Insecurities and taking the plunge Part 2: About timers, ‘With a little help from the crowd’ & Take 5

Today’s simple jazz knowledge exercise: Complete the following sentence – X has been a professional musician for 20/25/30 years (delete as applicable), has established a big reputation as a sideman/ collaborator in …….., ……., …….. (insert names of widely celebrated artists/ projects) and is only now releasing their first album as a leader.

It struck me when I was reflecting on Simon Purcell’s thoughts about recording as a leader (and of course his name fits in that sentence nicely), that its been a year of ‘about timers’, some slightly more visible than others.  Jake McMurchie has a few projects to insert in the collaborations section, but after 20 years  Michelson Morley‘s Aether Drift is his first release as a leader.  We caught Alison Rayner’s Quintet in fine form at the Hen and Chicken recently playing material from her debut release August, a landmark that’s taken more than 20 years. I may be wrong, but I think bass player Dominic Howles’ recent release Bristolian Thoroughfare may be his first as a leader, a journey that started 20 years  or so ago in Bristol.  What to make of this?  No doubt the vicissitudes of life play their part alongside more internal inhibitors alluded to by Simon, but it just makes me wonder if, for all the challenges of  the seismic changes in the music industry, one benefit is that getting music out to a potential audience is more achievable now. What ever the reason, it’s a cause for celebration and these releases are unquestionably those of musicians who know how they want to sound, they are very personal.

Even if it is more achievable to get music out, it still takes organisation and cash!  Another much recorded and celebrated musician, Mike Walker broke through the ‘about time’ barrier just once and released Madhouse and the Whole Thing in 2008, but so far it remains his only album as leader. Now he’s stared a crowdfunding for another album.  I want to hear that album! So I’ll pay for it now, even if I may not get my copy until 2016!  That would be ‘about time’ too I reckon, more than ten years after the first was recorded (although released in 08).  Anyone can join in here. Its just another option open that wasn’t 20+ years ago. He’s halfway to his goal of 5,000 at the time for writing.

A little related end thought: as I’ve been writing, the participants for the 10th edition of ‘take 5′ have been announced. The scheme,  run by Serious with a raft of backers works with musicians of the calibre I’ve mentioned here but earlier in their careers (adventures?). Its professional development and career development for jazz musicians.  I was fortunate to get an insight into the course on a visit to their residential last year – I wrote about it here link at the bottom of the page. Would those ‘about timers’ have benefited from something like this?  Definitely maybe I’d say. So a little hurah to that coalition of funders and Serious for making this happen for over 100 musicians over ten years.

Moonlight Saving Time, Future Inn, Thursday 13th November

If you need to have a couple of deps for the home-town launch gig of your new single, then its hard to imagine two classier picks than John Turville  (keeping the piano seat warm for Dale Hambridge) and Jake MST-Not-Alone-CD-3Mc Murchie on saxes (filling the space left by Nick Malcom’s trumpet). Moonlight Saving Time‘s brew of funky, soulful grooves held by just so fizzing bass riffs, locked tight drums, sophisticated harmony, the front line blend of voice and horn, plenty of space for fierce blowing and an eclectic mix of styles and source material, all got an extra twist from the guests.  A wash of  piano chords and keening and vocalised cries from the soprano stilled any chatter from the sizeable crowd to start the gig at possibly the best appointed jazz venue in Bristol.  It quickly gave way to a trade-mark riff from Will Harris‘ bass and they launched into their arrangement of David Gilmour’s Douala, Emily Wright‘s vocal soaring over the afro-tinged pulse.  When they take a tune, this band make it their own.  The Future Inn gig marked the release of a single, a cover of Calvin Harris’ 2009 club hit ‘I’m not alone‘.  The contours of the original remain, with the melody and lyric there (check the original out here), but its transformed into a ballad with an understated, effortless groove and space for lyrical soloing (take a listen). Easy on the ear and a stony heart would be required to resist its emotional tug.  By the time the live show delivered that punch they’d played a bunch  of the increasing number of originals in their set. A Nick Malcolm original , Views, had a bravura McMurchie solo intro with layers of sax built up with the loop pedals and a spooky drone lingering over the funky ostinato figure that emerged.  A John Turville solo was one amongst many of the evening that set my heart racing. Little glancing runs sparking off another pulsing hook up between the bass and and Mark Whitlam‘s drums, building up into lyrical flowing lines.  Whenever a space cleared for Turville to let rip the temperature went up a few notches,  the peaks of intensity always somehow emerging from development of lines and rhythms. He’s a class act. The setting of a Masefield poem, Sea Fever, is becoming a highlight of the band’s  set with voice and piano alone hushing the room and reminding us of their versatility.  They were in confident form and on this showing the soon to come album will be a treat. London bound folk can catch them at Pizza Express on Monday in the festival.  Tickets are still there, but not for much longer I suspect.

