Martin Speake/ Bobo Stenson, Colston Hall – Lantern, Tuesday 26th April

bobocolston2Bobo Stenson is a unique and quietly influential figure.  The Swedish pianist’s many sideman gigs with horn players have included  Jan Garbarek on some of the earliest ECM recordings and a series of Charles Lloyd releases. His distinctive, poetic sound and viscerally rhythmic  touch have most often been heard in recent years in the context of his own, telepathically sympathetic trio . His partnership with serial collaborator Martin Speake however, is an enduring one and he’s been coming to UK for short tours at regular, if not frequent intervals since their first hook-up, which led to an ECM recording with Paul Motion on drums finally released a decade ago now. The first gig  on the current tour at Colston Hall’s  Lantern was a thrilling demonstration of what is special about their collaboration.

The quartet was completed by Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums and not only was it the first gig of the tour, but also the first time the four had performed together. It meant one of the pleasures of the evening was watching the band begin to breathe together. Early in the first set a Speake original, with a simple pretty tune, provided a platform for Stenson to develop a fiercely driving solo and by the time they band were vamping out over the theme, Chaplin and Stenson were locked together with a little rhythmic kick they appeared to find together.  In the second set, Folk Song for Paul featured an extended introduction from the piano, the rhythmic pulse of the theme seeming just to condense from the atmosphere and a quintessential Stenson solo followed, full of rippling, melodic lines, hesitations and distortions of the time. James Maddren seemed to be inside his mind by this point, following every feint and flurry.

The gig had been billed as the quartet playing music from the ECM release Change of Heart. 2016-04-26 20.06.32It was nothing of the sort of course. Speake’s prolific composing output and insatiable musical curiosity meant that we were treated to a mixture of his finely crafted, frequently yearning and reflective compositions, a tune of literally medieval provencance,  arrangements of a Puccini theme (O mio babbino caro) and a Frederico Mompou compostion (Cancon is danse No. 6).  A dip into Charlie Parker’s oeuvre had Bobo deconstructing Be-bop on Charlie’s Wig and they closed on a wryly understated reading of Some Enchanted Evening.

Speake’s own sound has a distilled quality to it, crystal clear and solos developing extended ideas and occasionally erupting into passionate flurries and squeals of emotion.  Chaplin and Maddren may have been less to the fore in this gig, but they had their moments in the spotlight and the responsiveness of the band to each other breathed vital life into the set.

The expression of pleasure and joy through a slightly melancholy tinged reflectiveness is sometimes characterised as typically nordic, Swedish ‘vemod’. To my ears, there is something of this in Speake’s music.  Its better expressed through music than words (perhaps illustrated by the last sentence!) and was threaded through this performance.   Who better to play this with him than the Swedish master.  I  left uplifted and just a bit inspired.

They are on the second of a two night residency at London’s Vortex tonight, not to be missed if you are nearby.

 

 

 

Barry Green/ Stan Sulzmann, Vortex, Friday 22nd April

It was a routine Friday night at the Vortex, and the music was routinely out of the ordinary. Barry Green has had a semi-regular slot there with a variety of guests and this time he was joined by jazz national treasure Stan Sulzmann.  The tenor silenced the room with a few exploratory hoots and phrases to start the gig.  Then, with a flurry, a slide and a slither, a sinuous melodic line hinted at I Didn’t Know What Time It Was and suddenly everyone was playing. Tim Giles on drums somehow played off not quite stated rhythmic feints from the piano and Steve Watts’ loping bass line created momentum with subtle nudges and pushes.  It was magical stuff.

This may not be a regular band, but they know each other of old. Tim Giles’ debut recording at age of 14 with the Hungry Ants had Steve Watts on bass, Giles has been playing with Green since the pianist’s college days and Watts has been a bass player of choice for just about everyone since the days of Loose Tubes. The long acquaintance and pleasure in each other’s company was tangible from the off.

