Jazz for the Summer in Bath and Bristol – Festivals, Residencies and Visitors.

The welcome reappearance of the sun over Bath recently may turn our thoughts to summer and festivals, and for seekers of jazz (fairly) nearby Cheltenham and Bath (hurrah, jazz is back in the programme) on the early and late May Bank Holidays certainly do the honours, not to mention Brecon celebrating 30 years in mid- August, but a quick survey of what’s coming up locally highlights the quality and range of the week by week options.  World beating visitors there may be (and there certainly are), but our world beating local residents show no sign of slowing down so an illustrative round-up is in order, before flagging up who’s coming to visit.

In Bath, the longstanding residency of Wade Edwards‘ Jazzhouse Trio at St. James Wine Vaults continues, welcoming a stream of top quality guests. Fine local trumpeter Dan Reid is there on 1st May, on the 8th former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman and for many, one of the finest jazz musicians this country has produced, Jason Rebello visits with son George on drums and Somerset based Sam Crockatt on tenor who also has a national reputation. Another British jazz legend Art Themen returns to the Vaults on 12th June.  An intermittent residency has emerged at The Fringe Bar in Bristol’s Clifton Village. ECM recording artist and global star Andy Sheppard has been appearing there regularly with a variety of line-ups including the much loved Pushy Doctors, a developing new quartet with guitarist Denny Illett and various one off hook- ups. He’s there on Thursdays 24th April, 15th May, 12th June and the 24th July. In between there’s a mix of really high quality local bands including James Morton, John Pearce and Dave Newton, Kevin Figes, Freight and many others. Thursdays are busy in Bristol with jazz at The Future Inn (now with a £5 cover charge but free parking thrown in) hosting a similarly strong line-up. George Cooper (on May 1st), Celestine Walcott Gordon, as seen on the Voice, Andy Hague, James Gardiner Bateman and Dave Newton Trio are there in May. In Bath the legendary Bell is doing its bit to showcase locally based bands with a wider reputation. Kevin Figes Quartet are there on June 8th with Freight featuring Craig Crofton and Bath based bass maestro Greg Cordez on July 7th. Earlier in June the groovier end of jazz gets its turn with the George Mabusa Band on 11th June and the peerless John Paul Gard with Jon Dalton on an annual visit from Los Angeles on 9th June.  And there’s more, and more and more.  Bristol blogger Jon Turney does a weekly round-up that reaches parts this taster can’t; it’s always worth checking our what he’s spotted if you’re heading out on a whim.

There are a few very notable visitors gracing venues nearby over the next couple of months. Saxophonist Mark Lockheart brings his Anticipating Ellington band to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday April 26th. The CD of this band was on many critics album of the year last year and its a cracking line-up.  The following week, on Monday 28th, Mercury Prize nominated Led Bib land at The Bell. “Two saxes deliver raw energy and grit, the moodswings and slowdowns are tightly rehearsed and tunes are catchy” according to Mike Hobart in the FT .  May 10th back at the Wiltshire Music Centre its pianist Niki Iles’ Printmakers with a band containing a who’s who of British contemporary jazz including Norma Winston,  guitarist Mike Walker and that man Mark Lockheart again.  Amongst a strong programme of local bands the BeBop Club has great London band visiting in Dave Manington’s Riff Raff in May and local man Nick Malcolm’s Quartet are there as part of a national tour in June.There’s action at Bristol’s Colston Hall too with Phronesis, the hottest trio ticket in town just now with their Scandinavian-British blend of complex but grooving jazz there on May 23rd and then late in June Wynton Marsalis brings the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre Orchestra for a celebration of Blue Notes 70th anniversary to the main hall.

This is an embarrassment of riches even without the festivals nearby.  Cheltenham Festival on the first bank holiday covers the universe of jazz in tents, the town hall and small theatres. An astonishing line-up with something to make your mouth water whatever your favourite flavour.  Curtis Stigers and Kurt Elling will be hanging out with a re-united Loose Tubes and the hottest of New York young tyros trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire to pick a few at random. Check out the programme. Brecon’s mid -August extravagnaza has a similar spread with some of the same names but plenty of individuality and eye catchingly Burt Baccharach headlining. Bath sounds a welcome, different note.  It’s also smaller in scale but there’s a focussed weekend of gigs in the Guildhall and a cross-over finale in the abbey of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble. It’s a welcome return.



