New Year Post 4: A few words of fan mail to the erstwhile Erksine trio

End of year/ New Year lists tradition seems to demand the best of highlights from the previous year.  An unquestionable highlight for me was a re-release.  My first ‘new year post’ nodded at sounds that lured me jazz-wards.  It wasn’t long after that I discovered the trio led by Peter Erskine, then in the midst of a run of 4 albums recorded on ECM between 1992 and 1997 (You Never Know, Time Being, As It Is,  Juni).  Something about the trio and its sound  transfixed me with, at different times, one or another of the albums on repeat.  ECM released all four as a set halfway through the year under the title As It Was (ha ha).   asitwasWhat a delight it was to review it for London Jazz. My recollection was that I’d held the instinctive gushing of a fan back: reading the review I’m not sure I entirely succeeded.  Never mind.   The plan for this post is to give it full rein.  Listening to the albums again I realised that I’ve never stop listening to them. They’ve become another bit my personal soundtrack.  Its seems also that the sound of the trio has become a unique reference point for other listening.

Since this is a blogpost, I thought a ‘listicle’ was in order, albeit breaking the rules with the omission of numbers.

Things I love about the Peter Erskine Trio

  • How Peter Erskine, the drummer leader, is often hardly playing (try New Old Age on the first album, You Never Know; nearly two minutes before there’s a shimmer of a cymbal)
  • How rhythmic and grooving are so many of these pieces… even though it sounds abstract and floating at first listen, with Erskine hardly playing, just ticking on a cymbal or rustling on a snare.  (Almost anything but try For Ruth on As It Is
  • How repeating, quite abstract phrases, usually the themes of pieces, have little twists of ‘catch your breath’ melody,  and become like old friends after a few listens. (John Taylor’s Windfall on Juni is a bit like this)
  • Bursts of lyricism, like beams of sunlight ( How about Esperanca and Touch Her Soft Lips and Part on As It Is or Liten Visa Til Karin on Time Being)
  • Eruptions of blistering swing that seem to to build like a huge ocean swell (try Everything I Love on You Never Know or Twelve on Juni

But more than anything

  • Its John Taylor – the touch, the way just one chord both stretches your ears, makes your heart flutter and foot tap. How did he do that?
  • And Palle Danielsson. The perfectly placed bass note that opens up the harmony and sounds so rich
  • And the three of them together. Sometimes the music sounds like them breathing steadily as one (try Liten Visa again)

I know I’m not alone in loving these albums, but when music works its magic on us we may be sharing it, but it becomes part of us.  So this is my music as well now.  Thanks Peter, John and Palle.

New Year Post 3: A few words about St. James Wine Vaults (Bath)

Anniversaries are little way markers really. The real sweat, inspiration and commitment is expended on the journey, not in the moment we pause to note the distance traveled.  They are a welcome reminder and a prompt to salute (again) the achievements however.   It really is ten years now since Wade Edwards started the Jazz at the Vaults sessions. Tomorrows gig with Art Themen joining the house trio marks the anniversary. The legendary sax man was one of the first guests from out of the area and he’s been back a few times since.   Vyv Hope Scott‘s ever fluent, muscular swing at the keys and Trevor Davies‘ responsive, subtle and rock-steady groove on the drums have formed a formed a formidable and flexible unit,  with Edwards on bass, to accompany the now huge roster of guests who’ve paid a visit.There are plenty of stand-outs.  The combined force of Jason Rebello and Iain Ballamy remains one of mine, I’m sure many would cite the visit of Pee Wee Ellis and poignantly the late great Bobby Wellins.

So happy anniversary to the team at the Vaults and  Wade in particular. A heart-felt thankyou from this jazz lover. The tenth anniversary season looks like a steady stream of treats.  Byron Wallen follows Themen on 26th January, Karen Sharp on 9th February, Winston Rollins on the 23rd and Josh Arcoleo on 9th March.

New Year Post 2: A word about Dempsey’s (Cardiff)

Getting the Dempsey’s Jazz email from Brenda O’Brien is always accompanied by a frisson of anticipation. ‘Who has Alistair McMurchie lured to that upstairs room opposite the castle now?’ is my usual thought.   The pair have run the club for well over ten years in that location and it is a ‘must visit’ on most tour itineraries, not least for the piano as well as the welcome.   What a jolt then to read not an early warning of another booking coup, but that Dempsey’s is closing and with it the venue of the club.  With two, sometimes three gigs a week through most of the year, they estimate 1400-1500 gigs put on during their tenure.   For such unwelcome news, its a remarkably up-beat message with the search for an alternative venue. They’ll run until the pub closes on 12th February. Its another moment to pause and this time salute Alistair and Brenda for what they’ve done.  Whether they can find an alternative remains to be seen.  Luck and a few helping hands are needed.

