Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare. Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene. Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio. Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss. Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live. Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio. The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.
The upstairs room at Dempseys in Cardiff has been a hub of Welsh jazz for decades including during the previous incarnation as the Four Bars Inn. A gallery of all the previous guests would match most long-standing clubs’ “wow, they played here?” impact. It remains a place for Cardiff and Welsh bands as well as roster of the finest touring bands (many drawn by the piano and warm welcome of promoters Alistair McMurchie and Brenda O’Brien).
I popped over in late July to catch Dave Jones’ trio with Ashley John Long on bass and Greg Evans on drums. It turned out to be a double treat as I picked up a copy of the duo album Postcript Jones and Long have recently recorded, soon to be available from Jones’ website. The CD has repaid repeated listens hovering, like the gig, around standards territory but spiced with originals from both partners as well as their distinctive playing. Jones is a fluent, rhythmically driving and inventive player as at home with jazz as more folk and rock inflected pieces. Ashley has reputation for his extraordinary technique in both the contemporary classical and jazz world (he’s even published a web-site documenting some of it as part of doctoral research), but concentrating on that would be to miss his flair as an improviser and writer. His contributions inspire Jones to lyrical and soaring solos especially on Zebedee, a deceptively simple and attractive bossa. Jones’ own Four on Three, a free wheeling waltz and Postcript , more of a rocky groover, both have plenty of piano and bass locked together and Long stretching out and showing the extent of his melodic imagination. There were tasters of the duo in the gig, but the addition of Evans on drums gave them a further boost.
The twice a week series of gigs at Dempseys is a remarkable institution, always quality and like all such ventures, dependent on the regular audience and the commitment of its curators Alistair and Brenda. They have excelled themselves for their Autumn programme.
Take a look at the next couple of weeks:
Tuesday September 6th – Michael Janisch (bass) Paul Booth (sax) Ryan Quigley (trumpet) (piano tbc but maybe Steve Hamilton who’s on the album subject ot his tour with Billy Cobham) and then the one and only Clarence Penn (drums)
Wednesday September 7th – Kristian Borring Quartet – Kristian (Guitar) Arthur Lea (piano) Mick Coady (bass) and Jon Scott (drums). This Quartet is not to be missed. Check it out.
Tuesday September 13th – Henrik Jensen’s ‘FOLLWED BY THIRTEEN’ This thrilling international band comprising of Henrik (bass) Antre Canniere (trumpet) Esben Tjalve (piano) and Antonio Fusco (drums) will be perfoming music from thier 2nd Album, which is launched in September, ‘BLACKWATER’ Yet another honour that these musicians com to Jazz at Dempsey’s
Wednesday Sept 14th – Swiss Jazz Trio VEIN – Michael Arbenz (Piano) Thomas Lahns (Bass) Florian Arbenz (Drums) What a feast of music these guys will give to you.
Is that Clarence Penn on Tuesday on drums? Yes it is! Most of these bands are on tour, but not going every where, so if near Cardiff, jazz lovers may do well to find their way to Cardiff. The London gig for the Ryan Quigly band has Geoff Keezer on piano… will he travelling west? There’s only one way to find out!
Later in the month Corrie Dick’s tour touches down there and Tori Freestones’ trio. And that’s just September. In between, there’s the usual quality from the more local scene.
The Pushy Doctors, reliably entertaining and exciting by turns, seem like a fixture on the local scene, but not one you can take for granted. They appear for short bursts and then lie low for a bit, most often dictated by saxophonist Andy Sheppard‘s international touring schedule . What a delight to see them back at The Bell last week and it was still August (just) and quite summery (just). They played like old friends taking up where they’d left off last time. Killer Joe established the classic jazz organ trio feel, bluesy stabs from Dan Moore‘s organ whipped along with a grin by Tony Orrell on drums. Then they spiralled off into a mix of pop tunes, re-worked classics and jazz burn-ups. Andy Sheppard’s extended circular breathing episode on My Favourite Things took on an almost trance like character as phrases looped, stacked and mutated: urgent, intense and reflective all at the same time. The showstopper, unwittingly, came from the crowd. Towards the end of a medley that began with Only Love Can Break Your Heart, the band stopped together on a beat, one of many artfully choreographed moments of drama. Inserted with perfect timing into the momentary silence came a loud voice, volume adjusted to be heard over the now absent band. “I know that tune, I just don’t know what its called.” Gales of laughter ensued including from the band. It did seem to sum up something. The Pushy Doctors may play with a witty glint in the eye, but they are deadly serious and never fail to move as well as thrill and delight.