The secret worries of a performer? Insecurities and taking the plunge

Perusing London Jazz News the other day, I was brought up short by an interview with Simon Purcell, Head of Jazz at Trinity and astonishingly only just releasing his first album under his own name.

I’ve been recording and preparing an album of my own with a band and have just reached the point where, with all the playing, mixing and mastering done and the CD presses rolling, it’ll be time to send it around, try and hustle gigs and get to play the music live in more places.  So when people ask me (as some do, who know what I’ve been up to) ‘How do you feel about it?’, usually I mumble something like ‘Yeah, great, really pleased.’ The real truth is a bit nervous and yes,  vulnerable. ‘Well suck it up boy, no-one made you do it’ my inner coach tells me.

Simon has been recording too and with a fantastic band of world class musicians. But everyone knows he’s great, has taught half the players on the UK scene it seems, so he’ll be confident and cool about his work right?  Well Simon, in his thoughtful and elegantly expressed way reminds us that our gods have, if not feet of clay, then fragile hearts and bundles of insecurities like the rest of us.  “Perhaps non-musicians are unaware of just how vulnerable one feels (applying for funding)  the vote of confidence was worth even more (than the financial support)” says Simon.  “Recording was intense … I felt paralysed at first” .  Ah, thanks Simon there’s a neat summary of how I feel and felt about recording.  And like all wise guides,  there’s a bit of a pointer to the way ahead as well as the little jolt of realising that no matter how good someone is, they can be feeling the same way about their music making. That pointer? Hold firm to a simple desire to create the best, most ‘in the moment’ music you can – and keep working at it!  So maybe I can coach my inner coach a bit with some new lines.  

The previous form of this band and the tasters on-line might make one wonder what Simon was worrying about! I’m not able to get to Simon’s CD launch at Pizza Express but I’ll be tracking down a copy of the album ( Red Circle is out now on Whirlwind I understand!)

On Cooking and Fire risks; Tony Kofi at St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 13th November

tonykofiThe distress was clearly visible on the door guardian’s face as first yet another punter was turned away and then a couple more shooed of the stairs down to the the cellar bar.  “Its a fire risk” was the explanation. Hard blowing sax man Tony Kofi was the cause. His visit, a hotly anticipated return, had sold out and there was no squeezing any more sardines in.  The show didn’t disappoint.  The energy was high from the start as Kofi, a renowned interpreter of Thelonius Monk’s music,  kicked off with Boo Boos Birthday, but he seemed to loosen up and demand even more from the trio as the evening wore.  He is a gritty, assertive player able to draw on every bit of the jazz tradition – he’s played and recorded with legends, studied at the legendary Berklee College, ranged across styles from sessions with iconoclast Ornette Coleman to the the South African grooves of Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya.  On this showing his heart is in earthily swinging jazz and  he hurls himself into solos: it gets a strong, excited response from an audience and they lapped it up at the Wine Vaults.  If the house trio of Wade Edwards on bass , Trevor Davies on drums  and Vyv Hope-Scott at the piano were nervous at the demands made on them, they didn’ t show it as the visitor pulled out tunes by his heroes, mentors and inspirations which if in classic driving jazz idiom, weren’t all standards.  Flowers for a Lady by George Adams had a twisting boppish theme but opened out into a vigorous blowing sequence, reaching a climax with an extended repeated phrase prolonged by a bout of circular breathing.  There were tunes by George Coleman, Ellington, Chick Corea’s Bud Powell and of course, more Thelonius Monk. There was plent of michevious quoting as well. Phrases from Charlie Parker’s Little Sued Shoes appeared in a vamp at the end of Wayne Shorter’s Voyager, Bye Bye Blackbird popped out in a George Coleman tune. By the time a closing Blue Monk appeared,  the driving grooves had everyone’s pulse racing and the trio were motoring. Vyv routinely delivers driving, muscular swing from the keyboard to the delight of regulars, but an extra gear was demanded by this gig and a finely tuned pair of ears as Kofi took off in different directions and led them into into repeating sections to riff at the end of tunes with no more than a nod and a leading note.  There were quieter, tender moments with the sax sometimes given a clarinettish edge by  swooping and sliding notes.  This was an exciting evening’s music with the ‘visitor joins house band’ formula delivering another winner.