This is the advertised programme.

Monday 16th January  The Collective – Great Big Band with tremendous charts. and some fine players. Come and experience this music close up.
Tuesday 17 January  Cloudmakers plus2 – Jim Hart vibraphone, Michael Janisch double bass, Dave Smith drums with guests: Hannes Riepler guitar,  Antonin Tri Hoang alto saxophone
Wednesday 18th January RWCMD showcase – two bands of Welsh College   students
Tuesday 24th January – TBC
Wednesday 25th January TUK TUK – Joe Northwodd tenor, Aidan Thorne bass Paulo Adamo drums plus special guest
 Tuesday 31st January  RWCMD showcase – two bands of Welsh College students
Wednesday 1st February – TBC
Tuesday 7th February CAPITAL CITY JAZZ ORCHESTA – The Big Band with OMPH.
Wednesday 8th February  The Pete Canter Trio – Pete on Soprano and Tenor saxes Matt Johns on Keys and Ron Phelan on 5-string double bass. They will be playing originals fusing comtemporary European Jazz with fold and Latin Influences.

New Year Post 1: A word or two about Andy Sheppard

Watching Andy Sheppard with Hotel Bristol at a valedictory gig just before Christmas in the  Hen and Chicken’s upstairs room was the full Sheppard experience.  First there was the band, another of his (almost too many to count) collaborations. This one has been maturing over a couple of years, Denny Ilet providing the a bluesey not quite rocky edge on guitar; the peer-less Percy Pursglove on bass with dash of top class trumpet thrown in and Mark Whitlam blossoming on drums. Then there’s the music.  A few raunchier (Illet?) compositions like All in Good Time and a burst of rock on Smut gave a platform for the tenor to burn. Laced through the set were the  unmistakable melodic inflections and affecting themes and ample space for the band to invent and play. They were cooking.

And why valedictory?  Well after more than 30 years as a part of Bristol’s jazz scene Andy’s leaving town, relocating to Portugal.  Never mind the fact that in that time he’s built a global reputation, he’s still an active part of the local scene. The room was even more packed than usual to mark the occasion.  Its also made me a bit reflective.  The Sheppard sound, so unmistakeable, first piqued my interest and started me on a journey into jazz.

Not quite thirty years ago I was a music lover, living in Bristol,  but not to my knowledge at the time listening to anything that could be called jazz.  Someone, a friend I think, played me a record (and it was vinyl) by a great Bristol based band and the fluting soprano intro,  world music inflected groove and barnstorming trombone solo on Java Jive (first track on the first Sheppard album),  made me want to listen again.  One thing led to another. Diving in, listening on the live jazz scene in Bristol, ransacking fairly randomly the record library (yes.. vinyl) and new vistas opened up including having some jazz piano lessons with Dave Buxton  who I only later realised was the pianist on that first album

Andy got a fine send off on that evening and managed to fit in another appearance at The Fringe in January, where there’s been an irregular but frequent residency over the last few years.  And he’ll be back.  The Pushy Doctors are scheduled at The Hen and Chicken later in the year and the mouth watering prospect of a live score performed to Metropolis with a ten-piece band including Eivind Aarset and Michel Rabbia at Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival in March.  It’s ‘au revoir’, then but a moment to pause and reflect.  Drawing breath and reflecting seems an essential part of the Sheppard music.  Trio Librero stilling the cavernous and packed Colston Hall with  the simplest of melodies remains an enduring memory and stopping time at magical performance at the Bath Festival is another to put alongside the raucous joie de vivre of The Pushy Doctors and swagger of Hotel Bristol.

Christmas musical post(s) … aiding recovery

A pre-christmas tangle with the seasonal flu virus has pretty much halted any blogging and gig going over the last couple of weeks (although there was a weekend of delights to be reported on involving Andre Canniere at the BeBop and Andy Sheppard‘s valedictory show at the Hen Chicken just as the virus was revving up).

