If you needed any convincing that Liverpool’s jazz scene was alive and well then take heed. This year’s annual Liverpool International Jazz Festival was a triumph. An intensive four day jazz fest from 22-24th Feb 2024 showcasing local emerging talent, steadfast stalwarts of the Liverpool music scene and some big hitters for good measure.

It’s in its 11th year and must take some strategic planning to pull it off so seamlessly which the team seemed to do without a hitch. Note well, you could take as much or as little of it as you wished from the bands on offer. Dip in or max out. Some free, some ticketed, but none that burst the bank. I went every day and could have happily soaked the lot up, almost did.

Liverpool Hope University have invested significantly in the campus and it shows from decent acoustic theatre spaces to Cafe 1846 which make a mean iced oat milk latte half the price of your average high street chain. Suffice to say I milked the lot of it (excuse the pun) from the opening day to the finale, seeing as many bands as I could lay my hands on.

The mightily impressive sax/piano duo Tommy Smith and Gwilym Simcock kicked things off on Thursday night — with a sell out show that was received with rapturous applause. An impressive free big band tribute to Carla Bley followed that on the Friday afternoon and The David Helbock Austrian Syndicate on the Friday evening — two spectacular showcases and a sign of things to come.

A so called Mutant Jazz After Party on Friday night in a bar in town, Metrocola, which was held in collaboration with Parr Street Jazz, a wonderful not for profit organisation set up and run by musicians for musicians and music lovers. It featured four up and coming young bands with tons of potential, bands that crossed the jazz spectrum from jungle to trip hop to punky nu jazz and no doubt a few other sub jazz genre descriptors I’m not hip enough to know.

It was bouncing and after a one too many Camden IPAs and feeling my age amongst a throbbing young crowd thrice my junior, or so it felt, I departed for the last train home. I was back again on the Saturday afternoon to witness another free mini festival within a festival. It showcased no less than six local experimental bands with some quite astonishing improvisational ‘out there’ jazz. Bells and whistles a plenty.

After 4.5 hours and my pores literally oozing with left field free jazz I spilled out of the Cornerstone Building with my mind blown. My kind of ‘jazz with heft’ not your soothing kind of melodies or mellow rhythms. Pipe and slippers type event LIJF is not. Granted it is largely for those who enjoy a concentrated listen but if you’re happy to push the boundaries a bit you’ll be rewarded in spades. You never know you might like it, a lot.

I could have literally poured into another ticketed event, stage left, straight after the mini festival, the timing so impeccably run. Yolanda Charles at the Capstone theatre, had I any energy left, but I was sufficiently stimulated enough for one day.

Incidentally there was also lots of jazz fringe events happening across the city on the same weekend in various pubs, as there is every week these days on the glistening Liverpool jazz front. It’s quite a packed calendar these days I’m beginning to discover.

The grand finale on Sunday night climaxed with the seismic clout of stunning sax man Denys Baptiste doing his re-interpretation of John Coltrane. That was good. Once I’d picked my jaw up off the floor that is and I managed to saunter out into the very still and cool Liverpool night like a real jazz cat. So from blowing horns to nimble fingers on strings and keys, to beating things with sticks, LIJF has it all.

Review from Paula McAdam / Images courtesy of Alan Smith

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