Barne(S)torming at the Vaults and freshly minted at the Fringe: A week in the west

Two Thursdays, two gigs, two locally run, promoted and sustained club nights. St. James Wine Vaults saw another visit from Alan Barnes a week ago. The itinerant jazzman extraordinaire, who appears at local gigs like this in between high profile gigs with a who’s who of jazz (and pop .. .pace Bryan Ferry) was on sizzling form for this, his third or fourth visit to the Vaults to put the host Jazzhouse Trio through their paces.  The Jazz at the Vaults session is well established (subject of frequent loud cheers on this blog), Bristol’s Fringe Bar session is a relative newcomer, celebrating its first birthday on the 3rd October of weekly Thursday night gigs in the tiny back room of the bar in Clifton’s Princess Victoria Street. The predominantly local casting doesn’t mean any compromise on quality. Andy Sheppard is using a break in touring with Carla Bely and Steve Swallow to fit in (yet another) couple of gigs with the Pushy Doctors in late October. It does mean that some local talent with original music is getting exposure in a great context. This week it was pianist Andy Christie bringing a set of his originals and a band more than equal to the subtle twists, turns and sideways shifts of resonant, sometimes angular harmony and themes.

It would be fair to say Barnsey stormed the Vaults. As I watched him initiate the encore with an unaccompanied, dazzling shower of notes, all leaps, chromaticisms  and arpeggios and fleeting references to any number of themes written for the changes of ‘I got Rythmn’, a few thoughts jostled for position. First I wondered, did he bustle in to meet the house band earlier and say ‘get yer be-bop chops out lads’?  They were certainly needed and they joined in on cue in that encore, Vyv Hope Scott in particular seemed to be on fire and revved up the Barnes stimulus. The main thought, accompanied by a visceral emotional charge, was that stylistic mannerisms faded away as there was no dodging the passion, tinged with melancholy of the guest’s playing. It’s a mark of his class that  what ever he’s playing , what comes through is the sense of some telling you something about themselves, with numerous erudite asides, no matter what the tempo or how many off the wall gags have people chuckling as he starts playing.  It wasn’t a packed house, but there were plenty there to savour the moment.

If the Vaults was treated to a masterclass in standards, the Fringe got a set of original tunes from the pen of the pianist leader Andy Christie. AndyChristie_FringeThere were even quavered pulses under shifting chords, an affecting sinuous melody over a waltz, a light samba-ish feel anchoring more dark harmonies and hints of an afro 12/8 rythmn in the melody of another tune with a quick burst of astandard (Autumn in York?).  This was a really appealing set with a strong identity and writing.  The fierce concentration of the band hinted at the newness of the venture but there was no hiding the quality in the band.  Nick Dover in particular on tenor deployed a gorgeous tone and a sure footed melodic sense building real tension and swooping lines through the complex progressions. Jon Short on bass and Greg White on drums were a propulsive force behind everything. A band to watch and enjoy at hopefully more future outings.  A thoroughly satisfying outing and another shout to a great local club (website here) and it’s tireless organiser Jon Taylor.  And to complete this little circuit – Nick Dover is in action again on October 4th at the Vaults as the guest of the Jazz House Trio.


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