But enough of this self-pity.  Something that’s put a smile on my face and aided recovery has been the rash of musicians/ bands posting live christmas performances on various platforms. Is it just me or is there suddenly more of it?  I may just be paying more attention of course.  Below are some gems I’ve found myself playing more than once ( in no particular order… and I’m sure there a plenty more out there – do post if you stop by and know of one you think I’d like.

With the technology to string these together, it will make a world beating soundtrack to the cooking/ eating/ general festivities.  And you get multiple ‘In the Bleak Midwinter‘s (ItBMW)

London Vocal Project:  Four (count ’em) Pete Churchill arrangements  including ItBMW (1)

Jacob Collier   (ItBMW (2) )

Iain Ballamy and Jason Rebello‘s annual get-together   (includes ItBMW (3)

 I confess this shades it as my favourite selection – some deadpan cheese, total class and that Ballamy sound on tenor… I just melt.

Joey Alexander… looking like a teenager who just got out of bed (.. cos he is) .. sounding like… this.

Recent Highlights 2: Norma Winstone Celebration and Dominic Howles Quintet

The London Jazz Festival is brain-melting in the volume and variety of music and IMG_1951.jpgexperiences on offer over a ten day period in November.  I could only make one gig, but what a night it was, duly reviewed for London Jazz here. That piece hopefully captures some of the magic of being there.   The second set with a full orchestra and sublime arrangements by the late Steve Gray overwhelmed the senses. Since the gig I have also been reflecting on how extraordinary the trio is. With just clarinets, piano and voice they cover ground from Madonna, Tom Waits and exultant and dramatic originals.  Check out the CDs on ECM; a unique sound, distilled and expansive all at once.   I’ve also been giggling ever since about over hearing the man on the ticket desk explaining to someone that Manfred Eicher (ECM boss) was not now coming.  I did ask if I could use the tickets he was going to have – ‘I sat in Manfred Eicher’s seat’ was going to sound good over an expresso in a suitably hip cafe – but I was told ‘your seats are better than his’!

There’s an unexpected link between that gig and last Sunday’s visit to the Hen and Chicken by Dominic Howles’ Quintet. Norma’s gig featured the arrangements of  composer, arranger, pianist Steve Gray many of which were penned with Norma in mind. Gray died in 2008 and, it turns out was Dominic’s father-in-law. The Quintet that Howles brought to the Hen and Chicken had plenty of fire-power. With the Fishwick brothers on drums and trumpet, Dave O’Higgins on tenor and Nick Tomalin on piano, they ripped into Howles’ originals and arrangements. The repertoire was firmly in swinging, Blue Note and sixties driving jazz territory, given a thrilling edge by the contemporary sensibilities and sound of the fluent band.  The Police’s Message in a Bottle got a jazz working over, odd time-signatures and angular harmony giving it a darker edge,  the shuffling groover Ease Up got everyone going. Time after time O’Higgins sculpted graceful lines over dense, twisting harmony, with bursts and flurries of notes wriggling through,  building the excitement. The temperature went up every time he stepped forward. There was no doubting where Howles’ heart lies with nods at Benny Golson, a tribute to Coltrane firmly in Moments Notice/ Giant Steps territory over a rolling groove and a borrowed Ray Brown arrangement of Remember.  Meet me at the Deli, another bluesey shuffle and the newly formed band, easing into the arrangements were well and truly cooking. They are out and about over the next few months with an album in production, so look out for more


Recent Highlights 1: CDs from Duski and Ben Lee

Penning a couple of CD reviews for London Jazz in the last month (or so) has meant the ben-lee-in-the-tree-stoney-lane-records-slr1892chance to listen to some of the emerging talent from two UK cities with vibrant music scenes invigorated by the presence of a conservatoire based jazz course. Guitarist Ben Lee graduated form Birmingham Conservatoire and his quintet with a quirky line-up of guitar, organ, sax, trombone and drums have released a romp through a suitably quirky set of originals on his debut In The Tree, released on Stoney Lane Record. My review for London Jazz is here . A catchy riff and rocky groove are never far away, but prepared to be surprised and charmed. There’s a fertile creative mind at work.

duski_album_338x338Duski led by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama graduate Aidan Thorne mostly hail from Cardiff and have taken their time before releasing their self-titled debut. It’s a strong individual sound , with looping riffs, atmospheric fills from keyboards and guitar and rocky vamps . Gutsy melodic soloing from Greg Sterland on tenor is a standout throughout the engaging set of originals.  My review is here . This one has got stuck on repeat in my playlist.