An August Week in the West Part 2: Gwilym Simcock Solo, University of Falmouth

There are moments in music that seem so right, so beautifully judged, that they both remain suspended in the memory and can eclipse to some extent what led up to them.   After a scintillating and at times gravity defying solo set in the well appointed and intimate performance space at Falmouth University’s performance centre, Gwilym Simcock invited Brigitte Beraha to join him for the inevitable encore. The totally absorbed and universally thrilled audience was drawn mainly from students on the Jazz Summer School and Brigitte was one of their tutors for the week. What followed was a little piece of alchemy. A few stroked abstract chords, Beraha’s wordless sighs and gliding phrases and then I fall in Love to Easily unfolded. A repetition of the stanza followed with the melody distorted and tugged, Simcock following every move with chords by turns lush and sparse.  It’d be tempting to reference Shirley Horne for the sense of pacing or Betty Carter for the imagination with melody and words, but that would perhaps not do justice to Simcock and Beraha’s artistry and simply re-state a jazz truth: great musicians absorb and transmute the ideas an innovations of those that have gone before and weave their own magic. And as the last words dissolved in a sigh and the the piano’s chords faded, it was a piece of pure magic they’d created.

The solo performance that had preceded it had been magical in its own right. Simcock’s now almost taken for for granted protean talents were deployed on exhilarating rhythmic workouts, Barber inspired barely believable counterpoint on Barber’s Blues and exquisite re-workings of the familiar on Everytime we Say Goodbye and, emotionally, Everyone’s Song But My Own. No matter how furious or dense the textures, there was no stopping fluid melodic lines breaking through. It was a breathtaking performance and then followed that encore.  What a moment to stumble across on an evening, in August, in Falmouth.

An August week in the west – Part 1 : The Session in town

The Session_H&ChI’m not sure I can remember the last time I was at  jazz gig that wrapped up with a sing-a-long, but trumpeter Steve Lands was irresistible as he declaimed the verses and egged on the cheerfully dis-inhibited crowd for the responses and chorus of L’il Liza Jane.  It was the encore and the packed Hen and Chicken had been thoroughly won over by two blistering sets from the return of the New Orleans based band last Sunday. The trio of pianist Andrew McGowan, bass player Jason Weaver and saxophonist James Partridge (on Baritone for the evening) have been constants in the line-ups that have visited over the last year. This visit saw Willie Green III powering the quintet from the drum chair.  It was two sets that covered plenty of bases.  They launched with dense contemporary jazz, drifting horn hooks over spikey bass and percussion figures and urgent swing and furious blowing from Lands and Partridge on Sitting Bull Beckons.  Newly minted originals, Andrew’s Blues, Steve’s Samba, Andrew’s 6/8 thing showed their skill in taking familiar jazz materials and forms, twisting them and opening them up for fluid improvising.   A howling, squealing bleak solo from Lands over the chiming piano chords of a Partridge penned ballad was a stand-out moment of the first set – no surprise that the trumpeter is an increasingly in demand player.  Partridge was formidable all evening. Whenever he stepped up the emotional temperature went up, whether blowing flurries of notes or letting long notes and a delicious tone from the baritone sax carry his thoughts.  As the gig went on, the dynamism and fluency  of Weaver’s bass playing shone through and by the time the inevitable second line groove kicked in on  one of his originals, the band were steaming and the smiles broad all round.   A band of mainly New Orleans natives who all met on the Crescent City’s scene, they bring an exuberance and desire to connect which is infectious and once again it wowed the near capacity crowd at the Hen and Chicken.   Another side of their generosity and musicianship was on display the following evening when they showed up at the regular fortnightly jam session at The Canteen.  The occasion was captured beautifully here by Tony Benjamin, who is once again chronicling much what’s interesting and exciting in Bristol on the Bristol 24/7 site.

