Andrew Bain may sound Scottish (he is) and may be listed as a teacher at Birmingham Conservatoire (he does teach there), but really, we discovered last night, he’s part of a very hot New York crew. Hen & Chicken punters got to hear them at the end of a 14 date run and it showed in the ease and freedom with which they explored Bain’s suite of seven original pieces.
Jon Irabagon (twice Downbeat critics poll winner) led the charge on Accompaniment, a loose rubato theme swept along by tumbling percussion from Bain, the droning bass of Whirlwind Records boss Michael Janisch and splashy piano from Jack DeJohnette and Cassandra Wilson sideman (amongst many others), George Colligan. The tumult built with Irabagon alternately keening and squalling then spinning out blizzards of lightning quick runs before handing the baton to Colligan. Practice showed us how rooted in rhythm they all were with a time shifting groove and preposterous mazy unison rendition of the theme by sax and piano. Colligan let rip with the first of several electrifying work-outs ,Bain and Janish exuberantly following every step, the drums instinctively connecting with accents and bass propelling the headlong frenzy. Responsibility alternated between a shuffling groove and driving swing for a blues, Janisch digging in to raise the temperature with his solo. Hope had a chiming repeated note to set the mood and Irabagon’s solo soared and swooped over a skirling rythmn. Hope got a little raucous too as there seemed to no holding the momentum of this band back.
Bain had created the outlines of the pieces for this band to work with, it was the four-way interaction that brought it all bursting to life. They moved in an out of free-er sections, grooved hard and burned on frequent bursts of racing swing, frequently switching between them with no apparent cues. This was a fabulous, exhilarating ride and the last section, Trust an appropriately rousing, hymn-like, emotional finale.
Bath has its share of tourists, but we can hazard a guess that it may not have been just the Georgian architecture that drew Norwegian saxophonist Petter Wettre to Bath. His mate Jason Rebello lives here and lets face it, what are two long-time collaborators and fellow former Manu Katche sideman going to do when one comes a-visiting? Well, a gig of course and with Rebello’s son George pretty handy behind the drum kit, all that remained was to rope in another Bath resident, bass player Greg Cordez and the scene was set for vintage night down in St James’ favourite cellar.
This was no stand on ceremony gig. They were having fun, bringing some originals but plenty of familiar tunes appeared, but not always as we know them. After a gently grooving Wettre original Opportunity Fox as an opener, sinuous phrases from the sax cueing a reflective solo from Rebello, Bye Bye Blackbird‘s sparked recognition. The phrases were soon distorted however, twisting harmony scripted by the vistor making us do a double take. Autumn Leaves got similar treatment later in the set and both standards sparked pulsating burn-ups. This may have been an impromptu ‘pick up’ gig, but there was little sign of that as first Wettre and then Rebello senior shifted up through the gears. Wettre’s sound walks line between classic throaty tenor and a more astringent edgy sound (he was Manu Katchu’s choice or replacement for Jan Garbarek in his band). He dug into and traced mazy patterns all over the dense harmony. Rebello was in his element piling up layers of rhythm and glittering runs. They were definitely de-frosting a chilly evening.
There were moments when they leapt beyond what would have been a merely exhilarating evening. The deceptive simplicity and emotional directness with which they played the classic My Funny Valentine stopped the breath. It was hard not to hear echoes of Miles Davis era Herbie Hancock in some of Rebello’s instinctive flourishes on that tune, an impression reinforced as he took the band through one of Hancock’s funkier tunes Butterfly – the keyboard producing a fantastic squelchy Rhodes sound. Wettre produced a sizzling original in the second set Flavour of the Month that included some gravity defying unison playing between sax and piano with the drums somehow picking out all the accents.
The evening was full of implicit nods to heroes and influences and the finale of Joe Henderson’s Recordame was surely more than just fishing out a favourite jam session tune, Wettre’s fluency and groove over the familar harmony confirming his absorption of the master’s example. That was a great finale to a fizzing evening of top class music.
I seem to be pairing musicians up for these little round ups and the connection between these two might seem a little tenuous. Firstly, their recordings have been with me for a while and secondly they are both dazzling demonstrations of the depth, quality and imagination of musicians on the current scene. Pianist, composer, arranger Hans Koller has been around for twenty five years or so, bass player Huw V Williams for maybe five.
Are triple album releases becoming a ‘thing’? Kamasai Washington’s much feted debut The Epic has been hard to miss. If Koller’s triple release on Stoney Lane Records, Retrospection, hasn’t attracted the same number of column inches that’s not a reflection on the quality of either the writing and arranging or the playing. All three albums have large ensembles of varying personnel, the third volume is a set with Germany’s NDR Big Band. Volume 1 has a twelve piece with Steve Swallow and Jeff Williams guesting, Volume 2 two guitars (Jakob Bro and Phil Robson), Brooklyn alto fiend John O’Gallagher and Christine Tobin‘s spine tingling vocal on a striking setting of a poem Half of Life. The mix is Koller originals and arrangements of jazz classics (Parker and Tristano get an airing) but Bach gets a turn and contemporaries like Jeff Williams. Koller’s stylistic erudition embraces the approaches of George Russell and Gil Evans and there’s playing to do it justice throughout. John Fordham sums it up as music for the mind and body and if its taken me a few months to find some words, well its a feast that’s best enjoyed at leisure (and on repeat).
