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Thursday 20: Vieux Carre Jazzmen - The Holystone, Whitley Road, Holystone, North Tyneside NE27 0DA. Tel: 0191 266 6173. 1:00pm. Free. OUTDOOR gig.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Malta Jazz Festival 2019. Days July 17 - 19.

(Review & outdoor photos by Steve T/Indoor photos courtesy of John Ristway)

I first came across the Malta Jazz Festival last time I visited the island and found - if memory serves - I'd narrowly missed (former Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and UK) drummer Bill Bruford, with his jazz group Earthworks, and local band Noir, who I've never managed to find anything about, though for anyone of my age or older, that's one seriously cool name for a band. The festival has been on my radar ever since, but this is the first time our financial situation and the festival line-up have aligned.

It's on for six days but builds up to the weekend so we were able to miss the Monday and Tuesday without sacrificing too much.

Lunchtime gigs were at the Parliament Building in the capital Valletta, where all the gigs were, and I already knew where this was until - quite by accident - I found out there's now also a New Parliament Building. Investigations of the old one found no signs of a band setting up, but we did locate a 'you are here' map and further investigation revealed a 'you need to be here' listing. 

However, throughout the festival, I never saw a map of the venues - at least six of them - or a signpost for any gig, and directions from festival staff were of the 'if you already know where you're going, these directions should get you there' variety. There is much to love about Malta but attention to detail and urgency are not among them.

Wednesday lunchtime brought the Anthony Saliba Quartet featuring sax, keyboard, drums and the leader playing bass guitar; later in the week we'd see him playing double bass with the Hot Club of Valletta. They opened with a couple of well-known jazz pieces (so well known I couldn't remember the titles) followed by some originals, including a bass led trio piece going along nicely, which I felt sure would bring in the sax for a rousing climax, but didn't. Maybe next time.

For these sessions, a group of regulars would converge in a cafe opposite for coffee or Campari and I heard one describe it as lift jazz, which I thought unfair and I think it's unhelpful for purists to delineate anything with a bass guitar and a Fender Rhodes sound as musak, elevator music or smooth jazz.

Were they transposed to the North East of England - and County Durham alone has an area seven times the size of Malta - they would be one of the bands worth seeing again and again.

I started the festival with an ambition to see thirteen events and managed twelve. Enquiries about the Wednesday night jam session recommended an early arrival because of the size of the venue but also that there was unlikely to be an available guitar or trumpet, so we agreed to forfeit it. As it happened a guitar did turn up so northeast born Francis Tulip and his pianist friend and fellow Birmingham Conservatoire student Will Markham got to play and I have it on British, Maltese, Polish and Northern Irish authority that they tore it up.   

Thursday lunchtime was the turn of the Francesca Galea Trio, featuring the singer accompanied by guitar and double bass for some bossa. Francesca has the effortless style of the islanders and gave an assured performance and, as she announced her final piece, I told Mrs T she'd finish with Girl from Ipanema and when she didn't I assured her they'd play an encore but they didn't. Good for them.

Friday was our final lunchtime gig and featured the Hot Club of Valletta. With the northeast punching above its weight in gypsy jazz I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see how the world leaders in punching above their weight would fair.      

Unsurprisingly well, as double bass, two gypsy guitars, accordion and violin sound-checked All of Me. They did it again as the singer turned up fashionably late though they didn't include it in their set. They did include Pennies from Heaven, It Don't Mean a Thing, The Bare Necessities and a take on Mark Ronson's Valerie I was lucky enough to miss, interspersed with a number of instrumentals, though no Minor Swing.

It came as no surprise when she announced that the band are led by the violinist, who compares with the northeast's very own Emma Fisk. Apparently he also plays clarinet, increasing his Gypsy Jazz credentials exponentially, though I didn't spot him playing it, unless he did so on Valerie. 
Steve T

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