Tommy Andrews Quintet, BeBop Club Bristol, Friday 31st October

Jazz in the RoundReturning from the bar after the interval, clutching my pint and still reflecting on the complex, layered pieces we’d heard in the first set from Tommy Andrews‘ Quintet, I found the respectably sized BeBop Club audience peering at densely typed photocopied sheets as the band settled back in at the front of the room. ‘Its the programme notes’ was the response to my bemused enquiry. Surely a first, certainly at the BeBop but for me anywhere at a jazz gig, to  have the detailed inspiration and  interpretation of themes, moods, shifts in metre and key and compositional devices of the music we are about to hear set out for us in a detailed hand-out.  A gulp of Doom Bar and I found myself charmed by the seriousness and ambition. An extended suite of related, through composed pieces (for that was what was in prospect) is  certainly an idea that surely goes back at least to Ellington in jazz (although I’m not sure he ever handed out detailed programme notes)

The Galilean Suite then is a suite of seven pieces that run together, using the inspiration of the discovery of four of Jupiter’s moons by Galileo and the Greek myths associated with the names by which those moons have been known  (for the curious, read more).  What we heard was uniformly complex and detailed, but the attempt to paint musical pictures using all the resources of the band and improvisational imagination of these fine players was really compelling.  Strong melodic fragments came and went against different textures and rhythms. Sometimes there were driving rocky grooves, at others more lilting, still others glorious ballads.  Europa started with a perfectly judged sighing melody from Andrews’ alto before first Dave Mannington on bass and then Nick Costley White on guitar pulled out really affecting solos.  There were climatic and thunderous passages with everyone locked and blowing furiously. Rick Simpson‘s piano was variously holding down angular grooves and then inserting rich harmonies before he let loose with dynamic, building solo on the Outro a real highlight. Lloyd Haines, depping for Dave Hamblett, gave a bravura performance.  This passage of just over half an hour was worth coming out for on its own, a real calling card of a writing and performing talent to watch.

For the rest of the gig, the quintet’s recent release the The Crux was the source of the material. It mostly  shares the attention to mood and texture and multi staged construction of the suite,  all played with a freedom and ease that was genuinely engaging. In the end I didn’t need the explanations and route map to enjoy what I was hearing, but it was fun!

 

