Eight 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 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 rewarded. 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 on Impulse! has loads of great moments, 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’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.
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). On 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).
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 captures 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.
These days the world may know Andy Sheppard principally through a series of collaborations on ECM, but in Bristol whilst due respect is paid to the international profile, there’s the regular local collaborations to delight, invariably showing us a different side. He’s to be seen at a near residency at Fringe Jazz with a rotating cast list, with the organ trio The Pushy Doctors playing just about anything with verve, passion and wry humour and now the delicious prospect of this quartet, Hotel Bristol. The full line-up is Andy, guitarist and Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival man Denny Ilet, uniquely (surely) bass and trumpet Percy Pursglove and drummer Dylan Howe. There have been relatively few appearances but the word has spread and Sunday night’s gig saw the room above the Hen and Chicken packed and a big grin on Ian Storrer’s face as his audience counter needed three digits. And what a treat this band served up.
A bluesy theme, delivered by guitar and tenor in unison, every bent note and dragged beat locked together whilst bass and drums dug into the beat. Not too many notes, just an ‘in the bones’ feel. Delicious Ham and Eggs. Then an even quavered vibe with lilting guitar chords and a quintessential Andy Sheppard melody, joyous, breathy upper register hoots and interval leaps to make the heart leap. Walk in the Park. It wasn’t all relaxed. A blistering boppish head gave way to incendiary soloing and Pursglove swapped bass for for flugelhorn horn. One of the exciting things about this band is that Sheppard has been writing for them and the carefully crafted themes with Sheppard’s well honed instinct for energy ramping stops and changes of pace provided a platform for some sizzling improvising all round. The second set started with an Illett composition All in Good time, with a flowing groove and a line that sounded like a carefully dissected and stretched out Blue Note theme, maximum value extracted from each phrase. Another joyous, grooving melody followed with hint of the Caribbean and had tenor and Pursglove’s flugelhorn blending again over the patter of Howe’s drums. Sighs, cheers and whoops all round. Someone should record this band! Everyone should have a little taste of this.
The visit of Anthony Braxton to UK was a national occasion, never mind to Bristol. That means its been extensively reviewed by locally Tony Benjamin and Charley Dunlap, nationally in London Jazz News and the Telegraph, I’ve posted on Jazzwise’s website about the evening and my review is coming in the magazine. Enough said and written!
I was fascinated by the scores and titles for the pieces, so was pleased they left them lying around for us to have a look at. This is a thing of beauty to my eyes – without too much of stretch I could imagine it in an art gallery, perhaps in Spain. Braxton does refer to his pieces by numbers, as this artefact is also the title as well as the score I believe, so the number at the bottom right of the photo may be the one for this piece. How this and the annotations guide the performance I have no idea. This then is the template for Diamond Curtain Wall Music.
The score behind it looks a little more conventional! There were moments in the gig when the leader cued the band with gestures and what looked suspiciously like a tempo. These are scores for Ghost Trance Music I think.
A final footnote is that there’d been much reference to it being a decade since Anthony Braxton had played in UK. Asked about it, Tod Wills (Colston Hall programme director) reported the man himself couldn’t recall other occasions. Subsequently I was tweeted a review of a 2007 appearance (thanks @restructures); just nearly 8 years then.
There’s a dazzling array of gigs coming up in the Bristol/ Bath area at the bigger concert venues in the next few months. That’s on top of the regular club nights that are hosting really top quality programmes. So for your regular consumption, check the now moved to Wednesdays and a new location in Clifton Village, Fringe Jazz: always excellent with Partisans visiting in February. On Thursdays look out for weekly gigs at Future Inns, increasingly with interesting touring bands as well as the best of Bristol and alternate Thursdays in Bath the Jazz at the Vaults sessions (already launched with Iain Ballamy and some great guests lined up. Friday night is Bristol BeBop Club with a reliably first class mix of local and touring band but keep an eye on Burdall’s Yard in Bath for occasional gigs, Friday 16th sees the Tom Green Septet young, outrageously talented and already critically acclaimed. A roughly monthly series at the Hen and Chicken in Bristol brings a fantastic line-up starting with Andy Sheppard’s intriguing Hotel Bristol Quartet on 25th January. That’s without mentioning the slightly lower key and regular sessions at pubs all over the area and the odd residency (James Morton‘s at the Gallimaufrey always reliably groovy for instance).
But even without the Bristol International jazz and Blues Festival over the weekend of March 5th-8th, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was some sort of co-ordinated festival of international jazz in the area over the next three months. Colston Hall are leading the way in January. First on the 20th Anthony Braxton – NEA Jazz Master, bona fide legend and adventurer in music with his first gig in UK in over a decade and only UK date on a short European tour. The following night, genuine cream of the New York scene Larry Goldings‘ Organ Trio. If that wasn’t enough, Saturday 24th sees The Impossible Gentleman at Wiltshire Music Centre, a UK/ US Quartet that’s taken the jazz world by storm over the last few years. Later in February, St. George’s, Bristol gets in on the act on 26th February with Tim Garland, UK based and another genuine international name who numbers Chick Corea amongst his collaborators. His quartet includes rising guitar star Ant Law who is at the Hen and Chicken with his own quartet on the 15th February. The feast continues after the Bristol Festival with Sun Ra Arkestra at the Colston Hall and then Polar Bear in April, Nat Birchall at St. George’s and a duo of Courtney Pine and Zoe Rahman also at St. George’s in April. Jason Rebello concludes his Artist in Residence spell at Wiltshire Music Centre again in April with a two piano gig with Gwilym Simcock.
Anyone taking in even half of these gigs will have sampled some of the best and wide ranging jazz anywhere. What a feast.