Malta Jazz Festival Hits a High Note

For three nights every July, a line-up of top musicians brings an eclectic range of jazz styles, including vocal jazz, flamenco, hard-bop, fusion and Latin jazz, to the Malta International Jazz Festival.

Now in its 23rd year, the event runs from July 18th  to July 20th  in 2013 (meaning there’s still time to book a last minute holiday to Malta with First Choice), in the incredible open-air setting of Ta’Liesse at the Grand Harbour of the capital Valletta, just outside the city’s bastions. The festival has a reputation for high calibre performances from established and rising stars, and is a highlight of this Mediterranean island nation’s cultural calendar.

Part of what makes this event so special is the magical setting: the evocative beauty of the Grand Harbour is at its best as large crowds gather under a summery, starlit sky to enjoy a beguiling, varied menu from global jazz stars and local talent.

As jazz guitarist Mike Stern said while performing here: “I’ve never played in a postcard before.”

This year’s quality offerings are no exception to nearly a quarter century of tradition. The three days of concerts are opened by the Grammy award-winning Robert Glasper Experiment. This group, led by jazz pianist Glasper, defies any preconceived notion of genre, drawing on R&B, hip hop and rap, as well as jazz. The dynamic sound of the Gerald Clayton Trio can be heard on the same night.

On the Friday evening, even those who say they are not jazz fans will love hearing Gregory Porter, the jazz singer of the moment. Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer will be another highlight of the same night.

For the closing evening of performances, another Grammy award-winner, internationally acclaimed pianist and composer Michel Camilo, takes to the stage as he returns to Malta to delight his audience with the breathtaking way he shifts effortlessly between jazz, classical and Latin music.

Also there to help close three enchanting evenings will be one of the most exciting Israeli-born musicians on today’s jazz scene, Gilad Hekelsman, performing with his quintet.

But there will be no shortage of home-grown talent. Maltese masters of jazz on offer include the festival’s former director Charles Gatt and his vibraphone quintet on the Thursday, Walter Vella’s quartet the following night, and Cusp performing on the final evening.

A number of fringe events will take place immediately before and after the festival, including open-air gigs and masterclasses. At the same time, the first ever Malta Jazz Contest on July 21 will be open to local jazz soloists aged 35 or younger. The winner, chosen by a jury of musicians playing at the Malta Jazz Festival, will win the chance to perform in Paris.

Finally, a summer jazz camp, running between 17th and 20th July, offers a series of free workshops and masterclasses from some of the contemporary European jazz scene’s most significant practitioners.

Both the summer camp and contest are part of the fringe line-up of events. You can read the full line-up here.

Everything takes place against the stunning backdrop of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Valletta, described as “one of world’s most concentrated historic areas”. Getting there shouldn’t be too much of a problem either, with regular bus services from the rest of the island and ferries from Sliema.

With its hidden coves, fossil-packed cliffs, prehistoric temples and remarkable history and culture, not to mention the glorious weather, this island has so much to offer outside the festival. Take time to see more of mesmerising Malta while you’re here this summer.

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