Looking back at July: Plenty of listening and RIP John Taylor

Early in the month my ears were wrapped around an intriguing Danish quartet led by Mads La Cour called Almuji. My review of their CD for London Jazz is here. They steer the line between free unstructured pieces and more arranged works. Without a chord based instrument and striking an unambiguously jazzy note whilst drawing on their own musical traditions, they create a distinct identity. It’s a similar path trodden by Avashai Cohen’s band who I saw on their trip  to London (another review for London Jazz News here ) albeit on a bigger stage. He brought his regular trio, doubled in size by trumpet, trombone and guitar, the latter wielded by one Kurt Rosenwinkel. The bigger group gave his already compelling music rocket boosters and a very jazzy vibe. They brought the house down.

And then some sad news.

The shock waves of pianist John Taylor’s sudden death just ten days ago are still rippling through the jazz world. Much has been written  of  the admiration and awe with which he was regarded, frequently by people  of whom I am similarly in awe. There are also plenty of anecdotes about his humanity and humility.  So it’s with a certain humility that I’m adding just a few more words .

All I knew of John Taylor was his music: the sounds he created through composition; through what he chose to play; through the way he played in ensembles and, above all, his touch and the sound that he conjured from a piano.   I have been entranced by his playing for much longer than I realised, until I looked back at recordings purchased and recalled gigs attended.  My reaction to that music is what I wanted to record. Simon Purcell, in the middle of his heartfelt and thoughtful piece written from a deep understanding and immersion in the man’s music refers to ‘the grace of recognition’.  That captures beautifully for me what it was like so often when hearing a few caressed chords or an obliquely stated theme. Surprise initially: ‘What is that? … I’ve never heard anything quite like that’ and then, a feeling more than an expressed thought, ‘of course – that’s what it (music? jazz?) is supposed to sound like’. A kind of recognition in other words – I knew it when I heard it, the sound of beauty or an exquisitely expressed emotion.  Strangely, it seems to work even when its the 100th time I’ve played something.   John Taylor is gone. The man will be missed and those who knew him and were touched by him directly (and they were many) will grieve.  There’s also a tug of loss even for those like me who didn’t know him. An extraordinary thing about music of course is that it establishes a connection even across space and time.  And because of that mystery, the connection will remain for as long as we keep listening.  So thank you John Taylor.

CD: Alex Hutton Trio, Magna Carta Suite

ahmcsSuite? Concept Album?  Whatever the tag, history since  the Magna Carta represented in music is both a connecting thread and an ambitious idea for this new album from pianist and composer Alex Hutton.  Consciously referencing musical styles down the ages, and drawing inspiration from historical events and movements over the last 800 years turns out, in Hutton’s hands, to be no dry technical exercise but to result in a compelling collection of twelve pieces . Checking in at just under 40 minutes, it’s a set packed with distilled musical ideas and yet with plenty of space for the trio to stretch out. Its a little triumph. As well as adding Cor Anglais, played by Liesbeth Allart and Liz Palmer on Baroque flute  on some tracks for this album, Hutton’s core trio do the heavy musical lifting and what a trio. The virtuosic and ever versatile Yuri Goloubev is in the bass chair and percussive magician  Asaf Sirkis at the kit.  Old Yew sets the scene with an elegant, stately melody from Gloubev’s singing arco bass. Plaintive folk tunes and lively jigs follow as King John’s Hunting Lodge and June 15th 2015 mark out the history. Three longer pieces at the heart of the album give the trio more scope to explore. Gutenburg Press has a gently funky groove under a baroque style harmonic progression and Goloubev is at his fluent melodic best with a singing solo and Hutton matching him with a fluid response, full of evolving ideas and swooping phrases.  Gunpowder and Compass, based on Bach a fugue, is infused with urgent rhythms and and a workout for Sirkis, goaded on by insistent repeated notes from Hutton and Goloubev. Self Made Man’s self declared romanticism evokes more sweet lyricism from bass and piano. The final section, with Neil Sparkes declaiming his poetry over the bands’ accompaniment may be more of a ‘marmite’ element for listeners, but adds another dimension.  This compact set has plenty of promise for a thrilling live performance but the recorded set stands on its own and has already wormed its way into my playlist for the summer.

