Two gigs, on the face of it with not much in common bookended a week in Bath’s jazz scene. As a solo on ‘Just one of those things’ by Jamie Cullum’s saxophonist Tom Richards was greeted by full throated screams and roars by the near capacity crowd at the Forum just over a week ago, I was forced to reflect that I’m pretty sure I’d never heard quite such a reception for what was a blistering bop solo with plenty of contemporary twists. Just over a week later, and if the punters from just one row of seats at The Forum had re-convened at St. James Wine Vaults for trumpeter Nick Malcolm’s guest spot with the regular Jazz House Trio, they may well have packed the place out. As it was, the very decent turn out were loudly appreciative of another blistering bop solo (even if they weren’t screaming at the top of their voices), as Nick posted a bravura work out on the changes of ‘Confirmation’ backed only by Trevor Davies’ racing, sympathetic accompaniment on drums before the theme appeared to bring in a poised piano and drums. From one of the city’s largest venues to one of the smallest, young (ish! both thirty something) visitors thrilled their audiences supported by absolutely steaming bands.
The Jamie Cullum experience is a full on, two hour tour de force, and was keenly anticipated by a buzzing crowd even before the first crashed chord and gravelly toned vocal ramped up the excitement. There were plenty of crowd participation moments on funky or rock orientated groovers with the personality and stage presence of the bundle of energy that is the leader keeping it all moving. But make no mistake. At the core is deadly serious musician. Whether he’s beat-boxing to get a groove going, whipping up a deliciously danceable percussion storm with his hands using the piano as a enormous kit (“not yet” he had to say to those in the crowd who wanted to join in ” this is harder than it looks”) or caressing a few chords and singing, just him and the piano, what made it compelling was that voice and turn on sixpence, tight playing and endlessly fluent improvisation and soloing from him and his band of still relatively recent conservatoire jazz programme graduates. They may be young, but they are hot and Cullum acknowledged and applauded them at every turn. There’s a jazz musician’s appreciation of the group vibe even when it’s a rocking one chord work out. And he has a way with re-working a standard. ‘Love for Sale’ was a dark rocky lament as he jumped around the auditorium declaiming the lyric; that take on ‘Just one those things’ was free wheeling even whilst it was swinging fiercely.
The space was smaller and the voice that of Nick Malcolm’s trumpet, but there was no less a sense of adventure down at the Wine Vaults a week later. Nick, now resident in London, is well known on the Bristol/ Bath scene having had a couple lengthy spells living here and is gaining increasing recognition nationally for his own projects as well as his playing with others, a national tour is coming up soon to promote an album. His own bands move easily between more conventionally structured tunes and quite free playing and the spirit of that was in the air as endings dissolved into a call and response type conclusion or a looser vamp. As ever, a different personality in the lead evoked a different response from the band and as a meditative reading of ‘You don’t know what love is’ by Nick stretched and remoulded the familiar melody, Vyv Hope Scott on piano responded in kind with unresolved phrase and long melodic lines that gathered momentum before he handed the soloing duties back to Nick.
Live thrills are alive and well in Bath it seems , whether your taste is big or small.