June has involved a fair bit of listening and in particular two reviews for London Jazz. The first was a set of five albums from Keith Jarrett, his first five as leader and released fetchingly in little card board sleeves with the original artwork. My review for London Jazz is here . It’s remarkable how familiar it sounds. You’d have to say the quality both of recording and delivery is a bit patchy, if only by the now established benchmark of ‘genius’ and the high-water mark of some of his astounding recordings. They are great listening nevertheless and the characteristic blend of jazz with blues, rock and country threads its way through along with some astonishing free-for-all improvisations, especially with the later quartet album. The other gem I’ve been listening to is Indigo Kid‘s second album Fist Full of Notes. Dan Messore has been touring the material with various line-ups and touched down in Bristol late last year, but the album is only now officially released on Babel. What a treat it is. My review is here. There is something of the same open-minded attitude to all styles of music here as Jarrett displays in those early recordings ( I don’t think its just the effect of listening to them back to back!). There’s no direct read across, but perhaps something about Jarret’s approach and use of the cadences and melody from rock and country in a jazz context, has found its way into language of jazz. Wherever it comes from, Messore makes it his own and brings plenty of contemporary references to bear with subtle but pervasive use of electronics and effects. It’s a great follow up and development from the first album three years ago now. More please!!
Watching Dave O’Higgins on tenor and Gareth Lockrane on flute trading phrases over a bouncing, hard bop groove is a great climax to a gig. That was my reward in early June when I found myself in London serendipitously on the night bass player Dominic Howles was launching not one, but two CDs at the Spice of Life, just round the corner from Ronnie Scott’s in Soho. He’d taken the opportunity to assemble the septet that had recorded his album Bristolian Thoroughfare released last year (reviewed here) to play the first set before playing the material from the freshly minted Radio Cannonball in the second with mainly a quartet (apart from that rousing finale when O’Higgins made five). Nick Tomalin on piano and an urgent, bustling Matt Fishwick on drums completed the quartet with Howles and Lockrane. The CD, with the same line-up, does what is says on the dial and draws inspiration from Cannonball Adderly’s late sixties quintets and quartets. There’s no alto-sax on the album, the lead voice instead provided by Gareth Lochrane and he digs into the swinging and attractive themes. Radio Cannonball’s pulsing riff and bluesy hooks catch the ear straight away, Song for Suzanne has a relaxed latin vibe and more reflective mood. Once in Lifetime retains the choppy catchy-ness of the Talking Heads original whilst giving Tomalin and Lochrane space to stretch out over the metronomic pulse. Like Bristolian Thoroughfare, there’s no mistaking the leader’s love of the grooving visceral swing of the sixties heyday of Adderley and others. The music’s also a vehicle for very personal inspirations with dedications to family. The closer, Anna’s Dance is for Howles’ daughter and the apparent commission of groove tune is more than fulfilled, the grin on everyone’s faces as O’Higgins and Lockrane raised the temperature to bring the launch gig to an end was confirmation of that. An album well worth tuning on too and a live act well worth catching.
Is cause and effect operating here? Is the opportunity to guest with a house trio at a long standing jazz gig, playing to appreciative audiences in the ‘could-have-been-designed-for- the- purpose’ cellar bar beneath St. James, behind the migration of increasing numbers of top flight musicians to this part of the west country? Possibly a little fanciful. A programme that included Iain Ballamy, Dave Newton, Jason Rebello would look pretty strong for a club anywhere. Lucky Bath that they are all locally resident and have appeared since January (or soon will – Jason is next up on July 9th). That’s not to mention the steady supply of locally sourced talent and out of town visitors. This week it was the turn of fairly recently arrived to the area Sam Crockatt, member of London based Loop Collective and sporting an impressive CV despite his relative youth.
A couple of phrases, reeled off as the band dug into Secret Love, was enough to hear just why he attracts admiring comments and turns of the head wherever he plays. There’s a fullness of tone and easy fluency of phrase that instantly conjures up the great tradition of tenor players from Sonny Rollins through Dexter Gordon and Joe Henderson. But there’s a distinctive contemporary edge as well. A propulsive kick from the snare of JazzHouse trio’s drummer Trevor Davies and Crockatt was off, burning through the standard’s harmony with a deceptively relaxed ease, but rhythmically inventive and with a blistering sense of groove. The repertoire nodded towards classics and heroes with Softly as the Morning Sunrise, East of the Sun, Dexter Gordan’s Soy Califa, Henderson’s Recordame and some classic Ellington, Isfahan and riotous A Train. The playing was uncliched and full of fire. The regular trio, as ever, were a great foil. Returning for the evening, the original house pianist, John Paul Gard showed us why he is in constant demand. He’s able to colour and float over the music as well as dig in behind soloists and formed a tight knit unit with bassist Wade Edwards and drummer Davies. Crockatt, is popping up all over the local area in various ensembles and any that include him should come highly recommended on this showing.
