The Wildflower Sextet’s artfully twisted performance of Lester Left Town was still buzzing, ear-worm like, in my memory when I woke on Saturday morning to find London Jazz News had posted a review by Peter Jones of their album. He observes that at first hearing, many of the originals by leader and tenor man Matt Anderson could have come from the pen of the inspiration behind the music himself, the legend that is Wayne Shorter. The opener, J.G fitted that bill perfectly. After a rippling atmospheric blend of Alex Munk‘s guitar and Sam Leak‘s piano set the scene, it kicked into an insistent, driving swing with Laura Jurd‘s trumpet blending with Anderson’s warm toned tenor on a familiar/ not familiar melody. ‘Surely that’s from one those 60’s Blue Note albums after Shorter had left Art Blakey’s band?’. But no, it was an Anderson original. The idiom was nailed, but this is far more than a tribute band. They say they make music ‘inspired by’ Shorter and as they warmed up and the enthusiastic Be Bop club audience warmed to them, they really started stretching out. Firedance saw Jurd and Anderson swapping phrases and winding each other up before a deliciously melodic solo from Sam Leak wound its way through the harmony, all glancing boppish phrases, locked beautifully with the pulse from the rhythm unit of Sam Gardner on drums and Sam Vicary’s bass (a trio of Sams!). Things really seemed to lift off when they put on the cloak of the modern Shorter quartet and deconstructed Mahjong, a much looser open approach with each section of the tune explored at length punctuated by flurries of the familiar melody, Anderson and Jurd again soloing together. Sfumato (an Anderson original before you rush off to check the Shorter oeuvre) started of back in 60s Shorter territory, tenor and trumpet mingling and then Jurd stretched out, lithe melodic lines drawing the ear on, ramping up the energy, a great solo and the whole ensemble coalescing around a lurching off-kilter funky vamp as an outro. And then the teasing arrangement of Lester Left Town, speeding up and slowing down to keep us guessing and providing a roaring finale to a great evening. They may have been mining a rich legacy, but they were in no way slaves to it. They didn’t even play Wildflower. Go see them.
A quick look back at January’s diary confirms a cracking month of listening and gig going. Aside from Anthony Braxton, and Iain Ballamy early on, I caught Tom Green‘s Septet at Burdalls Yard at the start of a lengthy national tour. A rousing start to the month and my account is on Jazzwise’s website. A couple of CDs confirmed what a service two still relatively young labels, Whirlwind and Edition, are performing for our jazz scene. Both labels were of course started by musicians (Mike Janisch and Dave Stapleton). On Whirlwind, The Gate is bass player Phil Donkin‘s debut release as a leader after an already stellar career as a sideman, (my review for London Jazz here). Edition have done it again in signing another formidable European player, this time distinctive Finnish trumpeter Veneri Pohjola. His album Bullhorn has been stuck on my playlist (review here).
And then an epic weekend starting with Head South‘s authentic Latin grooves fronted by UK trumpet meister Steve Waterman at the BeBop Club. Chino Martell Morgan‘s percussion blended with Buster Birch’s rocket fuelled drumming to stir anyone’s blood, all MD’d by keysman John Harriman locked tight with Alsofredo Pulido‘s bass for the night. The Impossible Gentlemen at Wiltshire Music Centre followed on Saturday. Oh, its good to see them back again. Jon Turney’s review nicely captures the thrill. They roar and raunch and sigh and swoon in equal measure. There’s a singing bittersweet voicing of chords from Mike Walker‘s guitar blending with Gwilym Simcock‘s piano that’s almost a signature sound: my ole heart flipped over as a new tune Hold Out For The Sun launched the gig with just such a cycling sequence. The local jazz scene were out in force to appreciate. The weekend was topped off by Andy Sheppard and Denny Illett’s Hotel Bristol on Sunday at the Hen & Chicken. I’ve nothing to add to this. I’m not sure I can stand the pace.
These days the world may know Andy Sheppard principally through a series of collaborations on ECM, but in Bristol whilst due respect is paid to the international profile, there’s the regular local collaborations to delight, invariably showing us a different side. He’s to be seen at a near residency at Fringe Jazz with a rotating cast list, with the organ trio The Pushy Doctors playing just about anything with verve, passion and wry humour and now the delicious prospect of this quartet, Hotel Bristol. The full line-up is Andy, guitarist and Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival man Denny Ilet, uniquely (surely) bass and trumpet Percy Pursglove and drummer Dylan Howe. There have been relatively few appearances but the word has spread and Sunday night’s gig saw the room above the Hen and Chicken packed and a big grin on Ian Storrer’s face as his audience counter needed three digits. And what a treat this band served up.
