The first weekend in January for each of the last 12 years has seen a jazz concert at the Wiltshire Music Centre. This twelfth occasion may be the last for a while (organisers Nick Sorensen and Mike Daniels announced a pause in the sequence) but it was packed with high quality music. The concerts have always featured quality local bands as well as guests, this year it was two fine, trumpet led quintets that bookended the evening drawing their inspiration from different eras of jazz small group playing; at the start of the evening, the quintet led by Mike Daniels with backing from the trio of pianist Adam Biggs showcased Mike’s talent as an arranger, the material echoing the 50 and 60’s Miles Quintets. The high point for me was Concierto de Arunjuez, based on the Gil Evans arrangements but capturing the intensity and tension of the glorious melody with a great splashy accompaniment from the band. They finished with an engaging canter through Wayne Shorter’s Adam’s Apple with some fine playing from Simon Marsh on tenor; it will be great to hear this band when they’ve got a bit more space to stretch out. The second quintet at the end of the evening led by Nick Malcolm brought us bang up to date, playing material first from the Wynton Marsalis band of the early 80s and then a glorious Terence Blanchard ballad Touched by and Angel. This was a top drawer band, their playing making the constantly shifting harmony and time feel natural and fluent. Will Harris on bass and Mark Whitlam on drums were a formidable unit, Mark in particular boiling away in the corner, quietly driving the band on. On another choppy, stop – start themed tune, Nick breathed phrases that seemed to float over the changes, building an exciting solo that matched the peerless Jake McMurchie on tenor. Their wonky angular blues to finish had the audience shouting for more after what had been a long jazz evening. Another band to watch out for. In between the bookends were the two other intriguing cameos. I often have cause to comment on the density of world class jazz musicians in this corner of North Somerset and Wiltshire (its high). This evening, as at a number of previous January concerts, Jason Rebello was there and John Law had popped over from Frome ( the latter described by John Fordham in the Guardian as being, like Andrew Hill, one the best jazz composers you’ve never heard off – a casually admiring compliment if ever I heard one!). They are interesting contrasts as players; Jason just has to stroke the piano for you to hear the visceral sense of modern American jazz language and pulse he has; an urban jazz myth I’ve heard is that Kenny Kirkland recommended Jason to Sting on his death-bed. John Law by contrast brings some classical and free playing instincts to his playing, managing to sound a bit like Rachmaninov might have done if he’d been around to deconstruct Corrine Bailey Rae songs with a jazzy vibe or simply embellish and swing on Body and Soul as John did on his lovely duo with Nick Sorensen that started the second half. They finished that short set with a tune of Nick’s that was harmonised by John and played so that it sound for all the world like something that been left off Keith Jarett’s My Song album. Jason’s set that finished the first half by contrast played a couple of standards and was joined at his invitation by two members of the rock trio Blackbud who Jason had mentored a few years ago. And that little gesture seemed to sum up one of the threads that has run through twelve years of these concerts: encouraging new generations of players as well as celebrating the established (and world famous!) often bringing them together on the same stage. The evening , after a brief valediction from Nick and Mike, finished with John Law and Jason returning to the stage to jam a duet of straight no chaser: dazzling, exciting, funny (as they traded places at the bottom and top of the piano) awesome. What a way to finish a great evening.
Twelfth Night, Wiltshire Music Centre, Saturday 8th January