Jake McMurchie Quartet, Hen and Chicken, Sunday 23rd April

Once I had a Secret Love.  Is it too whimsical to connect the title of a Jake McMurchie JakeMcM_H&Chfavourite to his now 30 year association with the sax? The thought popped into my head as he unfurled, unaccompanied, a viscerally grooving take on the Doris Day theme, artful phrasing, space and a stabbing little phrase upping the momentum as the rest of the quartet joined in.  We didn’t really need any reminding of what a musical and inventive player Jake is, the solo that followed rammed it home nevertheless.

The love affair with the sax can’t have stayed secret for long once he started gigging and there were plenty of people who knew how good he was by the time Get The Blessing won the BBC awards in 2008 and the late Jack Massarik was asking ‘where’s he been?’  Sunday night’s gig had the feel of a reflective retrospective. The repertoire dipped into  favourites from the past. Monk’s I Mean You, and the standard Paper Moon each got an outing. There were different vibes; a bit of the GTB back catalogue got an airing, Nick Drake’s  Know was a mesmerizing opener, a vintage McMurchie tune Oranges and Melons was all delicate lyricism and plaintive soprano swoops following by a more bristling, darker brand new one, as yet untitled.

The recently minted quartet gave the music the energy and emotional charge it warranted.  Riaan Vosloo on bass was a taut, propulsive force throughout, on occasion looping a riff until the intensity reached fever pitch. Matt Brown behind the kit never overpowered the sound but lit fires under the band throughout the gig, sometimes  stoking the momentum relentlessly, at others laying down a trance like pulse or when the occasion demanded, swinging like mad.  Dan Waldman’s guitar provided the perfect harmonic and melodic foil to the sax, finding by turns singing lines and then angular and divergent paths through the tunes.

If the retrospective drew on plenty of back catalogue,  it sounded fresh and dynamic in the hands of this band.  Lets hope there is plenty more to come from them.

March/ April Highlights 2: CDs – Seamus Blake; Martin Pyne; Arne Torvik; Dave Jones

I’ve reviewed a few CDs for London Jazz News over the last couple of months. A bit of personal archiving here then with links and one (or two) liners.

Seamus Blake: A double review of releases featuring the sax polymath. Superconductor interweaves lush string arrangements with an electric band, Blake’s writing and playing cover multiple bases.  Bridges finds Blake guesting with a Norwegian band. Tasty European flavoured jazz with more great blowing.  The review is here.

Martin Pyne: A solo, freely improvised set on vibraphone inspired by tales of faeries.  Plenty to enchant here, it takes the listener to a quiet place. Review here.

Arne Torvik:  More Nordic fare from a pianist based in Molde (of international jazz fest fame).  Review here

Dave Jones: A breezy, swinging set from the Cardiff pianist with a storming quartet (expanded at times with a bit of overdubbing to  allow Ashley John Long to play bass AND vibes… yup, that’s two CDs with vibes on this month). Review here

March/ April Highlights 1: Live – Bruce Barth; Fellow Creatures

If blog posts have been a little sporadic over the last couple of months, listening and gig attendance has not.  A quick look back over the shoulder is in order.  I fancy we recall impressions and how it felt to be present rather than details when it comes to recalling live gigs at  distance.  A couple stand out in sharp relief. Pianist Bruce Barth touched down at the Hen and Chicken early in March, a world class performer (a CV that includeds Mingus Big Band AND Tony Bennett!) , he’d not been seen in Bristol for 18 years he said.  It was an evening of blistering straight-ahead trio jazz. The tingle of excitement is still there. We did wonder if the newly donated grand piano was going to last the evening given the energy Barth devoted to testing it out.

March also saw the 2017 edition of Bristol’s Jazz and Blues Festival. Jon Turney’s summary for London Jazz captures the thrill and buzz.  I am still thrilled by Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures. The original themes and grooves are all engaging and absorbing, the afterglow that has remained is the unbridled gust of energy and joie de vivre with which the band played. Singling out the dual horns of Laura Jurd’s trumpet and Mark Lockheart’s sax seems a little invidious given the importance of the collective vibe, but their interplay and individual soloing lifted the roof a inch or two more off its moorings. To play with such freedom and togetherness on complex material marks this band out as something special. They went on to record a live album at the end of the tour of which this gig was a part.  Put me down for a copy!

