The excitement of the annual Queen's Festival of the Arts 1999 is now over and we can look back and assess its impact (if any!) on the Belfast scene. Currently, Northern Ireland politics is the major talking point in the outside world, but hardly in Belfast itself where folks prefer to enjoy themselves; socially, at home, or for those with an interest in the arts, at the Festival.  I have particularly enjoyed this year. Not enough time or money to get to everything, but living in South Belfast many of the venues are literally just around the corner and present opportunities not to be missed. The Guinness Spot is just one such opportunity, a University exam hall converted into a night-club for the duration of the Festival, its devoted to contemporary jazz and blues, excellent value for money and great atmosphere. For those into this music its been a feast. The show opened with Chico Freeman Y Guataca, exciting latin jazz playing to a packed house, Chico insisted as the evening drew on that listeners should leave their glasses on the tables and get up and dance - it seemed an impossibility, but was somehow achieved in the most minimal space. The following night a masterly performance from Gerard Presencer and his Platypus band. In the following weeks we were entertained by Flipside, Andrew Hill and David Murray, Fred Hersch, the exciting rhythms of Ivov Papasov and his Bulgarian Wedding Band, blues artists Johnny Mars and Ronnie Greer and then a real highlight -  the atmospheric Dave Holland Quintet finishing their European tour. This was highly inventive interactive improvisation by masterly musicians. The band produced a unique and original sound using a vibraphone instead of piano or guitar behind the saxophone and trombone. Pentatonic patterns moved subtly in and out of the basic modality layed down to perfection by Dave Holland's bass and set off by exciting poly-rhythms by a dynamic drummer. 
There were other venues featuring jazz: Chick Corea's band for example, what superb piano playing! (clearly a perfectionist, he had the University's sacred Steinway retuned in the Interval) and such original bass playing (Avishai Cohen), together with super-toned saxophonist Tim Garland. Then the Vienna Art Orchestra, fresh from Beijing just the previous night. Incredible brass! Great soloists! Top class section playing, all indeed first class musicians who showed no sign of any ill-effects from the long journey. They played their leader's arrangements of Ellington with slide projections of that band from former years as a back-drop.
The members of the BJO Big Band took part in the Festival this year at their regular venue at the Belmont Social Club.The event was highlighted by the presence of Rande Sanke, a jazz trumpet star of some repute. An exciting player with a big dynamic and emotional range, he spurred the band to give one of their best performances, (a selection of sound clips from the past year in the margin).

Clip 1