The Bell’s music programme is as eclectic as it is legendary. The jazz(y) strands are there, most often on Monday but always with a bit of twist and frequently featuring some of the more experimental or genre blending and bending touring bands. Keeping an eye on their listings is always worthwhile. In September, Baritone pop up on the 5th. A gypsy jazz flavoured trio featuring Charlotte Ostafew of Dhakla fame on baritone. Later in the month, John Paul Gard, local king of the Hammond, joins forces with California based guitarist Jon Dalton. There’s sure to be plenty more through the Autumn, so keep an eye.
I’ve had a bit of summer break from the blog as will be evident from the absence of posts, but there has been plenty of music, both recorded and live, to quicken the pulse and make the ears tingle, not to mention a few posts and reviews for other websites (Enrico Pieranunzi at Ronnie Scott’s, reviewed here, will likely be on the highlights of the year list). There have been a few regular gigs out here in the west that have kept going right through the summer and provided some highlights, this then is the first of a couple of posts about delights sampled and more to come in the Autumn programme. We popped into Fringe Jazz last week to catch the Jazz Defenders, an end of August treat in the reliably classy programme now firmly re-established in it’s original bijou back-room off Princess Victoria Street. The quintet are animated and led by quicksilver and rhythmically electrifying pianist George Cooper and wear their Blue Note heart on their sleeve. The suite of originals, writing credit’s spread around the formidable band but invariably with Cooper’s guiding hand, take the classic sound as a launch pad rather than a restrictive template. The themes and hooks are reliably catchy, grooves unvaryingly tight and propulsive whether swinging or with a funky edge (the combination of Will Harris on bass and Matt Brown behind the kit is dynamite) and arrangments lovingly crafted so that the front-line of Nick Malcom on trumpet and Nick Dover on tenor frequently sound like one Horace Silver’s bands in full flight. The improvising is always edgy however, Cooper’s solos veering from delicious bluesey licks to sizzling modal work outs; Malcolm suddenly taking flight, surfing a polyrythmic surge from the drums firing off angular phrases; Dover finding surprising melodic paths through familiar sequences. The Defenders are a collaboration of some of Bristol’s finest so the quality and freshness of the band should come as no surprise. A real treat nevertheless and lookout for an album due for release soon.
The Fringe has a packed Autumn programme of jaw dropping quality including ECM recordings artists, award winners by the legion but more importantly, fabulous music. Andy Sheppard is back for a regular visit with The Pushy Doctors on 14th September with Dave Newton‘s Trio, including Nat Steel on vibes in Early October. In between West Coast based former Bristol resident Jon Dalton returns. ON 19th October, Iain Ballamy is the guest followed the week after by the increasingly high profile funky alto of James Morton riding high on his well received album release The Kid. The rosta of tourist in November includes the legendary Trevor Watts on 9th November with the contrasting moods of Josh Kemp the week before and Phil Robson‘s organ trio the week after. Promoter Jon Taylor seems almost to defy gravity by putting on a programme of this quality in a tiny back room, but of course its regular paying audiences that make it possible, so we know what to do.
Michelson Morley are approaching the end of a tour playing music from the just released, tour de force Strange Courage and played a home-town launch gig last night, before heading up to London for a launch at the Vortex tonight. What a treat is in store for that London audience.
The recording Strange Courage is, whilst audibly from the same stable as the excellent debut release Aether Drift (reviewed here), an even more powerful and compelling experience. It’s a cocktail of effects; atmospheres concocted in the moment with electronics; quietly looping motifs; thumping, distorted, headsplitting riffs; jaunty melodic themes with a jagged edge. Leader and composer Jake McMurchie‘s sax is at the centre of the action . The original trio is now augmented by guitarist Dan Messore, joining Will Harris on bass and drummer Mark Whitlam. He brings another dimension, thickening the sound with textures and effects as well echoing and countering melodies and unleashing occasional crunching chords. If the album is an assured, gripping group performance, the live show is an even more pulsating ride.
The music seemed to seep up through the stage at the start of the set as eerie effects, clatters and howls emerged, apparently un-related to the conventional sounds expected from the instruments on the stage. Tamer as Prey offered plaintive melodic hooks that distorted and changed shape over the an insistent throb. Ammageddon nodded to its mis-spelt name in the churning rocky riff before the The Last Of Me Will Wait set up an attractive little groove and McMurchie’s warm tenor sound ebbed and flowed. They dissolved into more ghostly washes as a prelude for the catchy looping bass riff of There Are No Perfect Waves, a delicate phrase then alternated with another crunching power riff and blistering solos. It was a dramatic, exciting performance enhanced by evocative visuals provided by Cornwall based film maker Jo Mayes, always another turn or twist around the corner. They played out to whooping applause with the rocker Rice Rage.