They continued with a nod to John Taylor playing first his tune Ambleside  and then How Deep is the Ocean, played frequently by Taylor. Ambleside’s soaring, spiralling melody evoked lyrical solos all round, before Sulzmann really took off on the standard. Long, melodic ideas just swept us along over a racing pulse from the band, extended single notes stretching over the tune’s form, the intensity suddenly relieved by cascades of notes.  Everyone responded.  After a grooving arrangement of You’ll Never Get to Heaven, Green pulled out a fiery solo on Kenny Wheeler’s Old Time. Glittering runs were punctuated by fiercely percussive episodes, the interaction with Giles on drums electrifying.

It was smiles and whoops all round as the familiar sprang surprises and a top drawer quartet had some fun.  Just an average Friday at the Vortex then.

April and May – Jazz in Bath and Bristol

A quick scan of what’s on over the next couple of months has persuaded me that pointing out a few mouth-watering prospects is more realistic than any attempt at an exhaustive overview.    Before getting too far with that, you really should keep a close eye on the weekly gigs at Bristol’s Be Bop Club, Fringe Jazz and Future Inns and Bath’s St. James Wine Vaults.  All are a mixture of touring and local bands, but the standard is uniformly high.  Hard not to mention Guess the Bleating (featuring three-quarters of Get the Blessing with addition of keys-man Dan Moore and drum legend Tony Orrell) on 18th May at the Fringe and Andy Sheppard‘s Hotel Bristol on 20th April at the same venue and here’s hoping you made it the launch today at the Colston Hall  of two (count ’em) albums by Kevin Figes, a quartet and and octet recording and promoting his label Pig Records, also home to fine recordings by Jim Blomfield, Cathy Jones and more to follow it seems. That assumes you weren’t lured by The Necks playing the organ in the main hall. See what I mean?  You can’t have too much great music, but still…

Here then, are those highlights.  There’s a Nordic Jazz theme to relish. Swedish pianist  Bobo Stenson  is in Bristol at Colston Hall’s Lantern with Martin Speake‘s Change of Heart Quartet.  Stenson, not heavily recorded under his own name, but to sublime effect when he has been, with a series of trio records on ECM, has been a sideman to sax players from Jan Garbarek to Charles Lloyd and his collaboration with Speake dates from a Cheltenham Festival gig in the early 2000s as an International Quartet that included Paul Motian on drums and Mick Hutton on bass. That line- up played a gig in Bristol at the QEH theatre to an audience of under twenty people (that included me). They subsequently recorded for ECM and its music from that album they’ll be playing, with two of the the crop of exceptional young British jazz players, Conor Chaplin on bass and James Maddren on drums completing the quartet. In May, the Nordic action shifts to St. Georges with Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen on the 12th.  Accompanied by Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang and a visuals show to boot,  expect plenty of electronics, sound-scapes and a unique experience.  The following week on 19th May,  legendary bass player Arild Anderson is there for an acoustic set with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith and Italian percussionist Paolo Vinaccia. This line-up has recorded two beautifully melodic and vibrant albums for ECM and this gig is part of a very short tour with only a few gigs in UK.

There’s more.   Tucked away at the top of London Road in Bath, Burdall’s Yard is Bath Spa’s performance space and on April 22nd hosts Sam Crockatt‘s Quartet.  If you want to hear what the some of the most in demand players on the Bristol scened sound like, let loose on a a bunch of artful structured, original jazz tunes by the saxophonist leader get yourself along to this one; Kit Downes on piano, James Maddren on drums and Oli Hayhurst on bass.  Downes and Maddren will be back in Bristol in early June at Colston Hall’s Lantern (ok, its not May but this will be a great gig) this time with Julian Arguelles‘ band Tetra.  Arguelles is,for my money, one of the most distinctive composing and fluently lyrical improvising voices in British jazz over the last twenty years. Sam Lasserson is on bass for that one

Finally, that man Ian Storrer, promoter of jazz gigs in Bristol for a lot of years, has done it again.  Friday May 13th sees New York come to the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster in the shape of the Jonathan Kriesberg Quartet.  Kriesberg is one of the hottest guitarists  on the New York scene and his pianist Dave Kikoski has an eye popping CV that includes Bob Berg and Michael Brecker.  This is one not to miss.