A bluesy theme, delivered by guitar and tenor in unison, every bent note and dragged beat locked together whilst bass and drums dug into the beat. Not too many notes, just an ‘in the bones’ feel. Delicious Ham and Eggs. Then an even quavered vibe with lilting guitar chords and a quintessential Andy Sheppard melody, joyous, breathy upper register hoots and interval leaps to make the heart leap. Walk in the Park. It wasn’t all relaxed. A blistering boppish head gave way to incendiary soloing and Pursglove swapped bass for for flugelhorn horn. One of the exciting things about this band is that Sheppard has been writing for them and the carefully crafted themes with Sheppard’s well honed instinct for energy ramping stops and changes of pace provided a platform for some sizzling improvising all round. The second set started with an Illett composition All in Good time, with a flowing groove and a line that sounded like a carefully dissected and stretched out Blue Note theme, maximum value extracted from each phrase. Another joyous, grooving melody followed with hint of the Caribbean and had tenor and Pursglove’s flugelhorn blending again over the patter of Howe’s drums. Sighs, cheers and whoops all round. Someone should record this band! Everyone should have a little taste of this.
The visit of Anthony Braxton to UK was a national occasion, never mind to Bristol. That means its been extensively reviewed by locally Tony Benjamin and Charley Dunlap, nationally in London Jazz News and the Telegraph, I’ve posted on Jazzwise’s website about the evening and my review is coming in the magazine. Enough said and written!
I was fascinated by the scores and titles for the pieces, so was pleased they left them lying around for us to have a look at. This is a thing of beauty to my eyes – without too much of stretch I could imagine it in an art gallery, perhaps in Spain. Braxton does refer to his pieces by numbers, as this artefact is also the title as well as the score I believe, so the number at the bottom right of the photo may be the one for this piece. How this and the annotations guide the performance I have no idea. This then is the template for Diamond Curtain Wall Music.
The score behind it looks a little more conventional! There were moments in the gig when the leader cued the band with gestures and what looked suspiciously like a tempo. These are scores for Ghost Trance Music I think.
A final footnote is that there’d been much reference to it being a decade since Anthony Braxton had played in UK. Asked about it, Tod Wills (Colston Hall programme director) reported the man himself couldn’t recall other occasions. Subsequently I was tweeted a review of a 2007 appearance (thanks @restructures); just nearly 8 years then.
There’s a dazzling array of gigs coming up in the Bristol/ Bath area at the bigger concert venues in the next few months. That’s on top of the regular club nights that are hosting really top quality programmes. So for your regular consumption, check the now moved to Wednesdays and a new location in Clifton Village, Fringe Jazz: always excellent with Partisans visiting in February. On Thursdays look out for weekly gigs at Future Inns, increasingly with interesting touring bands as well as the best of Bristol and alternate Thursdays in Bath the Jazz at the Vaults sessions (already launched with Iain Ballamy and some great guests lined up. Friday night is Bristol BeBop Club with a reliably first class mix of local and touring band but keep an eye on Burdall’s Yard in Bath for occasional gigs, Friday 16th sees the Tom Green Septet young, outrageously talented and already critically acclaimed. A roughly monthly series at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol brings a fantastic line-up starting with Andy Sheppard’s intriguing Hotel Bristol Quartet on 25th January. That’s without mentioning the slightly lower key and regular sessions at pubs all over the area and the odd residency (James Morton‘s at the Gallimaufrey always reliably groovy for instance).
But even without the Bristol International jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend of March 5th-8th, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of co-ordinated festival of international jazz in the area over the next three months. Colston Hall are leading the way in January. First on the 20th Anthony Braxton – NEA Jazz Master, bona fide legend and adventurer in music with his first gig in UK in over a decade and only UK date on a short European tour. The following night, genuine cream of the New York scene Larry Goldings‘ Organ Trio. If that wasn’t enough, Saturday 24th sees The Impossible Gentleman at Wiltshire Music Centre, a UK/ US Quartet that’s taken the jazz world by storm over the last few years. Later in February, St. George’s, Bristol gets in on the act on 26th February with Tim Garland, UK based and another genuine international name who numbers Chick Corea amongst his collaborators. His quartet includes rising guitar star Ant Law who is at the Hen and Chicken with his own quartet on the 15th February. The feast continues after the Bristol Festival with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Colston Hall and then Polar Bear in April, Nat Birchall at St. George’s and a duo of Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman also at St. George’s in April. Jason Rebello concludes his Artist in Residence spell at Wiltshire Music Centre again in April with a two piano gig with Gwilym Simcock.
Anyone taking in even half of these gigs will have sampled some of the best and wide ranging jazz anywhere. What a feast.