Huw Williams’ album Hon may not be a triple (or a large ensemble), but it’s no less of a feast of music. It’s a set absolutely bursting with ideas that are realised with patience and conviction, the frequently anarchic collective energy notwithstanding. Stately, dance like themes, Laura Jurd‘s trumpet in counterpoint with Alam Nathoo‘s tenor, jostle next to stagey marching pieces with Elliot Galvin clattering all over with prepared piano. Swirling collective improvisations give way to what could be a cross-over between a punkish pulsing groover and a folk tune with swirling accordion. A Nod at a free-boppish theme morphs into visceral swing. Pete Ibbetson’s drives it all along from behind the kit shadowing every move of William’s earthy bass sound . The album pulls off with aplomb the trick of skipping lightly across styles, being deadly serious with a mischievous glint in the eye all the while. Its a treat. Did I mention the dazzling quality of the playing?
The round up of my listening of the last few months has been slightly interrupted but another pair of artists (and three CDs) have been in the pipeline for a while. The opportunity to see them both this weekend is a good prompt to quickly highlight them both.
Firstly Kevin Figes who released something of a bumper crop of music earlier in the year on his own label Pig Records . There was a quartet album, Weather Warning, with his longstanding and regular collaborators Jim Blomfield on piano, Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums but released at the same time, an Octet album Time Being with the same core band augmented by the drums of Lloyd Haines, Nick Dover‘s tenor sax and vocals from Emily Wright and Kathy Jones.
There’s quite a bit of overlap between the two albums. The quartet album has guest appearances from Dover, a couple of tracks with the vocals of Wright and Jones and Nick Malcolm adding his trumpet occasionally. The Octet is sometime stripped back. The best approach is to get both albums and enjoy them as a feast of Figes’ prolific output as a writer making full use of the palette this fantastic group of musicians offers. There are driving grooves with with zig-zagging intricate lines over shifting, cycling chords sequences; swelling anthemic pieces making full use of the blend of horns and human voice (on both albums), more experimental jig saw like constructions and free-er dialogues between instruments and plenty of nods Figes’ prog rock pre-dilections with crunchier riffs and Blomfield on Fender Rhodes duties. The writing is full of drama and invention giving the band plenty to work on when they improvise and there is great playing on these two sets. Figes appears at the BeBop Club on Friday (28th October) with a sextet that looks like a blend of the two bands.
Pianist Andy Nowak is a fixture on the Bristol scene in a variety of other people’s band. He released an album Sorrow and the Pheonix with his own trio (ANt) just before the summer, and its been a regular in my speakers and headphones ever since. This set of eight originals draws on plenty of sources to make a very personal statement. First Light is a dancing, quicksilver theme giving way to fluid, melodic improvising, (We’ve Got To) Bring it Down is a groover, Falling a swirling waltz with rich shifting harmony, Raining in Bristol all urgent arpeggios and intricate patterns before a sharp change of mood and the band build the atmosphere. Spencer Brown on bass and Andy Tween on drums are locked in and follow every and intricate twist, Brown pulling out out singing, lyrical solos. Andy Nowak’s playing is a delight throughout. A flexible and nuanced touch at the piano combined with a sure instinct for developing and building solos make this an engaging and expressive performance. There are two chances to see them live coming up. ANt are at the Colston Hall Foyer on Saturday (29th October) and at the BeBop Club on Friday 25th November
If my blog has been a little neglected over the last few months, its not because the ears haven’t been full of great music. I seem to have reviewed quite a few albums for London Jazz News and looking back at them some random connections have amused me so here’s a round up of a few which are all pianist led.
First a pair: One by (Pablo) Held and one called Held (by Jason Rebello). German pianist Pablo Held leads a trio that’s recorded prolifically and toured all over the world in the last 10 years. Their album Lineage is dense, angular frequently abstract and alluring. My review is here. Jason Rebello‘s album Held is, in a wide ranging career, his first solo piano recording. It bursts with melody and rhythmic fire, so characteristic of Rebello’s playing. A really special and personal recording. My review is here.
Secondly, another pair: This time the connection is country of origin. Pianists Anat Fort and Ari Erev are both Israeli. ECM recording artist Anat Fort teamed up with Italian reedsman Gianluigi Trovesi for Birdsong, a set of her own by turns impressionistic, melodic and evocative compositions. My full review is here. On Flow, Ari Erev leads his trio plus guest through a lively set of latin tinged originals – review here.
Finally a pair… with no connection other than that they are led by pianists and I listened with pleasure and reviewed them.
Fred Hersch deserves a place in the jazz pantheon. He’s played with everyone, taught influential figures in the current generation including Ethan Iverson whose fascinating interview/ discussion with Hersch can be found here . He’s also in something of a purple patch in a long career releasing recordings annually (or quicker!) at the moment and there’s documentary film about him coming out. I reviewed the latest live trio album, Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard here – pretty much a straight recording of a gig at the legendary club.