A selection then,  from a large box of treats over the next few weeks, that’s without mentioning the jazz festival over at Cheltenham at the end of April with a incredible line up and something for everyone.

 

 

Jazzy March Round up 3: CD Reviews NYSQ, Lloyd, Crockatt, Gemmer

In between life, playing and listening to live music, there have been a few CD reviews for London Jazz News.  What a treat that is, both the familiar and the fresh popping through the letter box (or occasionally into Dropbox). Here’s a round up of the recent crop (not all in March I hasten to add) a trio of quartets and a legend.

Power-of-10-Album-CoverThe New York Standards Quartet don’t just play standards.  They reinvent, twist and stretch them – with love.  Power of Ten marks ten years of the partnership of the core three Dave Berkman, Tim Armacost and Gene Jackson. The quartet is completed by Whirlwind boss Michael Janisch for this typically exuberant and addictive outing.  My review for is here.   Another Quartet, this time led by Loop Collective tenor-man Sam Crockatt had an all Brit CrockattMellsBells
cast playing a crop of his lovingly crafted compositions on Mells Bells. It’s a mouth watering band with Kit Downes, James Maddren and Oli Hayhurst given the space to stretch out.  Crockatt’s by turns muscular and tenderly lyrical approach mark this set out as an early 2016 highlight for me. The  review is here.  The band are on tour in April. Check Sam’s Website to see if you can make one of the gigs (you really should!).   Maestro Charles Lloyd is unmistakable in any context he appears.  Music-Review-Charles-Lloyd-amp-the-Marvels-1254x1254I find him irresistible.  His second outing on Blue Note since his return to the label last year, I Long To See You finds him and his regular band in the company of Bill Frisell, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz and with guest appearances from Willie Nelson and Norah Jones no less. You’d be right to expect more than a tinge of country.  There’s plenty to relish SoreGemmerLarkand quintessential Lloyd atmospherics – review here. Danish pianist  Søren Gemmer’s  release Lark completes the trio of quartets , albeit expanded for some tracks with guest Mads La Cour on trumpet –  whose release Almuji last year kept finding its way back into my playlists. The review of Lark  is here. Angular, sometimes astringent, arresting nordic jazz.

 

CD – Mark Wade, Event Horizon

EventHorizon_MarkWadeAbout 18 months ago there was a little flurry of CD releases from what I called ‘about timers’.  They were all respected musicians on the UK scene who were only just releasing their first recordings as leaders despite being established, experienced, widely respected and …shhhh… no longer young (the round-up is here).  Now, from across the pond, comes a gem of a trio album from a New York resident, bass playing ‘about-timer’, Mark Wade.  Event Horizon is his debut, released in the US a year ago and last month in Europe on Berlin based label Edition 46.   

Wade has carved out a career on the New York scene, swerving between jazz and classical and latterly,  promoting new composers has been included in his portfolio.  That blend of influences shines through this beautifully paced, fluid set with collaborators Tim Harrison on piano and drummer Scott Neumann.

Eight of the nine tracks are Wade originals and his artfully crafted, spacious compositions conjure grooves and textures that make a big sound with out cluttering it. Jump for Joy is a straightforward, lilting waltz with an attractive melody and then The Prisoner  shifts the ear in a different direction.  A meditative melody is allowed to ring  before an even  momentum develops, implied more than stated and Wade’s singing resonant bass takes the pace up  a gear. Apogee takes the fluid interaction further with a rubato melody that unfolds into a group conversation. Neumann’s drumming is a joy, never overwhelming, but adding colour and locked with his partners’ every move throughout. Harrison too, rings the changes. His melodic lyricism is given free rein on Valley and Stream and he rocks out on Twist in the Wind.  They  all swing out with a bit of a collective wink and a skip on Harold Arlen’s If Only I Had A Brain.