Jon Shenoy’s Draw By Four, BeBop Club, Friday 21st April

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Hammond organ, drums, guitar, tenor sax; a punter could be forgiven for thinking they knew what to expect with that line-up. Draw by Four, playing mostly original material by leader Jon Shenoy, gave the classic formula a distinctly contemporary twist with artfully crafted compositions, patiently developed ear tweaking melodic and rhythmic hooks and some expansive blowing and interplay from the band.

They revved up with a couple of looseners. A burner, with a title that sounded like Kinky D, had a clattering, even quavered groove from Chris Draper on drums and gave everyone a chance to stretch out, Shenoy and Sam Dunn on guitar locked in unison for an attention grabbing, rhythmic theme. The Beach Boys’ Don’t Talk followed,  Will Bartlett using the organ to provide textures and atmosphere and Shenoy’s warm, with just the right dose of tension tenor sound,  more than doing Brian Wilson’s classic justice. Then a suite of Shenoy originals conjured a different vibe. Lost Clouds had a dreamy melodic line, with contrasting rythmic hooks and a quietly snappy groove.  A trio of pieces inspired by paintings had more complex arrangements; variations in tempo and layering of rhythms, juxtaposing melodies and riffs, spaces for interplay between duos,  tempos and themes crafted to conjure images and emotions.  Colonsay Harbour was a standout moment of the whole gig (and the polar opposite of a stereotypical hammond organ vibe). A free-ish interplay between sax and guitar, with colour and texture provided by drums and organs, gave way to a sparse, meditative and fluting melody, Dunn’s guitar almost implying fills.  A time stood still moment.   They closed the set with Deluge and plenty of bustle and fire.  Hand in Hand  had a another attractive melody with more counter-posing riffs and appealing harmonic shifts. Bartlett let fly a lovely. fluid, lyrical, piano on the organ solo.  A ‘see we can do it’ rendition of Marriage is for Old Folks had all the bluesey swagger and groove expected of an organ quartet and closed a scintillating gig.

The writing and arranging for this band had a lightly worn sophistication, serving its purpose,  creating  light and shade and giving the band plenty to work on. There was also a very appealing simplicity and directness, about many of the melodic and harmonic building blocks, reflected in some of Shenoy’s soloing. For all the hustle, bustle and complexity, it put me in mind of Andy Sheppard’s penchant for simple melodies, particularly on the slower tunes.

This was an early gig on a very extensive tour and there are plans to record this material.  Catching them on the tour and checking out the subsequent recording are definitely to be recommended.  Details here

 

 

Sterland-Temmink, Be Bop Club, Friday 31st March

Dipping into the BeBop Club on Friday just as the quartet had kicked off, I caught a little  fizz of excitement as tenor man Greg Sterland dug into Blues for Philly Joe over a pulsating swinging groove.  Pasquale Votino on bass and Paolo Adamo have been ubiquitous IMG_2145around Bristol of late, a first call rhythm section and that moment captured why.  The energy and propulsive momentum was palpable.  Sterland is an adventurous and fluent improviser.  Even on the blues, familiar phrases were twisted and pulled into long lines, occasional gutteral cries and rasps adding colour.  And then a change of pace and a moody Kenny Kirkland piece brought a more smoky, brooding sound from Sterland and Daan Temmink his co-leader on keys, spun rhapsodic and lyrical flurries over Kirkland’s distinctive angular harmony.  All was set fair for an absorbing and exciting evening’s music.  Bird Food ramped the energy levels further still, Sterland pulling out another, twisting, volcanic solo. Paolo Adamo was all ears on drums seeming to anticipate and catch every rhythmic swerve. A lovely Temmink original followed, Song for Helen. If we didn’t already know that he plies his trade as a composer for film and TV, someone might have been tempted to commission him on the strength of that one.  Sterland’s Nothing Serious was a ghostly latin number, making the most of the simplest of motifs and breathy tenor, wheezing and fluttering. It inspired an incandescent solo from Temmink, all glittering runs and sinuous melodic lines.  A second set saw more originals, a wonky Coltrane tribute by Votino, Dear John. If Coltrane didn’t write in 5/4 maybe he should have done; another Temmink original, Dragonfly all dance and skitter then a gorgeous reading of Monk’s Reflections to finish, Sterland growling, rasping and fluttering again around the melody, in between the perfectly crafted swoops of the melody.

I’m not sure if this is a regular band, but the busy, collaborative, Bristol scene mean these players know each other well and it showed in this performance.   A evening that delivered all the promise of that first tune.

