Nick Dover/Malcolm Edmonstone Quintet, The Fringe, Wednesday 18th October

It’s a great gag. The presence of the tenor man Nick (Dover), pianist Malcolm (Edmonstone) AND trumpeter Nick Malcolm on the stage allowed Malcolm (EdmonstoneIMG_2573) to try and persuade us the band was called Nick Malcolm Nick Malcolm (so good they named it twice). The real story was the music and the playing of course. This was the sort of happening in which The Fringe seems to specialise. A meeting of players who sound like an established band, look like one, but appear to only pop up at The Fringe. Prime Suspect:  ‘The Management’. Of course, sometimes the happenings become an established band and this one threatens to. It was their third appearance at the club, the line-up completed by the inconveniently named Matt Brown on drums and Will Harris on bass. Names aside, its probably harder to find a better rhythm section in these parts.

The theme of Broadway, Britain and Brazil, assayed by Edmonstone,  held as they played All the Things You Are, Iain Ballamy’s Strawberries and and an Ivan Lins piece.  It wasn’t so clear where Coltrane’s Cousin Mary  fitted, but who cares – they were roaring by that stage.  The Jerome Kern opener flowered as they each explored the familiar harmony and spiraled off in their own distinctive directions.  Edmonstone was an extraordinary presence, as he was in each tune, alert to every feint and flurry and spontaneously re-arranging the harmony and accompaniment in response. More than once, Will Harris’ or Nick Malcom’s eyes widened as he spurred and prodded them on.  In the Ivan Lins piece he picked up a phrase from Malcolm and wove a two handed counterpoint development of it round Malcolm’s own sinuously evolving line.  Was there particular electricity between the restlessly inventive Dover and Edmonstone?  They do go back a long way. Edmonstone grinned and burst into applause after Dover’s first solo on ‘All the Things You Are‘. Cousin Mary closed the first set, Matt Brown’s boiling rhythms erupting into solo spot to match the intensity cooked up in the rest of the band’s solos.

This evening was cut short for me by the shivers of the seasonal cold, but reports were that the second set was even better (of course).  It may soon be time for this formidable line-up to be seen beyond the confines of the Fringe. Until then, be sure to catch them next time they pop up.

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Bristol week: From Craig Handy to Thelonius

As if last Friday’s outing to see Entropi wasn’t enough, catching Craig Handy mid-tour with a mouth-watering quartet at the Hen and Chicken on Sunday was followed on Wendesday by Thelonius celebrating the centenary of their eponymous inspiration at The Fringe. Soaking up the music and earning a crust has meant I’ve yet to reflect on either gig here, so an edited highlights is what follows.   It’s hard to imagine any city in the world hosting anything better than these two gigs as part of the week’s routine fare. There was also a connection, in my mind, between them. Both transparently drew on an in-the-very-marrow familiarity with jazz from bebop onwards and everything that has flowed from it, coupled with dazzling improvisation, so that the most familiar of material had zest and IMG_2571life and freshness.  Yup, it’s been quite a week.

Handy toured with Herbie Hancock in the mid 90s playing the New Standards material, was in the legendary Betty Carter’s band, has been a fixture in the Mingus Big Band including stints as MD.  It shouldn’t be a surprising then if his sound, choice of phrase, instinct for a mischievous quote or reference sounds, whilst still being his own, as if it comes from a long line of greats, .  It was gripping, it just oozed out of him. He was clearly enjoying the company of Jonathan Gee on piano, Nicola Sabato on bass and Rod Youngs on drums.  This wasn’t a grab you by the throat and shower you with notes session, but oh my it was grooving. Cedar Walton’s Holy Land was an easy medium swing tempo and as Handy layered phrase upon phrase, building momentum the band stoked it with him. It was like sitting on a gradually swelling ocean wave; quite exhilarating.  Rod Youngs was a delight, much of that energy coming from pushy, minimal strokes of his cymbal.  The two sets were mostly standards with a couple of Handy originals and the easy fluency was a thrill.  As we crept out (a case of catching the last bus syndrome), What’s New was just fading. We’d hung on every swoop and flutter of the melody. It was easy to imagine echoes of Coltrane or Dexter Gordon playing the ballad, but that’s because they’re surely in Handy’s the musical bloodstream.

