A (kind of) Bristol batch: Sefrial, Duski, Dan Waldman, Stillefelt

There were plenty of enticing recordings emerging in 2020 and here’s a quick summary of four that found their way through my letterbox with at least some connection with Bristol, albeit a little bit tenuous in a couple of instances.

Sefrial are definitely a Bristol band with all the members (Sophie Stockham, Jake McMurchie, Joe Wilkins, Greg Cordez and Matt Brown) resident in or nearby and familiar figures on the local scene. Duski are Cardiff based, with Aidan Thorne the driving force and Mark O’Connor, Paul Jones, Dan Messore largely based in Wales); tenor man Greg Sterland is now Bristol based and they are all well known this side of the bridge. These two albums, Sefrial‘s self-titled debut and Duski‘s Make a Wish are in similar territory, with a sensibility rooted in a rocky grooves and driving pulses as much as jazz and improvisation, and a very fine brace of recordings they make.

Drummer Matt Brown is at the heart of the writing for Sefrial alongside altoist Stockham and hypnotic drums locked with Cordez’s throbbing, propulsive bass underpin attractive hooks and chanting melodies. Jake McMurchie‘s tenor blends with the alto to conjure yearning harmonies and whilst there’s no holding back, the band rock out and Wilkins lays down some searing solos on guitar, there’s a thoughtful and delicate thread to this set. 7 songs in 37 minutes, it’s a great calling card. The launch tour for this recording was casualty of lockdown – maybe in 2021, here’s hoping.

Duski‘s Make a Wish, released on Ropeadope records, is a follow up to their 2016 debut (reviewed here). They are still in firmly rocky territory with strongly developed melodic themes, but there are are plenty of other vibes in the mix with dancing folky, figures or funky grooves making an appearance. They are comfortable letting atmospheres and textures develop, Jones‘s keyboards as often providing pads and ambience as more overt lines. It’s an affecting and layered sound and Sterland‘s tenor is an emotional and evocative presence throughout. Before The Show provides a stand out climatic moment to the set with hoarse cries and swooping lines. This a compelling set of 9 originals.

Dan Waldman, recent resident of Bristol, arrived with with a couple of decades of experience and extended spells learning the craft in New York as an interview with London Jazz News explained. There were plenty of local appearances (before… you know….), but he had a recording in his bag as well, made before he left NY. It features Will Vinson on alto who studied at Bristol Uni back in the day and has been an occasional visitor since whilst forging his own formidable reputation on the other side of the pond. Waldman’s Sources and Angles was finally released back in August and it’s a cracking set with Dan and Will joined by Ryan Berg on bass and Kassa Overall on drums. 7 originals (bit of a theme here), the set kicks off with Back By Due Regards a consummate, racing post bop number, Overall’s drums catching rhythmic figures in the mazy head and Vinson launching a blistering solo with little stabbing phrases that raise the temperature. You’d be forgiven for settling in for a set of dense contemporary jazz with that intro, but the vibe switches immediately and Folk Song lives up to its title with fluid lyricism and an easy pulse; Vinson flies and Berg’s bass solo a treat. There’s nothing predictable about this set and plenty more mood changes follow. Waldman’s an inventive and fluent improviser as well as composer and this one is repaying repeated listens.

It’s perhaps stretching a point with a Bristol connection for Stillefelt, another self-titled release for the project led by Chris Mapp. Released on Birmingham’s Stoney Lane Records, it features the trumpet and flugel horn of Percy Pursglove, he was often found in Bristol at Fringe Jazz (there’s the connection), and Thomas Seminar-Ford on guitar. It’s quiet, ambient music, improvised live with the electronics, based around melodic and textural fragments. One piece ebbs and merges into the next. Some, like Towards a Rusty Future are episodes that build up layers of abstract sounds and hanging notes, stuttering almost grooves emerge, then, as if through a mist, Pursglove’s voice calls with a haunting melody. Half Life evokes a sumptuous, reflective response from Seminar-Ford before they swirl and scuttle around each other on never… ending. Stillefeld is a beautiful, quiet place to be.

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