January has brought some icy blasts with it, so the warm caressing tone of Iain Ballamy’s sax was a ‘balm to the soul’ welcome as we stumbled down the stairs to the cellar bar and to a session that will surely soon be able to add ‘longest running’ to ‘top’ in the list of adjectives that describe the Wade Edwards’ house band plus guest, fortnightly gig. Ballamy has become a regular if not frequent visitor but whilst his guest sessions may lean on the standards jazz repertoire, they are deliciously unpredictable and to take him for granted would be a mistake. He’s an ECM recording artist (one of the most iconic jazz labels and home to Keith Jarrett amongst many others for nearly 40 years). He’s feted around Europe and appears in ambient elctronica ensembles, uncategorisable sublime jazz- folk crossovers, a burning contemporary jazz band the legendary Loose Tubes anarchic big band – the list goes on. You never quiet know what’s coming next, and the Jazz House Trio (Wade, Vyv Hope Scott and Trevor Davies) certainly didn’t as Iain decided on the spot what to play next and frequently how (instant arrangements either demonstrated or hurriedly whispered as they started). It didn’t matter though. At the centre of it was Ballamy’s sound, sketching out whispy melodic lines with a crackly almost hoarse sound in the upper register that speaks straight to the heart. Desafindao welcomed us in, a gorgeous statement of the theme that had the packed in audience applauding as if it was a grandstanding solo. An extraordinary arrangement of East of the Sun had a single throbbing note under half the theme, building tension until they slid into an easy free-wheeling swing , but setting a mood that sent the band off in new thoughtful directions. A Burt Baccharach classic, Wives and Lovers was an unexpected twist with a fluid out of time reading of the familiar tune preceding the breezy tempo established for the solos. The ‘we don’t know what’s coming next’ high wire act offered thrills and spills as Ballamy started the gorgeous Wayne Shorter ballad Myako in a different key to the rest of the band. But after a blistering Out of Nowhere, time stood still as he made Autumn in New York completely his own. This was a fantastic start to a new season at the Vaults. It’s a treasure of a gig with a house band that welcomes artists of international stature like Iain Ballamy as well as the best of a top class scene in area. Its good to see that Bath people know a good thing when they see it. Audiences are regularly healthy. Long may it remain so!
I think the first review of the year I saw was definitely early December, so I’m surely near the curfew for this. But this is mostly a personal idiosyncratic review of the year based entirely on what I happened to have listened to, and live moments I’ve happened upon. One criterion (the only?) for inclusion is being moved or excited beyond the norm, definitely a very personal response.
I have an old fashioned 6 CD changer in the living room, so a good starting point is what gets stuck in that during the year
I see that these three are still in there despite a fairly heavy turnover.
Joy in spite of Everything, Stefano Bollani – title captures the spirit of the album
Circularity, Julian Arguelles – super group playing Arguelles’ sublime compositions
Present Joys, Dave Douglas and Uri Caine - what is it with Dave Douglas and hymns? Be Still was on my fave list last year
Popping up repeatedly on the iPod playlists and somehow never getting replaced (limited space means more turnover!) these gems
Under the Moon, Blue Eyed Hawk – Chaos Collective luminaries collaborating on uncategorisable collection. Great listening
Songs to The North Sky, Tim Garland – A double CD seeming to sum up the breadth of the mighty Garland’s writing and playing
Weaving the Spell, Busnoys – Does what is says on the tin (er… CD cover) for me. Quirky trio led by vibes man Martin Pyne
Live in Hamburg (72), Keith Jarrett - a reminder, if needed, of the unbridled, dazzling energy of the trio with Motian and Haden as well as moments of breathtaking tenderness ( I admit I can take or leave Jarrett’s soprano sax sounding like wounded animal episodes)
There are so many more great albums, but these are the ones that seem to have kept coming back to this year. Two I haven’t heard (so much music, so little time) but mean to seek out: Michael Wollny (see below for reasons), Jason Moran, Elegy to Waller – on the basis that looking at Peter Bacon’s Festive Fifty Fifty, tow of my top faves are in his top three and the third is Jason.. maybe I should check it out!
Is it a cliché to say what a privilege it is to see so much amazing music live? Excuse me if so, but saying wow, whooping and explicitly acknowledging now and then seems only proper.
Just a few fabulous gigs then..
Charles Lloyd in the London Jazz Festival (the DVD of the film Arrows into Infinity would be on the recorded list as well if it was a CD!) – entrancing and uplifting. My thoughts at the time here
Kit Downes Quintet at the Hen & Chicken, one of a few fantastic gigs there this year, but this was a standout – My thoughts at the time here
Michael Wollny Trio Brecon Festival. Ok, first time I’d seen them live. Blown away doesn’t quite cover it – impressions here
Dave Holland’s - Prism – Ronnie Scott’s. Just simply (although not very), groovily (very), sublime. My thoughts at the time here
And of course, for anyone who was there, these get on the highlights of the year – not one but two Loose Tubes gigs (for me) first at Cheltenham, then at Brecon again.
Moments within gigs sometime burn even brighter in the memory. Here are a few.
An ordinary Friday with another out of the ordinary local line-up at the BeBop club (this time Andy Hague’s Quintet) with 2014 British Jazz Award winner Dave Newton in the piano chair. Dave Newton’s trio feature, Alice in Wonderland, had me holding my breath but the moment Will Harris’ bass entered, so perfectly judged is still making me tingle.
A Sunday lunchtime at Ronnie Scott’s with the London Vocal Project. Pete Churchill just returned from New York working with Jon Hendricks on lyrics for Miles Ahead, has just recounted the latest episode. The first performance, the first words out of Anita Wardell‘s mouth ‘If you would know what beauty is’. The frisson is still there.
Involuntary weeping can be misunderstood at a gig I guess. The opening chords of Nikki Iles‘ Hush, as the Royal Academy Big Band burst into life at their London Jazz Festival gig playing Nikki’s arrangement, in that moment was near overwhelming. I think I got away with it though.
Top that 2015