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CULTURE: Rolling hills, babbling brooks and fizzing jazz; Peter Bacon's Jazz Diary.

Byline: Peter Bacon

It's one of those weekends when a Ray Charles title springs to mind and the jazz fan feels the urge to "hit the road, Jack".

The impetus is the Brecon Jazz Festival, three days of fine music, starting on Friday, in the exquisite surroundings of this Welsh market town, surrounded by hills and babbling brooks.

Brecon was always renowned for its strong American contingent, but this year, while the Americans are still coming, the most striking aspect of the programme is the British firepower lined up.

Top of the tree has to be Stan Tracey - a giant of British jazz, he played his first gig in 1943 and has been playing hard and fast ever since.

For Brecon he celebrates his 80th birthday year with three concerts.

On Friday he leads his Big Band in the atmospheric surroundings of the Market Hall, on Saturday Stan Tracey's HEXAD plays the Theatr Brycheiniog, and on Sunday Stan and long-time associate Bobby Wellins play a purely acoustic piano and saxophone duo set in Brecon Cathedral.

Tracey is such a singular musician, his piano playing in a direct line from Ellington and Monk, and with not an ounce of sentimentality to mar its muscularity. His bands are filled with remarkable players, too, drawn to the big man and his monumental music.

The Market Hall at Brecon has always been a great venue for mighty forces - I fondly remember hearing the David Murray Big Band and the Mingus Big Band on consecutive nights a few years ago - so its good to see the Back To Basie Band in there on Saturday, though the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Tommy Smith, takes the stage at the more acoustically pure Theatre Brycheiniog.

Stan may be the main piano man but there is a three-pianists showcase of Friday featuring Brian Kellock (also soloist with the Scottish orchestra), Keith Tippett and Kirk Lightsey.

Singers at the festival include Gwyneth Herbert, Jacqui Dank-worth (a guest with George Melly), Claire Martin, Liane Carroll and Iris Williams, as well as the South African Gospel Singers.

Saxophonists blowing up a storm include Peter King, Chico Freeman, Courtney Pine, Iain Ballamy, Brecon regular Scott Hamilton, and a great double tenor pairing of Benny Golsen and Johnny Griffin.

Other highlights of the main concert programme include Polar Bear, The Gwilym Simcock Quintet, the Statesmen of Jazz and The Spirit of New Orleans.

Always an attractive feature at Brecon is the Stroller Programme, which, for a one-off charge, gives you access to a number of more casual gigs around town. The good thing about it is that there are a number of big names in among the up-and-coming ones.

This year's line-up is headed by the exceptional multi-saxist Alan Barnes, who appears with his Quartet as well as being in the Stan Tracey Big Band.

For more information on this year's HSBC Brecon Jazz, go to www.breconjazz.co.uk or call the box office on 01874 611622. News and views by email, please, to pl_bacon@yahoo.co.uk

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Singers at the festival include Gwyneth Herbert
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 9, 2006
Words:519
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