Thelonius were drinking from the same well, but restricting themselves exclusively to compositions by Monk himself as Calum Gourlay reminded the full to over-flowing Fringe  before a note was played (just in case we were there under false pretenses). They kicked of with Epistrophy and the easy swing and Monk’s instantly catchy but typically off-kilter theme grabbed the ears. Hans Koller was on keys for this tune (he played valve trombone for most of the evening) and assembled a solo that was like shards of glass, all angles and dissonant fragments. A great start. This band, with Martin Speake on alto and for this gig the peer-less Jeff Williams on drums, have been playing weekly at times at the Vortex exploring the Monk canon. There’s always the possibility of deconstruction and radical re-interpretation in a project like this, but they approach the tunes with great fidelity to the original compositions in tempo and feel. They are each formidable improvisers and composers in their own right and the exploration of the tunes is from the inside out. Williams threatened to steal the show early on with a riveting, melodic solo on Teo. For Gourlay, the band frequently just laid out and he gave a hint of why a solo bass set from him might be a treat somehow evoking the harmony and sounding like an entire rhythm section as he played off Monk’s themes..  Koller is a a top drawer pianist, so hearing where his mind takes him with just a single line to pursue on the trombone , without the added  harmonic possibilities of the keyboard was fascinating.  There’s a  muted, fragile air to his tone adding a vulnerable almost melancholic edge to his playing.  His trombone and Speake’s alto blended and interacted beautifully and gave Round Midnight a fresh twist.  It was, as Gourlay again, reminded us the day after Monk’s would-have-been 100th birthday.   It was a delicious homage.

Entropi, BeBop Club, Friday 6th October

A gale force blast of sax and trumpet pinned my ears back as I poked my head round the door of the BeBop club last night.  I don’t think it was a comment on my late arrival; the band where in the middle of an unstructured collective workout. My tardiness aside, venturing out on an inhospitable Friday was richly rewarded.  Entropi, led by alto player Dee Byrne have just released their second album, Moment Frozen and had touched down at the BeBop in the middle of a tour.  They sounded like a band who’ve played together a lot and Dee Byrne’s writing  like it’s been refined, the gold dust extracted and then refined again.  There was variety,  with pieces as likely to take off into one of those free excursions as groove over a jagged riff.

Entropi’s is a formidable line-up with most of the band leading projects of their own.  Andre Canniere on trumpet was at the club earlier in the year.  Rebecca Nash on keys, a Bristol native is well know here but well established on the national scene. Regular bass player Ollie Brice, a former Bath resident, was unavailable but it was hard to imagine a better dep than Will Harris. Matt Fisher on drums was dazzling with the flow of ideas and articulation of grooves.

The hubbub that had greeted me soon subsided and they were on to the next piece Cold Light of Day. It was cued in by an Will Harris’ expansive  bass solo that condensed to a cycling tone poem, creating palpable tension and anticipation in the room.  The band took up the rolling pulse and Canniere built an intense solo, shading between dark flurries and long arcing, austerely lyrical lines before passing the baton to Byrne.  The band goaded her on with snappy riffs.  The collective imaginations unpacked a lot of ideas from the deceptively simple source material. It was the pattern for the evening. Stelliferous Era got an evocative and thoughtful intro from Rebecca Nash, making the most of the sparkling Fender sounds from the Nord before Fisher lit fires and stoked the energy from behind the kit under a series of fine solos.  It’s Time bustled along and Leap of Faith’s stabbing riffs grabbed the attention.  There was a slightly dark, angular turn to much of the music.

It was all delivered with confidence, commitment and authority. There’s something special about this band.  Well worth the trip down to Bristol’s longest running club, now well into its third decade.

