Michelson Morley & Eyebrow, Wardrobe Theatre, Sunday 17th July

Michelson Morley are approaching the end of a tour playing music from the just released, tour de force Strange Courage and played a home-town launch gig last night, before heading up to London for a launch at the Vortex tonight.  What a treat is in store for that London audience.

The recording Strange Courage is, whilst audibly from the same stable as the excellent mmorleyscouragedebut release Aether Drift (reviewed here), an even more powerful and compelling experience. It’s a cocktail of effects; atmospheres concocted in the moment with electronics; quietly looping motifs; thumping, distorted, headsplitting riffs; jaunty melodic themes with a jagged edge. Leader and composer Jake McMurchie‘s sax is at the centre of the action . The original trio is now augmented by guitarist Dan Messore, joining Will Harris on bass and drummer Mark Whitlam.  He brings another dimension, thickening the sound with textures and effects as well echoing and countering melodies and unleashing occasional crunching chords. If the album is an assured, gripping group performance, the live show is an even more pulsating ride.

The music seemed to seep up through the stage at the start of the set as eerie effects, clatters and howls emerged, apparently un-related to the conventional sounds expected from the instruments on the stage. Tamer as Prey offered plaintive melodic hooks that distorted and changed shape over the an insistent throb. Ammageddon nodded to its mis-spelt name in the churning rocky riff before the The Last Of Me Will Wait set up an attractive little groove and McMurchie’s warm tenor sound ebbed and flowed. They dissolved into more ghostly washes as a prelude for  the catchy looping bass riff of There Are No Perfect Waves, a delicate phrase then alternated with another crunching power riff and blistering solos. It was a dramatic, exciting performance enhanced by evocative visuals provided by Cornwall based film maker Jo Mayes, always another turn or twist around the corner. They played out to whooping applause with the rocker Rice Rage.

The first, shorter set was by the peer-less Eyebrow. McMurchie acknowledged the inspiration of the approach of the duo of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens , their sparse, looping and layered improvisations are as riveting conjured live as on CD. Wigens place was ably filled at the last minute by Mark Whitlam due to illness but they still evoked the magic of the recent release Garden City to the delight of the audience filling the Wardrobe Theatre’s fabulous new home.

The two sets were a celebration of some of the more creative and imaginative music that has been brewing gently in Bristol over recent years and now, happily getting wider recognition.

 

Julian Arguelles’ Tetra, Vortex, Thursday 12th June

Tetra in full cry are something to behold.  Leader saxophonist Julian Arguelles may supply all the compositions, but the process of dismantling, reassembling and playing them with joyful zest is a group effort with, it seems,  pianist Kit Downes and drummer James Maddren not so much anticipating or responding to each other  as sharing a thought process and Sam Lasserson’s bass a constant lithe, propulsive thread in the mix.  They touched touched down at the Vortex on a tour playing material from their CD File 17-06-2016, 08 15 45released last year on Whirlwind Records alongside tunes from staging posts on Arguelles’ now lengthy career.

The gentle, elegiac From one JC to Another, singing gently stroked chords moving underneath breathy tenor phrases introduced the band and gave way to a quintessential Arguelles piece. Bulerias, consciously based on flamenco dance rhythms, had a theme in which the  saxophone’s spiralling phrases were thrillingly locked with the drums and punctuated by fragments of gutsy  riffs that dragged the ear back to jazz and blues. The leader’s solo was a characteristic surge and flow of undulating phrases, listening felt a bit like surfing on waves of adrenaline with the flowing lines sculpted into melodic phrases.  Lardy Dardy was a contrasting mood full of yearning and poetry.  Circularity, first recorded with John Taylor and Dave Holland was another, bubbling swaggering riff that dissolved into a series of  fizzing duo exchanges so that each member of the quartet had a dialogue.  It was riveting, greeted with roars of appreciation from the rapt Vortex crowd.    Phaedrus,  an even older tune, also first recorded with John Taylor, File 17-06-2016, 08 16 22was another reminder that  any material sounds freshly minted in this band’s hand no matter what its vintage. Its another urgent, flowing theme, ascending harmony building flurries of anticipation.  Arguelles unfurled layers and layers of fluid phrases, building intensity then it dissolved into spacious, exploratory phrases and chords as the piano took over.  Little, by little Downes, as he had done all evening,  assembled motifs and phrases, condensing the sound until glittering lines were flying in all directions.

Tetra seem to weave magic whenever they play and Thursday’s visit to the Vortex was no exception.