Jean Toussaint, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 6th April

JT4 at the Hen and Chicken

JT4 at the Hen and Chicken

Jean Toussaint, born in St. Thomas on the US Virgin Islands, launched into the Sonny Rollins classic  for the encore raucously demanded by the sizeable crowd at the Hen and Chicken. On the last night of their national tour, why not go out on a carnival atmosphere?  Was there a glint in his eye as he explicitly quoted the master’s solo on the original recording to launch his own final blast of the evening? If so,  that glint

Photo by Bob Woodburn

Photo by Bob Woodburn

seemed to have been there all night. These guys were having fun. Drawing mainly on repertoire from the quartet’s current release Tate Song, plenty of bases were touched with ‘blistering’ barely doing justice to the intensity of the the driving swing of the opener Mood Mode or the more even but driving feel of Vista, the latter one of a couple of tunes penned by pianist Andrew McCormackMulgrew, with a stately rubato theme, dissolved into a scuttling, chaotic, anguished, free, collective blast. It had the feel of raw emotion, a moving tribute to a friend gone to soon. More ruminative and  out and out ballad were tributes to daughter and son My Dear ruby,  and Tate’s Song  respectively.

What dazzled was the sheer energy and freedom with which the band collectively dismantled, warped and fired up all these tunes in different directions and with different moods.  Toussaint’s playing was consistently impassioned , sticking fairly closely to the language and sounds of pieces that had the harmonically static feel of modal jazz with short bursts of dense shifting passages.  Meanwhile, the interaction of McCormack and drummer Shaney Forbes  in particular swirled around him, trading phrases, building layer up on layer of surging rhythm sprinkled with spikey chords. There were explosive solos from the piano, lightening runs overlapping and ramping up the energy and excitement, or spikey motifs flicked between Toussiant’s tenor and McCormack.  Larry Bartley on bass anchored  much of this, but he too cut loose with an arco work out over an insistent piano riff on the intro to Vista and really dug in on the closer Tunnel Vision in a duel with the tenor.  The Gloucestershire Echo declared Toussaint a genius in their report of  the Cheltenham gig in this tour. Even the man himself may think that’s going a bit too far, but this was unquestionably exhilarating stuff with a band that would surely raise the roof wherever they go.





Festivals, programmes – vive la difference

A few jazz festivals have announced their programmes over the last month or so and of course Bristol’s has shown us what it was made of already a couple of weeks back.  A few thoughts have been rolling around my head so I’ll set them free here. They are however the thoughts of a punter rather than a promoter/ organiser so there’s definitely another side to all this.  Firstly Bath gets a loud cheer – jazz is back in the programme. A slight anxiety is how slender the whole programme is, more of that shortly. Secondly, some common threads are noticeable in the programmes of  a few others (Cheltenham, Love Supreme and Brecon – Jamie Cullum, Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula are going to busy this summer) but Bristol’s (feel the funk, gospel, New Orleans vibe) and Bath’s (don’t you just love it  when you have to look the names up… except Jan and Hilliard)  are different. More loud cheers – vive la difference!

Listening to comment gossip and whispering where opinions are expressed, they often seem to fall into a few camps: ‘its not jazz’, ‘its the wrong sort of jazz’ , ‘its not the right people playing the jazz … why them or why not the other?’  All quite understandable if one’s own particular favourite flavour is not well represented.  With the seeming explosion of music festivals more generally, large and small, standing out from the crowd becomes increasingly important.  An obvious point is that most of these festivals throw the net pretty wide and have quite a mix in the programming. That’s both  pragmatic in terms of selling tickets and mind expanding in that it exposes festival goers to more than their usual diet of listening.  Cheltenham, Love Supreme and Brecon have a pretty similar mix of headliners but alongside that there’s a lot of variety and some very adventurous music.  Bristol’s Jazz and Blues looks in a different direction and embraces funk and blues pretty wholeheartedly – vive la difference!