The audience, packed into The Bear’s back room like sardines, appeared all to be holding their breath as James Partridge wove an impassioned, growling baritone sax phrase through the changes of Duke Ellington’s Solitude. It was mid-way through the second set of a fizzing quintet gig. If the band wasn’t quite the one billed, the jazz was still top drawer. Friday’s gig at the BeBop Club was another great example of airlines conspiring to disrupt a gig, only to be defeated by the magic of new musical alliances formed at a moment’s notice (it’s happened before in Bristol). Hotly anticipated doesn’t quite cover the buzz around the return of the The Session. The New Orleans based band of young and already feted musicians wowed Bristol audiences last summer, including a hastily scheduled appearance at the BeBop Club in August. Their heady brew of hard swinging jazz, visceral New Orleans grooves and bang-up-to-date harmonic sensibility set the jazz grapevine buzzing and they are back this summer with a sprinkling of gigs and a residency at Musicfest Aberystwyth Big Band & Jazz Course
Friday was the inaugural gig, back at the BeBop, and the audience created a New Orleans – like atmosphere in temperature and humidity in the tiny club room with late arrivers disappointed and waiting their turn to cram in at the back. But bad weather back in the Crescent City meant that flights were delayed, so that only bass player Jason Weaver, pianist Andrew McGowan and ex-pat Englishman, saxophonist James Partridge were there on Friday, with hot young drummer Charles Burchell and trumpeter Steve Lands stranded the other side of the pond. The three who made it were in safe hands however. It’s a fairly badly kept secret that BeBop Club maestro Andy Hague has assembled a collection of charts and arrangements of near library proportions over the years, mining the repertoire of classic Blue Note era writers onwards as well as artful arrangements of standards. He’s also a very fine trumpeter. A quick call to local drummer Mark Whitlam who’s fast acquiring a national reputation in a variety of ensembles and a cracking quintet was assembled, with a repertoire covering Ellis Marsalis grooving New Orleans standards, irresistibly swinging fare from the pens of Tad Dameron, Bob Brookmeyer, Wayne Shorter and a sprinkling of classics from Ellington and the standards book. The magic emerged as the newly formed quintet explored the material together. The Session’s instinct for drama appeared as backing for solos sometimes dropped to minimal, giving them space to breath and build; Andy Hague reminded us (if we needed it) what a fine improviser he is, with solos on flugelhorn particularly, full of elegant phrases and warm toned flurries over Weaver’s driving, propulsive bass lines; Andrew McGowan’s angular and scattered phrases on piano accumulated to build exciting solos and a standout trio reading of the ballad I Want to Talk About You was greeted with roars of approval. With Bristol forming more regular links with New Orleans, this is a collaboration it would be great to see again. For Bristolians keen to see the The Session in full, they should be at the Hen and Chicken in early August.
A quick CD round up is in order. Having devoured and reviewed these three albums for London Jazz News its hard to imagine them not being embedded in every play list and favorites compilation for sometime to come. First up was Charles Lloyd‘s Wild Man Dance. The Lloyd magic is partly in a cultivated, deceptively thin sound on tenor that insinuates its way into your soul, and partly in the performance he evokes from his bands that ebbs and flows magically. They were riveting at the London Jazz Festival and this album is a recording of the live premiere and is every bit as good My review for London Jazz is here. Album two was Westerly, the long awaited debut recording of Nikki Iles band The Printmakers They’ve been touring for several years now and most recently spotted in these parts at the Wiltshire Music Centre a year or so ago. This was a sure fire winner with the band delivering a live performance on CD every bit has lyrical, nuanced and varied as a gig, my review here. Finally, equally sublime is Andy Sheppard‘s latest release for ECM, Surrounded by Sea. We had a foretaste of this group and the music at the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival in March (my round up of that event here on the Jazzwise site) so I was really looking forward to this one and it didn’t disappoint. Its outwardly the polar opposite of rumbustious Andy Sheppard of the Pushy Doctors, a quiet, pared back atmospheric affair with a band mesmerisingly in tune with each other. My review is here. Three top drawer albums to savour.
With a week or so of dust settling time since a barn storming performance by Hugh Masekela brought the curtain down on the 2015 Bath Festival, now seems a good time to reflect and celebrate a turnaround that seemed unlikely at the start of the year. Then, after a 2014 festival that was wafer thin in all genres let alone jazz, the early departure of the director and the loss of Arts Council funding, the most likely result seemed a further decline of a once proud International festival. Instead, there was an absorbing, varied, sometimes challenging programme of jazz related music, still no-where near the scale of the generously funded glory days but enough to draw substantial audiences. A summary of mine of the jazz strand is on the Jazzwise site and a further live review is coming in the magazine so I won’t say too much here, save to say a programme that as well as the Masekela party included American iconclast pianist Matthew Shipp, Jason Rebello and Gwylim Simcock in a piano face off and Mike Westbrook leading his unique project of settings of Blake’s poems, gives notice that some of the spirit of former times is back, bringing great but perhaps less visited or unfamiliar music.