Phronesis, Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10th June

Eyebrows crept a bit higher on foreheads, mouths opened slightly, maybe a few people leaned a bit further back in their seats.  The impact of  the opener in Phronesis’ first set at Wiltshire Music Centre on Friday night was dramatic.  67,000 mph  followed a typical pattern for the trio; ear snagging riffs with sharp changes of gears, scattered phrases from Ivo Neame on piano that accumulate into a blizzard of notes, a firestorm of percussion whipped up by Anton Eger on drums, Jaspar Hoiby standing between them, holding down a tricky bass figure with occasional embellishments and looking from one to the other, nodding appreciatively. 2016-06-10 19.05.06

Hoiby’s slightly divergent  banter between tunes relieved the tension a bit, and may even have been a bit too self-deprecating as he joked ‘all our tunes sound the same’.  A Phronesis recipe there may be, but it’s designed to maximise the thrill factor in live performance.  The volcanic momentum of Eger’s drumming was constantly arresting, delivered as often at a whisper or with a rattle as with full blooded battering. Silver Moon tiptoed round its jigsaw of melodic phrases and singing bass phrases before leaving space for  Eger’s drum breaks, filled with space and brushing caresses of the cymbals. Stillness belied its name with accumulating clatter, what looked like a knife and fork pressed into service on the kit.

The trios reflexes and responsiveness to each other were razor sharp, raging solos frequently punctuated with little stops or momentary slackening of the intensity of pulse driving the music on. Neame’s playing seemed to get ever more fluid as the evening wore on, relentlessly percussive with dazzling slivery runs and then little oases of distorting lyricism, A Kite for Seamus a sublime synthesis of his rhythmic sensibility and shifting harmonies.  Hoiby too delivered a singing, melodic solo on that piece.

This was one of just three UK gigs (for now) as they launch a new recording, Parallax.  On this showing they are still on top form and surely one of the most thrilling live acts around. Sunday night at London’s Cadogan Hall is the official UK launch, but the enthusiastic, near capacity crowd at Wiltshire Music Centre were delighted with their early experience of the fire-works.

 

Bristol/ Bath – Phronesis and Tetra, a weekend of treats

There was probably no collusion, but on the weekend of 10th to 12th June,  Wiltshire Music Centre and Colston Hall have between them managed to arrange  gigs by some the best, most exciting jazz musicians on the current scene (that’ll be UK, Europe or anywhere according to some).

Was Jazzwise magazine  being a bit lurid when they described Phronesis as one of the most exciting bands on the planet?  Their gig at Wiltshire Music Centre, Friday 10 June is one of only three opportunities in UK to find out on their current tour.  They are promoting their release of a new album on Edition Records (their  UK launch gig is at London’s Cadogan Hall on the Sunday). There’s no doubting the energy and exhilaration this trio generate when they play.  Much of their music is built around Jaspar Hoiby‘s catchy bass riffs, frenetic rhythms from Anton Eger on drums and fragments of melody that bounce around the band, often as not, traced out by pianist Ivo Neame, but they move as an improvising unit and there is no telling where they’ll end up. Hailing from Denmark, Norway/Sweden and UK respectively they have an international reputation.  What a way to start the weekend.  Book here.

Having taken Saturday to recover, The Lantern, Colston Hall is the only place to be on Sunday 12th June. Saxophonist  Julian Arguelles has been a singular and creative presence on the British Jazz Scene since playing with Loose Tubes in the 1980s.  Last month he received a Parliamentary Jazz Award for his recording Let it Be with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and now he’s on tour with his quartet Tetra and what a band this is. Playing Arguelles’ compositions that are always deeply rooted in jazz, but constantly delight and surprise with flights of lyricism and echoes of music from all over the world, the band are all sublime musicians. Kit Downes on piano and James Maddren on drums are some of the most in demand payers around, Downes leading plenty of award winning projects of his own. Sam Lasserson  is amongst the most exciting of the formdiable current crop of bass players.   They too are touring on the back of an album, this one on Whirlwind and much praised by John Fordham in the Guardian. Book those tickets here

May Round-up: Nightingale in St James Square, Marsalis in Bath and a decade of Play Jazz Weekend

Mark Nightingale is probably heartily sick of bad puns on his name, but his appearance atmarknightingale the St. James Wine Vaults session in Bath in the middle of the month in a cellar bar beneath St. James Square, made allusions to singing and squares irresistible. Anyone who was there might also think it’s an apt comparison however. Opportunities to see one of our foremost exponents of trombone as the lead horn are relatively rare so this was a real treat. The fluency and agility of the playing were dazzling and Nightingale’s tone was like honey in the ear as he led the house trio through two sets of tunes from some less visited corners of the standards and jazz classics repertoire.  This was another absorbing evening in the fortnightly session’s programme, now a decade old, that continues to attract the best players on the scene.

