and pointillistic, Mingus' often sprawling and multi-layered, and yet each had a similar approach to bandleading, searching hard for the ideal interpreters for their compositions. All too rarely they were able to amplify these ideas to larger scale outfits – Monk recorded a handful of big band recordings while Mingus' efforts in large-scale music making were often as chaotic as they were memorable. Tonight's gig might not create the same sense of anxious uncertainty for its performers as those by Monk and Mingus themselves, but it does uphold the composers' traditions by taking a host of top-line jazz soloists and asking them to reinvent the music before them. Indeed, the personnel comprises some of the finest improvisers on the British jazz scene – including sax and trumpet sections to die for – and will surely mark an energised and powerhouse closing to the festival.