CD Review: Babelfish, Chasing Rainbows

BabelfishBabelfish, the quartet led by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Barry Green have released a little more quiet beauty laced with wry mischief into the world in the shape of their new album Chasing Rainbows. A set of mainly original tunes and songs from the two co-leaders are given life by the effortlessly meshed grooves conjured up by Chris Laurence on bass and Paul Clarvis on busying, rustling, bustling percussion laced through with now elegant, now acerbic lines from the piano. Brazil is never far away. Michelangelo Anonioni begins as a languid, almost bossa and then subtly changes gear into a pulsating samba-like groove as Green builds an exciting solo over a Laurence/ Clarvis magic carpet of accompaniment that sounds both like its blazing away with its intensity and hardly there with the less is more approach to playing. Beraha’s Sushi Hero is more bouncing, slightly warped latin overlaid  with a typically spikey vocal line, all leaps and dives. Nuit Blanche is darker, retaining a Brazilian edge in its gentler pulse. There are folkier themes with Salley Gardens given a joyous bouncing lilt.  Barry Green’s Confusion is an angular, interval hopping, boppish theme, sown through the album with individual ‘tryouts’ by each band member before a final performance to close the set.   This is beautifully wrought music, full of invention from Green and Beraha’s soloing but always complementing each other and developing their artfully constructed, compellingly melodic themes. This is another gem of an album to follow up their 2012 debut.   They are launching in London on Tuesday 21st at Pizza Express. Let’s hope they manage to spread the beauty around the country in the months ahead

Alan Barnes/ Dave Newton, The Hen and Chicken, Sunday 12th April

Barnes&NewtonIf Alan Barnes is to be believed, and caution is surely advisable given the occasional scatalogical departures in his legendary repartee, he and Dave Newton have been playing much of their repertoire for nearly 40 years since they first met as students. As they ripped into Art Pepper’s Chili Pepper at a blistering tempo, no counting in just Barnes’ liquid flurry of arpeggios to set the tempo, Newton’s chords instantly catching every accent of the quintessentially be-bop theme, there was no doubting the near telepathic nature of the musical partnership.  ‘He’s been taking care of the chords for most of my adult life’ quipped Barnes at one point in the evening, lauding Newton’s playing  and it’s hard to overstate the pianist’s visceral driving energy, coupled with a protean fluency whether with locked hands embellishing chord sequences or fizzing runs over an implacably grooving left hand bass-line. The one man rhythm section frequently seemed to fire himself up as the momentum built behind another dynamic solo.   It wasn’t all fire and brimstone.  Alan Barnes, gags about playing the same stuff in a different octave aside, evoked different moods and voices switching between alto, baritone and clarinet as we were quietly shepherded through a masterclass in repertoire and styles stretching from 20s writers like Don Redman, Gee Baby I Love You getting a through Newton workover, through to Hard bop master Cedar Walton with a thoroughly gospelly account of I’ll Let You Know and lingering over Barnes’ beloved Strayhorn, the quivering, final note of Lotus Blossom from the Baritone a heart stopping moment.  These two musicians have spent their professional lives absorbing and absorbed in the writing and  language of swing, big bands and be-bop onwards and its become their own language of expression.  There were laughs, joyfulness, pain and melancholy for sure. And a hugely entertaining evening greeted with roars of approval as they burned out on Cottontail at an implausible tempo.

Jazz is bursting out all over – Spring Preview : Local gigs Bristol and Bath , Cheltenham and Bath Festivals