 

 

We are Leif – Forge Session, Wednesday 4th October

The funky environs of The Forge, tucked away in Colston Yard, was the venue for We are Leif‘s launch of their EP back in May, reviewed approvingly at the time by Tony Benjamin.    They were back on Wednesday  to record live and film, meaning waleifheadphones were supplied. Heads nodded and bodies swayed as the beautifully balanced grooves were fed direct to our ears. The band’s sound is firmly anchored in the tight grooves and lightly worn sophistication of R&B flavoured nu-jazz. If attention drifted for a moment we could have fancied we were in a hip New York loft.   The headphones may have invited comparisons to Snarky Puppy videos, but the  band headed these off with a few self- deprecating gags. The music however suggested only favourable reference points with the best on the scene.  Skip to Love  came first with with  layered rhythms from Chris Jones‘ bass and Mark Whitlam‘s drums under Louise Victoria‘s appealing chant- like vocal hook. Transition started with an infectious groove implied by an off-kilter vocal riff. Less is more with this band and Dale Hambridge’s tasteful soloing pulled of the trick of stoking the energy, bringing a smile to faces of the band without ever over-playing.  Louise Victoria’s vocal is naturally in the foreground. Her lines flow effortlessly across grooves with subtle shifts of meter and harmony.  There’s an emotive fragility to the sound, balanced by occasional shifts up through the gears.   We Are Leif are steadily building a buzz around themselves. Look out for gigs and get hold of the EP, satisfaction is guaranteed.

October Fest – Bristol: Be-Bop Club & Hen and Chicken gigs

I’m pretty sure no-one co-ordinated it, but if we all start saying it, maybe the word will get out. It’s October Fest! The Be-Bop Club’s every Friday gig schedule, combined with a for-one-month-only every Sunday flurry from the Hen & Chicken, makes a October a bustling month for gigs.  And you already know about every Wednesday at The Fringe.  No-one need to go anywhere, some of the best, hottest tickets on the UK (Europe/ World?) are coming to us.

Starting tonight at the BeBop Club, up and coming former local lad (somewhere near Frome again!), now based in Europe, Mark Pringle brings an International Quartet to the BeBop. LondonJazz News spoke to him. Next week it’s Dee Byrne’s Entropi touring on the back of their loudly praised album (Guardian 4* review here). That band features former local residents Olie Brice and Rebecca Nash.  With SW based Sam Massey following and Josephine Sartori rounding off the month (in case you missed her at the Hen and Chicken last week), its a bumper BeBop month.

Meanwhile over at the Hen & Chicken, Ian Storrer has cooked up a no less varied month. Sarting with Christian Garrick on Sunday, next week its Craig Handy (yes that Craig Handy, former Herbie Hancock sideman and…  book your ticket now). Following that up with Ollie Rockberger the month is rounded off by the sublime, uncategorisable Malija comprising Mark Lockeart, Liam Noble and Jaspar Hoiby.  I reviewed their album here.

And finally.. it’s not quite October, but don’t forget, Andy Sheppard is launching his new ECM album with Michel Benita, Eivind Aarset and Seb Rochford at St. George’s on 7th November (it’s not quite sold out. Yet)

Fringe Jazz Notes – and a New York connection.

Fringe Jazz, the weekly gig in Clifton’s Fringe Bar that never seems to rest, is celebrating 5 years this Autumn.  They’ve moved out to the pub round the corner and back again in that time and Jon Taylor has put together the usual mouth watering programme to celebrate.   I’ve also detected an (admittedly tenuous) New York connection.

On a recent, all to brief, flit through New York, I sought out a CD store in a fairly shabby corner of lower Manhattan. The spray painted shutters and steps down to the the cellar downtown_gallerydid look a little un-promising. The Downtown Music Gallery does downtown_2have a reputation however, both stocking a huge selection of the free-er, scronkier end of improvised music and even hosting occasional gigs. Descending, I turned out to be the only customer at that time and got a quick guided tour of the stacks.   Imagine my surprise (and delight) when my eyes fell on some very familiar names in the first dunmallCDpile I looked at.   Right there in the middle, a Paul Dunmall trio album with Bristol lads Tony Orrell and Jim Barr.   Meanwhile, back at the fringe this very week (September 13), Paul Dunmall is in trio with Tony Orrell. It’s the mighty Percy Pursglove on bass this time.  Now there’s a New York connection.   That’s pretty representative of the quality of the Fringe’s programme (check out the full listings here). There’s a couple more I’ll flag.

