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POST REVIEWS A bit more Jam tomorrow would be nice.

Martin Longley samples the mixed fare at Birmingham International Jazz Festival.

Hot stuff: Percussion wizard Orlando Poleo, left, and the tantalisingly brief Kol Simcha, two Jazz Festival highlights.

The Jam House has been slow to publicise its much-anticipated live band policy, but the first hints of activity came last week. On Thursday night, Swiss band Kol Simcha turned up, not exactly winning the best deal from the jazz festival. Only given one date, they were due to come on stage at around 8pm, but didn't get to play until well after nine, limited to an abbreviated set of barely 45 minutes.

What we did hear was a frustrating teaser for this engaging quintet's full set. Exponents of jazz-flavoured Jewish klezmer music, Kol Simcha (Hebrew for 'voice of joy') were fronted by flute (Michael Heitzler) and clarinet (Niki Reiser), driven by the springy tension of David Klein's snapping drum patterns.

The PA system was wheezing as it battled to fill the venue's atmospheric high spaces, rendering most of their subtle interactions virtually inaudible. The band were clearly not impressed, though perhaps they could have capitalised on the situation by favouring the speedy wedding-party side of their repertoire. After this micro-gig, several disgruntled punters were mulling around , quizzing the doorstaff about its brevity. The Jam House will soon be confirming dates from Nina Simone, Cassandra Wilson and Airto Moreira: let's hope these artists are all given a decent spread.

On a much lighter note, Holland's Dixieland Crackerjacks successfully entertaining a basking canalside crowd on Friday afternoon at The James Brindley. Choosing a particularly quaint repertoire, their air of 78rpm novelty mischief was carried aloft by agile-fingered musicianship, reeds and trumpet bobbing besides scratch banjo and nimble-lipped sousaphone. Multiple pints were quaffed, tunes jogged with inimitable Dutch humour and the mostly over-60s audience took great delight in the new found freedom to flirt with ozone-hole danger.

Later that night, in the dimmed Old Chapel, Northfield, Chicago bluesman Phil Guy set out to show that he had soul, gospel and funk sewn up as well, slipping in clammy covers of Sex Machine (James Brown) and Miss You (Rolling Stones). The younger brother of Buddy, he's made out of a similar mould, tight Afro curls topping silken pyjama-like threads, gutsy voice ringing out fully into the Lord's rafters.

Phil was amused to be playing the Devil's Music in such a setting. His UK backing band seemed more uncertain than most, even given that all such bands usually have to deal with the spontaneous whims of their allotted blues troubadour. Predictably, numbers like Stormy Monday, Got My Mojo Working and Sweet Home Chicago were trotted out, full of Guy's inspired trebly picking guitar solos. Phil had been talking to a local axeman called Dave in the interval, inviting him on stage for two numbers in the second half.

Strangely, it took this spontaneous act to really set the gig alight, the lad acquitting himself remarkably well, with Phil set free to concentrate on impassioned vocals and wild arm-waving. Thereafter, he and the band had broken the seated-venue's ice, rocking the gig to its heated conclusion.

On Saturday night, Venezuelan percussionist Orlando Poleo brought out his ten-piece Orquesta Chaworo. The Ronnie Scott humidity meter blew its top, the packed house taking advantage of a cleared dancefloor, needing oxygen masks between each frisky number. Poleo slapped the congas assisted in his battery by three more percussionists (timbales, bongos, maracas/guiro), their ferocious rhythms emphasised by high-speed piano key formations and repetitive, rubbery basslines. The ensemble vocals built up a hypnotic mantra effect gathering energy as the night progressed, the two main singers showing off their impressive (and sometimes plain silly) dance routines. The second set was particularly vibrant, with more opportunity for earthy saxophone solos and extended drum battling.

Poleo hit the highest spot with his amazing conga solo, his palms slapping at lightning speed as they blurred over his set of four tuned skins. Another excellent episode in this impromptu series of great South American bands that have recently been visiting Birmingham.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 12, 1999
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