Roger Beaujolais, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 23rd July

I’m not sure how Tony Clark got away with it. As he led the whoops and cheers at the end of another great evening in the cellar beneath St. James, the resident DJ and compère for the Jazz at the Vaults sessions assayed a wisecrack about the guest soloist, suggesting he was improving with age like a vintage wine. Roger Beaujolais, who must surely have fielded a few dreadful jokes about his name in his time, let it go and didn’t appear to notice or mind the reference to his age. Perhaps it was the warmth of the reception from the packed cellar or  maybe Tony’s winning grin, either way he wielded the mallets one last roger beaujolaistime and led the band through Yesterdays (the standard) to finish only the second ever gig with a vibes player in Jazz at the Vaults’ now nine year history.  That encore summed up the evening.  The slight wow in the chiming sound of the vibes contrasting with percussive chords from Vyv Hope Scott  before the mallets became a blur as Beaujolais swang like a demon, stretching  and buffetting the shape of the old standard with a blistering solo. He spurred Vyv on to produce another volcanic solo, possibly his most adventurous of the night as his characteristic bluesey workouts morphed into more abstract tumults of notes. It was a fiery end to a great evening that had taken in plenty of standards as well as some of the guest’s originals, all delivered with the same energy. The House rhythm section were on form as ever and Trevor Davies was called on to bounce fours, eights and drum solos off the band on several occasions, Beaujolais nodding his approval at his invention and grooves that always seem to manage to hint at the tune or structure of the piece.  Success is breeding success at the moment for the Wine Vaults with this gig ending the season on high before they restart in September with returning legend Art Themen. There’s a full programme booked for the Autumn to launch the tenth year including, so its rumoured, another Brit Jazz luminary, Henry Lowther.

Double helpings of Rebello and an Edwards, St. James Wine Vaults, Thursday 9th July

IMG_1502“I’m showing off a bit tonight aren’t I?” said Jason with a rueful grin after a massive name drop in the course of naming the blistering latin tune with which the trio had opened the second set. The tune in question was Chick Corea’s Spain and if  you’re going to name drop, then it may as well be big.  So Rebello referred to the time he’d been out to Chick’s house (in Florida) for a jam.  In the first set, there’d been a reference to touring with Wayne Shorter in his 20s.  Nobody minded. They are reference points in the development of one UK’s foremost jazz musicians and its possible we’re blase about the frequency with which we get to hear him play locally.  It was certainly not his first visit to the Vaults and the second occasion on which he’d brought son George along on drums.  Resident bass man and organiser Wade Edwards had a deserved grin on his face as the sell out crowd squeezed in and just a bit of sweat on the brow as Rebello and Son put him through his paces.  Standing a couple of feet from the keyboard was a spine tingling experience as Rebello perceptibly went up through the gears during the first set. As he launched into Cantaloupe Island, the felt in the bones, expressed through the muscles earthy, funky groove with razor sharp timing was enough to make the blood fizz and he really let rip as   patterns spooled out and hooky riffs tweaked the ear over the cycling sequence. On other tunes like Sting’s La Belle Dame Sans Regrets or another Corea number You’re Everything, it was a fluid lyricism that emerged.   A sumptuous reading of Somewhere over the Rainbow reminded us of his ear for shifting and reworking harmony on the fly.  It wasn’t a one man show though.  IMG_1503George may have only just finished his GCSEs but there was a maturity and depth to the interplay with the keyboard. Some of the standout moments of the gig were the almost conversational exchanges of 4’s and 8s between keyboard and drums and repeatedly instinctive echoing and doubling of rhythmic flourishes and flexibility in the Jason’s soloing. They were at it again on Billy’s Bounce as a finale, fours bouncing back and forth between father and son, building to a great climax.  You have to hand it to Wade Edwards: his capacity to lure the best musicians around to the Vaults and keep them coming back means we are treated to nights like this –  a regular Thursday night at Jazz at the Vaults and  reliably exhilarating.

June Highlights (part 2): Listening – early Keith Jarrett and very now Indigo Kid

kjarret_originalalbumJune 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 yearindigokid_fistful 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!!