Gilad Atzmon/ Alan Barnes, The Hen and Chicken, Sunday 24th January

Blib-Blob may have summed it up. The blistering bebop-ish theme twisted and leapt through the rhythm changes sequence, tenor (Gilad Atzmon) and alto (Alan Barnes) locked together. The groove though, was a self-consciously heavy handed, funky shuffle injecting a subversive flavour into the passionate blowing, a riotously serious delivery that pervaded the whole evening.  This was Atzmon and Barnes with Atzmon’s regular, equal to and up for anything rhythm section of Frank Harrison on piano, Yaron Stavi on bass and Chris Higinbottom on drums.

Pairing two primarily alto players of the prodigious fluency of these two might have signalled a touring ‘cutting contest’.  The swagger and competitive blowing was tongue in cheek though, entertaining fire-works, less than half the story and wrapped around with plenty of self-deprecating and, courtesy of Atzmon, shoulder shruggingly bawdy humour.

The array of instruments across the front of the stage appeared in a variety of File 25-01-2016, 21 32 40combinations. They’d kicked off with a funkily swinging groover, Barnes on baritone and Atzmon on alto duties before Blib Blob. Then a see-sawing, plaintive melody rendered by soprano and clarinet over a loping groove conjured a different mood.  The fire-works started again with twin altos on a gloriously free-wheeling Alone Together, Barnes’ dazzling melodic invention contrasting with Atzmon’s fiery attack that veered off into a frenetic modal work out.  Blomard changed the mood again with bass clarinet and clarinet combining on a melancholic bossa.  Expectations of high octane blowing were inevitable and they weren’t disappointed, but the light and shade and evocative moods added an extra dimension.

The ‘marquee names’ may have been the draw but delightfully, for this listener, Frank Harrison kept threatening to demand at least equal billing.  Time and again after a gale force blast from Atzmon, or dancing, whirling workout from Barnes, a beautifully judged shimmer and hanging phrase from Higginbottom and Stavi would set the scene for the pianist to build and develop solos that were full of invention, poetry and excitement.  The second set saw him set up two ballads to perfection, Atzmon and Barnes getting through four instruments between them (tenor, alto, bass-clarinet clarinet) on Old Folks , a bit of a show-stopper – ‘for you’ quipped Barnes, risking his life, nodding at the audience).  A thunderous groove and a grand finale on Spring in New York brought the house down and prompted another subverted be-bop tune with Donna-Lee at break neck tempo over a crunching rocky vibe.

Gilad Atzmon may have insisted they were called Lowest Common Denominator, but no-one in the once again packed out Hen & Chicken were in any doubt that they’d heard top class, committed, exuberantly entertaining jazz.

 

Blind Monk Trio, Matt and Phreds, Tuesday 19th January

IMG_1705.jpgThe Blind Monk Trio have declared, right there, one of their sources of inspiration. If you think, however, that means you know what you’re going to get from the tenor of Bob Whittaker, bass of Hugo Harrison and drums of Johnny Hunter, think again.

As they ripped into Bemsha Swing, the bass laying down a funky riff to anchor the energetic attack of Whittaker, there was plenty of momentum, greeted with approving whoops and nods from the appreciative Tuesday night crowd at Matt and Phreds in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.  Whittaker’s solo explored hooky fragments of melody, throwing them out, moving them around, then sweeping them away with hoarse cries and polyphonic squawks.  Johnny Hunter let fly sprinkling thoroughly contemporary bursts of drumming though a tumultuous solo. The introduction to another Monk theme sounded for all the world how The Stranglers might have played Monk, with the bass following a snaking horn line and an insistent rocky riff emerging that you could have jumped up and down to.   The big fat tenor sound was show-cased further on Pure Imagination, the haunting ballad casting its spell over the bar-room clatter.  They closed with an original, Three Blind Monks, a plaintive, chant like motif gradually building over a relaxed vamp, into a more intense declamatory statement.

The trio are regulars at Matt and Phreds and its not hard to see why they went down well at last year’s Manchester Jazz Festival. Easy fluency, an instinctive understanding and plenty of engaging riffs made for an entertaining and energetic set. We should hope they’ll be seen beyond the North West soon.

The late list, my favourite moments and sounds of the last 12 months.

The ‘best of’/’highlights lists’ for 2015 have been and gone and there were a lot of them this year it seemed.  They are always entertaining. Jazzwise mag inveigled a huge cast list to each compile one with a complex point scoring system – always intriguing results.  I managed not to do one in December, or even early January (I just got busy… didn’t get around to it).  There is pleasure to be had in looking back however. So here we go.  It’ a very personal selection, dependent entirely on my idiosyncratic preferences and what may have appealed on a particular day or at different times.  Rules of my game are explained for Live thrills and recorded pleasures respectively.

