Max spent most of the weekend at the Malta Jazz Festival. Since its inception in 1991, Max has only missed one edition, which featured the fabulous Al di Meola set – because he happened to be in the wrong part of the world at the time. Otherwise, it’s been an annual pilgrimage to listen to the great and annointed and occasionally to the young, dangerous and on the rise.The audience has grown up with the Festival. It is now older, balder, fatter, pushes buggies, spends more time next to the beer stand at the back. The Jazz Festival is an excuse to meet old acquaintances, exchange pleasantries, promise to make phone calls, and go manwatching. Or if you’re a man, look out for the latest in bra straps and summer sex gear on some fading beauty. There was something odd about this year. Perhaps it was the lack of big names. Government, the whole nation, is bust – so there is probably no money to lure back Mike Stern, Al di Meola, Chick Corea… or go for Pat Metheny or Ry Cooder. The trouble with this year was that it lacked passion. Even danger. No Hiram Bullock getting off the stage and playing among the crowds. Nor the late, great Michel Petrucciani, all four feet of power, telling the audience that his band was ‘drug-free’ before launching into an explosive set. It was all very staid. With the possible exception of Dino Saluzzi, who brought some warmth and passion. Certainly not the appalling John Zorn, who refused to come back for an encore, but was heard laughing ‘fuck you’ as the audience politely bayed for more (Max really wondered why…) Or perhaps it was the audience. It knows what to expect, but secretly hopes it will be surprised. Last year, Jonathan, an English friend of Max and a very competent musician, and long fan of the festival, dared to write in a local rag that some of the fire was going out of the event. He was greeted by a particularly vicious diatribe from organisers and Maltese patriots. This year, Jonathan stayed away. For Max, the highlight of this year was his father. The erstwhile Willie, kicking 69, managed to sneak in to the musicians area, with a friend of his. “I’m telling you, the next act will be great,” he beamed to Max. “Her name is Rosa Passos and she’s from Brazil. I told her I was a great AC Milan fan. I asked her if she knows Kaka’. She nodded. Really nice lady.” Max left the festival half way through her set, the gentle, sad, bossa nova slowly fading as he realised another year had gone by, and that he had little to show for it.