With Easter and chocolate binges behind us, a scan of the live gig menu over the next couple months reveals a simple message; you won’t need to go far in Bristol and Bath to catch some outstanding jazz and music inspired by jazz.  There’s the obvious draw of two festivals in May (Cheltenham on the first bank holiday weekend and Bath around the second) of which more in a moment, but it would be a travesty not to notice the quality of what’s on offer week by week at regular sessions. Wade Edwards for example has excelled himself for the spring/ summer season at the fortnightly on a Thursday session at St. James’ Wine Vaults. The booker and occupier of the bass chair in the house trio has secured as a guest on the 16th April fabulous Bristol based Tenor Sax man,  Jake McMurchie (Get The Blessing, Michelson Morley) and then the unique Bristol treasure vocalist Tammy Payne on the 30th April.  Through May and June the house band will go into overdrive with a Hall of Fame series of guests from the British straight-ahead jazz scene.  Don Weller, now in his 70s famously depped for Mike Brecker in Gil Evans Orchestra in the 80s and comes to the Vaults on 14th May. Dave Newton, winner of Best Pianist in the British Jazz awards on multiple occasions takes the piano chair for a trio session on the 28th and then in June, guitar legend Jim Mullen returns with vocalist Zoe Francis.  Regular sessions in Bristol have comparable depth.  Fringe Jazz, now firmly established on Wednesday at The Mall in Clifton, continues with regular appearances from Andy Sheppard who seems to be in the creative overdrive at the moment. The Fringe Jazz sessions feature him in variety of line-ups but the Pushy Doctors are regulars (27th May for instance) and hook-ups with Birmingham based phenomenon on trumpet and bass Percy Pursglove are always worth catching (15th April). In between there’s a great variety, Michelson Morley Jake McMurchie’s looping, live elctronica meets jazz improv (now) quartet featuring guitarist Dan Messore is there on 6th May. Check out the Thursday sessions at Future Inn, an increasingly varied and interesting programme featuring plenty of visitors as well as local bands. Pianist John Law is there on April 30th with a quartet playing material from his new album.  Friday’s see the longrunning BeBop Club continue with a first class programme.  And there are plenty of occasional treats. The Lantern at Colston Hall plays host to Polar Bear on 23rd April and Bill Laurence of Snarky Puppy on 28th May.  Keep your eyes peeled for shows by The Bristol Composers Collective. Their ‘Scratch and Sniff’ Orchestra has started popping up trying out new material by the local scene’s most adventurous spirits.  The next one is on Monday 13th April at The Fringe in Clifton Village. And what of those festivals?  Cheltenham Jazz Festival has evolved into a multi layered affair on the first bank holiday in May.  You can catch Van Morrison, Rumer, Wilko Johnson of Dr Feelgood fame, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and the Average White Band no less.  Another strand sees  Sun Ra Akestra, Joe Lovano with his Afrobeat project, Dave Douglas and Lee Konitz Quintet, John Scofield with rising star German pianist Pablo Held‘s Trio. Yet another sees a more contemporary European flavoured programme mainly at the Parabola Theatre starting with Phronesis, ending with the sublime Julian Arguelle’s Septet and touching a lot of bases in between. With talks, films, jam sessions, a big Sinatra celebration and a Gershwin one too with the inevitable presence of Gregory Porter and Claire Teal too,  it would be hard not indulge most aspects of a musical personality at this cover the bases,  full immersion now five day festival.  Bath Festival is showing signs of recovering its mojo.  After a few years of mysteriously thin programmes and now loss of long term Arts Council funding  (no doubt funding struggles and consequent competing priorities were all part of the challenge) the festival has worked with Serious to come up with a  lean  series of gigs that offer something distinctive for the ten day festival at the end of May. Serious’ specialisms in folk and world as well as adventurous jazz is evident. A two piano gig with Jason Rebello and Gwilym Simcock rounds off Rebello’s year long association with Wiltshire Music Centre. A strong improv thread sees Orphy Robinson’s Black Top making an appearance and American pianist/ iconoclast Matthew Shipp in duo with bass player Matthew Bisio.  By way of total contrast, American exponents of hot jazz, The Hot Sardines put in an appearance early in the festival and there are uncategorisable collaborations with Mike Westbrook bringing his Westbrook Blake to St. Mary’s Bathwick joined by Bath Camerata choir whilst Will Gregory (of Goldfrapp) and drummer Tony Orrell renew an old association and perform an accompaniment to old silent film He Who Gets Slapped. The wildly, divergently creative duo will surely conjure up something magical.  The whole festival will come to a carnival like end with Hugh Masekela.

