CD: Bristolian Thoroughfare, Dominic Howles Septet

Dominic Howles Bristolian ThoroughfareThis lovingly crafted CD is telling a very personal story.  It’s bass Player Dominic Howles statement. He’s written most of the tunes and arranged the unexpected covers. A quick glance at the back of the CD case and a double take is needed to confirm that its not actually a classic Blue Note release, so carefully rendered is the design and typeface, a broad hint if one were needed of the sounds that await and where his musical heart lies.  Bristol residents with long enough memories may recall a youthful Howles gigging in Bristol before touring  in Tommy Chase’s band with fellow Bristolian Ben Waghorn led  to a move to London.  That journey is documented in the liner notes. There’s no mistaking the musical love affair, with lush  arrangements hinting sometimes at Ellington or Gil Evans such as the swinging opening title track or the more wistful Sunset in Vancouver.  Elsewhere the  Davis, Hancock, Shorter small bands of the 60s are evoked with more contemporary material pressed into service. Supergrass’ Moving becomes a surging swing tune with the pulse modulating back and forth hinting at Footprints. Prefab Sprout’s When Love Breaks Down has the sound of a Herbie Hancock arrangement with Nick Tomalin’s  open, shifting piano chords over a bass pedal preparing the way for a closely harmonised statement of the theme. There’s some typically blistering soloing from Steve Fishwick on trumpet, hustled and egged on by Matt Fishwick on drums.  Billy’s Bridge  is a languid ballad with Alison Neale’s flute leading the melody line before giving way to a fluid alto from Jamie O’Donnell.  This is a formidable line-up of London players Howles has assembled with Josephine Davies on tenor completing the line-up, showing her mettle with some gutsy soloing especially on the grooving Ease Up that closes the set. Simon da Silva contributes some lovely muted trumpet on a couple of tracks.  They are playing an exuberant set that feels like a celebration of twenty five years spent living, loving and playing this music. I’ll raise a glass to that and press ‘play’ again.

Cordez teasez – album preview and taster track

Its a couple of years now since bass player, and general making things happen man Greg Cordez debuted his quintet at the BeBop club.  Since then the band has been making occasional appearances locally and their set list has been evolving.  As well as organising a series of jam sessions over the years, an email from Greg was the stimulus for getting the Bristol Composers Collective going.   A series of bands have released CDs since that include music (and musicians) first trialled at the collective’s more or less regular monthly gigs (Michelson Morley, Kevin Figes’ Octet to name two) .  Now Greg looks to be next in line.  With the same line-up still in place from that first gig, bristling with creativity (Jim Blomfield on keys, Mark Whitlam on drums, Nick Malcolm on trumpet and Jake McMurchie on sax) Greg has managed to align their busy diaries for long enough to record an album of his compositions which is near release. We know this because he’s been sneaking out a preview reel with a fun graphic and a taster track with slightly mysteriously accompanying footage from the Apollo 17 landing.  I’ve not heard a release date, but the album is coming soon and it sounds like it’ll be tasty when it arrives.

Bristol, Bath and nearby – Preview of an Autumn feast of jazz

There’s a simple message for lovers of live music  in the Bristol/ Bath area this Autumn (be it jazz tinged or the howling, red in tooth and claw variety you seek).  Whether you  habitually attend or catch an occasional, spur of the moment burst, there will something on very close by, whenever you seek it out. It will always be top quality, often world class and not infrequently in very intimate surroundings. Here’s a few places to keep an eye on. The regular club nights have eye -poppingly great programmes. Every Thursday you’ll need to decide how to split yourself. In Bristol, Jazz at Future Inns continues weekly with a  very classy programme of mainly  local players, including that man Dave Newton at least monthly, an on outing for Moonlight Saving Time in November and some interesting visitors. Look out for Dominic Marshall, young piano fiend now resident in Holland. Fringe Jazz is moving round the corner in Clifton to  The Mall and hosting Andy Sheppard in various line-ups at lease three time between October and mid November, with Ian Ballamy in between and rising stars, Dan Messore’s  Indigo Kid in November. In Bath fortnightly on Thursdays, Jazz at the Vaults continues, again with reliably excellent locals and stellar visitors (saxmen Tony Kofi in November and Simon Spillett in December for instance).  Sunday nights in Bath there’s a weekly programme at Gascoyne Place (catch the peerless John Paul Gard at least monthly here) and the Ring 0 Bells in Widcombe (multiple award winning pianist Dave Newton will be there 0n 26th October – intimate surroundings probably overstates the space for the band). More sporadic, Ian Storrer has programmed some mouth watering Sunday gigs at The Hen and Chicken in Bristol starting with the Jim Hart on vibes led Cloudmaker Trio on 28th September with more to follow before Christmas including Tim Richards Heptet and the experimental Lund Quartet. Every Friday The BeBop Club in Bristol continues to showcase the best of the local talent and visiting bands.  The rapturously received Tom Green Septet are back there in November and the critically lauded Laura Jurd Quartet are there in December and don’t miss Dakhla in early November if you can help it.  In Bath, keep an eye on Burdalls Yard, Bath Spa’s performance space. They’ve received a grant from Jazz Services/ PRS to support a jazz programme and have the impressive collection of tutors on the Uni’s jazz programme performing as BiggSound in October and the Philip Clouts Quartet in November.  Gigs at Bath’s Chapel Arts seem to pass under the radar sometime but here’s one not to miss: John Etheridge, bona fide legend who has performed with everyone including Dizyy Gillespie, Pat Metheny and Stefan Grapelli appears solo and in duo with singer Kit Holmes on 26th October.  The more formal concert spaces have plenty on too.  Former Sting and Jeff Beck sideman who started his career touring with the legendary Wayne Shorter, pianist Jason Rebello begins a year long artist in residence stint at The Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradord on Avon by teaming up with Empirical, the now firmly up and come group of still young stars who were last seen in Bath supporting Branford Marsalis in the festival a couple of years ago. That’s on the 27th September.   The Autumn programme at St. George’s Bristol has a handful of fantastic gigs through the Autumn (programmer Phil Johnson waxes lyrical about it here) It kicks off with an intriguing spin off from international wave making Snarky Puppy, The Bill Laurence Project on 3rd October, includes Gilad Atzmon‘s Charlie Parker with strings re-working and Scots Tommy Smith and Brian Kellock in duo and culminates with the adventuorous Swiss Vein Trio with former Miles Davis sideman another genuine legend, saxophonist Dave Liebman.  Taking in even a fraction of what’s on will be a feast for the ears and of course this little round-up as ever by no means covers everything.  It promises to be another fine season.