CD catch up: Dominic J Marshall & Friends – Triolithic; Jonathan Silk – Fragment

I’m still catching up with 2016’s recorded largesse as 2017 rolls on. These two excellent albums  are wildly different but give a flavour of the diverse creativity honed and unleashed by now well established jazz programmes at top music colleges. Drummer Silk hails from Scotland originally but went to Birmingham, whilst pianist  Dominic Marshall went to Leeds before migrating to Holland for further study.

Marshall’s latest recording Triolithic, released towards the end of last year, finds him  dmarshall_triolithicreunited for half the dozen tracks with fellow Leeds alumni Sam Vicary on bass and Sam Gardner on drums.  The rest are recorded with regular collaborator Jamie Peet on drums and Glenn Gaddum Jr on bass.   There are plenty sources of inspiration blended into Marshall’s playing and writing but the lodestar is the blending of melodic lines, jazz drenched harmony, fluid improvising and the beats of hiphop.  It’s territory he’s been exploring for a while, but this collection has the assured feel of an artist confident in his own voice. A liquid groove may never be far away but different atmosphere’s are conjured up with a playful hook from the synth on 80 Campbell Road, a dark modal work out on Deku Street with Jarret-like spiraling invention. Blue Lotus takes off with dazzling counterpoint.  The pieces evolve and the developments suggest little stories.  This is music that draws on influences and makes something fresh from them.

jonathan-silk-fragment-stoney-lane-records-slr1977-150x150Jonthan Silk‘s Fragment is another set of original music, but using an altogether different palette.  Silk has written for a big band augmented by a 13 piece string section. He’s put his studies with Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider to  good use creating sweeping, dynamic pieces. Some, like Introduction, Prelude, Reflection are very short setting us up for more prolonged development. After swelling strings, the trumpet entrance on Introduction is a catch the breath moment before Buchaille kicks in, layers build up and solos swoop over stabbing interjections from the ensemble. The title track Fragment  is high octane, burning improv over a rocky clatter. Fool’s Paradise’s succession of episodes uses the full range of the the band building to a climax, the trumpet section soaring over a clamorous sax solo before calm descends.  There’s some glorious playing from individuals and the whole ensemble. This is a notable achievement and too many strings to count added to the bow of Birmingham’s Stoney Lane Records who put this one out.

If 2017’s crop of recordings produces many like these two, it will be a very good year.

 

John Law’s Congregation, BeBop Club, Friday 17th February

John Law is a man in constant motion.  On a gig there is an often dazzling flow of ideas img_2103from the keyboard and piano. There’s also a restless forward momentum to the various projects he puts together. After a stream of acoustic trio albums  he popped up with a band he called Boink!,  three years ago now, playing with electronics alongside the more familiar acoustic jazz format. We got to see them early on as ideas were taking shape.  The current line-up of his band Congregation he brought to BeBop Club on Friday marks a shift up-wards of gears. The samples, synths and pedals were all in the mix and the most recent addition James Mainwaring of Roller Trio fame, had a bewildering array of pedals for his saxes and guitar.  There was a sense of them all now fully  integrated with the music and the formidable improvising powers of the band to compelling effect. The quartet was completed by the dazzlingly virtuosic Ashley John Long and the relentlessly grooving Billy Weir on drums.

The repertoire drew on Law’s extensive back catalogue with by turns hypnotically pulsing soundscapes filled with elctronic squeals and loops and then blistering soloing and exchanges within the band.  An early stand-out was And Them.  It started as a skipping little groove with a catchy melodic hook from synth, doubled by the sax that could almost have been an early 80s  electro-pop anthem. Then the mood thickened and suddenly a img_2104rampant exchange between just piano and drums with Law’s glittering, sinuous runs and two handed flurries hurling layers of rhythm at  Weir which he returned with interest. A shimmering, free, dialogue between Long and Mainwaring, dissolved into a take on Naima with an insistent drone from keys and bass underpinning hoarse, soulful cries from the sax.   I Sink Therefore I Swam raised the temperature further. A frantic, mazy pattern in Laws’s left hand, doubled by bass, bubbled under a dark theme. The soloing was incendiary, especially from Long. Scampering runs were a prelude to driving, wedge like chords on the bass building a volcanic momentum.  Each of the quartet had moments like this.  On Through a Glass Darkly the band laid down a shifting carpet of sound while Mainwaring found almost vocal, gutteral cries and squalls from the tenor to raise hairs on the neck.  They played out on Giant Stabs, a rollicking Samba and plenty of Coltrane references to leave everyone on a high.  A vintage night at the BeBop  Club