This doesn’t sound like a debut.  Mark Wade’s Trio make committed, emotional music with a distinctive flavour.  This one has got stuck in my playlist over the last month or so. Check it out.

 

Jazzy March Round-up 2: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

It’s March – it must be time for the Jazz and Blues Festival in Bristol. It may only be the fourth edition, 2103 saw the inaugural festival, but it’s established itself fast as a fixture in the calendar.  So the weekend before Easter found me pretty much living at the Colston Hall together with a big chunk of the area’s jazz folk.  There are a few people I confess I’ve seen just four times in the last four years… yup, in more or less the same spot in the Colston Hall foyer.

There are now plenty of reviews and round-ups around. Mine for Jazzwise (with more to come in the magazine) , Jon Turney for London Jazznews and Charley Dunlapp for Listomania.   There were many great moments with highlights in all those reviews but, as I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen, you could have a fantastic jazz festival just sitting in the foyer, surrounded by a steady throng of thousands and lapping up the phenomenal programme on the free stage, punctuated by DJ Tony Clark’s well chosen atmosphere building selections. GtB

Get The Blessing predictably ensured there was no room to move  on Saturday tea-time with an energetic set for the home town crowd.  GTB’s Jake McMurchie was possibly the busiest of the the quartet over the weekend with performances in at least two or three other bands including the big band that played behind Pee Ellis and Fred Wesley re-visiting their jazz roots on Sunday afternoon.  Have we mentioned Ruth Hammond’s Bari solo on a bouncing groover in that gig?  It had Pee Wee grinning as well as the crowd whooping.   Exiting that gig we were captured by another free-stage moment with Pete Judge and Paul Wigens ambient electronica and groove duo transfixing the packed foyer.   Saturday had IMG_1735-2seen Kevin Figes quartet whetting the the appetite for his double release of a quartet album and an octet album on his own Pig Records later in April. Another electrifying moment was provided by expanding his line-up to included two vocalists (Cathy Jones and Emily Wright) tenor and trumpet and delivering an impressionistic closely scripted interpretation of birdsong.  The festival , through its headliners, was also catering to a broad church with the bluesey half of the Jazz and Blues festival well catered for.

This has evolved into a wrap around celebration of music and coming together of people of all ages and musical predilections. Three cheers (or more) for the team that work year round to make it happen.

Jazzy March Round-up 1: BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year

March has been busy and jazzy although not so much of it has found its way onto this blog, so here’s the first of a few quick round-ups.  Early in the month I was in Cardiff for the final of BBC’s Young Jazz Musician 2016.  My piece for Jazzwise is here, summing up the evening and fellow Bristol blogger Jon Turney posted a piece for London Jazznews here. It was hard not to be dazzled by the astonishing maturity of the musicians – how do they get to that good at ….. fill in the blank, but the age range was 15 to 21 and 17 year trumpet player Alexandra Ridout won, her un-affected melodic invention and ‘in the bones’ sense of groove catching the judges’ ears.

Three cheers then for the Beeb for making it part of the long running Young Musician stable and undeniably inspirational it was too.   You can hear quite a bit of it, interviews with the finalists and a fascinating discussion between Claire Martin and Julian Joseph on BBC iPlayer here for another three weeks or so.

The Jazz Line-up hosts chew over jazz and competition, what the future prospects are for the finalists and the thorny issue of diversity.  Four of the finalists were from London and the South East and co-incidentally involved with The Royal Academy,  either as undergraduates or the junior division.  The quality of the young people’s playing is a testament to the quality of the programmes at the London college as well as their own talent and of course the judges in the earlier rounds were choosing the strongest competitors they heard.  There was no doubt, however,  that the competitions producers were very conscious of how it looked. As both Joseph and Martin remark, its hard to believe that there aren’t great musicians from elsewhere around the UK in different communities. A challenge for future competitions then, one it’s clear the BBC want to address and I’ve a feeling they’ll get plenty of encouragement from their panel of judges including the chair, Julian Joseph himself.

The highlights from the final are on BBC4 on May 13th