But its not just the programme on its own that marks them out. The location and how they draw on a local scene makes the experience of being there distinctive.   There’s an intriguing piece here about academic researchers working with festivals – the video’s worth a look.  Bristol’s festival is shaped by the sheer fun of being in the Colston Hall for the weekend, crammed in with thousands of others and the roster of mainly local bands playing on the free stage – ticketed programmed optional!  Brecon is defined by its location, the way the festival inhabits the whole town and a programme with plenty of  dynamic Welsh scene threaded through it (happily the drinkers in the streets, propped up against a mountain of lager gradually dissolving into stupor and raucousness seem  to be no longer a feature!).  Love Supreme has the boutique, jazz festival in field market cornered. No-one would call Nile Rogers and Chic jazz (would they?), but reeling out of GoGo Penguin, via Troyka to dance to Chic, before soaking up Terence Blanchard was quiet a ride last year – blazing sunshine helped.  Vive la difference!

And so back to hometown Bath.   For many years, under the stewardship of Nod Knowles, a music festival that embraced classical, contemporary, folk, world over three weekends had an intense jazz focus but with a determinedly European flavour. Having to look most of the names up was a near guarantee, as was hearing something magical the like of which one had not imagined (anyone remember that throat singing/ alpine horn duo?!).  After a mysterious wiping of the slate clean last year, a series of gigs is back, the grand finale is Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble’s grand finale (they are ceasing to tour apparently ) in Bath Abbey.  Did I already do the loud cheers?  Brass Jaw and Stacey Kent are familiar, I confess the Canadian and Finish piano trios were not – well, good!   But look at the scope of the whole programme and reduced funding, and other priorities are clear. It’s slender. The vision  spelt out on the website is pretty exciting; I don’t see it reflected in the programme more generally.  There’s a big idea lurking there, I wonder what’s stopping it hollering from the rooftops – vive la difference?   Is it as simple as funding?

Vitor Pereira Quintet, BeBop Club, Friday 21st March

A capacity crowd jammed the room on Friday to listen to the  Vitor Periera Quintet, playing the last night of fairly extensive national tour.  Although London based, a few of the names were quite familiar both from previous visits and a growing national profile in their own right. Led Bib’s  Chris Williams was on alto, Dave Hamblett in the drum chair is becoming a Bristol regular (here with Gardiner-Bateman outfits recently and with Ivo Neame’s Quintet before that) and George Crowley as well as being very visible on the dynamic London scene was at The Fringe recently with Dan wood’s Monk project. With in demand bass man Ryan Trebilcock completing the line-up, they weren’t short of fire power. It was the guitarist leader’s gig however and its was his distinctive, dense, driving compositions that they were playing throughout. There was plenty of growly choppy guitar, interspersed with dissonant sustained chords.  The grooves were all clattery, snappy backbeat propelled by Hamblett’s insistent but never overwhelming drums, occasionally bursting into bravura inventive solos. On the Celtic flavoured Miranda he provided a real highlight. Alto and Tenor blended and bounced of each laying out the snakey , angular melodic lines of the themes, often restated and reworked repeatedly. The effect was of constantly building tension and momentum. Both Chris Williams and George Crowley built firey solos somehow managing to reel out forceful, jagged lines whilst sounding just a bit reflective, even melancholic. Just when the clamorous themes and solos threatened to overwhelm, A simple Disguise dissolved into an atmospheric mood, giving way to a more exposed guitar solo. The ballad Under the Pillow followed before the beats kicked back in to close the set.    This was ‘pay attention’ intricate music played with zest and fire by a top notch band who each provided moments of real excitement.

