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Pixie & the Gypsies | Cheltenham Jazz Festival Free Stage | 3 May

Words: Geoffrey Head

As well as the ticketed artists at this year's Cheltenham Jazz Festival, there was a bustling, exciting and diverse fringe, called “...around town”, with performers playing on three free stages and in a number of small venues. The Free Stage, set up in the main arena area in Montpellier Gardens at the top of the town was host to some tremendous acts, and none more so than Londoners, Pixie & the Gypsies. Their debut album, “Honey Trap” hit the top of the iTunes jazz chart on its release last year and as they breeze into the title track, it's immediately apparent why it was so popular. I say ‘breeze’ for two reasons. Firstly there’s a unbelievably airy lightness to this set, which they manage to achieve with out any loss of the music's impact; and secondly, because it’s quite clear they're having a wonderful time on stage, and that transmits rapidly  to  an  enthralled  and  packed  audience,  being  nicely warmed up by the music in an open marquee that’s rapidly turning into an ice box as the evening draws in. The original numbers from the album display both consistency and quality, with memorable melodies and some glorious harmony work. They  play  without  a  drummer  or  percussionist,  so  that means Twm Dylan on double bass really has to put in a shift, pumping  out  booming  rhythm  on  the  uptempo  numbers  and displaying much subtlety when the pace drops. 


This solid backdrop allows Matt Wilson on guitar and Connie Chatwin on  violin  to  really  stretch  out  in  the  instrumental passages, with fluent, chiming soloing from Wilson and Chatwin alternating between rapid fire arpeggio and lush sweeps of dense sound - her supporting vocals are also excellent. And front and centre, there’s lead vocalist Taylor Notcutt - 'Pixie' of the title - looking bravely Summery amid the chill, who delivers a vocal performance that combines power, flexibility and pitch perfection in one very satisfying package. Whatever the song demands, she produces. There are also brief glimpses of her skill on the accordion, adding to the gypsy ambience. The set list is faultless, and in places  unexpectedly  startling. There’s a raft of covers sitting alongside the original material from 'Honey  Trap' -  Melody Gardot is a band favourite, ‘If the Stars  Were  Mine' is  gloriously romantic   and   there's   a respectful  nod  of  the  head  to Fats  Waller in 'Believe   it, Beloved'. But the band doesn’t confine  itself  to  jazz  covers. Kaiser  Chiefs,  anyone?  The Killers?  The  thought  of  swing and gypsy jazz interpretations of indie rock anthems ‘Every Day ILove You  Less  and  Less' and (inevitably) ‘Mr.  Brightside' might sound unlikely but they work spectacularly well, and at times the alternative  treatments  recall  the  left-field  flair  displayed  by Postmodern Jukebox. But it’s really the quality of the originals that reinforce the band's credentials - as well as the title track which is a great opener, ‘Head  Over  Heart', ‘Social  Lies’ and  the  wistful 'Mr.  Right' all explore  contemporary  themes  against  the  traditional  swing background. My favourite though, is the brand new ‘00:25', a  vibrant  and  amusing  cautionary  tale  about  over-indulgence. Great track. They may not be round this way very often, so don’t miss them if they play near you - a band to lift your heart and soul. 

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