Gigs & Live Moments  ( a small slice)

For a live gig or moment within a gig, the simple rule is  ‘Can I still conjure up the moment and the thrill?’, or maybe  it returns unbidden to give me a tingle of pleasure at the recollection.

Anthony Braxton at the Lantern, Colston Hall in Bristol for his only UK appearance. A unique and mysterious improviser I’ve remained haunted by the Ghost Trance Music

Julian Arguelles  at Cheltenham Festival with a septet playing inventive arrangements of his enchanting, exuberant music

When I looked back, I realised a trio of duos with Gwilym Simcock stuck out:

Gwilym Simcock/ Jason Rebello at Wiltshire Music Centre in the Bath Festival. Intergenerational? Maybe, but certainly interactive and plenty of fireworks alongside lyrical flights

Gwilym Simcock/ Brigitte Beraha at Falmouth University, an impromptu moment at the end of a solo concert, a moment of magic as piano and voice took flight together on I fall in love too easily

Gwilym Simcock/ Michael Wollny at a tribute to John Taylor, two former pupils of the maestro let fly on Ambleside Days, an extra ordinary moment.

Norma Winstone/ Ralph Towner Another tribute/ celebration and another duo.  These two slid into a version of Celeste that gave me goosebumps at an ‘Evocation’ of Kenny Wheeler’s music in London Jazz Festival.

Paolo Conte at the Barbican. Is it jazz? Cabaret? Pop?  Who cares – the veteran, unclassifiable  Italian crooner wove his spell and charmed everyone ( that’ll be me and what seemed like a significant proportion of Italian and Italian descended London residents)

Kamasi Washington at the Lantern again this time for one of two UK appearances(the Lantern had a good year for coups!) and demonstrating live with only septet (no massed choirs or orchestra on hand) why his debut deserved the title The Epic

I could list all those moments at my regular haunts (St. James Wine Vaults, Bath; BeBop Club; increasingly irresistible, The Hen and Chicken), however one each:

Iain Ballamy – at the Wine Vaults. Never knowingly miss an opportunity to hear him. Back in January last year at the Wine Vaults, just the theme from East of Sun was worth the trip.

Wildflower Sextet – at the BeBop Club early in the year. Any Wayne Shorter related outing is likely to get my but this sextet led by Matt Anderson were a particular delight.

Hotel Bristol –  at The Hen and Chicken. Fierce competition for this slot, but the Andy Sheppard orchestrated quartet has it with fierce blowing, delectable melodies and grooves and the inevitable top-drawer collaborators.

Recorded Music

In the case of  recorded music the question is ‘Do I still get the urge to play the CD/ Download?’     Memory can be deceptive and what happened most recently can loom larger than it should. Discovering that iTunes has sneakily logged a good proportion of my listening, reveals what have been the most frequent of my ‘just got to listen to that again’ or ‘I’m in the mood for..’ choices.  Taken alongside what has got stuck in my (old tech) six CD changer and picking a few faves from albums I’ve reviewed, generates a list that may reveal more about my preferences than anything else, but also looks pretty high quality to me.

 Heavily edited in the interests of not overdoing it –

Stuck in the CD changer

Kamasi Washington – all three discs of The Epic. It’s a throwback (whether jazz or dance music), its very current, its so the ‘next thing’, its irresistible.

Julian Arguelles – Let it Be Told,   Mining the South African repertoire and arranging for Big Band its fabulous (and coming to Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2016)

Babelfish – Chasing Rainbows was this piano, voice, bass and percussion quartet’s second outing. Understated, fizzing with energy, creativity and exquisitely twisted melody.

Reviewed with humility and repeating on the playlist

Andy Sheppard  –  Surrounded by Sea.  Trio Librero with the addition of Elvind Aarstead, whisperingly magical

Charles LloydWild Man Suite, a unique instrumentation. Maybe only Charles Lloyd would respond to the suggestion of adding strings by doing it with lyra and cimbalom, but its vintage Lloyd

The Printmakers – its been a bit of wait, but in Westerly at last we have a recording of this sublime and joyful music from Brit super group

Others, some reviewed some not, but high on the count of ‘plays’

Bebe Buchanan Tagel  – Gone . Danish outfit, featuring that Arguelles chap again. Euro? Yes, lyrical? Yes? Distinctive – oh yes.  Thanks Peter Bacon for the review tip-off

Drifter  – Flow An Edition Records orchestrated quartet with Alexi Tuomarila on piano. Vibrant, exciting contemporary jazz

Mads La Cour – Almuji  I keep returning to this loose limbed, weaving in and out of structures blowing from the Norwegian trumpeter’s quartet

Eyebrow  – Garden City hypnotic and uplifting slowly evolving grooves and hooks from this trumpet, drums and effects duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens

Indigo Kid – Fistful of Notes Not nearly enough fanfare around this second outing for Dan Messore’s quartet playing his enticing and quirky melodies

Veneri Pohjola Another Edition Records release, early in 2015, Finnish trumpeter Pohjola on a set of emotion packed originals and the leaders gorgeous, bang up to date trumpet sound kept calling me back

 

My (still just about)New Year Jazz Honours

Just after the official New Years Honours were announced, London Jazz News’ word search of the list returned a big fat zero.  So no recognition this time by ‘her maj’ of services to jazz, or to humanity through the medium of jazz.  However, I had been musing over repeating my own version of ‘jazz new year’s honours’ – its turning out to a biennial affair – so here goes, all to briefly and better late than never.

