Review: Bologna Jazz Festival

Derek Ansell looks in on Bologna Jazz Festival and catches a dynamic set from quintet Opus Five at the Cantina Bentivoglio, featuring pianist David Kikoski

Coming into Bologna in northern Italy in late October might not be the time to expect warm, sunny weather, but that is exactly what we got. For those that don’t know it, the city is full of ancient, some even mediaeval, buildings, many in lovely pastel colours, orange and pale browns predominating and bulbous, red-tiled roofing. You could spend weeks profitably investigating the statue-strewn squares and market alleys and walking along the miles of portico-covered streets without doing anything else. The two central towers in the city centre and the statue of Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore are highlights on a short walking tour.

Bologna though, is full of surprises; who would have expected a full-blown, four-week jazz festival (26 October - 27 November) where you could hear Tim Berne, Jack DeJohnette, Tom Harrell, Dave Douglas, Don Byron, Marc Turner, Jan Garbarek, Fly, The Bad Plus and a number of local musicians, all playing up a storm in late October and November? We were in Bologna to help my daughter by looking after our two grandsons but we couldn’t pass up the chance to seek out some jazz when it was right on our doorstep.

During our time there we managed to hear the Danny Brushna Trio, a local piano, bass and drum unit playing post bop and blues to an appreciative audience of diners at the Cantina Bentivoglio, a brightly decorated, long L-shaped room and an ex-wine cellar in the centre of town where the food and wine is excellent. Mention of the words "Jazz Journal, UK" had proprietor Giovanni Serrazanetti ushering us to a table near the bandstand. The trio played bop with a natural and easy swing, piano, bass and drums were well integrated and their improvisations all based on standard songs.

Although almost full for the Brushna trio, the place was fairly heaving for Opus Five, a sterling quintet that also operates as part of the Mingus Big Band where bassist Boris Kozlov is musical director and chief arranger, a function he performed for the quintet on this night, providing most of the compositions played. The combo opened with a blues that featured searing tenor sax from Seamus Blake and a contrasting mellow trumpet solo from Alex Sipiagin. The Baker’s Dozen was written by pianist Dave Kikoski (pictured) and he was well featured on this selection. The quintet produced a good blend of harmonies with Blake sounding lyrical but hard-edged on ballads and Sipiagin always able to provide contrasting lines to counter what his front-line colleague was doing. The churning, explosive rhythm on every selection was provided by Kikoski on piano and keyboards, Kozlov on bass and the hard-swinging Donald Edwards at the drums. It was an exceptionally well-integrated quintet and left the audience calling for more after an extended hour-and-a-half set.

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