My Month of Jazz: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival and more


Conjunto Gringo with the final blast of the foyer programme at Bristol Jazz&Blues

If John Fordham can do a ‘month in jazz’ round up, then why not me. I notice its literally a month since I last posted here, but that’s not because ears have been sealed. Far from it. Aside from total immersion in the Jazz and Blues fest of which more in a moment, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to a few new recordings having started reviewing a few for LondonJazz News. This month its been relatively young emerging talent I’ve listened to in the shape of Norwegian tenor saxophonist Hans Paulsberg, British pianist Peter Edwards and Brit but based now in Amsterdam  pianist (and grew up in Wiltshire) Dominic Marshall; reviews here, here and here respectively.  Dominic Marshall in particular is one to watch. The main event of course was last weekend’s Jazz and Blues festival (although top notch gigs have been coming thick and fast either side. Jon Turney somehow seems to manage to alert us to most of them).  I’ve reviewed the festival headline programme for a certain indispensible jazz publication, I think it will be the May issue (out towards the end of April!) in which that appears, so won’t say too much about that.  But like everyone else whose posted, tweeted, facebooked and generally emoted, all I can say is wow!  There’s just the sneaking feeling that for anyone who went, it was the foyer wot stole the show.

If your entire weekend was spent soaking up the non-stop roster of bands on the free-stage and nodding to the sounds seamlessly inserted in breaks by local legend DJ Tony Clark, maybe hanging on until the regular bands morphed into the jam sessions later in the evening, then chances are you’d have had a natter with just about everyone you know on the local scene, seen some extraordinary music and got a good impression of the what people thought of the gigs in the two halls as the crowds ebbed and flowed. If you’d wondered why there was so much dancing going on, maybe it was because Friday night’s swing dance with the  Bruce/Ilett Big Band seemed to set the tone and give everyone license to appreciate the music in whatever way they felt like.  Another really special occasion and definitely the highlight of my month.

Bristol Composers Collective Performance, Wardrobe Theatre, Monday 17th February

After gate-crashing the Collective’s informal meeting last week, the lure of this week’s performance was strong. They’d had a last minute change of plans as Jake McMurchie, originally scheduled to lead the session, was away on Get the Blessing duties.  Most of what transpired is summarised here on Jazzwise’s site. Intimate probably underplays the atmosphere. When all the assembled musicians clambered on stage for a final, genuinely unscripted and spontaneous composition, those of us left in the audience were outnumbered.  There were a handful of  different contributors of compositions; Keven Figes, Nick Dover, Jeff Spencer, Greg Cordez, Mike Willox – his absence notwithstanding!  Some had come with sketches that the band BCC_Everyoneon stage turned into a ‘moment’ . Greg Cordez arrived with a couple of sections of harmony hastily sketched out on a till roll – ‘this is what my day dream sounds like’ ; that turned out to be a resonant, singing, sighing folky ballad full a melancholic peacefulness expressed in breathy soaring phrases from saxes.  Jeff Spencer’s Anti Freeze was the result of  a ‘Sarasate moment’ he explained; this involved leaping out of bed in the middle of the night to scribble an idea down as the Spanish violinist/ composer was reputed to have down. The result, a series of instructions along the lines of “.. do this sort of thing, and when the sax does something, you do the next sort of thing…” produced the most satisfying freely improvised piece of the evening with real shape and drama.   It was all great fun, hugely entertaining and wonderful music making.  These regular sessions deserve a bigger audience even if the bigger pay off in the long run may be the projects with which this eclectic bunch of musicians are involved.

Meeting the Bristol Composers Collective

Dropping into the White Bear on St. Michael’s Hill one day last week, I caught the core group of the Bristol Composers Collective discussing their next monthly session. Our illuminating and reflective chat over a drink is summarised on LondonJazzNews.  The gig on Monday (17th) will be quite varied, with compositions from several different people in the group (I met up with Jeff Spencer, Greg Cordez, Will Harris, Kevin Figes, Jake McMurchie and Nick Dover) rather than the Jake McMurchie feature advertised on their website – Jake is away on Get the Blessing duties.

Asking them what they wouldn’t put on at one of their performances prompted a thoughtful discussion. The respect in which other musicians are held  and the desire to be open minded about what would be welcome was clear, but at the same time ground rules like ‘each set should have something freshly composed’, ‘it  should be new music – its not just a gig for established bands’ mean that if you go along, even if it’s something that has been played before, it won’t have been played quite like this and there’ll always be something new.   Listeners should come with an open mind too.

All gigs are at the Wardrobe Theatre, above the White Bear, St. Michael’s Hill. They are monthly – the next gig is Monday February 17th, then Monday 17th March when collectivist Jeff Spencer features a set with his London based band Nightjar, the then April 14th and May 12th.