Disclaimer

This isn’t meant to be a music awards list ( Parliamentary Jazz Awards coming up if any one wants to put their votes in) or a best of list. I, very objectively and with a complete absence of bias, think about people who I’ve noticed making things happen (for jazz and lovers of) when they don’t have to.  That inevitably means its all quite local – otherwise I may not have noticed it – and generally something I’ve experienced directly or someone I’ve met.

So here we go ‘new year shout out to’

Wade Edwards  – Later this year the Jazz at the Vaults gig at St. James Wine Vaults in Bath will celebrate 10 years of unbroken gigs.   Wade gets a gig too as he’s the bass man in the house trio, but his energy and organising have meant its become a local institution with a big following.  Thanks Wade.

Ian Storrer –  Ian is a bit of an institution himself having run the Albert in Bedminster for years, but over the last couple of years, little by little,  the latest spot at The Hen and Chicken has become more and more established  until now we are getting a top class gig most months and sometimes more. January has been a bonanza.  He’s making it pay and the rest of us are the gainers.  Thanks Ian.

Craig Crofton  Another tireless, musician organiser. Has anyone checked just how many years the Canteen Jam Session has been going and Craig has been the front man and fair minded, business like organiser for a while now since Greg Cordez passed the baton on. Lets not forget also the huge family of performing blowers he’s grown with Mark Archer through the Blow Out Sax school.  Lots of people want to thank Craig.

Sebastian Scotney  A bit of different one. London jazz News got a deserved award in the parliamentary jazz Awards, but this is a personal ‘honours list’ and the eclectic community of bloggers as well as the amount of promotion and encouragement to musicians the site makes happen all gives me a warm glow. Its down to Seb and he doesn’t have to do it. Thanks Seb.

Honourable Mentions

It would be possible to reel out the same names every time I do this list, even if it is biennial. Maybe I should anyway.. there are weekly gigs going on, showcasing and promoting great music and these people don;t have to do it

Thanks Andy Hague at the BeBop (weekly on a Friday)

Thanks Jonathan Taylor at Fringe Jazz (now returned to The Fringe, weekly on Wednesday)

Thanks Steve Williams for Jazz at Future Inns (weekly on a  Thursday)

Thanks Joe Spibey for the Ring 0 Bells in Bath (weekly on a Sunday)

And there’s an implied thanks to all the people who’s names I don’t know who set the rooms up, do the sound, take the money.

 

 

 

 

Atlas, Jazz at Future Inn, Thursday 14th January

Gig-bookers have conspired this week to remind us (well,  me at least) how much Bristol nurtured talent has been leavening the UK scene over the last few years.  The gigs in question were last Sunday’s Moonlight Saving Time gig (here) and Thursday’s  at Future Inn with pianist Rebecca Nash and her new band Atlas.  The link?  As I settled into my seat and meditative flurries from the piano ushered in Lokum, I remember being impressed by a band at the BeBop Club, several years ago now, with Rebecca on keys, Emily Wright and Will Harris (from Moonlight Saving Time) and was Nick Malcolm in that band? Either way he was another link between Thursday and Sunday, appearing in both bands this week. Rebecca is not resident in Bristol anymore and Nick only part-time, but they have all, separately,  been quietly building a growing reputation nationally .

Atlas also includes the formidable Chris Mapp on bass and Matt Fisher on drums.  Fisher and Nash’s association dates back to college days and their complementary styles were an exquisite thread around which this early outing for a new project turned.  The leader’s compositions are eclectic in inspiration. Lokum had an even, rocky pulse, Leonard Cohen’s You Know Who You Are got a re-working, Grace experimented with electronic textures and synthy washes whilst Dreamer developed a delicious groove and a hooky melody.  Nash let solo’s build. Shapely motif’s and darting half-thoughts of runs gradually accumulated until flurries of melodic lines fused together. It was fluent and emotional playing. Matt Fisher and Chris Mapp followed every move, Fisher in particular picking up on implied grooves and accents to build an often irresistible pulse. When Nick Malcolm let fly with a typically inventive solo the temperature really began to build.  A thoroughly contemporary quartet then, with the composer leader happily fusing all sorts of references and styles into her distinctive pieces. Add them to the ‘ones to watch list’.