It’s a year of anniversaries, as Play Jazz Weekend, an annual pop-up jazz jazz school held at Wiltshire Jazz Centre, reached a run of a decade under the stewardship of Rachel Kerry over the Bank Holiday Weekend . This year, as on some previous occasions, the tutors for the weekend assembled the night before for a gig at Bristol’s Be-Bop Club. Alan Barnes, Damian Cook and Andy Hague (alto, tenor, trumpet) formed the frontline of the band that also featured the fourth tutor Jim Blomfield on piano. Chris Jones on bass and Mark Whitlam secured a grooving, responsive rhythm section. This kind of gig is a Hague specialty. He arrived with a pad of arrangements in ‘roughly hard swinging, sixties Blue Note territory’  as he put it, making sure the impromptu sextet served up a fizzing set of familiar tunes  with new twists and the unfamiliar  with attention grabbing energy. So we got standards such as Like Someone in Love, Billy Strayhdorn’s UMMG, a little known rip-roaring Horace Silver, Smell my Attitude, evoking burning soloing all round. There were  moments of tender delicacy sprinkled throughout the evening as well. A rousing Marcus Printup stomper closed the evening,  loudly appreciated by  prospective Play Jazz students and regular punters alike.

The much reduced Bath International Festival took place over the week before the bank holiday weekend and the overtly jazzy gigs were on the first Saturday.  There’ll be more from me in Jazzwise about those, suffice to say that a solo Branford Marsalis gig in the Abbey, complete with tolling bells to welcome him to the stage, was a dramatic piece of billing. One man, his saxophones and a big church was certainly a challenge but Marsalis rose to it, sounding most compelling to these ears when he eased into some jazz standards, but mining  classical and contemporary sounds along the way and using the response of the natural reverb chamber to exhilarating effect.   Kansas Smitty’s House Band provided a raucous antidote later in the same evening, impossible not to enjoy.

 

Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet, Hen and Chicken, Friday 13th May

It’s obvious really. The New York based, guitar led quartet with a hot reputation and Grammy winning pianist on-board had the twenty plus tour dates around Europe sorted.  The London date at Pizza Express was booked. Another couple of dates in UK?  Well one has got to be the Hen and Chicken in Bedminster of course. We don’t know how promoter Ian Storrer does it, but there was no doubting the appreciation of the capacity crowd the gig lured to the pub’s upstairs room on a sunny Friday evening.

2016-05-13 20.10.36They eased in gently. Colin Stranahan set up an infectiously crisp, shuffling groove on the drums and a subtly twisted Stella by Starlight unfolded  over singing open chords. Jonathan Kreisberg’s fluently, lyrical solo was nudged along by the tasteful sparse comping and characteristic rhythmic stabs of pianist Dave Kikoski,.  It was a perfect starter. Delicious, appetite whetting but just a taster of what was to come.

The rest of the two sets were mainly Kreisberg originals and whilst the takeaway memories of the gig are of glittering musicianship, volcanic soloing and an electric understanding and interaction within the band, Kreisberg’s writing was one of the stars of the show. Rhythmically dense and intricate themes shape shifted into a modal work-out for solos, or a gear change to a different meter revealed a simpler appealing melody or groove around which the piece was built.  There were breakneck tempos, locked tight with unison lines between guitar and piano and then an unadorned, ever so so slightly wonky lilting waltz with a carefully crafted melody allowed to sing.

Wild Animals We’ve Seen had a relaxed rocking groove, a theme of repeating and morphing  motifs with 2016-05-13 20.04.31little darting phrases. Kresiberg built the energy with a steadily thickening cascade of ideas before Kikoski uncorked the first of his incendiary solos of the evening.  Ideas were sketched with sharply struck chords, shaded in with darting runs then pummelled into a variety of shapes with shimmering volleys of notes. Occasionally he’d freeze over the keys, before diving back in. It was repeated throughout the evening with a rainbow of textures and moods appearing. Being Human evoked gospelly, shout like phrases, little displaced fragments and stabs somehow anticipated telepathically by Stranhan with snapping reports from the snare.   The drummer was an unstoppable flow of energy and invention all evening animating everything. Until You 2016-05-13 20.09.14Know’s spooky guitar effects laden intro and dancing boppish theme bounced along over his skittering racing drums. Stir the Stars at one point became a conversational duo performance of guitar and drums conducted at a lethal tempo. It was riveting.   It would have easy to miss the contribution of Rick Rosato on bass. His was a vital contribution to the propulsive energy of this band, smooth, skipping lines anchoring and pushing the band along.

The quartet were in the latter stages of that lengthy tour and the fruits were on display in this electrifying band performance. Another fizzing night of New York comes to Bedminster.

Cheltenham Jazz Festival Round -Up, April 30th & May 1st

Cheltenham Jazz Festival  just gets better. Uncertain sunshine and icy squalls couldn’t take the gloss off, although it may temporarily have driven a few punters out of the open air festival pitch in Montpellier Gardens. Capacity of the wallet and ability to absorb sublime music limited me to a couple of gigs on Saturday and delicious trio of them on Sunday, almost all of which have been reviewed by London Jazz News’ near wall to wall coverage , so brief impressions here.

