It’s been quite a week for visitors to this corner of the west country. Last Saturday The Printmakers blew into The Wiltshire Music Centre and dazzled with their class. My account of that one found its way onto the Jazzwise site (here). Then on Thursday two more London based musicians popped up at St. James Wine Vaults. The legendary Jim Mullen had such a good time playing with the host Jazz House Trio when he was down a couple of months ago, the word is he insisted on coming back to accompany singer Zoe Francis on her date at this gig that’s fast approaching local institution status. The instinctively grooving partnership of Wade Edwards on bass and Trevor Davies on drums is surely one of the things that keeps guests returning with enthusiasm,
their ever alert responsiveness make them the perfect hosts, no matter what the guests bring to play. On Thursday it was a set of classic standards drawing on Ellington, Billie Holiday, Mel Torme and more. The mood was set by Francis’ clear toned, relaxed delivery: personal, but with fidelity to the swinging groove of originals or, as with Prelude to a Kiss and Swing Low, re-casting them as a crisp bossa. Jim Mullen was a delight. His solos were at once familiar, staying firmly within the language of bop, but still fresh and engaging. His instinct for creating melodic phrases and when to accelerate or hang back was a constant thrill. There was an added little frisson at the delicacy and intimacy of this performance knowing just how raucous he can be in other settings, something we were reminded of by DJ Tony Clark as he mischievously played an old Mullen recording the moment the band stopped that sounded for all the world like Freedom Jazz Dance performed by Led Zeppelin complete with rock vocals.
An equally sharp, but engaging contrast to the classic jazz of the Wine Vaults set was served up by Dave Manington’s Riff Raff on Friday night at Bristol’s BeBop Club. It was set of almost all originals from the bass player leader’s pen, bang up to date with pieces that draw on influences from everywhere (modern classical, any number of national cultural sources as well as jazz) and wrap them in evolving compositions with shifting time signatures and insistent polyrhythmic grooves from the ever inventive Tim Giles on drums. Brigitte Beraha‘s vocals were sometimes wordless, faultless in negotiating the angular melody and wild interval leaps on the opener Agile; sometimes delivering her lyrics penned to Manninton’s melody on tunes like the gorgeous Catch me the Moon. That was preceded by a spacious, moody intro from Ivo Neame on piano from which the singing, melancholic harmony gradually emerged. There was plenty of energetic and fiery soloing, Tom Challenger on tenor providing a hooting, rhythmic highlight of a solo on the second tune of the night (I missed the title!) The one cover was Bjork’s Anchor replete with lingering plaintive chords from Ivo Neame’s accordion and effect laden washes from Rob Updegraaf‘s guitar. This was music to engage the head as well as the heart and made me want to listen again to peel back some of those layers.
It’s been a great week and there’s no let up. Jon Turney as ever has laid out the riches on offer over the next week in Bristol and that’s with out dipping into the jazzy bits of the Bath Festival Programme next weekend Bring it on and see you at Phronesis on Friday at the Colston Hall.