Moonlight Saving Time with Jason Yarde, Hen & Chicken, Sunday 10th January

A cycling sequence of ringing chords, sax and trumpet in full flight, wordless vocals weaving in, out and over, an effortless groove from the bass and churning drums building the excitement: it was an exhilarating musical tumult as Views reached a climax towards the end of Moonlight Saving Time’s first set of the Bristol launch of their album Meeting at Night. The Bristol based band have been getting deserved exposure, including national radio play, since the official release in the autumn and the Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was packed for the first gig of the 2016 season.

The band’s distinctive sound is a potent brew of jazzily melodic, gliding lines with occasional folk-like inflections; artfully crafted shifting harmony; never over-stated but propulsive and snappy grooves. The arrangements make the most of the cocktail of timbres and pitch in the line-up. This is a collective enterprise.  Emily Wright’s clear toned, supple vocals were frequently in the foreground carrying  lyrics, invariably personal and reflective, but then became another instrument blending beautifully with Nick Malcolm’s. trumpet in wordless swoops and flights.  The jigsaw of rhythms and harmony from Dale Hambridge on keys, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam behind the kit locked it all together.

In this band of leaders and composers there was plenty of scope for individual personalities to make their presence felt.  After the flowing grooves of Clouds, Silence is Here breathed more easily and Dale Hambridge gave his expressive, fluent touch at the piano full rein. On this and the playful, joyfully lilting  Arthur’s Dance Nick Malcolm flung out by turns lyrical and biting trumpet solos adding citric zest to the sophisticated palette of sound.  There were ‘just so’ changes of pace and mood that caught the attention, like leaving Will Harris’ bass to state a groove, imply a melody and a chord all at once whilst letting the space breath – little moments of magic

If the regular ensemble have visibly developed an easy confidence over the last three years or so, the addition of saxophonist Jason Yarde for the evening seemed to step everything up a gear. From his first solo on Clouds, the forceful, fluid exploration of the harmony; song like declamatory phrases and then burning intensity as momentum built, all served to get everyone grinning and nodding. The rest of the band responded in kind. This would have a great gig without the addition of Yarde, as it was it made for a real treat to start the year.  Moonlight Saving Time are going from strength to strength.

Greg Cordez Quintet – Paper Crane, CD & Launch Gig

It’s taken a while. Bass player Greg Cordez had the tracks recorded a year ago we were hearing, having herded the frighteningly busy team of Jake McMurchie (tenor sax), Nick Malcom (trumpet), Jim Blomfield (piano) and Mark Whitlam (drums) into the studio. The occasional teaser has appeared on his website but now Paper Crane is released on Ninety and Nine records and the artefact is here, the CD cover artfully designed to look like it might have been recovered from a batch of a 1000 Paper Cranes and the quintet were at The Hen and Chicken on Sunday to launch it.

But first that CD:  If an un-rushed build-up to the release was a deliberate strategy to stoke tension and anticipation,  it mirrors much of the music on the compelling recording.    A throbbing, repeated bass note launches Real and Imagined, Brown Bear begins with a lightly stepping repeating motif, piano and bass spelling it out, 8’23” with chiming piano chords, Black Bear arrives  through clattering  percussion and an insistent piano note. Each time, layers accrete and momentum builds as the piano binds things to together and the horns conjure affecting, slow moving melody lines.  No need to rush. As these pieces reach their climax there’s a powerful emotional charge. There’s plenty of scope for soloing to grow out of the ensemble playing. Shcrodinger vs Cat with a thumping rock vibe and Up Quark with its rolling, propulsive momentum really build up a head of steam.   Ballad November is a lyrical song, Malcolm’s keening trumpet sculpting beautiful lines over the cycling harmony.   There’s a coherent musical vision running through the set, providing a frame for these formidable musicians to really sing and stretch.

If the recorded music draws the listener in and holds them, the live experience added another dimension. As carefully constructed as these compositions are, the repeated figures and riffs and driving grooves seemed to liberate McMurchie and Malcom further, Brown Bear stimulating a volcanic solo from McMurchie and Malcolm really letting fly on Blood Orange, a rare imported tune.  Blomfield cut loose on 8’23” spiralling off into a solo piano interlude now rhapsodic now an eruption of two fisted rhythm, exploiting all the piano’s quirks.

They launched this music in style with a few ‘new’ ones from the Cordez pen whetting our appetite for more recorded output to come.  No need to rush. The steady evolution will be compulsory viewing. Cordez himself supplied one the moments of the evening as he and Blomfield played All That Is as a duo, the bass channeling Charlie Haden with a sonorous melody and singing harmony from the piano.

A delight of an album, a fabulous gig.