F-IRE in my letterbox: CDs from Fini Bearman and Leo Appleyard

November may be approaching, but the rattle of my letter box this week heralded nothing more alarming than works from F-IRE, and what a treat its turned out to be.  The works  in question were vocalist Fini Bearman‘s treatment of Porgy and Bess and Pembroke Road, the debut release by young London based guitarist Leo Appleyard both released under the ‘F-IRE presents’ imprint. finibearman_porgyandbess_bl  With Porgy & Bess Bearman steps up, takes the most standard of  American song-book material , salutes the genius of Gil Evans and Miles in taking Gershwin’s melodies and songs as a starting point and then completely re-re-invents them. This is what Porgy and Bess might have sounded like if Gershwin had written it after the 60s Blues boom and on the back of the rootsy R&B inflected rock that sprang from it.  It Aint Necessarily So wouldn’t sound out of place on a John Mayall album, Ross Stanley supplying the earthiest of organ solos; My Man’s Gone Now has a rockier feel, Robert Plant given the nod as inspiration,Matt Calvert‘s jangling bluesy guitar creating a haunting atmosphere.  I Got Plenty of Nothin‘s jaunty two feel injects a seam of country into the groove. Through it all Fini Bearman’s supple vocals by turns growl, float and skip delivered with just the right weight.  If that was all, this album would be would be great fun, but with some of the arrangements  the emotional reach goes up a gear. Porgy I’m your Women Now builds over steady arpeggios  with a soaring emotional vocal and re-weaving of the melody. I Love’s You Porgy is a show stopper, John Blease scattering restless percussive patterns from his kit underneath ethereal delayed guitar chords as Bearman seems to just drape an emotional lyric over it all.  This is an album that’ll keep popping up in my speakers. Its an individual and emotionally charged re-working of classic material.  Guitarist Leo Appleyard‘s album takes us into different, jazzier territory. An understated but lively sound draws the listener in to strong melodic themes blending his LeoApp_PBrokeRdresonant guitar sound with Duncan Eagles‘ clear toned but warm, sighing tenor sound. The pieces are often even quavered with a folky undertow, invariably subtly shifting in pace and atmosphere as a mood or ideas develop. On Mass its  overt with Neil Yates trumpet adding colour and a melancholic edge.  There’s thoughtful, lyrical soloing all round, with Appleyard showing his got plenty of imagination when it comes to shaping ideas on the fly with Max Luthert on bass and Eric Ford on drums constantly jostling and breaking up things up, particularly on Mass and Anywhere South, an almost straight ahead sounding swinger.  There’s a lovely loose, quiet flowing feel to this music from a writer and player with plenty to say, but he wont be shouting at you and he’s assembled a band who understand that.  My ear was constantly drawn by the intensity and fragility with which Duncan Eagles plays. Eric Ford’s drumming is uniformly delightful adding tension and colour without ever needing to thunder.

The quality of music, the writing, arranging and playing is outstanding on both these albums and its worth saluting again (their accolades have been many and deserved) the work F-IRE and other musician run collectives in bringing so much varied and exciting music to a wider audience whilst keeping the musicians in the driving seat. Three cheers from me.

Alison Rayner Quintet, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 26th October

Alison Rayner and Deidre Cartwright formed the London based club night/ artist collective/ promoter Blow the Fuse 25 years ago this year and the occasion seems to have prompted a burst of creative activity, not least this project under bass player Rayner’s own name with the CD August just released (can it really be her first under her name?).  The tour landed at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday, after a Saturday outing in Brighton – some photos here.  They brought a collection of grooves and foot – tapping stompers giving a glimpse of the musical passions of forty years of music making. There’s plenty of jazz in there but 70s funk is never far away, laced through with latin, afro-beats and a few hints at dub and reggae.  They started the evening with no funk holds barred Hyperbubble and the band going full throttle. Long time partners Deidre Cartwright on guitar and Diane McClouglin on tenor were surfing the effortless groove whipped up by Rayner locked tight with Buster Birch on drums.  It didn’t take long for mooods to shift .  Elegy for Art had the hymn like quality its title suggests and behind the lovely tune the ears were snagged by pianist Steve Lodder‘s fluent lyricism. A familiar face in Bristol form a previous lengthy association with Andy Sheppard,  Lodder was a constant creative spark, his soloing growing progressively more incendiary as the evening wore on.  By the time we’d got to the the samba-ish Half a world away in the second set he was  flying.  There’d been another evocative diversion through the moody CD title track August  the bass lending a strong melodic thread. It wasn’t long before the wick was turned up again however.  This was an entertaining, engaging evening, showcasing Rayner’s varied writing and influences, but with a strong group sound and an instinct for a groove that’s hard to resist.