Bristol and Bath’s Autumn starts with a blast – Cooks, Hawks and a bit of Hague and Newton

The summer is behind us and the Autumn programmes are starting in earnest in the jazz clubs around Bristol and Bath. Bath’s Jazz House Trio kicked off their fortnightly sessions at St. James Wine Vaults with guest Damian Cook leading them through a set paying homage to his tenor heroes and love of great tune. Dexter Gordon’s Cheese Cake started proceedings, there were Coltrane tunes, Wayne Shorter classics and plenty of tasty arrangements of standards including a beautiful rendition of As Times Goes By. Cook has recently moved to the area and it was clear why he’d been busy on the London scene with a fluent, muscular approach and warm tone. Keep an eye on gig listings for his name for a guaranteed treat. The next night saw us take in the early evening free foyer gig at Bristol’s Colston Hall on our way to the BeBop Club. London based quartet Blue Eyed Hawk stopped by on their short tour to promote their debut release on Edition, Under the Moon. The band are a collaborative of some of the hottest young tickets on the London scene. Their genre bending set with a distinctly rocky edge had a enthusiastic early evening crowd cheering loudly. The BeBop club’s opening gig of the season had Dave Newton filling the piano chair in what otherwise looked like the Andy Hague Quintet. Newton is a hard working musician. His name’s to be spotted on those gig listings somewhere fairly locally almost weekly. The downside of that is that it’s possible to be a bit blasé and forget just how good he is, even though it’s been recognised with numerous rewards, sideman gigs with the best in the business and a voluminous recording catalogue. What a joy then to catch him in this company. Trumpet maestro Andy Hague as usual called a set of tunes, whilst being less familiar, were beautifully arranged, covered a fair bit of classic hard bop to contemporary jazz territory and left plenty of space for the band, that also included drummer Mark Whitlam, bass man Will Harris and saxophonist Ben Waghorn, to flex their formidable jazz muscles. It’s a great band and Newton brought a bit of extra magic. His technical mastery and immersion in the jazz tradition mean he can play anything in any idiom, but he chooses to make boppish, swinging jazz his starting point and the man swings like a demon! There was a crackle of excitement whenever he launched into a riff to start a tune like Secret Love or reeled out a bluesy solo with subtle forays into more angular harmony on a New Orleans classic Andy pulled out. A trio version of Alice in Wonderland was a bring the house down moment, with Newton apparently arranging and deconstructing on the spot, Will Harris and Mark Whitlam all ears finding just the right response with a beautifully paced bass solo raising hairs on a few necks. The energy lifted everyone with Hague and Ben Waghorn at full tilt all evening. It was sizzling start to an Autumn programme packed with goodies.