So what made the difference? A typically acute piece from John Fordham in the Guardian sets much of it out. The appointment of Artistic Directors with a strong track record (David Jones of Serious and James Waters from the classical world) was a critical move. Jones in particular clearly knows the history of the festival and loved the approach to booking that brought so much adventurous and glorious music to Bath through the tenures of Nod Knowles and Joanna McGregor. There’s a genuine sense then, that if that’s what’s been missed, then with his re-appointment for a further three years there’s a real commitment to bringing something different, encouraging unique collaborations and bringing new audiences in. So credit where credit’s due. There was plenty of muttering about the Festival administration for managing decline so they deserve a thumbs up for making the moves that made this year possible.
A one year exciting re-energising of a still necessarily limited programme doesn’t secure the future however. There’s a really interesting challenge spelt out at the end of John Fordham’s piece. There isn’t a lot of money or resource behind the festival, no doubt part of the reason for the bumpy ride of the last few years, so David Jones is quoted as identifying working with other organisations and partners locally to combine resources (and imaginations!) and put things on (during the year as well as the ten days of the festival) as an important approach to building up the festival.
Now there’s an opportunity and a challenge for both local Arts// Music bodies and for the Festival. Can they put resource in, can the Festival be open enough to give them a say to make the next few years of Bath International festival really exciting as a jazz and improvised music happening? With two universities with Arts programmes in the city, concert halls in all directions within ten miles or so and a dynamic local scene the possibilities are tantalising.
Busyness, life and writing for other blogs and publications have restricted posting here of late, but here are a few little gems, re-visited or discovered, that it would be wrong not to log.
In no particular order
1. Bath Festival’s Party in the City: We loved hearing Craig Crofton’s sax echoing of the Abbey as we approached Blow-out Sax’s gaffe below North Parade by the River – they’d set up a little stage outside for the night and were competing with the legendary Gas Giants (Tony Orrell with Will Gregory) in Parade Gardens. That was before we hung out at Green Park Brasserie watching Guy Harrap’s band groove away with a youthful George Rebello on drums and his dad (Jason) roady-ing for him… and sitting in on the odd number.
2. Don Weller @ Jazz at the Vaults: He may be in his mid-70s, but he’s still got his mojo and Don Weller was well and truly cooking after a couple of sets with the house trio. Seeing him sparking off Vyv Hope Scott on piano was a thrill to watch. What a treasure this gig is. How many years and counting? 7 or 8 I’m sure. Dave Newton is the next guest (28th May) followed by Jim Mullen and Zoe Francis
3. Frome Jazz Club:This Pheonix has had a few risings, but we caught the first of the latest re-ignitions at the the end of April with John Law dazzling a healthy crowd at the Grain Barge in Frome. Inevitable sitters in (Sam Crockett, Iain Ballamy, Nick Sorensen) and May’s gig was Iain Ballamy. It may be a bit below the radar, but its reliably classy – Keith Harrison Broniski is animateur in chief and has form. He was behind the long running Nunney Jazz Cafe back in the day. Frome’s dynamism is quite a badly kept secret now with John Harris writing fairly regularly in the Guardian about it and their ‘flat pack democracy’. But the jazz is cooking!
4. Scratch and Sniff Orchestra: More DIY. Bristol Composers Collective have morphed into a different shape. There have been two performances this year at the Fringe in Bristol’s Clifton Village. I caught the last one after the collective spent an afternoon rehearsing charts from Jake McMurchie (Get The Blessing, Michelson Morley), Jim Blomfield (himself, Kevin Figes’ bands and….) Will Harris (Moonlight Saving, Michelson Morley and … ) Kevin Figes (himself.. 4tet, 8et, 4sided triangle) augmented by half of Dakhla for blowing power. This was a major treat. Jake’s ‘The one before the first‘ is still with me in the impact of layers of horns and shifts in harmony. Kevin’s writing is unfailingly imaginative and Jim’s brimming with energy. Will seems to have groove and momentum sewn into his musical presence. Great stuff -the fruits of this collaboration, direct or indirect, will pop up somewhere around Bristol or further afield for sure.
5. Play Jazz Weekend : This annual happening has just finished. A pop up Jazz School I’ve written about before but another great weekend was had this year with an instant musical community, learning thrills (and spills) and the tenth time Rachel Kerry has organised it. A milestone worth celebrating.