Greg Cordez Quintet, BeBop Club, Friday 27th march

Greg-Cordez-1Eight Minutes and Twenty Three Seconds is the time it takes light to travel from the sun to earth and the inspiration for a typical  Greg Cordez composition. In the hands of his formidable quintet,  it built steadily last night  from Jim Blomfield‘s simple, fragile, piano opening to a roaring, all hands on deck climax, before subsiding suddenly to a whisper.  The emotional punch was powerful, a pattern they’d followed most of the evening with bass player leader Cordez’s pieces developing an inexorable momentum over march-like, rocky pulses overlayed with themes that declared themselves steadily, given space to breath and take hold as first one soloist and then the next developed and expanded them.   This band debuted over two years ago at the BeBop and since then the repertoire has evolved into mainly originals with an album due for release soon on the New York based Ninety and Nine record label.  Tenor man Jake McMurchie‘s regular foil Nick Malcolm was absent from the line-up that recorded the album, with  Nick Dover stepping in forming a twin tenor frontline for the evening. The two horns blended beautifully, now stating another of Cordez’s compelling melodic fragments, now offering contrasting developments of the looping sequences, Jake’s throaty, warm sound swooping and crying, Nick offering an edgier sound and probing harmonic embellishments, no less emotionally laden.  The only tunes not from the leaders’ pen were by American bassist Todd Sickafoose.  Blood Orange’s hooky theme over a snappy groove set Jim Blomfield up for a blistering solo with a Rhodes sound, shimmering clouds of notes scattered between wild percussive episodes. The twin tenors came in with a shout chorus cum backing riff and suddenly everyone was blowing, Mark Whitlam‘s drumming goading theme on. It was thrilling stuff.   Later, after the Eight Minutes and Twenty Three seconds of ever brightening sunlight, another Blomfield workout, this time solo piano, segued the band into the sumptuous ballad Camilla Rose, before 1000 Paper Cranes traced another arc to end the gig, from simple chiming phrase on piano underpinned by a bass figure through swelling, building, melody and impassioned blowing back to that chiming phrase. On this showing the album, Paper Crane will be well worth catching. Meanwhile you can get some previews from Greg’s website.

February Round Up – Dominic Marshall in Nailsea, Terrasson and Vein in the speakers

February may be one too many months of winter, but as well as my birthday to brighten it up, there’s been plenty of great live and recorded jazz. Nailsea, just south of Bristol is hardly off the beaten track, but a small effort is required to search out the recently restored and managed by a trust Tithe Barn, now a focus for all sorts of creative pursuits including an occasional series of jazz gigs. When I spotted Dominic Marshall was their latest booking, the effort promised to be richly DominicMarshallrewarded.  His 2014 album Spirit Speech (reviewed here ) revealed a singular musician exploring territory deploying a fluent and expressive use of harmony and improvisation combined with rhythms, grooves and compositional ideas that echo the world of hip hop and beats.   The live set with former college mates Sam Gardner on drums and Sam Vicary on bass (these two were in Bristol earlier in the month with the Wildflower Sextet) was in the same territory, but a largely new set of material.  It was an absorbing two sets. The jigsaw like meshing of looping riffs and themes from the piano with bass and drums provided the building blocks for compositions that morphed from one mood to the next. The intensity was built as often through repetition and exploration of one of those elements as from more conventional soloing, although there were some dazzling workouts over cycling sequences, especially in the second set. It may not have been the Nailsea audience’s usual fare, but they recognised a good thing when they saw it and cheered the trio to the barn’s medieval rafters.

There’s been some enjoyable music in the speakers during February. Jacky Terrasson’s new release Take This jackyhomeon Impulse! has loads of great Cover_VEIN_Jazz_Talksmoments, my review for London Jazz is here  . Having caught Vein at St. George’s back in December, their forthcoming album was a delicious prospect. Catching one of their live dates later in the year may not be easy (there are just a few spread around the country) but will be a real treat.  The London Jazz News Review for that on is here.  And now March is here and in these parts, half the area’s population of musicians will be hanging out at Bristol’s Colston Hall for the Jazz and Blues festival next weekend (6/7/8 March), helpfully previewed by Charley Dunlap on Listomania. See you there.

The Wildflower Sextet, BeBop Club, Bristol, Friday 13th February

Wild-Flower-Sextet-Sela-2-300x200The 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.

January Roundup – Gigs and CDs.

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). The-Gate-High-Res-CoverOn 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). EDN1056_Verneri_Pohjola_Bullhorn

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  impossible_gentscaptures 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.