An impeccably dressed, elderly African gentleman walks slowly across the stage, nods at the bass player and drummer as he passes them and sits at the piano. He strokes a few chords, pauses and then plays a delicate almost classical, hymn like theme. The bass and drums join in, almost imperceptibly and the piece develops meditatively before petering out. The pianist then gradually works himself into another theme after a series of chords and arpegios. Yes, this is Abdullah Ibrahim and his trio at the climax of the Colston Hall Jazz Festival. For us this was an afternoon that had taken in a quick snatch of Andy Hague’s Quintet in full, post-bop, blazing flight; Get the Blessing (the regular quartet augmented by tombone, guitar and string quartet) playing their rocky,jazzy, zany, catchy, punkish music, Andy Sheppard’s tabla driven world-jazz quintet and a quick top up of James Morton’s Porkchop playing their full throated, get down, funky, sixties Blue Note jazz (with Pee Wee Ellis guesting, just in case you were not sure where their heart was).
Attending a live set of Abdullah Ibrahim’s trio set is an experience. Its as if you are invited to join him in quiet mediation. The bass and and drums wrap a protective blanket round his almost doodled themes. Only occasionally do they break into a canter. There is something very compelling about it. If you are not focused, or maybe the band not quite ‘on it’, the effect can be somnolent (the chap next to me certainly succumbed and snored gently for half the hour and a quarter set). Two years ago in Bath I was utterly transfixed by this trio. Last night, I didn’t connect quite as strongly. Me or them? Who knows.
What a brilliant festive occasion this was with galaxy of stars from several different universes. Get the Blessing delivered a great set with some intriguing additions. At one point with Adrian Utley on stage and ethereal vocals (from Tammy Payne), there was a hint of Portishead about proceedings. Bristol’s ‘very own’ Andy Sheppard had brought a great band with him (I secretly enjoyed John Paricelli and Arild Anderson more than Mr. S …. sorry!) playing some of his most recent material. As usual, the highlights of the day were unexpected moments; the sheer joie de vivre of James Morton playing Chicken with Pee Wee Ellis, Evind Aarset’s mad, wonky, effects laden intro to a tune in Andy S’s very mellow set – and the slightly stomach lurching effect of that spectacular new foyer and staircase at the Colston Hall.