On the 11th October, Martin Speake, Hans Koller, Calum Gourlay and Jeff Williams bring their Monk project to the bijou back room. This is a longstanding collaboration formed to play as many of Monk’s collaborations as possible and has been seen regularly at London’s Vortex club. London Jazz interviewed Gourlay about it. Speake is a creative veteran of the UK scene, last seen in Bristol with the legendary Bobo Stenson.  Koller also has a formidable CV and Brooklyn-ite Jeff Williams provides another New York connection, dividing his time between there and UK  and has a long history and huge reputation both sides of the pond.   15th November sees ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy return, this time with his unique duo with Norwegian button accordionist Stian Cartensen.  A Nordic rather than a New York connection, but a rare opportunity to catch this extraordinary collaboration.

Too many words are required to summarise the whole programme, but there are plenty more gems there with the best of our local scene well represented.   Let’s keep supporting the Fringe – and here’s to  five more years!

 

Ambleside Days – the last post

The bass was parked, music scattered, instruments abandoned to be collected later.  The musicians had left the stage. As we all left  Screen 2 at Zeffirellis for the last time in the four-day-fest, there was an inescapable sense of having witnessed something momentous.

I mused mid fest about the ‘recipe’, orchestrated by Derek Hook the festival director, of a pool of musicians combined and recombined over the four nights.  Saturday saw the sublime Printmakers playing opposite a trio of Gwilym Simcock, Tim Garland and Joe Locke.  Sunday was billed as evening with Dave Holland, which turned out to be solo, quartet (Dave with Simcock- Mike WalkerNorma Winstone), trio (Dave with Nikki IlesJames Maddren), quartet (the trio plus Mike Walker) and then the ensemble flowered into a mini big band, the full cast list from the previous days with the addition of Nick Smart popping up on trumpet and flugel-horn.

What held the dizzying rotation together was that ‘contemporary music’ tag and the reference point and celebration of John Taylor.  There was a tricky to define but discernible sound, a particular use of harmony, musical choices about melody and space that gave the music identity.   It was a joyous and appropriate finale then for the mini big band to play  a couple of sections of Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Time Suite.  Holland, Stan Sulzmann and Norma Winstone were all on stage who played on the original Large and Small Ensembles recording with of course, John Taylor on piano. The final blast of Wheeler’s Foxy Trot also had the Holland-Taylor rhythm section on the original.  The Wheeler, Taylor legacy flavours so much of the music that these musicians play and it sounded like their natural habitat.

That was true even when they were playing standards or original material.   Added to that was a visible delight in each other’s presence.  Joe Locke’s quartet set had started with an angular arrangement of Autumn in New York and he was grinning delightedly at Asaf Sirkis as the drummer caught and embellished every rythmic fill.  Heads turned and eyes snapped sideways all weekend at moments of magic and hot interaction.  Mike Walker beamed slowly as Dave Holland’s solo on In Your Own Sweet Way worked its way to an intense climax in the quartet set with Winstone.  Holland visibly caught his breath and smiled as an exquisitely crafted line seemed to float from the piano and hang in the air during a Nikki Iles solo in their trio moment.

In amongst all the ‘for one night only’ configurations, The Printmakers reminded us how compelling a regular ensemble can be. Their take on Vince Mendoza’s Ambivalence was a hear-a-pin drop moment as the chanting motif faded away.   Mark Lockheart and Walker did their familiar but always enchanting evocation of a beach, the guitar providing swooping seagulls over the sax’s breathy shifting sands before the band slid into Nikki Iles’ Tideways. Walker’s scatological story telling threatened to become a stand-up routine before his own glorious, surely-nearly-a-standard-now Clockmakers made the stoniest heart swell.

We saw a lot of everyone in different line-ups.  Gwilym Simcock appeared every night and was dazzling in his range of expression from the faintest glazes of an open piano string to the tumult of Barber Blues that closed the trio set with Mike Walker and Joe Locke.   Mike Walker’s instinct for when not to play, conjure an unlikely growl or rumble from his guitar, let a fluid melodic line insinuate itself through a chord sequence or simply to rock out was a consistent delight every time he took the stage.  And what a treat to see and hear so much of Dave Holland. For all the virtuosity and command of his instrument, there was tingling thrill every time he settled into a groove and made the music pulse and glow.

Creating so many one-off line ups could have been a risk. As it was, there wasn’t a part that didn’t create special, exciting and moving moments. And the sum of all those parts? That word ‘momentous’ seems about right.