CD Review: Bristol European Jazz Ensemble, Live at the Fringe

BEJEBristol’s music scene has been a creative hot house for decades now, albeit a pretty laid back one. In the last couple of years a number of fine musicians have settled here from different parts of Europe adding an additional zest to the gigging and jam session circuit.  Local trumpet stalwart Dave Mowat has taken the opportunity to re-kindle his band-leading and recording career and has assembled a band, playing his own lively and varied compositions.  With Frenchman Julian Alenda on alto, Italian Pasquale Votino on bass, long time Bristol resident Swede Anders Olinder on keyboards and Bristolian Marco Anderson on drums, the ‘Live at the Fringe’ (plus a few studio tracks) CD gives a taste of what to expect from the freshly minted Bristol European Jazz Ensemble.  Amongst the eight Mowat penned compositions, there’s a lively groove round every corner whether its the samba like lilt of Easter Rise, the township inflected Cagoulie or the calypos like All the Best.  In between there are more reflective moments with the rich harmonic textures of ballad The Rainbows Gift and  the modal jazz vibe of Equanimity.  The CD, produced as the band formed and started gigging,  made me want to go and see them live. The energy of the collective, the fluency of the players (if you don’t know them already) are all immediately evident and its hard not to grin at the irrepressible optimism of Dave Mowat’s writing and playing. The recording itself is a bit rough. The first live performance captured here has the inevitable frayed edges of a new venture and the studio tracks were recorded without bass (just the legendary Olinder left hand doing service).  There’s enough here to persuade though and make us hope the ensemble is going to stick around.  There are chances coming up to see them locally at Bristol’s Canteen in September and Bath’s Porter Jazz and Blues Bar in October.

Summer jazz and Blue Eyed Hawks

The nights are shortening aren’t they, even if the sun has returned to tease us a bit.  Summer is over. The blog may have been quiet, but the ears have been wagging.  Brecon jazz Festival turned 30 years old and my impressions are here on the Jazzwise website.  The new promoters Orchard are doing a fine job of putting together a varied programme with some really exciting music on over mid August weekend The residents’ capacity to use the occasion to party hard, everywhere, all weekend seems undiminished adding plenty of atmosphere. Over the last weekend I’ve been listening to the newly released CD by Blue Eyed Hawk, the London based quartet of Chaos Collective shakers and movers, Lauren Kinsella, Laura Jurd, Alex Roth  and Corrie Dick.  My review is here on the EDN1054-Blue-Eyed-HawkLondon Jazz news site. What an extraordinary album it is.  A bit of everything in there stylistically including thunderous rock, but every track seems to have at its core really strong melody, no matter how layered or frenetic the arrangement.  Excitingly, Bristol located folk can check them out live at a free foyer gig on Friday at Bristol’s Colston Hall.  Early evening so don’t miss them -details here

I love listening to music and attending live gigs  as often as life permits. The blog captures as much of that as I can.  Playing and performing myself gives me as much, if not more pleasure (listeners can report whether the pleasure is reciprocated!) This summer has also been spent re-energising my playing,  culminating in two days in the fabulous Fieldgate Studios in Penarth near Cardiff last week, recording mainly quartet and trio pieces. My timing in terms of dates was impeccable at least.  They were the same two days as the  NATO summit took place just outside Newport, meaning we traveled there under the watchful eyes of literally hundreds of police lurking in the most unlikely places (but most often on bridges and in the middle of roundabouts).  The results of the studio time will hopefully emerge later in the Autumn. And it promises to be a vibrant and musical Autumn with some great music scheduled in the Bristol/ Bath areas clubs – preview coming soon.

New Orleans pops up in Bristol: The Session, BeBop Club, Tuesday 5th August

There was no kidnapping involved as far as we know, but after an Ian Storrer promoted gig at The Hen and Chicken for New Orleans based quintet The Session, whose members have been touring Europe with The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, a two day lull in touring became a shopping trip and playing break with a visit to the regular Canteen jam session on Monday and this pop-up gig at the BeBop club engineered by Ian and Andy Hague. Impromptu gig it may have been, but  as Ashlin Parker pointed his trumpet at the ceiling one last time and with an ear piecing blast led the quintet into a down-home New Orleans stomp, there was no doubt it was a roaring, joyous success of an evening.  The TheSession@TheBeBoptheatrics of leading the horn section off in procession (temporarily boosted by Bristol resident Julian Alenda for the last number) was only slightly undermined by the difficult they had squeezing between the rows of chairs to get out.  The word of social media campaign to conjure up an audience at 24 hours notice had resulted in jam packed room at The Bear (shh… don’t tell ‘ealth and safety).   And what a gig it was.  A bubbling bass figure from Jason Weaver, given rocket boosters by occasional Christian Scott sideman Charles Burchell on drums, then Parker, himself a regular in Ellis Marsalis’ band,  and tenor man James Partridge eased into Horace Silver’s Doodlin. It was effortless, intensely grooving  and hair tinglingly thrilling.  They mined familiar resources to the full, the impassioned blowing of Parker and Partridge rousing whoops and cheers every time. More complex original material (Untitled Numbers one and two!) introduced a different dimension, a flowing harmonically angular piece by pianist Andrew McGowan and a stately ballad by Jason Weaver drawing out meditative and lament like solos.  There was no keeping the sheer exuberance and energy down for long though and the second set surfed to its stomping conclusion via a freshly minted funky groover in honour of temporary surrogate tour manager Ian Storrer.  The band were off to Cardiff the next day, but for the dispersing crowd it was hard to believe they were going to have more fun than this.