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.
There was probably no collusion, but on the weekend of 10th to 12th June, Wiltshire Music Centre and Colston Hall have between them managed to arrange gigs by some the best, most exciting jazz musicians on the current scene (that’ll be UK, Europe or anywhere according to some).
Was Jazzwise magazine being a bit lurid when they described Phronesis as one of the most exciting bands on the planet? Their gig at Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10 June is one of only three opportunities in UK to find out on their current tour. They are promoting their release of a new album on Edition Records (their UK launch gig is at London’s Cadogan Hall on the Sunday). There’s no doubting the energy and exhilaration this trio generate when they play. Much of their music is built around Jaspar Hoiby‘s catchy bass riffs, frenetic rhythms from Anton Eger on drums and fragments of melody that bounce around the band, often as not, traced out by pianist Ivo Neame, but they move as an improvising unit and there is no telling where they’ll end up. Hailing from Denmark, Norway/Sweden and UK respectively they have an international reputation. What a way to start the weekend. Book here.
Having taken Saturday to recover, The Lantern, Colston Hall is the only place to be on Sunday 12th June. Saxophonist Julian Arguelles has been a singular and creative presence on the British Jazz Scene since playing with Loose Tubes in the 1980s. Last month he received a Parliamentary Jazz Award for his recording Let it Be with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and now he’s on tour with his quartet Tetra and what a band this is. Playing Arguelles’ compositions that are always deeply rooted in jazz, but constantly delight and surprise with flights of lyricism and echoes of music from all over the world, the band are all sublime musicians. Kit Downes on piano and James Maddren on drums are some of the most in demand payers around, Downes leading plenty of award winning projects of his own. Sam Lasserson is amongst the most exciting of the formdiable current crop of bass players. They too are touring on the back of an album, this one on Whirlwind and much praised by John Fordham in the Guardian. Book those tickets here
Mark Nightingale is probably heartily sick of bad puns on his name, but his appearance at the St. James Wine Vaults session in Bath in the middle of the month in a cellar bar beneath St. James Square, made allusions to singing and squares irresistible. Anyone who was there might also think it’s an apt comparison however. Opportunities to see one of our foremost exponents of trombone as the lead horn are relatively rare so this was a real treat. The fluency and agility of the playing were dazzling and Nightingale’s tone was like honey in the ear as he led the house trio through two sets of tunes from some less visited corners of the standards and jazz classics repertoire. This was another absorbing evening in the fortnightly session’s programme, now a decade old, that continues to attract the best players on the scene.
It’s a year of anniversaries, as Play Jazz Weekend, an annual pop-up jazz jazz school held at Wiltshire Jazz Centre, reached a run of a decade under the stewardship of Rachel Kerry over the Bank Holiday Weekend . This year, as on some previous occasions, the tutors for the weekend assembled the night before for a gig at Bristol’s Be-Bop Club. Alan Barnes, Damian Cook and Andy Hague (alto, tenor, trumpet) formed the frontline of the band that also featured the fourth tutor Jim Blomfield on piano. Chris Jones on bass and Mark Whitlam secured a grooving, responsive rhythm section. This kind of gig is a Hague specialty. He arrived with a pad of arrangements in ‘roughly hard swinging, sixties Blue Note territory’ as he put it, making sure the impromptu sextet served up a fizzing set of familiar tunes with new twists and the unfamiliar with attention grabbing energy. So we got standards such as Like Someone in Love, Billy Strayhdorn’s UMMG, a little known rip-roaring Horace Silver, Smell my Attitude, evoking burning soloing all round. There were moments of tender delicacy sprinkled throughout the evening as well. A rousing Marcus Printup stomper closed the evening, loudly appreciated by prospective Play Jazz students and regular punters alike.
The much reduced Bath International Festival took place over the week before the bank holiday weekend and the overtly jazzy gigs were on the first Saturday. There’ll be more from me in Jazzwise about those, suffice to say that a solo Branford Marsalis gig in the Abbey, complete with tolling bells to welcome him to the stage, was a dramatic piece of billing. One man, his saxophones and a big church was certainly a challenge but Marsalis rose to it, sounding most compelling to these ears when he eased into some jazz standards, but mining classical and contemporary sounds along the way and using the response of the natural reverb chamber to exhilarating effect. Kansas Smitty’s House Band provided a raucous antidote later in the same evening, impossible not to enjoy.
It’s obvious really. The New York based, guitar led quartet with a hot reputation and Grammy winning pianist on-board had the twenty plus tour dates around Europe sorted. The London date at Pizza Express was booked. Another couple of dates in UK? Well one has got to be the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster of course. We don’t know how promoter Ian Storrer does it, but there was no doubting the appreciation of the capacity crowd the gig lured to the pub’s upstairs room on a sunny Friday evening.
They eased in gently. Colin Stranahan set up an infectiously crisp, shuffling groove on the drums and a subtly twisted Stella by Starlight unfolded over singing open chords. Jonathan Kreisberg’s fluently, lyrical solo was nudged along by the tasteful sparse comping and characteristic rhythmic stabs of pianist Dave Kikoski,. It was a perfect starter. Delicious, appetite whetting but just a taster of what was to come.
The rest of the two sets were mainly Kreisberg originals and whilst the takeaway memories of the gig are of glittering musicianship, volcanic soloing and an electric understanding and interaction within the band, Kreisberg’s writing was one of the stars of the show. Rhythmically dense and intricate themes shape shifted into a modal work-out for solos, or a gear change to a different meter revealed a simpler appealing melody or groove around which the piece was built. There were breakneck tempos, locked tight with unison lines between guitar and piano and then an unadorned, ever so so slightly wonky lilting waltz with a carefully crafted melody allowed to sing.
Wild Animals We’ve Seen had a relaxed rocking groove, a theme of repeating and morphing motifs with little darting phrases. Kresiberg built the energy with a steadily thickening cascade of ideas before Kikoski uncorked the first of his incendiary solos of the evening. Ideas were sketched with sharply struck chords, shaded in with darting runs then pummelled into a variety of shapes with shimmering volleys of notes. Occasionally he’d freeze over the keys, before diving back in. It was repeated throughout the evening with a rainbow of textures and moods appearing. Being Human evoked gospelly, shout like phrases, little displaced fragments and stabs somehow anticipated telepathically by Stranhan with snapping reports from the snare. The drummer was an unstoppable flow of energy and invention all evening animating everything. Until You Know’s spooky guitar effects laden intro and dancing boppish theme bounced along over his skittering racing drums. Stir the Stars at one point became a conversational duo performance of guitar and drums conducted at a lethal tempo. It was riveting. It would have easy to miss the contribution of Rick Rosato on bass. His was a vital contribution to the propulsive energy of this band, smooth, skipping lines anchoring and pushing the band along.
The quartet were in the latter stages of that lengthy tour and the fruits were on display in this electrifying band performance. Another fizzing night of New York comes to Bedminster.