Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet, Hen and Chicken, Friday 13th May

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.

2016-05-13 20.10.36They 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 2016-05-13 20.04.31little 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 2016-05-13 20.09.14Know’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.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival Round -Up, April 30th & May 1st

Cheltenham Jazz Festival  just gets better. Uncertain sunshine and icy squalls couldn’t take the gloss off, although it may temporarily have driven a few punters out of the open air festival pitch in Montpellier Gardens. Capacity of the wallet and ability to absorb sublime music limited me to a couple of gigs on Saturday and delicious trio of them on Sunday, almost all of which have been reviewed by London Jazz News’ near wall to wall coverage , so brief impressions here.

Saturday

Having in recent years come across various alumni of either Birmingham, or Norway’s Trondheim Conservartoires, I thought it was about time I caught up with the Trondheim Jazz Exchange‘s now annual showcase of the current generation of students on Saturday lunchtime. Three ensembles, each a mixture of students from both institutions performed mainly original music seasoned with a few classics. The second drumless ensemble, performed a piece based around a haunting theme that emerged after much atmospherics, and the ethereal sound of Sondre Ferstad‘s harmonica. A sparse pulse from Ben Moorhead‘s bass anchored Simon Ovinge‘s Frisell-esque guitar solo, all lingering phrases and country-ish reverb.   Vittoria Mura‘s tenor completed the quartet that rather stole an absorbing show for me, sandwiched as they were between two very classy sets full of vim and explosive and exploratory playing.  An absorbing hour or so in the present that augered well for the future.

After a bit more dodging of showers, I was back in the Parabola Theatre for The Printmakers to show just why they’ve been nominated (again) for a Parliamentary Jazz Award.  After a few introductory riffles and sighs from the band, Breath Away developed a seemingly effortless headlong momentum, James Maddren on drums and Steve Watts‘ bass a master class in how to lock together and generate propulsive energy without filling all the space up. With Norman Winstone‘s vocal twisting around Mark Lockhart‘s sax it was glorious whilst being familiar.  Niki Iles‘ Tideaway had a ‘natural effects central’ intro with Winstone and Lockhart evoking breezes whilst Mike Walker supplied the seagulls from somewhere inside his guitar. His Clockmaker had the band flying and Maddren lighting a fire under them on a vamp out, no wonder Walker was grinning. They are surely one of our finest small groups, with a playful energy and restrained lyricism that enfolds the listener.

Sunday

It didn’t take long for the FDR Big Band to warm the cavernous Town Hall early on Sunday afternoon, playing Julian Arguelles‘ arrangements of South African Jazz, much of it penned by the exiles, like Chris Macgregor, Dudu Pukwana with whom he, brother Steve and Django Bates played. Those three were the guests with the big band. Arguelle’s arrangements were sublime, packaging up the irrepressibly joyous tunes and grooves for maximum impact and bouncing the melodies around the band, so they were like a massed choir.   The repertoire was largely that of the CD release Let It Be Told,  but this was a rare, possibly not to be repeated chance to see the live set. I for one left wondering how anything was going to come close for the rest of the day (or maybe the year).

Trumpeter Christian Scott provided a total contrast later in the afternoon on the smaller of the two tented stages, the Jazz Arena.  Tony Dudley Evans (who must have been getting quite a bit of exercise as he popped up introducing every band I saw), described Stretch Music as an embracing  different types and inspirations for music beyond classic jazz. That could have been a metaphor for the whole festival as I’d arrived there via the future  of North European jazz, the cream of English bands and a German big band playing South African music.  It was ironic then, that this set stretched the definition the least although it was no less thrilling for that. This was a new line-up for Scott, with alto Logan Richardson and pianist Tony Tixier joining Scott. As a result, there were just a couple of forays into stretch territory with pre-recorded loops, heavy beats, distorted twisting melodies and lots of effects producing ghostly hoots and keening screeches from the trumpet. Most of the set however was an exuberant, burning versions of some classics with Eye of the Hurricane, Equinox, a modal Donald Harrison piece that even had Scott quoting solos from So What before the tune suddenly veered off into a racing take on Miles Davis’ Dolores.  It was exhilarating stuff, Richardson showing just why he’s so lauded currently and TIxier on piano a revelation. The packed Jazz Arena crowd loved it.

My day ended with another contrast, back in the Parabola Theatre for a Sunday evening set IMG_0002.jpgwith Gioavanni Guidi‘s trio.  The intimate space could have been designed for a set like this.  The trio weave between quite simple themes, sometimes a tone poem, at others the most delicate of Bach – like decorated melodies, still others repeating growling motifs. There may be a hail of notes, sounding like they might be pouring from a bucket, or a single bell like tone allowed to fill the room. Joao Lobo shadowed and complemented every move with rustles, disruptive flurries of rhythm and moody squeals using what looked like random ‘objet trouves’.   A delightful set, ending with an encore of, getting its second airing of the day, the South African stomper, You aint gonna know me cos you think you me dedicated by a grinning Guidi to Claudio Ranieri.

There may be bigger festivals, there may be louder festivals, but the diverse programme and concentrated buzz of Cheltenham’s annual jazz feast is surely hard to beat.

 

 

 

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.