The first, shorter set was by the peer-less Eyebrow. McMurchie acknowledged the inspiration of the approach of the duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens , their sparse, looping and layered improvisations are as riveting conjured live as on CD. Wigens place was ably filled at the last minute by Mark Whitlam due to illness but they still evoked the magic of the recent release Garden City to the delight of the audience filling the Wardrobe Theatre’s fabulous new home.
The two sets were a celebration of some of the more creative and imaginative music that has been brewing gently in Bristol over recent years and now, happily getting wider recognition.
Tetra in full cry are something to behold. Leader saxophonist Julian Arguelles may supply all the compositions, but the process of dismantling, reassembling and playing them with joyful zest is a group effort with, it seems, pianist Kit Downes and drummer James Maddren not so much anticipating or responding to each other as sharing a thought process and Sam Lasserson’s bass a constant lithe, propulsive thread in the mix. They touched touched down at the Vortex on a tour playing material from their CD released last year on Whirlwind Records alongside tunes from staging posts on Arguelles’ now lengthy career.
The gentle, elegiac From one JC to Another, singing gently stroked chords moving underneath breathy tenor phrases introduced the band and gave way to a quintessential Arguelles piece. Bulerias, consciously based on flamenco dance rhythms, had a theme in which the saxophone’s spiralling phrases were thrillingly locked with the drums and punctuated by fragments of gutsy riffs that dragged the ear back to jazz and blues. The leader’s solo was a characteristic surge and flow of undulating phrases, listening felt a bit like surfing on waves of adrenaline with the flowing lines sculpted into melodic phrases. Lardy Dardy was a contrasting mood full of yearning and poetry. Circularity, first recorded with John Taylor and Dave Holland was another, bubbling swaggering riff that dissolved into a series of fizzing duo exchanges so that each member of the quartet had a dialogue. It was riveting, greeted with roars of appreciation from the rapt Vortex crowd. Phaedrus, an even older tune, also first recorded with John Taylor, was another reminder that any material sounds freshly minted in this band’s hand no matter what its vintage. Its another urgent, flowing theme, ascending harmony building flurries of anticipation. Arguelles unfurled layers and layers of fluid phrases, building intensity then it dissolved into spacious, exploratory phrases and chords as the piano took over. Little, by little Downes, as he had done all evening, assembled motifs and phrases, condensing the sound until glittering lines were flying in all directions.
Tetra seem to weave magic whenever they play and Thursday’s visit to the Vortex was no exception.
Eyebrows crept a bit higher on foreheads, mouths opened slightly, maybe a few people leaned a bit further back in their seats. The impact of the opener in Phronesis’ first set at Wiltshire Music Centre on Friday night was dramatic. 67,000 mph followed a typical pattern for the trio; ear snagging riffs with sharp changes of gears, scattered phrases from Ivo Neame on piano that accumulate into a blizzard of notes, a firestorm of percussion whipped up by Anton Eger on drums, Jaspar Hoiby standing between them, holding down a tricky bass figure with occasional embellishments and looking from one to the other, nodding appreciatively.
Hoiby’s slightly divergent banter between tunes relieved the tension a bit, and may even have been a bit too self-deprecating as he joked ‘all our tunes sound the same’. A Phronesis recipe there may be, but it’s designed to maximise the thrill factor in live performance. The volcanic momentum of Eger’s drumming was constantly arresting, delivered as often at a whisper or with a rattle as with full blooded battering. Silver Moon tiptoed round its jigsaw of melodic phrases and singing bass phrases before leaving space for Eger’s drum breaks, filled with space and brushing caresses of the cymbals. Stillness belied its name with accumulating clatter, what looked like a knife and fork pressed into service on the kit.
The trios reflexes and responsiveness to each other were razor sharp, raging solos frequently punctuated with little stops or momentary slackening of the intensity of pulse driving the music on. Neame’s playing seemed to get ever more fluid as the evening wore on, relentlessly percussive with dazzling slivery runs and then little oases of distorting lyricism, A Kite for Seamus a sublime synthesis of his rhythmic sensibility and shifting harmonies. Hoiby too delivered a singing, melodic solo on that piece.
This was one of just three UK gigs (for now) as they launch a new recording, Parallax. On this showing they are still on top form and surely one of the most thrilling live acts around. Sunday night at London’s Cadogan Hall is the official UK launch, but the enthusiastic, near capacity crowd at Wiltshire Music Centre were delighted with their early experience of the fire-works.