Saturday

Having in recent years come across various alumni of either Birmingham, or Norway’s Trondheim Conservartoires, I thought it was about time I caught up with the Trondheim Jazz Exchange‘s now annual showcase of the current generation of students on Saturday lunchtime. Three ensembles, each a mixture of students from both institutions performed mainly original music seasoned with a few classics. The second drumless ensemble, performed a piece based around a haunting theme that emerged after much atmospherics, and the ethereal sound of Sondre Ferstad‘s harmonica. A sparse pulse from Ben Moorhead‘s bass anchored Simon Ovinge‘s Frisell-esque guitar solo, all lingering phrases and country-ish reverb.   Vittoria Mura‘s tenor completed the quartet that rather stole an absorbing show for me, sandwiched as they were between two very classy sets full of vim and explosive and exploratory playing.  An absorbing hour or so in the present that augered well for the future.

After a bit more dodging of showers, I was back in the Parabola Theatre for The Printmakers to show just why they’ve been nominated (again) for a Parliamentary Jazz Award.  After a few introductory riffles and sighs from the band, Breath Away developed a seemingly effortless headlong momentum, James Maddren on drums and Steve Watts‘ bass a master class in how to lock together and generate propulsive energy without filling all the space up. With Norman Winstone‘s vocal twisting around Mark Lockhart‘s sax it was glorious whilst being familiar.  Niki Iles‘ Tideaway had a ‘natural effects central’ intro with Winstone and Lockhart evoking breezes whilst Mike Walker supplied the seagulls from somewhere inside his guitar. His Clockmaker had the band flying and Maddren lighting a fire under them on a vamp out, no wonder Walker was grinning. They are surely one of our finest small groups, with a playful energy and restrained lyricism that enfolds the listener.

Sunday

It didn’t take long for the FDR Big Band to warm the cavernous Town Hall early on Sunday afternoon, playing Julian Arguelles‘ arrangements of South African Jazz, much of it penned by the exiles, like Chris Macgregor, Dudu Pukwana with whom he, brother Steve and Django Bates played. Those three were the guests with the big band. Arguelle’s arrangements were sublime, packaging up the irrepressibly joyous tunes and grooves for maximum impact and bouncing the melodies around the band, so they were like a massed choir.   The repertoire was largely that of the CD release Let It Be Told,  but this was a rare, possibly not to be repeated chance to see the live set. I for one left wondering how anything was going to come close for the rest of the day (or maybe the year).

Trumpeter Christian Scott provided a total contrast later in the afternoon on the smaller of the two tented stages, the Jazz Arena.  Tony Dudley Evans (who must have been getting quite a bit of exercise as he popped up introducing every band I saw), described Stretch Music as an embracing  different types and inspirations for music beyond classic jazz. That could have been a metaphor for the whole festival as I’d arrived there via the future  of North European jazz, the cream of English bands and a German big band playing South African music.  It was ironic then, that this set stretched the definition the least although it was no less thrilling for that. This was a new line-up for Scott, with alto Logan Richardson and pianist Tony Tixier joining Scott. As a result, there were just a couple of forays into stretch territory with pre-recorded loops, heavy beats, distorted twisting melodies and lots of effects producing ghostly hoots and keening screeches from the trumpet. Most of the set however was an exuberant, burning versions of some classics with Eye of the Hurricane, Equinox, a modal Donald Harrison piece that even had Scott quoting solos from So What before the tune suddenly veered off into a racing take on Miles Davis’ Dolores.  It was exhilarating stuff, Richardson showing just why he’s so lauded currently and TIxier on piano a revelation. The packed Jazz Arena crowd loved it.

My day ended with another contrast, back in the Parabola Theatre for a Sunday evening set IMG_0002.jpgwith Gioavanni Guidi‘s trio.  The intimate space could have been designed for a set like this.  The trio weave between quite simple themes, sometimes a tone poem, at others the most delicate of Bach – like decorated melodies, still others repeating growling motifs. There may be a hail of notes, sounding like they might be pouring from a bucket, or a single bell like tone allowed to fill the room. Joao Lobo shadowed and complemented every move with rustles, disruptive flurries of rhythm and moody squeals using what looked like random ‘objet trouves’.   A delightful set, ending with an encore of, getting its second airing of the day, the South African stomper, You aint gonna know me cos you think you me dedicated by a grinning Guidi to Claudio Ranieri.

There may be bigger festivals, there may be louder festivals, but the diverse programme and concentrated buzz of Cheltenham’s annual jazz feast is surely hard to beat.