Last but not least, Jan Lundgren is artistic director of the Ystad International Jazz Festival and recorded a tribute concert to Jan Johansson there in 2015. The release is a double treat; a fine recording its own right and a journey through the music of a seminal figure in Swedish and Nordic jazz. The review is here
The gospel and blues fuelled, grooving and swinging jazz of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers has an enduring appeal as well as endless potential for updating and absorbing into more contemporary styles. George Cooper’s Jazz Defenders are a great local example of that, as they have been reminding us recently. If you wanted a live taste, 25 years after Blakey’s death, of the repertoire and energy of the original band who better to lead, than an alumnus of the great man’s touring band that was an ever evolving school for talent. Jean Toussaint, a graduate from the mid-eighties incarnation, brought his Roots and Herbs project to the Wiltshire Music Centre on Saturday with a line-up to die for and a pad of Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan and Bobby Timmons tunes to set the the most resistant pulse racing.
They launched in with Wayne Shorter’s Roots and Herbs (of course). With Andrew McCormack on piano, Byron Wallen on trumpet and Dennis Rollins on trombone joining Toussaint, this was an all-star line-up that guaranteed fireworks when it came to the blowing. In the spirit of Blakey, one of Toussaint’s own students Will Theaksly took the drum chair and proved to be no passanger. Bass player Daniel Casimir took the first solo however and showed why he won the vote at this year’s Musicians Company awards. A perfectly paced solo, playing with space so that groove and momentum just oozed out had the band whooping. He repeated the feat in Blues March at the end of the set as the band dropped out and a long space somehow left the air pulsating. The faint tap of a grinning Toussaint’s shoe was hardly necessary to bring the the band roaring back in. There were plenty of other moments of drama and poetry. The racing swing of The Summit saw Andrew McCormack unwind a dazzling solo, skittering runs and driving left hand chords nodding at more fireworks to come. The sheer attack and inventiveness of Byron Wallen was riveting every time he stepped up to the microphone. McCormack again, on the gentler waltz Sleeping Dancer Sleep On (Shorter again) conjured more magic as he brought the tune in with evocative sketching of the harmony, then took it out again with fluid melodic flights during his solo. This was a prelude to a barnstorming unaccompanied intro to Moanin of visceral blues, swelling gospel and excursions via more dissonant neo-classical clusters before the classic theme emerged. Toussaint himself really let fly on this one reminding us, as he had all evening, of how to develop a foot stomping solo. He has been touring this project for the last year or so drawing on a large pool of players and just occasionally the ‘come together for the occasion’ nature of the band showed, but the quality and verve of these players was more than equal to the challenge. A great reminder of the energy and inspiration of the Blakey band.
Scanning the listings as the Autumn programmes kick off reveals a flurry of exciting visitors as well as the usual quality local fare. Having nodded at Bristol’s Fringe Jazz a couple of weeks ago, the September/ October programme at the BeBop Club seems to have lassoed some of the hottest talent on the British scene. Danish bass player Henrik Jensen visits on 16th and the following week drummer Corrie Dick each bringing bands of stunning quality to play original music. Their names may not the most familiar (yet) but they represent a new generation of musicians touring nationally who should not be missed. Another one follows the week after with tenor player Tori Freestone bringing her trio. Not to be outdone the Ian Storrer at the Hen and Chicken, Colston Hall and St Georges each have some eyecatching gigs. There are too many to list but I’ve picked out one (or two) from each not to miss. Andrew Bain is at the Hen and Chicken in November. The Birmingham based drummer brings a band with Americans Jon Irabagon (Dave Douglas Quintet) and pianist George Colligan (currently with Jack DeJohnette’s band and has played with Cassandra Wilson, Buster Williams.. everyone!) – surely a ‘do not miss’. Colston Hall hosts the Bad Plus again in November (assuming you didn’t go to Headhunters in September) and if you haven’t already got your ticket for Robert Glasper you’ll need contacts to get in. St George’s host Tim Garland‘s quartet in October. I caught them in London in June, reviewed here and with Jason Rebello on keys and Asaf Sirkis and Ant Law in the band this will be a treat of Garland’s rock and folk tinged jazz. In November, international tourists Phronesis will be there, back briefly in the west (last spotted in Bradford upon Avon earlier in the year). Best advice is to never knowingly miss this band live. Over in Bath, Jazz at the Vaults will celebrate its 10th birthday in January and they’ve already kicked off a great season with Pee Wee Ellis (reviewed here by Charley Dunlap), next guest is Get The Blessing’s Jake McMurchie and there are some real treats later in the season, with James Morton, Gilad Atzmon and Pete Judge all scheduled to take their turn with the Jazz House Trio. The last mention goes to Wiltshire Music Centre. Their jazz programme includes Jean Toussaint‘s roaring band in an Art Blakey tribute, Roots and Herbs. Alan Barnes’ Christmas show arrives, appropriately enough in December by which time, if you’ve sampled even half of this sample of what’s on offer near Bath and Bristol, your mid winter festival will be very jazz flavoured indeed.