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, 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.

Good things come in threes: three trios (plus one)

Looking back at CDs I’ve listened to recently for review on London Jazz News, I notice that trios have been figuring of late. I mentioned Michelson Morley in a previous post and review here, since then the three I’ve reviewed have all been trios. Maybe the reason I hadn’t particularly noticed was because they are all so different.  Tenor player Melissa Aldana‘s Crash Trio (review here)melissa-aldana and pianist Andrew McCormack‘s First Light (review here)  were both recorded in New York  and are both firmly rooted stylistically in that city’s rich, still  evolving sound.  Both leaders have migrated there, McCormack from these shores and Aldana from Chile. They are  great albums of mainly originals and sound so different. Aldana is a still andrew mccormack first lightrecent Berklee graduate but has somehow absorbed and made her own the influence of all the great tenor masters she’s listened to and studied with (Lovano and Rollins loom large). Andrew McCormack’s lovely touch and fluent melodic playing are always a delight and his writing shines here too, an ear for melody threaded through plenty of driving swing.  Two top class trio albums.

My third trio, BusnoysWeaving the Spell is a different proposition (review here) but no less beguiling. Led by vibes player Martin Pyne, the references and inspirations are broader and quirkier.  Its a little gem of an album packed with melody, surprises and adventurous collective improvisation.  This album illustrates how much can be suggested and evoked by not playing and sometimes, just two well chosen sounds. Its an approach shared by Michelson Morley (my plus one of course). Both these albums were recorded in Bristol at Jim Barr‘s JnJ studios. Co- incidence? buswtsMaybe, but two treats for your ears nevertheless.


Jazz local and national; Riff Raff in Sheffield – What a difference a grant makes?

The back room of a pub, something ear tweakingly interesting leaking out of the PA as a respectable sized crowd gathered , settling amongst a mis-matched jumble of chairs and tables. It was the Lescar in the backstreets of Sheffield, but could have been almost anywhere. It was my first visit. In Sheffield for non-jazz reasons serendipitously on a Wednesday, I nipped along.  It felt like visiting a distant branch of an extended family. The Lescar’s back room hosts a well established weekly session programmed and promoted by the energetic and discerning Jez Matthews with  a crew of willing volunteers making it all happen on the night (Jez’s energy had taken him off to the Copenhagen jazz festival on this particular evening).  The gig turned out to be the penultimate date of Dave Mannington’s Riff Raff  tour . I’d caught them early on in May  at the BeBop Club in Bristol so knew I was in for a treat.

Riff Raff are a band of band leaders. With Ivo Neame in the piano chair, squeezing in this leg of Riff Raff’s tour before dashing of to continue Phronesis’ relentless international schedule,  and Tim Giles on drums this is no ordinary rhythm section . Tom Challenger, Rob Updegraff and Brigitte Beraha complete the band and Mannington has a premier league outfit to negotiate his complex compositions. They unfold, rarely doubling back on themselves, exploring different styles and with references from around the globe, but a soaring melody or electric atmosphere is never far way. The impact of touring and playing the material was evident as the evening wore on. The already riveting music seemed to have  grown and relaxed and deepened since Bristol. Early on, their cover of Bjork’s Anchor had everyone sighing as an extended  climax built behind Brigitte Beraha’s swooping vocals with the whole band blending beautifully. Ivo Neame’s intro to Catch Me the Moon was even more expansive and edgy, and a spacy cadenza from Rob Updegraff emerged to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.  There was new material with Iliad having the whole band glued to their charts for the epic, adventurous piece. What a treat.

Like many others, this club hosts local and regional bands with a fair sprinkling of national tours that are often  subsidized by a  grant, this visit of Riff Raff being no exception.  Occasional infusions of small amounts of cash from grant schemes also helps build a club’s programme and an expectant audience and the Lescar has been a beneficiary in the last year.  This visit took place just as the controversy got going over Jazz Services failure to secure  guaranteed three year funding from the Arts Council (the unfolding story captured by Peter Bacon here). They of course have been one of the main conduits for these small grants. Through all the anguish (and a certain amount of restrained claim and counter claim) one message has been clear. Promoters and musicians know the  value of the grant schemes that support touring and small promoters.  My lovely, uplifting evening was a little cameo of the difference quite a modest investment can make to the development of new music, the development of the artists themselves and on the other side, the  ability to invest enough to develop a sustainable programme for a small venue.  It seems like a good return to me.